March Madness

If things had gone as planned, I never would have ended up at Round 1 of the NCAA basketball tournament in Hartford.

I like basketball, but I’m not a rabid fan like my mother (go UConn Huskies women!) or the Curmudgeon, who scheduled his entire day around Selection Sunday.

But life is full of surprises, and sometimes you get lucky or someone finally listens when you say you’d love to join him at the XL Center. Or sometimes you’re willing to be the last resort – the person standing between a ticket holder going to the tourney or staying home.

My brother-in-law Rich scored seats to the first and second rounds in Hartford several months ago. His initial plan was to take his son Andrew, a UConn senior who is a sports fanatic, or his wife (my sister) Patty. It was a great plan except for one thing: both were out of town on vacation.

Rich moved to Plan B, inviting the Curmudgeon, who gloated about the invitation for about two days until he realized he couldn’t go due to work commitments. “I’ll go,” I said after he broke the news to Rich over the phone. Nothing. Nadda. Zippo.

“Did you tell Rich that I’d go?” I said. Dead silence.

A few days later, Rich posted the following on Facebook:

Looking to sell ncaa tournament tickets for Thursday session 1

Seriously? I said I’d go. How much did this guy not want to go with me?

I told Patty that I was a tiny bit hurt that my offer had been ignored. I’ve known Rich for about 30 years. In addition to being my brother-in-law, he’s our family dentist. And though we’ve never really hung out together, I thought I’d be a worthy companion.

I pride myself on being a sporty girl. I began watching the New York Knicks on Sunday afternoons in the early ’70s with my father, who loved to watch sports and enjoyed having company. I watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports every Saturday afternoon, and watched more tennis and golf tournaments – both women’s and men’s – than I care to admit.

With no boys in the house, I sort of assumed the role of surrogate son. I was what might be called a tomboy, a girl who enjoyed doing things typically associated with boys. I liked sports, and I really liked cars. At one point, I could tell the difference between a 1972 and 1973 Camaro by the head lights and tail lights.

I grew up playing and watching sports, believing that girls had just as much right to be players and fans as guys. It had nothing to do with gender equality or Title IX. It was simply a matter of following your heart and passions, whatever they may be.

So when my offer to go to the basketball game as the Curmudgeon’s stand-in was ignored, I was a little taken aback. At the very least I was a better alternative than nothing. Rich later told me that if I hadn’t gone, he probably would not have attended, though a woman who sat next to me was there by herself.

Thank goodness for loyal sisters. Patty spoke with Rich, who quickly called me and told me the seat was mine. We arrived about 90 minutes before the game, and got two seats at a bar at a Mexican restaurant, drinking margaritas along with the rest of the festive crowd.

It was nice to see Hartford so crowded and bustling on a weekday afternoon. It wasn’t exactly Boston before a Red Sox game, but there was excitement and anticipation in the air. It underscores how important sports can be to the vitality and economy of a city like Hartford, which has been lacking a major team since the Hartford Whalers left in 1997. (The team is now the Carolina Hurricanes.)

The games were no surprise, though it was fun having the entire stadium rooting for underdog University of Vermont against Florida State. It goes to show that when push comes to shove, New Englanders always stick together.

The second game pitted Murray State against Marquette University. It was exciting watching Murray State’s star point guard Ja Morant show his stuff on the national stage. Morant is even better than all the hype surrounding him because he’s such an unselfish player. I’d rather watch him than a ball hog any day of the week.

With Round 2 approaching last weekend, I listened as two older men in the next restaurant booth discussed the brackets and picked favorites. As we stood to leave, I went over to them and told them I’d seen Round 1 in Hartford.

As I discussed Morant’s prowess and Florida State’s poor shooting in the First Round, one of the guys told the Curmudgeon, “She sounds like she knows what she’s talking about.”

Not really. All of my predictions for Round 2 wins were wrong. The bad news is those guys probably think I’m an idiot or even worse, a pretender – someone who thinks they know about sports when they don’t. The good is I will probably never see them again because we met them during a weekend visit to the Hudson Valley.

I never have to face them again. And maybe next time I talk sports, I’ll have a piece of humble pie and try not to sound like such a know-it-all.

Judgy Eyes

Judgy Eyes emoji

When are you too old to blast music from your car radio?

And even if you say you’re never too old, isn’t is natural to lower the volume when someone approaches to get into the car parked next to you?

I’m not one to criticize anyone when it comes to music and cars. I still crank certain songs on the radio, or should I say Sirius XM? But I don’t sit in parking lots with the music blaring, nor does anyone within 20 years of me.

I bring up this scenario because a gray-haired gentleman sat inside his red Mustang convertible outside the Fresh Market cranking “Hey Jude” from the Beatles. It was loud, so loud that the car was vibrating.

I gave him a look like “are you serious?” and he just smiled. He seemed a little off, pleased with himself in a way that puzzled me. What I felt like saying is if you’re so desperate for attention, put the top down too.

He was parked close to my car, so close that I had to be careful getting in for fear of dinging his vehicle. And what struck me more than the odd choice of his song – “Hey Jude” is a wonderful song, but certainly not a great driving song like Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” or Manford Mann’s “Blinded By The Light” – was that he did not lower the volume on my approach.

This is unusual because most people lower the volume when other people enter their vortex. Most people are considerate or insecure enough to think that someone else might not appreciate their song choice. Or maybe that’s just me. I can be so self conscious sometimes.

If I were going to blast a Beatles’ song, it would be something along the lines of “Back in the USSR.” “Taxman,” or “Got To Get You Into My Life.” It would not be a soulful ballad like “Hey Jude,” “Yesterday” or the Curmudgeon’s favorite “Norwegian Wood.”

At this point, my daughter would criticize me for being “judgy,” as in, “Mom, stop being so judgy,” or her favorite, “Mother, you are so judgy.” I can’t help it. I’m very opinionated. And I think this regrettable trait became worse when I became a mother.

As mothers, we really don’t stand a chance in the judgy department. We must use our best judgment all day, every day raising our children and it’s hard to turn it off when we’re in the outside world.

A few years ago, an elderly man was extremely rude to me on a golf course. Rather than let it go, I caught up to him on the next hole and let him have it, telling him his behavior was reprehensible. I was wearing my mom hat, and scolded him like a child. And he eventually apologized.

I didn’t realize being “judgy” is such a thing until recently. There are even “judgy eyes” that the Urban Dictionary defines as: A look of judgment or contempt that one gives without saying a word. Instead, their eyes speak volumes.

There are judgy eyes emojis, GIFs, memes and emoticons that you can use to express yourself, though I’m not big on any of them. The last time I used one to express a difference of opinion, the recipient asked if I had the stomach flu.

I’m willing to accept that I’m judgy, but I think most moms are. Mothers must be judgy about certain things because it keeps our kids safe and alive. [“No, you can’t swing from that rope over the river because you may slip and break your neck on the rocks below.”] Being judgy is an evolution of mothering that tends to get worse over time.

I dashed to a nearby JCrew outlet last week to buy my 21-year-old son some new pants. I judged that the pants he was wearing – the ones I bought him for Christmas three months ago – were too tight, hugging him in all the wrong places. He’s an adult, yet my judgy mom self still feels responsible for having him leave the house looking presentable.

When I told him his pants were too tight, he offered, “I’ll do some deep knee bends.” This is like the time I asked him to buy dog food over Christmas break. “Is that something I can buy at a gas station?” he asked.

The kid, or should I say man? – is always looking for the easy way out. He didn’t mind walking around looking like a gigolo, but I did. So I bought him two new pairs of pants, and suggested that he give his old pants away.

A certain amount of being a know-it-all goes with the territory when you’re entrusted with keeping a child healthy until the age of majority. As a mom you’re in charge, the warden running the prison or asylum. And as much as our kids don’t really want to hear what we have to say, we’ve got opinions on everything from the color of prom dresses to the topic of a political science paper.

My kids know me well enough to realize I’m going to weigh in on most subjects. Sometimes, they even ask for advice. But I don’t tell them what to do. They have their own opinions and more often than not ignore me. That’s OK. I don’t hold grudges most of the time.

When I asked my mother several years ago something she wished to change about herself, she answered, “I would like to be less judgmental.” This surprised me because I think she’s one of the most open-minded people I know.

But I appreciated her honesty and desire to change. It’s not easy to admit that you’re judgmental. Then again, I think if most people were honest with themselves, they’d admit they are too. We all have our opinions. I think the trick is knowing we do and having the good sense of keep our mouths shut.

So I’m working on it, and will strive to do better. Just don’t expect me to think that it’s OK for senior citizens to blast music in parking lots. That’s something that should stop in your early 20s, at least in my humble opinion.

Sweet Magnolia

Remember Kathleen Turner, the beautiful throaty actress from Body Heat, Romancing the Stone and The War of the Roses?

Years ago she wrote a book entitled Send Yourself Roses, which advocates being kind and indulgent to yourself. Today, it’s called self care, that phrase women are always talking about, but rarely do.

I love the idea, and I know plenty of women who buy flowers during their weekly grocery store runs. But they’re not married to the Curmudgeon. Every time there’s a fresh bunch of flowers on the kitchen table, he says “Flowers? What’s the occasion?”

This means that every time I head into the supermarket floral department, I must weigh whether it’s worth buying the $8.99 mixed seasonal bouquet. I usually leave empty handed, as I did when I passed on adorable tiny daffodils and big fat tulips.

But I wanted them, I really did. And I probably would’ve bought them if it wasn’t 6 degrees outside. I worried that they might freeze between the store, my car and the house.

I don’t know why some items are no brainers, while others prompt an internal debate. Flowers, scented jar candles ($19.99!), $4.99 gourmet chocolate bars, saffron and vanilla beans catch my eye, but I pass because I can’t justify the expense. I think it’s a holdover from the early days of our marriage.

The Curmudgeon and I lived on my meager reporter’s salary, which was bare bones even by 1980s standards, while he went to law school. It was humbling, but I learned to pinch pennies. I never bought flowers because they were a luxury we couldn’t afford.

But today, I don’t think of them as an extravagance. They’re a little thing that makes me feel good, like an ice cream sundae without the calories. I crave flowers, particularly when the doldrums are at an all-time high.

By now, everyone but the most diehard skiers is sick of winter. We know that spring is near – we can almost taste it – but there’s still the matter of March. Over the past week, about a foot of snow has fallen on southern New England and the temperature has hovered around 20 degrees.

March is Old Man Winter’s way of showing us who’s boss. Like a nagging cold that lingers for weeks, it sneaks back just when you think it’s gone for one last hurrah. It will leave in its own time, when it’s good and ready. And there’s nothing can do about it except hunker down, organize drawers and binge watch Netflix.

At this point, there’s no color in the Northeast. The sky is often battleship gray, and the landscape is a mixture of grays, browns and faded gold. When we could still hike – before the trails froze over – my dog faded into the straw-colored grass lining the woods. Now, she blends in with the phragmites and sand at a nearby state beach, the only place we can navigate.

My tawny-colored dog Cali blends in with the scenery in late winter.

My house looks like a barren stretch of landscape too. It needs flowers or a few blooming plants to inject some life and energy. But there’s the Curmudgeon to be considered. I don’t want to start a war of the roses over, well, roses.

Enter my flowering trees and shrubs, which explode in color every spring, but quickly fade into the background. Two overgrown forsythias on the property line provide a splash of yellow, but are quickly overshadowed by other bloomers, including my favorite magnolias and lilacs.

I often force branches for an economical dose of spring. Forcing takes time, but the reward is well worth it. For the investment of a little time and a water, you get a jump on springtime color.

I cut some forsythia and magnolia branches on Feb. 1st and put them in a few inches of water. The forsythia bloomed within about three weeks, while the magnolia bloomed after five weeks.

The magnolia is splendid, much better than I imagined when I cut it in the depths of winter. Big plump purplish pink flowers are emerging from their furry shells in vibrant contrast to the delicate branches.

Those who love magnolias know that they’re in bloom a woefully short period of time. We wait all year for it to bloom and then we blink and the petals are blanketing the ground. Forcing gives an up close and personal sneak peek, a glimpse of spring and what’s to come.

With spring taking its sweet time getting here, I’ll be heading out with the clippers again this week for some lilacs. It will take about a month for them to bloom, but that’s OK. The anticipation of what’s to come is almost as exciting as the actual blooms.

Cause And Effect

A blog I wrote about author Cheryl DellaPietra, above with my friend John, had unexpected ripple effects.

When I began writing this blog in May of 2017, I didn’t know what to expect.

All I knew was that I missed writing and needed a creative outlet, so I decided to give it a try. My goal from the beginning is to share my experiences in hopes that at least one person can relate. I’m not out to accumulate the most likes or readers and that’s a good thing. I don’t exactly rack them up with every post.

But one of the most unexpected joys of writing this blog is feedback from followers, many of whom are friends or former classmates and colleagues. It’s heartening when someone writes and tells me that something I wrote inspired them, or just lifted their spirits.

Life can be tough, and I know some of my readers are going through trying times. Gravely sick relatives, surgeries for children and joblessness in late middle age are just a few of the challenges some are facing right now. Yet I’m heartened that they carve out some time to read my blog. Knowing someone took the time to read my blog – as my nephew Bobby did during a break working as a resident in the ICU in Boston one day – is the biggest compliment I can get.

So here, in no particular order, are a few follow-ups to earlier blogs:

  1. In November, I wrote the blog “Gonzo Girl” about a book party I hosted in honor of Cheryl DellaPietra. Cheryl wrote the novel based on her experiences as an assistant to famed author Hunter S. Thompson. After reading my blog, my sister Janet proposed that her book club read “Gonzo Girl” and Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” (Always one to one-up me, that girl.) On Monday night, her book club hosted Cheryl at a dinner to discuss the book, which is being made into a movie. They had a great time, as I expected they would. And no, I am not Cheryl’s unofficial agent, though I’d be happy to pass along her contact info if you’d like to host her for your book club.
  2. When the Curmudgeon refused to go to “A Star is Born” with me, I wrote about going to the movies alone for the first time. A few people told me that they had gone to separate movie theaters by themselves, but that’s not the same thing. Going alone to a movie means just that – taking the initiative to drive yourself there and do the whole routine solo. A few weeks later, one of my most faithful readers sent me a beautiful note telling me that the blog inspired her to go to the movies alone for the first time in years. Thanks for the note D. I truly appreciate it.
  3. I wrote a post in January about dropping the ball by failing to teach my son to cook. Since then, he has cooked two amazing meals: pasta with homemade tomato sauce and chili, and he’s on deck for making a meal during his spring break. I’m pretty sure he was inspired by the blog, but he’ll never admit it.
  4. My recent blog about Marie Kondo’s KonMarie home organization method prompted a flurry of feedback, primarily on my Facebook page. My friend Barbara told me she organized her mudroom after reading the post, and Linda told me that she organized her bureau and shelves after watching Marie’s show. I can’t say enough about Marie. Once you use her method, it’s contagious.
  5. My blog “Ring My Bell” about a Salvation Army ringer I encountered outside Wal-mart and my recollections of being a bellringer for a newspaper story inspired some readers to donate or at least say hello instead of avoiding eye contact. One of my friends told me that he happily gave a bellringer $5 and felt great after doing so. Wonderful.
  6. I wrote a blog last July about the Curmudgeon rupturing his Achille’s tendon. The road back from that injury has been long, but he’s making progress. He has started hitting tennis balls with the ball machine, attends spinning classes at the Y (an upcoming blog I think), and plans to start running once the weather gets warmer. Best of all, now that he’s nearly 100 percent, he’s fodder for my blog again.
  7. A blog I wrote about homemade spaghetti sauce inspired my cousin Denise to make a huge pot and post it on Facebook. It’s the little things in life that make me happy, and this really did.
  8. A blog I wrote about my penmanship and my daughter’s inability to read cursive inspired my pal Barbie to write and say that it inspired her to write a long-overdue note. Again, the little things.
  9. After writing the blog, my friend Cindy asked me if I would blog for the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization of Women. This position has allowed me to take some amazing trips and connect with some former co-workers I hadn’t seen in years, including Barbara P.
  10. The Curmudgeon is really the Curmudgeon. In signing off a recent email from Thailand, his sister Sarah told me to give my love to my kids and the Curmudgeon. Huh? How did that happen?
My son Matt began cooking after I wrote about kids’ cooking.

Street Smart

My co-pilot Cali, from a Facebook post four years ago today.

One of my greatest accomplishments is a perfect score on my written driver’s exam.

I was 16 and one month old, and remember feeling proud smug that I answered every question correctly. My mother was thrilled when I got my license, having another driver for weekly McDonald’s runs and catechism pickups on Saturday morning.

Back then, we couldn’t wait to get our license so we could cruise through suburbia. But today’s kids are in no particular rush to drive. Two of my nieces and a nephew didn’t drive until they were 18, and I’m still chauffeuring around my 17-year-old daughter.

She wants to get her license, but we’re in no hurry because we worry about her safety. It’s not so much her, but all the other drivers that parents worry about. We know how many idiots are out there – tailgaters, red light runners, people who cross three lanes of traffic to exit without signaling – and we shudder.

I know one mom who followed her son the first day he drove to school on his own. This is how we roll. We want to make sure our kids get from point A to B, and can’t believe they can actually do it without us.

As experienced drivers, we know the dangers lurking on the roads, and we worry that our kids are too immature or inexperienced to handle them. I walked around holding my breath for about a year after my son got his license. Just when I got used to the idea, he was in an accident en route to a high school debate.

No one was injured, but my anxiety level soared and I learned how to use Find My I-Phone to track him. This is the best tool ever invented for moms of new drivers. It assures us that they’ve arrived at their destinations without them knowing we’re checking up on them.

I have a clean driving record, though I’ve received verbal warnings for speeding and talking on my cell phone. I was cited a few years ago for making an illegal turn, but fought the ticket and won. I have no points on my license, and pride myself on being a decent driver.

So what’s my point? I couldn’t get my license today. I’ve failed three practice tests for a Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles learner’s permit. You need a score of 80 to pass, and I can’t break 65. Either the test’s a lot harder, or I’ve forgotten everything I learned in driver’s ed.

I’m going with the second option because I’ve been driving for nearly 45 years and know what I’m doing. I’m willing to bet most drivers – Connecticut or otherwise – would fail because some of the questions are ridiculous.

The good news is I did well on road signs, which still mean the same thing they did back in the 70s. The bad is I’m completely out of touch with today’s terminology. Since when is gridlock at an intersection called “blocking the box?” What box?

Here are a few questions that tripped me up. See how you do.

When a vehicle does not pass an emissions inspection, the driver will be given __ to have the problem fixed and the emissions re-checked.
A. two months
B. two weeks
C. a week
D. one month.

The answer is A. But I didn’t know this because we didn’t have emissions tests in 1975. They didn’t become required in Connecticut until 1983.

At a speed of 55 mph, a vehicle needs _ to pass.
A. 5 seconds
B. 10 seconds

C. 14 seconds
D. 12 seconds

The answer is D. I said B. At least I didn’t say A.

If you fail the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) test, your operator’s license will be suspended for at least
A. 60 days.
B. 30 days.
C. 1 year.
D. 45 days.

The answer is D. I said A. I don’t know how they came up with 45 days, but it seems arbitrary and too short. And I felt better when even a lawyer I know pretty well got this wrong too.

During heavy traffic, drivers are prohibited from entering any intersection, unless there is sufficient space on the opposite side of the intersection to accommodate their vehicle without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians. NOT doing so is referred to as
A. blocking the driver.
B. blocking the way.
C. blocking the intersection.
D. blocking the box.

The answer is D. I said C. I have no idea when this term was invented, nor have I ever heard anyone say it. But the next time someone does it, you can be sure I’m going to use it.

__ are areas around a truck or other heavy vehicle in which other vehicles disappear into blind spots.
A. Blind-Zones
B. Side-Zones
C. No-Zones
D. Slow-Zones

The answer is C. I said A. I have no idea when this term began being used, but even my son knew it. He said they discussed in in driver’s ed, and it’s in the manual. Oh.

Pretty much anywhere near a truck is the No Zone.

So what has this taught me? I’m hopelessly out of touch with today’s terminology, and need to brush up on my driving lingo. But it also shows that you can be an experienced driver without knowing all the rules and regulations in the handbook.

Still, I think I probably have a lot of company, at least in terms of general driving knowledge and operation.

I follow the rules of the road and try to control my road rage. I don’t text, put on mascara in the rear view mirror, eat a Quarter Pounder with cheese while driving 80 mph, or read a book while driving – all things I’ve seen over the years.

I don’t blast my music so other drivers can hear it at red lights, or make right turns on red without stopping. I don’t cut into traffic and expect another driver to stop, or drive around without headlights in rain, snow or at dusk.

I use my blinker, sometimes excessively, and am infinitely polite at four-way traffic stops. I don’t tailgate (most of the time) and if I wave you into traffic, I expect a wave or some type of acknowledgement for my kindness.

I am a typical driver, what I like to think as an everyman driver. I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me, and if things go as planned, we’ll all get to where we’re going without incident. I may not be book smart, but I’m street smart. And at this point, I think that’s enough.