The Ghosts of Everything Past

The 2018 holiday season has concluded. If you are reading this, I can only assume you survived.  There are 14 (at least) religious holidays alone in the month of December. I celebrate Christmas and can assure you that is plenty.  I have been pondering why holidays are so very stressful and furthermore why we continue to gather when it seems it drives many to the brink of insanity.  My holiday season this year was actually not stressful which gave me some good time to think on it instead of hiding in the bathroom in the fetal position (that was so 2004 me).  But-Why do we do even do this to ourselves?  What is causing all this strain?  So much drama.  There is the obvious.  The excess.  Too much food.  Too much family.  Too much on the schedule.  Too much running around.  Too much alcohol.  Too much money spent.  Too much expectation. Too many personalities. Too large a gap between hopes and reality.  Too much of everything.

I had a mostly idyllic childhood filled with fun holidays.  I know.  Nauseating right?  We had family over.  We had good food.  We had our traditions. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s.  Predictable characters and patterns.  We opened gifts in order of age and on Christmas Eve.  I received Love’s Baby Soft many years in a row.  I ate rolls and cookies for dinner.  We had weird cousins.  My brother wisely remarked one year that we are their weird cousins because if you don’t think you have any in your family…you are the weird cousins.  It’s okay.  Even weird cousins are loved by loved ones and children of God and all that.  And I wasn’t even aware of families who lamented holidays until college.  I was living in a blissful holiday bubble. Also-can we go back to the 70’s?  Bold fashion choices.  BOLD.

thumbnail (2)

And as I aged and met more and more people, and got married and started to try to meld family traditions and meet all the expectations, I became aware. Acutely aware.  (Commence hiding in the bathroom)

Holidays are not cause for celebration for everyone.

Some are trying to heal from past disappointment.  Some are trying to carry on traditions that are plain unreasonable.  Some are nice quiet people who do not like chaos.  Some people have very difficult names on their guest list.   Some months are tough enough without adding a dinner that includes fatty foods and arguing. Some families are nuts.

A generation (or two) ago families got together and got together often.  Many extended families lived near one another.  (My grandmother lived in Prospect Park in Minneapolis and they had Sunday dinner together.  The entire extended family.  Every Sunday.)  Which is to say that a big holiday like Christmas was just one more on the list of many occasions throughout the year spent with extended family.

But now?

It might be the only time of the year to gather.  People fly all over the country and all over the world to “go home”  for Christmas.  It’s the one time to see the cousins.  It’s the one chance for so and so and such and such to interact.  It’s when we take many more photos because we are all finally in the same space.  Or possibly you are an “every other year” family.  So basically, we have elevated the holiday to either SUPERBOWL or WINTER OLYMPIC frequency and expectation.  And with infrequency comes the pressure to make it the end all be all most special most everything day of the year.  Good grief.  Who wants to try to participate in let alone execute that?

And then layered on top of the heightened sense of expectation can be a thin layer of pain.  Probably for everyone.  This I feel.  I think the common denominator is memory.  The holiday season brings up so many memories of every ilk.  Good holiday memories make me nostalgic and wistful.  Bad holiday memories make me sad and regretful.  Maybe we miss a tradition that got swept away with time.  Maybe we always wanted to start a new tradition but couldn’t.  Maybe we are missing someone around our table.  Maybe we always intend to make Swedish Kringle but couldn’t fit it in this year. (damn) Maybe the joy is missing this year. And ALL of that plus a tired crowd and Uncle Crazy Town starts a political conversation with Grandma.  And….KA-BOOM!

My brother bought me a gift this Christmas.  We are not supposed to exchange per new family rules. But not listening or following any Christmas giving rules might be our most long cherished family tradition.

IMG_6980

 

The acquisition of this set comes with a great story unto itself.  (he tells it better but I’ll summarize) Tracking one down.  40 phone calls to antique stores.  Research.  An hour drive north to pick it up.  Realizing it was not as advertised.  Colorful language.  But this is the set he gave me and I absolutely cherish it.  It’s at least 55 years old.  And while I am hardly passionate about all things vintage…this I adore.  Because it brings it all back in all the best ways.  My dad.  My mom.  Our family together.  Being young and waiting for Santa.  Being in college and still waiting for Santa.  Did you know Santa still fills your stocking in college?  He does because SHE is awesome and magical.  The Tom and Jerry’s.  (If you haven’t had one, you really must.  The rich batter.  The rum and brandy.  The fresh nutmeg.  It truly is a taste sensation.  I recommend one.  I do NOT recommend 3.)  The joy.  The loss.

So I’m thankful for all the shitty holidays.  All the times it just didn’t come together.  The year we were at the Minute Clinic on Christmas Eve.  The year my son gave himself a black eye 10 minutes before family arrived.  Occasionally when a family member lost their minds and said something ridiculous.  When someone forgot the orange juice or didn’t show up or showed up with extra people or when we were all trapped inside in -20 degree weather.  Because it made me appreciate this year.  It was a good one. I was reminded of so many people I have loved and do love and so many shared experiences and traditions.  I appreciate that each year is steeped in tradition and yet a tiny bit different.  And moving away from the pressure of the perfect experience and toward the gratitude helps me enjoy it.  And enjoy I did.

Cheers to 2019.  May we all focus on the micro moments of joy.  Because not every year is great or becomes a favorite…but every year has moments of greatness and creates favorite memories to be cherished down the road.

 

*Note: LOOK at Santa in 1978 and 1979.  They hired him AGAIN!??? He does not smell like Santa.  He smells like beef and cheese.  For sure.

 

 

Um Yah Yah

Um Yah Yah.  That is the chorus to my college fight song.  I’d sing it for you but I can’t embed video in the blog post.  Pity.  It’s quite a song and we even throw shade at the other (more prestigious) college in the same town.

It’s been 25 years since I graduated from college. 25 y e a r s.  The college days were a tough four years for me.  I believed at the time that the other 3,000 people on campus were probably having a WAY BETTER AND EASIER time than I was.  Youthful narcissism is so ugly.  A multitude of factors contributed to that rough patch and the final year was a slow low visibility on-ramp to a full-blown clinical depression following graduation but I didn’t know that then.  (A story or novella for another day)

I was relieved to put that chapter behind me and I made it clear I would not return for any reunions.  Ever. Never. And then 25 years passed and a few thousand things happened.  And somehow I end up on the reunion planning committee because a few classmates who I always enjoyed asked so nicely.   People I went to college with always ask nicely.  They are a real civil group.  I love that.  When we met in a larger group in the winter, someone asked me why now?  What changed?  And I told them…it was me.  I changed.  Age is a great equalizer and by now..well…we have all been through one shit storm or another.  Or several.  Or we are in the middle of one now.  Can’t make it to this age unscathed. I was ready to go back because I was finally fully grateful.

And I truly had a magical weekend save for one injury.  More on that later.

We had Friday flowers.  Back in 1993, you could buy flowers and give them to a friend or romantic interest.  This time around we all got them.  That was fun.

IMG_0712 2

I overcame my deep dislike/fear?  of public speaking for a full two minutes.  But I was among friends so that was fun.

 

IMG_0752 2

We tried their new award-winning food.  A far cry from 1993 when I saw a white van in front of the student center one time that read “Grade D meat for schools and prisons.” (true story) And they still had Lucky Charms which were an entire food group for me in college so that was fun.

IMG_0722 7.jpg

And we walked around campus and visited all of our old dorms.  That was fun.

img_0727-14.jpg

And saw some new improvements. That was fun.

And there were people singing everywhere.  You know how former athletes can start a pick up game of basketball at a moments notice?  Here it is singing.  Only at my alma mater can 12 people decide to riff on Beautiful Savior and do it well.  (Not me.  I just admire quietly so I don’t ruin it.) And there was laughter.  And there were a few tears.  I got to apologize to an old friend.  And I think he forgave me.  And there was very little, “What do you do?” talk and so much more “How have you been?” talk.  While I have no designs on my children going to the college I went to-I hope they go somewhere where they feel this way…even 25 years later, that a great education is never wasted.  And the true value of the experience is in the people.  Damn good people.

And there was simple joy in reliving all of the good old days in all the familiar ways.  Staying up until 2:30 am,  having conversations while showering, having besties help you make cute shoe selections, laughing with friends, telling the stories, eating pizza and sub sandwiches in the familiar haunts and not worrying about the aftermath of any of it.  But as they say, all good things must come to an end.  So I drove home with a friend and we reminisced more and at some point we both realized how tired we were because we kept repeating ourselves. Which brings me to my injury.

I grabbed my bags out of my car.  When my daughter saw me she told me I looked like “The Day After.”  Honestly, she was being kind.  I felt a fatigue so deep I couldn’t even come up with a witty retort.

I marched straight upstairs, dropped my things all over the bedroom floor, clothes and charging cords falling out of bags and crawled into the refuge of my own bed and snored for two hours.

Some 5 hours later I found I was going to bed…again.  I’m 46 and I felt all the years.  It is important to mention here that I never get up in the middle of the night.  Ever.  Not from insomnia.  Not to go to the bathroom.  Not if there is a thunderstorm.  I never wake up.  In fact, when my children were small I felt quite resentful having to see their tiny sweet faces at 3am.  But I was awakened by an insatiable thirst.  Likely due to a steady diet of pizza and popcorn and wine and hoagie’s and chips and freaking Lucky Charms.  On my way to get water I slipped cartoon style on the plastic coated bag from my college bookstore and landed with a loud thud on top of…wait for it…my upturned wedge heels.  I FELL trying to get a glass of water.  Like an elderly woman.  I gave myself a post-reunion hydration injury.

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD

DO NOT LOOK if you are squeamish about bruises, middle-aged thighs or if you have 20-year-old thighs and want to enjoy your denial that they will never be 46-year-old thighs OR if you think viewing my injury will irreparably damage our relationship forever.

Consider yourself warned.

Why get a tattoo to commemorate the weekend when you can walk away with a contusion?

So, in the words of writer Tom Robbins, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” You can go back.  You can recreate the magic.   You can tell all the stories.   You can celebrate the good old days with all of the old and some new favorite people.  But for the love of God, show some restraint with the sodium.

 

Sodium is a young person’s game.

 

 

Table for one: Join the club

I’ve been thinking about loneliness lately.   I am not lonely.  Or alone.  Nearly ever. The last time I can remember feeling lonely was in college. It was junior year. 1992.  Folks, that is a long time ago.  And the ironic thing is that I was not alone.  I was surrounded by people.  People who I loved.  People who loved me.  Living with my sweet,  gentle, long-suffering roommate/best friend.  I think I felt misunderstood. I was likely depressed. I felt isolated from others. Left behind. And quite full of self-pity.  It passed. Tip: If feeling lonely at 20 years old AND assigned to read The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day AND then choose to fill other hours watching Oprah (often about weight loss or family estrangement) -You will feel worse.

Being alone has never been a negative for me.   I know that some people hate it.  I relish eating lunch alone.  Coffee out somewhere by myself.  Lunch alone. I see movies alone.  That is certain bliss.  I can choose the movie, the time, eat my popcorn without passing it, think my own thoughts and nobody interrupts to talk to me.  (I know I’m so selfish)  I enjoy a long drive alone.  I enjoy a few quiet hours in the house when the dog is at the groomers.  I think this means that although I fall squarely in the middle of the extraversion/introversion scale…I need introverted time.  But also…I’m very spoiled because I have options if I want people.  I have the people. They are everywhere underfoot.  My people are very loud people.

We volunteer as a family at a housing complex a few miles from our house.  We do odd jobs like cleaning windows and moving furniture, flipping mattresses, hanging art and boxing up holiday decorations for residents.  And then we also make and serve them lunch.  This is my favorite part.  That crew loves a good lunch.  I love to try to serve a good lunch.  I am always struck, every single time, how lonely people seem.  They are desperate for connection with others, with us.  They are excited to see us and see our children.  They just want to watch and talk to my children.  What classes are they taking? Do they LOVE school?  (they are begging my children to lie to them)  Do they like to fish? Do they play football?  They love our stories about pedestrian things.  They ask where we bought our spinach leaves and where I got the recipe for the egg bake.  They want to know if I know that HyVee will cut whole fruit for only a $1. I did not!  Many of the residents are elderly.  Most live alone.  Some are good at joining in.  Some are not as comfortable doing so.  There is a cool table.  I kid you not.  There is a cool table at the senior housing complex.

But when we leave, and this may all be in my head, I feel a lift in the mood.  The energy is good.  They have had a meal together.  Literally broken bread together-some of it gluten free.  They have had camaraderie.  A laugh. If someone is under the weather, someone brings up a plate.  They discuss the new changes at the building, the weather, politics.  They have heard a new story from outside the four walls of their apartment and shared a story of their own. (below a 2015 photo of dessert service)

IMG_3468

We all end up there, if we are lucky.  Living more on our own and with more strangers than family. Such is the cycle of life.  Some people seem better cut out for it than others.

I wonder how much craving a sense of belonging contributes to the strife in our crazy world.  Humans so desperate to belong that they will belong to the wrong things.  Young kids who don’t stand up for a classmate who is bullied.  Teenaged girls who get drawn into a rumor mill out of fear they too will be cast out of the group. All the hurt and vitriol when the student athlete doesn’t make the top team.  Neighbors who don’t include “that family” at the BBQ.  An employee who goes against personal ethics because coworkers expect them to protect the company.  Groups united by hate against something/anything/anyone because being united in rage is more important than being civil, moral, compassionate.  Is membership more of a survival skill than empathy?  It was MLK day two days ago.  I think he might openly weep at how few strides we have made.  If I read too many news stories, I think we are sliding backward if not standing still as a society.

Last week I dropped off my middle schooler at school in the morning.  There were groupings of kids standing around outside.  Girls with matching hair and matching backpacks and matching everything.  Boys playing basketball.  Kids at the curb on their phones.  My son had his backpack, his ski bag, his skis, and 3 other things in his hand.  He awkwardly hauled it out of the car, banging his bag on the side of my car.  A lot of the kids were watching as he got out of the car and I was thinking how lonely middle school can be.  I imagine there were lonely kids on that curb standing in a group but not invited to a birthday party.  Left out of the group text. Not included at the lunch table.  If loneliness was ever a mental construct , surely that age group has nearly perfected it.  Lonely plus narcissistic is a deadly combo.  As he shut the car door and juggled all of his things I heard someone yell, “JACK!”  Then another, “Jack!  with a wave.  He smiled.  And it made me smile.  And I held back any tears since Jack really needs me to ‘calm down’ these days.  Someone was happy to see him.  Someone called out.

Is that all it takes to not feel alone?

We need to have someone call out our name.

We need to call out to one another with a wave.

We look like a normal family. Kind of.

Long before Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat and all other filtered projections of our most perfect and curated selves there was the annual holiday letter.  Letters full of updates and accolades, achievements and vacations and job promotions.  Somewhere along the way this morphed into photo cards.  I LOVE holiday cards.  LOVE.  Love sending, love receiving.  I like seeing the families morph.  I like seeing the clever frames and banners and card styles and shapes and colors.  Shoutout to anyone who pays extra for scalloped edges.  They.look.amazing.  And I really, really like the weird ones we get and we get them almost every single year. Weird cards RULE.

One year I got a Christmas letter from a family member.  I am related to this person. The entire letter was about the deep and somber symbolism of the candy cane.  It was long and detailed.  According to this letter, the white of the candy cane represents the purity of Christ and the red represents the blood of lamb who was slain. (Insert surprised and barf emoji here) Uh…what?  Needless to say, I needed a very long break from candy canes and those relatives.

I had a friend who was divorced and got remarried.  A wedding photo was their holiday card.  But her name was the same.  I didn’t get it.  Did she keep her name?  Did he take her name?  I ended up having to place a phone call.  She married someone with the same last name the second time.  What are the odds? Note: Super convenient if you already have Pottery Barn monogrammed towels.

One year we got one from a colleague that worked with my husband.  It was a photo of a man and a woman on a horse.  They were on a beach.  It was signed: (I’m using aliases for their own protection) Tom, Linda and Gwen.  There were only two people in the photo.  Was it Tom and Linda?  Was it Tom and Gwen?  Why two female names?  Do they have a daughter not pictured?  Is the horse named Gwen?  Did they name their horse?  Is Linda more of a horse name? Why do you have a horse featured in your holiday card?  It remains a mystery.

I have a friend who has referred to the annual holiday card family photo shoot as “The Worst Day of The Year”.  He is a boisterous happy-go-lucky type so if it can take him out, it is certainly capable of making any of us crazy.

For years I have obsessed with the holiday photo card.  It’s a sickness.  Mainly because it is a complex multi-step process during a busy time of year and I am in charge of all the steps because I am the only one who cares WAAAAAAY too much about the result. The setting, the outfits, screaming at the people to get ready, hiring the photographer, the scheduling, the editing, the ordering, the addressing, the culling of the addresses from 23 places, the mailing, et cetera et cetera.  I do it to myself because I do like having a family photo from each year but in retrospect-none of them are what they appear and some years, I may have sent the wrong one.

I was going to send this in 2003.  I thought it would be funny because this year it felt like we were perpetually desperate for sleep and the kids were perpetually awake that year.  But I thought I looked like hell and I didn’t like the drool all over the baby onesie. My husband feels he has “fat face” in this picture.  Should have sent it.  I still think it’s funny.  Look at that tough guy look with the power fist on a 2 month old.

holiday photos 011

DSC00228

I always loved this picture but I didn’t use it for the card because the wind got into her hair and the baby pant leg crept up over his chunky leg and his diaper was way past slightly wet.  Now I think…Ahhhhh… we look young.  Babies having babies in that photo.

IMG_0649

Couldn’t use this for the card because I thought we looked “too sweaty”. And again the boy wasn’t looking directly at the camera.  It looks like us.  We were chasing young children while sweating.  …And we were just a simple family of four…

img_7941

This year I yelled at my son because he was eating pretzels in the car making his shirt a mess.  What kind of lunatic dresses kids this age in white?  Later in the day he slipped on a rock and stepped INTO a pool of water filling his shoe. (Mud on right pant leg) I thought it was complicated getting them both to pose and stay clean until…

FORTNER FALL PHOTO SHOOT 2008 060

Now…I did use one from this group of photos…but not this one because the boy is AGAIN not looking at the camera and the baby looks squished and I look so tired which I was because of well…all of them in the photo.  I literally have zero recollection of these photos being taken.  The whole day is lost. Oh hell…the following year is missing from my hard drive. I guess thank God I have the photo.  That’s a nine mile stare and a cry for help expression on my face.

enhance-3

I didn’t use this one because I didn’t like the way two of them had on shoes and one didn’t.  And my daughter had a weird spot on the knee of her jeans.  What on earth??? Who cares?  Now I can’t pick up any of them like that.  They can nearly pick me up!

enhance-8

I should have sent this one that year.  There was a lot of me begging and pleading for everything to JUST SMILE NORMAL.  All we did was wait for the baby to join us that day and that entire year.  He was not having it.  And I’m smiling but I was seriously irritated.  Hurry up kid.  We have a photo shoot with a paid photographer right.NOW.

enhance-10

I was mad.  At that face???  HOW?  How was that even possible?

img_7940

So I used this one.  This is my favorite holiday card that I have ever sent.  EVER. More than five people asked me if I photoshopped it.  Uh…No.  I had to physically wrestle/bribe/beg him to get him to just wear that shirt. He insisted he put it over the shirt he was already wearing.  I had used up all my energy trying to just get people dressed. Not photoshopped.  But…from the same day the one below…

enhance-7

THIS captures more about the family dynamic. The domination of a large personality packed into a tiny person.

Minted

This is very close to the one I did use.  More than one person asked me where we got the “cute vintage car with the tree” for the photo.  In the driveway.  Our driveway.  That was just my husband’s car.  He didn’t know he was being vintage cute.  Also…that’s our tree that we cut down that day.  Do people borrow cars and trees for their holiday card?

PC_5X7_FLAT_FRONT

Ok. I used this one.  I wanted a real snowball fight photo so we had a real snowball fight.  However, I specifically and LOUDLY told them to not aim for faces or someone would cry and then we wouldn’t have any photos.  As you can see, they listened so well.  You can also see that my daughter was struck in the back of the head as well.  We went home tired, wet and cold.  But it did make for a good photo.  Also, I spent an hour on the phone with the printer so they would move the text box. Because I’m crazy.

IMG_0804

I didn’t use this one because our legs looked weird to me and the wild man’s shirt wasn’t showing and it said, “Silent Nights are Boring”.  I like this photo though…because 30 seconds after it was taken…we broke the hammock completely and all fell screaming onto the ground. Max weight limit on that hammock < Our family.

Note: The photo I did use had full frontal dog nudity.  There was a dog penis in our holiday card that year.  For.real.

P1010133

Last year.  I sent a collage of imperfect shots because I.was.tired.  I did not include the ones where 2/3 of the kids turned and bent over to feature their butts.  Because we are classy.

This year…a panicked text message to a dear friend that it was snowing.  Big flakes in November.  We throw clothes on and race to the docks.  She takes this photo on my phone.

img_7508

I wanted it in height order because I am moving down the line and the kids are moving up.  Now…I look taller than my daughter but her knees are bent and my hair stands up.  Everyone looking the correct direction.  Even the puppy.  Good work. We look like a normal family.

img_7511

Here we are 5 minutes later.  Older brother throws younger brother’s frisbee into the water.  Cue innocent sister laughing.  Cue mom and dad screaming at kid to go retrieve frisbee.  Yeah…we know it’s cold.  Next time, don’t be an idiot and throw something in the  lake.

So…Long after I’m gone and only the photos remain…I hope my children realize, our real lives, family life-the very best of it was all in the outtakes.

You can’t take it with you-But it appears I’m going to try

Have you ever read the book by Tim O’Brien ,”The Things They Carried”, about the Vietnam war?  Great book.  Completely unrelated to this blog post.  But for some reason whenever I am amidst the piles and piles and PILES of things to sort through and I feel overwhelmed, I think I should write an autobiography called “The Things She Saved”.

I’m a saver.  Keeper of memories.  Storer of crap.  Collector of random objects important to people who are no longer on earth.  Holder of things other people intend to claim. I’m not going to make it onto the Hoarders show but I can and do save things for an unreasonable amount of time (forever) and (considering the dire storage situation in our house) an unreasonable amount of things.

IMG_3619

I am drawn to magazines like this.  I love them.  I like books and blogs and articles and Instagram feeds and all sorts of information on organizing.  But I am not organized.  People seem to think that I am.  I don’t know what gives them that impression.  I have been “getting organized” for decades and have finally come to grips with…if you are getting organized you can still find your own stuff and somewhat function.  If you actually ARE organized-someone can find it when you die.  Sorry kids.  I will never get there.  (side note: Just read a long article about Swedish death cleaning…riveting. Too bad I’m mostly Danish)  And for all my reading about decluttering…

IMG_3620

Yep.  So embarrassing.  I took the photo and then recycled it.  Promise.

I have boxes and bins and baskets full of crap.  And I always mean to let go of it but then I start to look through it and then I fall in love with keeping it all over again.  But I am getting better.  Truly.  I got rid of 50 books last year.  Nobody even noticed which gives you a window into the scope of my problem.  But I’m always looking for a system.  A “once and for all solution”.

thumbnail-3 copy

Have you seen/read that little gem?  It’s depressing and shaming and impossible.  I hope she has triplets some day.  Call me Marie after the triplets.  I can’t wait to see how and where you will neatly stack the sippy cups and diapers and toys and then later the sporting goods and school paper avalanche and electronics and cords.  My GOD the cords. You won’t be emptying out your purse each night.  Your sunglasses won’t be honored and ‘getting their rest’.  You will be clinging to your sanity by a thread.  You will eat questionable food from the bottom of your Birkin bag which will be right there in a crumpled Ziploc next to your bent sunglasses.  I tried her little system.  I made it through pants.  I tried on all my pants.  Got rid of over half.  woo.hoo.  And shouldn’t this only be an E-book?  Because now I’m storing that thing too.  Also-I don’t have the right pants for certain occasions now. I have got some feelings about Marie.

I have all sorts of reasons for saving things.  Thinking I might need it again.  Thinking someone else might get use out of it…someday.  (True crazy story…I’ve saved holiday cards because I have considered if someone had their house burn to the ground…I would still have their card and they would be so happy when I delivered their holiday card from 2009.  WHAT!??  Why trust Shutterfly when you have me on your card list? And a lot of the cards I have saved…the COUPLE has broken up.  I don’t think they are going to want that card.)  Other saving rationale includes-Guilt I spent money on it.  Guilt someone else spent money on it.  Guilt someone else wanted me to have it even if I didn’t want it in the first place.  Guilt that I actually need the thing but it is a piece of crap so not useful but I don’t have a decent one so I save it until it can be replaced but then it never gets replaced.  Sentimental reasons.  Ooh.  That’s the one.  There. That’s the one that gets me.  The feeling like the object holds the memory for me.  I fear I will forget if I don’t have the object.  Which is only slightly ridiculous because I come across things now and again and it brings back all the stories.  It works!!! T-shirts from high school.  Programs from shows I saw as a child.  Figurines that belonged to my Grandma.  A wool shirt my dad wore in high school.  In high school. In the 60’s.  Officially vintage and only 45 or so years away from being an antique.  So touching right? Then again…I also have my kids first haircuts.  I oddly also am storing my brother’s first lock of hair that was cut off.  And I have teeth.  I have my kids’ teeth.  What I’m saying is I have hair and human teeth in random places in my house.  So basically I’m a sociopath.

img_7301

Here is Junk Drawer #1.  1 of 2.  I spy a hotel key card that never got returned.  By the way…great hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  A backup to the backups pair of glasses-because a prescription from 15 years ago is so handy.  A tooth box with a few visible teeth.  A Dora the Explorer PC game for a computer that is no longer used. A junior ranger patch from Yellowstone National Park. A restaurant gift card to a restaurant that went under financially.  A peppermint Chapstick that burned his lips when my child tried it. A $5 bill.  Canadian.  Pokemon cards. Staples.  Erasers. A tear off tab to a life insurance policy my grandmother bought in the 70’s. Jewelry. A bronzer. I’ve never used bronzer. See? See how fun it is.  Every day is a scavenger hunt. The problem is everyday is a scavenger hunt.

img_7302

Oh…remember Blockbuster?  They were militant about you having your card when you rented movies. Until they started closing their doors…5 years ago.

The problem is I have always been like this.  I saved rocks. Cards. Tiny mementos from vending machines. Gifts from friends. Costume jewelry. Movie stubs. Notes from 6th grade. Notes from 11th grade.  All the flyers I had tacked up on my wall freshman year of college. Shells from beach walks from vacations in the 80’s kept in a green and black canvas Snoopy tote.  Do I still have them? I’m so glad you asked.

img_7310

Once I took a writing class and the assignment was to write about what was in the garage.  One woman wrote about a picture that hung above her bed for years.  It turns out it was a Van Gogh sketch that was pilfered during WWII and brought across enemy lines.  And years later, she found it in a box in her garage.  This really made an impression on me.  WHO has an actual Van Gogh IN THE GARAGE!!! I don’t.  I do however have sporting goods of every ilk for sports that nobody in this house participates in any longer.  So…

So I am on a mission.  Fall cleaning.  I already went through the garage.  And now onto the interior.  I’m finally fed up with living in a thrift store.  30 bags in 30 days.  Join me if you like.  Or don’t.  I’m too disorganized to start a national movement.   I’m starting with easy broad categories because I am a professional.  Clothes that I haven’t worn in FIVE years. Objects with no FUNCTION.  Toys that are BROKEN-(also known as garbage). Shit that belongs to other people.

I know I will never be organized.  I’m an abstract random.  I likely have ADD.  And I clutch things for good and bad reasons. I’ll never have an alphabetized spice rack. I have a friend with an actual alphabetized spice rack.  I just found that out and I still like her because she has a lot of other good qualities.  I’ll never have dozens of open spots on the bookshelf, or the basement shelf or any shelf.  And I’m really looking forward to finding and then selling the 3 Picasso pieces that have somehow slipped my mind.  And I likely will leave my family members with the burden of unnecessary crap.  I give full permission and my blessing to have a massive bonfire after I’m dead.

It was a busy week in our house.  The girl got her braces off and the dog got neutered. So I guess the theme of the week is “Let Us Let Go Of What No Longer Serves Us”.  Who is excited!!!???

img_7332

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Say It’s My Birthday

*The following is simply the way I remember it.  Memory is faulty.  If you remember it differently we will have to agree to disagree.

I just celebrated my 46th birthday.  I’m now closer to 50 than to 40. I have lived longer than Jesus and Princess Diana longer than Elvis and River Phoenix but I’m not even halfway to Betty White.  So, I’m really focusing on Betty.

My birthday has always coincided with back to school chaos which was fun when I was a child.  New shoes. Old friends. Mom buys me Sassoon jeans. It’s not quite as much fun when the day opens with your own kid blaming you for ‘nearly missing the bus’ because they were not awakened at the perfect time.  Alert: Concierge parenting services are no longer available here starting on Monday. I’m 46 for pete’s sake.  I need my beauty sleep.

This is my birthday in 1974 in my graphic lion dress.  I’m not clear why there are 19 candles on the cake when I was 3 but I am clear why they held my hand so that I wouldn’t fall face first into a 3rd degree facial burn. Polyester can also be quite unforgiving with open flames.
In elementary school, I associated my birthday with friends coming home on the bus with me, our little legs in terry Izod shorts sticking in the high humidity to the green vinyl seats on the school bus.  Home parties with favorite foods and games and favorite friends and Pepsi served in crystal glasses.

This is 1978.  I’m in my yellow gingham “Jenny” dress.  Nice feature to have your name embroidered on your clothes in case your friends forget who you are. (In later years I would force my brother to wear that dress and march him around in it.  I called it playing “Fashion”. He was a very good sport but a hopelessly clumsy runway model.)

 

1469906_10202487510332171_2042691531_n

This is a few years later.  The 80’s.  We had english muffin pizzas and someone gave me an ice cream cone puzzle.  Look at those fashion icons.  I’m in front wearing my “crayon shirt”.  Nothing will catapult you to popularity quite like wearing school supply graphics on your clothing.

Then there were some years of stress with birthdays.  Who to invite.  Who not to.  Would my dance theater friends blend with my school friends. Did I have to invite so-in-so just because I went to her party?  Someone was mad at me, should I include them? The middle school birthdays are a blur as the middle school years are a blur.

High school.  My very best high school birthday was junior year. 16.  My grandma made me a bouquet of sugar cubes tied with pastel ribbons for a “sweet 16”.  I’ll never forget the time and care she put into making that.  I had spent the previous summer at The School of Cleveland Ballet and was eager to see my friends again.  My friend Eric picked me up in his sporty car and we were going out to dinner.  Very decadent. I dressed up in my “I spent my summer with artsy people” grey and white striped floor length skirt and long grey t-shirt knotted to the side. We went to TGIF’s and several other friends were there to surprise me.  It was a happy shock. I deeply regretted wearing my weird skirt.  Friday’s was not yet ready for the avant-garde apparel. God I loved that skirt.

College.  Freshman year my birthday happened less than a week after arrival.  It felt weird and sad being in this unfamiliar place on my birthday away from my family.  I had exactly one friend on campus.  Paul.  We had known each other forever but he was dealing with his own adjustment…and everyone else around me was new.  But then my entire corridor of 7th floor Mohn made me signs and cards and brought chocolates and made a huge deal out of it.  Near strangers. I was floored.  Unbelievable.  It was going to be ok.  These were good people. Later, a few of them would be in my wedding party.   Later still, one of the sign makers would be my very first phone call when my dad died.  And Paul, even amidst his own swirl of the new normal stopped by and gave me a white t-shirt and black cotton cardigan from the Gap.  In a box with tissue paper. And it was wrapped with a ribbon.  I cried.  I wore those shirts until they were threadbare.  Senior year I turned 21.  I was the last to turn 21.  Many of my friends were abroad studying in other countries.  Two friends set aside the fact that they didn’t know each other and took me out to a bar called the Rueb that is closing this month after 50 years.  One friend was Paul. The other was Tam.  Tam ordered a Japanese import beer and Paul ordered a tap beer.  They both disapproved of the other order but kept it to themselves. I didn’t know what to order.  They gained consensus on assuring me I would love numerous long island iced teas. 21!  Woohooooooooo!   I had exactly one that gave me a blinding headache and then I went to bed VERY early for a 21st birthday.

The pre-children years.  Dinners out. Parties. Cards and coffees and phone calls with singing voicemails.  One year my husband surprised me at a local restaurant with friends at a long banquet table on an outdoor patio.  The weather was perfect. The mood was perfect. It was so much fun.  My husband pointed and said, “Look!!!  I found Tam.  I FOUND HER!  I even FOUND TAM!”  It was quite a feat.  I mean she was just in Minneapolis but this was before Facebook and Google and somehow he found her digging through my mysteriously curated address book.

The kid years.  The first year we had a baby we went on a boat ride while my parents watched the 5 week old.  It was 50 degrees.  We had cocoa on the boat and wore fleece jackets and had to cut the boat ride short because I was nursing.  I bolted from the car into my house screaming, “GIVE ME THE BABY-MY BOOBS ARE EXPLODING!”  Memorable.

329297_2393585962193_876114217_o

This was 40.  Family over for dinner.  The glasses do not help facial symmetry.  Look at that glorious cake.
Years of sweet cards from the kids. Trying to behave themselves and keep the sibling punching to a minimum because “It’s Mom’s birthday.” Punching resumes September 9th.   Take a picture with Mom.  Sit still for just ONE photo.  It’s her birthday.  Just do it.

IMG_6399

Good takeout on my birthdays. Well wishes.  Phone calls. Facebook love.  Emails. Texts with emoji’s. Tiny nieces and nephews singing on my voicemail.  Some birthdays spent at curriculum night or dance carpool or both.  Some with breakfasts out to celebrate my birthday AND the kids going to back to school.  Below is year 42.

IMG_5924

And now 46. It’s easy to think that there is nothing new on the horizon for birthdays the older you get.  But expect the unexpected.  I had a delectable coffee and french croissant with my Mom.  I got my hair cut and colored from my dear friend Patty.  She mercifully squeezed me in last minute so I didn’t have to turn 46 AND have grey hair.   I got surprise presents on my doorstep.  A friend of 39 years sent me flowers.  I went home to assemble egg bakes for 50 people for Saturday when my friend came over with some sporting equipment for my youngest son.  We were discussing how it would have be fun to go the U2 concert.  While we lamented and I whisked eggs, my husband bought tickets, sent the email link and pretty much made the decision for us because we are both professional procrastinators.  I got to see U2.  Finally.  Bought my very first concert t-shirt at age 46.  Finally.  Did something spontaneous.  Finally.   I felt 16 again because I knew every song.  Bono…he still has it at 57.  It would have been a different experience at 16 since Bono seemed so much older then and I wouldn’t have had my miniature gin and tonic because…well illegal PLUS $10.  $10?

And this…

I took my puppy on a short walk in the afternoon.  A woman in a small car stopped and jumped out, leaving the car running.  She said, “Oooooh.  I don’t believe I’ve met this little guy yet!.”  She hands me her business card.  She is cooing to my dog.  She says, “Well, he’s cute.  But that fur?  It will get matted if you aren’t careful.”  I look at her card.  I am defensive.  I say, “He’s just a puppy.” I am defensive about my dog’s unruly fur.  She says, “I do IN-home grooming. I come to you.  I groom a TON of neighborhood dogs. So let me know.”  I’m not feeling it.  She criticized my puppy on my birthday.  20 seconds before she hops into her car, she turns and says, “Just so you know…I do it ALL.  Everything. I groom, do their teeth, the ears, trim their nails.  I do it all in your home.  I even do the anal cavity.  What I’m saying is, I will come to YOUR OWN HOME and do the anal cavity if that’s what you are looking for.

Then she sped away.   And I’m speechless on my birthday.
So-The important memories and people remain important. I am still in contact with everyone mentioned above.   A birthday wish is never wasted.  I am overflowing with gratitude and love for all the people in my little world.  People are so good.  My birthday means I’m aging but I’m getting more grateful and more focused.  I don’t have the luxury of wasting time but have the gift of knowing how fleeting it is.  And I celebrate just being here to make another trip around the glorious sun.

Don’t give up middle aged people. You never know…you may just get an offer this year on your special day that you just never EVER expected or never knew existed.

FullSizeRender 4

This Old(er) House

I read that in the Nancy Meyers films (It’s Complicated, Somethings Gotta Give, The Holiday, Father of the Bride, etc.) that she feels that the homes themselves become main characters.  I feel exactly this way about my house.  I know it’s silly because my house is neither grand nor unique nor historic but it is where all the most important plot twists unfolded for me and my main characters.  Let me tell the story of how we bought this house…

One weekend in 1997, my husband and I got into an argument over something really stupid.  I can’t remember what it was about but it’s a very safe bet it was very stupid.   He came into the room holding the newspaper and said, “Let’s go look at this house I found.”  I said, “I don’t even want to live HERE with you right now.”  He said (sigh), “Just get in the car.  Let’s go look.”  I got in the car and crossed my arms.  I was determined to hate everything.  We drove out to the western suburbs and looked at the listing.  4 bedrooms.  Two way wood burning fireplace.  1 acre lot. Above ground pool.  Octagonal library with a ladder.  We loved it. We jumped up and down.  Argument forgotten.   Then we invited all of our parents out to see it and they collectively killed all of our house dreams.

Seriously.  None of them thought it was a good house for us.  There were concerns we couldn’t afford it.  (The bank thought we could and we had confidence in the bank)  There were concerns about the size of the lawn. (We thought mowing sounded fun)  There were concerns about the pool and the miles of redwood decking that surrounded it. (We liked the decking- decking is pretty and pools are super cool when you don’t have one) There were concerns about the cosmetic changes we mentioned we wanted to make. (How much could a few hundred changes possibly cost?)  Oh…and this.  They all seemed to agree that we weren’t “maintenance people”.  What??? We owned a townhouse and we painted rooms and changed the air filter regularly and my husband had changed a microwave fuse himself (while I watched encouragingly).  Sure we took naps EVERY Saturday and Sunday but we could become DIY/handy/maintenance people if we wanted.  They didn’t even know us.

We left there depressed and offended.  So in my infinite 26-year-old wisdom, I thought we should buy it and we get the pool, the library, the land and the satisfaction of sticking it to all of our parents proving them wrong. My husband, who is less prone to revenge purchases than I am, took a different approach. He thought we should look at 3 more houses in the area in the exact same price range to prove to them that this house was a great idea and a great deal and by far the very best of the four.  I was on board.  Now we would have research to back up our spite purchase. They’d be sorry.  But they weren’t.

We bought house #2.  We walked in and I made a beeline to the view out the bay window and couldn’t contain myself.

IMG_6662

Then my husband wanted to “talk her down” on the asking price but I dry heaved into the toilet and sobbed and begged him to “PAY HER WHAT SHE WANTS, THAT HOUSE IS OURS I CAN JUST FEEL IT’S THE ONE”.    Much to his dismay, as a sales guy and as a man…we did just that.

So we purchased this house in February of 1998.  It was built in 1988 so it seemed fairly new. It was so large. I remember thinking it was so much space, I would likely lose a future child here and I probably would have to yell loudly just to find my husband in our suburban castle.  The reality now is that I feel like we are all on top of each other 24/7 and we all own way too much crap to fit in this house and I can hear someone clip their fingernails two floors away.  It’s not large or new and the hideous oak vanity in the kid bathroom stuffed with both superhero bath toys and Smashbox eyeshadow palettes is proof of that.

In the marketing materials, this house was portrayed as a ‘charming doll house on a picturesque lake’.  This turns out to be code for quirky, poorly constructed house with zero storage, paper thin walls and a pathetic basement laundry hovel on a picturesque lake.

It’s okay though…because I freaking love this house.  Love.

Over the years we have looked at hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other houses on the market.  Houses with mud rooms.  Houses in cul de sacs. Houses with laundry rooms that you could turn all.the.way.around.360 degrees.   Houses with less square footage and better layouts and more square footage and higher ceilings and windows that open correctly.  Houses with insulation.  Houses that are 2 million dollars out of our price range.  Then I typically find 24-73 flaws in each and every one.  We have always felt that if we moved we would just be trading the devil we know for the devil we don’t since every home has issues. Every single one.

We have had some crazy stuff happen at this address.  We are in the woods and on a tiny lake.  Before we moved here, a movie was filmed on the lake behind our house.  Sometimes when I’m out there freezing to death playing boot hockey, I like to think that Natalie Portman and Matt Dillon both froze their asses off in the same spot.  We had an epic carpenter ant infestation.  (had to replace two large windows) We had a spectacular nest of 13 red squirrels in the rafters of the porch . (Dad and husband + case of beer+ 2 BB guns and all but one was removed.  I shot the last one myself from inside the kitchen. Dropped him like a sharpshooter.)  There was a time that a raccoon was trapped in the garage and had a panic attack which caused him to knock every single thing off of every single shelf.  There was the chipmunk that ran into the basement when the babysitter was here. The rogue moose on the lawn that a neighbor tried to convince me was a deer.  Lady…I know the difference between a MOOSE and a DEER.  The year the beavers built a sizeable lodge and therefore mowed down all the trees on the edge of the yard. The hundreds of dollars and hours we have spent trying to stop the voles from building a subway system under our grass.  The red fox. The red fox that was foaming at the mouth.  The time I caught an opossum on the deck licking the grill tools.  (There was some talk about sanitizing them in boiling water and they ‘would be fine’.  No-they’ll never be fine. I’ll never be fine. Garbage.  Bye tools and disgusting opossum saliva.) The wild turkeys. The coyotes.  My favorite great blue herons stalking the spring frogs.   The theme here seems to be us enjoying nature while keeping nature at bay.

img_7408

So…it turns out we are not maintenance people.  Our parents knew us.  We hate it.  We like naps better.  But we do the best we can.  We have had some things remodeled.  We have left some things be.  We have made some concessions.  We gutted the kitchen when I was pregnant with baby #2, also the year my dad passed away and I had a 2 year old.  I don’t recommend that.  We spent a bundle on a new roof and flashing because apparently the builders thought rain coming in the house was optional.  We got a new front door.  We have painted and repainted and painted again.

But the best things that have happened here are the human stories.  The stories that have unfurled within these four walls.  The memories made.  The changing cast of characters and all of their small and large experiences.  This house is where we brought home each of our three tiny babies.  This is where the crib was put up and taken down 3 times and in two different rooms.  This is where all three of my children took their very first steps.  This is the house that my dad and brother painted one summer laughing and laughing. This is where part of my dad’s cancerous tumor (he called “the alien”) fell out of his leg.  My grandma sang in Swedish holding my infant daughter in the rocker on this porch.  My mom played badminton on this lawn with her grandchildren. These are sacred places for me now.


This is where great celebrations and great tragedies and showers and parties and fun holidays and so-so holidays have been shared with friends and family.  Our sweet dog Grover was buried in this yard. He slept in that corner. He curled on that couch.  This is where the average family dinners and the special introductions to future family members has occurred.  This house is where long standing traditions have been kept and new ones have been started.  This is where the kids have played and grown and read and  crafted and slept and had their friends over.  Sleepovers with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 kids happened in this basement.  This is where the family photos were taken.  This is where we baked the cookies and made the popcorn balls and grilled homemade pizza and had game nights and movie nights and bonfire nights and Halloweens and ice skating parties and trampoline games and basketball games and fireworks.

Here. Here. Here. Here. Here.

I have now lived here longer than any other place. In February, we paid off this house.  This old house.  We made our final payment exactly 19 years to the day we moved in because I like ceremony.   I have come to realize that it is not common or popular to pay off your house these days.  This is because it is not common nor popular to stay.  Stay.  But we had been working toward this day diligently as we plan to stay right here.  Forever.

I’ve hugged and kissed and held hands and laughed and cried with all of my favorite characters in this house.  And as it grows older and falls apart all around me…it just becomes better. More important. More appreciated.

It’s my favorite place of all time.