The Heart-to-Heart Talk

Yesterday, I started having a painful conversation with…myself.

For someone who uses her words to tell a story, I did a very poor job of that over the weekend. I lay at night going over what I said and how much I said was wrong. In my mind the words I was coming up with sounded eloquent. Yet, when they flew from my mouth they had missed their mark. They lay floundering like fish out of water.

I’m not a politician so this “epiphany” isn’t a photo op. My acknowledgement of my failings comes from looking long and hard at what I said – and at myself as a whole.

Over the weekend, a group of us were on our bi-monthly Zoom meeting when our conversation turned to current events – the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed.

In my effort to bring some common ground to the conversation of our mixed group, I failed to see how I missed the point of the protests. I’ve been berating myself ever since.

Among my friends are people of other races – black, brown, and yellow. I don’t see them with color, and in doing so, I overlooked that they have lived with prejudice, with fear of police and our government for most if not all of their lives.

What I do believe is that for many of us who are among the white privileged, we don’t put ourselves in their place – either because we don’t think about it or we don’t care. Both are sins against our fellow man – no matter what color or gender they may be. We fail to remember the American Indian wisdom of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Part of what I said that day is that we are all of the human race and that doesn’t come without responsibilities to each other. I feel I got that part right. But for me to say that most of us have struggles, some more than others missed the point people of color have long said and what the protesters are saying now.

So, I have cleaned out my ears and shut my mouth so I can listen to the anguished voices around me. I know that is not enough; that I must put my beliefs into action and support my friends in their struggles for social and economic justice.

It is time to remove the ingrained fear from our genetic make-up since Jim Crow– the one that whites need to dominate blacks – and turn that energy into something more productive and inclusive. It is time to open ourselves to new conversations about race and what is expected of our law enforcement. For as our social problems grew and came into the glaring limelight, we have expected our officers to be marriage counselors in domestic arguments, social workers, EMTs when there is a drug overdose and keep people from sleeping on sidewalks and so much more. As I have family in law enforcement, we must not forget there are real crimes they respond to in their efforts to keep us all safe.

A mosaic is at its greatest beauty when more color is added to the work of art.

mb

 

From the Inside Looking Out

Like so many of you, I’ve been staying home for the past few weeks. Between the news with almost hourly updates on the coronavirus and numerous video meetings, I find there is much to acknowledge.

Never before (how many times have we heard that?) …

… have I gone so long without a haircut. However, I have cut my own bangs and am seriously considering checking out if YouTube has videos on how to cut the back of your hair. If that doesn’t exist, then perhaps the Carol Brady (Brady Bunch) hairstyle will be back in fashion. I truly appreciate those with the talent to cut hair and make it a thing of beauty.

… have I shopped wearing a mask. I wonder how store employees are dealing with this phenomenon – only months ago wearing a mask into a store was either due to subzero temperatures outside or the place was about to be robbed.

… have I had to cook three meals a day for so long a period. A three-day weekend is more my limit – not thirty.

… have I had a greater appreciation for the jobs we all do. We always knew that first responders and medical staff were heroes, but so are cleaning companies and janitors. Now the spotlight is on delivery people, grocery store workers, mechanics and those deemed essential – and how integrated how all our jobs are! The web of commerce and services has never been put on display in such a manor than these days of a pandemic.

… has my mind been more scattered. Perhaps it is because there is less structure in my days. But today, I’ve been able to finish one book, and almost finish another book that is waiting for my review. What a great way to close out the week!

… have I found it more comforting to see and talk to family members even if it is through video chatting. (Meeting this way saves on having to provide snacks for everyone.)

… have I spent such an odd Easter Sunday with no grand meal to cook or family coming over to enjoy it. Except, perhaps the Easter I spent home alone with Dad because I spent the day before running and playing in the sunny 60-degree weather, celebrating the promise of summerlike days, ignoring my mother’s calls to put on a jacket. I woke up with a sore throat and cold.

… have I had more adult beverages in one month. (I’m not complaining!)

… have my closets and dressers ever looked so good!

From my view inside looking out, I see how like cream, the goodness in the world’s citizens, rises to the top. Like sunlight, our talents spread laughter, serenity and banish isolation. Like the strongest glue, the bond of love holds family and friends even closer when the miles separate us.

Stay safe everyone!  One day hugs will come back in style.

     – mb

And Now for Something Completely Normal

Happy Spring Everyone!

In my little slice of the world that means it’s cold and rainy – with thick fog making the morning commute a white-knuckle challenge. It also means there is still at least one or two snow days in our future. You can always count on Mother Nature to throw in a surprise or two. At least I can count on something.

For the past two weeks I’ve joked to my family and friends that this is like living in a science fiction movie. You know the ones they play at four in the morning for insomniacs to really give them something to lose sleep over. But as the days have dragged on, the lack of traffic, little or no people out and about is unsettling.

I’m waiting for the zombies.

For many of the groups I belong to, it is the challenge to “meet” as a whole, even in the digital world. And while my closets have never looked so good, I still have spring cleaning to accomplish. It looks like last years’ to do list will finally get tackled this month. And the next.

I’ve had more time to write, but find it difficult to lose myself in a book. Is there such a thing as late onset ADHD? I’ll have to look that up. Sometime. It’s time I go back to the plots I’m trying to work out in my head.

To all my friends and family around the world, stay safe and healthy!

  • mb

Gnaming the Gnome

I inherited (and embraced) an important member of my grandmother’s life – one of her “friends”.

Now, I can hear the knee slapping laughter among my family here in the Midwest and in the South. (Pardon me a moment while I whisk laughing tears from my own eyes.)

There are many Grandma stories and some are way more hilarious than others, but one that pertains to my new foster child comes to mind.  It went something like this:

The phone rings, my Aunt Terri picks up the receiver, “Hello?” There is a professional tone to her voice because she did work for Illinois Bell for many years.

Och! Teresa! Someone has stolen my friends!” The distress in Grandma’s voice is quite apparent. I imagine she is sitting on her gossip bench, one hand over her heart, willing it to settle down. Her head is shaking back and forth, part early signs of Parkinson’s and part disbelief that she has become a victim of such a horrendous crime! I’m quite sure the silence on the other end of the phone never enters her mind.

Once my aunt has regained her composure from the shock and confusion, the only thing she can utter is, “Are you sure?”

We know it’s quite evident that her friends positioned carefully in the back yard, but what does one say?

Did you find a ransom note?

Maybe they went for a beer and pizza.

Could they be on strike for less fertilizer and softer water?

I know, they’re on a scavenger hunt!

Perhaps they were rounded up and put on the paddy wagon, because of the growing concern for their well-being during the hostage crisis next door. (A reference to another hilarious moment in her life.)

In the end, they were replaced, but never the same to her like her “real” friends.

The point is, we will never know where they actually went, but I like to think those gnomes are a bunch of tricksters. Why, when it was clear my new yard partner was too heavy to move, I placed him near the peonies to play peek-a-boo. This morning, now that the snow had fully retreated, I caught him leaning against the pine tree that was planted a year ago.

So what do I call my little lawn elf?

So, I’m putting it out there  – send me your suggestions!

Help me gname the gnome!

-mb

 

 

 

The Problem with Being Busy

This week I realized I haven’t written a blog post in sometime. I have no excuse except that I’ve been busy.  I have a few exciting opportunities for me in the works and spring will be just as busy as this winter has been.

The problem with being busy is that I feel the tension building, like steam, urging me to the goal posts, the end of the tunnel or even to the end of the block. When you mix that with caffeine, the speed of the train rushes the hours, but not the completion of the tasks.

Having all these obligations hasn’t kept me from noticing the small things – like the days are getting longer while the daily temperature isn’t paying attention to the calendar. I notice the sunny days, the cloudy ones, and days we have to shovel our driveways and scrape our windshields.

I give a sideways glance at my To Be Read List growing taller every day and long for days of nothing to do but read. I savor hot tea in the afternoon after a brisk walk to resort my Vitamin D level.

I look for signs of spring peeking through the dirty snow. Unfortunately my garden gnome doesn’t count. I’ve been thinking about him as he lies there’s, what I should name him. Ah, I just came up with my next blog – naming gnomes!

Now that I’ve given myself a few minutes to decompress by writing, I’ll get back at it. After all, it’s Friday Eve and I’d like to get a few more things off my desk before the end of the day.

I’m leaving you with a photo (above) I took – and I can’t even remember where or when!

– mb

Come Back, Sun!

If you live in the upper right corner of Illinois, (and probably most of it) you are living without sunshine again. Last week with some snow and overcast days, we rarely saw the sun.

Now, this morning as my coffee tries to rev me into work mode, I learned the weather forecast for the week is gray and gloomy. Again. It made me want to crawl back into bed. Whenever we get long periods of gloom mixed with shorter days, these are the days that make winter drag on.

But yesterday, I read something that gave me hope.

Recently, Rotary held an International Assembly to discuss areas of focus for the coming term 2020-2021. The environment is now one of them.

Whether you believe in climate change or not, we as humans should respect the world we live in, be curators for future generations.

I also learned that Rotary International reported an increase in new polio cases reported in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2019 than in the previous year, but Nigeria had not had any new cases in the last three years! It will be declared polio free in the spring.

I will take these small, bright slivers of sunshine and run with them. Anything bright and sunny is appreciated these gloomy days.

mb

photo by me!

My Christmas Letter to You

Dearest Friends and Family (near and far),

As usual, I’m scurrying around with making grocery lists, getting the tree up and decorated and wrapping presents. It leaves no time for Christmas cards! Somehow, getting them written and to the post office is never on my radar.

So, y’all (my Southerners, that is for you) just sit back, open your adult beverage of choice and read on. For those of you playing along with the annual drinking game, I suggest you wait until you’re home before you start reading.

This year was a year of travel, of family, poetry and loss.

Richard and Chris traveled to several countries this summer. First they went to Sweden to visit friends, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Poland. In Poland they were joined by Richard’s brother Dave and his wife Jean. There, they met with a local tour guide who took them to the towns where their ancestors lived. It was enlightening and humbling.  They were able to stay home for a six weeks and then they went to Coimbatore, India and Vietnam. Chris traveled there for business with a team, and Richard played tourist (his favorite thing to do). This month, we traveled to San Antonio to see my sisters Becky, Meghan and her family and my mother. Chris and Eli joined us so it was a grand time! Saying goodbye to our niece Quest was difficult. Putting her in our suitcase was not an option – her parents stood in the way.

Richard is still working a few hours a day. His main job is to be Wrigley’s most obedient human companion. This requires, brushing, scratching, feeding, walking, letting her in and out only to repeat endlessly until she declares it bedtime – 8:30. Honestly, how did she ever survive frat life in Louisville?

Chris is still living in the Denver area and working for Ritchie May as a hedge fund auditor. The Denver Bretzlaufs keep him in their warm embrace. He’s playing in a men’s hockey league and also helping young Jeffrey (my niece’s son) improve his skating skills.

My Godson Sean is incredible – just saying! He has made strides in breaking out of his comfort zone. He had the role of Mr. Darling in the high school production of ‘Peter Pan’. He also had a solo in the school’s marching band competitions!

I’ve had a few poems published in local publications this year! I also continue with this blog for now three years. This year I was given the opportunity to co-edit a poetry book with an amazing and super talented lady, Jennifer Dotson. Let’s just say, I’d like to be just like her when I grow up. I also was elected to the Illinois State Poetry Society Board. I facilitate the North Suburban chapter and am currently chairing the State’s Manningham Trust Poetry Contest for junior high and senior high school students. The winners go onto the national competition. As the deadline approaches and I’m receiving poems from students, it gives me a warm feeling to know there are so many talented young people out there. It’s small dream for me to see teen writers’ groups all over the country to continue their growth as writers.

My participation in poetry open mics and two writers’ groups is always informative and uplifting. I met a classmate at the poetry open mic and dragged him to the Zion Writers’ group. I knew he would fit in, and I’m so glad to have run into him again! My all girls’ group has been together for ten plus years now. We started out as four, but now the three of us meet via video chat every 2 or 3 weeks because we now live in three different states! We are planning a weekend in Boston this spring.

This year we also had heartache. In June, we enjoyed Father’s Day with Dad and 24 hours later he was in the hospital with a severe infection. In just six or seven weeks he was gone. I saw the writing on the wall that first week – I felt it coming. We siblings held each other and our stepmom up. He never lost his sense of humor through it all. We will always be grateful for the love and care our stepmother gave Dad, and the love she’s shown us. She is now up north near her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren! We feel a sense of loss with her farther away from us, but her family deserves to have her closer.

But harder still for us was during this time was the loss of my cousin’s husband, Frank. He was too young to leave us, and the absence of his warm smile and embrace still reverberates with the family. We should have had him around for 30 more years – at least! Our cousin and her incredible boys are in our thoughts and prayers every day as they navigate this next chapter of their lives. His death has been felt by all of the family – cousins, aunts, and uncles. You’ll recall my blog post from August – A Great Loss. Four months later and this grief continues.

We also have our first Christmas without my dad and stepmother.  It is another chapter in our lives as well. As siblings we are surrounded by his gift – family. Through thick and thin, through spring days and harsh winters, we gather to live the lives he wanted for us – filled with love and laughter.

I wish all of you, dear friends and family, the same. May 2020 be a year of good health, broadening horizons, many family gatherings, quiet times and moments of raucous laughter.

Love,

Mary Beth

P.S. Drinking words – ‘year’, ‘family’, ‘growth’ and anything else that you think might get you a buzz.

Photo: Grandma and Grandpa J with Dad, Regina, Rosemarie

A Tooth Fairy Tale

Nova Caine looked at a picture of her newest assignment. The frown of pain marred the handsome face of Theo. First names only – anonymity was a priority number one.

“What’s the deal with this guy?” she asked her boss, A. Malgam. She could only guess what the ‘A’ stood for.

She’d been doing kiddy duty for eons and this was the chance to prove herself with capable of being part of the Adult Resolutions Department.

“Broken tooth. What else would it be?” her boss smirked.

Nova shrugged. “Inflamed gums?”

Her boss turned his eyes to the ceiling of his office and asked, “Why me? Why did Flossie have to go on her honeymoon this week?” Silence hung in the room, as if he expected a response. At last he looked back a Nova. “Just convince him to go to the dentist, will you?”

“Yes, Mr. Malgam.”

Nova patted her blue cotton candy hair to make sure it was still in place, and left the basement office and pointed her wand at the blinking florescent light overhead. A silver light shot out of the tip of her wand, shaking the fixture and setting the light to working properly.

“Best not be wasting time there, Ms. Nova.” That warning came from the oldest tooth fairy on the force. She was so well known in the department that she went by only one name – Cavity.

Cavity’s curly bubble gum pink halo around her heart shaped face. Her neon sugary smile hurt Nova’s eyes.

“I’m on it,” Nova said picking up her pace. She passed the elevators, knowing they hadn’t worked in decades. The stairs were the only way out of this place.

Outside in the fresh Midwest air, Nova set off for Theo’s last coordinates, somewhere near Lake Michigan

                                                                     *

Theo rolled out of bed, knowing sleep would never come. Barefoot, he padded to the bathroom and pulled out the ibuprofen bottle. Four more should do the trick.

He had an important job starting in the next couple days and he needed to get this broken tooth fixed. Closing the medicine cabinet, he filled a glass of water and popped the tablets in his mouth.

Theo leaned forward to inspect the dark circles under his eyes, hoping to ignore the throbbing of his molar. It was like his whole left lower jaw was on fire. He would have to suck it up and find a dentist.

Didn’t a high school classmate become a dentist?  Theo scratched his head and walked over to the only phone book in the apartment. It’s a good thing it was the yellow pages.

His eyes scanned the list of dentists in town, stopping at the one he was looking for – Paisley. Don Paisley rode the train with him to their private high school a couple towns over. Although they weren’t best buddies, they were friendly.

Theo glanced at the clock – only seven. He had to wait to make the call, so he heated up yesterday’s cold coffee in the microwave and took stock of his existence within these four walls. He was a divorced mechanic with child support and rent on his mind. Not exactly the dream he saw himself living at 45. He had five kids he only saw on weekends, and even then, a few of them had part time jobs that interfered with his plans to see them.

Scrubbing his face with his hands, he gave himself a silent motivational talk to get himself moving. He might as well go to work until the dental office was open.

                                                                        *

Nova stood outside Theo’s apartment waiting for him to appear. She found the perfect dentist for him and smiled recalling that warm fuzzy feeling she always got when she did the right thing. Humans thought it was a cut and dry job – slip money under the pillow and take the old tooth.

There wasn’t some book of rules, some master plan. As a Tooth Fairy, one had to utilize their inner sense of purpose. What did each assignment need? For the children she administered to, wonderment and a reward for their bravery was what she usually doled out. In the end, the child, the parent and the dentist were all satisfied.

But here, in this case, Theo was a different matter. The tooth ache was only a part of his problems. She could discover what it was, but did Theo?

A moment later, Theo stepped out of his apartment building and walked briskly to his car. It was a good thing he was a mechanic, Nova thought. The model was a decade old, with a faint trace of rust on the chrome bumper.

Nova looked down at her watch. She had to get to Dr. Paisley’s office before it opened. There was a schedule she needed to fix.

Two hours later, Theo was escorted back to one of Dr. Paisley’s operatories. It’s clean smell and tidy space had him feeling a little nervous and relaxed at the same time. He was in the right place, but the uncertainty of what needed to be done and how painful would it be was fresh on his mind.

Lu, the dental assistant indicated the chair he should recline in. Smiling, she placed a paper bib around him, and chatted about something. Theo wasn’t sure because the minute she breezed into the room with her 100-watt smile, all he could hear was his blood rushing through his head.

Next Dr. Paisley stepped into the room and the childhood acquaintances shook hands. With his focus on the dentist and the telling of how he broke his tooth, the blood rushing subsided. It helped that now he was fully reclined, so his head was lower than his feet, and his mouth was opened so wide he couldn’t do more than shrug or go “Aaahhh” or “uh huh”.

Lu and Dr. Paisley chatted about events that were going on in the area. Lu mentioned she’d like to go to the town’s Pumpkin Fest, but her boys were with their father this coming weekend.

Hmm, Theo thought, so she was divorced as well. Having the dentist working in his mouth gave him the time to develop a plan. He would ask Lu out. That idea made his palms sweat, but in a good way.

His kids had activities planned with their mother, so he wasn’t obligated to stare at those four walls again. It gave him the time to evaluate his existence lately. He’d been imprisoning himself since the divorce thinking he wasn’t entitled to a life – a happy life anymore. He was already feeling lighter, better.

With his mouth numb, and tooth repaired, Theo once again found his feet on the ground. Lu leaned closer to remove the paper bib. He liked her perfume. It was light and floral. She was smiling again. Did she ever stop?

“If you’d like to go to the festival, I’d like to take you. My kids are with their mother this weekend.” God, he hoped he hadn’t sounded desperate. He rubbed his damp palms on his work pants.

He didn’t think Lu’s smile could get any brighter, but it did.

“I’d love to!” She turned and grabbed one of Dr. Paisley’s cards and wrote down her phone number. “Give me a call tonight.”

Theo never felt the floor beneath him as he left the office, his wallet lighter, of course, but now he had a woman’s phone number in his pocket and a date.

Forty years later…

Lu sat holding her husband’s cool, pale hand. Theo’s organs were failing. It was a relatively painless way to die. That was why she worried about the pained expression on face.

He hadn’t talked to her or any of the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren in days. A hospice nurse was leaning over Theo, a slim penlight illuminating Theo’s eyes, then his nostrils and now his mouth.

“I see what it is,” declared the nurse. “He has a broken tooth. The nerve may be exposed.” Pocketing her penlight, she focused on Lu. “It’s time we keep him comfortable. A couple drops of the morphine will do the trick.”

“He’d rather have whiskey,” Lu said wistfully. They had shared so much during their time together. She wasn’t ready for that time to end.

The nurse handed the medicine bottle to Lu. “Didn’t you tell me you met when he had a toothache?”

Lu nodded and shared a sad smile with the nurse. It wasn’t like the one she had for Theo when they first met. These days her smile would spread so far – a weak beam of light at best. He always told her she had the brightest smile on Earth.

“I’ll check back with you tomorrow.”

The nurse left Theo and Lu’s home and sat in her car at the end of their driveway. After a while, the passenger door opened and in climbed her assignment.

“Why am I here? Who are you?”

The nurse started the car and backed out of the driveway. “I’m your Tooth Fairy, Nova.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a kid anymore.”

Nova glimpsed at Theo’s quiet house in the rearview mirror. “I know. But, Theo, that day forty years ago, you needed more than a dentist to fix your tooth. You needed Lu to fix your life.”

Theo settled back into passenger seat. “You won’t get an argument from me.”

Nova smiled as the car left the pavement and vanished into the clouds. Yes, she liked her adult cases. They were so rewarding.

 for Sue

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Gratefulness

Last night at poetry class, the prompt was to list ten things you are grateful for, and ten things you are dreading then pull both together into a poem or prose. I won’t reveal the dread list – perhaps at a later time – in the middle of a dreary winter’s day. I will however, share my grateful list with you.

Of course my family and friends were top of the list. From there the list deviates and when we recounted our lists to each other, it is always interesting what other people put down.

So here we go –

I am grateful for

  • raising one child who became a kind and responsible person
  • that my son talks with us every week voluntarily
  • that he lives near family even though he is far from us
  • for 37 years of marriage to Richard (today is our anniversary)
  • my friends
  • the gift of creativity
  • my morning coffee
  • my sense of humor
  • a quick mind
  • Egyptian cotton
  • my mid morning coffee
  • a working coffee pot at home
  • a working coffee pot at work
  • wine openers
  • wine in to-go cups
  • wine in a box
  • wine with my sisters
  • wine with Aunt Ursie
  • wine with friends
  • wine by myself
  • wine at sunsets

I’m sure you get the idea…

I thank all of you for reading this blog post and I wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

-mb

Photo by Adonyi Gábor from Pexels

Tinsel Time

After last week’s post about the rushing of the holidays, I admit I’ve fallen into the trap laid out by merchants and radio stations alike. I’ve started shopping and planning.

It got me thinking about our Christmas tree. I like a short tree – about four feet tall because I can set it upon a chest in my living room and don’t have to move every piece of furniture to make it happen.

I saw some live ones at the grocery store last week and I remembered (or did I dream?) that I we threw our fake out last year. It was awful and the ones I really like (in the fake category) are priced out of this world. I know if I stopped to think about the cost over several years, it would be more reasonable. I still have my mind focused on my list which also requires money. An expensive tree isn’t it.

Over the decades we have had many different types of tress. My grandparents often flocked their real trees and added tinsel. Old fashioned ball ornaments with remnants of flocking on them hung next to homemade ornaments from us grandchildren.

In our home growing up, there was also a real tree with homemade ornaments. Garland of red and green construction paper fought for space with the popcorn strands. Popcorn was only done for a couple of years – we soon lost interest in stringing it and voted to eat it instead. For many years, tinsel also graced our trees.

When my dad and stepmom moved to Burlington, Wisconsin, the tradition of tinsel followed. It must have given my dad a sense of his childhood. He only spoke German until he went to first grade. Other traditions of Midnight Mass at St. Therese Hospital was followed by a typical German (and European) breakfast of sliced sausages and ham, rye and pumpernickel along with crusty rolls and stinky cheeses. How I long for those breakfasts now.

So this year, I think that real tree will find itself graced with tinsel. I also think my dad would approve.

photo: circa 1940 – from left to right: Grandma, Aunt Regina, Grandpa and my dad Leo