Category Archives: Midlife

A Perfect Match

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A Perfect Match

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

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

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

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

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

Two bins held the accessories that made her outfits complete.

It was a strange archeological dig.

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

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

Everybody has one of those, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I slid open the matchbox and began to laugh.

 

Because…..

 

 

No match here.

I laughed at this heaven-sent, practical joke.

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

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

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

I chose laughter. Nearly every time. 

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

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

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

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

Dementia compelled her to clear cut her surroundings.

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

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

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

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

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

Occasionally, I see her facial expressions and mannerisms. 

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

I regularly employ her solid and timeless wisdom.

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

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

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

And a large supply of safety pins.

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

That was a perfect match.

💕

 

 

Margy

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

Margy was the older sister of my friend Jeanette.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jeanette, who cares?”

“Don’t worry about.”

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

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

That was Margy: easygoing and carefree.

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

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

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

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

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

Adulthood soon intervened and the road trips ended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margy was a few months into her fight against Cancer.

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

She was certainly still lots of fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We toasted her, and of course Jeanette too.

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

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

We felt like they were with us.

I think they might have been.

Because surely these reunited sisters are sharing a laugh.

Perhaps with a fruity drink in hand.

Their toes are definitely in some heavenly sand.

❤️ ❤️

Laugh Everlasting

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My friend Jeanette would have turned 54 today.

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

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

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

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

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

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30th Birthdays in Vegas

One thing was obvious:  She made everything an event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t have time to ponder this.

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

Nancy began to laugh.

“It’s not funny!” I yelled.

“Where are the police escorts?” I continued.

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

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

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

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

I took the next right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because somehow, I still hear her laugh so clearly.

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

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

Happy Heavenly Birthday, Bean!

xo

 

 

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!

I Don’t Speak The Language

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

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

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

The verification process begins like this:

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

Captcha says, “Nope. Try again.”

Then I get this one:

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

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

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

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Yep, clearly it is erpackl certain!

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

Next up – THIS looks fairly simple:

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I’ve got it! It says: has tidelec.

“Hmmm….perhaps, but not likely.”

At this point, I usually just close my iPad.

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

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

Questions like:

What street did you live on as a child?

What was the name of your 5th grade teacher?

In what city did your parents meet?

What was the model of your first car?

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

Magiceye.com

Magiceye.com

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

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

This window popped up:

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

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

IMG_0253Dessert. Of course I nailed it.

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

IMG_0254Whew! Thankfully, they thoughtfully provided that sample image.

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

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

Well-heeled or healed?

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DanskoA few years ago, I was in Chicago for an International Expo. It meant long days standing in an exhibit hall.

I had recently purchased a pair of black patent leather shoes by Dansko. They’re water resistant, non-slip, great for a healthy back and super comfortable.

The Chicago weather was cold and rainy, so my Danskos were the perfect thing to wear.

One of my stylish nieces lives in Chicago. When I walked into her apartment one evening, she stepped back and in the tone a daughter uses only with her mother (and Godmother) said,  “WHAT….are you WEARING?”

I realized she was looking at my shoes.

I tried to sell her on the benefits of Danskos.

She wasn’t buyin’ it.

“Those are…. AWFUL! ….just  TERRIBLE!”

Then she added, “They aren’t even….FEMININE!”

Hey, I was  already wearing black pants and a Land’s End blouse with a company logo, how much more utilitarian could a gal look?

I was comfortable. She was disgusted.

Two months later, I again traveled to the snowy Midwest for Christmas, wearing my Danskos in place of winter boots.

I was immediately scolded: “OK…NOW you’ve crossed over. You’re wearing them ALL the time, aren’t you?”

I had nothing to say for myself. It was true. I had been powerless; seduced by the comfort and practicality of my butchy shoes.

Cited by the entire family fashion police force, I was a victim of officer brutality. Shamed back into cute shoes, I vowed to wear my horrible Danskos only when required for work.

Months later, when warm weather arrived, I dug my Spring collection out of the back of the closet. I wore strappy heels every day for a couple of weeks.

Clearly, fashion sense trumped common sense.

Soon, the pain propelled me to a podiatrist.

The foot doc was passionate about healthy feet. I eyeballed her, and noticed she was sporting a pair of athletic shoes.

She quickly schooled me on the evils of flip flops, all thong-style shoes, ballet flats, and the pitfalls of so-called “comfort” shoes. I sat there mentally sorting the contents of the shoe cubbies in my closet. In my mind, all that remained was athletic shoes and those Danskos – which according to the Doc are great for healthy feet.

Panic set in. I told her about a family wedding just 4 weeks away, and wondered what shoes I would wear. She listened, and then handed me a framed photo of her family taken at a recent, and very fancy wedding.

Her dress was stunning. Her shoes were low in sensibility and high in fabulosity. This Doc possessed the style and elegance that seems to be innate to many Persian women. Perhaps she wasn’t all scrubs and running shoes.

She dispensed this girlfriend medical advice :  “You have to live! Go buy some fabulous shoes. Before you get dressed for the wedding, take 4 ibuprofen. When you arrive at the reception, have a cocktail or glass of wine. Then take 4 ibuprofen with dinner. The next day, put your athletic shoes on and let your feet recover.

I followed the doc’s treatment plan. While my foot made a complete recovery, my style prognosis is bleak.

For many women, buying shoes is an easy way to stay current. Despite figure flaws or shifting shapes, we can always count on finding something cute to fit our feet.

Then we hit middle age, and the sexy foot talk begins:  Bunions, arches, and arthritis. Neuromas and plantar fasciitis.

Suddenly, slipping into something more comfortable means putting in our custom orthotics.

Ironically, the most painful step is admitting you have a problem. Surrendering to rehab is difficult.

I know I’m not the only gal struggling to give their unhealthy addiction to cute shoes, the boot. I hear it from women frequently.

A few months ago,  The Laughing Mom grieved the loss of her life in cute shoes.

I was reminded of the conflict between the shoes we want vs. the shoes we need, when I saw the new Sarah Jessica Parker shoe collection at Nordstrom.

First of all, SJP had me at grossgrain ribbon. In a sweet homage to her mother, and the only hair accessories they could afford during SJP’s childhood, the shoes have grossgrain ribbon along the back of the heel.

SJP

The colors are fresh and the styles are elegant.

While the collection is lovely, I have an issue with it.

SJP is celebrating her 49th birthday next week, which means she is middle-aged!

Since she’s one of us, I’m applying some peer pressure: Not to change her style, but to help her sisters born in the 60’s, with ours.

We don’t need more Manolos, Jimmy Choos, or Louboutins for special occasions. The market is saturated.

We need an everyday shoe breakthrough!

Middle-aged gals want to be well-heeled daily, in gorgeous shoes that are healthy for their feet.

I’m tired of buying good-for-my-feet shoes simply because “Well, they aren’t too bad.”

Maybe SJP will step it up with her fall collection, and bring us some beautiful shoes from Italy, that are sensible enough to wear every day.

In the meantime, if you do splurge on a pair of SJP’s dangerously cute kicks for your Spring collection, they may empty your pocketbook a bit.

On the bright side, you’ll have room for that bottle of ibuprofen.*

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* This is not intended as medical advice.  While I studied for my Web, M.D. via Google, I am not a licensed physician. 

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.

erma phil diagram

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

Red Carpet Ready

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Oscar Red Carpet

Photo credit: Hollywood Reporter

As the saying goes, “It is an honor just to be nominated.”

While I’ve been crossing off the days in anticipation of the Academy Awards on 3.02.14, I have received some exciting news of my own.

I learned that I have been nominated for a Liebster Award. This nomination came courtesy of  Jenn Lost In Chaos.

My excitement quickly turned to anxiety, when I realized:  I’m not at my goal weight, and I have to be red-carpet-ready for my big moment!

Oh no, what will I wear? I guess I’m going to have to depend on shape wear to save my fanny…among other things.

Luckily, I recently heard about a new line of shape wear sold via one of those mesmerizing late night infomercials.  I had to see it for myself, so I got my Google on. I wasn’t sure what search terms to use, so I started with “Spanx for arms.”

I was surprised to find more than one manufacturer of shape wear for arms. Is this a great time to be 50 years old, or what?  No need to worry about bingo arms or bat wings in our future!

Then I looked more closely. The “Armery”  appears to create sausage arms, especially in the nude shade. That’s it. I vow to pick up my hand weights and do the necessary reps and sets to avoid walking the red carpet with giant bockwurst swinging from my shoulders.

During this last Holiday season, I was staying with the hilarious sister. One evening, while she was getting dressed for a party, she called me into her bedroom. There she stood, wearing only her black bra and panties and a cleverly designed “torsette.” By the way, believe me when I tell you…..she looked exactly like this:

Torsette

She handed me the tag she had just cut off her new shaper, and said, “Read this!”

I sat down and read:

“Invisibly smoothes, shapes and slims. Wonderful Edge® no ride, no lines…Shape your waist and smooth your back….Wonderful Panel® no ride, no lines with a seamless appearance…..stretches for a better fit and more comfort”

The hilarious sister said, “Now watch this.”

She sat down, and amazingly her torsette was instantly in motion. Very s-l-o-w-l-y, the hem at her hips began to roll, and like a motorized window shade in a Las Vegas hotel room, it steadily rose until it reach her bustline. In a matter of seconds, like a high roller on the Vegas strip, I was enjoying my own priceless view.

Naturally, I made her stand up, sit down and repeat this. Several times. It was hysterically funny, and we were in tears.

As she struggled to peel off the torsette, she said, “You know, it’s a good thing people can’t see what’s going on underneath your clothes.”

Amen sister.

Needless to say, that shape wear fail and it’s tag full of empty promises was returned for a full refund.

In addition to the torsette, options in shape wear now include: tummy trimmers, thigh slimmers, butt lifters, cellulite smoothers, back fat banishers. I’m all for proper undergarments, skirts and dresses that “hang” correctly,  and smooth lines…but this is getting ridiculous.

Now we find out that shape wear can cause health problems. Surely, this is a surprise only to men people who have never worn any. While there are gents who sport Spanx For Men, personally, I haven’t heard any fellas tellin’ tales. However, most women have had a painful shape wear experience at some point.

There is the shaping-camisole-caught-in-your-curlers-conundrum; the bruising sensation as a Spanx waistband traverses the knees to hips region; the fierce struggle to squeeze into an all-in-one shaper that results in dewy make-up and messed up hair. This brings suffering for beauty and fashion to another level.

I had to help a bride elope from her oppressive shapewear halfway through her wedding reception. She could barely breathe due to a bridal belly ache. The petite bride had tiny Spanx so I was able to discreetly hide her bridal shaper in my small evening bag. No one was the wiser. If I ever had the nerve to ditch my shape wear midway through an evening, I’m certain mine would require something more the size of a satchel.

My own painful shape wear incident happened during a long afternoon and evening of funeral home visitation for my Mom’s husband, Gene. I was sure I was going to need amputation…at the waist, due to strangulation by a shorts style shaper. The situation became excruciating after a carry-in dinner of Coney Dogs from our hometown favorite, in honor of Gene. Believe me, the absurdity of eating hot dogs with chili and onions at a funeral home while wearing a shaper, is not lost on me. Frankly, I’m surprised rocket combustion didn’t launch me into orbit.

Wait…..What’s that? The Leibster Awards doesn’t involve an actual ceremony, a red carpet or a statue? I can stay on the couch for this Award Ceremony, too? 

Darn! I had a spot cleared on the bookshelf for my statue.

Silver lining: I have the perfect thing to wear. Yoga pants. Sans shape wear.

I’m golden after all!

Many Thanks to Jenn. It is an honor just to be nominated.

Now go check her out and see what she is up to over at  Jenn Lost In Chaos.