My Dad Stopped Driving Yesterday


Dad handed me the keys to the car yesterday.  I remember the first time he did this.  I was 16.  It meant the start of independence for me, and in retrospect it marked the beginning of the end for his time as an active, hands on parent of young children.  Over the next five years that same ritual was repeated twice more, and soon after that all three of us were gone.   That time, handing the keys to me was a sign of growth. It was celebrated. 

I’ve been taking them grocery shopping every week for the last few years.  It started as an easy way to spend some time together.  I notice how much slower they are; a 20 minute trip for me takes over an hour with them. I watch as mom, so much shorter than she was a few years ago, talks with the butcher about what cut of meat she wants.  He has to lean forward to hear her.  My dad spends an eternity picking out fruit, carefully checking pineapples and melons to determine which one is at the perfect stage of ripeness. 

The vibrant, strong people who raised me are mostly gone. I’m glad he and mom are still here, and I’m grateful they are mentally sound and able to continue being active participants in their own lives.  He and mom are in their late 80s.  She stopped driving a few years ago; he hung on, unwilling to give up, but hardly ever using the car.  It was his decision, made a few months ago.   

Steps taken during childhood and adulthood are celebrated because they mark an expansion of opportunities and expectations.  Each of those steps: getting a driver’s license, moving out, a first job, represent the start of a new phase of life.  Living long enough to become elderly is an accomplishment, but often one that brings a contraction of opportunities.  The steps my parents now take are not “firsts”, they are “lasts”.  The last trip they will ever take.  The last car they buy.  The last home they will live in.

Dad handed me the keys to the car yesterday.  Not for the first time, but for the last time.

Where’s My Reality Show?

How often have you found yourself stranded on a desert island with no food, 15 sociopaths, and a full television crew?  Or what about that one time you lived for 3 months in a gorgeous penthouse apartment shared with 10 other people, all of whom were delusional, suicidal, homicidal or all three?

I love reality shows, but I want one that’s more, well, reality-based.  Lots of people work in offices, and I’m one of them.  The closest thing to a reality show we’ve had was The Office. Neither the British nor American versions made anything up; they just took what was actually there and exaggerated a bit.  There are millions and millions of us who spend the majority of our week days working in an office environment, and I think we deserve a reality show that depicts our life.  So I’ve created one.  Here’s my pitch for a new, guaranteed to be a success show.  If you are an executive producer, please contact me and we can discuss terms.

Project Survivor

Elevator pitch: The Office meets Survivor.  A competitive quasi-reality show in which contestants are forced to work their way through office politics and shenanigans until one person emerges successfully as the winner. 

Description:  Teams compete weekly to achieve meaningless goals.  The losers nominate 2 people each to go to Human Resources (HR), where one or more people are selected for right-sizing.

The season begins with 3 teams of 8 people each.  Teams include these types of members:

  • Aging Boomers who complain about everyone younger except when they need help accessing emails
  • Someone who never seems to do anything but still gets the credit for other people’s work 
  • A few people who gossip and trash talk everything and everyone
  • At least one person whose main skill is derailing every effort at organization and competence
  • A few Millenialls with loads of enthusiasm and energy coupled with a complete lack of people skills and knowledge
  • Several people with mad skills in one area only, and no interest in doing anything else
  • A sociopath who wants to take over every everything and doesn’t care who gets destroyed
  • A nurturer who spends all their time planning parties and pot lucks

Each week consists of 2 challenges. The first is at the individual level, with scores ranked by team.  The winning team will receive a reward or be given an advantage in the final team-based challenge. 

Individual challenges are based on office skills and situations.  For example, a memo-writing challenge would have each person handed a new, 2-page policy with 90 minutes to understand it and write a memo explaining it to staff.  Judging is done by a panel of office experts looking to see who can write in the most boring and unreadable style, and for the ability to white-wash negative information.  Other individual challenges could focus on stealing office supplies, staying awake during HR training, or creative back-stabbing.

The main challenge each week pits the teams against each other as they try and accomplish a strategic initiative.  Teams have 2 days to complete each challenge, and can divide up that time between planning and execution in any way they want.  There are some defined milestone deliverables where points can be won or lost, but the majority of points are earned at the end when the project is complete. 

It is exciting to watch as one team may spend a day and half arguing over project scope and roles, and then have only a few hours to actually do what was requested.  Another team may jump right into executing the project, and discover at the very end that they’ve successfully completed the wrong work.

What makes Project Survivor stand out is that the teams change every week.  After HR has decided on the right-sizing, remaining participants are reshuffled with a weekly reorganization into new teams based on no logic or rationale discernible by anyone outside of HR.  This upending makes the game new every week, and will keep viewers on the edge of their ergonomically designed office chairs. 

The core audience is expected to be the millions of people that work every  day in an office environment.  A strong secondary audience will consist of telecommuters watching streamed versions of the show from their home offices while they are pretend to work. This show is bound to be  hit.   Please, contact me as soon as possible to discuss terms.  I desperately want out of office work, and am hoping this is my ticket out.

Why the GOP is Going Nuts

The two major parties change focus every 40 years or so, but this election year it seems the Republicans may end up self-destructing.  This may appear to be coming out of nowhere, but the current campaign season and the rise of Donald Trump can be tracked back to calculated decisions made decades ago.  To get a better picture of what’s going on now in 2016,  I’ll start back all the way back in the 1880s when Reconstruction ended. From that period through to about 1968, the US could be considered as having had a 3-party system with the Republicans, southern Democrats and northern Democrats existing as distinctly different entities.

The Republican Party started in the late 1850s as an abolitionist party with a strong Northern base among Yankee-born believers in the mid-19th century’s triumvirate of progressive issues: abolishing slavery, establishing prohibition, and providing the vote for women.  These causes don’t seem intrinsically linked to us, but they were to people in the 19th century.  Inherent in their viewpoint was the idea that small towns and farms were the most valid part of the America, and that the common man (interpreted as middle class people with a solid WASP lineage) were the best Americans. The less palatable side of these beliefs were a desire to preserve that America from the vast number of immigrants coming from countries and cultures that were believed to be incapable of assimilation (mostly Irish and Italian during the 1880s).   During Reconstruction southern blacks were granted the right to vote, and they voted solidly Republican.

Democrats were lukewarm on the Civil War, and the Democratic Party stood in opposition of attempts to provide freed slaves with equal rights during Reconstruction.  When federal troops were removed from the South in 1877, the GOP went with them.  The South would be Democratic from that point forward through to the 1950s.  The Southern Democratic Party was the party of segregation and State’s rights.  Southern Democratic legislators prevented the passage of federal anti-lynching laws and did everything in their power to ensure that blacks remained in as abject a position as possible. 

That was in the South.  In the North, the Democratic Party had a very different face.  Immigrants streamed into the US and mostly settled in Northern cities.  Republicans were, by and large, appalled at what they considered a mass influx of inferior races, religions and cultures.  The Democratic Party rolled out the welcome mat and created the concept of machine politics.  Every northern city had a well-established system of neighborhood leaders and bosses who handed out jobs, helped people with problems, and ensured that all the voters made it to the polls.   

The Progressive movement started in the 1890s with a reboot of many of the same issues that started the Republican party.  Progressives wanted votes for women, often supported prohibition, and were vehemently opposed to the machine politics that had taken over most Northern cities.  Entwined in these goals were some nativist concerns.  One of the arguments in favor of women’s suffrage was that native-born American  women’s votes (in reality, they meant white Protestant) could counteract the votes of non-native immigrant men.  A part of the desire to make municipal governments corruption free was to break the hold of the mostly Democratic urban machines that ran cities. 

Progressives had strong roots in the Republican Party, even though they would participate in third party movements  (TR with the Bull Moose Party, Bob La Follette with the Socialists).  This continued through the 1920s up until Teddy’s cousin FDR was elected President in 1932. For the first time, it was a Democrat who was looking to enact major progressive reforms, and his Republican opponents that were in opposition.  In addition, FDR made some attempts to challenge the racist base of the party in the South.  Still, the voting blocs remained mostly the same.  Northern white ethnics and Southern whites voted Democratic; WASPs voted Republican.  Former progressives were mostly voting Republican, but would vote for FDR in the presidential election. 

The first cracks appeared in 1948 when the Democratic Party formally supported integration and Truman integrated the armed forces.  This was viewed as apostate by the Southern Democrats, and many of them formally split off to form a new, entirely race-based party called the Dixiecrats. While not long-lived, the result was that some elected members of the US House and Senate switched their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.  The age where the Democratic Party was the only group for Southern whites was starting to end.  Over the next 20 years Southern white support for the Democratic Party steadily eroded.  It was Lyndon Johnson, a white Southerner and a Democrat, who worked hard to get the voting rights act of 1965 passed.  For the first time since 1877 Southern blacks were able to vote in large numbers, and they voted as Democrats.

Party alliances in the North underwent an equally major transition.  The flood of European immigration stopped after WWI, and the supposedly unassimilable hordes assimilated.  The Democrats stayed with them, becoming the party that supported unions and represented the working man and woman. Then, during the 1960s, civil rights protests in Northern cities targeted jobs and housing at the same time the urban manufacturing age was ending.  Blue collar workers – the children and grandchildren of immigrants – were in labor unions that were staunchly Democratic, and often just as staunchly against admitting blacks.  Factories started shutting down and the solidly working class blue-collar Democrats began feeling left out of their party’s concerns.     

In a calculated bid to appeal to Northern white blue collar voters and Southern whites, the GOP began to play up racial issues. The movement was small and mostly covert in the 1960s, but slowly become more openly race-based.  Nixon appealed to the “Silent Majority”; those white working class folks, often union members, who felt their world was crumbling.  Ronald Reagan talked about “welfare queens” driving Cadillac cars and George HW Bush made a point of mentioning a criminal with the decidedly black sounding name of “Willy Horton”.  By the 1990s, there was no doubt that the GOP, once the party of abolition, was solidly and assuredly the party where racists could feel most at home.    

Along with the racists, the GOP opened their doors to other groups.  Starting in the 1990s, evangelicals were welcomed with open arms.  Anti-federalists advocates were invited in.  By the early 2000s the GOP has become a case study for cognitive dissonance, with about the only unifying theme being a deep and pervasive anger at anyone perceived as being different. Party leaders have spent the last few years in an increasingly more difficult dance to keep control over the crazies they invited in.  This year, they finally lost control.  But make no mistake about it; they laid the framework and created the situation they now find themselves in. 

Answers from the Cat

Were my facial muscles capable of doing so, I would have laughed out loud while reading your letter. Clearly you have forgotten the most basic premise of our relationship, which is that I issue demands, not you. You want a companion willing to spend their time answering your yammering questions? Get a dog. Though, of course, most of them are not bright enough to craft readable answers, and those that could are such despicable people-pleasers all they’d do is write simpering, sniveling responses.

I am the cat, the true mistress of this household, and it is not my job to provide you with comforting answers to your boring questions. However, I am a generous and kindly soul, and therefore will answer one. Like all cats, I see little distinction between food and friend. So long as my bowl remains full and you show signs of life, you are my friend. That doesn’t mean I can’t occasionally daydream about a time when those conditions cease.

There. I’ve answered one of your questions. The rest are too tedious. It is not my job to salve your ego or to explain how best to spend your money.  I’m off to take a nap.  Please be sure to have the food bowl filled by the time I wake up.

Questions for My Cat


Let me start out by stating how I admire you, both as an individual and as a member of your species.  I’m especially impressed at how felines made a somewhat hesitant deal with humans for food and shelter in return for, well, not much on your side.  Sure, you’ll live with me, take food, show some level of affection, but I recognize it’s a choice, and one you make on a daily basis.

Still, there are some things I just don’t get.

  • Why do you wait all day to use the litter box? You spend the entire day alone in the house, but wait until I get home before you decide to let loose with something that smells so bad I’m considering purchasing a hazmat suit.
  • What are you looking at?  Periodically you will stare at nothing for a long time, and with a look of total concentration.  It weirds me out.  
  • How come you pretend to love your toys when I have company, but won’t go near them otherwise?  You look like those cats in the commercials; when it’s just us they gather dust.
  • And, in general, what’s with the pickiness regarding play things?  I buy a toy guaranteed to amuse you.  You play with the box and won’t touch the toy.  
  • Why are toes so fascinating?  No explanation needed on this one, just some rationale for why you feel that my feet, and especially toes, exist solely for your amusement.
  • Do you deliberately wait to scratch my favorite chair in front of me?  You never touched any of the furniture, only using scratching posts.  Because of that, I spent a lot of money on a custom-made chair that is now covered with a throw.
  • Am I food or friend?  You snuggle up next to me and purr.  An hour later I catch sight of you perched on top of the kitchen cabinets, glaring down at me like I’m a gazelle and you’re the tiger.   
  • And, finally, the biggest question of all: do you like me?  Sometimes you seem to adore me, but other times you shoot me that look of utter disdain and scorn only a cat can manage.  It really messes with my confidence. 

Please respond at your earliest convenience.  Don’t pretend you can’t read or write; I’ve seen your earlier posts. 

Learning to Live in the Now

Remember the old story about the grasshopper and the ant? The ant spends the pleasant days of summer working hard building a nest and filling it with food, while the grasshopper enjoys the lovely weather and plays.  The two encounter each other one warm day and the grasshopper asks the ant to come and join the party; the ant declines.  A few months later, snow covering the ground and a cold wind blowing, the hungry, freezing grasshopper shows up at the ant’s door and begs to be let in.  The ant, sitting in front of a roaring fire with a larder full of food, turns the grasshopper away with a stern lecture about the value of work before play. The ant was clearly a total douche.

I’ve always identified with the ant (although I would share with my grasshopper friend.)  Years ago I made the decision to change careers to something that would give me more financial security, but less day to day satisfaction.  I decided my compromises would be made at work, not at home. To me, money means choices, and the more choices I have the better I feel.

My plan worked well; while I never loved my job, I always liked it, and more to the point, I was able to have that good life.  However, over the last few years my enjoyment of work has steadily declined to the point where I really and truly don’t want to be here anymore.  I’m at the age where looking for a new job is limited; few places are interested in hiring someone over 60.  That leaves retiring, which brings me right back to that darn ant.  What the story got wrong is that the ant would never spend winter relaxing by the fire with a good book.  A real ant type would be nervously pacing back and forth, thinking how safe is the food supply from being ruined by pests, and that there probably isn’t enough to last the whole winter anyway, and getting ready to go out and forage some more as soon as the storm died down. 

That’s the reality of being an ant: worrying more about what might happen instead of enjoying what is happening.  The battle wages within me, but I’ve come to a decision.  

I think…

The Darkest Time of Year


It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I feel words starting to bubble up, but haven’t wanted to act on letting them go. 

Late last summer something started to shift inside me. I stopped grieving.  I still missed Rick, but it was no longer in the forefront of my consciousness.  I was here, now, in July of 2015 and starting to wake up and feel good.  It had been a long journey, but I was at the end of it and ready for what comes next.

And then… I heard from my brother.  What was thought to be arthritis, then nerve damage, turned out to be cancer: metastasized, stage 4, terminal.  That news came on the 3rd anniversary of the day on which Rick went into the hospital. I spent what would have been my 10th wedding anniversary with him and my sister in law for what I knew would be my final visit.  He died in late December. He and Rick were close; one of my favorite pictures is the two of them leaning towards each other and both making the same silly face.  When Rick died, my brother wrote a heart-felt eulogy; I’ve now returned the favor by writing one for him.

The moving forward I experienced in July disappeared. Emotionally, I went back to where I had been 3 years earlier, almost overwhelmed with sadness and feeling cut off from life.  There wasn’t anything to write last fall that I hadn’t already written  2 or 3 years ago.

By now, I should have it figured out, but I’m still floundering.  I should be at the next stage of my life, whether that means moving on to a new relationship or being happy and content on my own.  I’m neither.  I thought I’d grown into a wise woman capable of doing anything.  Instead, I’m spending my evenings watching binge-watching old TV shows.  I wait for the next bad news. 

I’ve sat on this post for a few days.  Waiting for the coda that shows my realization this is just one spot in a long journey, or the epiphany that turns this very personal revelation into something with universal meaning.  Neither has come to me.  I think, for now, I’m just feeling low.  I’m still stuck working a job I no longer like.  It’s winter, and the sky is dark when I leave in the morning and when I come home at night.  There will be more sun in my life, both literally and figuratively, but right now is the darkest time of year.

Cat Chronicles

I had some spare time in between naps the other day and reread my kitten posts from last year. How young and silly I was; my tail was twitching with amusement as I read them.


Last year I was obsessed with establishing dominance over my human.  So many things confused me.  I couldn’t figure out why she would spray me with water or physically remove me from the best places in the house.  I worried a lot over our relationship and what my future would be.  Now that I am fully grown, I have come to realize how foolish those kittenish mewsings were.

First is the ridiculous notion I had regarding who was actually in charge.  It was me, of course, all along.  Sure, she is physically bigger, but that means nothing.  Do I feed her?  Am I required to do anything I don’t wish to?   Do I even need to clean up after myself?  No, no and no.  She attends to my every need, from ensuring I have a multitude of toys and attention to keeping my bowl filled with food.  No one does that for her; I know this is true, because in all the time I’ve lived with her I have never seen anyone come in and provide her with food, or clean up her messes, or even bring her toys.  Yet I get these every single day. 


She is my servant, pure and simple. Though not always the best servant, at least she tries.  This leads to the second lesson I have learned, which is that she is not that smart.  Last year I was so proud of a trick I taught her that I wrote a post about it.  I was excited and felt this would be the first of many such games I could teach her.  I was wrong; while she is capable of learning, the pace is much slower than what I had hoped for.  I believe this lack of intelligence is endemic to the entire species.   Other humans that visit her also appear to lack the most fundamental logic and reasoning skills.  For just one example if another cat showed up I would chase it around, fight a little, wrestle, determine who was dominant; in short, have fun.  When she has other humans in the house they sit and talk, none of them realizing what they are missing. 

20150919_191728_002I think a big reason for this species-wide stupidity is their inability to communicate in meaningful ways.  The gentle nips and scratches that are clearly meant to push her, or a visiting human, in the right direction never work, and instead of going “Oh!  You need more food.” I get shot with a spray of water. Believe me that gets old fast! She has extremely poor communication skills, and this seems to be the case for all humans.  They don’t get the most basic requests.  A simple “get out of my chair” is ignored.  Obvious requests to stop petting me, or to start petting me, are consistently misinterpreted.  They have no sense of smell, and limited hearing and sight.  The complex range of mews, yowls and chirping noises I make are never interpreted.


I realize now vastly superior I am.  Those few issues I noted last summer mean nothing. My nemesis the spray bottle is still used but I now understand she has to use this because she has no other way to communicate.  It is annoying, but I feel sorry for her more than for me; how limiting it must be when her only options are to spray water or physically pick me up!  Her size, which intimidated me last year, means little without brain power behind it.  She is like any large beast of burden, capable of heavy lifting but certainly not up to the philosophical reasoning on which I spend my days.

The key to our relationship is to let her think she’s in charge.  This is quite easy to do as she misinterprets size for smarts.  She is remarkably easy to manipulate, and within her limitations I am becoming somewhat fond of her.  Wait… I hear her at the door.  Time to close out this post, turn off the computer and pretend I’m napping.

Life, Re-invented

Today starts year 4 of my reinvented life.  Today, August 31, marks the 3rd anniversary of Rick’s death.  I’ve thought a lot about our life together and where I had expected to be.  A week earlier was what would have been our 10th wedding anniversary. I spent that day with a severely ill family member, on what may well be my last visit.  Had Rick lived, he would have been with me.  We would have extended that sad trip into a vacation, adding some joy to the sorrow. 

We traveled well, his calmness in the face of anything combining with my planning and organizational skills.   I miss those vacations; the GPS voice helps me to stay on track, but she’s not nearly as much fun. 

“I’ll have to reinvent myself” said my friend, as we talked about the impact of that serious illness.  “I’ve done it before, and I’ll just have to do it again” she said.  Reinventing myself; that’s what I’ve been doing the last 3 years.

Three years out, things are different.  It’s a quiet, personal remembrance. It feels muted.  The minutes tick by at work and I remember: this is the time when I got the final news, this is when I went in to say goodbye, it was at this very moment that he died.  So much has faded, as I knew it would.  Tonight I will go back and read what I wrote as it was all happening, and I’ll feel the immediacy in a way I can’t anymore.  It’s a memory, now.  It’s in the past. 

I have reinvented myself, mostly.  But I still remember, and I still care, and I still grieve. 

Reflections as I end my third year of being a widow

July 30 is the anniversary of the day when I woke up and knew something was very, very wrong.  Three years ago I drove to the hospital, following the ambulance carrying Rick.  I didn’t know it at the time, but he was never coming home.

After three years I no longer actively grieve, but I do mourn.  I miss him, each and every day.   Car rides and walks are my time to talk with him, and I do so regularly.   He was funny and brilliant and kind.  We complemented each other well. I miss his advice and support.  No matter what, he was always there for me. 

Still, I don’t live in the past; I live in the now, in a present that no longer includes Rick or us as a couple.  Much of my time is occupied with interests and friends that he never knew.

I spent the first year after his death grieving, an active and painful year filled with the physical work of going through his house and personal effects, and the emotional work of coming to some sense of acceptance over what had happened.  I had a plan of concrete things to do, and checked off each item as I completed it.   When year two started, I made a new plan, one that focused on me.  I registered for online dating, took classes, and made every effort to create a new me with a new life.  Year three post-Rick, this year just entering its final month, has been different.  I’ve slowed down.  I gave up on actively pursuing dating; if it happens, fine, but I’ve come to terms with the realization that I just might be on my own for the rest of my life.   This year, I have focused on accepting my life as it is, and trying to find some semblance of peace and enjoyment in what I have.

August remains a transition month for me.  Three years ago, I made the transition from wife to widow.  Each year since, I’ve slowed down during this month to spend time thinking about where I’ve been and what I’ve learned.  August has come to be the time when I try to derive some meaning from my past. I think I’m getting better.  I think I’ve truly left grief, that active, burning bright experience, behind me.  I feel at home in my life in a way I haven’t for several years.

I am not sure what I want from this next year, the fourth in my new life.   I know I’ll be making some major changes, though it’s too early to talk about those yet.  I hope to continue growing.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next, and I’m finally comfortable.  Maybe that is enough.