The Boy In The Band

DSC_0169.jpg

Before heading out the Memorial Day parade senior year.

I live in a town where kids have to take band, orchestra or chorus in 5th and 6th grades.

Like a lot of boys, my son chose the trumpet or saxophone. He got the trombone. (“It was my third choice,” he said, “and I only put it down because that was the only other instrument I could think of.”)

Although it was bigger than he was, he (and we) eventually got used to its sound, which is a bit like a goose with flatulence. There were memorable moments: the time he played a piece on Smart Music (a computer practice program) 50 times before submitting a 70. The night I marched around the kitchen holding sheet music to prepare him for his first parade and tripped over the dishwasher door. The concert where we cringed every time he moved his slide, afraid he’d hit the kid in front of him.

After two years, he had the option of continuing to play the trombone, shifting to another music elective or study hall. This is where I turned into my fiercest Tiger Mom, urging (well, pleading) him to stay in band. As a parent, I love band. It represents Mom, apple pie, Chevrolet, the American way. Just listening to a John Phillip Sousa march puts a kick in my step.

Though sports often polarize parents and bring out the worst in us, band unites. We’re relaxed watching concerts and parades, knowing if our kid fakes it or screws up, no one will notice or care. No one grouses that certain kids get to do solos, introduce songs or give the conductor roses. We’re awed rather than suspect of kids in Honor Band and Jazz Ensemble, the band’s version of the Travel Team.

Band is democratic and mostly based on skill and merit. There’s a place for every kid, whether it’s holding the high school banner, tinkling the triangle or banging the bass drum. Everyone wears the same dorky outfits without complaint. Everyone sweats and tries to stay in step during the Memorial Day parade. Band says: “We’re all in this together.”

There’s not a lot you can criticize about band, except concerts usually fall at the busiest times of the year (Christmas and the end of school). There’s also the slight agitation that comes with eating dinner at 9:30 p.m., and watching parents slip out after chorus or orchestra performances. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who thinks, “You’re kidding right? I listened to your kid sing and now you’re leaving? Oh no you don’t!”

For the most part though, band is all good.

It teaches focus, discipline, commitment, multi-tasking, cooperation, marching in step and endurance. It also teaches humility, patience and perseverance because you don’t get better without practice. And some kids are so incredibly talented. I still remember the drum solo by a 6th grader in an Hawaiian shirt playing “Wipeout.”

Here are my other reasons for loving band:

  1. The band director is smart, sincere and genuine. It’s hard to even imagine kids acting up in his class.
  2. It’s an easy way to get a good grade. Show up, do your work and practice. Done.
  3. It teaches important life lessons. Alone, you and your instrument don’t sound like much. Together, you create beautiful music and bring joy to people.
  4. Everyone looks great in a uniform.
  5. Kids listen, follow directions, take turns and work collaboratively. Makes me wish I had a conductor’s baton when I taught CCD.
  6. Playing trombone comes in handy at college tailgate parties. Everyone loves a good fight song at half time.
  7. Playing trombone may help you get into a college. Every school has a band. It’s doubtful they’ll need you, but you never know.
  8. Band sheds light on human growth. While waiting for the concert to begin, parents scan the crowd and notice some 6th grade girls are taller than the teacher. Some 8th grade boys are 6′ 3″ and have their learner’s permit. Some 7th grade boys have adorable little feet while others have hooves bigger than my husband.
  9. Women love musicians.
  10. Playing trombone could come in handy if you want to join a garage band in your 50s.

My son played through high school, marching in town parades and concerts. He hasn’t picked up the trombone since high school and that’s OK. There’s a new sound in the house. My 16-year-old daughter plays percussion and loves to bang on her snare drum in her bedroom. Three more years of forgotten stick bags, music folders and uniforms that must be dropped off in the front office. I can’t wait.

DSC_0184.jpg

The middle school band during the Memorial Day parade.

 

 

Wooden Salad Bowl

IMG_1694 (1).jpg

You never know which bridal gifts will stick it out through the marriage. Here are a few that did, including my tattered copy of the The Doubleday Cookbook.

<a href="https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/willy-nilly/">Willy-nilly</a>

I recently read an article about bridal gifts encouraging people to use the registry because engaged couples put so much time and thought into them.

I get it. I was once a bride. But I often leave gift buying to the last minute. And the last time I went shower shopping, I refused to buy a kitchen garbage can or dish rack. There’s a reason they were still kicking around – no one else wanted to give them either.

I decided to skip the registry, buying a wooden salad bowl and a picture frame for a portrait I had taken of the engaged couple with the groom’s family. I’ve reached the age where I can’t help myself. I’ve become one of those insufferable matrons who thinks they know what’s best.

I’m blessed that my family and friends humor and still love me, though I suspect there’s eye rolling behind my back. No one likes a know-it-all. Still, women over 50 want to share their wisdom with others. Unsuspecting brides, new mothers, college students and young co-workers are often our targets.

It goes something like this: “You don’t realize it yet, but everyone needs a wooden salad bowl. They’re not only great for salad, but for nuts, popcorn, chips, gourds and  ornaments. One day, you’ll thank me for giving you this bowl instead of that ridiculous garbage can.”

I forget who gave me my wooden salad bowl as a shower gift nearly 34 years ago, but that woman knew her stuff. I still have the bowl. I’ve received compliments about it at dinner parties, with one friend remarking: “I’ve always wanted a bowl like this.” (Bed, Bath and Beyond, $50.)

In honor of the bowl and my need to share willy-nilly, here’s a list of other shower/wedding gifts that I still love. (Feel free to eye roll as needed):

  • The Doubleday Cookbook: So what if it’s missing its cover, binding and is split into five pieces? Sometimes food websites are confusing and you need a cooking bible to clear things up.
  • Silver-plated cordial cups: I got six from a former co-worker and still polish  them for special occasions. Perfect for an after-dinner drink.
  • Pewter tea kettle: Pretty, decorative, useful, classy. Still on my kitchen shelf.
  • Pewter salad servers: Given to me by one of my oldest friends, they’re solid, funky and a conversation piece. They’re also great for pounding meat.
  • Oven-safe casserole with lid: From holding the Thanksgiving stuffing to the  corned beef for my St. Patrick’s Day party, it’s a workhorse.
  • Linens: My mother is horrified when I tell her that I still have sheets from when I first got married – (“You must not wash them very often,” she says) –  but I do. They’re threadbare, but hold sentimental value. One of the top sheets is on my bed right now. No, it doesn’t match the fitted sheet.
  • Plastic champagne glasses: I know, this sounds like a completely useless gift and I’ve never used them, but they’re on my shelf just in case. They were included in a picnic basket that I received as a shower gift. You’d think I would have sipped champagne on the beach by now, but I haven’t. Bucket list.
  • Hand-thrown salad bowls: Crafted by my husband’s Aunt Joyce, they’re pretty, practical and perfect for holding nuts, candy or dips.
  •  Hippo piggy bank: Given to us by my husband’s great aunt, it’s whimsical, decorative and just plain fun.
  • Christmas ornaments: A fantastic and unexpected gift from one of our ushers. We still hang them on our tree and they remind us of our first Christmas together.
  • 8-piece dinner set: Instead of registering for fine china, I opted for a nice set of everyday dishes. I still use them.
  • Champagne glasses: Their fluted-design makes them impossible to clean, but they’re still great for special occasions like Thanksgiving and anniversaries.

When you’re at your shower or opening wedding gifts, you never know what will stand the test of time. Like a lot of things in life, including marriage itself, their true value reveals itself with the passage of time.

Surprised by any enduring shower/wedding gifts? Let me hear about them.

 

Taxi Driver

IMG_1554 (1).jpg

Slowing down gives you a chance to notice little things that are just a blur when you’re rushing around.

Did you ever notice that adults act like kids the minute they’re without cars?

The Curmudgeon attended a conference in New York City on Friday and opted to take the train from New Haven, CT.  I dropped him off at the station at 6 a.m. and set him loose. I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the day. I later learned he dined with two business associates in Tribeca before a few nightcaps in an Irish pub.

It sounded fun, or at least more enjoyable than spending three hours assembling IKEA furniture with my kids in a stuffy room as his birthday surprise. We survived, but not without cursing and wrestling over the power drill. I’d like to say it was a great family bonding experience, but it wasn’t. It was just something that needed to be done, like flossing or getting the furnace cleaned.

The Curmudgeon seemed to have a kick in his step and the adrenaline rush that occurs when a suburbanite ventures out of his sleepy environs and is thrust into the harried pace of city life. I was happy for him, because he’s always been a little leery of New York (“Too crowded, too dirty, too busy, too expensive.”)

And then the call came.

“I’m getting the noon train at Grand Central and it’s getting into New Haven at 2:08,” he announced. “Can you please pick me up?”

Of course. But first, I wanted to eat lunch and watch an episode of “The League,” my latest Netflix find. I ended up leaving 5 minutes later than I planned, but figured I’d arrive within a few minutes of the train. I foolishly failed to account for I-95 traffic on a Saturday.

The next call came at 2:08. “Where the *&^$ are you?” The Curmudgeon demanded. “I told you the train was getting in at 2:08. I’m exhausted and I’m starving. We’re stopping at the deli on the way home so I can get something to eat.”

“I left a few minutes late and there’s traffic,” I said. “Entertain yourself for a few minutes. Read the newspaper or check your phone. Or just wait. I’ll be there.”

In the interest of full disclosure, it was his birthday so I should have left earlier. My bad. But I-Phones and their various clones have turned kids (and the occasional adult) into tyrants. If you’re one minute late, you can expect a call or text asking where you are. If you don’t answer your phone, you may even get the dreaded Find My I-Phone ping.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as attached to my phone as the next person. But they’ve come at a price. Instead of giving us more time and freedom, they’ve made us more demanding and fixated on time.

They’ve eliminated the notion of a grace period, a cooling of heels or just chilling out. It’s no wonder everyone’s stressed out and pressed for time. We’re on the clock all day every day.

When I didn’t return a text from an acquaintance for almost two hours, he wrote: “Is everything OK with you? Why aren’t you responding?”

I barely know this person and I appreciate his concern for my welfare, but I was in a place where cellphones must be silenced. And to be honest, I was a tiny bit miffed that a stranger wanted to know my whereabouts on a Saturday afternoon.

That text makes me long for the days of the pink phone message slips where you wrote in a caller’s name, the reason for the call and whether or not it was urgent. If it was an important call, you made a point to call the person right back. If not, you might wait a few hours or call the next day and no one blinked.

My kids are the worst. I pick up my daughter nearly every day after school and I’ve never forgotten her. Yet every evening when I’m five minutes away,  the call comes in. Before she can speak, I say: “Be there in 5 minutes” or “Pulling into the lot right now.”

My son is no better. When I pick him up for school breaks, it goes something like this: “Pick me up at noon.” An hour later, the call comes in. “You know, make it 12:10. I’ve got a paper to drop off. I’ll get my stuff and we’ll leave at 12:20.”

“But after 90 minutes in the car, I was hoping to stretch my legs and grab one of those great chopped salads,” I’ll say. “OK, I guess you can do that. But I want to get back by 3 because I’m working at 4.”

And let us not forgot the tag team call. When I’m talking to someone and don’t put her on hold when my son calls, he calls my daughter to tell me that he’s trying to reach me. I can’t imagine doing that with my parents, who believed in the great divide between kids and adults. If you approached my mother while she was on the phone, she’d wave you away like she was swatting flies.

I think a little waiting is good. It allows time to breathe, pause, reflect, exist. It gives time to look at the sky, sit on a  bench or ponder your navel. Waiting makes you appreciate the ride and more importantly, the person behind the wheel.

 

 

 

Small Victories

308884_10150331401562520_958673732_n.jpg

USTA Nationals in 2011 in Tucson, AZ.

This is going to be a pretty lonely weekend. The Curmudgeon is away. My sister is away. One of my best friends is away.

Come to think about it, half the people I know are away competing in USTA Districts. I used to be away the first weekend in August, but I stopped playing competitive tennis. I could blame it on arthritis, but that’s not entirely true. The fact is I took it way too seriously, and something that began as fun began feeling like work. I guess you could say I psyched myself out.

Tennis became a lifeline and social support system for me when my kids were young. As one of the few stay-at-home moms in my old neighborhood, I desperately missed adult interaction. After a friend suggested tennis, I drove to the nearest indoor tennis facility and signed up for weekly clinics.

I looked forward to those 90-minute breaks from parenting, smacking the ball to release frustration, break a sweat and shift my focus. And being a goal-oriented, super-competitive person, I was intrigued when the head pro Charles mentioned Districts. To get there, you had to finish first or second in the league. Charles urged us to “play like a lion” to make Districts. I wanted to be a lion.

It was fun. I made a lot of friends. And though I often had “Mommy brain,” I learned that I could still focus and keep my composure during matches. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. When you’re home with kids, knowing you can still concentrate for two hours feels like a major accomplishment.

I played USTA for 12 years. But something happened along the way. As my intensity grew, so did my anxiety. I became so focused on the outcome of matches that I stopped enjoying them. I walked around with a sense of dread and a pit in my stomach before matches. I forgot that it’s a game. I try to remind my family and friends who are playing in Districts to remember that this weekend, but I know they won’t.

It’s been impossible not to hear the word “Districts” around here for the past month. There are videos advising teams what to do.  There have been clinics, drills, matches, strategy sessions and pep talks. There have been discussions on uniforms, line-ups, hotel accommodations and post-match entertainment.

I haven’t seen my sister, who’s captain of her team, without an ice pack on her right arm all summer. There’s been a run on Tiger Balm, Icy Hot, knee and elbow braces and cortisone shots. And this is before the first serve has been struck at indoor courts across the country.

The Curmudgeon, who is playing singles today for his team, announced last night:  “There will be no drinking of alcohol!” as part of his pre-game prep. (I guess he thinks he’s playing in the U.S. Open.) We spent an hour last night discussing whether he should eat lunch before the match, and if so, what to eat. We’ve discussed bed times, whether he should warm up and what to do between matches.

As he left, I told him to remember to have fun, to which he replied, “You know that’s impossible.” And I do. As much as we try to remember it’s a game, something inside us shifts when we’re keeping score, our rating’s on the line, our team is counting on us and spectators (jerks) are rooting against us.

I didn’t like it when parents would root against me when I played high school tennis, but I deplore it as an adult. I once stopped a match when one of my opponent’s shots hit me in the head and her fans erupted in laughter. I didn’t mind getting hit, but their reaction struck a nerve (court rage?). “You think that’s funny?” I asked, sounding a little like Joe Pesci’s character in “Goodfellas.”

I think kids are much better suited for competition because most don’t take it too seriously. Kids want to win, but they don’t bring adult baggage like pride, ego, fear of humiliation and failure into the mix. I don’t know what age that seeps into our psyches, but it’s there. Just ask any golfer teeing off on the first hole.

I’m not necessarily happy with my decision to stop playing competitively right now, but I’m content. My stomach is calm, my palms are dry and I’m not worried about proving myself. For me, that’s a major victory.

 

 

 

Are You My Mother?

IMG_1687.jpg

My dog Cali recreates (sort of) the front cover image of P.D. Eastman’s children’s book “Are You My Mother?”

My maternal grandmother had a Yorkshire terrier named Kerry, and she’d give him a dollop of ice cream every night in her kitchen in Bayside, N.Y.

My mother joked about it, chuckling at her mom’s ritual. I’ll admit we were all a little surprised because she wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type. She was a good grandma, but strict and sometimes humorless. Kerry softened her, revealing a hidden tenderness and vulnerability.

It’s interesting to see how people treat their dogs (or other pets) because I think it reveals their true nature. You can’t always indulge your kids or you’ll end up with mouthy, ungrateful brats. You can’t always share your deepest thoughts with people because they’ll get bored or label you an egocentric energy sucker.

IMG_0746 (1).jpg

Nine pounds of fury: Eli the Maltese.

But dogs? They’re different. They listen and don’t judge. They’re always up for a hike and don’t whine about the heat or hills. They don’t like it when you’re upset, but will hang out until you’re feeling better. They’ll make you feel like the best parent in the world when they look for reassurance in the vet’s waiting room.

My extended family’s got lots of dogs and everyone thinks each other’s dog is the most spoiled. One of my sisters has an Instagram account devoted to her dog Susie (or Susan) with #hashtags in her dog’s voice. Another sister has a Maltese who enjoys being cradled and rocked like a baby. I provided pet therapy for my sister J’s Portuguese water dog while she was in Paris.

But the winner is my mother’s 7-year-old yellow Lab Maggie. When I note that Maggie is slightly spoiled and neurotic, Mom replies, “Isn’t it nice to know that humans aren’t the only ones with problems? Even dogs have issues.”

IMG_1681.jpg

Maggie by Mom’s side after a dip.

Maggie is a terrific animal, providing loyal and loving companionship to Mom since my father’s death eight years ago. But she’s got lots of quirks that only a mother could love.

+ She won’t leave the car unless Mom lays a blanket on the garage floor so her paws don’t touch the cement.

+ She will only enter the car from the rear door on the driver’s side.

+ She will not enter a car unless she’s the first dog in the vehicle. If my sister’s dog Lia hops into the car, Maggie will wait until Lia is removed before entering.

+ Maggie won’t enter any house or car except my mother’s. When Mom dropped by my house last month, Maggie refused to enter and panted in the car. My 19-year-old son coaxed her into the house through the back door, but not before she shattered a planter holding my favorite cactus.

+ Once in a strange house, Maggie remains on the kitchen area rug like she’s in a lifeboat surrounded by shark-infested waters.

+ Maggie does laps every day in Mom’s pool to shed her winter weight.

+ Maggie sleeps on Mom’s living room couch. No big deal, but Mom spent the past 20 years questioning why I let my dog on the furniture.

+ Maggie will only take her thyroid pills if Mom asks her if she wants a “La La.” When I ask her to explain, she says, “A lollipop. I put a little peanut butter on my finger with the pill and she licks it off. She thinks it’s a lollipop.”

+ She won’t go up the stairs inside a house, but has no problem using stairs outside.

+ She loves going to the vet.

+ She won’t eat her kibble unless Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on top.

+ She gets a Quarterpounder with cheese (no onions) every year for her June 28th birthday. I guess I’m not really surprised by my mother’s choice of fast-food restaurants. We had McDonald’s every Thursday night when she and my father would dine out with friends. (My parents were smart: they went out twice a week. My father insisted on it, saying it was the only way they could talk with seven girls under one roof.)

I could go on about Maggie’s foibles, but you get the idea. Besides, it’s time for Cali’s LaLa.

IMG_1638.jpg

Maggie gets the “red carpet treatment” for car rides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I

IMG_1681.jpg

Long Distance Gardening

IMG_1667

My weed-riddled bluestone patio. After a few weeks away, I’ve got some work to do.

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/dormant/”>Dormant</a&gt;

I appreciate little things while driving around town. Perfect diagonal lines in lawns created by tractors or mowers. Flowers, fresh produce and eggs on homemade stands where customers put money in “honor boxes.” Beautiful gardens free of weeds in the middle of a July heatwave.

In New England, we strive for perfect lawns and gardens, but Mother Nature has a way of showing who’s boss by late July. Flowers and bushes wilt. Lawns burn. Hideous weeds sprout in sidewalks, patios and driveways. The air smells like Roundup.

Some people have gardeners, but seriously? I’d be embarrassed to have a professional in my yard. That includes my older sister, who’s president of her garden club and has magnificent gardens with pergolas and trellises surrounding her Colonial. I guess we know who got the green thumb.

DSC_0437

A rear border in July, 2015.

Like cooking, decorating, parenting and writing, I garden by instinct. I have a great landscaping book with layouts, but I mostly do what I want and it shows. My garden is a hodgepodge of plants and shrubs intermingled with herbs, annuals and an interesting rock or two.

At this point, the front yard has been mulched, but the back hasn’t. One mulch bag has been dormant near the patio for two years. I guess it shows that my intentions are good or my kids don’t listen when I ask for help.

Admittedly, some of this mess stems from a two-week vacation (sloth?). Like a dog who finds mischief when she doesn’t get her daily walk, gardens rebel when they’re ignored for even a few days.

Right now, my patio is riddled with weeds and the bushes have taken on a life of their own. One of my beautiful hanging baskets is dead, and the other is fading. (We won’t tell my curmudgeon about this or my plans to replace them.)

I know what I need to do, but I don’t feel like doing it. Like parenting and pet ownership, gardening is a long-distance race and we’re on a steep hill that I don’t feel like climbing. When it’s 90 degrees outside with high humidity, I’d rather bask in the arctic blast at the CVS drive-thru window than pick up a rake or clippers.

As my curmudgeon reminded me, gardening in July is “the tipping point. You’re off to a good start, but do you want to give up and go brown or finish strong? It’s time for affirmative action or throwing in the towel.”

Give me a minute to think about that.

Today while driving to pick up my daughter across town, I saw gardeners out for the first time in days. They were ready for business, eager to recover what began with such promise in April.  Most were veterans – middle-aged men and women with weed wackers, wheelbarrows, pruning knives and shears.

These gardeners know the drill. They realize that if you’re going to have a nice yard in the Northeast, you’ve got to pace yourself. You want to finish strong when it’s time for the mums, pumpkins, fall aeration and Step 4 of Scott’s lawn care treatments.

Every spring, a family about a mile away christens spring with a bang. They mulch early, get the lawn in shape and diligently tend to their gardens. By June, the place looks great, but then reality – and July – sets in. I drove by today and it’s a tangle of weeds three feet high.

I know, I know, people with weed-choked yards shouldn’t throw stones, but your eye is sharper when training on something new. You can’t see your own facial hair, dog fur on your carpets or how how filthy your house really is.  The first thing I said after being away for two weeks was, “Man, this place is a mess.”

After the Unabomber struck at Yale University in New Haven, CT., a reporter colleague asked an editor to look at his treatise, saying perhaps he could uncover something with “fresh eyes.” He didn’t, but I give him credit for trying. As a friend reminded me when a former boss (idiot) said writers can edit their own work, “Everyone needs an editor. You can’t see your own mistakes.”

I’ve decided to go into recovery mode this year. I worked too hard on my lawn to watch it revert to a dirt mound. I’m turning on the sprinkler, feeding my plants and dead-heading the geraniums. This year, I’m going the distance.

This Little Heart of Hers

IMG_1436

Heart transplant recipient George (seated on roof and wearing straw hat) and the Northford Timber Framers build a barn. If you’re not an organ donor, please consider it. 

I knew I’d write about George Senerchia the first time I heard about him. Since undergoing a heart transplant 12 years ago, George has devoted his life to promoting organ donation by building barns. I met George in his antique Colonial in Northford, CT., and he captivated my daughter and me with his story. We talked with George for two hours despite his ongoing struggle with Lyme disease. Here’s his extraordinary story:

Funny things happened to George Senerchia after he received a heart transplant on Nov. 6, 2004.

He began craving chocolate, listening to ’80s rock bands like Whitesnake, and buying shoes. Tons of them. Pre-transplant, George had three or four pairs. Now, dozens line his home: hiking boots and shoes, sneakers and clogs.

“It’s a real problem . . . another pair just arrived today,” says George, 63, who scours Ebay for deals. “Help me!”

Chalk up the changes to his “Boston girl,” a 51-year-old woman who died of an aneurysm, and donated her organs to save others. George has tried to find his donor’s relatives to thank them, but so far his search has been fruitless. The only thing he knows is her heart came from a Boston hospital, she was a mother, and she had a very strong heart. She and George were the same age and miraculously, her heart was a perfect match.

IMG_1458

George’s  adorable pup Jet oversees progress on his neighbor’s barn.

George says having a mom’s heart carries huge responsibility. It’s why he spends his life promoting organ donation through his group the Northford Timber Framers Transplant Fund aka “The Heart of the Barn.” An expert timber framer, George designs barns and raises them in two days with about 50 volunteers. His latest rose over Father’s Day weekend, when dozens of men and women filled his neighbor Heather’s backyard and built a two-story barn in 48 hours.

Heather’s barn is the 56th built by George and the Northford Timber Framers, whose slogan is “Be a Miracle: Be a Donor.” George teaches a three-day workshop every April in nearby Guilford, CT.. After classwork, students apprentice for one year and help build a barn. George doesn’t tell them immediately about his transplant. When he does, everyone’s in tears.

The most striking thing about George’s group is the number of women on the crew. After hearing loved ones describe the joy in building barns to help others, spouses and girlfriends take George’s course too. The barn-raisings kick off with donations to local residents who need help. Heather’s donation went to a teen-ager waiting for a double-lung transplant; a man with pancreatic cancer; a boy with Cystic Fibrosis, and a young woman who adopted her drug-addicted friend’s young children.

IMG_1452

The Northford Timber Framers’ logo features a heart with a barn frame.

Since founding the Northford Timber Framers, George has raised about $80,000, donating every cent to charity. About 150 people from all walks of life have taken his course. Why timber framing?

“It’s something real” in our disposable society, he says. It dates back to building techniques from our nation’s original settlers and waves of immigrants who brought unique methods from their homelands. He insists there’s something magical about barns, from their unique scent to ties to the past.

George has a special relationship with his Boston girl. For the first two years after the transplant, he had her dreams. He knows this because he didn’t recognize any of the places or people in them. He also talks to her and prays for her every day, hoping he’s living a life worthy of her sacrifice. “I don’t want her to think I’m a slug,” he confides.

George was an active, healthy 44-year-old when he was diagnosed with acute cardiomyopathy. After struggling with symptoms for six months, he went to his doctor and learned he was in heart failure.

George says it’s hard to describe heart failure, but says imagine feeling like you’re always gasping for air. Though his diagnosis was grim, he says he spent little time on self-pity, noting he’s always been positive and a fighter.

George underwent numerous heart procedures, but was told he would need a heart transplant. While waiting, he volunteered to have a Jarvik 2000 artificial heart. For nine months, he had an electrical cord running from his artificial heart to his abdomen to attach to a power source.

IMG_1449

The back of the T-shirt features two feathers crossed over a heart. They symbolize guardian angels. One feather is guardian angels we can see; the other  angels we can’t see but protect us.

The long wait for a new heart gave George plenty of time to think. He says he made peace with his situation and realized his fate was out of his hands. He reached a point of contentment, a feeling that he’d be OK with whatever happened to him.

During the wait, he came up with the idea for the “Heart of the Barn.” He realized that he was a lot like an old barn, in need of repair and restoration to survive. He began his group in 2002 while waiting for a heart.

Today, George looks about a decade younger than his age. He’s lean, athletic and fearless, directing his crew while standing on the roof of Heather’s barn. He didn’t purposely wear a woman’s straw hat . . . he just wanted to shield his skin from the sun. But his choice is fitting given the heart beating in his chest.

Heather tells me she built the barn mainly “to store my lawnmower.” But what she got is nothing like a garden shed. George designed a spectacular two-story barn suited for a guest house, home office or great space to savor nature. Whatever its future, one thing is certain: the Boston girl lives on. Like all of George’s barns, the initials “BG” are carved into one of its beams.

 

 

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/savor/”>Savor</a&gt;

 

Chasing ‘It’

IMG_1637

Leaving Martha’s Vineyard.

I’m on the beach when it hits me.

Here’s my niece Julia, a hip and savvy new Georgetown University graduate with a keen business mind. I’ll pick her brain about my blog before she heads to New York City for her first “real” job.

“What’s your target audience?” she asks. “I don’t know, I guess middle-aged women who may or may not have children,” I say. “And what’s your point? Why are you writing?”

“Umm, not sure,” I admit.

Julia kindly tells me she’ll think about it, but I’ve taken matters into my own hands by taking a 10-day WordPress blog branding and growth course. Step one: three concrete goals for your blog. In other words, your definition of success.

I guess that’s the $1 million question. As one older woman mused while gazing at artists’ wares on Martha’s Vineyard, “I’m still trying to find it. And guess what? I think it doesn’t exist.”

Why do I blog?

  1. To gain followers. Let’s face it, no one wants to write in a vacuum. Writers like to share their stories, and the more readers, the better. In the old days, it was called circulation. No one wants bad circulation.
  2. I don’t have grand visions of what my blog would look like if it was hugely successful. I post when the spirit moves me, but don’t want to annoy people by over-posting. And if I’m constantly writing, it means I’m not reading other people’s posts.
  3. Am I doing it for the money? Hell no. Everyone knows that most writers don’t make a lot of money. I once had a reporting job where I qualified for federally-funded free cheese.

I used to write for a living and get paid (well, sort of) for it. This was before laptops, cellphones and blogging was a gleam in anyone’s eye. I started out in the early ’80s at the now-defunct Milford Citizen, where I learned how to report, write and edit. Oh, and I also fell in love with the cute sports editor.

I worked with a bunch of characters, from a crusty veteran who filed five stories before dawn to his son, a city editor aptly nicknamed “Scoop” who lived on coffee and adrenaline. My managing editor helped plan my wedding and the staff photographer left  the dark room to take my wedding photos. We lunched, drank, and chased escaped criminals together.

Like all jobs, people eventually moved on. It’s funny how the workplace climate changes when one person leaves. It’s a little like when an actor leaves a show. His (or her) replacement may be every bit as good, but it’s not the same. And did I mention I’m no good with change?

But back to branding. I love meeting people and hearing their stories. Before social media, this was called human interest or feature stories. Generally, you’d write about something that you dug up or got a tip on: the woman raising Hungarian show dogs, the guy who ran the International House of Hotdogs or the Catholic priest in Ireland who fathered a son living in Connecticut.

Though I covered hard news, I love features because they spotlight people who might not ordinarily make headlines. My Dad used to say people (well, excluding those in the police wrap-up or obits) like being in the newspaper because it makes them feel special. As Bruce Springsteen wrote in “Nothing Man:” I never thought I’d live/To read about myself/In my hometown paper. 

The explosion of blogging and social media has more or less eliminated the role of editors. People decide what’s news, and post it on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat as it’s happening. Their news judgment is affirmed by thumbs-up signs, heart emojis or stars. Heaven help the blogger who gets tons of views, but few likes. You start to feel a little like the last kid picked for the 6th grade kickball team.

I still believe there is a role for storytelling. Whether it’s my own experiences or those I meet, if it interests me it’s in here. I may never figure out exactly what it is, but I’m going to try.

Vineyard Flowers

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/caper/”>Caper</a&gt;

IMG_1606

Unexpected gift: a bouquet of flowers from my sister-in-law Ann.

Two dozen sunflowers in a huge crystal vase. They’re the first thing you see when you look into the stately grey clapboard house in Edgartown, MA., once owned by a whaling captain. It’s the kind of place my father-in-law, who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, used to call “old money.”

Though beautiful, the bouquet speaks volumes about the matron (or mistress or mister) living there. Indulgence (two sunflower bouquets?). Living large. Understatement. Class. Appreciation. Hospitality. Openness. Decency. Humanity. Generosity. (Keeping the door wide open to give tourists like me a glimpse into her spectacular home.)

I spotted those sunflowers more than 20 years ago. It’s funny how flowers have that effect (or should I say impact?) on people. For me, no gathering is complete without a bouquet or two of flowers. It’s a little thing, but my hostessing duties aren’t complete without flowers, even if it’s just a sprig of sage and some red berries in a bud vase.

My shaded property in suburban Connecticut has curtailed my ability to garden (I’m not the type to enclose my yard in wooden deer fencing), but my love of flowers storms back at the Vineyard. Glorious hydrangeas in bursts of blue, pink and white. Dainty pink climbing roses tumbling over stone walls. Electric blue strawflowers in stainless steel bins at a farm stand. Acres of wild flowers. The most beautiful window boxes I have ever seen.

IMG_1591

A trio of lobsters that look like they might be overdone, but weren’t. You can see part of the large mason jar holding the flowers in the background.

It’s impossible to navigate this island off Cape Cod without seeing homegrown bouquets on sale at the end of dirt roads or entrances of horse farms. The Farmers’ Market is also lined with flower vendors with glorious arrangements. But I’ve never bought a bouquet in the 35 years I’ve been coming here. I just seems . . . indulgent.

I almost broke my streak on Saturday. I was having my husband’s family over for an impromptu lobster bake and wanted a bouquet for the dining table. I had a bunch of beautiful hydrangeas in my sight at the market when my husband and son (his sidekick) scuttled my plans.

“No one’s expecting flowers, they’re expecting lobsters,” my husband bellowed. “And besides, they won’t fit on the table.”

For a minute, I thought about pilfering flowers from a field or worse, a relative’s home between rental bookings. But I didn’t have the guts, time or equipment to pull off that caper. I spotted some clippers at a fish market, but I wasn’t about to spend $12.99 when a bouquet would have only set me back $20. (How can one family be so cheap?)

So there I was, stuffing lobsters and baking potatoes without so much as a wilted day lily to brighten the space. In a last-ditch effort for greenery, I plunged a bunch of fresh parsley into a vase, but seriously? So lame.

I felt something was missing, but carried on. And to my delight, my sister-in-law Ann arrived with an overflowing bouquet of hydrangeas in a rainbow of hues plucked from her garden in Edgartown. There were even a few raspberry-colored butterfly bush flowers in the mix. An unexpected hostess gift!

I put the flowers in the center of the table and admired my first authentic Vineyard bouquet. As the lobsters came out of the oven and were plated, I removed the flowers to make room for food, people and conversation. When I told my husband I was sharing this, he agreed with one caveat:

“Be sure to say that someone did bring flowers and there was no room for them on the table, just like I predicted.”

 

 

 

My Budding Curmudgeon Part II

IMG_1550

On a walk.

My friends and family enjoyed my post about my husband so much that I decided to do a followup. These are actual quotes from my husband, who I think will reach full curmudgeon status after this vacation:

“There are two disgusting beach chairs in the shed, but I’m not putting my ass anywhere near them.”

“That’s not being a cynical curmudgeon. It’s a fact. They’re disgusting.”

“All the kibble’s gone? It can’t be. Yikes.”

Tennis pro misses shot: “Uh oh, Spaghettios.”

On another tennis shot: “Crack one, you idiot.”

“At least someone’s eating the awful Captain Crunch.”

“There must be some reason dogs are banned from the Farmers’ Market. There must have been a horror show.”

Me: “Want to go to the Farmers’ Market?” Him: “No.”

At the Farmers’ Market:

“You just paid $7 for salad greens and $8 for a loaf of bread. That’s $1 an inch.”

Police officer outside the market: “Hey you got your greens!” Me: “He’s been complaining every step of the way.” Police officer: “Oh my God!” (I have a feeling she’s got one of him at home.)

Him: “Why aren’t you having the bread you bought?” Me: “It’s not gluten-free. I bought it for you.” Him: “I don’t want that moldy bread.”

Makes himself a sandwich.

‘OK, it’s good, but it’s bread.”

“It’s a good thing someone in this house has eagle eyes. I just found out why the garbage guy hasn’t been coming. Good job Matt for spotting that garbage truck We’re set until October.”

Me: “Hey, want to go to the flea market today?” Him: “I don’t want to go there. It’s way the xi*& out in Menemsha.”

Hat salesman at Chilmark Flea Market: “What kind of law do you do?” Him: “How did you know?” Salesman: “Just a hunch.”

Hat salesman to my son wearing Holy Cross gear: “God bless you.” Son: “Why? “Let’s just say it’s a good thing you’re a Crusader and leave it at that.”

“The best thing about buying a hat is it’s something you can wear.”

Daughter: “Dad, you seem jumpy. Sit down.” Him: “Can’t. Socks.”

Daughter: “Dad, sit.”  “Can’t. Shoes.”

“That hat guy is smart. He works here until Columbus Day and then gets the hell out of here for four months.”

Me: “You seem to be having a bad time. Is being here bringing up bad memories from your childhood?” Him: “I had a great time here as a child. I don’t think I can relax anywhere except South Carolina.”

Me: “I think you’ll feel better after you play tennis. Him: “That is if we can find a court.”

Everyone: “Let’s do takeout tonight.” Him: “OK, but that place has horrible food.”

“Who’s drinking all the milk?”

“It’s 10 o’clock. We’re wasting another day watching tennis.”

Son: “What’s for breakfast?” Him: “Have a banana before they all rot.”

“Where’s my newspaper?!”

“Look at Raffa’s legs.”

Me: “Someone said you’re funnier than Larry David.” Him: “Larry David must have lost some miles off his speedball.”