Childhood · Family · Lucky Eleven

Tradition: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation.

Sixty-plus years ago at a small cottage built by my maternal grandfather on a bluff overlooking Lake Huron, my siblings and a handful of cousins marched in an impromptu Fourth of July parade put together by the various adults in attendance. My dad, belting out some of the traditional patriotic songs and waving a large flag, led the small contingent of children around the cottage while the grown ups sang “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “You’re a Grand Ole’ Flag,” and any other marching-type song they could think of. Everyone trailed happily along waving little flags totally unaware of why, just having fun marching behind the big guy. This went on year after year after year. As the family grew, the parade – eventually nearly 30 strong – became a favorite tradition along the beach shore. Somewhere along the line someone furnished a long string of gas station flags that we all held onto while dad would holler, “Tighten up that line!” Lining up in front of the flag pole, our hands over our hearts, we would then recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Years later, as we all got older, the parade finally culminated with the bravest of the brave marching into the cold waters of the Great Lake, dad marching on until his hat floated on the water.

And now we see my brother Terry carrying on the family tradition this past Fourth of July at his own cottage on Lake Huron with his own kids and grandkids. I clipped these pictures from a video he shared where we could hear him singing the same songs he learned so long ago. Just for fun, he’s the baby in the last picture at the top, where mom is carrying him, more than 50 years ago, at the end of the parade line.

I know there wasn’t a single kid, myself included, who didn’t look at his video and smile. We’re all so grateful to see dad in Terry. It brought back such happy memories of times so long ago; times gone by, but certainly not forgotten. Tradition.

(Pardon the grainy images clipped from old 8mm movies thankfully filmed by my uncle all those years ago.)

Family & Friends · Thoughts

My gang

My sister has a group of friends she met when she was a teacher at the same Catholic school she attended as a kid. I think there’s four of them that are each others’ support group. She calls them her posse. I like that. I think it’s great to have a posse.

Me, I have a gang. Not a big gang, mind you, though the name itself would suggest that. No, it’s a small gang; sort of a gang of two. But between us, we’ve weathered births, adoptions, divorce, and heartbreaking death; life at its best and worst; while helping raise each other’s kids. They say it takes a village. My family was my village, but she is my person. She knows my darkest secrets, and I hers. After more than 30 years, I’ve learned that she will caveat to the point where I often just make a quick mental note where she started so I can get her back on track when needed. We’ll run the gamut of raucous laughter to silent sniffles, each of us knowing what the other one needs at any particular time. We will challenge each other, make us face our fears, always offer support and of course unconditional love. We can go for months on end and not talk with each other outside of maybe a text or two saying, ‘Hey, I’m still here, are you?’ And then out of the blue one of us calls the other, and we’re on the phone for hours asking about family and friends, the fun and the not-so-much-fun that’s been going on since we last spoke.

We are pretty much total opposites in many ways; it’s really a wonder we clicked as we did. And while we are the same age, she grew up in a very dysfunctional family of five where all the kids (three boys, two girls) had male names. Alcoholism ran rampant in her clan who all lived within miles of each other. Raised on a farm in mid Michigan in the 60s and 70s, hard work was no stranger to her. While the rest of her siblings stayed close to home, at 18 she left for the dance world and never returned, forever the outcast who dared to choose a different, better life. I was raised in a tight Irish-Catholic clan with 10 siblings, lots of love and laughter, pretty much oblivious to the lifestyles of other families. I had my own struggles growing up; we didn’t have much, and I wasn’t popular in school. It was a strict upbringing that included church, chores, curfews, but lots of love and laughter.

She (given name Dale) was and is athletic. I am not. She has two children through adoption while I gave birth to three (she was there with me for the last one). She is the Diane Keaton to my Annette Benning, good at acting as if all is well when it’s not. We both weathered destructive marriages, and we are now both retired with grandchildren. We live a thousand miles apart, but we also know if one of us were in need, we would be right there for the other. We can agree to disagree on many things with no judgement while we encourage, advise, empathize, and console.

There’s a quote from Grey’s Anatomy where this ‘my person’ idea started, and I think it says it all:

This is life. Bad things happen. You find your people, you find your person, and you lean on them.

Meredith, Grey’s Anatomy

So she is my person. I have other close friends that I love dearly along with many acquaintances, and I try my best to stay in touch, even if it’s just a quick text or email. All our lives are constantly changing. After being alone for 11 years she has found a nice man she enjoys spending time with. She’s in a really good place right now, deservedly so, and I am more than happy for her happiness. I have remarried. I am in a good place as well, though there’s a bit of a ‘limbo’ feel to my days while my 94-year-old mother lives out the rest of her days with us. We are far apart in distance but always close in heart.

I love her. She is my person, my gang.

Family · Lucky Eleven · Mom

The other side of hospice

My mother may be dying. Five words that, when said to myself, feel like they don’t mean anything; at least not anything real.

My 94-year-old mother has been living here with us in Florida since last Thanksgiving. She had previously lived with my brother in Michigan for the past 14 years, minus the winter months with me, since my dad’s passing. But circumstances brought her to us for longer than the typical winter months, and now she is in her bedroom, in a hospital bed, and for all I know, she is dying.

Did I mention I work for hospice? I know about people dying. I’ve talked to them or their caregivers and I’ve offered words of reassurance. But what did I know? My dad was on hospice in the hospital where he died, but only for a few days, and it seems far removed from this. This is different.

Mom is now on our hospice. She has an angel of a nurse and a wonderful aide. She has all the accoutrements of a hospital room, but she’s home, with us. And instead of hearing the reassuring words I’d uttered to others, I have tunnel vision. I feel inept. Like I’m not doing enough, but I don’t know what enough is.

She surprises us. She’ll be totally wiped out and barely able to get up enough strength to use the bedside commode. She’ll be in bed all night and all day eating and drinking little to nothing. And then suddenly I’ll see her dressed, coming out of the bedroom smiling, saying, ‘Hi, Honey!’ She has raised 11 children, worked tirelessly in and outside the home, traveled near and far. She is part of that generation that feels she’s not supposed to stop.

I’ve been trying to keep my 10 siblings updated as much as possible. The challenge seems to be, though, that my dire narration is often followed by a ‘never mind’ report making me feel foolish, like I’m jumping the gun or something.

She says this is dumb. “This is so dumb.” “I just wanna feel better.” “If I’m gonna kick the bucket, I wish I’d just kick the bucket.” I have no response to that. Part of me wants her to join her beloved Charlie, whom she has had to live without for 14 years. Of course, the selfish part of me wants her to rally once again, to go to breakfast with us, to drive to the ocean and watch the surf. And it could happen.

Being on this side of hospice is eye-opening and humbling. I can do this part, caring for her, making her comfortable, accepting the thanks from my brothers and sisters for something I’d have fought them for. This part is easy.

I’m not sure about the next part. She’s the last of them. She deserves to go peacefully to her husband and loved ones gone before. My mind knows this absolutely. I want it for her, too.

But my heart…

I hope I’m as strong as I need to be.

Florida Fun · Moving forward · Us

Am I ready for a retirement community?

After years of raising a family, a career as a freelance court reporter, and trying my hand at different jobs, the end of my marriage prompted a move to Florida. During a five-year stint at a job I loved, I met my last love. He was retired and wanted me retired, too. I was 63.

As a younger version of myself, I always had a difficult time picturing myself in my 50s, much less my 60s. But I was blessed with good genes and a quick metabolism, so aside from three pregnancies, I was able to pretty much maintain my weight and thus my activity level. I have never felt myself age. It just happened. Kinda suddenly, in fact.

A couple years ago, after I bit the bullet and left hospice, my LL and I took a day trip to The Villages south of Ocala, Florida. Coming from my experience with online dating, I’d heard all the horror stories about the high incidences of STDs at The Villages. Not really knowing what to expect – were people running around with boils? – I have to admit I was truly blown away by everything we saw at this retirement community so often read about. These people didn’t seem old. They were golfing, walking, dancing, socializing, enjoying adult beverages and laughing with each other. Rather than a retirement community, it seemed like one big outdoor party, and I wanted to get invited!

Friends of ours recently moved there. We’re hoping to visit for maybe a long weekend come spring. We know we like the atmosphere. Whether or not we could afford to live there is another thing. Plus, we have grandkids here now, and it’s a couple hour drive away. But should that stop us? They moved all the way down here to be by family, and then we move? I get it. But, hey, we’re retired. We should be able to come and go as we please at this stage. On the other hand, I would miss the kids terribly, miss seeing the grands grow, miss the whole ‘family’ thing, too. We’d only be a couple hours away, but it’s not the same, and I know it.

Even thinking about it I’m plagued with Catholic guilt (see previous post). Though I know my kids only want us to be happy, I’m not sure they want us happy that far away. When all is said and done, if I just think about what I would like and what would be good for us as a couple, if I’m going to be retired, that’s the retirement community I’d choose.

Family · Florida Fun · Mom

A salute to flying.

I was 19, working at a securities firm and wondering what to do with my life. I felt no driving force urging me towards a particular career. I worked every day and spent less and less time with my dead-end boyfriend. I still lived at home with eight of my ten siblings. My best friend had moved on with my older brother, and I felt driftless.

Driving around in what was then rural southeast Michigan, I would sometimes come across a sign saying, ‘Airplane rides, $5.” (Yes, it was a long time ago.) Whenever I did, I’d stop and go flying just for the fun of it. It was typically a small four-seater, and the pilot, always a guy, would offer to let me ‘fly’ it. One evening I was talking about it at the dinner table while my aunt and uncle were visiting. My uncle mentioned there was a flight school in Traverse City and said there was only ONE girl in the program. ‘You should look into it,’ he said. Never in a million years did I dare to dream that particular dream.

But look into it, I did. I went and toured the school and discovered they offered a two-year flight program that would earn me an Associate of Science degree in aviation. I applied for FAFSA, saved as much as I could, and the following August I moved myself into the dorms at NMC (Northwestern Michigan College) with the unbelievable anticipation of learning to fly!

It took me three years rather than two, but I eventually earned my commercial/instrument ratings through the FAA. Being one of only two girls in the program, it’s no surprise I eventually married a fellow pilot. A seaplane crash the summer before the wedding caused me to become ground shy and put an end to any hopes of my own flying career. But it turned out for the best as we ended up following my then-husband’s very successful career as a 747 captain.

I wouldn’t trade those college memories for anything in the world. I barely remember any of my academic classes I so thoroughly enjoyed flight school. Every aspect of flying both by myself and with others was always a thrill. Circling over the family home watching everyone run outside waving towels and racing to the car to come to the airport and pick me up; flying ‘formation’ with fellow students over to Interlochen’s grass strip or sneaking my boyfriend up to Mackinac Island; learning aerobatics, getting checked out in a taildragger, soaring with a friend and even flying into Oshkosh for their annual airshow; these memories are all tucked away to be pulled out frequently and enjoyed.

I do miss it. I was young. I was invulnerable. I knew no fear when it came to flying. I trusted my fellow pilots, my little airplane, and myself.

Mom’s cousin Rene, long-deceased, had been a pilot, himself, and she talked of him often as she shared his daredevil flying stories. Not long ago I surprised my then 89-year-old mom with a ride in an open-cockpit Waco bi-plane over St. Augustine, Florida. Mom has always been up for anything, and I knew she’d love it. Mike, our pilot in the back seat, was pretty pumped about taking his oldest passenger flying, extending the usual 20-minute flight to 45 minutes. I’ll never forget Mom’s face mirroring my own check-to-cheek grin as we took off feeling the wind and the power of that Waco. Over the oldest city, circling this way and that, out over the Atlantic we flew entirely thrilled. Turning towards shore, I leaned over to my mom and said, ‘Let’s tip our hats to Rene!’ And with a smile on our faces and sheer joy in our hearts, we saluted the sky.

Moving forward · Randomness

FSBO – yay or nay?

Anyone who has ever sold a home knows how valuable a realtor can be. But is a realtor, even a good one, worth 6 percent or more? Think about it: Say you list and sell your home $250,000. 6 percent of $250,000 is $15,000! Add to that title costs and all the other fees associated with the sale, and we’re talking upwards of $20,000 right off the top!

In the past year we have sold two residences; one, a 2/2 condo, and the other a much sought after 3/2 pool home under $300,000. The condo went with an agent, and arguably, trying to sell amid the COVID crisis was challenging at best. I barely broke even and, after realtor fees and other costs, I limped away with a paltry sum. So when we were ready to list our pool home, we decided to try it ourselves. There are plenty of FSBO sites online, and after much research we settled on Houzeo.com. Beginning in October of 2020, we went through the very clear steps of listing with a Houzeo rep to get our place on the Northeast Florida MLS and immediately, within 24 hours, we had an offer. We were thrilled! After going through the many steps of document signings, appraisals, and inspections, within the required 15 days, they backed out.

It went back on the market and again, two days later, we had a second contract signed. After another round of document signings (thank God for e-sigs), appraisals, and another inspection, we felt pretty good about this deal. And again, 15 days in, their agent called to tell us they never mentioned they needed to sell their house.

Is this where a realtor earns their keep? From what I’ve heard, this isn’t typical for two deals to fall through within a month of each other. Both buyer’s realtors apologized profusely, and both said they’ve never had this happen to them before.

What we discovered during this time was that all of the potential buyers were from north of us. We learned through a couple local agents who brought customers through that they never saw our listing on our local MLS. That wasn’t going to work for us, so we contacted Houzeo and insisted they find us an agent who could list our place locally as well as regionally. And back on the market it went again.

The third time was a charm, a cash deal from someone who never actually saw the house. We got our asking price, plus they paid all the typical seller’s title fees, and their title company even came to our home for the closing. Though this ended up being pretty painless, I wasn’t going to count any chickens prematurely and, feeling a bit gun shy, we didn’t tell anyone about this third contract until after the deal was done.

Would we do it again? Probably. FSBO saved us close to $20,000. And while there was a lot of angst and hours involved, I think it’s definitely worth another try.

I’ll give it a YAY!

Childhood · Family · Lucky Eleven

Christmas Eve Magic

This original post was from a year ago but bears repeating as Christmas Eve approaches along with one of my fondest childhood memories.

Growing up, there was a Christmas Eve tradition in our home that, according to my mom, began when she was just a little girl. Her parents started it, then my parents followed in their footsteps with the reading of T’was the Night Before Christmas.

“The Reading” about 25 years ago

Each year on that night, we would all get into our pajamas and make our way downstairs for “The Reading.” Dad would lie on his belly at the foot of the tree surrounded by all his children with mom standing somewhere behind. He would masterfully and with great relish read from the pages of that well-known book. After concluding with a very dramatic, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” we would suddenly hear, “Crack! Crack! Crack!” and from the ceiling huge walnuts would fall to the floor! At the same time, dad would leap up and run to the window yelling, “I see him! I see Santa! There he goes!” As we searched the dark skies for any sign of the sleigh, mom and dad would tell us to hurry upstairs so Santa could come back. We would then race up to bed and wait until morning to descend the stairs and behold the many presents under the Christmas tree.

As we got older, of course, we were quick to figure it all out. But with such a large family, and always with little ones, it was great fun to see what our parents saw, and it made us want to duplicate it in our own families years later.

The tradition continues.

This is a photo collage I put together on Christmas Eve a few years ago. These pictures started showing up on Facebook as the evening progressed, and I just had to collect as many as I could and put them together as a small tribute to a cherished tradition started over 90 years ago. I was lucky enough to experience this great mystery as a child, and it has been passed along to my children and now my grandchildren. My nieces and nephews and now great-nieces and great-nephews are delighting in the same excitement. I’m sure my mom’s parents never dreamed their idea for a little Christmas Eve magic would be repeated for generations every night before Christmas. But I know when it is, they, along with all our missed loved ones, are smiling down on these scenes.

Moving forward · Randomness · Us

Kissing frogs (aka Online Dating)

Ohmygod. Where do I start? I guess I start in 2016, unattached, independent, and looking for love in all the wrong places. When you’re past middle age, where the heck do you meet someone of the opposite sex? I’m way beyond the bar scene, even though that scene is quite active here near the beach. But I never settled into a local church, I don’t have school-aged kids, and my hospice job exposed me to mostly women. Most of my friends were either married or didn’t know any eligible men.

Enter online dating. Zoosk, POF (Plenty of Fish), Match, I shudder just to think of them. But truly, at the time and even now, it’s probably the single best way to get yourself out there and start meeting people. I know many, many now married couples who met the same way, and yes, they all have their horror stories, just like me.

It was to my great advantage that I grew up with eight brothers. Men don’t intimidate me even when they’re trying to be intimidating. And so I was able to view the pompous retired Army commander in much the same light as the pitiful Uber driver (“I’m in transportation”) or the starving artist. I discovered there definitely is such a thing as a mid-to-late-life-crisis in men. These are the men who divorced, sold everything they didn’t lose in the fight, and now live on a boat. There were too many of them to count, but I always wished them great luck.

After more than two years of online exposure (not a solid two years; I took breaks of months at a time), I was actually getting pretty savvy about the whole process. I found the fakes quickly by copying and pasting one of their photos into Google Images. Funny how that same great-looking guy is everywhere! And with different names! Or I would copy and paste part of their written profile into a Google search and see it appear on various sites, word for word. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google are all great places to investigate potential dates. Pictures speak a thousand words, but the real-life person can leave you speechless when they look nothing like said pictures. (That’s awkward.) Then there’s the multitude of men who would spend hours talking my ears off and then walk away knowing little to nothing about me.

Probably my most interesting discovery (duh) was that an inordinate number of these men simply wanted sex. Or they wanted to talk about sex. Or they thought if they fed me, they’d get sex. I suppose dinner is cheaper than a hooker, but really? I often felt like I was back in high school in the front seat of the car where some guy is trying to make out. I discovered from one ‘gentleman’ that the price of him helping me replace my thermostat was sex. (I settled on a YouTube video.) I’m not sure who some of these guys think they are, but spending any amount of time with them explained why they were still single.

With MY prince!

I did meet several really nice men; a couple actually became friends. But I think I knew when I met Mr. Right. I can still see his smile as he came out of the beachfront restaurant to greet me, and our good-night kiss is etched in both our minds. Was all that weirdness worth it? Definitely. Would I do it again if I had to? I don’t think so, but who knows? It’s scary putting yourself out there. It takes guts. You have to keep your confidence high and your expectations at least reasonable. But I am thankful every day there are online dating sites at our disposal, because really, there are some pretty great people out there looking for the same things we all are. You just have to kiss a few frogs before you find them.