Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day: 1969 Vs. 2009

Christmas Presents
1969: A Talking Barbie and Ken! Clearly, I am now a very cool pre-teen who is way past baby dolls.
2009: An LP Conversion System, to digitally copy all my old record albums, along with a Beatles Trivial Pursuit game! Clearly, I am now a middle-aged woman who is totally living in the past.

Christmas Attire
1969: Red velvet dress, white tights with crotch hanging to my knees, and black patent leather shoes. My proud mother thinks she dressed me in style.
2009: Pajamas, ratty robe, socks with holes in the toes. My distressed mother thinks she somehow raised me wrong.

Christmas Outing
1969: Celebrating at Grandma's. Happy to see all my cousins, but wish I was old enough to be seated at the Adult Table. How old do they think I am?
2009: Celebrating at the Holiday Inn. Happy to not have to cook, but truly wish they hadn't given me the senior discount. (I am NOT joking.) How old do they think I am?

Christmas Menu
1969: Ham, All Rotten Potatoes and Suicide Salad. But! My own can of black olives! And pumpkin pie!
2009: Ham, Au Gratin potatoes and Jello Salad. But! Bloody Marys! And pumpkin pie!

Christmas Night
1969: Go to bed when I'm sternly ordered, exhausted but happy. Love my family. Thankful for Santa.
2009: Go to bed as soon as I can, exhausted but happy. Love my family. Thankful for credit cards.

Our holiday traditions may change through the years, but--whether we're young or old--Christmas is the merriest season of all.

And they won't dare give me the senior discount next year. Because you can bet I'll be sitting at the children's table.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sherry's 2009 Holiday Letter

December 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

Oh, what a fabulous year in the lives of the Stanfa-Stanley family!

I know I always start my annual holiday letter with details of all my travels. But I’ve decided exotic islands and quaint European towns are so over-rated. Besides, who wants to hassle with airport security? (Not me, since that last unwarranted skirmish over my carry-on at Detroit Metro. Way overblown! Only two of the four handguns were even loaded!) So this year, I wondered, “Why not find true happiness in my own backyard?” I bought me one of those inflatable pools from Walmart, pumped it up (four unfiltered packs a day haven’t hurt these lungs a bit), slathered myself with baby oil (funny how great I still look in that bikini from 1983—only a bit snug), and cranked the Snoop Dogg! It was like my own private resort, especially when two weeks later—by some wonderful coincidence—all my neighbors installed tall privacy fences!

My two grown children continue to amaze me—far more charming and successful, I’m sure, than any of yours. They are both out on parole now, and I’m lucky to be seeing lots of them, what with their work-release programs and all. We will be taking it easier on the holiday libations this year, since they’re each in court-ordered rehab. (Fortunately, I don’t think spiked eggnog really counts. Doesn’t AA grant a dispensation for that?) And though I hesitate on sharing exciting news prematurely, suffice it to say that one of them may soon be blessing me with the pitter-patter of a grandchild’s feet! His girlfriend, a very successful dancer at a Windsor club, already has five children by five different fathers, so I’m hopeful it’s only a matter of time!

All our pets are perfect as ever, and so very worth the $850 we’re paying in monthly veterinary bills. (Thank God my boys enjoy eating generic kibble too!) We’re thinking of helping out the local pound, which I understand has had some bad press recently. With a dozen dogs roaming the yard, I figure no one will dare call me a crazy cat lady anymore! (“Crazy” is so inaccurate anyway, since the cocktail of meds I’m on has eliminated nearly all the voices in my head!)

Of course, this holiday letter wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t touch on how my career is flourishing! The offers never cease, and I’m sure I’ll have a publishing contract as soon as my last few threats, I mean queries, are received. (A special shout-out to all my fans in prison! My boys sure know how to make friends—and this caring mom figured she’d help by smuggling them a few prescription meds for big-house currency.)

Finally, I’m pleased to report that my own personal life has been greatly blessed this year! I’ve found true love at last (and wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s letter brings you news of wedding bells)! We just need to figure out a few details first, like his telling that dreadful wife of his (she just doesn’t understand him, really), their likely messy divorce (fingers crossed that he gets to keep the double-wide), and those far-fetched mass murder charges he faces. But I’m certain love will eventually conquer all!

In closing, I want to thank you for your treasured friendship and love. Sadly, we don’t keep in touch as often as we should. But I’m hopeful that will change this year, once all your restraining orders against me expire!

Until then, with much love,
Sherry and the Boys

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Keeping the Faith

A peace-keeper most of my life, I tend to shy away from controversial subjects in this blog. Unless you’ve caught me in a highly impulsive or passionate moment, you won’t see me expounding here on my religious, moral or political views. I have plenty of each, but I’m here to make friends, not to alienate them.

I will, however, admit to being not a highly religious person, at least not in the organized religion sense. I am, for those who care to know, a somewhat lapsed Catholic, who attends church primarily at Christmas and Easter. I don’t begrudge anyone their own religious beliefs or practices, but at the same time, I don’t want them on my doorstep carrying a briefcase filled with religious paraphernalia.

Whether or not we are believers in Christ or Buddha or Allah isn’t my point. So at the risk of writing something controversial, I will say what I am is a believer in the power of faith.

Faith is not for everyone; I believe that should be one’s own choice. Some people find comfort in the belief that they, and only they, control the circumstances in their lives. Others find equal comfort in their belief that someone else is looking out for them. That someone else has a master plan.

Faith, to the 17-year-old paralyzed in an accident, means he may someday walk again.

Faith, to the middle-aged meth addict, means she may find the strength to fight and regain her life.

Faith, to the young man whose mother has died, means he’ll see her again one day, in some glorious afterlife.

For them, faith may be hopeful. Faith may be healing. For those who choose to embrace it, I believe some sense of faith probably serves a purpose much like science and medicine and therapy.

I admire these people, the ones who possess a strong, silent faith. One that doesn’t impose itself upon others, but simply brings them personal hope and comfort and strength. And though they may sometimes question it—which is inevitable for even the most devout—maybe it’s faith that helps get them through the most troubling times in their lives.

It makes me wonder, sometimes, if perhaps blind faith is better than no faith at all.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Healthy Reform

All this arguing about healthcare reform is raising my blood pressure. (And who's going to pay for that?)

Not that I don't believe our healthcare system needs some reforming, but I think the wrong people are making the decision. Sure, government officials make some fabulous decisions. (Watergate and chummy relationships with White House and Congressional interns, to name just a couple.) But the fact is, no one's asked me--or you--for our ideas about healthcare.

First off, I think we need to banish those paper gowns. I would gladly take a tax increase in order to choose my exam room attire from a closet full of silk robes in multiple colors and sizes. Perhaps we wouldn't feel like floral paper-wrapped pieces of beef sitting on the exam table. And we'd be certain which way the damn thing is supposed to open. (From the front, right? No, the back! Well, hell, neither way is likely to lead to anything good.)

Next, we need to abolish the freaking doctor's office scale. Why bother, when it's always five pounds too heavy anyway? And if the office nurse must have some way to embarrass us, just let her read aloud the reason for our visit when she calls our name in the waiting room. I would rather choose hearing her announce my name and then adding, "who is here today because she is coughing up gobs of green phlegm" over stepping on the office scale. In fact, I would rather cough up gobs of green phlegm--for weeks--than step on that scale.

I'm thinking for every 15-minute interval we have to wait for our medical appointment, we should be able to bill the office back for our lost work time--at our own salary rate. That, right there, might take care of that pesky copay.

And certainly we'd save the healthcare industry loads of time and money, too, if we did away with all the paperwork and personal questions. I'm guessing the doctor can just safely assume most of us enjoy a daily diet of Big Macs and Twinkies, use our home treadmills to hang laundry, and only floss the morning of our dental appointments.

Let's also forget, shall we, anesthesia and all its related risks and monumental costs. Before any surgical procedures, just ply us with pitchers of margaritas.

And all the money we've saved with these cost-cutting steps? Let's plug it into research for less humiliatingly invasive ways to test for "women's" cancer and bad prostates. I'll bet the doctors would appreciate that as much as the patients. At least the non-sadistic ones.

It's not likely, however, that my suggestions or yours, will be heard. We're merely the healthcare system consumers, not the deciders. What do we know, really, about healthcare reform? Just leave the trivial day-to-day decisions of our lives up to us.

And so tonight, while I'm sitting here in a silk robe, I'm thinking Nutty Bars over Twinkies. And I'm not going anywhere near a doctor's scale.

How about you?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Be a Man

If I could teach a boy to be a man, I'd tell him to play football. Or to take up theater instead, if he preferred (just not simultaneously in the end-zone, unless he's looking for a 15-yard penalty).

I'd tell him flowers are always, always good. Sending them for no reason at all? Even better. And when he's calling the florist, to be sure to remember his mother, too.

I would advise him that a being a father means he should discipline. And he should also hug. That real men know the right moment for each, and that the two actions are not always mutually exclusive.

I'd acknowledge that his mother might have read his mind when he was eight, but that it was probably a fair guess when he wanted an ice cream sundae or was sad about losing his soccer game. Mature men must communicate their feelings and needs--with mature words.

I'd warn him that being career-focused will be an asset, but being career-obsessed to the detriment of the rest of his life will just make him an ass.

I'd tell him to admit when he's wrong; compromise when he should; but not to defer to her for every decision. Being a man does not mean being controlling. It doesn't mean being PW'd either.

I would tell him, when he's grown, to call his father, not just his mother, more often. Mothers often learn to convey their needs by goading and guilting, but fathers miss their children too.

I'd suggest that it's all hunky-dory if she wants to cook and he prefers to mow the lawn, but that stereotypes only work if both partners are stereotypical. And I'd say that raising children is a tag-team sport, even if she happens to be a stay-at-home mom. I'd want him to understand that being tired at 8:30 p.m. is no excuse for skipping his child's bedtime story.

I would want him to know that if his favorite pet dies, tears won't make him less manly--only more human.

I'd tell him that he could ignore all the advice I've offered. But that if he was a man, a real man, he'd at least truly listen and nod his head that he's heard me, before he might disagree.

And then I'd listen to his argument, because I'd like to think I'm both man and woman enough to consider that I might be wrong.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Please Be Seated

When I was growing up, before the creation of diaper division soccer and 12-hour workdays, families had this strange tradition: We sat down and ate dinner together. At home. At the same table. With home-cooked food. Nearly every single night of the week.

At our house, dinner wasn't just an occasion for shoveling in spaghetti (sauce not made by Chef Boyardee but by BoyarDenny or Gloria). It was also a time for each of us to share the highs and lows of our day. In addition, it was our daily opportunity to try to one-up each other in witty repartee. (In the Stanfa household, we usually referred to the dinner hour as Sarcasm Hour. My dad ruled. Still does, I'm sure, at those heavenly feasts he now enjoys.)

When my kids were younger, however, a typical weekday schedule went something more like this:

8 a.m. to 4 p.m.:
Kids off to school; Mom off to work.

4 p.m. to 8 p.m.:
Left work early, using skipped lunch hour to pick up kids from school for appointment with pediatrician/dentist/orthodontist/optometrist/voodoo doctor (these were often desperate times). Waited an hour for ten-minute appointment with doctor. Dropped off one kid at baseball/basketball/sporting practice du jour. Dropped off other kid at guitar/piano/maraca lessons. Picked up both kids from their individual timesucking--make that enriching--activities. Dashed into carryout for several convenience sized boxes of Chewy Chips Ahoy, to arrange nicely on a paper plate for the next day's school bake sale. Assisted kids, as needed, with homework, except for post-sixth grade math which left me clueless. Packed lunches, rewashed mildewing clothes in the washer, failed to locate iron so stapled on merit badges for the next day's Boy Scout ceremony.

9 p.m.:
Tried to concentrate on work project I promised to finish that evening. Argued with kids about getting ready for bed.

10 p.m.:
Gave up on work project. Argued with kids about going to bed.

10:30 p.m.:
Went to bed. Told the kids to lock up.

Anything I've forgotten? Oh, dinner. Yes, not to worry, no children went to bed on empty stomachs in this household. Somewhere between the school parking lot and the I-475 exit ramp, we managed to fit in a delightful dinner. Courtesy of whichever squawking box had the shortest drive-through line.

One the rare Sunday afternoon when we had nothing preempting the 4-7 timeslot, I would try to fit in a Family Dinner. Contrary to my kids' beliefs, I still had the ability, if not the opportunity, to cook. Getting everyone to sit down at the dining room table was a bigger feat though. "Nobody sits together at the table to eat dinner," Son #1 once complained, rolling his eyes. (And when I mentioned this to a group of friends later that week, everyone fell silent before one of them finally nodded and said, "We haven't all sat down to eat together in weeks.")

Now, with neither son at home, one at college six hours away, family dinners have become even more infrequent.

As we sit down for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year, I will give thanks that we made it through those chaotic years unscathed and unscurvied. And thankful that now, even if only a few times a year, we can sit together and enjoy the kind of family dinners I once knew. We'll share a bounty of home-cooked food and, I'm certain, share some heartfelt words and some witty banter besides.

And we don't want any fries with that, thank you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Top Ten Things Squanto Would Have Told the Pilgrims If He'd Known Better

10) These corn mazes are a blast! And we promise to come find you if you get lost.
9) Trust me, turkey is best cooked really rare.
8) Sure you all get along great here now, but just wait until someone mentions healthcare reform.
7) Oh, a little peace pipe won't hurt you. Here, smoke some more.
6) Freedom of religion? You should really check out Northern Ireland or the Middle East. Boy howdy, is that big over in those places!
5) But the growing season's year-round here! No need to stockpile all that squash and shit.
4) If I were you, I'd write that king of yours and tell him exactly what I think of him.
3) If you think this part of the New World is beautiful, you should go see Canada, eh?
2) Who's up for a game of lawn darts?
1) The tribe has spoken.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

From Hopelessness to Helplessness

Some of them enjoyed the evening by watching college football. Some hung out with friends at a party or at the movies. Some stayed back in their dorm rooms, working feverishly to write the two papers due Monday morning.

None of them anticipated how their seemingly typical Saturday night at the close-knit college, a midwestern Jesuit university, might end.

Because a college freshman isn't supposed to end his own life.

In the midnight moments in which the sirens neared and feet pounded down the dorm's hallways, the unusually warm and beautiful fall night turned to a stark and cold Sunday morning. As the sheet-wrapped body that was their friend was carried from the room, boys who were almost men watched silently. In the wee hours of the morning, almost-men who were yet still boys called home to their mothers.

And mixed in with the continuing deluge of disbelief and grief and horror will be the guilt.

One of the young men will wonder if there wasn't, perhaps, a clue he might have missed in his classmate's words that day. Another will regret not stopping on his way out that night to invite his friend along. A former girlfriend will struggle with the possibility that their recent breakup was ultimately devastating.

What truly drives an 18-year-old, or anyone for that matter, to suicide? Surely it's seldom one incident, or singular discussion, or specific experience. It's likely a culmination that leads to such a vast and overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

But it is that person's momentary and final decision to end their hopelessness which leaves others--many for a lifetime--with a sense of helplessness. It will continue to gnaw at the R.A. who discovered the body of a young man whom he didn't find in time. It will overcome the two people who, in the middle of the night, received the call every parent fears most.

If we can maintain anything in life, it should be hope. No matter the inner-turmoil we might feel, or the anguish we might be experiencing, the reality is that life, eventually, will get better. We will always rebound and we will always recover. If we only give it time.

Hopelessness is only temporary. Always.

Helplessness, sadly, lingers much longer, for those who are left behind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Escape from Reality

I'm confused.

Didn't people used to watch TV to escape from reality?

So why are we suddenly a nation of voyeurs, spying on the not-so-appealing aspects of total strangers' lives?

Apparently, according to Nielsen Ratings, I'm in the minority of uninterested non-viewers. But the reality is, I don't want to know if some Real Housewife is cheating on her husband. If I cared about such things, I could glean better gossip at my hometown Kroger store.

I'm not interested in hearing who the Don's decided to fire. Plenty of controversial layoffs at my own place of employment, thank you.

And if Jon and Kate Plus Eight are now Minus One? Sorry for your loss, but... I have toilets that need scrubbing.

Not that I'm one to avoid reality. I read my share of non-fiction, and I watch the news. (Although my TV appears technologically incapable of broadcasting Fox.) (Oops. Was that a slip of political bias? Sorry. Won't happen again.)

But when it comes to entertainment, I can muster little interest in viewing some limelight-lover's personal debacles or disasters. If I wanted to watch a soap opera, I'd tune into General Hospital. (By the way, haven't seen that since the eighties. Did Luke and Laura ever get back together?)

Give me back Arrested Development. Give me back M*A*S*H. Give me back Bob Newhart. Give me back intriguing characters and settings and plots.

Reality is way over-rated. Although Nielsen clearly disagrees.

Which, I guess, just makes me The Biggest Loser.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Mother, My Friend

She ignored the house when it could have used a good vacuuming, choosing to play Scrabble with me instead. She grasped, full-on, life's priorities.

She conspired with me to adopt the clumsy, brindle-furred puppy. She knew my dad's soft spot would eventually surface, just as she seemed to know what was within everyone's heart.

She grounded me when I was suspended from high school for smoking. She knew when wrong was wrong.

She understood the importance of a well-rounded dinner of meat, potatoes and a beverage. So she found a way to justify our mother-daughter Friday Night Dinner Parties of Slim Jims, Potato Chips and Pepsi.

She knew my dad meant well when we were young, but couldn't always be counted on. Amidst the fun times she preferred, she realized the discipline, too, was left to her hands.

She saw her husband, her parents, and several close friends through terminal illnesses. She was the caregiver and the support system. Time after time, she was the strong one, even when she was weak with grief herself.

She spent time with her grandchildren because she wanted to, not because she was obligated. And they knew it.

She was soft with me when I needed her to be, and tough with me when I needed that.

The theory is that one can't be a good parent and also be a friend. Yet somehow, she's managed both with love and skill and finesse.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Moan in the Mirror

Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Who’s the fairest of them all?

Not you, oh Demon Glass of Gloom. No, you aren’t playing fair at all these days. In fact, you have some ‘splaining to do.

First off, what’s with the chins? Didn’t I used to have only one?

Though perhaps I’m lucky I can see the chins at all, what with this big honking nose in the way. Perhaps you thought I couldn’t smell adequately with the old one? I realize I may shrink some in years to come, but maybe you could take care that not every lost inch shifts to my nose?

The mushrooming nose might be tolerable if it weren’t for that bump on the end of it. And the bump on my chin. And the one on my other chin. Apparently, you’ve adopted a catchy new advertising slogan: “Pimples: Not just for teenagers anymore.”

And speaking of my teen years, remember when I used to stand before you and actually PLUCK my eyebrows? Oh great mirror, where did my eyebrows go? As you’ve been busy focusing on amplifying my pores, you seem to have misplaced my eyebrows altogether.

Ah, but fortunately, my tweezers have not been rendered useless by the mere disappearance of my eyebrows. Not with this stray hair you show sprouting from one of my chins. Thank you for that.

Not to despair. I am not saddened by the state of my eyebrows, my chins or my nose. No, I am happy as hell about it, if the crow’s feet and laugh lines you’re presenting are any indication. So, should I wear these fabulous new additions to my face like a badge of honor?

Yes, I will do so. And when these odd gray hairs, which are now promptly yanked from my head, start to multiply like loaves of bread and fish? I will wear them proudly, too. (Or perhaps I will consequently go bald.)

But don’t expect to see me smiling about it. An unlikely scenario, now that you’ve decided to do away with my lips.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Shot Down

I watched, camera poised, as my then four-year-old crossed the stage in his miniature cap and gown.

The preschool teacher handed him his diploma. "And what do you want to be when you grow up?" she asked.

"A doctor," my tow-headed son replied readily into the microphone.

The audience obligingly applauded, and my little boy grinned out at the crowd, seeking his parents' approving faces. I smiled back and nodded, though I was confused by his announcement.

"A doctor?" I questioned him later. "What happened to wanting to be a policeman?"

He shrugged. "Well, I told that to the girl who was behind me in line. She said policemen get shot. So I said doctor instead."

A young boy's dream crushed, just like that, by the insight of a fellow four-year-old.

After attending a writers conference this weekend in Myrtle Beach, I witnessed more than a few dreams dashed. Many attendees were newbies, with a limited realm of writing experience, let alone any knowledge of how to get published. Others had a full portfolio of manuscripts under their belt--or in a box under their bed. And they were just waiting for that lucky break.

A few of them got that break this weekend. Business cards were exchanged. Queries and proposals were requested. A handful of hopes and dreams were fueled by positive words and uplifted eyebrows.

But others went home rejected. And dejected. Perhaps they will give up writing altogether, after the honest yet subjective words of an agent or editor. Or perhaps they will simply walk away from the experience with a glimmer of insight that will help them hone their craft, and will push them toward success on their writing journey.

The strongest dreams--whether stoked with skill or merely sparked with the kindling of hope--will linger. The strongest dreams, ultimately, will persevere.

Yes, young boys' aspirations may end when they learn policemen get shot. Writers' dreams may end, too, when their story ideas are shot down. Any lifelong goals, for would-be doctors and astronauts and actors, may encounter multiple setbacks along the way.

Dreams may appear elusive, and dreamers may lose hope.

What each needs to understand, however, is that one shot, even if seemingly aimed at the heart, doesn't always prove fatal.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Top Ten Reasons I'm Going on Vacation

10) No current warrants for my arrest in South Carolina.
9) Getting nothing done at the office vs. getting nothing done at the beach is a no-brainer.
8) Word is the hotel's housekeeping staff is sadly underchallenged.
7) Alarm clocks are God's Gift only to the really anal.
6) Nothing justifies "Screw the diet" like room service.
5) So missing those airport random security checks.
4) Lifeguards probably tire of hot twentysomethings in bikinis.
3) I'm actually traveling through time, so next Sunday I'll be a year younger!
2) Four out of five doctors attribute psychosis to Ohio's bipolar weather.
1) Aiding the liquor industry is my own contribution to the troubled economy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Piecefully Sleeping

10:30 p.m.
Sheets freshly laundered. A couple slumbering cats on the end of bed. Fabulous book to be finished. Sigh of contentment uttered. Sleep mode finally achieved. Tonight, I am Rumpelstiltskin.

1:36 a.m.
Hot, hot, hot! So freaking hot! Blanket and sheets banished. Sweaty nightclothes stripped. Thermostat adjusted. Paris Hilton denounced as knowing nothing--yet--about the meaning of hot. Give her 20 years.

1:58 a.m.
Horrific realization of tomorrow's work deadline. Little's been accomplished. Thoughts of potential unemployment arise. Notes feverishly taken to finish project. More thoughts of Paris Hilton. She is being paid $250,000 just to be awake--albeit drunk--and at a party right now.

2:41 a.m.
Fetal position proves unsuccessful. Pillows are rearranged. Irritated cats rearranged. Everyone finally comfortable. Suddenly, R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) replaced by R.B.M. (Rapid Bladder Movement).

3:54 a.m.
Frightening sensation of being suffocated. Bedroom intruder is feared!!! Scream stifled by apparent hand covering mouth!!! Relief ensues. Sleeping cat is removed off of head.

3:57 a.m.
Nagging concern that front door may be unlocked. Extra security measures taken. Confused dog demands to be let out and fed. Door is relocked, again. Note to self: four cats and a dog? Worst. Idea. Ever. Pet conspiracy suspected.

4:14 a.m.
Damn is it cold! Socks donned. Blanket added. Thermostat readjusted. Much swearing involved.

4:39 a.m.
Toes now appear frost-bitten. Thoughts of menopause contemplated and quickly dismissed. Scorching bath poured. Slip and fall getting out of tub. Thigh already a charming shade of purple.

5:43 a.m.
So I am in an airport, and the entire Kennedy family is there, all lined up along the steps of a high staircase. But no, it isn't the Kennedys after all. It is the Von Trapp family from the Sound of Music. A half hour spent awake, pondering the meaning of bizarre dreams. Fifteen more minutes spent trying to rid head of the song "My Favorite Things."

6:30 a.m.
Hot! Did I mention it was hot?

7 a.m.
Up and at 'em, Sunshine! Sleep well? Alarm clock assaulted. Caffeine consumed. Paris Hilton? Probably just going to bed. Hope she sleeps piecefully.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

It wasn't the first time a driver was caught with an open container. That, in itself, was clearly not newsworthy.

What turned heads is that the offender was the township's police chief. And the director of the local school's D.A.R.E. program.

Move over, Kanye West and Amy Winehouse. You've both been dethroned, at least in northwest Ohio, as this year's Most Disgraced Role Model.

None of us is a saint. As anyone who even peripherally knows me can attest, I will never be canonized. Like most of my similarly aged friends though, I left behind the biggest sins of wayward youth when I took the Vow of Parenthood. The majority of us morphed into respectable, law-abiding citizens. We wanted to be good parents, and that includes being proper role models.

So we try to teach our children to abide by the law by staying within the boundaries ourselves. We teach them a work ethic by dragging ourselves to our jobs each day, even when we're dead-tired. We teach them healthy habits by eating all the vegetables on our plate. (Lima beans? I admit parental failure here.)

By laying down some basic rules and by following those standards ourselves, we hope we're teaching them right from wrong. Yet what's easy for us to overlook are the subtleties in parenting, the daily behaviors we seldom realize they are observing.

The parent who screams at his ten-year-old's referee can guarantee he's raising a bully. The parent who lies to the PTA to avoid volunteering at a school function can't expect her child to be truthful about his Saturday night whereabouts when he's sixteen. The parent who can't make the time to visit an elderly relative will one day find himself old--and quite likely, very alone.

How we behave in the seemingly insignificant moments of our daily lives doesn't go unregistered in our children's minds. While we're teaching them respect for the law and a tolerance for lima beans, perhaps we should be focusing equally on how we behave when we forget our children may be watching.

Virtues aren't commodities we can select for our children from the shelf at Target. We can't just buy them the gifts of patience, honesty and compassion, and hope these things will one day simply fit. And our children won't buy it themselves, unless they've seen us wearing the stuff first.

We can't count on others to always point them in the right direction either. My guess is that D.A.R.E. officer did a respectable job of teaching the children well throughout her carefully planned curriculum. Unfortunately, she didn't think about her actions when she thought no one was watching.

We're not fully responsible for how our children turn out. Even a perfect parent, as elusive and unlikely a possibility as that is, will raise imperfect children. We will make mistakes, and our children will make their own.

As role models, all parents can do is hope for the best. And hope our children emulate the best they see in us--even when we think they're not watching.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Down But Not Out

I cancelled my dinner plans. The only kind of dinner I wanted was one where I answered the greeting of an imaginary hostess with, "The name's Pity. Party of one."

The day started out a downer and never found its way uphill. Some unwelcomed news from the professional front. Frustration in the family arena. Worries about an issue beyond my control. (And this is the only kind of issue really worthy of worry, because if we could control the issue, then we'd simply find a way to resolve it, wouldn't we?)

Looking for a quick fix, I noted on my Facebook page that "My smile is upside down today," and I solicited attempts to make me laugh.

A number of friends emailed me or posted responses. Several made me smile. One made me laugh out loud. (Note to any of you whose own smile is currently upside down: Have you tried standing on your head?)

And one person made a statement which left me pondering. "Hope your smile is turning," she wrote. "I know how it is. Sometimes I find if you fake it enough, you will forget it's fake."

Her words have stuck with me for days.

I am not, by nature, a pessimist. As I've posted here before, I generally see myself as a realist, with a few spoonfuls of optimism sprinkled on top. Even so, aren't we all prone to occasional periods of self-pity and blue funk?

Yet if we dwell on the negative too long, it's likely we will become immersed in it.

I'm not saying we should ignore the truly worry-worthy issues in our lives, or overlook prolonged periods of sadness or stress. Death, divorce and other life-altering experiences require more than a mere attitude adjustment. And I've known many clinically depressed people in my life. In cases like these, putting one's head in the sand may provide a temporarily warm and comforting retreat. But the end result is unhealthy.

Much of the stuff that gets us down, however, are the tiny nuances of life. The Bad Shit that consequently makes it a Bad Day or even a Bad Week. Personal setbacks are frustrating. We have a tendency to let even the little things, like stalled traffic or a co-worker's criticism, turn our smiles upside down. And not just for the duration of the actual experience, but for a long, lingering period afterward.

Forcing a smile when we're down might sound senseless or even insincere. But perhaps happiness is like any other state of achievement: like learning to drive a car, mastering a new language, or playing the piano.

If we practice long enough at being happy, just maybe we'll get better at it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Just the Ticket

Always the wise investor, I've been ardently timing the market. Consequently, I decided now was the right moment to plop down a dollar for Tuesday's $88 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Being a pragmatist as well, I figured it best to plan ahead what to do with my winnings before my life's consumed with accountant meetings and media interviews.

First off, let me say I'm not one of those unconscientious winners who just won't show up to work the next day. I will head into my office Wednesday morning like I have every day since I joined the working class. Then I will collect my family photos and mug warmer (which doubles as a nifty can cooler), gloat among my co-workers for a half hour or so and say See Ya.

I will stop at the gas station to fill up my car with Premium (just because I can). While I am nonchalantly observing the gas pump reach triple figures, I will make a call to the housecleaning service I recently felt fiscally obligated to cancel. I will inform them they should start again tomorrow, or today if possible. And, while they're at it, do they have any cleaning connections for my new vacation homes in New England and the Carolinas?

My phone call will be inevitably interrupted by calls from the local TV stations. I will have to oblige them for interviews. This is unfortunate, since I can now afford everything except the extra ten pounds the camera puts on you. Not an issue for the future, since I will soon be hiring the best damn personal trainer in the midwest. I will be sure to compensate him so well that he can't dare chastise me on the days I feel lazy.

After leaving the gas station, I will stop to pick up some treats for Ringo and the Cat Colony. After all, everyone should share in the celebration. One of the local pet rescue agencies will be holding an adoptathon, so I will pick up a playmate or two for Ringo and a couple more cats. People will start to call me the Crazy Cat Lady. But I am a multimillionaire, so I laugh off their insults. I call them trailer trash.

However, I won't forget the little people who were, and still remain, my friends and family. I'm rich but I'm not arrogant. If Paris Hilton calls me to go shopping, I'll tell her I already have plans. If George Clooney invites me to Lake Como for the weekend... Well, I can hang with my friends next weekend, right?

Wealth and fame haven't changed me a bit, I realize as I stop at an exquisite little restaurant for a lunch of butter-drenched lobster. Now, there's just more of me to love. At least until the IRS and my new personal trainer get a hold of me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reflections on a Reunion

A few of us remembered everyone. Everyone remembered at least a few of us. Some of us suspected a couple of us never even attended our school, and showed up here as alumni wannabes because our class, clearly, was All That.

Many of us looked markedly different. Several were easily recognizable. A few looked inconceivably young or just really damn good. We empathized and sympathized with the heavier, the grayer, the balding, because that was most of us. We tried not to hate those who looked better than we did.

Most of us appeared to have done reasonably well. Some accomplished great success in profitable or fascinating careers. A handful hadn't fared as well.

Eleven of us have died. Few of us were spared the loss of at least one close friend.

The multitude of us have lost one or even both parents. A number have parents who are ailing or impaired. All of us agreed we wished we'd appreciated them more.

The majority of us have grown, or nearly grown, children. Several of us are grandparents. Some are still raising small children, even younger than others' grandchildren. We who are empty-nesters nodded in recognition at each others' contradictory sentiments of relief and weepiness.

Several of us still live within blocks of our old high school. Many converged upon the Toledo suburbs. Others scattered to the coasts or to far-off places like Germany and Australia. Those of us who remained midwesterners were thankful to still have family and old friends nearby, but were envious of the others' adventurous lives.

Many of us made each other laugh with nostalgic high school tales. A handful prompted us to grow somber, through stories of the bumps in their life's journey. Some of us wished we were still back in high school. Others were grateful to have moved on.

Most of us who were wild and reckless teenagers have morphed into respectable and more conservative adults. A portion of us never made the transition. Nearly all of us still feel sixteen in our hearts.

Very few of us left early. Most stuck around until forced to leave. A good number of us continued the conversation and camaraderie at a nearby bar, disregarding the toll it would take the next day on our not-so-sixteen-year-old bodies.

And when the lights were turned out, and we walked across the parking lot to our cars, two things remained clear.

We had all changed. And we had all remained the same.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Final Goodbyes

It wasn't the kind of goodbye I envisioned.

I knew saying goodbye was inevitable, once the plastic tubs crammed with clothes and electronic equipment and a thoughtfully packed first-aid kit were unloaded from the van, once the futon and lofts were assembled and arranged, and once $400 worth of textbooks were procured (and most thankfully, paid by a blank check from his father). We'd enjoy one last supper together, not really tasting the bites of sandwiches consumed amidst our animated discussion about the campus and classes and crew practice.

And then, before I left for the long drive home, we'd have our goodbye scene. I'd offer a farewell speech, peppered with insightful parental advice, and we'd have lengthy mutual proclamations of love. It would end with a final hug on the sidewalk in front of his dorm.

But dinner ran late, and he had just minutes to make it to a mandatory student orientation meeting. I pulled up in front of the classroom building. He eyed the clock in the car--two minutes to get inside and find the room. He opened the car door and quickly slammed it shut.

No opportunity for any of the elements of the scene I'd already drafted in my mind.

"Good luck, honey," I told him. How did I condense a ten-minute speech into thirty seconds? "I'll miss you."

"I know." He offered a sympathetic smile. "I'll miss you too."

"So, see you in six weeks."

"Yep." He glanced toward the building and gave me a quick wave before backing away. "Love you," he yelled.

"Love you too," I called after him. But he was already several feet away, his back turned to me.

I inched forward before the line of cars behind me honked and I was forced to hit the accelerator. My last glimpse of him was a fleeting image, through the open car window, as he raced toward the building.

"Just as well," my sister told me the next day. "Short and sweet is better than a long painful goodbye."

Perhaps she's right, I thought. Although even short goodbyes can still be painful, at least they preclude massive emissions of tears. And I'd promised myself on the drive to Milwaukee that I couldn't cry.

For several weeks leading up to this, I prepared myself for a tear-filled farewell. It was, after all, the Ritual of the Strings-Cutting Parent. Particularly in the case of a youngest child, it was normal. It was justified.

But nothing makes you reassess your own life more than someone else's death.

Three days before our departure, a boy down the street was killed in a car accident.

He, too, had just graduated from high school and was preparing to head off to college. He, too, was the youngest of two children. While his parents had been helping him plan and pack for the start of his new life, on a campus three hours away, I'm sure they were filled with excitement, trepidation and grief at the idea of him leaving for school.

But in the instant it takes for an out-of-control car to strike a tree, their grief was the only emotion that remained.

Jake would be starting college next week. The event is probably still scribbled on a family calendar. No doubt it is etched upon his parents' minds.

I'm certain they would welcome, so very gladly, the opportunity now to see him off to college. To hear him say, "I love you," before they drove away, perhaps teary-eyed but knowing they'd see him again in six weeks.

As I maneuvered my way out of downtown Milwaukee that day, leaving behind my child to live the life yet awaiting him, I did cry.

But not for the reasons I once imagined.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Not to Clean Your House

10) Dirty windows prevent the neighbors from seeing you walk around in your underwear.
9) Pethair-covered bedsheets provide insulation on cool fall nights.
8) Wouldn't you think the water in a bathtub would WASH the damn thing?
7) Making the bed is so 1950.
6) With kitchen tables, who really needs a floor so clean you could eat off it?
5) Running a vacuum sweeper in today's energy-conscious society just seems wrong.
4) Dust particles, to an artist's eye, are probably aesthetically pleasing.
3) Nothing says Home Sweet Home like sticky pancake syrup on the counter.
2) You've put the clothes in the washer; you've put them in the dryer; so where's the machine that will fold and put them away?
1) Toilets, by design, are meant to be dirty.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reckless Driving

She still has perfect skin--she's a woman young enough to be raised with the discipline of SPF 30, yet old enough to realize the leatherizing effects of tanning beds. Her figure's not burdened with a middle-aged middle, yet rounded in the places that catch a mature man's eyes. She's educated and engaging and everything, at least to an outside observer, that might be what it takes to attract men.

The question isn't why she might have this guy's attention, but should she be getting serious about him already?

"My divorce was just final six months ago," she confides, "and I've been dating this guy for the last three. Do you think I'm ready for a serious relationship?"

I gather my best Ann Landers wisdom and contemplate this. "Do you feel ready?" (Effective, yes? This therapist strategy of throwing the question back at the patient?)

She sighs. "I'm definitely over my ex, and this guy seems really great. I know it seems soon, but he's already mentioned marriage. And I think he's just what I need."

OW. I feel the blood trickling down my chin as I bite my tongue, fighting from shouting the words that so want to come to my lips: "NO, RUN! RUN NOW!"

But instead, I simply and calmly nod. "Of course that's appealing. And comforting, right now. But maybe," I tell my thirtyish friend who's dated little since her divorce and only had one other "serious" relationship before she married her college sweetheart, "maybe it is just a bit too soon."

The "need" word clinched it for me.

Being open to a New and Improved Relationship after a failed one is probably healthy. I'm not knocking companionship, and I have nothing--not a thing--against great sex. But my experience with many divorced friends and relatives is that too many confuse normal desire with need. And "need" demands urgency.

The result is that women who've never before had--or haven't given themselves the opportunity to redevelop--a sense of independence, are sucked into a new and ultimately unhealthy relationship.

I call it the Air Bag Relationship.

It's the relationship they think will save them when their life has crashed around them. The one they feel will cushion and rescue them from needless trauma and suffering.

Air bags are designed to save lives, but you can't fully count on them. If you put all your faith in an air bag, yet drive recklessly and at too fast a speed, it may do no good at all.

In come cases, with all its power, it suffocates you.

Needy women who haven't taken the time--or haven't worked to muster the strength--to be on their own after a painful split-up, are too often crushed by Air Bag Relationships. Dependent relationships, to which they are drawn due to need and insecurity, frequently do more damage than good.

Some women subconsciously embrace dependency. For others, simply putting all their hopes and confidence into being rescued, even while they drive recklessly and too fast, ultimately ends tragically anyway.

I hope, as I watch my young friend walk away, that she's intelligent and intuitive and independent enough to clearly see the road ahead of her.

And that she's one hell of a driver.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I know it's been a few years since I've written. Thankfully, you haven't forgotten me. The vacuum sweeper you brought in 1986 was truly splendid, as were the ones you brought in 1993, 1998 and 2004.

I'm not writing to complain (I've already written to Hoover twice). I do appreciate your continued generosity and thoughtfulness. Household appliances don't come cheap, I know, and besides--any guy who's willing to clean up after eight reindeer who've consumed 1,000 tons of carrots in a single evening is OK by me!

But as we approach fall, I thought I'd get a jump on all those greedy children. Although I'll pass on the Hannah Montana House, I've been thinking a few toys might actually be nice after all this time. Sadly, my mother sold off many of my favorites at garage sales ($2.50 for a prime condition Easy Bake Oven? I still haven't forgiven her). And my sister DC confiscated all my Barbies to use as voodoo dolls (I was too terrified of her to complain).

So, here is a list of my favorite toys from my childhood, which I've concluded would have new purpose and merit for a middle-aged woman. If the elves can't make these, Wal-Mart probably sells them cheap, and I promise not to tell the unions where you got them:

1) Sting-Ray Bike with Banana Seat: Because why is it that, as our butts grew bigger, the bike seats grew smaller?
2) Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots: After forty-five minutes of listening to a client's rants, even a pacifist wants to knock someone's block off.
3) Mystery Date Game: But don't bother including the "Dreamboat" in the white tux. He was a goober. Give me the scruffy-looking "Dud" date. Honestly, you know all girls are attracted to the bad boys.
4) Easy Bake Oven: Cooking's never been as much fun since. And I need to make peace with my mother.
5) Creepy Crawler Oven: Can you make the goop liver-flavored? Because goopy edible creatures probably don't have the same horrific crunch as the live moths and spiders the cats now enjoy eating.
6) Magic 8 Ball: I'm way tired of making important decisions. I'd rather leave it up to the wisdom of a toy plastic ball. Sherry: "Shall I get that colonoscopy?" Magic 8 Ball: "My sources say no." Well, OK then!

If you can't bring all of these, a gift card would be fine. But no gift substitutes please. My vacuum sweeper, when I last used it a month ago, appeared to be working fine.


P.S. I have been a very good girl. Well, I have broken very few commandments. OK, so at least I've never been actually indicted.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wishful Thinking

It's Friday afternoon, and I sip my thankfully endless supply of Diet Coke and glance at the clock. The Time Gods clearly are not on my side. The workweek might never end, and I will remain here, slumped semi-consciously over my desk, awaiting the elusive weekend. FOREVER.

I've done this for weeks, and as it dawns on me that it is nearly September, I realize I've spent most of the last few months wishing the summer away.

In fact, I've done this for years. Not just praying for the workweek to fly by, but for huge chunks of time to pass quickly. Cold, dark winters that I could barely tolerate, in anticipation of spring. Half my childhood, when my foremost thought was to be grown, independent and free. My sons' teenage years, which pounced upon me with a vengeance. I wished them, frantically, over and done. And then suddenly, inexplicably, they were gone.

I realize, looking back, that I've wished half my life away.

Sure, there were moments I wanted to retain forever--to keep frozen in time in my memory. Standing before the altar, in a satin white dress, saying with confident hope, "I do." Sitting at a six-year-old son's piano recital, even with his flawed chords, as I glowed with motherly pride.

But simple joyous moments, like those, are few. The weeks and years that hold challenges, apparently, are more apt to be swept off into a discard pile, readily thrown aside and conveniently forgotten.

As I enter the throes of middle age, I find I'm less inclined to wish away my life. Because the seemingly turbulent times still offer something which can benefit me-- some nuances or gifts--however cloaked with momentary distress they might be. If nothing else, they are simply a notable part of my life. And every moment of my life, now, is somehow consequential.

I wish that every remaining moment of my life is a happy one. But if not, I'm just happy for every remaining moment at all. Time passes more quickly than we can ever fathom, and suddenly, we yearn for what we once had but is now gone. I don't believe in regrets, and some day, I hope, I'll appreciate even the most formidable moments in my life.

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Matters of Great Importance

I have a strict ritual each night before I go to sleep. I wedge my body in bed among the pile of cats, prop myself up against a couple pillows, and make a To-Do List.

The list generally consists of mundane but necessary tasks for the next day: Make dentist appointment, trim bushes, clean cat hair off the bedspread. Occasionally, I even compose a list of lists: Make grocery list. Do list of bills. Write list of island vacation destinations I can't afford.

The average person might mentally organize these tasks. But without a written itinerary, I'm likely to sink into the couch, staring vacantly at a cobweb in the corner of the ceiling and pondering, "Wasn't there SOMETHING I was supposed to be doing?" Perhaps I'm ADD, or a bit OCD. (Could it be both, one compensating for the other?) The point is, if I don't put everything in writing, carve it upon Sherry's Stone Tablet of Commandments, I'm not likely to follow through.

Lately, I've listed two items consistently each day: 1) Walk and 2) Write. (Not to be achieved at the same time. Though I am a multi-tasker, I'm forced to keep both hands on Ringo's leash in order to salvage the lives of small animals we pass.) After several consecutive weeks of this routine, even the most disorganized individual would have these activities engrained forever. Yet I continue to scrawl them on my nightly To-Do List, and dutifully check them off once accomplished.

Why? Because they are currently Matters of Great Importance.

We all have priority goals. This list (a mental compilation for those who aren't ADD/OCD), is fluid, changing as our lives change. For me, getting in shape and finishing a new novel have recently taken top rank. I still need to accomplish numerous other items on my list each day. But walking and writing, these two things necessary to reach my top goals, take precedence over a multitude of others.

In one of the most memorable movie scenes ever, Jack Palance tells Billy Crystal in City Slickers that the secret of life is One Thing. "Just one thing. You stick with that, and everything else don't mean shit."

"That's great," replies Billy. "But what's the one thing?"

"That's," Jack tells him, "what you have to figure out."

Other than general survival, I'm not sure there's simply just one thing. But we all need to narrow down our goals, pinpoint exactly those which are most important to us at any given point in our life. Choose what matters most. Tell ourselves the steps we need to take to get there.

And everything else, the hundreds of things we need to do or want to have, should fall below those priorities.

Want to buy a new house? Then a Caribbean cruise drops down, way down, on the list. Want to lose weight? Then that frozen pina colada, sadly, may have to lose out in the list of priorities.

Whether they're written in ink or simply stored in the forefront of our mind, life goals must infuse our daily thoughts and dictate our agendas.

The Matters of Great Importance to us are just that. The rest--even the momentary enjoyment of that tempting pina colada--don't mean shit.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Reason for the Split

Nearly done with this draft of my new novel. The rewrite process is pretty much sucking the lifeblood from me... so blogging will remain sporadic for a few weeks.

For those who have asked about the book, titled Split Infinities, here's a glimpse:

Of course she knew; it didn’t require a medical degree to deduce that if the three packs a day didn’t kill her, the repressed anger eventually would.

Though “repressed” wasn’t the most accurate term. Not with her record of rants against incompetent magazine editors or the tirade of e-mails sent to her ex-husband during their divorce proceedings. “An explosive, pitiful woman,” his attorney had called her. Kate smirked. As if his opinion was at all objective.

But no, repressed was clearly the wrong adjective. She knew she’d have conjured up the perfect modifier if she weren’t, at this particular moment, propped up in a hotel bed, in the midst of a heart attack and awaiting the ambulance she called.

The heart attack itself came as no surprise, though the prematurity was hardly expected. She was only 40—too young statistically for her lifestyle and temperament to have already caught up with her, wasn’t she? Her father had been 46 before his own three-pack-a-day habit zapped his heart. But his anger issues were practically nonexistent compared to hers. Unless, of course, his own anger was truly of the repressed nature.

Kate squinted, struggling to concentrate. Her anger was more…volcanic. Yes, that would describe it more accurately, she thought, pleased at her ability to self-edit even amidst the nausea and the crushing pain in her chest.

God, she’d love a cigarette. Probably a good time to quit.

The siren screamed in the distance, and Kate reached for her purse on the nightstand. She’d propped open the hotel room door once she was certain what was transpiring, before she’d grown too weak. No need to have the EMT crew battering down the door. Though most of the tourists were likely too preoccupied to notice this late night show.

This was an irony that couldn’t escape her: that she would be someplace like Disney World, surrounded by thousands of families taking part in their blissful and oblivious celebrations, while she lie dying, alone, in her hotel room.

Alone on New Year’s Eve, for Christ’s sake.

Disney hadn’t been her first choice, of course. Wanting—no, needing—an escape from the barbaric Niagara Falls winter, Kate had pitched the travel magazine editor on a story about New Year’s cruises. But the magazine had just run a cruise story, and the editor suggested the Disney angle instead. Desperate for both sunshine and a paycheck, Kate had agreed.

So off she journeyed, alone, to the kingdom of joyful families. And judging by her current condition, she might not live happily ever after.

As the siren neared, she visualized her obituary in the paper back home. Damn-she wished she’d had the forethought to write it herself, ahead of time, as writers often did. Though she’d have had to fudge the unforeseen details, she could have at least injected some humor, plugged in a bit of bravado. Left to other hands, instead it would read simply pathetic.

She imagined her sister-in-law, Linda the Wicked Witch of the Southwest, tsk-tsking how predictably pitiful it was for Kate to expire this way. And what a friggin’ nightmare for Linda to have to help plan the funeral, though she would offer to do so, naturally, with fabricated tears and a spray of cheap, dyed carnations. She hoped her death might come at a particularly inconvenient time, perhaps in the midst of one of Linda’s charity balls. Kate managed a smile at the thought.

Not that Kate welcomed being the subject of anyone’s hypocritical sympathy. She’d managed most of her life flying solo. She’d handle her death the same way.

She took a deep breath and pressed her hand to her chest. It would be easier if she didn’t suddenly feel so afraid.


“So Katherine, you began the evening feeling nauseous?”

Kate opened her eyes and gazed hazily at the nurse in the ER exam room. “Nauseated,” she said. “I felt nauseated.”

The nurse looked back down at the chart, with slight confusion. “Yes. You were nauseated.”

Kate nodded, closing her eyes again. “Right. I was nauseated, meaning I was sick to my stomach. If I were nauseous, it would mean I was making others sick to their stomachs. Though worse has been said about me.” She smiled, appreciative that her wit hadn’t fully disappeared, even though the pain appeared to be taking a toll on her wits.

With a painful smile, she tried to explain this play on words to the nurse, who simply nodded and turned away.

“She’s delusional,” Kate heard her remark to another nurse.

Before Kate could comment, the world turned black.


Disney World. Parade. Puking next to the Tower of Terror.

Had she gone on the ride? Not likely. Wasn’t she acrophobic? Yes, she was certain that was the case.

Though her eyes remained closed, she became aware of tubes and wires connected to her body. Where was she? A hospital? Vague images drifted through her mind.

Kate remembered watching a parade and taking notes. She recalled some indigestion, which she’d first dismissed to acid reflux. Probably bad judgment, her attempt to get the real Disney experience by eating those two corndogs and funnel cake.

But then a cold sweat started in, and she’d vomited.

On the monorail ride back, she’d puked again, hadn’t she? Yes, this time more discreetly, into a plastic shopping bag that read, “Capture the Magic.” And she nearly stumbled to her room, with no one even raising an eyebrow, apparently assuming she was celebrating New Year’s in predictable drunken fashion.

Her memory blurred again. Had she been drunk? No, she couldn’t recall a single drink. She suddenly remembered the pain in her chest, which had intensified and spread to her shoulder. Her eyes blinked open.

She gazed around the hospital room. One could simply sleep off a drinking binge. This was clearly more complicated.

So, this was how she spent her New Year’s Eve? Kate grimaced. How could she write an article about a New Year’s celebration when she spent the midnight hour in the ER? And what about her travel expenses? Could she still write them off?

If she was dead though, someone else would have to deal with her debt. Let the creditors just try to hit up her daughter. Meg could barely pay her own rent. Probably her brother would ante up, she reasoned. Wouldn’t that piss off Linda?

Debt was hardly her biggest worry right now anyway. Mere survival topped the list.

She’d contemplated dying four times in her life: When her mother died of ovarian cancer when Kate was 17. When she realized she was pregnant, two days before high school graduation. When her father died, just ten months after Meg was born. And when she realized her marriage had slipped out of her control. She’d not seriously considered committing suicide—just welcomed the notion of falling asleep and never waking up.

Funny, wasn’t it, that the thought she had embraced at those times was now her greatest fear?

She stared at the wires connecting her to the monitor and followed the undulating rhythm of her heart.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Keeping My Mouth Shut...

... for another week, while I focus on a novel rewrite. If you're having withdrawal pains (humor me here), feel free to peruse the archives.

The blog will be back in action sometime next week.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Expecting the Best

So, I've been priding myself on losing a bit of weight, especially when I look around the office and see these enormous bellies everywhere.

But then, I must stop and remind myself that all these women who have suddenly developed a serious need for elastic-waist pants aren't fat--they're pregnant.

We're experiencing a strange baby phenomenon at the office: stomachs sprouting, baby genders being pre-announced, maternity leaves being scheduled. (Ha! And how many of these women will use up vacation days toward this leave of absence? "Vacation Time" will become an oxymoron once they live through a few nights of three-hour feeding intervals.)

Yes, I remember the trials of pregnancy and the torture of labor and delivery. My favorite tale of torture? How about the failed epidural that was officially declared to be on the fritz only after the doctor started my emergency C-section and made the first, oh so not numbed by medication, SLICE IN MY ABDOMEN?

God only knows why I was willing to have a second child.

The reality, cliche' and all, is that time does make you forget the pain of childbirth. Or perhaps you don't truly forget it, but are willing to do it all over again, for the joy of giving birth to another child.

That unmatched joy (along with rampant lust and ineffective birth control) has kept the earth populated since the beginning of time.

I'm past my prime child-bearing years, and my sons are both young adults. No more babies for me, and I'm OK with that realization.

Yet, I eye these mothers-to-be with a bit of envy. I experience their hopes and dreams vicariously. I have to hold myself back from touching the baby-filled bellies of my co-workers, as well as total strangers. I have an uncontrollable urge to ask to feel their babies kick.

Though I'll never again feel the sensation of a baby doing somersaults within me, the memory still causes me to have butterflies in my stomach.

Pregnancy--as fleeting and frightening and fascinating as it is--isn't just the beginning of a new human life. It's the beginning of a new world for that tiny human's parents.

At some point, of course, we're too biologically old to simply forget the trials and torture of pregnancy and childbirth, and to instead simply choose to do it all over again.

Although we're likely to thank God for that, once our older children become teenagers.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Another renowned celebrity is gone. I appreciated his talents and grieve his loss. Anyone who's contributed so much and impacted the lives of millions deserves the tributes he's received.

Still, it intrigues me how hypocritical the world can be. Because one day, many view a man as a monster, and the next day he's suddenly a martyr.

I'm not saying he deserved either label. Maybe he was neither. Maybe he was both. But it seems death is a person's quickest route from ridiculed--even reviled--to revered.

Is the media to blame? After all, the media industry capitalized on his fame, his downfall, and now his death. How they choose to portray someone and exploit him appears to dictate the outlook of much of the world.

The media, after all, is fickle.

And once they get a hold of news of an icon's death, even the death of another fair-haired celebrity slips down to runner-up. Especially when cancer is so ordinary, so mundane, compared with the thrill of a potentially drug-related death.

But perhaps the media is not the culprit. Perhaps it's just human nature to mourn what we've lost, even if we didn't fully appreciate it when we once had it.

I'm fortunate to have made many friends in my lifetime.

I'm guessing--just a hunch--that I'll miraculously have more when I'm gone.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top Ten Reasons I Won't Be Running for Political Office

10) I can't say I never inhaled.
9) As a former journalist, I'd insist on asking myself all the questions at news conferences.
8) I'm too poor to buy any votes.
7) My friends wouldn't stop laughing long enough to complete their ballots.
6) Sarah Palin couldn't get by on her good looks either.
5) I can't balance my own checkbook, so imagine the fun I'd have with someone else's money.
4) Can you say "being accountable for one's actions?"
3) I'd have to bribe the paparazzi to use Photoshop.
2) My party affiliation is whichever one has the best music and most liquor.
1) I don't have a spouse I can cheat on.

Guess you can always write me in during the next election. Who am I to argue with public demand?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

You've been gone nearly 20 years now. Hard to fathom it's been almost two decades since I've heard that distinctive laugh of yours or watched your pensive expression as you bent over the Sunday crossword puzzle.

My life has gone on, of course, as it does for any child who has lost a parent. That old cycle of life thing, for certain, plays a part in each of our lives. The cycle in our own lives, unfortunately, stepped in sooner than we expected, because 53 years was just far too young. (OK, time for some dark humor of yours to insert itself here... I hope they admire your sarcasm as much in heaven as we did here on earth.)

But when Father's Day comes around each year, I do face the day with some combination of long-standing sorrow and warm memories.

The happy memories are endless and would require a novel, not a simple blog post, to do them justice.

Still, I regret that you weren't here for so much of our lives for us to enjoy your companionship and for you to take part in our family's world. And your grandchildren--Four of them now! You'd find pride in their accomplishments, their athletic abilities, their humor, their intelligence. I can assure you that so many of those qualities were passed down from their grandfather, even though they never had the honor of knowing him.

I'm not a religious person, Dad. You'd understand that. And you'd be OK with that, too. Because even when your daughters didn't meet all of your expectations in our younger years, you always were clear in your love and acceptance of us.

And religion aside, you need to know there's still a spiritual side of me that makes me hold onto the belief that we'll be together once again, some day. Hope you'll have some pull to get me into the place where you are...

Who knows, maybe in the afterlife, I'll surprise you by matching your game on the golf course.

If not, I'd be content to just carry your golf bag.

Until then--
I love you.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

When Less Is... Less

With a class reunion scheduled on the calendar, and a closet of clothes that apparently shrunk in the dryer, the brain and the body finally sat down for a little one-on-one.

Being as they're both slightly schizophrenic, the conversation was a bit hard to follow. So bear with this excerpt:

Brain: "OK, Body. You seem to be carrying more than your weight around here lately. Let me step in and help you out. Let's start with those Nutty Bars in the pantry. Remember those? Well, from now on, forget about them."

Body: "Forget about the Nutty Bars? God's Gift to the Confection Industry? No, how about the Oatmeal Creme Pies instead? I promise to make the eyes look the other way with those."

Brain: "No, no, it has to be the Nutty Bars. I know your weakness. And speaking of weakness, let's talk about your physical stamina. You've become quite the couch potato. Wouldn't kill you to take an exercise class."

Body: "Hmmph. Wouldn't kill me, eh? Well, check out this:

Brain: "You're being too anal. Leave that to your lower half, alright? Exercise is almost always a good thing, really. Trust the research to me."

Body (sniffing): "Well sure, you have the desk job. I do all the real work around here."

Brain: "But we're in this together, Body. And since I'm the brains in this operation, you need to work with me here."

Body: "Oh, yeah? Well don't forget who got us into all this trouble. I mean, who justified that last bagel and cream cheese? It was you, Brain, telling me I'd just have to make up for it later with a good work-out."

Brain (feeling admonished): "Yes, I know. You're right. Damn. I hate it when I'm to blame. It's so much easier to accuse you. After all, even when I'm Thinking Thin, you so seldom seem to cooperate."

Body (nodding): "So true. I'll try, Brain. But you've got to help me out here. Like those low-carb beers you've chosen as our Happy Hour Savior? Great idea, really, until you suck down six of them."

Brain: "Oh. Right. So, less is more?"

Body: "Uh-huh. Unless we're talking Nutty Bars. And then less is just, less. So why don't I unwrap a couple right now?"

See why I struggle?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Can't Means Won't

When it comes to outlooks on life, I believe the world is comprised of four sorts of people: pessimists, realists, optimists and idealists. People either focus upon the worst, the most logical, the somewhat hopeful, or the best of all possibilities in life.

I generally see myself as somewhere in the middle: a cross between a realist and an optimist. So it hit hard when, twice this week, one of my children said, "Why are you so negative? Don't be such a pessimist."

Me? A pessimist? The woman who lies on the deserted beach when vacationing, even as the raindrops are pelting upon her, just in case the sun might finally peek around the clouds? The same woman who, upon receiving a certified letter from Son #1's former high school, held off just a tad of hope as she tore open the envelope, that it might be some type of letter of commendation? (Aside: Certified letters from your child's high school are NOT EVER a good thing.)

No, no, I told myself upon this remark. He's so off target on this one. Until I recalled the words I had just uttered to him. Some combination of: "Don't. Won't. Can't." (And this last one is his favorite upon which to pounce. "Can't means won't, Mom," he says. Is this a mantra from his Catholic high school or some saying from his Boy Scouts background? Regardless, it rather pisses me off.)

So, yes, I am forced to concede. The perpetual realist/optimist in me does indeed, at times, show the traits of a pessimist. And is this so wrong? Because really, maybe the pessimists hold the true key to happiness. After all, pessimists are never disappointed.

Still, living life under an umbrella of negativity is not for me. Frequently sarcastic, occasionally cynical, yes--I'm all that.

But I'd prefer to leave any out-and-out pessimism to those very rare instances when hope is clearly and absolutely elusive.

I can't imagine those instances will be many.

And yes, when I say "can't," I mean, "won't."

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Gift of Time

Time is a relative concept. Want to see it fly by? Take a week off work. Want to see minutes feel like hours? Get a root canal.

Raising children is perhaps the one experience that can't be categorized. As I prepare to send my youngest son off to college this fall, I'm bewildered by the speed at which my sons' childhood years have passed. A blur of Halloween costumes, school assemblies and driving lessons, and then suddenly, both children have morphed into adulthood.

Along the way, however, there were singular days--oh, so many--which I thought would never EVER end.

Someone asked Son #2 last weekend if he was excited about college. He answered yes, of course, but I sensed the hesitation in his voice. Yes, he looks forward to the experience, yet I know he's reluctant to leave high school behind. Not surprising, because these four years, to date, have been the most rewarding adventure of his life.

He was one of the fortunate ones. Not all teenagers walk away from their school years with warm memories and a strong sense of self-confidence. I know many adults who still reflect upon those years with sadness or regret. High school can be tough territory for the bullied, the insecure, the nonconforming.

Junior high and grade school are often worse. While I remember a handful of high school classmates being ostracized and ridiculed, I recall hordes of kids from grade school being scorned. Somehow, I had the fortune to not be among them. And I'd like to think that I was kind to everyone, regardless of their popularity status. But that's probably my blurry, idealistic middle-aged mind at work.

At a grade school reunion several years ago, I struck up a conversation with an old classmate. She'd been tormented by the Bullying Boys and Mean Girls through much of our eight years together at St. Patrick's. The mistreatment couldn't be attributed to any particular reason and, as in most cases like hers, was not due to any identifiable wrongdoing on her part.

"I'm kind of surprised I'm here. I wasn't sure I could come," she said. "I wasn't sure I could forgive everyone."

But here she was. And successful, and attractive, and seemingly content.

Out of all the people I spoke to there--the Business Whizzes, the Wondermoms, the former Best Friends with whom I looked forward to reconnecting--she was the one I most admired when I left that night.

Those eight years of Grade School Hell hadn't succeeded in breaking her spirit. Somehow, she was resilient and self-confident enough that she endured and excelled through the rest of her life. And here once again, on our old grade school grounds, everyone finally accepted her as an equal. And maybe a step above that.

Because thankfully, life's realities and practicalities often change Bullying Boys and Mean Girls. Not all of them, but enough of them to put most of us on a level playing field as adults.

For the ridiculed grade school child, high school may open up promising opportunities. For the friendless high school student, college can mean a new world of young adults with similar interests and backgrounds--or those simply mature enough to embrace others who are different.

Those early school years, filled with anxiety and angst, likely crawled by painfully for the unpopular kids.

But the rest of their lives? I hope the rest is a blur, filled with snippets of happy memories of a loving family, supportive friends and former classmates, who finally see them and accept them for all the gifts they have to offer.

And the concept of time--though relative--is perhaps the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Graduation Party Academy Award Winners

The votes have been tabulated, and here is the Academy's list of winners for Son #2's graduation party last weekend:

Award for Documentary Short
... goes to this conversation between the new graduate and his mother.
Mother (pointing): "See Aunt Mary over there on the deck? Be sure to go say hi."
Son #2: "Yeah, OK. You mean Aunt Mary and Uncle Carl, right?"
Mother: "Um, no. Not Uncle Carl. Uncle Carl died last year."
Son #2: "Oh. OK. So then I guess he's not here."

Award for Actress in a Supporting Role
... goes to Son #2's best female friend, Elyse, for her performance as the sole girl shooting hoops in the driveway--wearing sandals and a sundress--and kicking all the boys' asses.

Award for Adapted Screenplay and Foreign Language Film
... goes to Cindy, for her R-rated narrative about taking a business trip with her new boss. Nervous and tongue-tied, she had attempted on an introductory outing to comment on some "sick-looking ducks" by the side of the road. Her tangled words came out instead as, "Look at those dick-sucking ducks." The table of grad party-goers all roared at this story, especially the punch line, when the ultra-serious, intimidating boss paused before replying, "Cynthia, where do you think I could get me one of them ducks?" (Note: This scene was followed by a sigh of relief from the Mother of the Graduate, after determining that the Director of Campus Ministries from her son's Catholic high school--seated two tables over--was not likely within earshot.)

Award for Cinematography
... goes to the shots taken of the Mother of the Graduate and her family, not for the quality or composition of the photos, but for the classic line delivered by her cousin's husband Gary, as we all lined up: "They're all together. Quick! Someone get a net!"

Award for Visual Effects
... goes to the Mother of the Graduate, whose eyes filled with bittersweet tears at the end of the day.

And the Award for Actor in a Leading Role goes to... Son #2. Congratulations, Kyle. You played your role well. And an outstanding college career awaits.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

I swear my name is Sherry. It's on my birth certificate, my driver's license, and all those threatening letters I get when my bill payments are overdue.

But these days, I could just as easily answer to Gladys. Gladys Kravitz, that is. (If this means squat to you, then you were not a child of the sixties or seventies, and you must run immediately to your TV to watch reruns of "Bewitched" on cable.)

I am not a nosy individual. Peering through windows or eavesdropping on conversations isn't my M.O. But somewhere along the way toward becoming a responsible middle-aged adult, I have grown, let's just say, a bit preoccupied with the wayward behavior of others. Especially very stupid children. And the very stupid parents of very stupid children.

So, am I in a league of my own? Even Gladys Kravitz would have been justified to interfere with the things I've been witnessing. Yet so much of the world seems oblivious.

Like where were the other responsible adults at the regatta this spring, when I told that young boy to climb down from his riverside perch high in the tree, as the slender tree trunk buckled under his weight and swayed dangerously, threatening his crash 20 feet to the ground?

"My parents don't care if I'm up here," he told me defiantly.

"Well, even if they don't, I do," I told him.

Such a bitch. I know. The thought was reflected in his glowering eyes as he eventually climbed down. And no worried parents rushed to his side.

And where were the other concerned adults just days later, when I walked along a park trail backing up to a yard where five or six boys bounced together upon a trampoline? Two of them began snapping each other with towels, and they jumped and dodged each other, falling dangerously close to the edge. I tried not to watch, but I couldn't stay quiet. (Yes, staying quiet is a quality I've never mastered.)

"Hey, guys, please don't do that. Someone's going to get hurt. I know a kid who broke his neck fooling around on a trampoline." (True story: A neighbor boy did so, the day after high school graduation. Fortunately, he wasn't permanently paralyzed. Unfortunately, his college football scholarship didn't survive the fall.)

And stupidity can't always be blamed on children. I've made more than my share of nonverbal suggestions to stupid parents with unbelted kids in their cars, attempting to point with helpful hand gestures toward my own seatbelt. Generally, they've responded with not-so-helpful hand gestures of their own.

Once, an angry woman even stopped her car and confronted me.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but you really should have your child in a car seat." (He was three, tops.) "Or maybe a seatbelt at least," I conceded with hesitation, my eyes darting toward her hands, fearing that they held a gun.

"Don't tell me what to do with my f-ing kid," she said, as a neanderthal appeared by her side.

So! OK. Time to shut up, perhaps? Keep my concerns to myself, and leave the child's bloodshed on his own mother's conscience?

Perhaps it's true that no good deed goes unpunished.

I'm not likely to ever turn my head though. I may have been a stupid kid once myself (fodder for another blog), but as an adult, I like to think of myself as the Sentinel of Sanity.

Not likely, since my newly earned label, at least by that same group of boys on the trampoline, whom I passed on my most recent walk along the park trail, is "That Stupid Lady."

They've probably never heard of Gladys Kravitz or of Samantha Stevens. But if I could only twitch my nose and bewitch them, I'd make them all as smart as me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Bloodthirsty Puppy

Though several friends emailed me in appreciation of my last blogpost, which extolled the wonders of friendship, just as many people were more intrigued by a blog topic I recently proposed, tentatively titled "My Bloodthirsty Puppy." It appears, among the readers of this forum at least, that sentiment is out-trumped by sadism.

So, here's the story. It's a very long, tragic tale, so read on only if you must:

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was a Lover of All Creatures Great and Small. Sucker that she was, stray animals flocked to her doorstep, seeming to have her number. Pet rescue agency folks grinned as they crafted "Home Needed" ads, with subliminal messages targeted specifically for her.

Her menagerie grew to four cats, two fish and--not to be excluded from her collection, for they were the most animalistic of all--two teenage sons. Then, she drew the imaginary line. She began pawning off homeless creatures on her family, friends and co-workers. Acquaintances began scurrying to hide when they saw her coming.

Yet still, something was missing in the woman's Wide World of Animals. In her infinite lack of wisdom, she decided the void could only be filled by a dog. Consequently, a tiny ball of fluff came to live with the family. For the sake of story-telling, we'll call him "Ringo."

Gradually, Ringo grew from an indistinguishable breed of chubby pup to a 75-pound dog whose parentage clearly included golden retriever.

And golden retrievers, by nature, are hunting dogs.

The woman was NOT a hunting enthusiast. Not only did she eschew shooting down innocent pheasants and deer, she went out of her way to secure the safety of all wild creatures.

The mice breeding in her garage sensed this, of course. They knew that, once discovered, they wouldn't be condemned to neck-snapping mousetraps. No, the woman would spend several consecutive nights live-trapping them, dozens of them, and whisking them all safely away to a field where she released them.

And once, the woman ordered an iced tea at a restaurant, only to discover a large black spider swimming lazily in the glass (apparently the caffeine-buzz hadn't yet kicked in). To the horror of the wide-eyed waitress, the woman actually TOOK IT OUTSIDE, to carry on its merry, though sloshy, eight-legged way.

She was a hapless, pathetic individual. So, wasn't she just a bit dismayed when Ringo, her affable golden-retriever mix, acquired the urge to kill?

Mid-walk, leash and all, he suddenly took to lunging and scooping up unsuspecting birds in his jaws. The playful bunnies in the woman's yard, lured there by her bowls of wildlife feed that became inadvertent traps, had no chance. When Ringo returned from a midnight potty break, rushing inside from the dark with a half-frozen rabbit carcass in his mouth that BRUSHED AGAINST HER LEG as the dog ran into the living room... Well. It was a moment of lost innocence for her.

Weeks went by, however, and the bloodbath appeared to be over. The woman witnessed no more of Ringo's gaily-tossing-in-the-air-of-small-creatures in the back yard. The birds and rabbits had seemingly passed along the word that the Last House on the Right on Hickory Lane was the headquarters of Wildlife Public Enemy Number One.

Believing she'd finally reformed the mutant killer dog, the woman began sleeping better at night.

Until one fall night, when Ringo came in from finishing his nightly duties. The woman washed her face, put on her nightshirt, and finally climbed in bed, where Ringo lay serenely waiting for her.

She reached over to pet him. And suddenly, she stopped. Her hand hovered above a small, dark object. It took her a moment to realize that the object, placed there so thoughtfully by Ringo, inches from her shoulder, upon her newly laundered sheets, was a dead mole.

Much as she was impelled to scream, the woman did not. For if she did so, she knew that the dog would quickly seize the poor thing within its jaws once again, and she'd be forced into a late-night game of tug-of-war. So, she casually reached for a tissue from her nightstand, and grabbed the dead creature. The flimsy tissue did little to disguise the sensation of slobber-coated dead rodent in her hand.

Ringo howled in protest as she carried it to a garbage can in the garage (only after being certain, the sad and sick woman that she was, that it was truly beyond reviving).

So, the woman rewashed her sheets, placed Ringo on permanent parole, and prayed to the gods of Lost Causes for Canines that he might somehow be rehabilitated.

Alas, they did NOT all live happily ever after. At least not the wild creatures still stupid enough to wander forth into the depths of 444 Hickory Lane.

The moral of the story is: If one has a mountain of a molehill, the solution is only a dog pound away. (Though Ringo can't be rented, because the woman doesn't want mole blood on her conscience.)


Sunday, May 24, 2009

One Is Silver and the Other's Gold

Considering all my idiosyncrasies and flaws (surely more than my share, at least according to my teenaged children), I've still somehow managed to make some amazing friends in my lifetime.

Most people make dozens of acquaintances every year of their life. Beginning in childhood, we meet new people in the neighborhood, at school, in sports and activities. We encounter new faces in college, at jobs, and eventually through our own children. Some simply remain acquaintances; many just fade from our lives and our memories; and a handful we try hard to forget. (Though try as we might, why can't we forget that one particular Boss-from-Hell?)

Out of the hundreds and hundreds of individuals we meet in our life, something just clicks with some. It may be a shared interest, common beliefs, or simply a similar sense of humor. Usually imperceptibly, often unexpectedly, there's a spark, and a rapport builds.

And then one day, you realize the one-time acquaintance has become a true friend.

Some of my very best friends, still, are those I made in grade school. Perhaps those friendships have perpetuated for the sheer fact of spending eight years together during the most formative times of our lives. Perhaps it's because we have similar backgrounds, though most of us are not, individually, very similar at all.

I've had lasting friendships with a handful of high school and college friends, too. And along the way, I've come to know some great new friends, from current and past jobs, through my children, and even from vacations and writing conferences, when a mere week with these individuals was long enough to forge a continued camaraderie.

Sadly though, even the best of friendships don't always last forever. I've somehow lost touch with a few people who, at one point in my life, were among my closest friends: a grade school friend, at whose house I spent much of every weekend for years; high school buddies who accompanied me on post-graduation road trips that I'll never forget (though early adult activities rendered some parts hazy); and a couple individuals who were at one time so important in my life that I chose them each to do readings at my wedding.

I've found, however, that friendships ebb and flow. They take initiative. They take nurturing. And in 2009, they also take pushing aside a reluctance to jump on the bandwagon of seemingly trendy technology (thank you, Facebook), in order to rediscover, recapture and rejuvenate them.

I'm thankful for every friend I've ever had: the ones who are still around and the ones who've simply faded away into my warm memories. Yes, some old are silver and the others are gold. Just like precious metals, they're all treasured.

Tonight, as I reminisce, I tip my glass (refilled more than once) to you all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Unsure, For Certain

I've never suffered writer's block. My issue has never been, "What can I possibly write about?" The problem, more so, has been, "Of the million things coursing through my potentially ADD mind, which should I choose to write about?"

Decision-making, whether it be a writing topic or a dinner choice, is my real problem. Not making decisions about the big stuff: with those, I'm golden. This or that, when it's truly consequential, is somehow a no-brainer.

But planting geraniums or pansies? Grilling chicken breasts or pork chops? Those decisions render me palm-up helpless.

I carefully consider the choices, weigh the pros and cons of each. Then, I finally sigh and make a random choice, praying my decision is the right one.

But damn. I'll bet that pork chop would have been especially tasty tonight.

And tonight's blog topics? I couldn't quite pinpoint which might be the best. Writing about the Dilemmas of Dating or about My Bloodthirsty Puppy? So, in the end, I didn't choose either.

Is it me, or is life just filled with too many difficult choices?

Tomorrow night, I'm just skipping dinner all together.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Advice for a Young Woman

In my last blog entry, I mentioned the summer hosteling trip through Europe that a friend and I had planned after our college graduations. We figured some savings from our fast-food jobs, a railpass and a backpack were all we needed for a month of freedom exploring another continent.

Instead, that plan of yesteryear was wiped away when reality and practicality stepped in. I accepted a full-time job as a newspaper reporter, took on an apartment lease, and entered the lifelong world of Responsible, Tax-Paying Adults.

I hesitate on referring to that discarded plan as a "regret" (a term I prefer to reserve for minute mistakes such as being overserved at the bar). Still. Backpacking through Europe? Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

If I could travel back in time, I'd tell my 21-year-old self to take the trip. Put off responsibility for one more month. Forgo making commitments that, once made, can't be broken, however temporarily.

My 21-year-old self might not have listened, especially to a now middle-aged woman. (Do they ever?) But the fact is, I've learned one or ten things through the years, which I would pass along as advice to the younger me:

- Pursue your dreams now. They get only more elusive as you get older.
- Be a good friend even to those who've become distant. The distanced ones may need you the most.
- Don't be so anxious for that first credit card. It will buy you everything but freedom.
- Hang onto how it feels to be young. Your future children will thank you.
- Don't let the gas tank get too low. Trust me on this.
- Spend more time with your parents. They will not live forever.
- Bet heavily on Mine that Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
- Marry if you love him, but don't expect love to conquer all.
- Don't buy those huge, round-rimmed eyeglass frames, even if the optician tells you they look great on you. Just don't.
- Don't second-guess bad decisions unless you can change them. Avoid regrets. Focus on repairs.

Until future technology finds a way for us to travel back in time, I can't offer any of this advice to the young woman I once was. The best I can do now is offer up a list of suggestions for my own two children, who are now both young adults themselves.

They'll make their own decisions, good or bad, for certain. But when they look back on those decisions, far in the future, I hope the term "regret" has become obsolete. And the need to "repair," at the least, a rarity.