every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


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Our Christmas Story

Once upon a time, there was an unbelievably brave little girl living way out West, where the plains roll up to meet the mountains.  She was in need of a family with a cat, and we were in need of a girl. We packed her stuff into eight duffle bags, boarded a plane, and hauled her and seven Barbie dolls to our house and our cat in Maryland.

Seven Barbie dolls?” The Veterinarian asked me.  “I thought she was an orphan.”

“Remember all those years we bought Toys for Tots?  Well, she was a Tot.”

The first Christmas that he and I were dating, in 1969, he gave me a bottle of Robitussin cough syrup, because I was recovering from what would become my annual bout of bronchitis.  His mother made him give me a box of stationery with a Gemini zodiac sign, because his birthday was June 3, and mine is June 4.  I gave him a tie.  Three years later, I married him anyway.  We were married 30 years before he ever figured out appropriate gifts.  30.  Long.  Years.  He’s gone, but I still have the tie…and maybe the box of stationery.

The Daughter was our first (and only) child, arriving as an 8-year old, when we were 47. We always thought we were missing the joys of Christmas with children, hence the toy donations.  Oh, we put up a tree and stockings and our nativity display for ourselves, but a little bit of sparkle and wonder was missing.

Having been raised in a dysfunctional household before she entered child protective services, The Daughter had experienced holidays in a haphazard way.  She didn’t understand birthdays, experiencing her first at age 7, when she entered foster care.  That first Christmas with her, we went absolutely crazy decorating and buying gifts.  My Sister embroidered her a stocking with silvery threads.  My Mother made her a fleecy robe decorated with teddy bears and a pillow to match.

I broke my rule about cookie-baking and made —ugh— gingerbread men with her, but I refused to make a gingerbread house.  I hung her construction paper ornaments on the tree and wracked my brain for “Secret Santa” gifts for her classmates, who thought she was crazy for believing in Santa.

First Santa Visit (3)

Chatting up Santa

At eight years of age, The Daughter had never been to see Santa.  A friend invited us to a breakfast with Santa at her church, so that we could explain to Santa in advance why an eight-year old child wanted to sit on his lap along with the tiny tots.

“What do I say to Santa?” she asked.

“Well,” I told her what my parents always told me.  “You can ask for one or two things, but you have to finish with ‘Please bring me whatever you think I should have.’”

Instead, she patted his beard and engaged him in a long chat about the reindeer, where they were staying while he was inside, what they were eating, how long it took him to go around the world (“Well, just 24 hours, of course!”), all those things that a four-year old wouldn’t think to ask.

“Don’t you want Santa to bring you something?” he asked her.

“Oh…”  she thought for a minute, “…a scooter.  I’d really like to have a scooter.”

“Anything else?”

“No,” she shook her head, “a scooter would be good.”

At church on Christmas Eve, she participated in the pageant and sang with the Children’s Choir in her sweet little velvet dress and patent leather shoes.

So, what did Santa bring besides a scooter?  The seven Barbies needed a deluxe mansion and a red Porsche Boxster like Mommy’s “Barbie” car.  Stuart Little showed up in a radio-controlled roadster.  An American Girl with The Daughter’s identical haircut, eye color, and wire-rimmed glasses came to stay.  There were books and a science kit with microscope and Legos.  It all went under the tree or in a stocking after she went to bed on Christmas Eve.  I dressed her in winter pajamas, red with white polar bears, her favorite, so she’d be camera-ready in the morning.

Barbie Dream House (2)

Can you tell that we were excited?

The Veterinarian ate the cookies and milk she’d left for Santa and set the alarm for 5am, so he could set up the video camera at just the right angle.  I wanted to make sure the hot cocoa was ready.  My Mother and Sister were on speed-dial to run over at just the right moment.  We just knew she’d be up before dawn, and none of us wanted to miss our first Christmas with a child in the house.

When the alarm sounded at 5, we jumped out of bed.  It was dark and really cold.  He lit the fire, and I started the cocoa.  We’d beat her.  Perfect!  We sat down and listened for her little footsteps to hit the floor.  And we waited.  And waited.  For two hours, we waited.  We called her name upstairs, but she didn’t stir.  I tiptoed up and saw her snoring away under her cozy quilts with her beloved cat on her pillow.  I tiptoed back down.

“What do we do now?” he whispered.  “I need to get into the clinic to do treatments.”

Finally, at 8, he woke her.

“Santa’s been here!” He told her.  She crankily told him to go away.

“Don’t you want to see what Santa brought for you?”

“What?”  She squinted at him, uncomprehending.

“It’s Christmas!  Santa’s been here and left you something.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gifts.”  He was getting exasperated. “Santa brought you gifts.”

She groaned and flopped back on the pillows.  We were frantic in our own excitement.

“Get up,” he ordered and threw off the covers.  “Let’s go see what’s under the tree.”  She was not happy, but she slid out of bed.  He brought her downstairs and stood her behind the closed door into the living room.

“Wait here.  I’ll tell you when to open the door.”  This was no holly-jolly start to Christmas.  “And don’t go back upstairs.”  We heard her sigh in the way that meant she was about to turn into Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”  He fumbled with the video camera.

“Hurry up!”  I hissed.  “We’re losing her.”  I stood beside the tree with my digital camera.

“Ok, you can open the door.”

Her little face appeared, and she said, “What?”

“Look at the Christmas tree.”  She took two steps in and stopped.  The First Xmas Tree (2)room, which is 18’ x 12’, had a 10’ tree in front of the window, so the mounds of presents radiated 4’ out from the base in all directions.  [And that’s all the math I can do today.]  She looked puzzled.

“Santa brought you presents!”  I exclaimed.

“What?” She repeated.

“These are for you.”

“For me?”  She approached the tree and knelt in front of the American Girl.

And then it hit us.  She didn’t need the Barbie Deluxe Dream House
because she had a real house.  Her dreams had already come true when she was adopted by a family with a cat.  That’s all she ever wanted.

“These are mine?” A smile started to spread across her face.

“Yes,” I started to cry.

“Really?  For me?”  She reached out tentatively and picked up the doll that, unintentionally, had her face.

And that was our last peaceful Christmas.  A year later, she still wanted to

SCN_0020 (2)

All she wanted was a scooter.

visit Santa, so, at age 9, we took her to the mall at 8:30 at night, when few people were around.  Surprisingly, lots of tween and teenaged girls were having their photos made with Santa, so it wasn’t nearly as strange as we thought.  Who wants to give up the wonder of Christmas at any age?

Like many American children, a Christmas of plenty became the norm for several years but not for long enough.  Inevitably, instead of singing in the Christmas pageant at 5 pm on Christmas Eve, she served in other ways, on the altar at the 11 pm service as a teenager, and this year, she is concerned about buying just the right gifts for us.  A critical care nurse, she will work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from 3 pm to 11 pm.  From being cared for, she cares for others.

So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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Thanksgiving Fantasy

Thanksgiving 2010 (2)

Thanksgiving past, table for 10, with the works, including place cards

Oh, God, I dread Thanksgiving.

And here it is, staring me in the face. I guess I have to clean the house this morning, after I get the stuffing made, the bird stuffed, and the dough for the rolls rising.

And find the skinny little candles that go in all the amber glass turkeys that march around the center of the table.  I’ll drag out the Lenox and my grandmother’s turkey platter and my silver and my Italian jacquard tablecloth with matching napkins that only see the light of day once a year.  That goes for the Lenox, too.  The Waterford stays in its storage box these days, while the equally fragile Riedel on the ridiculously long stems appears.

I see that I still haven’t dragged out the thousands of dollars worth of autumn candles and wreaths and other decorations that are stored upstairs.  Where’s the cornucopia that the Daughter painted in the third grade?  Good thing that I observe Advent, which starts Sunday, so I won’t be decorating for Christmas any time soon.

At some point, I need to change these yoga pants into something chic-but-grease-resistant and wash my hair.

Place cards.  Do I go with place cards, since we’ll have a guest, The Daughter’s beau?  Or is that over-kill?  There are only five of us this year, and most of us remember our names and pecking order at the table.  It’s over-kill, and we don’t want to frighten off this nice young man who bought me flowers at the ballroom dance debacle.

Oh, no!  I should have cleaned the ovens!

Does anyone really have that warm-hearted, sit-around-the-antique-pine-table-in-ladder-backed-chairs-with-a-smiling-lavender-haired- Grandma-in-a-lacy-apron-presenting-a-platter-of-bronzed-turkey-surrounded-by-fancy-cut-oranges-topped-with-maraschino-cherries-kind of Thanksgiving?  Did they ever?

Does anyone actually eat squash?

I don’t like turkey.  I don’t like cranberries.  I don’t like Jello.  And, most of all, I hate that slimy green bean casserole.  We don’t eat it any other day of the year, but, sadly, my family expects it on Thanksgiving because it was The Veterinarian’s favorite.  Years ago, another family always came for Thanksgiving dinner, and my friend recently told me that her now-married daughter doesn’t consider it Thanksgiving without the green bean casserole.  My own Daughter is now in charge of making it, because who can’t dump mushroom soup in green beans and top with canned French-fried onions?

I’d rather be remembered for my unique pumpkin pie which has ground black pepper as a key spice and candied ginger in the whipped cream topping.  The Daughter is going to make little pumpkin tarts.  Her date is going to make lemon bars for the family members who don’t eat pumpkin pie.  My Mother will make her candied sweet potatoes and charge me with toasting the marshmallows without burning them.  My Sister will make the cranberry mold, which is spectacular and which I can’t pull off.

I’ll get to flip the bird, not because I love to say that, but because The Veterinarian discovered that it gives a juicier breast to cook it upside down and then flip it.  I always held my breath, watching him flip a 24-pounder, but, without him and our friends, it’s just a 15-pounder this year.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014, with unironed tablecloth, table for 4

It will all be perfect, because there will be alcohol.  Trapped in my house for six hours, no one will be driving.  I charged the Daughter’s Beau with bringing a bottle of Prosecco under $20 to go with the brie and crouton appetizers (thank you, Wegman’s) and my Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup. (See?  I answered my own question about squash.)  There will be a pinot noir with the turkey and an ice wine with dessert.

Then, I’ll box up the leftovers in every spare plastic container, unless they remember to bring their own.  I’ll throw the turkey carcass in my huge stock pot, cover with water and a lid and bring to a boil for 20 minutes.  Then, I’ll turn off the heat (without uncovering) and let it sit on the stove overnight, when I’ll finish the stock.

I’ll hand wash the Lenox, silver, and crystal, throw the linens in the washer, start the dishwasher, and hit the sheets.

Finally, I’ll give thanks that I survived another Thanksgiving, another chance to be together with loved ones. If I’m lucky, there will be another chance next year.  Same time.  Same place.  Same menu.  Same love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Cozy Crock Pot Cider

In years past, I always made this hot cider.  You have to omit the rum, if you have kids running around unattended, or, maybe not, if you want them to fall asleep.  (Just kidding!)

½ gallon apple cider

1 quart orange-pineapple juice

2 sticks of cinnamon

12 cloves, tied in cheesecloth

1 cup dark rum (or to taste – optional)

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and heat until warm, about 1 hour.


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Walking in My Shoes

As a woman who highly values her feet, I am delighted to hear that “ugly” shoes returned to fashion this summer.

I’m an equal opportunity shoe lover.  Expensive.  Cheap.  Practical.  Foolish.  My shoe fetish has nothing to do with sex.  It’s genetic.  Like my high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I inherited a proclivity for splurging on shoes from My Mother.  I am short, but My Mother is Tiny.  At 4’ 10”, she wears a size 4-1/2 shoe.  Actually, she wears a size 5-1/2 shoe, because she can’t find her real size.  In the 1950s, size 4-1/2 was used as the “sample” size.  She bought her shoes at a “sample shoe” store in an office building in downtown Detroit.

In early spring and early fall, she received postcards announcing that the sample shoes for the coming season were ready for sale.  We took the bus downtown and walked to the building, got into one of those funky old-fashioned elevators with a gate and a lever to drive the car up and down the shaft.  We would walk into an office crammed, floor to ceiling, with boxes of shoes and boots; pumps, flats, sandals, slingbacks, and mules, in spectacular colors and buttery soft Italian leather.

Mom didn’t skimp on our shoes, either.  Although she made our clothes, she insisted that shoes of quality were a good health investment.  We got new patent leather shoes at Christmas and white shoes for summer, along with a pair of sandals, and, eventually, a pair of sneakers.  When we started school, we got school shoes.  Being the 1950s, I wore saddle shoes in the primary grades with my fluffy dresses or shoes with a perforated design in the toes and an ankle strap.  I always envied the girls who had shoes whose ankle straps could be swiveled behind the heel so that the strap didn’t cross the top of their foot, the same reason that I hated t-strap shoes.  My Mother didn’t like that, so I used to trade shoes with my girlfriends for a few hours each day.

More than anything, I think that good shoes were a good mental health investment.

When I remember holidays and special events, I think of shoes.  For Christmas 1966, I had a pair of gold suede flats with a little gold buckle that I wore with a long-sleeved Kelly green cotton velveteen dress with ecru lace trim.  So mod.  My junior year in high school, I wore “baby doll” shoes, black leather Mary Janes, to go with my “baby doll” dresses.  In college, where tramping between classes in 0° temperatures required long underwear, I started collecting boots.  I remember having a pair of brown lace-up boots that I wore with a camel-colored maxi coat.  Even my wedding shoes weren’t just plain white; they were peau de soie (silk) with embroidered flowers on the toes.

If you keep shoes long enough, they come back in style.  Square toes and chunky heels from 1968 have returned at least twice in my lifetime. I saw that flare-legged pants are making a comeback.  They, of course, require a chunkier shoe.  How do I know this?  Remember, I’m 63 years old and have seen this trend like a revolving door.  The designers get you to buy their wide-legged pants and longer skirts and chunky shoes and sweaters for a few years, and, just when you get to feeling good about yourself, hiding beneath layers of bulk, they bring back capri pants and leggings and crop tops and stilettos and send you running to the gym — or running for dessert in despair.

See these two vastly different shoes?  Comfortable classics, yet a decade apart in age, they are still my favorites. The black suede Stuart Weitzman with the square toe and chunky heel was purchased c. 1992 and was worn in two different plays, masquerading as shoes from the 1930s and 1950s.  The pointy-toed Ferragamo was purchased c. 2002.  It’s been busy the past few years with pencil skirts and peg-legged pants.

I read that Queen Elizabeth II expressed her displeasure at the navy wedge-heeled shoes (also Stuart Weitzman) favored by her granddaughter-in-law, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.  Kate, of course, also popularized the ridiculous trend of nude platform stilettos a few years ago, an easy trend for a woman surrounded by bodyguards and her own prince to keep her on her feet.  Someone should send a memo to Lady Gaga’s bodyguards, because her platforms are unbelievable and trip her up all the time when dodging the papa-paparazzi.

The Daughter had a pair of the nude patent leather platforms, which she wobbled in, like Bambi on the frozen pond, all the way across a stage for her college honors convocation.  I was torn between admiring her fashion sense and trembling in fear that she would fall.  Of course, every other coed was wobbling in a similar pair, so I was not the only parent having palpitations.

I, myself, have more beige shoes and sandals than any other color for two reasons; supposedly, nude pumps make your legs look longer (eg., ballet shoes usually match tights) and neutrals go with everything in every season.  My short legs need all the lengthening they can get, but I’ve already fallen off shoes once in my life and don’t want to ever again spend two months in a leg brace.  And, yes, I own my own share of restaurant shoes.  You know.  Those shoes that make your legs look fabulous but that you can only stand to wear from the house to the car to the restaurant to the car to your house with, maybe, a nerve-wracking side-trip to the ladies’ room?

Today, I’m more likely to wear a plain dress and an interesting shoe to set it off, like jewelry; an Eileen Fisher sweater and skirt with a suede boot with wedge heel.  “Don’t look at me; look at my shoes.”  Of course, one man I dated found my boring, tent-shaped Eileen Fisher dress alluring, so I’d probably better go easy on the combination.  Too much excitement could probably kill a guy so old that he finds sedate clothing and ugly shoes a turn-on.  I need a guy who appreciates me so much that he’ll take me to a restaurant worthy of restaurant shoes. Now, THAT’S a turn-on to me!

photo (4)Keeping in the spirit of “ugly” shoes, described as Birkenstocks (which never went out of style in some Baltimore neighborhoods, which tells you everything you need to know about Charm City), I bought these Dansko sandals.  You may recall that I fell off a ridiculous pair of platform sandals and fractured my right patella, three years ago.  These are designed by the folks who know how to make shoes that doctors and nurses wear on their long, grueling shifts, so I hope they know what they’re doing with shoes for aging and fragile fashionistas who can’t afford another fall.  They cost about as much as some of the chic designer styles.

While my deteriorating knees and pocketbook have slowed my shoe “investing,” thanks to a now-defunct local outlet store, I’ve stocked up on enough diverse designer rejects from Saks and Neiman Marcus to keep me rotating styles at the whim of designers until one of my pretty little feet is in the grave, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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The Condensed Version of Me

photo (3)

Me – c. 1956

[This is my first-ever blog post, published July 22, 2014.  I like to think of it as a measuring stick of the past year.  My surgery sites were still raw; my abs were a flabby mess; I hadn’t started exploring online dating; and I had no idea why I was telling my story.  People tell me that I’m brave for being honest and that they share many of my frustrations with modern life, which has lost so much graciousness, despite technology and political correctness.  If nothing else, I make most of you laugh, so, who am I to complain?  Thanks for joining me on my spiritual journey!]

Last night, I did something with my daughter that I never would have done with my mother.  We stood in front of my bathroom mirror comparing our naked breasts.  Stay with me.

Did you ever do that with your mother?  Neither did I.  I’m 62, raised in the 1950’s & ’60’s by a mom of the 1930’s and ’40’s.  Her most damning phrase was “That’s tacky.” Until I was nearly 40, I worried about being dirty, wrinkled, mismatched, frizzy, and tacky.  My two earliest childhood memories are learning to tie the laces of my white high-topped, leather shoes into tidy bows and being fitted for white cotton gloves.  I couldn’t have been older than four, but I was mesmerized by the little drawers of gloves in the girls’ department at the J.L. Hudson, Company in downtown Detroit.  Plain or bows?  Are you kidding me?  I wanted the ones with the shiny pearl buttons!

Maybe your parents were “progressive.”  Mine came from that pragmatic, Depression-Era generation of hardworking blue collar-to-middle-class families with what are currently called “traditional values.”   My father, a first-generation Italian-American and proud Marine Corps veteran, leaned toward the conservative.  My mother’s family was from the fearless stock of English-Scots-Irish who settled Kentucky in the 18th century.  No whining allowed.  Have a problem?  Figure out how to solve it or climb over it and move on.  My sister and I were expected to go to college and graduate.  I learned to sew, cook, manage money, mow the lawn, change a tire, check the oil, mix concrete, and lay bricks.  Before feminism took hold in the 1960’s, we were learning to survive.

Mom was a minor progressive on matters of feminine independence.  When I begged for one of the newly-marketed “training” bras that my girlfriends proudly wore, my mother scoffed, “What are they training?  You don’t want to wear a bra.   They’re uncomfortable, and besides, you don’t have anything to put in one.”   [Be careful what you wish for.]

In the 5th grade, the girls in my class, accompanied by their mothers or a female guardian, were treated to the Disney-produced and Kotex-sponsored The Story of Menstruation.  (Sex education in the mid-20th century.) On the walk home after the screening, armed with pamphlets, Mom’s only comment was, “When your ‘time’ comes, they’re in the linen closet.”  Well, yes, I saw a small box of Kotex pads, but what were those mysterious paper-wrapped sticks in the Tampax box that was replaced much more frequently than the Kotex box?

Two years later, my ‘time’ arrived.  Mom showed me how to loop the gauzy ends of the bulky Kotex pad through the metal teeth in the “Sanitary Belt” yet encouraged me to use tampons.  At the age of 12, I was squeamish, more by the idea of having such a conversation with my mother than the actual process.  Well, I lie.  Probably more by the process.

She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”  Huh?  I’m going to put that hulking dry, cardboard thing where?  [Listen to your mother.]

By the time I was 17 and desperate to wear a bathing suit for my waterskiing boyfriend, she had the last laugh.  “I can’t help you with this.  You have to go into the bathroom and do it yourself.  Here’s the hand mirror.”

She was right, of course.  They were waaay better than the monthly bulkiness, the shifting, and the inevitable leakage.  She-who-claims-to-know-everything suddenly turned into a font of wisdom.

Seven years later, at age 24, I was recovering from a complete hysterectomy.  (No, it wasn’t due to the tampons.)  I had a raging case of endometriosis.  Cysts as large as volleyballs and baseballs, according to my doctors, pulsated in my ovaries, and others were exploding like tiny time-bombs, gumming up my insides.  In her droll and always honest way, my mother asked, “What are you going to do with all the money you save on tampons?”

Now, my own daughter is 22 and has little knowledge of and no use for white cotton gloves, but,  I am proud to say, she recognizes “tacky” when she sees it.    I’m not going to embarrass her by discussing her introduction to tampons, but let’s just say that it involved a mirror, a wet suit, and sharks.  Well, no, there were no actual sharks in the bathroom with us, just a discussion about their olfactory sensitivity.  There was also no dry, hulking cardboard in sight, just marvelous, smooth, modern plastic.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

Two-and-a-half months ago, I had reduction mammoplasty (google it—I’m still my mother’s somewhat-squeamish daughter).  You see, my five foot-tall frame appeared to be on the verge of toppling over at any moment, as I could no longer straighten my shoulders.  I stuffed myself into minimizer bras and swathed myself in baggy sweaters.  What seems like a glamorous blessing really is a pain in the neck—and the spine and the shoulders and the self-esteem.  Turns out, I was carrying over two pounds of extra weight on my chest, like strapping a Yellow Pages directory between my armpits.

My daughter, the critical care nurse, was a great caregiver.  You know.  What we hope our children will be for us in our old age?  During the three-and-a-half hour outpatient (!) surgery, she returned to her nearby apartment to play with her cats and to catch something on Xfinity On Demand (which, to me, means it can be watched at any time other than when your dearly beloved is in surgery).

In fairness, I easily survived the surgery; she drove me home, stayed overnight, changed my massive ice packs, expertly stripped, emptied, and measured my bloody drain tubes every four hours, and force fed me oxycodone.   OK, OK.  She didn’t shove it down my throat, but she gave me the Nurse Ratched routine and insisted I swallow it.  [Note to self: Revisit that mirror/wet suit incident and a caregiver who is my sole heir.]

Last night, there we were, looking at our naked breasts, noticing how different they are.  My rehabbed pair appear to have been transplanted from a stranger and are oddly and happily perky for a 62-year old woman.  They are also subtly scarred, bruised, and lumpy and will be for at least another year.  Just like my hysterectomy scar, traces of this recent surgery will always remain.  But, I figure, the boy for whom I was willing to experiment with tampons has been gone for three years, and I don’t expect anyone other than a medical professional will ever get close enough to notice.

Oh, come on!  Put your tiny violins away!  Insurance paid for most of the surgery.  I feel fabulous and can see my feet for the first time in years.  My girlfriends say I look 20 years younger.  My new, youthful bustline (as Jane Russell would say in the old Playtex commercials) has inspired me to work on my abs, now that I can see how flabby they are.

My mother, at 86, still knows everything and feels free to dole out advice.  These days, she rarely tells me

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

that I look tacky, but I still wouldn’t dream of sharing my breasts with her in a mirror.  My daughter isn’t embarrassed to discuss anything with me, although I have learned to text “TMI” to her when she makes me squeamish.  I am easily old enough to be her grandmother, so the generational chasm between us is often profound.  And, yes, both she and my mother approved this post, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo gloria!


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When She was Bad…

There once was a girl

Who had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead.

And when she was good,

She was very, very good,

And when she was bad,

She was horrid.

This morning, I was horrid.  My day started off as it usually does.  After a restless night interrupted by thunderstorms, I staggered into my kitchen to assist the dog with her morning ablutions (although neither water nor cleanliness was involved). If she could use her paws to open the door, I wouldn’t ever have to get out of bed before 6 am, because she could probably also open the dog food bin.  She drinks out of the toilet already, so, as long as the lid is up, I’m good there.

Having opened the door for her, filled her food dish, and mashed her anti-histamine into a marshmallow, I opened the freezer to pull out my two daily frozen waffles, and…nothing.  No waffles.  I was suddenly wide awake and hurried to the storage freezer in my pantry…again…nothing.  No waffles.  I had consumed an entire 60-count package of frozen “homestyle” waffles from the Big Box Store without realizing it.  Waffles and pizza are the only carbs that I eat regularly, so I had no bread, no cereal, no pre-packaged cookies or crackers in my house.  No potatoes.  Just bars of dark chocolate, raw veggies, half of a leftover crab cake, and several bottles of wine in my refrigerator.

You may recall that I take a beta-blocker for reasons related to genetics and the lunacy that has been life in recent years.  Said blocker is to be taken in the morning with food, and toasted waffles are my vehicle of choice, just as marshmallows are the vehicle for the dog’s meds.  I thought of using one of her marshmallows, but my mouth isn’t big enough to swallow a marshmallow whole, even with water.  The BFF’s mouth can handle things the size of corn cobs and socks, so a marshmallow is nothing to her.  (She ate 11 foam ear plugs last week, which have started to reappear in my yard, sort of like little Nerf bullets.)

As usual, I digress.

I returned to the freezer, moving aside frozen meat and frozen leftover pizza and frozen fresh pasta (an oxymoron, I know), certain that I had overlooked some stray waffles.  That’s when I spied the package of frozen chocolate chip cookie dough.  Bells went off in my head, while stars streaked from the package.  Breakfast!  Sure, they contain all that fat and sugar and chocolate, but with pecans added, they’re actually as nutritious as most granola bars!

I closed the freezer door when I heard The Shrew who lives in my head say, “Get a grip, Suzanne.”

“But — but — but I have to take my meds.”

“With cookies?”

“My heart will start racing.”

“Make oatmeal.”

“I only eat oatmeal in the winter when it’s cold.”

“You couldn’t eat the frozen pizza?”  The Shrew sighed.

“Too greasy at 6 am.”

“Get dressed.  Get in the car.  Go to the store.”

“But I could faint from lack of food, run off the road, and kill someone.”  There was a pause in my thought process.

“Well, just this once,” The Shrew relented.  “And here’s the deal:  you don’t bake the entire package of cookies, just two cookies and add the pecans.”

“Ok, ok,” I started pulling the package out of the drawer.  I can’t eat cookies without pecans, so that was easy.

“And you do two Zumba sessions and 5 minutes of planking.”  My penance.

“Ok, ok,” I panted.  Cookies for breakfast!

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

In the end, I made four cookies because they come in a neat block of four squares, so, if I cut off just two, the other two would probably get freezer burn.  Fortunately, The Shrew had rolled over and gone back to sleep.

While I waited for the cookies to bake, I switched on the morning news, which, as usual had a sameness to it.  A terrorist act was perpetrated while another terrorist threat has been perceived.  The economy is going to hell in a handbasket, while a superstar athlete turned down a 21 million dollar contract.  There is weather that no one likes.  Celebrities are doing outrageous things.  This morning, it was Ben and Jen Affleck.  She seems so cute and ordinary that I felt sorry for her and their children until I read their joint public statement to People magazine:

“After much thought and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to divorce.  We go forward with love and friendship for one another and a commitment to co-parenting our children…”

Stop right there!  That’s what marriage is.  Marriage is “love and friendship for one another.”  And that’s all it is, folks.  It’s a long, boring slog through life, picking up the pieces of your “joint” life (not limited to socks, underwear, or the toilet seat), made joyful by agreeing on where to go for dinner, what color to paint the living room, and nudging each other awake through your kid’s recitals.  It’s not running toward each other through an Alpine meadow, falling down, and making mad passionate love in the flowers every day, followed by adorable, curly-haired children gurgling sweet songs until they leave home as adults.  (Sorry, the sugar and chocolate from the cookies is kicking in.)

Marriage was the hardest thing I ever did in my entire life, resisting the urge to up and leave when The Veterinarian looked at me cross-eyed.  I will never forget wanting to bolt one month after our wedding.  Full-time college students, we had been arguing in the car on the way home.  I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but, when we got into the privacy of our apartment, I burst into tears.

“I can’t do this,” I cried.  “I just can’t do this.  I can’t stand you. I can’t stand this tiny apartment. You don’t listen to a thing I say to you.  You just do whatever you want, as if my opinion doesn’t matter. You brought a dog into the house without asking me, and you know I’m afraid of dogs. I can’t stand the thought of doing this for the rest of my life.”  He stood in front of me, completely befuddled.  He thought everything was great.

“I’m sorry,” he began, “I didn’t know.”  He put his arms around me, sat us down on the sofa, and cradled me in his arms.  I sobbed uncontrollably into the collar of his shirt. I couldn’t tell you what he said or what I said to smooth things over. I remember that we both felt the enormity of the commitment that we had made.  I remember that my mascara didn’t wash out of his shirt, that a perfect set of my eyelashes was imprinted on the collar.  When the shirt went out of style, I hung it in the back of my closet and moved it across the country to remind me of my commitment, a more meaningful reminder than the gold band on my finger.

I’d love to tell you that our marriage got easier, but it didn’t.  The arguments were always the same, for the 39 years we were married.  At the 10-year mark, like Ben and Jen, we were building our own veterinary hospital.  It was a strenuous nightmare, and I did think I was going to leave him.  Then, it got worse, and we talked about divorce.  The meadow looked like it might exist somewhere else, but we kept coming back to that promise of commitment.  We knew the Alpine meadow was a fantasy.  We knew that being present over the long haul far outweighed mad passionate love among the flowers.  Besides, my bare skin can’t handle direct contact with vegetation.

It’s none of our business what other people do in their marriages unless we see abuse that needs intervention.  When they say, “We still love each other” they may be covering up bigger issues that are none of our business.  It just makes me sad that marriage gets a bad rap, that it’s taken so lightly.  The Wedding is the all-important moment in most of the marriages that I see.  Parents mortgaging their homes for their daughter’s “Dream Wedding.”  The bachelor parties in Vegas, the Bridezillas, the Destination Weddings, the expensive favors and liquor and entertainment.  I wish they’d focus on what marriage really means. I wish they’d spend more time asking God to guide them, instead of a complete stranger in a meadow or a beach or a bowling alley or a hotel ballroom who isn’t going to be there when you don’t think you can spend one more day with the person to whom you’ve committed your life.  I promise them that it is all worth the love and friendship and aggravation and commitment.

As usual, I digress, again.

Well, those cookies were good, but, now, I sit here contemplating the two sessions of Zumba.  Exercise is a lot like marriage. You have to do it even when you don’t want to, so you have to make it work for you.  Maybe I could only do one Zumba session and walk the trail with the BFF.  It’s a nice day.  The sun is shining, and there’s a breeze, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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Fathers and Daughters

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads, whether you parent your own child, someone else’s child, or a child with more than two legs!  You teach your children more than you can possibly imagine, more than you ever intend them to know.  I know this, because I had a great dad.  He was not a frivolous guy, didn’t gamble or golf or bowl or boat or party hearty.  He was a hard-working man who had well-defined expectations of himself and of me.  I was to be a person of faith, hard-working, honest, kind, generous, try my hardest, do my best, and graduate from college.  I don’t recall him asking any more of me than that.

It seemed to me that my dad could do anything.  He could take a car apart and put it back together and made sure that I could change a tire and check the oil in the car before he ever let me drive it.   He was patient.  The second time that I backed the car out of the garage, I caught the outside mirror on the garage door hinge and ripped it off the car.  I burst into tears, of course.  But you know what?  He was more upset because I was terrified that he would be upset about the mirror than he was about the damage.

He could build anything.  He built that garage and added a family room to our house.  He also helped the Veterinarian and me build our veterinary hospital, from the cinder block walls in.  But I learned as much from observing how he lived his life as from what he taught me to do.

One sunny spring Saturday, as I sat at the big maple desk in our living room, writing a book report, I heard my dad stop the lawn mower and chat with someone.  Our house was on the corner of a moderately busy street, whose sidewalk saw lots of pedestrians and strollers and bicycles.  In our neighborhood, everyone knew everyone else by sight or by their kids or by their cars, if not by their name.  I pulled aside the sheer drapery to see who was passing our way and saw him with a white-haired lady in a lilac-flowered house dress, rolled-down stockings, and wool felt slippers.

My Mother came up behind me.  “Who’s Daddy talking to?” she asked.

“I don’t know.  Some lady.”

“I’ve never seen her before,” she said.  We watched my dad shake the lady’s hand.

“Well, why don’t you rest here under the tree in the shade?” he said to her and looked up at the window where we were standing.  My Mother raised her eyebrows and hurried out the side door.

“Lenore, this is my wife,” my father gestured to My Mother.  “Lenore lives at the nursing home down on Allen Road.”  Lenore had walked about two miles.

“Oh!” I heard My Mother’s surprised reply.

“She’s walking to her son’s house in Toledo,” about 50 miles away.

“Well,” My Mother replied, without skipping a beat, “that’s a pretty long walk. Let me get you a drink of water.”  She looked pointedly at My Father, who nodded, and quickly came into the house and headed for the telephone.  She notified the police and drew a glass of water.

“The home already called the police,” she whispered to me.  “They’re on their way.”  She hurried back outside, where Lenore was attempting to leave.

“Why don’t you have the water, first, before you set out again?” He encouraged her.  “It’s pretty warm today.”

“Yes,” Lenore accepted the glass. “You have such a nice yard.”  She sipped deeply at the water.  “You remind me a lot of my son.  I don’t get to see him very much anymore, you know.”

I stepped into the side yard, and Lenore looked up.

“This is my daughter,” my father introduced me.

“Hello, dear, you have a very nice father.”  I smiled shyly and thought she was exactly correct.  Within minutes, a police car pulled slowly to the curb.

“Well, Mrs. Ratkowski,” the driver called to her, as he took his hat off and approached her, “out for a walk again today?”  He smiled at my parents.

“Oh, yes, officer,” Lenore replied.  [That’s how we spoke to police officers in those days.  We called them “officer” or “sir.”]  “Yes, I’m on my way to see my son.”  She looked warily from the policeman to my dad.

“I see,” the policeman placed his hand lightly on Lenore’s elbow.  “Your friends at the home didn’t get a chance to say good-bye and are worried about you.”

“Tell them that I’m fine. I’m just chatting with this nice man and his family.”

“Well, ma’am, we need to get you back there.”  He started to steer her towards the patrol car.

Lenore stopped, her face confused, and she looked at my dad.

“I think you should go with him and let them sort it out,” he reassured her.  “They’ll make sure you get in touch with your son.”

“But he’s expecting me,” she didn’t cry, but there was such sadness in her voice.

“He’ll be very worried, if he doesn’t know where you are,” my dad took her arm and started walking to the car.  “And I’ll feel better, if I know you’re safe.”  Lenore allowed him to settle her in the back seat of the car.

“Well, thank you!”  She smiled and gave a little wave as the car pulled away.  We waved back.  My dad, who had lunch with his own mother every Wednesday, shook his head and returned to cutting the grass.

It seems like such an insignificant incident in anyone’s daily life, but it has stayed with me for 50 years.  I learned from my dad that we are all dependent on the kindness of strangers, especially when we are confused and lost and not ourselves.

About 10 years later, when I was confused, he gave me an excellent piece of advice.  Raised a Catholic, I was contemplating being married by a Presbyterian minister of whom The Veterinarian was quite fond.  I asked my dad if he would be upset, that I didn’t want to cause the trouble in our family that was raised when he married My Mother, who was not a Catholic.  He said, “You have to do what is right for you.  I appreciate that you’re concerned about it, but you have to live this life yourself and do what works for you.”

Always there

Always there

Here is a photo of me at that very confusing moment in my life, when I was about to be married by that Presbyterian minister.  I am 20 and terrified that I’m making a mistake.  You can see the tears in my eyes, but the show must go on, so I smile.  My Dad is not smiling.  He, too, thinks I am making a mistake.   We both know that I am too young to be married but that I had made a commitment.  We both know that God will watch out for me.  My dad knows that he couldn’t have picked a better man to be my husband, so, here he is, supporting me, whatever comes, waiting to pick up the pieces, to make things right.

What a great dad!

DATE UPDATE:

A recent date told me that some men just wink or write to women to see if they can get an answer, not because they’re really interested in them.  Oh, great!  This bit of information confirmed what I have suspected.  I couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t get any response when I emailed men who claimed to be interested in me.  Well, I’ve tried playing nice, and I’ve been honest about who I am and who I’m looking for.  Where are all the honest men like my dear old dad?  Herewith my new, totally honest profile:

“I didn’t know how to do this when I was 17, so I latched onto one guy and stuck with him until he up and died on me when I was 59 — yep, I was faithful to one, and only one, guy, so that kinda makes me a 63-year old virgin, if you think about it. Betcha don’t know many of those, do ya?

I have two more months left on this subscription, and my daughter says I am wasting my $$$ if I hide my profile. My friends say, “Surely, Mr. Right is on his way.” (I have the funniest friends.) So, instead of selling myself as the ideal woman, let’s see if I can entertain you. I am always entertained by reading some of your profiles, especially those of 60-something hipsters looking for women 25-45. Someone who is still engaged in life is a must, but I’m not into delusion. If you’re over the age of 12 and believe in love at first sight, don’t contact me.

I don’t lie. I don’t fake my photos, age, height, or weight. Yes, I’m short and old (as are most of you guys — old, I mean), but I consider myself a 30-ish trans-Brazilian supermodel, if that counts for anything, so you are not allowed to discriminate on my lack of stature. (Stop reading if you have to google “stature”).

I don’t have stretch marks.  [See?  I figured how to work that into my profile.]   All my body parts are original equipment, except one of my teeth (BMI-21). I own my own home and car. I dress nicely. I’m smart. My manners are impeccable. I am a lady, except when I’m swearing (in case that’s a turn-off). I think I’m kind and generous, but, who am I to say?

I’ve only visited four of the seven continents. I like the French, especially their wine. Of course, I’ll drink almost any country’s wine, but I won’t drink anyone’s beer. I don’t get seasick. I don’t faint at the sight of mice, spiders, or snakes. I don’t panic in emergencies, unless you find that exciting, in which case, I can shriek with the best of them. Sorry, I’m just not completely helpless, but I can pretend to be, if that helps. I try to leave the drama on the stage, where it belongs.

On the other hand, if you want a mountain-biking, rock-climbing, hog-riding, golfing/skiing/backpacking buddy with breasts, check out reality tv.

If you really do want someone beautiful inside and out, funny, intelligent, honest, confident, and financially independent (which most of you do want, apparently), and YOU are handsome inside and out, witty, honest, dependable, intelligent, financially independent, and know your way around a chainsaw, give me a call. (I live in the woods and am afraid of chain saws — hard to believe, I know) If not, my dog is a great snuggler, although also quite a snorer.

I used to answer every person who contacted me, but I think it was some kind of trick, because I rarely got a response to my response, so I don’t answer winks or interests or favorites. If you have something to say, say it in clear, grammatical English. (I speak two other languages, but let’s stick with English.) I dislike snobs, bigots, bad manners, and narrow-mindedness, this includes men who think they are hipsters (see above).

Don’t contact me if you’re married or still angry at your ex-wife. Don’t contact me if you don’t like to travel outside of a 25-mile radius of Baltimore.  If you can’t recognize the state of Michigan by its silhouette, pass me by.

That’s it. I have nothing left to say. I’ll start googling convents now. Maybe I can find one that will let me bring my dog and my Champagne. Thanks for letting me entertain you!”

So far, it’s working great, because out of 136 people lured by my sweet photo in the past week, only one has winked at me!  Think of all the bullets I’ve dodged, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!