Solving Problems


We are your lawmakers.

I watch a lot of news. As in, way too much news.

I was a political science major way back in the seventies. And I studied and taught history for a bunch of years. I am a huge fan of the United States of America, and of its founding principals.

So I am feeling pretty freaking frustrated at the inability of our elected officials to solve any problems.

ANY PROBLEMS.

Even the most obvious, most smack you in the face problem can’t seem to find an answer.

For example, let’s look at the suddenly-salient-once-again issue of abortion. So many of our elected “leaders” are suddenly determined to stop all abortions. They are so serious about stopping this medical procedure that they are threatening women with life imprisonment or death if they find themselves so desperate to abort that they go forward with the procedure in spite of the laws.

Those on the right scream about being “pro-life!” and pat themselves on the back for being the protectors of innocent children.

I get it. I was a patient at an infertility clinic for several years. I would have given anything to have had a baby. I understand the pro life position. I do.

But then those on the left scream about the attacks on women and on female power. They insist that they are protecting the rights of women to protect their own bodies, their living children, their family units.

I remember when I found myself shockingly and unexpectedly pregnant when my second child was only 6 month old. The child who was conceived using a boatload of high tech interventions.

I never thought about abortion, but I was badly shocked and thrown off to find myself pregnant, anemic, nursing and working full time.

The fact that I could have made choice to end that pregnancy, protecting myself and my other two kids, gave me a sense of peace.

I get it. I REALLY get it.

I chose to go on with my surprise pregnancy, but nature ended it for me only four weeks later. I grieved for a long time for that lost child, but I am eternally grateful that I had the freedom to choose whether or not to go on with the pregnancy.

I understand the desire to end our need for abortion. I understand our desire to keep our choices in place.

But here’s what pisses me off.

If we, as a society, TRULY wanted to limit the number of abortions in this country, we could do it tomorrow.

It isn’t that hard.

We just need to do more research into the best and safest forms of birth control. We need to be putting a whole boatload of money into finding a successful male contraceptive.

And when birth control is safe and effective, we should offer it out there to EVERYONE. It should be given out at high schools, at colleges, at workplaces. It should be free. Easy to use. Easily talked about.

There should be public kiosks where you could get yours.

Cuz, you know what? The whole idea of limiting unwanted pregnancies by limiting sex is so far beyond ignorant that it can only elicit a laugh.

ALL life is designed to procreate. Mammals do that through sex. We all want sex. A lot. Babies are a side product of our natural, God given, scientifically proven desire to mate.

If you want to stop the unwanted pregnancies, you don’t do it be shaming people about sex. (Weren’t these legislators ever teenagers? I mean….seriously!) If you want to stop pregnancy, you push for birth control.

Easy. Logical. Clear.

So why isn’t that the plan?

I don’t know.

Maybe because those who hold power benefit quite a bit when we “little people” are engaged in street fights about our bodies and our sex lives.

All I know is this: If those people being paid with our tax dollars really wanted to eliminate this problem, they could do it.

Right Now.

The Nature of Aging


I am now in my 6th decade of life. My hair is almost entirely silver. My jowls have arrived, and the wrinkles around my eyes will show you my general mood.

I’m a happy old wrinkly grandmother.

I know that I’m chubby, I know that I’m gray. I get it. I’ve earned these marks. They show that I have lived.

For the most part, I am happy to observe time moving along merrily. I know that nothing is permanent, and that time can’t be slowed, or stopped, or forced to run backwards.

My life is in its early Fall season, I’d guess. The beautiful pressures of summer are over. Now it’s time to settle in a bit, make some stock to hold us through the long winter, to think about which good books we’d like to keep us company as it snows.

I don’t think about time passing as much as you might think. I try, really, really hard to keep my focus on the moment in front of me.

But sometimes old Mother Nature reaches in to give me a poke.

This evening she did exactly that.

I was standing on my deck, in the back of the house where Paul and I have lived for 29 years. I was resting my chin on my hand, and gazing out into our woods. My eyes weren’t really focused. I was just sort of looking into the distance.

But then I saw the little golden leaves in front of me. Slowly unfurling into the warm sun. Little oak leaves.

I pulled my focus back and looked at the tree that was reaching out, offering me those tender leaves.

And there stood a strong, young, vibrant oak, bursting into life on the edge of our woods. It’s branches were leaning toward the deck. Toward me.

My head swam. Time went whooooshing past me, leaving me reeling with vertigo.

When we moved into this house (last year? last month? three decades ago?) there was a tall, strong white pine standing behind our deck, just on the edge of the woods. It had thick, lustrous branches and a tall, straight trunk. One branch leaned in so close to our deck that I was once able to coax a chickadee from it’s tip to my palm.

I loved that tree.

For years, I watched it age and wither and become brittle. A few years ago we knew that it was finished, and we had the guardian pine taken down.

The sun came shining down. Little saplings sprang up in the place where the old tree once stood.

And while I wasn’t looking, an oak sapling raced toward the skies. It opened it’s arms, reached for the sun, and grew.

Today I stood looking at the woods. One confident, cocky oak tree seemed to have taken center stage. I had a sense of it grinning at me as it passed me by.

I closed my eyes and saw the old white pine that used to be the star of our particular stage. I could imagine her spirit smiling at the exuberance of the teen aged oak.

I felt time racing by.

I am surely getting older. If I somehow forget that fact, I have no doubt that Mother Nature will remind me.

Life in the Woods


When my family moved out here, into the woods, we were pretty excited about connecting with nature. We had always lived in either a city or suburb.

Now here we were, moving out to the woods. Way out into the woods. When we first moved in, the local phone number was only 4 digits.

The roads were dirt. There were no streetlights or sidewalks.

Life was pretty….country. Yep. Pretty countryish.

Now that I’ve lived here for just shy of three decades, you’d think I would have come to terms with the rural nature.

Only I haven’t.

I mean, I am delighted when I see a few deer crossing the street. I love seeing the local foxes as they play in the fields. I love watching the hawks, and the ducks and the rare but exciting bald eagle as they fly over us.

But you know what?

I’m still a big woos when it comes to strange movements in the woods.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Last night, at right about 1 AM, we woke up because both of our super-domesticated-not-at-all-wild dogs were whimpering and whining. They wanted to go out.

It was my turn to get up, so I did.

I trudged into the dining room, cell phone light in hand, and opened the slider door. Both of my canine fools went hurtling out into the night, full on baying like bloodhounds.

They raced along the fence in our yard, big noses pointed into the woods.

I stood on the deck, thinking, “What? What’s out there?????”

Now the truth is that we live in central Massachusetts. The scariest thing in our forest is most likely a big fat raccoon.

Still, my tiny brain got all excited by the dogs’ reactions. Bears? Bobcat? Moose? I wasn’t sure, but my heart was definitely racing.

I went back to bed, thinking to myself, “Wow, we really do live out in the wilderness! It could be anything out there!”

I went to sleep thinking about how fabulous it is to live out in the wilderness.

Yay, me. Such a pioneer woman!

Then I woke up.

To the sound of the dogs, screaming and going insane over the sounds in the back woods. I went out onto the deck and peered into the woods.

Nothing.

After two cups of coffee, a shower and a perusal of the news, the dogs were still hysterically barking into the woods.

I went back onto the deck. “Woods,” I told myself. “Nice, clean woods. Yay.”

Two hours went by. I gave the kids breakfast, read a book, cleaned up the table and got out trains and tracks.

The dogs were still running from the front fence to the back deck to the sofa and back again. Baying and moaning and barking and yowling the whole time.

Oh, hoorah. Life in the godforsaken, stupid, crappy woods.

After another hour of this insanity, I realized that the neighbor dogs were barking, too.

“A bear?”, I thought to myself. “Maybe there’s a bear family on their way here.”

I got very excited. I perched on the deck, camera in hand. I waited. The dogs raced and barked and yowled.

I waited some more.

After a while, I saw a chipmunk break free from the stone wall around my flower bed. He ran into the woods.

The dogs acted like they’d uncovered a T Rex.

Seriously?

I moved out to the woods, to a place where you can’t get phone reception, where the closest grocery store is a half hour away, all because the dogs can’t resist a freakin’ CHIPMUNK?

Clearly, I was not cut out to be a country girl.

“Did you hear that? Did you smell that? What IS that????”

Do the Right Thing


Yup

So here’s my question: how do you really know what is the “right thing”? How can you be sure?

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where “the right thing” feels obvious to us. Help someone we love. Give to someone in need. Reach out to somebody who seems alone.

It seems so clear, doesn’t it?

But here’s the problem: we can never really know what other people are thinking. Even people we’ve known their entire lives. Even people we consider to be our closest, most trusted, most loved allies.

Even then, we can sometimes take an action that feels so clearly “good” to us, but which is met with anger, resentment and dismay.

What do we do then?

For me, having done something wrong out of a desire to do something right, I am at a complete loss. How do you apologize for what you felt, deeply and honestly, was a giving action? How do you get past the rage and resentment to explain what it was that you intended?

I don’t know.

What I do know, what I have come to believe, is that I have to trust my own intentions. I have to trust my knowledge about myself and about those around me.

Someone way smarter than me told me recently, “We can’t control how our messages are received. We can only control how they are sent.”

“Do the right thing.”

Sure. Sounds easy.

Only its actually the hardest thing there is.

Looking For Hope


I watch too much news. I read too much of it. I listen to it on and off all day. NPR, Sirius XM, CNN, Reuters, AP, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe.

I check Facebook and Twitter, too.

I. Need. To. Stop.

Sure, it’s good to stay informed and it’s important to know what is happening outside of these four walls.

But holy disaster movie, Batman, it is really terrifying out there!

There are black holes swallowing parts of the galaxy, giant meteors hurtling this way, hundreds of species facing imminent extinction right here on our own little blue planet.

And that’s only the beginning.

Democracy is crumbling around us. Our country is being run by a paranoid narcissist and his evil minions. War drums are beating around the world. Children are dying in their classrooms almost every day.

Measles are back. Superbugs are emerging. Scientists are predicting another flu pandemic.

Oh, and the planet is a decade away from becoming uninhabitable.

ONE DECADE.

I’ve taken a light tone in this piece, but the truth is far more serious. Like most people I know, I am walking around every single day with a vague sense of impending doom.

Sometimes I look at my beautiful grandchildren and my heart hurts. Will they have a future? What will life be like for their children?

I find myself in need of hope. I need reassurances that humans can truly rise above our worst instincts. I seek out proof that the human spirit is resilient and that good does outlast evil.

For me, hope and reassurance are often found in books. Lately, though, I’ve been struggling to find books that feel real and true. I don’t want a romanticized view of war, where all of the “good guys” are beautiful and loyal and kind, and all the “bad guys” are evil. I want some reality, but I want it to lift me up.

I found a book like that last week, completely by accident. I follow a blog called “The Cricket Pages“. It’s author, Rachel Mankowitz, has a book published on Amazon. It looked interesting, and I try to support other bloggers. So I bought “Yeshiva Girl.”

And I fell into a story that grabbed me by the heart. It’s one of those books that is written with a spare, elegant style that doesn’t waste a word. The main character, a girl named Izzy, is in pain throughout the book. The mood is somber and anxious, but she never gives in completely.

When the book ended, I was sad that there wasn’t more to read. I fell asleep thinking about Izzy, wondering what happened to her next. And I realized that whatever it was, I was sure that Izzy would be alright.

I felt stronger.

We need more books like Yeshiva Girl! Thank you, Rachel Mankewitz!

Say My Name, Say My Name


Oh, jeez, Nonni.

Get a freakin’ grip.

I remember a time when I was very young, one of six children clamoring around my Mom. I remember her barking at us all, “Stop yelling “Mom”! Stop, you’re making me crazy!!!! I’m gonna change my name and not tell you what the new one is!”

At the time, afraid that my Mom was about to disappear on us, my siblings and I cried and moaned and tried to guess her new name. It was pretty harrowing.

Of course, I now realize that the entire time as we were crying and guessing her new name, we were all yelling, “Mom? Momma? Mommy! Ma! Mom! MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!”

Still, I thought she was being just a tiny bit heartless.

Hahahahahahahaha!

Silly me.

While I have no clear recollection of feeling the same way about my own children, I now fully understand my Mother’s frustration at hearing her name called out roughly 987,675 times a day.

And this is where the whole grandparent thing gets weird.

I will never ever ever forget the first time that my sweet Ellie looked up at me with those melting brown eyes and said, “Na. Na ee.” My heart rate jumped right up to about 300 and I almost stopped breathing. “She said ‘Nonni!!!’ She said it! She said ‘Nonni”!!!”

Thrilled is way way way way way too weak a word for the joy that coursed through my bloodstream! Huzzah!!! She KNEW me! She recognized the key and unforgettable role that I was playing in her life! We were bonded forever, me and my girl! Oh happy, happy day!!!!!

You get the picture.

And it has only been the past month or so that little Johnny has started to use my name. He, for reasons that nobody can explain, talks like a little old Italian man. Like more than one of my old uncles, in fact. When he wants a snack, he asks for “cheese-a”. To answer the question “Who wants a snack?” he answers “Me-a!”

So of course, he calls me Nonna. With the long ‘nnn’ that marks a good Italian accent.

‘Nonna’

Si, that’s me! La Nonna!

Picture the same heart stopping joy and delusional beliefs of eternal love that I felt when Ellie first called out to me.

Yup.

Happy, happy old Nonni/Nonna. Happy and joyful me-a!

Sure. For the first nine million times.

The problem is this: Ellie has learned to use the phrase, “But, Nonni….” to open every single comment. If she is asking me a question, it’s “But, Nonni, what part of our body helps us to chew?” If she needs something, she says, “But, Nonni, can I have milk?” To tell me about her weekend, “But, Nonni, we had so much fun with Grammy and Grampy.”

But, Nonni…..

“But, Nonni……?” Over and over and over again. All day. Every day. ALL WEEK.

Even if I’m looking right at her, and we are the only two humans awake in the room. Even if I just said to her, “Honey, maybe we can do some art.” Even then, her first words are, “But, Nonni……….”

There are moments when I am sure that my head will explode.

Then sweet little Johnny, our man of few words, reaches out his arms to me. “Nonna?” He’ll ask, “Up? Arms?”

“Nonna!!

And I melt again.

Mom, I’m sorry for making you pretend that your name was Rumplestiltskin. I had no idea.

Love,

A Grandmother to be named later

What Will I Leave Them?


Like most young people, my kids have no interest in taking any of my hand-me-downs.

In the first place, all three of them are the minimalist type. Why own more than you need, they ask? Why fill up our space with things we’ll hardly use?

They don’t want the old dishes, the curtains that went out of style in 1978, the beat up tools or the heirloom, dusty books.

No thanks, they say. We appreciate the offer, but nope.

And the good Lord knows that we don’t have any real valuables to leave them. I was never one for expensive jewelry, so there are no diamonds or gold to pass on. There are no antique desks to leave, not that anyone would want them.

So what will I leave to my kids when I take that trip over the old river and into the woods?

The only thing I truly want one of them to have is my old hammered aluminum sauce pan.

It’s a beauty, right?

My Mom got this pan, I believe, back in 1950. I think it was a wedding gift. She used it for most of my childhood to make big pots of soup, or sometimes a stew.

Mostly though, it was used to make the sauce.

You brown the meatballs in the bottom of the big heavy pan, then take them out while you add the tomatoes, the spices, the garlic and onion and bay leaves. You add a splash or three of red wine. Put the meat back in and let the whole thing simmer for hours.

My mother taught me how to do it just like she did. I learned that the right way to taste it is to dip in a piece of Italian bread and eat it with the sauce. I learned that if it wasn’t sweet enough, you put in more basil and more wine.

Sunday dinners were most often those meatballs, sometimes some sausage, and that thick, rich, comforting sauce ladled over pasta.

At some point in my life, the heat proof handle of the pot broke off, and my Dad replaced it with a temporary one. It was always hard not to get a burn when lifting the lid after that.

When my parents had been married for decades, and finances were beginning to ease, my Mother bought herself a set of beautiful new cookware. Revere ware, I think it was. The new sauce pans were smooth, and shiny and heat proof and excellent.

The old hammered aluminum went into the basement.

And there is tayed until I got married in 1978. I asked my Mom if I could have it, as Paul and I were just starting out in life, and were mostly using hand-me-down items.

She happily agreed.

And so the tradition continued. I made the meatballs and browned the sausages in that same old pan, broken cover and all. I simmered the sauce and ladled it over the pasta for my three kids, and for their friends and ours.

Over my own decades of marriage, I’ve also invested in some good cookware. I even have a beautiful cast iron dutch oven that is theoretically perfect for making sauce.

But you know what?

It just doesn’t taste the same when I make it in any other pan than the old hammered aluminum, with it’s age darkened bottom and outdated wire handle.

Today I cooked for my sons, who are coming tomorrow to help us with some heavy lifting as we clean out the garage and basement. It’s time to let a lot of old items go. Old furniture, old tools, old bedding. Out it will go with the help of youthful muscles.

And then we’ll all come inside and eat big plates of pasta, with meatballs and sauce that I made in the old hammered aluminum pan.



When I go, as go I must one of these fine days, I just want one of my three kids to take home the old pan. I want them to make the meatballs and sauce just the way I taught them, using the recipe that I got from my Mom, and that she got from hers.

I hope that they sit at the table together, dipping good bread into their sauce, and remembering mealtimes at my table.

That seems like a pretty good legacy to me.

The BAD PLASTIC Awards


Ok, fine. I am not really one of those “awards show” people. I mean, I haven’t ever seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture. I don’t know most of the Emmy nominees.

And as for the Grammys? Puh. Leeze. I am far too cool and hip and groovy to follow those pop stars.

But I suddenly find myself with the overwhelming desire to create a new category of award winners.

Because I spend WAY too much of my life ordering stuff online, and because I am also a dedicated environmentalist, I find myself enraged at plastic.

Plastic…plastic….plastic wrapped plastic…..

Really.

I go to my local grocery store once a week with my canvas bags. I put my veggies in mesh bags instead of plastic. I carefully choose milk and juice in cardboard cartons, detergents in biodegradable packages, and snacks in cardboard.

I use compostable trash bags, bamboo sandwich bags and metal water bottles that I fill myself.

I am a good doobie. I love this earth! I don’t want to kill her or her gorgeous oceans!

I am VERY careful about plastic.

Until I order on Amazon.

Then I lose my teeny tiny little mind. Because no matter what I buy, it comes in plastic.

No. Matter. What. It. Is.

For example, I was shopping for my grandchildren just before Easter. I saw cute little plastic eggs filled with pastel playdough. I decided to order them in spite of the plastic, thinking that I’d be able to reuse the eggs for years.

Then they arrived.

Four cute little plastic eggs. Each one wrapped in five or six layers of plastic shrink wrap, then carefully vacuum sealed within a hard plastic case.

Seriously?

It was FREAKIN’ PLAYDOUGH! It wasn’t going to rot. Or mold. Or degrade. The four ounces of pink and blue goop came enclosed in THREE layers of plastic.

Three layers of plastic that will remain intact for about 10 bazillion years.

Holy stupidity, humans.

So.

Here I am. I am proposing a group endeavor. I’d like everyone who is reading this to nominate some company or item for our “BAD PLASTICS” Award.

I nominate the Playdough Easter eggs, but I could just as easily have brought up the plastic measuring spoons that came wrapped in plastic, the potting soil (aka, “dirt’) that came wrapped in plastic, or the eco friendly bamboo toilet paper that came wrapped in (you guessed it) plastic.

What have you got, fellow environmentalists? Let’s start our own “Awards Show”.

Pulling Back the Veil


Grampa with my youngest on his first birthday.


Sometimes I think I’m a tiny bit psychic. I might suddenly think about one of my kids and have that child text me right then. I sometimes know what song is coming next. I’ve had dreams about things that actually happened while I was sleeping.

I’ve had a few experiences where someone who had recently died came to me in a vivid dream to say “Please pass on a message to my family. I’m fine and I don’t want them to be upset!”

Still. I am no true psychic.

I just wish that I was!

I wish that I could understand messages from those who have passed on into the next reality.

Because sometimes I can feel my Dad.

Sometimes, like right now, I KNOW that he’s here. I feel his warmth, I hear his breath. He’s talking, but I can’t understand him.

There is veil between our worlds. It’s so thin that it seems beyond ridiculous that I can’t just pull it aside and ask, “What’s up, Dad? What are you telling me?”

He comes when I’m sad. When I’m confused. He comes at times when I question my own self worth, and second guess every single thing I’ve done or said in the past.

He comes then. And sometimes I am able to see him shaking his head, and smiling just a little. I see his brown eyes and the shape of his cheek. I see/feel/remember the smell of him as he held me to his chest. Old Spice, warm sweat, Dad. And I KNOW that he’s here. Sometimes I can make out the general shape of his thoughts, “I love you. I miss you. I see you with those kids. I’m proud of you.”

Sometimes I know that I’m just making it up, that I hear what I want to hear.

But.

Right this very minute, as I sit in my glider in my living room, looking out at the cool grey afternoon, I feel him so insistently beside me. He wants to me know something, to understand or to do something, but I can’t hear him. I can’t see him through that veil of smoke that drifts between us.

I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep myself open and try to hear what it is that he is telling me. I feel his love, and his support. I feel his gentle humor. Whatever it is that Dad is telling me right now, it is something that will comfort me. Of that I am sure.

I just need to be a better interpreter of the next world. I need to learn how to pull that curtain aside, if only for a minute.

The Man is a Freakin’ Saint


So. Some of you read my post about having my sleep study. Some of you even asked me to update you on the results.

Welp.

You know what they say, right?

Denial is more than a river in Egypt.

They were right.

I have been denying the obvious for a lot of years now. I mean, I’ve told you, I could NOT get my mind around the idea that I might be suffering from a sleep disorder that I associated with overweight men. Honestly, I was too embarrassed to even entertain the thought that I might be snoring, snorting, gasping, stopping my breathing and endangering my life every time I went to bed.

Yeesh.

I am the daughter of a woman who is pretty much totally healthy at 89. Her Mom died at 99 and a precious half, but only because her parts wore out. She was healthy as a horse until she died.

So.

I did NOT want to be sick. In any way.

Then I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I tried to ignore that one for a while, too. Until I couldn’t. Then I decided to accept the medication, but not the limitations.

I mean, here’s the truth that I know about me. I am not stoic. I am not strong and brave. I do not shake off pain.

In fact, if I must be honest, I am a wicked big baby. I gripe, I moan, I complain.

I have always assumed that when/if I get a terrible diagnosis, I will be the worst patient ever. I don’t see myself as having the grace that my Dad had as he navigated the last few weeks of his life.

But here I am. Not exactly going into that “dark night”. But sort of forced to accept some facts.

One: I have fibromyalgia. I can’t rake the entire garden in one day and expect to walk the next.

Two: I have wicked wicked bad sleep apnea. Holy crap. I read and reread my sleep study report.

I am in deep trouble.

I seem to stop breathing more than 80 times per hour. My blood pressure and my pulse rate jump around like crazy all night long.

According to my sleep study report, I have “SEVERE sleep disordered breathing.” Yikes.

It also says that I snore (are you ready for this????) 42% of the night.

And that (ahem) 35% of the night my snoring is “extremely loud.”

So.

My husband is a freakin’ saint. He still sleeps with me. And he says, “Once I fall asleep, I don’t hear a thing.”

I suspect that he’s lying, because he knows that I feel completely faked out about this whole thing.

So.

I am now awaiting the home delivery of my CPap machine. I hate the whole idea of sleeping with a mask on my face.

But I do like the idea of living for a while longer. And I really love the idea of letting my poor husband get some decent sleep for a change.

So.

Better living through modern medicine. I am more than willing to embrace this new part of my life.

Who knows?

Maybe I’ll be shocked at how good I feel after sleeping with a plastic mask over my face…..