Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How My Universe Unfolded

As this year comes to an end, I am reminded of how worried I was this time, last year, about all the changes that the coming days would bring.  Holly had moved into her own apartment, the twins would be moving out shortly, and Olivia was going to be starting Western Michigan University in the fall.  I was afraid of  letting go of the doorknob, as my universe unfolded, because I felt unprepared for what lay ahead on the other-side of the door, and melancholy about the love and laughter I would be leaving behind when I closed it.  I found myself standing on unfamiliar ground for the first time since I had started my family, and I felt very unsure of my new place in the world. Well, I am delighted to say, for all those facing similar prospects this year or in the future, that the universe did unfold, exactly like it was supposed to.
What I discovered over those next few months is that my relationships with my daughters did indeed change, but the changes that followed were really quite wonderful!  At first, I could only notice how lonely our house felt with Dave and I wandering around its empty rooms; the quiet accompanying us, wherever we went.  I had less work to do, but now, that didn't seem so important.  Slowly though, as the girls settled into their own new lives, Dave and I found ourselves getting many delightful phone calls from them, filled with all the news about the direction those lives were taking them in. I began to get many invitations to join them for lunches or dinners, and when I did, I found that I was no longer speaking to the little girls I raised, but, rather, to the grown women that were the result of all that raising.  I could just listen and enjoy, rather than advise or rebuke.  These women were no longer children I had to parent, but more like friends that I could just enjoy spending time with, and, quite often, they refused to let me pay for my meal, as well!! 
The distance between us seemed to give them a new perspective, too, and they seemed to view Dave and I much differently, than they had in the past.  They had always been appreciative of us, but now they were in a position to demonstrate that appreciation more, and they did so with great frequency.  Whenever Dave and I had health issues they would adjust their schedules to drive us to appointments, or, following my back surgery, pick up Olivia from college. Their visits home, especially when they would spend the night, were filled with happiness over a home-cooked meal, which, despite my obvious lack of culinary talent, would somehow taste wonderful to them. They each loved their new lives, but they also missed their old ones, and I found myself basking in the glow of their affections.  On those most delightful of all occasions, when they would all spend the night at the same time, the warmth from having the whole family together would seem to linger for days.  It was better than I could have ever imagined.
I realize now that I had mistaken the dependency of my children with their love for me, and that, in actuality, those are two very different things. I underestimated the children I had raised, and I think, perhaps, I had underestimated my own value to those children.  They are the results of Dave's and my own finest efforts, and I see pieces of the best of each of us, sparkling in them, like starlight on a summer night, whenever I look at the women they have become.  Had I realized all this last year, rather than worrying about what would happen when I closed that door, I would have embraced the opportunity to see what was on the other-side, much sooner...I have to remember that.
So here's to a New Year, in which you each let go of your own doorknob, and allow your universe to unfold.  I will leave you with those poignant words from Max Ehrmann in his essay "Desiderata," in hopes that we will all remember to keep them in mind, during those times we are facing change in our lives, during the coming year.

"And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

May you each have a Blessed and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dear Coach Schwartz....

Dear Coach,
I would just like to begin by thanking you for all that you have done with "our" Detroit Lions, this year!  It has been so much fun to watch our boys, especially early in the season.  I have to imagine that the last few games have caused you some concern though, and rightly so...but don't despair, because I can help you!!!!  I work at a preschool, so I deal with these kinds of behavioral issues every year.  It's an easy fix, and I am more than happy to share my expertise in this area with you.  It might be necessary for you to make a few minor adjustments to the advice I provide, but otherwise it should work as well for you, as it does for us!  For example, it is important to maintain direct eye-contact when speaking to the individual who is misbehaving.  In our preschool that means we must crouch down to look our "littles" in the eye.  Obviously, if I were to apply the same principles with your boys, that would mean I would need to stand up on a chair to do so, but, other than that, I think the same rules should work.
In a gentle, but firm voice you must remind your guys that it isn't okay to hit someone just because they take away one of their toys or don't play the way that they want them to.  They need to use their "words."  Tackling someone the correct way is perfectly acceptable, of course, but stomping someone or pushing an official is out of the question.  It is never okay to hit someone, because you are feeling angry or frustrated.
Let them know that if they cannot follow this rule, then they will have to remove themselves from that area of play, until they are ready to do so. You don't want to keep piling on those penalties! Be firm about this, because if you are inconsistent  about the rules the whole class/team will notice, and you will lose all of your credibility with them.  If they should throw a tantrum, as sometimes happens, you must simply tell them that you cannot address the issue any further, until they can compose themselves...you cannot afford to have personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct.  Don't be afraid to use big words like "compose" with them.  If they don't know what it means, just explain it to them.  I never talk down to my littles.  I have always found that it is better to keep your expectations high, and allow them to rise up to them, rather than to lower yours, and miss out on that window of opportunity for a teachable moment.  This is also a subtle way to convey your respect for them as individuals, as well as for their intelligence.  Make sure that you apply these rules equally amongst all your kids, because if you allow one to get away with it, then your whole class/team will descend into chaos!
Finally Coach, never forget that you lead by example.  If your kids see you handling your anger with aggression, then they will do so, as well.  None of your words will mean anything if they think you are a hypocrite.  This might be particularly helpful when you are dealing with opposing coaches after the game...if you show a lack of respect for authority, then your players may show you the same!
It's really that easy, Coach.  The great thing is that you don't have to repeat all this over and over if only you follow through, firmly and consistently, the first time.  Plus, you still have plenty of time left in the school year, oops, i mean season, to get things back on track.  Then you can concentrate on YOUR area of expertise....how to win a football game!!!!
Best of  luck with our boys, and please tell them it has been a pleasure watching them this year!
Sincerely,
Amy Valente

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tommy's Story- A Young Man Battling Autism


This past Thanksgiving, my family was invited, once again, to my sister-in-law Maria's home to share our holiday meal with her husband and their five children. My mother-in-law and father-in-law also attended, and since I did very little of the cooking, our meal was, of course, exceptional. As fine as the cooking always is though, I find the greatest pleasure in spending time with those I love so deeply, but whom I seldom see often enough.
Lives are busy, and, in Maria's and Bob's case, it is extraordinarily so. Besides the demands of raising a large family, their eldest son, my Godchild Tommy, has Autism, and as anyone whose life has been touched by this condition knows, an enormous amount of love and energy is required to care for a child who suffers from this. He is 22 years old now, and his parents have been relentless in their efforts to help him, in any way that they can, since the day he was first diagnosed. Their tireless undertakings seemed to be rewarded though, and until last November they had managed to provide him with a life, both full and happy; suddenly and unexpectedly that all changed.
Tommy, who is non-verbal, and therefore, unable to shed any light on what was troubling him, began to behave in ways totally unlike how he had behaved in the past. His normally contented disposition changed, and he became aggressive, lashing out at others, both at home and at school. He started to engage in violent behaviors which resulted in self-injury, such as striking his face until it became battered and bruised. He experienced a dramatic loss in weight, as well as a change in his sleep patterns. Activities that once provided him with pleasure, no longer did so, and his world, already limited by the ramifications of his Autism, began to get smaller and smaller.
Driving in the car, for example, an activity that he had always enjoyed in the past, suddenly began to cause him unrest, and he would attempt to get out of the vehicle, or wrench away the steering wheel from his mother, as she would drive. The vocational school he attended was forced to call the police for assistance, to take him to the hospital, when he began to act aggressively towards other students or staffers. On more than one occasion it took upwards of four grown men to restrain him as he struggled; someone who appeared to be fighting for his life, for reasons no one else could fathom. He would attempt to escape from his house, at any given opportunity; running frightened, down the street, into yards of strangers who knew nothing of his illness. The family feared for his safety, concerned that he might be struck by a car, or injured by someone who viewed his behavior as threatening. With a deepening sense of panic his parents and siblings sought to find the reasons for whatever had caused these heart-breaking changes, but much to their despair, for the most part, they found little help within the medical community. Although the Hippocratic Oath promises that every doctor will do his utmost to help those who suffer, it seemed not to apply to a young adult who was Autistic, non-verbal and combative. Whether their hands were tied by worries of malpractice, or their hearts were closed by a case too difficult to diagnose, they showed little compassion to a family in desperate need of answers.
After being shuffled back and forth between hospitals, and from doctors who found it easier to refer the family to another specialist, rather than to look harder for the answers themselves, Maria made a very fortunate phone call to a pediatrician Tommy had seen when he was younger. Although Tommy was now an adult, the doctor agreed to see him, and it was this learned man who finally gave Maria the first diagnosis that made any sense. He said he suspected Tommy suffered from PANDAS.
The Behavioral Neurotherapy Clinic describes the condition in this way:
"Although rare, PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus. What does all that mean? Basically, it means that when the body's defenses are trying to attack the Streptococcal bacteria causing a sore throat, there is some degree of mistaken identity and it also attacks some parts of the brain.
The autoimmune attack is thought to occur on closely related parts of the brain, causing a range of behavioral and emotional problems. When first discovered PANDAS was linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tics and Tourette
 syndrome. Mostly because these abnormal behaviors are overt and easily recognized.
Tics can be uncontrollable movements, such as eye-blinking or shoulder-shrugging, or automatic noises such as throat clearing, grunting or saying certain words repeatedly. More recently PANDAS has been associated with a wider range of related behaviors. Affected children can have any combination of the following symptoms:

Cognitive inflexibility, difficult to reason with, as if stuck on an idea,
Obsessive/repetitive/compulsive argumentative behaviors,
TICS (repetitive vocalizations of body movements), 
Tourette syndrome, 
Attention deficits and oppositional/defiant behaviors."
When Tommy was tested for strep titers his exceeded 3000. The normal range is generally considered to be between 0-250, although some labs go as high as 400; Maria's results were 7.
Because his condition has probably been ongoing, judging by the results of his strep titers, restoring Tommy's health may be more challenging than it would be had his condition been recognized early. Additionally, since administering medication to him or getting blood work done is so difficult the road ahead is still a long one. The pediatrician who first suggested Tommy had PANDAS was not familiar enough with the condition to treat him, and the few doctors who are willing to help are located out-of state. Yet, at least there is hope again, as distant as it may be.
I write this, with the permission of my sister-in-law who graciously allowed me to share her family's story, in the hopes that it might serve two purposes. First, to educate those who read it as to the existence of PANDAS, and also to draw awareness to the enormous gap in medical care relating to adults with Autism. When Tommy was first diagnosed I had never even heard of the condition; now, with the advances made in diagnosing it, Autism has become painfully familiar. Although it is encouraging to see very young children receiving the early intervention that can improve their lives so dramatically, the absence of that same kind of attention for adults with Autism is truly disheartening.
It is my sincere hope that some good might come from this story; that today you might be touched by the words I have put to paper for a boy who is unable to say them himself. How unimaginably lonely it must be to live in Tommy's world....it shouldn't be made harder, because he can't receive the medical care that the rest of us take for granted. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Year I Got Christmas Back


When I was a child there was nothing more magical, than Christmas time. The four weeks leading up to it were ones of great anticipation, and when Christmas morning dawned I was filled with a sense of joy and serenity, unlike any other day of the year. Back then the holiday season never seemed hurried or hectic, in fact, it was quite the opposite; it was always over too quickly! I got older though; children came along, and the season began to be something that exhausted me, rather than refreshed me. The words written by Glenn MacDonough, in 1903, sadly, began to ring true:

Toyland. Toyland.
Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Childhood’s joy-land.
Mystic merry Toyland,
Once you pass it’s borders,
You can never return again.

As a very small child I attended church with my family, at our Lady of Good Counsel parish, in Detroit; not far from City Airport. Back then I didn't count down the days until Christmas on a calendar, but, rather, by how many candles were lit on the Advent Wreath at our church each week. The church itself was swathed in purple, and I think, perhaps, that is where my love for that color first originated from. I think that color is intertwined in my memory, with the feelings of hope and anticipation that I associated with those special days, when throughout the church the melodic notes from the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," echoed, in my ears.
A trip downtown to visit Santa at the J.L. Hudson Department store was also, an important component, of the Christmas experience. First arriving downtown, intrigued by all its "big city" hustle and bustle, and then circling the block to look at all the holiday fantasies, supplied for the public to view, in each and every window of that grand old store.  If that in itself wasn't exciting enough, it was followed by an elevator or an escalator ride up to see Santa. The store's lights twinkled, and Christmas magic accompanied us on every floor that we passed. Children were ushered over to sit on Santa's lap by one of his helpers, then once seated we would politely make our requests for the one or two toys that we had so carefully selected.
Each year there would be at least one night, when, under a darkened winter sky and the swirl of gently falling snowflakes, we would jump into our car to go out to look at Christmas lights together. In the case of my family, that usually meant a drive alongside Jefferson Avenue, in Grosse Pointe, that aristocratic suburb, that neighbored our Detroit city borderline. The mansions, wrapped in their elaborate Christmas packaging, were sure to inspire many "ohhhh's and ahhhh's" as we peered out of our car windows, before making our way back home to our more, humble dwelling. Finally, on Christmas Eve my siblings and I would wait in the basement to hear our doorbell ring, and then to hear Santa's heavy footfall, as he left our house. At last with great joy, we would bound up the stairs to savor the moments of gift-giving, and for us the giving was truly equal to the receiving. The following day was the important one though, for at mass we celebrated the birth of the newborn King, and even as very small children we understood that this was, for our family, the real "reason for the season."
All of those memories began to fade into the distance though, and for many years I feared that I would never experience them again. Then a few years ago, my sister invited our family to join hers, as we attended Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, in Greektown. Dressed in our Christmas best we made the drive from Romeo, and a little bit of that old joy came back when I saw the first twinkle of Christmas lights downtown. It was when we entered Old St. Mary's though, to celebrate the 5:30 mass that Christmas Eve, that I was truly transported back, once again, to that magical place that was the Christmas I remembered from my past. The altar was resplendent, with towering Christmas trees adorned in sparkling, white lights and shimmering, iridescent tinsel. As a breeze would stir the tinsel, each strand would reflect the gold from off the altar, making the trees take on an air of quiet, Christmas majesty. The entire expanse of the altar was covered with beautiful red poinsettias, and as I took it all in my eyes opened wide with childlike wonder. Soon the trumpets sounded, heralding in all the hopes of this special day, and with them, my love for the season was finally restored. A sense of peace settled upon me as I listened to the mass, and it remained with me long into the new year, whenever I thought back about my visit to Old St. Mary's.  My sister's kind invitation had given me the one gift money can't buy; she gave me back the Christmas I remembered, so fondly from my youth.
To all of you, whatever your beliefs may be, may this holiday season and the new year that follows it, be one of peace and tranquility....and of joy equaled only to that of your fondest childhood memories.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Heartfelt Thanks!

Today I post this story to thank all of the kind souls who have played a part in helping me to achieve a dream of mine; a dream which I am sure is shared by many others....TO FIGURE OUT A WAY TO MAKE SOMEBODY PAY YOU FOR TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF!  In just a few short days I will be receiving my very first check earned from my blog, having finally met the $100 threshold stipulated by Google. It will enable me to say that I am paid to write, and although the amount of money may not be enormous, the joy I am feeling about my achievement is!
This past Christmas my oldest daughter Holly created a blog site for me as a Christmas gift, providing me with a virtual, clean sheet of paper, which would allow me to pursue my love of writing, and to see where the efforts of that pursuit might lead me.  On February 19th, my Adsense application was approved, allowing me to have advertisers utilize my blog site.  The way Adsense works is that the content of my stories determines the type of advertisements that appear along-side my blog.  If, for instance, I write a story about dogs, then companies selling pet products might be featured.  The idea is that if someone is interested enough in a particular subject to read about it, then they might be inclined to click on an advertisement concerning related products; when they do the blogger receives a few cents via Google.  I realize that the more cynical might say that I am actually more of a landlord who is paid for rented space than a writer being paid for printed prose, but I consider that more of a "glass half-empty" kind of perspective.  Instead, I choose to savor the moment, and to revel in the notion that I was successful enough in my efforts, that I actually got paid for them!
In reality, the money plays a very small role in the happiness I have attained through my blog. The real pleasure, for me, has been in knowing I am capable of writing something that others would take the time to read, during a period when lives are so hectic, that many people seldom have time to read more than a newspaper or magazine.  The idea that someone from Paraguay or Iran would ever read anything I had written was unfathomable to me a year ago, and the fact that these readers return to my blog multiple times has surpassed all of my expectations.  So thank you to all of the readers who have shared a moment with me these past 11 months, for you have, in truth, been the real source of my great happiness.  I am humbly grateful, to all of you.

*Although my daughters frequently remind me that it is bad form to share any statistics about my blog, once again, I am going to ignore them.  I find the stats kind of interesting, and I hope that you do, as well.
1. 4,755 visits have been made to my blog.
2. While visiting my blog people often read more than one story. The number of stories read is 8,763.
3. I have had readers from more than 25 different countries, including Japan, Russia, France, Sweden, Brazil, Columbia and South Korea.
4. "Fireflies and Tuna Cans" are the most common words used by readers using a search engine to find my site.  "Michael Chiolero" and "Impaled by a Catfish"  are the most interesting search words, though.  *Apparently, mentioning Michael in one of my stories, or having Janet Falendysz comment about her mother's impalement by a catfish, are sometimes, for a few returning readers, the most memorable aspects of my blog.
5. Favorite posts are:
    1. A Detroit City Childhood
    2. Picking Up the Pieces of Her Children's Broken Hearts
    3. Letting Go of Doorknobs, As the Universe Unfolds.
6. My favorite comment by a reader was from my story entitled, "Bring Two of Every Sort of Animal...But We Just Brought Our Two Dogs and Two Cats."  She wrote, "Don't know if I can post, as I do not even know you, but this story lifted me higher, than a friend with wine! It came on a low day, blessings. Joy."
7.  Any story that includes my delightful mother, Geri Garner, always generates many favorable comments.  I guess everyone loves my mother...especially me!
And last, but not least....
8.  I may have only made 32 cents a day, but that is 32 cents more than I was ever paid for talking about myself, in the past!
Thanks, again!!!!!  And I hope that the happiness you feel in the future is equal to the happiness I am feeling today.  Oh, and I almost forgot...when I was 46 years old I enrolled in college to get a degree in Early Child Devolopment.  My first class was an english composition class, and my professor was extremely encouraging, concerning my writing.  The first essay I wrote in her class was entitled "Fireflies and Tuna Cans," and as a way to pay tribute to her, that is what I named my blog.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving Blessings



Poor Thanksgiving...it is the one holiday that doesn't get much press, and quite possibly, that might be the reason why I enjoy it so much. I guess it isn't as marketable as many of the other holidays, because big business can't figure out a way to trick consumers into spending more money on it. For this reason, I think, more and more, it is treated like an afterthought, and as each year passes it is given less recognition than the one before. Halloween costumes and candy are still being discounted along the aisles of every store, when the first Christmas trees are put up for display, leaving little room or time for celebrating Thanksgiving. It is becoming the forgotten holiday; the holiday that never gets any respect.

Most people equate it with a turkey dinner, replete with all its trimmings, but to me, it is about family, and the opportunity to slow down and catch ones breath, while spending time with those we hold most dear. The food is, of course, a tool to achieve that end, and awakening early Thanksgiving morning, as my daughters join me to prepare the day's meal, has become a wonderful time for bonding, and for catching up on all the moments that might otherwise escape us. The hours in the kitchen are relaxed and leisurely; filled with fond memories and laughter, and the feelings of closeness that accompany them. They are the times from which new memories are created...memories that I hope my daughters will share with their own children one day, long after I am gone.

Our Thanksgiving meals are some years shared with my husband’s side of the family, and some years  spent with mine. Other years we have spent the day with just each other, or out delivering meals together to the homebound. Each year though, no matter with whom we share our meal or how we spend our day, it is a sacred time, and a holiday that I will always treasure. It might be, in fact, my favorite holiday of all, because it one of the few that has little to do with how much you spend on the day, but rather, with whom you spend the day.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all…and may your day be spent with those you love.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"I Gotcha Last."

My childhood was filled with good-natured pranks and teasing.  If properly executed, a good prank or tease will, eventually, be as amusing to the recipient as it was to the prankster.  My mother was a proud practitioner of this type of behavior and she instilled an appreciation for a good joke in us, as well.  She was rather sophisticated in her efforts, as opposed to her offspring, though. We relied mostly, on hiding around corners and jumping out to scare one another.  My mother was a little more creative than us, and as a result, her pranks got the big laughs.

My two brothers, for example, were each the recipients of uncooked eggs packed in their school lunches.  Their lunch mates were always appreciative of my mother’s efforts, when the boys would crack their “hard-boiled” eggs and discover that they had been mistaken about the hard-boiled part.  I myself, once had a lunch packed with sponge bread, very realistic in its appearance, which was accompanied by real bologna and mustard. It proved very challenging to chew.  Then, there was my uncle's surprise birthday sheet-cake that was made from a kneeling pad used for gardening. It was artfully frosted and served to him, while he was onstage, at the nightspot he played piano at.  He had the staff bring him a knife, as he regaled the audience about his love for his dear sister, and his appreciation for the beautiful cake that she had presented him with.  When the first knife failed to cut the cake, he requested that a staff member bring him a sharper one; blaming the blade’s dullness for his lack of success.  It took several more attempts, along with the sound of my mother's laughter, before he realized that it was not the knife's dullness, but rather, his own that was causing the problem.

Following in my mother's footsteps, my friend Anna and I once left a very realistic looking mouse inside the drawer of one of the teller cages, at the bank where we were employed.  It was discovered in the morning by a teller, who, unfortunately, did not share our senses of humor, and we were both reprimanded for our actions; the reprimand was accompanied by a wink and a smile from a superior though, who did. Tellers' birthdays were also fertile ground for pulling gags, and one entered the bank with great trepidation, whenever ones birthday fell upon a workday.

I have now, also, indoctrinated my own children into this beloved pastime.  I once hid on the floor of our home's kitchen pantry closet, crouched down underneath its bottom shelf for over 20 minutes, and then, leapt out at poor Gina as she walked by, unsuspectingly. She was not amused; nor, did not even express any admiration for the incredible lengths I had gone to for that particular prank!  Always good sports, the girls have pulled their share of pranks on me as well, though.  Recently, Olivia informed me that I had accidentally set my hair on fire when, while dusting, I leaned in a little too close to a lit candle on a table.  Gina and Olivia dissolved into laughter as I hurriedly slapped my head in an effort to put out the non-existent flames.

I believe that this may be the reason why we all enjoy the ridiculous feature on Facebook, which provides each member with the ability to give the proverbial “poke” in the arm, so similar to what we used as children to annoy our siblings.  I am embarrassed to say how hard I have laughed at the thought of irritating my online friends, and also amused at how quickly that they always respond back! It is the lightness of childhood, available in one of its most modern forms, that has given us each the pleasure of saying, "I gotcha last" with such mischievous delight.  We might be adults now, but that doesn't mean we have grown up.  Blessings ~ Amycita ~ *Additional note to online friends:  I gotcha last!! Ha!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

FACEBOOK VERSUS LONG LINES AT BANKS PROVIDING MARTINI BARS

Occasionally, the fact that I will not carry a cell phone, that I refused to allow my payroll check to be directly deposited into my checking account, or my habit of holding my new digital camera up to my eye when attempting to snap a picture, is viewed by some, as a reluctance on my part, to embrace modern technology.  I would have to disagree.  I feel it is more plausible that I have been left permanently traumatized by the introduction of the debit card.
When I lived in Warren I worked for 16 years as a bank teller, and my employment began at a time long before those ubiquitous pieces of plastic eliminated the need for people to wait, once a week, in incredibly long lines, in order to cash their payroll checks.  For those of you who would view this as a good thing I believe that, possibly, you might be missing the bigger picture.  Inching along for lengthy periods of time, while waiting to make ones way to the teller window, afforded everyone in line an opportunity for a little social interaction, and on top of that you were allowed to smoke while you waited!  It is my belief that if banks hadn’t eliminated smoking, and, additionally, they had provided a martini bar at the beginning of the line, people would still be standing in line today to cash their checks, rather than using an ATM machine.
Instead, tellers were enlisted to persuade customers that it was advantageous to possess a debit card, and we did so, with great success.  I can still remember when customers, obviously less gullible than myself, would ask me why I would want them to have a debit card when it would probably contribute to the elimination of my job.
“Oh no,” I would answer sincerely, as I unknowingly threw another shovel of dirt onto the graves of future tellers everywhere. “Debit cards won’t eliminate the need for tellers.  They are merely an enhancement to the services that we provide.”
At the time I worked at a branch that employed a combination of 44 full and part-time tellers.  If you want to know which one of us was right, the next time you go to the bank, providing you ever do, count how many tellers are working, and see if it is less than 44.
It should be of no surprise then, that, with a background such as mine, I would view something such as Facebook with great suspicion, and for years argue that I would never open an account on it.  About a year and a half ago though, my husband asked me to open an account for him, and on a whim, I opened one for myself, as well.  Initially, I failed to grasp the attraction.  The newsfeed, for example, I found particularly perplexing. 
“Why are all these people at my home and all talking at the same time?” I would ask my exasperated daughters.  “I feel like I am at preschool the first day after the Christmas break, and every child in the class is trying to tell me what they got, all at the same time.  It’s hurting my brain!”
Slowly, overtime though, I became familiar with the ins and outs of social networking, and I began to embrace the connection that it provided me with.  My friends list began to grow, from simply the family and friends that I interacted with on a regular basis anyway, to a group that included people with whom I had lost contact over the years, as well as brand new friends that I met through others, or from my blog.   My day would always include at least a passing glance on Facebook, which would reassure me not only that my daughters  who were no longer living at home were doing well, but all the other individuals who were beginning to feel like family now, also were fine.  The groups I joined provided me with people who shared my experiences or interests, and I looked forward to their comments, or listening to the music that they posted.  I also enjoyed the online Scrabble games and the like; providing an endless group of players to engage with should the mood strike me.  Little by little Facebook weaved its magic on me, without my even being aware that it had cast its spell.
I discovered all this after our home computer met its demise about 10 days ago.  I informed my husband that there was no need to hurry about replacing it, since I could easily use a computer at the library should the need arise.  
“What about Facebook though?”  He inquired.  “Won’t you miss it?”
“No, that won’t be a problem.  I’ll be fine without it.” I answered confidently.
Then, much to my surprise, I found myself wondering about my online friends and what they were doing.  The feeling was reminiscent of the times when, as a teenager, I had been grounded and unable to see my friends, or talk with them on the phone.  I would find myself conflicted, as part of me was missing them, while another part was resenting all the imagined fun I suspected they were having without me!  I suddenly had a revelation about what role Facebook had been playing in my life.  Facebook was the vehicle through which I invited all my friends and family into my house every day; however, because it was online, it negated the need for me to clean my house first, before they arrived.  It was the greatest invention ever!
I do not envision, anytime in the near future, when today’s tellers will ever experience the friendships and camaraderie that I was lucky enough to have known during the period that I worked as one… even if martini bars ARE provided.  Yet, all is not lost.  An amazing young man with a vision employed modern technology and created something even better.

He created Facebook, and I find myself so enamored with it that I am even reconsidering my position concerning cell phones!  So, until I find myself back online again, remember friends…..I’ll be thinking of you, and hoping that you aren't having too much fun without me...but if you are I will be secretly hoping that you get grounded, too.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

ALWAYS REMEMBER...CANDY IS THE GLUE THAT HOLDS A GOOD MARRIAGE TOGETHER


Tomorrow my family will be attending the wedding of one my "other daughters".  This will be the second wedding I have been invited to, of girls that were amongst the best friends of my children, and I know my reaction will be the same as the first; I know I will start crying as soon as I see the bride's mother being seated.  I will watch Cheryl walk by me, as I did with Anna, and I will recall, with great happiness, the moments that we had together as we were raising our two little girls.  I will remember the laughter, as well as a few tears that we shed upon our journey as parents, and I will think how wonderful it was to have done so, together.
Next, I will see my oldest daughter Holly walk down the aisle, as she will stand up in this wedding, as she did in Alana's.  I will look at my beautiful little girl, now a woman herself, and thank God, once again, that He blessed her father and me with such a wonderful child.  What a privilege it has been, to have been given such a gift.  My daughters, as I have said so many times before, needed very little raising, because they were already perfect when we got them.  God, in His generosity, just let Dave and I enjoy His good work.
Next, I will see Stephanie walk down the aisle with her father, Jeff, and I will think, wistfully, how I wish I had known my own dad.  I will think how, whenever I witness the loving interaction between a father and his daughter, I feel great happiness for the two of them and that special relationship that they have.  I will think of my husband, Dave, and how important he is to our own girls.  I will think of the long hours of overtime that he worked to provide for them, and how he did so when lesser men would not have.  I will remember how, despite all the obstacles he faced with his Multiple Sclerosis, he soldiered on, uncomplaining, and instead, immersed himself in his daughters' lives; creating the bond that will ensure he will be a part of those lives, always.  I will think of his late night calls to colleges, just to say hello, or the movies on TV that he stopped to enjoy with his girls, and I will smile; knowing that he recognized our time with them was fleeting.  It has been during these moments when I watched Dave with his girls, and when I saw other good fathers like him and Jeff, that I would feel a momentary pang of longing for that kind of relationship for, although I have had a wonderful life, I will never know, firsthand, that remarkable love of a father for his little girl….and she will ALWAYS be his little girl.
Then, I will look at Stephanie, a girl who slept at our house, shared our lives and helped to fill them with wonderful memories.  I will remember how she played tug of war with our dog Sophie, and twirled that pup around like furry dust mop, as they played.  I will remember the powder puff football game with Holly, and the aching muscles that came along with the week of training for it. I will think of the days that followed, when they needed to move their heads up and down to brush their teeth, because their arms ached too much to move them.  I will remember the trips to Port Sanilac, and campfires with toasted marshmallows, and I will wish, for a moment, that I could do it all over again because those moments were so precious to me. 
Finally, I will think of the advice that I want to give her, about the new life she is about to embark on. It is advice that I have learned through my own experiences and that I have often shared before.  I want her to remember that all marriages have their ebbs and tides, but that the  moments worth remembering are the happy ones; time spent mulling over the lesser ones is only time wasted.  I want her to remember to never get too busy to enjoy her life with her new husband, because in order to have memories to cherish one needs to take the time to make them first.  And, finally, I want her to tell Matt that it is always a good idea to bring home M&M's and Sweetarts on a regular basis.  Candy, and the thought that goes into remembering to buy it for the woman you love, is often the glue that holds a good marriage together.  I should know; I just finished a bag of M&M's.
God Bless you on your wedding day, Stephanie and Matt!  May your lives together be filled with every joy that you can imagine...and a lifetime supply of M&M's!

Friday, August 19, 2011

LOSING CONTACT WITH YOUR LENS



Recently, my youngest daughter Olivia began wearing contact lenses for the very first time.  She did remarkably well when learning how to put them in and take them out at the eye doctor's office, and her first day as a contact lens wearer ended quite successfully... then came day two.  I received a phone call from Liv explaining how, while attempting to put her lens in her right eye, she somehow lost it.  Thus, she became acquainted with what is undoubtedly, the bane of every contact wearer’s existence; the issue of the lost lens. 
I have worn contact lenses for 35 years now, and as such, have acquired a virtual treasure trove of knowledge as to where an elusive lens may have disappeared to.  Over the years I have found missing lenses on my clothes, on the floor, on the bottle of solution, and occasionally, still in my eye.  The latter is perhaps, the most perplexing, because one would think that it was impossible to lose a lens in one’s eye and fail to realize it.  For those of you unfamiliar with contact lenses, I can assure you that it is not.  Somehow a lens can make its way up into your upper eyelid and sit there unnoticed, while the user spends hours looking for it in a myriad of other places, before realizing it is still in one’s eye. My favorite loss and recovery stories though, involved two of my friends’ lost lenses, and I share these remarkable tales whenever I run into someone despondent over the loss of their own lens. 
The first involved my friend Linda, who lost one while swimming in her above ground pool.  It never fails to amaze me that, given the gallons and gallons of water in one’s pool, not to mention the splashing of that water which, in a second, could propel it over the side, it is still possible to locate a clear contact lens intact, to lose again another day....Linda did it though.
The second happened when a group of friends from work gathered at a bar called “Roger’s Roost,” to show off our lack of skills while playing pool, and to watch some hockey as we shared a few beers to make the pool playing less painful.  This particular bar, for those of you who have never been there, provides baskets of peanuts for the customers to enjoy, and also, to make them very thirsty. To ensure that the customers don't have to waste time properly disposing of their empty peanut shells when they could be ordering more beer instead, the owners simply allow everyone to throw them on the ground to be cleaned up later, by an underpaid staffer, once the bar has closed.  Somehow in the midst of all this beer drinking, bad pool playing, and hockey watching, my friend Anna lost a contact lens.  The bar, of course, was very dark, which poses an additional problem when looking for a lost lens.  As our group gathered around her, scanning the floor for the proverbial “needle in a haystack”, a couple of gentlemen noticed our plight and gallantly offered some mini-flashlights that they happened to have with them, to help us in our efforts.  We rummaged through the discarded shells on the floor, now illuminated by our mini-flashlights, until finally, we became too parched to continue.  At that point, exhausted and thirsty from her efforts, Anna raised her mug to satiate her thirst and there, glistening on the side of it, was her contact lens!  We considered it a victory for beer-drinking, contact lens wearers everywhere.
In Olivia’s case, her lens could not be located, but the eye doctor graciously provided her with, not one, but three new lenses to address her problem.  She now has a lens to replace the one that she originally lost, and two more to replace that first set, when she loses those two tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A TALE OF TWO ALARM CLOCKS

While talking the other day to my delightful, Scottish friend, Alice, we happened to discuss the varied and complicated rituals, that people practice when setting their alarm clocks.  I found this conversation interesting for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is because, if I understand correctly, Alice doesn't actually utilize any of these complicated rituals. I think she just sets her clock for the correct time, and her alarm, for the hour she needs to wake up...no trickery involved.  The second reason is because Alice speaks with a Scottish accent, and, of course, whatever words are spoken with a Scottish accent, are ALWAYS  more interesting.
Now, my husband and I, each have our own alarm clocks in our bedroom, but we never adhere to a simple and straight-forward practice such as Alice's.  Instead, we each use our own, very sophisticated and intricate method, to ensure that we will always be up precisely when we need to be, and with plenty of time to spare, in order to get ready for the day.
I have the simpler method of the two.  I set the clock 10 minutes fast, and my alarm about a half an hour earlier, than I  need to wake up.  This allows me the luxury of hitting the snooze button, multiple times, at 9 minute intervals, before I HAVE to get out of bed.  Then, once I have awakened, I know I will never be late, because I have cleverly set the clock 10 minutes fast, thus fooling myself into being ready 10 minutes early!!!  Sadly, this actually only works in theory, because, having set the clock myself, I am always aware of my own trickery and cannot be deceived by it.
My husband has a far more complicated ritual, and so, of course, needed a far more complicated alarm clock, than the one I have. He got his clock from a store called "Brookstone" which sells fascinating gadgets of all kinds. These gadgets are the cool kinds that  you only purchase when you can spend pretend money, like the $50 gift certificate to the store, that my husband used....but NEVER when you have to spend any real money, the kind that you have earned yourself, by having to perform actual work.   His clock has two alarms that you can set for different times,  with sounds that first ring quietly, and then whose volume increases to a frightening crescendo should you foolishly choose to ignore them.   It also includes a feature which allows the clock to RESET ITSELF automatically if you should accidentally unplug it, or experience a power failure.  This is particularly helpful, because, since the clock is so complicated that I have a lot of trouble even turning off the alarm, I regularly yank the cord out of the wall , in order to shut it off.
Now my husband's ritual includes setting his clock for some random time, several hours different from the actual time that it is, and then having his alarm go off a couple of hours earlier, than need be.  This, of course, tends to create a lot of confusion about whether it is time for him to wake up or not,  because it requires an extraordinary amount of figuring to calculate out what the actual time is.  To simplify things he just rolls over, and asks me to look at my clock for the correct time; a practice that does not endear him to me.
As hard as it is to believe though, despite all his complicated efforts, he occasionally, still oversleeps! This occurred the other day when I was working at the computer.  First, his own alarm began to ring, with its increasingly loud volume, and then my alarm went off... and not in unison, but at separate intervals. I called upstairs to Dave to wake up, and he hit the snooze on both of the alarms.  A very short nine minutes later the alarms began to ring again.  Since Dave was only getting up to await an early morning phone call, I decided, with amusement, to see how long it would take for Dave to turn off all the alarms on his own.  The 33 minute mark had passed, and still Dave showed no sign of weakening by giving in to the alarms' incessant ringing.  Now, knowing that Dave would be making a significant contribution to science if I pursued this research further, I hypothesized as to why the alarms were failing to produce their desired result.  I decided it was because he had become accustomed to the noise, and would need a new sound, thrown in to the already maddening din, in order to wake up.  I experienced my "Aha!" moment, and ran excitedly on tiptoes to get his cell phone.  With the stealth of a Navy Seal, I crept up the steps, while muffling my laughter, and placed his cell phone directly next to his ear, on his pillow.  Then I raced back down the stairs again, and picked up the house phone and called him.  I was filled with glee, as I awaited his reaction.  I waited some more...and the phone went to voice mail.  I couldn't believe it!!!  How could he sleep through his cell phone ringing, AND the other two alarms?  I decided to call again.  This time the call went immediately to voice mail.  I puzzled over this development, and hung up and attempted to try again when, unexpectedly, the phone in my hand rang, startling me.  With heart racing I guiltily ran upstairs to give Dave the phone, thinking it was the call he was waiting for.  I ran into the bedroom, and tried to hand it to him. He explained he was already on his cell phone though, so I went ahead and answered it for him.  The caller was Dave who, half-asleep, had been attempting to return his missed call.  Now, confused by all the noise from the alarm clocks, he was trying to fathom why I was one who had answered, and was presently in the same room with him speaking to him on our home phone.   I decided to conclude my experiment.
I feel that, while my hypothesis about a third sound being needed to wake up a very sleepy individual was, in fact, correct,  it might be somewhat challenging to replicate.  The only really conclusive information I have to offer is that people with Scottish accents are apparently, much more sensible about their wake up rituals, than Dave and I are...plus, I really like the way that they speak.  Here's hoping that your morning wake ups are all a little bit more Scottish, than ours!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I HATE HOW MAP-QUEST ALWAYS GIVES ME THE WRONG DIRECTIONS JUST BECAUSE I PUT IN THE INCORRECT ADDRESS

Last week I drove with my daughter, Olivia, to Western Michigan University for her 2 day orientation.  In a stroke of genius, born of past stupidity, I carefully map-quested out every aspect of the journey beforehand.  I mapped out the drive there and the drive back, and, in addition, even mapped out the five minute drive from the college to the hotel I would be staying at, as well as the return route from the hotel back to the college.  I left no stone unturned in my efforts to make this trip one of the few that I have ever taken, during which there would be no possible way for me to get lost. Sadly, I underestimated my own abilities.
I only got a little bit lost when we first arrived in Kalamazoo, which I considered an exemplary achievement,  on my part.  I was tricked into going the wrong way at one of the many forks in the roads that the Kalamazoo City Planners have generously provided throughout the city, to confuse and frustrate unsuspecting travelers.  This problem was then compounded by the fact that almost all the streets in Kalamazoo are one-way, and, it goes without saying, that any one-way street will ALWAYS be in the opposite direction of the way I need to go in. From previous adventures to WMU though, I was able to navigate myself back onto a wonderful street called Westnedge, and I managed to be lost for only a mere 15 minutes, as a result.  Jubilant, we arrived on time, and began the many hours of orientation that, I soon realized, I had already participated in when I took Olivia to Western earlier in the year, to attend a Scholarship Competition.  Despite the success of my prior two back surgeries I have determined, through experience, that I must limit certain activities in order to avoid aggravating my back again. These activities are driving to Western Michigan University, and then sitting though  many hours of orientation that I have already participated in. Frankly, I considered myself a candidate for Sainthood when, after having left home at 5:15 that morning, I waited until 1:30 in the afternoon before I finally informed Olivia that I was going to hobble back to the car, and then head for my hotel.
I retrieved the directions I had printed out for the five minute journey, and eagerly began the trip to my hotel. About 20 minutes into the drive I began to think that something was amiss, but I doggedly remained on course and followed all of the directions to their end.  Surprisingly, when the directions indicated that  I should be at my destination I found myself on a dirt road, which ran along the side of  some railroad tracks, in a very unappealing section, of... I don't know where.  I continued on a short distance more, to ensure that the hotel wasn't secretly hiding in that tantalizing place known as "if only you would have gone just a little bit farther down the road" and then, with resignation, turned back.  I am not even sure when I began to check the clock, but I remember at some point I had been on the road for about an hour, and still had no idea where my hotel was.  I made my way back through the hellish maze of one-way streets and managed to take the wrong fork in the road that I had taken earlier in the morning, several more times, before I found my way back to Western Michigan University.  Once there, I began the journey again, (because, I guess,  I was somehow unsure that I had really gotten lost following the directions the first time) and, eventually, found myself in that same old comforting spot where the dirt road hugs the railroad tracks, in that very unappealing section, of... I don't know where.  I started back on my now annoyingly familiar trek to the university when, at exactly 3:45 PM on East Michigan Ave. near South Sprinkle, I had a revelation!  I realized that Dave had forced me to take his cellphone with me!!  I was overwhelmed by the miraculous nature of cellphones, and how convenient they are when one is lost on a dirt road by some railroad tracks, for the second time in one day.  After a quick call to the hotel I discovered what I already knew, which was that I wasn't anywhere near the hotel.  It was, actually, in a totally different direction than what I had map-quested, and once I made my way back to Western Michigan University again, I found  it quite easily.  It had taken me only three hours to reach the hotel that was five minutes away from the college; the same amount of time, I noted to myself with interest, that the entire drive from my house to the university had taken me that morning. 
I was overcome by joy and gratitude when I met the young woman who had given me the directions earlier and, had I not thought such a display would frighten her, I would have reached over the counter and hugged her if my arms had been long enough.  Then, as if my happiness at finally finding my hotel was not enough, she informed me that along with an ice machine, the hotel also offered vending machines that contained all the important food groups; diet coke, crunchy cheese curls and m&ms!!!!!  I was humbled by the magnitude of my good fortune.
After partaking of my bounty and resting for a short time I ventured back out again, to get some gas.  This time I was only lost very briefly, after forgetting to turn back onto Stadium Drive from 11th Street.  I returned to the hotel and slept peacefully, content in the knowledge that I was now, so familiar with the Kalamazoo area, that I couldn't possibly get lost again.
In the morning, as I bade farewell to a different innkeeper, I mentioned to her how map-quest had given me erroneous directions from the university to the hotel.  She voiced her appreciation, and mentioned that she would try and contact the site to correct the misinformation.  Upon returning to my car I glanced at my directions one last time, and noticed, only then, that, while I had entered the correct numerical address, I had, for some unknown reason, put in the incorrect street name.  Horrified, I contemplated returning to the lobby to inform the woman of my mistake.  After quickly surmising that such an admission of stupidity would be too embarrassing, even for someone such as myself who is used to making frequent admissions of stupidity,  I decided against it.  I started off  to the college instead and, after forgetting to turn onto Stadium Drive from 11th Street, and being forced to turn around again in the same driveway I had turned around in  the night before, I proceeded, uneventfully, back to the university....and I didn't even get lost once.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Dave...And To All The Other Wonderful Fathers Out There, Just Like Him!

While I have never known the joy of a single embrace from my own father, I have felt the reflected warmth of the countless hugs that my daughters have received from theirs.  It is, perhaps, my father's very absence that makes me hold so dear what others enjoy, but may also take for granted; the exquisite bond between a father and his child. More than many, I think, I notice the interaction between them and whether they be family, friend or stranger the emotions evoked within me are always powerful, indeed.  Some moments are so tender that it makes my heart ache for that which I will never know, but, far more often than not, I just feel an inexplicable joy for that which I have witnessed. Through those moments I feel I know my own father, and never more so than when I watch my husband interact with our own four daughters.
I remember when Holly, our oldest, was about two years old.  Whenever my schedule permitted I would drive over to the GM Tech Center, where my husband was employed, and we would wait for him at the end of his workday.  Holly and I would stand at the end of the long pathway, and I would watch as Holly's eyes excitedly scanned all who passed through the doorway, until that wondrous moment when the father she adored would finally appear.  Then, as fast as her tiny toddler's legs would carry her, she would race with her curls flying wildly in the wind until, with great joy, she would be caught up into her father's waiting arms.  It was a sight so enchanting, that any others on the pathway would turn to watch the moment unfold along with me, and comment on the sweetness of the love the two of them, quite obviously, shared.
Neither the passage of years, nor the growing number of daughters did anything to diminish my husband's love for his girls.  To him, each was perfect; their successes were to be savored, and their transgressions overlooked.  This, of course, led to me becoming the disciplinarian of the family, and, as sometimes happens as children grow older, the exchanges between the disciplinarian and those who are being disciplined, occasionally, grow heated.   If Dave was present I would be sure to hear a plaintive plea from him that he wished we would all stop fighting.  I would remind him in a very loud voice that, when an adult disciplines a child, it is not called fighting; it is called parenting... but my efforts would be to no avail.  To him their goodness outweighed any wrongdoing, regardless of the situation.
In the heat of the moment I would shake my head in frustration but, later, when I was alone, I would often find myself smiling, as I thought to myself, "I bet my father would have loved me that much, too.  He would have always been on my side, no matter what."
What Dave lacked as a disciplinarian, he made up for as a proud papa.  I remember a time, a few years back, when Dave had gone to the bank to inquire about a home equity loan. On his second trip back I came along to sign all the paperwork with him.  As we sat down to wait for our representative Dave took out a PILE of pictures of the girls.
"What are those for?" I asked with astonishment.
"Oh, Kathy wanted me to bring them.  I told her all about the girls last time, so she wanted to see their pictures."
"Are you crazy?" I asked, in disbelief.  "This lady doesn't want to see pictures of our kids.  She doesn't even know us."
Just then the woman sat down.
"Oh good!"  she said.  "I was hoping you would remember to bring those."  I shook my head, in resignation.
Along with his ever present pile of pictures, he has been known to make copies of the girls' report cards, not just for the grandparents, but for his coworkers, as well.  Somehow they must find his pride endearing though because, whenever I see them, they always seem so genuinely happy about the girls' achievements.  For all I know there are hundreds of General Motor's workers with copies of my daughters' report cards proudly displayed on all of  their refrigerators.
His three oldest girls moved out earlier this year... so other houses are the places they now call home.  Our youngest daughter, Olivia, will be leaving for college in the fall, and the swiftness of these endings has been hard for him to bear.  I see him sometimes as he hangs his head, while sitting on his chair in the kitchen.
"I miss my girls, Amy.  I wish they were still all at home."....and, for a moment, I live vicariously through his love for his daughters. I imagine what it would feel like to have a father who missed me that much... and, I can tell you, I think it must be wonderful.  I am lucky to have married such a man, and my daughters are even luckier to have had him as their father.
Happy Father's Day Dave... and Happy Father's Day to all those other wonderful fathers out there, just like him.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

To Anna....With All My Love

There is an old saying about being lucky to have had three good friends in life, but in mine, I have found, I have been blessed with a great many more.  At the age of 52, I find myself surrounded by a great many people that I do not even consider to be just good friends, for they are my best friends.  I do not use that term lightly, for to do so, would diminish the term's value and meaning.  To me though, these individuals embody the very definition of the word "best".   They have truly celebrated the joys that life has brought me, as well as helped me to shoulder all my burdens.  Perhaps, it is when the burdens are the heaviest, that the depth of their friendships are demonstrated the clearest though, for joy is easy to share, but sorrow, not so much. It was often during those hardest of moments in life, the ones when hot tears burned my cheeks and when I could see tears of their own flowing down theirs that I truly understood how lucky I was to count them among my friends.   They were never just sad during the times when my heart ached; during those times their hearts ached, too.
There was a time in my life, when I had very few friends with whom I was close, and the ones that I did have were seldom women.  Those boys, now men, are still a part of my life, and remain as important to me as do my own two brothers.  What surprises me today though is that the majority of my best friends are women and I owe that, I think, to a few women in particular.  It is a group so small that I can count its number on a single hand. I met them at different times in my life, but it was their love and their loyalty, that truly enabled me to let down my guard, with so many others. They helped me to open my heart to all the other women who now hold such an important place within it.  These few are the best of the best, and to me their friendships are like the horizon, for I do not need continuous proof of its existence.  I know it is always close by, and that it goes on forever.  They are there for me without question, and the relationship is reciprocal.
Of these few there is one whose life is most intertwined with mine though, and her name is Anna.  She is truly remarkable in every way, and has been a part of my life for the last 27 years.  Our friendship began at work, but spilled over into our home lives, as we brought together our daughters, Holly and Alana, who were only a year apart, to begin a friendship, which still endures to this day.  Alana was the last of Anna's two children, while I went on to have three more, but Anna played as an important a role in my other daughters' lives, as she had in Holly's.  Their childhoods were filled with one night sleepovers at Anna’s that transformed into three day stays and, even then, they only came home when I resorted to threats.   She didn't make pancakes that came frozen out of a box...she made them from scratch and shaped them to look like Mickey Mouse.  I might have bought them their dolls, (although she bought Olivia a whole collection that she still has to this day), but it was Anna who, when the girls awoke one morning after a sleepover at her house, had crocheted the beautiful blankets that they found those dolls covered up with.  It was Anna who taught each one of them to swim and Anna who taught them how to fish, while I, for my part, stayed on dry land filming the events.  I have videos of her putting the disgusting worms on their lines, and then bravely removing the flapping fish from off of them, after they were caught. Anna has always been fearless. She sewed all 5,000 of the girls' annoying Girl Scout badges onto their vests, after coming over to my house and, to her great horror, seeing that I was attaching all of them with safety pins.  All their birthday cakes, as well as my own, were baked by Anna.  One year she made me one that was shaped like tea pot; not flat like a picture of a teapot, but three-dimensional, like a real one. It was so beautiful that I refused to allow anyone to eat it, and for three months I kept it, until it collapsed in a heap, much to Anna's amusement and to my dismay.  For Olivia, her Godchild, she sewed all of the Christmas outfits that she and Olivia would decide upon together, while pouring over patterns during the weeks preceding the holiday. Years later, with her usual flair for genius, she presented Olivia with a quilt that she made for her, consisting of swatches of fabric from every single one of those dresses she that she had so lovingly sewn for her.  One birthday, she and her husband, Mark, gave her a room as a birthday present.  They knew of the unused space we had underneath our basement stairs, and they surprised her by carpeting the floor and putting fabric over the ceiling.  They then filled it with hand sewn pillows of every shape imaginable, to rest upon, so that Olivia and her friends would have a cozy "oasis" to read and to play in.
She has stood by me in my hard times, too.  She was there at the hospital when Dave was first admitted and we found out that he had Multiple Sclerosis.  Her support for both of us has never wavered once, through all the years.  She made meals for my family after each of my back surgeries, and then spent hours while I recovered, cruelly beating me at Scrabble.
She has not only shared my personal joys, but often has been the reason for them; like when we would take vacations together to her family's cabin or to our travel trailer, in Port Sanilac.  One of my very favorite memories is when, while up for a fall weekend in Port Sanilac, she and I walked together, along the residential street that hugs the water.  We noticed that one of the residents had amassed an enormous pile of leaves on their front lawn so, without any words passing between us, we both suddenly burst into a run and jumped into the middle of them. Just two typical women in their 40's, behaving exactly as one would expect...if they only happened to be several decades younger than they were.  A car passing by us actually stopped to commend us on our decision.
There are so many more memories that I could share, but I think the point is made.  I have been blessed with the friendships of many remarkable women, and most definitely, by one named, Anna.  I am sure you are asking yourself at this point, "Well, I see why Amy wants her as a friend, but why does she want Amy?" ...Don't worry; I am not offended.  I asked Anna that question, myself, once.
"You make me laugh," was her reply...somehow, that has never seemed like reason enough.  Here's hoping that a heartfelt posting on a blog helps to even things up a little more.  Thank you, Anna...thank you for being my "best" best friend.

Friday, May 13, 2011

MY WASHING MACHINE WASN'T WORKING RIGHT, SO I WENT TO THE LAUNDRY MAT AND BROKE ALL OF THEIRS

Today I decided to go to the laundry mat.  Quite a bit of laundry has accumulated around the house as I have been neglecting to do it, while laboring in my flooded basement.  I am not sure why there so much to wash, since Dave and Olivia have both clearly stated that none of the dirty clothes belong to them. It looks like it is their clothes, but obviously, they are not the individuals wearing them.  I am left to draw the conclusion that those rascally pups, Teddy and Scarlett, have been conspiring with Copper Cat to play a prank on me.  I  can see the three of them now,  creeping through the house, late at night, working together to quietly open all the drawers and closet doors, and then, while clutching the clean clothes in their teeth, sneaking carefully back to the laundry room to add them to the growing pile.  Then, I can visualize the three of them going into the living room and all rolling on their backs, while quietly laughing; delighted with each other, as well as their amusing antics. 
In any case, my washing machine has been acting persnickety lately, (I realize now as I write this that the machine is probably a part of the aforementioned conspiracy), and periodically, it will not properly drain the water after the rinse cycle.  This forces me to have to occasionally, wring the clothes out by hand, which, since I am presently on medical leave due to a problem with my neck, right arm and hand, is very painful, in addition to being very annoying.  That being said, I decided to bundle up all the clothes and venture off to the laundry mat.  After packing 6 large black garbage bags of clothes, assorted laundry products, two books, hangers, and a bottle of water, I was on my way.
I stopped at the bank to get some currency for the money changer, and it is a very good thing I did so.  The cheapest washing machine available is two dollars a load, and the dryers operate for 8 minutes for a quarter.  (I am strongly considering investing in my own laundry mat, as it appears to be a very profitable venture.) I unloaded the considerable  baggage from my car, and was greeted with curiosity by the other customers present.  Undaunted, I exchanged my first $15 of currency for quarters and proceeded to place the seven loads of clothes, that didn't belong to Dave or Olivia, into the washing machines.  When I had finished loading I happily picked up my book to read, but first, glanced at the machine I had initially loaded to see how much time I had left before the load was finished.  It read 2 minutes.  The eighteen minutes it took to wash a load of clothes had gone by quite a bit faster than I had anticipated.  I went back to the change machine and got 10 more dollars in quarters.  While I waited for it to process the change I perused the signs that were posted in the vicinity.  "Washers have EXTREMELY HOT WATER.  Use care!"  Then, I noticed something about machine #19 and #20, but by then my change was ready, so I didn't finish reading it. 
I began the lengthy process of switching the clothes from the washers to the dryers, and then starting them after picking the appropriate dry cycles.  Suddenly, there was silence; dead silence. 
I looked around at the other customer's puzzled expressions as we attempted to ascertain what had just happened.  No one spoke a solitary word, and since every single washer and dryer had simultaneously stopped working, it was very, very quiet.
Finally, since it was clear that someone needed to say something, I spoke up.
"Hmmmm."  I said,  "I didn't see this one coming.  My washing machine isn't working right, so I brought all my clothes to the laundry mat, and now it isn't working right either.  I know I had a lot of clothes, but  still...."
An elderly woman who shared my sense of humor said, "Yes, that was pretty inconsiderate of you.  You broke ALL the machines, instead of just one."
Just then, an employee walked out and asked what had happened.
"This lady broke the laundry mat."  the elderly woman happily informed her.
The employee began to look at me with her eyes narrowed, and an expression that did not convey any amusement at the comment.
"Ahhhh....Just kidding."  I said.   " I really don't know why your laundry mat is broken, but I feel confident that I am not the one who did it," I added uneasily...even though, whenever something breaks it is USUALLY because I did it. 
Just then another woman, an angel really, said,   "No, no...this woman didn't break the laundry mat.  The power must have just gone out."
Together, we all turned and looked at the beautiful sunshine outside and the cloudless sky. 
"Yes," I said emphatically.  "That must be it.  The power went out  due to this inclement weather!" 
Thankfully, just then all the machines started back up in unison. 
"Thank God!!"  I said, sincerely.  " I would have been very upset if I had been forced to pay a million dollars to repair the whole laundry mat."  We all returned to our laundry.
After a lengthy amount of time had gone by, I completed my laundry and started to my car.  As I passed the sign by the coin changer I paused for a moment to finish reading it.  It stated, "Do not use the  #19 and #20 dryers at the same time!!!"   Nothing else... no ominous explanation as to what might happen if one did. On my return trip to get my remaining clothes I checked to see if I had been using  #19 and #20 at the same time.....and indeed, I had.  I think I understand the reason why the sign was posted now.  On the other hand, it might have just been the weather.  Happy Friday the 13th everybody!

Friday, May 6, 2011

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY! AND MOST OF ALL, THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR MISTAKES.

Being a mother is a lot of hard work.  It is so much more than just starting your little ones out in the right direction, and then taking care of all their bumps and bruises, both physically and emotionally, along the way.  I think, in fact, that is probably the easiest part.  The hard stuff starts when you have to let go of them.  When you have to stand aside, as they go off in their OWN direction, even if you're worried that it might be the wrong one.  You know in your heart, that you won't always be around to take care of those bumps and bruises; the ones that you are afraid they are going to end up with, on that particular path.  So all of us, in our own way, strive to give our children the tools, for the "picking yourself back up and dusting yourself off" parts of life, and then just hold our collective breaths and watch our babies go.  It's brutal, but, hopefully, we know they are going to be okay in the end....even if we find ourselves humming the lyrics from Cat Stevens', "Wild World" all the time we are watching them from the distance.

You know I've seen a lot of what the world can do
And it's breakin' my heart in two
Because I never wanna see you a sad girl
Don't be a bad girl
But if you wanna leave, take good care
I hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there's a lot of bad and beware.

The two best tools my own mother gave me, and the ones that I hope that I, too, passed on to my children are a sense of humor, and the gift of knowing all about the mistakes that their mother made in life.  It is so easy as a parent to share all of our triumphs and successes, and it is human nature to be little more reticent about all of our own bumps and bruises that we have endured along the way... those are embarrassing.  Those mistakes my mother made though, along with the sense of humor that she viewed them with, are the very things  that sustained me the most during my own times of hardship.  Knowing, that even my mom, a woman that I hold in  the highest regard, could, occasionally, be pretty darn dumb, yet still laugh about it later, provided me with the courage to do the same.  It was in those moments, after I had run as fast as I could, directly into a pile of stupidity, that her honesty about her own mistakes gave me the strength to go on again.  I never doubted for a minute that my mother was a success; that was a given.  The thing I was the most grateful for though, was knowing that she wasn't ALWAYS a success, and, that not being one every time, did nothing to diminish the way I felt about her.  I hope I have given the same gifts to my own daughters.  In fact, I believe I have been even MORE generous than my own mother, in providing them with a multitude of mistakes and missteps that I, myself, have made along the journey. Frankly, I  have given them a veritable treasure trove of cautionary tales from which to draw upon, as well as to laugh about.  Hopefully now, when they are running into their own roadblocks in life they won't get too discouraged.  They can think of their mother and say, "You know, I remember something stupid like this that my mother did, and I still loved her.  In fact, we laughed together about it....I guess I will make it through this, after all."
Happy Mother's Day everyone!  May God Bless each of you, and all of your beautiful families!  And, on behalf of children everywhere, thank you for all of your mistakes!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"BRING TWO OF EVERY SORT OF ANIMAL"... but we just brought our two dogs and two cats.

A few days ago I went down into our basement, and as I walked across the carpeted floor I noticed a very distinct "squishing" sound.  Much to my dismay, I realized that part of our basement was flooded.  Puzzled, I checked our ceiling tiles to see if water was leaking from them.  This may seem odd to city folks, but shortly after we moved out to Romeo we did suffer a pretty bad leak from our ceiling.  We discovered that chipmunks had somehow gotten into our basement, and apparently, as one of our neighbors explained to us, they became thirsty and needed  water; to accomplish this they ate through some plastic water lines in the ceiling that were used in connection with our water softening system. As a result, our ceiling tiles became saturated with water, and began raining on our carpet.  Since chipmunks causing it to rain in the basement was a new concept to me this incident made an indelible impression on me.  In fact, because of this negative conditioning, I ALWAYS check the ceiling whenever someone's floor is flooded. (Not everyone shares my wealth of knowledge in this area, and, therefore, may be unaware that chipmunks could be to blame.)
This time, however, the source of our problem was a broken sump pump, so Dave made a midnight run to the closest Meijer store, a mere 14 mile journey, round-trip, and bought a new one.  He came home with a top of the line sump pump; a sump pump so impressive that it could probably drain Lake Huron, if needed.  He regaled me with information about all of its features and functions, and, sadly, I found myself listening with great interest.  I didn't even mind the cost, because, now that I live in Romeo, a sump pump is far more important to me than all those frivolous things I used to spend my money on, like clothes or perfume.  Dave installed our shiny new sump pump, and the next day I went out and rented a "Rug Doctor" and began hours of carpet cleaning.  Following our considerable efforts, made even harder since we are both somewhat broken, we conquered our flood, along with the help of a multitude of fans, and electric heaters.  We returned our "Rug Doctor," and went home; secure in the knowledge that we were now the proud owners of the best, damn sump pump in all of Romeo, as well as the driest basement.   Our happiness lasted for about all of two days.
I had fallen asleep on the couch sitting upright and uncomfortably, due to the fact that we were having a torrential downpour, accompanied by thunder and lightning.  The reason for my discomfort was because whenever there is thunder and lightning my pups, Teddy and Scarlett, are filled with anxiety and therefore must sit on, or in close proximity to, a human's lap for the duration of the storm. This time period could be up to and including all of eternity, if necessary. I woke up, pups still on my lap, to hear Dave informing me that our power had gone out during the night.  We both had appointments that morning, so we left the house in the hopes that our power would be restored by the time we returned.  It was....but not before our basement had flooded again.  Even the best damn sump pump in all of Romeo is ineffective, if one has no electricity with which to run it.
This time, due to the aforementioned torrential downpour, we had much more water.  There was water in every carpeted closet, carpeted cupboard floor, and all manner of nook and cranny.  Unfortunately, these were all the very places that I used to conceal a plethora of messy boxes and crates, so as to fool my guests when they come over, into believing that I am an exceptional housekeeper.  Clearly, I am not.  Once again, we rented a "Rug Doctor" but this time we needed to sort through 29 years of accumulated items; those items that are SO IMPORTANT that you absolutely cannot throw them out... but that you never actually look at again, once they are hidden in a closet.  Thus began the real cleaning.  Together Dave and I soldiered on, undaunted by the magnitude of our undertaking.
"Be ruthless," I told Dave. "Don't be afraid to throw anything out if it is wet, or if you can't figure out what it is!"  I felt empowered by my own words, and began throwing out bag after bag of unnecessary items.  Dave wandered over, and glanced at some of the items.
"Hey, isn't that the Bunn coffee maker that I bought you?  That cost a lot of money. Why are you throwing that out?"
"It doesn't work right, and Barb bought me the most awesome coffeemaker known to man.  I haven't a clue as to why I didn't throw this old one out to begin with."
"Okay, but what about this thing?  What is it, and why are we throwing it out?"  Dave asked again, holding up the object.
"Oh," I answered. "That is a food processor.  You gave it to me about 25 years ago I think, but I have never used it.  I considered trying to use it a few months back, but I couldn't figure out how it worked.  I am pretty sure important parts of it are missing...like someone who wants to process foods. Frankly Dave, it wasn't the best present for me.  Maybe you thought it would make me a better cook, like my sister, but, obviously, you were mistaken. It would have been much better to give it to her, and then ask her to invite us over for dinner.  I wish I would have thought of that, but it's too late now.  It has been flooded on, in addition to collecting dust for 25 years, and today it's going to go."
Dave frowned, and DID NOT put the offending food processor in the garbage. I waited patiently for him to become distracted, and then put it in myself.  I felt the weight of the food processing world, lifting from my shoulders!!
Together we forged on, puzzling over parts and items that we had saved for a variety of unknown reasons, and that now, after these many years had passed, left us totally baffled, as to their purpose. Out they all went...so many, in fact, that we may have to borrow garbage cans from neighbors to contain them all.
Tomorrow, we will begin again, but in the end, it's all good.  When we are through we will have both the cleanest basement in all of Romeo, as well as the best damn sump pump in town!!   (AND, I finally got rid of that annoying, food processor...sigh, 29 years of terrible cooking and we're still married!  It's got to be love. )