Wear Shoes and Give a…Whatever.

Here’s a tip: When using the brush roller on an upright vacuum (you know the one you use to suck up the stuff embedded in the carpet?), don’t run it over your bare toes. They will get sucked up into the roller.

I’ll spare you a photo, but the purple color is telling me that I probably bruised, in a fine manner, the tendons and ligaments along and under the first three toes, and I probably broke the toe next to the big toe. Nothing ER worthy, but walking has been interesting the last few days.

In any other year I’d say, “Gee, that was random.” This year, however, it seems fated that I’d crush a few toes in a vacuum cleaner.

Aside from that, I have much to be grateful for this year, and especially this Thanksgiving weekend. My family worked together to make Thanksgiving doable with masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and carefully planned handling and distribution of food. The weather helped out, too. If it hadn’t been a balmy 54 degrees, we would have cancelled.

Of course I would have preferred a full-on T-day with big hugs and hot kid breath in my face as they show me their latest school projects or coloring book masterpieces. But I have caught many viruses from them over the years and I do not want to catch this one. Just in case they were mini symptomless carriers, they stayed away from Grammy, which took more restraint than any of us is used to, but we did it.

I know many of you could not and did not see your families and friends over this long weekend, and some of you are mourning loved ones lost to the virus or other causes. I’ve lost a few, too, and it breaks my heart when I see someone without a mask in a public indoor space. Such a simple act of kindness, and yet…

I didn’t have to hug my grandchildren for them to know I love them. I got to see them and talk to them from a distance, and that was OK. I don’t have to know you in real life to love you, too. And I do love you because, like me, you need the same air as I do, you have family you care about and friends who love you, and in the end, you don’t want to leave this place angry, fearful, or filled with regret.

Right now, I regret vacuuming without wearing shoes. Don’t be like me. Wear shoes when you vacuum. And most of you reading this already know this and do this, but for those of you who are on the fence, who are consumed by politics and/or are unsure of the science, take a deep breath. Please take a chance and make the choice to give a whatever.

The yearly “olive eyes” photo was different this year.

Waiting

I’m not the world’s most patient person, god knows, but I’m pretty happy with how I’m handling my impatience this week. My checkbook is probably not so happy – I’m a stress shopper – but mostly I’ve been buying Christmas and birthday gifts and cards, candles and dog treats, so at least it’s useful shopping. 

I like to write in the kitchen when I’m stressed, and not because it’s where the refrigerator is. My kitchen has a lot of windows and some nice views. It’s cozy. There’s a bluetooth speaker on the baker’s rack and this morning I was vacillating between the 70s and the 80s stations on SiriusXM until I wandered over to The Coffee House when I saw they were playing a new Ray LaMontagne song, “Highway to the Sun.” Within a few notes I was leaned over crying into my hands, not for one particular reason and yet for all the reasons. 

Tea makes me feel better so I made another cup. Random recommendation: If you like loose leaf tea, I can’t recommend this tea maker enough. No more tea specks and dust lining the rim of your mug or floating at the bottom. 

Along with tea, I made a batch of suet for the birds because watching birds at the feeders is more calming than scrolling through news feeds. I also made marinade for fish tacos that I’ll have for lunch at some point this afternoon. The marinade is a combination of olive oil, spices, sriracha and lime juice. Another random recommendation: Like the tea maker, I can’t recommend this citrus squeezer enough. It’s easy on the hands and wrists.

Back to writing and finishing this short and wandering blog, I’m listening to Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers’ new album The Long-Awaited Album. No tears, just reminding myself how lucky I am that I have a kitchen with windows, the means to make suet and a perfect cup of tea, and that I can cry at a song and feel pain and yet still hope that peace and empathy, and not anger and hate, dominate the days ahead.

Another Phone, Another Jeep

Last week I made two major-ish purchases. Major for me, anyway, and not necessarily because I wanted to, yet “needed to” stretches it a bit. Let’s just say I’ve done my part for the 2020 economy. (You’re welcome.)

Purchase #1

Buying a new cell phone is up there with buying a new car (see Purchase #2) on my Things I Hate Doing list. But over the last few months, my once cracker of an android started performing random tricks like turning off, flipping the screen this way and that when it was perfectly still, and refusing to charge, so it was time to say goodbye.

Because the people I communicate with the most are iPhone users, I looked at buying an iPhone. I consulted my brother-in-law (Mr. Apple Everything) and he advised me to wait until the iPhone 12 was released because the 11s would most likely go on sale, and they did.

I thought maybe buying a phone online would save me the embarrassment of not knowing what I’m doing when buying a phone in a store, but I still felt like a grossly inadequate consumer. The reviews were an amalgamation of John Q. Public liked this and that and Jane Q. Public didn’t like this and that, and finally – bleary eyed and frustrated – I figured… it’s a freaking phone. It won’t change my life. It won’t even change a flat tire. Its usefulness is what I make of it.

It took seven hours and a nearly 90-minute online “chat” with a Verizon rep to get the damn thing activated and the data from my old phone transferred, but I have a functioning and doing-what-it’s-supposed-to-do iPhone (although my granddaughter in the second grade can spell better than its autocorrect).

Purchase #2

I wish cell phones lasted as long as the vehicles I’ve owned. In 2009 I said goodbye to my favorite one ever, a 1995 Jeep Cherokee that I bought in 1998. In a farewell blog, I wrote that I hoped my next vehicle and I would be friends for 11 years, and we were. I bought a 2007 Jeep Liberty, drove it for 11 years, and traded it in for my new friend, a 2018 Jeep Renegade. And while it took a few hours – due mostly to computer and printer problems – the purchase was a refreshingly painless process, one I took care of all by myself – just me and my credit rating – without my boyfriend or father or other male prop present.

If I keep this Jeep for the same number of years as the other two, I will have the Renegade until…(counting on my fingers…1, 2, 3…)…2031? Is that even a year?

Why, yes, it is, apparently. It’s the year my second-grade granddaughter will graduate from high school! It’s the year of my 50-year high school class reunion! Goodness, I’ll be 68 years old! And I’ll still own the Renegade? Shouldn’t I be driving a Buick sedan by then?

I kid. Buick doesn’t make those anymore.

I’m crossing my fingers that nothing else quasi-crucial breaks down that I “need” to replace anytime soon. My checkbook has to catch up first.

Spring Training (and a book update)

In August I told you about my latest (and necessary) health goal: to clean up my diet for better liver function. So far so good. The scale has been kind and I can fit into jeans I haven’t worn in five years. Go me and all that, but the real success will be determined in February when I have my next blood draw. If my cholesterol numbers have improved, all the white bread, brie, and ice cream I’m not eating will have been worth it. If they haven’t improved, put me on a statin. You’ll find me in line at an Italian buffet.

Here’s a confession: I’m not committed to healthy eating just for the sake of healthy eating. My numbers scared me into it. I cleaned up my diet in order to help prevent heart and/or liver disease. (My father had two heart attacks when he was my age.) Say what you want about that attitude of necessity over lifestyle, criticize if you must, but I won’t deny – like I did back in my 40s – that I love and miss awesome awful-for-you food (and yes, some foods are truly hard on the body, sorry/not sorry). Admitting that makes it real and real I can deal with. Denying that shit just gotten me in all kinds of trouble the last several years.

Speaking of five years, that’s how long it’s been since I’ve ridden a bike. Some of you might remember that I used to write a lot about biking. It has its own category here on my blog and it also has its own chapter in my forthcoming book*.

I started biking in 2007 when my then-husband bought me a bike after I reached my weight-loss goal. My bike became my friend and therapist, and together we rode a lot of miles and worked through a lot of personal issues. Sadly, it burned in a fire in early 2014 and I didn’t ride again until I bought a used Schwinn in the summer 2015, and then I only rode a few times. Grad school, menopause, lack of energy and ambition, depression…whatever it was, I haven’t ridden since then.

Now, with renewed energy, both physically and emotionally, I am “training” to ride again in spring 2021. I bought a used bike trainer and I alternate riding the bike and my stationary bike several times a week. I’m not killing myself in ninety-minute, body wrecking workouts like I used to, and I’m no longer ignoring painful body parts for the sake of the “burn.” I’m choosing to live the George Carlin way: “No pain? No pain,” and training my muscles and my mind to once again enjoy the bike trails that brought me so much peace through so much crap. (Not that I anticipate needing to work through the same crap again, god forbid.)

What I notice with this more laid back attitude and routine is that I don’t dread working out and I don’t have to force myself to ride for any amount of time. If I wake up one day and don’t feel like it, I don’t do it. But what usually happens is that later in the day, I do feel like it and the ride is a joy, even though I never leave the garage!

I’m not excited about winter, and I won’t lie that a Dilly Bar sounds really good at least once a week, but knowing I’ll be in shape to hit the trail as soon as the snow is gone will make the cold, snow, and Dilly Bar cravings tolerable.

——————————————

* The book! I keep forgetting to mention the book, which is a revised and updated collection of my columns and blogs from the last twenty years. The working title (although my publisher hasn’t come up with a better one, so I think we’re sticking with this one) is Weight-Loss Dropout and Other True Stories from the Zen Bag Lady. A mouthful, but small type will get it all on the cover. Anyway, it will – fingers crossed – be out in December.

The One About Sixth Grade

A month ago, I starting writing what I imagined to be a simple, sweet piece about when I was in sixth grade. But I’m forty six years removed from sixth grade, which became apparent as I wrote a few paragraphs, erased, and tried again. The problem, if problem is the right word, is that writing about when I was eleven years old when I’m now well into my fifty-somethings is tricky because what’s coming out is an interpretation of the seconds or perhaps few minutes of the moments I’m writing about. Is what I’m writing a true representation or just what I grew up telling myself happened?

I ask this both to challenge me as a writer who often writes about the past and readers who read writers who write about the past to consider the slipperiness of truth. Our long-term memories are usually subjective, some are even biased by a subconscious wish that things had been different, and no two people remember a shared experience the same way. I’m always interested, though, in why we remember what we remember, and how, years later, our interpretation of events – what we told ourselves is true – has impacted our lives.

Anyway, that’s way heavier than this piece actually is. You won’t need an advanced degree in psychology to get through it, I promise. (But I can’t promise you won’t need a cup of coffee!)

The One About Sixth Grade

My daughter shared a video recently of my eleven-year-old grandson playing Legos with his two younger sisters. They are sitting on the floor in the girls’ bedroom, building something and singing a song. Luca’s most reliable companion, his lime green blankie, worn thin over the years, is draped over his shoulder. Luca doesn’t bring his blanket with him everywhere, but in the house, it’s always there whenever he needs its friendly, nonjudging presence.

Watching Luca singing and building, and blissfully subconscious of his blanket, I thought about when I was eleven and in sixth grade. I had a blankie, too. Like his, it was practically see-through, more of a rag, really, but it was still soft in a few places and it helped me fall asleep every night.

In sixth grade, I didn’t yet hate my hair. Baiting a fish hook was still fine to do, and a bra wouldn’t be necessary for another year. I played tetherball and skipped rope, and I didn’t care that I sweat and probably stunk. We all did. Our classroom was thick with pre-hormonal kid stink after recess.

Yet, for all its naivete, sixth grade was when my childhood starting bumping into adulthood with increasing regularity. My underdeveloped understanding of the world, informed mostly by my Lutheran upbringing, was often challenged by more adult-like issues such as “bad” words, otherwise kind people being mean, and sex.

One of my more enlightened teachers, especially regarding sexuality, was music, even though at eleven the meaning of a lot of lyrics eluded me. I bought Elton John’s album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and while the lyrics were printed on the inside cover, “All the Young Girls Love Alice” flew over my head. Many songs didn’t, though. When I heard “Lorelei” by Styx for the first time, I thought, People can live together without being married? and quickly decided it wasn’t a question I would ask my parents. I also knew enough about sex to turn down the radio when “Chevy Van” or “Feel Like Makin’ Love” came on. That was not a conversation I wanted to have with Mom and Dad.

Growing up in mostly protestant white bread rural Minnesota, I assumed everyone believed the same thing I did. You didn’t say “Geez” because that was short for Jesus, and “damn” was the worst four-letter word I knew. Playing “soccer” one day during recess (in 1975, our understanding of soccer was that it was like football with a kick ball), I got in my best friend’s way as she attempted to kick a goal. “Damn you, Lynn!” she yelled. I stood there, stunned. According to everything Lutheran, she was damning me to hell.

“Damn” was not a word I heard in my house, and I for sure wasn’t supposed to say it because, well, my parents said the Bible said I couldn’t. So why could my friend? Where did she hear it? Was it because her father went to the bar sometimes or that her family didn’t go to church every Sunday? Religious “rules,” as I understood them, started to feel a little unfair and not all together right. My friend hadn’t turned into a pillar of salt for saying “damn,” and in fact, her life seemed perfectly normal, if not a little more fun than mine.

I had a boyfriend named Ricky and we held hands on the bus during our sixth-grade field trip, which felt all kinds of good in all the wrong ways my mother (and the Bible) warned me about. My first kiss, though, was not with Ricky, but a boy named Todd from Anchorage who was in town visiting his grandparents. It was not at all like a Fonzie kiss, but it wasn’t awful either.

Todd’s grandmother asked me if I’d show him around town and include him in activities while he was there. I doubt she had spin the bottle in mind, but anyway, a bunch of us were playing in a little clearing of brush behind our house. When it was my turn, I hoped the bottle would land on one of the cute boys, but instead it landed on Todd. I didn’t think of Todd as cute, although maybe he was. To me, he was just someone I watched Happy Days reruns with in his grandparent’s living room. Now I had to kiss him.

I insisted we go to the garage so no one could watch. He agreed. We stepped into the dark tin building and looked at each other in awkward silence. The pressure was on him to make the first move because I had no idea what I was doing. He leaned in, I closed my eyes, and it was over in two seconds, just enough time for me to process his lips, which I could tell he’d licked right before they landed on mine .

That’s all I remember except that we didn’t kiss again and we never talked about it.

Sixth grade was, for many of us, a pivotal time when vulnerability was something we started to feel, but couldn’t yet name. There were those who offered and those who took that bite of fruit from the tree in the middle of Eden, and those of us who took notes from the sidelines. We shed our innocence, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. Either way, we discovered that the world was much bigger than we thought. I remember one boy in particular who was not academically gifted, but in music class, he would sing his heart out, every note off key. Oblivious to pitch, he sang for the pure joy of singing, whether it was “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal” or “Streets of Laredo.” Did he have a blankie? I hope so, because the next year, no longer within the relative safety of elementary school, he was pretty much forgotten and remained on the fringe throughout high school. I asked my cousin recently where that boy was these days and he said the last he heard he was dealing drugs in Minneapolis.

Hmmm…

Watching Luca again with his green friend wrapped over his shoulder, I thought about my old blankie. My mom threw it away one day while I was at school thinking I didn’t need it anymore. I cried myself to sleep that night, I felt so alone. But I figured it out, like we all do to some degree, how to live without the things we grew up telling ourselves we needed, when the world was still small and one-dimensional.

For Barbara…

It’s never easy to hear that someone you care about has died, especially if you’ve kept that person alive in your mind for a long time because a good fiction is sometimes better (well, maybe not better, but certainly easier) than the truth. For more than four years I’ve told myself that my friend Barbara probably moved away from her apartment in Edina (Minnesota) in 2015 and forgot to send me her new address.

I met Barbara in the spring semester of 1996. I was finishing my degree at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and she was my advanced nonfiction writing professor. She’d come out of retirement to teach the course, however “retirement” for Barbara, then 70, was hardly like most of us imagine.

We became friends that semester, and when I moved back to Pennsylvania later that year, we began a once-a-year correspondence that lasted nearly twenty years. Every Christmas, we sent each other a letter detailing the events of our year. Some went on for pages, and hers often read like mini-memoirs. Hands down she led the more exciting life. She traveled the world, each year to a new country, and when she was 80, she climbed Kilimanjaro.

In the early 2010s, when she was in her late 80s, her handwriting became more difficult to decipher and her once long correspondence filled only the blank inside of a Christmas card, but her tone never changed. She was always upbeat and joy-filled, never a word of complaint.

Except for the sympathy card I sent her in 2011 after I read in that year’s letter that her cat of nearly twenty years had died, we didn’t respond to each other’s letters except at Christmas. That was part of the unspoken understanding of our friendship. We were bound and committed (almost in defiance of the pithy nature of email) to writing once-a-year epistles that were meaty, vivid, dense, and time consuming, both in writing and reading. I looked forward to her letters with almost childlike anticipation, the kind that Christmas invokes, and I always saved her previous year’s letter to refresh my memory before reading the new one. I also mentally crafted my letter throughout the year, noting the big stuff, of course, but more importantly, the little things, like the details of a moment working in the garden or rocking a grandchild, a habit she stressed all writer wannabes should adopt.

In 2015, I was excited to tell her that, at 52, I’d started a master’s program in composition and literature, and that my decision was largely based on her example of not letting age define her. My letter wasn’t returned to sender, but neither did I receive a letter from her. My first thought was that she had become physically unable to write anymore, so I resolved that I would keep up my end of the correspondence. In 2017, when again I didn’t receive a letter, I allowed myself to think, for a few seconds, that maybe she had died, but I chose not to find out. I kept her 2014 letter in my Christmas card basket, just in case, and I imagined she was living somewhere, perhaps in Ireland, with a new cat.

Writing the Acknowledgement page for my book* last week, I included Barbara, and in typing her name, I knew it was time for the truth. I wrote an email to the alumni association at Augsburg and they forwarded it to a professor in the English department, someone I knew vaguely from back in the day. In his email this morning, he confirmed that Barbara died in 2015 after several months in hospice care.

As I formally grieve my friend, I remember and honor the role she played in my writing life, not only through her teaching and encouragement, but in how she lived and wrote about her life. Her writing was exemplary, often a model for some of my columns and blogs. While she is no longer here in the flesh, her influence will be with me for as long as I write.

Still, I will always miss her most at Christmas.

* Tentative release date for my first book is December. I will have more information about it in the upcoming months.

This One Has No Title

Turned 57 on August 14.

As if 2020 hasn’t been weird enough, these last few weeks have been particularly weird. Maybe weird isn’t the right word. I’ll keep writing and see if a more appropriate word becomes apparent.

It’s been a hodgepodge of things – both that I’ve made happen and naturally occurring – that have kept me on my toes. First off, my liver has decided it’s not happy with my food and drink choices of the last year or two – and I don’t blame it one bit! – so I’m on the wagon, both nutritionally and in the imbibing department.

Not drinking alcohol is kind of weird since it has been part of my routine for years. I don’t miss it physically or psychologically, as in I don’t crave it. In fact, I have way more energy and I sleep better. It’s the social aspect of it I miss. Drinking sparkling water with lime, which I love, isn’t the same as sharing a bottle of wine with my partner or making and consuming homemade basil gimlets with my daughters.

The food part has been a more difficult adjustment than the alcohol. I prefer white rice over brown, white pasta over whole wheat, and ice cream over sorbet. I know, this isn’t how I used to eat; this isn’t the me you might have “met” back in the Lynn’s Weigh days. But over the last few years I’ve basically – honestly and in a nut shell – not cared. Perhaps it was the years of restrictive eating, perhaps it was menopause, perhaps it’s living with a foodie. Whatever the reasons, the choices were mine and the “blame” falls squarely on me.

Unlike fifteen years ago, though, I’m not going to share my numbers or food woes, concerns or successes. I’m just gonna clean up my liver quietly and do my best to be a healthier fifty-seven-year-old (although I reserve the right to write around it here once in a while).

I bought a scale. I haven’t owned one in six years, and I haven’t been on one since October when I was last at the doctor’s office. You can’t weigh someone during a telemedicine visit, so I figured I’d better get one so I can update my doctor on my progress. Not that losing weight is the primary goal, but that’s what will ultimately happen in the long run as I “eat clean.”

I never look at the number on the scale at the doctor’s office, and I don’t look at the after-appointment summary which lists my weight, height, blood pressure, etc. I had a pretty good idea what I weighed, which I assumed has remained the same for years since all my clothes fit, but I needed to know the number. I looked up my last summary online and yes, it was what I thought. Not horrible, but a change will do my body good.

While my weight hasn’t changed, my height has! In my thirties, I was five feet, five and a half inches, and maybe a hair more. When I shrunk to five feet, five inches in, oh…2009 I think, my doctor ordered a bone density scan. Turned out that, in my mid-forties, I had the bones of a thirty year old. People shrink was the explanation my doctor gave me. Now, eleven years later, I am five feet, four and a half inches. Is it because I have new hips that I lost another half inch? If not, at this rate, I’ll need a car seat when I’m eighty!

Speaking of new hips, I officially own my left hip. I paid off the hospital today, thirteen months after my surgery. Not that I was worried that they’d repossess, but given this crazyass year, anything is possible.

Something I’ve noticed the last few weeks – as I’ve contemplated my liver and height and getting older – is that I’m more pessimistic than I realized, and I don’t think I can blame it on the pandemic. I’m not quite Eeyore, but I’m further away from the optimist I was at forty. I’ve noticed that at 3 a.m., when I do my worst thinking, I’m having even longer stretches of bad thinking before I break it up and remember that I can deal with / handle / change / work through whatever it is I’m turning over and over (and over) in my head at that moment.

For instance, last night I was all worried about the three-month subscription for smoothie powders my daughter bought me. Twenty different flavors arrived in the mail on Saturday. I was excited to try them, so I made one yesterday, mixing my milk of choice (an unsweetened nut milk) with the packet of powder. When I brought the bottle to my mouth, however, my gag reflexes went on high alert. I tried four times to drink it before dumping it down the sink. Maybe it was the milk I used, but if I’m going to try that particular flavor again, I’m going to need to bury it in something that will mask the smell, sort of like throwing lime on a deer carcass.

These powders aren’t cheap, and that was at the heart of my middle-of-the-night concern. “I don’t want to waste money. Oh, what’s the use, I’ll never get it right…” that kind of thing. But I just have to keep trying. That’s it. That’s the solution. Keep trying. Don’t give up before I’ve exhausted every possibility. You’d think I’d know that by now since that’s the solution to most obstacles we face in life.

Despite being old enough to get a ten-percent discount at Perkins, I’m not too old to employ new strategies for incorporating more positive self-talk than comes natural for me. I’ve enlisted the help of the Gratitude app. (You can find it on Google Play or the App Store. The logo is an orange square with a simple heart flower in the center.) It’s private, so no one can read your business, and it includes writing an affirmation every day. Today my affirmation was, “I am a writer, and today I will act accordingly.”

So here you go, a bit of writing that I hope, as always, will resonate with at least one person, because being alone in our thoughts and circumstances is a difficult way to live. I told you about my liver and height and the fact that it took me over a year to pay off a hospital bill because it helps to know, even if I don’t get feedback from anyone, that someone read through to the end, and maybe now they don’t feel quite as alone anymore, either.

I still haven’t come up with a better word than “weird,” so I’ll leave it at that. It’s been a weird few weeks, but nothing I can’t handle.

In the Fight of His Life

I didn’t have this on my 2020 Apocalypse Bingo Card. Last week, my 28-year-old stepson Andrew had a stroke.

While this isn’t my story to tell, and Andrew is an extremely private person, I want to raise awareness of a form of vasculitis called granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), formerly known as Wegener’s. GPA is a rare disorder characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels, which can restrict blood flow and damage vital organs and tissues. Besides potential damage to the kidneys and respiratory tract, other serious complications may include vision or hearing loss, heart disease, and stroke. There is no cure, and patients with GPA will experience remission and relapse throughout their lifetime.

We don’t know how Andrew contracted this rare disease that affects just 3 in 100,000 people, but since July 2019, it has nearly cost him his life three times.

I have known Andrew since he was one and have been his and his brother Kevin’s stepmother since 1996. When his father and I divorced, we agreed that our blended family would remain the most important thing in our lives and we have honored that agreement for nearly ten years.

The last time I saw Andrew was a few weeks before Christmas. He and Kevin met me for brunch in Pittsburgh on their way home from visiting their father. Larry and Kevin tried to prepare me for how Andrew’s appearance had changed, but I was shocked to see my tall and once incredibly fit boy so thin and pale. His once robust appetite was reduced to a bit of yogurt and granola. That night, after their long drive back to central New York, Andrew was in renal failure. He has been on dialysis ever since and is on the list for a kidney transplant.

The stroke has set back that timetable, however. Right now, there are more pressing physical issues that he needs to address like learning to speak clearly again and walking unassisted. His mental health needs attention, too. While Andrew has maintained his sense of humor through much of this, he is frustrated and afraid. He is unable to work and is on long-term disability. Because of covid-19, he has no real social life. If not for his cat, Zelda, he would be completely alone most of the time. We can’t visit him in person, although his father, mother, and brother have been allowed to see him for a few minutes each day in the hospital this week.

My birthday is in mid-August and soon I’ll create a fundraiser for the Vasculitis Foundation on my personal Facebook page. If you’d like to make a donation directly to the Vasculitis Foundation, click here.  

If you’re interested, here is one of many blogs and columns I’ve written about my stepsons over the years: The Boys Are Back in Town. I love them both so much, and to see one of them suffering like this is incredibly heartbreaking. But thank you for reading. It helps knowing others are listening. I hope this finds you and yours safe and healthy.

Andrew, Kevin, and Larry having dinner at my house; post-divorce and still family
Uncle Andrew with baby Audrey
Happier times

Reading for Sanity

My twelve-year-old granddaughter Claire (who reminds me every time we talk that she will be thirteen in October) called me yesterday, and we talked about Nerf battles, bears in Yosemite, the view of the Grand Canyon from 30,000 feet, the difference between a highway and a freeway, and how the Interstate Highway System works.

Claire knows she can talk to me about anything and yesterday, those were the things.

Claire is a voracious reader, but she’d be bored by the books I read when I was a kid. I told her how I preferred teen detective Trixie Belden over Nancy Drew, but she told me that the new Nancy Drew comics are pretty good. I had always hoped that she would like the books I did as a kid, The Wind in the Willows, The Trumpet of the Swan, Ramona the Pest or the Henry Higgins books, but she likes more angsty, futuristic books. Throw in a little dystopia and she’s all in.

In non-pandemic days, I’m always up for emotionally challenging books, one in which the ending isn’t all tied up in pretty ribbons, and intellectually challenging books that ask me to rethink some long-held (and unearthed) belief or learned prejudice. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an excellent example. I’ve tried reading a few more of those challenging books in the last few months, but I find that the emotional feels are exacerbated by real life. I read newspapers and news magazines and political commentary, and as part of my research for the memoir on grief, I’ve been reading academic papers on loss, bereavement, and the implications of not being able to see a loved one dead. All of that is enough of an emotional challenge right now. This makes reading for fun imperative.

Jennifer Wiener is one of my go-to writers for good endings, and by “good” endings, I mean satisfying; ones that don’t leave me in a heap of tears on the floor. I just finished Big Summer. So much fun! And Mrs. Everything is my favorite JW book to-date. It’s also recently been optioned for a TV show!

In an Instagram post, Weiner recommended books by several Black writers including Jasmine Guillory. I am currently reading her book The Wedding Date. Based on the first half, I will definitely read more Guillory books. Terry McMillan is another Black writer I love to read for that satisfying ending. Ever since How Stella Got Her Groove Back, she’s been a favorite.

Daughters of Erietown by the Pulitzer Prize columnist from Ohio, Connie Schultz, is one I didn’t want to end, and I hope Schultz has another book coming soon.

While the book, It’s OK to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort, is written as a series of essays about the life and death of her husband, is not the big downer you’d think a grief memoir would be. Also, Me by Elton John is a delicious piece of writing and includes some fun gossip about people in the recording industry whose names you’ll no doubt recognize.

I was in love with Elton John and Bernie Taupin when I was a kid, much to my father’s dismay. By the time I was twelve, I had bought or been given Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; Rock of the Westies; Greatest Hits Vol. 1; Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player; Mad Man Across the Water; and Caribou. When I wrote a report on Elton John in sixth grade (we had to write about someone famous), Dad told me he didn’t want me buying any more Elton John albums because EJ was gay. I had no idea what that meant, so I asked Dad, “What’s ‘gay’?” He walked away and never brought it up again, and I continued to collect Elton John albums.

Our county library is open again and is offering Grab ‘n Go service. I have three books on reserve to pick up on Saturday: The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews, and Still Life by Louise Penny. I want to start reading the Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series before it comes out on Amazon Prime Video. (Do you prefer to read the book first and then watch the show, or vice versa?)

Anyway…back to Claire for a moment. Whenever her name comes up on my cell, whether it’s a phone call or text, it makes my heart skip the same way it did the day she was born. I am still in awe of her, in awe that she exists and is part of my life. Sometimes, like now, when I think too hard on it, I get to crying a little. We play Battleship on Facetime, but it’s not the same as real life. What I wouldn’t give to hug her and to have her spend the weekend. But…I will take what I can get: phone calls, texts, Facetime, appropriately distanced visits.

While these days seem like forever, they will not last forever.  

In the meantime, read for your sanity, read to lift your spirits. And listen to Steve Martin play his banjo!

Writing Out Loud

I started writing him a letter today, but I remembered when someone suggested years ago, right after he died, that I go to a card shop and pick out the Father’s Day card I would have chosen for him for his first Father’s Day. I didn’t do it because it felt silly and because I refused to live in a fantasy in which I bought him a card and maybe a tie and he would open it while he bounced Carlene on his lap, and then I serve him a slice of his favorite cake, German chocolate…

OK, so maybe that’s probably what would have happened if he hadn’t died, but he did die and my feet are planted firmly in reality. No “what ifs” pass through my lips.

Bruce and yours truly, Christmas 1981

But here’s what I wish I could tell him: I’m writing a memoir about our life together and his death and its impact, and while it’s mostly about me, it’s also about him. At times he’s a protagonist and at others, he’s an antagonist. I mean, I know he didn’t mean to die, but nonetheless, his death makes him seem like the bad guy once in a while.

We’ve all been in those two-way conversations that should be three-way conversations in which you’re talking to someone about someone, about what they did or didn’t do that was funny or embarrassing or pissed you off, and they weren’t there to defend or explain themselves. This is a little what writing this book feels like. How do you tell the truth about someone who isn’t around to correct you?

I’ve been thinking about how, at this moment in my life, writing this book, Bruce has book-ended my entire adult life. I met him when I was seventeen and he became everything to me, and here I am, nearly forty years later, putting him front and center again. What I don’t want to do is turn our life into a Glamour shot, blurring it and making it more beautiful than it really was. But since I can’t talk to him, I’m talking to you. Writing this out loud is helping me see things more clearly, holding me accountable to the truth, at least the truth as I remember, and it keeps my feet grounded in what was real then and what is real now. So a big thank you for reading! I feel better already.