o Christmas Tree

ChristmasChristmas tree (1) trees have always been at the center of my Decembers.  The lights and ornaments chase away the dark and gloom and essentially get me through the month until the Winter Solstice, which conveniently falls on my youngest grandson’s birthday. Then I can breathe again, knowing that the days are getting longer and we’re on the downhill side of the darkest winter days. 

I love winter for about twenty minutes and then I long for spring.

Around fifteen years ago, give or take, it dawned on me that I could no longer handle a freshly cut, or even lot cut, Christmas tree.  It was too messy, too heavy, all the too’s that said, go forth and buy and artificial tree.  At the time, I remember looking at a 7 ft. tall Christmas tree at the exorbitant cost of $79 and debating its worth.  I bought it and hauled it home where it has stood proud and well decorated, gracing the Christmas holidays.

A Christmas or two ago, my two middle grandsons — just entering their teens and sprouting like weeds — stood silently in front of my tree. Then, they turned in unison and announced with all the wisdom of 13 year olds, Grandma, when we were young, your tree seemed enormous and so tall.  But now….”

With that, a wee bit of Christmas magic simply evaporated into the pine and cinnamon scented air.

In the midst of this last move, I took a  critical look at the tree.  It was old and tired — of course, so am I — but, it was a tree and it was time.  So, the tree and I parted ways without so much as a tear.

Now, as daylight savings time is no longer and the darkness of winter has closed in all too quickly, I am in search of a new Christmas tree.  But, 15 years older, I am well aware that I can no longer lug 80 lb trees around and set them up, even if they’re artificial and look like the real thing.

My old neighbor, who is now my new neighbor in one of those ironies of moving — except she’s still much younger in years — purchased an artificial tree last year that is very beautiful.  Armed with iphone photos of the box and label, I went in search of the tree.  It looked a whole lot better in her home than the Lowe’s forest and I quickly realized that it was still going to be a challenge to set up.

Thank goodness for Goggle — how did we function pre-goggle, internet and smart phones? — and there is an encyclopedia worth of information regarding artificial Christmas trees. I narrowed down my selection and, as luck would have it, there was an artificial tree farm in the bay area in addition to their online farm.  I decided to make the three hour trek down to the farm.

Who knew there were so many choices?  Vermont, Colorado, Stratford, Norway, Blue and Red Spruces; Balsam, Frasier, Douglas Firs; Pines, Redwoods — the choices were overwhelming.  It was akin to walking down a hundred cereal aisles of the local supermarket, except this time I couldn’t just zero in on the old fashion oatmeal.

I walked up and down the rows of trees, tall trees, short trees, narrow trees, wide trees, trees with led lights, warm lights, clear lights, multi-color lights and the newest tree, the tree that rolls in on wheels and then just flips into place. It really does flip. I flipped it. A flippen’ tree.

This was not your Charlie Brown Christmas tree lot.  Far too many choices, and, no, I still haven’t made up my mind.

A Thanksgiving Turkey

turkeyIt’s amazing how we carry on traditions.  My mother hosted Thanksgiving for the extended family until, one year, she was done and the tradition was handed down to me. 

As the kids married, we tried T-Day at in-laws and out-laws, and we all agreed, it just didn’t feel like Thanksgiving.  Traditions die hard.  In short order, I got the day.  I tweaked the menu a bit, asking my son-in-law and daughter-in-law to bring their favorite dish or two from their family Thanksgivings.  Those dishes have become a part of our evolving tradition.

In addition to the meal, I also inherited the china, silver and crystal, which I used until the last few years ago when I purchased a new set of pottery that I like so much more and, even better, can be put straight into the dishwasher.  No one seems to use the finery any more, not that I ever used it much in my adult life.  But, it was an opportunity to teach my four grandsons all about forks; the oldest, my granddaughter, had already gotten that training from her other grandmother.  The boys all stepped up and, each in turn, helped train the next youngest in fork and dining etiquette. 

Not only do they know forks, they know not to eat until after Grandma’s Grace, which is what their parents call my once-a-year blessing. The grandkids know to patiently wait and remain silent while their parents provide the mocking setup for the annual event. The younger ones know full well not to mess with Grandma; Christmas is just around the corner.

Just to make certain the grandkids have the next holiday on the calendar and can start bugging their parents, each one of them gets a Christmas ornament with the slice of pumpkin pie.  Retribution is a grandmother’s prerogative. 

A few years back, I had minor hand surgery in early autumn.  The surgery went well; the recovery not so well and, in one of those small percentage glitches, the wound had a rough time healing.  It finally started to do what it was supposed to do in mid November when I went in for my weekly visit with the surgeon.

Looking good, he said. I’m assuming you do Thanksgiving.

Yep.

Not this year.

What???

The hand is still not totally healed.  You can’t do the cooking.  You can host it.

I can cook.

Nope. Not til it’s fully healed. Get the kids to help.

uh huh.

Seeing as no one answers their phones anymore, I sent a text asking for help as I was barred from the kitchen.  I could still host but the few days of intensive kitchen cooking was out.

My daughter was the first to respond. I don’t cook.

I already knew that. I raised her to stand strong and independent, which she is, except in the kitchen.  Her husband says she’d starve to death if she couldn’t find someone who could boil water.

My daughter-in-law was marginally more helpful. Whole Foods has a package deal.  We can do that.  I don’t do dishes.

My son jumped in.  We’ll bring paper plates.

This was proving to be more challenging than I thought it would be.

I texted back,  Thanksgiving. Traditions. Dishes. All that Stuff and Stuffing. Leftovers. Take out?

Silence.  Evidently, it was a take out or leave it proposition.

So I left it, sadden by the knowledge that when I can no longer handle T-Day, it might well evolve into a take out with paper plates day, given that everyone is too stressed in forty different directions to dedicate a day to family, gratitude and tradition.

In the meantime, thank goodness for the internet; there were entire websites devoted to make ahead Thanksgiving recipes.  I lined them up, and one at a time, got them done with no strain on my hand. 

And, on Thanksgiving, the kids proclaimed it was the best dinner ever. Of course they’d say that; all they had to do was show up and eat.

They still had to do the dishes. 

 

Last Exit

IMG_0226My friend Jane has a background in theater and music. Over the years she has occasionally been assigned to direct high school student musicals.  Usually, however, she hides and pretends she’s merely another English teacher, while keeping her fingers crossed that the current administrator doesn’t learn of her expertise. 

However, I think Jane is a frustrated director in need of an adult play and cast.  She’s been bugging me for years to take her concept idea for a Broadway hit and write the script.  She already has the title, Last Exit.  As soon as I started this blog, she called to remind me once again of the play.

As any of you reading these entries know, Jane and I consider ourselves sisters, part of a larger group of sisters and a decades-long friendship.  We’re pretty sure we were all family in some weird past life, and it’s always delighted me how we can simply pick up the thread of a conversation even if we haven’t been in touch for a while.

Dianne found us earrings that remind us of our sister relationship — taken from early cave dwelling artwork illustrating four women.  We wear the earrings at sister events or to lend support when it’s needed. 

I remember walking into a School Board of Trustees meeting and sitting down next to one of the principals.  Mary, one of the sisters, was presenting so of course I had on my earrings.

The principal leaned over to say hello, spotted the signature earrings and grimaced.

OK, I knew about you. I even knew about Suzanna and Peggy, but Mary? Mary? Mary is a sister too? Tell me it’s not true.

I smiled.  We’re everywhere.

He sighed. We do know about The Sisters.  If the group shows up to advocate for anything, we’ve all agreed to just let you have your way.  It’s easier.

I smiled. The administrators of twelve high schools and a central office prepared to acquiesce without debate or bloodletting. Countries should take note.

As we’ve retired, we still get together, but now we also show up en masse for illnesses or injuries, taking a day here, a meal there, a drive to the doctor’s or just visiting. We’re very fortunate to have one another.

With that kind of background woven through the fabric of our lives, Jane and I are certain it will continue until our final curtains. At least we came to that conclusion one evening over plotting, laughing ourselves silly and a bottle of something or other.  

Jane wants to make us into a smash Broadway hit, so we can all retire well above our current teacher-retirement means.  She has the plot down and most of our parts cast. I believe Jane has selected Ellen Bursten to play herself and Judi Dench to play me, which, in itself, it’s pretty darn cool. Jessica Lange, Allison Jenney, Shirley McLaine, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren and Cathy Bates round out the headliners.  You really won’t want to miss it.

While not giving away the entire plot, because we will want you to purchase tickets, the play follows a group of aging sisters reflecting on their lives with lots of laughter and some tears.

The play opens with the sisters at Mimi’s grave site following her unexpected passing, which, in reality, happened almost four years ago.  We make a pact over a bottle or two of wine that when one of us is dying, the next youngest will, um, accelerate the transition — gently and with love, of course, but eliminating as much suffering, lingering and impact on the savings account as possible.

And, so it goes, one sister at time, until only the youngest — enter Helen Mirren — is left standing alone at the last grave site, waiting to face the music and police.

As she is escorted off stage by police, exiting stage right, she smiles grimly with her final words.

At least now I’ll have free room, board and medical care for the rest of my life.

A Woman and her Dog

Back before there were grandkids, cats and an ex, there were dogs, German Shepherds to be exact. On the cusp of the youngest kid going off to college, the last of the Shepherds went on to doggie heaven.  I was well past the puppy stage of life, but not quite ready to be animal-less, so I called a friend who was a police chief.

How can I get a retired K9?

Call Randy. 

FeroI called Randy, a well-regarded K9 trainer, who, as luck would have it, was looking for a home for a retiree.

Fortunately, she thought I sounded like a nice person, so the vetting process began with her checking us out with our local vet. As we had put our vet’s kids through college with the medical bills of a number of horses and dogs, that was not a problem. He loved having our pets as clients.

Then, the entire family, including the son at college, had to meet Randy and the retiring K9.  Fero was pretty intimidating, prancing around us and checking us out. He was a Schutzhund III (the masters level of training: obedience, tracking, protection) German Shepherd imported from Germany. 

Fero made up his mind as soon as he nuzzled me.  He jumped into my car and waited to go home. He was mine.

Randy handed me Fero’s teddy bear and a K9 vocabulary list in German with two commands — attack and track — circled and not to be used. He was still the top tracking K9 in the area, so, even retired, he had to be available should law enforcement need him.

She then loaded an enormous bag of imported German dog food into the trunk. He got that every morning and evening.  Dinner also included raw beef or, as Fero got older, a cooked chicken breast and a teaspoon of cod liver oil for his joints. Some days he had a better dinner than I did.

Fero was magnificent, massive and intelligent — he had a far better lineage than the kids and was certainly far better behaved. He was never on a lead and, being voice trained, would match me step for step unless told he didn’t have to heel.  It didn’t matter what or who ran in front of him; he stayed focus on matching our steps.

If he felt I needed protection, Fero could scare the Bejeezus out of both strangers and the soon-to-be ex, especially when he sometimes showed up in the middle of the night due to flight delays during our bi-coastal marriage cross county treks.

When we first got Fero, we lived on a couple acres in the country — no fences — and this was very new for a K9.  He had to learn how to be a normal dog after being kenneled all of his working life.  My neighbor, a family therapist, used to take her pooch out on walks every morning and all the neighborhood dogs would join in.  It was a motley group to say the least, but they all enjoyed the morning trek.

Fero wasn’t too sure, but she invited him so he trotted along.  She called me to say it was amazing to watch Fero — he observed the other dogs to see how he should behave.  He caught on very quickly. By that evening, when another neighbor and I took our evening walk, usually just with our two dogs, Fero had the routine down cold.

Almost too quickly, as it turned out.  Fero started disappearing for hours at a time.  Not good.  I went out looking for him and, almost a mile away, he found me.  He ran down a long driveway, barking excitedly for me to come and see what he had found.  There was a new canine friend, an old black Labrador, and the two old retirees were evidently spending hours lounging next to a pond, watching the swans and ducks.  Had they been old men, all that was needed were mugs of hot coffee, a shared newspaper and maybe a pipe or two to complete the Norman Rockwell painting.

It sadden me to tell Fero that he had to stay home, but he understood and never wandered again except for the approved morning and evening walks.

I occasionally wondered what life would have been like had our kids been so obedient.

 

 

 

 

Women of a Certain Age

Not much has been written about Women of a Certain Age although we certainly do exist.  The few articles are usually hidden on a back page, typically next to the Obituaries, or buried deep within the links of an online format. It’s the myth vs. the reality regarding women of a certain age…women who are old, older,  um well-seasoned by life.

The definition of a woman of a certain age is apparently defined by her hormones, or lack thereof.  This county, and Great Britain for that matter, tend to lump single women of a certain age into a rather vague, grey nothingness — a spinsterhood somewhere beyond menopause, which is apparently the dividing line between maiden/mother and crone — that marks the slow, winkled descent into elder-hood and death.

Wow. Alone and asexual. Now that’s something young women can put on their calendars and look forward to.

Women who do not accept the prescribed definition are faced with a myriad of challenges. 

Single women of a certain age are labeled Cougars for doing the identical thing that men do everyday — although, I admit, men are a whole lot more successful with their marketing strategies.

Then, there is the very well-advertised, large HMO that refuses to prescribe hormones because of a woman’s age (“old” being the operative, diagnostic term) while perfectly willing to provide men of all ages with a variety of enhancement pills.

Good grief.

While we could embrace a mass exodus to France, where both men and women of a certain age enter a rather erotic phase of life, we might also consider redefining the myth with a more realistic version of entering that certain age..with a certain confidence, a certain air and a certain wisdom regarding life, aging, sexuality and partnerships.

I rather like that approach, but in the meantime, there are still those pesky assumptions that keep getting made about women of a certain age…

A while back, I had a date with an older gentleman — I’m saying older because his whole demeanor was old although he was only a couple years older than I.  We sat down with the prerequisite coffee and began the conversation.  He told me about his car, his daily routine and the stress of keeping up on a recent walking tour in Europe.

Then, he lowered his voice, confiding that he had problems “down there” and he looked downward.

I looked down at his feet, given all the walking hardships of his European trip.

No, not my feet!

oh. I wasn’t going to look there so I refocused on his face.

He leaned in toward me, as if to share something very confidential.

It was more than a bit uncomfortable, not knowing the man and not even finished with my coffee, but there was no break with which to make my escape. He was adamant about sharing, which he did with all the confidence of a man experienced with women of a certain age.

And it doesn’t matter.  Women your age aren’t interested in sex anyway.

He smiled and leaned back in his chair. He had had just solved his problem by making it my problem.

Um. I hate to burst your bubble, but not all women of my age are finished with sex.  Many of us actually enjoy sex quite a bit.

As his bubble burst, this woman of a certain age spotted her escape, thanked him for the coffee and made a quick exit.

A Cat, A Dog and A Christmas Tree

Over the years, the kids and grandkids have shown up to stay a few days, hauling in luggage, sporting gear, computers and whatever else they could fit into the car. That has also included their dogs.  As BlackJack is the master of the house, the dogs have given him wide berth.  They’re relatively smart dogs and most have known better than to tangle with claws and fangs. 

A long time past, though, daughter showed up for the Christmas holiday from college with an unexpected bundle of grey fluff in her purse.  It was Misha, the kitten that I would later inherit.

I had Fero, the K9 German Shepherd. Fero was not only perfectly behaved, he had been around cats in the kennel and had been friendly with most of them.  He expected to have the same relationship with Misha.

Misha was not so inclined to befriend a dog, especially a large dog.

We would walk into the living room, where both animals were hanging out, to find that Fero had picked up Misha in his mouth, gently gumming her so as not to hurt the kitten, walk her to where he planned to snooze, and then curl up with her to nap.

Misha’s look of terror quickly turned to fangs, claws and hissing as soon as Fero put her down.  Needless to say, Plan A did not work.

So, Fero moved to plan B; that is, wait for Misha to fall asleep and then curl up next to her, with his front legs wrapped around her.  That seemed to work for a short time until the kitten awoke.  Then, all hell would break lose once again.

It was shortly after Christmas, for which I did thank the Christmas Tree Goddess, when Misha awoke from her Fero-surrounded nap.  She had figured out the house sufficiently to know where hiding places were and, with as much of a hiss as a pint sized kitten could muster, Misha bolted out of Fero’s hug, across the room and up the Christmas tree.

Misha was too small to do much harm, but none of us had counted on Fero joining in the fun.  The fully decorated tree crashed to the carpet and the two animals took their chase into the back parts of the house.

Fast forward twenty some years and son, daughter-in-law, two grandsons and a young, very active, very friendly dog named Clementine came to spend this Christmas holiday. BlackJack enjoys the boys, but took issue with Clem and dove under my bed, where he spent most of the weekend complaining.

IMG_0327 (1)BlackJack ventured out to cuddle with oldest grandson when the others ventured out into the snow with Clem, but most of the time was spent keeping an overly friendly pup from trying to play with a grumpy old cat.

That detente seemed to be almost working, with BlackJack taking full adIMG_0322 (1)vantage of his situation by tucking himself into my bed at night and Clem curled up on her bed, exhausted from her day in the snow. Then, during the night after Christmas, about 3 or 4 AM, BlackJack decided to venture out and Clem thought she should join him, probably thinking they could have fun playing.

By the time I awoke to the noise and intervened, BlackJack was in full fur, hissing, and backing his way under the decorated Christmas tree, with Clem in full pursuit.  It was a vision of Christmas past, with the fully decorated fully decorated flippen Christmas tree and ornaments swaying back and forth as two animals faced off.  This time, however, the tree stayed upright, thanks again to the Christmas Tree Goddess.

It was amazing the two animals didn’t wake the entire household with all the hissing, clawing and whining, but everyone, except me, slept soundly as the two animals were successfully separated and tucked back into their respective beds.

Then, once again, peace settled over our home for a few more hours.

 

 

 

The New Teacher on the Block

All of us in the English Department loved our newest member, a young Irish-Mexican lad who was the age of most of our children and a natural teacher.  Patrick was short, with dark curly hair and ruddy complexion. He was funny, quick, enthusiastic and full of the devil. Given those attributes, Pat was immediately embraced by students and teachers. We adored him.

We adored him, that is, until one Friday afternoon, when he walked into the office.  The rest of us were all frantically grading papers, adding points and figuring out grades as our grade sheets were due the following Tuesday morning. 

We each had 150 students, give or take.  They each wrote a minimum of two essays per week in addition to the other assignments.  We had to read, comment on and grade each essay.  It was a time killer and made most of us re-think our chosen profession.

If we had it to do over again, we would have chosen a subject area with no essays, like math.  Of course, then we’d actually have to understand math which most of us didn’t, as any waitress watching us figure out the tip and what each of us owed can attest to.  That minor detail also made figuring out grades that much more challenging. 

It probably goes without saying that the rest of the school gave English teachers a wide berth during any grading season.

I have an announcement. Pat stood at the door at the office looking extremely proud and pleased with himself.

We all looked up from our papers and grade books.

I just turned in all my grades! I am done! I am finished! I am great!

We just glared at him and scowled.

Good job, Patrick. Now go away. 

It was the best begrudging praise for a first quarter teacher we could offer. He laughed at us, poor slobs, and took a victory lap around the office, poking fun at the stacks of essays yet to be read before breaking into a jig and laughing his way out of door and into a free weekend. We bunched up scrap paper and threw it at him.

Some of us have a slightly more wicked streak.  I got up, walked over to the computer and put fingers to keyboard.

Mr. G….

We have misplaced your grade sheets and need you to redo them. They are still due Tuesday morning.

(signed),

The Vice Principal of Academics

It was a perfectly plausible note.  Our academics administrator was notorious for his disorganization, sieve-like memory and general incompetence.  A student aide delivered the memo to Patrick the following Monday morning.

By lunch on Monday, after a very long weekend of grading papers and figuring out grades, most of us were in the final throes of filling out the actual grade sheets while trying to grab a few bites before the bell rang for the next class. 

Mid-lunch, Pat burst into the office at lunch, flushed red with anger and waving our message in the air.

That…that..moron…Patrick started ranting about our inept VP of Academics.  The rest of us looked up. We couldn’t help smirking.

He stopped.  He looked around. He immediately knew who had really written the note.

I should have known!  I should have known! 

Pat turned around, slamming the door behind him as he exited the office.  We all looked at one another, wondering what in the world he could be doing. Seconds later, the door flew open.

How could I not have known!!

Pat grimaced in disbelief at his own gullibility.  There wasn’t a misspelled word or grammatical error in the entire memo!!!