notquiteold

Nancy Roman

My New Role Model

In my last post, “Slow Down,” I wrote:

Is it fun? Then why am I not doing it?

Yes, I want to have more fun. And no, this is not exactly an original idea.

I stole it.

I stole it from Theo.

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Yes, my dog is my new role model.

I’ve observed over the last 8 months that he’s pretty happy. So why not do more of what he does?

And PLAY is definitely on the top of his playlist.

If it’s fun, Theo wants to do it. All the time. He can play fetch with his bunny a zillion times a day, and guess what? The next day it’s still fun.

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And sometimes he will have fun that he is not supposed to have. We have done our best to train him to be good boy. And last week he even graduated from Obedience School – but let’s just say he did not exactly make the honor roll.

As much as we scold him, there are many times when the temptation far outweighs the cost.

Getting dirty, for instance.

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To Theo, going into the muddy bog to play with frogs was definitely worth the bath later. I need to remind myself that getting dirty and sweaty can be fun. And just because someone tells you “no” doesn’t mean that you can’t try it anyway.

Being scolded isn’t so terrible. I can see from my puppy that the best way to handle it is to listen courteously…

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Then do what you want.

I’ve also seen that you have to try stuff. Being brave can give you access to wonderful pleasures. The stairs may be really scary, but once you’ve mastered them, you can sleep on the bed – (if no one is looking.)

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On the other hand, Theo has also taught me that it is okay to be timid once in a while. There’s no shame in being afraid. When we go to the dog park, he’s very cautious around the other dogs. Just yesterday, I reminded him that he doesn’t have to be afraid of a dog with a name like Sweetie, for God’s sake. But I also understand that no one should force you into anything you’re not comfortable with. Trust your instincts. Sweetie could be a nine-and-a-half pound biter.

Pay attention. You never know when an opportunity may come your way. You have to be ready to seize the moment.

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Take joy in simple things. You don’t need expensive toys. Just taking a walk feels really nice. And if you want to bring something with you, it doesn’t have to be a monogrammed designer bone. You could take a toilet paper roll, for example.

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But by far, the most important lesson I have learned from my dog is:

Forgive.

Be generous with your forgiveness. Make your forgiveness complete. Let go of your anger as quickly as you can. Don’t nurse your grievances. Don’t hold a grudge.

I’m not talking about how easily I forgive Theo when he has been a bad boy.

No.

I’m talking about how easily Theo forgives me.

I haven’t had a dog for a very long time. I’m not good at raising a puppy. I’m set in my ways. I get aggravated quickly. I lose my temper at least once a day… sometimes once an hour. I scold. I holler. Sometimes I cry.

There are moments when Theo must think that I am a total lunatic.

And yet.

The next moment there he is. Ready to cuddle. Giving his whole heart to his lunatic mom.

I want to be more like Theo.

I’m sure he can teach me.

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Slow Down

I have to interrupt my usual self-absorption to report on a new way to focus on myself.

Yes. a better self-absorption.

I have been preoccupied with getting old. I turned 65 earlier in the year, and all I can think about is how I want to live in the limited time I have left.

But what if it is not limited?  What if I have 35 more years?

Yes, they will go by quickly. One kind and generous person (Momshieb) who read my blog “The Meaning of Life” offered this amazing analogy, which she attributed to her husband:

Life is like an old record album (remember?) The first several circuits of the album take a while. The needle has to go all the way around the edge. But as you get closer to the end of the album, the circle grows smaller and the circuits really are faster. But when you listen to the music, you don’t hear a difference.

So accurate!  My years will go around faster and faster, but it will still be as sweet.

And there is so much to do!

I am sure I can make my needle go around to the sweetest music ever. My music will be the accompaniment to years of fine, if smaller, travels around the center.

I want to write more.

And sure, a lot will be the trivial silly stuff I often write – because I love to make someone laugh. And maybe a little chuckle is just what that someone needed more than anything at just that moment. To provide that is a noble goal.

But once in a while I also want to write something a little more thoughtful. I hope that a sentence or two may nestle into someone’s heart – maybe not forever. Just for a moment or two will be all right with me.

I want to play more.

Is it fun? Then why am I not doing it? These are the questions I need to ask myself all the time now. I tend to be cautious and fearful. A watcher from the sidelines. But those times when I have been brave are the ones I remember best. I don’t have nearly as many great memories of all those times I observed others having fun. Our good friends have a picnic every summer when they set up a long crazy water slide. I need to go down that slide!

I want to put down my phone.

Oh yes, I’m connected to the whole world. But the whole world is right in front of me. It’s bigger and more colorful and noisier than a couple of square inches on my screen. I’m not giving up my phone (no way!) – I just want to assign it to its proper place. I took the dog to the dog park the other day, and I found I was watching him through my phone – to take the cutest picture, of course. I forced myself – after taking two more shots – to put the phone away, and just BE WITH HIM.

And I learned something amazing. It’s still real if it is an experience that only I have. I do not have to share it. Somehow, slowly and insidiously, social media has altered my perception of reality. That experiences are only real if I share them. That’s so crazy. But I have been sucked in. Facebook and Instagram – and my blog – are terrific ways to connect with the world. But in some ways, those very things can disconnect you from your own experiences.

We’ve all seen it: people who don’t savor what they are eating, because they are busy texting, people who scrolling through Facebook while walking in the park. And most egregious: the school play where everyone is watching through their phones, making videos they may never watch.

I want to watch my kid  (or doggie, in my case). Smile at him and take him in.Absorb him directly. Keep him as mine alone.

I want to slow down.

Yes, my old vinyl record is turning faster and faster. But the music can still sound the same.

It seems sometimes that I am speeding up the music. Making my songs go by too fast.

Here’s a tiny example. I have noticed that I cannot decipher my own handwriting. This has always been a bit of an issue for me, but now it is worse than ever. It’s one thing to rush through your signature. But I rush through everything I write. I tear up checks that I know the payee will not be able to cash. I re-write my post-its notes to my husband, because he will never understand what I wrote. It would have been quicker to write it more carefully the first time. Am I really in that much of a hurry that I can’t sign my note “Love, Nancy” instead of “N”?

I am not sure why I do this. But I do it in much more significant ways than my grocery list.

I don’t know why I rush.  Why I find that dishes I have washed are still not quite clean. Why I skip paragraphs in books that I am enjoying. Why I don’t pay more attention to the scenery. Why I don’t remember driving to my destination. Why I’m not sure whether that orange was delicious or mediocre. Why I don’t really listen when people speak.

I need to be more HERE.

Because I won’t be here all that much longer.

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The Name Game

Our waitress last week pulled out photos of her two doggies.

This has become a common occurrence. If you want to connect, just mention that you have a dog.

Anyway, she popped out her phone from somewhere beneath her apron and said, “Here’s Brian Jonathan and this one is Buddy Michael.”

OMG!

I have committed a terrible injustice to my puppy!

He has NO middle name!

Ages ago, I had a friend with no middle name who told me she really hated filling in forms that required a middle initial. “I am going through life as Susan NMI Smith,” she complained.

Well, I can’t stigmatize Theo that way. I can’t let him hang his head in shame when he has to leave a blank space on his insurance form.

He needs a middle name.

My husband says this is unnecessary. But I tell him, “Just think about this:  We can’t get the dog to listen. Maybe it’s because he has no middle name to use – to let him know he is REALLY in trouble.”

And I am sure you are all nodding vigorously in agreement. The use of your middle name by a parent quickly told you how much trouble you were in, and how quickly you needed to stop what you happened to be doing.

So now we have to choose an appropriate middle name for Theo Roman. I’m sure as soon as we do, he will stop flunking out of obedience school.

As soon as I thought, Appropriate, of course the first name that came to mind was Lucifer. But even though it is certainly fitting, perhaps we don’t want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy either.

How about something Theo is good at? Where does he excel?  But again, Theo Humper Roman may not be the behavior we should encourage.

My husband suggested “Garbage Can.” And it’s true that he is very good at leftovers, but we need something with just a little more class.

My favorite dog of recent literature is Enzo, from THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN. I was completely besotted with the total civilized dogness of Enzo. And so, I considered naming our puppy Enzo. Theo is a Lagotto Romagnolo, after all, and an Italian name for an Italian dog would be cool. But I had reasons to choose Theo, reasons that my husband loved.

Theo the Cat was part of our family when we first got married. A feisty black cat who was named Althea by some college kids who didn’t realize they had a boy. When they figured it out, they just called him Al. Which makes me think of the Paul Simon song, which I adore, but we had a good friend named Al. Al probably would have liked having a cat named after him, but just in case, we renamed the cat Theo when he was handed over to us. Theo had grown up holding his own against seagulls, and that is no small feat for a kitten. He had Courage with a capital C. At our home, it was the neighbor’s geese that Theo had to manage. And he was an excellent goose-herder. When it came to the numerous stray cats (and even dogs) in the vicinity, however, his abundance of courage was often misplaced, and usually took precedence over his actual fighting skills. He made more trips to the vet than I and my wallet would have thought possible. During one of his many skirmishes, it appears he became infected with one of the terrible cat viruses. His tough little life was short.

So my husband and I both liked the idea of having a Theo the Dog named after Theo the Cat.

Since we went the namesake route, maybe that would be a good idea for his middle name too.

The cat who shared our house with Theo the Cat was Casper. Casper was the best, craziest cat I have ever known. But he was certifiably OCD, and although that is perfectly acceptable – maybe even the norm – in a cat, I think in a dog that would perhaps be unbearable.

I had a dog, Sarge, as a teenager and young adult. And he was a great and sweet companion. But I’d like a two-syllable name, like Nancy Ellen Roman….Nan-cy-Ell-en-Rom-an.  It has good flow.

After Theo the Cat died and Casper was inconsolable, I went to the shelter and brought home Merlin. Merlin was around two at the time we adopted him, and had spent nearly a year in the shelter. He was delighted to be part of our family, and stuck around another 19 years. Merlin was both happy and cranky, curious and lazy. He took his place as Alpha cat and kept it even when he was so old he could barely stand up. No other animal ever challenged Merlin. But to me, the name Merlin is somehow distinctly feline. It would be unfortunate to put Theo in a position where he might be teased by the other dogs.

When Theo and his siblings were born, the breeder had given them tentative names  – because the puppies were evaluated as to disposition and energy levels in order to make the best placements with the right families. Theo had been penciled in as Carlo. Not a bad name at all. But I don’t like the rhyme-iness of a  Theo-Carlo paring. (The same goes for Theo Enzo… too many Os.)

However.

It is not much of a jump to go from Carlo to Carlos. Carlos is the little dog in my own novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED. He’s a mono-visioned, bald-in-spots, nervous little guy. He is my own creation. I didn’t model him after any dog I knew or read about. I made him up. I imagined him and gave him a story. And how cool is it that I can actually give him a real life, after a fashion, by letting Theo share his name? Sure, there is a bit of an ethnic discrepancy, but it only makes Theo a bit more exotic.

Theo Carlos Roman.

I can put it to use right away.

Theo Carlos Roman, put down that slipper!

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Theo Carlos Roman, get off the bed!

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Theo Carlos Roman, you cannot bury your bone in the potted plant!

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The Meaning Of Life

You know what really sucks (so far, anyway) about getting old?

LOOKING FOR THE DAMN MEANING!

I’m at the last third of my life.

The first third went by very very slowly. As a kid, a year took forever. Not only was the school day endless, but so was each wonderful summer day.

The second third, however, flew by. Each day was over so quickly I can hardly separate one day from another. In great part that is due to the fact that, at work. one day mostly was exactly like the others. But even summers and vacations and weekends sped past me in one big thirty-three year blur.

Now that I am retired, I figure it can go either way. Without the monotonous job and fewer home responsibilities, my days might slow down again, and I will again have the long idyllic days of childhood. But on the other hand, maybe the swift days of the more recent past were not the result of a boring job, but of the aging process itself – that the older you get, the faster your days go. And if that is true, I am facing a very rapid old age.

And so – What does it all mean?

I was never much for the “Meaning of Life” and all that philosophical shit. But now that I am old, and well…

In truth I am desperate to know that individual life – my individual life – matters.

I spent about twenty years in school. I believe in knowledge. I believe in Knowledge for Knowledge’s sake alone. But does it really MEAN anything? I took courses from Life Drawing to Human Resource Management. From Bookkeeping to Beekeeping. From Investment Finance to Mark Twain to Sign Language. I think it might have made a difference in my own life if I had never studied French or Poetry or Typing. But how about Plane Geometry? In high school, I liked Plane Geometry, and I was really good at it. But I can’t imagine I would have been a different person had I not taken it.  Especially because now I don’t remember a thing about it. But I suppose the sum of all that knowledge – whether I ever found a practical application or not – makes me who I am. And I suppose it taught me to think. To consider new stuff.

Then there’s Work. I worked for more than 40 years. Mostly I liked it. Not every minute of course. Not even every year. As a kid, I worked for the phone company (boring). At a company that made sandwiches for vending machines (tasty). At the local amusement park (terrible work but very cute boys). I also had a few jobs here and there in retail (I’m great at running a cash register, but it is dangerous for me to be anywhere near cool merchandise, as I will spend my whole paycheck.) As an adult, I worked mostly in Accounting and Finance. An English Major in college, it surprised me very much that I had a knack for budgets and cash management. After 10 years in Health Care,  I rose up the ranks in a male-dominated industry (ESPN), but burned out after 15 years, and spent the next 10 at a mail-order nursery (White Flower Farm).

I had a good measure of success, and those jobs compensated me quite nicely. I was a terrible manager of people, but a good manager of information. I was well-enough liked.

But here’s the thing that haunts me.

The Meaning.

I was a fine accountant, but what difference does that make to the world?

If I had been a nurse (which I actually attempted for a short while), I might have helped someone back to health. If I had been a teacher (which I actually attempted for a short while), I might have filled a little mind with wondrous ideas.

But debits and credits? Imagine 20 years from now, when someone at ESPN stumbles upon an old filing cabinet and pulls out some wrinkled yellowed paper. Do you think this person will gaze at my work and say, “Wow. That is a hell of a present-value analysis!”

So I have spent forty years paying my bills with work that has no long-term meaning.

So What? That’s true of almost everyone. What we do is just not important. No one will remember us in a hundred years. Still, we carry on.

But again – it haunts me.

Because I want to do something important. I want to be remembered.

I have no children. No grandchildren. I have many sweet relatives, but the memory of my life will fade for them quickly. I love them and they love me, but I am on the periphery of their lives. Children make your life important. But I have none.

I write though. I leave my words behind. Many of my words – most of my words – are trivial. But a couple here and there …I hope a few of my words are lovely.

And I have many years left, I hope, to write more words.

Perhaps something I write will be found in some old file someday.

And someone will say, “This is beautiful.”

So I carry on.

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Not Having Children

My Mother’s Day post from last year. I hope it comforts some women who may struggle with the same sadness.

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Note: I wrote this essay fourteen years ago. This Mother’s Day, I find I am ready to share it.

NOT HAVING CHILDREN

I married when I was forty.

It was amazing at that age how many people asked me if we were going to have children. No, I’d say, We’re not having children. What is amazing to me now is that I thought I was lying. Keeping a secret.

Of course we would have children. Forty is still young.

I’m lucky. Lucky in my career, first of all. I am immodest enough to know that my business success is largely due to brains and hard work, but I am also honest enough to know that a part of my success is the result of just too much time on my hands. I work hard because I have no place better to be. I’m not so much ambitious as simply trying to pass the time as interestingly as possible. People at the office listen to me, value my opinion, and pay me pretty good money. How ungrateful I am to rather have a baby.

And on top of a great career, I found a husband at forty. A nice one. Those horrible statistics say I have a better chance of being hit by a meteor. And I want a baby too?

My husband never quite felt the same way. He’s a few years older than I, and was married before to a woman who could not have children. He got used to the idea years ago that children weren’t in his future. He has no experience with kids. He doesn’t think he’d be a good father.

He’d be a wonderful father. I’ve seen how he adores and protects our little cats – feeding them treats from the table, gently untangling knots from their coats, bragging about their exploits long after his audience has lost interest, and, in time, building small cedar coffins through his tears.

When we married, he knew I wanted a baby. He just couldn’t know the completeness of my desire

Early in our marriage, I was late with my period. My anxiety and happiness overwhelmed me. I found myself sitting still for long stretches, holding my breath, counting the seconds until my life changed forever. Two long weeks. I was terrified that it wouldn’t be true; I failed to see that my husband’s fear was different. A baby would be great…but…financially, things are tough right now, it would be career-limiting for you, we’ll be retirement age when college tuition is due, we could die leaving a child for someone else to raise… I never really listened past A baby would be great. When my period finally came, I was quietly devastated. My husband was kind and sweet, but woven through his condolences were the unmistakable threads of relief. I spent all day in bed with the shades drawn. I’d feel him every so often watching me helplessly from the doorway, as if he knew he could not enter my grief. I guess it would be nice to have a baby, he said. I know how happy it would make you.

I am the most selfish person on earth.

The following month my doctor recommended a fertility specialist. I put the referral in my purse, knowing I wouldn’t call.

But even without professional help, I was sure I would get pregnant. Every month I was sure. For ten years. I still cry when I get my period. I try to keep this private but sometimes my husband sees. He comforts me, and I hope he thinks that it’s just hormones. At my age, it probably is.

I am very jealous of mothers. I am jealous of teenage mothers. I am jealous of older mothers. I am jealous of women who get pregnant the first month they try. And I am jealous of women who finally, finally, after miscarriages and disappointments, have their babies.

And now I am fifty. We’re not having children.

Not having children doesn’t take any big adjustments. I am already living a childless life. Now it’s just permanent. It’s a very good life, and it will continue exactly as before. I just have to make some minor modifications of my imagination.

For thirty years I’ve watched mothers with their children and stored little scenes for my own future. I have stolen other women’s moments like a shoplifter who keeps all her pilfered items in the closet, afraid to wear them. My closet is full.

But these clothes don’t fit me any more. It’s time to pack up these images likes bundles for Goodwill.

The first day of school, Mother’s Day cards and macaroni necklaces. Ice skating, singing Old MacDonald in the car. Chicken pox and computer games; soccer practice. Tantrums. Cheerios in the sofa cushions, bicycles in the driveway.

They are such little pictures. Insignificant really. Someone else’s memories. Time to give them up. We’re not having children.

At the restaurant a young boy rests his head for a moment on his mother’s breast. She smooths his hair. He returns to his pizza. Last year I would have certainly snatched up that moment. But now I have no place to put it. I let it go.

There is an emptiness where my vision of the future used to be. But not forever. I am a women with aspirations after all. So I know that there will be new images. Maybe warm fireplaces and good books. Fresh flowers on the table. Beaches. Sunsets. Conversations. Porch swings. I tend to think these new dreams will be quieter dreams, but I know that they are already waiting for me.

All these years I have been saving money for a rainy day that was secretly a college education. But we’re not having children. The money has been redirected.

My husband and I are building a home in the country. It’s a wonderful home on a breathtakingly beautiful piece of land. My husband and I designed the house ourselves. So it has almost everything we ever wanted.

Remember the movie, Grand Canyon? I don’t think the critics liked it, but I did. In one storyline, Mary McDonnell is out jogging and finds an abandoned baby in the bushes. She keeps it. Her husband is not crazy about the idea, but he is Kevin Kline and fabulous and their relationship is perfect and they have such a healthy outlook on life that you know it will work out beautifully.

Sometimes when I am out walking, I keep my eyes on the shrubbery.

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Photo credit: deovolenti (Flickr)

What I Learned About Marriage From My Parents

When my Dad died 6 years ago, my parents had been married 64 years. This week marks their 70th wedding anniversary. And we will celebrate – because they are certainly still married. In my mother’s heart and in our memories.

I learned a lot about marriage from the example they set. I’m not saying I am able to put it into practice as well as they did, but I couldn’t have better role models.

Here’s just a little of what they taught me:

Play together

My mother and father had fun. They spent a lot of time not being serious. They liked to picnic at the lake in the summer, ice skate in the winter. They liked to play cards with their friends. They liked jigsaw puzzles and parades. Even when money was short, which it often was, they searched the couch cushions and went to a movie. And later, when money was more plentiful, my Dad would say to Mom: “Get your purse. We’re going out for ice cream.'”

Play separately too

You don’t have to be together every minute. Have your own interests. My Dad liked to go bowling, and play golf, and have a beer at the American Legion hall with his buddies. My mom liked to have lunch with her girlfriends, shop with her daughters, and play her own round of golf. As much as you should have fun together, let your spouse also have fun without you. When my father came home after a Saturday round of golf and a few beers at the club, my mother would say, “Look how happy he is to have a day to himself. And we have something new to tell each other.”

Be on the same side

My parents made it clear to us kids that their marriage was more important than we were. “We love you,” they always said, “but eventually you will go lead your own lives and we will still be together.” They always had a united front, and nothing we could do could pit them against each other. The same held true with relatives and work and decision-making. Your spouse is on your side.

Respect each other

I never heard my parents bitch about each other to anyone else. (at least not seriously). My mother listened to my father tell the same story a hundred times, and although she may have rolled her eyes once in a while, she never shouted, “Enough!’ though I am sure she wanted to. On my father’s part, he once told me that my mother was the smartest person he knew.

Respect each other’s families

Before you were married, you had your own families. Those relationships are still important. Their traditions are not to be discarded, even when you add new ones of your own. We always visited my mother’s parents every Sunday. We wouldn’t think of having Christmas Eve away from Dad’s big clan. And they didn’t criticize each other’s crazy relatives. They loved them. I remember my mother once joking, “If we ever divorce, I’m keeping your family.”

Look nice

Your partner fell in love with you. In his eyes you are gorgeous. Put some effort into keeping that admiration. It doesn’t matter if you have a few extra pounds or not as much hair. Just remember to look nice for each other. My father never wore a torn tee shirt. Ever. My mother put her makeup on even for those trips to the ice cream parlor. And her hair looked great even when they had nowhere to go.

Don’t complain too much

One of the perks of being married is that you have someone built in that you can bitch to. But try not to overdo it. Your partner loves you, but you are really testing their love if you start to complain about your day the minute you walk in the door. If you are constantly negative, you are a drag to be around. I remember when my mother was going through a particularly hard time with some changes at work, and spent several weeks venting her frustration every night at dinner. One evening Dad said, as nicely as possible, “If you really hate that job, then quit, and we will get by. But if you want to stick it out, then maybe you should stop complaining – because you are only making yourself feel worse.” And she did. She didn’t quit the job. She just stopped bitching about it. We were all happier, including her.

Make memories

You don’t have to take that one-in-a-million vacation. (although that would be nice). Just make little moments that you can recall, to remind yourself why your marriage is worth it. When you can say, “Remember that time we stopped on the side of the road and grilled hot dogs in the pouring rain?” you are saying that those memories are worth keeping – and your marriage is based on those moments.

Reminisce. My parents were married on Kentucky Derby Day. They celebrated the Kentucky Derby every year like it was a holiday invented just for them. And they never even attended the Derby. It was their marriage they were celebrating.

This Saturday is the Kentucky Derby. We’ll stop at the betting parlor, and then go to my mother’s home to watch with her. We’ll celebrate the Derby, celebrate their glorious marriage, and offer up a toast to Dad.

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My mother and father – 70 years ago. The smartest people I’ll ever know.

Houseguests

I heard it again yesterday.

The sound in the chimney that can only mean one thing.

Swifts.

We’ve had these houseguests before. Several times.

A few years ago, I start hearing strange noises in the chimney. My husband is hard of hearing, but he doesn’t let that stop him from telling me I am nuts when I hear strange noises.

The car, for instance. I tell him my car is making a weird noise, and he says, “I don’t think so.” When he can’t HEAR. And then of course when something major goes wrong, he is astounded that there was no warning. Why does he not believe me?

So anyway, I tell him I am hearing scratching noises in the chimney. He says, “Naah….” (Thanks, Honey… very helpful.)

A week or so later, the scratching noises turn into something else. Sharp little cries. I have my husband stand by the fireplace. Nope. Nothing.

Then the cheeps turn into shrieks. Shrieks whose meaning were evident – “Feed me now!”

But these cries are different from any baby birds I ever heard. And they are getting louder. I have my husband stand with his head IN the fireplace.

Here’s what we hear. (not our house, but exactly our sound)

“Oh, that’s weird,” he says. (Finally.)

“Could it be bats?” I ask.

“Probably.”

So I call the exterminator. I tell him I think we have bats in the chimney. He doubts it, but he comes over.

He listens. “Not bats,” he says. “Swifts.”

“Huh?”

“Swifts. Chimney Swifts.”

I stare at him blankly.

“Birds,” he explains.

So I ask him to get rid of them, but he won’t. He explains that swifts are endangered. A protected species. Once they make their nests you must let them be. They’ll leave in the Fall, he says, and then you put a screen over the chimney to keep them out when they return in the Spring.

This doesn’t sound like a very good solution. So I call the guys who clean our chimney every year. I explain that we have swifts in the chimney. They say no. They won’t touch the swifts either.

We do our research and find out that swifts are nice little birds. They have bodies like fat cigars, short beaks, and long pointed wings. They spend their lives airborne. You will never see a swift in a tree or on the ground. They cannot perch. They build their nests in chimneys to hold their eggs, but they don’t sit in their nests. They cling to walls. Chimney walls like ours. They mate for life. And here’s the best part: they eat bugs. They eat on the wing – flies, wasps, mosquitoes.

But they are noisy little bug-eaters.

So we learn to live with the swifts. We see them outside mostly at dusk – we have a hot tub on our patio, and we sit in the hot tub and watch them circle our roof.

“Get those mosquitoes,” we yell encouragingly.

One night we sit down to a very nice dinner – rack of lamb, if I remember correctly. And just as I pick up my fork,  a bird sweeps through the kitchen, right over my head.

“Shit!” I yell.

“What’d I do?” asks my husband out of habit.

“A bird flew over my head!”

“Nah…”  he says.

Then the bird turns around and buzzes my husband.

“Shit!” he yells.

The bird takes off into my husband’s office, with us in pursuit. His office has french doors, and so the bird sees the sky, and heads for the door. Terrific!  We can open the door and let the bird out.

And just then Stewart the cat leaps out of nowhere. He gets the bird! Yea!

But wait! Stewart doesn’t exactly hand the bird over. Oh no. He runs up the stairs with it to our bedroom. He’s very fast. We run up the steps but he’s way ahead of us.

Stewie is running around the bedroom in triumph. And of course, he lets the bird go. The joy of capture is only surpassed by the joy of recapture – according to the cat bible.

And the bird flies into our walk-in closet. My husband quickly runs in after it and slams the door. Swift and husband on one side. Cat and wife on the other.

“Don’t come in! I think I can catch it,” he hollers.

“Don’t kill it,” I plead.

I hear lots of fluttering and huffing and puffing. Stewart is berserk on my side of the door.

“I’ve got it! I’ve got it wrapped in a T-shirt. What do I do now?”

“Push out the screen and throw it out the window.”

“Oh no! Those screens are a bitch to put back!” (And they are.)

“Do it! Do it!”

And he does. He opens the window, pushes out the screen, and shakes the tee out the window. The panic-stricken bird flies off.

We have saved an endangered creature from the jaws of Stewart!

We sit back down to our cold lamb and raise our wine glasses.

We toast to our bird-saving ability.

We toast to Stewart.

We toast to our houseguests.

And when Autumn comes and the birds fly off, we don’t put a screen on the chimney.

Welcome back.

swift

 

(PS – I wrote a poem about this a few years ago. And since it is National Poetry Month, you can read it here, if you are so inclined.)

Tootsie

I don’t as a rule like stories that include dreams.

But I just woke up from the most vivid incredible freaky dream. And I had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget it. And as long as I am writing it down…. well, you know…. I’ve certainly created a blog out of a lot less.

Here’s a disclaimer before I start though. I am one of the luckiest people I know – in that I still have my adorable mother. I love her more than any other person in the world. (Sorry, hubby, but it’s true.) But I am narrating this dream verbatim. I’m not tempting fate or anything – just being a good and trustworthy reporter. IT’S A DREAM.

I am in the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Connecticut. (which carries my book, by the way.)

Amongst the books, they are selling chaise lounges. (I know, I know… but this was the most believable part of the dream. And when you think about it, why not? Reading and reclining are very nice together.) 

So I am trying out a chaise, and I am finding it pretty comfortable. I am thinking about buying one.

And Dustin Hoffman walks by.

I do this kind of double-take, like you do when you’re not quite sure you saw what you saw. I kind of rise up on my elbows and crank my head around.

And Dustin Hoffman turns around and walks back to me.

He says, “I thought I just saw Marilyn Monroe walk by.”

“I thought so too, but it was just Dustin Hoffman,” I answer.

“Disappointing,” he says.

“Sometimes that happens.”

He nods.

“Tell me,” I say. “At home, do you ever dress up like Tootsie, just because you know you look so good that way?”

“Once in a while,” says Dustin.

I think about this a few seconds.

“Will you adopt me?” I ask.

“Adopt? Really?”  (You would expect cleverer dialog from Mr. Hoffman, but I guess this part of the conversation took him by surprise.)

“I know I am 65, but you are older than that, so it could still work.”

“Okay, I’ll consider it.”

He starts to walk away. I rise up from the chaise lounge – gracefully, although I can never do that in real life – and follow him to the door.

I say, “Look, my parents are still alive but they are well into their nineties, so I may come up for adoption pretty soon.”

“Are they very sick?” he asks.

“No, they are in very good health. They’re just really old people, and it would suck to be an orphan.”

“That’s true.”

“Do you have a business card?” I ask.

He hands me a business card that looks amazingly like my own. We have the same taste in business cards.

I hold my hand up to my ear with my thumb and pinkie pointed out, the universal symbol for talking on the phone… even though with cell phones, no one really talks on the phone that way anymore. In a few years, I wonder if people will still make that gesture and then stop to wonder what it means.

I silently mouth the words:

“I’ll call you.”

dustin hoffman

 

Isn’t It Romantic?

In dubious honor of the Queen’s birthday, I am re-posting my only blog about the royal family. (Written 5 years ago – I can’t believe I have been blogging that long!)

**

ISN’T  IT ROMANTIC?

When I was a little girl, my mother had a ridiculous idea that she was delighted to share with me.  Because I was such a princess, it was only fitting that I should marry a prince. Prince Charles, to be specific.

charles

He was two years older than I, and a perfect match in her mind.  Through my grammar school and high school years, she followed his every move to ensure that he was being a good boy, and in my college days, she cut out pictures of the Prince of Wales and sent them to me.

(This wasn’t her only fantasy:  My mother and father took a dream vacation to Monaco when my brother was in college, and she sent him a postcard signed, “Love, your fiancee  Caroline.” He had it on his bulletin board for years.)

The day that Charles became engaged to Diana Spencer, my mother called me at work.  I had turned thirty a few weeks before, but apparently my mother hadn’t quite grown up.

“I don’t know why he couldn’t have married you!” she complained.

“He didn’t date too many of the girls from Eastern High,” I explained.

We all know what happened to Charles and his Princess.  Not happily ever after.

The real-life fairytale changed, and we heard all the sordid details about Charles and the wicked witch.  Or rather, Camilla.

Perhaps because of my many years of imaginary betrothal, I have always had a tender affection for the strange Prince.  And I have wanted for many years now to defend his honor.  So here goes:

Isn’t it romantic?

I mean, just think about it.  Charles met Camilla more than ten years before he met Diana.  He loved Camilla.  But she was “unsuitable”.  He gave her up and she married someone else.  Charles married Britain’s choice – the lovely Diana.  But Charles never stopped loving Camilla.  After Diana died, she was not only England’s princess; she was its beloved saint.  Camilla was despised.  And Charles loved her anyway, and eventually married her anyway.

I cannot for the life of me understand why women don’t think it is the most romantic story of the century.  He had beautiful Diana,

and he loved homely Camilla.

Isn’t it romantic?

No?

I guess it might have been the gross phone calls.

 

I Did It!

On page 14 of my novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, I wrote:

And that was it. I got up the next morning and didn’t go to work. I retired.

And last week, I did. I retired.

I didn’t have a big send-off. There was a lovely party for me way back in September. But then circumstances changed, and the company sought Replacement #2 – so I stayed on a while. But an excellent successor to my successor was eventually found, and so I was able to pack my things and go.

(By the way, I know that some folks say (probably thinking of me in particular) that one always feels possessive of one’s job, and never believes that anyone will ever do it as well. Not true. My replacement is terrific, and he can do the job every bit as well as I ever could. I predict that within two months my former co-workers will be asking themselves how they ever put up with Nancy for the last 10 years.)

So at the end of my last day, I packed up. I had one half of a box and one poster. That was the total accumulation of ten years of work.  But I had previously spent 15 years at another company, and when leaving that job, it had taken me hours and hours to pack up boxes and boxes of shit that I hauled home and never looked at again. So I “lived light” at this current job. It was the right thing to do, but somehow felt bittersweet when I packed up and had so little to show for ten years of earnest labor.

boxofstuff.jpg

My sum total after 10 years

I walked around the office and it appeared that almost everyone had already left for the day.I found one old friend. I said to her, “I am in need of a hug, and I’m glad I have found someone nice to handle that.” And she obliged.

And that was it. I got up the next morning and didn’t go to work. I retired.

And now it has been one week.

Not long enough to be able to offer any profound wisdom. But I do have some early observations.

1 –  With just one week home, I expected that it would feel an awful lot like a simple vacation, where you enjoy your free time, but you keep thinking about what you left undone at the office, and what horrors will await you upon your return. But I don’t feel that way. I’m done. It is rather amazing how quickly you can just turn it off.

2 –  Time doesn’t drag. It speeds away. Why Instagram alone can make the clock strike noon while you are still in your pajamas. (I’m at nancyromanwriter, by the way, if you want to add me to your time-wasting  consuming schedule.

3 –  I like standing under the shower more than the required 30 seconds. Although I don’t want to waste water or pay an increased utility bill for the hot water, my oh my, letting the water hit the back of your neck for a pretty long time feels amazing.

4 –  I can also take extra time on my hair and makeup, which is ironic since now it doesn’t matter very much. But interestingly, time spent on my makeup is beneficial. The more carefully I apply my makeup the better I look. On the other hand, additional time on my hair is disastrous. Apparently, hair can be overwrought.

5 –  There is no limit to the amount of attention a dog desires. My puppy Theo seems to have concluded that I retired so that I can be his constant companion. I had not realized that Fetch needs to happen hundreds of time a day. Or that squeeky toys can be squeeked for hours on end. That privacy in the bathroom is overrated. The cats, however, have not yet noticed that I am home.

6 –  Even though I have an embarrassingly huge wardrobe, I have no problem with wearing the same thing everyday. (As long as it’s cute.) It’s not going to be hard to downsize my wardrobe after all.

7 –  Housework is easy if you don’t have to spend seven hours on Sunday doing it. One hour a day – same result. A piece of cake. And you can enjoy the rest of the day stress-free.

8 –  This house is full of FOOD. The pantry, the refrigerator, the countertops. There are  oranges and walnuts and bread and chocolate and cheese and cereal and pickles and crackers and ice cream and bananas and peanut butter. My husband and I take pride in eating wholesome food. But there is so MUCH of it. It’s everywhere. I’m concerned.

 

By the way, that’s me in the poster in the photo above – on the bottom on the right:

me in poster

 

I think that photo was taken for UConn’s Alumni Women’s poster around 1996.

Twenty years later:

meretired

I’d venture to say that retirement agrees with me.

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