Fighting the Blues with Love

Maybe it’s because my favorite season is drawing to a close, or perhaps it’s the looming allergies of fall, but I usually have a big case of the blues in September.  Most people love this time of year – crisper weather, the prospect of New England’s leaf colors, apple picking, and maybe even the advent of the school year.  I feel the opposite.  It’s like a little death for me when summer ends.  Couple that emotion with the recent anniversary of that horrific day 10 years ago when thousands of innocent people lost their lives, and you have a recipe for major blues.  I’m from NY, so there were people in the towers that I knew.  I cried for all those deceased, their families, and myself this week.  In retrospect, it might not have been a good idea for me to read two books with deeply sad themes, Sarah’s Key and Room, at this tender time, but they are book club selections, so I read them anyway.  By doing that I just may have unwisely tipped the scales of the appropriate amount of grief intake, making it just too hard to absorb so much at once.

The night of September 11th, 2011 I lay awake at 2 a.m. thinking about loss and all its incarnations: in addition to the grief of our nation, I lost my brother a year and a half ago to a heart attack.  Due to recent unpleasant events, I lost a relationship with a formerly close friend.   Last week a lovely woman therapist we greatly admired, and sometimes consulted, lost her battle with cancer.  All this sorrow came crashing around me like discordant music, creating a clenching feeling in my heart.  As I lay there quietly sobbing, a Barred Owl hooted her haunting bark-like hoot somewhere in our woods, breaking through the noise in my head.  I slid over to my sleeping husband and pulled his arms around me.  He must have felt my shoulders heaving because he held me close and stroked my hair.  His warmth and gentleness eased my pain, and I became acutely aware of the comfort of human contact, of love.

I am not prone to dwell on the negative, or to allow myself a lengthy pity party, but sometimes too much is, well, too much.  So, having had a good cry, I awoke the following day exhausted, but renewed in my commitment to love and comfort others as well as myself.  Each of us is undoubtedly and indelibly affected by 9/11’s tragedy, and life is always throwing us curveballs, so in the face of that reality, I embrace today with my heart open and my arms ready.  Loving human contact, kind words, thoughtful gestures – these are the keys to a good life.   When I watched the History Channel’s show called “102 Minutes That Changed America” I was struck by the humanity of those around Ground Zero as the horror unfolded.  Brave doesn’t begin to describe these people.  They are my inspiration as I move through my sadness – their goodness, caring and selflessness are my goals today.  Love is the answer.  One day at a time, one person at a time.

All You Need is Love

-The Beatles

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.

-1 Corinthians 13:13





An Allowance System That Teaches Earning AND Giving

Our brood

My eldest child is 12, so one could assume that I have been attempting to instill a good work ethic in my son for at least 10 years now.  He is the first child of our four who are 12, 10, 8 & 6 respectively, and by virtue of his birth order, the most prominent example of our parenting.  My husband and I want our kids to be achievers like most parents, but beyond that, we want them to be givers.  We don’t currently belong to a church, but when we did, it was usually a Unitarian congregation that suited our divergent backgrounds of former Catholic and Agnostic.  Until the new Unitarian church in town is re-opened, we are the sole stewards of our children’s moral compass, and that is a job to be taken very seriously.

My husband recently attended a sales conference in Miami that had some fascinating seminars.  One that impacted him greatly was the presentation on the “Entitled Generation Y”, that is, those kids who have been given everything without earning it, and feel that the world owes them.  It’s these kids that when asked what age they believe they are fully adults answered “thirty”!  When I was a child, Timothy Leary was quoted as saying “don’t trust anyone over thirty” which suggested to me that thirty was over the hill.  No wonder so many kids move back home after college – it’s not just the faltering economy, but the sense of entitlement.

Eeeek!  This must not happen to my kids.  What to do?  What to do? The first lesson out of the gate: electronics (tv, computer, x-Box, cell phone) are a priviledge, not a right.  They must be earned through other activities such as playing outside, practicing an instrument, or doing a chore.

wooden chore chartAh, chores.  The bane of my existence.  I can’t even count on my fingers the many different chore charts I’ve used over these past 10 years!  I even tried to design an innovative system myself using colored magnets and an intricate reward system that I never could make function just the way I wanted.  Don’t even get me started on the ‘enforcement’ of the charts.  What I have learned from all my efforts is that I end up being the ‘nudge’ or ‘irritant’ who hounds the kids into reluctant capitulation.  Ugh.

One thing that has made a great deal of impact on this effort was the acquisition of our chickens.  We already have 2 Beagles, 2 cats, 2 hermit crabs and a Beta fish who miraculously get fed daily, but chickens require more care.  I am not interested in doing it, so I made clear to the family that if they want to keep their beloved hens then they must care for them.  That worked.  It’s the ultimate in “natural consequences” – living domesticated creatures rely on us to stay alive.  The kids get that.

Now, how about those beds that need making, the laundry that needs to be put away, the rooms that need tidying?  We’ve also just moved into the realm of lawn mowing with my eldest, and the garage is an area in constant need of attention.

I have tried allowances to act as a ‘carrot’, but they often forget to collect it from me.  I recently found an online solution to my over 10-year quest for a system that works, and what I like about it is that it involves “giving”, which I mentioned earlier as a goal I would like my children to embrace.  It’s called ThreeJars.  One jar is for ‘spending’, one is for ‘saving’, and the third is for ‘sharing’.  Fabulous concept, don’t you think?!

3 jars allowance

Here’s how ThreeJars briefly defines itself: “ThreeJars makes allowance fun and easy for 5 to 13 year old
kids and their parents. Kids learn to manage their “money” through savingspending, and charitable giving jars – with guidance from Mom and Dad.”  The system is on an IOU basis from which the parents can add and subtract.  The allowance amount is decided together, but % of that amount to go to ‘share’ and ‘save’ is their decision to make.  Over time, the kids may make requests for ‘spending’ or ‘sharing’ through emails to their parent, and the parent responds “yea” or “nay” as they see fit.  ThreeJars’ service costs $30 a year for unlimited children, but the actual paying of monies to the kids happens at home per the adult’s prerogative.  The chore section is helpful if your family bases allowance on chore completion.  Often, looking to garner more funds, my 10-year-old son will make offers of chores with a value attached to it such as: Wash the Car – $3.00. It is up to me whether I accept or decline his offer.  It’s not all greed driven, though.  Yesterday that same son asked if he could donate $7.00 of his ‘share’ money to the ASPCA.  I said yes, and because ThreeJars has a direct relationship with about 21 reputable charitable organizations including the ASPCA, $7.00 was deducted from his ‘share’ fund and charged to my Visa on file.  If he had chosen to donate elsewhere, I would deduct the sum myself and write a check.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, not to mention, warm and fuzzy.

My kids love computers, so this online solution is so much better than a white board that can be altered either on purpose or by a shoulder coming too close in passing. It’s all there in black and white until I, or they, decide what changes.  Boy, do they love seeing how much allowance they are accruing each week, too.

Hallelujah!  Peace has been restored, chores are getting done, and giving is, well, “a given”.  Oh, how I love Three Jars!

Disclosure: I received a free year’s family membership valued at $30 to facilitate this review, but that only buys my honest opinions.


Beautiful Friendship

Childhood 'besties' at our 30th HS Reunion last year

What would I do without my friends?  I would certainly languish –maybe not perish – but definitely languish, without my gal pals.  I have shared here before the personal emphasis I put on my “Green Acres” marriage and my children, and I’ve also mentioned how supported I felt by my community when my brother died.  What I haven’t touched on yet is the great role my friends play in my day-to-day life.  I don’t only mean the friends I see regularly, but also the ones I have known since preschool (pictured above and below) whom I see once in a blue moon.  A friend is a friend for life with me, no matter how little face time we manage to schedule.

Once, when I lived briefly in a new city, I found myself on the fringe of a group of couples among whom most had a long term, even childhood, connection.  One evening my husband and I discussed the effort it would take to truly be a part of this set of people, and we realized it was daunting, and likely fruitless, so we stepped back.  Eventually our move to the suburbs sealed the deal since urbanites view the suburbs as exile, and we were back at square one.  Thank goodness for the East Greenwich Cowesett New Neighbors ( organization!  Without it I would be trawling hair salons and supermarkets for friends.  Not only did joining give me something to look forward to each month, but also a play group for my two little ones, a book club for me, and a bevy of women to hang out with.

One of the upsides of a newcomers club is that those who choose to be members want to make friends.  It’s a veritable goldmine of possibilities from which many amazing women have emerged.   Over the last many years I have come to know and love a unique group of beautiful, caring, intelligent, talented, and kind women.  Many of us have travelled together, and whenever we do, I am reminded of how friendships are built – through shared experiences.  The more ways I can find to be around the women that make me smile, the richer and deeper our bond becomes.  Because of this realization, I rarely pass up an invitation to get together.

The "A Mom Knows Best" crew in NYC

I’ve learned a lot about how to be a good friend from these women.  A good friend makes a fuss on your birthday (usually in some kind of group gathering), checks in when you are facing a personal challenge, but mostly finds ways to make more memories, both large and small.  I love it when my phone rings and one of my pals is off to the nail salon for a pedicure and wants to know if I can join her for a little catching up.  Often times, it’s an email blast to go see a movie of a book we all read in our book club, or just a made up excuse to go meet at the local martini bar because it’s been too long.

Longtime friends at my brother John's Memorial

The other excellent by-product of this gaggle of gals is that they have chosen well in the husband department, which makes it incredibly easy to get the couples together.  One of the potential frustrations of friendship is when your spouse dislikes your bff’s spouse, and you can’t do the couple thing.   Thankfully we don’t have that issue, it’s more of a scheduling/babysitting challenge, but we are up to it, and up for it.

Beloved husbands

This summer a group of eight of us headed to Block Island on our now annual getaway, supported by our husbands who stayed home with the kids.  Again this year I came home glowing from all the great conversation, dancing, and laughter we’d experienced together, and I said to my husband, “My friends are a sheer joy to be with – no tension, no bad vibe, just good, good fun.  Amazing.”  His response…”As it should be, sweetheart.”  Yes, yes, but still I feel exceedingly lucky!  There are many wonderful quotes about friendship, but the one that best sums it up for me is from Emily Dickinson, and addresses the ‘wealth’ and ‘richness’ of friendship in a figurative way that appeals to me.  She said, “My friends are my estate.”   So true.

My local posse


How to Plan a Memorable Family Reunion

My mother-in-law and a cousin

My husband’s extended family meets every year in June for a Family Reunion on my mother-in-law’s beautiful property in Litchfield County, CT. It’s been a week since the most recent one, and we are all still basking in the glow of it. Even though we have one every year, we never know who will make it, if the weather is going to cooperate, or which families will stay over in tents. These unknowns keep it fresh and unpredictable, and therefore each year we look forward to what some might see as a great big hassle, but we have come to view as heaven. I’ve learned so much from my husband’s side of the family about their simple, yet well thought out approaches to bringing a lot of people together. They have spent years fine-tuning this event, so I am hopeful that you will find this information useful if you‘re considering throwing one yourself.
The first step is to pick a date that will work for the majority. We have found that late June, just after public school ends, tends to be the best time to achieve the greatest turnout. Email blasts have been an amazing method for the quick dissemination of information, starting with a “Save the Date” message in the late winter.
Once the date is set, my mother-in-law crafts a reminder email to give the details of our gathering. This goes out twice: once in the spring, and then again just before we meet. It’s been mostly the same format for years, but occasionally an improvement is made, so this is very helpful. It includes the basic info such as:
“People are welcome to come to the property as early as 10am with their own picnic lunch, chairs, blankets, etc. We provide soft drinks and beer, and at 4:00 we will have finished the roasting of the pig. Please bring a dish to share for that evening’s meal. Anyone wishing to camp out may do so. There will be a breakfast served on Sunday morning for those who stay.” The camping component is new, and usually includes about 4 families, allowing for some extended shared moments making s’mores around the fire. That’s it! It’s pretty simple and straightforward stuff.  To accommodate the sometimes 70-100 people, a nice port-a-potty is rented and placed in the orchard. That cost, as well as the pig, the beer, and maybe some new shuttlecocks and water balloons, is pretty minimal considering the large number of people who attend.

The two families who live on the property have the important tasks of beautification and the main course, which includes lots of gardening and a mowing before the event, getting the float on the pond, and starting the roasting of the pig. They do an incredible job, and the place always looks breathtaking and inviting, not to mention, smells yummy upon one’s arrival. My task in recent years is to make the soft drinks on that day: lemonade, iced tea, Tang, etc. My husband’s is to get the badminton net up, the slip-and-slide out, spruce up the horseshoe pits, and rake the pond beach. After that, we wait for people to start coming.

There is a ‘cheat sheet’ on the table outside next to the blank name tags that lists those families who are planning to attend that year. My mother-in-law so wonderfully supplies the names and ages of all the children, so we can have a prayer of figuring our who’s who in the sea of 40 kids who keep growing and changing every year to spite us. Of course, the nametags help a great deal, too.  Sometimes I think we should all wear them every day (!), but that’s just me.
Because we are a ‘green group’, we use recyclable cups that people put their name on with a Sharpie so they can reuse them all day, and we serve the meal buffet-style with real plates and silverware. Not everyone can do this, but my sister-in-law has amassed a large amount of these items over the years from various sources, and it makes such a difference in the amount of garbage we create, or, rather, don’t.
For some reason, the weather has always been kind to us (some say it’s the ancestors smiling down), and the children have such fun cooling off in the pond or chasing each other with water balloons. The adults play games as well, or have a swim, but a lot of emphasis is placed on catching up on each other’s lives.  The crowning moment of the afternoon is a traditional, but humorous song that one family, with five grown sons, leads us in every year.  It’s priceless to see all the young ones join in as they come to know the words.  All in all, it really is heavenly .
So there you have it – the easy recipe for creating great family connections and memories.  Now, go ahead, pick a date and make it happen.

Please share any ideas you’ve enjoyed when your family gets together. We are always interested in tweaking and improving the experience.


Sometimes Losing is Good

One of the inevitable outcomes of a crappy few years is the slow and steady erosion of health and fitness.  While some people run off to the gym to work through stress, there are those of us who run for the wine glass and the remote.  I can’t say exactly when I let myself go, but gone I have!  It wasn’t that long ago that I regularly attended yoga classes and watched what I ate.  It’s kind of scary to think of how quickly I was able to pack it on and loosen it up.  Yuck.  I think what happened with me is a confluence of events initially launched by the passive act of turning forty.  Up until then I had the ‘thoroughbred’ of metabolisms.  I could have eaten a horse, actually, and maintained my svelte figure.   It was enviable and remarkable really, and as a result, I appeared to be one of those skinny girls we all secretly hate.  I became indulgent and lazy.  Then along comes the big 4-0, a few babies birthed on either side of it, and I’m not so smug anymore; more like snug.

I’m going to admit here to having tried a few radical measures to drop the ‘offending fifteen’ as I’ve come to address them.  First, there was the ambitious attempt at preparing for a sprint triathlon.  I should have known when I had anxiety training in the lap pool, that open water would turn out to be the deal breaker.  Next was ‘40 days of Yoga’ which was going gangbusters until my husband took a three-week business trip in the middle of it, leaving me without early morning child coverage.  Then somewhere along the line I joined Gold’s Gym with my pals, but unfortunately discovered that I don’t like to work out in a fishbowl.  The most successful effort was also the most radical: Beyonce’s Lemonade Diet.  She didn’t invent it, but she glamorized it when she lost 20 pounds doing it before filming “Dreamgirls”. Seriously, though, who doesn’t want to look like Beyonce?  It was ultimately a colon cleanse, and it works great, yet it’s not for the undisciplined.  I lost the weight on it, but as I faced those tough few years (see my previous posts “Surviving Unemployment” and “When Someone You Love Dies”) they steadily and stealthily crept back.   Little *bleep*s.

Enter: Medi-Weightloss!  I’d heard about it from my OBGYN when a few years ago he sauntered in to examine me 60 pounds shy of when I’d seen him the year before.  I was duly impressed, but skeptical he’d keep it off.  So when he came in at my annual exam the following year looking lean and fabulous, I sat up and took notice.  I asked him all about this program thinking maybe my husband or I might need it one day.  He said it was doctor run and really worked.  I stored that information away, and never forgot it.

Fast forward two years and I’m staring down bathing suit season with my love-handled hips and muffin top belly mocking me.  It’s time for the big guns to be brandished, so off I go to the local Medi-Weightloss Clinic in Warwick, RI under the auspices of researching a story for this blog.  After filling out my paperwork, an adorable Medical Assistant named Zoey called my name and showed me to a room.  For the next hour she ran through various tests.  First she weighed me – obviously – then she measured my height.  This data was then put into a special electronic device that I stood on which spat out a diagnostic (Tanita Slip) having to do with body fat percentages.  She told me by reading it I would see that I fell within the range of fine, or, not overweight.  I told her I knew I was not obese, but that my goal was 15-18 pounds of weight loss.   Next, I had an EKG, blood drawn, my blood pressure checked, and my pulse listened to, all while chatting easily with this adorable woman.  She also measured my waist so we could see my progress going forward.  Zoey hugged me goodbye since she felt we had connected (I don’t think it’s policy), and said the doctor would be in to see me next.  In came Dr. Gaffney, also delightful, who listened to my heart and lungs, checked my pulse on my legs and then my thyroid, etc.  I have to say, the exam was thorough.  Then she went over the program with the packet Zoey had given me.  She explained that I would come weekly for an exam and a shot of vitamins, and one time between for an additional shot.   She produced a zippered tote bag with a water bottle (that I love now), my supplements, a food journal, and Keto Sticks.  We talked about the sample menu in the pamphlet and how I was going to eat only protein that first week in the amount of 500 calories a day, along with tons of water.  That initial visit was the pricey one: $268 less the $25 coupon from the site, but it includes a full physical and blood panel.  Subsequent weekly visits are $70.  I went off then to shop for the deli meats, shrimp, chicken breasts, etc. I would be eating, as well as Smart Water that I needed to drink once daily.

The week went well.  I returned for my shot midweek, and was in and out in ten minutes.  When I checked my ketones on day four, I was in fact “in ketosis”, which is when our bodies are using fat for energy.  Woo hoo!  My first weekly visit involved a weigh in that showed changes in a few areas: According to the Tanita Slip (analysis of body composition) I’d lost five pounds of fat, my body fat % was lower as was my BMI (Body Mass Index).  All good.  I saw Dr. Gaffney again and she showed me the new diet for week two which includes vegetables.  Never has a cucumber tasted so good!  The plan was to keep to the 500 calories, but now I get 2 helpings of veggies and a healthy fat each day such as 12 nuts or ½ an avocado.  Yum!  One of the best outcomes from this experience is that I have developed a greater appreciation for savoring flavors – you have to when you eat less often and less variety.  Back to my exam, the doctor then reviewed my food journal, and we discussed integrating exercise going forward.  Oh, and there is no alcohol in the first month of the program, but caffeine is allowed.  Did I mention that they called me mid-week each week?  I ended up having questions that they promptly answered for me.

I have had my second weekly visit, and it went much like the first.  I was down another 4 pounds (more than ½ way there!) and all the other numbers on the Tanita Slip were lower, too.  I feel great.  I now have control of my weight, and the process of getting it where I want it.  I would wholeheartedly recommend this program to anyone, but particularly to someone quite heavy.  I think the clinics do a great job making sure their patients stay healthy and safe through the process, and that’s critical. Unfortunately, even as a growing franchise, there are a mere 80 locations across 22 states right now, so not everyone has one nearby.  Six more are opening soon, and I hope that trend continues, because this country needs a solution.  Did you know “that two-thirds, more than 190 million Americans are overweight or obese?  Obesity-related diseases are a $147 billion dollar medical burden every year, and childhood obesity has tripled in the last thirty years.” Shocking, isn’t it?  (Read more at: Battling Obesity in America)

Although I’m about halfway to my “goal weight”, I know I can get there.  It’s going to take about a month in my case.  That’s pretty quick if you ask me, considering how long it took to put it on.  In total, I spent $466 on the program, which I think is money well spent – especially since I didn’t have to buy new warm weather clothes to hide under.  Also, if you were due for a physical anyway this would be a great way to get more bang for your buck. This turned out to be a wonderful experience, and I hope more people try it.  Here’s the website if you or anyone you know wishes to shed some pounds.

The happy outcome for me is that I learned good eating habits, and I no longer fear the beach, my bathing suit, or a tank top.  I’m free to enjoy the glorious Rhode Island summer instead of agonizing over how to dress for it. What a relief!  Who knows, maybe I’ll take up surfing…


Please share a weight loss success story you have.  Let’s encourage each other to be “losers” together!





Miracles Do Happen

My mother is an introverted dynamo. By that I mean she has managed to hide how shy she is in order to make a name for herself in business, and money for her family. She reminds me of the Donna Reed character, Mary, in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Without her ‘George’ (really named Roger) she may have ended up a skittish single librarian. Roger, my father, with all his charms and pedigree, was not a good breadwinner. Mom, called OJ, eventually tired of the shoestring approach to raising 5 children, and headed off into NYC to start a successful business career that put a kitchen addition on our old Victorian, and took us all to Bermuda two times, just for starters. It turned out, not only did she join the ‘old boy network’ seamlessly, but she liked it – a lot. As the years passed, she and Dad moved hither and yon for her new business opportunities, finally settling and retiring in Maine in their seventies. Roger never begrudged OJ the role she had taken on, but sometimes I’d hear her wish for a break in the decision-making. Wouldn’t it be nice, she’d often wonder, to have him choose the restaurant? Oh well…
Four years ago, when OJ was 83, Roger died from a lung disorder that snuck up on us all. He was sweet and docile until the end, and we miss him very much. OJ was, and is still, so vibrant, embracing all life has to offer.  Eventually, she moved near us in suburban RI to be close to her youngest grandkids. We saw her often, but much of her time was spent reading in her wingback chair alone in her apartment. OJ loves to be around youth and vitality, but her apartment building was seniors only. It was increasingly clear that loneliness was setting in, so, being the sensitive and meddling daughter I am, I suggested she join the website:, and set up a page. She was game, but not too savvy on the ‘how-to’s’, so I happily obliged. It doesn’t hurt that my mom is one of the most youthful octogenarians I’ve ever seen (I deeply hope that I carry those genes!), so I was certain she would be quite sought after. I posted a photo, see above, of her sitting with my then 6-year-old daughter, Olivia (named for OJ which stands for Olive Jean, but Mom never liked the Olive, so Olivia was chosen instead), and then we browsed through the five gentlemen listed in little Rhody. The only one Mom liked was a white-haired man who I thought resembled an older Spencer Tracy. He had a wonderful profile message describing a symbiotic life to my parents’ overseas in Asia during post WWII. He had also been a Dean of Students at a college, walked with a cane as OJ does, spoke of a love of travel, and generally seemed a great fit for Mom. So, we wrote to him…and wrote again. Nothing came back. Hmm, was he not interested? Away? Taken? Um, or worse…OJ waited from March through April for a response, then in a moment of exasperated inspiration, she figured out how to navigate the site solo and wrote one last entreaty: “Meet me for coffee at Felicia’s in East Greenwich.” Little did we know that the fellow we were writing had his own dutiful daughter monitoring on the other end. Mom’s missive reached her immediately, and she responded swiftly herself with the name and phone number of her dad who’d been away in the Grenadines for a few months.
I must digress here to fill in a few facts. My parents were ‘inexperienced’ when they married in college, and they were together for 62 years before Dad died. In those months after his death, my sister sent the first season of “Sex and the City” to entertain my mom, knowing full well that Dad would have hated the series and the f-bombs throughout. Mom ate it up. Marg, my sister, then sent all 6 seasons, and in May of 2008, we both took her to the movie on opening night. OJ was filling in major gaps in her knowledge of modern day sexuality through this franchise – and loving every minute of it!
So, back to getting the phone number of the man she so wanted to meet…OJ said, if not for “SATC”, she would never have had the nerve to call up a stranger and drive to his house for lunch – alone! Boy, is she glad she did. She and now 93-year old Bill have been inseparable since they met in May 2009. I know this because when she moved in with him that November, and I cleaned out her refrigerator, I could see it had not been opened once in all that time. The lovebirds have made many trips in these two years including a boat ride up the Rhine and Danube Rivers from Budapest to Amsterdam, and one through the Panama Canal. They lovingly care for one another, read books together, entertain often, and have a great time watching football over a bottle of wine. Bill was a Colonel in the US Army, and as a result, is very decisive. Mom loves that. She is all aglow and sparkly around him, and is thoroughly delighted to go to the restaurant of his choice. As she said in her holiday card the year she met Bill: “miracles do happen”.




OJ & Bill

Being old doesn’t mean you’re done. Do you have a story of finding love late in life?

(This article was previous published in part on


When Someone You Love Dies

My brother and I sandwiching two dear friends

Last year the unimaginable happened. I lost my youngest brother to a massive heart attack at the age of 49. Up until then I had felt secure in the natural order of things: the older ones go first and the younger ones get old. Our dad had died four years earlier, and while we wished we had had him longer, he’d lived a good long life of 84 years. We’ve attended several funerals for that age group over these last few years, and although they were sad occasions, we still felt sanguine about it; we even expected it.

The day my brother John died was a Sunday in late January. He had just texted his girlfriend that he loved her for the first time on his early morning ride home to his house from hers. He had planned to join us at our place for dinner that night to introduce his new love to his 15 year-old-daughter. This was a big day and he was excited. I’m sure he thought the heartburn was just a nit. After he mentioned it to his daughter on the way to her soccer game that morning he’d probably written it off as something he’d eaten. It wasn’t. He was having a small heart attack that led up to the one that took his life hours later. He never made it back to that soccer field. Hindsight is torture.

It’s the worst kind of shock and loss when someone you love, at the top of his game and happy, drops dead. My husband and I were bereft. After calling my immediate family and John’s girlfriend with the awful news, the urge to band together was strong, and we asked all the local family to come to our house that night. We knew that things needed to be done, decided, and organized. Three of my kids were at a good friend’s house, and so I called her to tell her that I needed to leave them a while longer and why. She likely started telling our other friends because by the time we arrived home, there was food being dropped off – lots and lots of food. It kept up like that for days. I personally couldn’t eat much, finding wine to be my temporary panacea, but the food was heated and consumed by others, and I was so grateful for that.

I felt a little insane during that initial period. I couldn’t write the date, for instance, because that would mean we had left behind the time when I could save John. In a plea to God I offered up a limb in exchange for my brother’s return to the living. My husband was concerned about me, but I was desperate to reverse this horrible event. Sleep was a welcome respite, but it was just a temporary escape from reality because the morning brought with it the waking nightmare one feels when death has visited. One day, in particular, I awoke late and came running downstairs to tell my husband I had forgotten to get our preschooler to school, when he met me to say that my good friend had come to get our son earlier. A deep sense of relief set in…my friends had my back. I knew then I could let myself grieve, and they would help me get through it.

This April a friend’s husband succumbed to his battle with pancreatic cancer at 43 years old. He fought it hard, but this disease is a formidable foe. Only a very few survive it. They have four young children, as do I, and that’s a lot of people to take care of when you can barely put one foot in front of the other. A plan was put into place using the Doodle website: each night someone would bring dinner, help bed the children, and be with our friend through the evening. So far, two months of weekday visits have been filled in, and our friend has expressed how much this helps her.

A new day

a new day

It’s clear to me now that those of us over 40 are going to go to more and more funerals. What is also clear is the ever-increasing need for community and support through these losses. If you haven’t experienced someone’s death yet yourself, I’m sorry to say that it’s coming, and that you will need help through it. If you know someone in the throes of grief, then by all means reach out, bring food, send a card, make a phone call, arrange a lunch date. Don’t be shy; the grieving person can always refuse your overture, but you must still make one. The gaping hole of loss can never be filled, but the more love one feels the more hope they have. So reach out, tell them how sorry you are, hug them, and one day they’ll do the same for you. It’s the natural order of things.


Keeping Chickens in a “Green Acres” Marriage

I’m probably aging myself when I admit that I grew up watching “Green Acres”, but with Zsa Zsa Gabor in the news lately, it seems that her little sister Eva’s show has had resurgence in our collective consciousness. So when I say that my husband and I are ‘living’ the sitcom, most of you know what I mean, but for those of you who don’t here’s the show’s synopsis reflected in its theme song lyrics:
(In Eddie Albert’s voice)
Green Acres is the place for me.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

(In Eva’s Hungarian-accented voice)
New York is where I’d rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

(Eddie) The chores.
(Eva)…The stores.
(Eddie) Fresh air.
(Eva)…Times Square

(Eddie) You are my wife.
(Eva) Good bye, city life.
Green Acres we are there!

For us, it all happened so fast. It was an urban lifestyle by choice when we started our family in San Francisco, then moved to Providence, RI, although ultimately, somehow, through great cunning, my husband talked me into a house on nine acres of woods in the suburbs. “We’ll get a dog and the kids can ride their bikes,” he said in his sales speech. We’d both had a pretty idyllic childhood in a suburb of New York City, so I knew this was a good idea on paper, but more was yet to be revealed in this new chapter in our family’s life. We did get a dog, and her brother in that first year. – Beagle littermates. That kept us busy for a while, but Doug had a greater vision that I was starting to see glimpses of. One day I saw Craigslist offerings for free chickens left open on the computer screen. Chickens? What’s happening here? We’d seen a few Rhodie Reds walking around our neighborhood, and after a little inquiry found that our town allows chicken keeping. Doug was smitten, and a project was born. Soon a mansion of a coop appeared in a cleared area of our backyard, and eventually a fence grew up around it. Was it magic, subterfuge, or ambush? I couldn’t decide how I felt about this new happening. Was I really ready to be a chicken keeper? In spite of my suburban upbringing, I felt like a city girl at my core. In our youth, we could be in NYC in 30 minutes by train or car, so ‘in it’ we often were. I moved to the city as soon as I could afford it, and loved every minute of my time there. Could I really be expected to change my spots so dramatically for these mysterious creatures?
My husband went off one day to get some grown hens from a man who needed to move back to Columbia – 10 of them to be exact. They arrived stressed out and smelly. Was I up to this? One of the largest hens had somehow lost most of her rear feathers, and my husband wanted me to hold her so he could examine her “vent” to be sure it was not in distress. A vent is the body part that delivers the egg. So there I am holding “Big Chicken” (as we dubbed her) while slathering Preparation H on her rear end. I thought my husband would collapse from the sheer hilarity of the situation. I’m sure he felt he had succeeded beautifully in his diabolical plan to turn me into a farm hand.
Since that life changing moment there have been several serious conversations about who is taking care of ‘the girls’ since I was not keen on adding them to my list of wifely duties. My concerns have been allayed by the assurance that the kids and my husband are the caregivers of choice. Now I get to watch these funny birds out my kitchen window daily without any guilt or resentment. I sometimes even throw some delicious scraps their way, just so they know I secretly love them.
Here are some of the expressions we use that originate from these girls:
Pecking order: definitely a big issue in the daily life of a chicken flock. You can always tell who’s on top and who’s not – or “who rules the roost!”
Chicken feed (or scratch): it is, in fact, an inexpensive product, so it fits that it would represent low salaries or pocket change.
Cooped up: yes, the girls pile in a smallish space for the night to stay safe from predators, but by sunrise they have had enough, and voice loudly how much they want to be released
Henpecked: kind of speaks for itself.
Flew the coop: we had a couple of the girls try this, but after a confrontation with our Beagles they have stayed put.
Until the chickens come home to roost: this roosting is a given each night, and so it represents something one can count on happening.
Don’t put all you eggs in one basket: good advice when sending small children out to collect the eggs of the day, just in case they trip.
I haven’t been able to find an expression that fits my transformation from urban diva to chicken mama, but that’s okay, I’m sure we’ll have many years to come up with one – especially when we add the goat to the mix.


How our “Domestic Partnership” Morphed into a Marriage

As May draws near, I’m reminded of a strange and nagging feeling I’ve been getting every year for a while now: that I am forgetting something important.  I eventually figure it out by either having it dawn on me, or most often by my mother-in-law calling to wish me a Happy Anniversary.  It’s actually somewhat understandable because Doug and I have a back-story many of our friends don’t know: we married when I was pregnant with our third child.  In fact, we had originally intended not to marry. What!!!  Let me explain.  We both had what we lovingly refer to as our “starter marriages”, neither of which produced any children.  We also both had large, traditional and expensive weddings that ended in divorce five years into the union.  

When Doug and I fell in love, we mutually confessed to feelings of failure, and a lingering confusion on the subject ofGoldie Hawn marriage.  At the time there were famous couples eschewing the institution: Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell who are still going strong; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins who are not – although I have to say that they had a long run, and there was blessedly no messy divorce to string out in public.  With those couples in mind, Doug and I decided to forego the marriage route for a Domestic Partnership agreement. Since we resided in San Francisco at the time, we were able to procure one fairly easily, and that was ideal because we planned to start a family right away. Although Doug and I had grown up together, we had not found each other again until our mid-thirties, and we wanted children before it was too late.  Doug wanted four, but I was a ‘one-at-a-time and we’ll see’ girl.  As it turned out, four was our lucky number.

So how did we get to be married midway through our burgeoning family?  Honestly, it was strictly an insurance driven issue.  Doug and I were very happy being co-parents and domestic partners, and would probably still be today were it not for a move to Florida in 2002.  While San Francisco had offered us an option, Florida is not cut from the same cloth.  Anyone remember Anita Bryant?  We were told in no uncertain terms that as far as the State of Florida was concerned, a Domestic Partnership Agreement was how you and your roommate divided your chores, and might as well be used to paper your walls.  We felt having children made us more married than most, and well, we both knew how saying “I do” didn’t necessarily mean it lasted.  But there I was, six months pregnant with our daughter, Olivia, and feeling deeply opposed to seeing her birthday arrive uninsured, Doug and I decided to meet during lunch at the Justice of the Peace in Delray Beach.  To this day, nine years later, we still have trouble remembering our anniversary, and often stumble over the question of how many years we’ve been married.  To us, it’s from when we pledged our love and commitment by cohabitating and starting a family together.


But married we are, and with that came the specter of divorce.  Somehow when we were not married, we felt safer, buffered if you will, from the awful statistics of marriage dissolution. Doug’s parents divorced when he was 7 and it has always been complicated for him.  Somewhere deep inside he wishes it could have been avoided, remedied, although the circumstances brought a wonderful step-father into his life, so who can know.  With that in mind, we work, sometimes really hard, to keep our marriage healthy and together.  If something happens to rock our world, like death or job loss, we run to a counselor to hash out our feelings.  If we can stem the tides by good open communication beforehand, then we take that approach first.  I even found a website that sends me helpful emails on marriage fitness. I love the little nuggets of wisdom that Mort Fertel  sends me. I find them to be plain good sense, and truly helpful.  Honestly, we’d do anything to keep our marriage intact, but that’s what’s it’s really all about and always has been, both before and after the ceremony– commitment.  Anything worth having is worth working for.  Happy 9th or 13th Anniversary Sweetheart!


Reading: Good for Your Social Life and Good for Your Kids

Before having children I was an avid reader – and why not? I had lots of unstructured time with which to do what I pleased. When I was single in NYC, there were long subway rides, lazy Sunday mornings in bed, and quiet moments after dinner to while away in the pursuit of a good read. One marriage and four kids later, those days are a distant memory. In fact, we gave up our Sunday New York Times subscription last year because the guilt of not reading it outweighed the sadness of cancelling it. The stacks of New Yorkers around the house, most of which I merely scan, or worse, restack, are enough of a reminder of the time “we used to have” for reading.

I haven’t completely given up on staying abreast of current events, though. In place of the NYT we now subscribe to The Week magazine. This terrific compendium of newsworthy events from around the globe has become a family favorite. It arrives weekly with the most perfectly digestible amounts of information and opinion. Since we made this switch, the most wonderful thing has happened – our kids read it. They also read The New Yorker. It must have something to do with the magazine’s prominent placement in the main loo, but never mind that, they read it and discuss it with us, and that is grand.In fact, when it arrives we all scramble to see who can get a hold of it first. I must say, it’s a hoot to hear my 10 year old recount a strange fact he read that day in an adult conversational style at dinner – a vast improvement over the usual scatological drivel the group can stoop to.

The sad truth is, that when I finally get the four kids to bed, I’m often so zonked, that reading acts like a soporific and puts me right to sleep.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated, not to mention nervous, about the growing tower of books leaning over my head as I slept, many of them with bookmarks in just the first few chapters. I needed a push, and lo and behold, along came the answer: Book Club. This has been a reading lifesaver. Were it not for the incentive that the next meeting date provides, I might never finish a book! There’s something about knowing that if you don’t finish, then you really shouldn’t go to Book Club where you’ll eventually hear the ending of the book discussed. By not attending you would avoid that, but you would also miss out on the company of friends, good wine and yummy food. That’s just unacceptable in my book (ha!). I look so forward to my time with my friends, that to miss any is unthinkable. So, I try to read the book no matter what it takes. Sometimes I sit in the hostess’ driveway until I do. I’ve also seen fellow Book Club pals reading in a wingback in the corner while the social portion is underway, or one time at a school meeting beforehand. Many of us treat it like a requirement for participation (it’s not), and as a result of our determination, we are rewarded by lively discussions and great camaraderie.

Recently, one of my pals from our ‘Reading Between the Wines’ Book Club informed us of a study that was conducted by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development which states, “a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.”

My eldest

Well, that right there is motivation enough for me! If I can revel in friendship and accomplishment while also improving my child’s chances of scholastic success, then I am more than happy – I’m successful. Maureen wrote here at AMKB about pursuing passion, as did Carla. In my life now, my marriage, my kids, and my friends are my passions, and books are hot on their heels. Through a few adjustments to what I read and how I read, I have been able to keep up with current events and great novels, while deepening my friendships and benefiting my children. A win-win I’d say.

My Chinese fortune cookie the other night said, “The world is a beautiful book for those who read it.”  Yes, so true.

I’d love to hear your stories of book clubs and about any great books you’ve read.

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