material girl?

So my post today is accompanied by my home brewer son’s version of an IPA. He and a friend have been churning out some pretty good stuff of late. They certainly have an array of beer consuming pals among them to cheer them on…but the brews still have to pass the parent test.
As it goes, this one is not overly bitter, which makes the IPA grade for me. Regardless, he and his buddy are young. Unafraid of making mistakes and learning from them, because that is how one produces good beer. And a good life, right?
Ah, the young.
Today I was in our local nail salon, getting a pedicure. This lovely soaking, massage and scrubbing is the one thing I treat myself to somewhat regularly, partly because it’s one time of the day I can get distracted from the gnawing ache in my shoulders. And taking a break from my writing of the great American novel. I have to tell you though, that I have sat there wondering the entire time, f the Vietnamese technician’s shoulders and neck ache at the end of their day from the perpetual bend of their head. The only thing that has stopped me from asking is that their English is usually limited to, “pick your colah,” and “watah.”
Here I am so busy justifying why I was there, I am getting off track.
So this very young, maybe nineteen or twenty, attractive young woman was next to me. Slim, with perky boobs (of course) in a tight white tee. I do think she had on one of those padded push up jobs on, but I didn’t want to look like a wierd old lady staring, so I can’t be sure.
Anyway, her technician happened to be a little more comfortable conversing, so she asked the girl: “So, what you do today?”
Girl: “Just going to the gym.”
T: “You go to beach?”
G: “Nah. I live right next to the beach. I can go anytime. No big deal.”
The girl kept looking at her Apple watch, and the technician asked about it.
Girl: “It’s not that different from the phone, really, except you can’t make a call. It’s really kind of pointless.”
T: ” It’s nice colah though.”
G: ” I know. I like the blue. It’s really sort of useless, but it’s cool.”
T: “Yes, cool. Like this colah I put on toes,”
G: (silly laugh).”Yeah, I know. I like it because it makes me look tan.”
At this point, I am striving not to cast a scathing look in said girl’s direction. Dear God, I think, was I ever this vapid and clueless? Even at my most vain and self-involved teenage level? Did I EVER take the lucky proximity to our beautiful lakeshore for granted? I rack my feeble brain.
I do remember liking and wanting nice things as an adolescent, but I honestly think it was pretty simple stuff. I asked for Love’s baby soft perfume at Christmas, and records. I remember coveting Izod and Ralph Lauren polo shirts, but having to work my ass off to buy even one.
If this girl had worked a day in her life, nothing would surprise me more.
I know these attitudes are a function of youth and our insane get more, have more, be more, culture. But the fact that she acknowledged having this overpriced gadget was “useless” and “pointless”, but worth having anyway because it was cool, says volumes.
At least my polo shirts provided covering for my body, right? And I was the one who bought the damned shirts, not my parents. 

Sigh. How best to give a mouthful of reality to this silver spoon?
I have heard various prominent people over the years advocate for youth to perform mandated military service of one year.
I think this could work, but I wonder about depositing their soft candy rear ends in the middle of a third world country for a few months. Seriously. Where they are sleeping in dirt huts and have to walk for clean water, fighting malaria, eating unknown food and Internet access is a distant dream. I wish someone had made me do something similar. Really, it wouldn’t even take a third world country to rattle their perspectives. We have more than enough poverty and different ways of living right here, to open their eyes. In the world according to Ellen, they would be forced to work in homeless shelters and live in the Appalachian mountains, and/or visit inner city schools, while mentoring fatherless children desperate for stability, love and decent food.
Isn’t it scary that we are in danger of raising a generation full of young people whose biggest concern is obtaining the newest Apple creation? They claim to be so much more open minded and accepting than us geezers, but they are also the most entitled-minded and narcissistic. Millenials admit to having very little to no spiritual commitment, and this is a shame. I understand the divide, because organized religion has effed it up for so many inquiring, eager minds. But when you look at doing the tasks I listed, this is the work Jesus would do, and did. Serving others is not in many a young one’s radar, unless it serves them.
I know that every generation bemoans the one before them; parents of the sixties’ flower children thought the world was coming to an end through drugs and rock and roll. But what scares me is that many teens of today view social justice as something to devote two weeks to, to be able to put on their college application.
If they can give up their beach, gym, and nail days, of course. 

No use going into the myriad of reasons why, but we can each do our own world according to Ellen with these misguided souls. So along with non-voluntary services of some sort, all twenty somethings must learn about making beer, and provide free, copious samples of their best to their stressed-out parents. All that sampling will get the crankies out, and the students can learn all the hands-on science they should have learned in high school. 

Today’s ranting aside, I am grateful for my hard working, caring sons, nephews and nieces who give me hope. I am more optimistic than not, but these incidents make me pause and fear a future of iPhone, addicted robots. And with that weary thought, another home brew is in order. 

Friends, cheers to you and the young people in your life…if they can’t bless you with a homemade concoction…may they at least gift you with a pedicure. 




Lucky Girl

My last post alluded to dealing with some writer’s block.
Well, it comes and goes.
I’m just going to tell myself if I’m writing it’s all good, even if isn’t on my novel. 

Today’s brew is Closure, an over-used word that I like because it means everything is neatly tidied up. Which happens in reality, like, never. Oh well. We can dream condition like this exists, anyway. 

Today is also the day my mother in law Mary passed away due to cancer two years ago, and this hardly seems possible. Thinking about her passing, and my parents’, is like what they tell you about raising kids: the days seem long, but the years pass so quickly.

I suppose it’s true that when people die, they become sanitized and lionized by those left. But when I write that Mary was as a pure a soul as I have ever known, this isn’t exaggeration borne of grief. She did have that heart of gold that stopped beating too soon, the line that is in all of the memorial cards. 

One of my earliest memories of her graciousness was when I became unexpectedly pregnant, unmarried, with her grandchild. Both she and my father in law were head over heels in love with their new little red headed addition to the family, but it was a stressful time. I was trying to work a new job with a newborn, living at home, and trying to make a relationship with their son all at the same time. 

She never once said to either of us, “how could you let  this happen?” Or gave one hint of disapproval, ever, although to a strict Catholic family I’m sure this wasnt a high point in their lives. Instead, she did everything she could to encourage us to stay together. Not just then, but always. 

Many times, she would pick our infant son up from day care so he didn’t have to stay there all day. After I picked him up and took him home, I would find forty, fifty dollars tucked into the pocket of where his bottle was, and I would call her. “Thank you so much, but you don’t have to do that,” I would tell her, even though I desperately needed the money for diapers and everything else a baby entails. “Oh yes I do. Anything for little Seanie.” The nickname that had been christened upon this little angel of hers, who brought endless joy to their lives. 

And that is how it went for all of her precious grandsons. Anything for them, because they were truly the jewels in her life. In particular, when she lost her mate and the light went out in her beautiful eyes temporarily. They were a salve to her loneliness, and they were with her almost as many nights they were at home.

She was not a mother in law that intruded and gave unwanted advice, unless asked. She was not one to call and whine that her son never did anything for her. Indeed, she never asked for anything, ever. In fact, I used to lecture her that she did too much for people, that they took advantage of her. And, it happened. We used to call her a bum magnet, but she’d laugh it off. “Oh,” she’d say. “So and so is harmless, or so and so just needs a friend.” They certainly found a good one in her. As did I. 

She hated being a widow and being without a partner, and dipped her toes into the dating scene at midlife. Which takes a fair amount of courage, because here’s a news flash: it doesn’t get any easier after high school. ” It’s still all about the looks,” she would tell me. “They all want the tiny belly, even if you have horrible wrinkles.” Well, she didn’t have a tiny belly, (does anyone, after twenty five?) but she had beautiful skin, and she did attract her share of suitors. Oh, the stories she would tell me. We would laugh and laugh at the junior high antics of these middle aged men, and then she’d have a crush on one and they would break her heart. And that was hard to hear, because I wanted her to be happy and find someone worthy.

For Mary, family would always come first, and most of the men she met couldn’t handle that. So as time went by she just enjoyed her line dancing and hoped to maybe find a companion. And never stopped cheering on her kids and her grandkids, no matter what the endeavor. 

She began having symptoms that something was very wrong the summer before her death, but anyone who knew her well, knew that she and medical procedures did not mix. The only doctor she trusted was our hometown hero, Doc Rambo, and I think the main reason she liked him is because an exam would last approximately three minutes. “Whaddya think is wrong with ya?” he’d ask. You could self diagnose yourself, even probably ask for the drugs you think you needed. The best part? “He doesn’t tell you to get on the scale,” she’d say. “Why the hell do these other doctors have to know what you weigh, when you go in to see them for a cold? They just want to lecture you.” 

I laughed, but she may have been right. 

In any case, Doc convinced her to see a gynecologist for her symptoms. Told her it was serious…and we began to worry.

Tests confirmed she had a rare uterine carcinoma, and this is when things got really scary. I asked him for the exact name and scribbled it on paper to look it up online, later.   She really only wanted to know how long she had, in order to make whatever time she had count. 

And nobody, except for that gynecologist, would be straight up with her. Even he was vague, but at least had the decency to tell her to have her daughter come home and to do the things she wanted to do. 

Meanwhile, I discovered the diagnosis was as lethal as they come, but I said nothing. Mary knew I had looked it up, but she said she didn’t want to know. It’s in God’s hands, she said. And her faith was as deep and true as her heart was good, and it carried her through the following months. 

I wished I  had even a quarter of her faith, but I was busy being angry that the doctors would not tell her the truth. It was all, ” Well, nobody can predict the future,” blah blah blah, and since nobody can predict I might as well earn a few hundred thousand dollars by recommending a surgery that won’t give you a chance in hell at living one bit longer.”

Ah, yes. Cynical was I but I kept my mouth shut because these things had to be her decision. But it was very difficult seeing someone so doctor-phobic, suffer, even though it was relatively short in duration. 

And I still get angry at the unfairness of it all. Why her? Why so young, because when you’re staring down fifty, seventy is young. 

I’m not so angry anymore. No, I feel lucky. I feel so blessed to have known this kind, generous, funny, loving soul. I thank her a thousand times over (and I think I did while she was still here), for loving my boys unconditionally, for the way she cherished them every minute of the day, for being there when we parents just didn’t cut it. I feel lucky that we were never the picture our culture gives of mother and daughter in laws, that of being catty and interfering.

How I do miss the talking to her, though. So do a lot of people who knew her gentle listening ear. 

But I miss laughing with her the most, because I never knew anyone who could poke fun at herself the way she could, and take the pokes from others too. She used to laugh at something one of us would say about her mannerisms or such, and she’d say, “I don’t know what you’re all going to laugh about after I die,” and laugh some more.

And, she was right. 

Because when we gather for family functions, her absence is still so painfully evident. We do reminisce, and laugh about some story about her, but the gap in our lives seems unfillable at times. They say that one’s grief for someone is made all the stronger by the love that was felt, and I believe that. I also believe that God puts certain people in our lives for many a reason. 

Whatever that reason was for me, I am a lucky, lucky girl to have had Mary Cassidy in mine. 

Cheers to whatever is lucky in your life, friends. 





The dream of writing the Great American Novel

Some of you may have noticed my blog writing has been on hold, while some of you know the reason why. I have been hesitant to put this out there for a couple of reasons. One, because (gulp) now I will be held accountable, and two, I can hear the skeptics groaning already. Let me break the suspense lest you all pass out:

 I have begun a serious attempt at writing my first fictional novel. The story is about a young man (who is a composite of both my kids),who faces some back to back heartbreak. And very simply, it’s about the power of unconditional love to help find one’s way back. 

Yes, there it is. Truth be told, I’m kinda proud of myself.  From the time I learned to read, I was fascinated with books and the ability of story to transport me to another time and place. I read every Little House book by Laura Ingalls Wilder more than once, and collected Nancy Drew mysteries like boys collected baseball cards. I loved lining up their yellow spines on the shelf and the smell of the ink. By seventh grade, I was reading books my mom had in the house and bringing them to school. I would read “Helter Skelter,” in between classes I hated and were a bore, even though it scared the crap out of me. One of my teachers commented on the “mature” content of these books at parent teacher conferences, but it wasn’t to stop me. The said teacher was wondering where the precociousness was for the rest of my classes. I think my Mom said something like English always had been my strong suit. Yes, it was. My only strong suit, along with band. Thank God the books weren’t removed, as would have been for some in the same circumstance. 

Like most voracious readers I had a powerful imagination, so I was always thinking up stories and playing them out in my head. In sixth grade I wrote some stories I passed around to my friends and received the very biased reviews of, “Wow. You could be Judy Blume.” An author whom I also loved, and still do. But my writing never really went beyond being able to put out “A ” term papers and editorial rants to our local papers.

There are a few predictable reasons for this. Primarily, early on I didn’t have anyone telling me I had some talent, and I lacked the self-confidence, discipline, and perseverance on my own required for making a career out of writing. And that is still an ongoing challenge me, and for many undergoing similar endeavors. But here is the kicker: one must also simply get accustomed to constant, and I mean constant, rejection of one’s work.

That’s no surprise to anyone in the arts, of course. The challenge lay in putting yourself out there, again and again, because you know you have something to offer. You know you have an ability that maybe not everyone has; to put into words (or music, or acting) universal themes that touch people in some way. 

So that sort of leads me to answer the question I and millions of others ask: why? Why slug through hours of imagining plots, outlining characters, writing dialogue, banging out thousands of words on a keyboard, only to revise and edit, over and over? And do this day after day, unpaid, without a single reassurance the words may never see the light of day? Indeed, I’m realistic. I know the odds are highly stacked against writing a bestseller. What is in my favor is that I’m not really motivated by that. Yes, at some stage I will try to retain an agent and enter the dog eat dog publishing world. But right now, I am focusing on getting the story down, even if it kills me. Which it probably will, because when all is said and done I think will be the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. 

Greenbush and assorted breweries are helping me to not pull my hair out at writer’s block. Did you wonder why I’m taking time now to write this? I mean, I did want to do an update, but the real reason is, I am knee deep in “wheredoitakethisguynow” mud. And it sucks, but I will get through it.

Because even though I can be lazy, I am at least a lazy perfectionist. I abhor cliches and the idea of people yawning at my characters, so I edit feverishly when I should be just concentrating on finishing the first draft. I go to bed thinking about my story, dream about it and wake up thinking about it. Sounds OCD, but its actually a good sign. The best writers Do. Not. Give. Up.

So I’m getting there, slowly but surely. And I feel like my son, who could never go far without taking his guitar and feeling compelled to play it at every opportunity. Artists compose and create because they have to. They have no other choice; its in the blood and must be honored. The stories must be told without regard to fame or worldwide acknowledgement, but if this should occur, all the better.

Wish me luck that mine makes its’ way out to you when the time comes. And maybe make a toast that my stymied brain becomes flooded with glorious prose. The sooner the better, preferably. 

Until the next update, hopefully not generated by a dry spell…Cheers!




Ellen’s Little Helper


” You washed away my sorrows, saved me from myself

You washed away my troubles, laid them on the shelf

Your love flowed like mercy running through my veins

From the first taste you held me, pleasuring my pain…”

“Whiskey Angel”, the Black Lilies


My last blog was accompanied by Ursus, brewed by Greenbush. Well, this time I am sitting IN the brewery…chased here presumably by cabin fever, and this is a cool place to be as the snow flies. Great beer, food, staff, and they have Wi-Fi. I am sipping “Apathy,” an oatmeal stout, and it is a fine fit for this blustery winter weather. The server has been doing a superior job of checking on me without hovering, a skill I appreciate because I have now been here longer than everyone who came in before me. Ah, well. I will make it worth her while before I leave.

I’m pretty sure anyone who has been following my blog knows its an understatement to say I like good beer. A lot. After all, it’s in my blog name and subtitle. I have my husband to thank for informing me about the many differences in style and taste. You may have guessed that he likes beer too. A lot. He throws down the super bitter kind though, so this is where we part ways with preference. We have had some great times, met incredible people, all while discovering brewpubs all over Michigan and beyond.

But let me tell you something you probably didn’t know.  After I toss back a velvety stout or a refreshing pale ale and start to notice its’ effects, it’s the one time that day I will feel the unrelenting ache and burn that plagues my upper body start to recede. Talk about liquid medicine. Ahhhh. It must be like a heroin addict releasing the needle, only I’m a hop junkie releasing the lovely yeast tincture. Bring. It. On.

I can feel some of you fretting already at the words above. What’s this? She’s like a heroin addict? No, not exactly. But I will tell you this: I have a good understanding about how that can happen. And I sympathize with users trying to find relief, even if the agony is inside their head. That’s real, too. I sympathize because I will try almost anything to dull the tiny shrapnel-like shards digging at my shoulders and neck non-stop, try anything to ease the thick fog my brain has taken residence in, try anything to cut through the fatigue that so often pals up permanently with pain. These things are most assuredly NOT in my head, although there are misguided people and dumb-ass doctors who would suggest it is so.

Now, I’m also not a complete fool. I know the dangers involved in “self-medicating.” I know the horrors alcoholism can wreak, the whole shebang. I also know from experience that any more than two of my favorite brews will bring the opposite effect of what I seek, so that’s where I draw the line. I have zero interest in entertaining blackout bingeing and vicious hangovers. It takes me 2 days to recover if I am not in bed by midnight, for God’s sake. And that’s with no drinking involved. It is the very rare occasion that I surpass my limits, but if it does happen I just blame my husband. Joking. Sort of.

I haven’t wasted time analyzing what it is about imbibing that makes my pain better.  It’s no mystery. Spirits have been popular since Jesus turned water into wine, even before. (This reminds me. If you haven’t seen the documentary “How Beer Saved The World”,  you should). I’m sure the anesthetic properties (hops!) as well as the relaxation factor that eases tension, each contribute to my enjoyment. Alcohol’s effects aren’t even as strong or as long lasting as advils and opioids, but beer is a hell of a lot more fun. Of course with every plus there’s always a pesky minus to be had, and this is no different. Among other things, those luscious suds do add unwanted layers to a belly and they’re also not a friend to your liver. However. Within the world of  stomach lining-eating, glaucoma risks and osteoporosis-causing side effects that I inhabit, these are more than tolerable. As my diabetic mom was so fond of saying to a carton of ice cream: “something’s gonna kill me. Might as well be you.”

The truth is, I don’t care.

I will very joyfully succumb to numbing nasty nerve receptors as opposed to facing “reality.” My reality is that I have fibromyalgia-like symptoms, blood work that indicates I’m a good candidate eventually for a big autoimmune disease to flourish. Or, maybe not. After four docs and two rheumatologists, nobody knows what the hell to do with me. And, this is quite common in the realm of autoimmune disorders. It takes the average patient eight years to get a firm diagnosis.

Nice, right?

So I quaff my favored concoctions and wait and worry in my grey zone about the future, although I try not to dwell there. Too much living to be had and pubs to be discovered.

I suppose you could say I am walking a thin line between recreational use and a problem. I probably wouldn’t argue with you. If you are prone to quoting bible passages condemning alcohol, you might be justified in your fervor. Sometimes it feels like Satan himself has taken over my traitorous body, after all. You might be well intentioned with your concerns, maybe even have voiced such to your friends or family members that are on their own possibly similar journeys. You might make commentary on Facebook or in social conversations about the evils of Big Pharma and how if everyone would just start grazing on roots and vegetables grown in llama shit fertilizer, everyone’s ills would magically disappear.

Believe me you, I have my issues with the medical field, particularly end of life ones. Fodder for future blogs, for sure. But remember that old saying about walking a mile in another’s moccasins before opening your yap? A pathetic paraphrase, but you get the point.

If you have not experienced the daily cornucopia of piercing, throbbing, numbing stiffness and achiness of chronic pain, you don’t know whereof you speak.

It’s the kind of pain that maybe can be temporarily relieved by additional measures such as analgesics, injections, anti-inflammatories, narcotics, surgery, heating pads, Ben-gay, stretching, massage, acupuncture, chiropractics, hot tubs, epsom salt baths, marijuana, herbal supplements, or  good sex. Key phrase being temporary. For me and my thousands of friends it always comes back, like a patch of pointy weeds sprouting and multiplying.

I am really not writing about this to elicit sympathy. I don’t want it, not in any form. I don’t even want anyone to say, “I’m sorry, I had no idea.”  Aside from right now, it’s not something I really talk about. Neither do many of the other legions out there whose world is like mine, many of them in much, much worse shape than me. I am lucky. But (most) people who have chronic conditions get tired of yakking about themselves and don’t want to be Debbie Downers all the time. Of course on the opposite end of the spectrum are those lost in this very thing: “poor me” syndrome. The person whose life is so insulated because they can’t see beyond their own strife, and every single conversation is about their ailments. I hope that is not me as I write about me in this blog. Ack!

Somebody just shoot me if I contract that syndrome. I got enough crap going on.

So, what is the point of bringing this to light? It is not to complain about plights in life. We all have them, and I look at this as my cross to carry, whatever the circumstance. But one of the reasons I began this blog was to bring awareness to certain topics, and this is one of them.

I believe what the majority of people who have chronic pain want is just a modicum of understanding, and it is woefully lacking out there. Judgment, though, there’s always loads of that to spare.

It would be nice to debunk the myth that dealing with chronic pain (and fatigue) is  a figment of one’s imagination, just living in our minds. Are there hypochondriacs or losers trying to work the system out there? Yes, but most of us are legitimately trying to not be that person. Pain can certainly can have psychological ramifications, because it’s depressing as hell. For some people, it literally rules their life and their every move must be planned out. For example, one may have to nap and lay on the couch for hours in order to participate in an activity later that day. Even showering some days can be a heroic effort. The toll this takes on marriages, work, and family life isn’t even measurable.

And yet, some of us are told we brought this on ourselves by our behavior, attitude, or God knows what else, and we just need to buck up. Maybe we did, I don’t know. Maybe I spent one too many nights in college with my head unsupported, bent over books like Snoopy and his doghouse. Maybe I destroyed one too many endorphins and brain cells by pulling all-nighters, partying mindlessly and eating sludge like Little Ceasar’s crazy bread at 2 a.m. Could’ve been exacerbated by the endless slouching, or maybe it was one too many times cradling a phone while trying to cook, or carrying those carseats that were like toting Flintstone barbells around. The leash-tugging, critter-lunging mutt in the house has probably done more to kill off my joints than any of the other activites combined. In any case, it’s done, and I’ve stopped thinking about the causes. What I do think is that we most likely know more about “bucking up” than the clueless fools who keep spouting this, will ever know.

Every single one of us have been scouring for information and remedies, where nothing seems too nutty to try if it will help. There is also probably nothing you could suggest that we haven’t heard of and haven’t already tried, in fact. Yes, we know taking ten capsules a day of devil’s claw and cat’s claw and seaweed worked for Aunt Helen, and eradicating all flour, sugar, dairy, meat, high glycemic fruit, fruit juices, soda, coffee, bread, carbs and nightshade vegetables worked for Cousin Lou. We’re not sure how he’s still among the living, but good for him.  We have all eaten organic or pesticide-ridden food, chowed fast food or rabbit food, banned or didn’t ban packaged food, gulped fermented food or raw food and coconut oil and fish oil, exercised or had to give it up, banned or didn’t ban alcohol, prayed or cursed God or both, and here we are. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t.

We appreciate your caring, really. But if you mention one more time what Dr. Oz is touting as the next cure-all, we might slap you. I am convinced these companies are dumping money in his pockets to go on about the newest green tea extract miracle supplement, then raking it in as desperate folks rush the shelves.

You should absolutely ask us how we are, but ask if we would like to know about something you think would help. Just don’t get offended if your well meaning advice is not taken.

Wait…the lecture’s not over.

You might want to respond (as I used to) that I should be grateful I can walk, I can see, I have a roof, food, a good family, etcetera. I am. I am beyond grateful for these things, not to mention insurance that covers (mostly) procedures and meds. But I refuse to measure my luckiness against those who are not anymore. You know what I mean. You pass by someone handicapped and you think, “Thank God I’m not THAT bad.” Not only does that minimize that person’s trials, but your own as well. It’s true that witnessing others who have more on their plate than us, can give perspective about what matters. But there is an air of arrogance to this that will bring us down somehow or another. In the end we really are all on the same road together, so the sooner we stop comparisons of every form, the better off we will all be.

If you have spent any time looking at pain support groups online, you will find hundreds of people who have tripled your weight in burdens. Many not only have rheumatoid arthritis, but lupus, reynaud’s, thyroid disease, IBS, and sclerodoma to top it off. This is the nature of autoimmune illness; once you have one you are vulnerable to others. And nobody knows why. I have nearly wept upon reading some of these stories. I believe though that I am only a hair’s breadth away, either through fate or choice, from being the person I just cluck-clucked about. So I just want to just practice saying, “Thank you,” without adding, “thank you I’m not bedridden, my whole body useless, cane or wheelchair dependent and IN depends, my mind departed, my whole family dead.”

Of course, if you find me in said condition, please shoot me by then if you haven’t already. Just make sure we toast to our whiskey and beer angels, so I can get my fix before my demise.

Friends, I hope this post finds you pain-free, and maybe a little bit kinder to those who aren’t. There may be a part two to this, as I have some pals that might be giving some input. Stay tuned, and until my next soapbox subject…Cheers!



Empty nester

Tonight I write with the winter ale, “Ursus,” as my companion. Ursus is a seasonal beer put out by a local brewery, Greenbush. This is a brewery that has known phenomenal success since opening just a few years ago, and has turned our tiny hometown into a destination. We have watched its’ growth in amazement, and hope the success continues. For craft beer lovers, (and foodies), it is pure pleasure. Ursus packs a punch at an 8.5% alcohol by volume. What this means for you, the reader,(and my husband) is that my inhibitions will soon take flight and I will probably need to do heavy editing later on. So be it, friends!

So now I have become a total cliche’ and am wincing at the thought. Our youngest son has been launched an hour away, at a community college, with new roommates, apartment, and a new routine. Of course, we have been down this road before with his brother, but it really was different with him. He was soooo independent, so irritated and chafing at the small time life here, that it was relatively painless seeing him off. So what if I kept the door to his room closed for weeks to pretend he was coming back? Eventually I opened it up so the cat could lay on his bed. And I just swallowed the pangs away. Probably with the help of the aforementioned local brews.

If you read one of my previous blogs about Danny, “The Road to Holland,” then you are familiar with our life’s path. It began with worry and I wonder if it will ever end. I worry that he is going to get cancer or a heart attack from eating processed food 24/7 and that he won’t wash his sheets for weeks and that he will give up on himself under the weight of demanding college classes and that his oddball roommate could possibly be dealing drugs. Did I mention there was a shooting in his complex? That was a nice bit of news to hear. My husband googled the incident only to learn we signed a lease in an area that is known to be a “hotbed of violence.” Great! I feel like I have thrown a newborn calf into a pen of wolves, although I know that is ridiculously dramatic.

He will be fine, though he doesn’t know it yet. His anxiety is palpable, and I must bury my own somewhere with those pangs I swallowed, lest his tiny seeds of confidence fail to take root. I have fought so hard for him to get to this point. I have to trust this growing process, let my Leo the late bloomer blossom as I always said he would.

He will be more than fine. The question I am asking now is, what about me?

Women my age are now in the prime of their careers, reaching salary peaks and desirable positions. My career is making his way in Nashville, and in western Michigan, while I sit and wonder if I gave it enough, or too much, and why couldn’t I do kids and a job like everyone else?

I did work in the early childhood field. But it’s always been on and off, and I never felt as if I could do a job and family well at the same time. Because when they were little and I tried to do both, I was a hideous, miserable multi-tasker. Upon further reflection, my husband worked long and demanding hours in those early days, and I was firm about not being an absentee parent. I have no regrets, and I had no qualms about knowing there was only room enough for one “career” in the house. Indeed, that career has been very good to us.


I really never thought about what would happen later. We tried hard not to be so child-centered that we neglected each other, and I think we succeeded in that. I don’t look at my husband and think, “who the hell are you?” No, now I am looking in the mirror and asking those words of myself.

Who am I, without “helping” with years worth of homework anymore? Without prodding and pushing and rescuing and morphing into a warrior for special education? And I torture myself thinking it was overkill. Did I neglect our older, so-competent son? Did I tell him enough how proud we were of him? What if boy number two crumbles like a cookie in the real world, because I didn’t teach him to rely on himself, instead of me? I pray feverishly this doesn’t happen. If I am truthful, which with Ursus’ help I will be, I will admit that this scenario scares me more for me, than for him. Because I will have the answer that who I am, is a failure. After all, from the minute they are born children are separating from us, and that is as it should be. We are supposed to be showing them how to become their own selves, not to glom onto them because we don’t know our own.

I know that what I am experiencing is a normal process and I will hopefully figure it all out sometime before I die. I have time to share and I am eager to serve. In the meantime, I just simply miss their boy presence around me, their boy smells and smiles, and I fear there is no amount of volunteer work that can fill the empty space of my heart.


The animals begin eyeing me warily as I chase them down for cuddles and comfort.

Humane Society, here I come.

Cheers to new beginnings, friends!





For all the holiday fairies

This post, like the previous one, is accompanied by coffee. But it is 8:00 on New Year’s Day, and I need it, because it’s not looking like I am going back to sleep. Ironically I did not have any beer last night. I opted for two lemon drop martinis, which were deliciously imbibed at the time, but could have something to do with a vague headache and rebelling bowels. And being up at 6:30. Ah…partying at 49 just ain’t what it used to be. Like a lot of things. And, that is okay. We had a nice dinner with good friends, and that is enough of a party for me these days.

I am horrifically late with this writing, but I will take the easy way of blame and place it squarely on the season’s shoulders. Truthfully, I love celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas…and give everything over to the decorating, the cooking and cleaning, and the gathering of those dear. But equally truthful, it takes a lot out of me. Every year I wrangle with supposedly twistable  evergreen garland, and every year a chain of obscenities escapes my mouth as I force the unyielding stuff into place. Mounds of storage bins to be transported flank my sides. I make yearly vows to Pare. It. Down.  Of course I do get help, but afterward I will stand there sweating and cursing basement stairs and wonder why do I do this to myself?

I bake batches and batches of yummy cookies, peering through my cookbooks for weeks ahead of time to plan my annual giveaway to neighbors. I work into the wee night making pies and other delights until my back and neck ache unbearably, and even my son asked me why. Since I had so recently asked this of myself I was ready. I answered, “because someday I won’t be able to. ” I also add to myself, “because the minute I don’t make grandma’s powdered sugar balls and corn casserole and my peach jello you will all ask where is so and so?” And, it’s true. Whether it will be due to failing health, memory, energy, or maybe all three, the day will come when I will probably opt for a little tabletop tree and someone else will be the hostess.

I remember when this moment came for my mother. One Thanksgiving as we were cleaning up, she stopped and said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore. At one point today I couldn’t remember what to do next. I couldn’t remember how to make the gravy…” her words faded away as tears threatened. “Do you think one of you girls can take over?” I hugged her and said of course, I would be happy to…and would have done so earlier if I had known. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask, as she seemed to so thoroughly enjoy all that a holiday dinner entailed. Not only was she a superb cook and welcoming of guests, she made it seem utterly painless. One has only to put on a simple dinner for a few, to know that even this takes work to do it well.

As a child, you take all of this for granted. Children are too busy dreaming of turkey and gravy and making up lists for Santa, or fretting about teenage breakups or college and getting jobs, to give much attention to behind the scenes action. Didn’t the long banquet table adorned with the finest dishes and the painstakingly wrapped gifts just appear by themselves? Well, no…but that is how it seems to them.

But children grow up, and then they see. They see that it takes more than a fictional holiday fairy or chubby guy in a suit to make it all happen.

My mother was not an emotionally expressive person. Relationships were difficult for her, often strained and tense for a variety of reasons. The family complaint was that she was a hypocrite, going all Norman Rockwell come November, when where was this person the rest of the year? Where was all the warmth and acceptance and elaborate planning that she threw herself into with such fervor?

The answer, of course, is that it was always there.

It’s just that it went into hiding for much of the rest of the time, I think  due to a crippling mix of depression and martyrdom. Unlike many whose depression skyrockets during the holidays, hers went underground until January. It was as if she then had permission to show us the love she had for us, through the Herculean efforts of cleaning, baking, and enough food for an army.

The truth is, it’s why any of us do what we do at this time of year. Not for Martha Stewart accolades, not to outdo anyone else, or to convince anyone that lookhowgreatIamIcanmakefourpiesfromscratch. We do it out of love for our families, and if we do it right it is without complaint and of free will. We are trying to create magic that escape us at other times of the year, even if the stress of  it all while juggling a job just might erase a few years off one’s life.

Through all my mom’s imperfections, even as a youngster I sensed what November and December meant to her. I couldn’t wait for them either, because it was as close to Norman’s paintings as we came. And I was going to take it, dysfunction and all.

I didn’t thank her nearly enough.

For the piles of homemade treats, the miracle of endless food made in a kitchen the size of a large bathroom, the invitations to those who had nowhere to go, the cleaning and table set up and re-organizing and the list goes on.

But I think from wherever she is, she knows, as she watches me try to make my own magic with the same traditions.

And so it will go, until the day comes when I look up and ask someone else to take the reigns, and the holiday wand. And I will be more than okay with that, because I will probably be tired. Until then…I will clutch my recipe folders and magazine clippings full of snowmen, reindeer and Santa cakes close to my heart. And hope I still have a few year’s worth of yuletide fairy dust to sprinkle.

Happy New Year, friends. And may all of your kitchens be bigger than your bathrooms.