Just Relax Dad

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My dad could give lessons on how to enjoy life.  This is a long-lost art for some.  We get so busy.  First it’s our career – or the making of it.  Then it’s the social opportunities that start to weave themselves into our nine to five day.  Next, we add children… and their schedules with friends and school and activities.  At this point, we stop, take a breath, and look at our spouse and say something like, “We really need to plan something for just the two of us.”   So we juggle, reschedule, make calls, stay late at work, plan, arrange, and then when we are entirely exhausted… we push ourselves out the door and resolve to relax.

That has never been the case for my dad.  My dad rarely missed a day of work.  He committed himself completely to the job, responsibilities, and his employees for eight hours (and them some), Monday through Friday, every week of every month for 38 years – all with a good-natured demeanor that endeared him to many.  What my dad did that set him apart from many of us is this: Every hour that he wasn’t at work…well, he wasn’t at work.  He filled his time with life – not with work.

My dad has now been retired for almost 14 years.  He has continued to fill his days with family, friends, fishing, afternoon naps, traveling, and lots of laughs. Recently, my parents traveled to Idaho to take in the vast, blue skies, great food, and of course, the company of dear friends. Although his body says he’s in his seventies, my dad’s sense of adventure and a good time put him much closer to his twenties.

I happened to call them when they were mid-adventure.  Even before a familiar voice answered the phone, I could hear giggling and teasing in the background.  When he finally got around to greeting me, he said, “Hey, Jule!  We’re out here in the middle of nowhere having a picnic with our buddies!  Guess what we’re going to do next?”  Without letting me throw out a guess, he announces, “We’re going to the hot springs!”  In the background, I could hear the five other adults ribbing each other about whether or not they were allowed to wear bathing suits (too much information).  I have been assured that all participants wore their swimming suits.  Whatever it was I called to tell them was happily forgotten in their giggling and laughter.  As is usually the case now, I told them to have a good time and call me later.  I didn’t get a call.  All that came through the waves of communication, is the picture below – sent to me by one of his cohorts.  I hear there’s still a few seats in the class he’ll be teaching this spring, “The Art of Relaxation – Outside.”

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Rest In Peace, Purse

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I just got a call from a good friend.  Her minivan window had been barbarically smashed (in the elementary school lane in broad daylight), and her purse was stolen.  We cursed and commiserated.  I listened to her list of all that had been lost, and how her credit cards had already been traced back to ATMs located at several local gas stations. I felt violated for her.  This is what men may or may not understand: we do not own our purses; our purses own us.  Yes, we keep money and other valuable items in these wonder bags, but the relationship we have with them goes much deeper.

The process of just finding the right purse is a marathon event in itself.  For years and years and years and years… I have been on quests with my mother to help her acquire the perfect purse.  I don’t think we’ve found it yet.  I have yet to hear, “I love this purse!” from her lips.  The problem is this: she hates purses.  But because we all need a place for our sunglasses, extra keys, a checkbook, Tylenol, worn and faded photos of our children that make us happy, coupons we’ll never use, our favorite shades of lipstick, bills that must be mailed, the dry cleaning ticket, the cell phone that’s rarely charged when we need it, the book we read while we wait for whatever, hand sanitizer, Kleenex, mints, gum, everything our children and husbands do not want to be bothered with having to carry, and the scores of store reward cards… the quest goes on.

We sling our purses to our backs or stuff them into our armpits when we need to get a closer look at a price tag or to apply a band-aid to the finger that got pinched while our children were horsing around in the clothing racks. They hurt our backs and shoulders.  I once had a purse strap get caught up on someone else’s purse as that person was trying to quickly pass by me on a down escalator – on that day, not only did my purse take me down, but gravity and dignity both got a swipe at me as well.  They rip.  The handles give out and dump our belongings just as we are reaching for our luggage on the carousel at the airport.  They can be the bane of our existence.   But bane or no bane, we still need them.

We spend many hours debating the merits of pockets, straps, snaps, colors, flaps, handles and zippers. We devote hours to lingering around the leather and not-so-leather aroma-ed alcoves of department stores, specialty shops, and even purse parties…  all for the primary purpose of schlepping our most “prized” possessions from one spot to the next.  We compliment each other on them.  We give them as gifts to our friends and sisters.  Our hearts skip a beat when we find a Kate Spade or Coach for a crazy low sale price. I’m not even talking about the purses we buy for the sole purpose of matching an outfit for a special event.  No, I’m simply talking about the schlepper we need for our daily lives.  That’s what a purse is – a life holder.

So… when some bored, impatient, less than inconsiderate punk decides to wallop a fist into the passenger window of the dreaded minivan we all swore in college we’d never drive, and swipes a purse from under the seat, that hoodlum didn’t just take the loose cash we may have intended for gas, groceries, books orders, field trips, or dance lessons.  No.  Much more was stolen.  The hours it took just to find the right purse in first place… are gone forever.  And the worse part?  Chances are fairly good that the life holding, perfect feel of leather, sometimes bane of our existence, matched our gloves and shoes, with the perfect cell phone pocket purse – is not even what the perpetrator wanted.  No, it’s probably just soaking up its new digs in some smelly, green dumpster – that doesn’t even match.

Breaking to Bond

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I had an epiphany last night as I sat squinched on to the same sofa cushion with my 10-year-old son.  It was far past his bedtime… far past.  He has this issue of roaming the halls  – just as I relax with a big fat brownie , or something out of his candy stash.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had to stuff diabetes-inducing food up my sleeve, under a sofa pillow… or (don’t tell my husband) into the couch rather quickly and covertly in order to hide my poor choices from this free range rover.  So down the stairs he pads,  just as I am cramming a frosted brownie down my gullet and settling in for some mindless Bravo! TV.  I was so busted.  So, instead of marching him back up the stairs, lecturing at him while puffing clouds of chocolate breath into the air, I let him stay… and fed him a brownie too.

I do hold a degree in Child Development and I have held conversations with parents of students expounding on the importance of a regular bedtime, no TV before bed, and healthy snacking habits.  But at this point, I was not about to stop chewing my delicious, chewy brownie, so I figured, “Aw, the heck with it!  Slide on in here, grab a brownie, and finish out Top Chef with me!”  It gets worse.  The show had almost come to a close, but there were still more brownies to eat – so as not to tip-off the now slumbering 8-year-old who would be all over me like stink on … well…you know – when she discovered the missing cut-outs, and I wasn’t about to go down for these jointly committed sins by myself!  So we watched “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen” as well.  Let’s all say it together: BAD MOMMY!

The good news is this: the guests on the show were a judge and a former contestant from Top Chef – so the banter was mild.  No inappropriate innuendo or foul language – just the vocal stylings of one very charming Chef Fabio.  My son could not stop giggling over his Italian accented pronunciation of “burger” – which sounded like, “borgor.”  We slumped there together on the couch with chocolate frosting remnants fixed in the corners of our mouths and just laughed.  A very bonding moment.

This made me think.  Maybe it isn’t that we let our children break the written or unwritten rules of the house on occasion to somehow prove that we can be cool now and again, but that we break a rule or two with our children.  When I was a kid, my father had several short business trips a year – as well as at least two fishing trips.  We definitely missed my dad, but we also looked forward to the break in our usual routine.  At least one of those evenings, we would get to choose a Libby TV Dinner (I usually picked the ever-delicious Salisbury Steak), and then actually eat it in the living room with my mom.  We thought this was “off the chart fun.”  Not because it was so crazy and wild – but because we always ate at the table, with the entire family, a fruit, a vegetable, bread and butter, a meat, and a potato.

Another time, while my father was out-of-town, my mom had promised to take us out to eat and then to the movie, “Peter Pan” at the Palace Theatre.  However, there were a few bumps in the road.  This was in the land before ATMs.  When you were out of cash and the banks were closed in those days, you just didn’t do things that required cash.  End of story.  She had forgotten to write herself a check and it was now the weekend.  But being a woman of her word, she set out to find a solution: our piggy banks and her penny collection.  The total cost for three tickets was going to be $7.00.  I think there may have been 3 dimes in the sea of hundreds of pennies.  No matter.  We counted out nearly seven hundred pennies, slid them into a fold over top “baggie” and headed out the door.

When we were jumping around in excitement as 6 and 8-year-old girls sometimes do, we noticed a pained look on my mother’s face.  For whatever reason, her car was out of gas.  BUT… my dad’s company car (which was strictly off-limits) was just sitting there in the drive way… with a smug “come hither” look.  My dad worked for the public utility company and kept a hard hat in the back seat for use at work sites.  Without a lot of instruction or commotion,  my sister and I took our places in the back seat, my mother donned the hard hat, and off we went.  First stop: the Pancake Inn and then on to the Palace Theatre.  I haven’t forgotten this yet – and it’s been a few decades since that took place.

Did we break the law?  No.  Did we bend some rules?  Absolutely.  Do I hope that my son remembers sitting with me throwing back brownies at 10:00 pm on a school night, repeating the word “burger” with an Italian accent?  Without a doubt.

The Time I Almost Broke My Nose and Glasses While Moving a Piano By Myself

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I was looking for writing ideas today.  I looked around the place that happened to be in front of my nose – my desk.  At the end of this search, I realized that I must make some revisions to my sometimes place of inspiration.  These are the little jewels of creativity that were just lying around my desk screaming for someone to give them their due: a flathead screwdriver, a wadded up string of bells that is supposed to be hanging on the handle of the back door for my dog to alert us to his needs, a roundish brush vacuum attachment, a stack of vocabulary words from my daughter’s latest chapter book, and a Christmas photo card I sent to an aunt and uncle four weeks ago – that was lovingly sent back to me from the US Postal Office after “their efficient process” ripped it into shreds – leaving only a greeting from our dog’s eyebrows and the left side of my husband’s forehead – that said exactly this: “tmas 2011!”  Next line: “amily a joyo  Next line: ason!”  Why they bothered to send it back to me I’ll never guess.  I’m just wondering where the rest of our carefully set-up family photo ended up.  Someone else must have been delivered the warmest wishes from our family simply stated:”Wishing your f se Maya, Josep, a Hen”  Made me wish I would have spaced the words differently – maybe just one long line of holiday wishes.

Then I had an epiphany that I would write something more witty and interesting if I had better light.  This decision involved moving my piano, so I could unplug the little lamp that does a poor job of lighting music, and repurpose it on my desktop.  This is when my dog made a break for the four-inch wide tunnel now opened up between the wall and the back of the piano.  Did I mention I was wearing socks while shoving around 900 pounds of piano on a hardwood floor?  No animals or piano movers were hurt during this segment of the search for writing inspiration… but it was touch and go for a small, intense, bit of time.

Yesterday, my eight year old daughter asked me if I miss teaching – as I was singing the weather song to her for the fourth time.  At the time, I said, “Oh, no, Honey… I love being your mom, and that’s my most important job right now.”  However, today I may change that answer.  It seems that writing at home with a small dog under foot may just be too dangerous for me…

 

“Clean-up in the Julie Aisle!”

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Where have I been you ask?  To answer that, you could ask any one of Target’s courtesy team members.  Yes.  I’ve been slinking around the well-lit aisles of Target several times a day this past week.  Why?  Oh, I just like it there.  I just like it when the same someone asks me if I need any help while I am reading the back covers of potential books that might grace my night stand, and then seeks me out again while I am lopping tomatoes into a plastic bag.  Last time I checked, I was able to choose my own books and I also have this quirky talent for counting tomatoes.  So where was that someone when I toppled oh, I don’t know – a thousand metal water bottles off the third shelf of an encap??  It was like I was a real life Mii in Ultimate Bowling for the Wii – STRIKE!  I got ’em all!!

No courtesy team member reported to the clean up in aisle 27.  Nope.  Just me… with my book under one arm and a bag of tomatoes in the other hand standing in the middle of a sea of clanking metal.

And so… the year began with a “bang.”  I figure these feats of destruction are what keep me awake and engaged in life.  That’s a really pitiful attempt at putting a positive spin on being afflicted with a propensity for curiosity, but no coordination or quick reflexes to back it up.  I don’t mind.  Keeps me humble.  I figure it also gives me full reign to laugh and empathize when I see someone else experience the pain of say…blowing up a blender filled with hot carrot soup… or stumbling into a Christmas tree fully adorned with ornaments in front of a large audience… or taking out a well-dressed family of five on the sledding hill while spinning out of control at a break-neck speed backwards.  I’m not much of a risk-taker when it comes to performing feats of physicality, so my theory is this: If you can’t be brave, just be accident prone.

Here’s to another year filled with bumps, bruises, good laughs, and more stories!

Earplugs Anyone?

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I know we saw the Grand Canyon on some trip… where were we going again?  Can’t quite remember.  Maybe it’s because the adventure in and around the canyon was so vivid, that only that leg of the trip is memorable.  Let me explain.

When we set out for our Great Western Adventure, I had a very Brady Bunch-esque experience in mind: a warm sunny day mixed with some burro riding, a geological lesson, a picnic lunch, and some hearty back slapping mixed with a small amount of wacky hijinks.  Seems plausible, right?  Even the best-intentioned bystander would only use National Lampoon’s Vacation to describe our moment in time with the Grand Canyon.

In the late 1970s, gas stations were just that – stand alone stations for petrol located about every fifty to one hundred miles along interstate highways.  It seemed that they were even further and far between once you were off the beaten path.  Hence, when one was located, all riders would yell, “Do we need gas?”  A stop did not want to be missed if the gauge showed less than half of a tank.  In addition, gas stations were not open all night or on Sundays, and were true to their signage – gas was all you got.  No bottled water, no snacks, additional windshield wipers, t-shirts, or Tylenol… and an inside restroom that didn’t require a grimy, bacteria laden key was a luxury.  So, when we were wandering the small towns just south of the Grand Canyon at midnight looking for a motel room at midnight the night before we were to gaze into the amazing crater, we were not only worried about having to maybe sleep in our car, we were also quite concerned about the needle of our gas gauge that kept bouncing around the E.

For one reason or another, we had traveled longer than planned – maybe to spend even more time experiencing this “rocky wonder hole” the next day.  We eventually found a place to sleep for the night, and a gas station the next morning,   However, we were all pretty tired… and maybe a bit cranky.  We ate our breakfast of fruit and the miniature boxes of sugar cereals we were only allowed to have on vacations, and took off for our Brady tour of the canyon.  We probably had at least one hundred miles of twisty, windy, forsaken road to go before hitting our destination.  Somewhere between leaving the small hamlet that housed us for night and the “Welcome to the Grand Canyon” sign, our monstrous Suburban, that featured wood grain paneling along the sides, started to sputter and lurch.  We weren’t discouraged.  Some sort of mechanical problem usually accompanied us on all of our trips.  We were used to it.  We were sure it would be just some minor roadside fix my Dad could handle – he could fix anything!

We continued on even though the sputtering was getting louder and was sounding a bit more and more serious at each turn as we ventured up the great hill that would give the best views of the canyon.  Everyone who travels as a family, knows that when the car gets loud on the outside, the only way to remedy that is to get louder on the inside. Evidently, this was apparent to my sister and me, so we started a rather heated argument about whose sleeping bag was on whose sleeping bag, and who kept who up all night with their obnoxious mouth noises, and why there were no more Hershey’s Chocolate Bars left in the cooler.  Every once in a while, when we actually stopped bickering to take a breath, we noticed the outside noise had become more of a bellerin’ than just a little cough.  By the time we arrived at the visitor parking lot, our family wagon was drawing a fair amount of attention.  When you pull up to a parking spot and the car next to it starts to vibrate and rattle – completely unattended – you know you are in trouble.

Jet engine is what comes to mind.  This was going to require more than a “look-see.”  After a quick assessment, it was determined that our muffler was loosing its hold, and was about to drop from its brackets.  Now, keep in mind, the 24 hours leading up to this moment had not been without parental stress.  The late night rendezvous at the Bates Motel, the two daughters arguing about tight quarters, and the small aircraft trying to achieve airborne status underneath our car had all taken their toll on my Dad.  With a magician’s flip of the wrist, he swiped the closest sleeping bag from the back of family wagon and quickly spread it out under the carriage on to the gravel parking lot to do some bandaging.  When he reappeared from under the wagon, he balled up the sleeping bag and stuffed it back into car in an exasperated fashion.  As it whisked by me at light speed, I was relieved to notice it was not mine.  Phew!  That big ol’ oil stain would be forever tattooed on my sister’s bag!  However, she noticed this at the same time, and unfortunately for all of us, she let it be known that it wasn’t fair!  And that, my friends, is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Now relieve yourself of all Brady Bunch memories, and replace them with Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation.  I am not exaggerating with you when I tell you that my Dad literally marched us all up to the look out point, let out a massive sigh of frustration, and said, “Well, there it is.  Get in the car!”  I don’t think we even have any photos of anything having to do with that day.  With sad faces, we all piled back into the family van and prepared for take-off.

On the way back down, the muffler made a clean break and escaped.  We didn’t stop to get it.  All eyes forward, we just kept driving.  We couldn’t hear each other talk, so no conversation was made.  I don’t think the car stopped until we were safely inside the barren land of Nebraska.  Years later, we still laugh about how our car made an insane amount of noise rumbling through the back roads of the greatest echo chamber known to mankind.

Capturing New England – Twice

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After my junior year in high school, we ventured to the northeast corner of the United States.  This was one of my favorite trips for several reasons.  In addition to the general quaintness and beauty of New England, this was also probably the first time that throughout the duration of a trip, my Dad did not accidentally lock the keys in our car.  My Mom actually armed each one of us with an extra set to keep with us – just in case.  As a kid, I did not understand how one could repeatedly leave the keys in the ignition, tell everyone to “Lock your doors!” and walk away.  However, as a parent now, I have a much better understanding of this phenomena.  As scary as this sounds, it’s all too common for me to pick up my kids from school, and be so wrapped up in their needs and conversation on the way home that I have absolutely no recollection of the twenty-minute drive home.  So when I think of my Dad venturing out across the great United States with a heap of details on his mind (the next exit we need to get off the interstate on, who needs to eat, navigating traffic in a foreign city, where our hotel is located, general exhaustion, if we need gasoline, etc.) it seems extremely plausible that each stop at a McDonald’s would be the very time to just let his brain relax for a moment… and leave the keys behind.

So, we again packed up our car and headed out for a new adventure.  This was a trip of firsts for me:

  • tollways (we don’t have those in Iowa – crazy, huh?)
  • round-a-bouts smack dab in the middle of rush hour – in the epicenter of Boston, MA
  • boiling my own lobster in a shack alongside the road
  • Acadia National Park
  • staying on the shores of Cape Cod for a few warm June evenings
  • pleasant, mature conversation with my family
  • the mecca of outdoor gear for any outdoor adventure – L.L. Bean
  • making lobster or crab a staple of mealtime at least once a day

Acadia National Park.  Wow.  The rocky shores of the Atlantic on a day that I’ve never experienced a bluer sky.  A day that should be captured in photographs.  So that’s exactly what we did.  As we drove along the shore, we got out of our car almost every five minutes to snap photos of ourselves climbing, sitting, staring off into the distance – all on the rocks.  We used the timer on the camera to capture all four of us on a number of occasions – these would be Christmas card worthy for sure!  When we reached the visitor center at the tip-top – and end of the rocky shore, we made a grim discovery: no film in the camera.

My Dad – with his usual good humor – made the announcement: “Quick! Everyone use the bathroom, I’m going to buy film here, and then get in the car!  We are driving back down just as a we came, and we will try to take all the same pictures again!”  In the time that we whittled away perusing the postcards, reading up on Acadia history, and using the facilities, it had somehow become much windier outside.  Although the day remained sunny, the clouds moved in a bit more.  When I look back at these photos, I laugh at how we all have looks of urgency on our faces, and my sister’s long hair blowing in front of our smiles.  We couldn’t remember exactly which rocks we had been sitting on to take those picturesque photos, so we just had to guess and run out to the end, sit down, and snap the photos.

It was a fabulous trip by all accounts, however it has been said that when my Dad is ready to get home, he’s like a horse heading for the barn door.  When we turned the car back west at the end of two weeks, we were all ready for the comforts of our own beds.  I remember making that trip back in about half the time it took to get out there.  Specifically, I remember the last day of travel – who knew Cincinnati, Ohio to the North Central plains of Iowa was only a day trip?