Saturday, July 27, 2019

Leaving Home, Reprise

It's been nearly one year since I moved from my condo into my new(est) house. And it's been six years exactly since I moved from my family's home--my dream home--the one my former husband and I built and raised our children.

This last move was far easier than the first. I have learned far better how to adapt to change. Life goes on, and warm memories--thankfully--remain forever.

Here's what I wrote as I contemplated that first move: 


The fresh paint on the walls has dried, and the smell of just-laid carpet nearly faded. Except for a stack of framed pictures which still await rehanging, my home renovations are complete.

My eighteen-year-old house feels new once again. I plan to enjoy the newness, these HGTV-dictated updates, for a couple more years. And then I'll do the logical thing, the sensible one: I'll put the house on the market, find a small and practical condominium, and move away.

As a recent and single empty-nester, selling this two-story, twelve-room house should seem a foregone conclusion. Clearly I don’t need this amount of space, nor the hefty mortgage. And I know it’s time to relinquish, gladly, the tedious tasks of lawn-mowing and snow-shoveling.

Yet all that logic is swayed by half a lifetime of growing sentiment. Because in my mind, this shall always remain the dream house my former husband and I designed and built--when our marriage was still intact and our children were still toddlers. It's the house where I raised my two boys to manhood. It's the only childhood home either of them remembers. It’s the place I once envisioned retiring, babysitting my grandchildren, and growing old.

How to leave it, when memories lurk in each corner of the house and linger in every inch of the yard? How will I follow through with letting it go, on the day I must finally go away for good?

As I glance at the front porch, I'm certain I’ll recall the home's beginnings: how the rising wooden frame beckoned us all toward the future. I’ll remember my towheaded two-year-old son, bent over with his Fisher-Price tools clutched in his mittened hands—an image which remains frozen in my memory. "I build our new house, Mommy," he announced with a proud smile, his plastic hammer rapping on a four-by-four board.

I will wander around to the back yard, where I'll catch sight of the pine tree. It was nothing more than a nine-inch stick when my youngest son brought it home from his preschool Arbor Day celebration. Now it nearly reaches the rooftop. The back lawn and mulched flower beds, bursting with roses and pink gladiolus blooms, somehow managed to survive years of Capture the Flag and pick-up football games. This same yard also served as the setting of many teary-eyed funerals for guinea pigs, tadpoles, and hermit crabs, who did not survive the years.

The wooden deck appears weathered and worn after countless Fourth of July barbecues and birthday parties. I’ll smile, remembering the impromptu concerts that it hosted, too. I’ll hear those exuberant voices of eight-year-olds as they danced and belted out the Backstreet Boys to an audience of grinning parents and obliging neighbors, back when our children still lacked the self-consciousness their teenage years would soon enough bring.

I’ll take a deep breath and open the sliding glass doors into the kitchen. I will glance at the recently emptied cupboards and then wander into the dining room, where we hosted holiday dinners for nearly two decades. I will stroke the sleek surface of the long mahogany table, which will likely not find a place in my new condominium.

At the adjacent piano, my two young sons once played a duet for their great-grandfather, just a year before he died. A photo of it remained for years, displayed on the built-in bookcases in the family room, but now packed away along with the framed baptism and graduation pictures.

Peering down the basement, I'll recall the fort my children built beneath the stairwell. All that remains is the rough-hewn wooden door, with the words “Keep Out” written in red marker. The fort sat dormant for years, vacated for more compelling teenage occupations like cars and girls. But once upon a time, it held the rapt attention of several flushed-faced boys wielding hammers and saws, building a tiny place they could call their own.

I will roam through the house and wander up the stairs. Finally, I will pass the front bedroom which once held a nursery. If I close my eyes tightly, I can still see the Sesame Street crib comforter and matching curtains. I can almost imagine the feel of that now grown baby’s soft cheek and catch a whiff of the sweet scent of talcum powder.

How to let go?

Is a house simply some four-walled arena in which a series of scenes in our life play out? Or is it more? Is a home our memory-keeper, a family field of dreams?

On the day I leave here for the last time, I will collect the images of our lives that took place in every room, every hallway, and every inch of the yard. I will commit every bit of this to memory.

And, once I realize I can take all of that with me--I will tell myself that I'm ready to move on.
Has it been difficult for you to move on?

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Journey of Parenting: Long Days and Short Years

 Son #1 turned 30 this week, and Son #2 turns 28 on Monday.
As I often say, there were single, exhausting days along this journey of parenting that I thought would never, EVER end. But the years? They flew by at lightning speed.

I have few regrets in life. But if I could go back in time, I would try harder to let the smaller issues roll off my shoulders, work more at that delicate balance between necessary discipline and supportive understanding, and appreciate every age and stage for what it has to offer. 

Perhaps children aren’t exactly a gift. I mean, lord knows they’re not free. They come with strings attached. And they’re not returnable—even though there are days... Oh, yes, there are days.

Yet the gifts of parenthood appear in the form of tiny, sometimes imperceptible things: an enjoyment of similar interests, an academic or career success, an insightful or humorous remark, or a kindness toward animals or other people.

Parenting is part joy, frustration, grief, and pride—all tied up in one huge mysterious and astounding package.

It’s the most rewarding package I’ve ever received.

Thirty years later, I still marvel at the magic.

Your thoughts on the journey?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Road Tripping through Wonder Land

I recently took a fabulous two-week, 13-state road trip out west. For those who are contemplating vacation with an aggressive driving schedule, I have the following suggestions:

TRAVELING COMPANION: If you're traveling with others--particularly if you're traveling with just ONE other person with whom you will spend 24/7 for days at a time--make sure you are truly compatible. Be certain your goals and objectives for the trip are similar. Choose similar priorities and be willing to compromise on the smaller stuff. Understand each other's strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly. Traveling on this kind of road trip with another person is a lot like being married--albeit a temporary, very short marriage with an agreed-upon and amicable end in sight--which is surely the easiest and safest kind of marriage possible

TRANSPORTATION: If you don't want to put 6,000 or so miles on your car (which we did) or aren't sure your car can handle the possibly tough mountain/icy terrain, rent a vehicle. For two weeks, our rented SUV only cost us just under $700, split between two of us. SO well worth it.

And, point of fact: The morning of the very day we left, I ran to my neighborhood Dollar General for extra dog food, cat litter, and toilet paper for my house-sitter. I came back out to a dead and unresuscitable minivan, which had to be towed to my (now far too familiar) auto place. Sigh. Probably a good thing this didn't happen in the middle of BFE, Montana.

COSTS: Save ahead for the trip, if possible. A couple years ago, we started putting $100 each, every month, into an envelope. We missed several months and stopped totally some months back, when life (Life: Really? WTF?) interfered. But what we did save was enough to cover all our gas and part of our motel expenses.

Choose motels that offer a free breakfast. I'm not a breakfast food fan, but I found enough options to please me and fill me enough so we didn't need to stop for lunch. We brought along a Rubbermaid tub in the backseat--filled with stuff like nuts, beef jerky,and granola bars--that served us well for necessary afternoon snacks and lunches. And occasionally, our lunch was Twizzlers and popcorn. Don't judge us.

DIRECTIONS: Don't just count on your car's GPS, your Garmin, your phone's Waze app, a AAA TripTik, or an atlas. Use ALL of the above. We found ourselves occasionally lost in BFE when one or more of these sources failed us. You need to be able to count on something else--as well as your patience and good humor.

ENTERTAINMENT ON THE ROAD: Bring along lots of music--radio stations are not always available on a desolate highway in Bumf*ck, USA. When you aren't having to pay close attention to routes and traffic patterns, audiobooks are a great option. (Thanks,Tina Fey!) Bring along some tour books to discuss out loud what to look for along the way or destinations ahead.

Also, old-school road games and current Facebook engagement-type topics are perfect traveling fodder. What's your favorite book, movie, dessert, city, etc.? This will make for terrific conversation, and you'll find out things about each other that you never knew.

Of course, in just general conversation, you'll also find out stuff about each other you never would have guessed. For example, that your traveling companion thinks ALL THOSE rock formations resemble penises. My friend Cindy will probably never look at me the same way.

Road trips open doors to new worlds. They change your life. And they change the way you look at life.

Why not broaden your horizons and see what's out there?

Let me know if you have any questions. Happy Travels!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

In Honor of the Pets Who Have Changed Our Lives

Through the years, I've posted quite a bit about Ringo the Wonder Retriever and my fabulous cat collection. In the last year and a half, I lost three of my cats--Snoopy, Sammy, and Cubby--at the ripe old ages of 18, 19, and 20. Losing them was so tough, but damn, did we all have a good run!

Lennon is the last of my feline buddies. I found him ten years ago when he wandered over to the restaurant/bar patio where I was having drinks with a friend. This little guy--still a kitten at the time--was skittish but so hungry and desperate that he survived for months by eating popcorn from bar patrons. Within a couple of days of spotting him, I returned, managed to catch him, and brought him home to enjoy a safe and loving indoor home.

Lennon remained nervous and nocturnal through the years, mainly coming to me for attention and affection during the night. His M.O. was to wait until I was asleep, and then to crawl up and softly paw my cheek to awaken me.

For some reason, he was immediately drawn to Ringo and has adored him ever since. Ringo doesn't know what to make of him, and whenever Lennon tries to cuddle with him, Ringo peers up at me nervously, as if saying, "Umm... What do I do now?"

When Cubby died in February, leaving Lennon as an Only Cat, everything changed. I haven't yet decided whether he misses the other cats or whether he is thriving on being an Only Cat and getting more attention--or maybe it's a bit of both. But he's now frequently by my side, following me into the next room and lying next to me on the couch.

I'm so pleased to finally be able to provide the attention and affection I always wanted to give him. And it's been beneficial to me, too, after losing the other cats who had provided me with great companionship all those years.

Life works in weird and often wonderful ways. Our relationships with our pets help remind us of that.

I'm happy to honor Lennon, the often silent and seldom seen pet, on National Pet Day. Finally, this is his moment! He might not look like it in this photo (Get that camera away from me, Mom), but I'm pretty sure he's awfully pleased.

Any warm and rewarding pet stories you care to share? Please feel free to include a photo!