House at the Edge of a Wooded Path


This gallery contains 4 photos.

When I pass by wooded paths, Or see old farm equipment covered in kudzu and brambles, I think of my father. I remember him on tractors or in old cars, Lincolns mostly, classics he collected from the forties. Or Suburbans, … Continue reading

Barometric Pressure

I have a new publisher, a new website and lots of new advertising opportunities, including a full page color ad insert in Kirkus Review’s newsletter which will be distributed at Book Expo, and a ‘book tour’ with Pump Up Your Book this summer.  I’m also a sixty-one year old woman who doesn’t want to learn HTML, Photo Shop, or any other technical genius that will make me a better ‘marketer’ for my book.  I was an OR nurse for thirty years; isn’t that enough technology?

However, what I am learning is it doesn’t make any difference how much you ‘hire out’ the work. If you want to be a successful self-published author, you had better learn how to update your own website, photo shop a cover mock up for your book, and more. You better reread your final interior proof one hundred times, because no matter how much you pay for copy editing, you will get your hardcopy proof in the mail and find out that you have used that hundreds of times too often, or put commas in too many places, or my worst mistake; use sole rather than soul.

The Greeks of Beaubien Street is in the hands of the new publisher and I am anxiety ridden. Getting used to a new routine and new people, is so difficult. In my former life, I discovered that I preferred to stick with the tried and true rather than venture out. I stayed at a job I didn’t like for years because the fright of starting fresh somewhere else was too difficult.

My little problems are nothing compared to what my friends are going through right now. Life threatening illness, the loss of a spouse, unemployment, legal issues, the list is endless.  What I have noticed is how one reacts to the trouble says a lot. I have a friend who is bald from chemotherapy for breast cancer, and everyday she crawls out of bed and drives an hour to her very physical kind of job. It’s not one at which she is able to sit at a desk. She alone supports her household, and the job provides her health insurance, so she doesn’t have the option to stay home when she feels bad.  In spite of her situation, my friend is the most upbeat woman I know. She hasn’t whined or complained once, and the only way I will know that she is feeling less than stellar is she won’t talk about herself.  I  imagine myself in her situation and the complaining I would do. We talked this week and she said that if she makes being upbeat and positive an act of her will, she is successful, and then she feels better. If she gives in to self-pity, the effect is immediate; she feels awful and makes everyone around her feel awful, too. She still has children at home and an aged mother who lives with her and its important to her that her family stays hopeful, as well.  Cancer is not her identity, nor are her other problems. We have to work at not allowing those things which will tear us down to become our identity. Because if we do, we succumb to feeling sorry for ourselves. Someone else is always worse off.

So the pressure is on. My husband told me yesterday when he was listening to me having a disagreement with the person who designed my website that I am turning into a real !@#$%^&* and he is glad we don’t work together.  That got me thinking about the fine line there is between standing up for yourself or being an aggressive shrew, being positive or feeling so sorry for yourself that it paralyzes you.  There is just so much a stake right now, and I’ve spent so much money and put so much work into everything that I want to get it right. I can’t afford to have any craziness around me, or any negativity. At different times in my life  my friends have been there for me when my glass was half empty, and now I need to knock it off, belly up to the bar, and get it right.

Is It Stress, or Alzheimer’s?

The Nativity as seen through the eyes of Boston Terriers.

December is the busiest month of the year for most women, and almost most men.  The approaching holidays take their toll on us whether we celebrate them or not.  Just knowing that there is an expectation increases our sense of obligation.  Should I put up a tree?  Do my casual acquaintances really need a gift from me?  What about sending Christmas cards?  The meal? Ham or turkey? Parties? Special outfits?

I decided that this Christmas I would go all out, put up a tree for the first time in years, shop for gifts, make an effort for a change, so that my sister Sarah who is living in a group home since the death of our mother, could come here and have a pleasant weekend with the family.  We got the moldy fake tree out of storage and about ten boxes of ornaments down from the rafters and I began decorating. We put up lights outside, got the Santa coat hanger  hung up, the lighted village of churches on the baby grand.  I even got a pine scented candle.  Then I found out that she doesn’t want to come here for reasons only known to her.  Suffice it to say that I vacillated between several powerful emotions that swung from hurt feelings to anger.  What it boils down to is that she is mentally retarded.  Why had I placed so much expectation on her?  Why wasn’t it enough to make those preparations for myself?  We seek the perfect Christmas.  I think since my children are on opposite ends of the country and Christmas isn’t what it used to be without them, it is just easier not to go to too much bother.  Now next year, when my baby grandson is almost a year and a half, Christmas will be fun.  (There goes those expectations again.)

Last week, the physical proof of the sequel to Pam of Babylon arrived. I was so excited!  I went over with it fine toothed comb and found a few minor mistakes, included ‘damn’ where ‘dam’ should have been.  I called my publisher and we rejoiced!!!  The book would be corrected and go to the printer.  And then thankfully, for some reason I read it again.  Several major, glaring editing snafus slapped me in the face.  There is a major contradiction that my editor missed and so did I, and four repetitive descriptions that just couldn’t be ignored. It was like a repeat of Pam in which there were four puking scenes in the original manuscript.  I didn’t want it to be the book about women who threw up, so I had to get rid of three of them.  History had repeated itself.  After several more readings, I was able to make the corrections without too much rewriting.  Tomorrow it goes back to the publisher.  Ugh.

Monday night I flew into Philly to spend a few days with Jeni and Carlos and the baby.  It was wonderful; I took my shoes off by the front door when I arrived and when we went to leave for the airport this morning two days later they were still there.  I spent that time in repose, being catered to by my daughter with three home-cooked meals a day, ice water and coffee at my fingertips, and stimulating conversation.  All while a four month old, happy, cooing baby sat on my lap.  I don’t like to fly, but because I didn’t have much time and it was sort of spur of the moment, I got on a plane.  Now next Monday, I am doing it all over again, but in the opposite direction.  Andy is actually in Austin, Texas right now, scouting sets for their next movie, but he is supposed to be back over the weekend.  So I am going to go see my aunt and the rest of my dad’s relatives and hopefully have lunch with my son.  I’ll be gone just a few days.

During this time, Jim has a birthday, we have our forty-third wedding anniversary, and then the Christian holidays.  I slipped up today while I was being goosed by the TSA agent by wishing her a Merry Christmas.

“Happy holidays, you mean,” she said with attitude.  Am I allowed to disagree with the TSA over this? I mean, I know my brasserie under-wires are an issue, and my bluejean waistband is too tight for them to stick their fingers into, but do I have to be corrected about political correctness?  I could feel my blood pressure going up and in my mind I said out loud, ‘No! Merry Christmas!’  But the part of me that wanted to get home tonight and eat Chinese food with my husband just smiled at her and said,

“Oh! Yes! Of course!”

While I was with Jeni I confided to her that I was worried about Jim and wanted him to get an Alzheimer’s test.  Now you have to know my daughter. She has the most expressive face if she wants to get a point across. To the rest of the world she has the best poker face.  But when those words were out of my mouth, she got ‘the look’. It is a sort of lips pursed but slightly smiling with raised eyebrows and a set jaw.  I can’t explain it. Anyway, she said,

“And I want you to get one, too.” Evidently, her nursing assessment of me left her with cause for concern.  So I told her I would get one.  “If its positive, you can start taking Aricept now,” she said.  Its a drug for Alzheimer’s.  Jim and I talked about it on the way home from the airport tonight. He thinks the months of change in our life may account for some of the symptoms Jeni sees in me.  I’m not so sure.  I keep thinking about that book of mine that I have read at least fifty times and the critical mistake I missed again and again.

My sister and I talk hourly about pour-over wills and trusts, things we have to do to make preparation for our death.  I think of the diaries and journals I have laying around here.  Do I really want my kids to read that stuff after I go?  I need to go through my drawers and throw away any ratty underpants so that someday, my son and his wife don’t have to do it for me.  (I may have watched too many episodes of Hoarders.)  Tonight I will lay in bed and think about Jim and I growing old together.  I told my kids once when we all lived in New Jersey and it didn’t look like any of us would ever leave, that when we got old, they didn’t have to visit us.

“Just drive by slowly and throw a bag of groceries out for us once in a while.  We’ll crawl out to the road and drag it in,” I said.    Suddenly, that isn’t so funny any more.  Jim and I don’t fly together because if anything happens, our dogs won’t be left alone.  Our kids aren’t here to check in on us.  I told my daughter today that even when Jim and I drive together in the car, I like someone to know that the dogs are in the house alone, so they won’t cannibalize themselves if we got killed.

She looked at me with that look.

White Noise

The view from our kitchen window, October 12, 2011

The weather in west Michigan is spectacular.  Here it is mid October, and we have eighty degree temps, bright blue skies and the color from the changing leaves is blinding in its beauty.  My computer is on the kitchen table, so I write here everyday at this huge window.  The view changes constantly.  I am concerned because with all my travels to and from Pennsylvania to see Jen and the baby, and to my mother’s house in mid Michigan, the birds haven’t been fed regularly and I am trying to lure them back with delicious treats.  Watching the birds has brought Jim and I so much joy since we moved here.  Jim also made the observation that some of the trees are changing color as we observe them in a day.  The bright orange one in the foreground changed from a bland brownish green to bright yellow in one day as we sat and worked at the table.

I need this lovely respite from the angst of my mother’s death and the concern over the well-being of my mentally retarded sister, Sarah.  So far, unfortunately, most of the brunt of the work has fallen on the shoulders of my sister, Liz.  She and I together work like a well-oiled machine.  But I remind her daily that I am eleven years older then she is.  I feel my age today. Another thing I must remind her is that our mother has only been dead for eight weeks.  In that short time, we have resolved most of the major issues that plague family members post death.  What is left after the scurrying and rushing is the pain of our mother’s absence.

A wonderful help has been the stories I am hearing from loving friends and family about their experiences with the death of their loved ones. The most painful are the memories concerning the loss of children.  A dear friend who lost a son twenty five years ago is on the continuum of grieving.  That does not go away.  Oh God, please, people shouldn’t have to go through that horror.  We don’t see what possible use that has in the realm of the supernatural.  Thankfully, more of the experiences have to do with those who have lived their lives fully.  But it is still not easy to go through, regardless of the age.

Another friend confided that she has been thinking about her mother a lot lately, and she has been gone for about ten years.  The last years of her pain filled life were not easy.  It may have been a blessing that she didn’t suffer. But that does not make it easier.  You can tell yourself when the unexpected moment arrives; you are standing in line at Walmart, or holding your new grandchild for the first time, or hearing about an older person living in a nursing home,it is better off this way, it was a blessing.  No offense, but that is bull.  It isn’t a blessing when someone you loved has died. I don’t care if they are one hundred years old.

The stories continue to lift me up as I reread them.  A childhood friend spent ten days at her mother’s bedside until she died peacefully on Christmas morning.  The time was spent with a niece, listening to favorite music and looking through old family photograph albums.  My friend wrote, ‘it is one of the sweetest memories of my life.  We knew, really knew, that she could hear us and that she loved having us there in her bedroom with her.  I will always be so glad that she was able to be at home and that I was with her.’  I know that my mother was aware that Liz and I were with her at the end, too.  It is one of the few certainties I have about the experience.

Drinking oneself into a stupor was the way another adult child coped with the pain of having to care for his dying mother.  There is always one child singled out in the spiritual realm who does most of the care-giving.  Why is that?  It would be so much easier if the responsibilities were spread around a little bit.  I am so grateful to Liz for being my partner at the end of my mother’s life.  How would either of us had done it alone?  Yet I keep hearing more and more that is the norm.

Today I am going to work a little in my studio. My publisher gave me an assignment I must complete today; the sequel to Pam of Babylon is coming out in a few weeks and that time before publishing is always hectic and stressful.  I want to putter around my own house.  These activities will take my mind off other, more stressful topics.  Liz and her daughter are at Micheal’s, buying screen printing supplies.  Melissa and I taught ourselves how to screen print last week.  I am drawing duck pictures on the screen and printing them on a big piece of muslin, for what use; I don’t know yet.

But all the while, the white noise will be in there; the aftermath of the death of someone who had a complicated life to say the least, and my involvement with the resolution of all the issues that come with finalizing, decision making, closure.  When my dad died twenty-five years ago at the young age of fifty-seven, a well-meaning acquaintance said, “don’t let a spirit of grief attach itself to you.” What the hell did that mean? I think it meant, “Okay, you’ve talked about it for a few days now, we are sick of hearing about it, shut up already and get over it.”  My mother has only been gone for less than two months.  I am just getting started.

Footnote: If you would like your experiences with the death of your parent or loved one included in a paper I am writing, please send me a note and I’ll send you more information about submission.