Loving Meghan

Today, our dear daughter says a final, heart wrenching goodbye to her friend, Meghan. The call came that it was ‘time’.  No amount of medical intervention – well intended and miraculous – would delay the truth, the end.  When a loved one approaches the end of life with blinding swiftness, there’s little opportunity to process, to understand.  Untimely doesn’t begin to describe the magnitude of the loss.  Just a day ago, the family had hope, thanks to glimmers suggesting possible recovery. 

For those who’ve had the unbearable task of finding strength amidst the chaos, the nightmare of wondering…could I have done more?  It’s like a prison cell.  The ‘what ifs’ and the pain of second guesses?  Horrific. If I could relieve those burdens for a few dear souls today, I would.  I’d take every bit of the heaviness and pain and carry all of it…for as long as I could…to offer relief.  Sweet relief.

Instead, I feel helpless, reflective and sad.  Worrying about those who sit bedside, saying goodbye for the last time.

One of my dear blogging friends, Erin/Esoterica recently included a Leo Buscaglia quote in one of her posts.  It shook me because I was once oh-so-familiar with his work, but I’d lost track of the simplicity and power in his words:

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which has the potential to turn a life around.”

Most days, I live my life remembering that the ‘smallest act of caring’ CAN be a guiding light.  Dr. Buscaglia was a central, inspirational figure when I was a wayward, ignorant undergrad. His words – in lectures and books – helped to frame both my personal and professional life.  Grounded in goodness. I realized after reading one of his most famous quotes in Erin/Esoterica’s piece, that I’d lost track of the foundational nature of his wisdom. The brilliance and love that drew me in decades ago.

Inspired to re-read and remember, this morning I rummaged through my stash of old texts, copies of Dr. Buscaglia’s books and read again, his words of humanity and love.  And then…I recalled a quote that I’ve shared many times with those in the grip of grief and wondered how I might share these wise words with Meghan’s loved ones – who at this very moment, endure the unthinkable as gaping holes in their hearts are torn open by final goodbyes.  I wonder…and worry…

For how long, will they suffer?  As they reconstitute their lives, minus precious Meghan, I wish them hope, love, resilience, and the ability to avoid the rewinds and tortured thoughts about what they might have done differently.  Dr. Buscaglia wrote:

Love, accept, forgive – oneself, especially?  Those are words that rumble in my head and soul – on repeat, like a refrain.  A song about withstanding pain, my plea to the universe, for the brokenhearted today.

Although Dr. Buscaglia died in 1998, today I honor him, remembering how his life’s work helped to carve and craft my journey, reminding me that life without love, no matter how much pain we’ve suffered, is the biggest loss of all.  

And perhaps that’s the greatest gift.  Reminding a family overwhelmed by grief that remembering Meghan, the love, the light, the sprite that she was?  It is enough.  And in the days ahead, it will be everything.

Vicki 💕

Books That Inspire…Instill Hope


Every now and again I read something that I can’t shake off, arriving at the perfect time for reasons only the cosmos knows for sure. I love sharing these “pondering moments” with you…thank you for reading and being a part of my community of kind, insightful souls. ❤

Something magical happened when I found Wynne Leon’s book, “Finding My Father’s Faith” – all about her father and their twin journeys.  Her father, Dick Leon’s journey as a Presbyterian pastor, his life of service and Wynne’s remarkable journey as a mom, an entrepreneur and a mountain climber. Father and daughter, both seeking enlightenment, opportunities to love and live authentically and wholeheartedly.

My own father passed away many years ago and as I read Wynne’s book, I felt flooded with memories of how unique and powerful the relationships between fathers and daughters can be.

Wynne’s book reads like a love letter from a daughter to her papa, abundant with gratitude while also offering wisdom on multiple planes of thought.  Family? Yes! Relationships?  Yes! Spirituality? Yes! Life Goals? Yes! And most of all Honor.  Honor in how Wynne lovingly told her dad’s story…honor in how she drew connections between his goals, his path, and the realization that while their destinations were the same, their paths could be different in order to remain true to themselves.

This morning, the Heart of the Matter launches a new podcast, all about Wynne’s book. I hope you’ll hop over to listen and let us know what you think.

Friday hugs,

Vicki 😊

Sadie Hugs for You


Every now and again I provide an update on our senior diva…Miss Sadie.  She’s doing fairly well as she approaches her 14th birthday…which will make her 98 in pup years, carry the one, add a two.  Amiright?

We have a lot of construction in progress at the house and I was worried, worried, worried about how she’d handle the disruption, the noise.  Depending upon the day, the time of day, her escape route to go potty is one of three different doors. The poor pup doesn’t know which way to wander when she’s gotta go.  It’s like a game of chance – roulette, if you will.  Maybe a fun house?

Sadie’s technique is to give us a look – a pleading ‘hey dumbos…where am I going THIS time?’ and we scoop her up and either exit through the laundry room, the kitchen, or the family room doors, depending upon which route is accessible. Each has its own hurdles and merits and by the time we figure it out, clueless humans that we are, Sadie heaves a hefty sigh, grateful that we’re finally headed toward grass.

You may be wondering…what happens when we’re not on the spot ready for her ‘look’?  Yeah, that happens.  Not often, but when we’re not paying close attention to her majesty, her “chosen” spot is a primo location right in front of the fireplace, which isn’t so bad, really.  An accident, should she have one, becomes fairly focal-point noticeable, so there’s that. (And I cannot believe I just typed a sentence about a pile of poo being a focal point…what has become of my life?!)  I figure if she’s gonna make a mess, I should thank her for squatting and doing business where we can see it…versus the alternative.  Who wants surprise poop on their slippers?  Not me! (And no, we tried the pee-pad idea, thank you very much. The Queen sniffed it and pooped next to it.)

Our girl is famous, as I guess all Chihuahuas are, for burrowing under blankets – the more, the better.  Sadie disappears beneath a mountain of fleecy goodness in order to turn down the volume of pounding, sawing, whacking, and booming…but lately she’s taken to positioning her head so she can keep an eye out, if necessary, to see if the noisy disruptors are worth a look.  Mostly not, but I was amused recently when she began sleeping with her right front paw exposed, in addition to her snout.  Ready for action at any moment – just in case mom (me!) walks by with a carrot or a dog treat.  My way of offering penance for disturbing the Queen’s slumber and allowing all of the noisemakers into the house in the first place.

It’s only Tuesday…but the cacophony has me so disoriented…are we sure it’s only Tuesday? No matter what your day is like, I’m sending hugs from sweet Sadie…and yes, a couple of the hugs are from me.  Just because.

Vicki ❤

Heart, Mind & Soul

One of my dear ones, my friend Linda, shared a brilliant, ancient, Anglo-Saxon word with me recently…and I love it: 

BREÓST-HORD

This new word? It literally means ‘breast treasure’ according to Mental Floss.  One lyrical word used to describe the blending of heart, mind, and soul – the ethereal pixie dust which renders each of us unique and marvelous, while providing fuel and navigation as we journey through life.

After Linda shared, I did a little sleuthing and learned that many Old English words have been sidelined across the years, along with an abandonment of once common letters like þ (known as “thorn”), ƿ (“wynn”) and ð (eth or thæt).  I had no idea!

Like many others, the power of Ancestry.com has driven me to explore family history and the discoveries are delightful, puzzling and revealing.  Linda’s known for years that her mother was a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. from the UK – a war bride – and her affinity for Anglo history, coupled with travels to visit distant cousins?  It adds heft to her bread crumb trail of ‘who am I?

Me?  I picked up chunks of intel about family lineage and roots in Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales – thanks to nuggets strung together from recollections and oral history from my parents.  But – so much of what I heard was so lightly and gingerly strung together, it was hard to make sense of it all…yet I couldn’t ignore the feelings (my own BREÓST-HORD?) that permeated.  A push, a pull, a tug? I can’t quite describe it, but my body told me, from the first time I traveled through London, that the UK was ‘homeland’.

I’ve learned over the past few years that my blogging friend,  Esoterica’s, recent reference to ‘ancestral knowledge’ is no joke:

“Lately, I’ve been thinking about ancestral memory, the idea that memories of our heritage live in our genes, in our blood, and in our bones, but it also lives in our minds, our cultures, our communities and in our unconscious, intuitive drives.

Without “knowing” I’d navigated my life with deference toward my cloaked history – including the name we chose for our daughter (turns out it was a family surname…going back three hundred years) and my love of ‘old stone’ and Gaelic swirls?  More than just artistic admiration. 

Another example? Almost five years ago, before the ancestry.com confirmation data dump and a bit on a whim, my dear one Linda and I took the leap to get ‘sister’ tattoos.  She’s not my blood relation, but in all the ways that matter, she surely is.  We were on a work trip – presenting at a conference – and decided (okay, with substantial prodding on my part) 😊 that it was time to bond with a swirl of ink, tattoo-style:

 

Whether our matching tats are symbols of ‘new beginnings’ or ‘strength’?  It didn’t matter but the significance of the Gaelic swirl, on each of our right wrists?  A reminder that we both relish knowing where we came from…while treasuring the bond we’ve had for decades. 

So I say…if that’s not an example of ‘heart, mind & soul’ in motion, in beautiful, BREÓST-HORD fashion, I don’t know what is.

Ready to take a break from reading and tune into more?  😊 Hop over to the brand-new Sharing the Heart of the Matter podcast with my friend Wynne Leon…all about ‘heart stories’…or BREÓST-HORD! ❤ 

Smiles and hugs,

Vicki ❤

Extending Ourselves

I learned by example to lead with kindness.  My mom, despite the challenges she faced in life, always had room in her heart for anyone in need.  She was a die-hard volunteer and champion for the developmentally disabled – in part because of my sister’s circumstances and the compounding of physical and intellectual disabilities.  But more than that, mom knew she herself was broken and relished opportunities to serve others.

Coming from a family of dysfunction, she nearly raised her siblings – out of necessity – but as I look back on her life, I realize there were tandem motivations.  Obligation?  Sure.  When your own mother can’t mother, the eldest often steps in.  Mom/Sue did just that.  But I also believe she was motivated and driven by her genuine, tender-hearted nature that became a theme throughout her life.  Not just as she navigated hurdles for my sweet sister, Lisa, but how she was keenly attuned to hurt in others. 

There are days when I recognize that my intuitive nature came from mom.  She was a master at identifying unspoken pain (largely because she carried so much of her own).  Whether it was a gentle hug or a smile, Mom/Sue knew how to brighten the lives of friends, family…but most of all, strangers.  Or as she often put it “friends she just met”. 

As she grew older, addictions clouded her innate desire to help and dementia jumbled up the details, but everyone she met was a ‘friend’.  I believe her cantankerousness was perceived as an endearing quirk, which kept people close to her – less alienated – longer than otherwise likely.

Even toward the end, mom relished the opportunity to tell a bawdy, dirty joke.  Her repertoire was well-worn, but we laughed as if we heard each story for the first time…as she time traveled with humor.  Years on a barstool?  Highlights in her life, no matter which side of the bar she was on. 

Today, as I think about inspirations of kindness and caring, my mom is on my mind but so is Booker T. Washington.  Different as they were, they shared a life perspective that serves me well.  It’s all about ‘lift’.  Take a look and hop over to The Heart of the Matter to take a peek and share your thoughts in comments. 

Friday hugs,

Vicki ❤

Every Picture Tells a Story


There is one photo of our dear daughter that brings me such joy that I literally swell and puff up with emotion, pivoting from almost crying to feeling a warm wave of blessings, like a fever dream, wrapped in abundance.  How DID I get so lucky? 

Sure, other photos have come and gone over the years, especially now that our ‘baby’ is no such thing.  She’s grown and smart and accomplished and being near her, still, renders her sweet papa nearly speechless.  

She’s the best of both of us and we see it in the lovely adult she’s become.  Thoughtful and kind?  Absolutely!  But she’s equal parts savvy about the world and the people in it. With a tendency toward trust, she’s been burned a bit, but manages to dust herself off, shoo away the ashes and messy memories and move forward. 

I don’t know whether she gets the stamina and resolve from the hubster or from me.  Maybe she received a double dose?  No matter.  We’re just grateful.

Every now and again, I ponder the idea of starting a project where I caption endearing family photos — daring to use my imagination as I meander and crawl into the head and heart of loved ones, memorialized forever in a photograph.  Just for today, I’m going to give it a whirl and play my very own game of “caption me”. Tell me what you think…

Look closely at our DD, dear daughter’s expression.  Based on that, and how her hand is gently touching the scruff on her papa’s face, I hear her thinking, “Hey mom.  Life is pretty good from where I’m at.  I love my papa, but I see you.  I love you, too.”

Wednesday hugs, from all three of us,

Vicki 💕

Happy Birthday, Mom


This week my troubled marvel of a mama would’ve celebrated her 84th birthday.  Despite the challenges in our relationship and the years of turmoil, I choose to ‘remember the good’.  There was so much good – fun and frivolity, charm, and charisma.  Mom was a beacon to anyone in need and I can’t deny that my genetic soup includes her spirit of service. Sometimes I see her when I look at myself in the mirror.  There are undeniable resemblances in both spiritual and physical form. 

In some ways I’m an only child.  My older sister Lisa is a perpetual 8-year-old in a grown-up wrapper because of her intellectual and physical disabilities. She was a miracle baby, surviving when no one expected her to.  I’m her guardian now with mom and dad both gone and while I feel the weight of the responsibility, it’s also a privilege.  Lisa’s reminiscences and recall of family history, silly tidbits are comforting. Even when she mixes up details – sometimes hilariously so, like her funny recall of Elvis trivia that I wrote about a few weeks ago. 

When mom died, I became the family archivist, by default.  I’m surrounded here, in my home office, by bins and boxes of photos which chronicle our family history.  Well, parts of it anyhow.  The darkness and despair aren’t photo-worthy…no Kodak or Polaroid moments, and I’m grateful.  My memories of challenging times don’t require visuals.  They’re present – nestled within me – but I try to temper the dark with light, however I can.

The photos I treasure?  Some of these – the pic of mom, wearing only a hotel towel, when she went to New York as a high school senior to represent her hometown at a future business leaders conference.  Remarkable? Yes!  It was the first year EVER that girls were permitted to attend.  Mom’s roommate snapped this photo and took many others that were more formal and staged, but this one speaks to me. Mom in an unguarded moment.  She looks happy.

Just a year later mom met dad and things got complicated…resulting in the arrival of little Lisa.  Fragile little Lisa.  The pic of the three of them?  A reporter from the local newspaper took a photo of the happy family as Lisa got her polio vaccine.  I guess they looked photo-worthy – a good visual to accompany the reporter’s column about polio prevention.  What no one knew yet?  Just a month later, Lisa’s pediatrician began to deeply chronicle her vision and motor problems.  Failure to thrive.  Not meeting milestones…and their journey of pain and loss with her began.

I need to leave you with a smile. Mom was a party girl at heart.  No matter where we lived or what the occasion, she found reasons to celebrate and had mountains of energy to contrive costumes…to pull people together, and not just for Halloween. (If you missed it, check out this post about her Halloween handiwork!)  Party planning was her superpower.  In the last pic, mom is the stunner in the middle…thrilled that she managed to coerce/encourage her lady friends into a Hawaiian luau-themed fund raiser for disabled children, like Lisa.

I remember the party…the pig roast…the music…and the trail of raffia from the grass skirts all over our house – for weeks.  Oh, that and the remnants of hand-crafted floral leis.  Such a mess, but it was a happy mom mess.  So much better than messes of other sorts that often accompanied her bad days. 

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for joining me in reminiscing about sunny moments. Remembering the good.

Vicki ❤

Comfort…In My Hands


I have a sweater that my dear Aunt Betty knitted for my dad when he was in high school. It weighs about ninety pounds 😊 because it’s made of heavy weight wool yarn.  Dad loved it and kept it in a special box in his closet, but I only recall him wearing it once.

The sweater is remarkable to me because my favorite aunt touched it…created it…and she chose unique horn buttons that were fashionable at the time, but very expensive.  Maybe I love the buttons more than the sweater?  They’re fabulously rough and smooth, displaying gradations of brown, beige, tan, black – and no two are the same.  The photos don’t do justice to the sweater or the buttons, but I wanted you to see for yourself.

I’ll hold one potent memory of dad wearing the cardigan in my heart for the rest of my life. He sat on the edge of the bed, across from his closet and the box and tissue that held the sweater were on the floor by his feet. His head was lowered – I thought he was staring at the box, until I realized he was crying. Softly – no heaving. Just slow tears dripping from his face and falling to the floor. Feeling I was intruding, ten-year old me thought I should leave, but I was transfixed, cemented to the doorframe, looking in.

Aunt Betty died the week before.  She had cancer and it spread quickly, giving everyone insufficient time to spill the contents of their hearts.  Dad’s heart?  It was full when it came to his only, sweet sister.  She was his champion and cheerleader, his soft spot and rock, all in one. I imagine he was the same for her, remembering the affection they displayed for one another. 

Family photos are treasures, but they’re slick and one-dimensional.  Not so with the cardigan.  It was the warm hug Aunt Betty could no longer provide and as I watched my tall, dark, and often stoic father break down, flooded with loss and love at the same time, I knew the sweater was magic.  I watched as he pulled the right sleeve toward his face – at first, I suspected it was a move to wipe away tears – but instead he inhaled deeply.  The sweater – the sleeve – it smelled of her and I saw him comforted by the cozy rapture of her handiwork. 

Still wondering if I should approach or tiptoe away, I decided to creep in.  I recognized the private moment he was having and didn’t want him to stop…but I also want to join him.  I needn’t have worried.  He saw me and beckoned me closer, patting the bed next to him, motioning for me to sit.  As I did, he unbuttoned the cardigan and pulled me toward him, wrapping both of us up in the expansive wool warmth.

He cried, I cried…just as I am right now.  No words were spoken.  How long did we sit there?  Maybe five minutes?  Long enough for him to know, through our embrace, that we both missed her like mad and craved the closeness that was now forever out of reach, short of wrapping ourselves up in the beautiful honey-colored cardigan. 

I kissed his wet cheek, he squeezed my hand, and I stood to smooth out the tissue paper, knowing it was time to put the sweater away. At least for that day. 

Decades later, when dad died, mom was ready to donate the sweater, maybe forgetting that Aunt Betty made it for him?  I don’t know, I just remember how grateful I was to be in the right place, at the just-right-time to scoop it up.  It held magic that my mom knew nothing of. 

I found the cardigan treasure recently, tucked away with other keepsake clothes – my wedding dress (made by my mom-in-law, Maxine) and sentimental baby clothes from the fleeting days when our darling daughter was a tiny bundle of love.

Just like my dad, I felt compelled to take the sweater out of the box and smell it. I suppose it’s way past the time when a trip to the dry cleaner would be in order, to properly preserve it, but I wouldn’t dare part with it, nor would I trade the dusty, musty smell…that must also contain remnants of both dad and Aunt Betty…for any fresh-and-new aroma. Not for anything in the world.

Cardigan hugs today…from me and a very vintage sweater.

Vicki ❤

Holiday Hijinks!


I don’t recall the ‘why’ but I’m learning that’s my least favorite queryWhen, what, where and how tend to spur a drilldown with a payoff, but ‘why’?  Not so much.  I think it’s because some things in life just happen…the inexplicable, the magical, coincidental, the maddening.  Exploring the reasons, the why?  Unnecessary adventures that often yield little insight.  (Bad ROI for my business-y friends.)

That’s where I start with this silly remembrance.  I don’t know WHY the dear hubster was a prankster with my mom.  I suspect it was because mom pivoted between tragedy and comedy – daily – and keeping her on the funny side, as much as possible, was good for all of us.  I should remember to thank him for his service!  😊 His best bit ever? It involved holiday hijinks with M&M candy…

Late one Christmas Eve, not long after we were married, the hubster took mom’s gigantic brandy-snifter (something that normal people would use as a terrarium or a goldfish bowl but to mom, it was ‘just a candy dish’) and he painstakingly sorted five pounds of those tiny M&M candy discs – by color – and layered them back into the bubble-shaped bowl.  It looked like geological layers…rock formations…chocolate-coated candy-style. I think the order was brown, yellow, green, blue, red.  I wish I had a pic…but I don’t.  Can you picture it in your mind? 

Back in those days the hubs was a night owl.  Less so now…we like our sleep more than shenanigans…and this little escapade was nearly an all-nighter.  The next morning, mom was the first one up but she went straight to the kitchen to get little quiches ready, make the coffee and put cinnamon rolls in the oven.  Our Christmas morning routine was to nosh a little, open presents, nosh some more, complain we were full, take a walk around the block and by that time we were ready for more – presents and nibbles.  Oh my, the holiday excesses! 

Given all of his hard work, the hubster was disappointed when mom didn’t react to his M&M masterpiece – for hours.  She walked past the hall table where the big bowl sat, not giving it a second look.  Later, my dad saw it and busted out laughing…a spit-take with his second cup of coffee.  He knew immediately it was his dear son-in-law’s handiwork and wanted to linger in the room to be there…to catch mom’s reaction. You know – the payoff.

Finally – and only because mom needed to fetch some doo-dad from a nearby cabinet – she noticed the bulging bowl of striated M&M’s and just stood there. Frozen. Hubs thought for sure she would pin the caper on him – immediately.  Nope!  Instead, she screamed, “Holy shit!” “Someone’s been in the house – we’ve been robbed – see what’s missing!”   Why on Earth she thought the M&M display was the dastardly deed of a burglar, we’ll never know.  Her first reaction was about trespassers??  Evil, no-good bandits staking out the house just to play with five pounds of candy?

After a few seconds she realized we were laughing…unable to contain ourselves.  She looked at the hubs with a fun, narrow-eyed twinkle and said, “Oh YOU!  I bet you were up all night doing that!” (true) and then, “You’ll never know what I might do to retaliate…you know, when you’re sleeping!” This was one time when mom was all bluster and bravado.  She loved the attention, the time and energy that went into the joke. For years afterward, she regaled others with the story, “He got me…he really got me!”

Every birthday and Christmas afterward, mom gifted the hubs with hefty bags of M&M’s, typically disguised, or snuck into other presents as a loving reminder of the M&M caper.  It was their thing – their sweet inside joke.

After our daughter was born, I found a holiday recipe for cute reindeer cookies (see pic) and began making them annually, as a tradition.  The only hitch?  We’ve established that M&M’s don’t come in bags by color, right? The reindeer cookies require only a single red candy for the nose and two brown for the eyes.  You know where I’m headed.  Yes, for at least twenty years, as our DD (darling daughter) grew up, we continued the sorting madness, by necessity, in order to ferret out the brown and red ones – essential to make our Rudolph cookies.

In conclusion:

  1. If you play a prank on someone, be aware that it might set the stage for years of associated silliness, like the endless tiddly-wink fiddling and sorting of slippery candies.
  2. Buckle up.  Traditions are inescapable.  If I had to guess, we’ve made ten dozen batches of reindeer cookies every year for 20 years.  Carry the one, add the two, divide by nine…I think that means we’ve sorted enough M&M’s to bake 2400 cookies. 
  3. I don’t care. I’d do it all over again…and there’s a batch in the oven now.  Come on over, wash your hands. I’ve got a fresh bag of M&M’s on the counter and could use your help.

Merry, Happy, Everything – from our house to yours!

Vicki ❤

Loving Lessons from My Papa


If he’d lived, my dad would’ve celebrated his 87th birthday this week.  He’s been gone for 25 years and I realized this morning I’ve lived more than 1/3 of my life without him and yet he’s never far from my head, heart, and thoughts.  Recalling his characteristic good humor in the face of life’s high hurdles gives me courage when I need it, patience when I’m running on empty.

A few months ago, I wrote about how deeply I benefitted from his pointed guidance in my growing up years, particularly when I was under stress.  Take a peek…it’s sweet and will help you understand why I feel so very blessed to share DNA with him…my all-time favorite human. 

This year as his birthday rolls around, I’m musing once again about the gifts that keep on giving – loving life lessons from my papa.  It’s a short list of four things and in celebration of him, I think they’re worth sharing:

  1. Laugh at Yourself First, Agnes Gooch:  I was a quirky, awkward, and uncoordinated kid.  I liked books more than people and left to my own devices, I’d hide in the metaphorical (okay, sometimes literal) shrubs, just to be a voyeur.  I didn’t understand it for years, but whenever Dad saw me hesitate and hide, he’d call me his favorite “Agnes Gooch” and cajole me out of my funk.  Mom enjoyed shaming me for mistakes, for being overly introspective.  Dad?  He’d turn on the charm to yank me forward, remind me I was worthy.  “When in doubt” he’d say, “Laugh off what bothers you…and move on, Agnes Gooch.”  I was too little to understand Agnes was an actual character.  The first time I saw the Rosalind Russell version of “Auntie Mame” I understood dad’s wisdom…really understood it…for the first time.  Agnes Gooch?  Yes, often, that was me!
  2. Service First:  Dad was famous for telling me to ‘be the helper’. He had a keen awareness of the importance of kindness, and I think that trait amplified with my disabled sister Lisa’s arrival and mom’s mental health issues.  He often looked at me as the capable one in the bunch, his compadre in the face of loony business. I realize now it was part of our bonding, daddy-daughter glue.  I knew the look – he didn’t need to speak – my cue to step in, step up – either with mom and Lisa or with strangers in need.  Because of his routine of buying an extra sandwich to share with homeless folks, I do the same thing today when I’m out and about and I see people in need.  It feels natural but it’s because of him.
  3. Love the Ones Who Are Different:  Dad looked out for the underdogs and his best friend in high school was a dear man, named “Slats”.  I never knew his given name, but it didn’t matter. “Slats” was a term of affection, a nickname dad gave him because Slats was long and lean…he could disappear, Dad said, if he turned sideways.  Which explained why Dad was forever feeding his buddy…Slats with the high metabolism, the original ‘bottomless pit’. Over the years, I learned why he and my father referred to each other as ‘brothers’.  Slats was abandoned as a kid because of his birth defect.  His left arm didn’t develop in utero and throughout his childhood and adolescence, he wore a sling to disguise the deformity.  Dad knew Slats was a terrific baseball player – despite his disability.  He saw it when they played catch…as if his right arm made up for what his left lacked.  Slats said dad was the one who encouraged him to play and ‘screw the looky-loos’ by ditching the sling…to be himself.  He was the best (only?) one-armed pitcher their high school ever saw.  Years later, dad helped Slats navigate bigotry with employment prejudice…just as any big brother should.
  4. Two Strikes – Not Three:  Dad was a ‘trust your gut’ kind of guy. If he liked you, he liked you.  If he didn’t, he might pause to see if you were worthy…withholding judgment…but unlike his beloved baseball where you get three strikes before you’re ‘out’?  No, no. Two strikes only in his book – that’s all you get.  Off the field, out of his life, no looking back.  I realize now he did that to protect himself.  As I grew older, I understood who the people were who hurt him, alienated him.  Always the ones who are closest – they can strike where it hurts the most and you never see it coming.  Despite how loving and caring he was, he taught me you can be both – kind to others AND to yourself.  You shouldn’t choose one over the other.

Four things…gifts that resonate over the years. Thank you so much for reading. I’m sending hugs and smiles to you…from me and my papa.

Vicki ❤❤❤

Three Pines? Who Knew!

This is worth a take-two! We’re enjoying the series, “Three Pines” on Prime Video and it’s partly because of my dear friend Linda’s reminder that our familial love of trees…in threes…has its roots (wink!) in immigrant history. We had no idea! When I posted this piece in September, Linda shared:

“If you haven’t already, you must read the Gamache series by Louise Penny, especially the book ‘The Long Way Home.’ Penny writes about a Canadian village named Three Pines in which three tall pine trees, planted centuries ago, soar over the village and the community. These pine trees were originally planted as a code to signal those loyal to the British Crown who headed north during the War of Independence that they were safe in Canada. It was seen as an act of kindness for weary immigrants.”

Enjoy!


My husband descends from a pioneering family that settled in the small village near our current home.  Immigrating from the Alsace region of France and Germany by way of Canada, they were part of a small pack of persevering souls who established the quaint town that’s now more tourist destination than residential.  A haven for those who relish the opportunity to travel back in time, shop, nosh and recall simpler days.

We knew snippets of family history from my mother-in-law, Maxine, but believe the surface-level storytelling and limited sharing was the result of embedded, gender norms – favoring the retelling of patriarchal tidbits of family history much more than the matriarchal.  Sigh.  It was his mother’s family – not his father’s – who literally blazed a pioneering trail but her legacy and history were sidelined as less important.  How irksome; but that’s not the point – at least not at the moment.

Maxine’s great grandparents arrived on the plains and brought traditions from their wooded homeland.  Evergreen trees were plentiful in heavily forested Alsace and one of most endearing stories was the tale of the painstaking transport of three small evergreen saplings across the Atlantic. I can imagine some arguments about this – a sentimentality vs. practicality tussle – but how lovely that sentiment won, I say.

We often wondered if all the human travelers in the family made it to North America safely, because the ‘tree tale’ was more vibrantly recounted.  Records are spotty, at best, even with the dynamic search engine tools like Ancestry.com.  At least three family members – the husband and wife and one child – arrived safely and a few cousins, it seems, settling in Canada. 

Piecing together facts from decaying photo albums and journals, along with the family Bible yielded one fantastic find.  A simple red frame home that still stands in our tiny community was the homestead.  Built by the grandparents and identifiable for years as theirs because of the three stalwart and regal trees that stood in their modest front yard. Evergreens.

Maxine, before she passed, acknowledged the ‘little red house’ built by her distant elders but she never mentioned the story behind the trees.  A local historian helped to fill those gaps using records long forgotten about the family.  The sweet crimson structure still stands – now converted into retail space.  Sadly, only two of the three trees remain.  One wonders what happened to the third. 

Discoveries about family history can come in large lumps or in tiny waves.  Learning about the house and the trees was like the latter – ancestral echoes that, once summoned together, created a spectacular story.   If only we’d drilled down more with Maxine to better understand the oral history, to supplement the archival tidbits stitched together. 

Time was not on our side; she passed AND years passed, and it wasn’t until we bought a nearby home that the a-ha moments arrived.  Of all the remarkable aspects, one especially stands out and it’s about the three trees.

Across many years of married life, we’ve lived in several homes – fixing them up and moving on – but with heavy hearts each time.  As much as we knew we’d miss certain features of each home, the greatest lament always involved saying goodbye to beloved trees. 

Without knowing it (at least in any conscious way) every home we’ve ever lived in was improved upon, landscape-wise, with the addition of three or more trees. 

Every home. 

Most received a cluster of three evergreen trees for decorative screening, shade, or wind control.  Often we planted more than three but always three together, somewhere on each lot. 

There’s more.  When our daughter was born, we wanted to instill a love of nature and conservation and decided an annual tradition of planting a ‘birthday tree’ (yes, an evergreen) would do the trick.  And we did.  As she grew, we finagled and fretted every spring…where will the next tree go?  An homage to family, in ways we never suspected. Three trees, please.

-Vicki ❤

Bubblegum & Sister Love


I love this photo, taken the day after a chaotic drama at home when Lisa and I were little.  I’d forgotten entirely about the ‘bubble gum incident’ until I found this pic a few weeks ago.  It’s a ‘sister love’ story worth sharing. I promise. ❤

Lisa is my older sister with developmental and physical disabilities. Growing up, we knew how to take care of each other – even when, or especially when our mom was on the warpath.  Through thick and thin…we stuck together. (Oh – that will become funny in a minute…read on…”stuck”…that’s perfect!)

Mom often wanted to blame me for mishaps because she assumed I was unkind or thoughtless with Lisa.  Maybe I was, on occasion, but mostly I looked out for her.  The extent of Lisa’s disabilities unfolded over time but I always knew she needed me.  As she grew, we learned she was legally blind in one eye and her challenges with mobility became obvious.  The combination made her wobbly, even on good days.

When mom wanted to assume the worst in me, Lisa tried to come to my defense, but she also knew when to back down for her own safety.  Taking on our mom in an argument never ended well.

I don’t recall the year of the bubble gum incident, but using the photo as a guide, I’d guess I was five or six which would mean Lisa was about seven.  The striking thing in the photo is Lisa’s hair.  The day before, she had shoulder length, dark blonde curls – thick and full.  Twenty-four hours later?  A buzz cut that made her look more like a little boy than a sweet girl. 

Mom hated it when we chewed bubble gum, so Lisa and I were sneaky.  We’d enjoy gum only when we watched tv and knew how to shove a big wad to the side of our mouths to avoid detection.  I taught Lisa how.  Mom’s hardline stance?  Not about dental worries.  No, she hated gum because it was a pisser to remove from furniture and pillows and Lisa and I had habits of leaving wads of chewed-up gum on nightstands and bedposts, instead of using garbage cans.  Fair enough.  One point for the mom.

But on the summer day in question, Lisa was a dare devil as she practiced stretching and swirling maneuvers with her gum.  After chewing several pieces, she began whipping long strands around her fingers, feeling like she’d accomplished something magical.  I’m not sure why, but Lisa could never master the art of blowing bubbles and it drove her crazy because she couldn’t copy my monster-sized efforts. The next best thing in Lisa’s mind?  Twirl, baby, twirl.  And she did.  And then it got stuck in her hair.

I don’t know where I’d gone but when I returned to the tv and Lisa that day, she was crying as she tried to extricate sticky pink gum from her hair.  The more she struggled, the more mangled the mess.  My sweet sister started to tremble – not just about the predicament but the rage that would follow from mom. I tried to help, but poor Lisa’s curls sucked up the sticky, rubbery gum with a vengeance.

I knew Lisa.  She wasn’t worried about her hair.  She was trembling as she anticipated mom’s rage.  So, I did what made sense.  I told Lisa it wasn’t her fault.  We’d tell mom I was playing around, and MY gum got in LISA’s hair.  MY GUM.  Lisa nodded and through her tears, she understood.  “Are you sure?”, she asked.  “Yep.  You didn’t do anything.  It’s my fault and I’ll go tell mom.”

I did – tell our mom – and the punishment wasn’t great for me, but Lisa was spared and that was good.  Mom grabbed kitchen shears and began chopping off hunks of Lisa’s hair, all while screaming at me…which was unpleasant, but better than having her take it out on Lisa. 

By the time mom was done, Lisa’s hair looked like it was shorn by a weed-wacker.  Evidence in the photo.  For good measure, I guess, a few inches were lopped off my hair and my bangs were hacked a bit, but the more mom cut, the less angry she was, so I didn’t complain.

The next day mom took us to a beauty parlor and Lisa got her hair trimmed a little more. I don’t think Lisa needed to go, but mom wanted an audience to tell the horror story of what ‘awful little Vicki did’.  Fine, whatever.  I remember sulking in order to fit the description mom spewed to the gossip gals in the ugly pink palace…the ‘salon’.

Playing the part of demon child, I stared out the window and noticed one of those fun, pint-sized photo booths on the sidewalk.  As mom paid and finished blathering about how hard it was to raise ‘little hellions”, I told Lisa she looked pretty with her short hair, and we should take a picture together. Her vision was poor because she wasn’t wearing glasses yet, so the picture of us became a memento she loved…about a bad time that turned sister sunny. 

Lisa still remembers the ‘bubble gum day’ as a feel-good but she never chewed gum after.  Ever.  Most important?  It’s what you can’t see in the photo — Lisa squeezing my hand.  She did that a lot that summer and I didn’t mind one bit.

Love to you, from me and big sis Lisa!

Vicki ❤

Happy Is…as Happy Does

My paternal grandfather’s given name was Daniel but no one ever referred to him as Dan, Daniel or Danny.  Nope.  For his entire life, he was known only as “Happy”.  As a toddler I didn’t question names – I just hoped I could get the words out of my mouth.  So many in our family had complicated, multi-syllabic monikers that were tongue-twister tricky.  Thank goodness nicknames were the predominant family tradition.  We had “Butch”, “Gus”, “Loulou”, “Magpie”, “Myrtle” and “Slats” in the wackadoodle roster of kinfolk.  For some, I have no clue what their actual names were.

But Happy – my grandfather?  I don’t recall the moment but my dad said I asked him once, when I was just a tot, where Snow White and the other dwarfs were – if Grandpa’s name was “Happy”.  I must’ve figured Grumpy and Dopey were nearby – aliases for the aunts or uncles?

The only credible reasons I’ve found for Grandpa Daniel’s “Happy” nickname is that he was, as a young man, happy. All the time.  As a second-generation immigrant, he rejoiced in hard work and was a laborer at a rock quarry.  Whenever the opportunity presented, however, he was on a golf course. Whether it was Scottish roots or just his calling, he loved golf, as did my dad. 

I’m sharing two photos of Grandpa Happy that I adore. I wish my dad was still alive so I could pepper him with questions.  Photos are divine…but as I stare at the young Happy, I know his life unfolded to include incapacitating grief.  That’s when I knew him, after Grandma Lily passed away.  The name “Happy” didn’t fit by then.  Ten-year old me learned lessons about irony when I compared his behavior and demeanor with his name.  He was loving, but always shrouded, never smiling. That’s how I knew him.

A friend and I detoured into a silly conversation about stupid, slapstick movies recently and she confessed that she really likes silly Adam Sandler flicks, especially Happy Gilmore”.  I think I knew about the film, but must’ve missed it, given it debuted at an ultra-busy time in my life in the late 90’s.  Childcare and elder care were top priorities which meant Vicki had no time for silly – especially in the form of a two-hour sit-down to enjoy a goofy comedy.  Those were pragmatic, push-thru days. 

BUT – my friend’s admission about “Happy Gilmore”?  Yep – made me wonder about the film’s title and the “Happy” backstory.  Whether entirely true or not, one account is that Adam Sandler had a childhood friend who kicked his butt in golf.  A fun-loving, ‘happy’ friend…and Sandler’s character in the film is loosely based on his childhood golfing buddy.

When I look at the pics I’ve snipped in here of Grandpa Happy, all hip-checking swagger on a golf course, I smile.  He had very little in his life as a hard-working papa and spouse, but golly – the man knew how to pose – whether on a golf course or in that stunning fedora.  The combo of finding fun pics of my grandfather, mixed in with goofy movie trivia is a feel-good for me.  So, I thought I’d share. 

If Grandpa Happy lived a little longer, he would’ve been disappointed in me.  My “golfing” claim to fame?  Being booted off countless courses by the rangers…as I drove carts for my dad over the years.  Once I tried to caddy.  Oh, big mistake! Golfers don’t like onlookers who don’t know how to hush up.  I’ve never been the hush up type…but maybe if Grandpa Happy was putting, out of respect, I would’ve quieted down for him.

Thank you for reading…and big happy smiles to you!

Vicki 😊

Not Here…But Near


My mom-in-law passed away suddenly in 2009 and her birthday is coming up this week.  I love nothing more than remembering those we’ve lost by continuing to celebrate and remember them on their birthdays.

We’re fortunate to have fond memories and delightful photos – gosh, those help.  Maxine was the loveliest woman on the planet.  Smart and savvy…and gracious…especially when confronted with the sideshow attraction that was my family. 

A photo like this one…of our dear daughter curled up in her favorite loving embrace with her grandma …reminds me that the goodness of my mom-in-law pulses within our girl. What a gift that is

Maxine was chock full of kindness and an ability to think before speaking, and I see those qualities flowing into another generation of wonderful womanhood – in our now grown-up girl.

You’re not ‘here’ but you’re near.  Just a memory away.  Happy-Almost-Birthday, Maxine!

Vicki ❤

It Was Never About the Mashed Potatoes

Holiday time isn’t for everyone.  Such a mixed bag of tricks…I swear it feels like a continuation of Halloween.  We’re surrounded by manufactured cheer.  For some, the festive and formulaic films on the Hallmark Channel are a tonic. For others? They have an ironic, unintended effect, prompting prayers for amnesia so we can avoid comparisons to our own family members.  You know them. Every family has one or two…those provocateurs wrapped in reindeer sweaters. 

I have a dear friend…let’s call her Dottie.  She’s the cutie in the pic with me. Dottie and I have been friends for 20+ years, which means she deserves a special commendation for her veteran status in “Vicki-land”.  I adore her because she is smart and big-hearted. I could go on…and on…but in truth, the qualifications for best friend status could stop at those two characteristics.  Smart and big hearted.  That’s Dottie.

In her work-world, Dottie’s respected, sought-after and the spotlight only adds to her natural glimmer and glow.  Her family, however?  They believe she’s just an over-educated caterer.  (No offense intended to caterers but I don’t think Dottie’s advanced degrees and credentials are required.)

For reasons I’d like to attribute to laziness, Dottie’s family enjoys holiday feasts because she creates them. Yep.  She plans the menu, does the shopping, and lovingly transports her tasty cuisine to her sister’s home.  Her sister who lives an hour away. 

Maybe in our youth we accept certain roles when dumped (I mean…placed) upon us within the family.  As we get older?  Traditions suck – especially if you’re the sole supporter of some of them. I don’t care how often a distant uncle belches his gratitude after polishing off a two-plater-feast-o-rama. It’s not enough.  I don’t care how often second cousins and hangers-on (where did these extra people come from?) comment on the ‘tender bake’ of your homemade yeast rolls, or how juicy the turkey is.  No.  No.  No.  You guessed it.  Not enough. We yearn for consideration, respect, kindness.  Even if only a tad.

What about the mashed potatoes I mentioned in the title of this rant?  Yeah, I’m getting to that.  The spuds were responsible for obliterating Dottie’s dwindling holiday cheer.  See…when you are the designated purveyor of everything for your family feast, you need to plan ahead – just a smidge.  I love the idea of a sous chef or Keebler elves, but I haven’t met any yet and neither has Dottie.

Unwilling to bet her oven gloves on magical helpers, smart girls like Dottie make a LENGTHY shopping list…check it twice….and map out the cooking, baking and prep in the same way I imagine a four-star General goes into battle.  Except she’s got no troops.  It’s just her…so the timeline…the second big task after all the fetching and gathering is done…becomes mission critical. When do I prepare what…as she scans the menu and strategizes. 

Thanksgiving’s always on a Thursday, right?  You know this. Surely Dottie’s sister did, too, but that didn’t stop her from calling the afternoon before Thanksgiving – you know, the day we call WEDNESDAY to proudly proclaim she’d be the princess of potatoes.  Hey there, darling Dottie, loving sis.  So…let’s see…I really want to help and considering you’re bringing everything…I’ll give til it hurts and maybe do the potatoes.  See me?  I’m SO helpful. 

When we’re not stretched so thin that we’re like rubber bands ready to snap, even a late-in-the-game helping hand is nice.  When you’re up to your armpits in a messy kitchen, juggling too much, the intrusion of a half-hearted “offer” is insulting.  And that’s how Dottie felt.  Not helpful.  Was she wrong?  No. There’s no ‘wrong’ when it comes skyscraper levels of emotionality at holiday time.  What you feel is what you feel…but what you say and do…oh, those are the moneymakers or the deal breakers. 

When Dottie called me, not long after her sister’s offer, she was ready to cancel Thanksgiving and bail on the whole shebang.  As I listened, I couldn’t blame her.  She’s been used for years…and yet…pointing out that it MIGHT BE that she’s changed…and her family’s the same as ever…seemed helpful.  Maybe it’s okay for Dottie to be angry but funnel the heat toward adjusting her response.  And she did.

Dottie did her duty. She delivered the feast (without the potatoes) and rather than assume her typical position in her sister’s kitchen, she explained that she’d let others tend to the remaining prep, as she took a comfy seat on the sofa.  “Do you want to help with anything?” one of her nieces asked, no doubt flummoxed to see Aunt Dottie relaxing while everyone else spun into action.  “No – I see you’ve got plenty of help. I’m good right here”, was Dottie’s succinct and satisfying response.

One of the best things about friends is the post-mortem chats.  Post-mortems about anything – family feasts, annoying neighbors, dry cuticles – you name it.  When Dottie and I compared notes about Thanksgiving I was thrilled to hear about her new persona.  Less ‘Dutiful Dottie” and more “Do-it-Your-Own-Damn-Self-Dottie”.  Yep – it was never about the mashed potatoes. 

Vicki 😉

Save Some For Me!

Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet. – Colette


She might look mild-mannered…but that’s only a function of my lackluster photography skills…my inability to capture fierce ‘action shots’.

Pic #1 is Sadie, and at first glance? No big deal…just a pupster peeking out a window. But look more closely. See her tail? It’s razor sharp…ready to slice into her enemies. It’s that rigid.

What’s the fuss? See the second pic? Our favorite family of deer – just the girls for some reason – noshing on the last of the fall apples. Soon they’ll be apple-flavored ice clods but for now, still pretty tasty…and that’s driving Sadie absolutely mad.

I’m not sure if Sadie wanted to join in or if her conflicted behavior of barking, along with tail wagging (even with her taut tail) suggested she wanted to play. I asked her but she gave me the look that said “Scram, mom – I’m busy patrolling the perimeter.”

What I know for sure? This morning’s excitement resulted in an earlier-than-normal nap…with her bunny. Evidence is in the third pic.

Good morning – from me and the pooped-out pooch!

Vicki 😊

Loving Lisa – Elvis Style

My sister Lisa is a developmentally disabled adult in her early 60’s.  She’s a delight in so many ways – a savant when it comes to family memories (good and bad) and she’s quite the connoisseur of pop culture and trivia.  Don’t test her knowledge of classic TV from the seventies or eighties…her magical brain is like a lock box of celebrity this-and-that.  But still…given her intellectual challenges (born with brain damage at birth, surviving as a preemie when no one thought she would) Lisa can get a little mixed up with details from time to time and I’m learning I need be aware of her emerging tendences to creatively (but not maliciously) swap and pair details from TV-land with real life.  I’ve written about Lisa a couple of times, if you want to peek into more of her story but that’s the shortest summary I can offer…as a prelude to something silly.

While prepping our Thanksgiving feast last week, Lisa and I decided to watch the latest epic “Elvis” film…the Baz Luhrmann hot mess (sorry, I should’ve said “spoiler alert” first) that rendered me nearly helpless in the kitchen.  Is THAT Tom Hanks…really Tom Hanks?  At first, I was mesmerized by the fat suit and then…his bizarre Dutch-Southern U.S. accent in his portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker?  I needed to wander closer to the screen – more than once (dare-devil style with biscuit dough all over my hands) to confirm what I saw/heard.  And apologies again if you watched the film and loved it.  Parts of it were cool…who doesn’t love period set-design and costuming?  Austin Butler as Elvis?  Pretty amazing…but the story?  I’m not sure how Baz wrapped it up because Lisa and I bailed with about 30 minutes remaining.

Lisa nodded when I asked if we should say adios to Elvis and quipped, “Yeah, I don’t need to see the end.  Elvis dies on the toilet, right?” 😉 So we swapped in holiday music and said goodbye to the oddball movie and turned it off.  Now THAT was a rare occurrence.  Lisa and I love films, generally of all sorts, and I can’t think of the last movie we ‘walked out on’ – whether from the comfort of the family room or in a theatre.  We stick it out…you know…our mutual admiration of creative efforts, if not the finished product.

As we settled back into the mess in the kitchen, I was still processing the potpourri of Elvis factoids that flew out of Lisa as we started the film.  Here’s where I need to be careful.  My sweet sister – functioning at the intellectual level of a forever eight-year-old – can be incredibly reliable and accurate with fun facts and celebrity trivia.  BUT, if she’s on a roll, she can pillage and pilfer “facts” that only exist in her head.  On occasion, she’ll embellish and/or pick a detail from one story and attach it to whatever the current convo is about.  It’s hard to explain…am I making sense?  (Nod if yes.  If no…it’s okay to stop reading here.  I won’t be mad.)

One of those fun-facts-offered-as-Lisa’s-very-own-Elvis-trailer-preview-reel was this: “Vicki, did you know Elvis had a twin?”   We were setting up stations in the kitchen for biscuit-making, stuffing, and pie prep and maybe I misheard her, I thought.  Color me dubious…this was a tidbit I’d never heard about.  I gave Lisa a look and said, “Are you sure?”   And she replied with a little defiance and pride, “Yes, yes” she said, “I know lots of things other people don’t pay attention to.”

True enough, I thought, that’s my Lisa and dontcha know a few minutes later, the movie tended to the topic of Elvis’ twin.  I might’ve missed all that was shared – I think it was a scene with Elvis and his mother. I should probably go back and look again but I know what I heard.  Lisa was right!  Feeling vindicated despite my doubting look, Lisa shouted, “See – see – they just mentioned his twin in the movie.”  I was gob smacked. 

Lisa did it again!  I paused and gave her well-deserved praise.  “That’s awesome…you’re right…you pick up on fun facts that a lot of us miss!  Good job, Lisa.”  She was pleased as punch with herself…I could see it as color rushed to her cheeks.  Flushed with pride – literally.

Maybe she figured she was on a roll? After that ‘twin win’ and the good vibes she must’ve felt, Lisa jumped into kitchen duty with gusto, especially enthusiastic as she mixed the stuffing…adding the butter into the dry bread. More landed on the floor (to pooch Sadie’s delight) than remained in the bowl but I didn’t care. The hilarious part was Lisa’s monologue. “Yes” Lisa repeated several times, “Elvis DID have a twin! And did you know he named his daughter Lisa Marie after me? I think mom knew Elvis and they both liked the name.”

Lisa’s rosy cheeks were more crimson than flushed at this point…I wondered if that was a ‘tell’ that she knew she was telling a whopper?  I’m not sure.  What I do know is that our mother never met Elvis…but Lisa’s feel-good moment, attaching herself to Elvis’ life and his daughter was fun for her.  Rather than wreck her vibe I just said, “Wow…that’s hard to believe…but it’s a good story.” 

And Lisa? She knew I knew she was playing fast and loose – embellishing real life with fabricated fun. She smiled and said, “I know, right? I think I’ll tell Rosie. She believes all of my stories.” God Bless Lisa’s bestie, Rosie. They’ve lived together for years, and Rosie doesn’t give a rat’s patootie whether Lisa’s “stories” are fully factual or not. The “Lisa Show” can be great entertainment for Rosie…and sometimes for me.

Hugs to you – from me and from Lisa!

-Vicki 😊

“Hold the Pickle, Hold the Lettuce…”

I hate condiments...Unless…whipped cream, is whipped cream a condiment? (Not on a burger, of course!)

I had a great marathon chat with a dear friend this week.  I love holiday time for many reasons…it’s great to catch up with friends and family who are near, but it also provides time to connect with dear ones who live far, far away. 

My friend Caroline (not her real name…she’s okay with me sharing this sweet story in my blog but prefers a bit of anonymity) and I had the best long, languishing phone call this week.  I wish we were closer, but distance doesn’t diminish affection and connection.  She’s been a soul sister for decades…and I think we bonded over our mutual quirkiness.  Oh, that and wicked humor. 😉

Thanksgiving put Caroline and her family on the road this year…a ten-hour trip by car with three children under ten, a dog, a cat and lizard. I still don’t understand why the pets (especially the lizard) needed to make the trip but asking about that was too much of a detour in our convo, so I’ll need to inquire another time.  She had ‘an incident to share’ that she described as annoying…but to me?  It was hilarious…prompting a reply of “And…so…what’s the problem?” Here’s the story…

Caroline learned a life-changing lesson about her middle child this week.  Turns out, as of a few days ago, he will not eat burgers with condiments of any sort.  No mustard, ketchup, pickles, and heaven forbid – no sneaky ‘secret sauce’.  Her other kids?  Happy as clams to eat what’s in front of them…not a picky bone in their bodies.  Given the pandemic and the fact that her wild and crazy troupe hadn’t ‘road tripped’ in a long time…and because kids morph and change…she and her hubs had no idea their middle dude (who’s five) would refuse to eat a Hamburger Happy Meal if it was standard issue.  Meaning? No condiments. 

How did they discover the change in his palate? With a car full of cranky humans (not just the kids – she and the hubs were battling about navigation) and too many pit stops…logged exclusively for the dog who kept throwing up…she decided they’d do drive-thru food so they could log more miles. No stopping unless it was absolutely necessary (meaning – a human needed a rest stop, not the dog, so he could barf, sniff and meander). She was mad, her hubs was mad…trading snide comments about wayfinding and her sarcastic reminders to him that an overnight drive could’ve prevented some of the daytime madness.

Anywho…. back to the Happy Meal.  Middle dude…the five-year-old…had a full-on freak-a-thon when he discovered his burger had all the saucey stuff on it that he now hates.  Caroline tried to smooth things over as she removed the culprits…pickles are easy, but she knew that wouldn’t be enough so she wiped off the visible clods of ketchup and mustard and figured that would do the trick. No, no, no. Middle Dude was watching and wailed further when she handed back the ‘take two’ version because the bun still smelled like ketchup.  He wanted a plain burger…no extra stuff…and wiping down the bun didn’t render it edible.

As Caroline continued the story (TL;DR – they turned around and drove back to McDonald’s to get a factory-issued plain burger for Middle Dude) she expected me to say she was a pushover or a mommy failure for giving in to her son.  First?  Who am I to judge? I laughed and told Caroline that parenting – especially on the road – is a survival-of-the-fittest endeavor.  Do what works for you, I said, as long as someone’s driving safely.  Second?  I don’t think Caroline knew…remembered…or cared to remember…that I, too, despise condiments.  Especially sloppy ketchup and mustard. (While we’re at it, I think salad dressing and mayo are abominations.)  Yuck.  I have no affinity for slightly tart and sour accoutrements to food.  Unless, as I said, you count tangy whipped cream as a condiment. 😉

The best thing about catching up with friends is sharing our quirks.  Our fears about possible parenting and relationship mistakes?  Sure thing.  Admitting to odd food preferences and picky-eater qualities?  Again – sure thing.  And occasionally, a sweet chat with an old friend conjures a memory worth sharing. 

Caroline wondered if her Middle Dude would grow out of his pickiness about condiments. “No clue“, I said, adding that I never changed. I’ve hated condiments for decades and despite many miles of road trips in my vagabond upbringing, my sweet papa always knew a regular trip through a drive-thru was a no-go because it was easier to get “little Vic’s special order” if he went in, stretched his legs (his cover story) to be sure I’d get my plain, plain, plain burger. 

Despite mom’s hateful looks in my direction, irritated that my dislike of condiments slowed us down, dad never needed to ask what I wanted from McDonald’s. He just accommodated me. I hadn’t thought about that for years until I talked with Caroline, and it was fun to share it with her…along with a reminder that the next time we spoke, I wanted a moment to talk to Middle Dude. He and I have a lot in common…you know, condiment-wise.

Saturday smiles…from me to you!

Vicki 😊

Mountain Magic

The year was 1998 – just a year after my dad died and something unexpected happened.  My first-ever Rocky Mountain adventure.  Looking back, I’m not sure how I navigated the high hurdles with my mixed-up mom so that I could go. Selective amnesia can be a good thing…some memories belong at the curb, not in the heart.  When the opportunity came to escape…just a little…for a work trip to Denver, I was ecstatic and so were my conference-presenting partners.  On a whim, we’d written a proposal to present at a research-oriented annual convening and truth-be-told, no one was more surprised than moi when we received our acceptance notification. Okay, then…off to Denver we went!

When you’re a mom of a toddler and you’ve got extraneous, dangling family duties of other sorts (crazy mother, disabled sister, and a plate too full of professional aspirations) the notion of flying the coop into a four-day adult experience is both thrilling and fearsome. Added into the milieu was the timing…flying to Denver in November, in a year when Mother Nature chose to bring substantial snow – early snow — to the Rockies.  Dare devils, we were.  Dare devils…of the fluff ball variety. Not a single one amongst us was any sort of risk-taker.

But we went and it was fun, fun, fun.  So much fun that we decided a little escapism was in order.  Only one in our crew had ever been to Estes Park and the allure of the Stanley Hotel was powerful.  Honestly, the appeal of visiting the venue associated with “The Shining” gave us shivers, just thinking about.  Unrelated to the weather. 

The prospect of daring to ditch the conference (only after we’d presented, of course) made us giddy like a bunch of teenagers. We rented a car and made a road trip of it and silly me…I was more excited about stepping foot in The Stanley than the beautiful drive from Denver and the picturesque qualities of Estes Park itself.  You see…that year, I was a mountain novice.  Other than a trip once or twice to the Smokey Mountains…driving thru to get elsewhere, mountain magic eluded me.

Spoiler about “The Stanley”.  Ho hum, ho hum.  Smaller than expected and no weird willy moments.  Nada.  Except for the stellar group pic from the front porch (snipped in above), visiting the supposed inspiration for Stephen King’s super spooktacular “The Shining” was boring.  So, we decided to split up, do some exploring elsewhere in Estes Park.  Trinket stores and fudge shops were everywhere and the opportunity for do-it-yourselfer walking tours sounded great.  Fresh air…and time for a few of us to reboot our introverted souls with a bit of solitude.

Me?  I ambled down some side streets and realized one was a dead end…delivering pedestrians to a park and a hiking gateway.  I’m no hiker, and as you can see from the pic, my version of ‘adventure wear’ was an Icelandic-looking reindeer sweater.  A favorite from Eddie Bauer that I wore to shreds…so comfy…but still, not hiking gear. 

I had time before the meet-up with my friends, so I followed the path, and without another soul in sight, I happened upon a hollowed-out tree, turned into a bench and a resting spot.  The weather up until then had been overcast, but stunning glimpses of the elevations around Estes Park were slightly visible but obscured by clouds.  As I sat on the bench, I enjoyed the solitude and unexpectedly, the clouds shifted, providing me with a stunning peek of a peak.

I’d forgotten about the high altitude in Estes Park, given the cloud cover, and after my short baby-hike, I unknowingly ventured higher than I imagined.  (Thank goodness for gradual grades on a path, right?  So gradual I didn’t know I was ascending.)  As I sat and took in the view, my breath escaped from my body – one big outflow in a way that I cannot describe. Not just a ‘take your breath away’ moment but a full body shiver and shake.  Like I was in the presence of something…requiring my full attention.  The something?  That blessed peak in front of me.

I didn’t know how far away I was from it, in reality, but to my eye, if I extended my arms, my fingertips would’ve touched the snow cap.  So close.  When the sun added a glimmer, enough to make me squint, I realized I was crying.  My dad’s nickname was “Sonny” because his mother always referred to him as her ‘little sunshine’ and in that moment, my papa who’d passed – about 18 months before – was right there with me.  I felt overwhelmed and the only thought in my head was “mountain magic” and then his voice saying, “Remember there’s magic in the mountains”. 

I’m still not sure what to make of that experience but it’s a keeper.  When I rejoined my friends my bestie Linda could tell I was ‘off’.  She and our other pals stocked up on treats for the ride back to Denver – tons of fudge and some mixed nuts – and as we walked back to the car she just asked, “Are you okay?” and then “Where’d you go?  My answer was pretty cloaked because I wasn’t sure what to say.  What I recall thinking…but I don’t know if it came out of my mouth…was this: “I think I found magic in the mountains.”

Thanks so much for reading.  It’s Thanksgiving today in the U.S. and this memory…of my moment in the mountains…was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning.  I figured it was my dad’s way of saying hello.  So, from him…and from me…sending hugs and reminders to look for magic…it might be right in front of you.

Vicki 😊

New View

holiday tree with white lights

I love a little trompe l’oeil in the morning…or anytime.  When you peek at the pic – at first – does it look like the tree’s inside?  Maybe your peepers are more finely tuned…at 5am..than mine. 

I know we’re not quite at Thanksgiving here in the U.S., but it’s the hubster’s tradition to do exterior lights and holiday decorating before we experience full frozen tundra.  And…given the shenanigans going on inside, with remodeling and all, we decided we’d enjoy the “deck tree” as if it’s inside the house.

Instead of placing this year’s evergreen near the railing and away from the door, hubs (dear man that he is) indulged me a bit when I begged…pleaded…fussed…about MAYBE trying something new…by centering the tree …still on the deck…. but just outside the door.  “Maybe” …I said…” it’ll be like an inside tree and will bring some cheer from the outside in.”

Oh, baby.  That was a tough sell.  I heard him thinking when his face contorted into a full frown, “Okay, we’ll get TWO deck trees then…one where I want it…where a tree ALWAYS goes…and one for you.”  Before he could express his thought, I was shaking my head…no, no, no.  “Let’s just try it my way…and we do NOT need two deck trees!”

He relented and what you see is the outcome.  But wait – there’s more! 😉 I completely forgot that at this time of the year, pupster Sadie I need to wrangle a new place to plop in the morning.  The sunny spot…the place we park for morning coffee in spring and summer…is anything but…. sunny. Right now, it has no redeeming features…sitting there in the morning is akin to peering into a dark hole…no glimmer of sun for hours.

So, Sadie and I moved (gasp!) and ambled into the family room and into a comfy chair across from this image…this year’s tree.  All of which reminded me of how simple it is to change ONE thing…and poof – I gain a bit of perspective.  As Sadie and I sat down this morning, this year’s tree came to life because the hubster knew I’d love it if the timer was set to turn the lights on…not just at dusk but also at dawn…so I could enjoy the lights as I try to get both eyes open.

Here’s to new views…however they come our way…and from me to you…all the best if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or just enjoying the shift in seasons…wherever you are.  Sending hugs…just because…from me, the hubs, Sadie pooch and, of course, the twinkling tree.

Xo,

Vicki ❤😊❤

Ladybugs and Motherhood

There are two women in my world at the moment, one a client, one a friend and both are struggling, and the topic is motherhood.  I’m grateful that my circle of wise women spans a few generations and ages.  Such a gift.  I’ve realized recently that the thread of motherhood – what the identity means for women I love – is rich and varied and often perplexing. Sometimes painful.

Some are in the thick of doing…parenting and balancing all that being a mom entails and others are seeking – wondering if the powerful desire and calling to become a mom will ever occur.  Mixed in? Wonderful women who made peace that motherhood wouldn’t be a facet in the lives – because nature had other plans or due to unpredictable relationships…or…by choice.  I adore a few strong women who always new motherhood wasn’t for them.  I could go down a trail right here, right now about Roe v. Wade, but I won’t.  Just know I believe in choice.  Always.

One woman I care about longs for motherhood and she just experienced a loss, a miscarriage at eleven weeks. And it’s not her first round of grieving…feeling the heaviness of what could have been…this was miscarriage #2 for her.  As she’s navigated the hurdles of infertility like an Olympian, I’ve cheered from the sidelines, wishing I could do more.  She knows my story about pregnancy losses, even though I’ve learned to share selectively…because my story did (and does) have a happy ending.  My path, eventually, resulted in motherhood but mixed in were two losses prior to the DD’s (dear daughter’s) arrival and one after. Just the same, I never suspected I’d be a mom of an ‘only’.  I never imagined that my long-held, expected identity of “mom” might be out of reach.  It nearly was.

I believe the desire to nurture and love, the yearning for motherhood can, and often is, realized in other ways.  Children – whether natural or adopted – are a gift, but the instincts to love other life forms (fur babies especially) or causes – is celebration-worthy, too, as we choose where we focus our heads, hearts – our gifts and attention.  I believe “mothering” morphs in countless caring relationships, – being a wonderful cousin, aunt, uncle, or family member by choice (if not by blood).  What is a family, anyhow?

As an only and coming from a small family, our DD’s circle included dear ones who lovingly accepted the titles of ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ – not because they were card-carrying members of our wacky troupe but because they mattered. No blood oaths and lineage required.  Broadening our circle made ME feel better because I knew, at an early age, that DD longed for siblings.  I can’t offer you that…but let me ensure you’ve got a solid social circle and warmth from our family-by-choice.  Still, she was a smart cookie and wondered when she would become a big sis.

When she was in preschool, even as a four-year old, DD was encouraged to journal.  We loved the Montessori experience for her…our little nugget was writing sentences, albeit simple ones, with loving encouragement from progressive teachers.  Words were her friends – both then and now.

One of her sweet “stories” was about a ladybug (see pic above) and it leveled me.  When I glanced at it for the first time, the heavy rush of emotions drove me to the bathroom at her Montessori school.  I sought privacy and a hiding spot, just in case a full breakdown was in motion.  Thankfully episodes like that didn’t occur often, but when they did, they did, and the ladybug story knocked the wind out of me while simultaneously opening a painful portal. Our wee one was working out her confusion about babies and siblings by writing about a bug.  At four.

I know it might be hard to read the story from the photo, so I’ll add it here – funny spelling and all:

Ones upon a time ther

was a ladybug the ladybug

likes to crawl on

grass and her friends

do to! One day the

Mommy ladybug had a babby the babby was brand new!

And they

love her.

Dear daughter had babies – of all sorts – on the brain. That spring, a few months before she turned five, DD turned up the heat on her investigative super sleuthing – from her car seat perch.  I’d pick her up from Montessori and she’d ask…the whole way home…when her baby brother or sister would arrive.  Like a package. From the UPS man.  She’d watch me closely, eyeing me as I drove, staring at my reflection in the rearview mirror.  “When, mama, when?”, she’d ask. 

I thought it was cute at first and talked to one of her teachers about it, learning that DD loved helping the younger tykes in preschool, forever wandering into the classroom for the smaller kids.  If DD was missing, they knew where to look and if not with the two-year olds, they’d find her sneaking into the ‘baby room’ to giggle and play with the infants.  A little fixated, but harmless.

When the car queries didn’t net the answer DD sought, she began asking at other times.  Especially bedtime, during stories and prayers.  “God bless my baby brother or sister because I know they’re coming soon” she’d whisper, hands folded, eyes closed, except for the side-eye peeking to watch my face.  The hubs and I figured it was a phase and we continued to detour around DD’s one-track baby mind but gosh, the ad libs and improv in her prayers? Precious.

How do you tell a four-year old about miscarriages?  How do you explain there were two losses before she arrived and even after, there was another loss?  The hubster and I knew our third miscarriage put punctuation at the end of our ‘should we try again?’ conversation.  And DD knew, somehow, that asking her papa for info wouldn’t help.  She knew her baby quest was mama territory.

Not long after, I summoned all the mommy courage that I could muster, and decided to cut DD off at the pass, during a car ride home from Montessori.  I liked the idea of DD not seeing me, full-face, for the conversation.  Car convos are so good for that, aren’t they?  Before she could launch into her ritual of… ‘Baby…when?’ I shared I needed to tell her something.  Something very important.  So important that I KNEW she was ready.  She was a big girl and I had “baby” answers for her. 

She was sucking on a ring pop in the back seat.  (I hated those things then…and now.  Like a candy pacifier.  Why? But one of her Montessori friends celebrated his birthday and those were the take-home treats.  Ick.) Putting that wayward thought aside, I said, “Hey, I think you’re ready.  You know, to hear more about baby brothers and sisters.”  We were at a stop light, and I watched as she pulled her ring pop out of her mouth – so quick it almost flew into the front seat.  “Yeah! “DD screamed and then “When, when, when!” 

“Well…” I replied, “You know how Grandpa went to heaven?  It’s like that.  The babies went straight to heaven…and even though we wish they were here with us, God had other plans and it’s okay.”  My hands and lips were trembling, and I wondered if she could see it.  I expected her to ask, “Brothers or sisters?” or respond with anger or frustration or ask if they were sick like grandpa.  Instead, our DD, wise in ways that I can still scarcely fathom, just said this, “Okay.  That’s good that grandpa has company, mama” and she went back to her ring pop.  A minute or so later she asked, “Can we watch Blue’s Clues when we get home?”.  End scene. 

Years later, DD and I have discussed the ‘car talk’ that day.  She remembers parts of it and enjoys the reminiscing about the ladybugs and her baby fixations.  As hard as she pushed to get an answer, once she had one, she moved on.  No more ladybug baby stories, fewer trips into the baby room at Montessori.  How her little girl brain processed what I shared, about babies, heaven – all of that?  I’m not sure but the car ride that day was a mommy moment I’ll never forget.

And for those I care about who are finding their way, moving through losses and questions about identities and what life has in store, I can only share that as much as I’d love to wrap you all up in a loving hug and make your dreams come true, I know I can’t, but I’ll be here in any way I can to provide support and a virtual hug.  Not quite the same, but remarkably satisfying, especially when we know we’re not alone.

Vicki ❤

He Wore Pink…

Yep, he wore pink, before it was fashionable…for men of his generation.  My dad grew up at a time when, at least here in the U.S., men tended to wear more muted tones.  Shades of brown, navy, beige and variations, sure, and his closet was a neutral palette.

When life took him to California in the 80’s, he found his vibe…and it was pink.  Rosey tones, corals, blush hues and yep, an occasional floral (gasp!).  Paired with his beloved Birkenstocks, my previously buttoned-up papa (learn more about him – his helping heart AND his fashion sense in this silly post) renewed his soul with color

My mom? She was shocked and referred to him as a ‘show pony’…to which, he’d just smile and say – with a wink: “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.” 😉

That’s my Sunday morning rewind smile – from my Miami Vice wannabe papa, smirking and smiling from behind those shades, just for you.

-Vicki 😊

Forty Years…Plus

Yup.  The hubster and I are officially into our fourth decade…plus a smidge.  Where does the time go?  We met on a snowier-than-normal November evening, as I was stuck in a parking lot with my car battery dying a slow death (due to an interior light being left on for two hours, unbeknownst to me).  Future hubster?  Fresh from a construction job helping his sister build her first home in Alaska, he looked like Paul Bunyan, come to life, saving me and my car that snowy night.  I don’t know if it was the full beard or the plaid flannel and Frankenstein-like hiking boots, but he loomed large – all 6’5” of him, but casting an even more imposing shadow as he stood, backlit with swirling snow and buzzing, blinking overhead parking lot lights. 

The pic of us? It was two years later, celebrating our six-month wedding anniversary. I don’t know if the men in my life will ever understand, but throughout my twenties, thirties…and beyond, every couple of years brought new hair styles. Ladies, are you with me? In the mid-eighties, this particular hairstyle rocked…the punkier and spikier the better. Sometimes my natural color (yep, brown, but I’ve taken to ‘heavy highlights’ for years because being a blondie makes it easier to cover copious grays).  But back then?  I morphed colors every year or so (deep burgundy was a favorite).  Now? Middle age drove me to love a little length and peroxide…and God bless a dear friend who’s done my hair for thirty years…I just let her do her thing.  But enough about Vicki’s hair – that’s not the point. 😉

What IS the point?  Hubs and I have had our ups and downs and challenges.  No doubt…and while plenty of people in our lives have wondered about secrets to relationship longevity, I have no secret sauce. But – I’m forever reminded that little things matter and if left untended, without a bit of nurture, they morph into big thingsStinky things that swell and take over, eclipsing the good stuff. 

Have you heard of the Gottman Institute?  Every now and again their work is highlighted anew, despite the fact that their ‘love lab’ has been featured everywhere – including in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”.  I’m a fan of their quick take podcasts which offer relationship advice and wisdom in nifty, digestible nuggets.  No big commitment – just five minutes or so.  Like a booster shot.

The article I found yesterday pulled a few threads of “Gottman goodness” together into one feature and brought forward one of my favorite practices:  The daily check-in, the lean-in, the connecting – no matter how busy.  Like most things in life that are healthy and wholesome, they’re simple, too. Literally leaning in and being available to your partner – maybe at distinct times during the day and/or remaining open and ready to attend to him/her, as life rolls along? Impactful.  Yes – quick text exchanges “count” and yes, the hollering from another part of the house?  Yeah.  We all do it.  Communication, of a sort, is better than nothing. 

What I love about the article is the research-based reveal that leaning in and having an engaged posture – both physically and emotionally – conveys connection, attachment, LOVE.  Eyes down, multi-tasking and doing the ‘uh-huh’ routine, while our attention drifts ever-elsewhere?  Unavoidable, at times, but the Gottman’s research highlights the importance of fully focusing on our partner, our loved one.  Maybe it’s impossible to do all the time…but doing it, as much as we can?  It matters. 

Long ago the hubs and I established a practice of morning check-ins and hilariously, in our current home we have a wacky little ‘bump out’ off the kitchen. Maybe (and I’m being generous) it’s 7 x 6 foot. Tiny – but ample enough for two of our favorite chairs, positioned so they’re tilted inward, but also face our deck and yard. 

Who loves the space the most?  Given the windows on three sides, our puppy mama Sadie thinks of the space as entirely hers, but she does give way, most mornings, as the hubs and I exchange quick thoughts about the day, what needs to be done, what’s left over from the day before and highlights – what we’re looking forward to and how are we dividing up the never-ending ‘to do’ lists.  Oh – and meal planning.  We love the ’what’s for dinner’ conversation first thing in the morning. 😊

If we miss a day for one reason or another, we’re “off”.  Me? I pick up an edge in my voice, oh-so-easily and become impatient, expecting that the hubs finally – and magically – acquired mind reading skills.  What does he do?  He disengages.  Prone to extreme introversion, he’ll be happy as a clam doing his own thing which is okay for a while…but inevitably, the part of me that’s driven and task-oriented rises, looking for dialogue, which I need more than he does, to navigate the day.

And laughing whenever possible?  Oh, that’s good, too. And…leave it to Lisa, my adorable, savant sister who, despite her disabilities, can be counted on to cut through — to the heart of what matters most.  You see…Lisa loves the little room, too.  She knows the hubs and I adore the nook, but sweet Sadie loves it even more.  When we bought this house Lisa hilariously told her girlfriends that our main reason for buying it was because it had a “tiny sunroom for Sadie and for chit chat”.

Yup.  I guess that says it all.  So, here’s to chit chat and tending to our loved ones, as much as we can, without distraction.  Lean in…just lean in.  If we can wrangle a sunny spot, so much the better.

Vicki 😊

If Houses Could Speak…

I love stories that are ‘unexplainable’.  You?  I’ve never been much for facts, figures, and rational thinking, which explains why any science or math teacher – bless their souls – who encountered me along the way should’ve received combat pay.  It’s not that I don’t accept data and singular answers.  I can, I do.  I just don’t like finite things.  No room for the welcoming cushion of doubt. 

Before your brain wanders, launching a lecture about laws of physics, matter, and the universe itself, let me just ask for your indulgence, for the sake of the story I want to share.  And lest you think of me as a total crackpot, I’ll admit that while I DO appreciate measurement and precision, I prefer to live my life with softer edges, more mystery, less reason. 

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the house that hubster and I bought several years ago.  I’ve shared it’s our ‘fixer upper’ and remodeling is afoot.  Yes, I’ve been a whiner and yes, I’ll survive.  Being privileged enough to own a home and undertake improvements? A blessing and I’m grateful.  Ever grateful. 

Every now and then, a well-meaning friend will ask why we bought a house that, while I touted its ‘great bones’ needed so much work.  Windows?  Yes.  New flooring – everywhere?  Yes.  A new roof?  Yes – and soon (patching only takes you so far).  Yes, there are decorating conundrums, too – things I don’t like that I’d love to focus on first, but functionality always wins in the war between “lovely” and “livable”. 

We didn’t want to buy the house.  We tried to ignore “her” after making her acquaintance on a summer Saturday when an open house sign beckoned.  “Let’s peek”, we said.  So, we did. On a quiet, tree-lined street, we found a brick beauty.  Constructed from something unusual – a type of brick referred to as “reclaimed” or “seconds”, her exterior was nubby with texture, unlike any masonry house I’d ever seen.  Hubster knew the materials.  “These are unusual” he said.  “Can’t find these anymore – look at all the gradations in color, light and dark.” The uneven-ness was captivating.  Some bricks were bumpy and bulging, others smooth and straight.  The overall façade? Georgian-like, I suppose, with the symmetrical window placement.  Windows that cried “Save us…we might look pretty but we don’t open and the house needs to breathe!”

We met the real estate agent, who became a friend.  Oddly, other than one other couple who breezed through, we were the only lookey-loos that day…at the open house that nearly became a sleep over. 

We arrived at 1pm and at 4 o’clock, we were still loitering and wandering – chatting with the realtor, learning about the house, discovering interesting quirks and details…but not everything (as we’d learn much later).  Those three hours felt like, I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes?  We were entranced, yes, but the magnitude of the work loomed large. This stately lady needed deep pockets and our affection alone wouldn’t make her shine. 

Flash-forward just a bit…as a week went by and the agent called, curious if we would put in an offer.  We wanted to, but the push-pull…loving the house, yet forecasting homeowner horror gave us pause. The only prudent path was pitching a low-ball offer…not so low as to offend but informed enough to account for the urgent repairs needed.

Despite our agent’s efforts, the homeowner wouldn’t budge on price.  Okay then – it wasn’t meant to be.  Sad?  Yes.  But the hubs and I felt we made an excellent ‘head over heart’ decision, despite the affection we had for this odd, brick beauty. 

And thenafter six months passed, our realtor friend called again.  “Have you noticed”, she asked “that the price came down – on the house you love?”  Of course, we noticed.  We’d driven by a few times, still processing our decision, noticing the ‘for sale’ sign, still in place.  We noticed the price drops, too.  Not once but twice.  Walking a fine line, our realtor let us know that the owners needed to sell – and soon.  They were carrying two mortgages and regretted not taking our offer from six months prior. 

Now we’re talking, we thoughtThe TLDR version? (Yes, yes, I should’ve offered that option earlier, I get it.) We negotiated our way back to our starting offer, rejected out-of-hand months prior and whittled a few thousand off for good measure.  In the end, a better deal for us.  Not so great for the overextended sellers, but at least they lightened up – one mortgage is plenty. 

Are we happy?  Yes.  We love the house, despite how needy she is.  So, you might be thinking, “Okay then, that’s the story?  You bought your quirky money pit?”  Yes, we did (she said proudly, if not stupidly) but the story – the magical, mystical, “unexplainable”?  Coming up.

We have lovely, charming neighbors.  One couple in particular – let’s call them Art and Caroline – were original owners in the area and knew the family that built our house, about 40 years ago.  Invited to our first neighborhood New Year’s Eve party, we met Art and Caroline (considering that waving from the mailbox doesn’t count as ‘meeting’).  This was actual conversation time, holiday festivities and all. 

The hubster and Art began chatting about how unusual our house is.  Yes, funky brick and all.  “No, no – not just that”, Art said.  “What about all the odd electronics and wiring in the house – especially the basement.  Didn’t you wonder about it, why it was there?”  The hubs was excited now!  His electrical engineering and patent-holder brain kicked into nerdy-nirvana.  “Yes!”  he told Art.  “I worked in engineering – for an electronics company for years and I noticed the wiring in the basement, yes, but it’s throughout the house!  Like I’d done it by myself, for myself, you know, for all of my equipment and the shop in the basement.” 

Art nodded, enjoying hubster’s enthusiasm, and as he leaned forward from his perch on the sofa he added, “Oh, I can see that.  The original owners, Pete and Glenda – they built the house. He was a nutty professor type – maybe like you – and he worked for a big company nearby, also as an engineer.”  Then Art casually mentioned the name of the company.  The same company the hubs worked for as a newbie engineering tech – right out of college. I watched as hubby’s mouth gaped open, finally asking “Wait – the Pete you’re talking about, the first owner, was it Pete Granger? He built our house?”

“Yep” Art said.  “But how did you know Pete?”  As I stood by watching, I added nothing other than my astonished look.  What is happening, I thought?  Just then the hubs grabbed my sleeve and said “Oh my God, oh my God…the first VP of Engineering I ever worked for – it was Pete – Pete Granger.  Vicki – a man I admired so much – he built our house!”

It explained a lot.  All the wacky wiring, for sure, but I’d like to think the house was waiting for new owners who would appreciate, not only her unusual exterior but her purposeful, if not, uncommon wiring.  Hubs and Art continued to chat, swapping stories about Pete.  Hubby knew Pete retired, maybe 25 years earlier.  Art lowered his head a bit and said “Yes, Pete and Glenda moved to Florida, and it nearly killed him to sell the house. We stayed in touch for a few years, but they both died in the early 90’s.  They were great people and I think Pete would love knowing someone who worked for him, back in his hey-day, owns the house now.

We shared the story with our realtor who wasn’t surprised one bit. “Mmm…makes sense”, she said “The house was waiting for you.  Just you.”  Whether true or not, we’re inclined to feel the same and seven years later, we’re still sprucing her up and regret nothing.  Home is home.  And no, Pete and Glenda don’t haunt the house.  Not that we know of anyhow.  Still, their love of the home?  We can feel it, wacky wiring, and all. 

Vicki ❤

Good Morning, World!

I love it when sweet messages from my long-departed father nestle into my brain, waiting for me as I rub sleepy eyes first thing in the morning.  That very thing happened a while ago, a powerful remembrance as I stood and stretched, reconnoitering my limbs with my torso before launching into a busy day. 

As I stood and sighed, I looked outside at the brilliant sun, just peeking from behind the trees in our backyard.  I didn’t bother to take a picture – use your imagination. 😉 Reaching for my phone to capture moments?  My reflex… but instead…I just stood at the window, feeling a sense of gratitude…just for morning light.  And that’s when my dad’s voice echoed in my head. 

No matter what was going on in his head/heart/world – and often, life was uber-messy, my papa greeted every morning the same way, no matter the weather or his mood. After his bathroom routine – shave and shower – he’d do a pleased-as-punch commanding loop of the house, declaring “Good Morning, World!”, not caring who was sleeping or waking. 

It was his thing – his ritual – prompting me to pull a pillow over my head as I tried to tune him out. Even so, his ‘seize the day with sunshine’ routine made me smile – every time. Once he’d done his lap, he’d proceed to coffee time and settle in with his newspaper…but never before greeting the day, his way. 

So – from my sweet papa, and I suppose from me, tooGood Morning, World!  Whether your day’s just begun or it’s winding down, thank you for reading and letting me share.

-Vicki 😊

Snore Babies

tiny dog paws under blanket

I want to be mad but I can’t.  So I’m mad — about not being mad.  With me so far?

You might be wondering about the photo. I’m not making this easy for you because I’m tired.  As a result, you need to do your part — put a little effort in, OKAY?  Squint if you need to, zoom in if it helps…until you can say ‘I spy’ and you see the two tiny paws in the center of the pic.  Yep, those are Sadie paws.  Our geriatric love bug of a Chihuahua…our elder and pampered pooch.

Normally, I’m a puppy lover, not a hater.  I feel the same, generally for the hubster.  Good guy (and no, there won’t be a pic of his ‘paws’. Just the doggie paws.)  Today, however…I’m not feeling the love.  I can’t.  I need more coffee, Tylenol, a cold compress, a foot rub (no scratch that – I hate people touching my feet).  I want to be alone.  I want to eat all the cherry Danish, taunting me from the kitchen.  I want to watch trash TV just because…

What’s the deal?  No sleep.  Worse than no sleep, actually.  I’m feeling the fatigue that comes when you’re the sleepless one and your bedmates are snore babies.  Yup.  Both the hubster and Sadie had restful, soulful, slumber – despite their snoozy snore fest.  All night.

Sadie loves to snuggle and burrow – under all the blankets in our ‘big bed’.  We’ve become accustomed to this (although when she’s submerged under a sea of sheets and thermal blankets seven-pound Sadie disappears easily).  But not last night.  Nope.  She picked up a new habit, noodling her way up to our pillows after thoroughly sniffing and inspecting her normal turf, under the covers.  The hot doggie breath was bad as she nudged me to get her snout on my pillow.  I scooched her away.  Hubs?  He accommodated her and rolled to his side, effectively sharing his pillow with the pooch as they positioned themselves back-to-back. 

Weird, I thought but okayAnd then, they began snoring in unison.  Hubs started it, more on his back than his side which is dangerous…this is when his snoring is loudest…so much so that his sweet sister, years ago, wondered how in the bloody hell I was:   1. Still married to her noise-maker brother and/or 2. Why I punished myself by attempting to “sleep” in the same bed. 

I tried to be a good sport at first.  I mean, I’m not a monster.  Their positions on the pillow?  Kind of darling and sweet.  While they were rhythmically wheezing and snorting together, I figured I’d roll over and sleep would come.  Nope.  Then the orchestra arrived with a woeful “horn” section and something that sounded like a whistle.  I flipped my pillow over, hoping the cool side would help.  It didn’t.  I turned my cheesy sound machine up to ‘full monsoon rainstorm’.  It didn’t help.  I shoved Sadie gently.  Just a nudge – thinking she’d wake and move – just enough to knock off the noise.  Nope

Given the time change and all, I figured it must be time to get up – somewhere.  So, I did.  I had that adrenalin rush of ‘Who needs sleep?’ and for about 90 minutes, whoa boy, I had bounce.  I did two loads of laundry, caught up on reading (Wynne Leon, I’m looking at you…your book…oh my goodness) and had three cups of coffee – two iced, one hot – and two cups of tea.  By the time the hubster and Sadie concluded their most fantastic sleep ever?  I was ready for lunch.  Or sundown. 

Neither of my two bedmates had any idea I’d abandoned them.  Both, in their own ways, gave me their regular ‘Hey there, happy Sunday’ look as if life was good and all was well.  I don’t think I growled exactly, but I did retreat to a hot shower and a bit of a ‘lie down’.  The world doesn’t look quite as bleak now.

Here’s to snore babies – pooches and partners – with the reminder that while they, like actual babies, CAN look cute as hell, when you’re the zombie in the house, nothing is truly “cute”.

Xo,

Vicki 😉

When You Crack Yourself Up: Owie, Owie, Owie Edition

Man with Groucho Marx glasses on

Happy Friday, all!  I can’t help but share one more dear daughter (DD) story as we wrap up the week. Why?  I stumbled upon my ill-fated attempt at a ‘mommy blog’ that I sustained for a couple of years and then, darn it all, I got caught up in who-knows-what and my well-intended effort remained just that.  Good intentions, no persistence.  And yet…as I perused some ancient entries yesterday, there were a few that gave me a giggle, so I thought I’d share one of them.  Here we go…

Even as a tot, our girl was ever perceptive about the unusual behaviors she saw in my mom and sister.  How do you describe to a two-year old that her “Nanny” is an alcoholic with mental health issues and her aunt, my sister Lisa, is different because of her disabilities?  Answer?  You don’t, really, you just move through parenting life, answering questions as they come up.  (The backstory about my sweet sister can be found, in part, here, in my “Loving Lisa” post.)

Me? I was our dear daughter’s dysfunctional family tour guide and while I screwed up plenty (sharing too much, explaining when I didn’t need to) I’m grateful that our now grown girl put it all into perspective, this way:  Families are messy.

The particular messiness that plagued my mom and sister?  Tremendous hypochondria with side orders of other issues. Given the time and distance, I understand, now, how their issues impacted my parenting. How? When DD was small, she had a tendency to take flying leaps out of her crib because she was long-legged and adventurous.  Always trying to normalize, we’d dust her off and move on, not wanting her to fall (wink!) into drama queen territory about bumps and bruises.  “Hey, your dismount wasn’t great, but shake it off.  You’re good – let’s go.”  It sounds like bad parenting when I say it that way, but I wasn’t careless, I just didn’t want her to milk the small stuff.

Why was this on my mind with a two-year old?  It only took one long weekend with my parents – dad, mom, and sister Lisa – for impressionable DD to latch on to bad, bad habits. Funny, now.  Horrifying and embarrassing, then.

Let me set the scene. The hubster and I left DD with my folks and sister for a few hours to do some sightseeing in San Francisco and when we returned, our little one had new favorite catchphrases.  “Shit, shit, shit” and “Owie, owie, owie, you hurt me.” 😕

Seems both mom and Lisa got embroiled in a competition about who hurt the most when they stumbled in the backyard while playing with DD.  Neither one was actually hurt, but because everything ailment-related morphed into a competition for them, our hearty little one found herself confronted with grown-ups wrestling and wailing on the grass because they’d gotten tangled up in a clothesline.  Mom blamed Lisa and Lisa, in turn, blamed mom for their mishap that was truly more hilarious than hurtful.  How do I know?  My dad was nearby and saw mom and Lisa in a brawl, with DD standing by, wide-eyed, taking it all in while sucking on a popsicle. 

Mom screamed, “Shit, shit, shit” to Lisa – mad because her clean laundry got into the fray and was all over the yard. Lisa countered with an infantile wail of, “Owie, owie, owie – you hurt me”.  (Mind you, Lisa was about 37 when this happened, but given her developmental disabilities she was forever an 8-year-old in a grown-up wrapper and reacted accordingly, especially when she was under stress.) 

Dear daughter?  She watched from a comfy perch on a lawn chair, as dad roared in, along with neighbors.  Everyone wanted to see the spectacle, given the high decibel scream fest between mom and Lisa.  Robbery in progress?  Home invasion?  Intruder?  Yes, the police were called, courtesy of ever-anxious and nosy neighbor, Eleanor.  It wasn’t the last time I needed to contextualize a sideshow family drama for our daughter, but I think it was the first biggie. You know, Officer Friendly and all.

For my parenting friends out there…whether you’ve got a toddler now or can remember those days…same for the aunts, uncles and grandparents, tell me this is NOT true:   Once a verbal tyke gets a humdinger of a new phrase locked and loaded, it’s like a permanent implant. 

No, you cannot screamOwie, owie, owie, you hurt me” just for fun…it’s not funny…and same for “shit”. Especially when repeated three times.  Bad words.  NO and No.  DD was smarter than the average bear, then and now, but the more we tried to rid her of the new vocabulary, the more she delighted in screaming each phrase…like a rhythmic chant…for the better part of a four-hour flight home the next day.

At first the ‘shit, shit, shit’ routine was just annoying to the people seated around us but when DD launched into the ‘owie’ song, all eyes were on us…especially the ‘you hurt me’ part.  The more we shushed and walked her up and down the aisle, trying to calm her, the bigger the audience.  Add overtired into the mix and the crying and thrashing that resulted?  I’m sure it DID appear that we were torturing our young-un. 

Still, it’s a fun, ‘crack me up’ memory.  Theatrics and meltdowns and learning to ignore the bystanders.  Keep calm and parent on…and when you can, take the time to look back and chuckle.

Happy Friday!

-Vicki 😉

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Mom Was in a Mood…

Growing up was choppy, as we moved ten times in twelve years.  I was ever the new girl with the family circus in tow – especially my eccentric, unwell mother intent on masking truth and recreating our family story every time we moved.  Exhausting.  The sparkly highlights, though?  Delightful and insightful comments from sister Lisa – ever ready with spot-on commentary, cutting through the madness.

Me?  I never knew what whoppers Sue/mom would tell as she tried to make fast friends and establish herself in a new town.  Sometimes she’d spin new, fantastic tales in the moment, without warning.  I’d nod and try to play along but it was maddening – this need to do improv with my mom.  Can I see a script in advance, please?

One such whopper came when we house hunted in St. Louis.  Dad was busy at work, but Lisa and I were stuck with Sue and her daily shenanigans as she took the reins house-hunting.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn for a month which seemed luxe, at first.  Then it became hotel hell.

I was 13 and yearned for private time.  As much as I loved Lisa, she was my ever-present shadow and right next to her?  Yep.  Sue.  All day, every day, treating disabled Lisa like a delicate china doll…assuming I might break her. 

The worst accommodations would’ve been if all four of us were piled in one room. Thankfully THAT didn’t happen, but adjoining rooms weren’t as great as they seemed.  Sure, we could close the door in between, but the walls were tissue paper thin, forcing me to unwittingly tune into every phone call Sue made.  Nowhere to hide.

But back to the whopper.  Not the burger – the lie. 😉 In one of her insecurity-driven tirades, Sue harassed the realtor assigned to show us houses. Mercilessly. Dad’s employer suggested a particular agency, but no one realized (except me…I saw this coming…promise I did) that the agent better be a guy.  Or — If the realtor was a woman, she’d better be old and unattractive.  At least more so than Sue. And… heaven help us all, if the designated victim (agent) dared to be a really pretty woman?  Buckle up. Bad moon rising.  Ever insecure, Sue needed to feel a sense of superiority any way she could, lest her paranoia would run amok…resulting in high drama, Sue-style.

Unsurprisingly, Sue sized up the lady agent based on looks alone, even before they met.  The realtor/victim’s name?  Let’s call her Patty.  She left a massive binder at the hotel front desk for Sue to peruse over the weekend and contacted her on Monday to discuss showings. 

Patty should’ve met with Sue face-to-face first, to establish her credibility and catch Sue off guard. But how did she know?  Sue didn’t come with a warning label.  Until first contact, don’t we all assume sanity?  I could see the unfolding…Sue barely flipped through the chubby listing binder because Patty’s 8×10 glossy, glam shot on the cover provoked her, prompting Sue’s insecurities which summoned, ‘You might be prettier, but I’m better in other ways’ nonsense. 

When Sue took on airs, she conjured a strange accent and an awkward, staccato rhythm in her speech.  I heard it from the adjoining room that day, suspecting that fresh-meat-Patty would be in trouble with Sue, one way or another.  How did I know? I saw Patty’s photo, too.  Defenseless Patty was too blonde, too thin, too pretty.  It was just a matter of time.

Despite years of ringside seats for the “Sue show” I always hoped my intuition was wrong.  That day, I listened as Sue spoke in a condescending way to Patty, complaining that ALL of the homes were ‘unsuitable’.  (Maybe she stayed up all night taking a look, but far as I knew, the binder hadn’t been cracked open.  Not even a smidge.) 

Sue continued, complaining that Patty clearly misunderstood the price points, too.  “We’re not looking for shacks…we’re arriving from New Orleans” (but she said it like this:  NEWWW-ORRRR-LEEE-ANNNS adding an extra syllable with her drawn out pronunciation).  Arrogant and loud.  To which, Lisa – ever the savant – just turned the volume up on the TV, saying, “Mom’s in a mood again” as she resumed watching one of her daytime soap operas.  Why couldn’t I be smart like Lisa, I wondered.  Mom’s in a mood.  Move on. 

Anyway…hearing only Sue’s side of the embarrassing conversation, I walked into the adjoining room, doing my best to pantomime my frustration, mouthing “Oh My God” to Sue and throwing the slash the throat signal, hoping she’d knock off the stupid.  It was always a calculated risk, any approach of Sue in a spin-out, but I was mortified and motivated.  Instead of slowing down her rant, I became part of the circus as she brought me into the conversation with Patty, hoping I’d back her up and join the tirade.  Would she never learn? 

Instead, I took the phone from Sue and began an apology to the realtor we’d never meet, this blondie named Patty.  At first, she continued her apology, which is what she tried to express as Sue blustered.  Patty finally stopped and listened as I introduced myself, adding, “No apology necessary.  I’m sorry about my mom.  We’ll get back to you.  It’s been a lot, this whole moving business.”  Patty stammered with relief, “Oh, thank you.  No problem.”

Sue?  I expected a thrashing about taking the phone from her, and/or for apologizing to Patty but instead, she had a phone book in her lap, trying to identify other realtors to work with.  And just like that. End scene.  On to the next…and no, we never met Patty.

When dad was looped in, he said he’d heard about a ‘dust up’ between mom and the realtor.  “Yup, I said.  Too pretty” and he just nodded.  The replacement?  His name was Fred and he must’ve drawn the short straw, but he managed to survive showings with Sue and she gave him glowing reviews.  “Fred the Fantastic” was her nickname for him.  Poor Fred got the job done, and I always wondered if his winks in my direction conveyed more.  I’m betting so.

-Vicki 😉

Aunt Bea’s Wit and Wisdom

black and white drawing of a farm

I’m a pondering parent this morning.  I know I’m not the first, last, or wisest person to conjure the notion that parenting is akin to farming but it’s on my mind just the same.

The most maddening thing for me, the woman who likes results and task completion, was the delayed and slow simmer of parenting payoffs.  Like tending crops?  Maybe.  Planting those seeds, hoping for a good yield, and praying for a hearty root system to sustain the burgeoning growth, especially in harsh and unpredictable conditions.  Pushing myself to believe in growth that I couldn’t yet see, much less celebrate?  A challenge. One that required all the scaffolding of trust and faith I could muster, often in the form of commiseration with equally stressed-out parenting friends, tending to their own ‘fields’, day in and day out.

My gratitude moment this morning took me to this reflective place because I remember.  I remember feeling the shaky sense of parenting doom. I’ve done it wrong…I’ve messed her up…followed by fear. Fear that my missteps, oversights, overreactions, or indifference – all of the things that parents-as-humans struggle with daily – would render dear daughter as less than in some way.   

I still have an occasional stress dream about a slice of parenting life where I wish I’d done better.  Those persistent what-ifs. (Maybe I should surrender and submit now – to some convoluted research study about women with errant, overrun, obsessive minds? 😉)

Seeking slumber, last night I received a ricochet recollection instead. About farming.  It came in hazy-like at first, appearing in the form of a slideshow…scenes from a trip to reclusive Aunt Bea’s farm when I was a kid.

Aunt Bea was a hellion for rebellion, one of the outcasts in the family.  I suspect she was ostracized because she was one of the few elders in mom’s life who put up with zero bullshit.  No guff from this rough-around-the-edges tough gal, Aunt Bea. 

I remember being mesmerized by her plain-spoken shutdowns, pointedly directed at Sue – my mom.  The recall episode last night was a moment – just a moment – when Aunt Bea pulled mom aside in a bean field.  I think Aunt Bea knew we were coming, but it didn’t deter her from sticking to her routine as she moved with purpose, tending to farming chores before breaking for ‘supper’ (lunch).  Mom was haughty and bossy toward Aunt Bea, frustrated that she wasn’t ready to receive us, lamenting that ‘poor Lisa’ (my disabled sister) needed to eat, stick to her schedule.

Wiping her brow with a dirty rag, Aunt Bea said something along the lines of, “Sue, you better toughen up and knock off the attitude.  Parenting is hard, it’s like tilling crops and pulling weeds – it’s not for the drama queens and the faint-hearted.  Right now, you’re both.  If you think Lisa is hungry, go make her a snack or shut up and get to work, right here” as she motioned toward a garden bed, overrun with weeds.

This time traveling stuff when I should be sleeping stinks, but the memory of Aunt Bea shutting down Sue? It was a memory with a message, and it prompted delight.  A highlight reel that woke me up, but I didn’t mind.

Aunt Bea’s been dead for years and I hadn’t thought about her…forever…but the memory of her showdown with mom was a good one.  And her message, “parenting is hard, it’s not for drama queens” wasn’t exactly the comfort I sought, but I took it anyhow, with a grin and gratitude.  Thank you, Aunt Bea.

Despite misgivings about my performance as a parent, I’m amazed by the talented human our dear daughter has become. She is fundamentally kind but more than that – I see her as someone who either innately, or through learned experience, knows to receive people as they are.  An openness about differences which I see her utilizing in every aspect of her life. She is, as my dad would say, ‘good people’.  Right-o.  Very little else matters, including my obsessive rewinds about my parenting performance and guest appearances from crochety, but wise, old Aunt Bea.

And so…parenting = farming?  Maybe so. The growing season is long and while the cloudy days may preoccupy my mind, it’s good to remember they’re mixed with sunny days of delight and love.  Today is one of those days.

-Vicki ❤

No Words Needed

black and white photo of many staring

This is a pic of my dad, beyond angry at me for a now-forgotten, teenage transgression. Mom was nearby to catch my look “in reply” and true to form, she was forever camera-ready, eager to capture me at my worst. “I’m saving this…you don’t know how terrible you are.” Sigh. I’d see her mouth move but 90% of the time, I blocked her words. All the better to avoid retaliation…never a good idea with mom. But back to that looook…on dad’s face.

Characteristically when dad’s chin went south, but his gaze remained steady and locked in, I knew I was in big trouble. He wasn’t one to rant and rave (“you-know-who” more than covered that ground). No, he’d simply give that chin down death stare.

Over time, I learned how to silently reply to his piercing, blue-eyed glare. My flippant, I-don’t-give-a-rat’s-patootie look was my best defense, firing back with a chin-up, head tilting retort, as if I had the unlikely assets of tough girl street cred and a posse to prove it:

black and white photo of teen girl staring

Why did I bother? No attempt to challenge his bold, chin-down stoicism diminished the intensity of his ice cold, eyes-only reprimand. He’d hold the look for a moment or two – long enough to ensure “message received” – and then walk away. Done and done.

Oddly, as a very verbal adult, I miss the no-words-required arguments and tussles. Looks alone can convey plenty. Still, once the staring duel was over, I’d add a little huffy breath as he retreated. I wanted to feel victorious, but I knew the truth. Dad was mad, but he moved on, not one to bear grudges.

Why the sharing about staring? Just this – these vintage pics provided an unexpected and potent rewind into family drama, mixed with humor. There is nothing I love more than random AND welcome discoveries…fixing my attention on what matters most.

On a mission, I dove into old bins of family pics this week to fetch snaps for my recent Halloween post and stumbled over these gems. Keepers, especially because these two photos – dad and I engaged in a “you blink first” showdown – fell on the floor FACE UP, as if we were still locked in our standoff. I love that. Found separately, I would’ve skipped right by them, but free-falling out of a box together? They commanded my attention, staring back at me from years past.

So I paused, not caring about the massive mess I created with musty old photos scattered everywhere and I smiled at the pic of my smart papa. Despite my terror teen years, he loved me anyhow, death stare and all. Looking back, I think he knew I couldn’t withstand HIS verbal tirades, in addition to mom’s frequent rants, so he balanced his delivery by going ‘eyes only’. Well, eyes and that chin.

Vicki 😊

When You Crack Yourself Up: Halloween Edition

Grpucho Marx glasses

I often write about my mom because she’s my mixed-up muse as I work out my dumpster fire of feelings about her.  Yes…her epic antics, hysterics, mental health, and addiction issues were the connective tissue of my childhood…navigating her moods and madness was a chore.

Life with Sue was akin to traveling blindfolded; no matter how much I wanted predictability, there was none of that.  Inspired, brilliant and broken, Sue’s trademark impulsivity charmed the world, despite her flaws.  Who doesn’t want to slow down to take a gander at what’s she up to NOW?  Not channeling Shakespeare exactly, but still…Sue behaved accordingly, “All the world’s a stage…” No matter the adventure du jour, Sue found accomplices, compadres, and willing sidekicks. She was the funny as hell reckless woman.  What WILL she do next?

The older I get, the easier it is for me to summon the comedy – those laugh out loud moments previously eclipsed by the hurt she caused.  I’m reminded they’re there.  Like Halloween…and my recent perusal of photos long forgotten…resulting in welcome ‘crack myself up’ moments. Let me introduce you to Halloween…Sue Style.  See below…

Mom and dad together in their cheer outfits.  Handmade pompons and all. 

Sue’s custom cheerleader outfits for dad and his best buddies (my papa’s on the left). 

And finally…Halloween Flintstone style  My folks are on the right and the apprehensive neighbors on the left?  They knew to abandon the circus of Sue not long after Halloween that year. 

“Holiday Season” for many folks in the U.S. begins with Thanksgiving but not for Sue.  Nope. The high holidays began in earnest with Halloween.  For the woman prone to excesses of food, drink and drama, Halloween was the perfect foil and jumpstart.  Think about it.  Halloween represents an opportunity for grown-up-dress-up and theatrics. 

Sewing costumes and party planning were creative outlets for my tormented mom who had a painter’s heart but no confidence in her craft.  Devising themes and rounding up the troupe of friends and neighbors to join in, Sue leapt headlong into Halloween planning in August of every year.  I see it now as the creative distraction that it was.  A way to avoid her own issues and feel a sense of purpose.

Sue’s devotion to the details kept her occupied (happily) for weeks as she made costumes by hand, as well as décor.  We moved ten times in twelve years during my childhood and Halloween, no matter where we lived, was also Sue’s showcase to introduce our messy family to a new neighborhood.  Wowza…what an intro. Some people just wave helloooo to new neighbors from the mailbox but not ‘fun Sue’.  

Gregarious, gracious, and generous, new friends got swept up in Sue, but it was a tough act to sustain.  People would come and go – drawn in, initially, by the spectacle of Sue – but they’d disappear, one by one, as they got closer to the flame and bite.  Sue was lonely in these in-between times and that’s where addiction sat waiting for her.

But she rebounded – she always did.  Just like an artist who adds tiny brushstrokes to a painting in progress, Sue would embellish the story of her life with half-truths every time we moved.  Her life = her creation. Eventually the burden of hard-to-track lies, and alternate realities added to her dementia diagnosis.  I just know it.  What’s real and what’s distortion?  It became harder and harder for Sue to distinguish as aging took hold.

For today, I’m enjoying the chuckles.  The reminders that the family circus wasn’t all bad.  Especially at Halloween.

-Vicki 😉

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Loving her anyway…

She didn’t intend to be a hoarder, it just happened.  Years of abuse and neglect and deeply embedded loneliness?  I can see how ‘things’ became ever-so-much safer than people.  The humans were indifferent, unpredictable, self-serving, and dismissive of a little girl shoved into adulthood too soon. 

The motivation to accumulate and gather in excess?  Possessions, while lousy conversationalists, provided a twisted sense of comfort.  Not quite the loving embrace that a child deserves, but when you hurt, you improvise.  Work with what you have to seek nurture and love.

I have more compassion for mom now – nestled in my heart with a few regrets about not being kinder, not looking past her maddening behaviors to see the source.  If there’s one standout gift that comes with aging, it’s this:  I’m learning to address my own hurt, especially the slights – large and small – in order to look beyond, to better understand.  Time helps.  Maybe I needed seven years of introspection following her death to look back with softer eyes. 

She didn’t intend to be a hoarder, it just happened.  No, she wasn’t as out of control as the sweet, damaged souls on the show “Hoarders”.  On top of all the other secrets and lies that comprised the web of her life, she cloaked her hoarding tendencies, too, as much as possible.  Mom knew she needed to keep ‘appearances up’ to avoid detection…so unless you lived in the house with her or you were a close friend who liked to snoop, her compulsion could go undetected. 

How?  I think it was her pervasive scarcity mindset.  As a child of poverty, she was perpetually hungry.  As a kid, food was scarce and rather than feed herself, she’d squirrel away what she could to share with her siblings.  Secrets and lies about food led to eating disorders later, but her tendency toward hoarding and hiding, generally?  Food came first, as a result of her father’s death and her mom’s inability to cope.

Later, her need to over-purchase home goods – towels, sheets, cooking equipment, gaudy décor – came from a compulsion to create a happy home.  A home containing the things she fundamentally lacked as a kid.  As a result, every closet, pantry, nook, and cranny was overstuffed.  And oddly.  Her shopping addictions pushed her to use unusual hiding places and some were laugh-out-loud funny. 

Example?  I have no clue why, but this morning I recalled one of her wackier ‘episodes’.  The time she got caught shoving a slew of fancy tablecloths and napkins from Neiman Marcus into one of dad’s golf bags.  She didn’t realize it wasn’t his ‘old’ bag…just the one that was empty because he was cleaning his clubs. Ohhh…this is why mom was so maddening.  Her peccadilloes and crazy behavior were very often the stuff of sitcoms. 

Imprints from childhood reverberate into adulthood.  Never truer than with my mom…to know her was to love AND hate her and while I’ve carried those dueling emotions around for decades, this morning I was tickled to have a softer memory of her, recalling her silly side.

Take care…join me in seeing the softer sides when you can.

Vicki ❤

It’s Raggedy Anne’s Fault

raggedy anne

This is a pic of a handmade doll – one that my mom-in-law made for our DD (dear daughter) on a lark – as a weekend project – many years ago.  You read that right.  A weekend project.  Hand stitched EVERYTHING.

My photography skills aren’t the best,  but I hope you can see the loving details in Raggedy Anne’s face, dress, hair. She’s a treasure.  My mom-in-law was probably last in the line-up of skilled knitters, seamstresses in the family.  I’ve broken the chain.

How do I know? Mom-in-law tried (once and only once) to teach me how to use her sewing machine.  Truly – just to hem a pair of pants – and I think I drove her to an early afternoon martini that day.  Extra dirty, double olives.  I’m not equipped for anything involving knitting needles, sewing needles, crochet hooks, embroidery doo-dahs. Am I alone?  Anyone else out there lacking the dexterity for crafts and sewing?  Sigh.

It doesn’t take much to trip over an article about fast fashion these days and tendencies to ‘buy new’ when a shirt needs a button.  Mercifully I can do THAT but not much else.  The older I get, the more aspirational I am to buy less and work with what I have.  (I can hear a couple of good friends cackling right now, chortling, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’  Okay, fine.  Shoes are another story, okay? Particularly my love of boots. Shove off!)

Feeling it was time with winter approaching, I spent a few daredevilish days winnowing my wardrobe and it involved a treacherous dive into three closets.  I’m not a pack rat, but some clothes hold memories and that’s where things get sticky for me.

I’m a whiz at whipping other people’s closets into shape but my own?  Pokey, pokey, pokey.  But I get there.  As I sorted through a few items never worn and established the piles for Goodwill, the women’s shelter, and a secondhand thrift store, I felt a cloud of melancholy trudging along with me.  I can do better – make more conscious and conscientious choices.  I don’t want to do this privileged purging routine – ever again. 

Meanwhile, I might – no promises – pick up knitting needles again this winter.  My dear friend Kathleen is a talented textile artist and two of her handmade scarves are among my all-time favorite accessories.  Maybe she’ll give me a pointer or two?  I’ll noodle on it because I’m a terrible student (as mom-in-law knew) and I’d hate to drive Kathleen toward any bad habits.  Especially any “coping mechanisms” I might provoke. 😉

All of this pondering? Blame it on Raggedy Anne.

Vicki 😊

Very Verbal Vicki

Yep, that’s me!  I come from a long line of women who are tipped toward ‘external processing’.  Especially my mama.  Full of the gift of gab and gaffes uniquely her own, she was a complex lady with a penchant for chit-chat.  With or without jet fuel, err…her ultra-dark roast black coffee. 

Once when he was beyond exasperated with her non-stop commentary, my dad simply asked in a low, gravely growl: “Sue…Do you EVER have an unexpressed thought?”. 

We were on a cross country road trip and dad was diligently trying to tune the old AM radio so he could catch the Cincinnati Reds game.  Mom?  She had other things on her mind.  Questions about the destination, where we’d stop for the night, what sort of road food we’d indulge in, how many miles to the next pit stop/potty stop.

I think dad was okay for the first few hours, but I began to notice, from my backseat perch, that his jaw was tight – yet not as tight as his clenched fists on the steering wheel.  His grip was so firm that his otherwise suntanned hands looked more mottled and pinky-white, due to, you know, cutting off his own circulation with his steering wheel vice grip.

Eventually mom slept and I saw the color return to dad’s hands – he even stuck his left arm out the window for a while, casual-like, to catch a breeze as we sped along.  With mom slumbering, he found the sports radio station and turned the volume up.  I saw him look back in the rear-view mirror, noticing that while mom and sister Lisa slept, I was still awake.

What followed was one of the best ‘car talks’ dad and I ever had.  As a devoted fan to his favorite team, I knew he relived his own hey days as a ball player himself whenever he caught a game.  Johnny Bench was a favorite and Pete Rose, too, and dad educated me about the “Big Red Machine” roster, so I knew every player.  The baseball lesson lasted only an hour or so, but it felt like so much more. ❤❤❤

There are moments when I fall into chatter mode, like mom, and I recall dad’s road trip commentary about her motor mouth. Hmmm…applies to me, too. Given my self-awareness about being Very Verbal Vicki I’m reminded that I won’t explode if I fail to express everything I think, feel, wonder, lament, dislike, enjoy…you get the idea. 

Given that the DH (no, not the designated hitter – the dear hubby) shares some traits with my long-gone papa, I suspect his ears relish a break every now and then.  When it matters, DH is a great listener, but a running diatribe of drivel?  It’s asking too much, and I know it. 

From me to you…with a friendly, self-mocking ‘blah, blah, blah’…I’ll say goodbye for now.

Happy Friday!

Very Verbal Vicki 😉

Know Better, Do Better

moccasins
Dear daughter’s moccasins

At first, I celebrated – having solved the decades-long mystery of the ‘missing moccasins’.  Our sweet (and now grown) daughter had a wardrobe of tiny Minnetonka Moccasins from the moment she was born until she was about five years old. 

The pair in the pic surfaced recently during a garage clean out.  Hubby found them in an old milk crate, which left us both scratching our heads and mumbling ‘why’?  The answer came…but it took a bit of additional digging as we also found old rags and an actual SpongeBob sponge.  Ahh…this was dear daughter’s stash.  The things she used when she **helped** her papa wash the car.  Good memories and it explained why the moccasins were in the crate.  Yep – and I remember routinely shrieking from the kitchen window “take your shoes off!”. 😉

My in-laws were long time summer travelers to the Upper Penninsula in Michigan and one of their favorite, annual rituals involved stopping at a roadside Minnetonka store to buy fresh mocs for vacation. 

When dear daughter’s moccasins resurfaced, it was exciting and fun.  Like an archaeological dig in our own space.  (Which is another good blog topic, generally, but beyond what I’m sharing here.) Fun at first and then the wave of recognition came.

I remembered an article from a year or so ago, involving moccasin maker Minnetonka apologizing for their longstanding cultural appropriation-as-business-model.  I searched for it and found it – see here. Sobering but progress often is. 

It’s only been a year since President Biden’s Proclamation on Indigenous People’s Day which stated, in part:

The contributions that Indigenous peoples have made throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our Nation, our culture, and our society.

Recognizing privilege is a good first step and while I’m still grateful that we found our daughter’s last pair of moccasins, they carry wistful feelings of regret, too.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the U.S. is coming up on October 10.  As a girl who grew up celebrating Columbus Day and her Italian roots, I’m reminded of how essential it is to be open, to evolve.    No matter your political points of view, the humanity of designating a day to honor those who were here first matters. 

Know better, do better. 

-Vicki ❤

CSI: Lisa

girl in McDonald's uniform
Lisa: Her first job at McDonald’s

Sweet sister Lisa had terrific news this week!  Intellectually disabled Lisa is a marvel, despite her developmental delays and challenges.  (Read about her here to learn more.)

The pandemic thinned out vocational opportunities for lovelies like Lisa.  Despite the excellent work of her team of job coaches and social workers, it’s not easy to support disabled adults with a variety of intellectual and physical obstacles.

Lisa had a job, prior to the pandemic, doing piece work for a family-owned manufacturing company.  She loved it – they loved her – and although packing boxes of screws, weighing them and sorting them wasn’t an aspiration of hers, the point was productivity and providing Lisa with an opportunity to work in the community. (No job would ever compare with her FIRST job, however, when she worked at McDonald’s as a teenager. 😉 Free fries for the win, right?)

When the screw-sorting job ended, Lisa was bereft.  So sad and yet she understood it wasn’t her fault.  The company needed to trim their workforce and Lisa, along with two of her similarly disabled friends lost their jobs in the process. 

But this week?  Great news!  One of Lisa’s job coaches found a new gig for her – at a recycling company willing to do the good work of hiring Lisa, and her friend Albert.  This makes my heart sing.  Companies can easily dismiss hiring the disabled – view Lisa and Albert as ‘less than’ or unemployable.   

The company’s trusting heart and their willingness to listen to the job coaches who are angels AND champions made all of it come together.  Except for one, slightly funny Lisa-centric thing that everyone missed.  A smile is coming.  I promise.

Lisa LOVES all of the murder shows on TV. You know – CSI and NCIS whatever, whatever.  Law and Order this and that. I’ve never understood the appeal of “entertainment” that begins with dead bodies, and I’ve made my opinion clear.  Hubby, however?  He and Lisa share a bond here.  They DO on occasion, discuss other topics, but their conversations are typically peppered with ‘shop talk’ about the whodunits, etc. etc.  While they chat, I nod off or leave the room. 

What’s a common denominator in these shows – other than the aforementioned, requisite bloody corpse in every opening montage?  Yep.  Fingerprinting the ‘perp’, once captured.  In the old, old days, some of us geezers would throw the phrase, “Book ‘em, Danno” but for the youngsters reading, I’ll just apologize for the outdated reference.  Look it up, though, okay? 😉

As Lisa’s team prepped her for the transition to her new job – orientation, taking a tour, etc. – a passing reference was made to other milestones:  getting an official photo ID/badge and FINGERPRINTING

Alert! Alert! Alert!  Lisa’s savvy enough, sometimes, to catch herself before becoming volcanic.  This is a good thing – progress for Lisa who was plagued for decades by seizures triggered by emotional stress.   Afraid to clarify with her job coach, she said she needed to go to the bathroom – urgently – and called me in a full-on panic.  “I’ve done something wrong. I’m getting FINGERPRINTED.  I thought I had the job.  But maybe I messed up and I’m going to jail?”  Ah – hello, crime shows. 

For the love of Lisa.  Despite the kindness and care from her job coach and team, only someone with years of experience in Lisa-land would know what a passing reference to ‘fingerprinting’ might conjure up for her.  I’m glad I took Lisa’s call when it came.  Once I understood the problem, I simply said, “Oh – no.  This isn’t a CSI-Lisa thing.  It’s just part of hiring you.  You’re not in trouble.  Promise.”  Not missing a beat, Lisa said, “That’s good.  Thanks, Vicki.  I wondered if you’d bail me out.”

See me smiling? 😊 I love Lisa.

-Vicki ❤

Better Ideas

decorative pillow
“Ideas come from everything.”
-Alfred Hitchcock

My best friend gifted me with a pillowTHIS decorative pillow – at least 25 years ago. It’s the evidence – the proof – that age DOES bring wisdom, in the form of a slightly tattered poof of a pillow. Across the years I’ve come to realize how unique and golden it was to be besties with my closest work colleague, the one who became a life-long confidante, the one who understood me…the good, the bad and the ever-in-between. 😊

Our work lives were about as chaotic as our home lives and although we had, relatively speaking, youth on our side, there were high hurdles to clear and plenty of them.  Having her by my side when I stumbled, ready to pick me up, kick my butt and cheer me on?  You know…priceless.

Why? I’m the easily wounded one.  Creative at my innermost core and compelled to share and do the ‘C’mon, gang, don’t you love it too?’ routine, I would dissolve if my latest brainstorm was laughed at or pooh-poohed instead of lauded. 

Thanks to my friend’s insight and coaching, my skin grew thicker, and I learned to improve my pitch – to inspire and rally others to see things my way.  Persuasive?  Yes.  Calculated?  Yep.  Manipulative?  Geez, I tried not to be, but I suppose that happened, too, all for the greater good (or so says the bossy one!).

We were a good team.  I hope I did as much for her as she did for me.  What I know for sure?  The pillow became a treasure – on display in every office I’ve occupied since.  Right now?  I’m looking at it – in my WFH office.  Anytime I need a goose to keep moving, be creative, explore and don’t stop, the pillow speaks to me. 

My best friend knew my passion could be construed as ‘bossy’ and her pillow-talk wisdom – to charge ahead anyway and have faith in my ‘better ideas’ is a message that sustains me.

Which reminds me of something comedian Amy Poehler said:

“It’s very hard to have ideas.  It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers and the creators.  They are the magic people of the world.” 

Cheers to best friends who see our flaws but love us anyway. They’re magic, too.

-Vicki ❤

Stay Safe

red heart on black background
Sending love…

I had something else in mind for a post this morning but I’m not feeling it. 

Friends and family who are staring down Hurricane Ian are on my mind…much like the folks who’ve suffered already as it careened through the Caribbean, leaving devastation behind.  Sending heartfelt wishes for safety.

Vicki ❤

Send Out the Search Party

brown cowboy hat with sheriff badge
Everything is Somewhere

When dear daughter was small, one of the most mind-numbing tasks was the constant fetching of errant ‘stuff’.  She was an only, so as a party-of-one, parent-wise, I felt terrible when I complained.  I don’t know NOW – nor did I THEN – how to magically locate stuff.

I am not blessed with GPS-like tracking skills.  Socks? Shoes? Lost Bunnies? Dolls? Trucks? Pokemon whatevers? Nope.  Unless I tripped over them and hurt the bottom of my bare foot, I generally had no clue. 

A parent’s favorite reply to ‘where’s (fill in the blank)?’

I dunno – wherever YOU left it.

To be honest, though, this is bigger than an overdue parenting rant.  Our girl is way grown at this point, so why the sharing now?  It seems the Hubster has the same trust in me…that I can close my eyes, put a finger to my temple, thoughtfully, and mull….and I’ll know wherever said-missing-in-action item might be holing up.  Nope.  Still don’t know.

I think pandemic togetherness pushed me over the edge.  He’s relaxed and easy going.  Me?  Wound. Too. Tight.  Don’t bug me with a question about where your favorite screwdriver is.  Don’t you have 99 of them?  😊

And yet, I get why both dear daughter and Hubster have faith in me.  I am the Patron Saint of Lost Stuff.  I did it to myself.  See, I’m the one who’s in perpetual pick up mode in these parts.  Yessiree.  That’s me.

If I’m a-pickin’ it up, I might as well be a-puttin’ it down — where it belongs.  (I don’t know where the Western twang and sheriff swagger is coming from.  Sorry about that.  My mind is wandering and I’m having an out of body moment as I see myself roaming through the tumbleweeds, err, piles in the house like I’m leading a search party, complete with a badge and ten-gallon hat.  I think I need sleep.)   

So what?  I do have a point here.  Getting to it! 😉 Even when I’ve lost track of something and I’m in search mode, there’s a tidbit of wisdom from my papa that rolls in.  It’s a surefire (wink!) way of calming me down when I’m rootin-tootin’ mad. 

I have learnedI am unlikely to locate anything when I’m steamed.  The more Zen, the better and this phrase helps, self-talk style:

I don’t know where (fill in the blank) is but what I DO know is everything is somewhere.’

And with that bit of wisdom, I plop down and sit-a-spell 😉 until inspiration strikes and I pick up the trail.  I don’t want to say it works every time…but it kinda does. 

And that’s that.  A Tuesday rant, and a tip of the hat, from me to you, partner.

-Vicki 😉

Hello, Yellow…

pyrex bowls
Meatball Memories

Do you have a favorite childhood food memory?  A smell so potent that you can blink and travel back in time?

I’ve got one of those and it involves an old Pyrex yellow bowl.  It was the biggest of four in a set passed down through a couple of generations, starting in the 40’s with my grandma.  The only thing I ever saw grandma use old yellow for was her weird “salad” that was truly a sugary diabetic bomb containing canned fruit cocktail, marshmallows, grapes and cottage cheese.  Well, I guess the cottage cheese wasn’t so bad, but the rest of it was bizarre – at least to the picky eater I was then (and now).

When mom inherited the set of bowls, including old yellow, she never used it for the aforementioned ‘salad’.  Instead, she christened the big Pyrex vessel with meatballs – and plenty of them.  Learning how to perfect the secret recipe from my dad’s family, mom created new uses for the entire set of bowls.  Old yellow was for rigatoni and meatballs.  Other pasta variations?  No!  Always rigatoni. 

Little blue was used exclusively for sliced radishes.  No, not to accompany the meatballs.  It didn’t get to play on Sundays.  Little blue appeared when dad wanted a spicy snack and for him, sliced radishes were his thing – especially if they floated in a salty ice-water bath.  Head scratcher, I say.

Red was a Sunday staple.  Red’s role was important because she held just the sauce (or gravy if you prefer).  The bounty in old yellow – glistening meatballs and pasta – often required an extra ladle or two of saucy goodness, once plated. Especially true for those of us who dove into the crusty bread.  That was red’s role.

Green?  You guessed itEXTRA meatballs.  Overflow central and for reasons I never understood, green’s meatballs were typically doused with a serious snowstorm of parmesan. Like a lot.  It melted and added a salty and savory punch unlike the meatballs mixed with the rigatoni.  Almost like another dish entirely. 

Sundays were the best with meatballs on the stove.  One of my earliest (and happy) memories is about meatballs.  Kneeling on a stepstool and learning how to smack and roll the raw meat, mixed with heavenly spices, egg and toasted breadcrumbs. I know I’m not alone.

The mostly-vegetarian in me goes off track to make this meal today. No recipe required – it’s all about eye-balling the ingredients and remembering to smack those little suckers hard – between both palms to scare any air pockets out of them.  Big baseball fans, always, I remember imagining my hands were two big catcher’s mitts, tossing the meaty mixture with authority, like playing catch.

When mom passed away, the bowls became mine and although I’ve wanted to use them – especially old yellow – to ladle it full of rigatoni and meatballs – I haven’t been able to do it.  Not yet.  But I think I’m building up to it.  The combination of the olfactory memories…the scents of my favorite meal served in that bowl combined with flashbacks of family drama? Mixed memories, but I’m almost ready.

Why the hesitation?  Hmmm. While I associate old yellow with happy stuff, mixed in, there were just as many maddening moments of another sort.  The kind that were punctuated by Sunday scream fests and bad behavior. 

Old yellow saw it all and has a teensy chip on the bottom to prove it…collateral damage during one of mom’s meltdowns.  The meatballs weren’t the culprit.  But I suspect the bottomless wineglass was.  Still, I’ve put it into perspective. Every Sunday wasn’t that way, and the meaningful meatball memories remain, as does old yellow.

Do you have a favorite childhood food memory? (Hopefully one that’s less messy than my meatball story?) Let me know – and thanks so much for reading. I think meatballs will be on the menu this Sunday. Yes – in old yellow.

-Vicki 😉

Go Great Granny, Go!

1900 woman in hat
Great Grandma…Get It, Girl

The photo of the distinguished lady is hubby’s great grandma, circa 1900.  She married into a family of haberdashers:

Three things are remarkable to me about this photo, unearthed in the family trunk of long-forgotten stories: 

First – LOOK – just LOOK at the hat.  I’ve discovered, after a bit of vintage sleuthing, that over-the-top ornamentation using fake fruit and flowers was au courant and high fashion at the turn of the last century.  In addition to the hat looking uncomfortable, I’m fairly certain great granny could’ve been airborne, should a strong breeze arrive. You know – Mary Poppins style.

Second – While the tailoring on the jacket and handiwork looks like the refined work of a master, the whole ensemble – jacket, gloves and high-necked blouse scream discomfort.  Great grandma’s visage, though?  She looks proud and proper.  Not a hint of “I can’t wait to get out of this to hop into something comfy” (which in truth, was probably an equally uncomfortable lumpy cotton, full-skirted ‘day dress’.)

Third and last – and most important.  As I rummaged through the trunk, I learned this hat pic was part of an ad campaign for the local newspaper – promoting the small-town millinery and haberdashery store, which her newlywed husband owned.  Excavating the tidbits uncovered more fun and fab family history.  Despite great granny’s time and place, she pushed her new husband to go beyond the traditional ‘furnishings’ for men only and branch out to offer equally well-made goods for women.  And she was the first model and spokesperson. 😊

What’s not to love?  Go, Great Granny, Go!

-Vicki ❤

MMM: Monday Morning Muffins

basket of apple muffins
Apple Walnut Muffins

Caution I’m no master baker, food blogger or photographer. I just like to eat and bake and if I can do it in a semi-healthy way, I’m all in. 😊

It’s that time of year for many of us – time to get creative with apples in abundance.  I have a tried-and-true recipe for apple walnut bread – dating back to my foray into 4-H as a kid – and I figured it would work just as well if I made muffins, so I decided to bake a big batch and ‘health it up’ just a bit. 

How?  I used whole wheat flour and rather than PEEL and chop the apples, I just chopped them.  What’s wrong with the extra fiber and a little ‘tooth’?  Seems to complement the overall chewiness of these dense delights, along with the walnuts.  But hey – you do YOU and change it up as you like.  The recipe itself is pretty fool proof (yep, even for me).

  • 3 cups flour (choose what you like – I used whole wheat, but I’ve made this recipe with almond flour with pretty good results – same for basic all-purpose and gluten free flour.  I recall I needed to lighten up on the oil a little when I used almond flour, but other than that, it worked fine)
  • 2 cups sugar (or – go ½ and ½ – 1 cup sugar and your choice of monk fruit, stevia and/or brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (pumpkin pie spice is awesome, too)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • I cup vegetable oil (or go ½ and ½ and use ½ cup of applesauce to replace ½ of the oil – yum!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely chopped apples (peeled if you must – use Granny Smith if you’ve got ‘em)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, sure, or pecans — or no nuts)

Mix the dry stuff in a big bowl.  Separately whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla and combine with the dry stuff.  Add the apples and nuts.  This will be a thick batter – don’t worry if you need to thin it just a bit with some water.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or so for muffins; more like 55 minutes if you’re doing loaves. Makes 2 dozen muffins, or two small loaves. 

The batch in the photo is from earlier this morning.  I love when I can load up my favorite vintage breadbasket with something fresh and wholesome.  That sweet wicker serving piece has been in the family for at least 80 years – passed down from hubby’s granny to his mom…and happily, to me. 

So – here’s to Monday and the magic of muffins.  If I could, I’d send you a few.  Let’s figure out how to share via the blogosphere.  If not the actual muffins, maybe the aroma, at least? Not gonna lie; our house smells pretty good right now. 😉

xo,

-Vicki ❤

Shake, Rattle & Roll

antique china cabinet
The ‘chatty’ cabinet

I’ve tried to put this out of my mind for the past two weeks, and I’m struggling.  See the cabinet?  I don’t know how to explain this, but the dumb piece of furniture is talking back. 

Have I lost you already?  Sorry.  See? This is why I’ve been trying to shoo this story away.  Well, there are really two reasons:

  1. I don’t want to scare you.
  2. I’d rather you not think of me as entirely crazy (a little crazy is good, I think).

If we rewind to seven years ago, right about now, we were tending to my mom, Sue’s passing.  It was rough in every way, especially for lovely Lisa, my disabled sister, but she was comforted when we brought mom’s urn home – to nestle it next to dad’s.

Our pops died many years prior, and Lisa became accustomed to seeing his urn in our house – sometimes chatting and shooting the breeze with him.  Not creepy – sweet and endearing.

Eventually our parents want their urns buried together in a plot already picked out in their hometown, but for now, Lisa enjoys her periodic visits and communing with them.  All good because it gives her peace. 

When mom died, we brought her urn home and placed it next to dad’s and that’s when the shaky stuff started.  The two cabinets in that room hold old china, glassware, and crystal and twice after Sue “came home” we had early morning issues with unexplained broken glass on the floor – with the cabinet doors flung open.

I’m a pretty meticulous person about order and neatness (more so than spotlessly clean – don’t come over and expect to eat off the floors) and I know I didn’t leave the doors open, nor did I place crystal or crockery in tipsy positions.  No ma’am

Okay, you might be thinking, it was an oversized truck rumbling down the street – you know, creating vibrations resulting in the shaky, shaky.  No – we live on a dead-end street.  No one goes by unless they’re stopping for supper, which is always nice.  I make too much food anyhow. 

Fine – not a chubby truck.  Okay – it was a tremor – you know, those tectonic plates are a-shifting.  Earthquakes happen everywhere – even in the Midwest.  No.  No seismic shift.  I checked.  Scratch that off the list. 

How about a prankster?  No.  Unless hubby is the most colossal liar on the planet, with ninja-like magician skills.  He can’t be in two places at once, no matter how cool he is. 

This nonsense continued until I separated the urns.  Mom went in one room, dad in another and the shaky stuff stopped.  Just stopped.  Since then, we have the occasional odd door slamming episodes (which we attribute to breezes…um…even when the windows are closed) but it’s been quiet in the crockery department for several years.  Until Labor Day.

The cabinet in the picture is the culprit – the one that wanted to chat a couple of weeks ago.  We had friends and family over for a BBQ and at the end of the evening, I washed and dried the serving pieces – cheese trays, platters – that were used for our feast and had the two middle doors open, returning items to their spots. Awesome.  Task completion. 

EXCEPT this:  As I turned to walk away, the loudest possible rumble of broken glass and smashing crockery blew out of the cabinet.  LOUDLY.  I’d stepped back – maybe a foot – and when I turned, I expected to see everything in the cabinet in a heap on the floor. But what did I find?  Nothing.  None of the vases on the left (all sitting on glass shelves) or the serving pieces on the right and in the middle had moved one inch. Not a single thing was broken.

Sister Lisa was nearby and hustled over to help me and we just stood there – looking at each other, then the cabinet, sharing “I heard it too” while looking again and again to see what was broken.  Hubby was upstairs and came flying in thinking the whole cabinet had toppled over.  Now three of us stood in front of it with our mouths hanging open. 

For Lisa’s benefit, I finally saidoh, it must’ve been something outside, or something that fell upstairs but I knew better.  I just did.  Why?  Right before the crash Lisa was around the corner – saying goodbye, one last time – to mom’s urn before we drove Lisa home.  Which leads me to conclude mom “replied” shake, rattle and roll style.  If it was a nudge to remember her, I think we got the message.  Loud and clear. 

But still, I’m pondering; seeking other explanations.  Nothing’s come yet – and maybe that’s okay.

Xo,

Vicki ❤

Verbal Guard Rail: Thanks, Dad!

black and white photo of young man
My dad – silly and wise

My dad was no philosopher.  His exterior and public persona were die-hard business dude.  Crisp, tidy and in control defined his personality (oh – and an obsessive fondness for white shirts – learn about that here). 

Appearances aside, he had a very squishy marshmallow cream center and from that warm and caring core, he offered endless witticisms.  Some were altogether goofy and clearly made up – in the moment – by this man who was rarely at a loss for words.  I’m sure he “borrowed” from other great thinkers – never knowing exactly who he was quoting or the context.  Didn’t slow him down, not even a beat. 

The common denominator?  He was wired to help and encourage and on occasion, his advice came in the form of a verbal guard rail – a gentle warning that I might want to steer clear, move along – lest I’ll suffer the impact, the outcome, the collision.   His years of married life with mom surely helped him craft this gift.  Battle scars and strategy can do that.

None of these meaningful morsels are written down – anywhere.  If asked to recall and catalogue them – I just can’t.  They appear, oddly when I need them the most, and that too is a reminder to my often-wayward spiritual self to RECEIVE without overthinking.

Here’s an example.  As a kid, whenever I found myself noodling on issues outside my sphere of influence (daily dramas and annoyances – the things that are oh-so easy to crab about) he’d see the look on my face or hear the venomous tone and offer a low, monotone message, in a wonky, put-on Southern drawl:

Mm hmm…best to keep your eyes on your own paper, missy” and that was it.

Just like that!  He conveyed that he heard me (win #1) and offered advice to move on – quit the twisting and fussing (win #2). 

Eyes on my own paper, indeed.  Advice that still works, years later. If I embroidered, I’d consider putting that on a pillow.

xo,

Vicki ❤

Puppy Dog Eyes

black and white photo of Chihuahua
Sweet Sadie

Our sweet Sadie took a tumble yesterday and must’ve landed on her already arthritic back legs.  We’re not sure what happened but one way or another, she ended up on the floor, wandering with a wonky leg.  The pic I’m sharing is from yesterday morning – sweet Sadie nestled in my lap – after her unexpected gymnastics. Even though she can’t talk to us, we knew she was hurting.  Pain was in her eyes. 

We took her to the vet to check her out, explaining when we called that although she’s not ‘voicing’ that she’s hurt, we can see it.  Likely the result of an unintended dismount from our bed.  Good news?  Nothing’s broken.  After a full body massage and evaluation, our dear vet said, “Sadie’s a tough cookie” and while she’ll be achy – on account of her age (she’s 13) – no harm done. Whew.

Still, I feel terrible about how it happened. Our senior girl LOVES the ‘big bed’ (yes – we talk to the dog like she’s a small human).  The ‘big bed’ is our king-sized bed and it’s a reward that Sadie relishes after a long day of, what, exactly?  Napping in the sun?  No matter – the point is that she’s thrilled when it’s ‘big bed time’

Prior to Sadie, we knew nothing about small dogs, Chihuahuas, and burrowing behavior.  Golly, IT IS a thing.  Even when it’s hot and humid, this wonder ball of fur still loves her blankets and lots of them.  Our best guess is that her accident occurred as she got tangled in her beloved blankies and fell overboard – yikes – onto our hardwood floor, softened only by a sisal-like rug. 

While perusing news feed this morning and snuggling Sadie, this sweet resource surfaced, and I melted.  I love when well-timed tidbits FIND US, don’t you?  Yes indeed, puppy dog eyes and this: 

“…our human connection to dogs, cats, and other pets is similar to the bond between a mother and a child. This bond, in part, is formed through oxytocin, the hormone associated with love, attachment, and trust.”

Cuddle muffin Sadie says good morning and reminds us of the power of touch, connection – and the importance of well-landed dismounts, with or without your blankie. 

xo,

Vicki ❤

Finding My Way to Forgiveness

forgive sign
I’m a work in progress…

I know I’m partly molded from my mom’s madness.  Aging creates inevitabilities and as much as I’d like to deny it, my mom’s penchant for critical, caustic commentary often simmers just beneath the surface, within me. Especially when I’m stressed.

My mom, Sue, could be unrelenting in her expectations of those around her.  Every now and again when I’m zooming around the house doing too much at once, my dad’s voice surfaces – one of his periodic tirades directed at the hurricane that was Sue.  He’d say – ‘Slow down, Sue, just SLOW down’.  

Her frenzied, nearly out-of-body movements prompted him to utter, more quietly and with resignation ‘She needs to stay in her body when her head moves too fast’.  Yup.  Getting ahead of herself.  Driven.  Compelled.

Later in life she’d receive a diagnosis of depression and then the more defining manic depression. Eventually, heavy layers of additional issues (anxiety, alcoholism and more) were catalogued but it was her urgent, tempest in a teapot cleaning binges and spur-the-moment, 911 household projects that stick with me today.  Sometimes, I do the same.  Take on too much at once, putting a premium on “busy” for the sake of busy?  For the sake of task completion?

Sue would wrangle all onlookers into the fray and then make everyone around her feel guilty for taking a break.  Sometimes she was fun loving in her ability to manifest a near party-like atmosphere because of her charisma but invariably, she pushed too hard.  Drama time would arrive.  Predictably with tears and flying crockery (plates, lamps – whatever was within reach). 

As an adult, I recognize that her maladaptive behavior was borne from her demons and insecurities…constantly evaluating and critiquing those around her – benefitting from the short-term lift in her own self-esteem but at what cost?  Long term anguish, most assuredly, along with fractured relationships within the family.  One daughter especially.

There are days when forgetting is liberating.  I can still love and admire aspects of her.  If nothing else, I can marvel at her ability to morph from wildly funny to destructive – in a blink.  She was a sight to behold.  You know, in the I paused to look at the car accident kind of way.  You couldn’t help yourself.

I learned I could step back, remove as much emotion as possible and observe her more objectively, adjusting my regard and expectations for her.  It made it easier to be empathetic and less angry. Occasionally the heat is still there, though, and I work my way through it. 

This week I learned that my near year-long effort of unwinding my mom’s story – painful as it’s been – will come into the light in 2023.  I have a publisher willing to showcase the twisty-tale of my mom’s life and I’m grateful.  Over the next two months I’ll be doing a bit more editing to polish up the near 300 pages and then I think I can finally say goodbye to her – despite the fact that she passed seven years ago.

Every bit of this journey was insurmountable in my eyes…without my best friend Linda encouraging me.  “You can do this.  You should do this”, she would say, as she read one chunk after another, offering the gentlest of nudges, motivation, and love. I wish I could bottle Linda’s patience to sprinkle around. I was a lot to handle 😊 – especially when I retreated into the painful globs of life with mom.

What else?  These two thoughts guided me as I struggled to keep writing:

One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”

-Brene Brown

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”

-Sir Winston Churchill

And my dad…who loved her no matter how hard she made it — and helped me find my way, too. Writing about mom’s madness helped me open a window to see her with forgiveness first.

Xo,

Vicki ❤

Family Traditions: Trees, Please

Family history – three trees!

My husband descends from a pioneering family that settled in the small village near our current home.  Immigrating from the Alsace region of France and Germany in the early 1800’s they were part of a small pack of persevering souls who established the quaint town that’s now more tourist destination than residential.  A haven for those who relish the opportunity to travel back in time, shop, nosh and recall simpler days.

We knew snippets of family history from my mother-in-law, Maxine, but believe the surface-level storytelling and limited sharing was the result of embedded, gender norms – favoring the retelling of patriarchal tidbits of family history much more than the matriarchal.  Sigh.  It was his mother’s family – not his father’s – who literally blazed a pioneering trail but her legacy and history were sidelined as less important.  How irksome; but that’s not the point – at least not at the moment.

Maxine’s great grandparents arrived on the plains and brought traditions from their wooded homeland.  Evergreen trees were plentiful in heavily forested Alsace and one of most endearing stories was the tale of the painstaking transport of three small evergreen saplings across the Atlantic. I can imagine some arguments about this – a sentimentality vs. practicality tussle – but how lovely that sentiment won, I say.

We often wondered if all the human travelers in the family made it to America safely, because the ‘tree tale’ was more vibrantly recounted.  Records are spotty, at best, even with the dynamic search engine tools like Ancestry.com.  At least three family members – the husband and wife and one child – arrived safely and a few cousins, it seems. 

Piecing together facts from decaying photo albums and journals, along with the family Bible yielded one fantastic find.  A simple red frame home that still stands in our tiny community was the homestead.  Built by the grandparents, three times over, and identifiable for years as theirs because of the three stalwart and regal trees that stood in their modest front yard. Evergreens.

Maxine, before she passed, acknowledged the ‘little red house’ built by her distant elders but she never mentioned the story behind the trees.  A local historian helped to fill those gaps using records long forgotten about the family.  The sweet crimson structure still stands – now converted into retail space.  Sadly, only two of the three trees remain.  One wonders what happened to the third. 

Discoveries about family history can come in large lumps or in tiny waves.  Learning about the house and the trees was like the latter – ancestral echoes that, once summoned together, created a spectacular story.   If only we’d drilled down more with Maxine to better understand the oral history, to supplement the archival tidbits stitched together. 

Time was not on our side; she passed AND years passed and it wasn’t until we bought a nearby home that the a-ha moments arrived.  Of all the remarkable aspects, one especially stands out and it’s about the three trees.

Across many years of married life, we’ve lived in several homes  – fixing them up and moving on – but with heavy hearts each time.  As much as we knew we’d miss certain features of each home, the greatest lament always involved saying goodbye to beloved trees. 

Without knowing it (at least in any conscious way) every home we’ve ever lived in was improved upon, landscape-wise, with the addition of three or more trees. 

Every home. 

Most received a cluster of three evergreen trees for decorative screening, shade, or wind control.  Often we planted more than three but always three together, somewhere on each lot. 

There’s more.  When our daughter was born, we wanted to instill a love of nature and conservation and decided an annual tradition of planting a ‘birthday tree’ (yes, an evergreen) would do the trick.  And we did.  As she grew, we finagled and fretted every spring…where will the next tree go?  An homage to family, in ways we never suspected. Three trees, please.

-Vicki ❤

Chip Face

Baby girl enjoying potato chips
Get Your Own Bag!

This photo amuses me so.  It’s a blast from the past that I felt compelled to share.

Birthday celebrations for one-year olds are typically memorialized with a frosting face – capturing the enjoyment and glee of a first-ever birthday cake. Not so with our “DD” (dear daughter).

She commemorated her first birthday by sampling another delicacy – potato chips. Ruffles, to be precise. Instantly territorial over her find, she made it clear she found the simple bag of chips to be far superior to the cake and candles routine. Oh, and the singing? Hands over her ears with an imploring look – why, oh why?!

If you look closely at the pic you’ll see the bag of Ruffles in the background, which included the tag-line “Get Your Own Bag”.  In DD’s first foray into chip-dom, I’m not sure she needed the encouragement.  Her face did all the talking.  Agree?

Happy weekend – with or without chips!

-Vicki 😊

Bumps & Blessings in Parenting

frustrated mom face
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Right now, it might be hard to fathom, but I’ll share a truth with you.  The one that kept me (more or less) sane during the roller coaster ride that is parenting:  The highs and lows will suck air from your soul.  This is not a drill.  Despite the resplendent, breathtakingly shiny moments  – those that are gloriously joyful – you can’t linger there because the valley is waiting, too. 

The valley is where you’ll question everything – especially yourself.  In those moments you might fret that you’re incapable, ill-suited, or too impatient for the rigors of parenting.  I don’t care how old your children are – whether newbies in onesies, toddlers, or teens – they will rock you with the unexpected as they morph and grow.  Developmentally pre-destined, this push-pull of parenting.

When your babies return after the miracle miles of maturity, you’ll see them, still, as your squishy newborns, but they’ll be disguised in grown up packaging. Even as full-fledged adults, their needs for attachment are still there – but in new wrappers. 

Parenting is maddeningly unscripted, unpredictable (and, I found, in constant conflict with my plan-ahead personality) but you move through it, relishing the sunny days and smooth roads when they arrive.  They come and you remember:  I am nothing if not resilient.

Take care of yourself, my parenting compadre.  One day you might look up and see a little being who once ate crayons (“Just to try them, mom”) as a near-peer, standing before you.  Still needing you, same as ever, just taller, and less sticky.

Vicki ❤

Hot Pipes & Guacamole

dog with sunglasses
Whoa! Spicy guacamole, humans!

My dad was a master of oddball phrases.  He passed many years ago, but he still pops up in wacky, wonderful ways when one of his quirky ‘bon mots’ surfaces in my brain.  I smile when that happens. 

Scratch that – it’s more of a full-teeth grin.  Cheshire cat like.  The spontaneity of these witticisms catches me off guard and more than once, I’ve imagined an onlooker (driver in another car, man in front of me at the post office) assuming I had ear buds in – maybe talking to someone who made me laugh.  Sort of.  Yes – let’s go with that.  Talking to my dad; the low, low-tech way.  😉 

Here’s an example.  This one occurred in the privacy of our kitchen, where I found myself talking to the dog again.  Sweet Sadie.  She puts up with a lot.  DH (dear hubby) made a massive batch of his signature guacamole.  It’s delicious but it’s a use every bowl and utensil and all the counter space production.  Inspiration strikes when he fishes out the best bag of ripe avocados at Costco and that’s all the warning we get.  Look out.  Fresh guac coming soon!

One way or another, a healthy dollop of freshly made guacamole ended up on the floor.  It was chunky enough that it surely made a ‘splat’ sound but the humans didn’t hear it.  I turned around and Sadie was having a best day ever – gobbling the guac and licking the floor clean. 

Did I mention that DH puts extra jalapenos in his concoction?  Yep.  We like heat and a sweaty brow with our chips and guac.  Sadie, however?  This was her first ever fire-roasted tongue experience.  And this is where my dad popped to mind. 

Anytime someone complained of overly-spicy food – demanding a glass of water – he’d laugh and ask, “So you’ve got hot pipes?”  And as water was guzzled, he’d continue: “Holy Toledo – were you ‘down a quart’ or what?”

While tending to Sadie and offering her yogurt and water to cool her hot tamale mouth, those silly, heckling-like phrases from my dad kept swirling. So much so that I started asking her those questions.  Ya got hot pipes, Sadie?  Wow – look at you drinking all that water – good girl – were you down a quart?  OMG.  Hello, papa.  Thanks for joining us.  I have now taken over the color commentary role when it comes to overly spicy food…and I love it.

xo!

Vicki ❤

Dads and Daughters

Dad and daughter on sofa relaxing
This is how you take a break!

I love this pic of my favorite “Dad and daughter”.  There are days when I’m flummoxed by my good fortune.  How did I get so lucky?  I found a partner who’s put up with me for decades while reserving just enough patience to be a doting, loving papa.

What I enjoy most is the connection these two have around tools and knowing how to fix stuff.  Me?  In the face of full-on armageddon, I won’t survive because I have zero skills.  No hands-on capacity whatsoever unless it involves cooking or baking.  When the apocalypse comes, I’ll be whipping up a batch of brownies, just so you know.

Fixing something?  Home repairs?  Understanding anything about mechanicals, engineering?  Nope, nope and nope.  These two, however?  The gene pool richly rewarded our “DD” (dear daughter) with all of the how-to skills the world could offer – in the form of do-it-yourselfer DNA from her papa.

I suppose I contributed to some of her other talents (she’s the best negotiator I know 😉) but this photo speaks to me – especially now.  She’s old enough to demonstrate that she has the blessed combo of people skills and smarts about ‘things’. 

DD” is a strong young woman with a caretaker heart and while I feel a sense of pride in her academic abilities and accomplishments, the fact that she knows her way around a toolbox means just as much.  Maybe more? She’s my independent, step back and let me do it girl – no matter the task. 

After a job well done, she also knows how to kick back and relax.  Her papa showed her how to do that, too. 

-Vicki ❤

Back-to-School

boy with glasses in school
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is a tricky time of year for me.  I’m flooded with mommy memories of back-to-school transitions – both the tears when it was time for kindergarten and the weightiness of saying a final goodbye after a college move in.

I think about parents crossing those symbolic divides when August turns to September.  Sure, there’s joy and excitement, but there are so many other emotions.  Sorrow sits in the mix along with anxiety but increasingly more palpable is fear – worries about protecting our children when they’re beyond our reach.  Back-to-school traditionally summons a woozy, unsettled feeling for some parents, but this is different.

Why? Generations of parents have done this dance.  I’m one of them. But there’s much more at stake today.  Have you seen this piece, written by Katie Gutierrez for Time?  Reflecting on the compounding fears for parents she writes:

If having children can sometimes feel like a radical act of hope, entrusting them to the world can feel like the stupidest act of faith. I do not trust this world. And yet, what is the alternative?

I feel that.  Especially today when safety cannot be taken for granted.  Whether it’s senseless gun violence or the savagery of a global pandemic, Katie’s lament “I do not trust this world” is painful to read.  But I understand it. And my heart hurts for parents like Katie who are doing their best to move through the back-to-school transitions with as much grace as possible. If that’s you, know that I’m sending love.

-Vicki ❤

Banana Pancakes

pancakes and bananas
Banana Crunch Pancakes

I don’t like eggs, unless disguised as a key ingredient in a cake or another sweet treat. 😊 (Oh, that’s a lie.  I’m okay with them in the family recipe for mama’s meatballs.  But that’s where I draw the line.) 

Especially for breakfast, I eschew eggs.  Not scrambled, fried, poached or lovingly baked in a casserole with sausage, hashbrowns and cheese.  No – just no.  There’s a childhood trauma story associated with being force-fed undercooked scrambled eggs that’s stuck with me for years and although I probably would like them if properly prepared, I’m sticking with my stance.  No thank you.  Save your ‘give eggs a chance’ speech.

What do I like? This morning I bring you banana pancakes.  With a little crunch.  There’s a local restaurant known for their spectacular banana crunch pancakes.  Actually, just pancake – their artisan crafted creations – not joking – are delicious but they’re served one, singular and solitary flapjack at a time.  Presumably because the chef is painstakingly tweaking the recipe, watchful as every pancake makes its way from griddle to table.   Whatever. 

I’m no food blogger or photographer.  I’m an eater, so as you look at the pic, bear that in mind.  It might not look like much, but oh baby.  I nailed it!  In dissecting the restaurant version and inspiration, I figured the ‘crunch’ came from a little granola and a soupcon of maple added to the batter. 

Hubby felt courageous and said ‘sure’ when I mentioned the pancake experiment.  What won him over, truth be told, was the wafting smell mingling through the house.  All the windows are open this morning and the aroma snaked through every room.

How were they?  Yum.  The basic batter was a box of our favorite protein pancake mix (no egg needed!) and it welcomed the tweaks of banana and granola.  Success!  Now I need a nap. 

Have a wonderful day.  Delight your palate with something you love.

-Vicki ❤

Power of Play

four pairs of sneakers for adults and kids
Lace up and go!

I’m thinking about the power of play today.  The importance of connecting with the child that’s still tucked within us.  

Tucked – where, exactly, you ask?  I know what you’re thinking!  I’m an overburdened, card-carrying ADULT with all the, um, rights and privileges….and mountain of never-ending duties to prove it.  Time to play?  Stop, please.

Yeah, yeah.  Heard.  But still.  Take a minute, will you?  Close your eyes and trust me.  I know there’s a memory, a family memento or a long-forgotten photo that’s so powerful, it’s capable of triggering a rush of I remember; guiding you back to a moment when you felt lighter, invincible, capable, GOLDEN.

Childlike wonder can be reclaimed, but you might need to coax it into the light. Wonder is everywhere.  If not in our comforting memories, perhaps right in front of you – at this very moment.  Be encouraged to look for it as Madeleine L’Engle suggests.  Be open:

“I am still in the process of growing up, but I will make no progress if I lose any of myself along the way.”

women and children, games and play
Advice from Madeleine and Maxine

My mom-in-law Maxine understood that play was a priority. The photo of her with two of her granddaughters on a sunny summer day conveys that. She relished time with ‘her girls’ and would cancel everything on her busy-lady agenda just to spend open ended days with her granddaughters.  No one knew she would be gone just a few years after.  No one ever knows.

What to do, what to do?  She’d ask in her sing-song, joyful refrain. Pool?  Sure!  Baking? Absolutely!  But most of all, the girls loved fetching the musty old box of board games.  Relics from other generations – hidden like treasure – disguised in a faded brown file box.  Simply marked “GAMES” in Maxine’s signature block printing.

Where’s the box now?  In our basement – unopened for a decade, at least. I haven’t had the courage to peek into it since Maxine’s passing but I might one day soon.  Wonder sits within.  I know it.

-Vicki ❤

White Shirt, Helping Heart

man wearing sunglasses in white shirt

I took this photo of my dad while on a family vacation in Mexico – decades ago.  It became a favorite – for both of us – but possibly not for the reasons you’d imagine.  Yep, it’s a handsome pic of a handsome man but the binding between us had nothing to do with mutual admiration for his face (or his swanky mirrored shades).

It was all about the shirt.  Take a look. What do you see?  Pretty buttoned-up, right?  Indeed.  Even on vacation, my dad was tidy and scrupulous about how he dressed.  Known for packing more outfits than my mom – by a mile – dad loved his white dress shirts for any and all occasions

Did he tote along typical beach duds?  Sort of.  If you’d call a slew of short sleeve 😉 white button downs “casual wear”.  Any tropical board shorts in his suitcase?  No, no, no.  Only plain (and seemingly starched and pressed) navy, knee-length swim trunks.  Two pairs – so one pair was ever-ready, dry and good-to-go. 

He was fastidious to a fault and endured a lot of ridicule (yep, from me) for his ‘board room’ vs. ‘beach’ attire but he was also generous and charming.  As tightly wound as he was about his appearance and apparel, he was equally loose and loving with those he cared about.  I think his white shirt rigidity made it easier for him to be spontaneous in other ways.

My dad knew how to make everyone around him feel like a big-time winner.  How?  He never wanted or needed eyes on him.  I suspect he’d had enough of that along the way. At 6’ 4” tall, he towered over most folks and by size alone, was cast as a caretaker.  The solid one. 

In an unguarded moment once he told me he suspected he was a mighty oak in another life because people so willingly trusted him and admired his strength.  Sometimes, he said, strength he knew he DID NOT possess (or was in short supply).  Still – he rose and served – but when he could manage it, he mostly wanted to be in the background and not center stage.  “All the better to have eyes on who needs help the most”, he’d say.

He’s been gone for many years and yet he’s always nearby.  I figure nuggets of my heart and soul – the cosmic soup that is ME – came from pretty good stock.  His.  And that’s sweet comfort for me, every day.

-Vicki ❤

Angry Eaters

black and white photo of unhappy looking mom, grandma, daughter
Mom, me, Grandma

I’ve been thinking about this photo for years.  It’s a snap of me – maybe at five years old – sitting alongside my mom and grandma. Three generations of stressed out, angry eaters. Mom is the one in the striped sweater, sucking on a hard candy, frustrated and desperately trying to avoid the tray of cookies on the coffee table. 

I don’t remember the holiday or occasion but it was one of many forced celebrations that did little to cloak layers of unresolved conflict.  My mom and grandma didn’t get along and yet they saddled up for holidays and birthdays and pretended to be okay with each other. 

Mom was angry at grandma and it always seemed to be food related.  Desperately trying – for decades – to be anything OTHER than what her food obsessed mother became.  Grandma hated photos and always pulled one of the grandkids close to her. Not in an affectionate way but as a shield.  Helping to disguise her size or just buffering her from the animosity with her daughter?

I learned to sit with my hands folded, knees together, like a prop, but I tuned into the undercurrents between them.  Curious and sometimes fearful of their rage and rules about food.  Questions about quantity.  Quibbling about overeating…whispers of purging.

You may be thinking, ‘Thanks Vicki, but why the disclosure?  I’m learning that my family is far from unique and sharing is helpful to others. Families and generational food issues?  They are endlessly intertwined and when you add the individualizing sprinkles of perfectionism, competition, compulsion and fear that drive disordered eating, it’s clear the narratives are layered and complex.  There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions.  What matters most?  A listening ear, a helping hand.  Attention and love in order to help empower and normalize.  You’re not alone.

If we could wrap one another up in bubble wrap, maybe the road to recovery would be more straightforward.  Unrealistic, I know because the media assaults and ignorance about disordered eating are rampant and at their worst, they offer overly simplistic solutions that often result in shame, recoil and withdrawal for those suffering. Understanding the destructiveness of social media and reality tv is crucial. It’s unrelenting and it’s not gender specific.

Check out the National Eating Disorders link at the end of this post for comprehensive resources, but if you’re in a “TLDR” mood 😊take a gander at these five tips from NEDA to inspire critical thinking and active dialogue to challenge unrealistic portrayals of body ideals.  Let’s encourage more natural and diverse body images in media. 

5 TIPS FOR MEDIA SELF CARE

  1. Choose and use media mindfully. Be selective about your media use and choose media that supports your values and builds self-esteem and body confidence. 
  2. Limit screen time and social networking. Researchers studying body concern issues have found that the more time we spend in the media world, the more we are exposed to body perfect images, and the more vulnerable we are to compare our appearance to unrealistic body standards. Protect your self-image by monitoring the quantity and quality of your mainstream and social media time. 
  3. Test the message for body positivity. Use media literacy strategies to think critically about messages you consume and content you create on social media. Test for body positivity by asking key questions: Are the body depictions realistic or digitally altered? What does the message really mean? Why are they sending it? How might it affect someone’s body acceptance? Who created and profits from the message? Before you text, tweet, post comments, and share photos and videos, ask yourself why you are sending the message, who you want to reach, and analyze its body positivity. 
  4. Talk back to media about body image. Tell people who profit from media and establish policies what you like and don’t like about their body representations, why you feel this way, and what you plan to do about it — take a stand and refuse to read, view or listen to media or buy advertised products until they make changes. 
  5. Advocate for positive body talk. Use your social media capital to inspire others to use their voices to compliment authentic and diverse body messages, criticize unrealistic body ideals, and report body shaming. Shout out to media outlets, retailers, advertisers, and celebrity product endorsers who celebrate natural looks, healthy body size, and diverse body shapes, and call out ones that continue to promote unhealthy and artificial body norms. You can make a difference!

As much as I enjoy the escapist fun of the “Real Housewives” franchise on Bravo, the onslaught of disturbing blame-laying and shame inducing in Crystal Kung Minkoff’s storyline as she discloses her history of disordered eating is destructive:  “Hey Crystal – why dontcha go to therapy to fix yourself”.  Worse?  Whispers that her reveal must be driven to juice up her storyline and garner sympathy and attention.  Yes, yes.  It’s a tv program and we can turn it off but it’s the narrative – reflective of broader social norms – that is disturbing.

But there’s hope.  If you haven’t read Valerie Bertinelli’s “Enough Already” you might want to take a peek.   Refreshingly honest.  Our bodies are amazing and splendid in their differences.  Most of us know what habits to embrace and which to break when it comes to eating for health.  Retreating into family history showcases the sometimes deeply entrenched, generational issues with food.  More reflection = greater perspective and less shame.

What else?

  • I appreciate this article for the direct, absolving attention to the label ‘emotional eater’.
  • Need a nutritional booster shot?  This piece from the Cleveland Clinic is excellent because it’s comprehensive and encouraging.  Check it out.
  • And this from NEDA to access the helpline and screening tool – with links to so much more. 

Thanks for reading…take care!

-Vicki ❤

Rolling with the Unexpected

red wooden heart

I’m a glass half-full kind of girl. I try to think positively, even in the face of super squirrely circumstances – the shaky ground that’s typical daily living for most of us.

What’s the culprit? You name it. Despite good intentions to look for the bright side, even the most stalwart smilers😊amongst us can lose the resolve to remain positive. We’re tested. I’ve been tested. I know you have, too.

Not long ago, as I merrily moved through the routine cadence of my life, a loved one suffered a traumatic twist in the form of a health crisis. Is it better to see it coming? Worse when it smacks you in the face versus tinkering with your stomach over time – creating what-if anxiety? I don’t know – we don’t get a choice, do we?

The good news is that my cherished loved one will recover. Circling the depths of hell was both jarring and liberating for both of us. What matters most? I’m still mulling that over. Certainly not the same tiddly-widdly-this-and-that that preoccupied my head and heart before.

I’m grateful to friends and family for the periodic distractions, thoughtful and insightful sharing, and for the opportunity to embrace collective wisdom, advocacy, and humor. It’s made all the difference and it’s filled my bucket so I can be ready to help others roll with the unexpected.

If you’re reading this and your world has also taken a turn, know that I’m sending cosmic support your way.  Just because. 

-Vicki❤

Little Treasures

My love of family history is like an undertow, pulling me further and further into discoveries.

The deeper I go, the more consuming the journey.  Fascinations with lost (or forgotten) objects.  Photos – some framed but most neglected; yellowed and ragged.

Recently I found several small silhouettes of distant relatives and a few delicately framed family photos.  I wasn’t sure why, but they belonged together so I rustled up a small tray and gave them a place to cluster and be seen:

black and white photo of round tray with small framed photos
Little treasures

Maybe I’ll rotate other discoveries through.  Maybe not.  For today, I’m happy they’re in the light, nestled together. 

Which reminds me of a favorite Churchill quote:

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see. 

-Sir Winston Churchill

Honoring family treasures by displaying them does that for me – provides clarity for the road ahead by acknowledging those who lovingly came first.

-Vicki

Maxine’s Gingersnaps

black and white photo of a cookie recipe
Maxine’s Gingersnaps

My mom-in-law, Maxine, passed away in 2009 but her trademark gingersnap cookies live on – satisfying rumbling tummies of all types. 

The recipe is modest – see above – jotted down in her trusty notebook in her schoolteacher’s tidy cursive.  Not too many ingredients and the steps are straightforward. 

Were Maxine’s gingersnaps delicious?  Yes, indeed!  But it’s taken my husband and I years of tweaking to figure out why our efforts were never as good as hers – despite our diligence in following the instructions exactly.  Maybe too much so…

It’s great to have this connection to her.  The heavenly smell in the house brings her close every time – the comforting mix of cloves and cinnamon summon her.   BUT — we were flummoxed and frustrated by our creations:  stiff little bricks masquerading as gingersnaps.  No fluffy, spicey treats.

Accusations flew…we must’ve left out a key ingredient.  Oven temp too high?  Too low?  Didn’t ‘cream’ the shortening and sugar enough? We drove ourselves batty.  So much so that we almost gave up. 

Until…I realized Maxine methodically planted herself on her yellow kitchen stool to watch the cookies.  Every time.  She didn’t multi-task by doing a few dishes or throwing a load of laundry into the washer.  Nope.  She watched those little buggers and knew they needed to depart the oven – speedy quick – just at the point of puffiness.  Was that 9 or 10 minutes?  I suspect it was often at the 8-minute mark which explains our gingersnaps-disguised-as-hockey-puck efforts. 

The good news?  A little edit – striking out “9 or 10 minutes” and noting “check at 8 minutes” made all the difference.  I imagine Maxine chuckling in the great beyond.  “Yes of course.  Don’t you remember?  I told you they’re still baking a bit after they’re pulled from the oven!” 

Here’s the recipe. Perhaps easier on the eyes than Maxine’s handwriting from the photo:

3/4 cup shortening (softened)

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup light molasses

1 beaten egg

2 cups flour

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsps. soda (baking)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cloves

1 tsp ginger

Cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg; beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients; mix well. Roll small ball, dip balls into sugar, place 2″ apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake in modest oven (375 degrees) about 9 or 10 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.

If you’re a fan of gingersnaps, bake a batch!

Big smiles,

-Vicki

Loving Lisa

I didn’t understand my big sister Lisa’s magic when we were little. She just confused me. Here’s photo evidence. It was Lisa’s fifth birthday celebration, and I was three – not quite four years old:

black and white photo of two young girls with birthday cake
Vicki and Lisa

How would you describe the look I’m giving Lisa? Cold stare? Quizzical? Curious? I think it was all of those. I didn’t know enough to censor my gaze. Lisa was taller, older and I expected her to embody show me the ropes, please, traits. I expected her to be my guide and trailblazer. Maybe she could teach me a thing or two about managing my toddler tantrums and avoiding mom’s wrath? I expected Lisa to show me how to finagle more candy or cake or negotiate a later bedtime. Lisa did none of those things and that year when her birthday rolled around, I began discovering secrets. Sweet Lisa’s secrets.

Although older, Lisa couldn’t run with me or play on the swings for very long. She stumbled and apologized a lot and was afraid of falling. I didn’t know she was blind in one eye. I didn’t know her left leg was shorter than her right. I didn’t know she was a miracle – born at six months old – severely brain damaged and oxygen deprived – but she survived. I expected her to be my playmate. Ready, willing AND able.

That summer my curiosity escalated when I demanded to know “What’s wrong with Lisa!” as our mom stood at the kitchen sink. Lisa and I were at the table, pawing through our treasure – a stash of donated books from a soon-to-be-closing one room schoolhouse down the road. I was an almost-reader and I expected Lisa would be an absolute reader – maybe reading to me?

When I looked at her across the yellow tabletop, sticky with grape Kool-Aid residue, Lisa was holding her books upside down. UPSIDE DOWN. If there were pictures, she knew to flip things around, but as I crept behind her, I didn’t understand why she was “reading” up-ended books.

As our mom turned from a sink full of suds, she answered my question, angrily:Lisa’s different and special. You need to be nice.” It took me two more years to fully understand the trauma of Lisa’s birth – pieced together, one nugget of hushed and whispered intel at a time as I eavesdropped and snooped on grown up conversations.

Growing up with Lisa taught me how to care. To look at differences with a so what attitude. For all of the things Lisa couldn’t do well, she had big sister magic of her own. Lisa – still – has the most accurate, savant memory of anyone I know. Her recall is amazing – details from decades ago about specific celebrations, events, classic tv programs or everyday dinners.

Most conversations with Lisa start with, “Vicki, do you remember the day we….” and she’ll summarize, in exquisite detail, a meal or a moment. A conversation long forgotten. I love that about her.

More importantly, Lisa, despite her disabilities and the mounting reality of aging, is thoughtful, kind, and gracious. Always asking what she can do for someone else.

Caring for and learning from one another is everything. Notions of “ability” and “disability”? Lisa taught me to see how fluid and beautiful life without labels can be. She still isn’t much of a reader but her knack for seeing the good is her superpower.

Life lessons from Lisa.

-Vicki

Morning Coffee

Black and white photo of iced coffee.
Irene’s Best Ever Iced Coffee

Irene’s a best friend and a sweet soul sister. She’s been in my life for over thirty years and always makes the best iced coffee. Irene’s coffee.

I never tried to duplicate it – I figured it was her magic touch. And that was good enough. Until recently when I paused to watch her when she said, “Hey, are you ready for a coffee this morning?” Who says no to that, especially given the aforementioned tastiness of her brew?

This time, I watched as she retrieved macadamia milk, a coffee pod and ice. Standard fare. But as she fired up the Nespresso I saw her reach for the bottle of Kahlua and laughed as she ceremonially swirled it into the freshly brewed coffee. No wonder “Irene’s Coffee” is always better than mine!

Coffee mystery solved!

Cheers!

-Vicki

Beautiful Betty

I wish I understood dreams better.  They can be simultaneously maddening and obscure…yet comforting.  I had one of those experiences last night.  My father’s sister – my Aunt Betty – came through loud and clear with a message.  The imagery was hazy – just my subconscious recalling this photo, I suppose, taken in her prime when she was 20, I think. 

Black and white photo of blonde women in 1950's.
Aunt Betty

This was her message – coming through on the eve of the 51st anniversary of her death.  I jotted the nuggets down hurriedly in my trusty teensy bedside notebook, while still rousing myself awake:

You were so young when I died.  It was 51 years ago today.  Incredible.  July 22, 1971.  I know it’s hard to understand.  I changed that day, but I’m always close.  Just remember me.  Close your eyes and I’m near.

  • I know you wonder about your dad.  He’s here.  He knows you see him in the clouds and stars.  You’re right – he IS the whisper you feel when a breeze kisses your face. 
  • We’re okay.  It’s not what you think – we’re energy in free form.  We float and gravitate away from and toward one another. 
  • Your mom is here, too, but she’s childlike.  Your Dad acknowledges her but keeps his distance.  What happened to her?

And that was it!  I woke up and had the feeling of jet lag.  Restless sleep and not enough of it.  Foggy.  Headachy. 

Do I think about my long-departed father A LOT?  Yes.  Every day and I do sense him when I look up – toward cloud formations, especially, and I imagine he’s near in the soft breezes.   

And – the message about my mom:  She’s here, too, but she’s childlike was poignant and painful.  Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s and became increasingly incapacitated on her quick descent toward death.  Aunt Betty’s query – ‘What happened to her?’ was hard to hear, yet so loud in my early morning recall of the dream. I understood.  Aunt Betty didn’t recognize her, and we scarcely did – especially toward the end.

Gratitude this morning for messages.  Whether it’s a channeling of dear Aunt Betty on the anniversary of her death or my active dream state working out conundrums and emotions, I’m in a mood to receive.

-Vicki

Honesty

Billy Joel

I’m a little ashamed of myself. I ignored and maligned Billy Joel’s music when it was new and popular. Why? I’m not sure. I think my musical preferences were grittier, way back then. I pooh-poohed his tracks and plopped what I thought were syrupy-sweet songs into a category of easy-to-ignore background music. 

One of the things I love about getting older is my delight in calling myself out – realizing when I’ve screwed up. If I owe a friend or family member an apology – I try to be quick to offer it – even if there’s a lag between my ‘oops’ and owning up to it. 

On more than one occasion, my “sorry” was laughed at, dismissedYou are so silly – you didn’t offend. I get it. But still…acknowledging errors of omission or ignorance is important to me. Never do I want to offend without intending. (Offend with intent? Sure – there are times I’ve relished that. I’m not saying I’m perfect or a doormat.)

During my morning walk today, Billy Joel’s 1978 track, “Honesty” popped up on my Sirius XM app and I believe I listened to the lyrics – really listened – for the first time ever. Especially this verse: 

“I can always find someone…to say they sympathize…If I wear my heart out on my sleeve. But I don’t want some pretty face to tell me pretty lies. All I want is someone to believe.” 

Yes. When we’re vulnerable, we want authenticity, honesty. Not a quick pat on the head but sincerity. Do you have a die-hard human you can depend on? Someone who supports you, gives you truth without a sugar coating. 

I hope you have someone like that in your life. As for Billy Joel? I’m grateful today that his impactful lyrics and artistry finally registered in my head and heart. Better late than never. I’ll offer up a cosmic apology in the form of this wee little blog post. Sorry, Mr. Joel.   

All the best,

-Vicki

Memories Matter

portraits of boy and girl

What do you do when an unexpected loss rocks your world? The urge to retreat is palpable. I think it’s a survival instinct for some of us. We all handle grief differently. Some are soothed by community and connection immediately, softening the hard edges of loss. Others of us? We need solitude and time to listen to the quieter voices – often within us – to help guide our heads and hearts – gingerly and softly, through the pain and permanence of a loved one’s passing.  It’s not a long-term shutdown. Just an interlude. 

These sketches of Paul and Patty surfaced during such an interlude. The two depicted are siblings. My husband, Paul, sketched at 12 years old, sitting side-by-side with his big sister, Patty, the summer before she headed off to college. With a substantial gap of eight years between them, they were independent spirits growing up – often remarking that each felt more like an ‘only’ than part of a sibling pair because of their age gap. And yet – they were terrific friends who became good adults. Marrying and establishing their own families but still attentive and loving to their parents and each other.

Their mother, Maxine, commissioned the drawings from a close family friend who was an artist. Immediately these 18 x 20 portraits became Maxine’s prized possessions – always displayed in her home. She often remarked that Paul and Patty could be separated by years and great distances, but she could summon both close to her as she relaxed in her living room, admiring their sketched images over a cup of tea or her evening martini (two olives, please). 

When Maxine passed away thirteen years ago, Paul and Patty’s portraits were a conundrum. Each asked the other – “Do you want mine?” “Do we keep them together?”  Unable to decide, the portraits sat for over a decade in our basement. Not forgotten, exactly. The sketches were chock-full of melancholy reminders of their mother and how much she loved both of her children. Easy to leave the portraits parked for a while.

Until a few weeks ago. Unexpectedly, Patty passed away. It was shocking and sad and oh-so swift. Processing pain? There’s no formula. No timeline. Friends and family are a blessing but in the quiet, uninterrupted interludes, clarity waits. This time it came in the form of a memory. The sweet recollection of the “Paul and Patty” portraits. Dusting them off in the basement and hanging them – this time in our living room – helped Paul and I both with our grief.

Paul and Patty – together again.  Keeping loved ones close through memories and family mementos means everything. 

Wishing you peace and comfort,

-Vicki