Hometown Pause

Last night, we had a dinner conversation with our adult son about our time in the country when he was very young. I have promised to write more about it after my kids were old enough to understand and that time has come. The lessons we learned from our experience relocating to a Southern Kansas small town at the height of my husband’s legal career are many. We learned about courage and risk-taking; slowing down and integrating into a rural culture; trusting the wrong people; honesty, integrity and resilience; true friendship; humor and love; and finally, the absurdity and injustice of Homeowners Associations and local politics. All in an 8-year span in which we vowed to “slow down and simplify” in idyllic small town America. Our lessons began immediately.

Now is the time to share with our children because underlying the decision to make the dramatic lifestyle change was a rebellion against a life in constant pursuit of “upward mobility” ingrained in our generation. My husband was literally killing himself at his law firm, rarely home for the most important parts of our young children’s routine. I called him most afternoons around 4:30 and held up the phone to the sound of our young children’s wails (then 1 and 3 years old) and sarcastically asked him, “How’s YOUR day?” before slamming the phone down. Couples with young children today have “family leave” to allow the family time to nest and cement their new lives together. We had the frazzled, frenzied “corporate ladder” lifestyle- Mike literally left the recovery room after an hour or so of each child’s birth to get back to work – and the constant bitch of “billable hours.” We did not know anything different, it was just the way it was. My family was 4 hours away and Mike’s parents were already deceased. We didn’t have a support network to fill in those terrible hours when the whole family needed a break. Mike didn’t feel like his efforts at the firm were rewarded as quickly and lavishly as others around him. The lure of moving to small town America where Mike had a close friend became attractive.

This background is so important for understanding all our motivations for making such a drastic move. Looking back (20 years now!), we had such a perfect, sweet life: a darling home in an affluent Kansas City neighborhood, many close and supportive friends, a great job. I had a good reputation in my profession I put on hold to care for my children. We even belonged to a nice church. We had everything that people in their 30’s and 40’s with young families worked so hard to attain. The world just was moving so fast. We wanted to enjoy our children and slow down a bit. Mike wanted to explore a career outside of private law practice that would give him the space to be home more with our children. When the opportunity arose to uproot and start a new life 216 miles South to a town the size of our suburban neighborhood, we really only deliberated a couple of days before deciding to leap. “Don’t ever go into business with friends,” my Dad warned from the beginning. He knew what he was talking about. That’s a totally different story but coming soon, I promise!

We had purchased 34 acres of undeveloped land that had been part of our friend’s subdivision a few years before deciding to move there and start a life. Our country life was waiting for us! No sooner had we arrived that the local Sheriff visited Mike at work serving notice of a lawsuit against us by the Homeowner’s Association of Thomas Canyon Estates, the subdivision the property we owned belonged to. They wanted their “park” back, which was included in the land we bought from our friend. Lesson 1: We should have been much more astute about this potential conflict but we weren’t. We had no appreciation for the underlying anger and resentment between the residents of this small town “luxury” development (the average home price at the time for properties outside of this subdivision was in the mid- $40,000’s) and the developer, our friend, a really nice guy. We trusted a couple of really nice guys but didn’t fully appreciate, from a small town perspective, how their past behavior and reputations could impact our family. In the city, no matter what “type of guy” you are, there isn’t the level of public scrutiny/condemnation that can permanently ruin your life. There is always someone new to do business with or start a friendship with. But small towns have long memories. We learned about invisible walls of judgment that played out like silent stares in restaurants or at sporting events. I used to joke that I would be more comfortable in the most dangerous neighborhood in any city than within the suffocating confines of our judgy small town. It took years to understand and overcome it. But that’s really one of the coolest things about having survived it all.

So back to the HOA conflict. It raged on the entire 8 years we lived there. They dropped their lawsuit because Mike went into lawyer mode and responded with convincing challenges that would have led to expensive litigation (and thus a financial burden on individual households). The first HOA meeting we were invited to, Mike and I arrived and were quickly escorted to a homeowner’s basement which was packed with people from the neighborhood sitting in a circle waiting for us. They had clearly been there for quite some time and our “meeting time” had been designated to be after their pre-meeting. So juvenile! It was the last thing I expected. All eyes were on us as we were seated and the arrogant HOA President aggressively waved a stack of papers in front of my face encouraging me to “read the covenants.” Actually, their covenants stated that the park would be turned over to the homeowners as common land once 2/3 of the lots had been purchased. This magic number was not triggered until we purchased all remaining lots from our friend, the nice guy. Hence the legal showdown: did our purchase make our friend’s promise to the homeowners obsolete? Funny how he never warned us or prepared us in any way for this looming conflict. But still such a nice guy.

The HOA had tried to asses us 23 times ($2300) at one of their meetings. So Mike insisted he have 23 votes! They immediately changed the bylaws to state “one vote per owner.” I was dismayed at the ugliness and frequently urged Mike to “just give them the park,” but he refused to back down to bullies. I mean, he is a litigator! The next tactic was to go to the City and officially replat our land, which had included 23 lots in the undeveloped part of the subdivision, and make it our own separate subdivision. We named it “Tango Canyon,” in honor of Mike’s father’s side of the family from Argentina.

The HOA’s next tactic to punish us was to file a petition with the City to condemn a building on our property, “The Dairy House.” The history of the land dated back to dairy farming operation and there remained 2 outbuildings on our property used in the 1940’s and 50’s. During the years after the dairy farm sold and the land became a neighborhood development, the buildings had fallen into considerable disrepair. We thought the Kansas limestone foundation cottage (the basement was used to milk cows with a small apartment above) was charming.

The HOA argued the building had a “blighting effect” and we should be compelled to demolish it. We were hauled into a City hearing over it, only for them to discover my husband was one step ahead. He had legally designated the property as an “outbuilding.” We painted and secured it to keep out “riffraff” (local teenagers up to no good). The building remained but our conflict raged on.

I could go on for several thousand more words to detail other dramatic parts (and I will in the future) of the small town HOA drama. In the end, they won. We were forced to basically give all of the replatted land to the subsequent landowners when we sold our home because the Title Company’s position was that the subdivision covenants, and not our own legal replatting, governed the sale of the property. We would have had to have had 2/3 of the HOA members permission to sell the bulk of our land. Not only that, the Title Company required us to pay several years of previous assessments upon the sale of our land. We could have fought the matters in court (and lost because we were at a serious hometown disadvantage being “city slickers”) or do what we ultimately decided to do: cut our losses and move on.

We were looking for and expecting easy and simple and we found conflict. I was personally bitter for many years, believing myself to be the biggest victim as I tried to navigate small town life as a full fledged, respectable member of the community with and for my children. Mike and I were at odds over this because he saw it mostly from the perspective of a litigator. It took me several years to put the resentment behind me. And the beautiful thing from all of this twisted story is this: now all that remains are wonderful memories of how much our family enjoyed our land and our home while we had it.

In spite of the conflict, looking back, Mike and I are proud of what we did. We had the courage to walk away from a comfortable life in pursuit of a simpler one (even though it became much more complicated and very difficult to disentangle from ). Coming back to Kansas City with a 4th and 6th grader was no small feat, either. In fact it was damn hard. And isolating in its own way. Our children were used to unstructured time and lots of land to roam freely on. In a sense, we had to “tame” them to adapt to suburban conventions. This was painful and challenging. We have learned that those formative years in our small town where we searched for the “pause” from a complicated life, our children experienced the same kind of freedom we both had as children. While there was a price to pay financially and professionally for us, our children benefited greatly from the essential parts of a small town life we wanted to give them. They know the beauty of wide open skies and the innocence of looking forward to the county fair each summer. We met and stay in touch with some extraordinary people who became friends are really are “nice people.” And I venture to guess that hometown HOA has never had more exciting times than when the Tamburinis were in town.

What matters most to me when I think of the petty infighting over an insignificant parcel of land that represented a broken promise between our friend and the HOA is this: the land originally belonged to the Osage Indians. Any casual stroll within the canyon that ran several miles behind our home could yield arrowheads. Our friend’s land adjacent to ours had a stagecoach landing and kiln. There was rich history outside the confinement of silly HOA covenants our children were exposed to and delighted in on countless walks and adventures.

When we did return to life in the Big City, we realized, in hindsight, all the mess we had been embroiled in our small town life had somehow insulated and protected us from the state we observed some of our former friends to be in. They were richer but much less happy, many of them in disastrous marriages with children who had been over scheduled and managed from the minute they started preschool. Some had “nannies” who performed the daily household tasks I had proudly and contentedly overseen for our family. What we had lost financially from the gamble to take a “hometown pause” we gained by building a close family without constraints of too many tedious commitments. It was clear to us that we were far poorer but much happier than many of our consorts.

This whole story began with a dinner conversation led by our son last evening. Our dining room was cozy with a fire roaring as the wind and rain pelted our windows. He began talking about his earliest memories in our dining room in the big house in the country. “And every day this time of year, you could just look outside and there you’d see a buck running across our front yard.” I’d accept a decade worth of ridiculous HOA pettiness to hear him share that memory.

3 Things My Mom Taught Me About Love, Friendship & Cake

Celebrating with cake was always a Killion tradition

Like most women in their mid 50’s, hardly a day goes by I am not reminded of something important my Mom taught me about life but didn’t recognize at the time. She came to my rescue after a terribly bad break up when I was only 24. I was so busy taking care of this idiot, I neglected my life and my Mom found the perfect way to bring this to my attention. She wrote me several affirmations about not giving my power away. I still have her handwritten affirmations in a box and every so often I will pull them out and remind myself what she did for me. “Never give your power away!” is the one I remember the most, especially since I am now a parent of young adults. I was so busy chasing after the idea of “love” with the wrong people, I was willing to be whomever they wanted me to be. Mom often repeated this phrase, “Does he cherish you? Because you deserve to be cherished.” Maybe it was just luck, but I think also this guidance from my Mom that led me to the love of my life who does, in fact, cherish me.

Mom always had a lot of friends with a vast and colorful array of interests. She made friends easily and was often that friend who made the plans and initiated getting everyone together. The planner, organizer, reasonable “sounding board” friend. She treated her friends well and as she got older, I noticed she put effort into cherishing them. When she belonged to a quilting group, one time she brought every friend a flower and told them she wanted to tell them how much she enjoyed them while they were alive and together. When she saw someone she thought would be a good friend for me, she would tell me, “I would cultivate that friendship if I were you.” She cultivated a very important friendship for me that has sustained and brightened my life. A cousin I had never met reached out to her many years ago because she had questions about our family and she trusted Mom to be open and honest. When she asked Mom which daughter she thought she would get along with best, Mom pointed her in my direction. So my first cousin, (named after my Mom), began periodically writing to me. Today she is one of my closest friends and I cherish her. This is solely due to my Mom. Another gift I will have for the rest of my life from her.

Finally, my Mom instilled in me an unabashed love for cake. I cannot think of a time I visited her these past 35 years since I moved from home when cake was not a central part of our celebration. Her New York cheesecake was phe-nomenal! I recently made a cookbook for my children with many of Mom’s notable recipes so they will have them to cherish and pass on to the next generations. Dad often marveled at how much Mom could eat (he loved it!). When she made one of her cakes, however, you had to get in line behind Dad (this was simply understood by everyone in our family). Today, I am proud and grateful my Mom passed along to me a healthy appetite and appreciation for home baked desserts. Wasting time on food shaming is pointless. Mom taught me to cherish myself.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Last year, I had a remarkable opportunity to change my life and I took it. I reached out to a friend I had once volunteered for, asking her if her organization was accepting volunteers during the pandemic. I had decided not to return to my full-time job as a middle school paraprofessional and was looking for something to do maybe 2 times a week. She responded quickly, “No, but there is a job opening that would be perfect for you.” JOB, I thought? As in, 5 days a week with responsibilities, deadlines, stress, conflict, exhaustion at age 55 kind of job? To be honest, an unexpected opportunity is the way every wonderful thing has happened in my life. As scared as her response made me, my gut instinct was to move forward and maybe take the leap.

I became a Rehab Assistant in a Pediatric & Adolescent Medical Rehab with absolutely no significant knowledge of the types of conditions the patients have or the therapies they receive. I only knew how a Mother’s heart would communicate with the children and families and support the therapists providing the services. It’s been the greatest professional experience of my life. I work with wonderful, dedicated people who spend their lives working to make life easier for children with disabilities and their families. As part of the team, my role in the pandemic is managing communication between caregivers and therapists. I greet the families outside the gym where the children are treated, listen to their concerns and bring them to the therapists back inside the gym at the beginning of the day. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a communication barrier between anxious families and their children’s rehabilitation therapists and my role has been to provide a sort of “Momma Love Glue” in the situation. At least this has been my interpretation of my role this year- and nobody has complained yet.

Who else can say they actually get paid to love? To my delight, in spite of the enormous challenges of working in an intensely physically and emotionally draining environment, I go home each day with a deep satisfaction from giving everything I have and know to help people inside and outside the gym succeed. And that’s where the original thought for this post comes from: my daily journey between these two worlds. Outside the gym, where families are sitting with their concerns and perhaps taking a few minutes’ respite as their children receive treatment inside the gym. Inside the gym, where rehabilitation professionals labor to make progress each visit with patients who are sometimes sleep deprived, cranky and uncooperative.

Last week, as I reached to assist a boy with cerebral palsy walk into the gym, his Mom offered a gentle reminder: “Remember: Be good. Work hard. Have a good time.” Her son repeated his Mom’s words enthusiastically as he set off to join his friends in our summer day camp. 12 hours later, after tumbling into my bed exhausted, I woke up, tearful, as I often do, at the memory of that precious scene I had the privilege to witness the day before.

Inside the gym, on this same day, I realized I had created a mess of our schedule by overlooking a couple of teammates’ vacations. Suddenly, because of my poor organizational skills, we were scrambling to make a plan to provide a safely socially distanced and supervised lunch for our patients. Inside the gym, our daily challenge as a team is to solve problems quickly so therapy can continue moving forward. We pivot a lot! So much my head is spinning sometimes (I literally have vertigo this summer). In all these pivots that sometimes my oversights have caused, NOT ONCE has a teammate judged, harshly criticized or humiliated me. My friend, our social worker, smiles and says to me, in my frustration, “Use your resources, Joan.” And that I have.

Last week I got to plan a tie-dye party for some of our adolescent patients. My husband dug out a tarp from our garage (he’s been a silent part of the team!) and I gathered some pillowcases and t-shirts for the kids to choose between for their colorful creations. Fortunately, I had a young volunteer who calmly accepted my plea to read through the instructions and provide the kids some structure (not my thing!) so they could finish the project in less than an hour. When it was over, and each kid had their project properly labelled and put away for the weekend to dry, I was flooded with another rush of awareness that my job has been to bring love and fun in an otherwise intense situation for children and families. Tomorrow, I get to be there to enjoy the scene as the kids take the rubber bands off their tie-dye projects. Tomorrow I get to love again.

6 “I Can” Statements for 6 Years Sober

6 years ago this week I walked into a noon Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Unity Temple on the Country Club Plaza, burst into tears and said, “I think I am an alcoholic.” Immediately, that community supported me and over the next 12 months I began to understand that “there is another way to live.”

As anyone who has struggled with alcohol addiction will tell you, the worst part is the period of time leading up to admitting you are powerless over alcohol. In the 2 years leading up to that day in 2015 when I finally walked into an AA meeting, I spent more and more time bargaining with this insatiable beast that was taking my life and everything I cared about from me. In the search for temporary relief from anxiety, insecurity, worry and fear, what I found was just an enormous emptiness. I was ashamed of my inability to simply stop hurting myself and others. Alcohol was on a mission to destroy my life yet I continued to open that bottle of vino fino tinto every afternoon at 5 o’ clock, the witching hour.

I think my path to successful sobriety has been primarily about 2 things: learning to manage discomfort and reclaiming my authentic self. I wish I could hug that sad woman and tell her that in exchange for hangovers, her future would be full of authentic connections, better health, flourishing young adult children and the most fulfilling career imaginable.

Living a sober life has given me many tools for navigating the scary world of FEELINGS. I used to hide from my feelings behind a big glass of red wine, but now I address my problems, if not with confidence, at least with purpose – to find a reasonable solution that does not compromise my values or boundaries.

To celebrate my 6th Sober Birthday, I want to share 6 “I Can” statements I work on constantly:

I CAN

  • Create a life I love built on new beliefs about the person I am and who I choose to be going forward;
  • Live with discomfort, knowing that in the end what is meant for me will happen at the right time;
  • Tolerate the disapproval of someone I love, knowing that compromising my authentic self in exchange for another person’s affection or approval is self-destructive;
  • Accept contradictions of all kinds without the need to debate or argue;
  • Seek support rather than comfort when the need arises;
  • Support others without expecting anything in return.

Every sober breath is a gift. I have had 2,190 beautiful days in recovery. Thank you for celebrating with me!

A Formerly Cool Gen Xer Aging in Place

I can’t believe I am having conversations with friends now about “Aging in Place.” 34 years ago this weekend, I packed my Subaru XT Coupe, popped in my favorite “Bob Marley” cassette tape, and moved to Kansas City to start the next chapter of my life. I started graduate school and earned a certificate in gerontology studies….an abstract concept I never expected to really experience personally (at least so soon). I would sit in mind-numbingly boring gerontology classes learning about the “Plaza Relocation Project” and Medicare, only halfway connecting with the stories I heard about the negative impacts on aging Kansas Citians when the Country Club Plaza began transforming from an aging-friendly urban oasis to a collection of upscale boutiques and restaurants to attract tourists. There used to be a substantial drug store and grocery store on the Plaza, conveniences enabling residents to comfortably transition into their later years at home instead of “care facilities.”

Beginning in the early 1980’s, long-time aging residents of high rise apartments were swiftly upended as part of a larger “plan” to make the Plaza less residential and more commercial. As a graduate student, I lived in one of the last remaining high rises near the Plaza in the sweetest studio apartment (forever my favorite) among aging residents. It had a restaurant and nail salon and was a community of people on the brink of extinction. A few years after I moved out, The University of Missouri tore it down (Twin Oaks Apartments, then dubbed “Twin Croaks” by the UMKC students because of the frequent EMS visits) to build student housing. I used to ride the elevator with visiting actors with the Missouri Repertory Theater and was often greeted by a Humpty Dumpty character getting off my 11th floor telling me, “I’d like to ride in your car!” It was a colorful life but not sustainable according to the local community planners.

Today, I think about aging in place every day. In fact, my husband and I recently tried to watch the film, “I Really Care” (Rosamund Pike portrays a corrupt legal guardian who deftly divests competent and financially stable Dianne Wiest of her decision-making rights and locks her “in a home”), and quickly turned it off in disgust and horror. That’s less than a decade away for us! Could it be us? Surely not. We have friends making decisions all across the board about retirement: one couple recently decided the Midwest wasn’t for them and moved to Florida to become boat repairmen in a coastal town. Another friend dropped her second child off at college and began her dream nomadic lifestyle of full-time travel writing and speaking. She meets up with her adult sons a few times a year at Airbnbs. In shock, I asked her, “But WHO will get the same china and tree out for Christmas each year?”. She laughed at my absurd question because she had been planning for this transition and shedding possessions that weighed her down for many years.

I know where I fall on this very important question: I am staying right where I am as long as I can and giving back to the community that has given my family so much. I will be open to new friendships with people of all ages. I will volunteer for organizations like CASA and Big Brothers Big Sisters. And I will continue the work I recently began at an outpatient medical rehab for people with disabilities for as long as I physically can. Eventually, I hope to write and publish a memoir. My husband wants to get a lab puppy and “tinker” around the house. We both want to learn Spanish. He has a huge treasure trove of family photos he plans to cull, organize, restore and possibly publish. We won’t be bored. Hopefully we will have grandchildren and we will walk with them to the creek in our neighborhood and get ice cream in a neighborhood creamery.

Imagine my delight yesterday when one of my close girlfriends who has always planned to retire with her husband on the West Coast confided, “We are going to age in place.” Immediately, I imagined us as old women visiting the Nelson Atkins Museum and dining at Rozzelle Court together. Or riding the train at the Kansas City Zoo with our grandchildren. A fellow “ager in placer ” has emerged and I am overjoyed!

At our age, my husband and I are starting to watch people shed their professional lives and chase their dreams, sometimes taking them far away. I can’t imagine living anywhere else but the Midwest. We once owned 34 acres but did not have much time to enjoy it. There may be a future acre or two with a pond and an old farmhouse also, who knows. My friend’s announcement over lunch yesterday gave me hope and inspiration for the not too distant future we have waiting. According to “Blue Zones,” a longevity research project, people who live longest move naturally (e.g., walking outdoors, gardening) and have strong social/community ties. They also eat a plant-based diet fortified with lots of legumes and nuts. I look at it this way: if I have to move my body and eat healthy foods, I’d rather do it in Kansas City with the people I love most. Happy Aging in Place!

27 Ways I Wasted Time During Covid

I had the same 24 hours each day everyone else in quarantine had. Yet I did not take on any major projects. My yard is still a disaster. I never baked sourdough bread from scratch. I couldn’t even manage to find a lousy blue lightbulb to place in my front porch light to show support and gratitude for frontline workers. What I did do was escape with my streaming services. And today I share my favorite 27 escapes with a one-sentence description of why each rang my bell.

In the Documentary Category, the Covid Winners Are

“If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” – a delightful journey through Hollywood Icon Rob Reiner’s final years of finding meaning and purpose through friendships, nature, laughter and creativity.

“Finding Vivian Mayer” – a fascinating discovery made by an estate sale junkie leads to unraveling of decades of world-class street photography taken by an unknown and elusive woman who nannies for a living – posthumous fame is always a thrill and a bummer all at once.

“Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of our Lives” – a heartfelt, passionate tribute to a genius in the music industry who discovered Pop Icons like Whitney Houston – you’ll never get her music out of your head again, like ever.

The Always Reliable Masterpiece Theater Winners are

Beecham House” – who cares what the storyline is, feast your eyes on 2 hottie brothers prancing about a gorgeous estate in colonized English India.

“Flesh and Blood” – a crime thriller told through the perspective of creepy neighbor and one of my favorite British Actresses, Imelda Staunton – she watched this family of 3 dysfunctional children grow up and now she narrates the story of their upending by Mom’s creepy new boyfriend.

Popular Series Winners

I still have not been able to get into “Queen’s Gambit” – here is a short list of my Covid faves –

“Little Fires Everywhere”- Reese Witherspoon vs. Kerry Washington in a suspenseful drama where class and privilege are the backdrop for 2 women coming to terms with their life choices in middle age – there just is no better mean girl than Reese!

“Mrs. America” – Cate Blanchett as Phyliis Schlafly is absolutely mind-blowing – I even found myself sympathizing with the woman I was taught to believe was the anti-Christ, You.Will.Love.

“Ozark” – The best cast of any contemporary thriller, hands down. Nobody drops an F-bomb like Ruthie and could we love Jason Bateman more?

“Tiger King” – this got so sad and dark I wasn’t able to watch the last episode which is rare for me – the underlying message for me is to let go of grudges and bad juju before they consume you!

“The English Game” – Who cares about the history of football or soccer or whatever the hell you wanna call it – Edward Holcroft in a tuxedo is possibly the closest thing to God I have ever experienced.

My Favorite Covid Acorn (“Old Lady TV”) Dramas

Blood” – Broody Adrian Dunbar returns home after the suspicious death of his wife to make amends with his children and manages to make things worse – but looking sexy as he does it!

Doctor Foster” – Suranne Jones is the meanest, smartest, most self-destructive woman scorned you will ever meet.

The Split” – A family of ruthless female divorce lawyers with secrets – I paid $29.99 for this one because Nicola Walker is one of my favorite smart British actresses and does she ever deliver in this one.

Sommerdahl Murders” -OH.MY.GAWD Peter Mygind is the hunkiest Dane solving crimes on a tiny island and trying to win back his long-neglected wife’s affections, your heart will go pitter-patter!

“A Suitable Boy” – a modest Indian family in the 1950’s attempts to marry their youngest daughter and protect their financial future – but she has ideas of her own.

Movies, Mostly Older Ones, That Kept Me Covid Company

“On Golden Pond”– when life has me melancholy, I find myself longing for an escape to this enchanting pond and the comfort of Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn’s long-burning love (and their bratty daughter, Jane Fonda).

“Emma” – the 2019 version of this Jane Austen classic – Bill Nighy steals the show as Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, a delightful tale in every respect.

“Little Women” – the modern interpretation of this classic tale by Greta Gerwig makes my heart ache for the March sisters as they seek to fulfill their personal dreams and ambitions in a socially suitable way – plus Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet’s unrequited love story will pierce your soul.

“Babette’s Feast”– I first watched this film on a hot date with my English Professor from UMKC in 1987 after dining on Greek food so of course re-watching it in my middle age is a yearly sojourn to that time as well as a deep dive into the souls of the spinster sisters and their French maid – Isak Dineson will forever be my favorite writer of all time!

“Remains of the Day” and “Howard’s End” – Because Merchant Ivory, Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins – ole!

“Nanny McPhee” – Another cast I absolutely adore, Colin Firth as the loving and befuddled widower rescued by Emma Thompson is one of the sweetest, most charming tales I have ever seen.

“The Good Liar” – My oh my, Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan at their very best, never underestimate a woman’s ability to deceive.

“Ladies in Lavender” – every time I watch Judi Dench fall madly in love with the strange young visitor I get a little sadder, such a bittersweet and beautiful tale.

“Pillow Talk”– This is the ONE and only movie I watched with my husband because, DORIS DAY and his 1960’s youthful awakening, right?!

“I’ll See You In My Dreams” – Widow Blythe Danner gets a second chance at love with Sam Elliott – who cares if the story is good, right?!!

“The Meddler” – Oops I lied, I watched this one with my husband, also, because SUSAN SARANDON playing a meddling Italian widow describing how she foibled making spaghetti for her Italian in-laws is a hoot, plus she gets a second chance at love with security guard J.K. Simmons and sparks doth fly!

I hope you enjoyed my incomplete list of time-wasting, utterly purposeless but delicious consumption of stories during this Pandemic Year. Go Grab your Roku and STREAM. Happy Holidays.

Treat Yourself to “The Sober Lush”

Finally, after 5 1/2 years of periodically feeling isolated and stranded on a boring island of sober desolation, it’s here – the eloquently written, relatable ode to living a full-on riotous sober life. “The Sober Lush,” recently published by 2 sober writers, Amanda Eyre Ward and Jardine Libaire, who decided to collaborate in a series of reflections and essays about seeking pleasure and fulfillment as sober women today, is my new source of joy. So much so, I have to share you this passage as a reminder that the feelings of restlessness and anger come and go, one day at a time.

“The Arsenic Hour”

“Amanda’s Savannah relatives call it the arsenic hour – anyone with small children understands this one. It’s the hour when the screaming gets loud, when everyone seems to need you most, when a toddler smears jam on your favorite pants. Amanda feels that even when it all reaches this fever pitch she’s supposed to be calm and collected – to cook gourmet meals and maybe even be a witty wife.

The sun is setting. She stands at the stove, wondering how she’s traveled from graduate school to this kitchen, knowing she’s supposed to ‘cherish the moment’ and help with algebra and give her girl a bubble bath and feed the puppy.

Once, Amanda poured wine to stay in the kitchen. Life with or without children can feel like a slog, and sipping champagne while you do laundry can make the whole endeavor more festive. But we’ve learned that we can bear the tedium booze free. We can bear it, and it passes, one day at a time.

We can also, sometime, say no.

We can open the door and go outside, to a hammock, or the front stoop. The first time Amanda left the kitchen during the arsenic hour, she felt both guilty and fabulous.

The guilt faded.

She closed her eyes. She listened to the cicadas or the traffic, breathed in and out a few times. Her heartbeat slowed. She stayed as long as she could, and then made herself stay ten minutes longer. An evening of cartoons and Fruity Pebbles wasn’t fabulous parenting, but neither was a perfect dinner served by a woman filled with anger and Chardonnay.

We believe it’s OK for the people who love you to know that sometimes you get tired. We think it’s a great example to show kids that they can grow up to be people who take care of themselves.

The breeze was soft on Amanda’s face. Inside, Amanda’s daughter watched Amanda watch the sky, and Amanda waved back. The arsenic hour was almost over, and soon it would be bedtime.

This is what it felt like to choose herself.”

HAVE A BIG, BEAUTIFUL, DECADENT, SOULFUL, SOBER SUNDAY, FRIENDS!

It’s Thanksgiving and I Have Been Changed

I started a new job 10 weeks ago and it has changed me. I have been welcomed into the most intimate spaces in families’ lives and I will never see the world the same again. What started as a volunteer gig I did occasionally a few years ago has become the most satisfying career of my life at age 54. I am beyond grateful.

It seems like a pretty simple, basic job until you factor in the unpredictable human condition. I greet children and their families at a medical rehab for traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries every morning and accompany the children throughout their busy days of therapy. It takes courage and grit, what these children and families are going through. And I get to be the gentle, comforting face (behind a mask in a pandemic!) to offer them support.

When I started, all the details of things to remember were terrifying. Here are these parents lugging tiny children into a medical facility with wheelchairs, walkers, feeding tubes, blood sugar monitors, protective head gear and any number of other devices they need for survival. “Just meet them at the door and ask if there’s anything special their therapist needs to know,” I was told in the early days. The responsibility felt overwhelming. What if I forgot something and let a precious little one down? What if I said the wrong thing to a parent at their wit’s end? I was tempted to quit and return to my life of comfort. I couldn’t imagine why the organization had hired a 54-year old empty nester Mom instead of a hotshot 24-year old young professional with a much better memory and physical strength. It wasn’t until some of the children began grasping my wrinkled hand for comfort that I understood why I am here at this point in time. It is an honor and a privilege to get to be the person who reassures children and their families, if only long enough to offer a Capri Sun to an unhappy patient.

I cried during the interview recalling a time when a young person apologized profusely for having a seizure. I thought that would pretty much rule out any possibility of getting a call back but they hired me. So this job takes a tender heart, for sure. I am grateful to have this opportunity to be of service in small ways to families of fragile children as they move through this period of life.

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

AUDREY HEPBURN

All I can say is that when a child with no other means of communication smiles at you with their eyes it becomes a heart connection. I have experienced no greater love than this. It is Thanksgiving and I am a new person and for that I thank God each and everyday.

Untidiness and Beauty

Well it’s been a week of angst and dread and anticipation so let me entertain you with a little story about how things went down on Cheeky Street.

It was last Sunday and I was in search of my authentic strand of pearls (because, like most women, I have numerous fake ones). I am not known for my tidiness or organization so off to my rat-packing closet I went with a mild sense of dread in pursuit of said strand. There is one box in the back of my closet that I have tossed sentimental things in over the years. I’ll throw something in and forget about it because going down the emotional rabbit hole of examining the contents in the box is often too much.

We have lived in our current home 10 years now so it’s been at least that long since I have taken a peak in the box in the back of my untidy closet. That’s how long it’s been since I have worn pearls. One has to ponder what kind of life, as a woman, one has been living that is completely devoid of my favorite jewel, but this is a subject for a different story.

It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. So astonishment must be something similar – in my view, it is struggle plus perspective.

I was not emotionally prepared for the 3 things I found in this box instead of my strand of pearls:

  1. A beautiful snapshot of my parents visiting me and my sister in our apartment for Thanksgiving over 30 years ago. They were struggling and, not coincidentally, they were the age I am now. In the thick of a midlife reckoning . Children raised, empty nest, left to stare at the walls or make deliberate choices about the rest of the journey, together or apart. It stunned me. A wound broke open I thought had long healed. There they were, the 2 people that raised me sitting on the cheap sofa my sister and I shared in our little apartment as young women. Mom and Dad, my biggest heroes. The perspective I have after 30 years of living my own struggles shone a bright light on the beauty of what they did for each other and our family. They stayed the course and supported each other until the end, as the vow “until death us do part” said. Holding that photo in my now wrinkled hands with the ability to put myself squarely in the middle of their struggle with some inkling of how it felt for them made me proud to be their seventh child. And proud to be made of the same persevering cloth they are.

2. A love letter from my husband written during a painful turning point in our marriage. How it is I determined that this letter, among several, should make its way into this particular box full of memories, I wish I knew. Juxtaposed with the photo of my parents at midlife, the letter marking a difficult crossroads with my husband pointed toward a theme: struggle and love are one. We lose our way occasionally and what is the one thing that helps guide us? Love. I started to think that maybe these memories were tucked away in a box in the back of my closet because I wasn’t ready to deal with the pain or release the anger and resentment. Thankfully, the past 5 years of my life have been largely about confronting resentment and finding ways to assemble some tools in my life for managing it. I am glad I have stayed in the struggle for my marriage and our family, just as my parents did. My husband and I have often joked we could write a book about the huge financial and career challenges life has thrown at us and from which we emerged stronger and happier. Maybe we will.

3. Finally and perhaps most preciously, several envelopes of my children’s baby teeth. I told my son last Sunday what I had found and he was completely grossed out. “Why would you save something so gross, Mom?” he wanted to know. I thought to myself, “because you were mine.” And that’s another paradox of love, isn’t it, particularly the love for a child. I kept these momentos of childhood to remember the passage of time and hold close to my heart the struggle and beauty of caring for something outside myself, in my case 2 somethings, my daughter and son.

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed,” Antoine Exupery

I never found the damn pearls. I did find empirical evidence of a life well lived, however. If there were ever a question that my parents or husband loved me, all I had to do was look inside the untidy box at the back of my disorganized closet. Sometimes life reminds us there are more important things than possessions. I am completely grateful and surrender to those times.

My son brought this beautiful croton leaf inside yesterday afternoon as he was helping my husband rake. He knew I would cherish its beauty, something he has always known about his Mom. As the seasons change and he prepares to leave the nest for good, my heart aches once again with dread of the pain of seeing his empty room and missing the sound of his shotgun laugh. Maybe this leaf will go in the untidy box and one day many years from now I will rediscover it and remember yesterday with pride, love and a heart filled with gratitude for a life well lived.

The 7 Words That Changed My Life

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My husband and I recently did the Empty Nester basement purge thing and a newspaper article about a sad chapter in our lives resurfaced.  We found ourselves at the kitchen table talking to our children, now young adults, about the details of how things unfolded when they were too young to remember.  Their jaws slowly dropped as they listened 14 years later, taking in the previously hidden details of an underlying saga that spoiled our dream for them at that time. And almost ruined our marriage.  But we didn’t let it and that is the happy ending.

Once upon a time my husband and I had a dream to live a simple life in a nice midwestern small town with our 2 young children.  Our expectations were this change in location would provide time and space we yearned for to more fully appreciate our young family.  Before they were even born, we both agreed we would  “marinate our children in love.” This became challenging in our suburban setting with busy schedules and my husband’s nonstop work travel.  So we chose a radically different path, my husband even changed professions, and off we went to rural America to start over.

It should have been a warning sign to us when trouble seemed to be brewing from the beginning.  We purchased several acres of land that had been designated for part of a neighborhood development and then all hell broke  loose.  There was a dilapidated, decades-old dairy barn on the property that we viewed as “charming.”  This became one of the the ways the Homeowners Association began punishing us for daring to have a dream.  On numerous occasions, we were summoned to City condemnation hearings brought by the residents of the neighborhood we purchased the lots in.  They wanted this (justifiably historically significant to the area) “blighting eyesore” removed from their neighborhood.  We knew they just wanted to trouble, inconvenience and punish us for existing.

We tried an approach we were sure was a “win/win”:  we offered to donate the dairy barn and surrounding property to the City as a public park.  There was a Parks and Recreation Commission hearing for public comment and the neighbors showed up very angry.  They were not interested in creating a common, beautiful space for the community to enjoy.  Even though the country club lay directly behind them, they wanted more exclusivity and privacy.  They didn’t want to see children and families  from other neighborhoods enjoy their serene vistas.  In the end, the “park” became part of their privately owned space.

In hindsight, I wish I had had the time, resources and strength to have the dairy barn designated a Historic Site and restored it to its original beauty.  Instead, for our sanity, our family walked away and the City lost a beautiful treasure when the Homeowners Association got its way and tore it down, like it had never existed.  This isn’t a story about winning or losing, it’s a story about how small conflicts can often cloud the greater good. And what a pity that is.  A friend texted me the day the neighbors tore the beautiful barn down and I became nauseous at the thought of their celebration of their small victory.  A park dedicated to the memory of the designer of the barn would have been, from a historical preservation context, the wise thing to do.  Our family doesn’t live there any longer (and it’s just as well!) so I am not reminded on a daily basis of the punch in the gut.

Why is this story important or at all relevant today, in the midst of a global pandemic when people are suffering and struggling to keep the pieces of their lives together?  Why should anyone care?  One day, many years after the dairy barn debacle, my husband and I were struggling to begin again back in our hometown of Kansas City.  I had years of lingering resentment for what I believed I had endured during the small town years and he was exhausted from reinventing himself.  He looked at me one day and said something that suddenly made everything vividly clear for me:  “I love taking care of this family.”  In the midst of the struggle, I had started forming the belief that I was the only one “taking care of this family.”  We may have even divorced if my husband hadn’t uttered those 7 words at exactly the moment I needed to hear them.  That exchange has been my anchor every single day since.  Telling me he loves taking care of this family meant that had always been in his heart, even on the darkest days.  I had forgotten.  I allowed the outside forces that began needling away at us to toss me about.   I focused on the struggle instead of our basic strength, and that’s how I almost got lost forever.  Now my young adult kids will know how their parents persevered and weathered tough times:  because we love taking care of this family.