Saturday, April 25, 2015

A View of My Future, Through My Rear-View Mirror

I haven't blogged since early January.

Since then, Mom passed away, peacefully, on February 1st. Once my lives settles down again, I have so much to write about how I experienced that transition, as I'm still processing it.

In the meantime, I'm knocking back my daily coffee and preparing for my next adventure. Boxes of every dimension are all around me and in every room, together with bags of packing material and rolls of bubble wrap that are as tall as me when stood on their side.

My son and daughter-in-law pop in and out to help. I have made countless trips to local thrift stores to donate tons of stuff that is absolutely of no emotional connection to me. Other things have found loving homes with my neighbors. My favorite mantra these days is, "You want it? It's yours!"

Of course, that leaves rooms of tender memory-things that will eventually find their way to me when I settle in my new condo--which is somewhere out there, especially on sites like After getting an insanely heart-stopping quote from a corporate moving and storage firm--even with the "discount," I've opted to store my non-essentials here briefly, find the permanent home for Tiggy and me, and then send for everything.

The house sale is getting wrapped up, and I have deputized a trusted relative/friend with handling the final details.

On Monday, April 27th, I will be packing Tiggy securely into her carrier, answering her plaintive "meew" inquiries with assurances, loading up my essentials (toiletries, outfits, some notebooks), and then hitting the interstate. My car has had a safety check, and my "out-law" Hal and I have spread out a map on the table and plotted the best route. With good fortune, and a stop or two in safe, pet-friendly motels (not anything "Bates"-like!), I'm planning on getting into Littleton, Colorado on Wednesday, April 29th.

There, a new job and a new future awaits.

For the past couple of months, I've done countless hours of research on my "new frontier," including a new church community, where the local Costco is, the seasonal weather, how to get in and around various points -- and, of course, what lies beyond in Denver. I've even reached out to a MeetUp group called "Rock and Roll Oldies," which is geared toward our generation with dances, parties, and even group attendance at geezer-concerts. Several friends here in Burbank have already connected me with their own Littleton connections, and I've already promised them to meet for coffee, wine, or whatever ASAP.

You see, I'm really, truly excited to make this move -- but I'm not clueless as to the enormity of it all. The last time I experienced this kind of migration, I was only eight years old, and seated in the back of the packed station wagon, as Mom nervously navigated unfamiliar roads and Grandmother barked directions at her while clutching the maps.

As my own d-date looms, those memories flash back to me, especially at night. And now, I'm in the driver's seat. If there's some kind of supportive system on the back end of my journey, it will soften my landing.

But don't worry about me. I'll plow through the next few days and weeks -- and have fresh material to share.

Talk to you soon. Lots of love, and farewell.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Happy 2015, as I consider other ventures

I will always be, at heart, a therapist and teacher. Considering how much I invested (on so many levels!)in my career path, how could I not be? And yet, other ventures are also calling to me to satisfy a longing in my soul.

As I have hinted in other posts, I couldn't care less about mall shopping, especially traditionally girly venues like clothing and shoe stores. When the need for such things as a new dress or pair of comfortable flats arises, I'll go into a discount store, find what I need and call it good.

But... in the past couple of years, I've become quite the customer of a certain so-called "big-box" home improvement store. I absolutely love the smell of cut wood in the lumber department, and the earthiness of the potting soil and, yes, even the manure in the gardening section. Recently, also I've discovered the joys in this store's center, Aisle 9, where all the tools are! The other day, to my surprise, I had the mischievous urge to jump on a forklift that was parked nearby, and take it for a joyride. Of course, I restrained myself; I do, after all, want to be welcomed back, and not be in the cross-hairs of the store's surveillance cameras.

Parallel to my house's physical alterations over the past six months, I've felt changes within myself that I find hard to ignore. Every time I accomplish a task, I find myself thinking, Wow, I can do this! Even if I have to enlist some physical muscle, I can at least understand how something works. It's not mysterious. It's simple nuts-and-bolts mechanics.

So, lately I've been seriously considering how I might take my listening/observational skills (therapy) and research/resource (teaching) prowess, and meld them with my passion for home improvement to come up with my newest professional offering. It would be different from the usual path that a designer or architect takes, because I would also be helping people make their house/structure into a home. A single-family dwelling is probably the biggest investment a person or a family can make, and it can also be the largest source of stress and conflict. With each project, done for beautification or for physical soundness, a stake is claimed for that precious sense of ownership, of pride, of permanence and security. It's good for the family, the community, the nation's future--and that's not mere hyperbole. It's a solid value that we should return to.

Check out, if you will, my profile on

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A merry, but puzzling little Christmas

This isn't actually the way I had envisioned Christmas 2014...

The kitchen remodel isn't even started, and the dining room is still stacked with boxes to go into the back storage shed, which also hasn't been finished, so I can't use it yet. I have left all but the most pressing housework go indefinitely due to everything being in a state of incompletion. My kitchen linoleum floor is disgraceful, and there is electrical hardware and miscellaneous bottles of stuff cramming the counters, where in previous years were my recipe books, baking pans and gift boxes of holiday breads.

Not this year...oh, well...

And no, I didn't decorate, for the first time in, gosh, I don't know how many years. Yes, there is my Advent wreath I made out of candles from Bath & Body Works, and some now rather dry rosemary garlands I picked from my backyard at the beginning of the season. Next to it is a carousel-type picture holder, with images of Tiggy during her first Christmas with our household, as she peeked out from the high branches of the Christmas tree as an adventuresome kitten.

And my career is still in a state of flux, again...

To beat back any despair over the state of things, I am using the people in my life as an anchor, and doing whatever I can with them, and for them. Whenever I've done some rearranging to accommodate the remodel crew, I've been astonished at just how many blankets, pillows, items of clothing, etc., I'd totally forgotten I had. So, off to my church they go, with heartfelt blessings. Here they were for years in a closet, or for even a couple of decades, and someone out there really needs these things! What a reality check, and it helps me to be more grateful about just how good my life really is.

A couple of years ago, I posted how I felt my Facebook/1972 high school friends had helped me through a holiday funk. Well, they're doing it again. As frivolous as it seems, FB is the second thing I log into in the morning, and I really take to heart all the life events of my old friends. Their struggles, challenges and triumphs are mine to share everyday. *Gosh, I'm getting a bit teary, here.*

And there's my roommate, who has become a real, dear friend in the past year and a half. My next-door neighbors are the best, and I can't imagine the neighborhood without them. For the past 40 years, the neighbors to my left have seen my son grow up with their youngest son. We've been to parties, the wedding of their oldest son, and exchanged support that only comes with this kind of relationship. The neighbors to the right, an elderly couple from Chicago (though the wife was actually born in Sicily), have been there nearly 35 years. Sandi, God bless her, still bakes and cooks like crazy from scratch, and I can always count on a lovely gift assortment of elaborately-homemade cookies every Christmas and Easter time (including that one cookie that has a hard-boiled egg encased in the pastry). Sam, her husband, is a retired bartender/construction contractor, and is keeping a watchful eye on the projects at my house. He's more than a bit of a busybody, and we've butted heads over the years, but I love this guy; he's like a wise uncle.

The sweetest turn of this year has been my recent joining of an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) class at St. Robert Bellarmine Church, about five blocks from the house. It's been far more than simply returning to Catholicism; in about three months a small group of us have shared our spiritual journeys, from our hearts. On December 14, at the 5 pm Mass, Fr. John Collins presided over our Rite of Acceptance and Welcome. One of the younger men later said he "felt intense" being up there in front of the packed congregation. As for me, at one scary point, I truly thought I was going to faint--really. Thank goodness my sponsor was there with her hand firmly on my shoulder! Never had I experienced such a feeling of intimacy intertwined with such a public declaration.

And evening, there was a 180 from solemnity to unbridled fun. One of our group hosted a holiday party at her house. I brought a bottle of Tullamore Dew (nothing but the best for this occasion!), along with plastic shot glasses. Every bit of surface was loaded with food and wine from every member's household, the rooms were wonderfully crowded. Holiday games, small gift exchanges, conversation circles large and small...and, yes, shots of Tullamore Dew! I wish more weeknights could feel like a weekend, as this one did.

So, I'm off to see some long-lost in-law relatives in San Bernardino Christmas Eve, then hopefully making back for 11 PM Mass. Christmas Day will find me with my son, daughter-in-law, and the "outlaws" (what I lovingly call her parents).

In the new year, I really have to have a vacation, even a modest one, since it occurred to me that the last was in 2008. Here's what I have in mind, inspired by a business-related visit to St. Teresita's in Duarte recently:

And, so, to everyone a blessed holiday, however and wherever you celebrate, and..Slainte!


Friday, November 14, 2014

"Three Score," Coming Up

December 4th is coming up fast. Unless I can come up with a way to mark the day that will surpass, or at least rival, the way I celebrated my 50th, the event might fade way unnoticed. What a revolting thought! I'm still a little kid at heart on "my day;" it might as well be a legal holiday.

There seems to be something about the start of a new life decade that causes people to take stock of their lives, to reconsider, and re-route the process if the old way seems, well, old. At 40, I had finally finished my B.A., and at 50 I was considering if my relationship style was fostering my well-being.

Now, facing 60, and with no intention of voluntarily retiring or slowing down, I'm just wondering if all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting, and, if not, what to do about it. Maybe I'll just start a new puzzle -- now there's a thought.

Okay...that being said, I'll fill you in with what I've been up to in the meantime.

The home renovations continue on in fits and starts. Those of you who are not in my Facebook circle can also follow my progress in pictures on The exterior color has been well received; the husband of a family across the street came over to shake hands and congratulate my progress so far. The neighbors on either side of me have given me positive feedback on how it's like a dramatic facelift for the "old girl," and even passersby slow to smile approvingly.

Tomorrow, November 15th, I'm taking an irrigation class at the Theodore Payne Foundation, to give my future cactus planting in the front a good start. It's been fun to look at others' native landscapes, as I drive around town, and I've already gotten some starting ideas. Under the dining room window, I'm going to put in three medium-sized agave plants. They will be striking in offsetting the newly-unveiled windows without concealing them. Then, in front of the agaves, I want some small, flowering ground cover. All around these, to keep the weeds at bay, I'll put down some white pebbles.

Inside, the bathroom is finally done, with the new shower door providing the finishing touch. Then, the kitchen will begin next week (or so), some more interior painting, and then I think I'll step back a bit, to catch my breath before the holidays and turning of the year. A dear friend just recently volunteered to help with ripping up the old carpet in the hallways and the living and dining rooms, which entails also temporary rearranging of the heavy furniture while we also remove carpet stapling and apply the Minwax.

And then, there's Mom. Physically, she's actually looking a little better, but I've lost her (something I've blogged upon in previous posts). She chats and smiles, and then she turns on a dime. The short-term memory loss shows itself, especially with the night-time "sundowning." Professional experience aside, I find no comfort in knowing that it's a "common" feature of advanced dementia. Previews of upcoming shows she used to watch--Bonanza, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune--are often too painful to see. I also avoid looking at various photo albums, including a small one dedicated to pictures from Mom's retirement party in 1990. They underscore the loss of the person Mom once was, seemingly not all that long ago. The profound sadness and loneliness I carry has recently hit me hard. It's at these times I realize that Mom probably felt this in the late 1980s, and up to Grandma's death in 1996. And then I feel sharp guilt for the amount of support I feel I maybe didn't give Mom during her own caregiving days. Oh, Mom, I didn't do enough...I'm so sorry. I'd used being "busy with my own life" as an excuse.

That's where dialogues with other baby boomers, and reading material in my AARP magazine and on their website is invaluable. Then there's socializing, avoiding too much isolation, and renewing the spiritual aspect of my life. I have begun attending St. Robert Bellarmine Church, as a way to return to my roots. For reasons lost in family folklore, I was originally baptized as an infant, and due to convoluted family politics, I never was allowed to explore Catholicism. The Church's dogma and ritual always intrigued me, beckoned to me, and I have recently begun RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults)classes. I have tried to explain this "calling" to myself, and only find that there is a mysterious resonance and peace I feel when I'm at church and in the company of other adults who are embarking on a similar path. That, and the charitable projects in which I'm becoming involved just makes me feel good.

More on all this later. I wish everyone peace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

History -- on the backs of old recipes

Last night was yet another exercise in insomnia. But -- it turned out to be a delightful fun time to indulge my inner history geek!

After finally coaxing my mother to sleep (another topic for another post or two), I was tightly wound-up and irritated, and wondering if I was going to be able to be alert for the work crews, who continue to valiantly press toward completion of the bathroom.

Oookay, rather than lying on the sofa (my regular sleeping place for the past eight months or so--another long story)and feeding my gotta-get-to-sleep urgency, I put the time to good use. The Vietnam Veterans of America were due in the morning for another pick-up. In preparation for the next planned chaos--the kitchen demo--I've been thoughtfully culling through the cupboards and drawers. There's lots of vintage kitchen utensils that I'll probably seldom use, if ever. When I pick up one of them, however, the memories of my grandmother or mother using them for everyday or holiday meals come flooding back, in the form of visual and even olfactory (a fancy word for smell)recall. These tools form a huge part of my own personal history, and so I can't bear to part with any...when the kitchen is redesigned, I just have to make room for these things...for another fifty years of family history...

So, back into the drawers went the old Christmas cookie cutters, the potato masher, the whisk, for decades-more of reprieve.

What did get ruthlessly packed into the VVA boxes included a set of china that I never liked; a plastic cup with "West Side Story" on the side, from a date at the Pantages Theater (because of the jerk-ex-boyfriend of which it reminded me); a wall dispenser for paper cups that has been hanging, unused, over my current kitchen sink; and some artificial flowers that will have no place in the new bathroom decor. Purged! What a relief!

With those boxes pushed out onto the porch with all my might, and my hands aching from the effort, I turned my fascination to the metal recipe box--approximately a foot-plus long, and stuffed with what I first thought were only index cards written in my paternal grandmother's curly turn-of-the-nineteenth-century cursive. Again, I'm not a culinary enthusiast, and my first impulse was to simply add this to the to-go pile.

Hey, it was nearly 1 AM, and it seemed I wasn't going to nod off any time soon. Where was the harm in taking a look at these recipe cards, most of which I'm sure contained recipes my grandmother wrote down, but never tried? Maybe that will provide the necessary boredom to induce sleep.

Tucked among the cards, to my fascination, I found a large number of clippings from the Buffalo Evening News (now simply the Buffalo News). I've tried my best to scan these -- and one I tried to enlarge a bit.

What riveted my attention were not the ingredients for rhubarb pie or Lobster Newburg, but the printing on the back of each one. Each one was like those holes that kids used to peer through fences -- tantalizing bits that made me imagine what had been cut off. There were only a few dates, but the names of famous people made me realize just how important the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN (930 AM) were to my parents and grandmother. Kenmore, the small village just outside Buffalo from where my family made its way to California in 1963, was very small, and these media were vital to keeping local folks current. These were bits of the mosaic of who my family was--and what went into making me who I am, even today.

This ad for the "new Brillo pads" looks like something that fed the 1950s housewife archetype -- cue the music from the "Ozzie and Harriet" episodes.

Again, because it was the recipes that were being cut out, much of the text on the back was eliminated. But you can see evidence of how WBEN-TV Channel 4 teamed up with the newspaper to inform folks of the meeting of then-Vice President Nixon and then-Senator Kennedy. Also, one some night or another, "Herbert Hoover" was "honored tonight." Because we have a recipe for "Beets in Orange Sauce" on the back, we won't ever know more than that. Lowell Thomas contributed to the airwaves. Lady Olive Baden-Powell, head of the Girl Guides, visited the Girl Scout Council of Buffalo. And, in recognition of more serious issues of the times, we could read that the lieutenant governor of South Carolina was taking a stand against integration of the public schools...

Below, more ads. Does anyone of my generation remember Ivory Snow? As far as Musterole goes, a Google search informed me that it was the predecessor of Vicks VapoRub. The guy reaching out of his 1960 Rambler almost looks like he's using a drive-up ATM. And below the L & M cigarette ad, there's a fine-print blurb for a "$20,000 Westinghouse Vacation Home, "with built-in Westinghouse kitchen, Spacemates laundry equipment and clean, comfortable baseboard electric heating for carefree vacation living." I could see Don Draper from Mad Men hanging his hat here.

Below is the thing I tried to enlarge a little, but I'll help you 1950s car enthusiasts out here. These ads were mostly from dealerships, but there were a few private-party transactions. Among the offerings; 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertibles, 1958 and 1959 Impalas, and a 1959 Mercury coupe convertible going for $1300.

In the late 1950s, TV was still in its infancy, so radio was still the way to pass an evening, or provide the backdrop to a party. We could count on Roy Rodgers, Bob Hope, and dramas like "The Whistler" to fill the void. WBEN provided all this to the Buffalo and Niagara Falls area:

As a nod to my Buffalo origins, and love for all things historic, I have also added WBEN, Reminisce Magazine, and Buffalo (Evening) News to my Twitter and "liked" Facebook pages. It was, in the end, a pretty good night.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My First Notes from Home Remodel 101

I've been in this "class" for about two weeks now. Here's a peek at some of what I've learned so far:

1. Once you start this process, once the first nail is driven in or the wiring pulled through, your life is not the same. And your time is sure as hell not your own.

2. When the crew goes home for the day, you can check and double-check the carpet for stray screws, pieces of plastic, or whatever. Then you can vacuum. You will still step on something in the middle of the night. Flashback to the days when you stepped on some of your kid's Lego pieces. Not fun.

3. Pacific Standard Time (PST) is not the same as Worker Standard Time. And when someone says, "Let's talk. I'm on my way," it's good to try to nail down that statement in miles, minutes, or hours. It means the difference between twiddling one's thumbs and getting things done in the meantime.

4. The work being done to the house is on a bigger scale than anything before. My parents did a little redecorating in 1974--painting, installing wall-to-wall carpeting and drapes in the living and dining rooms--following my grandmother's death. That was all. The same makeover happened in 1994, following the Northridge earthquake. Structurally, though, the house has been untouched over the decades. Feeling like a bit of a pioneer, I cast a very wide net to gather information and resources. The first big mistake I made was starting out with a interior design department at a big-box store and an independent general contracting firm simultaneously. There were a lot of gaps in who-would-do-what communication. About a week ago, to cut down on the craziness, I committed to one contractor to do it all. A hard lesson learned.

4. Don't get tripped up by "niceness." If you don't understand Construction-ish, ask for a translation. If it's not clear, ask again. And don't worry about "being a pain," or feel upset if a worker gets defensive. They deal with lots of folks like you who are putting a lot on the line--their money and their homes, for starters--and these workers have to also answer to their bosses, time frames, budgets, etc. I try to use a healthy dose of empathy to keep the professional relationship healthy. Still, homeowners have a right to get things straight in our minds, if only to lessen the rising feelings of panic, especially those that show up in any bizarre dreams or insomnia.

5. If something doesn't look right, ask, by whatever means necessary. Late yesterday afternoon I happened to turn on a hall light, and was shocked to see moisture, dripping, and water-blistering from the ceiling and down along one wall. My thoughts and words were something along the lines of,"WTF? When did THIS happen, and why didn't anyone say anything to me?" Long story short, my mom's caregiver thought I was aware of this, and my contractor hastily explained that it was a water pan in the attic that overflowed...blah, blah, blah...

6. Breathe! I've simply got to practice what I've preached for years to my clients. By the time I got on the phone with my contractor (see above) I was so livid, that I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really listen to what his explanation was (Mom's caregiver said he had "screamed" at the workers in the attic). I'm sure we'll mend fences, but for now I just need to cool off.

7. More on #6 above, I think I could learn a lot from Tiggy. When gearing up for these efforts, I was concerned that Tiggy--used to her peace and quiet--would maybe bolt out one of the doors or hole up traumatically under some furniture. Well, my baby has surprised me! At the beginning of each day, Tiggy selects a vantage point, out of the way of foot traffic, and enjoys the show. Then, when the crew departs for the day, she has lots to smell, such as foot tracks and equipment stacked along the walls. Lessons here: acceptance, calm, differentiating between what can be controlled and what cannot at any given time. I've decided on a morning slow pace routine: coffee, reading of the day's Daily Word message, allowing some cuddle time with Tiggy, and making an inventory of feasible to-do's. How successful am I at taming my frustrations? Let's just say it's a process.

9. I have to remember that something as complex and multi-systemic as a home remodel is not going to get done in a matter of days, or even weeks. This is not dress-making; this is bringing a 91-year-old structure up to current building standards. I'm not a patient woman; I owned that fact a long time ago. So, I just have to keep my expectations for completion realistic.

10. I'd been waiting for "a good time" to regrade the house, but such a time really will never come. There are always issues with work, family, one's own hesitations. When I find myself questioning, "What have I gotten myself into?", I try to remind myself of how this difficult phase will make a positive difference in the other aspects of my life. So, I just press on...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Home upgrading, sharing living space--making me a better person

I have posted much here about my home, and my deep connections to it.

When my family--paternal grandmother, parents, older brother, and me--moved here in January 1964, we established a suburban compound of sorts, almost hermetically sealed. Due to complex dynamics, we were actually quite an isolated family unit. I may have mentioned in other posts that this is why I actually fled the house for my freshman year in college, and that word "fled" is a deliberate choice.

Fast forward many years, I'm back to stay. It's my firm resolve to have this residence where my mother can live out her days in as much comfort as possible, and where I can pursue my own "second half."

What brought about my change of heart? It happened almost imperceptibly over time. Some of it occurred with the shifts in the emotional atmosphere as certain family members would pass away, and others would move out--and then come back, drawn to the house's potential, I think.

And then, there was the game-changer-- the introduction of a roommate in 2012. My son's old bedroom was valuable, but wasted, space. I had a female friend occupy this room for about a year, and there has been no going back since then. Aside from the relatively small monthly income, it been an eye-opener, an end of the innocence.

You see, from 1964 to 2012, there were no extra-familiar occupants. The family made up a kind of secret society, with our own implicit lexicon, routines, and rules about the physical environment and the people within the walls. The city-assigned address, as I said before, was the compound. The fact that we rarely entertained, and I was discouraged from having friends over--overnight, or even for the day--further fostered the isolation.

After my female colleague/friend moved out of town last year, I found another congenial roommate--a guy! It occurred to me just recently that with the woman, I always used the word "tenant," and with my current occupant, I have shifted to "roommate." This maybe be food for thought about the level of compatibility. When Mom first heard that we were to have a man in our midst, besides my gentleman friend, she was anxious and highly resistant. Since then, she has accepted the idea, and actually considers him part of the family and home.

My roommate (I shield his privacy by withholding even a first name) has added a warmth to our current composition. Asides from sweet gestures, like bringing small, gifts to my Mom--a bouquet at Easter, occasional chocolates or pints of her favorite ice cream--his presence has compelled me to be mindful of how I share living space. Before, with the previously-mentioned family, we just sort of stumbled over each other, and frankly, were pretty intrusive--often downright disrespectful of each other, now that I think about it.

Over time, my family of origin took our home, and each other, horribly for granted. I was smacked in the face with this fact for the first time when I went away for my freshman year in college. I was a terrible roommate! If I could find that woman on whom I inflicted my unconscious behavior, I would kneel before her and beg forgiveness.

My current roommate has not only lent his gentle spirit, but his fresh perspective. It has been useful, including for how I am managing this upheaval with the progressive home remodeling projects. He has been most forgiving of the inevitable noise, the dust, and the parade of workers. The first benefit is that we will actually be getting air conditioning to make the summer more bearable--for the first time since the house was erected in 1923.

So, I consider this not just a home upgrade, but a personal one as well. Long overdue!