Long Distance Grandparenting

Nearly every Monday morning at about 5am, I wake to the sound of my cell phone vibrating on my nightstand. I don’t really mind this early interruption to my slumber. My weekly “Morning, GaGa!” photo makes me smile every time. Sometimes, if I am really lucky, I even get a video!

If you know me, or have read some of my other posts, you know that our only granddaughter lives very far away. This makes it quite challenging for us to see her (or her Mama and Daddy) with any regularity. I will say that we are well acquainted, though, thanks to the use of technology. We Skype at least once a week and my phone is full of photos (nearly 2,000!) and videos of their daily activities.

I love the fact that we can experience their daily life from afar, and I feel that Fee knows us pretty well, something that would not have been possible twenty years ago, when our children were small. She takes our weekly visits in stride, greeting me enthusiastically when the screen pops up with a “Hi GaGa” and a smile, or hiding away in the corner under a blanket fort while I ask “Where is Fee?” She is a smart one, that one. When I ask her if she could give me a kiss or hug she replies, “I can’t – there is glass there!” referring to the computer screen that is between us. He first question is always “Where has Poppa gone?” and when he is here he will sneak up and surprise her, receiving a squeal and a giggle when she sees his face appear behind me.

This is not to say that it is easy. I long to hold her on my lap and tell her a story, or to tuck her in to bed at night and kiss her forehead. When I am out and about and see other grandparents doing things with their grandchildren I feel a pang of envy. I am sure they see me staring, and probably wonder what kind of a creepy individual I am.

When our children all began to move away their lack of proximity was tough at times, but it was manageable.  They have all been able to come home quite often, and we text each other almost daily. It has been exciting to visit each of them and get to know the cities that they now live in. It wasn’t until Fee was born that we truly realized how difficult the distance would be.

Our girls were very lucky.  Both sets of grandparents lived close by. They were always available for birthdays and Sunday dinners. They babysat whenever we needed them to, and even watched them for the day when they were sick so that we could both get to work. My mother-in-law loved those days. She would settle them into her own bed and serve them toast and chicken soup. Our parents were close to the girls and very involved in their lives.

When two our daughters came home a few weeks ago they paid a visit to their paternal grandmother. She took them upstairs to the apartment that she had lived in with their grandfather when they were both little girls. It was wonderful to hear them reminiscing about the times that they had spent there as children. Listening to them recalling these special memories made me think about my own impact on my grandchildren and what their memories will be.

In less than a month Jim and I will be grandparents to two little girls.  These last few weeks are almost as hard for me as they are for their parents.  I wish that I could drop by and give my daughter a break from chasing a two-year-old around so that she can rest. I want to be there to see our new granddaughter soon after she makes her appearance in the world. I wish I could see the expression on Fee’s face when she meets her new baby sister, and be available to reassure her of her place in the world when she feels displaced and out of sorts because she is no longer the center of the universe.

After Christmas we will take another trip to see them in their own home. It will be a long plane ride that I wouldn’t even consider again if it weren’t for the prize at the end of the journey. When we get there I will have to load up on enough kisses and cuddles to last me until the next time we visit. It will be hard to leave not knowing exactly when that visit will be.

In the meantime we will rely on technology to keep us familiar. I think I may have to upgrade the memory on my phone!

Granddaughter, little girl, toddler, hello, greeting, sundress

“Morning, GaGa!”

Little Sister

My memory of that October afternoon is very vivid. The sky was clear and blue and it was the peak of fall leaf season.  I was at the neighbor’s house on the corner climbing a tree. As I emerged from the red and orange canopy I looked out in time to see Grandma Mary’s old green car pull up beside me. She called to me through the open window and told me it was time to go home. Mom had gone to the hospital – to have a baby.

It’s funny how old memories like that are clear about some points and fuzzy about others. My recollections don’t really contain much anticipation about your imminent arrival. I am sure that my self-involved,  seven year-old mind had probably not spent much time thinking about how your presence would affect my daily life.  I honestly don’t remember much about your homecoming or subsequent baby and toddler years. Small bits do come to mind – your long, blonde hair (that I envied – mine was coarse and a nondescript dark brown), your kindergarten graduation, Easters and Christmases and a few birthday parties you had with friends. There were typical sibling skirmishes and “two against one” divisions, but nothing is really distinct.

When we were young we were far enough apart in age that we didn’t do a lot together, outside of the regular family gatherings.  I was a pretty independent and social child, always going to play at the neighbors or off to a school or church or scouting event. As a teen I was extremely detached – far too ‘cool’ to hang out with family. I was always out with my friends or at school. I really didn’t spend a lot of time at home, except when our parents went out every Friday and Saturday nights.  Being the family babysitter was a job that I was not particularly fond of. I know that I was not an attentive caregiver.  I am sure that I spent most of that time on the phone or in front of the television, not bonding with my siblings.

I do remember that one summer when I was in college. You were about 12 years old, worried about middle-school “girl problems” – friends, school, fashion. I was 19 and very worldly (or so I thought). We spent the summer sleeping in the same small bedroom while we redecorated yours. We stayed up late, calling in requests to the local radio station. I gave you a ton of advice –  it was heady stuff, being looked up to like that. I loved the attention. The best part of the summer, however, was discovering the joy of having a sister to share things with.

It seems like we have almost always been at different points in our lives, and that has made it tough at times. When I got married and you were my Maid of Honor you were only 14 years old. When my children were babies you were enjoying college. I recall how I coveted your freedom then. It was great fun to come and visit you in your dorm and pretend to be a co-ed for a weekend, though. It felt good to forget my responsibilities for a while. The long letters and telephone calls we exchanged did keep us close then. I had never been away from home that long myself, and I think I felt your homesickness almost as much as you did.

Over the years our relationship has ebbed and flowed, sometimes strong, sometimes distant. It seemed at times we both focused on what was in front of us, taking each other’s presence for granted.  Once you were an adult on your own, much like when we were younger, I sometimes let my own self absorption get in the way. My jealousy of what I saw as your single, carefree lifestyle plus my additional obligations to husband/children/work made it easy for us to drift a bit. Dealings with parents certainly added their own complications to our relationship…first driving us apart, then bringing us back together.

Now we have come full circle. You have your own family responsibilities, just as my girls have all left home. We don’t have Mom to bring us together any longer, it’s completely up to the two of us. To me, sometimes our bond feels tentative and new..

You are a now single parent – something that I never experienced. I am humbled by the amount of work I know you face every day. You made a courageous choice to do it on your own, something I don’t think I would ever have had the strength to do. I also appreciate having the opportunity to be “Tia”. I know you have been a wonderful Aunt to my girls and I only hope I can do half as well with your son.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that we have become close once again. I think that your physical proximity will be good for us as well. It is so nice to have family just up the road, someone who shares much of the same history and understands me because of it. We are finally getting to the point where we can have a conversation that doesn’t just center around our parents and their needs. That is refreshing.  It is nice to have you as a friend.

On this anniversary of that October day so long ago, I would like to take the time to wish you a Happy Birthday!  I want you to know how much I appreciate our relationship – every bit of it. You have helped me throughout my life in more ways than you could ever know.  I am blessed to have you as a sister. I Love You!
Sisters, Concert, summertime, adult sisters, Middle-age

Flashback Friday – The Carpenters “Superstar”

So many of my life’s memories revolve around music.  Specific songs take me back to places and times in my past that will be with me forever.

I think we were in 5th grade – maybe 6th. That would make it around 1971 or 1972.

I loved visiting my friend Jan’s house. She had a RECORD PLAYER! We sat in her room for hours listening to 45’s on the small portable…changing the little yellow disks each time we put on a new tune. I remember the Carpenter’s singing this song over and over.  It was a love song – what did we know about love? We were eleven!

Her brothers would bother us occasionally, which would result in a loud complaint to her Mom, and protests of denial from the younger sibs. We would slam the door and return to our music. What else did we listen to? Probably Donny Osmond or Bobby Sherman, but I remember the Carpenters the most vividly. I think I still know the lyrics to every song.

Their household was so different from ours. Her family moved to the area from an exotic, faraway place – Eastern Pennsylvania! They knew about things I had never heard about before like the Pennsylvania Dutch. I remember singing the song “Shenandoah” in the kitchen with (or maybe for) her Mom. Her Mom talked to us like we were adults and had certain expectations of how we should act and behave. She was astounded that I didn’t like peanut butter. Her Dad was an executive. He wore a suit to work. He also wore sweaters, like the Dad’s on TV.

We played cribbage in their family room and skated in their basement. There was a button underneath their dining room table that rang a bell in the kitchen. I believe it was put there to call the maid. I don’t think they had a maid. It was cool, though.

Sometimes at school we would switch lunches. Jan would bring me lebanon bologna sandwiches on white bread with cream cheese. I had a “Holly Hobbie” lunchbox. I don’t remember what my Mom would make for her. I am sure it was boring in comparison.

Every time I hear the Carpenters I think of Jan. I am so glad that we found each other again a few years ago via Facebook. We met for dinner a few summers ago and reminisced about all of these things and more. I learned about her family and told her about mine. We actually have a lot of things in common and she is a wonderful, supportive force in my life.  It is nice that we can still find that easy, comfortable rapport.

I went back to the house (where her Mom still lives) to visit with a group of classmates and plan a reunion last winter. We looked for the bell in the dining room, but we couldn’t find it. No matter…they still don’t have a maid.

Yellow record disk, record insert, triskelion, 45RPM, 45's

Anything but orthotics

So it’s come to this.

It started with a trip to my chiropractor this past July.  I have an ongoing problem with chronic pain – centered mostly in my hip area. I have tried dozens of things over the past ten to fifteen years to find relief and so far nothing has worked.  My yoga instructor recommended the perfect chiro, so I paid him a visit.

After a few weeks of tugging and pulling and cracking he asked to look at my shoes. After examining the soles of my trusty Birkenstocks he told me that I tend to “Underpronate”. He then advised me to go home and Google search the problem to find a pair of appropriate shoes.

Initially it sounded like a great idea.  I LOVE shoes! Who wouldn’t want an excuse to buy a new pair? Although my Birks are my go-to summer footwear choice, I have been known to have a bit of a penchant for pretty, pointy pumps. Just thinking about the beautiful snake-skin heels that I have in my closet (which I can no longer wear because of my problem), I smile with affection. As a matter of fact, at my past place of employment my nickname was “Shoes”. My motto is “any outfit is good, as long as you wear it with great shoes”.  Shoe shopping is my favorite. Pants may tug and blouses might not button correctly, but you can always find nice shoes. Macy’s shoe department is my nirvana!

Black Snakeskin Pumps, shoes, high heels, pumps

**Click image for photo credit

Actually, I was a bit concerned about what I might find when I looked on the internet, and my fears were justified.  It seems that the only shoes I located were running shoes. Here’s the thing – since I stopped running 10 years ago (as a result of said hip problem) I don’t DO running shoes.  I simply cannot bring myself to lace up a pair of sneakers to wear as a form of regular footwear.  They don’t feel right to me unless I am wearing  running shorts or yoga pants.

What to do?  My only option seemed to be to visit a “real” shoe store.  You know, the kind with salespeople who actually touch your feet? They sit on these weird little benches with an angled ramp in front.  They untie and tie your shoes like you were a three-year old and look up at you with smiling faces as they squeeze your toes to make sure you have enough room.

Just entering the store was intimidating.  The clerk who greeted me looked down at the Steve Madden flats that I was wearing with a sad smile. He was definitely judging me. When he asked if he could help me I mumbled something about my feet/hips and my chiro. He immediately jumped into action, leading me by the elbow to a computerized machine that had the outlines of two feet on the floor and a video screen at eye-level. As I stepped into place, the screen flashed a colored image with mostly RED pixels representing the pressure points on the bottom of my feet. “Oh, this is very bad!”, he exclaimed, reaching for a pair of inserts from a shelf on the wall.  “Here try these”, he said as he put them on the floor inside the diagrams.  I stepped into them and the angry red dots suddenly turned a soothing yellow/green. “Isn’t that better?” he inquired.

I had to agree that it did feel nice. As I nodded my affirmation he expertly directed me to a seat on the other side of the store and disappeared behind a curtain into the stock room. After a few minutes he returned with a box and pulled out the UGLIEST pair of Mary Jane flats that I have ever seen. They had very round toes and velcro straps that were about 3/4 of an inch wide. Swallowing my instant disgust, I decided to play along.  He slipped the inserts into the shoes and gently slid my foot inside, asking me to walk around and try them out.  “Well, how do they feel?”, he asked.

Orthopedic Mary Janes, black shoes, corrective shoes

** Click image for photo credit

My toes were sliding around at the top of the shoe, so I told him that I thought they felt loose. “That is because you have been crushing them for so long”, he admonished. “They need space!” I decided that honesty was the best track at this point, so I let him know that I would probably never wear this type of footwear and asked if he had something more enclosed, like a loafer. He sighed heavily and went back to the stock room, only to return with a pair of oxford-type shoes that buckled over the instep.  He removed the insert from the first pair and placed it inside the newer ones.  While they did look a bit better, they were still not anything that I could see myself wearing.

Realizing that I was fighting a losing battle I asked him if he had anything more stylish. This time he huffed off and returned with a pair of pumps that looked to be about the only thing in the store that I might possibly consider.  I put them on and walked a few feet.  They slipped off the backs of my heels – obviously too loose.

The salesperson looked at me expectantly.  When I told him they didn’t fit he sighed so loudly that I was sure they could hear him at the register in the front of the store.  “I am sorry, ma’am.  I don’t believe we have anything here for you.”, he said as he started to move away towards a woman a few rows down.

Utterly defeated, I left the store and returned to my car. I then drove a half mile up the street to the nearest department store, where I proceeded to try on every pair of black loafers that they had in stock, finally settling on a pair that had decent arch support.

I do understand that these shoes will not solve my problem.  I also understand that my vanity will continue to contribute to my pain.  It’s just that I am not quite ready to let go of the hope that I will one day wear pretty, stylish footwear again.

Running shoes do come in some nice colors, don’t they??

Brooks Ghost 7, Running Shoes, Sneakers, Gym shoes

**Click image for photo credit

 

 

Reflections from my bathroom mirror

Mirror, Bathroom, reflection,Most writers know the feeling. That perfect opening sentence, the great statement, the brilliant vision that gets us fired up to sit right down at a keyboard and record it, before it vanishes.

Unfortunately, for me these bursts of creativity usually occur when I am in the shower, dripping with shampoo.  I don’t know what it is exactly that makes me so witty and well spoken when I am naked and covered in suds, but it happens all the time. It is probably the fact that I am not able to multi-task while bathing, so my thoughts are able to take a straight line, not distracted by the lists and bills and post-its that cover my desk.

Often the spark stays with me long enough that I can polish my stories in my head as I continue my morning routine in front of the bathroom mirror. Oh, those wonderful, eloquent blog posts and articles that I concoct there….sometimes I even tap a line or two into the notes app on my Iphone, or dictate them to Siri while I apply my make-up with the other hand, sure that I will be able to continue later in the day when I am in front of my computer.

The problem is, as the day progresses and I continue on, my genius – as well as my motivation – starts to fade. That perfect story or blog post becomes a bit watered down and fuzzy. The amazing first line falls flat and I am left with just that one sentence. By the time I actually feel  my fingers on the keyboard, the process stalls, the words stop flowing, and I am left with a title or the aforementioned sentence, but nothing more.

It is always interesting to revisit the dated flickers of creativity of my past. The list of possible posts in my phone or the unfinished drafts in my dashboard prove to be an amusing diary of my life.  Sometimes I actually start them up again and come up with something useful. More often I wonder if I should just delete them all and start over.

As I sit here dripping with my hair wrapped in a towel I am simply thankful for the list of topics that my morning shower has cultivated. There is one thing that I do know for sure; if I ever decide to write the ‘Great American Novel’ I really need to stock up on body wash.

I am curious to know how or (even more importantly) where other writers find their inspiration. I would love to hear your stories – please let me know in the comments section!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And they said it wouldn’t last

newlyweds, wedding, buggy, surry with a fringe on top, just married, just hitched, bride, groomIn 1982 I was 21 years old.  I had not ever seen the ocean or traveled on an airplane.  I had never lived more than 10 miles from my parents’ house.

Since then there have been:

3 children

2 apartments

1 house

15 jobs

11 vehicles

3 dogs

3 cats

1.5 grandchildren

18 trips to Mexico

On September 11, 1982 it was hot and humid. I wore a long-sleeved high-necked dress (not to mention a corset and stockings!) to that little church in Chautauqua, NY. In front of all of our friends and family I married my best friend. The very next day you took me to see the ocean for the first time in a borrowed car using a AAA Trip-tick for directions. I remember being terrified as we walked along the sand and I held fast to the bag that held every dollar we had.

That was only the beginning.

We have lived here on the hill for most of the years since then, and it has been a wild ride at times. We have experienced births and deaths, new jobs and unemployment, graduations, funerals and weddings. We have weathered the tough winters and enjoyed the sunrises over the lake each morning. We have watched each of our daughters leave this place, one by one. I still live less than 10 miles away from my childhood home, but we have traveled the world together.

I wouldn’t trade one minute of the laughter or the tears that we have shared for anything.

Thank you, Jim, for filling the past 32 years of my life with love and care. God has blessed me far more than I ever deserved by bringing us together.

I am amazed at how far we have come.

Love you, Willy.

“Lil”Feet, sand, Mexico, Beer, Beach

Coming Clean

I have a confession to make.

I do not own a dishwasher.

I guess that this is not very common these days, but to me it is normal.  In all of my adult life I have only had one (secondhand, portable) dishwasher. It was messy and sprayed water all over the kitchen. It was cumbersome and loud.  I used its butcher block top for extra counter space for a while and stored my Tupperware cake keeper in it, but I think I used it less than a dozen times.

A conversation that I had recently with an acquaintance went something like this:

She “I could not LIVE without a dishwasher.”

Me “Never really wanted one.”

She (horrified gasp) “That is unimaginable!”

By the tone of her reaction you would have thought that I had said that I preferred an outhouse to indoor plumbing! It is true, though.  In my 30+ years up here on the hill I have wanted many things…a hot tub, a sidewalk, even a bathtub for a time (but that’s another story), but a dishwasher is not one of them.

Another friend whose own dishwasher broke down right before the Thanksgiving holiday one year told me that she couldn’t possibly host the festivities without one.  To her the dishwasher was as important as the oven itself!

Don’t get me wrong – when I was a teenager and washing the dishes was a chore that had to be accomplished before I could slip away to be with friends, I hated the job.  I would do anything to get out of it, including trickery and deceit. I would make promises to my siblings that I never intended to keep so that they would relieve me of the job, and I was quite often successful.

When my own children were growing up washing the dishes and folding the clothes were the two main chores that they had to do each day. They will tell you that if I came home to a sink full of dirty dishes there would be much commotion. It is true that when I was exhausted from a long day at the office and needed the sink for meal preparation, I did not relish the task.

The kitchen sink is the heart of our home. Each member of our family has spent a significant amount of time in front of it.  We’ve bathed our children (and now our grandchild) there, pulled up chairs so that they could help us and taught them to do it on their own.  Thousands of basins of soapy water have been drawn there. My memories contain hours of telephone conversations had while scrubbing and rinsing and drying, watching the seasons pass by through the windows that are situated just above it. Gossip was shared, tears were shed, good news was revealed and bad news received – if only those walls could talk! Long conversations had while cleaning up after large family gatherings – holidays, reunions, graduation parties and even a rehearsal dinner brought friends and family members together long after the meals were finished and the table was cleared.

I remember my mother standing at my sink washing the dishes, even as her health began to fail.  She would bend from the waist, leaning on her elbows as she cleaned each plate and glass and pot.  She taught my sister and me that it was rude to leave someone’s kitchen without offering to help with the dishes, and I know that both of us feel the same way to this day. Sometimes when I am at the sink by myself I catch myself standing the same way she did as my back begins to ache from a long day of preparation and celebration. I smile to myself remembering how important this task was to her.

I would love to have my big country kitchen remodeled. I have thought many times about how I would arrange things, and what kind of cupboards and flooring I might have.  I have added marble counter tops, farmhouse sinks and tile floor coverings to my Pinterest boards, dreaming of how beautiful it might be.  The one thing that I never make room for in my imagination, though, is the dishwasher.  To me it is just unnecessary.

Think of all of those missed opportunities for memory making….

“Unimaginable!”sink, kitchen sink, country kitchen, dishes, doing dishes, chores

Five Things

I haven’t done this in a while. Who am I kidding?  I haven’t done much of any blogging in a while….but today I feel grateful and good, so…

Five things that make me happy right this very moment.

1. Early morning yoga.  I woke up to sunshine today and my heart just told me that I needed some time on my mat before anything else. It felt refreshing and good. My body feels loose and warm on this cold summer morning. I like that.Pink yoga mat, porch, practice, morning yoga, namaste

2. Morning texts from my Fee (and her Mama). It is always nice to know that someone is thinking of you as you start your day. Texts with pictures are even better. (hint, hint)Pigtails, granddaughter, toddler, happy, little girl

3. Coleus plants. As I look out on my (frigid) porch this morning I can see the beautiful green, yellow and burgundy colors of the coleus that we planted this past spring. They have grown gorgeous and large and bushy and have weathered the non-summer that we are having this year far better than any of our other plants. The memory of the evening drive that we took to the Amish greenhouse last May and finding the palettes of tiny starter plants is a happy one.Summer Plants, coleus, planters, porch

4. Coffee.  Always coffee. There is nothing better than a good sip of strong black coffee from my big red mug. It warms my belly and wakes me up. I LOVE my coffee in the morning!Coffee cup, desk, Starbucks

5. The view of the sunrise over my front lawn. No matter what time of year it is,  the sunrises here on the Hill are always spectacular.  Every morning I do my work facing the lake so that I can watch the sun coming up. I would much prefer to be outside, sitting ON the porch, but I will take the dazzling pink and orange colors reflecting off the water from wherever I can see them. Today it is inside, but I am hoping for a warm up soon. Maybe a cup of afternoon tea would be nice out there later.Sunrise, Chautauqua Lake

What are YOUR five things today?