Serenity Now

My husband is the oldest sibling in his family and I am, too.

He is a full-time teacher – likewise for me.

He stayed home on day shift with our kids for seven years while I continued to teach. After school, I came home to night shift for those years while he worked nights.

What I am getting at is that we are both used to being in charge of people, we are both good at being in charge, and we probably are most comfortable in that role. All important qualifications for two teachers.

One might say that we are Two Head Chefs.

The problem is – we are married.

To each other.

Over the past twenty-nine years, this has lead to many “trials” and almost as many solutions – as one might imagine.

Eventually, we’ve congenially concluded that there are some things that we are better off not doing together if we want to preserve our union.

Let’s put these items in The Serenity Now! bracket.

There are other missions where working together as a dynamic duo works very well.

These items are in The Competent Couple 🙂 bracket.

Here are some examples of each:

Competent Couple:) endeavors are pursuits such as: walking the dog, doing the dishes, painting a room, hosting a party, navigating to a destination (pre-GPS), and pruning fruit trees (this task recently moved from Serenity Now! to Competent Couple:) ranking).

Serenity Now! undertakings are such endeavors as food shopping, cooking, giving the kids unsolicited, off-the-cuff advice while in the same room together, home maintenance repair, and laying out new carpeting.

One might ask-

what is the difference between Competent Couple 🙂 pursuits and Serenity Now! tasks?

Good question!

After careful scrutiny, it becomes obvious that the difference between the two categories is two words:

clear deliniation.

The jobs in the CC column have clear responsibilities that can be separated into sub-tasks that do not overlap.

The jobs in the SN tier have duties that are nebulous and overlapping.

In other words, we rock at things that can be sorted into individual compartments, but we are on thin ice if the job has vague responsibilities that may drift into each other. Sharing some tasks can be dicey, so when we divide and conquer – we are golden.

For instance…

When we paint a room, he does the ceilings and walls with the roller and I tackle the edging and trimwork with a brush. Beautiful.

When we host a get-together, I do the shopping, cleaning, and set-up; he plans the menu and does the cooking. Bada bing!

When pruning fruit trees, he clips, and I hold the ladder. This is a big improvement over last year – don’t ask!

When we do the dishes, one washes and one dries. Presto!

On the other hand…

Food shopping?

Nope. He takes too long and checks too many ingredients.

Cooking?

Nope. I take too long and do things differently.

Home maintenance?

Better off making a phone call.

As our lifetime journey continues, we encounter new things and notice what category they fall into. Maybe as we mellow with age, it will eventually merge into one big list.

But for now, this works just fine.

So, this week we are doing our taxes.

Any guesses?

Extending Family

Pink nectarine ‘Fantasia’ flowers on the tree in early Spring

The two least predicted are the two most in need of a trim, and they are the plum trees – one Sunburst plum, and one Bluebird plum. I originally thought that they would struggle the most because of their penchant for sandy soil over clay, but perhaps the leftover patio sand tossed into the bottom of their planting holes fooled them. They are currently out-of-control renegades whose craggily arms attempt a ghoulish canopy over the driveway.

The other two more refined individuals in queue for a weekend trim are the two apple trees out back offsetting the short winding path to the patio. They are the Harlequin apple – rounded and plump like an upturned apple itself, and the Liberty apple, whose limbs grow straight out, then boast right-angle offshoots straight up. Two of a kind, but completely different in shape and growing pattern.

Our fifth tree was the heartbreaking casualty of the five and it was all my fault. She was a nectarine tree with the most beautiful flowers of them all. We lost her last summer to my enthusiastic over-pruning too late in the season.

The trees were our gift to each other four years ago for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We picked them out at the co-op and planted them that spring. They are Harley, Libby, Reenie, Sunny, and Toby, named after the strain of fruit they each produce, and they are – coincidentally – in alphabetical order from east to west. Four of them produce beautiful blossoms that beckon to birds and insects in spring and summer, then evolve into a delicious banquet for the squirrels come fall harvest. Reenie still adds woody contrast to the lot in her own way.

This weekend will be the first spell outside with spring attention in mind and heart, and that is a welcomed thing. Pruning, puttering, and pondering about how much, what to plant, and where.

Prune, putter, ponder.

Apportioned peace.

Worth a Brake

“Stop the car!” Mom demanded.

“What?!?” Dad questioned. “Here? Now?”

“Yes! Just pull over!”

Glancing in the mirror he deftly braked while steering the car to the right, breaching the white line and spraying gravel, pinging and spitting under the tires. We rolled to a rapid stop on the side of the highway, cars whizzing by us. All six of us in the back – who moments ago had been in various stages of daydream or slumber – riveted our attention to the urgent matter unfolding between our parents up front.

Mom flung open the passenger side door and got out. “I’ll be right back!” she blurted.

We watched in stillness, six sets of eyes squished to the right side windows, peering from the tangle of blankets and pillows in the far netherworlds of the Vista Cruiser wagon, plus my Dad’s eyes up front, too. She side-stepped and slipped down the grassy embankment and eventually stopped way in there, waist high in spring vegetation. What was she doing? We knew it wasn’t a bathroom break. Our mom could easily drive from New Jersey to Michigan without a pit stop if she put her mind to it. Public restrooms were far below her nursing standards of acceptability for cleanliness.

Vegetation swashed and swished around her as she tromped and hunched through the swaying detritus, occasionally wrestling with some unknown something. We could see her only from the shoulders up. Periodically, we looked at Dad. He turned the engine off, returned the look, and shrugged.

We silently watched and waited.

Eventually she emerged. Her arms were full of brown, twiggy stalks dotted with soft, plump nubs of velvet gray.

Pussywillows.

Flushed with happiness, she opened the passenger side door, and angled her tall frame back in, gently propping the very tall bundle of branches upright between the two of them on the front seat. “They’ll be just beautiful in an arrangement on the dining room table,” she beamed.

She smiled at my dad, and he – well he just looked at her, and then wordlessly facing forward, turned the key. The engine thrummed to life and we pulled off the gravel strip and back onto the highway, pointed toward home. In back, we sank into a familiar mosh of entwined limbs, worn blankets, soft pillows and breath, and the familiar cadence and hum of our car on the road.

Pussywillows.

I saw them just yesterday in a water-filled bucket next to a sign at the local grocer.

Three bundles for $12 – as easy as that.

Because of my Mom, I just had to have them.

Earthen Treasure

Today we found something that has been missing for 17 years.

We moved into our current house in 2003 with three young children and the mass of accouterments that accompany three small humans. We unpacked over the following weeks and months and settled in to our new home. It was during the first holiday there that we realized we didn’t have our fancy dishes – our Royal Doulton “Lisa” place settings that were given to us by friends and family as wedding gifts ten years prior.

We searched everywhere for them over the course of many years.

In the attic?

Nope.

Garage?

Nope.

Closets?

Nope.

Cantina?

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

What had happened to the dishes? We were dumbfounded. Having rented a truck and moved everything ourselves, we couldn’t have lost them in transit. And our former landlords had been good friends of ours; surely, they would have told us if we had left a box behind.

We searched all of the places in our home numerous times over the years and eventually gave up – swallowing the loss of a gift of significant value in dollars and even larger value in sentiment. Some years later, I spied a set of china slightly reminiscent of ours in a thrift shop, and bought the whole collection for pennies. It would have to do.

Today my husband decided to tackle the cantina.

The cantina is the enclosed 100-square-foot concrete space under our front porch that is accessed by an elfin wooden door in the basement wall – a cold cellar of sorts. We keep canned and bottled non-perishables down there along with cooking gadgets that we can’t fit in our kitchen. Our burgeoning surplus of sundries for the coming weeks had overflowed into a subterranean, conglomerate mess. The weekend project was to organize it and clean it up.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

“Are they closed?”

“Yes.”

He placed something gently on the dining room table next to where I was entrenched in schoolwork.

“Okay, open.”

“Ohhhh,” I gasped.

There was a china teacup. A wedding gift from 27 years ago, in front of me on my table.

“You found them!!! Where were they?” I asked, elated.

“In the cantina- in a box.”

“Wha-a-a-t? Seriously?”

“Yup.”

“What box? There was no box! How could we have missed it all these years? We looked everywhere, multiple times. I don’t remember a box in the cantina at all…”

“They were there, in a box.”

So there they were, and here it is – a little Lisa teacup, hidden for 17 years and discovered for some reason, today.

How strange to look for something for so very long only to find it right where you were looking – right where you couldn’t see it.

I still don’t know where that box was all the other times we looked for it, and I don’t know why he found it today.

I wonder what makes it the right time to find something you’ve lost?

I don’t know – but something does.

When it’s time to find it – it might be there, right under your toes.

Discerning Differences

“Do we have any heavy cream?”

“Yes.”

“Where is it?”

“In the fridge.”

Rummage rummage.

“I can’t find it.”

“Top shelf, right in front.”

“It’s not here – I don’t think we have any.”

“We have it – I just bought some.”

“Well, I don’t see it.”

I open the refrigerator door and lift the bright red carton from the top shelf middle.

“Here,” I say, handing him the carton.

“Well, you could at least pretend to have trouble finding it,” he blurts.

“Test this for salt,” he says.

I dip into the pasta water and scoop out a hot noodle , spooning it into my mouth, tasting for – something.

“It’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“Yes, ” I say – never certain what the right amount of salt should taste like.

And so goes a usually comfortable, sometimes testy conversation in our marriage.

He identifies flavors with finesse, yet his eyes steer him deftly around the unseen vacuum cleaner at the bottom of the stairs waiting to be carried to the second floor.

I blindly locate a Lilliputian cheese knife from the mass of tangled silver in the utensil drawer, yet the difference between Godiva and Hershey remains lost on me.

“Does this tie go with this shirt and pants?”

“No.

“It doesn’t?”

“Your tie should have a color in common with the rest of your outfit.”

“Oh.”

“Do you like the wine?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“How does it taste?” he presses.

“Like white wine,” I say.

There you go.

He helps me find flavors, I help him find shoes.

Home sweet home.

It works.

Maybe Don’t Blink

The days are endless but the years fly by.

I was about to enter those words as my comment to someone else’s post but thought the better of it. They have become my slice, instead.

The days are endless but the years fly by.

This is the best description of parenthood that I know.

When the kids are very young, days and nights blur into a fogginess that knows no clear delineation. When parental sleep cycles eventually temper back to humane, the mornings still start before sun up and yet the work is never done, even when stretching to finish way past sundown, folding that last load or making one more sandwich for the morrow’s lunches. It’s a long time with long days.

Fast forward through those years of long days to high school. Everybody is “awake” and out the door by 6:45 a.m. and yet miraculously still up eighteen hours later, making pizza or baking cookies at midnight. Same hours as in infancy, but the bodies are much bigger, and louder. It’s a long time with long days.

Now, the house is nearly empty and time moves differently. The kids are young adults – two teachers and a plumber, and our hours are mostly our own. We can almost rise and set with the sun, if we choose to.

The days were endless and the years flew by.

We seem to have gotten where we are in the blink of an eye.

Now, the years slide together and the days have slowed to – just right.

Just right to look back and wonder how we got here so darn fast.

That Awkward Moment…

That awkward moment when you wake up and realize you may need to move the venue for the evening equinox celebration from the back patio….

A few of you may recall an earlier slice where I explained why we feel minimal need to secure our home by locking doors. A suitable case in point is this newly altered view of the backyard from our bathroom window this morning.

Don’t ask – we don’t know what it is either, but we think that there are people under there.

There appears to be a tent beneath the flapping blue tarp. It is likely – and we are presuming – that it is our son Ben and assorted friends, as we also encountered several (breathing) members of his cohort asleep in the basement this morning.

When I left for yoga and a haircut this morning this was the scene.

We’ll see what emerges from the blue behemoth when I get back, if it is still there. Past practice says it will be.

Between the kids, the friends, and the dogs, one never knows.

Just livin’ the dream…

Roots

In solidarity to our Irish roots, my siblings, cousins, and I sent St. Patrick’s Day wishes via text all day yesterday, accompanied by assorted jokes, favorite Irish ballads, love songs, and drinking songs. We are scattered over the northeast coast now, but on March 17th we at least manage to be together in spirit on the day that reminds of of our roots.

I grew up in a family of eight, and my father’s two sisters had 12 kids between the two of them. Eighteen grandchildren from three progeny was probably the greatest legacy left by Tom and Mary Dillon, two young Irish immigrants who stepped ashore at Ellis Island by way of a ship called The Cedric.

They left with little and lived to have little more, even here. They never owned a car or a home, and my Dad – the youngest of the three – slept in the unheated attic of the tiny two bedroom cottage in upstate New York. Despite outward appearances that would have one assume otherwise, there was always laughter in that house. For them, life wasn’t much about what you had – it never was. It was about more than that. Of course it was always about getting by, but it was also about religion, music, stories, laughter, and family. As their grand daughter, I grew up in an Irish Catholic family too, so I thought that our family was the way every family was. It was in adulthood that I realized that there are things that are very important to us that came from our Nana and Bop (May and Tom), and the country from whence they came.

They are:

  1. Stories. Stories are very important to us. Good stories, and good story-telling. Several of my siblings are among the best storytellers I know.
  2. Laughter. Laughter is sacrosanct. That is mostly what we try to do – make each other laugh. When we are together, laughter is the unspoken benchmark with which we measure a good time – the more, the better.
  3. Religion. Say no more.
  4. Music! Lots of it, all kinds of it, and songs to sing, especially. I think that many of us are our happiest when singing a song. Around a piano or a guitar? Even better!
  5. The drink – of course! Like every Irish family, it’s big part of our culture. Also like every Irish family, some of us can partake, and others best not. That’s just the way it is.
  6. Food? – Eh! Not so much. Back in the day, “boil the bejesus out of it” was the standard mantra for cooking everything, but after all of the above, who cares!

So here’s to the Irish!

As my brother Tom said yesterday, their love songs are sad and their fightin’ songs are happy.

For whatever the reason, I’m glad I’m one of them.

A Tail of Two Lovers

I cracked the door open and “WHOOOSH!”

In streaked a ball of white fur, nearly knocking me off of my feet. Tearing several laps around the dining room table, pausing at the near end, paws planted wide, tail wagging and tongue lolling, she announced herself with a single bark.

“ARF!”

Scarlet is here for the weekend.

Oh boy.

Scarlet and our dog Oliver have been dating exclusively for almost eight years now although no formal announcement has yet been made.

She is his foil, and he hers.

She is exuberant, friendly, adventurous, ditzy, and driven by her great love of affection. He is reserved, cautious, grounded, reticent, and motivated by his great love of food.

If she could dress herself, she would accessorize flamboyantly with fire-engine red nails, large hoop earrings, and a rhinestone studded collar. He would prefer an understated smoking jacket (earth tones – of course), silk ascot tucked at the neck, and a tobacco pipe to puff on.

Miss Scarlotta and Professor Fuzzles.

Alter-egos.

Yin and yan.

She once coaxed him out from hiding under a picnic table at the local dog park.

He once saved her from a threatening vacuum cleaner.

She once ran to his house unaccompanied at 5 a.m.

He once lunged at a vagrant dog near her front yard.

She shares duck breast jerky at her house.

He shares chicken wrapped sweet potato niblets at his.

Scarlet and Ollie.

Ollie and Scarlet.

They met years ago on a neighborhood walk, she romping clockwise around the block, and he snuffling counter-clockwise along the same perimeter. Predictably, she ran to him; he stood his ground, not knowing if it was wise to advance.

It’s been that way ever since.

They sparked a friendship that grew to include their human families who – over the years – have worn a comfortable footpath up and down the street, to and fro, carrying casseroles, good reads, and bottles of wine for barbecues, book discussions, and summer nights on the back deck or the front porch.

Ollie and Scarlet.

Scarlet and Ollie.

Little in stature but so big in heart.

And so remains to this very day.

Beach Reach

Yesterday, we nixed our chiropractic visits (no appointment necessary) at the eleventh hour and took the dog to the beach – a stroke of spontaneity for which my husband is famous and I am not. The Jersey shore in March is not always where you want to be, but yesterday was a gem of a day after a week of overcast skies and frigid temperatures. Dogs are allowed on the beaches through March 31, so our chances for a threesome beach day were dwindling with each passing weekend.

Tossing a blanket, water bottle, and bowl in the car we headed out. I was excited to see how our middle-aged Ollie would embrace a new environment that was the backdrop of so many of my summer vacations years ago. In less than an hour, we were there.

Picture perfect, we were solitary beachcombers enveloped by a cobalt blue sky. Collecting shells and romping about, we walked, touching the chilly surf and warm white sand. Eventually we sat on a beach log, soaking in the salt air, the sun, the time together.

I had thought about going, and had mentioned it weeks ago, but would have stuck to my Saturday plans; I’m a planner after all. He is my fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants guy, the one who tosses a Saturday schedule aside with ease to embrace something unknown, instead.

A big stretch for me, this trip was an easy reach for him.

A beach reach.

A day to remember.