Category Archives: Family

Tidings Of Comfort and Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And eat the cookies.

 

 

 

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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
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait.

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

A Dog’s Life

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A Dog’s Life

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

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

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

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

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

Cooper & Harley

Cooper & Harley

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

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

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

The boys loved their walks on the city streets,

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and their weekends at the lake in Indiana.

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Cooper in his favorite lake spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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She loved the boys, calling them Poopie and Harwee.

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She told everyone they were her best friends.

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Soon, they welcomed a baby boy to the pack.

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By now, Cooper took it all in stride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just never long enough.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shrinkage

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It seems devious downsizing is getting out of control.

Sure, we all made the switch from a half-gallon of ice cream to a 1.5 quart carton of ice cream without a problem, and it certainly hasn’t affected the collective bottom line of America.

But it seems to be happening everywhere.

Without notice, many standard one pound packages are shrinking to 13 ounces and even 12 ounces. Coffee, peanut butter, breakfast cereal, and pasta are just a few of the commonly used products that are quietly being downsized.

Last week, I bought what I thought was an 8 oz. package of mozzarella cheese. When I went to use it in a recipe, I realized it was only 6 oz.

Quit trying to sneak this past us.

We need some warning.

Marketing departments could put their spin on it:

NEW – Convenient Carton!

NEW – Space Saving Size!

INTRODUCING – Economy Pack!

This sneaky downsizing is detrimental to our tried and true recipes from our Grandmothers, Mothers and Aunts.

For decades, family favorites have been made with ingredients measured in cans, packages, boxes and cartons. There is no mention of ounces in many of these recipes.

It makes me cringe to think of the potential for holiday dinner disasters.

The kitchen isn’t the only problem area.

There is shrinkage in the bedroom, too.

My mom’s bed-making instructions from decades ago still ring in my head. They included making sure the flat sheet was even on both sides, and hung to the bottom of the box springs. I realize modern mattresses are thicker, but some top sheets today barely cover the sides of the mattress.

Hello, Martha? Now what?

Shrinkage has hit the bathroom, too.

Recently, I put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder and noticed the positively roomy fit.

It just didn’t look right.

The roll slid back and forth.

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I grabbed the cardboard core I had just removed from the holder, and compared it to the new roll.

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Seriously?

What were they thinking in the boardroom the day THIS decision was made?

What sort of research did the design department do in order to determine just how low they could go?

Whether you are a scruncher or a folder, this is dangerous territory.

I like to  get-in-and-get-out-quickly, but I realize some folks swear they do their best thinking on the throne.

I’m pretty sure that in the history of throne thinkers, no one ever pondered….squeezed the Charmin, and thought…Gosh, if only the toilet paper squares just weren’t so darn big….

How ironic that our toilet paper is shrinking while the collective American bottom line is growing.

Shrinkage isn’t just happening around the house.

I picked up the August issue of O Magazine at the airport.

What happened to my beloved Oprah?

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Some serious digital waist-whittling had occurred.

OK – in all honestly, if I had my own magazine, and my best gal pal was my Editor At Large, I might expect her to make me look fabulous on the cover, too. I’m pretty sure this is covered in the official Girlfriend Code.

But here’s the thing:  Oprah preaches authenticity, and self-love, .

We’ve faithfully followed skinny Oprah, full-size Oprah, and bonus-size Oprah.

Any size Oprah is equally loved, admired and respected by her followers.

At 60 years of age, and after countless A-HA moments, why would she agree to the false, digitally down-sized cover girl Oprah?

C’mon, Oprah, I thought, as I boarded the plane with her.

Then, I was hit with yet another example of downsizing.

Airline seats are shrinking to a mere 17″ wide.

The new “Slimline” seats which allow airlines to squeeze another row of seats into the Coach section are so shallow they feel more like jump seats.

The seat back pocket is now too small to hold a water bottle, iPad or even my O Magazine.

Of course, with 4 inches less leg room, that pocket is not accessible anyway.

These new planes are equipped with Wifi, but there isn’t enough room to open your laptop…and actually see it.

Not that Oprah has to worry about flying commercial, or putting sheets on her own bed, but….

Maybe she can include the best toilet paper on the 2014 edition of The 0 List, or Oprah’s Favorite Things.

If there is a bigger, better, more luxurious option for the throne,  I’m confident the Queen’s team can find it.

 

The Gift Of The Moment

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IMG_5465Next month, I will be attending the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

This is very cool for me because I have always enjoyed Erma’s writing. It is often heartwarming, always pure comic genius, and timeless. Long before I could relate my personal life experiences to her writing, I thought she was hilarious.

At the age of 50, I have a greater appreciation for her insight and her use of  humor to celebrate the ups, and cope with the downs, of life. Life is short, but some days sure seem long. The ability to see the funny in everyday life is a gift.

Even Erma’s views on the subject of humor were insightful. Some of her more famous quotes about the importance of humor are:

If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.

He who laughs….last.

When humor goes, there goes civilization.

I have a sentimental attachment to her writing, because it reminds me of my Mom. When I was growing up, one of us would often ask the other, “Did you read Erma today?” Together, we laughed about her column, read her books and watched her segments on Good Morning America.

During the summer, we also tuned in at 9:00 a.m. to watch The Phil Donahue Show together. Oh, the education a teen could gain from The Phil Donahue Show back then. It was THE source for information, because he covered all the thought-provoking and juicy topics.

So, Phil and Erma are forever linked together in my mind. Not only because they are former neighbors who had a mutual admiration and affection for each other, but because they were involved in a sort of 1970’s Midwestern love triangle with my mom and me. Nothin’ weird here, this was a triangle of appreciation and adoration.

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We enjoyed Phil, and we loved Erma. Erma and Phil loved and adored each other.

In light of this, it is especially cool for me that Phil Donahue will be the keynote speaker at the The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

During a visit to my hometown over the holidays, I decided to tell my Mom that I had gotten into the workshop. The former version of my Mom would have been so tickled about this. I knew the current version of my Mom, with advanced dementia, would not fully grasp what I was saying. I also knew she would have absolutely no memory of the conversation, just a minute later.

Despite being the subject of a few blog posts, including Sweetie Pie and She’s Such A Doll; she knows nothing about my blog, and has never read a single post.

So, as silly as it may be, I still wanted to share this news with her, and just enjoy the moment. 

One afternoon I sat in her room, reading the Christmas cards she had received. Some included photos or letters. (For anyone who continues to remember nursing home residents with greeting cards, may God Bless you for this kindness.) We passed the cards, photos, and notes back and forth. She was able to fondly recall at least a small detail about each friend or family member.

She was “tracking” fairly well, so I decided to share my news with her. As we chatted, she was lying on her side, atop her bed, like a teenage girl. Her elbow bent, her head propped up in her hand.

“Mom, do you remember reading Erma Bombeck?”

“Oh GAWD, yes. She’s SO funny!”

“Well, do you remember my friend, Terri?”

“Well, of course. How is she?”

I went on to explain in very simple terms, with no details, that Terri and I would both be attending the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio.

I never even got to the part about Phil Donahue.

My Mom sat up, and said, “Really? You’re kidding?”

Wow! Had I really picked the perfect lucid moment?

Then she said, “We should call Grandma! She loves Erma, too!  She’ll go with us!”

Chatting with dementia, the trickster, is sort of what I imagine doing improvisational comedy is like: you never know which direction your partner will go next. You need to be on your toes, open to anything, think quickly, and just go with it.

We both smiled at the idea.

It was a lovely moment.

I went with it.

“Sure, that’s a great idea, Mom!”

As she slowly counted off on her right hand, she said “That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 of us.”

Yep. Me, Terri, Mom, Grandma….and Erma gettin’ away for the weekend.

Of course, only three of us are actually alive, and only two of us are registered for the workshop.

Yet in some way, I feel like all five us will in fact be there.

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Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.

– Erma Bombeck

Good Grief…It’s On Facebook

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I’ll say it. Facebook can be irritating. Invitations to play games we don’t have time for. Fattening recipes we don’t need. False promises of free iPads and gift cards.

Who hasn’t been guilty of a little eye rolling when scanning through their newsfeed? There are the over-sharers. The boastin’ postin’.  Sometimes Facebook seems to be a perpetual version of one of those Christmas card letters.

Even with its annoyances, it has become a Godsend in some ways.

What began as a place for college students to connect, has grown into a place to reconnect and share joyful or funny news. It has now evolved into something even more. In times of trouble, we can let others know we are supporting them in thought and prayer.

Like many Facebook users, I have followed cancer and recovery-to-health journeys of people I don’t even know. This isn’t voyeuristic.  It is an example of our connection as human beings, which compels us to pray for and root for these friends of our friends.

In times of tragedy and loss, Facebook can be a place to share our grief, and ultimately comfort one another.

Nicole, a classmate of mine, lost her daughter Leah in 2012. I never met Leah, but I got to “know” her through several months of Nicole’s posts on Facebook. The posts were sometimes upbeat or sweet and funny, and often raw and heartbreaking. They were always beautiful because of her family’s fierce love. This love was apparent in every post. Nicole’s generosity in sharing Leah’s journey, allowed countless people to “know” Leah and to pray for her.

Several months after Leah died, I asked Nicole if Leah’s Facebook page made her sad and if it would remain intact. She said, “Leah’s Facebook page will remain alive for as long as I live. Dozens of people post public and private messages almost every week.”

How comforting it must be for Nicole to have the warm reminders that Leah is thought of, and missed by, so many people.

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If joy shared is joy multiplied; then is grief shared, while not lessened, perhaps at least made more bearable?  I think so.

Four of my  Facebook friends passed away in the last few years.  After watching what has unfolded on their Facebook pages, I began to think: Will Facebook evolve into a online memorial garden – especially for the generation who never knew a world without Facebook?

Mike passed away in July of 2011 after triumphantly living with ALS for over ten years. I miss his wickedly funny and irreverent wit. Without Facebook, I would have missed seeing this beautiful photo, posted by Mike’s nephew. It captures what is perhaps the most fitting and perfectly placed memorial stone I have ever seen:  stunning in its simplicity, meaning, and setting, for a true outdoorsman.

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Kathey died in August of  2011. She kept much of her 10-year breast cancer fight sort of private. She didn’t want to be sick, act sick or have anyone think of her as sick. I couldn’t bring myself to write “Happy Birthday”on her Facebook wall the last two years. “Birthday” would have looked pitiful. Kathey would hate that. She made a BIG deal of ALL birthdays. She would have celebrated another birthday this weekend.  She wasn’t a very active Facebooker, but it makes me smile to peek at her wall, read a post and see that someone is thinking of her. I miss her terribly, but will once again find some Happy in her Birthday.

Tom, was the king of the perfectly placed one-liner. He was usually the first to alert me to the news of a recently deceased celebrity.  The news flash was in the form of an always funny, and sometimes, heartwarming commentary. Speculation (and yes, sometimes wagering) about which celebrity would be the next to go, soon followed. Naturally, we counted them off in the requisite groups of three. What? Doesn’t everyone do this?

Tom passed away last January. This memory stone, with names of some of  Tom’s nephews and a niece is pure sweetness. It made me smile. Without Facebook, I would never have seen this treasure created in memory of a beloved uncle.

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It occurred to me that cemeteries may become less important for the next generations. Maybe this had already started. I live in an area where choosing cremation and The Neptune Society is common practice. Personally, I’m not a frequent cemetery visitor, and I don’t know too many people who are. I admit, I had never really felt a tremendous connection to the final resting places of my loved ones.

Then my cousin Jennie died.

A 42-year old wife and mother, she fought  breast and brain cancer for 18 months. Learning her final resting place would be next to my Dad, who died nearly 30 years ago, was a moment full of emotion. Suddenly the cold cemetery seemed a little warmer. I know their souls have left their earthly bodies, but somehow, it is comforting to know my Dad finally has “company next door” after all these years, and that Jennie has her Uncle Art to watch over her.

However, I still think a cemetery can be a stark reminder of a death, and a visit to one may mean grieving in solitude. But, a visit to a Facebook page can be a shared celebration of life. It is a community venue for showing support, sharing warm remembrances and ongoing tributes.

Jennie’s wall contains sweet memories, photos of haircuts and donations to “Locks of Love,”and inspirational quotes.

“Leah’s Day Of Love” was organized as a Facebook Event and observed on the 1st Anniversary of her death. Lovely, random acts of kindness were documented in joyful photos. What a beautiful day dreamed up by Leah’s cousin.

Tom’s page has memories of March Madness. All their pages are filled with birthday wishes, photos of happy moments, and sentiments about missed friends.

It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are about eternal life, or how you feel about headstones and scattered ashes. If you’ve lost a friend, visit their Facebook page and see how their spirit lives on in their family and friends.

Join the celebration. Share a story.

Cultivate a memory garden and watch it grow.