Don't miss my NEW Bossypants review (under Memoirs & Autobiographies)
and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes review (under the Fiction tab).
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011


In my day, we didn’t have video games.  Although I do remember Pac Man and some other starter arcade games.  But we didn’t have them in our house or in our pocket.  You had to go to the pizza shop or some restaurant and have some change to play the games against the back wall.  In my day, TV was black and white.  We really mainly watched it on Sundays together as a family – the Disney show or National Geographic stories with Jacques Cousteau and cartoons on weekend mornings.  So, what does a kid do with himself if he doesn’t have video games?  That seems to be a big question for many young kids (including my own). The question is:  If not video games, how does one manage through, “I’m bored?”

In my day, if we were underfoot, we were kicked outside to play until it was dark or until my dad whistled us in.  There we either organized for neighborhood play or we used our imaginations to dream up something fun.  Organized play involved gathering all the neighborhood kids together for a rousing game of kick-the-can.  How we all knew that there was to be a game without a cell phone is beyond me.  I think as kids we must have had some type of internal radar.  In no time whatsoever, we would all wind up in one of the backyards arriving on foot, on bike, even on pony.  Yes, a pony! 

Eli Miller, a neighbor boy had a little brown pony which he hopped on barefoot and bareback and trotted across the backyards at a tremendous pace to join the games.  Once there, he would toss his bridle around a tree and park his little pony between the piles of bikes.  The bikes were hand-me-downs and jacked up banana bikes, girl bikes, and boy bikes.  The kids were as different as the bikes:  tall kids, skinny kids, girls, tomboys, big boys, little boys wanting to be big boys, etc.  The oldest boys were team captains and took turns at selecting team members.  Everyone played.  The can was kicked and we all scattered.  We played that game late into the evening, sweaty and sticky and out of breath from running and hiding, and itchy from hungry mosquitoes that followed you everywhere.  

Other days, my sisters and I would get together with the other young girls and would take our bikes out in the woods.  There on the well-worn bike trails, we would make houses from wild grapevines.  The grapevines hung down thick, stringy and heavy from the trees to the ground and formed little nooks within their viney arms.  We would sweep out these homegrown nooks and assign them as our houses.  We would bring along snacks or make pretend snacks from the vegetation around us.  In our minds, our houses were real and the trails were our streets, and our bikes were cars.  And we lived and visited each other in our make believe suburbia.

My dad planted small pine trees along the border of our yard.  Today they’re twice as tall as a two story home.  Then, they were just big enough for a 12 year old girl to hop over, one at a time.  In between the trees were stalls.  Well they really weren’t “stalls.”  But to my sisters and me, they were stalls.  We had imaginary horses.  Mine was Trixie, my sister's was Dixie (are you sensing a theme here?) and my other sister named her's Pixie (I’m guessing on that one).  We pranced around the yard on our wild wild horses.  We raced them.  They were fast.  We took very good care of them.  We brushed our horses and fed them grass and tucked them into their stalls to rest. 

At the bottom of the hill, over the bridge by the river, lived another large family, the Zins’, with a troupe of kids around our ages.  I believe I can still name them all in order…Tom, Mary Ellen, Maureen, Marie, Guy, Cyr, Marlene, Mary Catherine (I hope I didn’t forget anyone).  My family had five kids at the time (a sixth came later on).  It was a natural fit for our big families to bond. Behind their house in the valley, the river split and in between was a perfect little island.  There was a log that spanned one leg of the river.  We would drag down tents and sleeping bags, blankets, and fishing rods, cross the river and escape civilization.  Girls in one tent.  Boys in the other.  The boys would taunt and scare us girls all night long.  They would catch and cook frog legs and bluegill or bass and we would let them know just how “gross” that was.  However, the legs did taste a lot like chicken.  They would take sticks and play baseball with bats...the ones that fly.  Just as a side note, bats easily get stuck in long hair.  There were scary tales, late night fires, and a lot of “What was that?”  I remember, most of the time, waking up in the basement of the Zins' house with a few other girls or boys who couldn’t quite make it through the night. 

In that house, there was a wall of books. Along the bottom shelves was a complete series (or so it seemed) of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Mysteries -- filed separately in numerical order.  They were a dream come true for this voracious reader.  To this day, I swear I ended up in the basement for the books.  It had nothing to do with being afraid of the dark.  Oh, those books were like candy.  I devoured them one at a time, in numerical order, until every last morsel was gone.  Nancy Drew was my hero! 

As I remember it, usually I was lost in my imaginary play, neighborhood games or between the pages of a book. I really don’t remember being bored.  My mother may remember it all differently, but in my mind we were always busy doing chores or playing outside.  We never whined that we had nothing to do.  We didn’t complain.  We didn’t talk back.  And that’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Welcome Back!

It’s been raining cats and dogs for days and days.  Water is everywhere.  It puts me back into that winter hibernation mode.  The type of weather when you need a fire in the fireplace, a pot of soup on the stove, a glass of wine (optional) , a big cozy blanket, and good chick flick or an Oprah book.  That’s my idea of hibernation. 

I bumped into an old friend today.  She’s been divorced a few years.  I don’t know much about her situation but she expressed that she was glad to see me happy in my relationship and that she hoped to find someone nice like I had.  How sweet was that! I’ve spoken with a few other close women lately, too, who are in trying situations with their relationships.  It made me think back on those times when the separation/divorce piece was still fairly fresh.  Those were tough times.  How odd it is that some of us women try so hard to mend a relationship that we turn ourselves inside out and become something that we don’t even recognize…at least, that’s what I did.  I remember trying to do everything and to do it all perfectly…you know: “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever let you forget you’re a man…”  That was the mantra way back then.  Sheez!! No wonder my generation of women ended up this way!!

The best thing I learned over the many years that I was alone, is that I’m okay.  I’m okay by myself, on my own two feet, all alone.  Yes, financially it’s hard sometimes.  Making big decisions is very difficult on my own.  It is very lonely sometimes…when a couple invites you over and you’re not a couple.  Or a holiday comes and you’re wrapping presents by yourself or toasting yourself “Happy New Year” as the kids sleep through the ball drop.  Wedding showers are tough.  And being a bridesmaid is the worst.  But, the up side is on a rainy day, I can stay in my jammies and watch TV all day.  I can run out and buy an appetizer of Pepperidge Farm chocolate cake and peppercini’s and salami for dinner (my poor poor heart). Or I can have a "backwards day" where the kids and I stay in pajamas and eat cereal for dinner.  I don’t have to answer to anyone when I buy yet another pair of stacked sandals (they’re SOO cute!).  I just have to pay my own bills, make my mortgage and my car payment, get to work every day, and do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. 

The beauty is, I take care of myself now, too.  Way back then, I went to the most wonderful therapist ever who helped me get back on my feet and who helped me to start finding myself again.  I went back to church, and found a lot of support spiritually.  And I surrounded myself with my women friends…the ones who were really a positive influence. Now I don’t have a therapist (although some days I should) and I haven’t been to church lately (which I promise to get back to), I still hang with the girls sometimes and I’ve added exercise to my regime (woo hoo!).  But overall, I’m more confident these days.  I’m happy in my own skin.  I like me.  And when I bumped into an old friend, Greg (my now boyfriend), I was ready for that next step.  The timing was right. 

Taking some time and space to be alone is really an awesome experience.  I highly recommend it.  I hope and pray for these female friends that they find their inner-woman and recognize themselves when they look in the mirror.  I hope they snuggle up under a blanket in their flannel pajamas with their favorite book in hand.  I hope they take solace in the peace and quiet of a gentle rainfall.  And that they truly stop and smell the roses (or lilacs…those are my favorite).  I pray for my women friends that they find their old beautiful selves and when they do, they give that girl a big welcome-back hug!

Welcome Back, Kotter
Theme Song

Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.
Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about.
Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they're turned around.
Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)
Yeah we tease [her] a lot cause we've got [her] on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

All the Pretty Babies

I love babies.  Puffy little baby chicks, pink wiggly baby piglets, gangly wobbly baby cows, chubby puppies (and what about that puppy smell!), fuzzy baby kitties, pudgy cheeked baby girls and bouncing baby boys.  Just babies.  Finding myself as a single mom when my children were very little, I was sure that I never wanted any more children.  When I was having my second (and last) child (I knew divorce was pending), I told my doctor to tie my tubes.  He refused, “You’re a young woman still.  You may want another child.  Take some time and think about it.”  I was so sure of myself then.  But, in that position, I was too tired to argue.  Don’t get me wrong, I love every bit of my two boys with all my heart.  But it was a lot of work on my own. Being a single mom of two little ones and working full time meant staying up all night with sick babies, trying to find someone to watch them when they were too sick for day care, going to work sick because you took too many days for the kids…and trying to bundle up their bottles, bibs, and breakfasts and somehow still make it to work on time.  I told myself then…nevermore. 

Now years have gone by (where did they go?) and here I am amidst the start of menopause.  I ended up having a run of procedures that basically eliminates my opportunity to have babies.  Truly, I had no intent of having another baby.  I didn’t really have the desire over the years.  But suddenly when I couldn’t have babies, I wanted babies.  And then I felt really sad!  Sad to know that my option was gone.  That I couldn’t change my mind…if I wanted to.  And now when I see a baby anything, I just miss my option. 

I remember with great longing how it feels to cuddle a little pudgy baby in my arms and they way they smelled and the way they snuffled and made little baby noises.  And I miss their dependence on their mommies.  Rocking them and cooing a little lullaby of Sweet Baby James and the sing song of  baby books – nothing like a good round of Goodnight Moon, all of Sandra Boynton’s Moo Baa La La La books, Guess How Much I Love You, anything by Eric Carle, all the Mercer Mayer books and, of course, Dr. Seuss. 

My babies aren’t babies anymore.  One is getting his driver’s license and one is just hitting his teen years.  They don’t cuddle much anymore.  They do make me smile and laugh (and sometimes not).  I love seeing them turning into nice young men.  And as much as I know and appreciate that I am in another stage of my life, I can still remember the stories like it was yesterday, “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and picture of the cow jumping over the moon…”  Goodnight babies.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Alphabet Reading

My love for reading runs deep. As a child in elementary school, I remember speedily zipping through each color coded level of SRA. I knew the school and town library inside and out. I would walk to town after school lugging home stacks of thick books (sometimes 10 at a time) and hide in my room and read and read and read. If I wasn’t helping with chores, I would read until someone pretty much dragged me away from my books. I knew the junior section of the library intimately. I actually gave myself a goal in 5th or 6th grade to read every book in the junior section of the library. Yes, that was my goal. I apparently didn’t like to strive for big things…I start small…just the junior section, nothing more.

But the up side of that project was that the A’s gave me Louisa May Alcott and a host of beautiful stories: Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, An Old Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Under the Lilacs, etc. What young girl wouldn’t benefit from growing up under the influence of Alcott’s independent strong women? I met the Bronte sisters in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I delved into the Civil Rights Movement with Sounder by William Armstrong. And I got lost in The Secret Garden with Frances Hodgsen Burnett.

I read a lot (probably not "all") of the A’s, B’s and slightly into the C’s before giving in (it was a small library). I came to the conclusion that 23 remaining alphabet letters may be a daunting task even for this 11 year old voracious reader.

Off-alphabet, I read: the Beany Malone series, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, Konigsburg’s Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, the Little House on the Prairie Series and a wall full of biographies including Abraham Lincoln, Betsy Ross, Harriett Tubman, Helen Keller, and many more.

That was my start. I try to instill a love of reading in my two boys’ lives, too. We read books right from the get-go. I always allowed them to stay up as late as they wanted even when they were little as long as they were in bed and either reading or drawing. They did both…but rarely kept their eyes open long. My youngest loves to read and knows the local library well. My oldest reads as needed.

Every Christmas I buy them a book based on something that interests them at the time. I write a little note in it and date it. They read those books and keep them in their rooms. One of my fondest reading memories with my boys was when we drove to Florida and listened to Where the Red Fern Grows on tape. To this day, they speak fondly of that trip and that story. While I doubt they will read books A through Z, I’m sure they will still enjoy their own off-alphabet road trip.