Category Archives: Life

the blessings of a blue thanksgiving

 

Towards the end of our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, our 9 year old nephew started doodling on the paper tablecloth.

“I’m going to draw … a submarine,” he announced, followed by a necessary clarification.

“It’s really yellow, but I’m going to make it blue.”

The submarine was perched on a rainbow next to a leprechaun (“he’s really green, but I’m going to make him blue”), a cowboy (“really brown, but now blue,”), as well as a turtle, camel and dollar bill, among others.

All — you guessed it — blue.

He had no choice. All he had was a blue pen; hence, things that aren’t typically blue became such.

And with that, a little boy’s imagination summed up everything I want to remember about this Thanksgiving.


We traveled to Philadelphia this year, knowing that this Thanksgiving was going to be different than any other we had before. (Except for, of course, the Thanksgiving dinner when the husband suffered a seizure and I had to revive him on the bathroom floor.)

I’ve alluded to the Ongoing Family Situation in recent posts and have gotten permission from The Husband to share a bit more on the blog about what’s happening. My father-in-law, who is only 71, was diagnosed with dementia this spring. I know many of you have experienced this within your own families and loved ones, so you know how this horrible disease changes everything and affects everyone. We’re fortunate that my father-in-law is able to be in a long-term care facility, which, after evaluating several options, is where we gathered for Thanksgiving dinner.

We had no idea what to expect. We just knew it wasn’t going to be like anything we experienced before.

It’s really supposed to be _______ (insert blank with whatever vision we have in our heads of what Thanksgiving should be like). 

But I’m going to make it blue. 


My sister-in-law ordered a delicious dinner and brought it to the home, where our reservations were for 3 p.m. in one of the facility’s conference rooms.

We ate, and then for more than two hours, we sat around the table as we laughed and talked about old family memories. My father-in-law was, thankfully, having a really good day.

I had asked The Husband if he was OK with me taking photos. He agreed, but in the end, I didn’t take a single picture — not of the food (which I’m notorious for doing), not of the relatives, not of our nephew’s drawings on the tablecloth.

One of the things dementia does is force you to be more present in the here and now. It’s all about today, this very moment, because the future is too damn uncertain and the past is … well, gone. You can wish things to be different all you want but that’s not going to change the reality of what is.

It’s not going to make something that’s blue suddenly turn back into green.

Or whatever color you think things should be. 

So I deliberately kept my cell phone in my purse, didn’t take any photos or post any updates to Facebook.

Remember this, I told myself, in all its uncertainty and all of its sadness.

Remember how much laughter  and smiles and light and love there was, in a moment and a time when you didn’t expect there to be any.

Remember that you always, always have the power to change the color. That even if it’s different, it can still be beautiful.

Remember the blue.

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Dear Teenage Me, On the Night of Your 30th High School Reunion

I see you, way back there in 1987.

I know what you’re thinking.

I’ve just told you that you just came home from your 30th high school reunion, an occasion you swore you would never, ever go to.

(Never, ever. That’s so cute. And naïve.)

Instead, you had one of the best nights of your life with people who (I know, you’re not going to believe me) are genuinely great to be around.

They’re funny, smart, accomplished and you have a lot more in common than you think.

But now, in the me decade of the ’80s, you’re just trying to fit in. To feel accepted and seen in your small school where the same kids you stood with at the bus stop on your first day of elementary school will be the same kids in most of your classes and the same kids you’ll cross the graduation stage with 12 years later.

Yeah, newsflash (or spoiler alert, as we say in this era): despite the hell of algebra and the horrors of gym class, you do graduate. You’ll go to a college where, unlike Cheers, nobody knows your name (at first) and then you get a job or five, and maybe lose a few of them. You’ll make some money and the economy will make some of that disappear, too.  Same with your friends; you’ll keep some, make more, lose some of them, too.

In essence, you get a life.

That’s a bit of a ways off, though. For now, though, you’re in a competitive pressure-cooker where everyone is expected to excel. In everything. ALL. THE. FREAKIN’. TIME. It’s easy to feel less-than, that you don’t measure up, that what you do in these years will be remembered forever, would haunt you.

Or so you think.

Here’s what I’m trying to tell you, 30 years out.

The things you think matter today, in 1987?

Are going to be very different things in 2017.

(Oh my God, you have no idea how different things are going to be in 2017. Believe me.)

You know how I know?  Because last night, 30 years later? People who once seemed to have it all (and it all together) were admitting that…they…really…didn’t.

“I know, I know, I was such a loser….”

“…it was not always easy to see that [the good in people] in high school – when you are so self absorbed.” 

Wait, what? Him?  HER? They were feeling like this too?

What would it have been like, had we known? What damage could have been prevented? How different would we have been? How much fewer scars would we have had, then and now?

Who would we have noticed more closely?

It turns out that we were all insecure and unsure, trying to find our way. And we still are, in a sense. We’re sandwiched between our perplexing teens and our aging parents and facing an uncertain future on several fronts.  With seven classmates gone and losses of others in our lives, there are likely more years in the rearview mirror at this point than there are ahead.

But we know a few things that we didn’t know then.

We know that things get better. In so many ways.

And we know that we’re not alone gathered here in this thing called life.

And we finally, finally learned the most important lesson of all.

We never were.

 

 

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Book Review: Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip, by Jean Chatzky and Michael F. Roisen, MD

During the past few months, I’ve found myself gravitating to wellness-related books, blogs and podcasts. This interest started last year around this time when I embarked on Couch to 5K and made some modifications to eat healthier; however, a few factors have accelerated this.

For starters, I’m less than a year and a half away from a milestone birthday, the one beginning with 5. A year after that, the kids will graduate high school, and The Girl has recently been giving a lot of thought to potential colleges. These next few years are looming large. There’s also The Ongoing Family Situation which has me thinking a great deal about what I can control now to potentially affect future quality of life. I’m thinking particularly of retirement planning and ways to slow memory loss through food and exercise.

And I’m trying not to let all these thoughts keep me up too much at night nor preoccupy my every waking moment because if one isn’t careful, this line of thinking can quickly spin out of control into full-fledged anxiety. There has been a bit of that associated with all this, like the other week when I met one-on-one with the retirement planning guy at work. They brought in our plan’s representative–who looked like he was about 12 years old–for one hour complimentary financial consultations and I swear to you, his advice to me was basically, “I don’t know what to say.”

I kid you not. I mean, I already knew I was screwed. Thanks, Junior.

All this is to say that this feeling of health and wealth (I speak of the latter figuratively, of course) coming into fuller focus made me the perfect reader for Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen’s new book, Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip which I spotted while browsing at the library and listened to on audio.

This is basically a manual for How to Live Your Life. I don’t mean that facetiously; rather, this covers every aspect of living. Yes, there’s plenty of advice that we’ve all heard or read — and either implemented, ignored or put off until “someday.” But there are also some good checklists and strategies, like starting with the importance of doing  “system checks” (both health-related and financial) before making any major changes. There are chapters on breaking bad habits, reducing stress, how one’s occupation influences health. The sections on financial information was more helpful than the representative from my retirement plan.

Here’s what Age-Proof doesn’t have: there’s no secret sauce, no magic elixir recipe for eternal life. (Besides, who would really want that anyway?) The most important thing it does have is reassurance that “no matter what you’ve done in the past, it’s never too late (till you’re six feet under) to get the body or bank account you want.”

Audio is definitely the way to go with this one, mainly because of Dr. Roizen’s exuberance about … well, almost everything. He and Jean Chatzky alternate narrating their portions of the book — sometimes interrupting and interjecting thoughts — and while it’s a little hokey in some spots, it’s also kind of cute.

Not to mention important.

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this is a week for the birds

Milburn Orchards, Elkton, MD. August 2010. Photo by Melissa Firman.

So, here’s what I’m staring down during the week ahead.

You ready?

The Boy and The Girl’s 16th birthdays.

(I have no gifts purchased and zero ideas, especially for The Boy, and no money for an “experience” gift, like a weekend in New York or something like that.)

A major holiday involving a 6 hour drive (each way) across T**mpsylvania.

(That would be Thanksgiving, complete with multiple helpings of stress and several people who aren’t talking to us.)  

The two-year anniversary of The Husband’s seizure during Thanksgiving Dinner 2015 and me reviving him on the bathroom floor.

(Of which we’re still dealing with lingering physical, cognitive and emotional effects. Us, not the bathroom floor.) 

And just for good measure, my 30 year high school reunion!

(My high school years were … well, you can read about them in my post “25 Year Later. It Gets Better.” It says something that this is the event I’m most looking forward to this week.) 

On top of which (yeah, there’s more) the weather is total crap (raining, cold, windy, snow) and I’ve had a cold since Wednesday. I’m at that stage where I’m convinced I’ll be sick forever. This has turned into a sinus headache from hell.

The only thing to do is all that I can do in these scenarios:

Breathe.

Do what I/we can, in whatever way works for me/us.

Don’t obsess over what we can’t control.

Focus on the positive aspects. (Neither kid wants a car for their 16th birthday nor has any interest in driving yet! Now that’s something I’m thankful for.)

Breathe.

Abandon expectations and all notions of “the way it was/should be/could have been.”

Reduce social media time.

Make sure to get enough sleep.

Breathe.

Again.   

And again. 

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Summer’s End

Sunrise over Wildwood Crest, NJ ~ June 9, 2017, 5:23 a.m. ~ Photo credit Melissa Firman

Count me among the many who consider Labor Day weekend as the official end of summer, regardless of what the calendar says. As much as I hate to see the longer days and warm weather leave (because I know what follows), I’m fine with saying goodbye to what was oftentimes a challenging couple of months and welcoming a new season.

I’m cognizant that this is my first Sunday Salon/Currently … post since May and likewise, that my posting frequency in general has been lackluster, with only 8 posts since Memorial Day. There are a few reasons for that. Several issues occupying my attention aren’t bloggable, and those that are — say, like the state of the world and daily onslaught of outrage provoked by Twitler, for example — often leave me apoplectic.

But, I really have missed being here more regularly and connecting with those of you who are actually still interested in what I have to say, so I’m going to try and be more of a frequent presence.

Let’s get caught up by recapping the summer, shall we?

June

We took our first family vacation in two years and headed downnashore. (That means the New Jersey beaches for those not fluent in Philly talk.)  Unfortunately, we picked the four worse consecutive days of the entire summer to spend by the ocean — cold, rainy and damp. Just miserable weather. I know, I know … a bad day at the shore is better than a good day at work, but it would have done our souls good to see the sun more than just the morning we left.

The Girl, during a very windy walk on the beach. She’s wearing a sweatshirt I purchased 24 years ago on our honeymoon.

As disappointing as the vacation was, there were some good moments. The sunrise above, for starters. I happened to wake up early and catch it, and I’m so glad I did. The Girl and I also enjoyed several nice walks on the beach, despite being bundled up in sweatshirts. (We walked a total of two miles on two separate days!) We had some great meals and only one not-so-great, and the place we stayed was fantastic.

Gluten free spaghetti with clams, Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza, Wildwood, NJ

Mozzarella and Pesto Pearls (tomato, basil, mozzarella, pesto) at Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Salmon with grilled asparagus over rice. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Rigatoni with marinara. This bowl was huge. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Mussels. Godmothers Restaurant, Cape May, NJ

We bookended the shore trip with stops in Philadelphia to spend several days with family and that coincided with a cousin’s graduation party. The Boy spent the whole day in the pool and was in his glory.

After we returned, The Boy went to a social skills camp for kids with Asperger’s. He participated in this program last year and it was a good experience. This summer? Not so much. A rough couple of weeks. It was a completely different group of kids and a new counselor from last summer and the dynamic just didn’t work.

The Girl did a writing camp for a week. This was her third year at this camp, which she loves. She also did another one-day writing camp at Chatham University and now she has her sights set on going to college there and working at the library. (She volunteered one day a week and we got to have lunch together, which was nice and one of the highlights of my summer.)

July   

The Girl and I were in a minor car accident on the 6th. Fortunately everyone was fine. My car was banged up a bit and wound up being in the shop for a month. These things are why one has insurance and I’m very glad we do.

Most of the month was spent dealing with some dental woes that involved several emergency appointments (two in one week), a consult with an endodontist (and potential oral surgery), three sick days from work, and copious amounts of Advil (we’re talking close to 12 per day) with an occasional Vicodin left over from my gallbladder surgery thrown in. It all just got resolved three weeks ago — with a root canal, not the aforementioned more extensive oral surgery — and this past Friday night, one of my crowns fell out. Here we go again.

August 

The Girl participated in Girls Rock Pittsburgh, a week-long camp where those who identify as girls and are tweens through age 18 learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song, create merchandise, take part in workshops (confidence building, healthy relationships), and record and perform their song in public. The Girl was initially reluctant to be part of this program but it turned out to be a fantastic experience. She played the drums and we’re now the proud renters of a drum set and an electric guitar for the next year.

Reading 

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I read 15 books.

Cocoa Beach, by Beatriz Williams
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne
The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992, by Audre Lorde
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas
The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (audio)
The Fifth of July, by Kelly Simmons
The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley
South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion
Ageproof: How to Live Longer Without Breaking a Hip, Running Out of Money, or Forgetting Where You Put It, by Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen (audio)
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
The Floating World, by C. Morgan Babst
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson (audio)
Heather, The Totality, by Matthew Weiner

This weekend is pretty low key. Time to bring on fall.

 

 

 

 

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Living on a Prayer with Bon Jovi in Pittsburgh

Immediately after performing “Runaway,” a song released 33 years ago, Jon Bon Jovi made a confession to the Pittsburgh crowd gathered at PPG Paints Arena on a Wednesday evening.

“I think I’m singing like shit tonight and I apologize,” he said, promising his fans he would keep “pushin’ on,” and adding “if you stick it out with me, I’ll stick it out with you.”

And that’s sort of how it has been for those of us who grew up with Bon Jovi, hasn’t it?  His music was part of the soundtrack to our youth, the backdrop to everything from our first loves to our last slow dance at the prom. To prove it, there was an entire arena on Wednesday night full of Gen Xers who, intentionally or not, seemed to be throwbacks to the 80s with mullets and big hair and clad in Slippery When Wet concert t-shirts from 1987 and clutching cans of beer while unabashedly belting out every single word to the likes of “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Lay Your Hands On Me.”

Same as it ever was.

At first I thought Jon’s admission that he had been battling a cold since Saturday was simply concert shtick or, perhaps, a clever intro to “Bad Medicine.” I still thought that when he brought a fan up from the audience to help out on “Born to Be My Baby.”

But when he walked over to the edge of the stage and recited Prince’s infamous, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life” — that’s when I admit to feeling a little freaked out and unsettled. Here’s yet another rock icon of my youth saying he’s not feeling well and invoking the words of another who died way too young and reminding us of our own mortality and his. My generation doesn’t need any more reminders of the fragility of life, that we’re getting older and that, personally speaking at 48, more years are likely to be in the rear-view mirror than down the road.

Whoa, we’re halfway there, whoa, livin’ on a prayer … 

On Bon Jovi’s new album “This House is Not For Sale,” one of the tracks is called “God Bless This Mess.”   I think it kind of puts into context this phase of life and how we’re starting to feel its effects.

“My voice is shot, I’m going grey, these muscles all ache
Don’t cry for me, I’m the life of the party
I’m smiling most of the time
I may be gritting my teeth, can’t get back where we started
These days I’m doing just fine.” 

The song has been frequently included on this tour’s setlist, but we didn’t get to hear it in Pittsburgh because as the world knows by now, the Pittsburgh show was abruptly cut short — 90 minutes into what would have been a two and a half hour performance — and with no rousing encore. It’s a decision that has some expressing frustration, mostly via social media temper tantrums, about getting an abbreviated version of the show.

To which I say, get yourself a fucking life. If you’re complaining about something as trivial as being “cheated” out of sixty minutes of a concert — during a week when innocent people were gassed to death in a unfathomable literal hell on earth — then check your privilege at the door, thank you. Sure, it’s disappointing to not get something you expected. But there is nothing that comes with a guarantee in life. Nothing.

And that’s what Bon Jovi’s songs are all about. They remind us to enjoy that moment, that guy, that girl, that kiss, that night, that time, that love.  I went to the show with my 15 year old daughter and we danced our asses off and sang at the top of our lungs. We had a great time, enjoying every moment. For the record, I thought Jon sounded fantastic and his performance was great.  My girl loved it and said it was one of the best nights of her life.

“Take my hand,” I said, as we crossed a busy street to get back to our car.

We looked at each other. “We’ll make it, I swear!” we sang.

We remember how we were, once upon a time, not so long ago. We take nothing for granted, holding on to what we’ve got. These days, we’re all living on a prayer.

Thanks for a great show, Jon. Get well soon. 

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How a Baby Carrier Made Me Love Doing Laundry (Giveaway Opportunity)

 

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A few days ago, I found one of my favorite pictures from when our twins were newborns.

In the photo, there’s laundry spread all over the coffee table and piled on the sofa. The Boy — all of five weeks old at the time — is safely tucked inside a baby carrier, reaching out as if he’s trying to help fold the plethora of onesies, caps and blankets that overflowed from our laundry baskets back then.

tul-004_med5a(I’m not posting this now 15 year old photo because I have a longstanding blog policy of not posting pictures of the kids regardless of their ages. So, this stock photo — of someone who looks a lot more calm and in control than I was as the mom of two newborns — will have to suffice.)

Even though our twins are now teenagers, I still remember how much both kids loved being in the baby carrier. Needless to say, we loved it too because as much as we wanted to spend every moment holding and playing with our precious twins, things needed to be done around the house like … well, laundry.  And with two newborns, we had a LOT of laundry.

Baby slings and wraps are the perfect solution for parents and caregivers in situations when you need both hands free. For example, we also wore the baby carrier while preparing meals for us and bottles for the kids.

For us, it was a convenience thing — but as it turns out,  babywearing has been shown to have positive benefits, especially for babies who are premature, as ours were. I remember the snug feeling being comforting to my two and I think it helped all of us bond at a critical time.

When we registered for our baby carriers (we actually had two) I wasn’t sure if we really needed them. But like many things about becoming parents, I was mistaken.  They turned out to be life-changing … something that actually made doing laundry fun!

Tell me in the comments about your favorite product, tip or strategy that helps make your life a little easier. (For those who don’t have children, this doesn’t have to be parenting-related … it can be anything at all.) All commenters will be eligible to win a $50 gift card to purchase something for yourself or someone else. I’ll draw a winner at random on December 23. (A perfect last minute gift!) 

This sponsored post and giveaway is a partnership with Nakturnal, with a prize of a gift certificate.

Entries on this giveaway are now closed. Congratulations to Kate, who was selected at random (via Randomizer.com) as our winner and thanks to all who entered! 

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