Category Archives: Family

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.

❤️ ❤️

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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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!

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.

Beverly

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 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.

Mina Smells Good

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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Family Jewels

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Where it all began

Where it all began

I received some disappointing news last week.

In a few short months, a family-owned jewelry store in my hometown is scheduled to close after nearly seven decades in business. With roots in the “old neighborhood,” five generations of my family, from my grandparents to my great nieces, have worn sparkly things and watches purchased at Freeman Jewelers.

First Holy Communion crosses, add-a-bead necklaces, charm bracelets, rings from Dad, Christmas gifts hidden in tree branches, engagement rings, and custom designs and settings have marked Sacraments, life milestones and special occasions.

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My Mother is no longer able to wear the jewelry she once enjoyed so much. As her dementia progressed, she began throwing her jewelry in the trash. Someday it will be worn and enjoyed again by another generation, but for now, it is safely tucked away.

Her jewelry was purchased from this family owned store. The value of this jewelry is not in the precious metals and stones, it is in the memories. The memory of helping Dad select just the right gift. A tiny, wrapped box hidden on a Christmas tree branch. The memory of Mom’s face when she found it, and the delight when she unwrapped it.

For our family, there has never been another place to purchase jewelry. Or get a new watch battery. The Freeman family has been a constant. They are genuine, friendly and ethical. Their merchandise is beautiful and unique. They catered to every budget. While I am happy for the 2nd generation, sibling owners who will now enjoy some well-deserved retirement relaxation and fun; selfishly, I am sad to see them go.

I feel like we have a shared history, and I will miss them and their store.

Where will we shop now?

I’m not interested in Jane Seymour’s Open Hearts Collection, and I definitely won’t ever say  “I went to Jared’s.”

Buying and receiving jewelry will never be the same.

Another family owned business, a lovely home furnishings and decor store also recently closed its doors after 30+ years in my hometown. Apparently,  the trend towards online purchasing, and folks furnishing their homes with cheaper decor, rather than investment pieces, had resulted in declining sales.

How sad.

I hate that this keeps happening, but I understand how it does.

In our pursuit of paying less, we have moved away from buying from the “little guys.”

We’ve been seduced by perceived savings at national chains, big box stores, and on-line retailers.

The falling prices at Walmart are enticing. Personally, I’ve never felt good walking into a Walmart. I find it rather depressing and avoid it. Now Target on the other hand….

We head to Target for household items. Instead of sticking to our list, we suddenly find $150 in “must-have” purchases.  Come on, who hasn’t looked at their bank statement or credit card bill and thought, What the heck did I buy at Target last month?

A 20% store coupon makes us antsy.  We must to get to the mall before our coupon expires.  We can’t miss the chance to  “save.”

I confess, I recently took a spin on the Old Navy merry-go-round.

They were having a sale.  I went shopping. I earned super cash. I spent the super cash. The next day, everything was 30% off. I shopped again. I earned rewards.

Yippee!!!  I was saving SO MUCH MONEY that my Gap Visa bill was……$500. Wait, What? How did THIS happen? I finally got off that ride.

We sit on the couch, shop online,  and with one click enjoy almost instant gratification. They tell us: folks who bought this, also bought….this. So, we toss that in our virtual shopping cart, too.  Amazon Prime. Free shipping. Brown boxes on the porch.

But, are we really saving anything?

Of course not. We’ve been tricked into buying way too much stuff.

Shame on us.

With all these big box bargains and online deals, we are losing more than just our own cash.

Locally owned businesses are the heart and soul of city. Community means people. These business people are more vested in their community than any big chain could ever be.

Losing the family owned businesses in our communities is also leading to the retail homogenization of America.

Every city and town has shopping centers with Kohls, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Staples, Home Depot, etc. It  is revolving scenery, with only changes in landscape.

We can buy the same stuff in every city.

This is especially evident in department stores.

Macy’s and Bloomingdales INC line will soon have us all looking like these guys:

Some folks thought Star Trek..I think they all bought the INC line.

Some folks thought Star Trek..I think they all bought the INC line.

We are at risk of losing our individual style.

Even worse, communities are losing their individual personality.

What do we often love to stumble upon while traveling?

A charming downtown area. A walkable shopping district. Drinks or dinner followed by checking out the area, on foot. Whether it is a nostalgic or modern vibe, these areas give a destination its personality.

If we purchase a trinket, gadget, Christmas ornament, or article of clothing, it automatically has the memory of the shop where it was purchased and the trip we took, attached to it.

The same can’t be said for items randomly purchased at the mall, or a national chain. It’s just bland stuff.

I’ve had enough bland stuff. I’m hungry for local flavor. I want locally owned businesses to come back…STRONG.

Make a plan to celebrate Small Business Saturday on November 29th.

Stay away from the mall madness and the big chains.

Plot out some locally-owned shops to check out.

Support a hometown artisan and enjoy the added benefit of buying American made.

I bet you’ll find some unexpected treasures.

If shopping isn’t on your agenda, you can still participate.

Start your weekend by grabbing breakfast at a Mom & Pop coffee shop.

Visit your local hardware or paint store while working through your “honey-do” list.

Instead of watching the game at a chain sports bar, grab a beer at a locally-owned joint.

If dining out isn’t in the budget, hit the butcher shop and dine in.

Shop small on November 29th.

And then, make a habit of it.

Locally owned businesses are the precious gems in our community settings.

Let’s do what we can to make sure they continue to SHINE.

shop small