Autumn Resolutions

There’s a chill in the air and a list coming on!

There’s a chill in the air and a list coming on!

Sitting on my back porch, there is that familiar chill just barely in the air. Fall is coming, and while it signals an ending – leaves will fall and soon thereafter, so will snow -- it always feels like a new start. A do over. A time to begin again with clean, empty notebooks and new ideas. It’s like January, but with better weather. 

Passing earnest parents and eager children with shiny new backpacks at bus stops all over town, I feel the need to make lists, set goals, buy new desk supplies for myself and label them all with Sharpie pens. I instinctively look at the calendar and mark dates for the new school year, even though my “students” are now 21 and 24 years old. What will I do when they are both out of school next year? Maybe I’ll just make note of the bulk garbage pickup days for the coming year.

A few weeks ago, I brought my last child to college; it was the end of an era for that ritual of packing up the car, heading far, far away, (each of my kids chose colleges out of state), nesting her up, ordering pizza and eating it on the floor or the bed or, in this last case, the pretty decent Walmart dining room table. We spend a couple of days talking about goals for the year, classes chosen, how to roast a chicken and turn it into 3 meals for the week, and figure out when will she come home next. Releasing, letting go. Again. “Love you forever … bye! Make good choices! Don’t shame the family!”

Down on the farm, the fall ritual is very much the same. Yearling horses which were weaned last fall have spent the past twelve months frolicking, living, running, fighting and playing in single-sex fenced-in paddocks with simple “run-in barns” available for them to retreat from the sun or the cold and eat some hay, boys on one side, girls on the other, like Catholic high schools. Now, after learning the ropes of living without their mothers, these young adults are brought inside the big barns for the first time. Unlike the run-in barns, these barns have individual stalls with doors, something that none of these youngins are used to. Walking into the barn a few weeks ago, the stalls were teeming with noisy young horses, unsettled with excitement, fear, agitation and bewilderment. These young fillies and colts went from nursing from their mothers last summer to living together in a wild herd over the past year. Now they are getting ready to go to the big yearling horse sales and they have to learn their manners, learn how to be led, wear a halter, learn how to be alone in a stall, to eat out of a feed bowl, and act civilized. Once they are sold to new owners, most will then be taught how to be race horses, trotters. It’s like horses going to college, without the pizza.

Another ritual of my autumn is my annual Slugfest reunion with my college pals. When it began, some thirty-three years ago, it was a summer affair where we sat on the dock lakeside in upper Minnesota, drank cheap beer and talked and laughed all weekend long. Once we started having children, our schedules became full of swim meets, little league games and family vacations and so our reunions moved to the autumn. Somewhere along the line, at the end of the weekend, we began to make Slug resolutions, or as we like to say, “un-goal goals.” Being good friends and not wanting to burden each other with guilt or pressure, we soft peddled our expectations.  Each year, any one of us will say, “By this time next year, if I feel like it, I will entertain the idea of possibly thinking about accomplishing _____ … maybe.” These un-goal goals range from lofty (getting an MBA, moving to a new city, changing jobs, getting yoga certified or training for a marathon) to the mundane (cleaning out the basement, organizing family photos, learning how to play the ukulele, or writing a blog). 

Each autumn the yearling horses come into the barn and learn their manners.

Each autumn the yearling horses come into the barn and learn their manners.

 I’ve got a long list of things that I haven’t gotten around to accomplishing yet, that roll over from one year to the next: learn conversational German and Italian, organize my photos (that’s thirty years’ running now), clean out my basement (just about as long), lose ten pounds.  And my bar keeps getting lower; getting a good night’s sleep at least once a week and not suffering fools for one second are at the top of this year’s list. But also write more, travel more, seize every mother grabbing day. And on the Zen side: do more yoga, meditate more, be present because Life changes quickly. I am throwing a new one on the heap that feels a little lofty: think about thinking about possibly learning about podcasting. We’ll see …

By the time I finish my Slugfest reunion, I will come home rested, rejuvenated and inspired … just in time for Halloween, then it’s November, Thanksgiving, Christmas and yes, the new year. Perhaps I will have checked off a few of my “to do’s” by then? 

I can tell you right now, probably not. 

That’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for.

Dancing Fool

For the past couple of weeks, I have spent my Sunday mornings on the couch with ice packs on my knees. We had back-to-back weddings of the daughters of dear friends and I was a straight up dancing fool at each. I just can’t help myself. When a great song comes on at a party or event (but sometimes, just in my kitchen), be it a golden oldy or a nasty-lyric hip hop song, I’ve gotta comeonshakethatbodybabydothatconga. I can’t contain myself. Back in college in the 80’s, I loved a good disco to just let loose, dance off the stress. I’d walk back to my dorm or apartment with completely soaked clothes and wet, slicked back hair. All signs of a great time had. But nowadays, my only dance outlet is at weddings. And no one seems to have told my inner dancing queen that I have middle aged knees. Hence the ice packs.

I grew up dancing at weddings. Because I am the youngest cousin on both sides of my enormous family, I went to dozens of weddings growing up. Dancing with my dad at those weddings was like being whipped about like a gymnast’s ribbon. He would stand in the middle of the dance floor like the center of a Spirograph drawing toy, twirling me in and out, making imaginary circles on the dance floor. It was nauseating, but oh so fun.

There would be the inevitable polka at all weddings. All the parents would jump up and join in for the Beer Barrel Polka. (It must be a uniquely Cleveland thing to have polkas at an Irish wedding.) After enough cocktails, everyone miraculously knows how to polka. This goes for traditional Irish dancing as well. An Irish reel will start, the dance floor opens up, and someone starts hopping around with her arms at her sides, sometimes with a bottle of beer on her head, kicking and bobbing in a boozy, albeit impressive version of Lord of the Dance. 

The montage of any wedding dance floor is so amusing. There are those, like me, who dance with abandon, not giving a hoot what anyone thinks of us, sweating up the dance floor like crazed dervishes. And then there are those who need plenty of lubrication and fuel from alcohol before they step foot out there. By and large, these are men. By the time the poor things get out there, they are at a loss as to how to move their bodies, so they devolve into  … I don’t know what, really. Wrestling moves? There is low crouching involved, and shuffling back and forth as if they are bracing for combat. Is that guy going to dance with me or pin me? What is going on?

Then there is the Frat Boy Dancer. He, too, isn’t quite sure what to do with his body. So, he brings out some tried and true moves: the sprinkler, the lawn mower, the grocery shopper, the baseball pitcher, the quarterback throwing a football, the fisherman. It’s kind of pathetic, but as long as he moves to the beat, I’ve got no problem with that. At least he’s trying.

Of course, at some weddings, there is the inappropriate, Overly Sexual Dancer who loses herself in her dance fantasy. Sure, it feels great in the moment to channel Tawny Kitaen from a White Snake music video (, but does your family or, God forbid, your children really need to see that? I will confess, though, that I occasionally I will find myself spanking my own ass or doing a slow-motion version of twerking … and I am working on that.

My favorite dancer at a wedding is The Baby Dancer. It’s so inspiring and life affirming to see that innate, human instinct to move to a beat. At one recent wedding, a three-year-old was getting on there doing baby plies in the middle of the dance floor, all while holding a hair brush for some reason. It called to mind when my oldest daughter, Flora, was just a toddler and would crawl over to our large floor speakers, hang on tight and do deep knee bends in time to the Beatles White Album. She especially loved Rocky Raccoon. Fauna was very fond of Irish Step Dancing, practicing her “over two three, over two three, kick kick over two three, over to three 4 5 6 7, point cut up and a point hop back” across the front lawn for hours. My youngest, Merriweather, had great rhythm as an infant, rocking some impressive upper body isolation moves to the beat of just about anything: music on commercials, Van Morrison CD’s, a mourning dove’s coos on the back porch. Again, that instinctive, God-given need to move to the groove.

I always wanted to be a real dancer, a ballerina, or a Rockette. Though the good Lord didn’t bless me with the talent or body type, I inwardly envisioned myself Cyd Charisse from An American in Paris, Ginger Rogers from Top Hat , Rita Moreno from West Side Story, Madonna or Paula Abdul from their 80’s music videos. (And of course, Michael Jackson … but nowadays, he’s too problematic to enjoy.) I took ballet, jazz, tap for some 30 years, from teen years and well into adulthood, until my damned knees wouldn’t let me plie quite so deeply anymore and vertigo made pirouettes miserable. Years ago, as a young mother, I signed up for a hip hop dance class with a friend, trying desperately to keep my groove on between midnight feedings and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My friend backed out, but I continued on, only to discover that all the other participants were teenage girls. No matter. I, at about age thirty-five, carried on, undaunted, feeling like a teenager myself. I could grapevine, box step, high kick and jazz hands my ass off. “I got this.” Until my young classmate turned to me as we were practicing our hip rolls and said, “Wow, you’re really good. I wish my mom would take hip hop.” Reality set in. “Yep, I’m just a big goofy mom out here,” I said to myself.  And then out loud to her, “Hey, do you babysit?” Best to make the class worthwhile.

My dancing spirit animal is an 80+ year old woman whom my husband and I encounter on an annual Blues Cruise. I don’t know her name or where she’s from. I only know that every night she is there, on the dance floor with her outrageous outfit, long opera gloves and long, gray hair in a top ponytail braid, whipping it around in helicopter circles above her head. My guess is that she used to be quite a dancer back in her day, but that her knees no longer can stand the workout, so she’s resorted to the hair whipping. 

We’ve got another round of weddings coming up this autumn, and I look forward to cutting a rug, making a fool of myself, bumping, grinding, twirling, dancing like no one is watching. There will be sore knees the next day, but it will be worth it. I’ll be sure to have the ice packs in the freezer. But maybe I should just start growing my hair out? I wonder if I can rock that top pony braid?

Dancing like no one’s watching … It ain’t pretty, but it sure is fun.

Dancing like no one’s watching … It ain’t pretty, but it sure is fun.

Chasing Rainbows  

The Bible says that God sent a rainbow to Noah as a promise that he would never again destroy the Earth with a flood. (Genesis 9:13–17) The weather this summer has me thinking that God is rethinking that promise. The rains of late spring/early summer 2019 have indeed felt biblical. My suburban backyard has a substantial new pond in the corner of the lot off and on, serving as a reflecting pool for my statue of the Blessed Virgin. It actually looks rather pretty, with the BVM’s reflection shimmering in the water. The moss that has formed on my back steps, not so much. Sitting on my back porch, the landscaping around it feels like a rain forest, with leafy branches pressing into the screens and the air thick with humidity. 

 Out in the country, farmers are planting late, if at all, afraid that either their equipment will get stuck in the mud or their seeds will be swept away in another gulley washer. 

One happy byproduct of all this rain is the occasional rainbow. Is there anything more wonderous? From my perch on the hilltop at our farm, I will often see rainbows form in the streaming sunshine after or during a light rain. If we have a house full of people, everyone will stop what they’re doing and rush outside to take in this natural spectacle. In the mist of sun/rain, it will appear like an apparition, a mirage, faintly at first. You may rub your eyes, unsure of what you’re looking at. Then, as the sun breaks through the rain droplets, there it is: a prism of color, red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, violet. In this day of jaded perspectives on just about everything, I find it so refreshing that we all can agree that a rainbow is awe inspiring.

Whenever I see a rainbow forming in the mist, I think of my sweet, recently departed mother-in-law. She used to say, offhandedly, “The Devil’s beating his wife” whenever she saw the sun come out when it was raining. She spoke it in a sweet Texan drawl, casually, as if to say, “That darned rascal.” What a strange saying. It always made me think, “Hold on. The Devil has a wife?!” Talk about tough duty. Also, who would marry that guy?  Some poor gal who really couldn’t stand cold winters, I’m guessing, bought into the Devil’s promises, “Girl, I’ll take you to a place where it literally never gets cold. It’s hot, hot, hot!” 

Speaking of rain, I’ve been humming this ditty lately: “Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day. Baby wants to go and play. Come again another day.” It was clearly written by a stir-crazy mother with young children.  Yes, Baby does want to play outside. But have you ever been stuck inside with small preschool children when the weather is lousy? Mommy clearly wants to get the hell out of the house, too. She might even date the devil after a few days of being a shut-in.

I’ve also been haunted this classic ear worm: “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man in snoring. He went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t wake up in the morning.” So, what happened there? Was the old man a drunk? Did he die, or was he just hung over, not able to wake up? Or was he snoring, his wife couldn’t stand it anymore and bopped him on the head? (I can relate to that.) Whatever happened, my hunch is The Old Man had it coming.

 But back to rainbows. The Double Rainbow Guy from several years ago was a constant source of amusement for my household when my kids were little. Remember him? He was famous on YouTube for his jubilant, over-the-top, emotional response to finding not one, but two rainbows in the sky. Pretty sure there was some drug use involved. But who could really blame him for his excitement? I mean, one rainbow is very cool. Two? It’s like winning the rainbow lottery. “Double rainbow all the way … so intense …” I love Double Rainbow Guy.

We humans have long celebrated rainbows. Their distant, ethereal, unattainable beauty inspires us all to dream, reach, strive, seek pots of gold and hang out with leprechauns … Finnian’s Rainbow: “Look, look, look to the rainbow … Follow the fellow who follows a dream.” The Rainbow Connection: “Someday we’ll find it, The Rainbow Connection … the lovers, the dreamers and me.” Judy Garland’s Over the Rainbow: “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I’ve dreamed of, once in a lullaby.” And the morose flipside of that song, I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, “watching clouds go drifting by. My schemes are just like all my dream, ending in the sky.” There’s something about that supernatural magnificence that pulls at our souls, bringing out an everlasting yearning.

Long ago, my husband and I attended a gorgeous wedding in Ireland, where rainbows live 24/7. The party favors were umbrellas decorated with the saying “Unto every life, a little rain must fall,” which I thought was beautiful and poignant saying, albeit a strange one for a wedding. Turns out it was rather prophetic, as that the bride left the marriage a few years later and the rain fell hard. The groom eventually remarried a wonderful woman and found happiness and lasting love, though. Which just goes to show you, behind every rain cloud, there indeed can be a rainbow.

Double rainbow, all the way! So intense!

Double rainbow, all the way! So intense!

Living in the Gray Zone

The truth is gray.

The truth is gray.

Looking in the mirror these days, mortality winks at me as I notice the increasing gray, scraggly hairs at my crown. Life has been a little busy these days and the last thing I’ve had time for is fixing my gray roots. Oh, well … I’ll get to it eventually. But I will get to it. 

I have a few friends who have fully given in and accepted the gray, and they look fabulous. Each is as smart, striking, confident and beautiful with her silvery mane as she was before. More so, perhaps, because each gals has that beautiful quality of women in their 50s who knows who she is and just doesn’t give a what any more about anything other people think about her.

I’m going in soon to refresh my look and my color, but deep inside, I want to be the woman who accepts her gray hair gracefully and with pride. I’m just not there yet. I’m afraid gray hair will wash out my already pale coloring, leaving me all but invisible. (I mean, more invisible than a middle-aged woman already is.)

I’m a little disappointed in myself at shying away from gray. After all, I pride myself in living in the “gray zone.” I am not an absolutist on many things; I don’t really look at the world in black and white terms. I’m a big believer in “everything in moderation.” (Even though my oldest brother claims that “moderation can be overdone.”) I believe that sanity is in the middle. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. 

I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but an Independent. (With all that’s going on in politics these days, do you blame me?) I am completely exhausted by the chronic “othering” of folks on either end of the spectrum, vilifying “those Republicans” or “those Democrats,” as if each was a faceless, genderless, soulless thing. I know and love people with whom I do not entirely agree on matters of politics. Are these people evil or stupid or hell bent on ruining America? No. They just have different, well thought out opinions than I do. What’s the matter with that? Being what the media seems to think is a rare breed these days, a moderate, I have learned this and that from either side of all these roiling debates. I know there are more of us out here. The truth lies in the middle. I personally think our president is a pig, a ham-fisted, narcissist who has an adolescent’s temperament and is completely confounding in his communications. I would not invite him over for dinner, but I think he’s doing some things that make sense. Taking China to task for their misdeeds, for one. I think no one should be discriminated against for anything and that we should all just live and let live. Everyone needs to just chill the hell out. But I also think that “identity politics” is tearing our country apart, separating us into little fiefdoms, instead of uniting us into a village.

I believe that we are a proud country of immigrants, built and made great by our diversity and that we should make it easier for folks to immigrate legally. But I think we do need a coherent immigration policy that has rules about illegal immigrants that is humane and empathetic, while also protecting the safety of our country and its citizens. I still tear up at the Statue of Liberty poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Take care of folks who need refuge and they will be forever grateful and loyal to America. As far as politics is concerned, sanity is in the middle. (Please! Send us someone in the middle!!)

I consider myself a Catholic, but I’d say I’m a gray zone, “cafeteria Catholic.” I’ve got serious issues with the patriarchy of the church and its inability to get on top of this abuse scandal. Most times I go to mass, I am saddened to see only men in charge. Jesus’ most loyal followers were women, after all. They were the ones at the foot of the cross and the ones who showed up to wash his body, were visited by angels and discovered the Resurrection. When I see coverage of the goings on at the Vatican, to only see men shuffling about and not cleaning up the huge mess there… Well, it’s very dispiriting, to say the least. But I pray, go to church very irregularly, I’m a fan of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, the Beatitudes, and the New Testament. I am Jesuit-educated (much to the chagrin of my conservative father who thought the Jesuits were a little “way out”) and I still call myself a Catholic. But I also believe that God speaks to us through other religions, through methods of meditation, yoga, nature. Why wouldn’t he/she? As far as I’m concerned, God lives in the gray zone. (And probably rocks gray hair … Just ask Michelangelo).

I’m pretty gray zone about dieting, never been one to adhere to strict dictates. All my life, as soon as I try to lose weight by going on a fad diet, all I can think about is food and I end up gaining weight. Lately, my body is telling me it’s not a fan of gluten, so I avoid it. But sometimes bread or pasta just needs to be eaten. Raised in a big family, I’ve grown accustomed to eating pretty much anything put before me. But as an adult, I do choose my food mindfully. I mean, life is short, man. Eat good food!

Exercise and being fit has always been important to me, but you know … when I have time. Like my sister-in-law once said about running marathon, “I don’t even do things that feel good for three hours.” I like to move, and break a sweat. But I also love my sleep and, and when my kids are in town from school, allow myself to lie around and watch Netflix with them all day. Too much of that, though, and my body gets sore and achy, so I get moving again. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

This Marie Kondo method of purging one’s house of all nonessential things is indeed inspiring. That kind of thing has been at the top of my New Year’s Resolution lists every year. And yet, my junk drawers are all full of, well, junk. (Let’s be honest: all my drawers are junk drawers). I really want to be the person who wants to do all that. I want to be OCD just a couple of days a month, so I can get that crap done. But so far, no luck. I’m hanging out in the gray zone with some organized drawers, some labeled boxes, and piles of random stuff like family movies from fifty years ago and piano books from my childhood hanging out in the corner of the living room, waiting for a home. Some rooms are more organized than others. Oh well. 

So, does all this mean that I am wishy washy? A flip flopper? A moral relativist, with no conviction or true beliefs? On the contrary. I believe most people feel passionate about some things, and let other things go because they’re too busy working, laughing, crying, raising their kids and living to get all bothered by someone who has differing opinions on politics, religion, or hair color, for that matter. The media and politicians want to whip us into a frenzy, to choose hard sides. But I think that most people who are strict absolutes about things just aren’t listening, really hearing what the opposition has to say. My hunch is that there are many more “gray zone” folks like me. 

But I am going to color that hair.


Going After After-Prom

I was out walking my dog the other day and came upon a neighbor maniacally mowing his grass, hurriedly power walking back and forth across his front yard. “Hey, how’s it going?” I asked, rather worried about his mental sanity. “Ok,” he sighed. “I just got in from chaperoning my daughter’s After-Prom party. I’msohoppeduponcoffee … I can’t sleep.” Ah, so that explained his fervent mowing.

My mom sewed a lace jacket to go over my Kiana dress, so as not to be too fleshy.

My mom sewed a lace jacket to go over my Kiana dress, so as not to be too fleshy.

“What the hell happened to Prom, by the way?” he asked, all dazed and disheveled. “I was dressed up as a clown last night. A clown, for chrissakes. This After-Prom party was more stage-managed than the Oscars. All to keep these kids from drinking. And you know what they’re all doing today? Drinking. In a cabin somewhere … I don’t know why we all don’t just rent them a hotel room, fill the bathtub up with cans of 3.2 beer and let them have at it. You know, like we all did.” 

Honestly, he’s right. In the past, I don’t know, 25 years or so, proms have become state affairs. They feel like weddings, complete with a group honeymoon. I hate to sound like an old geezer with the “back in my day” comments … but back in my day, you found some poor slob with a pulse to go to prom with you, bought or borrowed a good Kiana dress, had your mom help you with your hair so you looked kinda fancy, shot some awkward photos in your front yard, and then went to the damned prom. No huge group photos with an incredible, landscaped background. No dresses that cost more than a mortgage payment. No salon visits for updo’s and mani-pedi and spray tans. Yes, we grabbed some crappy beer to drink. But mind you, most of us were of legal drinking age (18 at the time) and the rest of us were weeks away. And the beer was lower in alcohol, for 18 to 21-year olds. So, we got a weak little buzz and went to a party room way out in the suburbs, ate some average food and had some fun. Our parents were barely involved. Honestly, I think my dad lifted his eyes for a minute from reading the Wall Street Journal to say, “Oh, um, bye, sweetheart! Have fun! And your curfew is still 11 o’clock, by the way.”

No awkwardness here.

No awkwardness here.

The After-Prom planning starts at the beginning of Senior year. A good friend of mine was so excited when she learned her daughter was voted President of Senior Class … until she realized that meant that she and her husband were now in charge of After-Prom. There are decorations committees, elaborate staged productions, huge donations of products, prizes, and on and on and on. I don’t mean to be a kill joy, but I’ve got news for you. I don’t really think these kids remember it all that much. I was on an After-Prom committee that painstakingly deliberated over which type of fleece blanket to put in the goody bag each kid got to take home at the end of the night. You know where that blanket is now? In the dog’s crate, full of chew holes. She didn’t want to take it to college. That kind of summarizes it all in a nutshell. It’s all. Too. Much.

And what is with the falderal involved with asking a girl or guy to prom? Promposals? Goodness gracious, what pressure! It’s no longer enough to muster up the courage to ask … you have to orchestrate it, stage it, choreograph it, for the love of God. As if our high schoolers aren’t under enough pressure with all the bloody AP courses and expectations to be hyper-involved in a hundred different extra curriculars, creating tech start-ups by their junior year and being on some godforsaken fast track to a high voltage career by the time they graduate eighth grade … now they need to devise some extraordinary performance art prom date request? Ok, some are sweet. My daughter’s high school friend was on our flight home from Florida when he talked the flight attendant into making an announcement over the speaker to ask her to prom. The whole plane applauded. It was cute, I’ve got to say. And props to him for calling an audible on the spot. But I’ve heard some doozies that are more elaborate than an actual engagement proposal, involving balloons, or a box of pastries with “I DONUT want to go to Prom with anyone but you.” My own engagement was fine, but by no means as orchestrated as a Promposal. My husband brought me in his boat out on Lake Erie in a three to five-foot swells, bent a knee and whipped out the ring. Getting more and more nauseous, I was like, “Ok, yeah, sure. Let’s go in now. I’m gonna hurl.” When we showed up at my parents’ house to announce our engagement later that night, we interrupted my dad’s viewing of the lunar eclipse from his front porch and my mom’s viewing of Nick at Night reruns in the TV room. They were thrilled, of course. Poured a drink to toast, hugs and kisses all around for about an hour, Then, “Ok, ba-bye. Gotta go to bed.”

Now, I know these After-Proms extravaganzas were designed out of loving concern for our kids’ safety. There were too many drunk driving incidents and tragedies back in the day. But the cold, hard reality is that in spite of the After-Prom planning and expense and coffee-soaked all-nighters, these kids are drinking anyway. They’re just doing it the day afterthe After-Prom, when they are already sleep deprived from us making them stay up all night in a high school gymnasium decorated to be a Casino or New Orleans street or Paris or whatever. And guess what? They’re not drinking legal 3.2 beer. They’re drinking vodka, gin, whiskey. 

What is the matter with us parents? It’s not the kids’ fault. We created this monster. We are the ones that push, or at the very least enable them to be in all those travel sports teams in middle school, AP classes right from the starting gate, and Prom as wedding events.  As my own Millennial kids often remind me when we roll our eyes at them, “Mom, we didn’t give ourselvesthose participation trophies growing up. You all did.” Touché´.

I guess the good news about all this organized, temporary Prom sobriety is that it has ingrained in our teenagers and young adults the knowledge to always have a DD, a designated driver. That really didn’t happen back in the day. Perhaps the bleary-eyed mornings after being up all night dressed as a clown, handing out balloons and candy are worth it. All I can say is, thank God for Uber.

The Wisdom of Marge

We lost my mother-in-law recently. This Mother’s Day, of course, I am thinking of her and her gentle, yet solid way of living with grace, faith, and empathy. When I came into the family, she was wary of the “mother-in-law” stigma, often saying, “My mama always said, ‘the worst vice is advice.’” My own mother, gone several years now, was quite liberal with advice.  While my siblings and I kept vigil at her bedside as she died, I jotted down all her sayings that I could remember. Some are witty, some are poignant, some are completely Irish, handed down to her by her own mother, an Irish immigrant. But they are all priceless. This year for Mother’s Day, I decided I should share those sayings.

I give you, The Wisdom of Marge:

  • Don’t be a doormat. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel inferior.

  • Take care of yourself first. Don’t wait for someone else to look after you.

  •  Leave well enough alone. Don’t let perfectionism make you crazy. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

  • Let go, let God. Stick to your faith. Worrying does little good.

  • Family dinners are never about the food.

  • Sleep is the great healer. You can handle anything that Life throws at you as long as you have sleep.

  •  Laughter is the best medicine. It releases endorphins! And endorphins lift you up.

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.

  • Distance yourself from people who make you feel bad about yourself.

  • Take the time, even when you don’t think you have much to spare, to sit quietly, listen and communicate with those you love. Leave a person you love with the feeling that your time is theirs.

  • Don’t ever have regrets. Let mistakes go and move on.

  • Learn to bend a little. Don’t be too rigid in your beliefs.

  • Life isn’t always fair.

  • You shouldn’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong or say you’re sorry. Life is too short.

  • Always look good and put on lipstick if you are going to argue with your husband. He’ll pay closer attention to you and remember why he married you if you look pretty.

  • Pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary every day, and also St. Therese, The Little Flower, for special intentions and St. Anthony when you lose things.  

  • Don’t keep score in a relationship; you’ll be a better person for it. Know that you’ll never be completely even and trying to be so will only harm the relationship.

  • Try to forgive those who’ve hurt you.

  • When serving dinner to picky children eaters, tell them “Eat it, or wear it. That’s what’s for dinner.”

  • Don’t let anyone ever talk down to you.

  • Remove your face makeup with Ponds Cold Cream every night. Never go to bed with a dirty face.

  • Moisturize your face every night and don’t forget your neck.

  • “Serve small, serve all” when feeding a large crowd.

  • “Family hold back” (FHB) when guests are over for dinner; make sure the guests get enough before serving yourself.

  • Never wake a sleeping baby.

  • “Let’er go Lewy” describes just cutting loose. Kind of a jazzier version of “Let go, let God.”

  • When making a toast: “Here’s lookin’ up your address!”

  • A quip to cranky people: “I don’t like your attitude … or your longitude!”

  • When someone burps aloud: “Next time it comes up, we’ll vote on it!” or “Another country heard from!”

  • “Don’t beat yourself up,” in constantly reminding us that no one is perfect.

  • “I hate injustice!” when referring to discrimination or anyone being treated unfairly (kind of a constant theme).

  • Referring to people who try, but are just kind of lame: “She means well, God love her.”

  •  In having an open door to all at our house: “What’s one more at the dinner table?”

  • Meaning it as a comfort if someone couldn’t make a family function: “That’s okay, honey. There’s so many of us … no one will miss you.”

  • In deflecting pleas for a bedtime story: “Story, story, ‘bout a cow. That’s a story for you now.”

  • “Many hands make light work.” Not her own phrase, but said every week while feeding anywhere from 10 to 50 people Sunday evening dinners.

  • On passing gas: “What? Yours smell like roses?!”

  • To sassy teenagers: “Come on over here, you, so I can hit you.”

  • Her mother’s saying when asking how a party went: “Did you see anyone you liked better than yourself?”

  • A saucy response to my father’s complaints about how a meal was prepared … she would fix her hair and say, “Well honey, you can’t be good in every room of the house.”

  • And my particular favorite saying that the mother of 9, grandmother of 30 and great grandmother of many would know so well: A child only really needs a few things to play with:

    • A flashlight: for discovering, pretending, or just chasing the light beam.

    • Scotch tape: for sticking to oneself, others, papers, anything.

    • A key ring with real keys: it makes a great noise, can start pretend cars, and fits in ones mouth or nostril easily. And that’s fun.

    • A yardstick: it can be a sword, a cane, a gun, a Shepard’s hook, and one can measure with it if you’re old enough to know how to do that.

    • A large cardboard box: it can be a car, a spaceship, a hiding place, a container, a drum, a chair, a table, the possibilities are endless.

    • A real but not functioning phone: it’s perfect for playing grownup, playing office, mimicking Mom and Dad, or calling Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Prince Charming."

 Happy Mother’s Day to all!

My amazing mother was full of wit and wisdom.

My amazing mother was full of wit and wisdom.


To Everything There Is A Season

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” Ecclesiastes 3

It is finally, officially Spring … and not a moment too soon. I’ve been living in a season of sadness lately … a season of funerals. Sometimes, it feels kind of Biblical, Jobian, like I’ve been “walking through the valley of death.” Just when it feels like it’s lifting, another crushing loss comes around.

Years ago, a friend of mine said to me, “I feel like you are always going to baby showers and funerals.” She’s right. The gifts — and challenges — of being part of a big, rambling family is that there is always a lot of a lot. Births, baptisms, First Communions, illness, hospitalizations, funerals, burials. Successes, failures, worries, joys. Like shark teeth, it all just keeps coming and coming and coming.

Living through these funerals recently, it struck me that planning a funeral is like planning a sad wedding in about three days. The flurry of funeral arrangements, preparing for imminent death, worrying about the widow, the widower, the grieving family, family dynamics at play, worries, fears, facing your own mortality, your siblings/parents/friends’ mortality. Feeding people, crying, laughing, gallows humor, crying some more. Keeping the vigil … “Love you … See you on the other side.” Trippy, strange dreams, sleepless nights. Raging against a church that feels cold, difficult. More trippy dreams, loving remembrances, weepy conversations, staring at the ceiling, staring out the window, talking to the dog, rolling this way and that in bed at night. Comfort food, more comfort food, finding sensible shoes for the marathon of an Irish wake, an Irish funeral, finding clothes that fit. And are clean. 

Buying control top pantyhose so that the dress does fit, after eating all that comfort food.

Worrying about the widow, the widower and the grieving family members, who are falling ill from stress and lack of sleep. Getting the antibiotics, calling the doctor, getting the widow to the doctor. “Is she confused from a UTI? Stress?” Keeping the welcome mat open for family members to come, hide, talk, cry, smoke, drink. Keeping the peace. Assembling family photos of the deceased, making sure all families are represented there, figuring out the technical aspects of sharing those photos with guests, making sure the story of the deceased is told well, appropriately, thoroughly, enough. Bringing family home from out of town, home from Europe, leaving time for the relatives from far and wide to come in, to pay respects, to say good bye … The rambling, out-of-body conversations with well-meaning folks. Meeting people that the deceased not only knew, but impacted profoundly. “How is that I’ve never met this person whose life was changed?” Consoling the folks who are there to console you, knowing it’s ok, you’re cried out anyway. For now. Until that one person shows up and starts up the water works again. Worrying that well-meaning folks are tiring at the wake, that we’re taking too long to chat, to greet, to move through the hundreds of people standing for hours. 

Finding the prayers. Sharing The Funeral File for inspiration and ideas from funerals you’ve liked, or planned, before. Organizing the reservations for dinner. Where do we go after the wake? How many people will come? So many out-of-towners. Trying to keep the crowd manageable. Worrying about … everyone. Choosing the casket. Choosing the days, the church, the priests. Tell the nuns, the friends, the neighbors. Write the obit, find the photo for it. Choose an outfit for the burial. Hating that chore, but realizing how important it is. 

Tears, anger, relief, various and different kinds of grief, crying, exasperation, inspiration. Miracles. Cardinals. Meals shared, dropped off, stories of support, love, tenderness, notes, flowers, letters, chocolates. More love. More support. More miracles. More food.

Worrying about robbers and bad guys who prey on houses emptied for funerals and wakes and hoping there is a special place in Hell for them. Worrying about scammers and predators who prey on grieving spouses and families, tricking them into giving donations, gifts, money. Hoping for good weather, knowing that is completely out of your control. Buying the boots, just in case.

Funeral day. Walking the center aisle. Cue the music. The dark suits, the clutched hands and tear stained cheeks, familiar faces in the congregation, the casket, the shroud over top, unfolded with care. The cross placed gently on top, facing the altar. Painstakingly chosen music, readings, readers, eulogies. Blessings, incense. Praying for those giving the eulogies … they nail it. Good job. It all triggers recall of previous funerals, previous tears, Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. The circle getting smaller, tighter, death getting closer. Of course there will be more. Always more funerals. Huddling under the tent at the grave site. Exhaustion.

Finally, the reception, more food. Hell yes, a Bloody Mary. And another. There is laughter, let down, heels kicked off, feet put up on cushioned chairs. It is finished.

And then, a baby toddles by, blissfully unaware of it all. New life. Hope. It will be okay. You will be okay. To everything there is a season.

Rest in peace. We are okay.


Escaping the Storms

I shared an essay recently on the wonder and beauty of snow days … and was called out by a good friend. “I call foul! You cannot blog about snow if you are not in it!!”

Ok, that’s fair. I will come clean. 

It’s true. I launched that essay from the warmth of sunny Florida. There. I said it.

Getting off a plane from Cleveland and stepping out into the warmth and greenery of Florida is like Dorothy opening the door from black and white Kansas to colorful Oz. It’s like being in a different reality, a different planet. "How could I have been in a heavy winter coat this morning and a bathing suit this afternoon?” I thought as I stared blankly at the ocean.

My first trip to Florida was when I was in middle school and my dad had a business trip to Disney World. Rather than leave a twelve year old behind with four teenage brothers, they (wisely) chose to bring me with them. Big Jack was on the board of Geauga Lake Amusement Park in Greater Cleveland and he and his colleague, Dale and his wife, Bonnie were going to learn from Disney World how to make Geauga Lake better. 

So there we were, Marge, Jack, Dale, Bonnie … and twelve year old me at Disney World. While Jack admired the gorgeous landscaping and efficiencies of the park, Dale, Bonnie and I tackled Space Mountain together. (Marge would sooner stand on her head than get on a roller coaster). I only remember the screaming. Of course I had to scream on the roller coaster, but It felt so strange to do so with complete adult strangers. It felt awkward and creepy. (Not as creepy as “It’s a Small World After All,” but still.)

While Jack loved the sun, the flowers and the fresh fish in Florida, Marge didn’t like it much. “Florida is full of old people,” she would say, herself an old person at the time. “And all they ever talk about is the weather, what they just ate, and when they’re eating again.” I have to say, she was right about all of that.

While I do, indeed, enjoy a good warm weather escape, I have a complicated relationship with the beach, Florida, the sun. After all, I’m an Irish gal, so, you know … the sun and I don’t really get along. I love her warmth, I love the ocean … but the idea of laying oneself down in a back yard in Ohio in the middle of a humid summer day to bake in the sun? No, that never appealed to me. Not even in my youth, but that was mostly because if my father ever saw me outside in the yard, he’d give me a chore to do out there. “Mary! Weed that back acre while you’re out there! And go ahead and plant those begonias. And water them, too!” Anyway, just laying there? Sweating? Burning? Getting more … and more … and more freckles, and weak from dehydration. No thank you.

It is a full time job for an Irish gal on the beach. Constantly moving the umbrella, shifting the towels, reapplying factor 100 after swimming, sweating, breathing. I learned my lesson years ago about the importance of reapplying sunscreen. I burned the living snot out of my entire body because I was having such a gosh darned good time playing in the waves for hours. That night, I was up all night with chills and vomiting. It was ugly.

Never again. 

So consequently, for the rest of my adult life I have looked like either a toddler or a paranoid senior citizen on the beach, with my rash guard, SPF shirt, wide brimmed hat and all. Every year I am amazed at the power of sunscreen. Unfailingly, somewhere on my body there is a bright red, blazing sign of the patch of pasty white skin that I missed: a shoulder, the top of a foot, the small of the back. Sometimes it’s a fetching imprint of a hand or finger somewhere on my body that I didn’t quite rub in well enough. Secret scarlet Memento-like messages emblazoned all over my body. This year, the missed real estate was the back of my thighs, right under my butt cheeks. A special look, indeed.

I was never going to be that sexy girl on the beach. After all, when I lived in Spain for a while, my nickname was “La Blanca Muerta” (the dead white girl). When I first started going to Miami with my husband and in-laws, I was in awe of the beach babes there. Bronzed to a fair thee well, scantily clad. I was mesmerized by the cavalier manner in which they just … hung out on the beach. No frantic, fearful cowering from the sun. Only the occasional spritzing of themselves with water, sipping some diet soda or whatever, casually brushing their pert fannies free from sand. While I’m forever picking my wedgie, pulling my suit down to cover my ass, tugging my top to keep myself decent, and picking my own hair out of my mouth, these dames are … just sitting there. They turn their faces turned TOWARDS the sun, hair gently tickling their face and shoulders. I would stand there, staring, thinking, “It’s like we are completely different animals. Like a cat and a dog. Or a gazelle and a turtle.” Then a little old woman would come rushing up to me and say, “Honey! You’ve gotta be careful out here! This sun is very strong you know … I’m just sayin …”

“Yep, I know …”

A few years ago I was invited to a fancy schmancy event and decided I would try a spray tan. Timid, I went for the lightest tint they had available. “I just want my legs to not look like cadavers,” I told the technician as I stood before her naked, but for a paper doily covering my crotch area. Sadly, I ended up looking like I had a liver condition. “Oh the hell with it,” I thought to myself after the soiree. I am what I am.

I’m back in The Great White North now, the swaying palm trees and the roaring ocean just a distant memory. While it is still frigid on the North Coast, it is relaxing on a different level to be back in my element, to let my guard down. No sunscreen sprays, no hiding from the sun, no doing hourly skin checks for signs of burning.

Lord knows, I won’t see the sun in these parts until about June.  

Good thing I’ve got leftover sunscreen.

A quick walk out from under the beach umbrella. No worries! That’s SPF 100 on my legs.

A quick walk out from under the beach umbrella. No worries! That’s SPF 100 on my legs.

Snow Days

The sweaty brows, the high pitched voices, the pacing back and forth, the pointing at colorful, dynamic, diagrams, maps and radars. Is this the scene of a war room? A police drama? A lunatic asylum?

This, my friends, is The Modern Weather Forecaster in a full lather, sporting The Weather Woody. He is so excited to be noticed, valued, appreciated. No longer just a sidekick, an extra cast member kicking around mindless banter, he is center stage, deadly serious and in command.  

This winter was looking like The Winter that Wasn’t, until … finally … 

“Folks, it’s crazy, I know. But it looks like we’re getting snow. In January. In Cleveland. Can you believe it? And it’s cold. In January. Stay tuned right here for more details.”

Goodness gracious.

I hate to sound officially like an Old Person, with the  “back in my days,” but … back in my day, heavy snow and cold weather was expected in winter. In January. In Cleveland. Hell, it was expected from November all the way until June. I recall plenty of Easters spent with a bulky winter coat donned over my frilly Easter dress, and white wicker hat, my open toed white sandals slipping around in the slush . 

I do love a good snow storm… as long as I’m not driving on the highway in one (not many things more nerve-racking than a white out). Lying in bed the other night, I listened for the dull scraping noise of the snow plows going down the street, finally hearing it in the wee hours of early morning. It’s always barely perceptible, muffled by the thick snowy air. Hearing it reminded me of being a kid, staying up late to watch the news for weather updates (before they were available 24/7), praying for my school to be announced as closed. “Not yet, honey. Better get to bed,” my mom would say as I groaned my way up the stairs.

If a Snow Day was called for overnight, there would be an uncharacteristic quiet in the house the next morning. My older brothers would be roused out of bed to hit the driveway and start hauling the white stuff out of the way. It wasn’t too much of a burden though, because there were dozens of other kids doing the same and soon thereafter, forts and snowballs were being made, strategies of attack planned, snowballs to my face by at least one of my brothers. We would finally come in for warmth, cheeks chapped, mittens soggy, bread bags sticking out of our snow boots (that made them easier to slide on, especially with hand-me-down boots that were a little too small). After sledding and building forts and shoveling, it was time to sit down and catch up on the basics: Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Phil Donahue (“You know, he’s from Lakewood, went to St. Ed’s), and The Price is Right with Monty Hall.

In later years, Snow Days became more social affairs. I graduated from the quiet, wimpy swale in our back yard to the titillating teen scene in my friend, Mary Beth’s back yard. The pitch of the sledding hill had to be near 90 degrees, full of a slalom course of trees, and a little creek at the bottom of the hill that completely freaked me out (“I could wipe out in that creek and drown!”). We spent hours careening down that terrifying hill; I can’t believe none of us died back there.

There was never a snow like the infamous Blizzard of 1978, which happened 41 years ago this week. I was 14 years old. It started as I was walking home from high school. Per usual, I was wearing my uniform skirt with bare legs because no one ever wore tights or, God help me, pants in high school. Half-way through the one mile walk home, I had to take refuge in a local Methodist church to use their phone to call home. “I cannot take one more step. I can’t feel my legs. I can’t even see to walk. Can someone come get me?” I pleaded. There was eye rolling and heavy sighing on the other end, as my next older brother got in the car to come retrieve me. 

Back at home, we all hunkered down and watched the storm rage. And rage it did. The snow just. Kept. Coming. And the temperatures kept dropping. And dropping. Wind chills were something like 50 below zero or more. One of my older brothers stood looking out the backyard window up at an enormous elm tree that was being whipped to and fro by the 100 mile an hour winds. “That tree is going to come down, ma,” he said as he turned away from the window. No sooner had he entered the kitchen than that tree thundered down, schlumping onto the backyard patio and sending an enormous limb through the ceiling where he had been standing. The patio furniture was instantly dwarfed by the enormity of that tree, making the chairs and table look like dollhouse furniture in comparison. I was fascinated by the instant transformation in perspective.

The hurricane force winds found the hole in the ceiling and sent arctic blasts through the house. We all retreated to the far end of the house as someone — probably that same brother — stapled up plastic sheathing to try to keep the winds out of the house.

Now THAT was a snowstorm, my friends. The snow piles and drifts that Blizzard of 1978 left were epic. Veritable mountain ranges lined the parking lots, driveways and streets all over town and stayed there until summer, I think.

On of my favorite Snow Day stories is when my naughty nephews were little, they spent their Snow Day outside in the snow, as would be expected. But they chose to sneak over to their next door neighbor’s house, who was a constant, complaining pain with no sense of humor. Those killjoy neighbors were out of town and the boys were inspired to build an anatomically correct snow man and snow woman. Of course, the snow balls were put in appropriate locations, as were the clumps of grass pulled up from under the snow. The grassy patches had an uncanny likeness to, um … hair, placed onto the snow body. In strategic places. My sister, their mom, could not stop laughing long enough to reprimand them. I just love that image of those X-Rated snow people, staring glassy eyed out at the quiet suburban street, naked as jay birds, like snowy pervs.

Our first snow storm out at the farm happened on the the odd weekend that my husband and I were there alone, with no kids, no guests. Just the two of us, the dog, the fireplace, and some music. My sister had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease earlier that week, which was, unbelievably, just 6 years ago, and I was in mourning. About a year earlier, we had buried my mom, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s for over ten years. That same year that Mom died, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As the snow fell hard outside and piled up, I stretched out in front of the raging fireplace, doing yoga, praying, weeping, pleading for a cure, for some answers, for a miracle. “I hate this disease,” I yelled at God, at the snowdrifts, the fireplace, at no one. 

The next day, the snow sparkled in the winter sun. I was emotionally exhausted from the previous day’s tears and worry. Walking out in the crisp, cold air, trudging through the snow, I thought about those snow days of my youth, of my silly nephews, of my suffering loved ones. “What will we do? What can I do? What will happen?” I ruminated as I trudged on, still weeping. And there it was in front of me … or rather behind me. My deep footsteps in the newly fallen snow. One in front of the other.

“One. Step. At. A. Time.” 

Barn Music

Music is the universal language. It excites, inspires, calms, and motivates. It soothes the savage beast. And evidently, horses love their tunes, too. The barns on our farm are filled with the sounds of music 24/7. Country music, specifically. The horses don’t know the words to the songs (that’s why they just hum along), but are soothed and inspired, nonetheless, by the rhythms and beats. Studies have actually been done on the effects of certain kinds of music on horses’ mood and behavior. Horses in equine science clinical trials were exposed to various genres of music, to different effects. Rap music made them antsy and anxious, resulting in erratic eating habits and pacing. Rock music made them uneasy as well. But, interestingly, both classical and country music had similar effects. Both genres calmed, soothed and encouraged eating, while at the same time, masking the sounds of tractors and other farm equipment outside the barns that may agitate the horses.

I love the idea of playing music to calm and encourage eating, resting, chilling, maturation and growth. If I could go back in time, I would use that philosophy while raising my three daughters years ago. While I didn’t have music playing 24/7 (but almost) I did try to be mindful of the messages my music choices were sending to them. The stakes were high to influence them to be smart, strong, capable, empathetic women.

Looking back now, if I were curating a list of music to be raised by, it might include the following:

Linda Ronstadt: I love, love, loved Linda when I was an adolescent. My sister always said Linda sang “music to kill yourself by,” but I’m a sucker for a good torch song, a tearjerker. More to the point, Linda was a beautiful young woman with a huge voice who could sing any old damn thing she wanted: operetta (“Pirates of Penzance”), big band swing (“What’s New,” “For Sentimental Reasons”), Mexican, (“Canciones de me Padre”), country, and of course, rock. Some of my favorites were: “Simple Dreams,” “Blue Bayou,” “It’s So Easy,” “Tracks of My Tears.” Linda would teach how to reach, stretch, explore, not be pigeon holed, and sing out loud.

Dolly Parton: Years ago, my husband and I simultaneously heard Dolly interviewed on NPR about her then new album, Little Sparrow. We both walked in the door that evening, breathlessly saying, “We’ve got to get that album.” And we did. We played it a lot on daytime family road trips. It was full of lessons for young women: beware the stranger, (“Little Sparrow,” “Mountain Angel,” “Down from Dover”) the joys of love found, (“I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” “I Get a Kick Out of You”). Dolly’s voice is so sincere, sweet, pained and also joyful and playful. Dolly would show that you live through the hard stuff, and sometimes make beauty out of it.

Dixie Chicks:  My country music-loving sister-in-law introduced me to one their music at a concert on their Wide Open Spaces tour. I was blown away and quickly introduced them to my girls. That album became our road trip soundtrack for many years. And the song  “I’ll Take Care of You” was my own personal love story to each of my daughters during the trials and tribulations of middle school. The song “Wide Open Spaces” taught my girls that the world was theirs. It’s an anthem to girl power, growing up and staking your claim on life. I loved it then, but as they actually do just that, grow up and move far away, it’s bitter sweet. I want to say to them now, “Don’t forget about me when I have chin hairs, need help clipping my toenails and fluffing that patch of hair on the back of my head!” Is there a song for that? Dixie Chicks would share the virtues of being a girl group: we are stronger together and have way more fun that way.

Taylor Swift: Yes, T Swizzle. I love her and I don’t care who knows it. She was and is a role model for young women making it on their own terms, turning personal pain into art and outing douchebag boyfriends. She’s a so-so singer, but a great lyricist and she taught my girls important lessons. Haters gonna hate (“Shake It Off”), you can live through bad choices (“I Knew You Were Trouble”), revel in romance (“Love Story”) and, my personal favorite, which my youngest daughter sang in her senior year choral concert and dedicated to me, “Best Day” (I cannot make it through that song without snot crying). Taylor Swift would show how to keep learning and evolving, keep trying, and stay classy.

 India Arie: The song “Video.” I love her for making that song. “I’m not the kind of girl from a video. My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes … My teeth, my eyes, my lips, my thighs. I’m loving what I see.” Amen. God doesn’t make mistakes. I played that song for my girls a lot when they were in middle school, subliminally telling them, “You are a beautiful creature and my treasured girl. Be nice to yourself.” India Arie would send messages about positive body image and celebrating oneself.

Bonnie Riatt: Another gal who can really wring out a good torch song: “Too Soon to Tell,” “Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again.” But, she also sings joyously and rocks, as in “The Road is My Middle Name.” Bonnie would show how a woman can age gracefully, but also kick ass.

Joni Mitchell: Ah, Joni. My girls and I love her. She’s full of wisdom, naiveté, heartache, and beauty. Yes, I would play the entire Court & Spark album on repeat. Joni would model how to sing through the laughter and the tears of life. 

Barbara Streisand: Old school, Babs, not the screamy stuff from the late 80’s. Again, she was amazing with the torch songs, jazz standards and quirky forgotten melodies: “My Man,” “Why Did I Choose You,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Babs always rocked her non-movie star nose with pride (I’m sure its size help create the gorgeous resonance of her tone). And those nails … like butta. Babs would demonstrate how to not only sing out loud and proud but also, to be comfortable with one’s imperfections.  

My child rearing playlist wouldn’t all be mushy songs, though. It would include the entire Jagged Little Pill album by Alannis Morrisette because she’s a survivor. The entire M!sunduzstood album by Pink because she lives with self doubt, but still succeeds (granted, I did have to turn down the music at just the right second in order to bleep bad words in both those albums). I love a dance song that gets me moving, setting off endorphins, so I would include: “I Like Big Butts” by Sir Mixalot ; “Use Me Up,”by Bill Withers and “Superstition”by Stevie Wonder because strong bass funk is grounding for the soul; “Stronger” by Kanye West, because, “that that don’t kill me makes me stronger”; “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul because it’s a great beat and also is a good message of “Don’t waste my time. Shit or get off the pot”; “Faith” by George Michael, because it discourages sex without love. And recently, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake (or any of his dance music) for the unbridled joy of dancing like no one is watching. Oh, and “Twisting by the Pool” by the Dire Straits.

I could go on and on. I haven’t even touched on the importance of show tunes from, among others, HamiltonWest Side StoryThe Drowsy ChaperoneThe Lion KingAladdin, and Legally Blonde…. Stage and movie musicals on my playlist would feed the imagination, transport listeners to anywhere in the world, and tell them it’s okay to be quirky, screwy and not too cool.

With all of Life’s outside noise these days – politics, news, disasters, politics, politics, politics – I am more and more inclined to follow the lead of our equine friends, turn off the talk radio and crank up the music, if only for while. Who doesn’t need a little help soothing the soul, encouraging relaxation, eating and digestion? I know I do.

Find these songs and more on Spotify, here:

Ugh, Christmas Tree ...

Driving to and from our mid-Ohio farm, I pass a few Christmas tree farms. This is obviously their big time of year. While cutting down one’s own tree always sounded romantic and enchanted on paper, I never actually went to a tree farm to cut down a tree. I never got why that was supposed to be so fun. You bundle your kids up, trounce out into the cold, find a tree and … what? Chop it down yourself? What am I, Paul Bunyan? A Christmastime Lizzie Borden, whacking away at a tree, just to drag its lifeless body back to my home? The kids would be too cold, I would be too impatient. All this, while there is a perfectly fine garden center five minutes from my house that has done all that work for me? No, thank you. 

Our first year of marriage, I was a wide-eyed young bride with an environmentalist’s heart. I insisted on getting a live Christmas tree, complete with a root ball so that we could plant it in our new back yard after Christmas. Trouble is, live trees are expensive, so we ended up only being able to afford a fat little midget tree that, with its root ball, weighed about 500 pounds. Our elfin, 4-foot high tree looked out of place in our living room, like a landscaper left it there by mistake. But I loved her and decorated her with care. After Christmas, we discovered that the earth was too frozen to plant her in the back yard. So she sat on our back porch, neglected and dropping needles until spring, at which time she was deader than a doornail and sat, lifeless, in our back yard for another year until we pulled her to the curb. It was pathetic; she had lived a sad, short, misspent life.

In the ensuing years, we bought a real tree from the local garden center each year and I reveled in the bright scent of pine that filled my home. The swath of pine needles and dirt on my carpet, not so much. But it was Christmas tradition, dammit. What’s a little stain on the carpet? This tradition came to a screeching halt a few years ago when we brought The Devil Tree into our home.

My daughters, husband and I had made our annual trek to the local garden center to pick out our Christmas tree. It was a terribly cold night, so we were in a hurry. “That one looks good,” my husband said. “Let’s wrap it up and bring it home.” Back home, unpacking the tree and dragging it inside, we discovered that the tree’s trunk was too fat to fit into our tree stand. So, we borrowed a saw, carved around the trunk and shoved it into the stand. That’s when we found that the tree was about one foot too tall for the room (this is not the first time this has happened in our Christmas tree history). So, we whacked off the top of the tree and shoved it into its usual place in the front window. The donning of the lights, garland, and ornaments followed until she was all dressed up for the holidays.

Later that night, as we sat down to dinner, we heard an odd schlumping sound from the living room. The tree had fallen down (not the first time this has happened). No worries … just adjust the tilt of the tree, reapply the ornaments, and off you go, little Tannenbaum.

The next morning, I came down the stairs to a spray of ornaments in the front hallway and the tree, once again, prostrate on the floor. “Oh, for Christmas sake,” I muttered to myself, wrestling the tree back into position. 

That night at dinner, there was the same schlumping sound, along with a tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of ornaments rolling down the hallway. As we wrested the tree back into place, I took a step back. “This tree has scoliosis,” I said. One look at its trunk revealed a dramatic S curve mid way that, in a human, would surely require surgery.

This ridiculous cycle repeated itself for the next few days. We’d wake each morning to what looked like evidence of a real yuletide rager: tree water spilled, pine needles and ornaments strewn everywhere, broken glass. It was a mess. Meanwhile, my husband, The Big Elf, who is quite an allergic fellow, started sneezing and wheezing more and more each day. One day, about ten days after bringing The Devil Tree into our home, The Big Elf, gasping for air, choked out, “I think I’m allergic to the Christmas tree.” “Nah,” I replied. “You always get sick at Christmastime. It’s the stress.”

 As the next few days went by, the tree continued its cycle of falling, and The Big Elf became more and more ill. It was clear. Something was rotten in Toyland. I stripped the tree of its ornaments (those that were left unbroken), left the lights on it and dragged The Devil Tree into the back yard, plugging him into the outlet outside our family room window. To keep him from falling over into the snow, I had to lean him against the window, giving him the look of a drunken relative put in an outdoor “time out,” peering in at the festivities through the window. Like the “little match girl.” Like a peeping Tom. The tree look embarrassed and forlorn, as if to say, “Sorry about all the falling, guys. And the wheezing. Really. Can I come back in now?”

 Off I went, three days before Christmas, to purchase a fine, pre-lit, fake Christmas tree. I brought her home, plugged her in, dressed her up with the ornaments that were strewn about the room and hung something called “Scentsicles” on her boughs to provide that “real pine scent.” And it was fine. Really, she was a beauty.

It turns out, in retrospect, for the first 25 years of our marriage, my husband was not sick from the stress of the holidays (not solely, anyway). He was sick from the blasted Christmas trees. Each year, I was bringing poison into our home and the poor guy suffered each year. I think the good Lord sent us The Devil Tree that year as a blatant sign: GET A FAKE TREE, YOU IDIOTS. I look back on that tree and feel bad for it. I think the tree was maybe not tumbling down as much as trying to run away all those times. It didn’t want to be, you know, the fall guy.

This Christmas season has been a little busier than most, so I was thankful that all I had to do was drag our fake Christmas tree out of storage and plug it in. As of Christmas Eve, it is still not decorated (there’s still time!). But it has not fallen over and looks swell in our front window. It stands straight and true, just like a Nutcracker soldier. And, my husband can breath, which is also nice. 

Bedtime Story

When I was little, I always wanted my mom to read me a bedtime story. Without missing a beat and with no guilt, she’d reply, “Story, story, ‘bout a cow, that’s a story for you now” and walk away.

Wait … what?

She was a tender, loving woman who would literally give anyone the shirt off her back, but she had no time for bedtime stories. I guess with nine children, she figured that by that hour, she was rounding third and heading home for the day. Enough was enough. She had given us life, after all. What more did we want?

Maybe because of this, when my kids were little, I loved reading them bedtime stories. Sure, sometimes it was a pain when I was exhausted or in a hurry. But overall, I treasured the ritual of throwing them into the tub, jammying them up and plunging into Are You My Mother?Runaway BunnyGuess How Much I Love You, Hush Little Baby, and of course, Good Night Moon.

Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Good night noises everywhere

These days, the skies are getting gray, hanging heavy, like a shroud over my eyes. I feel like I’m sleepwalking, carrying the low hanging clouds on my back, as I pop vitamin D tablets like candy, trying to buoy myself out of the doldrums. Out in the country, the world seems to be bedding down for a long winter’s nap. I feel moved to say good night to the world, as if I were reading a children’s bedtime book. If I were to write one, I imagine it would go something like this:

The Whole Wide World is Going to Sleep

Summer is over and fall is coming to an end. The first smell of winter is in the air. The garden is all pulled up. Squash, peppers, garlic and tomatoes are roasting in the oven, filling the air with the smell of warmth and safety and love.


The loud music of summer - crickets, cicadas, and peepers -  is now hushed by piles of leaves, flannel shirts, closed doors and windows. The soft sound of summer wind through the leaves now whistles, whips and winds through the bare branches. 

Green grass turns brown and sparkles with icy frost in the morning light. The ground is littered with leaves, like confetti after a parade. The party’s over.

All done.


The bright lights of summer are turned low.

Shadows are long.

Days are short. 


The fields have been picked clean, mowed, and harvested. Corn, soybeans, timothy, alfalfa … all brought in, wrapped up, stored away for winter. The Earth settles in for slumber. All scrubbed and buttoned down, like it just took a bath.

Round bales, all wrapped in white plastic, dot the landscape, looking like buttons on flannel pajamas.


Cows and horses are growing their bushy coats to stay cozy for the winter and we are wearing our heavy coats, too. 

The low hum of a distant car. The crackle, pop, and hiss of the fire in the fireplace sends the dog running to hide in a closet. It’s okay, boy. Come and cuddle by the fire.

There, there. All is well.


Early to bed, early to rise, following the sun’s new routine. We are cozy, we cuddle and snuggle. 

The whole wide world is going to sleep.

It is still, still, still.

I hear the neighbor’s cow.

 Night, night. Sleep tight.

That’s a story for you now.

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Pumpkins, Costumes, and Demons

It’s Halloween season! Festivals, hayrides and autumn-themed outings abound out in the country and around town. After a brief attempt to grow pumpkins in our farm garden, I am back to buying them from people who know what they’re doing. Pumpkins need a lot of room to ramble, it turns out. And somehow, the pumpkins we grew a few years ago looked malformed and sad. I’m done trying to grow pumpkins.

I never thought I would say it, but I’m done carving pumpkins, too. I used to love it, getting my hands all slippery sticky with pumpkin guts and devising just the right smirk or scowl for my pumpkin’s personality. But, with no little people in the house, I’m just not feeling it any more. I am officially that older person with ceramic pumpkins on her front porch. Real candles, though. I mean, come on. There has to be some authenticity left.

When I was little and would go trick-or-treating, people like me would make me sad. “Aww,” I would say to myself, all dressed up as Harpo Marx. “Those pitiful people don’t have the Halloween spirit. I hope they’re not passing out pennies or toothbrushes instead of candy.” (For the record, I’m not that lame.)

I do love Halloween, though. And my mother loved Halloween. When I was little, Marge let me have a Halloween party for several years in a row. Every year a dozen or so girls would come all decked out in their best costumes for a mini rager. We would have a drawing contest, which Patty Connelly always won, and a costume contest, which Patty Connelly also always won (that overachieving little cuss). We would have games, bob for apples, and have a gross-out blindfolded feeling contest in which pumpkin innards were human intestines and peeled grapes were eyeballs. Of course, we would also have a séance in which a circle of us were amazed that, using only our fingertips, we were able to elevate a tiny wisp of a girl up above our heads. (Supernatural powers!) It was all good, wholesome fun with just a little bit of gross and spooky.

I remember the year the much-ballyhooed Patty Connelly came dressed as a Tareyton smoker. In the 60’s, this cigarette brand advertised “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.” The actors in that campaign depicted people from all walks of life that had painted-on black eyes. Picture a darling little eight-year-old girl in blond pigtails with a black eye and cigarettes rolled up in her sleeve. (Ahhh, the years before the PC culture.) It was pretty clever.

My Halloween parties came to an abrupt end my freshman year in high school when Patty Mullen and her boyfriend came dressed as a priest and a pregnant nun. My ultra religious, super Catholic dad did not find that funny. But, at least it wasn’t gross and bloody.

Somewhere along the line, Halloween has become straight up demonic. What the hell happened? In my mind, it is a holiday to gently spook each other, not terrorize the snot out of children (and me). I just don’t understand the concept of these gruesome haunted houses. Seven Floors of Hell? No thank you. Haunted Forest? I’ll pass. Bloody chain saws? Why? Haunted Maze? I don’t need a maze to be haunted as well as confounding. And don’t even get me started on slasher films. First of all, the victims are always dim-minded, perky breasted, scantily clad adolescent women making bad choices that end up dead. Sorry, that’s not entertainment, that’s misogyny. Secondly, why so gruesome? Can’t they just suggest that someone is getting whacked without spraying the screen with her blood? Take a lesson from Alfred Hitchcock (a misogynist in his own right, but, hey, at least he wasn’t violent). Have a scream with a close up on the eyeball, fade to black. Use your imagination a little.

There is a house around the corner from our real home in the suburbs that is artfully decorated every Halloween, complete with dry ice, music, and shadowy lighting. It’s spooky with witches and skeletons and such, without being gruesome. All the kids in the neighborhood work up the courage to go there and come away thrilled, but not terrorized. I’m fine with that. But I passed a different house the other day that was completely covered with a façade to make it look like a bloody butchery. Fake blood oozed out the windows, chainsaws and body parts were hanging from the trees. I mean, how do you help your kids with homework, cook dinner and live a normal life with a fake, bloody corpse swinging from the tree outside your window? I just don’t get it.

And why is Halloween so sexualized? To quote the movie, Mean Girls, “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” True for adult and even teenage girls. But, parents, have you tried to find a costume for your middle school daughter lately? The trickle down of sexy Halloween costumes is drowning our little girls. When my one of my daughters was in middle school she wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Lacking any sewing skills myself, we set off for the Halloween stores in search of a costume. Well, there were plenty of options if I wanted her to look like a little stripper: Vampy Vampire, Nasty Witch, and Slutty Angel, for heaven’s sake. And, of course, Trampy Dorothy with a deep cut top and a veritable doily as a skirt. We bought the blasted costume and I used my meager sewing skills to add about five inches of fabric to the hem and another swath to close up the gap where a blouse should have been. It was maddening, frustrating and sad. “Why can’t my eleven year girl old just dress up, bob for apples, have a séance with friends and not look like a hooker?” I thought.

The world can already be a violent, scary place. Our culture hyper sexualizes everything, including violence. Why do we need to celebrate that?

Frankly, I’d rather switch than fight … or fright, for that matter.





Spiders, Man!

My husband, Mr. Outdoors, loves spiders. All throughout our marriage and raising our kids he forbade any of us from killing house spiders. “They’re good luck,” he’d say. “They kill bugs. Leave them be.” And for the most part, we have complied. I don’t really mind spiders. Those that make webs are really impressive. Spider webs are beautiful, fascinating works of art, really. The way they appear out of nowhere in the morning, the dew glistening on them in the sunlight is downright magical.

In our Home home, we live very close to Lake Erie where there are large lake spiders. But, again, they hang out on webs and are very busy catching mosquitos and midges. They are needed and appreciated.

The spiders that really creep me out are those that roam around, the “hunters.” 

A few weeks ago, on a warm autumn day, my daughter Fauna and I got to the farm and excitedly got our swimsuits on for a dip in the pool. We retracted the pool cover and prepared to jump in. But wait … what was that around the edges of the pool? “Holy crap, they’re spiders!” Fauna screamed. “Ewwwww!”  

There, lining the sides of the pool and – I am not lying here – walking ON TOP OF the water and SWIMMING in the water, were about a dozen huge, muzzy black spiders. I immediately called The Sherriff for help. He knows everything about everything and is afraid of nothing. Or so I thought. “Yeah,” he replied to my pleas for help. “I don’t do spiders. They creep me out.” (What?!) “I’ll send someone over to help.” It made me think of that scene from Indiana Jones when Harrison Ford says, “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” We all, it seems, have our week spots.

As Fauna and I cowered in the corner, The Sherriff’s strapping young son came over and patiently scooped up the spiders and squished them with his big cowboy boots. “Yeah, we get these time of year,” he explained. “They come up from the fields looking for the warmth of the pool at night.” That image grossed me out even more. I pictured legions of spiders marching towards our house, invading at night while we naively slept inside. “Thanks for the sleepless nights ahead,” I scoffed. 

Soon, all the arachnids were gone, and Fauna and I jumped in and enjoyed our swim.  The next morning, some spiders were back, so I went and put on my big girl underpants, swallowed hard and channeled The Junior Sherriff, scooping and squashing those bastards like it was my job. I was quite proud of myself. “I mean, I’m a sometimey farm girl,” I told myself. “I got this.”

The following week, I came to the farm alone on another hot, Indian Summer day. “I can’t wait to jump in that pool,” I said to the dog as we drove in. I didn’t give the spiders from the previous week a second thought. First I had to clear off the pool deck, so I grabbed the leaf blower and started cleaning leaves and debris off the pool cover and around the patio. “Oh darn, it looks like we left the pool rafts out from last week,” I said, still chatting with the dog. I turned the leaf blower towards the stack of rafts and pool noodles in the corner. What happened next was like a scene from a horror movie. 

The spiders were back. And they had multiplied … big time. Dozens and dozens of black, muzzy, humongous spiders skittered all. Over. The pool deck. It was like special effects from Stephen King movie, like they were CGI animation. They seemed to just. Keep. Coming. Everywhere. An otherworldly scream came out of my mouth that I don’t remember ever hearing before. The dog took off, clearly creeped out by the spiders, too. Or my screaming. Or both.

“Oh God! Oh Lord! Arghhhhh! Eeeeep!” I tried to squash some of them, but they outnumbered me so much, I just couldn’t keep up. “Go away! Stop! Ewwwwww!” I was totally losing it, becoming more and more unglued by the second.

Pretty soon Mr. Outdoors showed up. He’d been walking the property and heard my screams in spite of his ear buds. “What the hell is going on?” he yelled as he approached, eyeing the dog that was still cowering around the corner of the house. “There are spiders EVERYWHERE. Do something!” I screamed tearfully. “And don’t even start with that ‘they’re good luck’ bullshit.”

I retreated to the water. As I tread water and monitored as Mr. Outdoors dutifully killed the intruding army of arachnids, I realized that Mr. Outdoors and I have a history with big ass spiders. He and I visited Belize years ago and came across an enormous spider web that had been built outside our room while we were out for dinner. As I gazed up at it in shock and awe, he called my attention to another impressive sight. “You think that’s big, check this out,” he chuckled. There, just next to my foot was an agitated tarantula the size of my hand that, when my husband leaned down to pet it (yes, PET IT), reared back on its hind legs and hissed at him. Hissed. At him. Like an angry cat. Another time, way back on our honeymoon, a crazy Australian tour guide pointed out a very, very large spider on its web in the rain forest. “This spidah is so beeg, it eats birds,” he explained. “Wow, Igor (yes, that was his actual name), what’s the name of that spider?” I asked. “Well, mate, that’d be a bird eatin’ spidah.” I chuckled, thinking, “Well, of course that’s not its real name, but that’s pretty funny, mate.” Turns out, old Igor wasn’t bullshitting. That was the spider’s actual name. A bird-eating spider.

Which brings me back to our farm spiders. After a little research, I discovered that our pool spiders are field wolf spiders. They do, indeed, travel in from the fields at the end of the summer to warm themselves in in the pool water at night. And God bless them, it is a nice pool with warm, soothing water. So, perhaps I should get a sense of humor about them. Instead of annihilating them on sight, next time someone sees a field wolf spider in our pool and says, “What is that spider doing in your pool?!” I will re-use that old joke about a fly in the soup, take a deep breath and blithely reply, “Why, he’s doing the backstroke, silly.”

But still … ewe. 

Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water …

Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water …

Got no problem with web spiders.

Got no problem with web spiders.

The Long and Winding Road

This summer, Farmer Brown and I had the mile long gravel road on our farm blacktopped. After looking at the costs involved in repeatedly replacing and spreading the gravel several times a year, coupled with the enormous amount of The Sheriff’s time and energy to do so, it was decided that blacktopping the road was a worthwhile investment.

I have to admit, it’s a beauty. The new road weaves its way from the front gate of the farm, past two barns, two homes (those of The Sheriff and The Mayor), a garage and several fields of bucolic pastureland full of happy, contented horses.  Walking on our gleaming, new, blacktop road I think of the distinctly American penchant for road trips, taking off in a car, heading west or south or wherever to clear one’s mind, roll down the windows, crank up the tunes and find oneself. It’s the stuff car commercials, movies, and novels are made of. 

While I, too, have romantic notions of road tripping, I have a bad history of leaving a little too much of myself behind on trips. All throughout my youth I would get motion sickness and end up puking on car trips. I puked on the way to and from West Virginia every summer. I puked on the way home from Cedar Point every summer (thank you, Tilt-a-Whirl, or rather, Tilt-a-Hurl). I puked in the back of the tour bus on Big Sur in California and my two older brothers had to clean it up (sorry, boys … and everyone at the back of that bus). I puked in my mother’s purse on a bus during a family trip to Ireland (giving new meaning to “the wearing of the green”). Even now, when I am traveling by bus or car, I insist on sitting up front, popping Dramamine, so that I can keep an eye on the horizon.

My dad used to co-own a motorhome when I was little and he would take my brothers on excellent adventures out west to see the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and The Grand Canyon. I was so envious of their great stories of camping, getting lost, and seeing amazing sights. Funny, I never got invited. I guess between my hurling and my bedwetting, I wasn’t a desirable travel companion. I would love to have seen my father, a sensible man who lived in wing tip shoes, “roughing it” with a bunch of knucklehead young men in close quarters, and squeezing his 6’4” frame into that motorhome’s Lilliputian sized bathroom. 

When I was a stay-at-home mom years ago, I would occasionally get an irrational urge to just hit the road. Those were challenging years: three little girls who had various issues (eating disorders, learning disabilities, dietary allergies, anxiety, power struggles, math homework, mean girl drama), an entrepreneur husband with crazy long work hours, and a mother slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Out running errands, alone on I-90, with nothing but road in front of me … I would fantasize about blowing past my exit and heading west to California to … I don’t know. Reinvent myself? Become a soap opera actress? Take up surfing? Get some sleep? “See ya, suckas!” I would say in my imagination, flipping my finger through the car’s moon roof.

Of course, that never happened. Thank God. The road of life eventually got smoother, for a while. Mom’s suffering finally ended, the kids grew up and conquered their challenges, and I got some sleep … for a while.

Last summer I took a road trip with my daughters to bring our youngest back to school in Maine. It’s a fourteen-hour drive, so we decided to break it up into two days. The first day we stopped at a kooky little place in New York State called Lilydale. It is kind of a mystic version of Chautauqua (a cultural retreat also in New York State). We had heard that every year since 1879, droves of people descend upon this little village that reportedly is in a vortex of some kind, to commune with spirits, contact dead relatives, have revelations. So we were all in. Turns out, after spending a fortune on parking and lunch, we didn’t get much. We went to a group “reading” in the woods where a panel of mystics read the crowd for free … and we got what we paid for … a whole lot of vague generalities. 

 “I’m getting something for an Ann. Is there an Ann in the crowd?” Silence. “No … not Ann … Mary. Is there a Mary here?” (Well, hell, of course there’s a Mary or an Ann in the crowd full of women aged 50+ . Doesn’t take a fortuneteller to figure that out.) My favorite “reading” was when one of the mystics asked if a woman had any connection to Bob Seger. When she shook her head, “no,” the mystic pressed on. “Did your person ride a motor cycle?” No. “Is his name Bob? Robert?” No. “Did he wear a leather jacket?” No. “Are you sure his name isn’t Bob?” No. “Well, I’m still getting Bob Seger,” she insisted as she moved on, as if this poor woman was either lying or slow. She must have the Night Moves CD playing on repeat in her car or something.

The rest of that trip was great, though. We had two cars, so I took turns with different combinations of daughters, singing songs from Hamilton, The Drowsy Chaperone, Feist, Billy Joel, listening to podcasts, talking about plans for the future, and telling stories, recounting our ridiculous Lilydale visit. Is there anything better than being a little punchy from a road trip and laughing at something stupid until you cry? Especially with my now adult daughters. It was worth the sore back and frozen hips I got by the end of fourteen hours in the car to have extended time with my girls who are now scattered to the wind, traveling their own roads, finding their own adventures.

These days, I keep thinking of that great Pretenders song, Middle of the Road. Chrissie Hynde says, “I’m standing in the middle of life, with my plans behind me.” I feel you, Chrissie. Except she wrote that song when she was 33 (“I'm not the cat I used to be. I got a kid, I'm thirty-three.”) and I’m in my 50’s. Even still, the gift of being in my 50’s is that, increasingly, I could give a flying fart what people think of me. With Alzheimer’s Disease back in my life ravaging my mother-in-law and sister, I’m all about finding joy, hitting the road, or, my new mantra, “Seize the day, mothafucka!” I have to fight back an uncharacteristically manic drive to DO IT ALL NOW, though, as if I’m racing against time. I do love travel and going on actual road trips, but I also know that part of “seizing the day” is simply relishing walking on a newly paved blacktop road through a gorgeous stand of tall trees, listening to the wind through the leaves, and counting the blessings that got me to the middle of this road. Because, life is about the journey, right?

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Walking in the Woods

My husband, The Woodsman, has dragged me on walks in the woods a few times since we acquired this farm property. The first was a few years ago. We went trudging through the woods throughout our property, looking for … I’m not quite sure what. At one point we were visited by a pileated woodpecker, which was dramatic. These birds look straight up tropical and otherworldly with their bright red and blue coloring. They are about the size of an adult forearm and have that distinct cackle, reminiscent of the old Woody Woodpecker cartoons. So, that was cool.

On we trudged that day, this time in the woods behind our house. There, deep in the woods, we came across an ancient garbage dump where we unearthed some random tin boxes and old glass bottles that looked like a traveling salesman of yore had sold someone some elixirs or potions. Who were those people that lived here? What were their maladies? Indigestion? Snoring? Gas? Lactose intolerance? Who knows … those bottles are now vases for my kitchen windowsill and I think of their original owners whenever I fill them with wildflowers.

Another walk in the woods was in the early springtime. The Woodsman was set on finding morel mushrooms. I know exactly nothing about foraging and frankly, the whole thing scares me. I’m terrified of finding what I think are benign mushrooms only to find myself tripping for days or, you know, dead. So, we wisely enlisted the help of our farm neighbor, Johnny Cash, to keep us from danger. (Johnny knows everything about darned near everything about the great outdoors). We pecked and poked our way through the woods that spring day. I was getting more and more exasperated and bored until I noticed the beauty of the woods in springtime. Ferns and mosses pushed optimistically through the warming earth and the ground was coming alive with vernal energy. Johnny instructed us to keep an eye out for morels at the base of trees. “They look like a dog’s pecker,” he shouted through the stillness of the trees. “Oh, God,” I muttered to myself. “What the hell am I doing? I don’t want to find these infernal mushrooms now.” 

“I think what we need is a good rain and then they’ll poke up,” he advised. Unfortunate wording.

We never did find morels that day, but a few days later, after a good soaking rain, Johnny reported that the morels did, you know, poke up out of the ground. He sent us a photo of some. They are oddly beautiful … if you push that dog wiener image out of your mind.

A morel mushroom poking through the forest floor

A morel mushroom poking through the forest floor

Ginseng plant, berries and all.

Ginseng plant, berries and all.

Recently, The Woodsman was hell-bent on going on a ginseng hunt. It seems ginseng season in Ohio starts on September 1st and goes until December 1st. I was vaguely aware that ginseng has some health benefits. A quick Google search revealed that it is believed to boost energy, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce stress, promote relaxation, treat diabetes, and manage sexual dysfunction in men. And, it’s quite valuable, too. A pound of dried ginseng goes for about $500 to $600. “Ok, you’ve got my attention,” I thought. “Let’s find some ginseng.”

So, off we went, The Woodsman, our daughter, Fauna, home for a break from graduate school and me. “We’re looking for a low plant with five leaves that has a little cluster of red berries in the center,” The Woodsman instructed. Trouble is, that describes a lot of plants on the forest floor, except for those telltale berries. We trounced into the woods, stopping every now and then to survey the ground, arms akimbo, when all of the sudden, about five minutes into our hunt, Fauna turns around and says, “Oh, isn’t this one right here?” There it was, the elusive ginseng plant, exactly matching its description. “Well, this is going to be easier than I thought!” I exclaimed. 

We promptly dug around the perimeter of the plant and gently unearthed it, per our googled instructions, plucking and replanting the red berries into the soil. “Onward!” I shouted. “Let’s find that ginseng. Mama needs a new pair of shoes!”

We trudged on for about an hour, poking and searching … finding nothing. We relocated to another section of the woods and, just like she was born to do this, Fauna found another patch. “She’s the ginseng genius! That grad school is already paying for itself!” I shouted as we gently dug those roots up, too. But by then, the oppressive heat of the day started to get to us, and the intermittent rewards were just not enough to keep us going. “It’s hotter than the Devil’s balls,” I said, quoting our esteemed farm worker and aspiring poet, Wonder Woman. (What is it about the woods that evokes off-color metaphors?)

All in all, we netted four meager ginseng roots. I think that will pay for maybe one cheap shoe for mama. But it was instructive and, when Fauna found the prizes, thrilling for a short while. 

As I write, The Woodsman is receiving two shiny new tree stands to install in the woods for the upcoming deer hunting season. Unlike the pedestrian tree stands he has now, which look like old-fashioned ski lifts, these babies look like tiny houses in the air, featuring a roof, a door, and some windows. I fear The Woodsman may take up permanent residence in one. But, given his tendency for snoring, it might not be all bad. He, his ginseng and morel mushrooms might be very happy together out there.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have morels and ginseng to seek

And miles to trudge in the stifling heat

For other random stuff to eat

(With apologies to Robert Frost)

Ginseng root, found!

Ginseng root, found!

I am Starlight

Late summer is time for The Perseid Meteor Shower. I always forget about it and every August, it is a pleasant surprise. I recently had a group of gal pals out at the farm for an overnight right during the shower. After we had supped, laughed and told stories by candlelight inside, we adjourned to the deck with blankets and herbal tea. We leaned back to take in the late evening whilst talking, staring at the starry sky. Every so often, a lone satellite silently traveling above broke the stillness of the dotted dome. A couple of red-eye flight airplanes appeared, noiselessly ferrying folks from one side of the continent to another. The cell towers in the distance stood sentry, beeping their red lights, reminding us that the outside world was still there. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we were startled and delighted to find nature’s fireworks coming into focus. 

“So, I’m getting ready for another thirteen-hour college trip at the end of the month,” I was saying to no one in particular. “My ass hurts just thinking … Ohhhhh my God!!!!” The light show had begun.

When I see a shooting star, I just can’t help it. I start screaming. And laughing. It’s always so surprising. You’re just staring at a silent sky one minute and the next, it comes alive. 

“Holy cow!” I kept scream/laughing. “Woo hoo!”

I’d finally settle down, returning to our conversation. “I totally hate my bedroom. I feel like we are sleeping in a guy’s dorm room. I mean, we’ve been married for almost thirty years. It is time to … Holy crap!!!! There goes another one!”

It went on like this for a couple of hours, chatter interrupted by screaming and laughing. It was delightful. Eventually, we all turned in, one by one, letting the light show go on without us.

The next day, I hugged my pals goodbye and retreated to the house alone, with the dog. I puttered around the house, did some work on my computer and then noticed the sun setting. I grabbed a glass of wine and some leftovers, and had a silent dinner outside, listening to the sounds of late summer, and cicada songs filling the air with their “Cree-cree-cree-creeeeeee.” That sound makes me a little nostalgic and morose, knowing that school will be starting soon. I got the reflexive urge to go out and buy school supplies and cover my textbooks with cut up brown paper bags and duct tape.

The sunset threw purple and yellow colors all over the clouds as the birds swooped and chatted to each other to settle down for the night. After taking the four-wheeler for a drive, chasing the fading light, I returned to my perch on the deck to look for an encore of the previous night’s light show.

It was a slow night in the heavens, though. The Perseid Shower was down to a drip. Gazing upward, my mind drifted and I remembered being a ten-year-old girl, looking out my parents’ TV room window at the stars above. I was an awkward, chubby ten year old, in a stage my mother would describe as “betwixt and between.” Still a child, but wanting to be older, cooler, prettier. I felt compelled to wish on the first star of the night – out loud. “Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might. Have the wish I wish tonight.” What was I wishing for so earnestly? Probably a boyfriend. Or boobs. Or tan skin. Or for my older brothers to be nice to me. Or for a princess phone in my room like my friend Maureen.

Unfortunately, there was no such thing as privacy in our house. One of my brother’s darling friends was there and overheard me. I had a wild crush on this friend. He had a John Travolta kind of handsomeness (Travolta from the 70’s, not the creepy, Slytherin vibe he’s rocking these days) with a wealth of wavy, dark hair and a strong jaw. John Travolta laughed out loud at me. 

“Are you wishing on a star?” he chortled.

“No, I’m ….” I mumbled as I retreated, my face turning a hot red.

“Awww. You’re so cute. Starlight, star bright ...”

I was mortified. I wanted to die, to disappear, to vaporize.

And yet, he had just talked to me. And he did think I was cute. In a pathetic way, but still, I would take whatever crumbs he’d give me.

For years and years after that, John Travolta would bound into my mom’s house and always, always give me a “Hey, Starlight. How’s it going?” as he went upstairs to my brother’s room.

I chuckled to myself on my farm deck, alone with my dog, staring upward. Remembering John Travolta, my wish on the star that evening, my utter embarrassment and also thrill at having been noticed, by a boy. I’m a grown ass adult now. I did eventually get boobs, date boys, even married one, and somewhere in my late teens, I think my brothers started to actually like me. Never did get that princess phone, though.

I was starting to pack up my blanket and my empty wine glass when one last, dramatic salutation from above bid me good night. A giant, thick shooting star etched its way across the sky, looking for all the world like a streak of white chalk arcing across a big celestial blackboard. 

“Whoa!!!” I laughed out loud to myself. “That was awesome!!!”

I quickly made a wish that I would never tire of seeing that kind of thing.

I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.

I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.

On Napping


Is there anything more deliciously decadent than letting oneself fall asleep into a nap? It happened recently when my sister and her husband were with us on the farm for a couple of days. After a morning of hot, sticky, 4th of July festivities in town that were cut short by a thunderstorm, we all scampered home. After lunch, my sister and I relaxed on the porch to the sounds of a soft rain. Pretty soon, we both were slack-jawed, heads back, overcome by sleep. The rain drizzled outside, gently tap-tapping the tree leaves close by. Every now and then, my sister was startled awake by the sounds of a cow mooing nearby. “It’s ok, it’s just a cow,” I whispered to her as she drifted back into slumber. You don’t hear that in the suburbs.

Then a few days later, rain again softly falling, I set up my nook on the porch with reading and writing supplies and some hot herbal tea. The wind began to swish through the trees, sending leaves of the tulip tree next to our porch into a hushed frenzy.  Puffs of air moved the wind chimes into a low, long, bonging song. And the subtle hiss of a light rain enveloped me into squishy slumber. What a gift. A twenty-minute, total surrender into tranquility.

I remember those deep, hormonal naps of adolescence when I would flop down between classes and sleep the sleep of the dead. But as an adult, I’m generally not a good napper.  Not that I’m at all high strung, it just seems that more often than not, I cannot quiet my “monkey mind.” Psychologists call our monkey mind that ADD part of our psyche that just jumps from one thought to the next: worries, ideas, fears, TO DO lists, plans. Our monkey mind monopolize any potential downtime that could be naptime and put stress on us to DO.

My mother was a supreme napper, The Mother of All Nappers. With a chaotic house full of kids she always prioritized her naptime. She used to say, “you can handle anything in life if you have your sleep.” And, “You know, they use sleep deprivation as a torture technique.” As a little girl and all the way into high school, I would come home after school just as my mom was waking from her afternoon nap. I’d climb into bed next to her and we would both lie on our backs and sing, talk and laugh about who was the latest guest on Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin or Johnny Carson. "That Paul Lynde, what a cutup." (turns out ole Paul was born about 20 minutes south of our farm in Mount Vernon, Ohio!) "What is with Charo and the 'cuchi, cuchi'?" "Why is Orson Welles famous anyways?" When I was very little, Mom would roll over onto her stomach and have me walk on her back, like a little Chinese masseuse. Balancing myself by pressing my hands flat onto the ceiling, my dirty feet would pad over her soft, pillowy back and she would groan with relief. That was always followed by a scratching session with my scraggly fingernails scraping her smooth back, looking for her “spot” – that part of her back that always bothered her and she could never reach.

My oldest daughter, Flora, was a great snoozer. She loved routine and would gleefully grab her bottle, her stuffed toys and books and go down for her quiet time, “reading,” talking to her dolls, and then lay back to sing and chat to herself until she dozed off. I used to love listening to her on the monitor. Fauna was too busy to nap and was quite an accomplished escape artist. No sooner would I deposit her in her crib for a nap than she was right back on my heels, begging for a cookie. “Sweetheart, you don’t have to sleep, but you do have to stay in your room for one hour of quiet time,” I’d whisper to her through gritted teeth as I scooped her up. Inside, I was screaming, “Stay in your frigging bed!” Meriwether was a supreme snoozer as a baby. She’d nap anywhere: the car, in those rickety vacation house cribs, in the stroller at the beach, all splayed out like a drunken co-ed. But then she learned to talk … and talk … and talk some more. She just had so much to say, she didn’t have time to nap. God help, though, I needed the silence for an hour a day. I finally agreed she could nap in the rocking chair in her room. “Whatever. I’ll see you in an hour. Now, just. Stop. Talking. Shhhhh ….”

I lived in Spain for a year a long time ago and really appreciated the whole concept of siesta. It’s so civilized (especially in the heat of summer). My Irish father found the wisdom in it as well. Busy as he was, running a law practice and a huge family, he always made time for a nap at his desk at work, after lunch. I’m certain he relished the peace and quiet there at his office because it sure was neither back at home.

At my semi-annual gathering with my college friends, Slugfest (so named for our ability to lay around like slugs), my dear friend continuously wins the Nap Olympics. We know we are in full slug mode when she is horizontal on the couch, napping through our chatter and music. I envy her. Now that I’m menopausal, a solid overnight sleep is never a guarantee. Restless hot and cold flashes have me tossing and turning many nights. I sure could use some naps. Those two recent ones give me hope. 

Lying down on a Saturday afternoon, I try to breathe through my monkey brain, using some yoga meditations, visualizing sunsets and unicorns. I think of my mom. She probably could nap well because she was just so damned exhausted. And then ... cue the monkey mind: “I have no right to be tired; I should be doing more to deserve this nap. Did I ever return that email? What am I going to do with that mess in the basement? Where did I put that bill?” On and on it goes. “If only I could sleep like a baby,” I think. But then I think of one of brother-in-law’s favorite sayings: “I slept like a baby. I woke up with a load in my pants,” and I lose all concentration.  

Oh, well. Maybe tomorrow.

Shhhhh monkey mind ...

Shhhhh monkey mind ...

County Fair

Today we went to a county fair just south of our farm property. It was a perfect day for a county fair: overcast, breezy, and not too hot. We wandered through the back roads, searching for signs of the fair. All of the sudden, there it was, nestled amidst rolling farmland.

This being my first county fair, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. At first, it was pretty much just like the carnival that comes to my suburban town: fried food of all sorts – fried pickles, fried elephant ears, fried hot dogs on a stick, cheese on a stick, French fries and more – as well as the rickety fair rides that encourage the spewing of all the aforementioned fried foods.

But as we continued, it struck me that, no, this was not really like my suburban carnival. Folks were milling about going to and from different barns filled with animals large and small. It struck me that most were wearing high rubber boots. While some of us in the suburbs wear overpriced rubber boots to be darling and skip through the city puddles, these people - authentic farmers - were wearing those boots for real: they keep one’s feet clean and dry when shoveling shit out of a barn stall. Same thing with the cowboy boots. I usually only see cowboy boots on young people when I go to, say, a Zack Brown Band concert at Blossom Music Center. There, all sorts of sometimey cowgirls in cheeky Daisy Duke shorts and straw cowboy hats swill boozy concoctions that end up puked all down their cropped shirts by the end of the concert. These folks at the county fair are legit farmers, real cowgirls. And those boots are worn in, scuffed, and dirty with horse manure. They do a fine job keeping their wearer’s toes uncrushed by horses.

Wandering aimlessly through the fair, we wove in and out of various animal barns. First we moseyed into the rabbit barn where a dozen or so middle schoolers were prepping their rabbits to be judged. I have no idea what the judges were looking for; they all looked like fine rabbits to me. But the young people were earnestly cradling their animals with such pride and anticipation, it was moving. I was rooting for the grayish brown one because it looked like my pet rabbit from my youth, Brandy (named after that one-hit-wonder by the 70s band, Looking Glass). Poor Brandy bit it when I was about eight years old after she snuck into the garage one day and feasted on fertilizer. Brandy met a better end than my previous pet rabbit, Puff, a little black beauty. Puff went poof when I mistakenly left her out all night, tethered to her cage, and a raccoon – or something – decided to eat her for dinner. I don’t know the details of what happened to my first rabbit, Oreo, a black and white little number. But she, too, met an untimely, violent death.

So, I enjoyed my visit in the rabbit barn, but didn’t stay long, else I bring my bad rabbit luck with me.

On to the sheep and llama barn. There, too, were earnest young people dutifully washing and showering their sheep, combing their llamas, lovingly getting ready to show off the hard work they had put into raising their respective animals. It was a pretty chilly day and all the sheep had just been shorn, so they all were wearing little jackets, some with hoodies. They all lounged about as if they were in a spa, just lazing on the straw, waiting for their next treatment. I think one was reading The National Enquirer. 

Our next stop was the poultry barn. No lazing there. Lots of clucking and fussing, feathers all ruffled. I was surprised by the variety of chickens there: black and white striped with shocking red heads, gray elegant plumage with just a splash of red atop the head. One was a beautiful russet color with amber highlights like a professionally done balayage from a salon (I think I had that color in the 90s).  There were also many varieties of turkey there, including a few enormous, fluffy, white fellas that filled their cages such that their feathers spilled out from the tops and sides.

Walking down the midway, I noticed a chance to ride a mechanical bull. The first year after we acquired our farm property, we had a cookout for friends and family and a farm friend rented us a mechanical bull. “It’s different out here,” he nodded. As my daughter nervously giggled and sidled away from the thing, he followed her, insisting, “Get on the bull. Get on the bull, Jen,” though Jen is not her name. She didn’t do it then and I didn’t do it at the fair. It’s all fun and games until Mare can’t move her extremities. 

We swept through the small animal barn, which featured a variety of goats that were all very restless, as goats generally are. They were all chewing on their stalls and trying to climb out. What is it with goats? They’re completely ADD.

After all those small animals, it was time for the big un’s: the heifers and milk cows. I’m kind of up on my cow watching these past five years, so I was impressed. These beasts were beuts. Each was impeccably washed, groomed, and spit-shined, like pieces of farm art. I wanted to take one home for the living room.

The most exciting visit was to the swine barn. These pigs were also huge. Again, many were just lying around, bored and looking very, very full. Some were so hefty that, lying on their sides, their rotund girths forced their legs to jut out straight in front of them, so that their hooves didn’t even touching the ground. That’s a lot of pig. At one point, several pigs were being showered and gussied up at the end of the alleyway of stalls. After their grooming, they were rushed down the path by their young owners, being herded with a little stick. One large fella broke free and was running rogue all through the barn. Startled and a little scared, I had to hop to the side to keep from being knocked over by that fat pig. I’m not sure where he was rushing to … maybe home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Next door to the hogs were the horses, and … Oh. My. Gosh. Those puppies were impressive. Enormous. Some had withers that were taller than I, and I’m pretty tall (please … don’t you know “withers” is the highest part of a horse's back, lying at the base of the neck above the shoulders? #farmvocab). A blue-ribbon winning draft horse was out front of the horse barn, gathering accolades and nose pets. She was massive, black and shiny, with delicate pink ribbons down her mane. Her owner, a young woman of about eighteen or so, beamed with pride.

And this is the thing. The young people I witnessed there at the fair were all participants in their local 4 –H clubs. It was impressive. I learned that the meaning of 4 H Club is “head, health, heart, hand” and their mission is "engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development." These young people are responsible for bringing an animal to adulthood in the best way possible: caring, nurturing, cleaning, grooming, and loving that animal. I assume most of those animals go to slaughter after the fair. Talk about a connection to your food. But hey, I’m an omnivore. I’m not judging or turning my nose up to anyone. 

If you want a connection to where food comes from and the people who raise it, I really recommend checking out the next county fair nearby. It’s different out there.

A blue ribbon winner, a real beauty.

A blue ribbon winner, a real beauty.

Go ahead, get on the bull. But count me out.

Go ahead, get on the bull. But count me out.