Thursday, December 31, 2009


So, I am closing out the old year, which was a bit of a bitch, with a few words on friendship. My definition of a successful life is now simple: do you have "go to the well" friends? That term was one I learned from my mom and it means sometimes things get a little rugged, like Native Americans are shooting at you and yet you still have to leave the fort and get water. Never mind it was their land to begin with, when you have to leave the fort, you need "go to the well" friends. Now, I don't know if they are back at the fort shooting or if they are running like hell beside you but either way...

This year, I had to leave the fort. I had friends who did it all, no matter how small or how outrageous the request. Here is my list which I know will in no way be all inclusive:

Go to the Well Friends

1. Drive over in a snowstorm to bring a friend cranberry vodka that took three weeks to make. Throw in some lobsters to boot.

2. Bring food, pick up kids from school, take kids to karate and daisies, take games to school, and make your friend believe that it is no big deal to do this the week before Christmas. Put together a schedule for people who are delivering food to your friend. Give them some tips that make your friend's life much easier.

3. Fly across the country to manage it all (thanks Mom and Mary)

4. Look through some old photos, scan them into the computer, and put together a slide show that will remind your friend of her history and yours.

5. Bring your friend clothes when she has to stay, against her will, in the hospital overnight.

6. Accompany your friend and her daughter to the American Girl Doll store during vacation week in case she faints from over-consumerism...then let her shop at Anthropologie while you keep two 7 year olds from juggling glittery things. Don't point out the irony of her thinking that the doll clothes were expensive, while picking up three items at her store.

7. Make your friend feel that it is no big deal to throw up in her bathroom...yikes!
8. Drive 45 minutes before Christmas to hand deliver a heart ornament with a band-aid.

9. Check on your friend while you are traveling in Thailand and/or India.

10. Bring your friend beautiful flowers, candy canes, gift certificates to restaurants, craft stores, books, and magazines.

11. Get your friend an Iphone and then offer to provide technical support with no attitude (thanks honey)

12. Sit with your friend's husband during the surgery and then send a fabulous book entitled "Ether Day."

13. Email, send cards, and call your friend just when she needs it most

14. Hang out on your own during Christmas so your friend isn't without support (thanks dad)

So, as promised, this is the last sentimental post for awhile. I am humbled by it all and have faith that I will return the good karma. Happy New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I am frugal with some things. My dad taught me to use duct tape to fix a ten cent paper folder and it can last a lifetime. I used to patch my jeans until I was patching the patches. Sadly, I grew out of that work of art. I made my niece an octopus doll out of a kitchen mop, "Molly Moptopus". Sadly, it did not become a family heirloom. My best furniture finds have been discarded on the street or purchased at yard sales, including our wobbly dining room table and most of our dressers.

I am not frugal with some things. I have a maid, a babysitter, and would hire a butler if I could find one. I love expensive clogs, which are so much hippier than expensive heels and will save me the cost of foot surgery down the road. I will never be without an Iphone or a GPS, ever again in my life. I don't cook much and could eat Indian, Mexican, and Thai every single night. The kids keep us balanced in this respect as they demand mac and cheese and chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.

In the middle zone are the pleasures we don't allow ourselves very often. Here are mine:

1. French manicures--my fingers feel very saucy as I am typing this entry.
2. 15 dollar magazine--could be archival quality, could be a limited edition, could be about Japanese snails but on occasion, get one of these.
3. The Good Stuff--be it a bottle of wine, the best paints, or Moroccan hair oil, sometimes you need to go top shelf.
4. Something you know your grandchild is going to get if you can just keep your child from ruining it. Ours is a wooden kitchen set in the attic that Emma may or may not have felt needed artistic embellishment. This is where my future daughter-in-law will sink or swim. If she says "that adds character", I will forever hold my peace about how she is raising the grand kids, if she refuses to take it as it is smeared with red paint and mouse nibbled, well....she gets the full benefit of my expertise as a family therapist.

I am a fan of the middle ground pleasures. They aren't my due, but I'm lucky when I recognize them and override the voice that tries to talk me out of them.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

What a gift!

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My dear friend Heather sent me this and I was so touched, I had to share with my blogging buddies. I think one of the benefits of going through a health crisis is that when you come out the other end, you feel you have earned the right to be openly sentimental, somewhat philosophical, and grateful as hell for everything. So, in that spirit, I will be posting a few sentimental tidbits in the next few days. Once the New Year rolls around, I will be focusing on harnessing my new super powers which I am hoping come with no longer having a hole in my heart. Watch out!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


How do you define what family means? I admit, I'm always pondering this notion after an extended visit with one or more of my clan. This particular visit had some interesting twists, as I am recovering from heart surgery, it is a balmy 17 degrees for my Texas mom, and my children are struggling to make sense of what has happened to all of us.

My mom is semi-retiring from her law practice and is closing on the sale of her building next week. To say this was an inopportune time for her to fly across the country is an understatement. She left Texas last Sunday morning at 6:20am and arrived at our door at 9:30pm. Currently, she is driving in a cab from Bradley airport in Conneticut to Logan airport in Boston because the airlines overbooked her flight. She is scheduled to leave Boston at 10:30pm tonight. She will not make it because we are expecting a big storm. She will most likely spend a good portion of tomorrow trying to get out of the Northeast.

So here is the first part of my definition of family: Family shows matter how inconvienent and how messy. Family shows up.

When we make it to each other, go easy with one another. Sometimes we have aged since last we spent time together, sometimes we are in pain, scared, and vulnerable. The old struggles have become a default position and we need to hit "delete" and begin anew. I'm not sure why that is harder to do with family than with anyone else.

I have noticed over many years that the perfect storm occurs when parents have one idea about their children, and grandparents have quite another. When I was a girl, I thought my grandmother was going to give my stepdad a blackeye when he ate one of my hardboiled easter eggs. She was a churchgoing woman but you did not mess with her grandkids. Having kids is Karma with a big K. You get to be in charge of these tiny filled with promise and challenges. Odds are, you are going to do it differently than your parents think you should. Odds are, you can be a bit sensitive about how you are parenting. When you all disagree, remember that it all stems from love....even when you are shouting and hurling insults at one another. (that might be the Texas part of this story:)

So, a family is bound by love. Family is an arena where we can employ the old-fashioned trait of duty. Where do we get to do that, anymore? My mother made a promise to my grandmother that she would not allow her to languish in a nursing home. She had to fight hard to keep that promise but keep it she did. My father made the same promise to his father and he kept his word. I watched them all struggle.

Love, struggle, duty, and compassion. No wonder things are so intense. Still, we aren't going to quit on one another and that, in the end, is what family is all about.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So Grateful

I know I have been writing a lot about gratitude but bear with me.....this was the view from my room at Mass General. I spent some time Wednesday morning looking out the window and realizing that for better or worse, my heart now has a tiny piece of metal attached to it and I made it through the surgery. My 12 year old doctor (well, he was the sous chef doctor, the one sent out to speak with patients) told me that the floor staff viewed me as "colorful". I view myself as colorful, so that worked out. I am extremely grateful that I can pee on my own. For twelve hours on Tuesday, that was not the case. Sitting in your own pee is a humbling experience. I have enjoyed every bathroom experience since then. I am grateful for my 91 year old roommate, Millie, who showed me that you are never too old to handle fear with grace and humor. She and her daughter toasted my small victories through a cloth curtain, since neither of us could move. I am grateful for my mom managing the home front, and my husband being rock solid as I contemplated running at the last minute. All my friends....I can't even capture their generosity so I will say thank you for the flowers, the cards, the emails, the food, the stool softeners, the magazines, the books, and the validation in every phone call that I was not losing my mind. So, today I am home resting and feeling strong. I will never forget that I hit the lottery by having insurance, by living this close to one of the best hospitals in the world, and most of all by the good karma I have been a recipient of.....although I am excited about my next life, I have a few things on my to do list for this one so I am grateful to be given the chance


Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So it is hitting all of us that I am having heart surgery next week. I have decided to stop calling it a procedure because I am going to be under anesthesia and because I am staying in the hospital overnight. Last night I spoke with my daughter, after I received an email from her teacher telling me that she was having a tough time in school, and realized that she is worried sick that I am going to die. I gave her a peace journal that I had serendipitously ordered from this company (check them out, your support translates into good stuff) and told her to draw in it when she felt overwhelmed. I gave one to my son but he is channeling his anxiety into making a paper crossbow.
Today we had a glorious snow day and spent the day together putting up Christmas decorations and just being with one another. There is much that I could have focused on and tried to get done. After my surgery, I can't lift anything over 20 lbs for 6 weeks and so I could have spent the day moving heavy objects:)
Instead, I made these for gifts for my children's aftercare staff. My son loves root beer and I saved the 4 pack that houses the old-fashioned bottles. Trader Joe's has delicious treats this time of year, and so I picked up chocolate-covered shortbread, and a variety of chocolates. I covered the boxes with Christmas paper, and of course purple and yellow pom-poms. I put the chocolate in small plastic confectioner's bags and now...well, I'm feeling mighty proud of myself.
Here is the thing when you are counting down: savor every moment of ordinary bliss that comes your way. No need for grand schemes or plans or elaborate to do lists. Making something for the people who love and care for children will do just fine.
A special thanks to all my wonderful, compassionate friends and family who are counting down with me. I have never felt alone in this for one second. That is the definition of being blessed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Magic of the Season

Each year, my family enters the Tsunami party season. I love a good celebration and I never met a ritual I didn't like but even my social worker self gets overwhelmed this time of year. Myself, my sister, her daughter, my daughter, my son, and my mother-in-law all have birthdays within the next four weeks. I also carry a bit of a chip on my shoulder vis-a-vis my own day after Christmas birthday...not against my family, just against the universe. I do not, for the record, appreciate my birthday gifts being wrapped in Christmas paper. I have come to appreciate the dual Christmas/birthday present, which has resulted in this year's Iphone. Yipee.
Anyway, I approach the season with grave determination, a trifle less humor than is necessary to make it through unscathed, and the desire to give each child their own day. I also am learning to listen to what they would like to do, instead of imposing my own sense of festivities on them. Emma wanted to go to Magic World and her heart's desire was to have a bird perch on her finger. This was never my heart's desire for myself or for her so I spent two weeks trying to talk her out of it. She is my own little daughter in terms of tenacity and at age 6, can hold her own. I don't know what this will mean for both of us when she is sixteen, but she may be spending some summers in Texas...or maybe, I will learn that listening to your children is the greatest gift you can give them. I have never seen a group of kids having more fun. The adults were pretty festive, as well.
So, I will add my voice to the choir that is singing about taking a step back this season, and cutting out the stuff that doesn't matter, meeting your friends and family where they are, and forgiving your ungrateful sister/daughter/wife when they complain that the beautiful gift you got them is wrapped in the wrong paper. I'm working on appreciating the magic of the season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My kingdom for a cup of coffee

I used to be able to run with the big dogs at night. My college roommate and I would routinely stay out until 4 or 5am listening to great live music in Austin, Texas. Then, we would head over to Katz Deli for a great breakfast. In my revisionist memory, we proceeded through the next day with no sleep, none the worse for wear.

During the skiing years, we had to get up at 3am, pack the car, and drive to Colorado for a day of skiing. Then, we turned around and came home, about a 5 hour drive. No worse for the lack of sleep. Ditto with alpine starts for climbing trips. It seems on the week-ends, sleep was the first thing to go for a higher cause.

Then, the babies came and still no sleep. I can't quite put my finger on when I got so attached to sleeping and my husband still manages on a few hours a night (although he is sound asleep as I type this, despite his promises to keep me up in creative ways tonight). My last all-nighter was last Christmas season when I had to help the elves with making Hobbes. God Bless Bill Watterson and his non-commercial ways but when your kid wants Hobbes, well, good luck to you.

So, here I sit during the middle of the night because I have to stay up for a "sleep-deprived" EEG. I found out yesterday from the lovely confirmation call that this also means no caffeine, which was a big part of my plan to do this successfully. If it wasn't pitch black and 20 degrees, I would go for a run. If my husband wasn't asleep, I would talk to him about the shock of having my heart surgery scheduled in two weeks. If I could find the pattern my friend Michelle created, I would sew....on and on it goes with a bunch of "ifs".

In the end, I'm hanging out with my grandmother's voice in my head: KK, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride like kings. Her way, always was to face whatever was happening with a steely pragmatism, and then go make something. I'm going to wrap her quilt around me and go do just that.