Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ellen and Her Mom

Ellen and I met when we both worked in the offices of New England Life back in 1978. It was my first job out of college and I never felt like I fit in with the other girls in the office. Then Ellen arrived, we discovered we shared the same birthday, we enjoyed each other's company, and we started to hang out. She was my one friend in an office of male salesmen and their female secretaries.

Ellen and her husband Frank had moved to Cleveland from Boston. A few years after they moved here, Ellen's father got sick and Ellen gave birth to her daughter Bonnie. Ellen and Frank then returned to Boston.

We kept in touch with each other twice a year - sending each other a birthday card in July and a holiday card in December. Ellen had given birth to a son, Lee, and Frank had started his own business, which was doing very well. We were having some rough times with my own family, and I must admit there were times when I would get Ellen's bi-annual card and just stare at it, thinking I didn't want to open it to hear how wonderful everything was in her life.

I'd like to say it was a few years ago, but time flies, and I'm thinking it was 8 or 9 years ago when I got an email from Ellen out of the blue. I don't even know how she found me, but we began a very dedicated email relationship. Friendships change when you go from twice a year cards summing up the year to several emails a day (so what are you making for dinner tonight?...what's your weather like today?). I began to call her Betty Crocker for the healthy meals she prepared every night (always with a salad and every part of the food pyramid). We began to really know each other. One time a few years ago, Ellen's computer was down and she had Frank email me from work to let me know she wouldn't be on the computer. Frank could not figure out how we could rely on email so much ("why don't you just talk on the phone?"). I laughed at that. Cause anyone who understands the beauty of email knows it's totally at your own convenience. You can thoughtfully take your time about what you say, or you can quickly type an email full of typos and no one cares, but it's like getting mail 5 times a day. It's wonderful.

Seven years ago, Ellen's mother had a stroke. Up until that time, her mother had been living a very active life, in her 90s, at the assisted living facility where she lived. The stroke was disabling, and she had to move into a nursing home. And thus began Ellen's journey of helping to take care of her mother. After some not-so-nice treatment by a nursing home aide, Ellen was determined to spend as much time with her mother as possible. And so she went every day, for 7 days a week until she finally reduced her visits to 5 days a week. Ellen's sister was of no help whatsoever, so Ellen was on her own. I know it was very difficult, especially as her mother began to lose her interest in life and just wanted to sleep. Many times over the years there would be a setback, and Ellen would fear it was the end. With both of her kids away at college, she was resigned to deal with the end on her own, with Frank.

Last month, Ellen was visiting her mother at the nursing home and she tripped over a nursing cord. She broke her shoulder in 4 places and has been pretty much incapacitated. She had a shoulder replacement surgery. Driving was out of the question, and even being a passenger in a car was painful.

So our emails were suspended. And I missed them so much. Well Ellen finally arrived back on email last week. And I came in to work this morning with my usual email from Ellen. She would usually email me very early in the morning, before she went to see her mother. And since she's been out of commission, she's not sleeping so I guess she's up early in the morning. The first email told me about the call she got from the nursing home this morning, saying that her mother had taken a turn for the worse. The second email sent 40 minutes later, was to tell me that her mother had passed away.

Ellen's daughter graduated from law school in the spring and is working, much to Ellen's delight, as an attorney in Boston (taking after Ellen's father). Her son just got his master's degree a few weeks ago and he was taking a slow ride back to Boston, visiting friends along the way. He was set to arrive in Boston at the end of this week, but when he got the call today, he came right home. I am glad the family is all together.

Ellen had been expecting this for many years but said it was still so shocking when it happened. She had made a promise to her father when he was sick that she would take care of her mother. Her mother would have turned 100 in 3 weeks (she refused a party - when Ellen suggested one, her mother replied that she wouldn't be there). Ellen kept this promise to an extreme. I have never seen such devotion of a daughter for her mother. As her mother declined physically and mentally, it became more taxing to spend every day there, but it never stopped Ellen. Very occasionally, she would take a "vacation" day just to have some time to herself. But really, it was 7 years of giving her life to her mother. I am so impressed with her strength and the extent to which she honored her father's wishes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Well if I were like every other blogger, right about now I would be wishing all of you a happy and healthy holiday.

However, I sense that I am a bit more out of control than most of you out there.

Last year I decided to be really organized and put all my Christmas clothes in a box. Then they wouldn't take up valuable space in my closet. So I did that, and threw in Christmas towels, some wrapping paper, and miscellaneous things that were just sitting around after the holiday. And then I couldn't find the damn thing. I looked in the big walk-in closet we have upstairs, and discovered I couldn't walk in there. Heather, who is now 20, so I can't call her a teen, decided to stash all her belongings in that closet. Included in her stash, I discovered, was one bag filled with old bags.

Next I checked the attic. Same thing there. Everything is thrown in there. My favorite is the select comfort bed David HAD to have years ago. He really liked the idea of each of us being able to pick our own comfort zone. Well, the comfort was unsatisfactory after a while, as the bed started to sag in the middle. He realized that the plastic had warped. Now this was not a cheap bed, and he was angry about it. So he took pictures and threw everything in the attic, planning to write to the manufacturer and show his discontent. That was about 2 years ago. Since then, we have bought a regular, really comfortable bed. And there are all these selective bed parts taking up valuable attic space. Anyway, no box of clothes was found in the attic.

Finally the basement. David proudly organized the basement a few years ago, and when I wanted to store something down there last year, told me I wasn't permitted, cause it was too organized.

Anyway, I have not been wearing my Christmas clothes. And tonight, on Christmas eve, I discovered my box of Christmas clothes. Where? Why in my bedroom, below some other boxes of stuff.

We are having the family over for Christmas tomorrow and as usual, the house is a huge mess and we needed to shop. I HATE cleaning, but instead of using this bonus day off to clean, I decided to be the laziest I have ever been. I came downstairs this morning in my PJs, expecting to take a morning shower and then go out. Well the PJs stayed on, and I decided to take a nap with the cats in our bed. I love that and rarely get to do that. I was so lazy that Heather was up and ready to go out while I was lying in my PJs. I finally got up, and turned on some channel that had Dr 90210. I have never watched this show. All these women who are very into themselves electing to have plastic surgery, when they really look fine to me. Well I am now addicted to this show. It went on for 2 hours and I sat on that couch, still showerless and in my PJs, totally fascinated by this life. The most interesting was the relationship between one of the plastic surgeons and his wife, who was raised with money. She wanted to buy a 10,000 sq foot house (they were living in a 9,000 sq foot house). He said isn't this a democracy? She said no, you're never home. He said yeah, you're right, it's cause I'm an ATM machine for you. I was riveted. He then sat down with her a few days later and said that things needed to change, and that they needed to "get back to basics." "What do you mean," she asked, "are you saying you're going to leave me?" And he explains that he wants to go visit his adoptive family in Utah. His father in S. America had given him up and this Utah family adopted him and he wanted to see them. So the doctor and his wife and 2 young kids get on a plane to see his family in Utah. Then we learn that he hasn't seen this family in 30 years!!! He wants them to help him be a better husband and dad, and they were the only people who gave him love. But he hasn't seen them in 30 years!!! It is understandable how I was riveted. They get to Utah, and we meet the elderly parents, and he asks his wise old mom how he can learn to trust people, given that he was abandoned by his dad. "Love," she says "is the answer." And I'm thinking he couldn't have called her on the phone with this question?

Anyway, that's how my day went. Nowhere! David could see that my day was going nowhere and volunteered to do the grocery shopping. He got home from the grocery store and discovered 2 big blocks of cheese that he didn't buy (except upon further investigation, discovered he did pay for them). He said oh, someone's gonna be mad. Someone's gonna have a cheeseless Christmas! And that got me laughing.

Then I went to put a gift in our pile of gifts and saw one of the packages David made for his sister Mary. While going thru old pictures (we are giving his sisters Patty and Mary photo albums filled with old pix), he discovered Mary's old dental x-rays, from like 40 years ago, and he wrapped them up to give to her. And that also got me laughing.

I guess we need to celebrate our out-of-controlness.

So to the 3 or so of you who read my blog, I do wish you a happy holiday and a sense of humor to deal with the ridiculous stuff in life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Dreaded Doctor's Scale

If I can think of one thing that almost everyone universally hates, it's got to be the scale in a doctor's office.

Many years ago, I had an OB GYN who weighed about 90 lbs. Every year when I went to see her, she would weigh me and say "you gotta take that weight off." So I had this major anxiety attack every time I went in to see her, til I solved the problem: I stopped going. Then one day Sharon told me that her GYN didn't require you to be weighed. So I immediately switched to him. I came for my first visit, and his wife, the nurse, asked if I "wanted" to be weighed. "No thank you," I politely responded. And that was it! The new GYN happened to be an adorable man, but throw in their philosophy of not requiring a weigh-in, and I was as happy as a clam. The next year I went for my visit, the wife asked if I would like to step on the scale. "No thanks" I again replied. I then further said that I liked it that I was not REQUIRED to get on the scale. And she told me all services in a doctor's office are optional, and you can refuse any service. Wow, I thought, I wish I had known this many years ago.

Well that philosophy is apparently not shared by all doctors, including my internal medicine (IM) guy. At my first visit to Dr IM, an assistant led me down the hall to a scale. "Oh, I don't want to be weighed," I told her. She said "you must. It's a requirement." So I got on the damn scale. And stopped trying to argue with Dr IM's office.

At my last visit, Dr IM, who has a much nicer demeanor than the cold 90 lb GYN, told me how many pounds he'd like me to lose by my next visit. Of course, I GAINED weight this time. I was not looking forward to today's visit, til a brainstorm hit me.

I was making cookies for the holidays and wham, I thought, hey I'll use these as a bribe! So I refrigerated the dough and baked some fresh cookies this morning. I put them in a nice "Happy Chanukah" bag and brought them with me to the doctor's office. I was again led down the hall to a scale, got on, and said "oh gee, this isn't good." I was then led to a room. Dr IM walked in and I held up the bag. "This bag of freshly baked cookies is yours if you promise not to comment on my weight today," I said. "DEAL!" he replied.

Being quite happy with myself, I called Sharon, who shares the same doctor, and told her my story. "I'm gonna try that!" she said.

So now I'm envisioning this doctor getting fatter and fatter each time we go to see him.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Malleys' Heaven

I went to my favorite chocolate store yesterday - Malleys Chocolates. I was going to get a few gifts. As I was shopping, I heard a customer ask a sales associate where the "Heaven" was. She said "we're all out, I think." He said "you can't be out - we came in just to buy Heaven. We were going to bring it to my mother." The saleslady said she would ask her associate, who I will call "Ethel." Ethel is a sweet old lady who has been working there forever. So the saleslady approached Ethel and asked about the Heaven, and Ethel shook her head and said "sold out." The customer was quite upset. So she told him she had put aside a box for herself and she would let him have it. He said oh, that's ok, and she insisted. So the customer yelled over to his wife "Honey, this nice lady wants to sell us her personal box!" And his wife said "no, we can't do that." And Ethel said "I insist. I don't need it. I"m a walking advertisement for Malleys." And in case you wonder, no, she wasn't fat. The wife responded "I don't care - we cannot take your personal box." So they argued back and forth. Meanwhile, the lady waiting on me as I paid for my purchases shook her head and said "It's bad. They advertised this product like crazy and we ran out." And I said "well I guess that's good, cause business is good for you" and she said "no, it's bad. Everyone is coming in here to buy it and they are all disappointed that we've run out."

Well after recounting this cute story, I regret to tell you that I left the store without finding out the ending. And that's not like me. I always have to know the ending. But I had other shopping to do. I just thought it was a very sweet gesture, and the ending almost doesn't even matter.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Cast Away Christmas

With the holidays approaching, I got to thinking about past holidays. We spend Christmas eve and Christmas day with David's family and it's always a good time.

Eight years ago, I was a frazzled mom. Things were not going well on the parenting front. We were expecting the family for Christmas eve and the house was pretty much ready and the food was done. The kids then started to fight with each other, and in the process, they broke a beautiful pottery dish I had bought at an art show. That was the final straw for me that day. With our company set to arrive any minute, I knew I couldn't handle another minute of this family life. So I got in my car (in the middle of a heavy snowfall) and just set out to drive. I had no idea where I would go, but for some reason, being in my car felt like the only place I could be and not lose my mind.

I thought about driving to a park and getting out and sitting on the ground, with the hope that I would freeze to death and end this pain. But I couldn't do that. So I decided to go to a movie theater, even though there were no movies I was burning to see. I drove to the theater, parked my car, walked in and got in line behind every other individual who didn't celebrate Christmas. It was the first time I had ever gone to a movie by myself. The movie was Cast Away. I settled down in my seat, wondered if I should call my husband to let him know where I was, and decided I just needed space from everyone in my family.

I was able to get very involved in the movie, which was a good thing. The movie ended and I drove home, much more at peace with myself. I came inside and the family was all gathered around and there was a fire in the fireplace. No one knew what to make of me and if I recall correctly, very little was said about my absence. I just joined them all as if my absence was nothing to be questioned.

For some unknown reason, I kept the broken plate. I had meant to try to glue it together, but I never did. So whenever I am getting something out of the china cabinet, I see that plate and it's a reminder of that night. I can't bring myself to get rid of that plate. I'm not sure why...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sweet Old Pix

Hubby David found a bunch of old pix and he made my day by emailing "David and Santa" to me at work. Isn't he sweet?

And then I came home and found David and Cousin Deet (aka Jeanie of the Marmalde Gypsy) when they were very young. Doesn't Deet look like a china doll?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ode to China Gate

A few weeks ago I was driving past Cedar Center. The whole north side is closed now, for a new development that is probably being postponed due to the economy. It looked very sad and desolate. At the end of the center was a now-closed China Gate and seeing that brought back a lot of memories.

I remember going there as a kid with my family. We didn't eat out much, and it was always a treat to go there. I especially remember the serving pieces - stainless steel pieces with a dome lid. All the food would arrive with lidded platters and the waiter would remove the lids with a flourish. And that was exciting. The anticipation of the wonderful flavors that we would soon be tasting - subgum chow mein, fried rice, tiny spare ribs, eggrolls...

As you entered the restaurant, you were greeted by a sign that said "Good Lunch! Wonderful Dinner!" Which made me smile. And the same smiling oriental man would greet you each time you came. Thinking back now - well I think he was a man who didn't age cause I went there for a span of 40 years!

As I grew up and got my own place, I would continue to go to China Gate with friends. By this time, there were newer, more trendy chinese restaurants around, and China Gate was starting to get a reputation as being dirty. But I loved it. The food was consistently good and I didn't see any dirt. It was like home - things didn't change much and the food was consistent.

I remember one night when I was living on my own and several of us were getting together to go to China Gate. Everyone was at my place and we were ready to leave. The phone rang, and it was my old boyfriend Larry. Larry and I were together for about 4 years, in Toronto. I moved back to Cleveland, and we continued to drive to each other's places for weekend visits. I think both of us knew this was not a relationship that was destined for marriage, but - well kind of like China Gate - it was old and comfortable. One day Larry called me and asked if I would move to Calgary with him. He was working for Arthur Andersen and he was being transferred there, and I said no. I was not ready to make that big step. But I figured we'd continue to be involved, even though we were seeing each other less and less. So that night, as we were on our way out the door to go to China Gate, I took the call and told the others to go ahead without me and I would meet them there. They left, and I sat down for a conversation with Larry. I asked what he was up to, and he told me he was married. Married! This was totally unexpected! So we talked for a little bit and said goodbye and I sat there with this big lump in my throat. All I really wanted to do was go to bed and let myself be depressed. But I had friends waiting for me at China Gate! So I forced myself out the door, and someone asked how Larry was and I had to tell them he was married.

I can laugh about it now; it wasn't so funny then. I think that may have been my last trip to China Gate. Occasionally my parents would have us over for dinner and they would pick up food from China Gate, but then we started getting food from other chinese restaurants.

But when I drive by and see the empty green restaurant, it will always be full of memories for me.