Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Ahhhhhhh……annnnnd we’re back

Vacations are delightful, aren’t they?  Particularly when you have no to-dos, no responsibilities, no wake-up calls.  Coming back from vacations is less awesome.

I was just away for a week, I went to TN, to our friends’ houseboat with my mom and my sister.  We have known these people since I was seven and my sister was five.  My mom worked at a preschool with two other women and they really hit it off. They happened to all have kids about the same age.  We all became friends, too.  So these TN trips are like a big family reunion.  During the weeks we’re floating in a TN lake, I have more mothers, fathers and siblings  than any other time of the year.  Remarkably, this isn’t a cause for irritation.  The people who own the boat have cultivated an atmosphere of extreme relaxation:  You want to float with a drink in your hand?  Sure!  You want to get drug around the lake behind the boat? Ok!  You want to lay on the deck and get sun?  Cool!  How about going to ride on the jetski?  That’s good too.

Which makes it all the harder to come back to the reality of expectations, schedules and work.  I’ve been feeling zombie-ish this week.  Getting my thoughts together is harder than usual (which could be because the weather has been hotter than usual) and my desire to move myself is pretty low.  My brain is still on vacation.

Never fear!  I’m going back on vacation next week.

 

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My diamond shoes are too tight

Every day, a man prays to win the lottery.  He does good deeds, he’s a good person and he prays really hard.  Weeks and months and years go by, and his prayers are unanswered.  Finally, one night, instead of praying to win the lottery, he asks God why he hasn’t won yet.  God ends his years of silence by saying, “You never bought a ticket.”

I don’t usually buy lottery tickets, the 1 in 200 million odds just aren’t enough to motivate me to shell out my dollar.  But I do dream about what I would do and buy with that kind of money.  Of course, my dreams, as ever, are tempered by practicalities.  It would be the amount after taxes, after all.  And my spending habits would depend on whether I decided to take the lump sum payment or the annualized amount.  I’d probably opt for the lump sum, do some investing and only pay taxes on my interest, in case you were wondering. 

I would quit my job.  Lots of people wouldn’t and I understand, but I don’t think I could focus on my work if I was dreaming of my 5pm-9am life of luxury.  I’d buy a couple of houses.  One in New York City, a nice town house in Brooklyn or the Upper West Side.  I wouldn’t live there full-time, so I’d see if my friends wanted to stay there, keep it up and enjoy a rent-free life. 

I’d buy our lake house from my father and his brother, tear it down and build my dream house there.  A Craftsman style home, with a big patio, outdoor kitchen and big windows to watch the water from. 

I’d take a luxury vacation and I’d bring my favorite people with me.  We’d spend the first day getting pampered in the spa, fresh haircuts, new clothes.  Then we’d dance and party and swim (or ski, depending on where we went) and have a grand time for a few weeks. 

I’d make some donations.  Some organizations do wonderful work, and I’d want to support that.

I’d start a business, something to fill my time, employ a few people and make my life fun and interesting.  Maybe I’d help my sister start a business for herself.  Get her the capital and start her off right. 

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.  So, I suppose I should buy a ticket already.

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My Musical Inspiration

Cropped screenshot of Benny Goodman from the t...

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I’ve been fortunate to have a number of amazing people around me all of my life. I can pinpoint certain teachers who guided me down a path that I may not have found otherwise. I have an amazing family and many incredible friends who have influenced me in a myriad of ways. However, there is one person, with his quiet and gentle guidance, that inspired me more than any other and ultimately, his inspiration led me to where I am today. that man was my maternal grandfather, who I affectionately called Poppy.

While I now teach special education, this was not the path I originally set out on.  Prior to teaching students with special needs, I wanted to be an English and Drama teacher.  I was exposed to drama first through my experiences in music.  Poppy unintentionally inspired my early music education and even my choice of instrument at the age of 10.

My sister and I would regularly spend the night at our grandparents house. It was a fun night away from home, and while at the time I thought it was just a great way for us to spend time with Gramma and Poppy, I realize now it was also a welcome break for our parents.  Anyway, Poppy would often retire to his TV room after dinner and listen to music. This is where I was first exposed to Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and other Big Band greats.  My six-year old self would wander into his room, crawl up into his lap, and listen to the Big Bands emanating from the speakers.  I knew, at an early age, that I wanted to play that type of music.  This meant that I had to play the saxophone.

My mother tried to convince me to play something else, something like the clarinet. Nothing against the clarinet, but I knew that there wasn’t much of a chance to do jazz on a clarinet (Benny Goodman was a notable exception).  Mom had nothing against the saxophone, she just didn’t want he very small daughter to be hauling it back and forth to school everyday.  However, I was not to be dissuaded, and my parents rented a saxophone for me that fall.  I loved it. Of course, a simple version of Ode to Joy and the Batman theme (seriously? Four notes!) was all the further I got that year, but it laid the foundation for some real success later on and eventually joining the jazz band in high school. At the end of my high school career, I was lucky enough to travel with our high school band to Europe, my first time abroad.

Poppy passed away in 1992 when I was not yet 14.  He never got to see how far I got with music and how that later morphed into theatre and education. I’d like to think that he’s watched what I’ve done over the years. I just hope he knows how much he unintentionally inspired me at such a young age.

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Inspirational Nucleus

No I did not forget that Tuesday is my day to post. I just had a really hard time thinking of one inspirational person. When I try to think of an inspiration person I try to think of someone who helped make me who I am. A person who I’ll look to when I need help getting through a tough day. In a sort of …What Would _____ Do? type of way.

By noon today I finally cried Uncle. I’ve been inspired by so many people through my life no one person stands out more than others. There is one group that stands out. My little nuclear family. My mother, father, and older sister.

My parents didn’t just talk about how I should treat people, approach work, and to generally being a good person. They demonstrated it every single day.  My mother was an operation room nurse who would regularly be on call. She’d work the hours needed to get the job done. My father would always remind me that I am being paid to be present at work. That classic concept of an honest day’s work for and honest day’s pay. To always treat people the way you want to be treated, etc, etc.

My sister inspired my life in her own special way. Growing up she may have been my tormentor. She showed me and inspired me to always be myself. She’s always been confident in who she is and all through the peer pressure of middle school and high school was herself. Once she went off to college she helped become a guiding force like my parents. Once thing I will never forget shortly after she went to college. She came home from break and told me. It gets so much better after high school. It may get rough but just get through the next few years. College is fantastic. This became my mantra through high school when I’d have a bad day.

I had the classic nuclear family. They all molded me and inspired me to be the person that I am today. Everyday I use what they’ve showed me to be a better person. Other people in my life have inspired me to do different things. The ones that had the biggest effect and I know I will always turn to will be my little nuclear family.

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What I Missed Along the Way

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Like many of my blog-mates, I have few regrets. I, too, realize that my life wouldn’t be what it is if I hadn’t made the choice that I did.  Mainly, the regrets I have are things that I choice not to do. Often coming from a place of fear, I wonder what would have happened, what would have been different if I had stepped up and chosen the other option.

Just before I turned 16, my family moved across the country. Now, being a minor, I didn’t have a whole lot of say in this decision. I always wondered though, what would have happened if I would have stayed? I had a boyfriend who I was head over heels in love with. Would we have stayed together? I had close friends that I’d been with for years. I honestly wonder what I would have ended up doing with my life, since the opportunities that were presented to me in Pennsylvania directly led to my chosen career. I don’t know if I count that as a regret, but it was a definite divergence in the road and I occasionally mourn the life I left behind.

My only major regret is my lack of love life. I’ve had a few opportunities that, or a variety of reasons, I did not explore. I’ve also never made it a priority in my life, choosing rather to focus on my career or education. Yet, when I see a happy couple walking hand-in-hand, I think, “that could have been me.”  Even worse, when I see my friends with their young ones, I really start thinking about what I am missing. I never thought that I wanted to be a mom, but there is an urge there that I can’t deny. If it never happens, then I’ll be fine, but I can’t say that I never wanted a child of my own.

Wow, this was a sad week.  Next week will be better, I promise!!

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The Love of Family and Friends

I love my friends and family. This week has reminded me how lucky I am to have these people in my life. My parents have been here most of the week. My dad moving heavy objects making minor adjustments to ensure my apartment is set. My mother spent 2 straight days just unpacking and washing kitchenware. My friends who live locally came up and helped haul large heavy items up to my second floor apartment that my back won’t let me carry. My godmother sent me house warming presents in two big boxes that arrived just in time to cheer me up on a particularly stressful day. My big sister called to check on me and talked me through some of my moving frustrations putting me on the verge of a breakdown. Friends who weren’t close enough to help with the move have checked in to see how I’m doing and wish me luck. Times like this are when you realize how great the people are around you. It reaffirms the unconditional love of family. No matter how many times I snapped at my parents out of frustration they continued to help me and when I’d apologized they reminded me the loved me. They knew I was sore and tired and frustrated by my limitations. I may not have  found my soul mate yet like some of the other people my age but at least I know I have family and friends that love me and will be there for me when I need them. If you were one of those people that has helped me over the past week or two either helping me move out or helping me move in you know who you are and know I’m thankful that you are part of my life.

That’s all I have for this week folks.Here’s a parting song that sums up my love for my family. The one I was born with and the one I’ve gathered through my life.

If you’ve never seen James and the Giant Peach it’s a cute movie. A little odd at times but overall very cute.

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You’ve got to be kind.

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

This is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, part of a baptismal speech.   

So, Valentine’s Day is about love, and blah blah blah, and hearts and flowers and candy and music.  It’s actually a day about stuff about love, isn’t it.  It’s not a day about being kind and generous and giving of yourself.  But, I’m not going to talk about the myriad problems I have with the celebration of Valentine’s Day as a concept or as a practice.  (I’m misanthropic in many ways, and Valentine’s Day brings many of them out in me…it’s not pretty, so we’ll be ignoring it.  Thank you very much) 

I want to talk about kindness, which is the manifestation of love, is it not?  Kindness to your dear ones is a manifestation of your very real love for them; kindness toward strangers is a manifestation of a love of humanity. 

This weekend, I found out that the woman who taught me to knit had died.  She was an extraordinarily kind woman.  We worked together on the night maintenance crew at a gym one summer.  Needless to say, we had some time to chat.  She spent the minutes between wiping down the machines or loading towels into the dryer correcting my wooly mistakes and telling me how I went wrong.  I saw her from time to time over the next few years, but I moved away, and I didn’t keep in touch.  It was a sad moment when I found out that she had passed away.  It brought me back to that summer and the frustration that gave way to fascination, which eventually gave way to obsession with knitting.  But it also brought me back to the laughter and fun that she shared with me. 

We all have friends and loved ones who go through hard times.  Sometimes, if someone is having a difficult time, the only things you can do are be available, be accepting, listen and say nice things.  It might not be enough to make anything right, but it’s the very least you have the capacity to do.  It’s not hard, it doesn’t cost you anything.  In fact, there’s an argument to be made that you’re gaining something, too. 

Love (the real thing, not the schmoopy droopy Valentiney thing) is easy to feel, but difficult, sometimes, to put into action.  My point, I suppose, is that Grand Gestures of love and adoration are nice, and sometimes necessary.  But, what people really need is the small stuff.  We need the listening, the forgiving, the patience, the time. 

Afterall, we only have, at the outside 100 years here.  God Damn it…we’ve got to be kind.

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Protect Your Four-legged Family

I had a very upsetting incident yesterday evening.  I was about to go to bed when I saw that I had an email on my phone. I decided to check it before turning out my light.  It was a lost dog alert from HomeAgain – a company that microchips dogs and then helps locate them if lost. I signed up to get the lost dog alerts in the hope that I could help someone find the member of their family that wondered off.

Max, the dog upstairs

Well, I opened the email and realized that the alert was really near me – just around the corner. It took a moment for the picture to load, but when it did, I realized that it was the dog that lived on the third floor of my building! I knew Max! He was one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met. Super friendly and likely to kiss you to death. The biggest problem, though, was that Max is a pitbull. I was afraid of what would happen if someone found poor Max wondering about.

Good news, though – I came home today and saw Max’s family walking him outside. I was so relieved to see him padding along after his dad. I don’t know if his microchip or the lost dog alert helped with it, but they very well may have.

Riley, my moms dog

Both my dog and my mom’s dogs are microchipped, and I strongly believe that all dogs should be.  Collars are great, but they come off and get lost.  This little chip, no bigger than a grain of rice, is implanted under their skin between their shoulder blades.  Our boys had it done when they were neutered and already unconscious, but there is no need to knock the dog out to do this. It’s not any more invasive than their rabies shots.  Any vet, any shelter, any animal control agency these days has a scanner than can read the information on the chip – usually the owners name and contact information.  It truly could save your dog’s life.

My boy Toby

It’s not expensive – it cost only about $30 when I had Toby done two years ago.  The additional services from HomeAgain are completely optional, but still only $18 a year.  Besides having peace of mind that your dog has a much higher chance of getting back to you, many local municipalities offer a discount on licensing fees. I saved about $10 on Toby’s license last year, so in only 3 years, I’ll have made up the difference!

For your dog’s sake, as well as your own, microchip your dog so if he/she is missing, you have a much better chance of seeing your best friend again.

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Pass the Present

My family has a lot of Christmas traditions.  But, if I had to select one, I’d have to tell you about something my father’s been doing for as long as I can remember.  No matter what else happens, and what other traditions bend and change from year to year, one thing has remained constant.

Christmas morning, picture it:

My sister and I wrapped in our duvets, usually with a dog or two sitting with us on the couch.  Staring intently at the tree, lit up, gorgeous and buried with presents.  Now, my father begins his tradition. It starts with the explanation, which we can all recite by heart.

“We will do gifts one at a time. I’ll hand them out and then everyone can watch everyone else open all of their presents.”

As he passes out presents, in order at first, then, by the end of the morning, just whichever one he grabs.  He follows our instructions: “Give mom that one!” “Natalie needs this one next!” and reads each tag aloud then we all watch with rapt attention as the recipient opens his or her present, makes their oohs and ahhs and thanks.  Then, we start the cycle again.

By the end of the morning, several hours later, we’re surrounded by gifts, and crumpled and torn paper and boxes.  For all the reasons Christmas can be stressful and nerve-wracking, the morning of, with my family, makes up for all of it.

Merry Christmas!

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Our (Changing) Family Traditions

Amanda and I (Samantha) are sharing this post today. We figured this only makes sense since we grew up with the same traditions. Also, there will not be a post on Friday because of Christmas Eve.

Samantha:

The longest running tradition in our family started at my very first Christmas in 1978.  A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mom realized that she wanted to get me a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament. Those of you who follow Hallmark ornaments know about the hundreds of different ornaments that they come out with every year. However, back in the late 70s, this wasn’t the case. There were only a few ornament that mom could choose from. They were four inch balls with a plastic picture wrapped around it.  While by today’s standards, it was a little lame, I still love it because it was my first one.

The next year, Mom got another ornament for me, and this tradition continued. When Amanda came along, Mom started buying her ornaments as well. At some point in the early 1980s, Hallmark switched over to figurine style ornaments, and then it all went crazy.  Mom was great at picking out ornaments that reflected what was going on in our lives at that time.  I have a small mouse which is using his hat as a parachute. It was called “Hang In There.” This was especially poignant since I was really struggling academically that fall. Hallmark also has series, which are great and horrible at the same time. In 1991, I received an adorable puppy hanging on a candy cane. It was the first in a series of dogs in various Christmas situations.  Fast forward to last week – I just received number 20 in the series. And it’s not done yet. I love them all, but seriously? I feel obligated to get them so I can have them all.

Anyway, this tradition ended this year with Amanda’s 30th Christmas (Amanda’s interjection: holy crap! My 30th Christmas?!?!?). Our tree over the years has been full of very personal ornaments that bring back great memories. I’ll miss the ornaments, but unless we wanted to invest in a 10 foot tree, I think it’s a good time to end this great tradition.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

Image by djwudi via Flickr

Another tradition that started at some point in the early 1980s was the choice of music to which we would the decorate the Christmas tree.  Somewhere a long the line, my parents bought the cassette tape of John Denver and the Muppets – A Christmas Together. Before long, that was the only music we could listen to while decorating the tree.  It even got to the point that Amanda and I would not allow anyone to listen to it until we had decorated the tree.  To this day, if I’m listening to the radio and one of those songs come on, I’ll change the station if we haven’t decorated the tree yet (Amanda: Me too!).

Amanda:

The last Christmas tradition our family observed occurred on Christmas Eve. Every year, we were able to open one present on Christmas Eve, and every year it was a pair of pajamas. As we progressed in age, we went from footie pajamas to satin pajamas. It was great as we were growing up because we always grew out of our pajamas from the previous year. Alas, both Samantha and I stopped growing far sooner than we had hoped (Samantha Interjection: Seriously!), and after that, the pajamas started piling up. We decided to end that tradition a couple of years ago.

Christmas continues to morph for me. A few years before we got married, my husband and I bought a place and moved in together. Our first Christmas together was interesting as we tried to blend our traditions. Fortunately, most of my traditions came from tree decorating to Christmas Eve while his were focused on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Darren comes from a fairly traditional Italian family. He’s the third generation off the boat, and the Italian traditions remain strong in his family. I was a bit taken aback our first Christmas Eve together where we went out for a huge Italian meal. First there was the antipasti, then the main course, and then coffee and dessert back at his parents’ house.  Keep in mind, dessert isn’t just a pie and some cookies. Most years, there’s at least one dessert per person. Growing up, Christmas Eve dinners were usually light, quick and easy. Sometimes we’d make pizza, other times it might be breakfast. The rest of the evening was spent watching Christmas movies.

In the last few years, Darren and I have hosted Christmas Eve dinner at our place. In the Italian tradition, no meat is to be eaten on Christmas Eve. Instead, we celebrate the Feast of the 7 Fishes. I don’t think we’ve quite hit 7 separate fish yet, but we usually average about 5. Back when Darren’s dad was growing up, after midnight, out would come the sausages, chicken, veal and other meats that had been prohibited earlier in the day. For better or for worse, we haven’t gotten to that level yet. I enjoy hosting dinner for my husband’s family. I feel it’s our contribution toward keeping their traditions alive.

I’m sure over the years we’ll continue to navigate blending our traditions, and coming up with new ones once we decide to have kids. At some point, I’ll have to start retiring some of my ornaments from my childhood to make room on the tree for the new ones my kids will get on tree-decorating-day.  I’m sure they’ll like all the good food on Christmas Eve and then getting into their new jammies and crawling into bed to wait for Santa Claus. I just hope they prefer the carols of the Muppets over something from their time, because it’s just not Christmas without the Muppets (Samantha Interjection: Amen!).

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

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