Thursday, December 29, 2011

Zen and Granite Counterstops

Have you noticed how people whine and complain on HGTV’s House Hunters and Property Virgins shows?

Oh, lawsy.

They criticize Formica counters, funky wall colors, small bathrooms from the 60s with pink tile, vinyl flooring. Whine, whine, whine. No house is “perfect,” they sigh. Why isn’t there a perfect house for them for a reasonable price?

I think about the nice house I was privileged to grow up in, with one pink bathroom for seven people, a tiny sliver of yard, about three linear feet of Formica kitchen counter. The mouth-watering meals my parents turned out of that bare-bones kitchen were the definition of delicious. Cherry pie from the fruit tree in the backyard? Who does that today? My family loved that house—it’s the place we think of when we remember home. My parents were so proud to make their last $200.00 monthly mortgage payment after thirty years.

The HGTV house-hunters’ expectations are high. How did these young Americans get the idea that they were supposed to be living so large? What the heck is wrong with Formica, anyway? Some of the most fabulous meals I ever cooked were in a camper trailer kitchen with an apartment sized gas stove from the 1950s—and gasp—no granite counters. Here’s a shocker: granite counters and stainless steel appliances don’t make dinner taste any better. Or create family harmony.


Here comes the hypocritical part, and my secret shame. I live in McMansion. Before you start hating on me, let me explain.

We owned the lot for 20 years; we bought it when it was called a swamp and not a “delightful marsh-front property with bird-watching from the back yard.” My husband built the house for us in 2006. Sounds ominous, right? Yep, we built at the height of the real estate boom, planned to stay in the house about five years, sell, and have enough equity to help with our eventual retirement. That retirement has been moved back to about age 90 since the real estate bubble burst. We pray our health holds out.

We aren’t wealthy people. I teach in the South, for Pete’s sake. That alone speaks volumes; you must know I teach for love, not money. Like many others, I haven’t even had a cost of living raise in five years. They’ve cut my health benefits and are going after my retirement plan next. Although I’m not happy with this treatment, I’m incredibly thankful to have the job, for obvious reasons.

So now the lovely house we built, our “dream” house that we really built for other people, is sitting on the market. The market is in the toilet. We’re stuck in a house that has a humongous mortgage payment, is too big and fancy for us, and may not sell for years. The house has most of the hot-button features that HGTV buyers crave: oak floors, granite counters, 3 full baths, loads of windows, porches, decks, and even a boat dock.

The house is lovely, and we’re lucky to live in it, but it has never felt like home to me. I knew we’d sell it, so I haven’t let myself relax into it, to feel like I belonged here. I appreciate all the features, I do. We looked at house plans for ten years before we picked this plan as a match for the lot. It’s a special, light-filled house, built like a fortress to withstand the hurricanes we get here in the South.

But when I write that murderous mortgage check every month, I dream of a house of half the size, with a small yard, some old-timey charm, and yes, even Formica counters.  A house with a tiny little mortgage to reflect its tiny little square footage. Room to breathe financially. A lift to this relentless weight on our shoulders.

Yet we are extremely lucky, and I count my blessings every day. Yes, I really do. Believe it or not, we moved directly from a comfortable double-wide (not a thing in the world wrong with double-wides) to this house. We sang the theme song to The Jeffersons, “Moving On Up” when we moved in. We have this huge mortgage, but we are not underwater. The house is still worth more than the mortgage, although if you count the cash we put into the house ourselves, we are at breakeven. For today’s economy, that’s a miracle.

We see people—we know people who have lost homes to foreclosure in the last few years. Other people are underwater but still scraping together a mortgage payment each month. Some families are homeless and may never be homeowners again. They are the ones who deserve our attention, our help, our understanding.

We have been there, too. In the early 1990s we were bankrupt and foreclosed on, wandering the country in an old van and living in a tiny 1964 Holiday Rambler camper trailer. Foreclosure is heartbreaking. No one can fully understand how it hurts unless she’s been through it. It hurts financially and it hurts because a dream dies when a family loses a home after trying everything they know to save it. The hurt lasts for years, and never really goes away entirely.

Please don’t judge someone who has lost a home to foreclosure. An outside observer never knows the whole story about how a family lost their home. The situation is always more complicated than you could possibly imagine. Saying they shouldn’t have borrowed the money in the first place is not helpful. Illness, job loss, addiction, and death can hit any family at any time. Most foreclosed families have spent their life-savings fighting to keep their house, trying to do the “right thing.”

In our case, after foreclosure, we rebuilt our credit over the course of 15 years. We worked and saved. We don’t ask for praise. We did what so many others have done; we built a pretty house.

Some of you may be thinking, tough shit. I should just shut up, put on my big girl panties, and thank God I don’t lay my head down in a cardboard box or homeless shelter every night. I get it, I do.

Maybe that’s why some of the couples on HGTV upset me. They tend to have such high expectations of what a house should be. The hardwood floors, the granite counters, the high ceilings seem to mean everything to them.

If I could, I’d try to get through to these house-hunters. Lighten up, I’d tell them. It isn’t the house, it’s the feeling of home created within the house. A nice house means nothing if we don’t have peace of mind.

All the granite countertops in the world won’t bring us that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Girl Crush

“Holiness has most often been revealed to me in the exquisite pun of the first syllable, in holes—in not enough help, in brokenness, mess… in holes and lostness I can pick up the light of small ordinary progress, newly made moments flecked like pepper into the slog and the disruptions.” –Anne Lamott

My latest girl crush is writer Anne Lamott. My feelings toward Anne are part crush, part hero worship, part “she would totally get me if we met” awe.

I’m reading Lamott’s 2005 book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. After my dad died four weeks ago, I did what some readers/writers/overthinkers might do (perhaps especially if they have a touch of religious belief)—I went to Barnes and Noble and bought books about grieving, death, faith, and comfort.

That first week I was still numb, but I knew the numbness would wear off, and I wanted to be prepared. The way I saw it, $80.00 worth of books would be well worthwhile if I could avoid costly professional grief therapy. Yes, I’m a real DIY kind of sufferer.

So I’ve dipped into four of the books, but Annie’s is the one I’m reading the most. I was a little worried, since she started right off damning George Bush to hell for starting the war in Iraq. While I may tend to agree with her, the constant damning to hell of George Bush was not helping me move forward in my grieving process.

But I trusted, kept reading. 

What I love about my Anne is that she is so messed up and sarcastic, and she knows it. So self-deprecating, yet she’s unwilling to take shit from anyone, including God. She talks about Jesus and God in the most intimate and sometimes bitchy ways.

A recovering alcoholic, now in her fifties, at the time Plan B was written she is both a mother to a teenage boy and going through menopause, an incendiary situation. Summing her life experience up, she’s a survivor.

She overthinks, as well, a trait we share. Lamott admits to wrongheadedness, uncharitable thoughts, and murderous impulses. She’s not afraid to pray the one-word prayer: HELP!

In short, she’s exactly the kind of Christian I need right now. I don’t need platitudes, and my Annie doesn’t do platitudes. She’s had to do lots of inner work to get to where she is, a place where she is mostly (or at least sometimes) content with her life.

For instance, she admits that she’d rather be celibate than get into another toxic relationship. Of course, in the funny way life goes, a while after she came to that conclusion, she found a boyfriend.

She attends a racially diverse Presbyterian church in the Bay area, has a female pastor, and sometimes refers to God as “She.” I know this kind of new-agey feminist stuff drives some Christians over the edge, but me and Annie, we say, “Chill.” We don’t think God gets all excited about gender. Or about a lot of other stuff.

She says, “…we should try to stay on God’s good side. It’s not hard. God has extremely low standards. Pray, take care of people, be actively grateful for your blessings, give away your money—you’re cool. You’re in. Nice room in heaven, flossing no longer required—which is what will make it heaven for me. Oh, I mean that, and Jesus.”

Anne struggles with mid-life, admits she has a bit of flab, is creaky when she gets up in the morning, forgetful. She’s a white girl who gave up the struggle with her exceedingly curly, unruly hair a decade ago and now sports dreadlocks, feeling that dreadlocks are the equivalent of her hair finding its way home. She’s a blue jeans kind of girl; she’d never judge me for my general dishevelment.

If I lived near her, my friend Annie and I would go for hikes in the hills. She’d show me her favorite views, the trails she hiked with her dad as a girl. We’d talk about faith, and failure, and love.  I’d be sure she knew how much I valued our friendship, and she’d offer to read drafts of my historical novel. I might even admit that I’d had a girl crush on her. She’d be a little embarrassed, but mostly flattered.

She be kind, real, and she’d offer to watch my cats if I had to go out of town. We’d make each other laugh. I’d cook her some soup.

That’s my girl crush. Crazy Annie is helping me work through some of my grief, after all.

Have you ever had a girl crush on an author or famous person, living or dead? I challenge you to name your crush, and tell me about her.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tasteless, Tacky, Tawdry: My Life as a Prude

I used to be such a Prude with a capital P.

What happened?
Once the mere mention of “passing gas” offended me to the core, the word “damn” made me cringe, and if I saw the “f” word on the ladies room wall, I felt slightly dizzy and broke out in hives.
Now I find I excel at double-entendres, bad bathroom puns, and none-too-lightly-veiled sexual innuendo.
By the way, no one writes on the bathroom wall anymore. Is that because we’re too busy talking on the cell, texting, or taking notes for our next blog post? Remember when there was even rhyming poetry on the walls? “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat” springs to mind.
See what I mean? In my life as a prude, I would never, ever, have repeated that poem. As a teenager I was completely mortified by needing to ask for a bathroom when traveling with friends. I routinely “held it” long enough it’s a wonder I didn’t burst a kidney.
Now I blab for the world to hear, “Time for a pee break! Anyone else need to go?”
My grandmother would be appalled. I believe I heard her say “damn” maybe twice in her 93 years. She powdered her nose—she certainly didn’t “use the toilet.” I heard nary a curse word from my mother until I was at least 18. 
Purchasing feminine hygiene products used to be torture, but now I can actually say the word tampons out loud without feeling like my tongue may burst into flames. Although not in mixed company. And of course I recently passed the point of needing tampons. I can even say menopause out loud. Well, if it’s just us girls.
I use the “f” word out loud perhaps two dozen times a year, but my long-suffering husband is usually the only one who hears it (not directed at him, but in description of politicians, incompetent drivers, and other assorted dunderheads).
Upon reflection, perhaps I do retain a few taboos and words I refuse to acknowledge: nasal discharge, alternative “poo” words, parts of male and female anatomy below the waist, certain gastric disturbances, and don’t even attempt to talk to me about something you read in the Kama Sutra.
A friend from the Deep South recently revealed that she calls a certain part of the female anatomy one’s “butterbean.” I adore this as a term.
If you’ve never seen a butterbean, they are really very cute. They're shaped like a... oh, dear heavens, stop it! The vegetable, people, I’m talking about the VEGETABLE. Sheesh.
So maybe I am still a bit of a prude after all.
Shall I say it out loud, I’m a prude and I’m proud?
Or shall I write it on the bathroom wall?

Sunday, December 11, 2011


One of the books I’m reading, Healing After Loss, by Martha Whitmore Hickman (Harper, 1994), quotes social worker Lily Pincus:

When I asked the orthopedic surgeon who treated me whether people often fracture bones after bereavement, he said, without even looking up from my injured foot, “Naturally, people lose their sense of balance.”

Oh, so that’s what’s going on.

Never the most graceful of women, lately I have been walking into a few more walls than usual. My elbows flail away from me, hitting door casings. Small bruises appear on my arms and legs, and I can’t remember how I got them. Walking along, suddenly I veer off to the side like the cliché of the drunken sailor. I haven’t fallen. Yet.

Unbalanced. That’s a good way to put it. Off-center.

Losing Dad three weeks ago, I sometimes wonder I’m dealing a little too well with grief. Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Then, leaving a restaurant, I encounter a little man, bent over his walker, wearing a WW II, D-Day veteran’s cap. Dad had a cap like that, but for his service in the Pacific. I bought it for him, but he was reluctant to wear it, and continued with his ratty Carolina Panthers hat. Dad didn’t like to draw attention to his veteran status.

The little man is toddling toward the restaurant door. Shockwaves hit me, but I smile, say “WW II? Thank you for your service,” as I hold the door for the little man and his companion. Then I turn away, hit with that stupid weight front and center, under the breast bone.

But it passes. A young man in a wheel chair rolls up, and I hold the door open for him, too. My day to be doorman, but that’s how we do it in the South. I pull it back together, and no one with me even notices.

Talking with my husband later, I told him that meeting the old man was an unexpected slap of grief. I should have been prepared to meet my first little man with a walker after losing Dad, but I wasn’t, hadn’t planned for it.

I’m dealing well with the grief thing, honestly. Just a little clumsy, the occasional crying jag in the shower, and the urge to hug little old men.

But that’s not such a bad impulse, is it?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of Ponies, Life, and Laughter

November was not typical for me and my family.

I’m wondering how much of what happened this month I should write down. What do I want to remember? What should I try to forget? Don’t worry, I’m not thinking about putting it all in this post. I wouldn’t do that to you.

Some of this is going to be sad, so you don’t have to keep reading if you don’t want to. But not all of it is sad.

My brother called me at work one day. He had been taking care of Dad at home, acting as Dad’s 24/7 nurse, doing everything and more for Dad. Mother, a retired nurse, was helping, too, and she described those couple of weeks as “the shift that never ends.”

When brother John called me, he said, “Mel, I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry.”

He had done so much to keep Dad from going into the hospital, but he is only one man. My heart broke at the despair in my brother’s voice.  If only he would believe, as I do, that he did more than anyone else could have done for Dad, for far longer than any of us could have done it. My respect and gratitude for what John gave Dad is boundless. 

So we called 911, and Dad took a ride to the hospital. Dad was having a cascade of events that individually weren’t insurmountable, but for an 86 year-old with congestive heart failure, the outcome didn't appear promising.

Still, we held on to the thought that Dad had pulled himself back from death many times before.

The attending doctor, Dr. Blue, examined Dad, told us he was in atrial fibrillation and was beginning to get pneumonia. Dr. Blue asked Dad if he wanted to be resuscitated, should his heart stop. Dad had always answered “yes” in the past.

This time he said, “No, let me go.” In some ways I was stunned to hear this, but in other ways I understood. Life had become a struggle for Dad. He was tired. He was nearly ready.

You can see where this is going, but that’s not all to the story. Dad was still Dad, and the next professional in the room was Cassie, the telemetry lady, who came to hook up Dad’s heart monitor. She hit it off with Dad right away, and they began to flirt, shamelessly. Cassie had a scarf on, and said it was getting in the way. So she took it off.

Dad said, “Is that all you’re going to take off?”

They bantered like that for a half-hour. Cassie, I’m going to write you a note. You had my dad laughing out loud in the hours before he died. Thank you, dear lady.

Later, Dad had been admitted to a room, and I was giving his health history to a wonderful nurse, Sandy. Sandy acted as if she had all the time in the world to spend with us, made Dad comfortable, and sat down at the bedside computer to ask us a long list of questions. We were going along fine, until she asked Dad, under standard procedure, if he was in an abusive relationship.

“Yes, she beats me, “ Dad said, blue eyes twinkling.

“Dad, you can’t say that about Mom! The nurse will have to report it and they’ll go arrest Mama!” Even as well as I knew my dad, I was flabbergasted.

He wouldn’t back down, and was having quite the little chuckle at how flustered he'd made me and Nurse Sandy. We finally got him to admit he was kidding, but it was like pulling teeth. So ornery! That was his last little joke with us.

A few hours later, he passed away in the Intensive Care Unit.

Mama overspent a tad on Dad’s gravesite, and I fully supported her decision. His grave is on a hill, overlooking a lake with ducks and swans. We have an old photo of Dad feeding ducks at a lake; he was completely obsessed with feeding  all creatures great and small. Beautiful, ancient live oaks, evergreen, draped with silver Spanish moss, flourish near his grave. Beyond the cemetery is a tidal saltwater creek teeming with the fish, clams, and oysters he loved. 

We learned that the cemetery property was formerly a pony farm. Mother and I smiled when we heard this. How fitting for the little boy who’d had a Chincoteague pony from the time he was a toddler, for the man who'd realized a life-long dream of working with horses. Dad had traveled far from the coastal family farm of his youth.

He didn't know we would bury him on a pony farm. I can picture Dad chuckling. He would approve.

photo from

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Who, Me? Shallow?

In my infinite shallowness*, I fantasize about:
1.       Laser hair removal. On my face, oh noooooo! The female heartbreak of unwanted facial hair.
2.       Laser eye surgery. It would be lovely to see clearly again, but I’m way too chicken, even if I had the extra $$$. Yet, I still dream.
3.       The upper arms I had in my 20s and 30s. Can you believe it? I thought I was fat back then. Bwah-
ha-ha-ha! Snort.
4.       A personal trainer/nutritionist named Sergio. He is very nice to me and whips me into shape. People! Get your minds out of the gutter. J
5.       A live-in personal chef, like Oprah has. Her name is Gi-Gi, I pay her very well and love every morsel she cooks for me. She cleans up the kitchen after herself, too.
6.       When my buddy Oprah comes over, we laugh about back in the day. 
7.       Then Gi-Gi passes a tray of truffle puffs with sparkling glasses of award-winning wine. That Oprah! I have to watch her or she’ll get tipsy.
8.       Nablopomo ending not with a whimper, but a bang. Do I have anything left to close out the month? Sadly, by next year I will have forgotten the agony and will say, “Oh, that was so fun last year! Sign me up again, Blogher!”
* apologies to Jane in Her Infinite Wisdom


Monday, November 28, 2011

Nablopomo: You're kicking my butt. Love, Melanie

1.       Check out “one-note” so I don’t keep losing my lists.
2.       Figure out if I should get a smart phone. Gasp! My current phone is not smart.
3.       Do I want to use Twitter in the classroom next semester? See #2.
4.       Find homes for some of Mom’s rescue kitties. They have their shots & are spayed/neutered, and need forever homes. Guilt-trip good people into becoming kitty-parents, if necessary.
5.       Spend more time with my husband while we are both awake.
6.       Cut back on beating myself up with so many “should’s.”
7.       Get a haircut.
8.       Stop forcing my lists to be at least 10 items long. Sometimes 7 bits/pieces are enough for one list.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Word Nerd Side Takes Over: Foreign Phrases

Great foreign language terms or phrases, so fun for a word-nerd like me:

1.      Café con leche (nothing happens in my world without this ebony/ivory nectar of the morning)
2.      Faux pas (thanks for reminding me, Janey, and no, I never commit zee faux pas. Well, maybe not more than once a day)
3.      Sic semper tyrannis (Latin motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia: “thus always to tyrants.” Sticking it to the man, old school! Love that!)
4.      Ménage a trois (if you don’t know, ask your mother, cause I ain’t splainin’ it)
5.      Un poco loco (as in slightly cuckoo, nutty, or fruitcake-ish; bonus points for the rhyme)
6.      Au contraire (fancy way of saying, “You are an idiot, and oh, so wrong”)
7.      Contretemps (the snooty way to say: a row, a falling-out; “Melissa blithely  threatened to pinch me when we had a contretemps about the quality of my writing”)
8.      Mas tequila, por favor (always drink responsibly-- me, I stick to una cerveza—don’t want Bad Luck Detective slapping the dreaded pink cuffs on me)
9.      Carpe diem (seize the day, gather your rosebuds, kiss your sweetie right now; this one’s for Desi, who already is a superb seizer of the day)
10.  Amigas (who doesn’t need a few more of these?  I’m proud to call Home Reared Chef mi amiga)
11.  ¿Dónde está el cuarto de baño?; Ou est la salle de bain? (Arguably the most important phrase in any language; Karen Lynn, will you come with me? Ladies need backup for that trip.)
12.  Chaise-longue (think I’ll go take a nap in one now, hi  Oh Napper Deluxe, VV, aka Belle of the Carnival)
13.  Antonio-Banderas-hubba-hubba (he needs no translation. Tonio appears in my creative visualizations happy place—make that a chaise-longue for two, please).

Are there words from languages, other than your own native tongue, that you enjoy using? If English is your second language, are there English words you find interesting, confusing, or amusing?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Student Who Taught Me

I met Ted the second semester I taught at a community college—just a few short years ago.

He sat in the front row. His legs were too long to fit under the ridiculously small 1970’s desks we had then. The chair seemed tiny in comparison to his frame. He was a former Marine, 49, six-foot-five, and the oldest student in the class. Ted was even a couple of years older than the newbie instructor--me.

When he first spoke up, challenging me on an essay we’d read for the English comp class, I thought, “What am I going to do with this dude?”

His voice boomed off the concrete block walls of the classroom.

The essay we’d read for class that day, “The Androgynous Man,” was pure crap, Ted informed me. I later learned he’d been a drill instructor among his many other Marine Corps positions, so no wonder his lungs seemed to dwarf my pitiful, newly developing “teacher voice.”

You know what? That essay was pure crap.

And Ted was going to be Trouble with a capital T.

I didn’t know what to think about Ted. I thought I was prepared to work with military, former-military, and military-dependent students, but no one had mentioned Ted. I found I was dumb as a mud-stump.

Ted even had to explain to me what “Sergeant Major,” his last rank before retirement, meant. Even though my dad was a WW II Marine Corps vet, two of my brothers were Marines, and one brother served in the Navy, enlisted men all, ranks were fuzzy to me.  I had no clue, until Ted, that S.M. is the highest rank an enlisted Marine can hold, and that the rank is not just another Sergeant.  Sergeant Majors are few and powerful. They can and do talk back to officers.

Because of his “no bullshit” attitude, it had taken Ted a bit longer than it might have to achieve this high rank, but he was justifiably proud of the achievement. Ted seemed an anomaly to me at first, a Marine to the bone, an American patriot in the tradition of the best fighting force in the world, who was not afraid to point out flaws in the Marine Corps. In spite of my personal experience with my father and brothers, who are as different in their political views as any other randomly chosen group of four men, I had the dumbass idea that many military men and women were generally brainwashed into unquestioning support of their service branch.

In the years since he was my student, thanks to Ted and many other individual students, I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a “military” person. Each man or woman who is serving or has served may have shared the same training, the same job title, the same rank, the same duty station and more, but the military never truly “takes over” the person the way I suspected. Generalizing about military or former military members is not wise, is not accurate, and shortchanges them. They are individuals who may share a sense of camaraderie.

There has never been another Ted, that’s for sure.

Soon, I realized Ted was not my adversary in the classroom. It happened slowly, but I saw him nodding in agreement during class lectures. He visited my office with rough drafts of his papers. He was good at expressing himself in an essay. He was unfailingly polite, carefully considered my criticisms and suggestions, revising his papers to bring them up to A level. He worked hard.

We grew to like each other, and although our classroom banter was a little edgy, we gained each other’s respect. Ted will never understand how much his respect means to me.

There came a day, though, when Ted sat sullenly in the classroom. He wasn’t looking at me, wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t answering any of the questions I posed to the class.

I thought he had a hangover. I was a bit angry because I expected more of Ted.

Frustrated, I finally called on him by name. “What’s the matter with you today, Thaddeus? Celebrate a little too much with the boys at the club?”

“My nephew was killed in Fallujah last night,” he said, flatly.

 Of course, the rest of the class members fell silent. Of course, the wall clocked ticked, ticked, ticked.

“Oh, Ted. I am so sorry,” I finally mumbled.

 I will never forget those words, “My nephew was killed in Fallujah last night.” Never.  The clock, and Ted’s face, and his long legs crunched up under the stupid too-small desk. The nephew was married, and had an infant son at home.

Ted was gracious, then. How could he be gracious? I don’t know, but he was.

“It’s okay. You didn’t know.”

I didn’t know anything.

Now, seven years later, he sits across from my desk. He is a friend. We chat for a while, mostly about his rose garden and his grandkids. When he leaves, I tell my office mate, newly hired to teach, about Ted.

“God, I was green,” I tell her.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Ted taught me more than I ever taught him. I hope you have a Ted in one of your classes.”

I say it, I mean it, and it is inadequate.

But I do. I do wish her a Ted. Teds make teaching an honor, a joy, and incredibly worthwhile.

Thank you, Sergeant Major.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Taboo Topic: Would You Write Your Own Obit?

Writing my father’s obituary was not as daunting as one might think. He died on Saturday at 86, after an eventful life. The challenge was figuring out what to include in the limited space.

Dad had so many colorful experiences, traveled the world, fought in WW II, raised two daughters and three sons, and had a 63 year marriage. He worked for 30 years at a chemical company, trained horses, raised vegetables and flowers, played semi-pro baseball.

With so many events to choose from, I tried to write an obit that reflected what Dad found most important in his life: his family, his paid and unpaid work, his country. While it was difficult in some ways, the experience of writing it made me proud and humble. Dad saw to it that I never wanted for any necessities of life, made sure I had a good education, and fussed over all his children like a mother hen.

I hope someone will have as many positive words to say about me one day.

Have you ever written an obituary? What was the experience like for you? Have you considered writing your own obituary?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey... What're your favs?

In reckless disorder, here are a few sentimental pop songs I love. Shall I sing you a few bars? No, let's stay friends instead.

What are some of your favorite pop songs, especially those songs the world may have forgotten?

1. Autumn Leaves, Nat King Cole
2.       Lights, Journey
3.       Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye), Gladys Knight and the Pips
4.       Tunnel of Love, Bruce Sprinsteen
5.       Wonderful  Tonight, Eric Clapton
6.       I’ve Been Waiting for a Girl Like You, Foreigner
7.       Dreams, Fleetwood Mac
8.       Ma Cherie Amour, Stevie Wonder
9.       Blue on Black, Kenny Wayne Shepherd
10.   Summer Breeze, Hall and Oates
11.   The Thrill is Gone, B.B. King
12.   Poor Side of Town, Johnny Rivers
13.   Hello, It’s Me, Todd Rundgren
14.   Angie, Rolling Stones
15.   Melissa, Allman Brothers Band
16.   For the Good Times, Al Green
17.    Desperado, Eagles
18.   If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
19.   Midnight Confessions, Grass Roots
20.   Me and Bobby McGee, Janis Joplin
21.   Oh, Girl, Chi-lites
22.   Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time), Delphonics
23.   Try a Little Tenderness, Otis Redding
24.   Rainy Night in Georgia, Brooke Benton
25.   The Shadow of Your Smile, Tony Bennett
26.   We’ve Only Just Begun, Karen Carpenter
27.   Walking on Broken Glass, Eurythmics
28.   Fire and Rain, James Taylor
29.   I Will Always Love You, Dolly Parton
30.   These Dreams, Heart

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Memories of My Father

Dad passed away on Saturday. Here are some of my favorite quirky memories about him:
1. he got mad when Vanna White wore long dresses instead of the shorter ones that showed off her gams.
2. his obsession with shellfish, especially clams and oysters.
3. that grimy old Carolina Panthers ball cap. Tomorrow we will bury him with that cap in his casket.
5. the way he would go out to the car five minutes before the rest of the family was ready, and honk the horn for us to hurry up.
6. he loved to garden and thought Miracle-gro plant food was one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
7. his sweet-tooth that he passed down to me. Some of his favorites: chocolate milkshakes, strawberry ice cream, chocolate Little Debbie’s
8. his world centered around his wife and family, making sure they were well fed.
9. the way he floated on his back in the ocean and spouted water through his fist like a whale.
10. he showed me how to fold and hang pants properly and I think of him every time I fold pants.
11. he’d get so attached to “his” chair and would sit nowhere else until the chair fell apart and was replaced once every twenty years.
12. he loved pretty ladies of all ages, races, nationalities and religions; all ladies were pretty ladies to him. He flirted until the day he died at 86 years old.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Playing Mom & Dad's Song

Do you remember the song that was playing during an important event in your life? What was the event and the song? Do you and your significant other have a song that you call "yours"?

Nat King Cole was singing on the jukebox when my dad asked Mom to marry him.
The song was "Nature Boy." They were married for 63 years until Dad passed away on Saturday.
I looked up the lyrics and found that many other singers covered the song: Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Celine Dion, and others.
Here are the lyrics to "Nature Boy," by the eccentric composer eden ahbez.

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy. 
They say he wondered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he.
And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way.
And while we spoke of many things,
Fools and kings,
This he said to me,
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Girl Panties

Big Girl Panties

Oh, I wash ‘em, I dry ‘em
fold ‘em in the drawer
Stormy day comin’
An’ I gonna need ‘em sure.

Big girl panties
Keep me strong
Keep me sane
Keep me goin’
Up life’s lane.

Without my big girl panties
want to cry and moan.
I whine, I fuss,
groan and cuss.
Wanna run away from home.

But blessed big girl panties
sho’ nuf revive my pride
My spirit rises,
Backbone grows
I’m gonna make it
This I knows.

Small stuff
Ain’t worth sweatin’
Big girl panties
Ain’t just fluff!

Thank you, big girl panties.
Almost lost my way.
But with yo’ soft
silky support
Tomorrow is
Another day!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Until we meet again, Pop

My dad, 86, passed away from us yesterday. He leaves his wife Nancy of 63 years, 5 children, their spouses, seven grandkids, two great-grands.
He was a loving husband, a good father, a diligent worker, a sometimes difficult man, extremely modest about his achievements, a great cook, WW II combat vet (Iwo Jima/occupied Japan), quick with the one-liners and loved to laugh.
He fought hard to live through various illnesses and disabilities, including blindness, in recent years. He fought until he was too tired to fight any more. He said, “Let me go.”
We did, Daddy, we let you go.
You would hate me to say this, but that’s too bad. You were a great man where it counts most: a great husband and father.  You were a true representative of the Greatest Generation.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm Still Here

When someone you love is gravely ill, it’s tempting not to blog, to throw in the towel for Nablopomo.
My dad, as some of you know, is not doing well. This may be the time he doesn’t come home from the hospital.
I’m going to keep blogging, if I possibly can. There's a gospel song on my MP3 player called "I'm Still Here," and that's my anthem today.

Many of you Nablopomo-ers  have written about what blogging means to you, and the rest of us have been nodding our heads, saying yes, me too. I don’t intend for this to be a long post about blogging—I don’t have that in me right now.
But, I will say this.

Blogging has given me a support group at a time when I wasn’t sure anyone else on the planet felt the way I did. I was lonely and desperate, even with loving, well-meaning people around me. Depressed, menopausal, overwhelmed.

Blogging, and in particular, the women I’ve met through Blogher, did nothing less than save me.

In varying stages of life, with different backgrounds and perspectives, we don’t all share the same experiences—we’re a "proud to be quirky" lot.  Yet sometimes the similarities are startling between us, in ways small and large.

We are all willing to take chances. We write. We read. We listen. We laugh. We respect. We encourage. We dream. We love.

I can feel the power of this, and it helps sustain me. I can’t give it, or you, up.

Thank you: readers, writers, friends.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Picks: Seven Natural Wonders

*Prompt thanks to MamaKat via Katie @Sluiter Nation

The Seven Great Natural Wonders of My Life
 I went with landscape wonders. Bringing in people or animals would be a whole ‘nother ballgame.

7. Deception Pass Bridge, Whidby Island, Washington state, USA
6. Yellowstone National Park. If you haven't been there, GO!
5. the view of Lake Sunapee from my grandmother’s house in New Hampshire
4. the approach to Cobh, Ireland, & Cork Harbor from where my g. grandfather likely sailed to America
3. anywhere along the coast of Cornwall, England
2. the ocean-side beach at Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, with a pod of dolphins cresting
1. on top of the Wasatch Mountains in Alta, Utah with the snowy 360 view of Salt Lake City, Heber Valley, and the arch of cloudless blue sky. I hung my head over and heard the wind blow*. :-)

What's on your list?

* apologies to the old song, "Down in the Valley" reprinted below. You may know the song as "Birmingham Jail." Burl Ives sang a version of it when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was a young girl. I actually love the song despite my sarcasm. We sang it in elementary school, back when they had music teachers! "Put your arms round me, give my heart ease." Love that!

Down in the valley the valley so low 
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow 
Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow 
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow

Roses love sunshine, violets love dew 
Angels in heaven, know i love you

If you don't love me, love whom you please 
Put your arms round me, give my heart ease 
Give my heart ease love, give my heart ease 
Put your arms round me, give my heart ease

Write me a letter, send it by mail 
Send it in care of, the Birmingham Jail 
Birmingham Jail love, Birmingham Jail 
Send it in care of, the Birmingham Jail

Build me a castle, forty feet high 
So I can see her, as she rides by 
As she rides by love, as she rides by 
So I can see her, as she rides by

Down in the valley, the valley so low 
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Huh? What?

Being in midlife and caring for aging parents can be a circus. Or maybe a merry-go-round that's not always merry?

Mom is 81, and Dad is 86. They live about 10 minutes away, in their own home. Steadfast Hubbie, my stalwart brother John, and I try to make life a little easier for them, but sometimes that works out better than others.

Mom does much of the caregiving for Dad, who's visually impaired and uses a walker. She chases him around to get him shampooed at the kitchen sink. She shaves him with an electric razor every couple of days, with him puffing and blowing like a steam engine.

Dad's visual problems lead to some interesting situations. He complained that he didn't like his rice the other night at a restaurant. The rest of us looked at each other. His “rice” was coleslaw, we told him. He's a good sport, and a generous man. He laughed along with us.

Currently we are wracking our brains to find something he'll like to eat. Yet we have to keep watch on him—he's been known to eat the scraps my mother saves for her cats.

“Mmm, that sausage was good,” he'll say.

But Charles,” Mom shrieks, “that was for the cats-- it was cooked two weeks ago!”

Both Mom and Dad are hearing impaired; Hubby is slightly deaf. Me too. When did everyone start mumbling and garbling? Trying to hear in a noisy room is getting difficult for all of us.

A conversation: “Well, it’s snowing in Boston,” I say.
“Oh, you’re reading Jane Austen?” Mom asks.
 “You’re throwing the moss? What moss?” Hubby inquires.
“You’re going for Frosties?” Dad wonders.

Oh, never mind.

I pray for patience, with menopausal wickedness making me feel like a certified witch on a broom. Outwardly, I do my best to smile. Mostly.

The “Sandwich Generation” term has already become cliché. We don't have the bottom piece of bread in our family sandwich, since Hubby and I don't have children. So I guess we're the peanut butter, stuck to the plate, topped by a piece of bread?

Hope it's not moldy. I'll have to put my glasses on to see.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Top 5 Lessons Learned, Day 15, NaBloPoMo

1.      Many truly wonderful writers out there. I mean everywhere! The suburbs of Canada, the backwoods of Kentucky, the Bay area. This is not shameless sucking-up to readers. It’s bald truth.
2.      My writing is okay, but I should never get a big head because there will ALWAYS be better writers than I. Or is that “me”? Where did my grammar skills go?
3.      I should never stop making an effort to improve my writing.
4.      The internets are good. How else would I have met these fabulously creative people?
5.      Blogging keeps me sane, helps me feel young again, and has made my hair curly and full of body. Well, the first two for sure.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Prodigal Student

Once she
danced fervently with sweaty
men, pounded hard liquor
in loud places
slept late in ashy,
unwashed sheets
blew smoke halos from stained fingers.
Drove fast, left the scarred red
Camino in a muddy ditch,
Mardi Gras beads dangling
from the rear-view mirror.
Anointed that wormy chick's
head with a beer bottle
flew from the roadhouse.

Now she limps, slightly,
paints her nails bruised purple
scowls down at her desk
through long, black bangs,
scribbles furiously.

She’s in the front row.
When she leans forward
in the college English class,
angels exhale.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mad Methods: First, Get Their Attention

When you come visit my house, you may be shocked to see People magazine on the coffee table.
You may think “But Melanie is a certified egghead-intellectual. I expected to see first editions of Proust, Tolstoy and Hemingway. How can it be that a woman of such high intelligence reads low-brow People magazine?” I know, right?

It’s self-defense, with a little teaching method on the side.
You have heard that I teach at a community college. One of my important goals in working there, aside from saving the world for democracy, molding  clean and healthy young minds, and making my mortgage payment, is to NOT look like a TOTAL, CLUELESS  DORK when it comes to popular culture.
Yes, I am that shallow. ­
I don’t want to be the laughingstock teacher who doesn’t know the remake of Footloose stars newcomers to the big screen Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough. Twenty-three and dating Ryan Seacrest, Julianne is one of the many gorgeous blonds from Dancing With The Stars.
Although it’s a bit of a losing battle for middle-aged me, I do try to keep up with more than the latest methods to teach an expository essay.  
Does Kate Gosselin have a new hairdo? Queen Latifa a new clothing line? Suri Cruz a new designer bag? Lady Gaga a hat with fruit-colored dollar signs? Just ask me. I feel like the kid who wildly waves her hand in class hollering “I know, I know!”
Through People I grub a smidge of pop culture street-cred by brazenly dropping factoids about Ashton Kuctcher or Laurence Fishburne after class.
Even at my most “hip” (in relative terms), about three decades ago, I preferred watching old black and white movies from the 1930s, was more than slightly fashion-challenged, and didn’t follow the love lives of celebrities.
Yet nowadays I try to stay informed on the cast of True Blood. When the English lesson has gone sour, the students are yawning, and we’re all looking at the clock, I can throw out an "Anna Paquin" and re-charge the atmosphere.  Don’t worry, the off-the-wall comment will get tied back into "how to add detail to a college level essay." But first, I had to get their attention by name dropping.
Does most of this People magazine information matter a whit in the big scheme of life? Heck, no.
Does People help me teach better by keeping my students guessing what nugget of cultural nonsense they may hear next? Yes.
To get and hold their attention, I’m willing to play the fool, the prankster, the geek. Some might see this behavior as beneath a college teacher, but it works for me. I’ll sometimes sell my dignity to roust the dears out of a stupor. They have to break out of the fog before I can reach them.
And you know what? In the end, I have fun, and my students learn. All from an unexpected source: People magazine.
I have copy of Proust if you’d like to borrow it. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Blogging Milestone: "First Contact" With a Reader

Thanks to reading advice from my favorite “big-girl bloggers,” the wise ones who have way more blogging experience than I do, I knew it was coming.

First contact. A reader. And me.

Yes. I met in person someone I knew who’d read my blog. Dun, dun, duuunnnn (scary organ music).

Of all places, I was at the pharmacy counter picking up perhaps two of the most potentially embarrassing prescriptions known to womankind. A former student now works there as a pharmacy tech.  She’s a charming young woman, was an excellent student, and is a talented writer. (If you’re reading this, hello dear one!)

A slightly terrifying fact is that she changed her major to English, partly at my encouragement. Although pleased when a student chooses English, I also panic, thinking that if they face a lifetime of starvation and deprivation due to the liberal arts degree, the guilt will be on my shoulders.

When I saw Alice (not her name) was going to wait on me, my mind started spinning. I wanted to ask how her studies at a major university were going, and was trying to remember other points of conversation. Slightly embarrassed at picking up major drugs, I knew I could unreservedly trust Alice with the personal nature of my “lady scrips.”

Sweet Alice rescued me from the somewhat awkward moment, asked me how I was, and said with a smile, “I read your blog!”

That was when I thought I’d faint.

Whoa, boy. The look on my face must have been priceless.

Alice said “I hope that was okay?”

“Oh, of course, that’s great!” I said, leaning on the counter nonchalantly to keep from falling down.

“I really liked it! It was the one about you dressing up?”

My brain was blanker than blank. I couldn’t think, in this month of NaBloPoMo, what post she may have meant. I mumbled something about writing posts every day for a month, the posts being a blur.

“Oh, you must be doing NaBloPoMo!” brainy Alice said. She knew about NaBloPoMo! I love that girl!

We chatted a moment more; she rang up my purchases. We wished each other well and I went on my way.

High-pitched voice inside my head: Someone I know in person read my blog! A former student read my blog! What does it MEAN?

Sweet Alice, thank you. Of all the people who could have been the first one to tell me they’ve read my blog, it was supportive, generous you.

I’m overwhelmed, scared, proud, humbled, and happy. Where blogging is leading me, I have no clue. But I’m one step further along the journey.

Has it happened to you? Tell the story, please. If it hasn’t happened yet, how do you imagine, or fear, it will go when it does happen? And the big-girl-bloggers were right—it will happen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ode to Bacon

Bacon in the morning,
Bacon at noon.
Bacon is so good
He sends me to the moon.
*With sincere apologies to my many friends and family members who do not eat pork on moral or religious grounds.  Truly.
I don’t eat bacon every day, nor every week.

Most months I do eat some bacon either on its own or as seasoning, especially in soup.  

I’m not addicted to bacon; I can give him up, er, it up, any time I want!

Yeah, right.

I never eat bacon on a burger, never eat ersatz/turkey/soy bacon, never eat “bacon bits.” If these are some of your favorites, this blog is a safe place—I do not judge you.

I can’t eat more than three strips of bacon per day, or it triggers a migraine. No, really. Helps give bacon that dangerous edge, no?

Yet bacon is one of those foods I don’t want to live without.

Bacon and I go back as far as I can remember… it was a sunny spring morning, and Bacon and I were racing to each other across a meadow of daisies…

Or was it a glittering nightclub in Harlem, in 1924, when I saw him dancing in another woman’s arms, and yet I knew…

Or was it that day in the market in Barcelona, when he looked up from under the brim of his Cordobés, with a dimpled smile of destiny?

Whenever it was, Bacon and I became lovers.

Much later, after Bacon and I smoked a cigarette, I made soup.

Almost every soup in my repertory (yes, I am a soup maven) includes at the onset two strips of bacon and a diced onion, browning in the bottom of a stock pot. By the time the soup is complete, you barely know the bacon is in there.

The bacon flavor is elusive, adding a depth of flavor to the star of the soup: the mushrooms in Cream of Mushroom, the potatoes in Potato/Cheddar cheese soup, or the clams in Manhattan Clam Chowder.

The aroma of bacon cooking is why, although a confirmed animal lover and kitty foster mother, I may never be a vegetarian.

If you fry bacon in my house and I don’t come to investigate, you know I am extremely ill. Quite likely, dead.

Bacon will mourn. Comfort him any way you can.