THE UNEXPECTED JOYS

The moment I met each of my own daughters, I was swept away with the wave of love that came wrapped up with them. It was like a tsunami that with my first, was so unexpected I nearly went into emotional shock. I expected it with my second and was not disappointed. Instant, overwhelming love.

However, actually raising a child isn’t all joy. Any parent will tell you that at times, the desire to get away from one’s own children is almost as strong as the love they engender. I had too many days of exhaustion, frustration, worry, and impatience to count.

I know I am not the first grandparent to be astonished by this one: having grandchildren brings floods of joy and love that you feel guilty about not having had in terms of their parents, your own children. It’s a fact. Grandchildren are even better than one’s own children. Ask any grandma, and she will confirm!

The first time I was referred to as “Bee” by little Charlie, I was so thrilled that he knew me as a separate person in his life, important enough to name, my heart nearly burst. When he got older and added “Grandma” in front of the “Bee,” it was as if I had been given some sort of very special commendation. I never once questioned or cared where the “Bee” came from; I just loved my new name. Hearing a small piping voice call out “Grandma Bee? Where are you?” was music. Sheer music.

We are going to New York in a couple of weeks to spend time with little Charlie and his adorable baby sister Birdie. We will be the babysitters as their parents conduct business there for a week. There will be an apartment, picnics on the floor, hilarious bath times, maybe a tantrum or two, but certainly more joy than I can even imagine. We will be worn out, I am sure. But the fact that my husband will be the person to take little Charlie on his first excursion to see the Empire State Building? Priceless (also, thank God I won’t be included in that one–fear of heights–whew). Central Park. New York pizza. Hot dog vendors. Strolling around Gramercy Park with the two of them.  Watching Frozen at bedtime on the iPad for the thousandth time. These will be the things I am sure I will revisit and relive as I am on my deathbed, thankful for my life with my own children and so grateful for the children who called me “Grandma Bee.”

I am taking my knee brace, ibuprofen, a handmade doll I ordered from Etsy, the Berenstain Bear books, a scary Transformer or two, fruity Tic Tacs, and probably, if I can fit it in my suitcase, the heating pad.

It will be an epic trip.

 

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DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW

The dog in this picture is not my dog. I love this dog, and she visits me often. She is my grandpup. Sometimes, well–frequently–I wish I didn’t have to depend on her for all of my dog needs.

I have cats, and probably won’t have a dog as a pet in the future. This does not stop me from imagining what kind of dog I would get. You know, to have in my pied a terre in New York or to take on walks with me along the Seine. Oh yes, and to hang around with me right here in Dayton, Ohio.

A small dog. One that won’t pull a person over when sighting squirrels. I like dachshunds. They are assertive little dogs. I especially like the wire haired variety. But I have been told that they don’t have dachshund personalities, because they have been bred with terriers in order to get the wire hair. So that kind of defeats the purpose.

What about poodles? They mix poodles in with every breed, it seems. This mixing makes a new, cuter version of the original. Who doesn’t love labradoodles? They are taking this too far, in my opinion. I met a woman walking a very odd dog–tall, skinny, and with a curly beard and wild eyes. I asked what breed he was, and he was a Doodleman–a doberman poodle mix. Not a good look. But I would consider a schnoodle. This mix of schnauzer and poodle is very cute.

I see myself, though, strolling down the sidewalk with a small, brown dog of indeterminate breed. This dog would have coarse hair shooting out all over his body, wise round eyes, an eager trot, and friendly wag. He would greet neighbors and strangers alike with enthusiasm, increasing my popularity quotient a hundredfold. He would know a few tricks, and live to a ripe old age. He would be devoted to me and I to him. I would give him an absolutely charming and imaginative name like Seltzer or Toasty, but he would end up with a nickname like Snoots. He would sleep in our bed, adore our cat/s, and my husband would be so happy that I talked him into our having a dog again.

I run variations of this fantasy in my mind on a frequent basis, with the dog changing from small and hairy  to large but lazy. In all of these daydreams, the dogs’ feet remain free of mud, they only need to poop once a day, they go out in the backyard without the need of a fence, they never bark at the mailman, they stay off the sofas, and they don’t shed.

I also have fantasies of being able to eat cake every night for dessert.

 

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SEASONAL

 

Why do people want to move to places where there are no seasons? Don’t they get tired of warm weather all the time? I have nothing against Florida, for instance, but I would think that things would get pretty monotonous around there.

In Ohio, we have snow. We have fog, sleet, rain, humidity, heat, and everything in between. We look forward to winter, when we can hygge around the fire, pop popcorn, put up Christmas lights, and be cozy. However, when that begins to get old, and we have cabin fever, VOILA! It’s springtime, with buds, wafting breezes, pollen allergies, and daffodils. That hardly has time to sink in before it turns into summer, with mosquitoes, wasps, ruined picnics, sunscreen, pool parties, hot dogs on the grill, and Lyme disease.

That begins to wear thin, and we all wish we could turn off the central air conditioning, and POOF! It’s fall, with the foliage, pumpkin spice everything, fun size candy bars, cardigans, and turkey with dressing.

Winter rolls around just in time to take our minds off all of the extra calories we packed in at Thanksgiving. See? We never get a chance to get bored! Floridians must curse the sunshine sometimes and wish for a day cold enough for earmuffs, don’t they? Do people in Arizona get fed up with cactus? Do they miss deciduous trees? Rain?

I am staying put in Ohio. No hurricanes here. A tornado here and there, but gosh, we have to have something to worry about. Oh, yeah. The Polar Vortex. I like a good Polar Vortex, though. And blizzards are exciting. Power outages test our mettle. As long as we have the fireplace and a gas stove, we can make do in a power outage.

Birds. I love to listen for the return of spring birdsong. I suppose they have birds in Florida. And of course, beaches. I do appreciate a nice beach. I can live without one, though.

Because in Ohio, one never gets a chance to become bored with the weather. We have SEASONS. I am not picking on Florida and Arizona, but these are popular destinations for retirees. I don’t know one retired person who has decided to move to the Arctic Circle…

 

 

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TIP: YOU DON’T LIVE IN A CATALOG

Aspiration. We all wish we looked better, lived better, and cooked better. I understand completely. Here’s the thing, though. We mustn’t take all of this desire to be our better selves too far. I call this “catalog living.”

A good example is above. It’s a lovely room. The catalog it comes from is either selling the curtains or the bedding; I am not sure. But notice that little basket on the daybed containing a coffee mug and probably a tiny plate of cookies? The stylist put it there to create a mood. It is there to make you aspire to have a room like that, where you can sip your coffee and look out that window at the man next door who looks like Idris Elba.

It is not there–let me repeat–it is not there to encourage you to go out and buy a little basket, put a coffee mug and some graham crackers in it, TO PUT ON YOUR OWN BED AND LEAVE IT THERE. You do NOT live in a catalog.

Flip through the latest Chicos catalog. See those women wearing shirts that are tucked in just in front? God knows why they are doing that, but my guess is so that some cute detail on the fly of the pants they are wearing will be visible. Or, my other theory–they are doing that because the models are so thin that front tucking looks “cute” when they are wearing those outfits. I tried the front tuck. It looked as if A) I had gotten distracted while getting dressed running to answer a robocall, and simply forgot to continue tucking, or B) I am a slob. It is not a good look on regular people. You do NOT live in a catalog.

Foodies. Williams Sonoma can get away with styling their food with scanty toppings. This is so you can see the plate that the food sits on. But in reality, when you are served strawberry shortcake, don’t you want more than a teaspoon of whipped cream on top? Or let’s talk pancakes. Actual people put more than one pat of butter and a small drip of syrup on their stacks. Because they do NOT live in a catalog.

I wish I could live in a catalog. If I did, I would be thinner, my bedding would change with every season, my Christmas tree would have ornaments that are all the same color, my husband would look good standing outside in his pajamas, holding a cup of coffee and smiling at passersby, and I would wear all of my shirts partially tucked. We would be so thin and fit, due to the fact that we never eat much butter, whipped cream, or other high calorie food toppings. My husband would wear the bottoms of his flannel pajamas, and I would wear the top. His top would actually be just a bit too big for me, and we would stand in front of the sink, holding our coffee cups, and smiling. I would be preparing pancakes with two teaspoons of syrup and no butter. We would be so happy.

But we do NOT live in a catalog.

 

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THE BOOK ABOUT THE PERSON WITH THE THING

When I am not writing something, I am reading something. And since writing novels requires a lot of breaks, I read a lot. Most weeks, I read at least two books, but some weeks, it’s three.

So, this is the result: I not only go so quickly from one book to the next that I can almost never remember the titles of the books I have just finished, but I also can almost never remember the plots.

This goes something like the following. At lunch with a friend:

HER  I just read the greatest book. It’s called Blah Blah by Blah Blah.

ME  Oh, really? What’s it about?

HER  *Gives an accurate plot summary*

ME  That sounds great! *writes down the title*

I go home, and fire up my Kindle, enter the title of the book in the search bar of the Kindle store, only to get the message: GO TO LIBRARY. This means that I have already read the book. I click on it to read the book summary, and sure enough, I have read it.

Basically, I have read everything. I am not kidding. Apart from tomes like Infinite Jest, War and Peace, and Ulysses, which nobody has actually read but says they have, I really have read everything. The books just meld together in my mind, that’s all. I bet I am not the only one this happens to. So, every once in awhile, I go to my Kindle library to refresh myself on where I stand with the books I have read, and I review the synopses, so that the next time a friend brings up a book, I will be actually able to discuss it without being vague.

I just finished my review of what I have read and liked recently. So before I forget once again, here is a list of books that you may not have read. Or maybe you, like me, have read and completely forgotten about:

  • Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova. As the wife of a stroke survivor, I felt that this hit very close to home. The chronicle of a victim of head trauma and her very slow recovery.
  • One True Thing by Anna Quindlen. A mother is dying. Her daughter is accused of euthanizing her. Excellent, as is every Quindlen novel.
  • Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. A school shooting. But we see it through the eyes of the shooter. Wow.
  • The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. This is a book I loved and, of course, forgot I had read. Then bits of it came back to me, and I read it again. Brilliant.
  • True Places by Sonja Yoerg. Sonja is a friend of mine. This book is tremendous.
  • The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. The last surviving member of the Bronte family. I loved it.
  • The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. An unbelievable biography of a transgender woman who cleans up after murders, suicides, hoarders, and all sorts of horrendous situations. Gruesome but somehow inspirational. Fascinating.
  • The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. Gosh. Not my usual fare. Ghosts.
  • The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell. His wife accidentally stepped in front of a bus and was killed. Or was it an accident?
  • The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict. Scared the crap out of me.

I have begun working on my fourth novel. This one will be my magnum opus. I hope. Teaser: it is about a woman who grew up unloved by her mother; her aunt, who was “the golden child;” and some revelations about family, love, truth, and perception. It will follow my next release, The World Came to Us. Wish me luck.

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HOME SAFE

Ugh. So much bad news. Are you in a continual state of moral outrage? Or do you have outrage fatigue? You know: something happens that a year ago would have had you in a state of fury, but now you just shrug?

It’s a defense mechanism. We have to harden ourselves in order to get through the news cycle. Yes, we continue to demonstrate, write to Congress, donate, Tweet, and vote, but sometimes we have to curl up and self medicate.

Here are a few things that might help:

  • Tea, in your Grandma’s cup. If your Grandma broke all of her cups, choose a cup you like, or a mug with a pithy slogan. Sit by a window where you can see birds. Sip the tea, and remember something pleasant, like your new socks with cats on them, your first kiss, that flaky croissant, or the time at summer camp when you pushed the bully into the creek.
  • Dinner with candles. You have to wait longer for it to get dark, but candlelight is so pleasant. Turn off the lights and just have candles; I guarantee you that even leftovers seem gourmet in the dim.
  • Reread all the Anne of Green Gables books. This works for women. If you are male and reading this post, maybe the Hardy Boys?
  • Walk with a dog.
  • Walk by yourself, and pet all the dogs you meet.
  • Get a dog.
  • I can’t get a dog, so I utilize my daughter’s dog. It’s a solution.
  • Binge watch something like Poldark. Again, women.
  • Speaking of women, IDRIS ELBA.
  • Bury your face in a cat’s stomach. This requires cat ownership. So maybe, if you don’t have a cat
  • Go to the shelter and get a cat.
  • Take a break from social media. I have never tried this, but some say it is a big help.
  • Delete Facebook, if you dare.
  • Wait. Stay on Instagram and look at 1) rescue dog/cat pictures, 2) all the photos of cottages, or 3) those huge, Nutella filled cakes.

Is this what they used to call a “Listicle?” Google it. It will pass the time. Oh, and while you are at it, Google “Crusoe the Beekeeper Dog,” William Wegman Dog Photos,” or if you are female, just watch the YouTube video of Bradley Cooper and Gaga singing Shallow and conceiving a child right there on the piano bench at the Oscars. As a matter of fact, forget the bulleted list and go directly to YouTube. You’re welcome, ladies.

 

 

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CALLOO, CALLAY!

If anyone had told me twenty years ago that I would be a novelist, I would have laughed. And yet, here I am, at age 69, coming out with my third novel! Good grief.

About love, loss, grieving and healing, it’s the story of Meg and Tommy Poole (mother and daughter) who are mourning the loss of Sam Poole, Meg’s wife and Tommy’s other mother. They decide to go into seclusion for a year. It does not turn out as they planned.

I have always had a fascination with recluses, people who live within the walls of their homes, never venturing out. What do they do? How do they manage? Emily Dickinson and Beatrix Potter, for instance. They seemed to have fascinating lives despite their sequestration. I often fantasize about what it might be like to stay home all the time. So I wrote a book about it.

Meg and Tommy manage to have quite a bit of adventure during their shut-in year. I loved writing these characters and this book. Included in it are Pitbulls, tattoos, bullies, Reddit, warrior teens, and a few surprises. I hope you will want to read it!

It releases October 22, 2019. I will tell you all when it is available for preorder. In the meantime, I have begun work on what my editor hopes will be “a great American family novel.” Wish me luck!

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A FRIEND, INDEED

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS REFERENCES TO MARIJUANA, WHICH IS LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA, WHERE THIS POST TAKES PLACE. IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO THINK THAT I AM NOW A DEGENERATE, DESPERATE WOMAN, DO NOT READ THIS POST.

If you know me at all, you know that I don’t sleep well. This is only a good thing when I am writing a book, which I am not doing at the moment.

Incidentally, my next novel, The World Came to Us, releases October 22, 2019. I am thrilled. Cover reveal next week!

I take Lunesta, which helps some. But every single night, I watch my husband put his head on the pillow and instantly fall asleep. I continue watching him and resenting him for at least an hour, fuming in the darkness at his immobile shadow beside me, listening to his steady breathing and occasional snore.

I have tried all the remedies. Meditation. Those podcasts that promise to drone you to sleep. Benadryl (that works until it doesn’t). Melatonin, which made me feel weird. On and on.

So as I prepared to go visit my grandkids in LA, it occurred to me: marijuana. It’s legal there. According to my daughter, there is a dispensary on every street corner–right next to the Starbucks. She also told me that the people who go into these places are not strung-out weirdos, but regular people just like me. She says people take their dogs in with them, for heaven’s sakes.

So I Googled, and there it was: “CBD oil infused with THC (the actual part of marijuana that gets you “high”) can calm you down and help you sleep. And the marijuana component is very low, so you don’t “tune in, turn on, and drop out.” You just get mellow a little bit and fall asleep.

I was convinced. I wanted to try it.

However, I couldn’t tell my daughter (the one who actually lives in LA–she would not be comfortable with a toker for a mother (I did not plan to smoke, though)). The recommending daughter lives in Dayton and is more tolerant.

So. On the day, I asked my LA friend, (we’ll just call her Lisa, because that is her name) to take me to a “good” dispensary. Side bar: Lisa is a 20-year sober alcoholic and drug user. The logic of asking this woman to determine a quality dispensary must have escaped me at the time.

Lisa Googled. We were on our way.

Marijuana dispensaries look like dental waiting rooms. Only they are decorated with fairy lights, massive sculptures of trees, and they have astroturf carpeting. But they also have that little window with the sliding glass door with a receptionist behind it. Note: my dental receptionist has frosted hair and wears glasses on a chain around her neck. This receptionist had jet-black hair, kohl around her eyes, a pierced eyebrow, and blood red lipstick.

The receptionist asked my friend and me if we had been there before. I politely replied, “Just LOOK at me.” She smiled. “I take that as a no.”

Things began going south when she asked me for my ID. “In order to go back into the actual dispensary, we need a picture ID. Or a passport.”

I had brought with me in my tiny purse five Kleenexes, a tube of lip balm, and a Visa card.

“I am sorry, then. You must have an ID to purchase.” My heart sank. This was my only chance to try CBD oil laced with THC. My only chance. If I didn’t get something that day, I would have to return to Ohio wide awake.

I had a brilliant idea! I didn’t even turn to Lisa for confirmation! I just said to the by-now completely exasperated receptionist, “What if Lisa has ID? Can she go back and buy it for me?”

Lisa, being the true-blue, “She’s not heavy, she’s my dear friend” woman that she is, didn’t even blink. Despite the fact, that as I mentioned above, SHE HAS BEEN CLEAN AND SOBER FOR TWENTY YEARS. Lisa said, brightly, “Yes, I have my ID and a charge card. I will go back and *caps are for emphasis* BUY DRUGS FOR MOLLY.

They sent out a consultant to talk with me about my issues. By the way, this woman, who admitted that she is an expert on pot and takes it every day, looked like a young, nerdy librarian. She had bifocals, a low pony tail, crooked teeth, and a very sincere gaze.

The consultant told me that she would advise a particular drop (I got a bit hysterical when she asked me if I wanted to smoke anything) that I would squirt under my tongue at bedtime.

Did I mention that every time the door opened to the dispensary in “the back,” it was operated by a man in a uniform wearing at his hip a huge GUN? Yes. A GUN.

I waited patiently  in the waiting room, counting the butterflies painted on the wall, watching the other customers, all brandishing their IDs, come in. My Ohio daughter was right. They looked regular. Like the sort one might encounter at CVS. A lady with white hair, black leggings and a silver Eddie Bauer vest. A man with bifocals who parked his scooter outside. A young couple who looked straight out of HGTV; they had probably been looking at houses with granite countertops and an “open concept” just a few hours before. I felt inconspicuous, thank you.

As I waited, I did muse on the following:

  • How did I manage to forget that my Ohio daughter stressed the importance of having an ID with me?
  • How on earth could I be so presumptuous as to think that a recovered alcoholic would be fine with buying drugs?
  • Lisa is the most stellar friend ever
  • I came all this way to buy drugs, and I didn’t even get to go IN
  • I am an idiot

It was a success. The man with the gun let Lisa out, and she handed me the bag of “product.” As we left, more customers entered: a man who looked like a retired CPA, a woman carrying a laptop and a coffee, her blonde hair caught up in a chopstick, and a person who was probably the romantic lead in some network show that I have never watched.

The drops work. Sort of. They make me feel a little weird, they taste like gasoline, they make me cough, and I have strange, threatening dreams. Yes, I sleep, but it isn’t the blissful dreamland that I had hoped for.

Lisa, if you are reading this, you are off the hook. No more drops for me. However, I have always wondered about what it’s like to go to a strip club. Next time?

 

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PACKING

Grandmas in the olden days had to pack steamer trunks or covered wagons in order to go visit their grandchildren. I don’t envy them the journeys, because seasickness, rutted roads, attacks from indigenous Americans trying to save themselves from extinction–no fun. But those grandmas from the days of yore could pack everything. They did not have to fit all the possible things into a carry-on, for God’s sake.

I go back and forth to Los Angeles multiple times a year, so that my beloved grandchildren won’t forget who I am. This makes me so happy, despite airline seats getting smaller, having to pay a fortune for those dried-out turkey sandwiches on the plane, fighting over the armrests, and dashing between terminals to make connections. I can deal with those things.

Packing is another matter. I begin to worry about what to take about a month out. What will the weather be? Will I need a coat? I got a “packable” coat for Christmas, thank heaven. However, it is extremely warm. Should I take it? I might get too hot. I don’t have a nice sweatshirt. Should I get a fashionable one? What about shoes? My goal is to buy one pair of shoes that I can wear with 1) leggings, 2) jeans, and 3) a long skirt if dressing up is required. Note: shoes like this don’t really exist, except for the ones in the Neiman Marcus catalog that cost $300.

Pajamas. The ones I wear at home look like men’s. That is because they are men’s. Do I want to look a bit less louche in LA? Yes. Yes, I do. But feminine pjs, the ones I like from the Garnet Hill catalog, are $120. So louche it is.

Pills. You have to take those on board with you, in case they lose your luggage. You don’t want to die, right? So I have two of those weekly pill things with all of the little compartments. My purse sounds like I am carrying maracas on board. But at least all I need are pills, not a support animal.

If I want to listen to a podcast while flying, I will need new earbuds. The good ones cost around $40. Forget that. Book. I will take a book.

Jeans or leggings? Both? How many pairs? I have three new shirts. Take them all? I want to, so that my kids will think I am fashionable. Wait. It’s a carry-on. My daughter has a washing machine. Take two leggings and one jeans. Two shirts, one tee.

Who am I kidding? Chicos had a sale. So I am jamming in two pairs of jeans, two leggings, three shirts, the louche pjs, an extra pair of shoes, four presents for the children, underwear, a workout outfit (that I will never use, but just in case someone opens my suitcase; I want to seem healthy), a sweater, the packable coat, and my makeup.

I am all packed. My carry-on weighs forty pounds.

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