That Dog!!

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His 2005 profile on the Petfinder website said “Princeton” was supposed to be a breeding stud, but “he was too much trouble.” Maybe that should have been a sign.

On a December day, his girl drove from Chicago to St. Louis to pick up the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from the woman who’d rescued him. The woman had several Standard Poodles which dwarfed the little Spaniel. When his girl drove up, she saw the tiny pup sitting behind a 6′ chain link fence. As he watched her approach, his tail wagged in the snow.

“Harley” went home with his new girl and became a brother to a Cavalier puppy named Cooper. Cooper had separation anxiety and he missed his girl when she was at work. Harley was the companion Cooper needed. They bonded instantly, and Harley adapted to city life.

The boys were total opposites.

Cooper was 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, tooting,  butt-scootin’ on the carpet, and of course, the most disgusting and disturbing of all canine behaviors….poo-eating. 

“That dog!!”

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

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When his girl introduced him to a guy she liked, he liked him, too.

When the guy officially joined their pack, he happily wore a bow tie.

As their pack grew, he welcomed each new member and treated them just like he did Cooper. He loved them, but he also stole food from them…every chance he got!

It’s true.

Cooper, babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even his girl and guy fell victim to Harley the scavenger. 

Goldfish,  Hawaiian rolls, chicken nuggets, an entire sandwich, or a slice of pizza could all be stolen and  “Hoovered”  at an alarming speed by Harley. 

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In possession of a stolen granola bar – allegedly.

“That dog!!”

Harley and Cooper enjoyed 8 years together, until due to a heart condition,  Cooper went to heaven.

We were all heartbroken that day, especially Harley. 

Finding a canine sibling for him was never an option. Harley didn’t like other dogs. Cooper had been the only dog for him.

Now he was without his best friend.

What would Harley do?

Would Harley be content with his girl, his guy and his human siblings?

Very quickly, Harley reacted the way he knew best: He adapted, and he remained positive.

After all, even in those hardscrabble beginnings his tail was wagging.

His little humans became his new snuggle buddies.

And he sure received a lot of hugs.

He was content in the middle of the action

The truth is, Harley had always been sort of a mess.

Perhaps he was the product of a puppy mill. We’ll never know.

As he matured, he looked like he was put together all wrong. His back legs seemed longer than his front legs, he had a bit of scoliosis, and he had a funny, sideways gait.

 He didn’t care. He scampered around quite happily.

Like a mountain goat, he’d scale any height if he smelled food, and thought there was a chance he could reach it.

He tried to be a good boy, but he just couldn’t help himself. He’d succumb to temptation!

Without Cooper to snuggle with, Harley believed he deserved the ultimate in luxury. A pile of pillows, a stack of blankets, and the highest point on the couch were his favorite spots to nap.

Harley was cursed with terribly itchy skin. During his early years,  he sometimes looked like he had chicken legs -having chewed off the fur in an effort to attack the itch. After his Doggie Dermatologist determined he was allergic to evergreens and grass, we understood why Harley preferred to poo on the sidewalk.

During Summer months at the lake, Harley insisted on pooping in the middle of the lane – no matter who was around. Morning walkers and runners had to step around him. Workmen, Fedex and UPS drivers, and neighbors were held up until he found  just the right spot, and then he took his sweet time gettin’ down to business. 

“That dog!!”

Since his allergies meant he was never a fan of the great outdoors, he adapted.

He didn’t chase squirrels around the yard, but did he hunt indoors.

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He was always on high alert, even when it appeared he was sound asleep. No 4-legged creature on the TV screen- real, animated or stick figure, could sneak past Harley. 

“That Dog!!”

While he never enjoyed lying under a shady tree,  he never missed a chance to curl up under an artificial Christmas tree!

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He didn’t like grass, but he did like to cool off in the lake.

He wasn’t blessed with a beautiful voice, but that didn’t stop him from singing with great enthusiasm…especially to the General Hospital theme song! He was also known to sing an operatic solo in the middle of the night – while he and everyone else was sound asleep!

“That dog!!”

In his later years, he became deaf. He could no long hear the sweet music of his people’s voices. He still smiled and wagged his tail when anyone made eye contact with him, and he learned to follow a few hand signals.

He spent most of his time snoozin’ in the corner, but he still knew when it was time for breakfast and dinner. He would stand near the pantry and let everyone know it was time for him to eat.

Then he grew forgetful, and some nights persisted in asking for dinner after he had already eaten!

“That dog!!”

Even though he still looked like a puppy, he had grown to be an old man.

His sweet disposition had never changed.

On Friday, his family knew it was time to say goodbye and let Harley go. 

That morning, as his girl explained to his three sad, little humans that Harley would be going to heaven, Harley spotted an abandoned pack of mini-muffins up on the couch.

Naturally, he found the strength to make a grab for it.

“That dog!!”

Even though Harley didn’t feel well, he smiled until the end, and then… off he went…surely reunited with his best buddy, Cooper. 

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Of course, Harley went to Heaven!

Harley wasn’t a bad dog. He was a really good dog who just had some very bad habits. 

We learned a lot from “That Dog!”

Adapt when things don’t go as planned.

Realize there is always a reason to smile.

Go for the impossible.

Be persistent.

Be a good buddy.

Enjoy the party.

Love everyone.

We should all live like Harley.

Well, except for the belching, tooting, and food stealing.

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Match

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A Perfect Match

My Mother’s move from her Assisted Living apartment to a single room in the secured area of the retirement facility occurred abruptly. The move happened the day after she “took a walk” on a cold, February night.

Her furniture and household items were given away, but her personal belongings remained boxed up and packed away in my sister’s basement for the next 4 years.

It didn’t seem right to dispose of, donate, or distribute them while as Mom would say….she was still alive and kickin’.

Several months after she died, in an effort to clean out a storage room in my sister’s basement, we sorted through what was left of Mom’s things.

Her coats and special occasion outfits hanging neatly on a rack, looked like a museum exhibit: Grandma Loie’s Wedding Attire 2000-2014.

Two bins held the accessories that made her outfits complete.

It was a strange archeological dig.

The discovery lay in what was, and wasn’t there. 

One small box I took home held the contents of her kitchen “junk drawer.”

Everybody has one of those, right?

The contents of this treasure trove included things like  rubber bands (likely saved from the evening newspaper), a ball of cooking twine, household string, a partial roll of packing tape, Scotch™ tape, a handful of unidentified keys, and two matchboxes.

It all went straight into my junk drawer.  Eventually, I sort of forgot some of the stuff had come from my Mom.

Last week I opened that drawer to grab a Bic® candlestick lighter.  It was out of gas and therefore, useless.

I looked down, spotted the matchboxes and grabbed one. I realized it was from McCormick™ & Kuleto’s, and had been my Mom’s.

I smiled thinking of how Mom always grabbed a book of matches on her way out of a restaurant – especially when traveling.

With smoking bans and fewer people lighting up, matchbooks are no longer a staple at hostess stands. 

She brought this one home from a visit with my brother & sister-in-law in San Francisco. She enjoyed her visits to Southern California and our time together, but she loved her visits with Steve and Libby.

Thanks to Mom’s matches – the only ones in my house – I could light the candle.

I slid open the matchbox and began to laugh.

 

Because…..

 

 

No match here.

I laughed at this heaven-sent, practical joke.

I laughed remembering the handful of recent times I’d needed a safety pin, and couldn’t find one. How ironic.

As I held that beat-up matchbox, I had a tangible reminder of the absurdity of dementia.

During my Mom’s nearly 10-year journey with dementia, I quickly learned when a loved one has dementia, you are faced with two choices: Cry or laugh.

I chose laughter. Nearly every time. 

I never laughed at my Mom. I laughed at the absolutely ridiculous situations we were faced with, as her dementia progressed. Sometimes she laughed, too.

At some point, the monetary or sentimental value of things became meaningless to my Mom.

Dementia meant diamonds were disposable. Out went her first engagement ring, and her favorite necklace – a heart-shaped diamond pendant with a ruby in the center. There were other items missing, but those two pieces held the most sentimental value. 

Long before the Marie Kondo craze, my Mom was in everything-must-go mode.

Dementia compelled her to clear cut her surroundings.

She cut apart books, and cut holes around labels in her beautiful clothes because,  you know – irritating tags.

The clean sweep meant everything came off the walls. She tossed her wallet, eyeglasses, photos, countless mementos.

Oh, but not those few dozen safety pins. They were tucked away safely in that matchbox!

While those safety pins might come in handy, I don’t need those temporary fasteners to feel connected to my Mom.

She is firmly stitched into my entire being, and she is woven into the fabric of her entire family. 

Occasionally, I see her facial expressions and mannerisms. 

I hear family members quote her….both knowingly and unknowingly.

I regularly employ her solid and timeless wisdom.

The things she tossed out that had sentimental value were meaningful because of the memories attached to them.

I’ve learned you don’t need to have the thing — to have the memory.

This Mothers Day, I’m grateful for treasured memories.

And a large supply of safety pins.

I’m also grateful to have had Lois Anne as my Mother.

That was a perfect match.

💕

 

 

Margy

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Thank you Juanita for this picture which perfectly captures Margy’s spirit.

Margy was the older sister of my friend Jeanette.

She wasn’t old enough that she had a family of her own like my sister, she was just enough older to show us the way. She was just so nice to us and so much fun.

Jeanette was the middle of the five Donovan kids. Any mention of Margy usually included mention of Mike, the firstborn in the family.

“MikeandMargy” rolled off Jeanette’s tongue as if it was one name.

When Jeanette and I began our freshman year at Purdue, MikeandMargy were the cool older siblings. They had off campus apartments, and both drove bitchin’ Novas. They each had a great group of friends that intertwined in one big circle.

MikeandMargy invited Jeanette and her (what were likely annoying) Freshman friends to their parties, hung out with us at their family tailgate gatherings and always made us feel welcome. We had so much fun with them.

Even before our Freshman year of college, Margy gave us our first taste of dorm life. During High School, we road tripped to spend the weekend with her at Purdue. I learned a lot that weekend.

Like how to play the drinking game “Thumper.” This wasn’t a dangerous, alcohol-poisoning-level drinking game. In fact, not that much alcohol was consumed. Margy made sure of it.

We sat in a circle on the dorm room floor. During the game when one of us youngsters had lost a round and was pouring our penalty shot of beer, Margy would sit quietly, with a grin on her face.

Just as we were about to down the penalty shot, Margy would pounce like a cat and yell a gross word. Out went the shot, and in rolled the laughter. She had an endless supply of silly, gross words at the ready.

We did manage to learn a bit about Academia that weekend, too. I was fascinated by Margy’s Major, I thought the course of study was just so cool. I graduated from Purdue with the same degree.

During those years on campus, we learned from a lot from Margy.

For instance, theme parties are always a good idea. When there is a foot of snow on the ground in January, a Hawaiian party is perfectly timed.

In hindsight, I should have worn Depends©️ to the “Come as your favorite commercial party.” It would have been a great choice serving a dual purpose. I’d have been in costume and also prepared for the extreme laughter at the execution of the party theme.

Nothing ever seemed to be an issue for Margy. She was a problem solver.

“Jeanette, who cares?”

“Don’t worry about.”

“We’ll just do it this way, and it’ll be fine.”

My friend Terri remembers: “Margy had an old, beat up station wagon that someone had busted the back window out of. I remember her driving us around one hot summer with the air conditioner cranked. I never knew anyone with the guts to crank the a/c with the windows open!”

That was Margy: easygoing and carefree.

After Margy graduated and started working, we’d road trip to visit her. She found fun and made friends everywhere she lived.

Her early career included a move to Lima, Ohio. As I recall, she was lukewarm about that move, but she made the most of it. By the time we visited that summer, she’d even found a beach to enjoy on her days off at Indian Lake State Park.

Her move to Indianapolis meant a new tradition – Indy 500 Parties that began the day before the race. The details of those 2-day gatherings are foggy in my mid-life brain, but I think they started with a cookout, progressed to singing and dancing, then a middle of the night trek to the infield at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and ended with a sunburn.

One summer in the mid 1980’s we piled into the car and hit the road for Washington D.C. Margy brought a tape recorder to document our trip. Anytime we had to wait in line, she made the most of our time with microphone in hand “interviewing” other tourists. Folks gladly answered her questions, and little kids told her their favorite jokes.

After seeing monuments, a walk-by of the White House and Capitol, breezing through Georgetown, and touring two Smithsonians, Margy said, “What do you girls think, have you seen enough museums? I think we should find a beach!” This was before the advent of cell phones and GPS.  Our trip went happily sideways and we landed in Virginia Beach for the rest of our vacation.

Adulthood soon intervened and the road trips ended.

Then, in the early 90’s the Donovan siblings started a Summer tradition: An annual trip to Vegas. Each Donovan invited a handful (or 2 handfuls) of friends to meet for “Viva Las Vegas Weekend”

A few years into this Vegas tradition, several of us were adopted as official Donovans –  complete with adoption certificates signed by Jack & Mary Helen. It was a great honor to finally have “our papers” but truthfully, I think we already felt like we were part of the family.

Returning from breakfast one morning, we found Margy in the Casino taking lessons.  There she was, making the most of the Vegas trip. All in.

Of course, she’d gladly school all of us later that night at the Blackjack or Craps tables. Little did we know, she was preparing for her next career adventure.

Margy also taught us to always play Keno at breakfast.  It made breakfast more lively, and you could use your winnings to pay the check…or at least the tip.

She always knew which restaurants to hit. If a restaurant was busy and there a wait for a table, she’d add a little entertainment by giving a phony, but believable name. It was worth the wait to hear a hostess call, “Beach Party.”

My friend Jeanette died suddenly on Mothers’ Day in 2017.

Margy was a few months into her fight against Cancer.

The nice older sister had grown into an incredibly kind woman. I’ve never known anyone kinder to or more respectful of those working in the service industry. A true lover of people. She was a great listener and always sincerely interested in what was going in her friends’ lives.

She was certainly still lots of fun.

As I stood at the funeral home to share a few words about my dear friend, Jeanette, Margy caught my eye. With her beautiful smile, she mouthed, “Phlegm.…..Toe Jam” Like a shot of beer almost four decades before, the lump in my throat was replaced with a laugh.

Margy died last week after giving that cancer fight all she had.

My friend Terri said, “Margy was the perfect blend of her parents, strong like Mary Helen, and social like Jack.”

Maybe that’s how Margy did it these last two years. Despite grieving the loss of her Dad, her sister Jeanette and going through treatment, she squeezed in as many good times as she could. She moved to be close to her family. She traveled and met up with friends, cheered on the Boilermakers, Bulldogs and Mariners. She made the most of it, and made some more great memories for those she loved.

I know her time on earth was much too short – especially for her family, Mary Helen, Mike, Mary Kay, Rick and Sabrina and their family – her nieces and nephews whom she loved so much, and her big circle of friends: including the longtime “MikeandMargy” friends, and the great friends she made through her moves to Florida and Seattle.

I was sad I wasn’t with the Donovan family and Margy’s friends who gathered to celebrate her beautiful life this week.

On the day of her funeral I happened to be on Siesta Key, one of Margy’s favorite destinations.

I enjoyed a lovely lunch with CB – one of Margy’s oldest friends and favorite people, at one of Margy’s favorite places.

In the spirit of Margy, we made the most of a sad day.

We toasted her, and of course Jeanette too.

How lucky were we to have had had them in our lives?

They were both appreciative and loyal friends, and true Boilermakers:  Ever grateful, ever true.

We felt like they were with us.

I think they might have been.

Because surely these reunited sisters are sharing a laugh.

Perhaps with a fruity drink in hand.

Their toes are definitely in some heavenly sand.

❤️ ❤️

Laugh Everlasting

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My friend Jeanette would have turned 54 today.

Professionally, Jeanette devoted her life to being a Catholic Educator. When she died suddenly in May, she was finishing her 32nd year with the Diocese.

She was a Teacher, Coach, and Principal. Her commitment to her students extended beyond the school bell. I don’t think she missed a School or Parish function.  If students were at risk for missing school, she’d been known to pick them up on her way to work.

While she was serious about education,  I have no doubt she made learning fun. Jeanette was all about fun. She was born the third of five children in a close family that truly enjoys each other and life. She adored her nieces and nephew, and loved making things fun for them.

She loved road trips, the Purdue Boilermakers, Jimmy Buffett, tanning poolside, and theme parties. She was game for anything, and celebrating everything.

As I looked through the photo boards on display at the funeral home, I was amazed at all the good times I had forgotten about over the last four decades. Thanks to her (and her family’s) consistent picture taking, her joy and love of  life was well documented.

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One thing was obvious:  She made everything an event.

Jeanette also loved a good laugh, and she certainly had the most memorable and distinctive one.

Her laugh began with a deep and throaty “oh-ho-ho-my-hy-gosh” and ended with a high pitched “hee-hee-hee” covering the entire range of the vocal scale in between. It was loud, musical, joyful and infectious.

When necessary, Jeanette had a good poker face. She could initiate and carry out harmless, but hilarious practical jokes, and no one laughed harder than she did at the result.

I enjoyed the sound of her laugh for 40 years. Usually she was laughing with me, but frequently she was laughing at me.

If something awful or embarrassing happened, Jeanette was the perfect person to tell. While she always had a sympathetic ear, she often had no control over that laugh. She’d easily find the humor in every blunder, fumble and stumble.

She was able to do this because life is a mixture of emotions. Happy and sad, tragic and ridiculous are not always mutually exclusive. I experienced this phenomenon the day of Jeanette’s funeral.

Her beautiful Funeral Mass was held at the parish where she was Principal. It was an area of town I wasn’t familiar with – especially since I hadn’t lived there for most of my adult life.

Funeral processions are treated with a special kind of reverence in my hometown. Cars, (including those traveling in the opposite direction) pull to the side of the road to let a funeral procession pass. I’ve seen men stand with a hand over their heart, folks bow their heads in prayer, and Catholic school children kneel on the playground.

As I tearfully departed the church parking lot, my friend Nancy was following in the car behind me. Nancy’s 50-year friendship with Jeanette began at the age of 3, when her family moved into a house three doors from Jeanette’s family.

Under the direction of the funeral home personnel and with police escorts, our cars with headlights on and hazard lights flashing, moved slowly but steadily along. Nancy and I were on the phone, talking safely, hands-free as we drove. Nothing look familiar to either of us.

As we passed through an intersection, the gentleman in the SUV in front of me suddenly turned off his hazard lights, and then quickly sped off. I looked ahead at an empty street.  Wait, where is Jeanette’s hearse? The limo? The family cars? 

I realized the front of the funeral procession must have turned right and for some reason the gentleman in the SUV in front of me had bailed out of the procession and gone straight.  Did he have to get back to the office? Did he have diarrhea? What happened?

I didn’t have time to ponder this.

“OH NO!!” I screamed to Nancy, as I realized I was now the lead car in a runaway funeral procession…and I didn’t know the way to the Catholic Cemetery.

Nancy began to laugh.

“It’s not funny!” I yelled.

“Where are the police escorts?” I continued.

Anxiety set in. “Nancy, I can’t be the lead car, I don’t know where we are!”

I was so rattled I couldn’t Google Map it.

Nancy,  had suddenly turned into Jeanette. She was laughing so hard she could barely speak. She managed to utter “They turned right. Just turn right as soon as you can.”

I was beyond horrified. I looked in my rearview mirror at the long line of headlights and flashing hazards behind me. I was sweating.

I took the next right.

After two more turns, and by the Grace of God, we made it to the cemetery.

Unfortunately, we arrived before the front of the funeral procession, causing a bit of a traffic jam, and additional challenge for the police.

Unbeknownst to me, the police were managing two funeral processions arriving simultaneously at the cemetery, and my runaway procession created an unexpected third group, on a street partially closed due to road construction.

Thankfully, despite the entire debacle we were there to lay Jeanette to rest.

Later that afternoon, we considered that maybe the funeral fiasco was heaven sent from Jeanette, for one last laugh. Whether she was responsible or not, I had no doubt she was laughing.

The thought of not hearing her laugh again made me sad.

But now I don’t think there was a last laugh.

Because somehow, I still hear her laugh so clearly.

While Jeanette is so dearly missed by so many today, I hope she is being remembered with all sorts of proper celebrations.

Her laugh is now eternal, and oh, how full of joy and fun Heaven must be today.

Happy Heavenly Birthday, Bean!

xo

 

 

Words With Friends

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Warning:  This post is contains words I find annoying, disturbing and/or disgusting.  If you are offended by language, this post is not for you!

 

 

 

 

It began with the constant use of the F word during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Once I tuned into it, I heard it everywhere and bristled each time.

Female.”

Hearing “female candidate” I envisioned a cartoon uterus in a pantsuit and sensible heels, a stylish scarf fashioned out of her fallopian tubes, and her ovaries tucked safely in her pockets.

Ridiculous, I know. But,  “male candidate” wasn’t used with the same frequency, if at all.

“Female” is clinical.

Unless you’re employed in the field of animal husbandry, issuing an A.P.B. for an alleged perpetrator, transporting a patient, or working in the coroner’s office – skip the word female. It refers to genitalia.

I prefer “woman” as it encompasses the entirety of a human being.

While I was busy cringing at the F word, the tape of Trump using the P word surfaced.

Ick. Ick. Ick.

For the love of hoo-hoo’s, vajayjays and vajeens everywhere, wasn’t that word left back in the junior high boys’ locker room?

Guess not.

The misogynistic and absurd bragging (among other things) spurred a protest of the new U.S. President. On January 21, 2017,  200,000 women gathered in D.C.  sporting their functional, yet cleverly named pink Pussy hats.

Meow. I get it –  giving the word a different kind of power. Even with those darling little ears on top – I preferred kitty cat hats.

The cringe factor of these words brought to mind a recent girls’ trip where our mutual dislike of “moist” resulted in a conversation about all sorts of awful words.

Just the mere reference to something unappealing like “pustule,” “seeping,” “oozing,” and “ointment” causes cringey feelings. No visual aid necessary.

One friend hates the word “pimple,” and her husband hates the word, “fester.” It’s no wonder these perfectly suited soul mates have enjoyed nearly 30 years of wedded bliss!

Another friend confessed that any labia reference, either major or minor – made her uncomfortable.

We all agreed “scrotum” hits the ears wrong every time.

Coincidentally, one friend was on a run of making her own almond milk and almond hummus. She shared how her teenagers groaned in protest every time she referenced the necessary tool which is key to the process: a “nut bag.”

35 years ago, this same friend was a horrified teenager when her mother signaled the end of a day of shopping by announcing in a department store, “Well, it’s time to go, I’ve shot my wad!” 

Another friend mentioned the word “grundle.” I admit, I had to Google it. It sounded like something out of a Harry Potter novel. Nope. Lemme just say….T’aint what it is.

Of course “smegma” (just for you Madge), “girth” and “lube” are all included on the the repeat offender list. I apologize for typing those.

Some words sound worse than their actual definition, like “chickpea,” “uranus” and “penal” for instance. “Clematis” clearly sounds like a lady part and not a lovely flowering vine.

Personally, I hate the terrible imagery that comes to mind when I hear “blow-out,” and “brain-fart.

While we’re on the subject – I propose we nix the crass “anal-retentive” or “anal” in favor of the more genteel “particular.

It isn’t only anatomical terms and descriptors of unpleasant things that are bothersome.

Mothers can all agree on a mutual disdain for “not me” and “sucks.”

Men are bugged by a words of a different sort.

They seem to have a strong dislike for the apathetic “whatever” and the snippish “fine.” They also lose patience with the incorrect use of “literally,” the often used, but nonexistent “irregardless,” and the redundant “very unique.”

Just mention corporate conference call speak and watch the eyes roll:

We don’t need to think outside the boxregroup, or tag up later. Please, just table it ALL. At the end of the day, we’ve had enough of moving forward. We have fully penetrated and are saturated with equitable outcomessolutions-based everything, and win-win situations.

Yep, there definitely seems to be a “disconnect” here

Words can be so terribly overused that they lose their meaning. Have you noticed practically everything is described as “amazing” on a daily basis. Hey, I realize my generation did the same thing to “awesome,” but we used it more comically, and less earnestly.

The moment I heard a lovely wedding gown described as “badass,” I knew the word had lost its impact. Remember when that only applied to bikers, rockers, and the military?

I realize decorum and manners have waned in favor of an air of familiarity in our increasingly casual society.

This is never more evident than when a server or clerk addresses a group of women as “you guys” or even in Southern California as “dudes.”

Look, I’m not expecting to hear “Madames.”

“Ladies” or at the very least, “folks” would be a refreshing return to the service standards I was taught.

Do you think I’m too easily offended, or being a ball buster?

OUCH!

I don’t even have a pair, and that really makes me wince!

 

 

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 by 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! Whenever I hear this song, I hear her voice.

A few weeks ago I was in the car when “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” came 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 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 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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Part 1 of  a 3-part series.

You can find Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

 

 

No matter how many times we are reminded 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?

Tag on Blouse

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!