Category Archives: Looking back

Same as It Ever Was, Sorta

I FaceTime with my 87-year-old mom nearly every Friday night. Pretty cool, right? Lately she’s been telling more stories from the past, some she hasn’t told me before. What struck me about some recent stories is how, at the core, they are similar to what people experience today, only back then there were a lot fewer resources to help.

Take job hunting. My mother talked about how hard it was for her to find a job in her early 20s. Sound familiar? It was the early 1950’s, so the economy was fine. Yes, she was a woman, so that was a strike against her. But she wasn’t looking for a career, she was just looking for a job. She was turned down at a little general store in town because she had the same last name as a cousin who’d been fired from the store for doing something bad. My mom wasn’t sure what. There were easily 20 or more cousins in town with the same last name, so that seems somewhat short-sighted, judging a whole family based on one bad apple. The fact that there was a high probability that there was more than one bad apple in that bunch is inconvenient to my story, and therefore irrelevant.

Also, it’s ironic because if they had bothered to get past my mom’s last name, they would have learned she had recently left the convent. What more validation of an honest person can you find? And, no, she wasn’t discharged because of rosary grand larceny or embezzlement of the priests’ sundry fund.

Of course, it was the convent thing that was really messing up her search. At that time there weren’t too many career counselors and coaches to help. Heck, there weren’t even resumes. Just my mom filling out applications and trying to explain where she’d been in the past several years. You’d think that the nun gig would have been a more common thing back then, especially in a town where there was a Catholic church for each of the town’s immigrant groups — St. Stanislaus, St. Anthony, St. Anne — you get the picture. But apparently employers found it just as weird as they probably would today. But today she’d have an army of online and in-person career coaches and websites telling her to emphasize her loyalty, passion, and commitment to her work. And how about “excellent ability to take direction”? She left the convent because she got very sick from the physically demanding chores of hand-washing priest vestments, praying for hours, sleeping very little, and Oliver Twist-like food. The first time she got sick, she returned home to recover and then went back. The second time she got sick, the Mother Superior told her it was a sign she was meant to do something else. She would have stayed if they had let her, so I think you could add “ability to follow through.”

She finally landed a job in the office of a car dealership, but then there were other male shenanigans to contend with. Here’s hoping the starts to change, 60 years later.

The convent thing of course followed her into the dating scene, but the few dates she told me about seemed a lot like the letters I read in a daily relationship column. There was the guy who took her out once, but when she was kind of clueless about the goodnight kiss thing, she never heard from him again. She connected with another guy on the 1950s version of eHarmony — a Catholic pen pal club. That helped make the ex-nun thing less of an issue. They wrote a number of letters back and forth and my mom got excited and thought things were going really well — until he told her he found someone. At least he didn’t ghost her.

So all as a way of saying, sometimes I like to think I  have it harder than others. But, I really don’t. Not only can I learn from those who came before me, I can Google “ex-nun resume tips” and “how to give a kiss.” And that’s pretty cool.

 

Jump Up, Jump Up and Get Down

About 3 years ago I saw a picture of myself, and I could no longer deny that the extra pounds I kept telling myself were only a few had set up permanent residence in my midsection and were expanding faster than a development of McMansions on sold-off farm land. I lost the weight the only way I knew how — slowly and changing one habit at a time. I was able to maintain my weight for quite a while, with the understanding that the McMansions would encroach eventually, even if I kept my eating and exercise routine the same. Thanks a lot, perimenopause; if ever get my hands on you, you are going to pay. Oh, wait, I already am paying. Grrrrr.

Of course, I wasn’t quite able to keep everything the same. It started with a month-long  IT project at work a year and a half ago, working every day and tethered to a small room. I added 5 pounds during that time and was only able to get rid of a few. Then this spring and summer was Kid Launchapoolza with graduation cake and parties and traveling to colleges to pick the One, then more traveling to the One for orientation, and then the trip to see the total eclipse in South Carolina (which was totally amazing.)

As you can imagine there was a lot of eating out and not a lot exercising going on. Then at the end of September I moved. So even if I hadn’t run off my will power like a crabby old man scaring kids out of his yard with a rake, it didn’t have a chance with the pots-are-packed-I’m-too-tired-to-cook-oooh-look-there’s-a-takeout-menu.

So here we are. More farm land has been sold and the McMansions are rising again, so it’s back to the grind.

Step 1) Look the McMansion straight in the window and don’t pretend it’s a tiny house.

Step 2) Lock down the food situation and get back on track. Of course, I decided to do that during the most stressful week at work before a big function. All I could think of was that scene from “Airplane!”: “Looks looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!” Indeed. I compromised and held the line on my eating, but not the wine. Baby steps. But that event is done, so now staying on track seems like a breeze. The alcohol is under a separate contract.

Step 3) More exercise. In the spring, I confidently told people that when the kid goes off to college, I’m most definitely going to add another day at the gym, another yoga class, I’ll have so much time!

Turns out the problem isn’t so much having time, as it is getting off your McMassion and actually doing it.

In the hunt for the yoga class, I realized I haven’t matured at all since I last wrote about how I’m like Jerry Seinfeld and his girlfriends. So much for my efforts to be a more open-minded, tolerant person. Which kind of negates all that yoga represents, so my apologies to the tradition and it’s more pure-hearted practitioners. I like my one Iyengar class, and I can’t seem to replicate it. There are 5 yoga studios in close proximity to my house, 2 within walking distance, and I can’t find a class to go to. It’s either too early, too late, too easy, too fast, too hot, too many people, too serious, too flippant, too…too.

The better bet is more exercise, and that’s only because I had a small breakthrough earlier this summer when a friend and I pulled out a jump rope and we started jumping. As in, tie one end to a pole and one person swings it while the other jumps. It was perfectly embarrassing. My brain still remembered being a 7-year-old jumping effortlessly and lightly. However, my 52-year-old body was like, “Um, say, what, now?” I was out of breath almost immediately. And after a number of false starts and trying to remember how the heck to do it, I had to lay down in the grass to recover.

It was the best day ever.

I had the little kid response: I’m going to get a jump rope! I’m going to jump every day! I’m going to be in great shape! And then I had the harried middle-aged response: I forgot about it.

That is until I saw a sign in my gym outlining the rules for jumping rope — Stay out of  doorways! Be mindful of those around you! Little kid got excited all over again–jump ropes! The adult in me hesitated. It was one thing to jump outside with a friend, and another to do it in a gym where people are increasing their cardio something or other with grim precision. The universe saw I could use a nudge, and a few days later I was on the train. It was packed and there was one open seat. The reason? The woman standing in front of it was resting a framed picture on it, and the women sitting next to the seat had laid her hoola hoop across it.

I made a beeline for it.

I first nicely asked Picture Woman to move her stuff. She did and also made a sour face and shrugged at Hoola Hoop Woman; as if to say, it’s her fault not mine. So I nicely asked her to move her hoola hoop, which she nicely did. I shot Picture Woman a look –the adult version of sticking my tongue out, and told Hoola Hoop Woman she could rest it on me. It’s not like it was going to fit in her lap. I never chat with people on the train, but how can you not chat with Hoola Hoop Woman? We talked about how fun hoola hoops are (she uses her for exercise), and the next thing I knew, I was telling her about the summer jump roping. She exclaimed it was great exercise and her friend had lost a lot of weight doing it. When she got off the train, hoola hoop in hand, she patted me on the shoulder and said, “You can do it!”

Technically, I haven’t added any exercise, just swapped stationary bike to jump rope. But I’ve started jumping at the gym and I am totally getting a hoola hoop. I just have to get off my McMassion and do it!

 

Leave the Curtain Rods

Well, I did it. I’m moved, and the unpacking is down to a dull roar. My new place is fantastic. You know what else I did? I left the curtain rods, which I’ve done for pretty much every place I’ve moved. And you know what? There are never any curtain rods where I’ve moved to. For the record, my current place gets a pass because it has fancy wood blinds. But why? Why do people take their rods? What exactly do you think you can use them for? This is Boston/New England and most windows are 50 to 100 years old, and no two windows are the same. If you’re lucky, you may get to use one or two of your current rods, but you will still need to buy new ones. Trust me. And if you are moving to one of those fancy, new deluxe apartments in the sky that have been popping up all over Boston, you ain’t need any curtains up that high, sweetheart.

As I was taking down the curtains in my old place, and leaving the rods, thankyouverymuch, I remembered how I bought them for the whole place, and all of the windows were nonstandard. There was an absurdly long front picture window, a wide kitchen window, and the teeniest, tiniest bedroom window that couldn’t even accommodate a window fan. There were more normal double French doors, but I had to position the rod carefully because of the way the doors opened to make sure I didn’t get trapped by the curtain.

And anyway, those badly fitting rods you take with you won’t help you after a long day of moving, as night starts to fall and the clear, uncovered windows mock your false sense of privacy.

Have mercy and leave me something I can put my old curtains on or at least a towel or old blanket for a night or two.

And I don’t care if the rods are cheap. I will swap them later if I care that much (I won’t). If fancy window “treatments” get negotiated and left behind as part of a house sale, you can leave your stinking rods behind in a rental apartment.

Now perhaps some people leave them like I do, and the landlords throw them away, if they feel moved to paint. But I say unto you, landlord: leave the curtain rods on the floor, for the love. Plus, who are we kidding, but most landlords don’t paint (except mine, she’s awesome).

So, how about this crazy idea. If we all left our rods behind, there would be rods when we arrive at the new place. How about that? No? Fine. Then you can go stick your precious rods. I don’t care, I’ve got fancy wood blinds.

Photo credit: Asulka.com

 

Mission Accomplished

Just a quick one this week. Life has been coming at me from all sides, some good, some not so good, so I feel a bit like a little kid tossed in the 3-ft wave surf. I come up gulping for air, only get tossed back under. That’s why I missed last week’s post. If I’m lucky, you didn’t even notice. I’m back and staying more above water than below, so this week this I’m concentrating on the good.

A week and a half ago I dropped the kid off at college. A couple of work colleagues said, “You must be sad,” and I got a pretty big raised eyebrow when I said I was actually really good. My neighbor across the street asked me if I missed my son now that I was all alone. They are a lovely older couple, but our relationship is pretty much regulated to waving when we’re getting in and out of cars, and they once drove the kid to school when my car had a flat. I never told them he was leaving. But I forget they are those kind of neighbors you want because they watch everything going on, including apparently us packing up the kid in a very obvious “going to college” kind of way, and not a “hauled off to jail” kind of way. I was a little less direct and said I missed him a little, but was getting used to it. Which is also true.

A long-time friend got closer to it when he asked me if I was done yet running around the house yelling, “MINE! All mine!”

I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be one of those mopey, weepy empty nesters, but I also thought it would be an interesting idea to have minor surgery on my 30th birthday, so you know, I’m not always right. But I was right about this. The weeks before were definitely up and down for both of us. The day of, as we were leaving the house, I told him I would give him a hug now so I wouldn’t embarrass him at school. He asked me not to cry, and I told him I was going to do my best not to. We got to campus, and after 2 hours of unloading and unpacking, his relief that whatever horrible thing he had worried about hadn’t happened was so great, he was actually happy and comfortable. He sent me and his dad on our way with a hug and an “I love you.”

If he had looked stricken, I would have totally lost it. But there was perfect happiness all around. I got in the car and drove home singing joyfully to my tunes.

See, the thing is, the kid never really liked school. And yet he was an honors student and knew he wanted to go on to higher education. This always mystifies me —  I only did well in school because I loved it. If I had disliked it as much as he did, I really have no idea what would have happened. I was scared of the druggy kids, I wasn’t an athlete, and there wasn’t an internet yet to offer me a career in blogging.

Since he’s been 10, I’ve been telling him college would be different. Harder, yes, but also more fun and fewer educational restrictions. In the past year, I had more than one panic attack, thinking, oh god, what if college isn’t more fun for him? Way to lose parental cred, if I ever had any to begin with. So I softened my pitch to, “Just try it for a year. If you hate it, we can come up with Plan B.” I’m such a back-peddling weenie. But nothing ruins stuff like high expectations, so back-peddle I did.

Seeing him standing by his college desk, mostly unpacked, fussing happily over his computer, was the best thing I could have hoped for. Sending us on our way was icing on the cake. Oh, I know, there is still going to be hard times, and he still may tell me at the end of the year that he hates it and is going to sell electronics on eBay for a living. But for now, he is content for the first time in a long time. And so am I.

And I’m still running around the house yelling, “MINE! All mine!”

 

 

 

Love That Dirty Water

When I first set foot on the algae slimed, goose-poop covered banks of the Charles River in the summer of 1983, it was love at first sight. For the first time in my life I felt truly at home. I never left, and while I still love Boston, I can sometimes take it for granted or forget how much I love it. 
Last week good weather and a decent work load combined to propel me outside at lunch to take a walk along those very same banks. It’s much cleaner now, although most people prefer to enjoy it from a sail boat or a kayak. I walked along the bank, lost in thought, until I realized it was time to head back. When I turned and saw the view, I fell in love all over again. 

Exhibit A


That’s a view of the Longfellow Bridge, better known as the salt and pepper bridge because of the shape of the 4 central towers. The state has been renovating the bridge and they took each “shaker” down to restore it and this was the first time in 3 or 4 years that I have seen all 4 back again. Add the sail boats from Community Boating, and you have the quintessential Boston/Charles River picture.

Here’s a close up of the salt and pepper shakers. 


So there I was, giddy and gushing over my city, on my walk, when I came upon city workers posting these signs.


No matter that I had just seen a dog standing in the water and lapping it up, and a while later saw a man sitting in it, communing with nature. We still love that dirty water. Boston you’re my home. 

Squeaming Is for the Squeamish

When I first published this a few years ago, I excitedly announced that it was my 7th post! I could be snarky now about my own enthusiasm (did I have so little confidence that I would actually get that far? Seriously, 7th post?). But my fatigue from all of the activities this summer is making me crabby enough, so I’ll instead take it as a reminder to be positive, whether it’s the 7th or 181st post, it is saving my bacon, and for many of you it will be the first time reading it. Win-win. Also I would like to dedicate this post to my colleague at the hospital who is retiring, and may very well have been the guy who had to make the poster mentioned below. May your life be forever anal complaint free, my friend. So, here it goes…

I’m squeamish, sensitive, and emotional, so I’m not sure how I ended up in hospital communications. I have a cartoon pinned to my cube wall that shows a doctor saying to a patient, “This procedure is not for the squeamish. Squeaming is for the squeamish.” That pretty much sums me up. The main reason I can actually work there is that most everything I write is about data, metrics, redesigning care procedures, and information technology—it’s beautifully bloodless. I could never do my colleague’s job—she writes moving profiles about patient care, like how a nurse finds a key psycho-social element to care for a dying patient. Those stories always have me bawling, which is kind of uncool at work, even in a hospital. It doesn’t help that my desk is located in the hospital building. My squeamish coworkers and I call our administrative area “the bubble.” Once we serpentine through the less public halls to get to the bubble, the rule is to avoid leaving it at all costs. Over the years I have cultivated a number of additional tactics to help: I bring my lunch most days so I don’t need to go to the cafeteria, but I also found the back way to get there. If I have to interview someone, we either meet in the bubble or a neutral place like the cafeteria. I once had to interview a doctor in the Emergency Department, but my therapist says I shouldn’t dwell on it. I do occasionally have to go to the ATM which involves running the gauntlet of the main corridor plastered with posters. For the most part though, the posters and the signage are sensitive to the fact that patients also see them, so they generally don’t get too graphic. They mainly publicize hospital support programs and celebrations for nurses’ week or patient safety week. Even the more medically related ones are pretty tame and use smaller print for the medical case details. It’s easy enough to walk by quickly without being able to read them, which is normally what I do. Except for last week.

This poster stopped me cold with its 200 point type bold headline: “Managing Common Anal Complaints.” There was no escaping this thing, but after my initial squeamishly scientific reaction (“Ewwwwww”), my brain paused, ruminated, and then started a steady fire of questions I didn’t necessarily want the answers to: how could there be enough kinds of complaints to warrant a whole lecture on just the common ones? How many are there in total? Thanks to Preparation H commercials, I know there are hemorrhoids, but what other “complaints” could there be? And if they are so common, why don’t we see more commercials for medicines to relieve them? It’s not that big of an, er, organ, if that’s the term, and it only has one function, so how on earth can that many things go wrong with it? And dear god, what the heck is an uncommon anal complaint?

Even though I was able to retreat to the bubble, my mind was trapped in front of the poster like a witness to a car crash. I couldn’t stop thinking about it—is this some kind of silent epidemic that needs to have a campaign ribbon (you know what color it would be) and a month named after it? Common anal complaint awareness month? What unlucky health problem would want to share their month? Would they have a national conference and draw straws? You could just see the pink breast cancer awareness people wrinkle their noses, while other health awareness groups pressured the “Fruits & Veggies – More Matters Month” group to team up; “Your topics are kind of related,” they’d say enthusiastically. As I was considering the fruits and veggies group’s response, I realized something.

Not only had my squeamish tolerance increased, it had taken a horrible nerdy turn. In all my ponderings I never once went to that place: you know, the teenager place of farting, pooping, sexual innuendo, and pain-in-the-ass jokes. Which is probably the more normal way to think about it, rather than imagining, say, “Common Anal Complaints Awareness Month.” OMG! What have I become? A common anal complaint nerd, that’s what. Now that’s a real uncommon pain in the ass.

I Almost Fell for It

If you have been following this blog for a few years, you know my travails with my tomato plants. And by plants I mean 2. My dear friends Becky and Susan raise tomato plants (and many others) lovingly from seed, carefully place a few in my hands, and before you can say “fresh tomato and basil” I’m sending them frantic pictures of their hapless babies, crawling with bugs or curling up and withering away. Usually accompanied by a text in all caps, “WHAT DO I DO????”

Last summer was a particularly spectacular failure. Right out of the gate the poor plant was swarmed with aphids, and I sprayed the hell out of it with soapy water, but it was too late. I got 2 tomatoes last year.

So this is my last summer at this apartment,  and I have increased the pot size (were the others too small?), stopped putting fertilizer  (have I used too much in the past?), and let it be. I’m a Zen gardener now, not attaching  to any particular outcome.

And the little struggling plant grew. And grew. Leaves unfurled effortlessly and soon yellow flowers burst forth in unbridled enthusiasm. I merely glanced and smiled serenely. Soon actual tomatoes swelled from the receding flowers, green ovals of promise. I even left the plant for three days,   while we went to college orientation, and lo, it rained.

Nearly 6 weeks in, all was well. I hadn’t made it this far before without a panicked text, or a sinking feeling.

And that’s where I made my misstep. I began desiring those green ovals, anticipating their ripe redness. I was actually going to do it this summer! Have more than a handful of tomatoes! And Buddha laughed.

This morning I went out to water my plant, and there they were. I don’t know what they are–mites, midges, bugs. To me they are the little white bastards, and the Zen gardening is over. Those little bastards picked the wrong plant to mess with. Oh, yeah, I sprayed the hell out of them this morning after I rubbed half of them off with my bare hands, like Scarlett O’Hara grubbing desperately in the dirt for food.

As god is my witness, I will have fresh tomatoes this summer. I will.