Get Lost



Even on vacation in South Carolina, you get the feeling she wants the kitchen to herself.

Growing up as one of seven girls, I value my space.

No one knows how I managed it, but I was the only kid in our family with my own room. Like all the upstairs bedrooms, it was pink – from the walls to the shag carpeting. It was a  little like living inside cotton candy.

I had a cool trundle bed that looked like a couch anchored by long round pillows on either end. I loved that bed, but it was hell to make. Getting the thick bedspread between the mattress and the wooden sides was a nightmare. I would never buy a trundle bed for this reason.

With other people constantly underfoot, “alone time” didn’t exist. The closest I got was retreating to my room, shutting the door, slipping on my white headphones and listening to Jefferson Starship. Their album, Red Octopus, is the first thing I ever reviewed for the  high school newspaper. I take a slight amount of pride that I still love it after 40 years. Miracles is a masterpiece.

I understand the need to be alone. The Curmudgeon retreats to his man-cave in the basement every night ostensibly to “work out,” but I think it’s his way of carving out time for himself. I never interrupt him while he’s going through his paces in his home gym. It’s his time.

My 16-year-old daughter constantly seeks space. I don’t really understand this because she’s the only kid home right now. She’s basically got the place to herself, and is often home alone. But I’m getting the impression that she could survive solitary confinement.  I know she’d be happy if I left town.

“Why are you up?” she says as I pad downstairs at 6:30 a.m. to get a cup of coffee. “You know I hate when other people are up in the morning. I need this time to myself. Go upstairs. Why are you taking so long to make your coffee?”

It’s a good thing I’m not sensitive. If I were, I’d be insulted and hurt. But remember, I was one of seven kids. When we all watched TV in the family room, it was hard to move without tripping over someone. We all usually laid on the floor, nibbling popcorn or Chips Ahoy cookies. Think of a puppies laying all over each other, and you get the picture.

So I’m totally cool with space. What I’m not cool with is her attitude. I feel like an intruder, no better than a flying squirrel living in the eaves. (Yes, it’s true. Something that horrifying does exist, and they love coming into attics.) I’m greeted by “Why are you up?” every day. You would think that she’d understand by now that I sometimes rise early, and need just a minute to get coffee, but she doesn’t.

One day when the Keurig was taking particularly long to warm up, she tried to hurry me along. “Come on, come on, I only have a few minutes before the bus comes,” she said. “What’s taking so long?” I turned to her and said, “This is my house, and remember you are here at my pleasure.” Some people might have a problem with saying that to a child, but I don’t. It pretty much sums up how I feel.

I’m a nice mother, but I have my limits. Yes, we’re moms and supposed to count to 10, breathe and think before we speak, but sometimes you just need to go down to their level. When I’m told, as I often am, that I’m a horrible mother, I offer up the boarding school line. “You know, you can go away to school if you’d like,” I say.

Of course, sending her away is the last thing I’d do. I’d miss her tremendously. I nearly (well, I did) lost it when my son left for college. Besides, I don’t want to shell out $62,000 a year for school. That’s the going rate for prep schools around here, at least the last time I checked.

She finds me incredibly annoying and has no trouble telling me. My home environment was a lot different. I would not be sitting here with functioning fingers if I told my parents to leave so I could eat breakfast alone. I’m speculating, yes, but I don’t think that would have gone over well with my Dad.

But sure, that’s what I really wanted to say. “Get lost Dad! I don’t want to listen to you chomping on your toast or proclaiming “The forsythias are in bloom!” every spring. I know my mother felt the same way. She’s one of those people who ate breakfast with a far-away look in her eyes.

I can’t stand talking to people in the morning. There is something incredibly nice about being the first person up, and having the house to yourself. It’s that quiet that’s only available at dawn, and disappears as soon as another person stirs. You suddenly think, “I hear footsteps. Damn.”

I’ve said it before, but I’m always amazed by the crowd at the free breakfast at the Hampton Inn on our annual trek south. Some people are so clearly morning people. Freshly showered and groomed, they’re peppy, smiling, and raring to go from the moment their feet hit the floor.

They say “hi” to you in the elevator. They stand patiently and wait their turn for the waffle maker or bagel toaster, making small talk with fellow travelers. They happily take their seat at a table near the flatscreen TV, watching the news and making occasional comments to their spouse or children.

I am not like them. As soon as I awaken, I slip down the motel stairs to retrieve two cups of coffee in the lobby, praying I don’t run into anyone along the way. I’m not showered, my hair isn’t combed, and I might be wearing pajama pants. I slither back to my room, hoping that the door is still ajar because I don’t have the card to get in.

I don’t want to talk to people, but find myself listening to conversations that I don’t want to hear. The last one was two helicopter hockey moms at the Williams Inn discussing an uptick in teen suicides in one of their hometowns. It was impossible not to listen – they were speaking in a stage whisper – but it was the last thing I could deal with in the morning.

I shifted my ears to the table in back of me, a group of happy people from Maine discussing the previous day’s college swim meet. Sports and celebrity news are about all I can handle in the morning. But to be honest, I really don’t want to speak until about 10 a.m.

Clap Your Hands

(This is part 2 of Maury & Me. The first post appeared on Feb. 13th.)

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This pretty much sums up our experience at a Maury show taping. I was thrilled, and my sister Patty was not.

We hear a lot today about smiling and happiness.

But we almost never hear about clapping our hands to show appreciation and delight. Granted, there are few opportunities to clap during the average day. You don’t get applause for going to work, getting the kids off to school, or bringing the garbage out after dinner.

But I think the world would be a brighter place if we clapped more. Hand clapping is wonderful, triggering a feeling of happiness and elation. And it apparently has physical health benefits – it improves blood circulation.

Like anything in life, you don’t realize how rarely you clap until you clap a lot. I clapped my hands off as I sat in The Maury Show audience with my sister Patty. I clapped so much that my palms stung and hurt. The only thing I can compare it to was my wedding day, when I smiled so much my mouth ached.

Our hands were our way of communicating our feelings about Maury’s guests. If we agreed with them, we clapped loudly and vigorously. If we didn’t, it was thumbs down and “Booooooooo!” This was the only time in life I’ve openly booed someone, and boy, it felt good. How many times do we wish we could do that when we know someone is lying, being a jerk, cutting into line, or cheating in tennis?

Of course, as adults, we can’t openly boo people. But I bet a lot of people would shape up if they could be publicly booed. This must be hardwired into our DNA because honestly, the clapping and booing came very naturally, and was surprisingly gratifying.


Our view from the audience. That’s not Maury on stage. It’s a producer.

It was tiring, yes, and hard to hear Maury and his guests at times, but it was invigorating. For one hour, we were the judge and jury. If we saw a cute baby on the flatscreen TV over Maury’s shoulder, we’d say, “Awwwww.” If we agreed with a guest, loud applause, foot stomping and maybe stand up. If we disagreed, thumbs down and booing.

Easy peasy. It would be great if everything in life was this simple. Full disclosure: an impeccably groomed young producer stood stage left and encouraged us to clap or boo louder when appropriate. He also used hand signals to quiet us down. I swear some people never shut up.

We all settled into our role with remarkable ease, and most of us became giddy. I want to say fervor, or feverish pitch. Yes, that’s it. That sums it up the feeling in the intimate auditorium.

Like most things in life, there was one major downside to all of this clapping. My hands stung and my palms were red, and my shoulders were sore. I glanced around, and other people seemed to be having the same problem. Our hands were all out of clapping shape.

“Do your hands hurt?” I asked a woman from New Jersey sitting next to me. Yes, they were killing her, she said. So did her boyfriend’s hands. He leaned over his girlfriend, and showed me a red welt where his watch kept hitting his palm. I bet he has a bruise today.

My sister and I were clapping fools throughout much of the one hour taping at the Stamford Media Center. But I know I clapped more often and vigorously. I’m a regular Maury viewer, and was caught in the moment. Patty has never watched the show, and came as a favor to me. I was keenly aware that she’d rather be anywhere else. She never came out and said it, but I knew. Sometimes, no words are necessary.

The Maury audience can be divided into two camps: fans fulfilling a (pathetic) dream of being there, and those who came kicking and screaming. It’s like couples with olives – one usually loves them while the other despises them. Or money. Behind every successful union is one spouse who’s great with money, and the other who’s horrendous. I’ll let you guess who holds the purse strings in my marriage.


  • Maury Povich is the consummate host. He looks and sounds exactly as he does on TV. He has the perfect TV voice – not too low, but rich and distinctive. Sade’s song “Smooth Operator” comes to mind. Think of Maury’s voice as a male Sade – smooth as silk, rich and mellow. A little like a crock of homemade butterscotch pudding.
  • Maury has a Golden retriever who trotted out on stage with him with a Happy Valentine’s Day heart around his neck. He did a few tricks for biscuits. It was a nice ice breaker and we all ate it up.
  • Maury’s producers are young and hip, and get the audience in the mood by grooving to the piped-in music before the show. All of the staffers were in their Valentine’s Day finery, and so were a lot of audience members. I was kicking myself for not wearing red or pink.
  • Sitting under the hot bright studio lights feels like you’re an order waiting for pickup under those warming lights in diners. The lights are constant and unforgiving.
  • The show runs like a well-oiled machine. The guests are surprisingly calm and collected, making you wonder if it could be scripted. But then you realize that they probably rehearse with producers before the show. Of course they do. Whoever is prepping them is good at their job.
  • You feel much more for the guests in person. When a woman came on to test the eighth man to see if he was her 4-year-old son’s father and he wasn’t, I thought I might cry. Not so much for the woman, but for her beautiful boy.
  • Some audience members get pizza, but we didn’t. I suspect Maury’s producers entice some people with offers of free transportation and pizza. I don’t mind that they got free pizza, but I think if they do it for some they should do it for all of us.
  • We’re all in suspense. The producers promised to email us a date so we can watch or tape it, and tell all our family members and friends. This is one thing I’ll probably keep to myself.


Maury & Me


A glimpse of what’s to come on Maury’s website.

I have a confession.

Well, actually two.

The first is I watch The Maury Show. The second is I’m going to a live taping of Maury in Stamford, CT., this week.

I know I shouldn’t watch it – that it’s trash TV.  But the show fascinates me, from its guests with their own sleazy set of morals to the DNA and lie detector results. It’s hard to believe that someone tested 14 guys and still doesn’t know who fathered her child, but this is the stuff of Maury.

The weirdest: a case in which two different men fathered the same set of fraternal twins. That means – well, you know what that means. Maury loves to bring up this case every time there is a DNA test involving twins, because he’s seen everything.

A friend told me she occasionally watches the show because it reminds her that other people have problems, many much bigger than hers. It’s true. Watching Maury puts things into perspective, giving us a major reality check. We’re all so boring and ordinary.

Things may be bad, but:

Your mother isn’t sleeping with your husband. Your sister isn’t sleeping with your man. You know who the father of your child is, and you don’t need a DNA test to prove it. Your husband is not paying for sex (well, you’re pretty sure he’s not.) You’re not wondering if the convict you slept with fathered your twins instead of your husband. You’re mother isn’t dressing way too sexy for her age. Your teen may be difficult, but you’re not ready to throw her into jail to shape up.

Yes, I watch. I don’t rearrange my schedule around it – boy, that would really be sad. But if I’m home, I’ll turn it on. There’s no law against that, is there? And when I’m completely stressed out – say, on Thanksgiving when I need to relax before 38 people arrive for dinner –  I turn it on to chill out. Having a tough turkey is nothing compared to telling your husband that you’ve been stepping out, and another man may have fathered your three kids.

Confession #2:

I’ve got tickets to Maury for a live taping. When I told my son, he asked how much I paid for the tickets. “Um, nothing,” I said. “They’re free. You should get a group of kids from your college to go. They love college kids at Maury.”

I don’t know why I’m encouraging a kid who has no trouble wasting time to go see Maury. When he told me that a friend had gone home for the weekend to do laundry, he said, “No offense Mom, but if my friends aren’t home, there’s no way I’d rather be home than here.” So many parties, so little time.

Of course, he learned to chill-ax from an expert. I am easily distracted, often diverted from chores midstream to check texts, listen to voicemail, read blogs or demand Alexa play “Good Old Days” by Macklemore featuring Kesha for the 10th time. The Curmudgeon often implores me to complete my tasks, and though it’s annoying, it’s one of my biggest challenges. Always has been.


No surprise here: None of my Facebook friends have publicly liked Maury.

I call Maury my guilty pleasure. I’m a square who plays by the rules, so it’s fascinating watching people who don’t face the music – er, Maury and his boisterous audience. I don’t know why people come on Maury to reveal bombshells, but they do. What is this guy going to do when he realizes he may not have fathered her child? I can’t believe she sleeps around like that. What an idiot!

Call it voyeurism, exploitive or a colossal waste of time, but Maury has survived where others have failed. He’s celebrating the 20th year of his show, and is credited with changing people’s lives by uniting them with their fathers and siblings. That’s big time. Having a father in your life is a game changer. Just ask anyone who didn’t.

I’ve been toying with the idea of going to Maury for years. Why I decided to actually get them last week is a mystery to me. But the line “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose” comes to mind and I have no idea why.” I despise that Janis Joplin song.

I thought I’d have to wait weeks for tickets. But an hour after I submitted my request, I got an email confirmation. I guess people aren’t knocking down the door to go.

A few other things to consider:

  • I don’t know how much longer Maury is going to do his show. He just turned 79! He looks healthy and fit, but you never know when he’ll retire.
  • It won’t boring, unless it’s an update show on past guests, or a show on cheaters caught on tape. Wait a second. Clark Gable, the Clark Gable’s grandson and host of Cheaters, is on those segments. I’m OK with that.
  • I may get a few blog posts out of it.
  • The show has been on for 20 years. I can’t be the only one watching it.
  • I think they serve free coffee, doughnuts and bagels before the show.

I started watching Maury when I began staying home with my son in 1997. I had never watched it because it’s on at 2 p.m. Most people who work don’t watch Maury. If you doubt me, consider the number of ads for colleges, technical schools, tractor-trailer driving schools, accident attorneys, and structured settlement payouts aired during breaks.

These ads assume you’ve got better things to do with your time. Maury’s guests may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but neither are we because we’re watching them. They’re on stage, and we’re their audience. What does that say about us?

It reminds me of going to the San Diego Zoo with The Curmudgeon, and standing outside the gorilla enclosure. As we watched them, one gorilla pulled excrement from his behind, and began throwing it at us. I guess we know who had the last laugh that day.

What saves the show from being completely exploitive and tawdry is Maury. Like a judge presiding over a courtroom of derelicts, Maury shows compassion, concern and respect for guests, no matter how poorly they’ve behaved. He always strives to get both sides, and will often shush guests for interrupting other people. “You had your chance, now it’s his,” is one of his favorite lines.

Maury is a voice of reason on a stage full of chaos, relying on his well-honed journalism skills to keep order. He scolds, yes, and urges people to change, take care of their kids and stop dressing like tramps. But – and this is a big one –  he doesn’t scream or demean. He’s a little like the Dad we all wish for: strict, but understanding and endlessly forgiving. We could all learn something from him.

So with my tickets secured, I still had one problem: who to bring with me on this junket. Let’s face it, not everyone watches Maury and even if they do, no one admits it. What’s even tougher is revealing that you have tickets to a show that no one admits watching.

A glance at Maury’s Facebook page confirmed my fears. He’s gotten 3.3 million likes – none from my FB friends. The page invited me to be the first of my friends to like it. I’m not ready to take that leap.

I ran it by my friend Wendy, saying offhandedly: “Hey, have you ever seen Maury?” “No, what is it?” she asked. Wendy wouldn’t waste her time with Maury. She watches HGTV while doing household chores. What did I expect from a gal whose father left Wall Street to run an inn in Vermont when she was 10? As she noted, “We were the Bob Newhart Show.”

No, Wendy is not Maury’s targeted audience. While she’s getting decorating tips for her Vermont vacation home, we’re diving into the underbelly of society, wondering how people can do some of the things they do and still sleep at night.

The list of my prospective companions would be intimates – people I knew would love me despite Maury weakness.  I’d start with siblings, and work my way out to close friends. From there, it would be on to anyone who’d ever mentioned watching Maury, which was one person.

Incredibly, I scored on the first call. One of my sisters agreed to come. No, she doesn’t watch Maury – she thought I was inviting her to Jerry Springer. But it’s an honest mistake. I’ve got to go to figure out what I’ll wear. As the producers reminded us in our confirmation email, we’re going to be on TV and should be dressed properly. That may be the only thing that’s proper about this whole experience.

Bluebird Central


A wooded lot means one thing: birds.

I live in a little of pocket of Guilford, CT., that’s always running behind.

While other townsfolk post photos of crocuses, daffodils and blooming bushes in spring, my yard is dormant. I’ve got oaks, tons of them, with a crooked birch thrown in for good measure.

All of this shade means my plants and shrubs lag two weeks behind the sunny side of town. I’m not one to knock down trees. The last time I took down a tree was 20 years ago at our old house in in Milford, CT.  A woman walked by, and said we’d committed a crime against nature. I offered to show her the rot inside the huge maple, but she walked away.

This is one reason I moved to a more rural community, on a lot with privacy. I don’t have to field unsolicited comments from the peanut gallery. When a friend a few streets over moved downtown to be closer to civilization, she found a note in her mailbox: “We think it’s time you painted your fence.” When another friend moved to her dream house overlooking Long Island Sound, a neighbor demanded she take down her wind chimes. She eventually sold her beach house and moved back to the woods, where she’d be left alone.

We don’t have sun, the beach or glorious roses, but we do have space and birds. Northeastern bluebirds love my shady corner of the universe. Crimes against nature? I don’t think so. Just ask my little friends with the bright blue backs and rust-colored bellies. They know who’s got their back.

I don’t just have one bluebird – I’ve got about a half-dozen feasting on suet, bird seed, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and shelled peanuts. If my yard was an airport, it would be Atlanta, LAX or O’Hare. We’re busy, very busy, with birds landing from dawn to about 4 p.m. every day.


A blue bird explores some seed in a snow-filled bird bath.

I don’t know why I have this embarrassment of birds, but I’ll take it. The landing strip and feeding area are Hometown Buffet – nothing fancy, but endless opportunity to feast. A tube feeder, a thistle sock and suet cage dangle from a shepherd’s hook. Shelled peanuts hang from a feeder on the back door, while a small window feeder holds homemade suet and seeds.

Our Christmas tree carcass lays nearby for quick cover from predators. A cooler, lawn chairs, an old bucket and bamboo tiki torch holders are convenient perches for our winged guests as they wait their turn. Woodpeckers and bluebirds love suet. They once devoured a block in 24 hours.

The concrete ribbon that is Interstate-95 runs through our town, dividing it into “above” and “below” the highway. Bird experts tell me that bluebirds are common “above’ the turnpike. With its trees and sprawling lawns, our area of town is perfect for bluebirds.

It is not, of course, all luck. We all do our part to attract bluebirds, erecting wooden bluebird boxes to provide convenient nesting spots. I have a few that the previous owner installed several years ago, but I don’t know if they’ve ever been used. I’ve tried to peek inside, but never got close enough to discern a nest. The last thing I need is an angry mother bird pecking my face.

Everyone out here feeds birds in the winter. Feeders and suet cages dangle from trees, poles and hooks all over town. One guy three houses up has at least eight feeders on one tree. I don’t know him, but I think it says something that he’s so kind to birds. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it.


A tufted titmouse stops in.

Some people pamper birds, putting out slices of fresh fruit, jelly, heaters in birdbaths, crushed eggshells, and expensive seed to up the ante. My sister tried an experiment: generic bird seed from Walmart in one feeder, expensive organic seed from a bird speciality shop in the other. Turns out birds don’t like generic stuff either.

I love bluebirds because their brilliant blue coloring is striking, particularly against freshly fallen snow. Besides their beauty, they’re a reminder of recovery and renewal in nature and life. Bluebirds were threatened with extinction in the ’50s and ’60s due to pesticides like DDT, and losing nesting sites to housing development and starlings.

But tighter environmental controls (banning DDT, for instance) and erection of bluebird houses saved them. I’m glad. They’re stunning, and welcome burst of color against the drab winter landscape.

I could watch bluebirds for hours, and sometimes I do. They’re patient, and quick to escape when woodpeckers or bluejays storm in. The bluejays around here look like they’re on steroids. They’re the size of pigeons or small seagulls, and travel in packs of three or four.


I’m not happy about bossy bluejays, but what can I do?

I’m not thrilled to be feeding bluejays because they’re so bossy and entitled. They swoop in like an urban gang and other birds scatter. But it’s like handing out candy to kids who you know were driven in from out-of-town neighborhoods on Halloween. They not your intended audience, but you hand over the goods.

I told one of my sisters that I had bluebirds and she doubted me, causing me to doubt myself. So I took a few photos and emailed them to her. She contacted her bird expert consultant, who confirmed that it was a bluebird. Score!

With a fresh blanket of snow, the birds are busy. The Curmudgeon just noted that they’re swarming the feeders. Looking out the window, I saw the frenzy. Pretty soon we’re going to need an air traffic controller.


These Dreams . . .


Our road before the plows.

I haven’t worked for a newspaper in about 10 years.

So why the recurrent dream about having NOTHING to file on deadline, and being in major trouble with my editor? It’s not just that I don’t have a story.  I’ve been doing nothing, absolutely screwing off big time. As the dream foreshadows, I’m about to be found out.

Freud would have a field day with this dream, or maybe not because it’s so transparent. I obviously feel like I’m dropping the ball in some aspect of my life. It’s my take on the dream where you’re going into a final exam for a class you’ve never attended. Yeah, that one.


I don’t know why some dreams are so common, while others are just a one-night performance. When I was a kid, I had a dream in full color with a fantastic plot and suspense. I remember waking up and saying, “I really outdid myself.” If I had a nightmare, I’d wake up and turn an imaginary dial on the side of my head, thinking I could change the channel like a TV. If only.

I don’t know why we share recurrent dreams, but I suspect it’s because we all have the same basic needs, desires and fears. When you have bizarre dreams or thoughts, particularly as a child, you think you’re strange. I’ve tried to assure my kids that we’re all a little weird in our own way, and that’s OK. When they say, “But you don’t understand. I’m really weird,” I say, “Yeah, everybody else is really weird too.”

I wish someone had told me this when I was a child. I also wish that someone had told me that adults are often just as mystified by life as children. One of my great childhood myths was thinking I’d grow up and have all the answers. One of the most disappointing realizations is finding out no one does.

We’re all slog along some days, particularly when unthinkable things like children accidentally being killed occur in our community. Our town has been shaken by the accidental shooting death of a 15-year-old high school freshman. My daughter didn’t know him, but came home from high school band practice completely shaken and distraught. High school students aren’t supposed to die. When they do, it’s up to parents, teachers and social workers to comfort and counsel them. But understand it? No way. There’s no way any of us can make sense of it.


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Clouds, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, MA.

What you begin to learn in life is that horrible things happen to wonderful people, and good things happen to many people who don’t deserve it. We wonder why our strapping jock friends from college died from cancer, and people who abuse their bodies are still out in the bar every day. Why women who don’t want to get pregnant have no problem while others who desperately want to conceive can’t. Why people abuse their children instead of relinquishing custody. Why people kill spouses instead of divorcing them. Why some people are fighting for every breath, while others don’t want to live.

The list, of course, goes on and on, perhaps explaining common recurrent dreams. They’re our desperate attempt to sort things out. Some people journal about dreams, while others look for explanations of characters or plots. “What does it mean when a rabbit shows up in a dream?” I Googled once when I had an enormous amount of free time on my hands.

Growing up, my mother used to tell us about her recurrent dream. She’s hosting a holiday dinner and guests are on their way, but her cupboards are bare. Keep in mind she had seven kids, and hosted every holiday dinner because it was easier to stay home than cart all of us to a relative’s house. It’s no wonder she had this dream a lot – she was in panic mode every time a major holiday came around.

I don’t remember ever having a holiday where my mother was calm. The house needed to be cleaned to company standards – immaculate bathrooms, vacuumed carpets and tabletops polished with Pledge. As she scurried to get everything done, she’d complain about my father, who cleaned fingerprints from around doorknobs, doorjambs and light switches with Windex and a rag. “Do we really need him polishing doorknobs?” she’d ask. That became her term for someone doing minor tasks while major ones loomed.

I bring this up because I have a recurrent dream about The Curmudgeon. I suspect I had it because he was leaving at 3:30 a.m. for a business meeting in Vancouver. (No, he didn’t invite me, but that’s another post.) In the dream, we are divorced, but I’m still crazy about him and want us to get back together. I don’t understand the reason for our break-up because we still love each other and should be married, but we’re not. OK, maybe I really did want to go to Vancouver. But someone’s got to stay home with the 16-year-old.

Two other recurrent dreams involve my current house in Guilford, CT., and former home in Milford, CT.

In the first one, I’m in this house, but stunned to learn there is a complete floor of rooms, including a grand dining room with an adjoining foyer, that I’ve failed to decorate.   When I go to explore the unknown rooms, I find all the old owner’s furniture covered in sheets and tarps.

The second involves breaking into my old house while the new owner is at work. I have kept a key to the house, and sneak in to explore while he’s out. I have had this dream at least 12 times and it’s always the same: I’m upstairs in the master bedroom nosing around, and he’s at the door with the key about to come in. So busted!

I’m not sure what any of this means, or why I’m sharing such a mundane yet personal topic. But I’m curious, very curious, if anyone has ever had any version of these dreams.  I mentioned the extra rooms dream to a friend once, and she looked at me like I had two heads. So no, I don’t talk about dreams too often.

I recently read a post by a guy who’s been blogging about as long as I have about mistakes he’s made. I give him credit for writing it, but I wouldn’t dare to think I know anything about blogging after eight months. We’re still getting our feet wet, and we’re going to make mistakes.

One of the things he mentioned was before posting, ask yourself, “What’s in this for readers? What are they getting out of it? Why should they read it?”

I can’t think that way because then I’m writing for all the wrong reasons. I write what I’m going to write and hope it resonates. If it doesn’t, I’m sorry. Maybe it will next time.

I’ve been in jobs where I’ve twisted myself into what I thought people wanted, and was miserable. There’s a certain happiness that comes with writing (doing) what you want. It may not bring you followers, money or fame, but it does bring you joy. At a certain point, you realize that’s what it’s all about.

The guy also suggested taking blogging seriously. Um, no. I have too many other things in my life that I have to be serious about. When I start taking blogging and followers too seriously, I’ll never write again.

One of the greatest things I heard about Tom Petty after his death was a taped interview of him talking about his songs. He said he had to write for himself, and hope that others would enjoy what he created. It’s obvious by his songs and success that he had the right idea. Do things you love and do them well, and people will sense it.

I had substitute in my spinning class at the YMCA the other night. Ronni arrived in a business suit and heels and started class. About 15 minutes in, she ducked out of the room like Superman, and returned two minutes later in her workout gear. She pumped up the music, got on her bike and took us on an exciting adventure through the spinning bike’s color zones. Boy, she’s kickass. You wouldn’t believe how many times she was in the red zone while I was in white.

At the end of the class, she thanked us for coming and apologized for being a little frazzled at the beginning. She had no idea she was subbing for a teacher who was sick until right before class. I thanked her for a fantastic class, and she seemed appreciative. People can tell if you love what you do, or are just going through the motions. No one wants someone going through the motions.

Ronni did that class as much for herself as us.  I’m just glad she took a bum like me along for the ride.

Almost Heaven


A couple hanging out and ice fishing near Pittsfield, MA.

I made the mistake of going outside without a coat.

I was running late, talking on my cell phone and jumped in the car. I didn’t think I needed a coat – it was about 30 degrees and the sun was out. That’s practically tropical in this part of New England.

Part of leaving my coat home was wishful thinking. We’re at that point in winter that defines doldrums. Christmas is long since gone, but it’s still January. Gardens are dormant, golf clubs are in storage and it’s too cold to run outside with conviction. Whose bright idea was it to make January so long?

Going without a coat is akin to guys wearing shorts with parkas. I saw this odd fashion statement several times in a college town where anything goes. Shorts and a ski jacket are a contradiction in terms. So are Birkenstock sandals with socks, but plenty of college kids were wearing those too.

These fashion choices are a statement of our collective psyches this time of year. We’re desperate for signs of spring, and we’ll do what it takes to get there. Like someone forcing a forsythia branch for mid-winter color,  we force spring with clothing choices. We know it’s not as good as the real thing, but we’ll take it.

I usually look forward to the Super Bowl, but I may skip it this year. I don’t like the New England Patriots, though Tom Brady is sort of softening me with his new Facebook series Tom Vs. Time. I admire the fact that he works hard to perfect his game, that it doesn’t all come naturally.  It’s heartening to know that his Super Bowl losses still sting after all these years. Score one for honesty.

I like the Philadelphia Eagles even less than the Patriots. My team, the New York Giants, has been out since the season started. I have no interest in watching a game where I want both teams to lose.

With the Super Bowl off my radar, I’m facing the worst of winter with few distractions. The days are blessedly getting longer, but the landscape is mostly muted browns, grays and beiges. The days without sun are the hardest: battleship gray skies that make your brain foggy, and make you want to crawl into bed and sleep until March 21st.


Going uphill was the easy part.

The Curmudgeon rubbed salt in the wound when he booked a weekend trip three hours north in Williamstown, MA. I generally avoid going north in winter because it feels like I’m heading into the abyss, but I didn’t argue. I’m glad. The mountains are beautiful in the winter, and residents embrace it.

They can’t walk on water, but they love walking on ice. They head to frozen lakes to ice fish, relax on lounge chairs, crack a few frosty cold ones and ride their ATVs and snowmobiles. Some people even put little sheds on the ice where they can hang out for hours waiting for the fish to bite. It takes a lot of confidence to put a structure on ice. I’m not sure I have that level of confidence about anything.

These are the people who make us southern New Englanders feel like amateurs. They’re the ones who shovel snow off the roof, put chains on tires, and spikes on the soles of their hiking shoes. They’re the ones with snowshoes used more than once, cross country skis that make it out of the garage, and mountain bikes used to climb actual mountains.

These are the folks people are talking about when they speak of hearty Yankees. They have no patience for winter wimps who go outside without a coat and then complain of being freezing. They look at you like, “Well, what did you expect Einstein?”

I asked The Curmudgeon if he’d like to try walking on the frozen lake and he shook me off with a story about one of his friends falling through the ice on a small pond in grammar school. We opted for a sensible hike.

There was no snow at the inn, but we failed to account for the rise in elevation and shaded trails. We went to a state forest just over the New York border where every trail was covered in frozen snow. The Curmudgeon wore hiking boots. I wore running shoes with no treads.

Undeterred, we hiked up frozen trails and riverbeds in hopes of getting views and photos that reflected the beauty and majesty of the setting. Every time we thought we were reaching the summit, it was just a small clearing, or the view was obscured by trees. So we kept at it, pausing a disconcerting number of times to catch our breath and for me to remark on how much I was sweating.


A frosty cold beer and a sip of wine after the hike.

It was one of those hikes where you’re just hoping you don’t slip and break your neck, or worse. The kind where you’re on edge the entire time, stirring up more anxiety and angst that you had when you started out. It required watching every step because making the wrong one could send you sliding down the trail. The kind of hike where you’re consumed with your descent even as you continue to scale.

Of course, what goes up must go down. I’m glad no one else was around  because we looked like two fools clutching trees and branches, sidestepping as if on skis, crawling on all fours and sliding on our backsides.

At one point, The Curmudgeon remarked that I looked like I was on the luge – that tiny sled where people lay flat on their backs. I didn’t have a luge or a brake, both of which would have been nice. I had no idea a protruding stick could hurt so much until I ran over it with my right  thigh. I had to stop to make sure I wasn’t stabbed because it sure felt like I was.

I had no idea The Curmudgeon could be such a gentleman, tossing me his gloves to get me to shut up about my frozen hands. I had no idea my jeans would become soaked in an instant, yet take hours to dry. I had no idea that you shouldn’t celebrate until you navigate the ice-covered parking lot and get in your car.

We didn’t get any magnificent photos at the summit. And upon returning to our car, we realized the best views were from the parking lot and the road.

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A view from the road.

Weight Watchers


It’s places like this that get us grown-ups in trouble. This is the candy display at Alley’s General Store in West Tilbury, MA., on the lovely island of Martha’s Vineyard. You can spot the Vineyard Salt Water Taffy on the top shelf to the right.  

I did something the last two times I went to the doctor that I’ve never done before: I told them not to tell me my weight.

I’ve been feeling a little chunky (fat) since the holidays, and I didn’t want to know the extent of the damage. So on my way to the doctor’s office, I decided I didn’t want to know my weight.

I didn’t realize this was an option until one of my sisters told me that she always closes her eyes when she gets on the doctor’s scale. Ignorance is sometimes bliss, particularly when you’re waiting for your intensive exercise program to show results.

I felt a little better about my scale phobia after reading today that 45 percent of women postpone or cancel doctor’s appointments because they want to lose weight before getting on the scale. What this means is that nearly half of all women would rather have an undiagnosed medical condition than know their weight.

I don’t know what this says about women. Well, actually I do. We hate scales because we always weigh more than we think we do or should. We’d rather go by the clothes test – if a certain pair of pants or a skirt is tight, we know it’s time to dial back on the ice cream and chips. I once kept a pair of light blue pants with a high waist just to gauge my weight. I hated them, but couldn’t get rid of them because they were my litmus test.

The thing I’ve realized about weight is you either feel thin or heavy, and there’s no middle ground. One month, you’re slipping into your skinny black pants and feeling smug, while the next you’re stuffing yourself in like a sausage. You have no idea how this happened, but you’re now in panic mode, vowing to eat only lettuce until the pants fit.

In my 20s and 30s, I weighed myself every day (obsessive?). In those days, I’d gain about five pounds on the weekends (partay!), and work all week to lose it. I bought a doctor’s scale off my father for $50 because I got tired of store-bought scales being so unreliable. How accurate can a scale be when you can shift your feet and lose five pounds?

I bought the light blue scale in the 80s, and still have it in my basement. My kids and The Curmudgeon step on it regularly, but I avoid it. I realize that weight isn’t the measure of a woman, and that as you age, weight loss is often a symptom of illness or emotional unrest. I’m at an age where I’ll take an extra few pounds if it means feeling well.

Too many people I know who struggled with their weight began dropping pounds when they were sick. My mother-in-law was blessed with a strong, athletic build, but began losing weight like never before one summer. We struggled to keep her in clothes that fit as she waged her battle with an undetermined illness that eventually was diagnosed as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Think about it. Though many of us want to be thin, we’re concerned when we see someone who’s really thin because they look ill. “Are they OK?” we wonder. Watching NCIS New Orleans for the first time in two years last night, I noticed that Lucas Black has lost a lot of weight. I’m not the only one. People on Facebook are questioning whether he’s sick or doing the Paleo diet.

I’m generally pretty good about diet and exercise, but I’ve slipped up over the past few months. Sometimes, it’s harder to pass on Peanut M & Ms and ice cream than others. And hiking in 10 degree weather gets old, particularly when there are so many episodes of Kitchen Nightmares on Netflix that I haven’t seen.

As I’ve pointed out to whomever crosses my path lately, we can’t always be vigilant. In fact, periods of extreme denial often lead to excess. But getting older means cutting yourself a break, and knowing you can always begin again.

As for the scale at the doctor’s office, just close your eyes.


Mutt Shots


Cali’s vet photo.


My dog hates going to the doctor as much as I do.

Mention the vet, and Cali’s floppy adorable Lab ears go way back, and her tail flits nervously between her legs. She cowers under the kitchen table, and trembles in the passenger seat of my car.

She knows when we’re near the vet’s office by the myriad of animal smells. I usually crack the window so she can sniff the air, confirming her worst fears. She usually walks in without much fanfare, but it’s downhill from there.

The last time we were there for an ear infection, it took two minutes to get her weight because one of her hind legs was off the scale, and she refused to budge. And while other dogs sit passively with their owners, Cali always makes a scene. She pants, paces and tugs at her leash. She jumps up on the waiting room’s wooden bench to get into my lap. She refuses to take biscuits offered in a futile effort to calm her down.

When the technician calls her name, she looks like she’ll cooperate, then veers sharply for the door. Every time. When we finally get into the tiny examining room and close the door to wait for the vet, she sniffs, whimpers and then barks to leave.

When the vet sees her huddled in the corner, and asks if she’s always so anxious, I say, “She’s usually worse.” And even the vet is slightly amused by her overreaction. “It’s going to be OK Cali,” she says. “I just need to look at your ears.”

I don’t know when dogs begin to fear the vet, but in Cali’s case it began after she was spayed at 6 months old and did an overnight at the vet hospital. I had no idea how attached she had become to us until I went to pick her up. You’d think she’d just been sprung from a year in prison.

In almost nine years, we’ve had our share of health scares with her:  Eating mouse poison during a kitchen renovation project (don’t ask); devouring 30 freshly baked dark and white chocolate cookies (the vet asked for the recipe), and a dog bite that required a trip to the 24-hour veterinary hospital during a blizzard driving ban.

The good news is I made the half-hour trip in great time because there were no other cars on the road. The bad is that I broke the law and was driving in a blizzard. Note to self: When the governor issues a driving ban, it’s probably a good idea to stay home.

When you do silly things like drive during bans, you always imagine the headline in tomorrow’s paper: Woman charged with reckless endangerment after taking bleeding dog to clinic.

Although I felt a bit unhinged during the trip, I was heartened when I arrived and the emergency clinic’s waiting room was packed with other lawbreakers with sick pets. The weirdest: an older couple who arrived with a standard poodle wearing a T-shirt and rain boots, and a Great Dane who got a gash in his leg from a gas grill. The cute couple who owned him didn’t really explain why they were using a gas grill during a blizzard, nor did anyone ask.

I’m not sure why vets began taking photos of dogs for their files, but I’m beginning to think they’re the canine version of driver’s license photos. I stopped gussying myself up for my license photo several years ago when I realized it was a lost cause.

But I’m going to be really mad if doctors begin taking photos of patients for their files. That would mean I’d have to fix my hair and face in addition to fasting for a week before the appointment. I’m not sure I can handle that.


A smiling pup at a nearby sunflower field.

Curtain Time


There’s nothing complicated about buying curtains, and I can buy these at Ikea 20 minutes from my house. . . so why are some of my windows still bare after nearly 15 years? 


I broke the first rule of blogging.

Before we stepped into the sweet spring air after our final class at Gateway Community College in New Haven, CT., last May, our food blogging teacher Priscilla Martel gave us one piece of advice:

  • Post at least once a week. If you don’t, people won’t take you seriously, or worse, think you’ve abandoned your blog.

I get it. When someone who regularly posts abruptly stops, your first thought is, “I hope she’s OK.” When Waking Up on the Wrong Side of 50 missed a daily post several months ago, I was concerned. I can set my watch by her posts. Turns out she was under the weather, as I suspected.

But other bloggers suddenly disappear without even a one-line explanation, like “I just can’t deal with you all right now,” or “I’m spending my time with my kids, so get a life.” It’s a little like someone leaving your party without saying goodbye. Um, not so fast. Where are your manners?

I appreciate most bloggers’ realizing that we wonder about them when they’re MIA. When Chrissy of Chrissy’s Fabulous Fifties had computer problems, she told us. She explained that she’d be offline for several days, but that she’d be writing during her absence. True to her word, she was back about a week later refreshed and ready to roll.

What I’ve realized is that once you do something regularly, people expect it. The Curmudgeon was upbraided when he arrived at a monthly business meeting without doughnuts and muffins after he’d been bringing them for several months. “Where’s the food?” one of his partners asked. “What kind of operation is this?”

After sprinting to the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner – and sadly receiving the senior discount without being questioned about his age – The Curmudgeon was on notice: Show up with the goods or don’t come at all.  (Footnote: After the meeting, The Curmudgeon rushed to his computer and Googled “Age for Dunkin’ Donuts’ senior discount.” He was relieved beyond words to learn it’s 55.)

But back to me being a slug. A friend asked if I have writer’s block, but I don’t. I’ve been writing every day, but nothing is grabbing me. Two pieces I wrote about racial prejudice and fat shaming didn’t develop properly. And as I’ve over-shared before, I won’t post a piece unless I like it.

That’s how I roll. I’m the same way shopping for gifts. I don’t buy anything unless I think the recipient will like it. Some might call this attention to detail people-pleasing, over-thinking or obsessing. I prefer to view it as wanting to give something that won’t be returned, or thrown in the back of a drawer.

Of course, taking your sweet time to find perfect things or craft perfect prose often leads to frustration and inertia. My house is a testament to my tendency to drop things midstream.

The previous owners covered the walls in eye-level electrical outlets for lights to showcase the wife’s artwork. Shortly after moving in, I searched for sconces for outlets flanking the living room fireplace. I was thinking flunky blown glass, art deco or mid-century modern.

What I got was nothing because I completely overwhelmed myself. It’s been 15 years and the outlets are still hiding behind cheap wall candleholders. The lesson: Strike while the iron is hot. If you don’t, things won’t get done. Or worse, The Curmudgeon will impose a spending freeze.

It’s the same thing in my family room. I removed the area rug when my Labrador retriever Lindsey began having accidents on it in her golden years. My “new” Lab Cali is nearly nine and I still haven’t replaced the rug. So what if the room looks like an Arthur Murray Dance Studio?

I bought fabric for dining room window treatments about 13 years ago – and it’s still neatly folded in my linen closet. I’ve wanted to replace the ugly brass light fixtures in my entryway and dining room since we moved here in 2002, but haven’t gotten around to it. I removed a broken Roman shade in my mud room six months ago, and haven’t even measured for a new one.

I bring all of this up not to flagellate myself, but to point out that sometimes (often) seeking perfection is paralyzing. After one of my friends did a major renovation on her house, I was most impressed by her amazing window treatments. I’m still slogging away with my bamboo blinds from Lowe’s that I meant to replace 10 years ago.

Like a lot of things in life – say, a flabby backside or sudden emergence of jowls  – it’s easier to notice other people’s imperfections than your own. A family recently (six months ago) moved into a new house around the corner. They seem settled in: they had pumpkins and cornstalks at Halloween and were flush in Christmas decorations.

But they still don’t have any window treatments. This would be fine if they lived in the woods, but they’re on a main drag and have neighbors like me. I’ve given them a pass because I realize window treatments take time, but it’s been six months. I’m starting to really feel like a Peeping Tom now.

I know it’s none of my business and the world has far bigger problems than window coverings, but it bothers me, just as it bothered my father. Growing up, I had a friend on the next street whose natural shingle saltbox was devoid of window coverings. About the only thing my Dad ever said about him was, “Why don’t they have any shades?”

I understand some people’s need for light, particularly in the winter. My father-in-law despised curtains, permitting only wooden shutters and mini-blinds lowered at night and raised at dawn. I’m not a fan of heavy or ornate window treatments, but I appreciate them in the right setting.

But I realize my bare windows – and I’ve got plenty of them – really just announce to the world that I haven’t a clue what to do with them. Besides triggering the occasional optic migraine, having light constantly streaming in is drying out the kitchen cabinets and fading the upholstery and carpets.

My inertia – OK, let’s call it a tragic flaw – is catching up with me. But not any more. I’m hanging curtains, shades, mini blinds or shutters – I’m still deciding – and posting whether I love a piece or not, starting right here.



Clean Sweep



It’s amazing how some items survive every decluttering effort. Here is the fluffy outfit we brought our son home in 20 years ago, and a towel from college circa 1980.

The Curmudgeon is a pack rat.

He’s not ready for “Hoarders” yet, but close. Our basement and closets are testament to his inability to part with anything.

We still have the cheesy fake wooden bar with the American eagle on the front that we bought for our first apartment nearly 35 years ago. A moving guy looked at me quizzically when we carted it from our old house nearly 15 years ago. “This is a piece of s&*t,” he said.

“He’s very attached to it because it’s the first bar he ever owned,” I explained. He uses the back of the bar as shelving for his basement office. Yes, it looks as hideous as it sounds.

Any mention of clearing clutter sends him into a tailspin. He was very excited when I told him the Vietnam Veterans of America are coming to pick up things we no longer need. He even pulled out a postcard outlining things they need – clothes, shoes, small appliances, linens and jewelry.

But when I suggested that he use an unexpected snow day to gather items, he rebelled. He began defending everything in his closet, including ties he hasn’t worn in 20 years. He began questioning why I was giving away books that I’ll never read again. He argued that Kitty Kelly’s unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan should be saved because “it’s a very good book.”

I could deal with a little resistance, but The Curmudgeon gets testy.  At one point, he looked up from working at his desk and announced, “OK, now I can’t concentrate. You’ve gotten me very upset. You are not going into the basement. I’ll do it over the weekend.” It’s now Monday, and no progress has been made.

I detest clutter. In fact, it makes me very anxious. I’m not a clean freak – anyone who’s ever seen my car can attest to that – but I’m happier when my house is in order. One of my neighbors used to say if her kitchen was clean, the rest of the house followed, and I agree. Keeping the kitchen clean is one of the great challenges of life, and it’s hard to do when your cabinets are full of clutter.

One of the best tips the Vietnam Veterans give is clearing your kitchen of duplicates. Who knew I had four replacement Mr. Coffee glass pots in the cabinet over the refrigerator, or two of those gizmos for spiraling vegetables? I had no idea I had so many can and bottle openers, or coffee mugs I just don’t use.

Anyone who has ever watched “Hoarders,” which I admit to occasionally watching, knows what I’m describing with The Curmudgeon. Hoarders become anxious, sweaty and irrational parting with things. They have an emotional attachment to objects, and some look like they will die if they lose them.

For me, the show is always a great wake-up call. I’ve never once watched it without launching into a cleaning spree.


Some of The Curmudgeon’s ties. I’m trying to convince him to donate the ones on the right, which he hasn’t worn in 20 years.

Of course, there are items that slide through every decluttering: the fuzzy onesie that my son wore the day we brought him home; the navy blue skirt I wore when I met The Curmudgeon’s parents; a red printed silk dress from our honeymoon to California, one of my mother’s angora sweaters from the ’50s, and a tiny red velvet dress my daughter wore when she was 1.

I also have a lime green towel from my days at Wheaton College, mainly to remind me to buy quality linens. It’s tattered and threadbare, but it’s the only thing that remains from my college days so it’s staying. I can’t be that old if I still have a towel I used in college.

One of the most irritating parts of dealing with pack rats is their tendency to postpone the dirty work or blame you for your home’s state of affairs. “If you think you’re so great, go through your closet,” they say. “And while you’re at it, take a look at your bureau too.”

They also gang up on you, enlisting the rest of the household to their side. “Get a load of Mom,” The Curmudgeon said to our kids. “Telling us to declutter when her stuff is everywhere.”

Guilty as charged, but at least I’m trying. I promised to gather up to 15 bags of stuff, and I’m currently hovering at about seven. I’ve found decluttering is done in fits and starts, and I’m in a bit of a lull again. But I hope to gather some momentum today. There’s not a lot else you can do when it’s 10 degrees outside.

I’ve given up on The Curmudgeon. After 34 years of marriage, I realize there are some things I can’t change, so I guess I’m on my own. Will I reach my goal? I’ll let you know.


You have to start somewhere. I promised the vets 15 bags. I’m about half-way there.