One Veteran’s Story

IMG_5386
Mike enjoying the view from the porch

Dear Reader:

My husband and I had just finished watching Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War the week before I visited the Avila Valley Barn with my daughter and her college friends. I passed a man in a baseball cap that read: Vietnam Veteran as I entered the property.

I looked at him and said, “Nice cap,” and gave him a thumbs up. It was, I suppose, a rather awkward way of acknowledging his service, but he responded with an open smile.

After I shopped for fresh produce, sampled apple pie and selected pumpkins for my seasonal table, I felt compelled to join the veteran on the porch. I sat down in the rocking chair next to him and said hello. Mike and I began an easy conversation about the fine weather and pleasures of Avila Beach.

Then I began the conversation that I really wanted to have with him by asking if he’d seen the Burns’ documentary. He had not, but he readily shared his story with me. He had just entered high school when the war began, but he said he somehow knew that he would end up in Vietnam.

After graduation, he received a scholarship and attended The Boston Conservatory of Music. Mike was an opera singer for two years… until he was drafted. He was discharged a year later after he witnessed the death of two others standing very near to him. His injuries, both physical and emotional, remain with him. It seems the after effects of Agent Orange have been the most troublesome to his well-being.

“The folks at the VA keep telling me I’m not long for this world,” he told me. “But, I don’t put a lot of stock into what the government says.”

His distrust seems justified.

“My wife and I just settled into the home of our dreams,” he continued. “It’s a small house with a huge garden that my wife loves. And, I’ve finally found some peace.”

I asked what had become of his musical career and he answered that it was another “casualty of war.” After many years of struggling with life on a daily basis, Mike discovered that he had the patience and skill needed to work with disabled children.

“I’d have never known I could help so many kids if I hadn’t served,” he concluded.

I left the barn that day with tears spilling from beneath my sunglasses. My thoughts turned to Mike again this weekend as we celebrated Veteran’s Day. I certainly hope the VA doctors are wrong; I hope Mike has many years to enjoy life in his new home and garden.

Michele

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Over Until it’s Over

IMG_5316
Next time we’ll have a Sangria together, as she’ll be legal!

Dear Reader:

I visited my nearly 21-year-old daughter at college this weekend and over dinner I looked at her and said: “I like who you are becoming.”

She paused and so I felt the need to explain my random, motherly comment.

“You know… you are evolving, becoming an adult,” I clarified.

“Thank you, Mom,” she said. “But aren’t we all becoming someone?”

Well, that’s just the way my daughter is….wonderful and wise and inspiring! Indeed it would be rather boring and depressing if I were not also continuing to become someone. In fact, it is our shared evolution that binds us even closer.

I talk to her about my new adventures in the blogosphere and she shares the challenges and rewards of renting her first apartment. We hold each other accountable to the fitness goals we’ve set. She shares her academic successes and I recount how proud I feel when my puppy Winnie piddles in the appropriate place. We dream of our next trip to London…she to study and me and her dad to sightsee. I can see that even our relationship has become something new and beautiful. I’ll always be her mother, first, but it’s great to feel the warmth of her understanding as a friend, too.

I love that she reminded me that the joys of evolution are not simply for the young.

Here’s to getting better and better all the time,

Michele

 

Puppies are Good for Empty-Nesters

IMG_4578
A Favorite Photo-My Husband Admiring our Baby

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite regular columns in any magazine is the Harper’s Index in Harper’s Magazine…of course. It’s a simple list of interesting factoids that makes for fun reading and sharing. Today I learned:

Percentage of U.S. pet-custody cases that involve dogs: 96%

That involve cats: 1

Apologies to the “cat people” in my life, but I was not in the least bit surprised to read this! After all, dogs have a “pack mentality” as do people. (More trivia: what is the name of a group of cats????? Got you, right?!) All three of my four-legged family members are draped across my legs as I write this. It’s a chilly morning and they are earning their keep!

My husband and I have been married for 33 years and for 25 of those years we’ve had at least one dog. We were excited the day we finally moved into a pet-friendly condominium. It didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dachshund, Carly. For eight years, our friends and family had speculated as to when we’d have a child. They had a good laugh when we purchased a small library of books in the genre of how to raise the perfect dog and consulted a baby naming book.  There were whispers that we were “practicing” for our first child. The speculation grew when we took Carly to Sears for Christmas pictures.

Alas, the next member of our pack also had four legs. Bill, another long-haired miniature dachshund, joined us the year after our first. Jeff and Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds named the dog after the president “before the Lewinsky scandal” they told us. We thought our new puppy looked rather “presidential” so we chose not to change his name. It would be another two years before we had our only child, Natalie, and Bill would be the first to arrive in her room when she cried.

It’s impossible to imagine our home without a dog or two or three and perfectly outrageous to ponder me and my husband embroiled in a custody fight over them. But, there is no danger of this as we are happy together and have further bonded over the arrival of our latest baby “Winnie.”

Michele

P.S. A group of cats is called a “clowder.” I looked it up.

 

 

 

TGFT!

Dear Reader:

No, that’s not a typo in the title! It’s Friday and thank god for it …TGIF! But, alas, today I’m also feeling grateful for Target. How did we ever accomplish anything major before this retailer came to our rescue? Thank God for Target! They’ve got shower curtains and small desks, frozen lasagna and iced coffee in large jugs, shower curtains and toaster ovens, laundry detergent and first-aid kits and lots of storage options:  bins, boxes and baskets of all sizes.

IMG_5105
First trip!

 

 

On Monday night, I hit the sack at 10 p.m. I was up at 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday at my pup Winnie’s insistence and again at 4:30 to provide puppy relief. I loafed until 6 a.m. and then headed south down Highway 101 to help my daughter move into her first off-campus apartment. By 11 a.m., we’d made our first trip to Target. You may wonder: how many Target trips does it take to set-up a new apartment for three students? I’ve got the answer; read on!

Day one was devoted to kitchen set-up; we’ve got our priorities straight! Things went smoothly until we discovered the garbage bags did not fit into the very old trash compactor and we’d need a stepping stool to provide access to upper shelves to maximize storage. We started a list and prepared for trip #2.

We began the trip with a detour to the in-store Starbucks. Iced tea in hand, we headed our separate ways to divide and conquer. I found myself in the pop-up “Dorm/Apartment Kitchen Essentials Department” where I encountered three young men debating the attributes of two different silverware trays. I stopped to eavesdrop…just because I find the young amusing. In the end, they decided they didn’t really need a sorter.

“Let’s just let it rattle around in the drawer,” the tall one said to the other two. They nodded and were off… presumably to buy a frozen pizza or something really “essential”.

I wondered silently: would I want my daughter to end up with a guy who felt he needed a flatware organizer or a guy who knew he could live without one?

I fell into bed exhausted that night and woke at 1:30 and again at 4 a.m. Ah, the puppy has ME trained! The “girls” all left for work early that morning after letting me into the apartment for some solo unpacking and organizing. I sat on the small couch drinking cold coffee that I had thrown into the cart on trip #1. The day ended on a sweet note, as well, when I placed the pillow I’d secretly purchased on the faux fur chair in the corner of my daughter’s room.

 

 

 

 

Day 3 began with a fourth trip to Target. Why hadn’t I bought an under-bed storage bin yet?! There were exactly two left in the store when I reached up to pull one from the shelf at the same moment as another woman. I looked at her with a slightly desperate expression that she seemed to understand.

“Oh, I only want one of them,” she said. “First year or second,” she asked.

“Third,” I replied proud of my daughter’s seniority. I pointed to the next aisle where the last two shoe organizers resided.

“Get one while you can, ” I suggested. (Well, I had seniority, too!)

It was the final day of my visit and we made a fifth trip to Target. This trip required a visit to the Customer Service Counter where we had to return the curtains that didn’t fit and the chair that clashed with the sofa. All went smoothly.

But, there was something bothering me. I’d been very smart and ordered a few key pieces ahead of time and yet they still hadn’t been delivered. Just as I sat down, with another glass of cold brew, I had the text from my husband:  Lots of boxes delivered today  They’re for here?! 

IMG_5136
OOPS!

In the end, it took six trips to move my “child” into her first apartment and I’m glad I was there for all of them! Parenting is a long journey and it’s a privilege to feel welcome in my daughter’s world as she approaches the big 21.

Good night,

Michele

P.S. Hoping the puppy feels as tired as I do this evening!

 

 

 

I’m Expecting!

 

 

Dear Reader:

The great artist and philosopher, Charles M. Schulz, said it best: “Happiness is a warm puppy.” And, I’m ready for more happiness since losing my faithful companion Bart.

“Hmmmm,” you may say, ” don’t you have two other dogs?”

“Why, yes, I do,” I’d answer, “but I don’t have any puppies!”

I’d also add that there are three people in my family and I’ve had three dogs for the past fifteen years. Three’s the perfect number, you see. One, two three…I count as I put down the bowls filled with kibble. One, two three…I count as I brush out their coats. One, two three…I count as I round-up the pack at bedtime.

Bart passed away while my daughter was studying in London this summer. When Natalie arrived home, tired and jet-lagged, we spent several days hanging out and watching movies with her. My girl is a sweet one and she immediately noticed that there were more laps than dogs.

“Oh, mom, I’m sorry,” she exclaimed one night when she noticed that she and her dad had doxies in their laps, but mine was empty. “You must miss Bartie. I even miss him,” she said. “I miss him trying to get away from me to get to you!”

She was right; I did and I do miss my Bart. So, it was a welcome surprise when I received a note with baby pictures from my friend and the breeder of all of our dachshunds. She was, of course, sorry to hear about my loss and wanted to tell me that she happened to have a litter of pups and…one of them would be perfect for me!

“Is it too soon? Do you want her?” she asked.

Well, what do you think, dear reader?!

Michele

 

 

 

Laughs for Moms

Dear Reader:

There’s nothing like a good laugh which is why I love The Onion. Humor helps all the time, but never more than in our current political climate or when dealing with issues of motherhood.

I laughed loudly throughout this article, so had to share it with you.

http://www.theonion.com/article/moms-fears-about-daughter-leaving-college-channele-51060

Enjoy,

Michele

All You Need is Love (all together now)

“Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.”

Caitlin Doughty

 

Dear Reader:

Death has come again and taken the life of another in my circle of friends. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote to you about a friend who lost her father quite suddenly. Today I learned of the passing of another man. He was a husband, father and grandfather who took great joy in the companionship of his family. Indeed he spent the morning at the pool with his grandchildren and the afternoon with his wife and daughter before he passed quickly of an apparent heart attack.

The lives and deaths of these two men have raised questions among my friends. The questions are old and yet they seem new again when one is confronted with loss. Why do some live long lives and others die young? Why do some suffer? What is the meaning of life now that I know this will happen? When and how will my loved ones die? And, ultimately, when and how will I die?

I have friends of all ages and the youngest ones are just now facing loss as adults. It is quite a different matter when a young child loses a grandparent or great grandparent. I can still remember the Christmas morning when my then four-year-old daughter looked at her great-grandmother and commented: “You are very old; you will die soon.” The room fell silent until Gigi smiled and took her great-granddaughter into her arms for a hug.

My daughter does not remember making this bold statement nor does she remember her great-grandmother. It was in fact a year and a half later that Gigi passed at the age of 96. We were surprised the day we got the call as we had anticipated that the next death in the family would be that of my 36-year-old brother. I lost my brother two weeks later, a year after his cancer diagnosis. I was newly 40 and devastated.

My brother was never given any hope that he would live longer than a few months; he lived a full year. Friends and family offered to finance a trip for him and his wife as they’d never left the country. My brother chose instead to live the last months of his life simply. He devoted time to housekeeping,  sorting and gifting his possessions and putting papers in order. He spent time with family and friends. He shared his deep faith and complete confidence in God and an after-life with anyone who would listen. He created art and he enjoyed the companionship of his wife and dogs in his comfortable home and in the nearby mountains.

I watched my brother die…closely and attempted to make sense of it all. It made no sense and yet it informed me and inspired me. I can never explain why the youngest member of my family was the first to die. I still don’t think it was “fair.” I still believe he should be here with me to exchange a laugh or two about how hard it is to get older. But, he accepted his passage with such courage and calmness that I could not help but do the same.

His death gave me the opportunity to ponder life and all the old important questions. I concluded years ago that the Beatles said it best…”all you need is love.” I have loved and I have been loved and, in the end, that is the only thing I need.

Sincerely,

Michele