Weekly Writing Challenge: Haiku Catchoo! for Thanksgiving week

Early morning snow
Cars dance across the pavement;
Glad I walk to work.

Steam engulfs my face
Winter lady of intrigue
Parka, not trench coat.

A faint mark remains
Where a ring once was worn.
Memories of us.

While I have lost much,
There is far more I still have.
Gratitude humbles.

Sweet tastes linger long
My breakfast of memories
turkey, pie and you.


Musings on a cold and snowy morning

Winter is settling in, and the land knows it. Animals, earth, and people seem intent on slowing down and creating cozy, tucked in corners. Fall foliage is gone; trees have shrunk to the bones, perennials wilted down to their roots, annuals almost disappeared. Fat squirrels rush about completing their preparation for the cold, hungry months.

I’m settling in too. My weekly visits to the cemetery have been put on hold until next spring, when I’ll look for flowers sprouting from the bulbs I planted a few weeks ago. With colder weather and closed windows, I’m noticing how grimy the house looks, and have started work on turning it back into a home – my home – that I can enjoy. It hasn’t been that for a long time. Not since Rick started being sick, certainly not during the frantic few months that took me from wife to widow, not over the last year as I struggled to adjust to my new station in life. I’m cleaning now, reviewing everything to determine if I still want it. It’s sad work, changing the look and feel from “our place” to “my place”, but it’s work I need to do. I’ve lost patience with being in this in-between phase of life.

I’m not sure what I’m aiming for; I’m flying blind, just randomly reacting to things with no set plan. Slowly, though, I’m starting to get ideas. The second bedroom was used as an office when Rick was alive, and is now a staging area for everything brought over from his house. I’m starting to see a picture in my head of a room with worktable and bookshelves, a comfortable chair and good lighting; a place where I can retreat, but also a welcoming place for visitors to stay. Before I can create the vision that is starting to appear in my mind’s eye I will need to finalize Rick’s things. I need to get moving, to select what can be sold, what to keep, and what to get rid of.

My throat has been sore the last few weeks and it scares me. My attitude towards mortality has changed. I’ve always assumed that any ailment I contracted would heal, and that’s always been the case. Until last year, when I watched Rick go from initial diagnosis to death in under two months, and when what had seemed to be small unrelated things suddenly became the unrecognized signs of a major problem. I’m no longer cavalier about minor symptoms, now thinking that each cough or headache is a sign of some horrible problem. I’m terrified about all the bad things that could happen to me at home. What if I choke on something, or fall and hit my head, or cut myself: I’m alone; there will be no one to help.

I never thought about things like this before, but I do now.

Walking to work this morning in the first snowfall of the winter, I realized that another season has started, that my life is moving on whether I want it to or not. It’s hard work, coming back from grief. Last year at this time, I was experiencing the first two “firsts” of my widowhood, my birthday and Thanksgiving. I skipped my birthday last year, refusing to acknowledge or celebrate it. Thanksgiving was just barely noted; I spent the day with friends, but came home to a lonely dark house.

This year is different. I did celebrate my birthday, going out to dinner with friends and seeing a show. It brought home how much quieter and sadder my life is now. There were no flowers waiting for me after work, no week of finding small gifts hidden around the house, no cards left on the pillow. I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, but not really feeling any excitement about doing so. It’s an assignment, something to check off a list.

I realize I’m rambling, but these seemingly random and disconnected thoughts match how my life feels right now. It lacks a narrative theme, the unifying connective tissue to pull the individual parts into a meaningful whole. I lurch from one mood to the next. This weekend I started planning what I want to do with the extra bedroom, but also spent time sobbing uncontrollably about all I’ve lost. I’m starting a new phase, moving away from what I was to a new me. It’s too soon yet to know what that new me will be, but I know I’m not the same woman I was 15 months ago. I’m harder and softer than I was, tougher and more vulnerable. Less afraid of taking risks, more afraid of what the future will be. It’s a journey, one I’m just beginning.

Daily Prompt: Land of Confusion, Middle-school Style

Tell us about a time when you felt out of place.

It was eighth grade, the heart of darkness for adolescent girls, the time when even the simplest of actions was fraught with danger. I was a new student, not new to being new, but new to this school. It was my fourth school in as many years, and I was as canny as a veteran soldier sent out on recognizance in enemy territory.

Food tray in hand, I exited the cafeteria line and surveyed the terrain. Instead of the standard long tables, this dining room had smaller 4-tops. My go-to strategy was to pick a table and sit down on the unoccupied end, close enough to a group to maybe wind up being included, but not so close as to appear presumptuous. That approach wouldn’t work here, all because of those damn tables. I silently cursed the fool that had made this decision, clearly someone with no knowledge of middle-school social life or else a former popular kid, grown up and still tormenting the rest of us.

I needed a new approach, and I needed it fast. I surveyed the terrain, outwardly calm, looking for the right group that still had an open seat. There, across the room was the perfect group for me: girls dressed slightly wrong, not stylish, talking a little too loud. The word ‘nerd’ wasn’t yet in common use; had it been, it would have perfectly described what I wanted. Shit! Another girl took the final seat, filling the table. With only four chairs per table, I had to act fast.

Quickly I located another group that seemed to have potential and hustled over. “Can I sit here?” I asked, outwardly calm, heart racing. “Sure” came the answer back, and my school year was saved.

Why I still go to the movies


I’m fortunate to live in a town that still has one of those grand old movie theaters from the early days of cinema. Our local theater seats over 1700 people. It has a magnificent and regal entry foyer and the inside is lavish and richly decorated. The original owners included a full stage and backstage areas, allowing for both live theater and movies. While still glamorous, the theater is now tattered and a bit sad around the edges. Many of those 1700 seats are in poor shape, and when attending sold out live performances canny attendees know to get there early enough to insure finding a comfortable spot to sit. The lush velvet curtains are torn and patched, the elegant plaster frescoes are chipped, and the whole place has the look of a once well to do house that has sunk down into poverty.

In recent years the theater was used almost solely for live shows, with movies shown during the Wisconsin Film Festival. Recently we almost lost this wonderful place, but luckily a new owner has come along with enough money and interest to restore the place.

How much of a difference does the venue make on our movie experiences? All of my most memorable movie experiences are of films seen in groups. Not a one is of a movie I saw first at home.

I saw “There’s Something About Mary” with a group of friends. We attended a crowded performance on a Saturday night, and the laughter was so loud that at times it was actually hard to hear. I wonder: if I’d seen that movie alone at home, or with just one or two other people, would it have been that funny?

Years ago, before VCRs and cable TV, the University of Wisconsin had numerous movie societies. These groups rented lecture halls to show films on weekend nights. You’d pay your money at the door and some serious, shaggy-haired graduate student (hey, it was the 1970s) would stand up front and give an introduction to the movie before it started. The seats weren’t padded, you brought your own refreshments, and the sound quality wasn’t anywhere near the surround-sound Dolby experiences in today’s multiplexes; but almost all of my favorite movie memories were in those large lecture halls.

These showings were participatory affairs long before the Rocky Horror Picture Show. At my first viewing of Casablanca, I tried to follow along with the rest of the audience. Everyone stood and sang La Marseillaise; the first camera shot of Major Strasser unleashed a loud chorus of boos; and, of course, everyone erupted in cheers and applause when that famous line “Round up the usual suspects” was uttered. I was hooked. The campus film societies were my introduction to foreign movies, Hollywood classics, film noire, old comedies; every type of movie was available. A typical weekend night provided a choice of 30 movies.

I gained a lifelong appreciation of foreign and older films. I doubt if I’d have become as interested in films if my first time watching Fellini’s 8 ½ had been on a laptop. Hitchcock’s “The Birds” would have seemed lacking in suspense had I been watching at home on a TV while texting back and forth and going to the kitchen to get something to eat.

I watch many movies at home, some on TV, others on an a tablet. I’m able to enjoy them, but there’s never a “wow!” moment. That’s why I still prefer to see movies at a theater. It’s magical to sit in total darkness with that huge screen. My concentration is on the screen, not on the cat, or the phone, or the computer or whatever else happening around me.

It’s not perfect. The cost, of course, is higher, and way too often there’s some oaf who can’t manage to keep quiet or forgets to turn off their phone. While the multiplexes have older theaters beat in comfort and sound quality, I miss the feeling of grandeur and elegance those magnificent lobbies and theaters had. Regardless of all that, I’d still rather see a movie in a theater, on the big screen, than at home.

People who need People

I need people; not generic run of the mill humans, but “People”; with a capital P.  Captain Jean-Luc Picard had People: all he had to do was utter “Make it so” in that sonorous voice and it would happen.  

If Jean-Luc decided that he wanted to have his stairs upgraded from carpeting to wood, he’d turn to First Officer  Riker and say “Make it so”, and then he could wander off with a cup of tea, Earl Grey, hot.  It was up to Number One to figure out if those pre-made stairs were a better idea than having someone come in and do it from scratch, and whether he should call that guy who advertises in the neighborhood newsletter, how to figure out a way to get it done that wouldn’t require taking a week’s vacation, or maybe that a really good carpet shampooing was all that was needed.

I don’t have People, nor do I drink Earl Grey tea.  I’m still trying to figure out why Picard had a British accent.  I mean, his brother had a French accent.  Was he sent off to an English boarding school at an early age?  Was he a foreign exchange student who never left?  On the bright side, at least Gene Roddenberry didn’t hire Gérard Depardieu.

Anyway, back to the carpet, I still don’t have a clue where to start and what to do, and now I’m wasting time wondering why the role of Captain Picard couldn’t have just been rewritten as a Brit when Patrick Stewart was signed on to play the character.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I need People.

Saving money and alienating family; how to have the best holiday season ever

I’m not one to rush the holidays, but I’ve already seen a few Christmas themed ads, Starbucks has switched over to the holiday cups, and the magazine racks are filled with ideas on how to do the holidays.

Before you rush off and spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on gifts for people you wouldn’t spend 10 minutes with if they weren’t family, before you amass credit card debt greater than the yearly salary your parents earned in their first years of working life, stop. Take a minute to consider ways to do the holidays in a quieter, more rational manner. To relax and enjoy them without stress.

I’m here to help with some hints on how to limit the amount of money spent on holiday gifts. Throw out those catalogues and spend your time online watching cute cat videos, and don’t even think about driving to the mall. Figure out the right tip for each person on your gift list and then sit back and start counting the money you’ll save.

1. Go green. For anyone on your gift list that espouses environmental consciousness, give them some random piece of crap you found lying around your house. Don’t even bother wrapping the item, just stick it one of those grimy cloth bags that you’ve been using for groceries over the last 2 years and haven’t washed once. After all, the motto is “reuse, reduce, recycle.” Be sure and point out how the gift reduces your carbon footprint.

2. Establish feuds with friends and family. Start your vendettas in October, and end them in March. If you’re no longer talking to your sister, you don’t need to send her or anyone in her family a gift. Bonus move: create an unforgivable breach with enough family members that you can spend the holidays somewhere with good weather and no relatives.

3. Become religious and deeply spiritual. It doesn’t matter which one; the point is that you have realized the shallowness of material items. Offer the meaningful gift of spending time with loved ones explaining your new spiritual insights. Don’t worry; no one will take you up on your offer.

4. Lie. State that this year you’ve decided to donate the money you would have spent on gifts to a worthy cause, and then mention that you’ll be providing the giftee’s name and address for future contact. Make sure to specify a group that completely horrifies the person with whom you’re talking: that way you can skip making the donation, pocket the money, and no one will be the wiser.

5. Channel your inner Martha Stewart (not really; that would be insane.) The point is to do something cheap and easy that looks makes it look as though you cared. There’s a world of ideas for fake hand-crafted gifts. I’ll give you two to start with:
a. Get a piece of poster board and some watercolors. Spend about 10 minutes randomly splashing paint around; be sure and cover the entire surface. When it dries, cut the poster board up into greeting card size pieces and sign the bottom right corner of each. Voila! Hand-crafted individual paintings.
b. Go to Costco and buy a giant container of some fancy-ass popcorn and a box of sandwich size plastic bags. Divide the popcorn and attach a little card to each bag with your name and some statement like “Hand made from my kitchen with love”.

6. Whenever anyone starts talking about gifts or the holidays, adopt a superior, world-weary tone and start putting them down. Make it seem as though the very idea of shopping for gifts is just so very, very gauche that you couldn’t bear to be associated with it.

7. Make up a heart-breaking story about a personal tragedy that completely prevents you from giving gifts. Look for something that can be resolved in the future and is just embarrassing or gross enough that no one will ask for evidence or want to know too much about it.

8. Fake a religious conversion. If you’re Jewish, tell family that you are now Christian and therefore no longer celebrating Chanukah. If you’re Christian, inform everyone that you’ve just converted to Judaism and will not be celebrating Christmas. Explain that since you’ve become a (insert any religion other than what you were raised in here) you are no longer participating in family gift giving traditions.

9. Send everyone a heart-felt note stating how much you love and appreciate the people in your life, and how buying something just wouldn’t be as meaningful as telling them how much they mean to you. Be sure and use BCC when you sending your heart-felt and personal note, so it looks as though you are sending each one out personally.

10. Pretend the gift was lost in the mail. On the big day, ask everyone about the wonderful gift you sent. Tell how long it took you to pick out the perfect item, and how excited you are to see the reaction when it’s opened. When you’re given the news that no such gift arrived, be outraged and then deeply despondent.