Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Phyllis' Christmas Treasures

REPOST ALERT!!!  I wrote this last December when no one was reading my blog except my siblings and a few close friends.  I thought I'd bring it back and see what you think.  Hope you like it...


Meals on Wheels is a fantastic organization serving countless communities in states across the country.  It's premise is simple:  provide hot meals to senior citizens and shut-ins who are unable to afford and/or prepare the meals for themselves.  During the time that Trixie and I were involved with our nursing home visits, organized through the SPCA of Central Florida, an urgent call came through from the Meals on Wheels people.


Apparently, there was a growing concern that many of their clients were not consuming the delivered meals themselves. They were going hungry because they were feeding their rations to their own pets instead. They couldn't afford dog or cat food, so they were giving what they had to their precious companions. The organization asked if there was anything the SPCA could do to help them.

I'll always be so proud of how quickly and efficiently the president of the SPCA of Central Florida, Barbara Wetzler, responded. Within just a few weeks, she had convinced Tupperware to donate dozens of large containers, sent out word that dog and cat food donations were being accepted, got a list of names of clients and their mapped-out locations, and rounded up a core of volunteers to make the deliveries. There is a special place in heaven for Barbara Wetzler!

When word was sent out about the need for delivery people, I signed up without hesitation. I'm always looking for ways to honor the memory of my sweet Grandma Simmons, and I knew she'd love the idea of taking care of senior citizens' pets this way. At the orientation, the rules were pretty cut and dried: each driver would receive three names with a corresponding map. On the day of your delivery, you simply dropped by the SPCA, dropped off your empty bins, picked up new, filled ones, and set out. They asked you to call each client in advance each month, as many would be hesitant to answer the door if they didn't already know you were coming by. They also advised letting the phone ring several times, old bones take a little longer getting out of chairs and walking to the phone!

I was eager to get started and set out as soon as I left orientation. My first two deliveries were very similar. The clients greeted me, let me pat their dog or cat's head from my place on their front stoop, then waved a cheery "good-bye" and quickly shut the door. My last stop was at a tiny house in a poor neighborhood. It looked like it might have been a nice, family community at one point, but that time had long passed. Now the surrounding houses were in disrepair and in great need of new roofs and paint jobs. The house on my list had a decent sized yard surrounded by an ugly chain link fence. I glanced down at the name on my list: "Phyllis -- cat." I grabbed the bin of cat food and lifted the latch on the gate, then proceeded up the front steps and knocked on Phyllis' door.

After several minutes, I heard the deadbolt turn and watched as the door moved inward. There in the doorway stood a tiny woman with long, grey hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing a house dress identical to my Grandma's, and large, thick coke bottle-lensed glasses. Tight around her neck was the type of apparatus found on patients that have undergone a tracheotomy. She smiled and placed a finger over the front hole to speak in a breathy voice, "You must be Joan! You look just like I knew you would when I heard your voice on the phone! Come on in!"

Phyllis led me to her neat, cozy kitchen, sporting wooden cupboards with black hinges and knobs. She told me to just set the cat food under the sink and have a seat with her at the table. On her table sat a large tray containing several prescription bottles. In the course of our conversation that first day, she told me about her many ailments: the tracheotomy, diabetes for which she gave herself daily injections, poor eyesight and hearing (her phone had one of those blinking light attachments that alerted her when a call was coming in), severe arthritis, and some brushes with cancer. It was funny, though, how her "malady listing" didn't come across at all like complaining. Phyllis seemed to accept the fact that her body was wearing down, but was also truly fascinated with the modern medical procedures being employed to keep her going. I found myself recalling all of the Alzheimer's patients Trixie and I had visited at the nursing home. Many of them, despite their severe mental limitations, were otherwise physically healthy as horses. Phyllis was exactly the opposite. Her poor body was breaking down, but her mind remained sharp as a tack. She remembered exact dates when telling stories, often beginning, "In June of 1962...no, excuse me, it was JULY of 1963..."

Phyllis became my favorite delivery stop. I'd always save hers for last because I knew she'd expect me to come in and "sit a spell." When I was picking up her cat food, I decided I wanted to bring my new friend a treat as well. I knew with all of her diet restrictions that a food item was out. Then I was at the Hallmark store and spotted a small stuffed animal cat. I had seen similar ones on the shelf of her living room, so I decided maybe she'd like another.

I entered her kitchen as always that day, placed the cat food bin under her sink, then handed her the gift bag. "Just a silly little nothing for you," I told her. She unwrapped the tissue and held the little cat up close to her weak eyes. She turned to me, gave me a huge smile, and hugged it to her face, cradling it like a doll. I became addicted to that smile. I couldn't get enough of it. So, every month I arrived with a new gift, usually of the stuffed variety. That beautiful, sweet smile was my payment, and she always gave it generously.

I should've realized that I was over-doing it with the gift giving, however, because I soon learned that Phyllis felt the need to reciprocate. I arrived one day to find a large cardboard box sitting at my place on her kitchen table. "Have a seat," she instructed me. She explained that she'd been going through some things and came across this box of her Christmas decorations. She said she wasn't going to be putting them out anymore, and she'd like for me to have them (she'd been noticing my holiday sweaters!). I told her I'd be happy to help her adorn her home with the decorations if she'd like, she didn't need to get rid of them. She waved my suggestion away with a wrinkled hand and reached in to pull out her first treasure. It was a six inch soft plastic reindeer. At least that's what I think it was. The paint was very faded and the tip of it's tail was broken off. There was a hole on the underside of it's belly where you could place a small light bulb to illuminate it, but that was long gone. She turned it around in her hand and looked at it with dreamy eyes, then placed it on the table. Then she reached in the box and pulled out the next item, a plastic, faded snowman. She brought out item after worthless item, unwrapping each from it's paper towel, placing it on her table with the delicacy usually reserved for Faberge eggs. She never offered a story to go with any one object. She just smiled while she silently held each of them up to her face, then set it back down again.

When all the items had been unwrapped, she turned to me and asked, "Well, what do you think? Would you like them?" I told her that I really thought she should hang on to them. "Nonsense!" she quipped, "I'm too old to be messing with them anymore. If you don't take them, I'll just donate them to the poor." I told Phyllis I would take them, thanked her for her generosity, and promptly placed them in my attic when I got home.

Phyllis' health continued to deteriorate. I arrived one month and she greeted me at the door, clearly distracted about something. After a little prodding, I got her to tell me. She had been losing so much weight that her doctor had surgically inserted a feeding tube into her stomach. She now "fed" herself twice a day with a bag provided by the hospital, and was no longer a candidate for Meals on Wheels. She was terrified that this also meant she would no longer be receiving cat food. I grabbed my friend's sweet, leather hand and told her that as LONG as she needed it, I would be bringing her cat food.

The next month I dialed Phyllis' number to tell her I'd be by that day. The phone rang and rang. No answer. "Probably just at one of her doctor appointments," I told myself, trying not to think about the alternative. When no one answered later that day, I knew I had to do something. I found the number of her social worker, Mary, who had been providing her general care and rides to the doctor's. She confirmed my worst fears, Phyllis had died. Mary told me that she'd arrived at Phyllis' home one morning and found her still in her bed, no sign of struggle. Phyllis had died peacefully in her sleep.

When someone like Phyllis passes away, someone who had no family and so many physical ailments, we tend to feel relief that they're no longer in pain and now hopefully reunited with their loved ones in the hereafter. But truthfully, I missed my friend and her beautiful smile.

I was packing up the house in Orlando last year in preparation for the big move to Pennsylvania when I came across that box of Phyllis' decorations. Such silly, worthless trinkets, but so dear to one. I wished I had prodded her more about the stories behind each of those pieces. We were in the process of some major downsizing for the move, and I knew I couldn't take the box with me, but I also didn't have the heart to throw them away. I decided to honor Phyllis' second wish and take them to "The Poor." I don't know if Goodwill would find any use for a box of faded Christmas trinkets, but I'd like to think that someone found them as beautiful and special as Phyllis did, and have them displayed on their table this Christmas.

As I write this, I look around my living room at my own decorations. As much as I cherish them and the Christmas memories they invoke, none of my felt santas or folk art angels posses any monetary value, that's for sure. I'm sure someday, after I'm gone, my worthless treasures will all be boxed up and taken to Goodwill. I just hope "The Poor" truly appreciates the intense awesomeness of a fabric moose wearing a "noel" sweater, or a snowman wearing a stocking cap on snow skis!!

Merry Christmas, sweet Phyllis.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Filling My Purse

My mother tells me that when I was a little girl, I never went ANYWHERE unless I had four things: my doll, a string of wooden beads around my neck, a pair of white gloves, and a purse (Imagine the ENORMOUS hit I was in Kindergarden!)  I don't remember a whole lot about that time, but I DO remember getting a new purse with Grandma Simmons once.  It was one of those shiny white patent leather numbers, VERY elegant!

A problem arose, however, when it came time to actually FILL said purse.  It's not like I had a wallet, I certainly didn't have any money.  So, Grandma Simmons gave me a big wad of Kleenex, an old empty compact, a used-up lipstick tube, and a key (no one was quite sure what the key opened, but it helped to add weight to my new purchase!).  Needless to say, I rarely opened that purse, unless the need for blowing my nose arose, of course.

I've been thinking a lot about that purse lately.  Let me tell you why...

When we recently moved into our new rented house here in Franklin, Tennessee, we quickly learned that there was WAY more room than we were used to in our former homes. Guests will be VERY comfortable when they visit, there's plenty of spare rooms and bathrooms for ALL!

But downstairs, in the finished basement, sat a nice big room overlooking the backyard, complete with it's own bathroom and huge walk-in closet.  I think it was initially intended to be a mother-in-law suite, but since both our mothers have very comfortable homes of their own, Alan suggested I use the room as my office/sewing room.  He encouraged me to decorate it however I'd like (although, since we're renting, painting the walls or changing the carpet is out of the question!).

The thought intrigued me.  You must know that throughout my whole childhood, I shared a room with my sister.  We slept in wooden bunk beds constructed by my dad, covered with simple blankets that my grandmother sewed.  None of us actually experienced the "girly" rooms our friends all seemed to have.  I decided this was my chance to create my very own "Girl Cave!"

Yellow has always been my favorite color, so I made sure everything reflected a yellow, lacy, flowery theme!  And since yellow is definitely not the "in" decorating color at the moment, I had to do a lot of creating on my own!  Like the two lamps in the picture above. I covered the shades with yellow fabric, added a ruffle on the bottom, and attached sweet pink ribbon roses around the ruffle!  (You can vomit now, I understand!).

I covered a bulletin board and the border of a dry erase board with yellow floral fabric, then attached all of my family photos to each of them to inspire my writing!  The dry erase board has future blog topic ideas scribbled on it.

Also, for my early readers, that's Tubsy sitting on the shelf, no Girl Cave would be complete without your favorite childhood doll!

To the right is a picture of another wall, which holds boxes containing my fabric, laces, ribbons, trims, yarn, patterns and such.  A framed photo of Dad, the original spouter of the phrase "Anything Fits a Naked Man," and subject of many of my blog entries, sits in a frame on the shelf, covered with my yellow floral fabric! Now, if I could JUST get better at actually SEWING things!

So, what do you think?  Kinda cool, huh?

Except, here's the only problem:  just like that empty purse Grandma Simmons bought me all those years ago, I look at my new pretty room and think, "Now, I have to fill this room with superlative blog entries!"  A room as grand as this can only be used properly if wonderful, thoughtful, high quality ideas are being created there!  Talk about PRESSURE!!

I'll be honest with you, as I write this post, I'm sitting in my living room with my computer on my lap.  I used the excuse that I wanted to be near the Christmas tree, and I really wanted to catch the Lawrence Welk Christmas special on PBS (oh, shut up!).  But the simple truth is, I'm a little bit afraid of my new room.  I've gone down there to read, work on crafts, fill out my Christmas cards, but so far, no writing!  Isn't that silly?

Has this ever happened to you?  Where do YOU write?  Any words of advice to get me down to my pretty girl cave?  I could REALLY use them!  Also,

Thanks for Reading!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Weirdest Couple EVER!

Even if you've only spent five minutes at the mall, supermarket, or doctor's office this past month, you've undoubtedly heard this duet featuring Bing Crosby and David Bowie.  I wanted to feature it today and share with you some fun facts I recently learned about this particular performance.  Mainly, I just LOVE it, and personally, can never get enough of it, no matter HOW many times it's played during this season!

The piece was recorded in September of 1977, and appeared on Bing Crosby's "Merrie Olde Christmas" special that year.  Apparently, Bing's children were big Bowie fans, so David was asked to appear on the show and sing "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing.

A problem arose when Bowie arrived on the set, was presented with his music, and declared, "I hate this song.  Is there something else I can sing?"  This sent producers and songwriters on the show scrambling, but they managed to go off into a corner and quickly compose the "Peace on Earth" melody and words.  (Can you IMAGINE?!!)

There are two things that strike me each time I watch this clip.  First, is the mutual respect each of these men show to each other.  David Bowie, who was 30 when this was filmed, happily performs the opening corny lines with ease, and Bing, 77, does a great job at poking fun at his age and passing star power.  I think it's truly lovely.  Second, is how beautifully their voices compliment each other.  It's easy to understand why it's such a timeless hit.

The last thing you should know is that Bing Crosby died just one month after this was filmed.  The first time the public saw the special that December, Bing has already passed away.  Such a lovely thing to leave us with, don't you think?  My favorite part is the very end, as the last note is held, and Bing simply remarks, "It's a pretty thing, isn't it?"  Nice.

I apologize for the short commercial you have to watch before the clip begins, but I promise it's worth it!  Enjoy!



Bing Crosby & David Bowie - Duet
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Positively Positive

One of the major unpleasantries of finding out you have cancer (besides the obvious!)  is the task of informing all of your friends and family.  In my case, since my lymphoma is low grade and slow moving, I usually began with something like, "First off, I feel completely fine, and I'm not going to die.  Secondly, I have cancer."  What usually followed was an open mouthed, wide-eyed gasp, then a plethora of questions.  I'd work very hard to put my loved ones at ease, and answer all inquiries as honestly and openly as I could.  


Usually, after all of the fears regarding my condition and the tests I was undergoing were laid to rest, a different form of questioning would begin.  "How did you first notice something was wrong?"  "Why did you decide to go to the doctor?"  I'd answer, knowing the reason for this particular interrogation was for their own benefit.  They were saying to themselves, "Have I ever noticed lumps in MY neck?"  or "Should I be going to my doctor for a thorough check-up?"  


I understood completely.  Cancer is scary.  Before my diagnosis, whenever I would hear of a celebrity or friend of a friend who had been stricken with the disease, I'd immediately look for a reason.  "Well, he was a pretty heavy smoker," or "Her diet was really terrible, she didn't take very good care of herself."  I'd justify their illness, placing my OWN healthy lifestyle on a different level, assured that this would never happen to ME, because I took CARE of myself.  Now I realize how ridiculous I was being, but there it is!

So imagine my reaction when I revealed my "cancer news" to one of my coworkers as we sat in our dressing room and prepared for the first show of the day.  She reacted much the same as the others, and began with the questions.  Then, she said something no one before ever had:  "Well, you know, if you had had a more positive attitude, you could've nipped this thing in the bud, right from the start."


Two things immediately popped into my head (after my initial anger began to subside):  
1.  I am one of the most positive people I know, and 
2.  Did she just have the audacity to accuse me of causing my own illness because I didn't SMILE enough to her liking?  


It's been over three years since that conversation in the dressing room, and I must admit, it still gets to me a little bit!  But it's made me think quite a bit about positive attitudes, and how many of us believe it affects our health.  I'm going to give you my own opinion today.  It won't be popular, I assure you, but I hope you'll stick with me and hear me out!  Here goes...


Positive thinking has nothing to do with preventing or curing illness. 


Wow!  Did that ever feel good to get off my chest!  Now, let me explain why I came to this conclusion:


First off, let me say that I'm a HUGE fan of a positive attitude.  I DESPISE  sullen sad sacs who seem to find great joy in telling you of all the things wrong in their life, preferring to sort of baste in their own misery rather than do something about it.  I try very, very hard, on a daily basis to look on the bright side, to count my blessings and focus on the GOOD in people.  


I also think my positive attitude has served me well as I accept that cancer will be with me for the rest of my life.  I don't sit around moping, dwelling on the fact that I have these tumors in my body.  I focus on the fact that they are lazy and low grade, and that I am currently extremely healthy and hardy.  When I go to my doctor's appointments, CT scans, and other various testing facilities, I remain upbeat.  I joke with the nurses, simply turn my head and ignore the pain that emerges when the needle goes into my arm, and thank the staff for taking care of me as I leave.  I KNOW this has helped my overall outlook about this disease I've acquired.  But will all of this CURE me?  Absolutely not, in my opinion.


May I provide a few examples to back up my claim?


Patrick Swayze:  I was an enormous fan of Mr. Swayze during the Dirty Dancing/Ghost years.  Being somewhat of a dancer, I always admired his talent and the way he made dancing cool (even for guys!).  I think what I admired about him more, however, was his dedication to his sweet wife, Lisa.  They had been high school sweethearts, married ridiculously young, and despite his eventual rise to fame and the knowledge that he could have any young new starlett of his choosing, he still talked about how much he adored his wife.  


When Patrick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few years back, things looked very bleak, indeed.  To everyone, that is, except him.  He took on a new TV series, appeared on cancer fundraising telethons, and told Barbara Walters, in an exclusive interview, that he was going to FIGHT this cancer, and he was going to WIN!  Now THAT'S positive, ladies and gentlemen!  But Patrick didn't win.  He gave it all he had, smiled till the end, and finally passed away this year, his sweet wife at his side.


Elizabeth Edwards:  Do we really need to go into what a strong, positive lady SHE is?  My goodness, this woman went through and survived her teenage son dying in a car accident, a cheating husband who fathered an illegitimate child, and  learning on the day of her husband's losing the election for vice president that she had breast cancer.  Where the rest of us would have been reduced to a pile of soggy, limp tears with just HALF of those tragedies, Elizabeth persevered.  She campaigned for health care, wrote two books about her life, hoping to encourage others, opened a furniture business, and raised three children in the process.  


It appeared she was beating her cancer until recently when she learned it had spread to her liver, and there was nothing more to do.  She had hoped to live eight more years, so she could see her youngest child graduate from high school.  She lasted only a few more days.  


Randy Pausch:  I just love this man!  If you looked under "Positive Attitude" in the dictionary, surely Randy's picture would be the first to appear.  He was a college professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of the awesome best seller, "The Last Lecture."  Although he taught computer science, he was mainly known for his inspirational lectures.  He was all about taking chances, going after the thing you really wanted but most feared, and grasping life with both hands.  His energy and attitude were infectious.


Then Randy was stricken with pancreatic cancer.  Although he was determined to fight the disease with everything he had, he knew that his time could be limited, and made every effort to live each remaining day to the fullest.  His lectures reflected that.  He died in 2008 of complications from his cancer.  


You would be insulting all three of these amazing human beings if you even suggested that their attitudes had anything to do with their diseases.  They were awesome, thriving, positive people, and they passed away anyway.  It was, I believe, their time.  Nothing more.


I know what you're thinking right now.  "Geez, Joan, what a DOWNER!  Don't you think you're being incredibly pessimistic by saying all of this?  Saying that there's no hope, even if you have a good attitude?"


I wouldn't blame you if you thought that way, but I'm here to tell you I believe it's just the opposite.  Because when I finally realized that my attitude had nothing to do with my cure, I began to RELAX.  When I was laying on the table and the nurse was drilling into my hip bone to extract a bone fragment to test, and I thought to myself, "MAN, this really SUCKS," I knew I wasn't dooming myself to certain death.  


I was so relieved to finally have permission to be afraid, to sometimes hate the process, and not worry about it affecting my health.  


Will I continue to smile and crack jokes with the hospital staff, and sing "Tell Me Something Good" to my oncologist as he enters with the results of my most recent CT scan?  Absolutely.  But if I'm having a bad day and the ugly lumps on my neck are visible and terribly frightening,  I will allow myself to cry.  And I won't worry that I'm committing suicide by doing it.  


I've probably made a few of you angry today.  I want you to know that I understand, and I completely respect your opinion if you disagree.  But maybe there's someone out there that is going through what I did, with an illness of their own.  Someone who keeps smiling through the pain and fear, and still continues to get bad news, so they're beating themselves up that they're somehow not being positive ENOUGH.  I want you to know I release you.  You're doing everything right, and you'll get through this, just relax.  


And if someone ever has the nerve to accuse you of causing your illness because of your attitude, do what I do.  Smile, flip your hair, walk away, and tell them, "Have a nice day."


Thanks for Reading!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mane Issue

One hundred years ago, when I was in my twenties, I used to look at old women (you know, those in their 40's and 50's) and feel pity for them, for just one reason.  So many of them seemed to have followed along with the hair trends of the times for awhile, keeping up with the popular hairstyles.  Then, they hit an era and just stopped trying.   They just appeared to quit, from my young perspective.

They kept up with the beehives of the sixties and the hippie, straight, middle-parts of the seventies.  But when the big, full, teased-bang look of the the eighties hit, they gave up.  Back they went to their set-and-bonnet-dryer look, comfortable once again, uncaring that they were committing the most egregious of fashion faux pas. I'd gaze upon these poor, clueless women, shaking my big haired, Madonna-bowed head in quiet disdain.

But I've been thinking a lot about those comfortable "old" ladies recently.  They'd really get a kick out of me now, I'm sure.  Because I'm there.  I realized this a few days ago.  Here's what happened:

Unlike my older counterparts, I've done pretty well with keeping up, if I do say so myself.  My hair is thick and naturally curly, and although the Dorothy Hamill short bob of the early seventies was a complete disaster, the Farrah Fawcett "feathered" look was quite achievable. I bought a set of hot rollers that became my new best friends.  I got ridiculously fast at rolling my hair every morning, and it was definitely worth the effort, in my sixteen year old mind.  I thought I looked AWESOME!
Then came the glorious 80's.  I was in college when the "Big Hair" fashion hit.  People, my hair was BORN for this style!  Getting ready in the morning took about seven seconds.  I'd simply turn my head upside down, crank the blow dryer to "high," and blast my hair until it was one big, majestic "poof."  Then, I'd flip it back, throw on a headband (large Madonna bow attached), sweep my bangs off to the side, and, TA-DA... DONE!  I REALLY loved the 80's!

So, there I was, having a grand old time in the era of big hair, when THIS happened:


Jennifer FREAKING Aniston!!  Curse her and her thin, straight, straight hair!!  I tried, folks, I really tried!  I bought a flat iron, applied straightening shampoo and conditioner, and read article after article on "How to obtain Jen's sexy, sleek look!"  Usually, it was a disaster! Occasionally, I'd find the right combination of product and styling tool, and achieve the flat look.  But soon the humidity would take over, and my curls would begin to form, refusing to be silenced!!

It was a hard time for me, let me tell you!  Even my former spiralled comrades were jumping ship and sporting the new flat style.  Gloria Estefan and Nicole Kidman, once big, curly-haired goddesses, now looked like THIS:

And THIS:


Et tu, ladies?  It became abundantly clear, I was standing on a sinking ship!  So I smoothed my hair as best I could, and managed to make it through that dark time, or as I refer to it: "The Sleek Years."

Then, one GLORIOUS day, the curls began to emerge again!  Celebrities were showing up at awards ceremonies with cascading, twirly locks.  I was elated!   Recently, I'd go to my hairdresser and simply say, "I'd like a good, layered cut to accentuate my curls," and watch as they snipped and shaped my mane.  The result was always a little disappointing, though, I must say. They'd style my hair kinda messy, and the curls would always be dangling over my face and eyes.  "Weird that I can't get a good cut these days," I said to myself.

So, I arrived a few days ago at my color/cut appointment determined to leave looking like a curly goddess.  I spent SEVERAL minutes describing EXACTLY what I wanted to my stylist, and she smiled and said we could DEFINITELY achieve the look I was requesting.  She left to mix my color, and I sat back, content that my message had FINALLY been received!

She colored, cut, then began the styling process.  She attached a diffuser to her blow dryer, then, turned me around away from the mirror.  She tugged and pinched at my locks, happily humming away.  Soon, the other stylists were walking by, exclaiming things like, "Wow, that looks GREAT!" and "You have beautiful hair!" and "That's EXACTLY how I'd want my hair to look if it was curly!"

WOW!!  I began making plans to call Alan, he was going to need to take me out on the town to show off my amazing new style!  I couldn't WAIT for her to turn me around to view this piece of artwork for myself.  Then, she did.  And, there, staring back in the mirror at me, was THIS:


Yep.

So, dear old ladies of my twenties, I owe you an enormous apology.  Because I am now YOU.  I left that hair salon, went home, washed my hair, applied mousse and styling gel, threw my head upside down, blew it dry, inserted the largest Madonna-bowed head band I could find, cranked-up some Wham! on my stereo, and danced around my living room in wild abandon.  Because as far as me and my hair are concerned, it's 1984, Baby!!

Thanks for Reading!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Plenty To Be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!!  I've been saving this clip especially for this day, I'm so excited to share it with you!

This one's from the movie, Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  The film features the amazing music of Irving Berlin.  In fact, it was this movie that premiered Berlin's classic, "White Christmas."  Can you imagine sitting in a movie theater and hearing that song sung by Bing for the FIRST time?  Heavenly!

But I've chosen another song from the movie for today, the one that appears in the Thanksgiving segment.  It's called "Plenty to be Thankful For," and I just love it, particularly when it's sung the incomparable Bing.

The artist who compiled this video uses several clips from the movie, along with photos of Bing's brother, Bob Crosby and his big band.  Apparently, Bob's orchestra performed the accompaniment for this number, so he's given his due praise as well!

Anyway, I think the pictures are terrific, including those of Bing's pretty love interest in the movie, Marjorie Reynolds.  Is it just me, or does she remind you a little of Katherine Heigl in these photos?  See what you think!

I'll warn you before you listen, though, this tune is CATCHY!  I DARE you not to be humming it while you enjoy your turkey and mashed potatoes today!!  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Special Delivery!

I'm not someone who could ever be accused of having OCD.  Dirt doesn't bother me in the least, dust collects on my furniture for weeks before I finally break down, pull out the Pledge, and get to work.

I must confess, though, that there is one area in which I can become tremendously obsessed:    Christmas cards!

Each year, I take excruciating care choosing the perfect cards, stationery on which we'll print our yearly letter (yeah, I'm one of THOSE people who writes an "update" letter!), and return address labels.  I even make sure the stamps are festive!  Most years, I've even subjected poor Alan and Trixie to donning our Christmas finery, setting the timer on our camera, and  taking a photo, which I also include in the envelope!

After I've acquired all the supplies, I hit "shuffle" on the Ipod Christmas playlist, then sit down to write a personal note in each card.  It's usually just a few lines, telling my friends and family how much I miss them, and wishing them a happy holiday season.  It takes a while, I have a long list of names.  But I honestly enjoy it, because it makes me think of each one of my cherished loved ones as I hand write their names and the names of their children on the inside of each one.

Here's where the OCD comes in:  I make sure I have ALL of this done and in the mail the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Why?  Because that means my Christmas card will arrive in the mailboxes of my friends and family on the day after Thanksgiving, the FIRST official day of the Christmas season! Seriously, I NEVER miss!  And my loved ones know it, too!  One year, we decided to save money and skip the card sending.  Just about EVERY card I received that season said something like,  "We didn't get your card the day after Thanksgiving!  Are you guys OK?" Like I said, it's a sickness!

I guess I put so much effort into my cards each year because I enjoy RECEIVING them so much.  I LOVE the beautiful wintery scenes on the front, and the enclosed pictures of growing children in pretty velvet dresses and small bow ties!  I LOVE the enclosed letters, telling me what everyone's accomplished over the year, and the plans for the year ahead.

Which leads me to a small pet peeve I've had for a while.  Would you mind if I rant for a moment?  Have you ever gotten that card in the mail that has the family's names already printed on them?  They look beautiful, no doubt. But I've received so many that have no handwriting in them at all, not even our names listed at the top.  This means the card went directly from the box to the envelope.  The envelope, by the way, has a computer printed stick-on label with my address on the front.  This means the sender of this card thought of me for exactly two seconds, when they peeled the label off the sheet and placed it on the envelope.

I know most people are MUCH busier than me during the Christmas season.  I don't have children's school holiday programs to attend, or dozens of family members coming to my home for Christmas dinner.  I really do understand that sometimes, pre-printed cards and peel-and-stick labels are all some can manage.  But I genuinely believe that it's a waste of a stamp.

Christmas cards, in my opinion, are supposed to say, "Hey!  I was thinking of you!  Maybe I don't get to communicate with you all year, but I wanted you to know that I love you, I cherish your friendship, and I want you and your family to have a merry, merry Christmas!"  When you stick an address label on an envelope and enclose an impersonal, pre-printed card, you're saying, "Hey, at least I put forth an effort."

What do YOU think?  Am I being ridiculously old fashioned?  Do YOU still send holiday cards each year? How do YOU do it?  I'd love to hear your opinion!  Well, I've got to run.  Those envelopes don't address themselves, you know...

Thanks for Reading!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Working Proud

Right or wrong, my Dad often judged a man by his work ethic.  If you worked like a dog, weren't afraid of getting your hands dirty, and never watched the clock, Dad had a very high opinion of you, indeed.

In fact, when I reunited with my high school sweetheart, Alan, ten years after we graduated, Dad was not pleased.  He was remembering the smart-alecky, black concert t-shirt wearing, long hair sporting seventeen year old that I had dated a decade before.  I wasn't concerned, however, because I knew JUST what to do to change Dad's mind about Alan.

I wrote Dad a letter and told him I understood his concern, but that he needed to know about all the things that Alan had accomplished since we last saw him.  Then I wrote about Alan's four years in the Marine Corps, followed by the four years that he worked a full time job as a waiter so he could pay his way and attend college, full time, at the same time.  I mentioned that he worked so hard, he didn't have to take out any student loans.   He made the money that was needed each semester in pure sweat by busting his hump.  Guess what?  Dad was convinced.  He welcomed Alan into his home, and eventually walked me down the aisle to meet him on our wedding day!

But there was another area of the job that Dad always talked about:  pride in your work.  He taught us that any job we were performing, no matter how big or small, should be done with an enormous amount of care and pride.  He led by example in this area.  In the summers when school was out, he had a carpentry business doing remodeling work.  He did it all, kitchen cabinets, back decks, even hand crafted frames for paintings.  His small business ad in our local paper simply displayed his name and phone number, along with one quote:  "No Job Too Small."

His clients were often stunned when he'd tell them the date in which he'd begin his work, then actually SHOW UP on that day, ON TIME!  This was unheard of in the construction business.  Except, of course, in my Dad's business.  Because Dad took pride in his work, and it showed.  More than one stranger came up to me at his wake, took my hand, and said, "Your Dad remodeled my kitchen!  He did a terrific job!"  Amazing, right?

That being said, my Dad would have loved my new nail technician, Tommy!  As you know, we've just moved to our new home near Nashville, TN, and that means starting all over with doctors, vets, hair stylists, and of course, nail techs.  I decided to check out the salon closest to our house, especially because it had a huge sign over its front door reading, "New Management!  20% Off All Services!"  When I walked through the entrance, a smiling, short Asian man approached me and shook my hand.

"Hello!"  he chirped, "I'm Tommy!  I'm the new owner of this salon!  What can I do for you?"

I explained that I was new to the area and needed a fill.  He grabbed my hand and looked at my nails, running his thumb over the surface of my index finger.  "Oh, yes!  I'd be happy to!" he said, "I can make these look BEAUTIFUL!  Come, have a seat!"

Still holding my hand, Tommy led me to his work table, pulled out my chair, and walked around to the other side.  But before he sat, he asked, "Would you like something to drink?" He then listed several beverages, including water, soda, and wine.  After I declined, he sat down and got to work.

Tommy asked me a few questions about moving here and how I liked living in Tennessee, and I answered them all.  But I was really curious about this energetic, nice man, so soon I was the one asking questions.  Tommy answered them all, that enormous smile never leaving his face.  He told me he had been a nail tech for over ten years, always working in the shops owned by his cousins and other relatives.  He'd work for one until the business was up and running, then he'd move on to the next one to help with THAT opening.  About two years ago, the opportunity arose to own a shop of his own, and Tommy considered it. But in the end, he said, he felt he still had a lot to learn about running a business, and decided to wait a while longer before taking the big step.

Two years later, when the shop in which we were currently sitting became available, Tommy decreed that it was time, and took the big plunge!  The next thirty minutes were filled with Tommy's exited explanations of all he was planning for his brand new salon (he had only owned it one short week!).

He pointed out the walls he had painted ("That red was too harsh, the light brown is much more relaxing for my customers!"), the new pedicure stations he inserted ("It was more expensive for the glass foot bowls, but they look MUCH nicer!"), and the brand of nail acrylic he insisted on using.  He said it was more costly than the kind the other salons carried, but that it looked nicer on his clients, and would last longer, so that's ALL he was going to use.  Tommy talked and talked, and I began to say a silent prayer as he worked, asking God to bless this awesome man and this business that he clearly cherished so much.

I'll soon be rejoining the work force here in Nashville.  I have a BFA in Musical Theater and am ridiculously unqualified for just about everything but performing onstage. I'll also be looking for a job during the worst period of unemployment in our country's history since the Great Depression.  But as I set out in my business suit and pumps, briefcase in hand,  I'm going to try to remember Dad and Tommy.  I'm going to try to convince my potential employer that if they hire me, they'll be getting someone who will show up on time, will work extremely hard, and will take enormous pride in each aspect of her duties (even if that involves flipping burgers!).

I've been back to Tommy's salon three times since that first day, and on each visit I've noticed that it's always much busier than the time before.  Dad wouldn't have been surprised.  He knows that if you take pride in what you're doing and give it everything you've got, success is sure to follow.  In fact, after that first encounter with Tommy, if you had asked Dad, "Do you think this guy's business will succeed?"  Without hesitation, his reply would have been Classic Dad:  "Is the Pope Catholic?"

Thanks for Reading!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Don't you just love this time of year? Time for hot apple cider, The Great Pumpkin on TV, pumpkin spice lattes, and my very favorite: cute, costumed children ringing my doorbell and demanding candy!  LOVE IT!!

Now I have a new reason to love Halloween!  You may remember that in an earlier entry, I posted a video made by the acapella singing group "The Blanks," featured on the TV show, "Scrubs."  They're my friends from college, and I just couldn't be more proud of them!

Well, my awesome, talented friends have just released a new video, just in time for Halloween!  It's wonderfully silly, just like them!  Grab some apple cider, sit down, push "play," and enjoy!!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dad's Key to Joy

Every June, at the conclusion of the school year, my Dad and several of his fellow teacher buddies would load their cars with fishing poles, burgers, buns, beer (Pepsi for Dad), and flannel shirts. They'd hitch up their boats and caravan for ten hours, through Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York, over the Peace Bridge to a small marina located on the Key River in Ontario, Canada.

There they'd park their cars, jump in their boats and ride seven more miles down the bendy, gorgeous waterway to a small cabin owned by one of the teachers, Mr. Barrett. They'd spend a week fishing, eating, singing oldies around the kitchen table, fishing, laughing, pulling pranks on each other, and fishing some more.  It was a wonderful tradition, and one they kept up for several years.  They even made t-shirts emblazoned with their self-appointed name:  The June Crew.

Dad anticipated that week all year long, and always returned home from the trip relaxed and happy.  Mr. Barrett was generous enough to invite our entire family up to the cabin each August, so we got a chance to see this magical place for ourselves.  We have many, many happy memories of fishing and swimming along the rocky shore of that glorious Key River, and I'll never forget them.  But deep down, I think I always knew that Dad had MUCH more fun when he was there with The June Crew at the close of every school year.

So you can imagine my delight when my sister Laura sent each of her siblings a DVD last week, copied from a video she found when going through Dad's things.  It was titled "June Crew.  June 8th, 1990."  I popped in the disc and held my breath as the image of happy, smiling men loading their boat at the Key River Marina appeared.  I recognized them all immediately as my Dad's dear friends and fellow educators.

Two things became apparent immediately.  The first was you never saw my Dad.  He was constantly behind the camera, talking to whomever he was taping at the time. The second was that you could hear my Dad's voice distinctly, and I've never heard him sound so happy.  He laughed constantly, even appearing to giggle in some places.

It's important to remind you here that my father was a constant worrier. From the days of his youth when he was forced to pick up the slack for his alcoholic father, to his adult years raising his own large family, Dad fretted about EVERYTHING.  He worried about money and about the safety and purity of his children.   He was constantly imagining he "smelled smoke" in the house and kept all the doors locked at all times, even though we lived in the middle of nowhere on a quiet cul de sac.  He was always, always tense.  Except for that one week in June.

As he followed the men loading their boats and mugging for the camera, the anticipation in Dad's voice is unmistakable.  He asks them dumb, silly questions, like, "Are we gonna catch a lot of fish on this trip?"  When the inevitable reply was, "You betcha!" he'd laugh and yell back, "Atta boy!"

As I watched the DVD from start to finish, wiping a tear away at some particularly sweet moments, a thought occurred to me.  I don't know if I've ever been as happy as my Dad sounded on that tape.  I've been in some great places with gorgeous scenery, with awesome company, but I'm not sure if my voice has ever sounded as exuberant and giddy as Dad's did as he rode on his friend's boat down that Key River.  I'm so grateful he had that week every year.

How about you?  Do you have a place that makes you deliriously joyful?  Do you have a yearly gathering with friends or family that you anticipate, and never disappoints?  Oh, I hope so!  Everyone, at some point, should sound like Dad did on that tape.  It's my wish for you today.  I hope you find a place that you can share with the people you love the most in this world.  A place that makes you relax and smile, but also invigorates and inspires you!

If you've already found that place, will you tell me about it now? I'd LOVE to hear about it! And as always,

Thanks for Reading!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time to Celebrate!!

I passed a bit of a milestone a few weeks back:  On September 1st, 2009, I officially started this blog! My husband had been encouraging me to exercise my writing skills, and assured me that this would be a great way to start.  So, nervously, I did!!

I thought I'd post that very first entry today, as a belated anniversary celebration. I must tell you, I was TERRIFIED!  I figured no one would care about my silly stories, and I felt so vulnerable sending them out into the blogosphere!  I was so sure I'd get nothing but negative feedback, I initially disabled the comments option.

What I found, instead, was this lovely, encouraging blogging community that has been so wonderfully supportive through every step of the way!  Thanks to ALL of you!  I really, really appreciate it!

So much has changed in just one short year since I started this blog.  A year ago, I had just moved to York, PA, and my Dad was relatively healthy, living a happy life of retirement with my Mom in Florida.  Today, I live in Nashville, TN, and my Dad has passed away.  I'm so grateful I was able to record some of the wonderful memories of Dad on this blog, for all eternity.  Although he never read any of my stories, I'm certain he'd be proud of the words I've written here.

So, here it is, my first entry, from one year ago.  Can't you just HEAR my knees knocking?...


In The Beginning...


So, I've decided to join the ranks of Those-Who-Think-They-Can-Write-And-Who-Also-Think-That-Others-May-Even-Want-To-Read-Their-Stuff! Thanks to my husband Alan's gentle urging and reassurance that my technologically-challenged brain can actually maneuver this baby, I officially throw my hat into the literary ring.

So, here's my story: I'm a 45 year old white female, raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. It was in school there that I received my first creative writing assignments and discovered that I really enjoyed completing them. In seventh grade, my english teacher read one of my fiction essays out loud to the class. I was both mortified and completely jazzed. My mom bought me a thesaurus for my birthday. I was going to be the next Ernest Hemingway.

Then I was cast as the lead in Nordonia High School's musical production of "Anything Goes." That was it. My thesaurus never stood a chance. I became a musical theater major at Syracuse University, graduated, and began my quest for the great Broadway Stage. What I didn't figure on was how miserable I'd be living in New York City. I hated it. I gave it a few good years, did a few decent shows and somehow ended-up moving to Orlando, Florida. I spent sixteen years there, thirteen of them doing the Terminator 2/3D show at Universal Studios. It was a fantastic, awesome gig, and I loved every minute of it.

But, my stud of a husband (you'll hear more about him in later entries) got promoted, which brings us here to our new current residence in York, PA. So, with the lights of the theater fading behind me now, I keep spotting that old worn thesaurus out of the corner of my eye. It beckons me to give my first love a try. I decided to listen.

The name of my blog is a nostalgic nod to something my grumpy, old, Irish dad used to say. He had a lot of sayings: "Hit the Bricks!" (Get Out of Here!), "Tough Tarantula!" (Sucks to Be You!), or "Not too shabby!" (You did good, kid. I am proud of you!). When he was fishing off the deck of his beloved boat, a can of Pepsi in hand on a sunny afternoon, he'd lean back in his chair and say, "I wonder what the poor people are doing today!" But my favorite Jack Donnelly quote growing up was the classic, "Anything Fits a Naked Man." Simple, but true, no? Hard to complain when you're in need!

It is with that quote in mind that I undertake this new adventure. I'm just going to test the creative writing waters once again, naked as I am! Hope you enjoy...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Showing Up

This won't be a long post today.  I just wanted to drop in and thank all of you for your kind, supportive words regarding my Dad's death.

To all my dear friends and acquaintances from out of town who called, e-mailed, facebooked, and sent lovely hand-written notes, thank you.  I can't tell you how much it means to me.

You should've seen Dad's wake.   There wasn't an empty parking space at the funeral home, because so many people came to pay their respects to this brother, uncle, friend, colleague, and teacher they knew and loved.

Dad's former students were the ones that touched me the most. You may remember from an earlier post that Dad was a high school shop teacher for several years (although he hated that term, and insisted we call it "Industrial Arts.").  His students were often not the most  academically gifted in the school, but Dad's class offered them a chance to excel at something else; working with their hands and creating something to be proud of.

Imagine how much it meant to my siblings and I to have these grown men approach us as we stood next to Dad's casket, and tell us how profoundly Dad affected their lives.  They could have bought a sympathy card at the grocery store, signed their names at the bottom, and mailed it to the house.  But they didn't.  They showed up. And I'll never forget it.

They put on suits and uncomfortable shoes, combed their hair and drove a few towns away, just to pay their respects in person.  They grabbed our hands and looked into our eyes and told us how much they appreciated our father.  And I'll never forget it.

There were others who showed up, too.  Like the now grown-up boys who lived next door to us thirty years ago.  They used to make Dad crazy because they mowed the lawn in their bare feet (safety hazard) and yelled loudly at each other during spirited games of whiffle ball played in their backyard.  We hadn't seen any of them in years.  Yet, there they were, to grab our hands and gently say, "So sorry to hear about your Dad."  They showed up.  And I'll never forget it.

Then there were my friends.  Not friends of Dad's, mind you (although there were plenty of those, too), MY friends.  High school friends who didn't know Dad that well, but came to comfort ME.  They showed up with warm hugs, handing me their phone numbers written on slips of paper for "if you just need to talk, or get away for awhile."  Gay, my childhood friend, and her parents, whom I haven't seen in over two decades, showed up.  And I'll never forget it.

Many of the people I've mentioned above don't read this blog, and will probably never get this message, but I hope you'll indulge me as I send it anyway:

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  Not only were you a tremendous comfort, you taught me an invaluable lesson.  Showing up means much more than I ever imagined.  Before that evening, if my childhood next door neighbor had passed away and I learned about the funeral,  I may have penned a quick note to their children and dropped it in the mail, feeling really good that I "reached out."  But now all that has changed.

I will show up.  I will curl my hair, put on makeup, hose, and a dress, and I will be there.  I will wrap my arms around you, and remind you how loved you are.  You have my word. Because based on my experience, it's the absolute best thing I can do.

Thanks for Reading.