Monday, December 29, 2008

Yuletide Serendipity


Christmas has been filled with unexpected surprises.

I stayed at Jenn's for most of the week, helping where I could. In fact, I made pancake breakfast after Santa arrived (thanks, Peg and Don for the pancake mix) and then made a roast beef while Jenn, David, and the girls enjoyed the many presents under the tree.

Besides Santa's delivery, many of Jenn's readers sent or brought gifts of every size and dimension: homemade cookies (yum), chocolates (gourmet treats), knitted scarves (tx vbg), gift cards for all of us (iTunes and bookstores), personal notes and greetings. A cornucopia of compassion!! We could feel the love in the care that was taken with each gift.


The day after Christmas, girls having left for the west coast with their daddy, Jenn noticed a young woman coming up the front steps. Before we could get to the door, she was gone but left a carton of snacks for Sophie and Hannah and a big wrapped present which is now safely tucked under the tree until the kids return next week. It was snowing out and this woman had driven a distance just to leave these gifts. It amazed us that she did not even wait to be acknowledged. She quietly deposited her goodies on the porch and drove off. Such generosity of spirit! Largesse. Jenn received the good news that day that one of her essays on motherhood has been published in a new anthology, Labor Pains and Birth Stories edited by Jessica Powers. I read many of the essays and, believe me, this is a great book, powerful prose. Jenn can be proud to be part of the project.

So, my friends, I thank all of you who have helped to make our Christmas more bright because of your kindness.

A family friend whom I grew up with sent the most beautiful note about my mother's kindness to her when she was a child. Along with the tribute, she included money for Sophie and Hannah and the Polish traditional Christmas wafer called Oplatek. On Christmas Eve, Jenn and I continued the tradition and broke the wafer with the girls, wishing each other "peace".

We now wish all of you the same joy and peace you have given to us!



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Polar bears and other sentient beings


I came across this photo at a National Geographic website. It reminds me of how life has changed this past year for Jenn and me. There's a 500-pound polar bear in the room which can no longer be ignored.

Jenn's illness and her ensuing struggle has called out the best in people, faithful readers of her blog who have shown they care in so many ways. And, of course, there are the girls who are dealing with "the polar bear disease" as best they can.

In this last month of a very challenging year, I offer a prayer for all endangered species, be they animal or human.

May those who hurt, find comfort
May those who comfort, find peace
May those who doubt, find patience
May those who truly care, find understanding
May those who find themselves on thin ice ...
Hold on, hold on, and trust.

Peace and love to all creatures great and small.

God bless us, every one.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Yes, Sophia, there is a Santa Claus


She's almost eight years old. Next Christmas, Sophie may not want to sit on Santa's lap and tell him, wholeheartedly, that she'd really like an American Girl named Molly. Santa told her that he would take the request up with Mrs. Claus who is in charge of dolls.

Black Friday had consumers scrambling around for bargains. I scrambled, instead, to scoop up Sophie and Hannah and drive to a Christmas block party in a town up in the mountains. We made it just in time to see Santa arrive (via Fire Rescue transport). What ever happened to his sleigh? The kids didn't seem to mind at all. The girls were two of the first to greet him when he started his walk up the hill to the local gathering spot. Santa took the time to speak with them and revealed that he preferred milk, cookies, and popcorn on Christmas eve.

It was a magical night filled with street vendors, hula hoops, Christmas lights, caroling, and a ride in an old-fashioned trolley.




Even though Sophie patiently waited in line to tell Santa about her wish for a doll, Hannah was content to browse the craft fair, eat free cookies, and slurp soggy marshmallows from her hot chocolate. The need to sit on Santa's lap wasn't a priority. Then again, Hannah has a couple more years to explore that option. Sophie, on the other hand, may surmise that her window of opportunity is closing. I felt a lump in my throat watching her, knowing that she is growing up much too quickly.

On the ride home through the mountains, snow started falling quite rapidly. Flashes of white were illuminated by my headlights and Sophie exclaimed, "Babci, those are snow fairies! Don't use your windshield wipers - you may kill them!" I wisely responded that snow fairies fly so fast that they are able to scoot out of the way of my wipers.

The girls soon tired of counting fairies and fell asleep to polka music. Go figure. My polka tapes seem to have a calming effect. I drove slowly, carefully, on the winding snow-slicked road asking the snow fairies to keep me and my two charges safe. I had no need for the mania of Black Friday. It was a snowy white Friday and my treasures were snuggled in the back seat.

Priceless.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ups and downs


I climbed a mountain once. When the group leader asked why I wanted to climb the mountain, nothing profound came to mind. I merely stammered "to twirl on the top like Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'." It was the best I could offer. It was honest.

Climbing that mountain (known as Indefatigable in the Canadian Rockies) was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life. It was also one of the most freeing, most rewarding. And yes, I did twirl at the summit ridge.

As challenging as the ascent was, the descent was even trickier. Every step had to be carefully placed as the loose rocks and pebbles were waiting to take you for a steep ride on your bum if you slipped.

Going up or coming down, you had to be mindful of where you placed your feet. While in motion, you had to be grounded. I can relate to that paradox.

I'm climbing again. Actually, I'm helping my daughter, Jenn, climb. There's not much of a guide to climbing an inner terrain. Still, determination and belief that the summit is worth reaching keep me going. This is more than a one-day hike. I'm in it for the long-haul. Some days the slope is steep, slippery, and I step more cautiously. Other days bring some sudden breathtaking views and I relax a bit and smile. This is life, my life at the moment.

November has never been an easy month. It holds a family history of decline and loss - family members, surgery. Yet, it is also the month that my godson, Donald, and my granddaughter, Hannah, were born. So November brings both struggle and blessing.

I'm an optimist at heart. What's at the top of the mountain calls me to look up time and again. I may not have the energy I had when I climbed Mount Indefatigable several years ago but I do have the desire to reach the summit. And bring Jenn along with me. One patient, vigilant step at a time.

The view at the top is all so worth it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Three cheers for the birthday girl


Today was Hannah's fifth birthday. She got up early, dressed herself for her party, made her bed and gaily exclaimed, "Oh, Babci, it's going to be an exciting day!"

She had a joint party with her girlfriend, Zoe, who was born same day, a few hours apart at the same hospital in Vermont. They now attend school together. David sewed "royal skirts" for all the attendees and Jenn told improvised fairy tales and led the little dancing queens.


A good time was had by all and that's certainly worth cheering about!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fairy tales and bridal dolls


I bought the new DVD, Tinkerbell, this week because I know both girls love their fairy stories. Hannah and I hung out on Saturday and she got to watch it first. She has loved Tinkerbell since she was a toddler. I have to admit that the sassy and spunky Tink definitely has something in common with our Hattie Belle.

Sophie had spent the afternoon on a play date seeing a live presentation of Beauty and the Beast. She seemed disappointed, though, that she had missed the Tinkerbell preview at my house. When she asked if she could have a sleepover, I agreed. She has this cute way of begging that melts my heart. Soon we were checking out Pixie Hollow on my computer before snuggling in bed and reading from a grandmother's storybook that a dear friend had given me a few years back. This has become a sleepover ritual. Sophie loves the book and gets to pick the story to be read. Usually, she's almost asleep by the time I finish.

In the morning, we have our favorite breakfast of pancakes and syrup. Somehow, I find myself telling her about my one Barbie doll which was made into a bridal doll for me by my mother's close friend and cousin, Ceil. It was a labor of love, down to the tiniest detail of a blue garter on her leg. The doll was the table decoration for my bridal shower almost forty years ago.

"Babci, can I see it?"

Luckily, I find the old shoe box, my mom's handwriting proclaiming "Bride Doll" on the lid. We unwrap the tissue and Sophie is in awe. Looking at it with her, I suddenly realize what I had long forgotten: Ceil patterned the gown and headpiece and flowers as exact replicas of my own wedding dress. How much work she had put into this doll! Ceil, who was never blessed with children of her own. Ceil, who sent Mrs. Santa Claus letters and Easter Bunny notes to my children as they were growing up, gifts of money wrapped in foil hidden within. In her honor, Jennifer took the name, Cecilia, for confirmation. My mother stood as Jenn's proud sponsor, in memory of the cherished friend she had lost a short time before.

On a whim, I go rummaging once again and find my wedding portrait. Sophie and I compare the doll and me and decide that it is, indeed, a very good match. "She just doesn't have your glasses, Babci."

Sophie sets about making a bed for the doll inside the old shoebox, using one of my mom's handmade doilies. She knows that this Barbie is special, not to be undressed or played with too roughly. After cuddling her a bit, she is content to put her back to sleep.


How beautiful that this gift of love, created two generations ago, comes to life again for another dark-haired charmer, Sophia Mary Rose - she who believes in fairies, pixie dust and dolls who need a cozy place to sleep.

Ceil, who believed in the joy and wonder of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, is still making my children smile. There must be some pixie dust in that old shoebox.

And in heaven, I'm sure.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I've been abducted


It's just another day at the new gym. I try hard to look like I know what I'm doing as I make the rounds of the fitness machines and adjust the different weights, knobs, seats and handles. I really like this part of the workout much better than shaking my booty on the treadmill or elliptical. There's more to anticipate: flexing my pecs, stretching my back, curling my legs, crunching my abs, pressing my chest, and my favorite - abducting my hips. As I read the names of the exercises, I feel as if I'm auditioning for an adult movie. I have to admit that I was taught that a lady never spreads her legs in public but, hot dang, these abductor machines sure are fun!

I even meet another older guy with a mustache; we share the spray bottle as we clean off our equipment. Luckily, he is using the treadmill and doesn't see me nearly fall on my face as I try to climb out of the hip abductor. Maybe I'll meet him again over at the chest press. Be still, my heart.

Do you like the t-shirt? I decided to be bold and advertise my other talents. Just give me a few more weeks, and I'll have those silver-haired Schwarzenegger wannabes treading by my side, panting in tandem.

Tomorrow night, lap tap dancing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My dinner with Stas

It's been a busy week at school and TGIF. I decide to stop at a local eatery instead of making my own dinner tonight. I like this place. It's small and cozy, nothing fancy, and the waitresses remind me of the hometown diners in Philly. Sometimes I do get homesick, especially this weekend with the Phillies being in the World Series and all.

I settle into one of the back booths, feeling a bit lonely and nostalgic. As I sip my red wine, two gents stroll in and sit in the booth across from me. They are both about my age and, to tell the truth, the guy just a few feet to my right is easy on the eyes: rugged face, silver hair, small neatly trimmed mustache. He catches my attention. Sitting there, staring into my spaghetti, I hear the other fellow call him, Stas, which is Polish for Stan. I grew up hearing a lot of Polish nicknames such as Juziu (Joey), Edziu (Eddie), Stasiu (Stanley), Wladziu (Walter). Everybody in a Polish household has a friendly tag to their more formal name.

I picture myself hopping right over to their table and sitting next to Stas, telling him I grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Philly. He would give me a brilliant smile and wink. Our eyes would meet and lock. We'd have a couple rounds of piwo (beer), salute Pulaski, and get to know each other. At my age, silver-haired, well-toned males don't come around often. Trouble is, I'm kinda rusty in the flirting department. In fact, I never get to practice 'cause when I play Barbies with Sophie and Hannah, they always make me play Diego or Preminger (not Otto). I have to be "the bad guy" who threatens their castle. They get to swish and act coy and do all the teasing. So I'm really out of shape.

Here I am, close enough to a healthy Polish-American specimen to reach out and touch him, and all I can do is eat my spaghetti and eavesdrop on his conversation with his buddy. I soon notice that this guy is not much for words. Eye candy but mute. He seems to be doing all the listening while the other guy goes on about his time in the navy and visiting Russia and something about 14-year-old girls and communism. Oh, and his snow blower is 23-years old.

By now, the restaurant is filling up with the dinner crowd and getting noisy, too noisy. I keep straining to hear what brilliant words will come from Stas and he continues to be the strong, silent type. I get desperate and cast a glance or two his way but he's oblivious to my eye contact, listening instead to his dinner partner who continues to utter Stas before beginning each sentence. I finish my last meatball and my wine thinking that I know a helluva lot about the guy I'm not interested in but nothing about Stas. Another daring glance - no wedding band on his finger. Finally, Mr. Tight Lips asks about "Steve". Steve? And then the other guy shares that Steve has come home to visit "Mom". Holy Hannah, Mom must be about 95 years old and still kickin'. Now I get it ... two old bachelors, catching up.

Then I watch as my sexy, brawny senior leans across the table and speaks multi-syllabic words to momma's boy. I am now practically leaning across the aisle because of all the chatter going on in the other booths. My hunka thunka Stas is having verbal diarrhea and whispering something important.

At last, the body language cuts through the white noise.

I really need to develop better radar. I can't believe it took me a glass of wine, one plate of spaghetti, and two meatballs to figure out they were gay.

Ain't love grand?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hospitality


“Mom, come over. We have company.” A simple invitation.

I had already changed into my robe and pajamas, looking forward to just tuning out and going to bed early. Yet, an old friend, the mother of Jenn’s friend, Ali, was in town for Grandparents’ Day and now at my daughter’s house with her clan. We had already caught up with each other over lunch at our grandkids’ school. A lot of family history, hers and mine, has been written since we saw each other last. We both have been feeling vulnerable, responsible, overwhelmed, unsettled, challenged, surprised, euphoric and ... older.

I made the effort, changed clothes, and walked in to a cacophony of barking dogs, squealing kids, and grown-up chatter in the kitchen where Jenn was cooking up an impromptu batch of pasta for a now full house. The energy was palpable: three moms, two grandmothers, a close friend from Grinnell, two dogs and six little girls roaming about.

Ali’s mom and I, wine glasses in hand, found a cozy nook in the kitchen and settled in. We picked up the conversation where we last ended. Suddenly, I realized how much I missed being in touch with this woman. She and I first met almost twenty years ago when our daughters were college freshmen. Through the years, time and circumstance have brought us together. We have been through late-life divorces, daughters’ showers and weddings, births of babies. She came into New York city to applaud my accordion gig at the NUYorican CafĂ©; I attended an HBO film screening for her older daughter. She came to the production of Jenn’s one-act play at the Ensemble Studio theatre; I jumped for joy when her older daughter won an Academy Award, an Oscar for her short-film documentary. All the while, we were living alone, fighting our own private battles around the swirling events of our grown children’s lives. We’ve weathered some health scares and physical changes. Just to be in her company again, last night, was deeply satisfying, renewing. We get it. We may not see each other often, but there is a thread that ties us together. As she was leaving with her crew, we exchanged phone numbers and promised to spend a weekend together soon. I’ll drive down to her house (about a four-hour trip) and we’ll continue, once again, letting each other in. Our daughters have been there for each other; why shouldn’t we do the same?

Last night’s gathering at Jenn’s house wasn’t just two grandmothers enjoying each other’s company. It was everyone finding something they needed.

I drove home thinking of one of my favorite poems,
Plainness by Jorge Luis Borges:

The garden’s grillwork gate
opens with the ease of a page
in a much thumbed book
and, once inside, our eyes
have no need to dwell on objects already fixed and exact in memory.

Here habits and minds and the private language
all families invent
are everyday things to me.
What necessity is there to speak
or pretend to be someone else?

The whole house knows me,
they’re aware of my worries and weakness.
This is the best that can happen.
What heaven perhaps will grant us:
not to be wondered at or required to succeed
but simply to be let in
as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones of the road, like trees.


Indeed, what heaven will grant. We are such fragile creatures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chicken soup for a grandmother's soul


Sophie and I had a date tonight.

A few months ago, I won a silent auction for a music lesson with a local professor. I bid on it because I thought Sophie might like the experience. She was eager to go when I picked her up after school. The college is only minutes away. As we walked across the leafy campus, Sophie exclaimed, "I bet I'm the first seven-year-old to go to college!" I laughed and said that, for tonight, she would probably be the only seven-year-old on her way to a percussion lesson.

She took everything in - the classic Greek columns and the students milling about. "Babci, how old are they?" I got to tell her about college life, a subject dear to my heart since I spent almost twenty years in administration, teaching and advisement.

The professor, not much older than the students, greeted us in a small studio filled with a grand piano (which took up most of the space), drum set, and marimba. Sophie told him that she liked all kinds of instruments. He took her over to the piano and showed her the sounding board and she placed her fingers over the strings as he struck the keys. She was totally engaged and could tell the difference in the tones as he told her to press firmly and then more lightly. Her initial shyness wore off quickly and soon he was leading her around the room, letting her try out the drum set and the marimba. She played a basic rhythm pattern with her foot on the bass drum and her hands on the snare, tom-toms and cymbals. He then played a riff around her drumming. I was so proud of her because she kept a steady rhythm as he joined in. He taught us about the history of the drums ranging from Africa to Europe to Turkey and the United States. Sophie managed to answer him back later when he quizzed her about the percussion instruments and their evolution.

My smile just widened as the lesson continued. From the drums, they moved over to the marimba, a beautiful instrument with a mellow tone. Sophie was given two mallets and shown hand positions and how to strike the center of the keys. I played a scale on the piano while the prof duplicated the notes on the marimba to show her how both instruments use the same tonal structure. Then he showed her how to play a simple melody and she soon recognized what she was playing. He even showed her how to change keys when she started on an alternate note. I was impressed - Sophie was really getting into it. Finally, he invited me to join them on the marimba and, before you knew it, Sophie was striking a bass rhythm line and the prof and I were playing a melody above her. The three of us played two songs together, Sophie staying in tempo all the way. He and she hit it off quite well. She was excited when he told her that he would invite us to one of his performances at the college in November.

As we walked back to the car, she told me that she was going to write about her music lesson in her diary. Since it was our special date night, I asked her where she'd like to go for dinner and she chose her favorite Asian restaurant. We had miso soup, steamed dumplings, ginger and green-tea ice cream. We shared fortune cookies, lucky numbers ... and girl talk, lots of girl talk.

The chicken-soup photo was taken four years ago. Sophie has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Her tastes have grown more sophisticated: miso soup and dinner out with grandmom instead of grandmom's homemade chicken soup.

What a joy she is! What a joy it is for me to watch her bloom.

We ended the night with homework. She loves math and spelling. Funny, I loved math and spelling when I was her age too.

Thank you, Sophie, for being you. May learning new things always bring excitement, like tonight.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Use it or lose it

I lost it. A few years ago, I used to love going to a gym and doing cardio and strength training ... until I hurt my back and had an MRI and was told that I had some lower-back stuff going on. I actually went to physical therapy for awhile and did some maintenance work but never got back into a regular routine. Then I had a rotator-cuff injury two summers ago and did PT again, worked the soreness out.

So here I am, heavier than I've ever been and leading the life of a couch potato. Tap dancing is probably not the best kind of exercise for a damaged back but it's gotten me paying attention to and moving my body again. This is good, all good. And just plain fun.

On the way home from work tonight, I upped the ante. I stopped at a new gym in town and joined a crowd of people signing up for a special offer. I saw more people tonight then I've ever seen on the streets of the town. Maybe the tanking economy and the strain of a much-too-long political season have made everyone get up off their couches and seek stress relief in exercise. Who knows? Who cares? For $10 a month and an open-ended membership, I'm thinking about toning up and tuning out. I do remember how I liked the routine of "a routine", carefully setting up the weight machines and making notations on my exercise chart. There was a consistency and security in going to the gym, especially as I was working through my divorce. Now I can work through the worries about my 401K at Planet Fitness.

I'm posting this on my blog as a reminder that a) I have made a healthy choice tonight and b) I now have to follow through. This means that I hunt up my old exercise charts and re-introduce myself to a weekly routine of lateral pulls and ellipticals and stretches ... when I'm not tapping.

Let the games begin! The diet will come later.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fangirl


I like strong women characters and don't think there are enough of them on TV or in the movies. My favorite was Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers. Ah, yes, Mrs. Peel was a phenom in the '60s - smart, witty, and lethal in leather. The unresolved sexual tension between her and John Steed played well. After Diana left the series, it just wasn't the same.

Who would have thought that forty years later I'd find someone to take her place? For Pete's sake, I'm now a grandmother and here I am in the throes of hero worship.

I was never really into science fiction all that much but, several years ago, I came upon a cable show, Stargate SG1, which caught my attention. The show's heroes were an unlikely band of characters. Jack O'Neill, portrayed by Richard Dean Anderson, was the only actor I recognized. Think of MacGyver as an Air Force officer in a top-secret command post hidden away in Cheyenne Mountain. His 2IC (“second-in-command”, believe me, I know the lingo) was a brilliant captain and astrophysicist, Samantha Carter. She intrigued me from the start because of the honesty with which the actor, Amanda Tapping, played the role. This was not Stargate Barbie but a fully-realized woman who could hold her own in the world of men. I kept tuning in based on my affinity for strong female role models.

Soon I started joining online websites and discussion groups. Contrary to what people may think is the typical sci-fi demographic (adolescent boys), I found a community of adult men and women who came from all walks of life and from all parts of the globe. Friendships were formed through private messages and emails. As we got to know each other better, we also got to know more about Amanda Tapping.

The more I knew, the more I liked her. She's from Canada, not too well known in the states; is a remarkably humble person who seems totally surprised (and touched) by her fans' devotion. That's what makes her so easy to admire. She's just so darn nice! She also reminds me a lot of Jenn: bright, spunky, engagingly funny - not above poking some of her irreverent humor at herself. When you meet her, she pays complete attention to you even if you're in a roomful of people.


I had the good fortune to share tea and two cocktail parties with her. What you see is what you get. No pretense, very down-to-earth. The real thing. How refreshing to meet someone like that in this Paris-Hilton world.


It's been fun to watch her grow professionally, now branching out as an executive producer and star of a new SciFi gothic-horror show, Sanctuary, which premieres in another week. She had to dye her hair for the new role and was really worried that her little three-year-old would not know her. All ended well though. How do I know these things? Because I've traveled to London three times for special Amanda Tapping weekends where almost 300 Amanda fans convene, hang out, and get to mix and mingle with their favorite actor. She does Q&As, a charity auction, patiently takes individual photos with everyone and then does autograph sessions. It's a fairly exhausting weekend but, for Amanda, it seems to be a labor of love. We applaud her; she returns to Vancouver with new energy. The folks who run the event make it seem like a family reunion and actually remember the fans each year. I've gotten so into it that this past year I actually helped out as a steward.


The kindness that Amanda extends to her fans has a ripple effect. I could never have traveled to London the past two times except for the generosity of a fellow fan who has paid for my trips! This woman lives on the west coast and we have never met in person. We have become close friends and she hates to fly so she sends me in her place. How bloomin' beautiful is that? It's typical though of the fan network. I now have friends in England, Scotland, Netherlands, France, Australia, Canada and the USA because of our mutual admiration of an actor who is a wonderfully warm and caring individual.



I hope Amanda’s new show does well. She deserves every success.

Oh, did I mention the fanfic? Yes, not only did I make new friends but I’ve become a sci-fi author of Stargate fiction. That's a story for another day.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A clean sweep



It seems that little Iris would rather vacuum than play with her toys. I hope Joe and Katie can harness all that positive energy when she's a teenager and they want her to clean her room.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When


When do your children begin to remind you of your parents? When do you look at the man your son has become and catch a glimpse of your father? Hear your mother's laugh ringing out again in your daughter's amused voice?

I adore my kids. That's pretty obvious, I'm sure, from some of my posts.


This summer, all together in the same place, I got to watch them with kids of their own. What surprised me were the flashbacks they produced.

As I watched my son, Joe, on a beach with Iris, his youngest, I remembered another beach many years ago where my dad was showing his grandson how to scoop sand in a bucket and encounter the ocean surf for the very first time. Suddenly, Iris was her father, a chubby two-year-old with a curiosity for the water. And Joe was looking more and more like my dad.


It seemed so odd to be having those thoughts. And, yet, it seemed so right. The tides never stop. Why should I think that time is any different?

I drove Joe crazy, taking pictures of him, trying to capture the man he had become who resembled my dad so much. We see each other maybe once or twice a year and my son's maturity was something I never thought about until this summer. He is now a father and husband with some history under his belt, a doctor and a settled member of his community. He has moved on with his life, and so have I.

Still ... I will always treasure that windy day on a Jersey beach, watching my dad introduce him to the water and the sand.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ice cream galore


How did I forget to mention "the mother of all ice-cream sundaes"? Ben kept talking about the local drugstore and their famous banana split. Finally, after fairly good behavior on the part of the munchkins, we ended our stay with a feast of gigantic proportions. A mountain of ice cream.

The kids were in ice-cream heaven and the waitress, a grandma herself, was thrilled to serve up two of these whoppers. Of course, the grownups joined in when the kids slowed down.




As you can see, there was some serious forethought on how to tackle the project. Everyone contemplated before diving in. Olivia and Sophie had a thing for the maraschino cherries while Ben and Hannah seemed to favor the whipped cream. Iris, true to her persistent little soul, was content to chip away with a spoon at whatever came her way.




The whole soda-fountain atmosphere made me feel like I had just stepped back in time to the nifty fifties - Elvis on the jukebox, syrupy cherry cokes, girlie gossip and pink-poodle skirts. The only anomaly was that my 13-year-old self was surrounded by five grandchildren!

Monday, August 25, 2008

I scream, you scream ...


We all scream for ice cream.

The summer is passing much too quickly.

School started today and I just returned from an education conference in Providence.

Providence. The protective care of God or of nature.

Our family reunion in Washington state this past summer brought strawberries and ice cream treats, simple delights made even more enjoyable by each other's company.









Sometimes, it's best to focus on the fleeting moments and trust that Providence will take care of the rest.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The happy hoofer


Oh yeah, I know I'm taking a risk with this title. I'll probably gain some new viewers who read it too quickly and are looking for something, er, more exotic. I hate to disappoint, but this is hoofing, as in dancing … as in tap dancing.

A colleague at work asked if I wanted to take a free dance lesson this weekend. "Yeah, it sounds like fun!" This popped out of my mouth quite spontaneously and must have been my inner child clamoring for attention, the child who took tap dancing lessons when she was about five or six-years old - at an Arthur Murray dance studio no less. Before I could control my inner Shirley Temple, my co-worker scribbled down the location and time and excitedly told me that she'd meet me there.

I was the first to show up. There were balloons outside and an open door but not many cars around. What the heck. I survived a ballroom-dancing session a couple years ago; how bad could this be?

The amazing answer is 'not bad at all'. I had a blast! About seven courageous souls showed up, including my friend. The teacher brought used tap shoes and, like Cinderella, the slippers fit. Once I started tapping and the Gene Kelly score started playing, I congratulated my inner child for making the right call.

The teacher showed us some basic steps and I just loved that my body and my brain were working in unison, actually allowing me to keep up with the group. In fact, as we tried more and more steps, my feet began to tap out patterns that I remembered from childhood. Holy Hannah! We danced for an hour and a half, almost non-stop. All that was missing was Gene Kelly’s umbrella and the lamppost from Singing in the Rain. It was great fun and there were times that I felt light as a feather, the incredible lightness of being in the moment and going with the flow.

The instructor taught us an entire routine to match the Kelly movie routine. She kept adding steps and told us that we had worked out at more than a beginner’s level. I realized that the trick was to put my brain on the back burner after it saw what to do and then trust my body to move with the music. Legs, don't fail me now.

I’m hooked. I’m hoofing this fall on Monday nights. I hate gyms and treadmills. This seems like a great alternative to wake up my body and get it moving.

What was so gratifying was the sense of rhythm that kept me tapping, reminding me that, long ago, in a city far away, there lived a little girl who learned how to tap dance well enough to be in a recital.

She’s just itching to get out again and strut her stuff.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cousins


As I'm sifting through the hundreds of vacation pictures for suitable blog fodder, I come across this one and it stops me in my tracks ... just an unguarded moment of affection as Ben plays Nintendo while Sophie reaches out to stroke his ear.

Sophie and Ben are the firstborns of the family, first cousins destined to share that demanding role. They were told repeatedly by respective parents during our two-week stay to "set an example" for the younger ones. That's a hard ride when you're only seven and sometimes just want to have all the spotlight to yourself, going back to the way it was before those younger intruders cramped your style, space and toys. Even though I am an only child, I do get it. After all, only children are firstborns too. Based on my own experience, I think that being first cousins will let Ben and Sophie share a lot of ups and downs as they grow older.

I had the chance to visit some of my first cousins on my trip back to Philly in May. It was a journey of the heart. We are the vanguard now since the older generation of our parents, aunts and uncles have all passed on. We are in our sixties and eighties and beyond. We are the repositories of family history. Yet, when I hugged my cousins, I felt like I was in my twenties again, back home with the faces and voices which were such a big part of my childhood and youth.



Like Ben, John was the oldest of five cousins - the only boy and then four girls to follow on my mom's side of the family. Like Ben, he had the attention of his four girl cousins who secretly adored him. When we were kids, I remember us all kneeling on the sidewalk near our grandmother's house, watching as John tried to help an injured sparrow. I remember how he and I played accordion duets in his basement. I remember how he convinced me to strap on a set of his boxing gloves and then threw a few punches at me. He got away with it too because I was so in awe of him that I gladly took the punches. I also remember how handsome he looked in high-school and how proud I was to let the older girls know that he was my cousin. He married the girl he fell in love with during his Army tour of duty in Germany. I was in his wedding party and he and I were godparents for another cousin's child. Years later, I visited him after a disabling stroke and watched in amazement as he did the hard work of rehabilitation. He had to give up riding his prized motorcycle but, today, he is able to drive a car again. John, you rock!



And then there's cousin Frankie, my mom's first cousin and the oldest of the clan. He is now in his 90s and nursing his wife, Bernice, who has been fighting Parkinson's for years. He was a big part of my growing-up years and is still as sweet and funny as I recall from family vacations when I was about Hannah's age. Ben has some of Frankie in him too, always ready with the mischief and able to make me laugh. Just like my dad, Frank loved to hop in the car and travel all over. Sadly, he's no longer able to drive but he still gets himself out the door for his daily walk around the block. Frank, thanks for the memories. Sto lat.



This is the lady I admire most on my dad's side, cousin Alice. She is not only a grandmother, but a great and great-great gran as well. Alice is the matriarch of a clan which would put the Brady Bunch to shame. I grew up around her five kids but lose count after that. I just know that she has always been a part of my life. As a teenager, she sang at my christening. When she was a young wife and mother, her house was often our Sunday car-trip destination. She and hubby, Matt, have just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. She's a fantastic seamstress, found the time to make her own tailored suits when her kids were small. My mom loved to sew and Alice would watch her as a child. I am so pleased to see that Sophie is now showing quite an interest in sewing too. It's all in the family. Alice is tiny and perky and never looks her age.I should be so lucky in another twenty years. Alice, you are my role model.

There are other cousins as well, near and far. Some have drifted away from the family circle; others re-appear. It's like an infusion of joy to see them, share in the stories of our common past.

This was an unexpected diversion but it speaks to what I wish for Ben and Sophie - that they enjoy and cherish these special moments and tuck them away. They are the seeds of a lifelong friendship.