Merry Christmas! And I mean it!

I was at a bazaar a few days ago and bought a bumper sticker.  Nothing much, just $5 towards the youth group, but I felt a bit bold and a bit uneasy. The reason? It said “I’m keeping Christ in Christmas.”


It feels like a small thing and yet, in this uneasy world, it takes courage to not only feel your faith but announce it to the world. You can go to church, you can pray at your leisure, but no-one really wants to know or talk about it. That’s fine. I’m fairly private about it most of the time myself.

And yet, hearing of the terrible things happening today in the name of religion, hearing about the towns who are replacing nativity scenes with innocuous trees and lights, political correctness that asks us to say “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” I’m feeling pushed more and more to stand up for what I believe, to not go quietly into the good night.

So this year, I’m putting a bright red bumper sticker on my car and waiting till after Christmas to nwash the car so that it stays there. It says that this holiday, for me, is about Christmas. It says that I believe in something that’s important to me. And it says it in a less private way than I’m used to. And that’s fine. It’s about time I was courageous enough to wear my faith on my sleeve.

The Psychic Paycheck

Once again, my husband and I are working on a holiday performance with the youth group at our church, and once again we wonder how we’ll find the time and energy to do so. These events always come at a crazy period in our work lives – we’re stressed, long hours, lots of competing priorities, you know the drill. And yet, somehow, the time is found and the cost in hours and effort is extremely high. Here’s the crazy thing: the psychic paycheck is enormous.

No matter how tired we are, or how terrible the traffic, when we walk into the church hall and see the faces of the young teenagers, hear the welcome in their voices and the expectation of a good time, that all falls away. For every moment we spend with these teenagers, we are repaid a hundredfold in new ideas, new ways of looking at the world, and a new respect for the thousands of young people who aren’t found in the news outlets. They’re not part of the group that fired at a stranger or hit up the local corner store. These are the unsung representatives of a generation that is often cast in a bad light. These are the people who bring a youthful step back into my life at times when my feet are sore and my spirit weary.

I came to volunteering late in life, unless you count the many many hours I spent working backstage on theatre productions for the community. There always seemed to be more in it for me than them. Somehow, though, that’s the whole point. With these psychic paychecks, we always get back more than we put in. Now to get the word out to all of those who still fight the “I don’t have time” syndrome. You do. Promise.

If I Wanted to Bag My Own Groceries…!

Just came back from another aggravating experience at my local Stop and Shop and once again, I spent at least 20 minutes wondering why I didn’t leave my full cart of groceries standing there while I walked out in frustration.

We had spent about a half hour tunnelling through the aisles, making sure we hit everything on the list and rushing to finish because we had an appointment in an hour. That still left us time to get through the line, pack the car, drive home and drop them off, and be down the road in time. Until we hit the checkout.

There, absolutely secure in the fact that there would be no-one lining up to take her job, was a young woman slowly scanning each item for the customer ahead of us, while the customer watched each item go down the conveyor belt. At no time did the cashier take her eyes off the groceries coming towards her, a deliberate attempt to not notice that the groceries were piling up at the end. Instead of stopping for a moment to pack up some of the food, and then continue scanning, she kept clicking through the items while the groceries at the end piled higher and higher on top of each other. There was a clear and concise stare at the customer, a blatant “aren’t you going to start packing those up?” question in her eyes.

That’s when my new hero came to the fore. You see, every time we go to this particular store (and it’s not endemic to just Stop & Shop), we notice that the cashiers are getting less and less inclined to pack groceries. What started as a few lanes for “do it yourself” has become a store-or-industry-wide attempt to save money by “letting you” bag your own. Until this woman took a stand. We watched, joyful expressions on our face, as she simply stood there and waited for her things to be packed. Rather than rush to pay and allow the cashier to go on to the next customer, she inserted her right to full service (because this WASN’T a bag-your-own lane) and waited and watched as the cashier, clearly in a funk, slowly packed up each and every bag. As they were done, she took each one and put it in her cart. She might have put a can or two in herself, but only as a final step.

We silently applauded her desire to make a point. It might not have been the cashier’s fault that they were short-handed, but we asked ourselves “When did it become the norm to have to bag your own groceries – in the service lane?” and “What are we paying all this money for, if not to have some of the work done for us?”


The stores are smart. They give us handheld scanners and let us think it’s fun to check ourselves out while we bag our things when go through the aisles. They put in “bag your own” lanes to allow us to feel the exhilaration of scanning our own items. But we’re not fooled. We know what happens next. Free-for-all stores, where we find, scan, bag and cart our own groceries to the car. Cashiers won’t be needed any more, and neither will stockboys because we’ll do it all without them. I say to all of you cashiers who think you’re hard done by because you have to put a bunch of food in bags all day, to get busy and make it a pleasure to serve your customers, and a joy to get them out of the store with a smile on your face, because it’s your job that will be going. I’ll still have a store to shop at.

Am I the New Touchstone?

I feel sorry for young mothers these days. When I was in that situation, I felt as if everything I needed to know was at my fingertips. Either the women my age were all in the same space – planning babies, getting pregnant, or just having had a baby, or the older women were there to lend advice, share the babysitting, keep a careful eye during family events…whatever needed doing. We were young, we were impressionable, we were sure it would be wonderful. What we weren’t was uninformed.

Today, we have the internet and oodles of information provided by books, websites, blogs, and cute youtube videos. What so many of the young mothers – especially those in the city – don’t have is the joy of having family and friends nearby to fill in the gaps of what it’s really like. Reading about how to handle a crying baby at midnight is not the same as a phone call to a mom around the corner, eager to listen and share how it was for her, or ask if you’ve tried a particular method. There are thousands of experts at your fingertips on a mobile phone, and all of that is useful, yes. But to go across the street to have your friend take a look at a nasty scrape instead of trying to find an exact replica on is a whole new level of security.

I’m not saying that our friends or family are experts of any kind, but perhaps if we had that sense of community that used to be so prevalent, maybe there would be fewer people heading to emergency departments when it’s just a young mother’s nerves rather than a real emergency. Maybe we’d have someone to take that crying baby off our hands while we cooled down and had a cup of tea. Maybe we’d feel more competent knowing that this particular episode “happens to everyone.”

mom crying baby

So I’ve decided that it’s time for those of us with some experience under our belts to become the new touchstones for these young women. It doesn’t matter if our own families are nearby or far away. If we see a family or a caring young parent without the support that’s so critical to a happy childhood, let’s step up, reach out, and let them know that you’ve “been there, bought the t-shirt.”

Hallelujah and Trust Your Instincts – that’s Spanx in the next stall!

Through the years, we’ve all had our share of bathroom stories, smells, episodes, odors and sounds. We’ve asked for the courtesy flush, ignored the non-hand-washers, held our breath during the quickest tinkle on record, averted our eyes at the disgusting objects on the floor. We’ve tried to ignore the grunts, the squirts, the blasts of air and the calls for “Oh god.” Still, all of that is part and parcel of a public restroom and we’re used to it.

There’s a new sound in town, folks. It’s mother was a stronger gal back in the 50s. This gal is softer, smoother, but with a tug that would put mom to shame. Yes, girls, welcome to the sound of Spanx in the bathroom. You try to hide it but everyone knows. Maybe it’s just a heavier sound when you tug down your pair of Skinny Britches, and you’re not sure but you have an inkling. But you raise your eyes and nod your head when a Trust Your Thinstincts is around. There’s no denying the many-hued sounds of the removal of that baby. Nope.  It’s that slight whisper as your neighbor tries to discreetly tug the straps off her shoulder (’cause no-one can pee through those ridiculous slits in the you-know-where!). Then there’s the rustle of fabric as the top drops to her waist. But here’s where it gets really interesting and your ears are on high alert: the push of the “shorts’ down the legs. It’s never a slide, more a push and tug, and then the sounds of sweet relief because no-one EVER leaves enough time to do this smoothly. In fact, it’s the sheer stress of getting this puppy off that makes you put off doing the deed until it’s almost too late.


Oh wait. Now it’s time to get it all on again. You snicker as you listen to your neighbor try to shrug back into that tallywhacker of a hose job, knowing that she’s got to push her thighs back into place, stretch it around her tummy, and pop her girls back into place. You listen and you laugh. For a moment. ‘Cause in about 30 seconds, it’s your turn. If only she’d get that damn thing on!

The Road Ends/Starts Here

me for blog

I think this will be the last blog on Alzheimer’s for a while. It’s not that my mom has passed. She has, however, moved into what they call “the last stage.” She’s now in a full-care facility so they can help her eat, ensure that she gets out of bed now and then, and really keep an eye on her as her faculties go. She has completely forgotten who any of us are (but is it too naive to hope that she has at least a glimmer of recognition when we visit in a few weeks?), and her memories are confused and wrong.

In a recent phone conversation with her, I realized that calling her wasn’t helping either of us. She didn’t know who was calling or that I hadn’t done so in several weeks, nor would she remember five minutes later that I had. At no time did she connect anything I was saying with something she knew. The conversation was twisty, repetitive, and completely absent of anything I’d call “mom.” Instead of feeling better about calling her, I hung up in tears, wishing there was a way to fix this impossible disease. Sadly, I recognized that neither of us profited from our conversation, so why was I doing this anymore?

Tomorrow, the road to sixty ends. It’s here, folks. I did it. And maybe all of this has happened for a reason. Or if not a reason, it has had a symmetry that I’m convinced isn’t coincidental. Now, as I move into my 60th year, my mother is moving on to something else, and so am I. I love you, mom. It’s my birthday tomorrow and I’ll have a drink for you. And when I see you next, I’ll look for that momentary glint that tells me I’m still in your heart, if not in your mind.

Why do we celebrate good instead of great?

Why do we celebrate ‘good’ instead of ‘great’? When did we all decide that ‘good enough’ was enough? Have we become so inured to a lack of excellence that we have begun to settle for anything that gets even close? And why do we let ourselves get pulled into the maelstrom of mediocre rather than assert our desire for more?

At a theatre in NYC yesterday, I felt myself drawn once more into group grovel. The writer was David Hare, a writer of renown and with great successes under his belt. Is Skylight a script that matches the best that’s out there? Not necessarily but it was a strong script and well-written. Were the actors amazing? Yes. Cary Mulligan and Bill Nighy are actors of great talent and depth, and took every moment to its nth degree. It’s why it won “Best Revival of a Play” at the Tonys later that day, I’m sure.

But – and I say this with an acute understanding that I’m not a theatre critic with years of experience – while I felt that this was a very good afternoon of theatre, it was NOT an afternoon of incredible excellence. Not once was I transported to another place, although I did enjoy every moment of the acting. In fact, the reality that I was watching the acting and noticing the sound and lights made me realize that I wasn’t as enthralled with the play as I have been in some other situations.


Nevertheless – and this seems to be a rite of passage for just about anything you see these days on Broadway – everyone stood at the end and clapped for some time. The actors returned more than once, we all stood, we all paid homage to a good afternoon. It was NOT, though, a GREAT afternoon. I save that for the original production of “Angels in America,” or the recent production of “Tristan et Iseult” by Kneehigh Theatre at St. Anne’s Warehouse, or the National Theatre of Scotland’s show, “Black Watch.” In those instances, I looked up at the end, awash in tears or joy or delight, and realized that I had been visibly shaken by what I had seen. That, in my mind, is what GREAT theatre is. Or GREAT anything. Move me. Change me. Shake me up. Then I’ll stand and clap until my hands are sore.

What Happened to Money?

I used to think my husband was the last of the Luddites. He still likes to get his paycheck and deposit it in his bank instead of having it deposited by his company. He prefers to pay by check for everything, or cash. He has a credit card but I don’t believe he’s ever paid for anything online that I haven’t done for him. And he never, ever takes up the offer for monthly withdrawals for the rent, parking, storage… nothing.

It’s been an endearing trait and one I tease him about but quietly honor. It’s his careful attention to financial detail that will ensure we have a solid base for retirement, and it’s his caution that kept us fine when the recession hit.

Still, I can’t believe I’m starting to move over to the dark side myself and it all has to do with this one question: What happened to money? I mean cash, change, the stuff we take out of our pockets at night, MONEY. Why is no-one using it anymore? And have I turned into a version of my careful, cautious husband?

I’m certainly beginning to understand his frustration. At the drugstore the other day, my total for the products I purchased was an odd sum, something like $10.22. I really do hate a lot of change in my wallet so I gave the cashier $20.22. Easy peasy, I thought. Just hand me $10 back. Well, you’d think I’d asked her to solve the Pythagorean theorem. She was completely taken aback by the extra change and stared at it for minutes until she remembered she could punch it into the machine and get an answer. Unfortunately, she still seemed at a loss when the machine told her to give me $10. She put it back in, checked the display, took it out again, and then very hesitantly gave it to me. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is the generation that’s being told how to find a place by punching in the address and blindly following it (see my blog below).

She’s not alone, though. If you’ve taken any kind of trip through the toll booths on the highways, you’ve had to notice that the EZ Pass lanes are prominent and plentiful. They’re in the middle of the road, easy to get to, and there are always at least five lanes open. Then there’s the Cash lane. Rarely more than one, one is almost always down, it’s waaaay over on the RH or LH edge of the toll booth area, and you have to cross several lanes of highway to get to it since they’re ALWAYS on just one side of the EZ Pass lanes. Is that a call to arms or what? Even the damn roadways want us to stop using cash.

And please, don’t get me started on how challenging it is to insist on payment by check for your rent, your parking, and everything else that requires a monthly payment. They’re making it extremely difficult to do anything but give in to the system of automatic withdrawal from your bank account. And here’s where I draw the line and join my husband in his mediaeval mansion: No-one is getting access on a regular basis to the account that holds a good portion of my life savings. “It’s safer than a check,” they say. “It makes it less expensive for you,” they insist.

Well, you know what I say back? Tell me once and for all that you’ve figured out how to make that all safe. Tell those of us impacted by the hack of Anthem, who have had to purchase identity protection, that you can definitively keep our information private. Tell me without a shadow of a doubt that there is no one on earth who knows how to get into my accounts, and then do it for at least five years so I can trust that information. Tell those who are living in trailers because they’ve had their lives turned upside down that you can do what no-one else has been able to do. Until then, I’m actually going to use cash more often than I did before, and maybe even stash a bit in my bed. Oops. Did I say that? Don’t worry, thieves and hackers. I’m a Luddite but I’m far from stupid. The money’s in my sock drawer. Huh!

Why Aren’t We Using Our Eyes & Brains?

I was in Boston recently, navigating around the city with the Nav system on my  phone and doing well…until the time I was preparing to leave. My car was at a stoplight and I could see, just a half block away, the sign for entry on to the Mass Pike. Let me make this clear: I could see the sign. The entrance for the road home was a half block away. Clear. Easy. Drive 200 feet, make turn,head home. Except that the nav system directed me around the corner, down a side street, over two blocks, and then back to where I had been at first. I didn’t take that set of directions. Of course I didn’t. I have two eyes and when the information I’m being fed is in direct conflict with my brain and what I’m seeing, I’m going to listen to my brain.

But the whole experience reminded me of how difficult I’m finding it to make my way around my new town. I’ve lived in a lot of places and I tend to get familiar with roads and key buildings fairly quickly. EXCEPT… I didn’t have a phone with a nav system before, and we’ve never had one in our car. What was different this time was that I was patching in my proposed location rather than looking at a map in advance and making some sticki-notes to tell me where to turn, sticking it on my dashboard, and heading out. I used to look ahead, lock it in to my brain, note the navigational points for future reference (like the gas station, the weird green house, etc), and then find my way there. To go home I’d do it all backward.

lost sign

With a nav system, you might have eyes and a brain but you’re as blind as can be. You’re not looking around and taking in what you need for directions, you’re listening to a voice tell you where to go. You might as well be blind because you’re not taking in anything except that voice.

THAT’S why I can’t just get myself around a new place anymore. I’m not processing where I am and where I need to be. I’m relying on someone else to do that for me. So I’m turning it off unless I really need it. I’m getting older and I need to remind my brain how to work and let it get as much activity as it can, work things out on its own, and help me find my way home. No nav system is going to keep me young.

Finding the Comfort in Tradition

I have fought against doing things the traditional way my whole life.Sometimes I’ve been successful, most of the time it has been a hard-won struggle with my psyche. My own personal preference is to be surrounded by things that are simple and clean, no fuss, no muss, no collections. I liked having a few of the Christmas decorations my family had given me, but I wanted to be able to try something new every year. We end up doing a bit of  both each year. My husband is happy but I’m not sure I’m ever completely happy with the end result.

When we got married, we shopped for furniture and while my lovely husband was pulled to the big overstuffed chairs and sofas, I headed right for the streamlined, curlicue-free couches and coffee tables. I appreciated the furniture we inherited from his parents – I mean, c’mon, it’s beautiful wood! – but I struggled to find ways to make the pieces look modern, using them in non-traditional ways when I could. I’m still hoping to paint them, a bastardization that anyone who prefers wood “as it is” finds obscene.

And yet now, as my mother struggles with Alzheimers and her memories are floating away on the wind, the things that were important to her -and to us – growing up, are now becoming incredibly important. Traditional as they are – and they’re incredibly traditional – I’m pulled towards them because they bring my mother into my home in a way that keeps her close. Throughout my life, a large trunk contained the few things she’d kept from her own mother – piles of linens (tablecloths, sheets, pillowcases) that had been hand-embroidered by either my mother or hers. They are exactly what you think they would be – inches of hand-crocheted lace surrounding a sheet or tablecloth, sweet and whimsical embroidered designs on small tablecloths, crocheted corners of large, ornate cloths, all of it beautiful and all of it absolutely, completely, and wonderfully traditional.

Each time my mother pulled out the contents of the trunk, I was enraptured. While my siblings searched through her jewelry or sought out furniture, I wished only for the linens. They spoke to me in a way nothing else did. So, when my mother finally let go of her linens (they were always kept for “good” and that never really happened, I guess), I got most of them. I’m figuring out what to do with them now. Maybe take one cloth and have the ornate corners framed. Maybe lay a sheet over a guest bed. Or maybe, as I’ve just done, take my favorite small cloth and cut it down to a size that exactly fits a little wooden stool that we inherited from my husband’s mother. Fitting, somehow, that both of our mothers are captured in that little piece of useful, simple, and very traditional piece of furniture. Thanks, mom – both of you.


My mother-in-law’s stool with my own mother’s embroidered cloth on it.