Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Huggers

Well, the turkey is ordered, you're thinking about when to start hanging those Christmas lights, and answering all those high-level Santa-themed questions, like, "Are the elves salaried or hourly employees?"  Yes, the holiday season is now underway.  Everyone has their "thing" they love about the holidays - whether it's family time, the cookie baking, the festive music, or if someone might accidentally Kragle a broken Christmas ornament to their palm (yes, that happened in this family).  
It's all peace, love and eggnog.

However, I want to share something a small subset of us have a deep-seated fear of....

...Holiday Huggers

Something about the holidays brings out the over-hugging in people.  I know it's gratitude; I know it's love; I know it's okay.  It's not that I hate hugs, but those who know me well know that I am not a hugger.  Sure, I hug my immediate family and I embrace that; I love my family and want them close.

But, otherwise I'm a one-armed hugger.  I feel the need to keep the other arm free.  I realize it must be some type of defense mechanism.  I'm sure a therapist or four would have a field day with the inner workings of my mind and exactly why I cannot do the full embrace.  I won't go into it here.  Suffice it to say, that the holidays bring out the huggies in so many people.  Friends I see every day, all year long, will suddenly now hug me because there's Christmas music playing; extended family will hug me at holiday events even though I just saw them a week earlier, not to mention the awkwardness of the holiday hug with the mailman and UPS guy.

Those who have known me a while, I suspect have noticed my half-hearted, one-armed hug.  I try, I really do, but cannot commit to two arms.  I need an out.  I have family that laugh as they go in to hug me.  One cousin even says, "Will she go all in this time???!"  It makes for quite the entertainment with howls of laughter.  And there have been events when too much eggnog has been consumed, where family will smother me with the bear hug.  As an asthmatic, it's almost more than I can bear (no pun intended).  Sometimes I wonder if they are taking bets on it before I arrive.

I realize that by revealing this I open myself to a flash mob of huggers.  
But know, just because I give the one-armed hug, does not mean I don't love you. 

It's not you, it's me.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Spork Tales

Another installment of back to school stories....

"Mom, did you buy hot lunch when you were in school," middle son asked.

"In elementary school I remember I did, not alot, though. I remember the fish sticks and I liked those."

"What about the pizza?" he said.

"The pizza we had isn't the fancy stuff you guys get now from a pizza place.  Ours was frozen squares of pizza.  I used to get that too but my mom made my lunch most days and then when I got older, I made my own."

"Did you get hot lunch in middle school?" he continued.

"I have no idea.  I can't even remember what the cafeteria looked like in my middle school.  When you get older, you will realize that you block out most of middle school.  Plus, our middle school was only two years, so it wasn't long enough to remember it all."

"What about high school?  Did you get hot lunch then?"

"No, I couldn't."


"Because my friends and I all sat in what they called the Bag Lunch Annex.  My high school was huge.  I don't even know if I ever walked into the real cafeteria.  No one brought hot lunch in the annex."

"It was a rule?"

"No, it wasn't a rule.  It was an unwritten rule.  It was a rule made up by someone a long time ago and passed down throughout all the bag lunch carriers over time.  It was sacred though and you wouldn't want to be the one who broke it."

"Did anyone ever try?"

"Oh yeah, every so often at the beginning of the year, usually a new kid, would try to come in the annex with hot lunch.  But everyone would yell, "Bag! Bag! Bag!" and they'd leave.  An unwritten rule is still a rule but it's harder to prove since it's not in writing.  Nowadays everything's in writing because people like to sue each other.

"Did any kids ever sue about the Bag Lunch Room?"

"No, I really don't think anyone cared.  The Bag Lunch Room was a crowded mess anyway.  It was probably more comfortable in the cafeteria.  But the annex wasn't set up for hot lunch.  No napkins, no spoons, not even a spork."

"What's a spork?"

"A spork?!  It's a spoon that's a fork. Your grandfather John used to bring them home from work."

"He stole them?"

"No, he worked in the food business and had a lot of sporks.  They're the greatest thing ever!  You can eat canned peaches with them and get the juice, or macaroni and cheese with no problem.  Sporks are fun. They used to have those with hot lunch.  Do you want me to make you a spork costume for Halloween?  Your brothers could be a hot lunch tray and a carton of milk!"

"Um, no.  Why would anyone dress up like a spoon?"

"It's a fork too!"

"That's okay, mom.  You're so weird."

"It's an unwritten rule!" I said with a smile.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Cheese Touch

I fancy myself a pretty good multi-tasker and a person who pays attention to details. I'm thorough, I like to think.  When last school year ended, I responsibly took stock of supplies.  I assessed the uniforms for signs of irreparable damage and purged.  I emptied backpacks and cleaned them.  I put lunchboxes back to their summer home atop the refrigerator.  I went through all those papers, saving only what I thought the curators would really want in the boys' Presidential Libraries in the future.  I am that mom.

And then summer came into full swing and we did the summer juggle of work and kids, kids and work.  About two weeks into our summer, I noticed a smell in the kitchen.

"Do you smell that?" I asked Coach.
"I don't smell anything," he replied.
"Do you smell that?" I asked my father in law, Jimmy, who was working on his morning Sudoku.
"I really haven't been able to smell for the last 20 years.  But let me know if you think we need to evacuate," he said.

So, I began my quest to find the smell.

First, I blamed it on one of the dogs.  Honestly, they do smell but it wasn't that kind of smell.
Then, I figured it was the trash can so I removed the bag and scrubbed down the can.
It worked for a day and then the smell was back.

Then, I blamed it on one of the appliances so I did an inventory of the refrigerator and freezer, purged the old take out and scrubbed it down.  It helped for a bit but then the mystery smell returned.

So, I tackled the dishwasher, the microwave and even, the oven.  I cleaned the counter tops, scrubbed the floor, cleared the pantry.  I checked the cabinets, checked the plumbing lines, I was exhausted.

Summer was coming to a close and still the stink remained.  Am I losing my mind?  Not a single other man, from any generation, seemed concerned about this smell that only I could smell.

And then I was distracted in my quest because school has begun.  Oldest son reached up to the top of refrigerator to grab the lunchboxes.
"Here you go, mom?"  he said, "What's that smell?"
"You smell it?!  Do you really?  Oh, thank you, thank you!  I thought I was losing my mind!  Finally, someone else smells it.  I have NO idea where it's coming from!"  I said as I started making lunches.

...and then I opened oldest son's lunch box...and to my horror, I discovered this...

I screamed.  My son shrieked.  The other boys ran to the kitchen to see.

"What is that?" they yelled.
"That was your croissant cheese sandwich from June 10th," I replied, disgusted with the scene and myself.
And the room erupted in hoots and hollers.  It was the greatest thing they had ever seen.
It stunk and it looked gross.
I was Mother of the Year.

The smell is now gone but the tale will live on.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mistake on the Lake

So, just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.

My husband's family is originally from Cleveland, known to many as "the mistake on the Lake." Today was a perfect example of how this moniker seems to transcend time and space.

Five passengers set sail that day for a three hour trip, a three hour trip.......

Coach and my eldest son, were invited to go crabbing along the beautiful Chesapeake Bay with one of my husband's brothers, Mike, another brother and his young son.  Mike has a boat that he adores; he spends many, many hours on his beloved vessel which I long ago started calling the SS Minnow, primarily because I've often questioned its sea-worthiness.

Never mind the fact that the forecast called for rain for most of the day, never mind that the crab season has been horrible, these men were going crabbing on the eve of Uncle Mike's 50th birthday no matter what.

This episode of Deadliest Catch meets Gilligan began with Coach steering the Minnow into open waters via the requisite 4 foot channel, only to become grounded on a sandbar due to distraction by the 8 and 11 year old first mates.  What follows is the actual recounting by my son:

Mom, it was wild.  So, we were totally stuck and the only way out was to push the boat back into deeper water.  Out of nowhere Uncle Chris took his shoes and shorts off and climbed in the water in his underwear!!!!  He pushed the boat back into the channel, almost naked but not afraid.

The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed.

The crabs were not plentiful.  The chicken necks they brought only drew the attention of eight crabs.  Coach announced the cruise was over and they should head back.

Eldest son continues his interview:
It was raining really hard and I noticed some smoke coming from the back of the boat.  And it got thicker and thicker and Dad was yelling to get the boat in to the dock quick.  I had my life vest on so I wasn't too nervous but we thought the boat was going to catch on fire and Dad told me to turn away from the engine in case it blew up.  We got to the dock and Dad got me out quick, along with everyone else.  Uncle Mike turned the engine off and tied the boat up.  I don't know what was wrong.
Coach said, "I guess we should feel a little badly.  We probably screwed up a lot of the wedding photos."

"What wedding?" I asked.

"There was a wedding going on under a tent right by the dock.  Sort of an embarrassing way to crash a wedding.  I bet all their pictures are going to have quite a bit of smoke in the background."

The Minnow would be lost

Coach continues, "Yeah, Mike called us when we were driving home.  The boat's half sunk at the dock.  Something about the gas line.  I'm glad we're outta there."

"Didn't I tell you guys that I thought this whole crabbing idea was stupid," I said, "You're from Cleveland!  You're not fisherman.  That boat is not seaworthy!"

"Well, not anymore, for sure," replied oldest son.

And with this, dear Jimmy, my father-in-law, who sat quietly during the tale of the SS Minnow, interjected.  "You know, our family is actually a descendant of an Irish sea captain."

"Really?  And how exactly did he meet his eternal reward?  Did he die at sea?" I shouted.

And with this, Jimmy lifts his downcast eyes, starts to chuckle and says, "Well, if we're being honest.....yes, he did go down with his ship."

Mistake on the lake..and the bay...and the open sea.
Point for mom.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Musical Chairs

As another school year begins anew, my sons love hearing tales of old school in our house.  Some of their favorite stories actually come from my husband, who with five brothers, had alot of teacher mayhem tales.  But, growing up in Connecticut, my stories seem to have the New England charm any young boy finds magical with such foreign concepts as well water, skating on frozen ponds, the legend of the Charter Oak tree and of course, school bus stories.

My oldest son plays the trombone.  I feel for him, playing a big instrument and juggling his backpack, books, lunch and whatever else he has to bring to school on any given day.  But in a "When I was your age" one-uppance, I casually said to him, "You're lucky you get driven to school."

"Why?" he asked, "Didn't you like taking the bus when you were my age?"

"Well, sure," I responded, "What's not fun about being with your friends on the ride to school, and picking your special seat and the race every morning uphill (Truly, my walk to the bus stop was uphill albeit, not both ways.)  And when I played the flute in 4th grade, it was fine because a flute is small.  But when I got into 6th grade, I really wanted to be in jazz band.  My teacher told me I should learn another instrument."

"Oh, trumpet," he answered.

"No, better.  Tenor saxophone.  You know, the one with the curved neck and the big bell.  It was fabulous and I was the only girl in jazz band.  I loved it."

"Mom, this story is sort of lame.  What does this have to do with the bus?"

"Your mother sacrificed prime bus seating for her art.  You have no idea what it does to your seating options when you board the school bus with a tenor sax case.  No one wants to sit with you and if they do once, they never do it again.  They do the bus seat spread, moving all their stuff across the seat.  I can spot that look that comes with it a mile away now."

"That's kind of sad.  How long did you play tenor sax?"

"For years, but then I wanted to be in the orchestra and you don't need a tenor sax in that and I knew I couldn't earn a coveted flute chair, so I decided to talk to the teacher again."

At this point middle son chimes in, "Oh my goodness," he explained, "did you play the gong?!"

"No, better.  I played the bassoon.  No one in my school had ever played the bassoon.  It was in the back of the instrument closet.  And that case was even bigger than the tenor case!"

By now, I had them enthralled with my tale of musical, musical chairs.

"Did you ever bring both instruments on the bus at the same time?" they asked, wide-eyed.

"Well, I'm not crazy!  And technically, jazz band and orchestra never met on the same day.  It would have been catastrophic.  But that bassoon case saved my life one morning."

"It did?" they asked.

"Yes, it was a cold, snowy morning in Connecticut but we still had school, because when I was young and lived in Connecticut, they never cancelled school.  And the buses has chains that they put on the wheels to give them traction which they don't use here in Washington, D.C.  As our bus went to stop on our hill, because everything was uphill, it slipped a bit.  But we were young and back then, there were no crossing guards, so we all started to cross.  But the bus wasn't stopping.  And just as I put my bassoon case up, the bus touched it and stopped."

"So, you saved everyone's life," said middle son, grinning from ear to ear.

"And then they all wanted you to sit with them because you saved them all," said oldest son.

"Oh, I never really thought about that," I replied, confused.  "I don't remember them all asking me to sit with them.  I think we just got on the bus and I sat with bassoon, alone.  Oh, I think I like your ending better."

"Yeah, that was a good one, mom.  Goodnight."  And they went to bed and I went to put clothes away in my closet.  And up on the top shelf, looking down at me, was my beloved flute case which I've carried with me all these years because, well, it's much easier to move around with a flute.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Don't Dance

Every time I hear Lee Brice's song I Don't Dance, I think of Coach.  On our recent vacation to Florida, which is 30 hours roundtrip in the car and alot of music, we heard that song innumerable times.
Sometimes in life, it's the seemingly tiny little things one person does for another that make all the difference. For Coach and me, it was four dance lessons that spoke volumes.

On my first date with my now husband at a local pizza place, there was a football game on.  Trying to act like I knew the game, I mentioned the 60-yard line.  Without even looking shocked, Coach turned to me and said, "So, let me get this straight, you sat in the front row in school?"  he asked.
"Yes, and you were the boy who called me for the homework, right?"
It was true love in bloom.  We were night and day; yin and yang.  But somehow it seemed to work.

A high school coach during the time we dated, his baseball team got great joy out the fact that Coach, for the first time anyone could remember, had a girlfriend.  When he took the team to Florida, the pilot of their flight got on the intercom and said to the entire plane, "We have a high school team on board today and the players tell me they are going to win the championship this year.  On behalf of US Airways, we hope that happens because the team has told me their Coach is going to get married if they do."

5 years later, we were getting ready for the big day.  For all of his coaching experience, my sweet husband could not dance.  I wasn't much better; my father was an excellent dancer and a great lead so I really never paid all that much attention.  And those square dance sessions in elementary school PE class weren't going to help us.  Coach agreed to dance lessons at Arthur Murray.  We arrived at the studio, CD in hand with our wedding song - Marcus Hummon's Bless the Broken Road, the original, before others recorded it as their own.  Coach handed the CD to the instructor and said, "How many lessons do we need to dance to this song?"
She listened to the song, nodded her head and said, "Well, it's not a regular waltz-type song.  Can you pick another one?  I have lots of wedding songs you can choose from."

"No," he said, "This is the song.  If you can't teach me to dance to it, I'll go somewhere else.  The song doesn't change."

"I can do it in four,"  she answered, as if we were contestants on Name That Tune.

With every session, the instructor emphasized that a dancers leads with his body movement, not his words.  It was hard for Coach to grasp that one instruction.  He had to fight hard not to yell "time out" or blow a whistle.  He always wanted to call the plays, to let me know exactly what the moves were. Coach would nod his head and clap, until finally I said, "We're not in a huddle, will you stop that?"

Our wedding video captures the culmination of our four beloved Arthur Murray dance classes.  Coach started out gingerly, counting in time with the music, the entire guest list in a circle around us, his fellow coaches counting off "1-2-3, 1-2-3."  About one minute into the song, Coach said, "Okay, I'm ready.  I'm gonna spin you."  The crowd erupted in cheers at that spin and a fellow coach ran out onto the dance floor and wiped his brow.

Every year on our wedding anniversary, I put on my wedding dress first thing in the morning and we dance to "Bless the Broken Road," usually in the kitchen with our three sons watching and giggling.  And every year on our anniversary, I always wait for the inevitable, "I'm gonna spin you."

He does dance.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rest Stop

Summer time.  Pool.  Cookouts.  Fireflies.  Flip Flops.  Vacation.  Pee Cups.

With five in our family, and Jimmy, traveling by automobile is the ticket we purchase for our summertime getaways.  And we will drive just about anywhere there's a road.  Coach is the driver and I am the assigned navigator, which basically means "all other duties as assigned."  These duties include but are not limited to:

  • Packing
  • Finding the Suitcases
  • Maps & Guidebooks from AAA
  • Cooler cleaning and stocking
  • Snacks
  • DVD Player
  • Arrangements for Dog Care
  • Arrangements for Jimmy Care (just kidding, he does fine on his own)
  • DVD/Audiobook/DJ Duties
  • The Pee Cup (I'll get to that)
The day prior to departure requires a secret trip to our public library whereupon I bring about three bags and fill them with DVDs, audiobooks, and CDs.  Our library has a limit of 50 items on each patron's card, so I've been known to bring my kids' cards and continue the check out on theirs. My record is 85 items for our drive to and from Florida - 15 hours in the car one way.

We make this trip in one drive.  One glorious, loving, peaceful, family-filled 15 hour drive of bonding and sharing.  It is truly memorable.

We play the license plate game, with our checklist of all 50 states.  We've come close but never hit all of them.  For some reason, we think Dakotans must love their states because we've yet to see either North nor South Dakota traversing the Eastern side of these United States.  Or maybe they are smart and stay away.  We've seen Alaska and Hawaii which has raised some questions from the boys.  "No, there's no bridge to Hawaii."

Last year, on our drive home from Florida, we were making good time as we crossed into South Carolina.  Fifteen hours in the car with five people could be multiple pit stops.  However, Coach tries to only stop when the car needs gas or Mom really has to use the bathroom.  The boys?  Well, they are subjected to the "pee cup."  Last year I chose my father in law's very old, very faded Notre Dame travel mug as the pee cup.  Probably an affront to the Fighting Irish but it was perfect, had a lid, was too old and beaten up to be used as a coffee cup anymore and won the title "Pee Cup."

Middle son was disgusted by the concept of the pee cup but Coach wasn't going to stop just yet.  So, I pulled out the cup, handed it to him and said, "It's a moving Rest Stop. Pee."  At first he thought I was kidding but quickly realized I wasn't.

"I can't do that," he exclaimed, "How am I supposed to pee in a moving car?"

"Pretend it's a new circus act."

He peed directly in the cup, giggling with glee the whole time.  He brothers grinning from ear to ear with pride over this huge accomplishment.

"Now hand it to me VERY carefully and I'll put the lid on," I said nervously.

And he handed it off smoothly.

But, in my overconfidence as the mother of three boys and the best prepared navigator ever, I bumped my arm just a tad and the contents of the Fighting Irish mug dispersed.......directly into Coach's lap.

"What the $@%*@(%#!!!!!" he shouted, as the car swerved.

Laughter erupted in the car.  "Mom spilled the pee cup on Dad!  Mom spilled the pee cup on Dad!"  Hoots and howls.  Howls and hoots.  This was better than the time youngest son pooped in the bathtub with his brothers in it with him.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" I said, most sincerely, "I am so sorry!  I don't know how that happened."

"Enough!" Coach exclaimed and the car fell silent.

Completely silent.  Utterly silent.  More silent than any library or church I've ever been in.  For 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour.  All I could hear in my head was the narrator from Spongebob Squarepants - 3 hours later...

...we approached the state line.  "North Carolina Welcomes You," it read.  I looked warily at my dear husband, soaked in urine, and gave a tiny smile.

"Well, I think I'm going stop for some gas here," he said, "and get out of these clothes."

"That sounds like a good idea.....Um, do you want me to pull out some fresh clothes while your getting the gas?"

"That would be nice.  Thank you.  And can you get rid of the disgusting mug?"

"Of course, your dad is gonna be upset that I used his alma mater as a urinal, but do you think you could run in and buy another cheap cup....you know, just in case?"

"Certainly.  I'd be happy to.  It's worked out so well."

Mom smiles lovingly at Dad.  Dad gets out of the car to get the gas and I turn to the three boys and say, "This is fun, isn't it?"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

You did What?

While watching a Lifetime movie the other night, I could clearly hear every word of the announcer on the evening's baseball game blaring from the kitchen television.  I went to investigate and found dear Jimmy, my father-in-law, engrossed in a Nationals game.

"The TV volume is on 98, Dad."

"What?  Oh, is it?  I didn't even notice."

"Do you think it might be time to have your hearing checked?" I offered.

"What?!" he shouted.

I took that as an affirmative answer and a few days later, made the call to Costco's hearing aid clinic.  I knew Jimmy would be upset but I figured that this Driving Miss Daisy thing we have going needed a bit of an intervention and I was up to the task.  But, of course, I didn't actually tell him I made the appointment.....until the morning it was scheduled.

"What?" he shouted, "What are you doing to me?  I'm perfectly capable of making my own medical appointments.  I've been to Costco already and checked that out," he snapped.

"Really? Like you checked out Tai Chi and came home with Chinese food instead?"

"You're never gonna let me live that down, are you?"

"So, what did they say the time you went to the hearing aid clinic?"

"Well, you have to have an appointment and I didn't have one, so I left."

"I see.  Well, I've skipped that step for you.  Get in the car."

Jimmy reluctantly got in the car but he was a pleasant patient at the appointment.  He never reveals to anyone that he is retired surgeon, I think so he can judge their medical knowledge and decide it they are a quack or not.

The clinician told him that he has hearing loss at the higher decibels.

"You mean when I speak to you?" I asked, "I thought you were ignoring me."

Jimmy replied with a smile, "You'll never know."

I then left to shop while Jimmy picked out his new hearing aids.

About 30 minutes later, Jimmy comes around a corner in the crowded store and the clinician comes up to me and says, "Sort of whisper something to him that's not a 'yes or no' question." Oh, I got to make this good, I thought.

"Hey Dad, do you want to buy this piano, a new set of tires or would you rather get a volume pack of Kotex?"

"What?!  Oh, stop that!.....I heard you! They work!"

Well, Jimmy's testing them out now at home, a few hours here and there, just to get used to them.  So, sometimes the television is on 98 and some times it's down to 30.  And sometimes I ask him questions by just moving my mouth and not actually saying the words.  But, he hears me muttering about him.  I'm not sure how I feel about this new change.

"What?!" he shouts, "I heard that!  You just shut up."

There's a 90 day return policy...believe me, I'm keeping track...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tail of a Pooper Scooper

In the course of the average day I deal with alot of crap.  Literally.

Who pooped, when, how'd it look, did you flush - or, in the case of our two dogs, where and did you pick it up?  (The usual answer to that one is "No.")

I'm always amazed by those companies that will come to your home and clean up your dog's poop out of the yard.  I wish I had thought of that.  Really?  You're so busy that you can't clean up after your own dog in your own yard?  

Well, I am the pooper scooper at my house and, I'm good.  I can conduct extensive grid searches and clear the yard in no time.  I'm a daily scooper because one time we had some work done on our plumbing lines outside (see a trend here?) and the poor guy knelt down right in a pile.  He had to go home and change.  I felt horrible, although I would I have thought he'd have a change of clothes in his truck, because, well....he was plumber and there's a definite potental for plumbing "accidents."

The other day I said to my middle son, "You need to pick those Legos up off the family room floor!"
"Okay!" he replied, "I'll do it when I'm finished building.
"No, you need to do it now so the puppy doesn't eat them."
"Munson won't eat the Legos!  They don't taste good," he retorted.
"Yes, he will eat them. Puppies eat anything and he will poop out Legos."

Hysterical laughter.  Puppies pooping Legos!  Oh, mom, how silly.  They were mocking me.

"Yes, he will and he already did!" I exclaimed, "There was a yellow brick in his poop yesterday and the day before he pooped a minifigure leg!"

All play ceased in the family room and three sets of eyes stared at me in horror.

"How do you know that?" eldest son exclaimed.

"I found them in his POOP!" I said.

"Mom, you are disgusting!  You look through the dog's poop?!" he yelled.

"Well of course, I look through the dogs' poop when I'm picking it up.  That's what a mother does!  It's part of the rules.  We have to look at poop.  I've been looking at your poop since the day were you born."

"That's just wrong," replied middle son.

"Do you know that they wouldn't let me out of the hospital with you until you pooped during the first 24 hours of your life?  And do you know that I waited 23 hours and 58 mintues before you pooped?!"

"Did you put that story in his baby book? Because that's really embarrassing," eldest son said.

"No!  A mother just remembers these things.  So, when I tell you pick up the Legos, please pick up the Legos so I don't find any more in Munson's poop."

"Okay, I'm sorry.......Um, mom?" said middle son.

"Yes," I replied.

"Did you put those Legos that Munson pooped back in the Lego bin because I really don't want those pieces anymore." he said quietly.

"I'll never tell," I replied, feeling triumphant.

"Oh crap!" I heard, as I left the room.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

...and I'll Never Go Hungry Again

My grandmother, Lord have mercy on her soul, as she would say, the one who had "ears like an elephant" never had a problem speaking her mind.  I'm sure by the time she sailed from her home in Ireland to America, she had told more than one person her opinion.  She was a woman of great faith, unafraid to tell any pastor if he was wrong, devoted to her family and her church.  Any unsuspecting visitor was sure to be doused in holy water right in the eye by Grammy, if they weren't fast enough.  "Bless yourself, bless yourself.  Don't forget to bless yourself," she'd always say.  Everyone blessed themselves; even friends who weren't Catholic quickly learned to bless themselves.

Grammy loved to bake and she was excellent at it.  She came to America with a job cooking for a wealthy family.  I have fond memories of visiting my grandparents and having baking lessons with her.  And it truly was a lesson.  She'd have the kitchen in their tiny apartment all set up with a list of what we were baking that day.  She was the teacher, instructing me that time was critical in baking so the baker must get all her supplies in one trip and not forget a single ingredient. She told me that back at her cooking school in Ireland, students who forgot anything in their one trip had to stand the entire class with their fingertips resting on the table and were not allowed to participate.  She said she forgot once and never did again.  I used to stand sometimes and see what it would be like to endure that punishment.

Her other piece of advice, which I still call upon today is "You have to know your oven."  Of course you do.  Even as I grew up, moving from apartment to apartment with friends, she'd always remind me that the oven was my friend, if I took the time.  Just the other day my husband burned a pizza and I just replied, "You didn't know your oven."

Many years ago she told me about her nephew back in Ireland.  She was so proud of him.  A chef, he was classically trained in France and had not one, but two restaurants back in Ireland.  As a surprise, I located this distant cousin and called him at his restaurant.  I knew he had published a couple of cookbooks and that my grandmother would love them.  He was kind, but short to me on the phone; not the reception I was expecting from a long-lost relative from the Old Sod.  But, he sent me the books for her and I presented them on Christmas.  She was thrilled to have them and I shared that this cousin didn't seem all that enthusiastic about us when I had spoken to him.

"Oh, of course not," she replied in her lilting brogue, "my brother sent him to an orphanage after his wife died but kept his older brother."

"What???!!" I exclaimed, "you never told me that!"

"That's how it was done back then, dear child.  It was so hard."

"So, he hates us and I called and asked him to ship three books for free to America.  I also told my boss to eat at his restaurant and mention us.  It's like taunting him."

"Oh, I'm sure he's over it by now."

And the room erupted in laughter because this was our Grammy, telling it like it was even if the timing was a bit off.

When Grammy met my now-husband for the first time, she loved him.  I was surprised because she was always a tough judge.  Perhaps though she had softened since her daughter, my mother, had died and she was always worried about me.  And I was still single, at 30 years old.  Coach and Grammy hit it off.

When we were leaving, she looked at Coach sincerely and said, "You are a good man; you have honest eyes."

It was just about the sweetest thing I had ever heard.  I was so touched that she approved.  Coach thanked her.

But she wasn't done......

"And I can tell that you have a deep appreciation for food.  And that's wonderful because Alison is so thin, I worry about her.  But now that she's with you, I know she will never go hungry."

And we all smiled, and chuckled, and hugged and kissed and Coach and I left....and when we got in the car, Coach said, "Your grandmother just called me fat."

"No, no," I replied, "She never said that.  She said you have excellent taste, both in food and women.  You should embrace that.  It's the Irish....you gotta love the Irish," I said with wink and a smile.  "We're a lucky people.  You are blessed.  Bless yourself."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cook-a-doodle Doo Doo

We have lovely neighbors.  All of them.
However, the other day one called to complain about our dogs.
"They are barking alot," neighbor said.
"Yes, I know, I'm very sorry," I replied.
"They are disturbing the peace," she went on.
"Well, there are actually 10 deer in the backyard and that is what has set them off.  The dogs are on the deck, I'll bring them in now and it will quiet down," I promised.
"They are loud, she continued.
"Again, I'm sorry, it's just there are so many deer walking through right now.  What am I supposed to do about the deer?" I pleaded.
"The deer belong here, they are a part of the neighborhood; the dogs do not," she said sternly.
"Really?  That's your argument?  What about your rooster?" I inquired.
"Excuse me?" she said, startled that I realized she actually had a rooster and chickens.
"Yes, your lovely rooster, who I hear all day long and even into the night and early morning.  Is that a normal neighborhood sound?  I haven't had the chance to call and thank you for that sound. And your beautiful honey bees with the gorgeous bee hives you have.  I love watching the bees fly from our yard to yours on their nectar path.  I'm so glad we don't have any allergies but I'd sure love to try some of that honey you make sometime," I said.
"Well, I don't hear the dogs anymore. Thank you.  I appreciate it."
......and she hung up.....
and the deer cut through the yard and the dogs sometimes bark and the bees buzz and rooster ALWAYS crows....and those are the sweet sounds of the wild...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Amazing Grace

I have a list of people I take care of.  Most are human and most are related to me although a couple are canines but I suppose they qualify since they do, indeed belong to me.  Every so often though, life brings another person into your life and you just can't walk away.

A few years ago, I helped take care of my husband's great aunt.  A former nun, she was my late mother-in-law's aunt.  Grace's neighbor called one day to say that she felt Grace could no longer live alone.  We started the process of trying to find somewhere for her to live; some type of nursing home that would immediately take someone on Medicaid - there weren't any, or at least any that had a bed.  I thought we had a fair amount of time but dear Grace called one night and said she was scared and that was it.  My father-in-law, Jimmy, and a nephew made the 3 hour drive and moved her and all her belongings here - four generations, spanning 90 years.  It could have been a mini-series or a comedy.

I told Dan that I resented the fact that I had already buried both my parents and now, here I was, helping a woman I wasn't actually even related to.  But, it got me thinking.  There were alot of Aunt Grace's in the world.  Who is looking out for them?  And here's this one woman who needs help and she was put in front of us and she needs us.

Aunt Grace was ecstatic.  She loved being in the house, loved her great-great nephews, loved the myriad of family who lived nearby, and especially loved Mickey the dog.  Every morning she had a cup of black coffee, a piece of toast with butter and jam, some scrambled eggs, and a piece of bacon that I often suspected was deposited straight into Mickey's mouth, but I couldn't prove it.  She said it was delicious.  It didn't take long for us to realize that while living alone, despite what she told us, she hadn't been eating.  She also revealed to me that she had some money woes.  We quickly discovered that she had been using her credit card for daily living and despite the fact that she was 94, retired and on a fixed income, the credit card company kept increasing her credit limit and making threatening phone calls.  That set "my Irish" over the top.  One of our immediate steps was to get power of attorney and quickly put an end to her credit card saga.  It gave me such delight to tell them they would never see another dime.   They never bothered her again.  We retrofit a den into a bedroom on the first floor since she couldn't do stairs.

I did notice that Grace cried out during the night in fear and on a number of mornings, she told me that someone was breaking in and stealing food out of the refrigerator.  Despite how many times I assured that wasn't happening, she insisted, so I decided that I would call upon her days in religious life and we'd pray.  My oldest son sat and prayed with her, pulling out a rosary and saying a decade with her.  I bought her a monthly prayer book, we had a friend come give her communion.  It seemed to calm her.

And then one afternoon, I came home from picking my boys up from school and found Aunt Grace trying to walk our 50 pound, rather excited dog.  All I could envision was "broken hip."  That same day we got the call.  The nursing home, run by 8 blessed Polish nuns, had a room for Grace.   A private room, nonetheless.  It also had a chapel and Mass every morning.  It was perfect, beyond perfect.  And then the guilt started to set in, as I sat with Aunt Grace and explained that I found her very own place where she would be well cared for and near family.

Grace settled in fairly nicely in her new home.  Of course, she told me it was too expensive, the food was too much, her neighbor was weird, etc. I told her it was just like when I went to college.  Jimmy was always visiting her and helping her out but for some reason, she bonded more easily with me.  It became the joke that when he walked into her room, her first words were, "How is Alison?"  She somehow just trusted me.  I decorated her room with pictures of family and captions so she didn't have to worry about forgetting names. Family came regularly to visit her. She spent most days in the chapel to the point that every one there assumed she was a nun.

Aunt Grace spent almost two years there before she simply couldn't go on.  She was in and out of the hospital a few times before we had to make the difficult decision not to have her transferred any further.  I explained to her that her heart was beginning to fail and we thought it best to let her stay at the nursing home.  "Do you understand what I'm saying, Grace?"
"Yes, I've had a good life and I just want to stay here.  It's alright, Alison.  I like when you are with me. You make me happy and I thank you for your kindnesses."
I remember crying after I left her that day, thinking I was responsible for the next chapter.

Her health rapidly declined in subsequent weeks.  The boys and I visited her regularly; the nuns rewarded the boys by letting them pick out candy from their secret stash.  They loved it there - if young boys can love a nursing home.

Grace passed away on New Year's Day, just four days shy of her 96th birthday.  My oldest came with me when we got the call.  I l left him for a period of time alone with her, to take care of few things, while we waited for the funeral home to arrive.  I will never forget walking into the room and there was my son, bouncing a super ball against the wall, directly over Aunt Grace's head.
"What are you doing?!" I exclaimed, "You'll hit her."
"Umm, mom, I don't think it's going to hurt her and she wasn't answering me when I trying to make conversation, you know."
Point taken.
We donated all her things, taking just her rosary and a few other mementos.  I remember leaving there with the small bag of items and that's it.  96 years and a few things.  A good friend once told me that whenever she saw a hearse, her dad would say, "See? No U-Haul. You can't take it with you."

Aunt Grace was cremated and we kept her urn in our dining room for the weeks prior to her memorial Mass.
It sat quite uneventfully until one afternoon my oldest son said, "Mom?  Can you move Aunt Grace?"
"What?" I said, forgetting what on earth he was referring to.
"I'm trying to do my homework in here and I feel like she's staring at me!" he called out.
"Oh," so I went in and moved Aunt Grace to face out the window and watch Mickey play.
She stayed a few more days until we moved her to her final home.
Not unexpectedly, the nuns began the service with "Amazing Grace."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I'm Out!

In effort to focus just a tiny bit more on me, I decided to join a water aerobics class at our local pool.  In the past I've tried yoga but found I couldn't stop wondering what time it was.  I tried Zumba but realized that while I thought I was a great dancer in college, when the lights are up and there's no bar, my "moves" don't seem to flow.  And with a job, 3 sons under the age of 11, one husband, one father in law, one elderly dog and a new puppy, I have been unable to find an appropriate exercise class at 3am - the time I actually am free.  So, 7pm Mondays seemed to work; I figured I'd feel invigorated enough afterwards to be ready for one my vice, Jack Bauer on 24.  I'd feel so strong, so in shape, that even I could single-handedly save the world.

If I could focus......The first night of class I left my darling family at home.  Upon arriving and scanning the class, I realized that I was the youngest participant by about 20 years.  That's okay, I thought, it takes a village and these elders will pull me though, we'll work together.  I'm in the pool no less than 10 minutes when out of the corner on my eye, I see Jimmy, my father in law, stroll in, pull up a lounge chair and sit directly in front of the class.  He smiles and waves at me.  The woman all turn and look at me, one sort of glaring at me.  It takes me a minute and then all of a sudden it dawns on me and in a panic, I say, "That's my father in law!  That's my father in law, My husband's dad!  We live with him."  What I acutally wanted to scream was, "That's NOT my husband." (not that there's anything wrong with being married to someone 30 years older than you.)

I get through the end of class, get out of the pool and walk over to Jimmy.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"I just thought I'd come check out the pool and see what this class is all about?" he replies.
"Jimmy, I love you, but you can't come to the pool when I'm in class."
"Of course I can.  I'm a member.  I can go anywhere I want!" he retorts.
"You can come to the pool during this class only if you go to Tai Chi," I say.
"Oh, cut me to the quick!  Are you going to hold that over my head?"
"Apparently I am."

Next Monday, I go to class.  Again, ten minutes after it starts, Jimmy appears with the rest of the family, including my husband, the Coach.
"Oh dear Lord," I groan, while trying to stay afloat.
My four year old yells, out, "Hi mommy!"
The older two hop in the pool, swimming just close enough to me to whisper, "Good job, mom!  Keep going!  Work it, mom!!"
And my exercise classmates, now convinced that I am indeed married to someone closer to my age, turn to me and say, "Oh, you have such a supportive family, that's so lovely!"
"Yes, I am truly blessed," I say through gritted teeth, uncertain if it's because I can't stay afloat or I'm angry.

Class ends and my family actually applauds as I get out of the pool.
Coach says, "It's good for a family to exercise together."
"I'm the only one in the pool," I say, "The boys are sneaking around behind me and you and your father are ordering half smokes from the snack bar!"
"Well, we were inspecting the quality of food and I was just getting some cross-training insight for my team.  It's all fine, Al.  We're supporting each other."

In the words of Jack Bauer, "I'm out!"  at least of the pool as it has now ended for the season; there'll be another episode of this family though; I know it's been renewed.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


One of my mother's closest lifelong friends has dementia.  Gail was the one who rang the doorbell at midnight the night my parents divorce was final, greeting my mother Alice with a bottle of champagne to toast the start of a new life.  She drove my mom to chemo.  She cheered her up when things looked down.  She was just quirky enough to help my mom laugh when there seemed to be little to laugh about.  

Gail has been one of my closest friends since my mother's death almost 28 years ago.  She took me prom dress shopping, lending me her beautiful earrings to wear.  She helped me shop when I went away to college; checked in with me regularly; celebrated my wedding and the birth of my sons, and always had a spare bedroom or sofa for me whenever I visited.  She was one of a small circle of women who made a promise to my mother that they would be there for me and she kept that promise.  I have always been grateful for that precious friendship and the link to my mother that has helped keep her memory alive.

I have told friends that losing your mother young is extremely difficult and life-changing.  While it does not define me, it is a part of the fabric of who I have become, as I'm sure it is the same for many others.  I make no promises to my sons that I will live forever.  And while I'm not all doom and gloom to them, I have been honest that no one knows what the future holds, so we must always get back up on our feet, no matter what, and keep living, happily - no matter how hard it may seem, and honor those who came before us.   Like anything constant though, you take for granted the connections and memories.  I am learning now, as I get older, that watching those who were my mother's friends start failing, is almost equally as painful, but it is also another lesson of love.  

I love the movie "You've Got Mail."   And, no matter how times I've seen it, I cry every single time at the scene when Kathleen Kelly closes up the Shop Around the Corner for the last time and takes the bell off the door, only to look back and see her twirling with her mom from years past.  Her character later emails Joe Fox and says, "I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right."  My family and friends and so many of my mother's friends always helped to make it right.  

I've come to realize that as my friend Gail has forgotten to call me over the last few years, I'm starting to grieve not just for her, but for my mother all over again.  Selfishly, I can see that the memories Gail and I once shared are slowly disappearing for her and soon my mother will be a distant memory to her as well, if she remembers her at all or ultimately, if she remembers me.  The last time I spoke to Gail, who is now in a nursing home, she said to me, "Your mother would know what to do with me."  My mother was a nurse and while I was sure that's what she was referring to, I replied, "Oh Gail, you used to drive through the neighbor in that convertible with the top down and that dog or yours in the passenger seat and my mother used to say, "What are we doing to do with Gail?"  And she laughed and laughed and said, "I don't remember that, at least I'm not sure I do, but that made me laugh.  I just need to laugh.  If I can just laugh until the end, I'll be okay."

So, as sad as it is that the memories are fading for her, maybe it's not so much the memories that are what held us together all these years.  It was a bond and even though the memories are broken, the bond remains, long after.  This one person named Alice gave Gail and I a connection that grew into a true friendship - a gift from heaven, a lasting legacy of life well-loved.  To be well-loved, even after the memories are gone, that should be the legacy, I suppose.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Tao of Tai Chi

As I mentioned, I am a woman in a house of men - five men, comprised of my husband, our three sons and my husand's father, Jimmy.  

Jimmy is a great man.  He loves all his sons (there are 6) and all the grandkids.  He'd help anyone who asked.  He's kind, generous, loves Notre Dame and baseball.  He also loves morning Soduko, crossword puzzles and bacon.  He really, really loves bacon.  I have yet to see a bacon he hasn't gotten along with.

Obviously, none of us are getting any younger, so in an attempt to help Jimmy work off that bacon, the family has had subtle interventions.  One family member bought him a walking stick; another a pair of walking shoes.  When the subtle didn't seem to work, my husband and I went for the obvious - a membership to the "Senior Sneaker Club" at our local community center.  

"It's perfect," I exclaimed, "you go any time you want and they have all the equipment there.  It'll be fun."

I let about a week go by when I asked if he had gotten to the gym yet.
"I don't have any workout clothes," he said.
"Oh, let's go buy some now!" I said excitedly.  I knew he didn't like it, but he went with me and we got t-shirts and sweatpants.  Jimmy was ready to go.
"Do you have your membership card?" I asked.
"Oh, I have to get my picture taken for that, I'll do that tomorrow," he said with a sigh.
"No, let's go now and then I can show you all the stuff they have there."
So, we went and he got his ID photo card.  Even my littlest, who's four, was very excited about Grandpa's new gym and held his hand, walking all around to see it all.  Now Jimmy was really ready.  

As we were wandering around, two people he used to work with came out of a class.
"Jim!!" they called enthusiastically, "You joined the gym!  This is great.  We come every Tuesday and Thursday for the Tai Chi class and then we work out a little afterwards.  You need to join us."
"That sounds great," replied Jimmy.  
I was over-the-moon.  What could be better? New sneakers, new clothes, a new membership and instant friends.  "This is gonna be great!" I exclaimed.

Thursday rolled around and I coaxed Jimmy.  "Are you going to meet your friends for Tai Chi?"
"Um, I guess so.  Are you coming?"
"Do you need me to drive you?"
"No, but I mean, do you want to go to the class with me?" he asked timidly.
"Go to the class?  Jimmy, the class is for people over 70.  I don't qualify."
"I bet the teacher would let you in."
"Um, that's okay.  I'll pass.  This is your thing, but I want to hear all about it when you get home."

Jimmy wandered out the door and for a moment I felt a little guilty.  Maybe I should have gone with him, just to help him acclimate.  But really, that's weird.  It was like he was a little boy, nervous about his first day of school.  My goodness, this man's been through combat, he can handle a Tai Chi class on his own. Let it go, Alison.

Forty-five minutes later the front door opens and it's Jimmy, home way too early from his first day of Tai Chi and carrying a brown paper bag with an aroma smelling distinctly of Chinese food.  
I instantly became Mama Bear. "Was someone mean to my boy?  Did they pick on him? Was he hurt?"

"Why are you back so early?  What's the matter?  How was class?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, class.  Well, I decided that maybe for today I would just observe and see if it's something I'd like," he said with a nervous tone.
"And they give out Chinese food after every Tai Chi class?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, this.  I don't know.  I guess you could say I felt inspired by the class," he said with a chuckle.
"I got you some sweet and sour chicken too!  Are you mad at me, Alison?" 

"Oh, Jimmy, I can't be mad at you.  Maybe Tai Chi isn't for you.  Do you want to go for a walk with me and the little guy later?" 

"Oh, that would be great.  Thanks, Al.  I won't let you down."

Jimmy, apparently, is my oldest boy.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Magic Rock

We have a Magic Rock at the house.
Not to be confused with a pet rock, our Magic Rock holds incredible power.

When tending to a Magic Rock it is imperative that you realize that despite its size, the Magic Rock is greater than you, is more stubborn than you and will not budge no matter what you will it to do.  What happens under the Magic Rock is revealed only on its own time.

What have I found under our Magic Rock, you ask?  A tiny, yet vast village with worms, slugs, ants, and beetles going about their daily lives, bustling with energy and purpose.  It may seem ordinary but it's amazing.

Over the years the Magic Rock has revealed many special secrets - baby snakes, a black widow spider, salamanders, a skink family, and dear old toad who we call Yoda because it seems like he's been here forever.  While technically not found UNDER the Magic Rock, there once was a vole living in between the Magic Rock and it's buddy Rock.

On a practical level, my Magic Rock has shown me that watching a black widow spider open up to reveal her red hourglass is stunning and mesmerizing; juvenile skinks have beautiful blue tails, voles have amazing big digger paws and baby rat snakes are really cute.....but their discovery also reminds me that there are a bunch of big, long grown up black rat snakes that won't fit under the Magic Rock...those just slither in the yard and that's not so magical.

I tell my sons that I believe everyone has a Magic Rock somewhere.  It may even be right in front of you and you haven't found it yet.  And the secrets of each person's Magic Rock are only known to them.

I turn my Magic Rock over every morning.  Some days nothing is revealed; other days, especially after a rain storm, it's a rich playground.  Either way the Magic Rock teaches many things, not just about nature but about patience, strength, fortitude, change, time and endless possibility.  It really is magical.  I hope my boys each have their own Magic Rock one day too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Survivor: Walgreens

I was trapped in Walgreens tonight.....seriously.

It's the closest I think I'm ever gonna come to being on Survivor and let me tell you, if the cast of characters were on it with me, I think I might actually get immunity every time.

I found myself at the corner of Healthy and Happy for a quick stop to pick up a prescription.  I saw the dark, menacing sky drawing closer; I felt the dip in the temperature on my skin; and I heard the beeping text alert message warning of impending severe storms.  But, I am a survivor, I can do this, I thought.

The minute I stepped inside, the massive rain clouds opened up, the wind gusted and the power went out in Walgreens.  A woman shrieked.  The power came back on.  I said, "It's a just a storm, we're okay." And then the power went out again.  Off and on repeatedly and with every "on" the pharmacy tech said, "I'm sorry, our registers aren't working so we can't give out prescriptions."  And the woman said, "But, mine is right there," leaning over the counter to point to her bag.
"I'm sorry, I know it's there," he said, "but everything is in here (pointing at the computer) and I can't do the transaction."
The same woman turns to me and says, "Oh no.  Which way is the storm going?  Which way?  What does your phone say?"
Looking dumbfounded, I pulled out my fifteen year old flip phone and said, "I don't have any apps on this phone but the trees are bending in a southeasterly direction."
She said, "I have to get out of here!" and with that she headed straight for the sliding doors and shouted, "We're trapped!  We're trapped!  The doors won't open!!"
I walked over to her, flip phone in hand and said, "No we're not.  Doors open by sliding them with your hand when the power is out.  See?" and I opened the door.
And the pharmacy tech looked over at me and laughed.

The tribe has spoken...on the corner of Happy and Healthy.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Liriope's Lament

I live in an all-male, multi-generational home - three generations to be exact.
Even the dogs are male, well, sort of, but that's for another day.
The gas jokes really haven't changed much in the last 75 years.
My dear father-in-law and I get along grandly.  We really do.  I know full well that I must annoy him at times but he never admits it.  I, on the other hand, do like to gently inform him when he has gotten my Irish up. Today would be no exception....
One of his projects is to improve the front yard landscaping.  We've been working on it together for a while. I asked a landscape architect friend for advice and she made a great sketch, complete with a host of plants for the design and a few landscapers she recommended.
Dear FIL said to me, "You know, we could do this ourselves I bet."
Sure, I thought.  You could get a folding chair and watch me plant all these things.....
"Great," I said, and so our gardening adventure began; he supervising from the folding chair.
Fast forward a year and a some dead plants...
"You know, these plants have a warranty.  You should tell the nursery people they died and maybe we should try something else," I said.
"You're right but the liriope love it here.  I'll look into it," he replied.
And then he left the house without a word.  While I thought I knew what he was thinking, I've given up trying to predict his next moves.  Sort of like the time he left for a Tai Chi class I signed him up for and he came home 45 minutes later with Chinese food....He's hard to pin down.
So....he came home with 15 more liriope.
"Um, aren't you leaving for Chicago tomorrow?" I asked, "How exactly are these going to get planted in this 98 degree heat?"
"Oh, yes, I am but I'll plant them tonight when it's cooler."
Tonight came;
Tonight passed;
He's left;
It's 98 degrees;
I planted all 15 liriope.
He called ten minutes ago from the road.  "Just checking in," he said.
"We're all fine here," I replied, "and the liriope just love their new home."
"Oh geeze, you weren't supposed to do that, I was going to do that!" he shouted.
"Oh no, it's the least I could do," I replied, "I even put an empty chair outside so I could feel your presence."
Thatta girl!" he said, "I hope I wasn't too hard on you out there.  You're a good girl!"

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My maternal grandfather could tell a great story.  It wasn't just that his Irish brogue lilted you into a rhythm and cadence that held your attention; it wasn't that the stories were brought larger than life because he, at about 6' 5" was larger than life; it wasn't that he blended the best of his Irish youth and American immigrant experience.  He was just funny.  Even the most tragic stories ended with a smile and a twinkle in his big, blue eyes that was magical.  His ability to find the funny amidst the sad was inspiring and something I've had to drawn on many times growing up.

The best part about my grandfather's story telling was that he often whispered his tales so as not to intrique my grandmother into coming into the room.  It made the stories even more taboo, more mysterious, more alluring.  Every time he'd start telling a story and his voice hushed, you'd hear my grandmother call from the kitchen, "Now, Poppa, don't go upsetting the child!"  And Poppa would lean in to me and say, "Ears like an elephant."

They've both met their eternal reward many years ago now.  "Lord have mercy on their souls," as my grandmother would say, but his mantra, "Ears like an elephant," was the inspiration for this blog.

As the mother of three boys and the wife of a baseball coach, I'm now the elephant hearing the tales of my herd.

And I can tell you, it's a zoo.....