Friday, September 1, 2017

If I Could Go Back…

I visited my mom yesterday. She had the newspaper on her lap and, for once, she opened it to read beyond the headlines on the front page. But she didn’t really understand what she was reading.

“Who is Harvey,” she asked.

“No, mom,” I said. “Harvey isn’t a ‘who’ – it’s a ‘what,'" I answered. And I explained that it was a devastating hurricane that has affected Texas and other states.

She expressed dismay…for about a half a second.

And then she read the headline again – and, once again, asked me about Harvey.

Sometimes I think she surely must be testing me.  That she really does remember, but she wonders if I’ll give her the same answer every time she asks.

But, sadly, I know mom truly doesn’t remember. That from moment to moment, her grasp on what is happening is fleeting. When she is in her little room in her rocking chair, she can be as comfortable as possible with her situation. But if we take her out of that comfort zone, she is stressed.

And she doesn’t know what is going to happen next. Or what she is supposed to do. And she very desperately does not want to appear to be incapacitated – and that, I think, is what stresses her the most.

I miss my mom. My old mom. The woman who was strong, intelligent, decisive and had an opinion about everything. Some of which I didn’t agree with. Ha. Okay, so there were many opinions mom had that I didn’t agree with. Funny to think that now I miss having those kinds of discussions with her.

And then I wish I could go back. Back to those days when mom would state an emphatic opinion and I’d just roll my eyes and say, “uh, huh…” If I could go back, I’d try to engage with her – and try to have the lively debate she really wanted to have.

Instead, I’d look at them as confrontations instead of discussions and I avoid confrontations like the plague. I’d end up doing whatever I could to get her focused on something else.

“Hey mom – does this hangnail look infected to you?”

Yeah. Like that worked. That mom knew what I was doing. But most of the time she’d let me change the subject anyway.

Mom had this funny habit. She’d state her opinion in the form of a question. She’d say, “I don’t really like the style of her hair – do you?” And then we were left with the option of either agreeing with her – or disagreeing with her. But we knew what answer we were supposed to choose! And if we disagreed, we knew there would be a debate about it until we came over to her side of the aisle. Sometimes, we’d agree with her just so we wouldn’t have the ensuing debate.

That example was a mild one, though. Mom would have strong opinions about everything – including the “heavy” subjects like politics and religion. And she was well-informed. She read books and newspapers and watched the news. So there were very few current events that mom hadn’t heard about.  And there were even fewer subjects she didn’t have a strong opinion about.

Nowadays, devastating hurricanes are beyond her grasp.

I wish I could go back and hear her state an opinion again. About ANYthing. I wish I could go back and cherish even those moments when mom and I disagreed – just because I’d know she was fully engaged in the conversation.

I wouldn’t even use the infected hangnail ruse.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Going Once, Going Twice...SOLD!

Last week Vince and I went to an auction house in Newark, Ohio. Not because we needed anything, but simply because our neighbors were going and we thought it would be fun to tag along after them. It was Vince’s day off and, besides, we had nothing better to do.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We could easily have spent the day doing long-neglected chores around the house. Like painting the trim around the garage. Or cleaning the grout in the shower.

As those particular chores held less than zero appeal on a sunny Tuesday morning, we hopped in the car and headed to Newark.  Besides, I wanted to hear an auctioneer talk really, really fast.

I’ve never actually been to an auction, so I pictured the auctioneer on a raised platform standing in front of a podium with the crowd below in organized rows so the auctioneer could see who was bidding.

Ha. People just hover around the auctioneer and whatever it is he’s selling and somehow or other he knows who is bidding. There is no podium, no gavel, no raised platform.

Me? I had no clue what was going on.

By the time we arrived, our neighbors had already purchased several boxes of junk, er, treasures.  They only cost a few bucks each, so it’s not like anyone’s bank was getting broken. But what I didn’t know is that even if you only want one particular thing in a box, you have to bid on the whole box.

Holy heck – I’m tryin’ to get RID of clutter around my house – not add to it! And I just had a garage sale a couple months ago that I still haven’t gotten over yet. (For your information, it takes approximately one year, eleven months and sixteen days to get over having a garage sale before considering having another one.)

So I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be bidding on any boxes of stuff.

On the other hand, it was kind of fun walking the aisles and looking in all those boxes filled with trinkets and toys and housewares that once was treasured by someone. There was a box of copper kitchen tools that attracted Vince – but it was on the very far wall, which meant that the auctioneer wouldn’t get to that aisle for several hours. Plus, I have no more room in my kitchen cabinets or drawers for one more stinkin’ colander or ladle.

I’d be bringing boxes of junk, er, treasures back to the auction house just so we could get into the kitchen.

They also have several auctioneers working at the same time – something else I didn’t know.  So Vince and I wandered outside where outdoor goods were being auctioned – flower pots and garden decorations and the like.

While I was standing there I realized, “This is SO not me!” I’m much more deliberate in my thinking about the things I want. I have to consider where I’m putting it and why I would even want such a thing.  I have to consider how much I’d be willing to spend and if it would be a good addition to our home.

At auctions, deliberate thinking goes completely out the window. You have to make snap decisions. Plus, I couldn’t tell who was bidding and how much things were going for. By the time I decided that, yeah, I would be willing to pay $15 for something that – new – would cost me at least $100, the item was sold and they were three items down the line by then.


I knew that if I ever tried to bid on anything, I’d probably start bidding against myself. So I decided to step away from the auctioneer.

I did, however, tell Vince that there were a couple ceramic pots that I might like. But I was leaving the wheeling and dealing up to him.

And it was right about this time that I felt something crawling along my shoulder inside my top. That is NOT a good feeling. Ever. So I lifted up the neckline of my shirt – and saw a wasp. There was a freakin’ WASP inside my shirt!

So I screeched and with much flapping and flailing of arms and swatting at the thing, I practically tore my shirt off in order to get the wasp out.

And, yes, I made quite a spectacle of myself – but I didn’t care. And, surprisingly, I didn’t get stung.

I was a little surprised, however, that the auctioneer didn't take all that arm flapping as me bidding. I'd have won the tacky garden gnome for sure. 

It was just about this time that I decided that auctions were not my thing, so I headed back inside to wander the aisles to see if there was anything I’d missed. In truth, I was really trying to avoid further interactions with stinging insects. And I was sort of hoping to avoid making a further spectacle of myself.

By the time I walked back outside to see the action, Vince told me he’d bid on (and won) several items, including a very pretty mint/teal green ceramic pot.

I was thrilled with it because I could just picture it in our kitchen. We have a plant that has outgrown its current pot that would fit in it perfectly.

And he spent less than 20 bucks all told – so that was a “win” in my book!

So, while I had fun at my first auction, I’m probably not anxious to go back to another one. Too stressful. Both the bidding thing – and the potentially stinging insect thing.

Maybe next time I’ll tell you about the other auction I attended recently – the art auction on the cruise ship (completely different than a household goods auction).  All I’ll tell you now is that Vince wasn’t there to protect me. It was not good that he left me to my own devices.

But at least there weren’t any wasps.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Just Breathe.

My Apple watch harasses me about breathing. I’m serious. Like who needs a piece of technology reminding us to breathe, for crying out loud? But it does. It buzzes on my wrist constantly. Tells me to stand up, too. What? Like I’m not standing enough during the day?

Nag, nag, nag, Apple Watch.

But okay.

So the other day I decided to follow the directions on the thing and truly stopped and focused on my breath. I breathed in and out slowly several times. I concentrated on filling my lungs with air, which I realized I don’t do very often. I’m more of a shallow breather. And I even tried to ignore – for just a moment – all the “I have to’s” and “I need to’s” that constantly invade my thoughts.

And I realized something.

I rarely take the time to let the ever-present chatter in life stop for a moment. I’m constantly checking my cell phone or looking at my tablet. I’m making appointments and I’m busily writing out “To Do” lists and check-marking items off those lists. Even worse, there are many times I feel like I should be doing the things that would allow me to cross tasks off my list but instead I’m contemplating taking a nap.

And even if I don’t take a nap, I often don’t get into that task because it’s a monumental one that is surely going to take longer than, say, writing a quick check to pay my mother’s monthly pharmacy bill.

But then NOT crossing off those items causes me more stress as I have to add even more tasks to the list the next day.

I mean – how am I supposed to breathe in and out slowly  when I have to deal with a small dog who has the bladder the size of a thimble, and who requires a walk about every 20 minutes on average? Frankly, I think she has bamboozled me and really just wants another shot at those infernal squirrels who taunt her through the windows as they scamper about in Maggie’s Territory.

Then one day last week I went to the community pool with a friend to enjoy the sunshine and float around in the lazy river. I haven’t been to a community pool in years and I’ve never relaxed in a float on a lazy river before. Up until recently, I didn’t even know lazy rivers existed.

Believe me, it was pure heaven!

I mean, the sun was blazing and there was a scattering of fluffy, white clouds in the sky. The temperature was hovering somewhere in the upper 80s. So floating in the cool water was just plain bliss.

I leaned my head back and looked up. And I mean I really looked up and noticed the clouds. And, in between applications of 70 sunblock at what seemed like three minute intervals, I watched the clouds roll by. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was a kid lying back in the grass without a care in the world.

I was so much happier than if I’d been home sweating in the hot sun pulling weeds.

Oh, who am I kidding? I would never be home sweating in the hot sun pulling weeds. That’s why we hired a lawn care guy.

But, sadly, the lawn care guy has been AWOL recently and the weeds in our garden had pretty much taken over the flower beds – until Vince finally went out there the other day and pulled weeds.

Which made me feel guilty for floating around in a lazy river the day before.

And which made me breathe shallowly – until my watch told me to take a moment and breathe.  

Yeesh. I guess I DO need a piece of technology telling me what to do!

Nevertheless, the whole experience was a real awakening. As adults, we rarely take the time to just “be.” To float and watch the clouds roll by. We seem to have to fill every waking moment with activity and purpose. And we miss a lot of the wonder of how it felt when we were kids.

If you ask me to remember my childhood – I do. I remember climbing trees, riding bikes and jumping on pogo sticks (something I haven’t seen in decades. They probably have safety harnesses on them now…). I remember whispering secrets to my best friend and checking out stacks of books from the library in anticipation of discovering new characters and new experiences far beyond my little life in Alliance, Ohio. And I remember writing in my diary every night (and hiding it in new and innovative places so my brother John wouldn’t find it).  

But I have to think harder to remember how absolutely carefree I was and would somersault down the entire front lawn – just because I could. Or the first time I was able to turn the perfect cartwheel. Or when my parents trusted me enough in the kitchen to bake that first batch of non-burnt brownies for my family.

And I can even remember how amazing it felt when I was able to tie my own shoes for the first time. I was either four or five – I can’t remember exactly which - but I can remember being out with the neighborhood kids and looking down and seeing that my shoelace was untied. I remember the feeling of desperation because my parents weren’t around to do the tying – and then the feeling of victory once I finally got it tied all by myself.

I immediately forgot about my friends and the activities we were doing. Instead, I ran all the way home just so I could tell my mom that I learned how to tie my own shoe.

I forgot how wonderful it felt to be alive and to be able to do the simplest things. Like watch the clouds roll by and contemplate how little we are in this great big world.

So maybe we should forget for a minute the political strife that constantly plagues us and the Facebook fights that fill our feeds. Maybe we should put down our “To Do” lists and let go of the “I have to’s” and “I need to’s” (for a moment) - and, instead, take a moment to just breathe.

Ahh. Bliss.

So you can stop nagging me, Apple Watch. I get it.

(And thank you.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The True Tale of the Lousy Lasagna

In my defense, my lasagna didn't look THIS bad.
It is a well-known fact in the world of Jane’s Domain that I’m not much of a cook. I’m more of a “side dish to the party” kinda person. And if you need a homemade dip and a box of crackers, I’m your go-to gal.

But meal-making is not my forte.

Usually there is one dish even non-Marthas or Giadas can make. Non-cooks call the dish their “specialty” and will make this dish whenever they are called upon to cook for people.

I, too, have one of those dishes. My “specialty” is lasagna.

Or – at least – it was.

True, my lasagna will never win any awards. I use store-bought sauce and I haven’t yet mastered the art of mixing egg and ricotta to any sort of useful consistency. So I use shredded mozzarella – lots of shredded mozzarella.

Thus, I have never made lasagna for anyone of true Italian descent. They would scoff and turn up their nose at my lasagna and might even say a bad word in Italian.

Well, I have two words for you mean Italian people: Chef Boyardee.

My lasagna is better than his. That’s all I’m saying. Now stop gesturing at me.

But my dad used to tell me he loved my lasagna. He used to request that I make it whenever he and my mom visited. And he used to rave that it was better than any lasagna he ordered in real Italian restaurants.

And, okay, so my dad was Polish. What did he know? Plus, maybe he just didn’t like going out to restaurants every time they visited and he was humoring me.

Nevertheless, I was thrilled that I actually made some food that someone in my family considered a favorite.

So I’ve made lasagna over the years a LOT. About a month ago I even made a small pan of it for some neighbors who were sick and the “chefs” in the neighborhood (I loosely added myself to that group), took turns making them a hot meal.

My lasagna looked and smelled heavenly. I can only assume it tasted as good as it smelled as I thought it would be a little rude to cut a big square out of it to sample beforehand.

So, since I hadn’t had any of that lasagna and I hadn’t made it for us in a long while, I decided to make a large pan for dinner last week. Vince’s son-in-law, Dan, has been staying with us while he is doing a rotation at OSU hospital on his way to earning his MD. So his days are long and start somewhere around 5 am.

Which, in my opinion, is a preposterous hour to have to start one’s day.

I figured I would make a pan of lasagna so he could have something hot to eat for dinner. And it could easily be warmed up later for Vince when he finally arrived home from work.

Since the advent of lasagna noodles that don’t require boiling beforehand, making lasagna isn’t as arduous a process as it once was. When I bought the noodles this time, I found a cheaper package at the store and picked it up.

In retrospect, this was perhaps my first mistake. I didn’t think the type or manufacturer of lasagna noodle would matter so much. But apparently it does.

And I also didn’t buy enough mozzarella since I thought I had a partial package at home.

Not so much.

Those two errors were my lasagna downfall. It was horrible. It was dry. And okay, so I admit it – it was basically inedible.

But Dan struggled through his plate of lasagna. And to his credit he didn’t make gagging noises or anything.

So I didn’t even know how bad it was until later when I had my own square of lasagna with Vince.

I was horrified! I mean, I was serving inedible food to our house guest. And he didn’t even know the difference – it’s not like he’s ever had my lasagna before so he would know that this time was a fluke.

So now someone else thinks I’m a lousy cook.

I tried to eat another square of the lasagna the next day for lunch, but took one bite and put my fork down. And then I got up and proceeded to toss the entire rest of the pan into the garbage.

And Vince didn’t even protest over the waste – that’s how bad the lasagna was!

Now my confidence is shaken and I’m afraid I no longer have a go-to dish.

You know – maybe I’ve given short shrift to ol’ Chef Boyardee. Maybe his lasagna isn’t as bad as I remember.

And let’s just hope all my neighbors stay healthy for a while. Unless they’re okay with eating homemade dip and crackers through their convalescence?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Style that Leaves me Cold

So you may have heard me mention before that I’m not much of a trendsetter. (If you don’t remember – or haven’t read my blog before, read here.)

It’s true. I’m at least a step and a half behind the times when it comes to fashion or the latest technological gizmo.

Oh, sure, I have a veritable “orchard” in my possession now with a full range of Apple products, but I was definitely not the first in line to buy them. I always figure I’ll wait until the manufacturer works out the bugs from the first generation and then I won’t be nearly as frustrated. Plus, I don’t like waiting in long lines to pick up the latest and greatest. And I also know by the time I finally purchase said gizmo, there will be a slew of savvy and experienced users who can give me techno lessons.

Same thing with fashion. I have to get used to something new and see if it will stick around before I finally succumb and buy it.

Normally, I find a style I like and I try to stick with it. Which is a problem because, you know, it’s fashion. It changes every season and what sells this spring won’t sell any other season, including next spring.

Obviously, certain styles will stick around for a while and become staples. And other styles stick around for approximately 2.3 seconds and then become a complete “Fashion Don’t.” Like, for instance, acid-washed jeans. Remember them? I never caught on to that style before they were out. Saved myself a few bucks, I guess.

But sometimes I feel like I have a closet full of summer clothes and I end up wearing the same three items in my closet. It’s frustrating.

So because I’m pretty sick of those three items in my closet – in this case – sheer blouses to wear in the summer over lightweight tanks – I have been on the hunt for more blouses in the same material.

And I’ve had absolutely zero success. None. Can’t even find anything close.

So I’ve been trying to branch out. Wear some of the “new” styles.  And by “new” I mean something that has been around for a while but I haven’t been able to latch onto it.

I’m talking about the “cold-shoulder” top. I think it’s a style you either really like – or really don’t. I was in the latter group as the style sort of left me a little cold. (Ha ha. Yeah…I know.)

Anyway, whenever I’ve gone shopping, I have pretty much skipped immediately past any tops on hangers that looked like they had holes anywhere in the sleeves.

But recently I was in a store and, feeling a bit desperate, I decided to try on one of the cold-shoulder tops since it was on sale and I had a coupon. And it was kind of cute. Standing there in front of the mirror, I decided I liked the fabric and the fit. It was in a pattern, which is definitely out of my comfort zone as I’m usually a solid-color top wearer, but it wasn’t too wild and crazy. And, most importantly, the top seemed to have enough material to cover my bra straps. I’m still of the opinion that bra straps shouldn’t be hanging out. (See what I mean? Not a trendsetter.)

So I bought it. My first cold-shoulder top.

Over the past month that I’ve had it, I have put the top on a total of four times. And I have immediately taken the top off a total of four times. I just wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable wearing it.

But then the other day, I had to make a quick run to the grocery store so I grabbed the cold-shoulder top and put it on. I picked up my shopping list, purse and keys and got in the car before I could change my mind.

And, ohhhh, how I hated that top!

The entire time I was in Kroger I was adjusting it. The bell sleeves were too long and in my way whenever I reached for anything on the store shelves. The top was falling off my shoulder and my bra straps were constantly hanging out. My shoulders felt cold and exposed, especially when I was in the frozen foods aisle. If I bent over to pick up something from a lower shelf, the top gaped open and the “holes” in the shoulder were in the wrong place. And I definitely felt like a “Fashion Don’t.”

I couldn’t wait to get home and take the blasted thing off!

Apparently wearing the top standing still in front of a mirror in a dressing room is a completely different experience than bending and reaching and walking around in it.

So now I’ve got yet another top on a hanger in my closet that I will routinely bypass on my way to one of the three staple blouses in my closet. Until I eventually pack it up and donate it.


Long ago I gave up trying to wear different colors/styles on the bottom half. So I buy only black. Black slacks, black pajama bottoms and black yoga pants. Everything I own is black. See, I tried to match navy blue once, which was just silly as it is utterly impossible to match navy blue. But that’s another story.

So if you see me around, I’ll probably be wearing the same blouse you saw me in last time. Unless the last time you saw me, I was wearing the purple blouse. Who knows? This time I MIGHT be wearing the cobalt blue blouse. Or the red blouse.

Ah well.  The summer months don’t last forever and I have more choices once the cooler weather hits.

And next time, I’ll stop trying to be such a trendsetter by wearing a cold-shoulder top. Yeah, even if the “new” trend started a couple years ago.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Who You Callin’ “Cute”?

A friend of mine just called my 92-year-old mother “cute.”  And it cracked me up. Why? Because no one – and I mean, NO ONE – would ever have called my mother “cute” back in the day.

She was a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, in-charge kinda woman. And you didn’t mess with her. Especially if she had had it – up to here – with one or more of her four children who preferred building forts and riding bikes over making beds and doing chores.

My mother’s rules were not to be broken unless we wanted to suffer the consequences. We knew the term “suffer the consequences” at a really young age, too.

Truth be told, I was a little afraid of that 5’2” dynamo – even though I towered over her by the age of twelve.

Most of the time I was a good kid, probably because I didn’t like suffering consequences.

My mom was an RN who worked at various nursing homes back in Alliance in the 70s and 80s. I worked with her as an aide my senior year of high school – and I saw a completely different side of her at Bel Air Nursing home.

My mom was honest and ethical and cared deeply about doing the right thing. She never called off sick from work and if anyone on staff did, my mother would ask them specific questions about their illness until they either agreed to come in – or found someone to take their place that day. They probably figured it was simply easier to come in and work with the sniffles than to deal with my mother.

But I saw that the other employees treated her with the utmost respect. They listened to her and followed her orders. And they didn’t talk back.  Maybe – like her children – they grumbled a bit behind her back, but she was the sort of person you didn’t talk back to.

Now, this was back in the day when both nurses and aides had to wear white. White uniforms. White pantyhose. White shoes. And the only way to tell nurses and aides apart was that nurses wore those white nurse hats. Aides, on the other hand, didn’t. Thankfully.

I was mortified enough by the white pantyhose and shoes.  

So while I wore the uniform to work every day, I was also a teenager who wanted to express her individuality and creativity – so I wore brightly-colored jewelry to work. That was the year that silk flower jewelry was popular and I had made myself some necklaces and earrings. I can still remember them – they were bright pink and white flowers on a white cord. And cute little flower post earrings.

So I sashayed into work one day wearing my bright pink silk flower necklace and matching earrings and thought I was rockin’ my outfit. Even with the white pantyhose and shoes.

My mother took one look at me and gave me her patented “Anne Marie” stare and told me to take that jewelry off immediately!

But to her dismay, HER boss – Queenie Burroughs – was there. I can still picture Queenie to this day – she was a large, black woman who could either strike fear in your heart if you messed up – or envelope you in a bear hug if she was happy with you.

Queenie thought I was a “doll-baby” – and gave me lots of hugs.

And she overturned my mother’s command to take off that silk floral jewelry. Queenie told my mom that I was a little ray of sunshine and the residents just loved me – and they would surely love seeing that bright jewelry for a change.

Mentally, I was gleefully thrusting my fist in the air and shouting, “YESSS!” But, in reality, I was quietly taking in the exchange with absolutely no expression on my face. I didn’t want my mother to see the victory that surely would have been etched all over it.

And, truthfully, I was wondering if I was going to suffer any consequences later from my mother getting rebuked in front of me over something she thought I had done wrong.

But, interestingly, my mother never mentioned my jewelry again. But neither did she ever call me her little ray of sunshine. Well, maybe she did behind my back. And if she did, it was probably said sarcastically.

But probably not. My mother was the what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of woman. She wasn’t sarcastic. And she rarely did or said things behind anyone’s back.

That was that ethical, honest thing about her.

Nevertheless, for the rest of the year I worked at Bel Air Nursing home, I proceeded to wear bright jewelry to work along with all the white. And the residents DID seem to like it – they smiled when they saw me and commented about it frequently.

I’m sure I didn’t come across as professional, but then I was a seventeen-year-old girl who had absolutely no intention of going into the medical field as a career.

I couldn’t see myself in white pantyhose and shoes for the rest of my life.

And at that point, I didn’t care about looking professional; I only cared about doing a good job in taking care of the residents at the nursing home.

So it was a learning experience for me. I matured a bit. I learned a lot. And I found a new respect for my mother who was more than just my mom – she was a professional woman in charge of a whole lot of people at that nursing home – residents and employees alike. (Well, except for Queenie.)

But never once would I EVER have thought of my mother as “cute”!

Time changes things. And now that she’s a 92-year-old in a memory care unit, maybe she IS cute. Hmmm. Wonder if mom would wear a silk flower necklace if I were to make her one?

Probably. She likes brightly colored jewelry these days. But I think I’ll let things be and she can continue wearing the more dignified sterling silver chain she never takes off.

And I’ll also refrain from calling her either “cute” or my “little ray of sunshine.”

You just never know – there could be consequences to suffer.