Tidings Of Comfort and Joy

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This the final post in a 3-part series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Two family members will be missing from our family Christmas gatherings this year.

My mother died in April after a ten-year journey with dementia. She hadn’t been well enough to participate in our family Christmas celebrations for the past few years. Instead, we had established different traditions with her at the Healthcare Facility in which she lived.

My sister’s husband died in August as a result of Lymphoma, just one year after being diagnosed with what was believed to be a treatable cancer. We didn’t know last Christmas would be his final Christmas.

Many extended family members and friends are also facing their first Christmas after the loss of a loved one. The anticipation of seeing that empty chair can seem overwhelming. Recalling once-happy Christmas memories leaves you in tears.

I love Christmas music, despite the physical reaction I have to “O’ Holy Night” and “Silent Night.” Both cause my eyes to instantly fill with tearsThe first was one of my Dad’s favorite songs. It brings to mind the Christmas Eve Masses we attended. The second reminds me of my paternal Grandmother and her annual family party held on December 23rd.

At one point during the evening she would remind us to sing carols to invite Santa Claus’s arrival. Grandma would begin singing “Silent Night.” Looking back, maybe this was her clever crowd control:  Gather her 24 grandchildren and quiet them with the lullaby effect of a hymn! When I hear the song, I hear her voice.

A few weeks ago I was in the car with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” playing on the radio. The song suddenly had a different meaning as I listened to the lyrics.

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Comfort and joy? Wow! We were definitely in need of both this Holiday season. Where would we find them?

Then I unpacked some Christmas decorations. I was struck by the notes indicating the contents of some the boxes. It has been several years since my Mother and her Mother have written anything to me, but their handwriting is instantly recognizable.

Seeing the notes didn’t make me sad. It wasn’t even bittersweet. They made me smile. The notes are a connection to Christmases past, and a connection to my Mom and Grandma. I felt they were with me, giving me a decorating assist with their organized labeling. Funny, I didn’t know one day the real treasures in a box of Radko ornaments would be labels and crumpled sticky notes.

I think comfort can be found in our family traditions. As difficult it might be to carry on traditions without our loved ones, the familiar might be just what we need. They can at least get us in the groove, and provide a bit of a roadmap.

Traditions can be just as comforting when a new generation assumes them. My niece misses playing elf on her annual shopping day with her Dad, during which they would purchase a gift for her Mom. I imagine my niece’s  little elf-in-training will be shopping with her Daddy, very soon. How heartwarming is that?

I’m a fan of Christmas trees with eclectic decorations. Family heirloom ornaments that have hung on the tree for decades are some of my favorites. Whether they are legitimate antiques, a grade school craft, full of mid century kitsch or the coveted pickle, they tell the comforting history of family Holidays.

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Holiday menu fare includes family recipes that have become tradition. Grandma’s Jewish Coffee Cake, Mom’s Sugar Cookies, and Dad’s favorite cookies. We try to perfect those heirloom recipes in hope they will turn out exactly as they did when Mom or Grandma was cooking. After all, I think tradition is most comforting when it involves comfort food!

This Christmas, we’ll celebrate the birth of our Savior, be visited by Santa, and exchange gifts, but how can we possibly get in the mood for actual merriment when we are sad, missing our loved one and face an empty chair?

The empty chair has become a symbol for the absence of loved ones at family gatherings. There is a Facebook page dedicated to it. It is both literal and figurative, because the reality is, our missing loved ones took up more than a chair. This is especially true of my brother-in-law. His presence filled an entire room.

He lived his life in the spirit of the two main men of Christmas. He never had to ask himself, “What would Jesus do?” He just always did the right thing. He was a counselor in personal matters and a mentor in the business world.  Like Santa, he loved Christmas and gift giving. His quiet, usually anonymous generosity continued year round, and was life-changing for individuals and organizations.

With such a huge presence missing, how will we find joy?

My brother-in-law’s family gathered at my sister’s home to celebrate Christmas last weekend. His six siblings and their children and grandchildren numbering 60+ strong embraced the spirit of their  brother/uncle. They “adopted” an in-need family and purchased every item on the family’s wish list.

What an absolute abundance of joy, and an abundance of love. My sister shared with them, her family of 40+ years, that the gift of their presence was what she and her children most appreciated. She assured them that they needn’t to be afraid to talk about her husband or say his name. In fact, hearing stories helps her and her children feel close to him, and in a way – keeps him alive.

So, our biggest source of joy, will come from simply being together.  The delight of our smallest family members will keep us entertained. We’ll savor our culinary accomplishments. We’ll talk about our missing loved ones. We’ll say their names. There may be a few tears, but there will definitely be alot of laughs.

If you are grieving and facing the first Christmas since the loss of a loved one, I hope you are able to find true comfort and joy.

Go ahead. Hang the ornaments. Sing the carols. Cry the tears. Fill the chair. Share the stories. Laugh.

And eat the cookies.

 

 

 

On Grief And Gifts

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On Grief And Gifts

This is the 2nd post in a 3-part series. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 3 here.

The past year has been one of tremendous loss for my family.

A surprising number of friends and extended family have also recently experienced the loss of parents, siblings, spouses and even relationships. Perhaps this is due to terrible coincidences, or maybe simply our stage of life.

There is a plethora of articles and memes about grief, sometimes poetic, often cliché. We hear it is a process, it’s not a process, it is different for each person, and the price you pay for loving someone. It’s all merely a concept until you are walking through it, as so many family and friends are doing right now.

My mother died in April after a ten-year journey with dementia. While we were at peace with her passing from the indignities and pain of that disease, I was unprepared for how much I would miss her…even the version of her that dementia had left with us in her final years.

Then, there was my sister’s husband.

His sore back from too much puttering didn’t really worry us. It didn’t put a damper on an RV trip to Iowa, with his six siblings and their spouses for a long-anticipated family reunion. It was sort of a last hurrah for him before undergoing a stem cell transplant in August.

Then a stomach ache cut the trip short. An appointment with his oncologist turned into a hospital stay. Instead of answers, there were only questions and a steady stream of specialists. Our optimism that had been ever-present for exactly one year, began to fade.

Late on a hot July afternoon, after three days of diagnostics and procedures we had an answer. The trusted oncologist, a lovely man, gently delivered the news:

After just a few weeks, the insidious cancer had returned…the stem cell treatment scheduled for next month would not be an option…there were no clinical trials available…there was nothing more to be done…three months to live.

He accepted the news graciously and bravely. For everyone else, it was crushing. It felt unbearable. Later that evening, we tenderly talked about how we would fill our days in the next three months. Characteristically, he started his practical to-do list and even managed a bit of morbid humor.

Things quickly took a downturn. Three months became two weeks. There would be no time for alternative or holistic treatments. Nothing was checked off the bucket list. Meaningful, final conversations were not to be.

The family control freaks, the doers, and the problem solvers were helpless. The earth seemed to be spinning off its axis.  This isn’t supposed to be happening.

In the end, we had him for just one more week. We soaked up very minute of those days and nights, in the warm cocoon of their master bedroom. We communicated with him mainly in the form of his signature hand squeeze of the last 40+ years. The hand squeeze translation:  I love you.  Looking back -really, what more needed to be said?

While our Faith leads us to the belief in eternal life, grief and being human led to despair over unanswered prayers.

There was so much to be mourned, and so many layers of sadness.

Each time grief appears, it’s a Band-Aid® ripper, tearing open the wounds of previous losses. The circle of one life linked to the circle of another life in an ever-growing chain.

Grief is tangible in the early days surrounding a loss, and it is shared.

Eventually, life resumes and things return to “normal”. Grief becomes subtle and sneaky. It’s a thief, stealing the rhythm of daily routine, as one tries to put one foot in front of the other.

The quiet, stillness of the night vanishes after a stealthy heist by grief and its accomplice, insomnia. Restful slumber is replaced with anxiety. Decisions that were made with complete conviction are now doubted.

Nagging thoughts of coulda… woulda…shoulda creep in.

The hope that previously dawned with each morning disappears, as consciousness brings about the reality of the day. You don’t want to get sucked into the sadness. It propels you to get up and get moving, even if you only do so robotically.

But, grief is a prowler creeping in and out through the day.

It hijacks your solo drive time behind the wheel. Once productive time alone with your thoughts, it becomes a minefield of memories. Forget the radio. It’s suddenly melancholic. The best option is to use a lifeline, and phone a friend.

Grief occasionally makes off with your rational thinking.

At the end of that last perfect weekend, I created a calendar for August and September. It included stem cell transplant appointments and procedures, and fun events to look forward to. Looking back, I felt I counted our chickens before they hatched. My obsessive organizing had compelled me to publish that calendar. Clearly, I had jinxed my brother-in-law’s treatment and recovery! My delusion of controlling the universe was momentary!

Like a prankster, grief pops out from hiding when you least expect it. During a recent trip to Target, I automatically reached for a display of Christmas socks. In my Mom’s final years, she had grown fond of those goofy, printed socks. They were already in my hand when it hit me…no need for socks to warm Mom’s tootsies. Ever. Oh no, did I have dementia? How could I forget  Mom had died? Was grief stealing my sanity, too?

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

The human spirit is a life-force, and we optimists and faithful are always on the lookout for silver linings.

We soon realize grief is not all takin’ and no givin’.

Loss and grief give you a new perspective and enlightenment. You now distinguish real problems from minor inconveniences that warrant nothing more than a shoulder shrug.

While you may be filled with disbelief, and thoughts of  I can’t believe this happened are still running through your head, grief eventually leads you to a place of thankfulness. With time and reflection, you are even able to see the blessings that surrounded the unbearable loss.

Every expression of sympathy is appreciated. Especially months after a loss, each phone call, text, and thoughtful note is a Godsend.

The extraordinary kindnesses of acquaintances is especially meaningful. The people whom cross your path and without prompting, share news of their recent loss are a serendipitous comfort. You know it wasn’t accidental that they sat next to you in a waiting room, or rang up your purchases in a store.

You have immense appreciation for the people who are really there for you – the people who go out of their way and make time to walk through the particularly shitty times with you.

Then there are the folks, not necessarily those closest to you, whose support is profound. Their gestures of sympathy are different.  It’s not that they have the “right” words, they just have real words. These are the folks who have walked the same path, and as a result, possess true empathy.

We lose so much with the death of a loved one, but one of the greatest gifts we receive as a result of the loss is empathy.

We just have to be willing to receive it, open it, and use it.

Because empathy is a gift meant to be shared. It links us together in another circle of life.

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When Life Was Peachy

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This is Part 1 of  a 3-part series. You can find Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

While this is not a funny post, there are in fact more lighthearted posts in the pipeline, but first this:

 

 

No matter how many times we are reminded of how quickly life can change, we are still caught off guard when it does.

When tragedy strikes, we often wish we could hit the rewind button. Logically, we know we couldn’t have altered the course of events, but we wish we could relive those precious last days, weeks, and months. We imagine how we would savor every moment.

I wanted  a complete do-over of  Summer 2016 when I came across this forgotten photo on my phone:img_1135I snapped this shot from the patio of my brother and sister-in-law’s lake cottage, during their granddaughter’s 10th birthday party. I vaguely remember taking the photo. I wasn’t focused on anything in particular, but I think Old Glory waving in the wind must have caught my attention. The weather on that mid-July day was delightfully perfect, but this photo barely captures that.

It’s a beautiful shot, but also a painful reminder of one of the last days that summer seemed sunny and peachy. One of the final days before a cascade of events changed life for my family. I wanted to go back in time. Back to before a stomach ache began.

Of course, there are no mulligans in life. The only place life can rewind is in the mind.

Summer began on a happy note. May and June were lovely, fun-filled, blessedly ordinary months. We didn’t know that for our family, Summer 2016 would eventually become “the summer that wasn’t.”

What occurred each day during the month of July is crystal clear in my memory. The bitter and the sweet. The sweetness of early July is easy to remember…

How my 50 pounds of Georgia Peaches had ripened to perfection for canning, inconveniently on July 1st. Early that morning, to the dismay of my sister I set up my canning operation in the kitchen of her lake cottage…amid the July 4th weekend chaos. “This won’t take long!” I assured her. One quart in, and and my sister was headed to the E.R. for stitches. The perils of peach pitting, or conveniently dodging doing dishes for the entire holiday weekend?

I became a sloppy one woman operation. The sweet mess that covered every surface of the kitchen at the end of the day, was a metaphor for those first six weeks of summer. It was a deliciously golden time.

It was a cottage bustling with three generations, and kids at three stages: A toddler working on his first steps. Preschoolers in some unsactioned competition: seeing who could tear through the house at the highest speed, while simultaneously yelling gibberish at the highest decibel level. Teens enjoying quality family time devoted to social media.

There was a July 4th shrimp boil. A joint 70th birthday party for dear cousins. A work trip to San Antonio for me. Tinkerbell landing in Nana’s Fairy Garden. Golf cart shopping.  Donut runs at dawn by boat. Coffee talk. Bloody Mary mornings. Margarita afternoons. Trips for ice cream in the evening. Lazy pontoon rides. Hours playing on Lily Pads. Fishing. Fireworks. Endless and hilarious rounds of Little Sally Walker walkin’ down the street.

I’ve heard it said,  “You never realize you’re having the time of your life, until that time has passed.” It’s true. We were blissfully unaware of just how good life was.

In a way, it seems cruel that we didn’t know the fate that awaited. Sure, a stem cell transplant was scheduled, but we believed it would be a success.

Optimism, hope and faith gave us that belief.

Disbelief, disappointment and devastation loomed ahead, but we didn’t know it.

Optimism, hope, faith and love would sustain us through that, too…

 

 

 

The Sweet Life

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2 scoops vanillaTen years ago my mother moved into a retirement community.

For six years she lived in a lovely apartment in the assisted living section, while her dementia continued to worsen. She has spent the last four years in a slow decline, in a secured area of that same retirement community.

As her dementia has progressed, I’ve done my best to embrace each version of her.

 

My 85-year old Mother is now in the end stage of dementia.

It may have been a stroke that caused her to turn this last corner, or just the natural progression of the disease. There is no need for diagnostic tests. They would only serve to satisfy our curiosity. The end result is the same.

As they say in memory care, “there has been a significant change.”

She is completely immobile except for her left foot which she wiggles in response to touch or in time to the music of Frank Sinatra, and her left arm which she occasionally raises while sleeping, bearing a strong resemblance to Rosie The Riveter.

She is no longer verbal.

Her ability to swallow is compromised. Her liquids must be thickened and her solid food must be pureed.

Four times a day she rides a Hoyer lift, as she is moved back and forth between her bed and a reclining wheelchair.  It’s as if she has a Disneyland E ticket for an amusement park ride no one ever wants to board. She endures it all gracefully.

At the onset of this final decline, I was sad. For a few days I occasionally boo-hooed at her bedside, grieving the decade and a half that we have lived without the original version of Mom.

Once I quit feeling sorry for myself, I realized there is a certain sweetness to this stage.

There are no more repeated sentences. The questions composed of jumbled words which seemed impossible to answer appropriately, have ceased. The gibberish is gone.

At times, she has a flat expression or is just too sleepy to open her eyes. But, some days she awakens from a nap in her bed with a sweet, contented smile – much like an infant.

Other times she is bright-eyed and able to follow a conversation with her eyes. There have been silent giggles that turn into giant, yet still silent, belly laughs. These are so delightful  I don’t miss the sound of her original laugh.

Occasionally, it seems that the pathways in her brain have been magically reconnected.

When she refused to eat, we realized she was simply refusing to eat foods with a texture she didn’t like. I mean, really – not every food works in a pureed form.

She knew exactly what was going on. Her hunger strike at breakfast ended when oatmeal was taken off the menu. My sister clued the nurses in that Mom is a cream of wheat girl!

Her daily menus are now heavy on mashed potatoes, pudding, malts, and double scoops of ice cream. When she won’t eat anything…she will eat ice cream. Even when she is too tired to open her eyes, she opens her mouth awaiting the next spoonful.

These days, she really does eat dessert first.

Sure, there have been peaks and valleys as she slows down and then rallies. Any pain or discomfort is quickly soothed by the warm embrace of a morphine haze.

Always a college hoops fan, she is here for one more season of March Madness. The games serve as energetic, happy background music.

As we head into the Sweet Sixteen,  I am not entirely certain she will be here for the Final Four.

Instead, she is on the road to a long awaited heavenly reunion with her  Sweetie Pie.

Until then, we will savor the time we have left with her.

Mom will savor the ice cream. Two scoops at a time, with Hershey’s syrup.

Because, in more ways than one, life is sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manic Mondays & Fashion Faux Pas

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Manic Monday wasn’t just a 1985 hit for The Bangles.

It’s a real thing. It occurs after the weekend knocks us out of the groove. As we try to slog through the early Monday morning routine, the result can be chaos:  Forgotten gym clothes, lunch money, homework, and signed permission slips. No gas in the car.

A niece of mine was only 4 years old when Manic Monday was in the Top 40. She mistakenly thought Susanna Hoffs was singing, “Just another man naked Monday” Understandable, innocent and adorable.

Thankfully, nudity hasn’t been an issue for for me, but a Manic Monday can result in a fashion faux pas or wardrobe malfunction.

One lovely Spring morning, I wore a brand new purple cardigan embellished with a ruffle down the front. I felt so smartly dressed all day.  I returned home and pulled in the garage. As I removed my seatbelt, it caught the edge of something. What is that? I thought.

I realized my new sweater still had the size tape running along the front. I ran to a mirror, and took in the full view. From just below my left shoulder, it went over my left breast right down to my stomach. A string of evenly spaced scarlet L’s, .

I mentally reviewed my day, the five sales appointments, all the customers I had spoken with. No one had mentioned a word. I’m pretty sure I would have preferred someone seeing something and saying something. Or would I?

A friend went line dancing at a cowboy bar in brand new jeans. She was feelin’ like a fine filly… until her dance pardner spotted the Size 8   8    8    8   8  tape running the length of her thigh – and ripped it right off her leg. In the middle of the dance floor. He twirled it above his head, lasso-style. Clearly, a do-si-don’t.

What could be worse than forgetting to remove the size tag from new duds? I’ll tell you what.

Polka dot blouse. Nude pumps with a bow. I was channeling my inner Chanel. However since I’m more Costco than Coco, rather than the Chanel Boutique, my blouse was from Old Navy.  Again after a full day of appointments, I arrived home to discover I had violated Coco’s cardinal rule: I was over-accessorized. I failed to remove one item.  I should have kept the  pearls, and ditched the price tag. Seriously, how did I not see or feel this big piece of navy cardboard hanging from the underarm of my featherweight, sheer blouse?

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Wardrobe malfunctions are the worst when they occur on the days we want to look our most professional.

It is a proven fact, that I will not spill a drop of coffee out of a to-go cup, until the Monday I wear a white blouse while I am out of town and five minutes from an appointment. Yep, that is the day I will get that dang Starbucks lid/cup combo that mysteriously drips, no matter what you do, or how many napkins you wrap around it.

My friend Pat paired a sharp navy blue suit (skirt and jacket) with navy blue pumps for an important meeting at work. As she sat down in the conference room and crossed her legs, she realized her shoes didn’t match…each other. Not only were the shoes different styles, they were different colors. One was navy blue and the other one was black. One of these things is not like the other!

My sister’s most famous wardrobe malfunction involved shape wear. You can read about it here. She is usually right on trend and sometimes even fashion forward – like the time she was ahead of the “wire-free” bra trend…when one underwire worked its way out of her bra, and like one of those creepy serpent necklaces, snaked its way up her décolletage and right out the top of her sweater.

Photo: Pinterest.com

Photo: Pinterest.com

In regards to her bustline at this point? Again, one of these things was not like the other.

Long before my Mother was officially diagnosed with dementia, she had begun to make uncharacteristic wardrobe and accessory choices. The  colorful, oversized tote she carried to my stepdad’s funeral had gone unnoticed until one of my brothers was shocked to spot it during the service, and asked “Mother….. are you carrying a beach bag?” Everyone within earshot tried to stifle inappropriate giggles. On the bright side, at least her shoes didn’t match her purse.

Men can suffer fashion faux pas, too. Even at funerals.

A family member attended a funeral during the week between Christmas and New Years.  He grabbed his wool coat out of the closet in a rush to get out of the house. The coat felt uncomfortably snug over his suit, but the Polar Vortex prevented him from taking it off. Only when walking into church did he realize he was wearing his wife’s coat. Surely the mourners at Mass must have smiled at the dapper gentleman…..and his festive rhinestone candy cane pin.

Photo Courtesy: vintagevixen etsy.com

Photo Courtesy: vintagevixen
etsy.com

Just last week, Tara Wood of Love Morning Wood, shared a photo on her Facebook page of her OOTD fashion faux pas.

Courtesy of Tara Wood Lovemorningwood.com

Photo courtesy of Tara Wood

She was dressed for a day of running errands. While, I think she is wearing cute rolled up boyfriend jeans, I am positive that is an adhesive nursing pad attached to the bottom of those darling gold sandals. It may look like Tara really stepped in it this time, but mark by word: by next summer this wardrobe malfunction will be reinvented and show up on a clever life hack list:

Travel Life Hack #7 Keep Summer feet clean at the airport by securing (2) adhesive nursing pads on each bare foot before going through TSA checkpoint. Once you get through the body scanner, discard the pads and put your summer kicks back on those clean tootsies!

These goofs are entertaining reminders that we are all just human. Or maybe we’re all trendsetters.

What else would explain brightly colored bra straps exposed, tights worn as pants (without coverage of the critical zone) and the long past its prime…pants on the ground?

Happy Monday!

I Don’t Speak The Language

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My native tongue is English, but after 25 years in Southern California, I understand Spanish, and can speak enough to get by. I also know a few sushi bars worth of Japanese.

But….I have a mental block and I will never be able to speak, read or write…..Captcha.

I am confronted with my lack of fluency on an almost daily basis.  As I navigate the cyber world, entering my username and password is not sufficient for some websites. Some sites want to verify that I am a human, not a robot or computer.

The verification process begins like this:

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Alright, I’m going to guess that is…… offknol MID.

Captcha says, “Nope. Try again.”

Then I get this one:

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OK, this seems more difficult. Is that….tobanu usual?

Captcha says, “Haha that’s hilarious, but no.”

Next up, The captcha generator is sure I’ll get it this time:

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Yep, clearly it is erpackl certain!

Captcha, the a-hole, says “Wrong again, loser!”

Next up – THIS looks fairly simple:

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I’ve got it! It says: has tidelec.

“Hmmm….perhaps, but not likely.”

At this point, I usually just close my iPad.

I know I could opt for the audio version, but what is the fun in that? Isn’t that cheating?

What happened to just asking me questions I can understand….and even answer?

Questions like:

What street did you live on as a child?

What was the name of your 5th grade teacher?

In what city did your parents meet?

What was the model of your first car?

This Captcha nonsense reminds of those autostereograms that were popular in the 90’s. You know –  those prints that were a jumble of a bunch of different colored dots and squiggles that you were supposed to stare at and then a 3-D image would appear. I could never see the hidden image. Ever.

Magiceye.com

Magiceye.com

It must be a brain thing. Or maybe I’m less creative, and more black and white than I previously thought.

Then, one day while surfin’ the net, I was once again asked to verify that I was a human, not a robot or computer.

This window popped up:

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Woohoo! I made the correct selections. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I could have identified them in Japanese, too.

The next time I was required to verify my humanity, this window popped up:

IMG_0253Dessert. Of course I nailed it.

However, my single favorite challenge to prove my humanity was this:

IMG_0254Whew! Thankfully, they thoughtfully provided that sample image.

I look forward to the possibility that internet security will eventually improve, and Captcha will become a lost language. I fear I am too old to learn yet another new language.

Until then, I will pride myself on still being multi-lingual. I’m completely fluent in food and dog or, as fancy folks say, cuisine and canine.

After Glee

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GleeI have little knowledge of the television series Glee. During a flight, I caught part of the episode featuring the music of Madonna, but I never actually watched the show. I can hear my friend, Tracey as she just read that: “Are you KIDDING me? I LOVE that show!”

I was recently introduced to the Show Choir world when my favorite 15-year old was selected for the girls’ show choir at her high school. I knew this was a big deal, but I had no idea.

Tryouts were in the Spring of 2014. Practice began in the fall, for the season opener in January 2015. The choir members commit to several months of practice for a competition season which lasts less than 8 weeks.  Invitationals are held on Saturdays from the end of January through March.

The advanced planning didn’t just involve learning the songs and choreography.

At home, preparation for the 1st invitational Saturday began early in the week. Hair and makeup is key, as every girl must have the same, uniform hairstyle and makeup.

In anxious preparation, there were two online instructional videos to watch. The first one detailed how to style the tresses to achieve the proper “holy hair”:  an elaborate combination of long ringlets crowned with a top poof reaching heavenward.

The second video was a step-by-step tutorial on the elaborate make-up technique. Thankfully, there was a Mary Kay lady connected to the choir, to outfit these girls with a complete palette, and turn them into make-up artists.

By the time Friday evening rolled around, she was ready! For 90 minutes, our performer’s hair was sprayed, wrapped around a curling wand, coiled into small pin curls, and secured to her head with bobby pins. This was done just in time for her early bedtime.

She awoke the next morning at 4:00, applied her make-up and false eyelashes, styled the top of her hair, put the finishing touches on her ringlets, and was out the door by 5:00 a.m. On a Saturday. She is 15. A show choir miracle.

At 7:30 a.m., the young ladies took the stage, dressed in black flapper-style dresses that glittered and sparkled under the lights. As they found their places on the risers, we scanned the stage for our song and dance girl. Wait…which one is she? Is that her? No, maybe that’s her. How was it possible that we couldn’t spot our girl? Except for hair color, the girls looked identical. They moved alike. Darn it -no one thought to bring binoculars?

Literally backed by their Show Choir Band which was tucked behind the risers, They burst into their first song. Finally, we spotted her, and then couldn’t take our eyes off her!

The varied set consisted of five space-themed songs: Quite a bit of time was traveled from The fairly current, Killers’ Spaceman, back to the vintage ’79 theme from Xanadu. While a soloist (who reminded me of a young Bette Midler) blew us away with campy, vampy rendition of Monty Python’s Galaxy Song, the rest of the choir did a Clark Kent-to-Superman-fast costume change! The set was over in less than 30 minutes.

I was smitten! I was eager to hit the road the next Saturday as a show choir groupie. It was wholesome, hip, glamorous, cool, classic and edgy all at once, and it was fun.

Fun, except for the one Saturday morning when things almost got ugly. A middle-aged, follicle-ly and height challenged guy, dressed in his best Mom jeans and sneakers, exited the auditorium and loudly editorialized, “Yah….those last two groups were pretty weak.” What a big man, criticizing 15 and 16 year-old girls! Shame on him. I wanted to kick him so hard that he’d have to join the soprano section.

In order to avoid an embarrassing confrontation, I reined in my inner Beverly Goldberg.

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That poor guy just didn’t get it. This is more than singing and dancing. An invitational is the culmination of months of perseverance, teamwork, growth and improvement, confidence gained, and the pure guts of these kids to get out there and go for it. He didn’t appreciate that an invitational is 15 hours of positivity. The singing, dancing, live bands, sequins, sparkles, sets, and props, fill the venue with a festive atmosphere. It is electric, even between performances as the audience dances.

The crowd is respectful, supportive and appreciative of each performer. After all, every fellow audience member loves at least one of the performers!

Each time a soloist took the microphone, I nervously held my breath.  Would they hit all their notes? Would we hear a sweet, angelic voice? A girl channeling Tina Turner? As they sang, I found myself in exhaling in relief, and smiling in amazement.  It didn’t matter if it was a soloist from our choir or another group. It is easy to root for, and be amazed by all these kids. I’m pretty sure most audience members felt the same.

I’m still in awe at the commitment of these kids. In addition to months of practice, Invitational days are typically 16 hours long- but they can stretch to 20 or even 22 on a travel day in bad weather. Instead of watching game films, these glittery, glam athletes review video of their performance immediately after exiting the stage. The commitment to perfecting each choreography movement is constant.

The parents make a huge commitment as well – from volunteering when their school is the invitational host – to traveling almost 4 hours to a competition.

The 2015 Show Choir season has ended, and now I learn…so has Glee! The series finale aired on March 20th.

Last week, my favorite 15-year old auditioned for the 2016 Show Choir Season.

Two days ago, she learned she had made the mixed choir, and also chose to remain a member of the girls’ choir, and……TODAY SHE BECAME MY FAVORITE 16-YEAR OLD!

Two choirs means double the dancing, singing, sparkles and glamour.

I can’t wait.

Until then, I’ll get my fix by curling up on the couch with Netflix, catching up on 6 seasons of Glee!, or as I’m calling it:  basking in the afterGlee!

A Bad Act

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As a resident of California, all the talk this past week about my home state of Indiana has left me puzzled.

In case you haven’t heard, Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

I finally pulled myself away from the enjoyment of reading countless Pro-RFRA and Anti-RFRA Facebook comments, tweets and editorials, and decided to read the actual bill. You can do the same here. Good luck. I don’t speak legalese, so I found it not difficult, but painful to read.

What’s it all about Alfie? Can anyone spot a loophole?

I don’t understand the need for this legislation.

Is it really to protect Christian Business owners from potential lawsuits as a result of refusing to serve “the Gays?”

I know the politically correct term is LGBT, I’m just mimicking my favorite Pro-RFRA commenter – a seriously pissed off old lady who referenced “the Gays” and “the Gays shoving it in my face” and “the Gay Agenda.”  She really got it all off her chest in one concise comment.

I kept reading the Pro-RFRA comments – many from folks who aren’t even residents of Indiana:

“I just don’t agree with their lifestyle.”

Really? I respect their lifestyle. Especially when it involves getting an education, working for a living, being in a committed relationship, creating a loving home and family, adopting and raising children, caring for animals, acting neighborly, being civic-minded, and generally making their little corner of the world a better place.

“Should a Muslim Caterer be expected to serve pork?”

Clearly, this clever Pro-RFRA commenter thought he had produced the ultimate “Gotcha!” argument. Except, in reference to this imagined scenario, I actually know Muslim chefs who cook and serve pork, and Jewish chefs who cook and serve bacon and shellfish. It is quite common.

“The bible says….”

OK, I have no response here because I am not a biblical scholar. At best, I am a Cafeteria Catholic.  I’m comfortable with my faith and spirituality. My belief is that everyone has their own personal relationship with God. That relationship like any other relationship – is simply none of my business – no matter what the bible says – or doesn’t say.

I honestly don’t understand what all the fuss is about. It is 2015. Doesn’t everyone have at least one good friend, neighbor, co-worker, client, service provider or gasp!…..relative who just happens to be LGBT?

I asked a friend how she explained gay couples to her young daughter. She explained that her daughter’s only exposure to gay couples thus far is Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family. That’s close enough to real life for me. I mean really….has there been a more lovable couple since since Lucy & Ricky?

What is the big deal? In the words of the great Depeche Mode, “People are people.”

Amid the nationwide uproar and outrage over the RFRA, I am saddened by the perception of my Indiana PEOPLE.

If you have been disgusted by the “knuckle-dragger” (my favorite and most succinct, Anti-RFRA comment) lawmakers in Indiana, please don’t think this is an accurate representation of my fellow Hoosiers.

In our often uncivil society, being nice is under-rated. But, believe me – being nice, friendly and welcoming is a way of life in Indiana.

Hoosier Hospitality is a real thing. I think a handful of lobbyists, lawmakers and the Governor momentarily forgot this. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard hasn’t.

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IF, in fact, the intention is to protect private parties from government action as expressed in this statement, and has nothing to do with transactions between two private parties, and does NOT allow for discrimination; they certainly did a terrible job presenting it accurately, and an excellent job allowing it to be misrepresented.

They continue to fail miserably at explaining what it is, and what it isn’t.

They better get Olivia Pope on damage control. Pronto. Our Hoosier reputation is at stake.

While It is plausible that Frank Underwood had a hand in this debacle, I don’t have time to address all the conspiracy theories I read about, because I have real world concerns on the West Coast:

The Drought, the California Sea Lion crisis, and Bruce Jenner’s wardrobe choices as he transitions.

A Dog’s Life

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A Dog’s Life

Cooper was born on a beautiful farm in Southern Indiana, a setting so idyllic it seemed to be right out of a Fannie Flagg novel. He was a regal Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Cavaliers were bred simply to be lap dogs for royalty. He looked delicate, but loved the outdoors.

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After being returned to this farm two times in his short 4 months of life, he finally met the girl of his dreams. He left the country and settled into a permanent home and new life with his girl, in a Chicago high rise.

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Initially, Cooper only had eyes for his girl, and those eyes were big! He was a shy boy, darting away from dog lovers eager to give him gentle pats. He especially didn’t care much for men, with their imposing height and booming voices.

Like his royal ancestors depicted in English paintings, he happily fulfilled his role as a lapdog whenever his girl was home.  His girl soon learned he was a sensitive soul, and when she was at work or away, he was lonely and anxious.

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After a few months, his girl knew he needed a companion of his own. Cooper and his girl rescued a Cavalier from some hardscrabble beginnings and named him Harley. The boys instantly bonded. Cooper now had a brother.

Cooper & Harley

Cooper & Harley

Cooper remained the perfect gentleman, with his soft step, quiet nature, and good manners. In contrast, Harley was more Animal House frat boy, full of uncouth behavior:  loud barking, belching after every meal, butt-scootin’ on the carpet, and of course, the most disgusting and disturbing of all canine behaviors….poo-eating.

Cooper was dignified and reserved. Harley was a party on four legs and loved everybody. This odd couple embarked on the adventure of life, like a pair of bookends.

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For the next few years, they were livin’ the city life with their girl all to themselves.

The boys loved their walks on the city streets,

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and their weekends at the lake in Indiana.

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Cooper in his favorite lake spot

Then, their girl introduced her boys to a man. Of course the always social Harley liked him right away, but even the usually bashful Cooper did, too. He let this guy feed him, pet him, and even hold him.

With Cooper’s approval, the four of them officially became a pack.

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They settled into a new home in the city, and welcomed a new pack member the next year.

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This baby girl came with soft, cuddly blankets, and smelled so good.

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Cooper understood his girl’s new role as a Mommie. When her lap was full, he happily took a spot next to her.

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When the baby girl began to move around, the boys found higher ground to escape her curious grasp.

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As the little girl grew, they let her invade their space.

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She loved the boys, calling them Poopie and Harwee.

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She told everyone they were her best friends.

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Soon, they welcomed a baby boy to the pack.

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By now, Cooper took it all in stride.

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Cooper had blossomed from a shy puppy to a gentle family dog.

Ironically, this sweetheart of a dog born on St. Valentine’s day, had a heart condition.

After 9 years, including one great, final summer at the lake, and one last Christmas, his heart was growing too weak to continue doing all the things he loved. So, today on a cold January morning, in the arms of his beloved girl-turned-Mommie and his Dad, his brother Harley cuddled up next to him, and under the tender care of his lifelong Veterinarian, he became a true angel dog.

Sure, cats have nine lives, but lucky dogs like Cooper live a life so full and are so well-loved, one life is all they need.

All of us, most especially his brother, Harley and his best friend, Mina,  just wish it could have been longer.

That’s the thing about a dog’s life, isn’t it?

It’s just never long enough.

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The 1st Class of 3rd Grade

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How I remember Mr. Talarico

How I remember Mr. Talarico

I don’t remember whom other two 3rd grade teachers were at St. Jude in the early 70’s.

Oh I’m sure they were wonderfully dedicated teachers, but I sort of feel bad for the students who had those teachers and not Sam Talarico, Sr. In my opinion, they really missed out.

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Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Talarico was in the Army and played college football. He is a giant of a man, especially to a 3rd grader. He has equally giant, bear-paw-baseball-mitt-sized hands.

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While his size certainly could have been intimidating enough to instill good conduct in his students, I think they behaved for another reason: they didn’t want to disappoint him.

Many of his former students may recall that on the first day of school, a roll-down map covered the chalkboard. Mr. Talarico rolled up the map, revealing the word “RESPECT” written boldly, not with chalk, but with a chalked-up eraser. That was the rule by which he governed his classroom.

Ironically he didn’t have to demand respect, he easily earned it. He never “talked down” to his students, and perhaps most key – he treated them with mutual respect.

What a well-timed lesson. Kids hit the 3rd grade after the newness and intimidation of 1st grade has worn off,  and then making their 1st Holy Communion in 2nd grade. They are just starting to gain confidence and feel like big stuff. Instilling respect when they may be on the brink of a little sass and attitude is pure brilliance.

While specific memories of that particular year have faded over the past four (going on five) decades, I am able to clearly remember the overall feeling and tone of that classroom. It was an environment of calm and security.

In those days, the faculty consisted mainly of women – nuns and lay teachers.

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Here was a big, handsome guy, teaching small children. Being in Mr. Talarico’s classroom meant having a school day dad; a 2nd Dad for those of us blessed enough to have a Dad at home.

I can only imagine the vital role he played for the students who didn’t have a Dad at home. A man’s man, but still a teddy bear with a gentle nature, he has modeled a life of faith, family, and hard work.

One evening during the fall of ’72, our doorbell rang. My Dad answered it and yelled,  “Annie, look who’s here.”  There stood Mr. Talarico on our front porch. I was stunned. My stomach dropped. Oh no. What had I done that was so horrible that Mr. Talarico had to come to our house and talk to my Dad?

Perhaps I was an anxious 9-year old. His visit had nothing to do with me. Mr. Talarico was campaigning for a seat on the City Council. Door to door. Face to face. On foot. The old-fashioned, grass roots way.

He won. He was now a husband, father, teacher, coach and Councilman. He served on the City Council for 24 years.

I don’t know how he has shared so much of himself with so many people so successfully, or how he has been able to remember so many names and faces – even decades later, as his black hair turned a distinguished gray, and eventually a striking white.

Through the positive power of Facebook, I learned that Mr. Talarico, now in his 80’s is hospitalized. His large family has asked for prayers, and for folks to share their favorite memories of their Father and Grandpa.

Heaven is surely flooded with prayers, and his family may now have some small idea of the number of lives he has not only touched, but shaped: the students he taught, the athletes he coached, and the kids he rooted for, both on and off the field.

For generations of families, he will be forever linked to the memories of St. Jude School and Church, as much as any Priest or Nun.  A tour of our Parish would go something like……There’s the school, church, convent, rectory, oh, and that’s where Mr. Talarico lives. The Talarico home was across the street from the “new” church, and they even had the bell from the “old” church in their front yard.

It all started with that first simple, but important lesson of the year: Respect.

It is a special teacher who is so beloved and fondly remembered by everyone they have ever taught, or even met. That is a job well done and a life well lived.

Thank you Mr. Talarico, and Thank you Talarico family for sharing your Dad and Grandpa with so many kids over his 43-year career.

While he may have taught 3rd grade, Mr. Talarico is 1st class…all the way.