Mother Knows Best

Necessity is the mother of invention: ice bags held in place with an old thermal shirt.

I got a FaceTime call from my son in the next room.

“My laptop needs to be recharged and I need you to get the plug,” he said. I went into the family room and fished around before I discovered he was sitting on it.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked.

I don’t ordinarily wait hand and foot on my kids, who are both young adults and capable of doing things for themselves. But my son had his wisdom teeth removed and is taking his oral surgeon’s advice as gospel: lay low for at least two days to prevent dreaded “dry sockets.”

I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone undergoing wisdom teeth extraction because I still remember the procedure and recovery at age 16. My oral surgeon said it would be helpful if I stayed awake during the removal of my four wisdom teeth so I could assist him by turning my head in different directions.

He failed to mention that staying awake involved eight shots of Novocaine in the roof, bottom and sides of my mouth. I remember thinking the shots to my upper and lower palates were the most painful thing I’d ever experienced. Looking back on it now, it’s right up there with an endometrial biopsy, in which a piece of uterine lining is removed without anesthesia. Yea, that smarts.

Extraction day came at the tail end of my son’s final winter break from college. He graduates in May, and would like to move to Boston. I don’t mind too much, but it’s not something I want to dwell on. I like the rhythm of having a kid in college – away much of the year, but still technically living at home – and I know it will take some adjustment. Did I mention that I don’t do too well with adjustments?

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I forgot how demanding my son could be until we began driving home on Interstate 95, and I decided to take an earlier exit to avoid a traffic jam we’d seen on the way to the oral surgeon’s office.

“What are you doing?” he mumbled, sounding a lot like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” with all the gauze in his mouth. “The doctor said I’m supposed to take it easy. Why aren’t you taking the fastest route home possible?”

I flashed back to when he was four and demanded that I turn the car around every time we passed his favorite playground. He was a little tyrant: he once got so mad at me when I told him we had to leave the playground that he bit my upper inner thigh with all his might. Yes, I saw stars.

Truth be told, I’d sort of been looking forward to Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day because it was a chance to really take care of him like I did when he was a little boy. I wasn’t relishing the procedure, face swelling or intense pain he’d suffer, but it was nice to know that he still needed me, if only for a day. At the very least, he needed me to drive him home – something he hasn’t wanted or needed for six years.

At first he tried to affix the ice bags with a belt, but it was a failure on many levels.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day puts us in full-on Mommy mode, sending us to the store for soft foods like pudding, Cream of Rice and Greek yogurt. It forces us to clear our calendars: sorry, I can’t work or do anything today because my kid is undergoing surgery and needs me. It’s like when they’re little and running a fever, or have a stomach bug. You’re at their beck and call, counting your blessings that they’re usually so healthy.

Most importantly, WTED puts us squarely in the driver’s seat in terms of our young adult’s well-being: yes, you can brush your teeth, but don’t rinse vigorously; yes, you can have homemade butternut squash soup, but wait until it cools off; no, you can’t go bowling with your friends 48 hours after the procedure. You’re still healing and look like a chipmunk.

I was doing remarkably well ordering my son around for his own good. It was nice to be in control because he’s the kind of kid who’s been disagreeing with me since he was 13. Overnight, we went from best buddies to adversaries, and there were times when I thought he detested me (and he probably did).

I was assured by my Mom friends that this stage was normal and would pass. But it seemed to go on forever, or until about age 20. Slowly, steadily he wanted to talk to me again and hear what I had to say. But the kid still has his own mind and can be stubborn as an ox.

We reached an impasse over bowling. I said no. The last thing I wanted was dry sockets, which develop three to five days after surgery and are legendarily painful. My niece recently had her wisdom teeth removed and was in agony when a dry socket developed. I wanted to avoid that complication, particularly since he’s leaving soon for second semester.

My son wasn’t swayed. He Googled bowling after oral surgery. Apparently, this is a common question among kids having wisdom teeth removed. There were a variety of answers, but apparently it’s not recommended on the same day as surgery. No big surprise there.

He then called and texted everyone he knew with a connection to dentistry, including his friend Drew.

“Drew says it’s fine,” he said.

“What does Drew know about dentistry?” I asked.

“His Grandpa is an oral surgeon.”

“Oh, so I guess that makes him an authority,” I said.

We battled back and forth all day. And then I realized that there’s only so much a parent can say or do. You can kick, scream and threaten to take the car keys away, but ultimately they’re adults and have to make their own decisions.

I told him he could go bowling if that’s what he really wanted to do. But I said I wanted him home by midnight. I wanted to play the Mom card for as long as possible, and hadn’t successfully imposed a curfew in years.

He went bowling and didn’t score well that night, no real surprise given his compromised physical condition. But he did come home a half-hour before curfew, making a point to stop into my room to show that he was home. And though we never agreed on the bowling issue, I think he learned an important lesson: sometimes, mothers know best.

Our New Corolla

Every once in awhile, I fear I’ve got a tiny problem with impulse control.

It manifests itself in different ways, but usually involves shopping and money. I’m usually pretty good at watching my spending – 36 years being married to the Curmudgeon will do that – but there are times when I just want to let loose and buy something without agonizing over it.

Our family room couch is 30 years old, and no longer practical. A 6-foot-long camel back, it’s a glorified love seat, big enough to accommodate three seated souls or one person (usually me) stretched out to watch TV. I realized its limitations when my son’s friend came over to watch a football game: we needed to haul in a chair from the living room so he could sit down.

It’s well made, solid and comfortable enough that we reupholstered it once, swapping its original flame stitch for a more neutral blue chenille. But it’s served it purpose, or should I say time? It’s tired and worn, flecked with fabric pills that I remove with a disposable shaver before company arrives. It’s also sheathed in dog hair, proof that yellow Labrador retrievers shed all year and no amount of vacuuming or lint rolling removes some fur.

I mentioned the need for a new couch and a flurry of post-holiday furniture sales to the Curmudgeon, and was told to forget it. But then I began to make mental notes of times that he’s splurged without telling me: the night he pranced in wearing a new tuxedo that he never mentioned he bought, or the expensive tennis stringer he bought for our son.

It took my son about a minute to break in the new sectional. Ignore the mess on the coffee table.

I then considered a few major home improvement projects that were entirely his idea: the kitchen remodel and the conversion of our screened porch into a year-round sun room. He initiated both projects, which have made our place much more comfortable. But I was supportive. I had no objection to overseeing both projects and supervising contractors.

So I gave his objection to a new couch very little thought. In fact, I ignored it. Sometimes, a wife must take matters into her own hands for the good of the family room.

I enlisted the help of my son to measure the room and the existing couch – a mere 6 feet from arm to arm. And then we measured one side of the room where two striped over-sized club chairs currently sit – about 8 feet. I planned to replace the couch and chairs with an L-shaped sectional to accommodate more people, or as my friend Beth would say, to facilitate “flopping.”

I don’t love sectionals – they’re big, bulky and tend to dominate rooms. But they’re practical when it comes to seating large numbers of people. My mom has a half-circle sectional that seats about eight or nine people and still has room for her dog Maggie. She got it about 35 years ago, long before the dawning of the sectional craze, and it’s served her well.

We have an L-shaped sectional in our sun room that comfortably accommodates my son and about six or seven friends who come over to watch football games. Guys never seem to mind piling together, no matter how old they get.

I went to Raymour & Flanigan, stepping into the furniture giant for the very first time and tried to get my bearings. I quickly asked to be pointed to the sectionals and began inspecting them for style and comfort. Regrettably, most were leather or microfiber behemoths, reminding me of why I don’t really love sectionals.

Our old couch has seen better days.

But then, over in the distance, I spotted the Corolla, a sectional sharing the name with a Toyota and a comedian named Adam. Low slung, sleek and modern, the Corolla is a modular sectional that allows you to pull it apart and arrange pieces any way you want. This is a nice feature for someone who has trouble with commitment in the best of circumstances.

I sat in the corner of the Corolla and put my feet up, asking my salesman Chase about various options. As we chatted, I asked Chase about his weirdest customers, thinking I might be among them. Not even close, he resassured me.

His oddest customers were a couple in their 40s who insisted on making out on every couch that they tried out. They’d sit on the couch, start snuggling and then got busy, trying to reenact what they do on their couch at home. I guess Chase was lucky that they weren’t shopping for beds.

I wanted a chaise at one end of the sectional, but it was impossible because of the small space. So I decided on a large ottoman that could be moved around, or entirely out of the way if need be.

Chase crunched numbers, and then told me to take a seat. He told me he wanted to see if he could get more off the price, disappearing behind a glass wall. I was suddenly reminded why everyone hates furniture shopping: it’s one step removed from car shopping with the negotiating, haggling and promise: “Let me see what my manager can do.”

Chase and his manager Bruce came over and slashed an additional $300 off the price of the sectional, and then Bruce said he could take $20 off the ottoman. I told him to forget it. The nearly $400 cost would put me in the danger zone with the Curmudgeon. I could get away with a certain amount of craziness, but even I know when I’m pushing it.

I’d watched my Dad use this strategy with car dealers – replace the cloth seats with leather at no cost and we’ve got a deal. A seasoned negotiator from Brooklyn, he relished bargaining and was usually pretty successful. But Bruce just stared blankly at me when I said to forget the ottoman.

“OK, then just get the couch,” he said. “You can order the ottoman at some other time and just take it home in your car.”

So much for my negotiation skills. I guess it’s apparent to everyone that I don’t buy big ticket items too often and am a pushover when it comes to deal-making. But that’s OK.

The Curmudgeon is thrilled with the new sectional, proclaiming it perfect after settling on it for the first time. Even better, he didn’t have to spend time furniture shopping, something he deplores more than most people.

Let's Just Bag It

Some of my many reusable shopping bags. Now, I just have to remember them.

I’m in favor of Connecticut’s new law aimed at banning single-use shopping bags, but now I’ve got another problem: I’m swimming in canvas, insulated and compartmentalized shopping bags, which are taking over every corner of my kitchen and pantry.

The local hardware store handed out bags emblazoned with its name at the town’s annual parade in October. Our church gave out two reusable bags bearing its name as our holiday gift. And one of the local physical therapists has a stack of red bags bearing its logo in the waiting room with a sign encouraging patients to take one.

It’s a wonderful embarrassment of riches and we’re all very appreciative, but here’s the rub: most of us still forget our bags at home, or fail to bring enough bags to the store. Or, we remember to bring our bags to the grocery store, but forget them when we go to department stores or Home Depot.

“I walked out of Kohl’s the other day holding two bras,” said my friend Michele, shaking her head. “I forgot my bag, and refused to pay 10 cents for a bag. I’m not doing it.”

Connecticut began charging 10 cents for single-use plastic bags on Aug. 1, and will enact an all-out ban on July 1, 2021. The gap between the fee and the actual ban is allowing us to get used to the idea of bringing our own bags to the store.

But it’s all terribly confusing because some stores still give out free paper shopping bags, the thick kind with the handles. Others don’t charge senior citizens for bags. Still others, like Wal-mart, operate on the honor system, asking customers how many bags they’re using at the self-checkout line.

One friend told me he circumvents the charge by saying he didn’t take any bags. But I can’t do that. I’d rather just put my stuff in the cart, and unload it into my car like many other customers do when they forget their bags. I’m not going to lie about 10 cents at this stage of the game.

I think the most revealing aspect of the new bag law is how forgetful we can be, and how stubborn we are about paying the state 10 cents for our stupidity. Ten cents isn’t much, but I refuse to pay for a single-use plastic bag. Let me clarify that: I don’t want to pay 10 cents for any bag because I have a pile of reusable bags at home and don’t need any more.

I didn’t realize how attached I’d become to certain bags until a grocery bagger overloaded my favorite square insulated bag with top zipper last week, tearing it as I tried to heave it into the car. After inspecting the damage – it tore near a handle and stripped the outer layer – I realized I had to toss it. A part of me wanted to show the store manager the damage and get a new snazzy bag to replace it.

How do we all end up with so many bags? Here’s what happens:

You’re in Fresh Market and you realize you’ve forgotten your bags. Rather than pay 10 cents per bag, you shell out $2.79 for a fancy Fresh Market bag with a separate compartment for holding milk and other beverages. As you saunter out to your car, you think: “Take that (Gov.) Ned Lamont.”

Or you’re in the supermarket with an order that’s much bigger than you thought when you grabbed three canvas bags and hopped into your car. You begin telling the bagger not to bag the orange juice, milk and apple cider, or the large bag of tortilla chips.

As you prattle on, the customer in back of you gives you a pitying look.

“Do you need an extra bag?” he asks, offering up a crumbled Aldi bag. And you’ve never been more grateful for anything in your life, thanking him repeatedly for his kindness.

“Hey, no one wants to give the state 10 cents,” he says. “We’ve got to stick together.”

He’s right about that, but for me it’s more about paying for something because I couldn’t get my act together. So the next time I head out, I’m going to throw in a couple of extra bags for the poor soul who forgot her bags at home or in the car. Someone came to my rescue, and now it’s my turn to do a fellow shopper a favor. At the very least, I’ll get rid of a few of my extra bags.

Esprit De Corps

I’ve been out of the workforce for a very long time.

One of the things I miss most is the feeling of camaraderie and being part of a team. Over the years, I’ve worked with some great people who’ve become lasting friends. One special co-worker even became my husband.

I had no idea a workplace could feel like family until I got my first newspaper job in 1981. My co-workers at the mighty Milford Citizen were straight from central casting: dreamy photographer John in his corner darkroom, city editor Tim with the best sources in town and a knack for predicting murders, and managing editor Linda D, who ran the place like a mother hen.

My brother-in-law Matt

And then of course there was Kay in the society department, who was known as much for her quick wit as her heavenly blueberry buckle. Kay walked to work every day, and possessed the sturdiest pair of calves I’ve ever seen.

The Citizen crew threw me a surprise bridal shower, and the editorial department attended my wedding. Our crew regularly went out to lunch and happy hours, commanding our own table at the Bull ‘N Bear bar conveniently located right next door.

Things started to change when people left for new jobs or adventures. Once someone leaves a tight knit group, the dynamics change forever. They’re replaced, but it’s never the same. The missing worker leaves a void that can’t be completely filled. At least that’s been my experience.

I was reminded of all of this as I sat at my brother-in-law Matt’s wake. His co-workers from Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, CT., began filling the funeral home before the official start, and continued to pay their respects to my sister and her family for three hours.

Matt’s passing is devastating for his family, but it’s clear that it’s also had a tremendous impact on his co-workers, who described him as a great guy and an awesome person. If the measure of a man is how well he’s liked and respected by his co-workers, it’s clear Matt will be remembered at Sikorsky, where he worked as an engineer for 27 years.

Matt never discussed his job at Sikorsky, the famed military helicopter manufacturer founded in 1923 by Igor Sikorsky, which today employs about 15,000. But he was a part of a prestigious team working to build the new $1.24 billion fleet of presidential helicopters.

Many of his team members attended his wake wearing brown leather bomber jackets emblazoned with presidential team lettering. Matt had a jacket too, but unfortunately I never saw him wear it. Though he had plenty to brag about, he was a humble person. I had no idea he held two master’s degrees or was working on such a prestigious project until after his sudden death.

Matt loved working at Sikorsky. His enthusiasm for his work is the main reason his son Nick applied for a job there after graduating from college a few years ago. As Nick told us during his stirring eulogy, his father loved helicopters, saying they were the most complex pieces of machinery ever invented.

I first met Matt when he was a teen-ager. He’s pictured here at my 1983 wedding with my sister Nancy.

Matt, 55, died unexpectedly early Dec. 28th. He was a part of our family for nearly 40 years, and we all loved him. But what was truly impressive during this tragedy was the outpouring of support and sympathy from his Sikorsky co-workers.

I’ve never visited Sikorsky, which is one of Connecticut’s largest employers. But it’s clear by the number of Sikorsky employees who turned out to honor and remember Matt that a strong sense of esprit de corps runs through the corporation. Sikorsky officials should be very proud of their workers because instilling that sense of pride and loyalty isn’t easy, particularly in today’s bottom line corporate environment.

I’m not surprised Matt was loved by his co-workers. He was that kind of guy: easy, funny and a pleasure to be around. But his most memorable gift was an ability to roll with the punches. His mom Gladys told me that he never complained about anything, even as a child.

Matt was always a pleasure to be around, and we’ll miss him terribly. But he’s left a lasting impression, and we can learn from his example. Be kind and humble, and don’t wear your accomplishments on your sleeve. And when in doubt, smile, be pleasant and stop complaining so much.

Amazing Grace

Matt, right, with his son Michael at a family wedding five years ago.

The holidays always make me a little uneasy because bad things tend to befall my family when the rest of the world rejoices.

My maternal grandfather died on New Year’s Eve when I was 10. I still remember my Dad coming into my room and breaking the news to me. It was one of the first and only times I ever saw him cry.

Several years later, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer about a week before Christmas and spent the holiday in the hospital. About all I remember from that horrible year was wishing Christmas would end as quickly as possible.

It was hard to watch people celebrating when my father was recuperating from surgery and on the brink of chemo, and I just wanted it to be over. Yes, I’ll admit I was a Scrooge, but I didn’t care. My family wasn’t together or particularly happy, though we did manage to cobble together a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner orchestrated by my paternal grandmother.

So it’s always with a mix of excitement and dread that I greet the holidays. My excitement and joy is tinged with caution. Call it Murphy’s law. As my father-in-law Steve Murphy used to say, you never want to be too happy because life has a way of putting you in your place.

This year’s Christmas was a bit magical. My family scored our best tree ever from a nearby tree farm and we splurged on new colored lights to accentuate its perfect lines. We spent Christmas Eve with my extended family, returning home around 1 o’clock on Christmas morning.

The following day, we opened gifts, had brunch and visited a nearby monastery to worship. In the late afternoon, we headed to my sister’s house dressed in tartan, sipping champagne and wine and feasting on traditional ham, potatoes and greens.

But then I got the call that reminded me why I dread Christmas: one of my brother-in-laws suffered a heart attack the day after the holiday and was in grave condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital. One of my sisters called with the news and was hysterical, but I tried to be calm: we must be positive, he survived the ambulance ride to the hospital so that was a good sign, he’s getting the best care at a top-notch hospital and most importantly, he cannot die because he’s needed so much here.

Matt and his family with the bride and groom, and with our extended family.

I met Matt when he was still a teen-ager. He and my sister began dating in high school and they went to prom together. He was her first love and they married about 10 years after their first date. They set up house a few miles from my parents’ home, and began building their family with two sons, and several years later, a daughter.

Matt quickly assimilated into our large clan, becoming known as much for his laid back personality as his kind heart and willingness to help in any situation. The year my Dad was in the hospital, it was Matt who bought a Christmas tree and erected it in our living room. I didn’t know that until my mother told me yesterday.

While in high school, Matt worked in the local fish store and never lost his skill with a clam knife. On Christmas Eve, he went to my mother’s house and shucked about 400 clams for our stuffed clam course. He also supervised the prep and cooking of the baked stuffed lobsters. This was no easy task: there were about 35 of us gathered that night.

I don’t remember Matt eating on Christmas Eve because he was too busy working in the kitchen to serve and feed us. He was that kind of guy: generous to a fault, always willing to put others before him.

We had a great conversation on Christmas Eve as we sat around the bar in my parents’ basement. He was off from work from his job at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, CT., and looking forward to some down time. He was happy and upbeat, talking about the weekend’s upcoming football games and Christmas shopping with his daughter.

I guess that’s why it was so shocking to hear that he became violently ill the night after Christmas, and was rushed to the hospital. It seemed surreal, and was hard to wrap my head around the news that he was gravely ill. I decided to be positive and think good thoughts. I refused to consider the alternative.

But as the day dragged on, it became clear that he was fighting an uphill battle. I prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, hoping for a miracle. I begged God to spare him, telling him that his work on this earth was far from over. But it was not to be. Matt died around 1 a.m. surrounded by 21 members of our extended family.

So many of Matt’s in-laws and nieces and nephews were at the hospital that staffers shepherded them to a conference room to wait their turn to visit his room. As one of my sisters said, he wasn’t just an in-law. He was our brother, an integral part of our family for nearly 40 years. He was loved, and he will be missed more than he’ll ever know.

I’m impressed and proud of my two nephews and my niece, who are much more composed accepting their father’s death than I’d be at their age. About the only comfort I received was seeing them and how well they’re handling the situation. Just when you think you understand kids, they’ll shock you with their ability to handle life’s worst situations.

As we drove home from visiting Matt’s family, I told my daughter that I’m still struggling to deal with Matt’s death. I told her I’d need grace to do it, and at this point, I don’t have it. She didn’t quite understand the definition of grace, so I tried to explain it and give her an example:

“Your cousins showed a lot of grace today,” I said. “And I want what they have. I need it.”

What I’ve learned about grace is that you can’t demand it – it must be granted to you. I also now know that you don’t necessarily know when you have grace, but you know when you don’t.

I’ve lacked grace over the past few days, and it’s been painfully obvious to me. But my nephews and niece reminded me of what it looks like, and maybe that in itself is grace in action. I hope and pray it is.

Portuguese Water Torture

It’s a good thing she’s so cute.

I admire people who wake up at the crack of dawn, let the dog out, and fall back to sleep for a few hours.

My friend Barbara says she can sometimes sleep after getting her young daughter on the bus in the morning. She even drifted off to 10 o’clock one morning, awakened only by the sound of her ringing phone.

But this isn’t me. Once I’m up and slugging down my first cup of coffee, I’m up for the day and raring to go, at least until I can grab an afternoon nap. I know industrious people like my older sister who hit the trail with her dog Susie at sunrise, but I prefer to write or watch Netflix comedy specials, movies or documentaries. Perhaps this is why she’s so slim and my pants are snug, but that’s a blog for another day.

Early morning is my special time, at least since children entered my life 22 years ago. As a freelance writer, I was often tasked with writing articles on deadline, an impossible feat with two young children yammering in my ear all day.

So with looming deadlines and limited childcare, I began to awaken at 5 a.m. to write, or “craft,” as my old editor John would say, realizing that’s when I’m most clear-headed and able to string together thoughts and sentences.

Source: preventdisease.com
popcornandpandavs.com

In the world of sleep vernacular, I’m an early bird or “lark” – someone who awakens early and performs best in the morning. The Curmudgeon is an “owl,” someone who relishes night hours. We’ve always had these tendencies, but our bird proclivities have become more extreme over the years.

Over the past few months, I’m ready to hit the sack at 9 p.m., while the Curmudgeon is laying out legal paperwork on our dining room table and digging into files well past midnight. This may explain why he sleeps to 7:30 most mornings, unable to roust himself from bed when I’ve already logged almost three hours of wakefulness.

As far as I can recall, he’s always been this way. When we were engaged, he joined us briefly on a family vacation to Hilton Head Island, S.C.. When he was still in bed at 9 a.m., my father surveyed the breakfast table and asked, “Where’s Steve? Doesn’t he ever wake up?”

There are exceptions to our nightly ritual, of course. Last night, we saw Jerry Seinfeld at an Indian casino about an hour from our house, and returned to watch the end of the President’s Cup golf tournament. After the United States pulled off a come from behind win, we went to bed around 12:30 a.m.

I hoped to do the impossible and sleep in, but was awakened by one of the worst sounds on earth: my sister’s Portuguese water dog whining at 6 a.m. The whining (or “squeaking” as my sister calls it) is akin to Chinese water torture, only worse. It’s like listening to a screaming baby who needs to be fed, changed and put down for a nap all at the same time.

I consider myself a nice person and a dog lover. One of my sisters has even called me a dog whisperer – an exaggeration if you ask me. But I can’t stand the sound of whining in the human or animal kingdom. All I want to do when I hear it is stop it as quickly as possible.

One of my worst periods as a mother was when my son began whining around age 3, but at least you can try to reason with a pre-schooler. “Use your words,” I’d plead, or “I can’t hear you when you whine.” But what do you say to a dog besides “STOP!” “Cut it out. I mean it!” or at my lowest point, “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to have to bring you home.”?

I’ve been watching my sister’s pup while she and her family are in New Mexico, where she’s receiving her doctorate in education. I’m very proud of her accomplishment, though I wish she’d invited me to tag along. Like any New Englander, I’d go anywhere to escape this climate for a few days, but it wasn’t in the cards. So I volunteered to watch her pooch.

The whining began at 6 and quickly reached an irritating and persistent crescendo, startling me out of a sound sleep. When it became clear that my pleas to stop were futile, I assumed she needed to be let out. I got up and opened the front door. But she didn’t need to do her business. She wanted to be fed, and whined until I ran into the pantry and got her kibble.

I wasn’t moving fast enough for her, so she continued to whine until I placed her bowl on the floor. Within about a minute, her food was devoured and I was officially up. So much for my fantasy of sleeping in.

I made myself a mug of coffee and settled onto the couch to watch a documentary on Netflix when I noticed the dog had disappeared. I went looking for her, finally finding her upstairs in bed snuggled next to the Curmudgeon. In addition to being a dog, it appears our furry house guest is an owl too.

I was happy for both dog and man, I really was. But let’s be clear: that should’ve been me in that bed.

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My 200th Post

Strike up the band: a blogging milestone.

My food blogging instructor (yes, such people exist) warned us about a few things during our semester-long course at a nearby community college.

  • Blog at least once a week, or readers assume you’ve abandoned your blog.
  • Keep posts short and sweet.
  • Use lots of photos.
  • Most bloggers stop after two years.

I’ve come back to the last one often because it’s tempting to ditch the whole thing and move onto other things. For the most part, bloggers don’t get paid, so our blogs are a labor of love stemming from a need to write and communicate with the outside world.

And though I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought of packing it in, I love to write and am happiest when I’m using the creative part of my brain. I think most people are the same way, though sometimes we get sidetracked.

When I was in a creative funk, I used Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way,” which was given to me by my brother-in-law David, who’s an actor. Today, Cameron even has an online course to help people unblock their creative potential. If you’re feeling stuck, give it a try: https://juliacameronlive.com/the-artists-way/

This is my 200th post. I believe part of the reason I’ve stuck with it is my refusal to be a blogger who lasts only two years. I can be stubborn, enjoy a challenge and I don’t like quitters. And though it seems like I’ve been doing this forever, I’ve only been at it since May, 2017, meaning I’m only about six months past the quitter zone.

The focus of my blog has shifted somewhat. In the beginning, I wrote a lot about food because that was the focus of my coursework. But today, I write about whatever’s on my mind, and hope it resonates with at least one person. I love feedback, and am puzzled when people tell me that they read my blog but never like it or comment. Sometimes, I write a post in hopes of getting one of these holdouts out of the shadows (and I mean you, Greg M.).

I like to see the humor in life, but realize not everyone thinks I’m amusing. Some people think I’m an idiot. I know because a newspaper reader once said she thought I was a dipstick while I was standing in line at the fish store. My fish monger Dave was mortified, and so was I. People love to shoot the messenger, as any newspaper reporter will tell you.

My blog emerged from one of the worst periods of my life just after my son left for school. I struggled for months to figure out how to fill up the time that he once occupied. And believe me, that kid consumed a lot of my time, energy and focus.

One morning, I awakened with the idea for this blog and the title, which is based on my favorite childhood sandwich. I’ve never awakened with an idea like that before, so I guess there’s a first time for everything. All I know is that after months of floating, it was a relief to have my own little project.

I didn’t have a plan, just to write from the heart. Forty-seven drafts have never seen the light of day – probably a good thing. If I don’t have enough confidence to push the publish button, the blog probably won’t resonate with readers either.

Back in my newspaper days, editors always put an upbeat or light story on the front page to offset often tragic or disturbing stories. It was thought that these light or “fluff stories” – and by the way, I was once known as the “Queen of Fluff” – would provide relief to readers.

I’d like to think of this blog as a continuation of my fluff days. You all have enough on your plates – and believe me, that’s not lost on me – that you don’t need to read anything heavy here, or my philosophy on life. So I’ll continue to plug away, at least until I can put a little more distance between me and the quitting zone.

Thanks for reading, particularly my faithful followers and fellow bloggers who comment and let me know I’m not howling into the wind. You know who you are, and you’re a loyal crew.

Mums the Word

My favorite photo of my daughter in a princess dress. She didn’t really listen to me at this age either.

I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut about major decisions.

Once you share your plans, it builds expectations and people wonder if the job came through, you got the house or the pregnancy test turned out positive. Once people are in the know, it opens to door to questions, unsolicited advice and opinions.

I wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I was notorious for having a very big mouth and trouble keeping secrets. Just ask my mother, who recalls me asking older relatives embarrassing questions at family gatherings, including this one: “Why don’t you like each other?”

But with age, I’ve learned the value of keeping quiet. There’s nothing worse than opening your mouth, and then having to explain that you didn’t get the job, or the promotion you expected went to someone else. As my paternal grandmother used to implore me after filling me in on something, “Don’t say nothing.”

My best kept secret was my son. After 10 years of disappointment and stories of adoptions that fell through at the last minute, I told only my parents that we were about to bring him home. I brought him to my parents’ house and my sisters were shocked to see him in my arms, mainly because they couldn’t believe I kept such a big secret.

This has been on my mind lately because my daughter is applying to colleges, and applied to one early decision. She told five of her friends where she applied early decision, and even had a friend take a photo of her sending in the application. I told her I don’t think it’s a good idea because she’ll have to explain herself if she doesn’t get in.

After screaming and telling me I’m old and out of touch with today’s kids, she defended her decision. This brought to mind the famous John Lennon quote:

It’s true, isn’t it? Not many people’s lives go perfectly according to plan. Most of us are living our own version of Plan B, making the best of what’s in front of us. But it’s hard to drum cautious optimism into a teen-ager with a stubborn streak.

“This is how I’m wired,” she said. “My friends are supportive, and I want them there if I don’t get in.”

Fair enough. But we’re living in a society where people overshare everything on social media, and I still believe some things – like your college plans – should be kept confidential.

Back in the dark ages when I applied to colleges, you never told anyone where you were applying for fear of jinxing it. I looked up the origins of this superstition, and found that it’s rooted in ancient Mediterranean cultures that believed the evil eye would be cast on those who boasted about their good fortune.

I don’t know why humans are programmed to anticipate the worst, but apparently it traces back to our ancestors. I guess we can blame them for this spirit of pessimism and superstition, along with a host of other less than desirable traits.

I know other people in my age group share my belief in jinxing things by discussing them. Several months ago, a friend confided to me her plans to pursue her dream of buying and operating a business. She’d been in discussions for months and wanted to share her news, but worried that discussing it might make the deal fall through.

She asked that I keep our conversation confidential and I did. If the deal fell through – which it didn’t – I didn’t want to be responsible. But I was honored that she trusted me enough to keep quiet. It was clear she had no idea what a big mouth I’d been in my youth.

So far, neither kid has followed my advice about keeping things close to the vest. They do what they want, dismissing me as old-fashioned and out of touch. But I hope one day they’ll see the value in the saying, “Silence is golden.”

Postscript: She learned last night that she got accepted to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where she applied early decision. So the agony is over, at least until we drop her off and pay her tuition bill.

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Slacker Time

The Curmudgeon and our lab puppy Lindsey, circa 1996.

The other day, one of my elderly passengers was suffering from a terrible cold.

Turns out that the world’s worst cold had descended upon her living quarters, bringing her and nearly all of the other women who live in her complex to their knees.

As she coughed to show me how sick she was, I promised to make her homemade chicken and kale soup, which is the only thing I ate when I came down with a really bad cold about three years ago. This isn’t to be confused with my “wonton soup” cold last year, when the only thing I could stomach was Chinese dumplings swimming in broth.

“Oh, that sounds terrific,” she said, as we made our way to her doctor’s office. “I can’t wait. When will you be bringing it over?” Gulp.

I hadn’t planned on making it immediately. In fact, I told her that I’d have to go to the store to buy all of the ingredients, including a rotisserie chicken that’s the cornerstone of the recipe. But I suddenly realized that the pressure was on because I’d offered to make it, and now she was expecting it. She was sick as a dog, and needed it now.

I went to the store and got the ingredients later that day. The next morning, I prepared the soup and delivered it to the sick ward, relieved that I was free of my obligation and hoping it would help.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I need a deadline to get things done. During my years as a reporter, I’d often leave things until the last minute, scrambling to get things done under the wire.

One of my former co-workers at a chain of weeklies used to call me “Deadline Girl.” And as I’ve gotten older, I realize that I haven’t gotten any better with my time management skills. Things often sound like a good idea when I propose them, but following through is another story.

I bought yards of beautiful fabric for dining room curtains about 10 years ago, and it’s still sitting in my linen closet. I’ve been meaning to hang five pictures that were removed during my kitchen remodel for seven years. And a stock photo of two strangers has remained in an old photo cube for nearly 25 years, occupying space along with my niece and a young Curmudgeon with our first yellow lab.

Who are these people? The stock photo in my old photo cube.

I have no idea why I haven’t inserted my own photo after all this time, but I haven’t. It’s been there so long I almost feel as though I know the people. Have you ever heard a lamer excuse in your life?

One of my father’s favorite expressions – and believe me, he had tons of them – was “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Dating back to the days of Ancient Greece and Plato, it means when the need for something becomes imperative, you’re forced to find ways of getting or achieving it.

It makes me feel slightly better that procrastination (or should I say inertia?) has been plaguing man since ancient times. Still, I sometimes wonder if I’m getting worse about accomplishing simple tasks.

I began to make a Thanksgiving invitation with Punchbowl, but didn’t complete it because I didn’t have all of my contacts and my iPhone ran out of juice. Even Punchbowl is baffled, sending me the following emails: “Only two more steps to complete your invitations” and today: “Where did you go?” (Good question)

The other day, a friend and I stopped into a farm market to buy apples to make pies. My friend made her crust the next day and assembled her pie, proudly handing me a slice to sample. She asked about my pie, but I had no words. How do you tell someone you haven’t gotten around to peeling and cutting six apples yet?

It’s been five days and my apples are still sitting in the refrigerator along with two frozen gluten-free pie shells that have now defrosted. If I don’t make the pie soon, I’ll need new apples and shells. But this is how I operate. Without a deadline or an elderly woman asking when I’m going to produce the goods, I’m lost.

I have friends who are organized and use every moment to their advantage, and I’m in awe of their accomplishments and time management skills. One woman, my sister’s neighbor Nancy, uses rainy days to make batches of banana bread made from ripe bananas she stores in her freezer. Her Thanksgiving table is always set the day before the holiday, just about the time I’m beginning to wonder where my tablecloths are.

I’d love to be that organized, but it’s not going to happen. Which brings to mind another of my Dad’s favorite expressions: “Know thyself.”

Panza Presenza

Someone in Italy is reading my blog.

When my stats popped up on WordPress.com, the boot of Italy was illuminated like a Christmas tree. This would be exceptionally thrilling except that it’s my sister and her family, who are visiting the motherland on vacation.

Though I’ve got about as much Irish in me as Italian, I consider myself Italian American because my father’s family came from Sicily. I don’t know if all families lean toward the father’s side in terms of traditions and heritage, but that’s how my family rolled. I guess it’s inevitable when your last name is Milazzo.

About the only sign of my mother’s Irish roots was a crest on a blue and gold tapestry hanging in our finished basement. I don’t know why it was relegated to the basement, but one day it appeared on a dark paneled wall across from the bar and has hung in the same spot for 50 years.

I never asked my mother about the crest, which represents the county where both of her grandmothers were born, until now. She said she bought it from another doctor’s wife who was from Ireland and hosted an art show. She bought the tapestry and two framed prints to help my Dad decorate the basement, which he finished himself.

Aside from the tapestry, there are no other obvious signs of being Irish in the house. There is no Old Irish Blessing hanging on the wall,, nor Celtic crosses, Irish kitchen prayers or anything with shamrocks on it. (The Irish blessing is on an old liquor bottle behind the bar, but I never knew it was there until Mom showed it to me. I don’t think it counts since no one ever knew it was there.)

Mom’s Irish tapestry.
Mom shows me an old liquor bottle containing the Old Irish prayer (below).
I love the Old Irish Blessing.

This is a little sad because the Irish are such a welcoming, friendly and festive bunch, as I learned when I married into a family named Murphy.

Both of the Curmudgeon’s parents were Irish, which made it easy for them to celebrate their Irish heritage and they did – with bells on. My father-in-law was the consummate host, filling our wine glasses before they were empty at dinners. Champagne began flowing at 9 o’clock Christmas morning, tingling our toes as we opened our gifts and requiring a power nap before we gathered for Christmas dinner.

But it’s tougher when parents come from different ethnic backgrounds because families must choose which traditions to keep alive. I guess it’s a little like when parents of two different religions marry and must decide how to raise their child. More often than not, they must choose one religion because it’s practical and less confusing for the child.

I don’t know why Italian won over Irish – perhaps it’s an outgrowth of our paternalistic society and a surname that came straight from a town in Sicily – but we were raised to think and conduct ourselves as Italian American women.

One of the first rules is good manners, and always having more than enough food to eat. If you have just enough food or wine, you risk running out and embarrassing yourself. And let’s face it, no Italian American hostess with any sense of pride wants to do that.

One night while growing up, my mother ran out of veal cutlets at a weeknight dinner. We’d all finished our meals, so the empty platter meant that there wouldn’t be leftovers for sandwiches the next day (seriously, a huge blessing. Finding a cold veal cutlet between two slices of bread in your lunch bag is the biggest disappointment in the word).

When my father saw the empty platter, he turned to my mother and said, “I guess I’m not giving you enough money for meat.” My mom looked rightfully hurt and annoyed because she had prepared enough cutlets. But this is how it with Italian Americans. You may not want or eat the leftovers, but you want to know they’re there.

Another rule is cleaning the house for company. I don’t mean picking up and a light vacuuming. I mean a full-on deep cleaning including wall, baseboard and floor scrubbing, upholstery cleaning, polishing furniture, wiping down windows and dusting door and window jams. Above all, the bathroom must be immaculate.

One of my mother’s biggest pet peeves with my father was his insistence on cleaning doorknobs and light switches before guests arrived. “There’s so much to do around here and he’s polishing doorknobs,” she’d say. It kind of became our catch-all expression for people doing minor work when major jobs loomed.

The other major rule for Italian American queens is never to show up at someone’s house empty-handed. In our house, we referred to people who committed this faux pas as showing up panza presenza. I don’t know if this is the correct translation, but in our house it meant presenting yourself with your empty stomach.

Huh? Here’s an example:

You’re hosting a party. Most guests bring food, wine, flowers or other hostess gifts, but someone shows up with only a smile. The next day, her (and it is always her, not his) oversight is duly noted.

“Can you believe she showed up panza presenza? someone asks. “No, I really can’t. She couldn’t have picked up a few pastries on her way over here? Like we’re all not busy? Who does she think she is coming over here empty-handed?”

Showing up with something is deeply ingrained in my psyche. The other day, we were visiting relatives, who were hosting us for an overnight stay. As we sat in the car waiting for the ferry, I turned to the Curmudgeon and said, “We’ve got to bring something. I can’t show up panza presenza. It’s bad form.”

So we trotted over to a bakery and bought a blueberry pie. It wasn’t much, but it was something. At least we didn’t show up on their doorstep with just two growling stomachs looking to be fed. You want people to feed you because they want to, not because you’re ravenous. (And incidentally, you never show up at someone’s house starving. That’s bad form too.)

I’ve never been to Italy, but I hope to change that next summer. Both kids are graduating from their respective schools, and we’re thinking of going over to see the old country. It’s too early for a non-planner like me to think about, but I’ve already have one prospective stop.

While writing this piece, I stumbled across a restaurant in Sicily on the web called Panza E Presenza. It’s located in none other than Milazzo. Coincidence? You tell me.

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