Tag Archives: siblings

Gratitude II

So a little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog post about gratitude to help me counteract all the Cheeto flea nonsense. After a couple of serious blog posts, I’m feeling the need again — we’re still in this mess, perhaps deeper in. So this time I want to declare gratitude for my siblings. It started with a tossed off invitation (when was the last time you were able to get any 5 people together spontaneously?). Then with a bit of luck, flexibility, coordination, and good humor, my 2 sibs, 1 sib-in-law, and I were able to drive up to Maine, stay at an adorable set of cottages on the Maine coast, and meet our brother to hang out and take a tour of his work of art and labor of love, the renovation of a beautiful old house. I won’t say how long the artist has been at it, but This Old House ain’t got nothin’ on him.

As you may recall, this is the brother who is also known as Sir Mark Beocat, the legend of feral cat spaying. You can read his amazing 3-part epic tale here. My sister Julie had an award made to commemorate the cat adventures, and we presented it to him at the end of our tour. Oscars eat your heart out.

We often comment on how different we all are. 4 states, country, city, suburban, and 4 lifestyles. But we generally like each other’s company, at least for several days at a time, can make each other laugh, shake our booty to the songs from the 70s and 80s, and we try hard to not get up into each other’s grill. I’m thankful for that.

It also turns out that we are really good at managing caring for our parents, with a shout out to sister Sharon and her hubby for doing a lot of the heavy lifting, to Julie as a close second, to Mark who fixes anything that needs fixing. I’m the back up, as I am managing the kid.

It’s in our family culture to be overly polite and accommodating, and then have maybe a side of dishing. But here’s the cool thing that happened on the way to middle age. We’ve all become a little more real to each other. Saying more what we really want and need, rather than just going along when it might have been better if we didn’t. And we work hard to hear each other and not judge.

That’s wicked cool. So thanks guys. Let’s keep laughing, grooving, and talking.

As a random aside, we went to the Black and Tan, an Irish Pub in Augusta, which has an extraordinary list of beers — yours truly sampled Hidden Cove Booty. How could I not? I have it on good authority from the men folk, that the photo below, also a form of gratitude,  was in the men’s room to help out those who may have had too much beer. As our brother-in-law said, it’s proof that you don’t buy beer, you only rent it. Cheers!











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Jesus Christ! Oh, Superstar! Part 1

I’ve written before about my religious disposition and how that whole Catholic thing just didn’t seem to take in me or in my family. In fact, one might say I ran screaming from being Catholic, except for one thing. I love the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Sure you could say I was only attracted to it because the Catholic Church banned it when I was first listening to it in the 70s. If fact, I’m not even sure how the record was allowed in my house or who bought it, what with my mother being a devout ex-nun and all. I think she didn’t realize it was banned until it was too late, and by that time she was just as hooked as we were on the thing. My theory is that since she spent her teen years in an all-girl Catholic boarding school in Canada, she was predisposed to reliving her adolescence during middle age. But instead of running off with a secretary in a red sports car, she started rocking out to Van Halen, J. Giles, and Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS). All the better for me.

Even after the church came around to endorsing JCS in 1999, that didn’t diminish my passion for, er, this Passion musical.  I listened to that album multiple times annually for years until it was grooved in my brain as much as in the vinyl. Yes, vinyl; double album, paper sleeves with the lyrics printed on them, housed in a slim, but sturdy brown cardboard casing that made it stand out in the record cabinet among its slimmer brethren. It was the Superstar among the records. And with the Broadway cast perfection within arm’s reach who needed to see it produced? I didn’t see it performed until I was an adult—I’m not counting the movie made in the 70s. That thing is best left behind with random rituals like fish sticks on Fridays or, say, going over the gory details of a man’s crucifixion for three days straight EVERY SINGLE YEAR, just before you’re supposed to be celebrating spring and chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. I’m not much of a math person, but even I can see the three days of actual bloody gore to one day of rising up to some unconfirmed heavenly reward is not a favorable ratio.

But why JCS affects me goes deeper than that. The church I grew up in not only never put on a bad production of the Passion play, they didn’t put one on at all. I didn’t know churches even did that until I moved away.  So in addition to never seeing even an amateur attempt to infuse some human emotion into the story, I got to hear, year after year, a lifeless, monotone recital of this gruesome tale. Add to that fact that we had Mass in the school gym because we’d outgrown the actual church, and you can see how I might be ripe for some JCS. I ask you, how can anyone really understand what Jesus and the clan are going through while sitting on gray metal folding chairs in an echoey concrete block gymnasium with the basketball boundary lines affixed on the shiny wooden floor? As the flat voices of the readers droned on, we didn’t even have stained glass windows depicting the crucifixion to console or inform us. I’m thinking even Jesus would have been a little pissed off. He’s been through the wringer for us, and metal chairs and a gym floor are all he has to show for it. No pomp, no circumstance, no maudlin statues. Just voices that sound like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

And despite the lack of passion portrayed in my church’s depiction, at the same time—and this is where that Catholic guilt has been honed to perfection—somehow it was made clear to me that I caused his death. Jesus was getting beat up for me, specifically; the text is very clear on this part. Believe me, I was always looking for some loophole to pin it on the lame people of the time. No such luck. So there I’d be on Easter Sunday, trying to enjoy my chocolate bunny, but I couldn’t because I was feeling guilty and I was unable to dislodge the images of whips, piercing thorny crown, and banged nails from my mind. Instead I had to endure the mocking of the brightly colored jelly beans nestled in green plastic grass.

Is it any wonder that JCS saved me? It finally it gave me emotions to what otherwise was a violent tale told by zombies. The music made me finally realize that this wasn’t a boring religious story, This was a universal human story. I could understand the height of Jesus’s fame and the lows of his rejection, Judas’s struggle to control everything and then betraying it all when he couldn’t, and the dilemma of Pontius Pilot getting caught in the middle. This is a rich human story set to some ass-kicking guitar riffs. I’ll never have the faith required to forget three days of pain to revel in the euphoria of the Easter morning, but I can sing, “Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!” like a boss from Broadway Roman times.

And I often did when I was in church. My siblings and I would sing the responses, the JCS music running though our heads. “We have no king but Caesar!” we’d singsong a little too intensely and startle the parishioners around us.

So, yes, I was somewhat obsessed and other than my siblings, I didn’t really know anyone else who shared this obsession. If it ever came up randomly in conversation, which trust me it nearly never does, only a handful of people would own up to having heard of it. I’d get all excited and start quoting lyrics randomly and enthusiastically, which at best got me a blank look (“Look at your blank faces, my name with mean nothing ten minutes after I’m dead!”) Or a look of complete incomprehension (“What…do…you mean by that?”). Even Broadway musical freaks were of no use because they have super high standards, and let’s just say in musical theatre circles, Andrew Lloyd Weber ain’t no Stephen Sondheim. So after a brief excitement of hearing someone actually knew of the production, I’d have to endure crushing disappointment while they told me point by point why it was inferior (“Who…is…this broken man, cluttering up my hallway?”)

But then in my late 20s, I met my friend Lora. Fairly early on in our getting to know each other, one of us said something about truth. And without skipping a beat the other one said, “And what is truth? Is Truth unchanging law?” And then we both answered together, “We both have truths, are mine the same as yours?” And we have been quoting JCS to each other ever since.

It was only a matter of time before we started seeing productions of it together. Yes, I said productions. We’re JCS whores—if a theater puts it on, we do our best to be there. It’s not quite as popular as, say, Annie, though, so we’ve only gotten to see it four times in the last ten to 15 years, but that’s a blog for another day. Next Monday to be exact, so stayed tuned for a tour of the Boston area JCS productions. Spoiler alert. It ain’t pretty.

Edit credit: Thanks to Lora for helping me sort through all the ideas in this post and for being as obsessed with JCS as I am.

Photo credit: This still from the movie should make it clear why you should never see it.  http://sf.funcheap.com/singalong-jesus-christ-superstar-chunky-jesus-contest-sf/

How to Survive Spring Cleaning? Have Rockin’ Sibs Who Like to Get Their Clean On

For the past several years, my family has gotten together to do a big spring cleaning at my parents’ house. And when I say “family,” I mean my three siblings have done it. I managed to have perfectly legitimate excuses for the first years, you know, blah, blah, blah my son was having trouble in school and then I was getting a divorce. I might have milked that one for two years—pre, during and post-divorce is very time-consuming, you know.

Unfortunately, my life took a turn for the better, and I finally ran out of bad life events last year, so my Catholic guilt required me to sign up for the annual cleaning. And then I got lucky and a bad life event happened to my sister and she injured her knee. She needed more help than my parents, so we cancelled the weekend. My brother was a trooper and helped my parents out a bit and then headed to my sister’s to help her. It was a real sacrifice…for me.

But my sister’s knee is much better and here it is spring, and the cleaning weekend had once again cornered me.

It’s not that I don’t want to help my parents, it just seems I lack the proper genes. We come from half Dutch/Germanic stock—that pinnacle of orderly cleanliness, and somehow in the random genetic distribution, my three siblings got that gene that gives them satisfaction from cleaning, combined with a perfectionist streak. I seem to lack the genetic predisposition for both. When I must clean, I subscribe to my French Canadian grandmother’s method used at her little summer lake cottage. She’d “pass the vacuum,” meaning you just vacuumed in the places people can see. At the cottage the vacuuming was mostly just to pick up the very visible sand we kids tracked in from being in the water all day and running in and out of cottage for snacks and drinks. And I’m OK with that.

But my sibs…their genes make for some excellent cleaning abilities, ones I am embarrassed to admit I have benefited from and haven’t really reciprocated. Many years ago, my sibs and my mom came to the condo my then-husband and I had just bought. They cleaned it and babysat Lucas, so we could have a weekend away. They did a repeat performance just a few years ago when my son and I moved into an apartment that the landlord hadn’t had time to clean between tenants. They came and cleaned like pros for some take out and a couple of laughs. How lucky am I?

So I had to show up at my parents’ house. To make up for my less-than-perfect cleaning skills, I offered to bring food for dinner and my sunny personality. They know better, but were nice enough to accept anyway.

And a funny thing happened on the way to the familial homestead. I actually had fun. Cleaning. With my family. After pondering it for a bit, here are my top reasons why:

  1. No mandates. Unlike holidays, which can be forced marches of traditions, some you hold dear and others you would dearly love to chuck out the door, the cleaning weekend had no tradition, just a reasonable list of things my parents needed done, to be completed at your own pace. Huh, go figure.
  2. My two sisters, my brother and I all have different, non-overlapping skill sets. This seems to be key. You could imagine how the weekend would explode in a family where, say two expert bathroom cleaners would fight over whose toilet is more sparkling or two handy siblings would try to outdo each other fixing the roof, nail guns leveled at each other. We’re a pretty balance village:
    1. Julie is the Renaissance woman. She dusts and cleans and sews and looks up a new toaster oven for my parents online, takes my mother shopping for new rugs, listens when my mom says she needs a new bed, and cajoles my dad into washing the bed linen.
    2. Sharon is the bathroom cleaning queen and floor cleaner extraordinaire. With her serious arsenal of cleaning products and rubber gloves, she is a force to be reckoned with. She fearlessly laughs in the face of filth.
    3. Mark is happiest moving around, hosing down and cleaning carpets, doing yard work, fixing anything in or outside the house. He’s a one-man, lean, mean fix-it machine.
    4. Me? I wasn’t sure exactly what I could do, until my brother just suggested I pick a room and have at it. So I did. I dusted knickknacks, cleared out the cobwebs, wiped the frames of about 12 of my father’s paintings which cover most of the walls. I blew the dust off hundreds of books on three bookshelves. Then I became one with the cleaning and started moving furniture from against the walls and vacuumed behind, under, in corners. This was no “pass the vacuum” stint—this was the real deal.
    5. Together Sharon and Mark combine their powers, like the Wonder Twins from the SuperFriends cartoon in the 70s and 80s, and they tackle the kitchen floor. I gamely offered to help, but Julie shook her head silently at me in that “do what I tell you” older sister way. I knew to leave it to the experts when the Wonder Twins got into huddle and had a serious discussion about the right kind of floor wax to use and what stores carried it.
  3. You gotta have music—I played the Donna Summer radio station on Pandora, so mostly I was singing, dancing and cleaning. Best dance moment was when “Do the Hustle” came on, and barely missing a beat, my two sisters and I reached back into our gym class training from the 70s and performed a decent rendition of the dance steps. So, for the record, we did learn at least one thing useful in high school.
  4. You gotta have music part 2. I was cleaning the counter and chatting with my Dad and he started talking about how he knows all the words to Dean Martin songs, so I changed Pandora to that station and had fun listening to my dad sing along and jump up and do the rumba and Foxtrot. Forget Jagger, he’s got the moves like Astaire.
  5. Dazzle ‘em with your best foot forward and then run like hell. I gave my sibs fair warning about my lack of abilities/faulty genetic material/”passing the vacuum” ways. But I got into a grove with the living room, and then moved onto the den, dancing and humming. I got to the kitchen windows and they did me in. I’m not sure if it was because it was the end of the day or it’s too hard to dance on a step-ladder. Luckily it was dinner time and my sibs were all exclaiming how much work I’d done and I was way better than I said. Boy did I ever fool them! The next day I reverted to my old ways. I skipped vacuuming a whole section of the room between the bed and the wall that you can’t see from the door. The raised eyebrows when I confessed to “passing the vacuum” told me it was time to get a head start on the traffic and make a quick exit.
  6. My childhood cleaning muscle never went away. Just before I attempted the bedroom, I did vacuum the stairs like a pro. Why? We all had assigned areas of the house to clean as a kid and the stairs were part of mine. I started at the bottom and my body went into autopilot cleaning mode. This muscle memory does not seem transferable.

So there you have it. After years of dreading it, I finally showed up and had a decent time. I got a very strong reminder of how lucky I am to have parents who are still able to have a house we can clean and to have genetically enhanced cleaning siblings. See ya next year guys!

Photo credit: http://speedcleaning.com/category/spring-cleaning/

Thanks a Lot

Thanksgiving is upon us once more, and I for one love it. A holiday about food? What’s not to love? But family holidays are never that simple, are they? I have three siblings, all of whom sat at the kids table in the living room at my grandmother’s house. We all eavesdropped on the adults talking and laughing at the kitchen table. We paid closer attention when the adults would suddenly switch to French and wished we knew why they would start laughing harder. I think that’s why my older sisters took French in high school so we could figure out what they were talking about. Of course the joke was on us. They were studying France French and my family is French Canadian, so that was just about as helpful as me taking Spanish. We all had the same holiday experience, but as we grew up, we had very different reactions. My sister Sharon and I love, love, love Thanksgiving and Christmas, and for many years sought to replicate the larger number of guests my grandmother had at her table, usually around 15 adults and kids. My other sister Julie and brother Mark could live their lives happily never celebrating another holiday ever again. As a matter of fact Julie made it official when she became a Jehovah Witness at age 20—they don’t celebrate anything, except wedding anniversaries. There’s a reason for that, but since it wasn’t Thanksgiving or Christmas, I can’t remember it. But even before she converted, the holidays for her were about as fun and getting poked in the eye with a broken wishbone. My brother shares her eye pain.

For years Sharon and I puzzled and puzzled about this until our puzzlers were sore—how could we be so sharply divided when we’d all had the same experience, which didn’t include any deal breakers like drunken yelling, burned food or fisticuffs? The rest of our family days weren’t always so fabulous, but Thanksgiving and Christmas were consistently good. Finally Sharon and I gave up and just concentrated on beefing up our Thanksgiving numbers to make up for the loss of Julie and Mark. And then at some later point, once we determined that my son was in our camp (it seemed like it might be genetic, so we worried), we just gave in to whatever happened, making gobs of food whether we had seven people or 12. We have abided.

In addition to a sister, son, and parents who love Thanksgiving, a brother-in-law and sister-in-law who tolerate our excessive foodie ways, and a brother and sister who do what’s right for them, here is a very incomplete list of other random things I’m very thankful for in this moment:

  • The times I woke up at the right time and realized I’d forgotten to set my alarm.
  • Having a number of good bosses in my career, including one who originated one of my favorite phrases, “I can be flexible when I’m forced to be!”
  • Realizing as teenagers there was a reason the stop sign we wanted to steal was so big—it was a dangerous intersection. Undeterred we stuck to signs of street names.
  • Still being friends with said fellow thieves in the previous bullet.
  • Having a smart, nerdy gamer son because I really don’t like watching sports outside, in rinks, or really anywhere.
  • My crochet teacher who taught me how to cover up mistakes and called it “hiding the dead bodies.”
  • All the people who read, follow, and comment on this blog–without you I’m just writing stuff on my computer.
  • And a thousand other things big and small, which are all in my head, but hard to find because I don’t have Google for my brain.

Here’s wishing you all the Thanksgiving you can live with. And if you need a place to go, we’re still four short of 15.

Photo credit: http://www.huntingforacure.net/artist.php