Tuesday, January 27, 2009

happy birthday to my Daddy

The way he tells it, his dad had to shovel a path for the midwife on that January morning in 1921. While the snow fell, his mother labored with him, and on that same day her mother gave birth to his aunt.

The youngest of four, not counting the two baby boys who had died before he came along, my father was born into a poor Slovak family in the hills of Pennsylvania. His father had immigrated from Europe just a few years earlier. When my grandfather married Anna, she was only 15, and by the time she was 25 she had her last baby, my dad.

His father worked hard in those hills, carving out coal from the dark earth. His back was marked, his lungs scarred, his spirit squelched. Not wanting a similar fate, my father left the mines for the Europe of World War II. Hitler apparently seemed a less daunting foe than those black caverns.

When he returned from the war, he had no intention of spending his life in the mines. His father had died while he was gone. His mother and sisters were going to Michigan. He soon followed, to take up residence in an apartment attached to the back of a home in Dearborn. That house belonged to my maternal grandmother. It was there that he met Joan, my mom.

They married in 1960 after a long courtship. Even though Dad had only an eighth grade education, he had a good job at General Motors Clark Street plant, where Cadillacs rolled off the assembly line in a steady stream. He was a union man: he gave an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, and when he came home each night, he worked hard around our home. He didn't expect much, just dinner on the table promptly at five.

Since he had to drop out of school at such an early age, he valued education greatly. Nothing pleased him more than seeing my brother and me graduate from college. It was something that he never dreamed for himself, but was thrilled to be able to provide for us.

Dad worked hard all his life, paying his bills, supporting his family, not seeking glory or honor. He had his struggles, his personal battles. He was not, of course, perfect. There were times when I think I hated him, and there were plenty of times I feared him. But he was strong, and loyal, and honest. I have never, to this day, heard him say a profane word. And each night of his life, he has knelt by his bed to pray. That's some kind of man.

We've never been the kind of family to share lots of hugs and "I love yous." I can still remember the first time my dad said those words to me on the phone. I had just given birth to my youngest daughter, and I was in the hospital recovering. I was 40 years old.

Now each and every time I speak to him on the phone he ends the call with the words: "Love you." I wonder if he realizes how much that means... It proves to me that it is never, ever too late to love.

Today my father turned 88. We joined together for dinner at Old Country Buffet, sharing chicken and macaroni and cheese, too much dessert, and many laughs. Dad doesn't usually smile for pictures, never has, but I captured a few smiles tonight. It was good to be together. As I snapped pictures I felt wise: I know I will treasure them.

Dad still talks about the things he loves: Mozart; the slopes of the Austrian Alps; praying the rosary; growing cucumbers in his garden; playing the lottery; baby girls. I have not always understood him, and I've often been impatient with him. But today I feel extraordinarily blessed to have known him.

Happy Birthday, Dad. Love you!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

not on my shopping list

And I thought I needed to go on a diet!

It turns out I just need to stretch the waistband on my favorite jeans with this handy device. Which leaves me thinking....wouldn't it just be simpler to spend that $29.95 on a new pair of pants?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

three left feet

I've metioned several times lately that I'm involved in a show, so here it is, The Theater Post.

My love for the theater began when I was in the second grade. That's when I wrote, produced, directed and starred in my first play. I can't remember the name of it, but I do recall that it featured the Easter Bunny and a serious dilemna: the price of eggs had risen to $2 a dozen, and EB and friend Peter were in big trouble. (FYI, back in 1972, the price of twelve eggs was only 53 cents, so this was dramatic.)

In the sixth grade I co-wrote, produced and directed, with my good friend Corrine Meadows, the classic production "Famous Americans of Our Nation's Past." It was 1976 after all, so a bicentenial tribute was in order. It was historically inaccurate (we had President Jefferson telling Lewis and Clark to take their teddy bears with them) but it was fun. I was hooked.

I didn't hit the stage again until high school, when I landed the role of Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!. It was a challenging role, but I was well-suited to it, even though I (of course) wanted the role of the cute, flitatious Ado Annie, the gal who couldn't say no. (What 16 year old girl in her right mind would choose the role of an old lady rather than a fun chick who loved the boys?)

Our director, like all of his kind, was evil, and I'm not exaggerating. He expected a flawless performance from a bunch of kids, and amazingly, he almost got it. It was a tramatic, exhilarating, exhausting, invigorating experience. I hated the director but loved what he got from me.

It took many years for me to return to the stage, but when my eldest daughter expressed an interest in the theater we got involved in our local community group. Now I'm on the board, have done costumes and performed in musicals, dramas and comedies. Our current production involves tap dancing.

As "Maxine" in Stepping Out I'm a 40-something gal who used to dance quite well. Now I'm in a tap class once a week, running a boutique and raising a step-son.

It's the hardest show I've ever been a part of, and that's not because I've never tapped danced before. (Although that's true, too.) All productions have their share of backstage drama, and this one is no exception. In fact, I keep thinking that if the audience knew what we've been doing at rehearsals, they'd want to buy tickets.

I find that every show I'm involved in brings with it a unique lesson. I learn about people; I learn about myself. This show, of course, is no exception. Not everything I've discovered has been positive, particularly about myself.

I feel like I'm dancing with not two, but three left feet. Oh, I've managed to learn how to tap dance quite well, actually, it's not that. It's just that I've found I'm unable to let go, to let others manage details, to not take charge. It's much more complicated than I'm letting on, and I'll spare you the details. But I'll say this: it's been a rough time. But am I regretting it? Never.

From the time I painted on a pink lipstick nose back when I was seven, I've loved the theater. I love the excitement, the wonder, the challenge. I love being myself and being someone quite different. I've loved and hated scripts, questioned directors and been in awe of them. There is nothing quite like that moment before an entrance is made...nothing quite like standing backstage, in the black, straining for a cue, hitting it spot on, feeling the lights on your face, getting the line just right, your heart beating so hard you feel it might burst. There's nothing like opening night, the jitters, the fear, the adrenelin; there's nothing like closing night, either, knowing that the art you've worked so hard to create will soon be just an echo on an empty stage.

There's nothing like a curtain call. There's nothing like applause.

So for the next few days I'll endure tech week, and on Friday I'll stand backstage and wonder why in the world I'm doing this. And then I'll remember how I love it, and how I really believe that there is value in sharing our talents through the theater.

Good theater can inspire, enlighten and educate, as well as entertain. I'm not sure if this show will do any of those things, but I know one thing. I'm going to enjoy myself, and I'm going to do it, because I can. For now, I think that's reason enough.

If you live in my neighborhood and want an entertaining, cheap night out, check out our site. (We are also doing a fund-raiser for our local crisis pregancy center, The Lennon Center, at all performances. Pretty cool, huh?)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

stomach flu remedy

There's not one available here, but I got your attention didn't I?

After reading about what happened to Laura when she included "stomach flu" in a blog post title, I couldn't resist. (Laura, I told you I was not above this!) Thankfully, no remedies of that sort are needed around here, although several of us are now battling colds in addition to our other woes.

I'm managing my crosses a bit better today, thanks in part to the wonderful encouragement I received from my dear blog readers. Have I thanked you all lately? I had tears in my eyes more than once as I read your comments on my last post. I felt so encouraged, so thankful for the friends I have found here in the blogosphere. I'm one of those who believes real relationships can be formed online (I certainly hope so - my daughter married the young man she met that way!)

As an update - the driver of the other vehicle appears to have told the truth about the matter, which is great news! I paid $120 to have my dishwasher "fixed" - the filter needed to be cleaned, that's all - but it's working now and I'm over it. The rest of the house is still somewhat "imperfect" but it's warm and filled with people I love. I'm focusing on that today.

So on from stomach flu to other fun things that start with "s" - for that's today's theme, thanks again to my favorite Catholic school teacher on the planet.

Here's my assignment: list ten things I love that start with "s." Wow, what an easy assisgnemt! "S" is like the best letter ever!!!

Here's the first ten that came to mind.

I like it, I love it, I want more of it! I so rarely experience it that when I do I want to hold gently like a precious jewel. Just one of the reasons I treasure my chances to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The silence feeds my soul.

Like the first item, it's a rare and priceless gift I long to give myself. I like me. I miss me. I want to spend more time with me, just me. I vant to be alone.

Michigan winters can be lovely, all covered with fields of white, barren branches bejeweled with icy crystals. But how much lovelier it is on a sunny day! I miss the sun! I put my sunglasses on yesterday, for the first time in weeks, and almost wept. I adore the sun, and I tend to go all seasonal-affective when it goes missing for months at a time. I can't wait for spring, when I'll throw caution to the wind and sit outside in my shorts, sans sunscreen. (I know; no lectures. I need vitamin D, right?)

Even though midwest winters can be harsh, they lead us to really appreciate spring. I really enjoy the change of seasons. The carnival of lavender, fuschia and chartreuse in spring, the sand and hot blue skies of summer, the butterscotch leaves of fall, the moonlight diamonds of winter....what gorgeous gifts He gives us!

Cayenne, garlic, rosemary, savory, thyme, sage. Bring 'em on. Wouldn't food (and life) be boring without them? I like to spice things up, both in the kitchen and elsewhere. That whole variety thing makes things fun.

They're visually interesting, delicious, nutritious and lo-carb. Try them with sour cream and brown sugar. Yum.

I love everything to do with the theater. I love being on the stage, behind the scenes, or in the audience. One of my favorite aspects is the magic that can be achieved by creative folks who understand one of the most important truths about it: good theater can educate and even heal us.

Everybody's got one, and I want to hear them. I love all kinds of stories, the kind we speak to one other, the kind we read, and the kind we tell through the quality of our touch, the timbre of our voices, and the emotions in our eyes.

For someone sensitive to sugar, splenda is a godsend. It's a small but lovely addition to my day. I feel so indulgent when I'm drinking my sweet cup of tea that only contains one calorie and no carbs!


Can a woman have too many sweaters? I think not. They are soft, pretty, and cover up our imperfections, real or imagined, if they are cut nice and generously.

I could go on and on here with the letter "s." Songs, silver, sons, supercailifragilisticexpealidociuos. Sangria, Santa Claus, Santa Fe, San Diego. Saints, stars, symphonies, sandwiches, soundtracks. And let's not forget Sophie!

Would you like your own letter? Visit Laura and she'll assign you one. Let me know when your list is up!

(If she gives you "f", will you include "flu?" If you do I'll look the other way!)

Monday, January 12, 2009

picking up sticks

I was going to title this post "do the right thing."

Then as my thoughts came together, and the morning's events transpired, I was going to call it "if it's not broke don't fix it, but if it is, please get busy!"

Then I read Kate's post over at Momopoly, and I started to cry.

I'm having a rough morning.

I'm carrying a cross, and it's a light one. I call this kind a toothpick cross. It's so tiny that when you look at me, you probably won't even notice I'm lugging it around. But like a toothpick in a pile of toothpicks, it can be hard to pick up. And it can be very draining when it seems you're picking up this same one again and again.

Things are falling apart around here, and I mean that literally. On Saturday I was in a car accident. Don't worry, no one was injured, which is all that really matters. But my van is smashed up and in need of repair, and I spent the morning on the phone with the husband of the gal who hit me and with insurance agents.

That leads to the "do the right thing" angle. It was snowy Saturday, dangerously so. The roads were horrible, and I really had no business being out. But I had a rehearsal to get to (don't worry, I'll fill you in on the show soon!) so I ventured out. When that other car came careening through the intersection I was in the middle of, there was really no stopping it. She had hit a slippery spot, and she was driving too fast. I saw her coming, tried to accelerate, but my wheels spun and she hit me, sending me spinning 180 degrees.

When I got out of my van and saw the other driver, I was relieved. She was OK, so was I, and even better, it was someone I knew! We had gone to high school together and her husband and mine had played in the same softball league in recent years. That would make things easier.

We assured one another we were fine, found both our vehicles to be driveable, and decided no call to the police was necessary. We both knew it was her fault, but I figured I'd spare her the ticket and the points that may accompany it. (I knew this might happen - a good friend of mine was in a similar accident last winter and that's what happened to her.)

I decided to be nice.

This morning her husband called and said he was going to try to "fix things" with his insurance agent who also happened to be the best man at his wedding. He explained he planned to simply say the vehicle was parked on the street and was struck by some unknown car.

Oh no.

I don't do well with this sort of thing. I had no intention of participating in insurance fraud (and why should I? I had nothing to gain and something - the payment of my deductible - to lose.) I told him I was not comfortable with that idea, and that I planned to do something wild and just tell the truth.

He handled that pretty well, I guess, but he said he wanted me to wait before I called my company. I stupidly agreed, then realized after I hung up that I had no intention of doing that. I called him back and left a message on his voice mail telling him I was going to make the claim. So I did and now I'm waiting to see what happens.

It appears that if they call with a different story, I might be out the $500 deductible.

That stinks. That's the price I've paid for "being nice." I suppose the lesson is that sometimes "doing the right thing" includes following protocol that protects me rather than trying to be nice to someone else.

That's just the beginning of my toothpick collection today. The dishwasher's broke. My blow dryer shot sparks at me this morning. Last week my microwave broke, so I threw it out and got a new one. Today I found out it was covered on a repair plan and if I had called I would've received a check for $125 if they couldn't fix it.

My lap top is malfunctioning, randoming shutting itself off. The kitchen drawer fell apart the other day. The lightswitch in the bathroom wants to permanently stay in the "on" position.

My home is falling apart, and I'm frustrated, angry and sad.

The condition of my house is a really heavy cross to me. We redid the living room and my room this past year, and they are quite attractive right now. But I'd be lying if I said I was content here.

It's a "starter home" at best, and we're way past getting started. We will probably never be able to move to a larger home, and that is something I just have never been able to get over.

We have three bedrooms, no basement, only 1300 square feet. The house is not ancient, but it's no spring chicken, either. We use our family room for so many purposes; now Sophie stays in that room too, and it's insane. I don't know how we do it.

But we do. I pick up the toothpick every day, and it's exhausting sometimes. Like Kate said, people might look at me and think how great I have it. (Especially people who've never been to my house!) They look at all the blessings in my life (and there are indeed many) and they don't even know how much I suffer because of my inadequate kitchen cupboards, damaged tiles and stuffed closets.

I feel ashamed that I whine about this. But for some reason, this cross seems almost unbearable at times. I imagine that's because I've had it for years, and I don't imagine it will ever be lifted from me.

So today it's messed-up, screwed-up, broken around here. And it probably will be tomorrow, too. So I'll do my best to hang in there and not break anything else -- especially my spirit.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

writers living, writers writing

I fancy myself a writer.

I've written a book after all, and lots of articles, and I've got this snappy blog, after all. And ANOTHER blog, 'cause I'm a show-off. OK, so none of the above have received much attention lately. That's all right, I think I'm finally grown-up enough to realize something I didn't get back when I wrote this catchy phrase in my diary when I was 19: "When a writer stops writing, she stops living."

That's rather embarrassing.

I think what I meant to say was that those of us who "write", those who find it something as natural as breath and as essential as oxygen, feel very "un-alive" when our pencils lay unsharpened on our dusty desks. That is true, I suppose. But the living doesn't stop just because we're not recording it, in journals or notebooks, on yellow lined steno pads or computer screens.

Life goes on.

It's been going on here, that's for sure, even though I've been neglecting the preservation of it. The most important and delightful development is that I had a wonderful late Christmas gift delivered on the Feast of the Holy Family.

I'm having another grandbaby!

My daughter Lauren, who married in August, is expecting, just like her elder sister! (That sibling rivalry and competition never ends, does it?) Her baby will arrive in September, with the gold leaves and Indian summer breezes and back to school supplies. I'm thrilled! Our little Grace is due in early May, and Lauren, not to be out done by Rachel, will bring our second grandchild to us in the fall. How blessed we are.

I've been so busy these last couple weeks, even though the boys are back in school. They're doing so well, by the way. I think we made the right decision. It's strange, but I can't believe I ever homeschooled my children. Isn't that odd? I find as I get older that I am continually amazed by the things I did in earlier years. Did I really have four kids in that old flat in Hamtramck? Did I really manage to get around for years without a car? Did I really live without the internet? How did I homeschool children for 15 years, when what really felt natural was a career in business or advertising or fashion or photography? Did I really breastfeed several of them for one or even two years? How did I do all that?

So now I'm older and wiser, and a puppy is sleeping at my feet while I write. Sophie is adjusting well; we grow confident together. She is not accurate or consistent with her well, "eliminations" but she is improving. AJ has taught her to sit. She has gained a TON of weight (when you only weigh three pounds, going up to five is a big increase!) I'm getting to the point where I can't imagine not having her in my life. That's a happy feeling.

My Big Man made an amazing dinner for us tonight (stuffed pork tenderloin, asparagus with gorgonzola and almonds, cucumbers with sour cream, fresh berries.) Yes, I am a lucky woman. He just asked me if I could wash the dishes (the dish washer is broken - how shocking!) and I laughed out loud. But I'll do them, of course, how could I not?

I'd like to share more about one other thing that's been keeping me really busy these days -- my upcoming performance in a community theater show. Now you are intrigued, aren't you? Let's just say for now that it includes tap dancing. Isn't that enough to bring you back for more?

So I'm living, and maybe not writing so much, but living. If I don't I'll have nothing to say, right?