Friday, December 30, 2011

My Shiny Teeth and Me

That silly little song keeps running through my head, and I know why. It’s time for another Seyfried tooth adventure.

Don't know that I have the right to write any missive about molars and incisors. My five kids (I'm ducking so you don't hit me) have never needed braces. Never darkened an orthodontist's door. Not a huge surprise--Steve and I were braceless as well, back in the day. The money we saved on retainers alone...well, where is it? Ah, it's in the magic world of make-believe where the money we saved when they stopped wearing diapers dwells!

My toothsome memories include the totally unfair distribution of cavities. The first three kids never had a single one for years and years--Sheridan still hasn't gotten one. The two little ones, Julie in particular, possessed first baby, then permanent, teeth which were perpetually riddled with holes. Their diet was exemplary--very little sugar. No soda. They brushed faithfully. Sheridan, in contrast, went through a long stretch (literally) of chewing gum 24/7--the sugary kind. He also favored sweetened cereal, and never met a bowl of ice cream he didn't LOVE. One day, during our post-exam consult with our dentist, Dr. Mayer showed us the X-rays, first of Sher, then of Jules. Cavity score: big bro: 0, little sis: 8!!!! "Sheridan," he commented, "Do you know what the word 'irony' means?"

Evan and Rose (Rose especially) tended to lose their teeth—lose their lost teeth, that is. On the school bus, at recess, in a plate of spaghetti and meatballs at Rizzo’s restaurant. Dentina the Tooth Fairy always came through anyway, even when they’d swallowed the evidence. Julie lost two teeth within one minute, while eating a crusty piece of bread. I think she was afraid she’d just keep spitting them out until she was all gums.

My Five Favorite Grins
On Wednesday, PJ and his four wisdom teeth parted company.  He had had a toothache for awhile, and the dentist had warned us that this day was coming, so we were prepped with ibuprophen and strawberry smoothies. I recall my own, emergency wisdom teeth removal (at PJ's exact age, 20). I was acting in a play in Birmingham, Alabama, and had to pick an oral surgeon from the phone book. I remember being in a decent amount of pain for days after the procedure. PJ's recovery has been rather more rapid, glad to say. He was even up to a somewhat chewy dinner last night. Pieg had another tooth pulled in early childhood, actually a third front tooth. He'd taken a tumble and his mouth hit a table, just as the two main teeth were coming in; the root split, creating an extra. We're hoping this is his final extraction, as he actually has a rather nice smile and it would be a shame to keep plucking his pearly whites.

The number of toothbrushes in the upstairs bathroom cup has shrunk markedly. But my memories of those five little grins linger on, and always will.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fraidy Cat

To say I am easily spooked, would be like saying Itzhak Perlman plays little violin ditties well: the understatement of the century.  I never progressed beyond age five in the bravery department. My one and only horror movie, The Exorcist, was attended just because I was dating Steve—a crowd was going to the midnight show and I didn't want to wimp out. Luckily, in the darkness, no one could tell my eyes were shut and my ears plugged.

The Screamer
As you can imagine, I made the ideal parent. Every stomach bug was the plague, every fever, meningitis. When baby Sheridan slept too little, Evan too much, Rosie not at all; when toddler PJ chose screaming over speaking, and newborn Julie failed to respond to sound as much as I felt she should, something was always capital W Wrong. I'm surprised Dr. Lockman didn't add a nuisance charge to the Seyfried bill for all my extra calls and questions over the years.

The kids’ teens gave me ample opportunities to be fearful. Sher, at 18, moved downtown to an apartment, solo (Curtis did not have dorms). I tried not to think of the peril he undoubtedly put himself in, but thought of little else. One night, late, he called to "chat."  I enjoyed our phone visit at first. When conversational topics ran out, and we were looping back to The Weather, Take Two, and still he talked...something was capital W Wrong! Finally, he said, "I just turned my key in the lock, Mom, I'm home. There were two weird guys walking behind me all the way from the train station, and I felt safer talking to you." "Oh, honey…" I began, horrified. "OK bye," he hung up, next stop Dreamland. I, of course, was awake all night.

Rose and some of the sinister people of Thailand
When Rosie went to Thailand as a high school junior, my fears for her general well-being were legion. Rose tried to calm me with her description of Chiang Rai as totally safe, and the Thai people as gentle and completely non-violent--but I wasn't buying it. She came home at last, with nothing but the most wonderful stories of her year in Asia.

You'd think after that, I might lighten up a tad when she decided on college in Boston. Not a chance. Just before her departure, I sought out mace or something similar. I was surprised to find that the likeliest local spot to purchase was a nearby gun shop. I crept in, looking quite the opposite of a seasoned firearms buff, and asked the clerk if they carried pepper spray. His immediate response? "Where is your daughter going to college?" Wow, how did he know?

Needless to say, I don't think Rosie carried the pepper spray once. She has never agreed with my vision of the world as a Dark and Frightening Place--and neither have the other kids.

How much of life is perception? Why is my perception often skewed in a negative direction?

When will I stop being so scared?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best Birthday Ever

When I was a little girl, I hated the fact that my birthday falls three days before Christmas. I never had a party; the grownups were too distracted setting up our Charlie Brown tree (then sweeping up the broken ornaments as it toppled over yet again). Very often, I'd get a combo gift (Merry/Happy) and few cards arrived in our house that weren't Yuletide greetings.

 As I grew older, I came to rather enjoy the placement of the day. The festive atmosphere, the carols, the cookies, all added to the fun of advancing to the next age. I loved getting little presents from the kids that had been purchased at the elementary school holiday gift shop: the "I love Mom" pen, guaranteed not to run out of ink for 15 minutes; the "Mom's the Best" dinner bell (useful for calling everyone in from the fields for chow); the "World's #1 Mom" coffee mug (not advised, I learned, for hot liquids).

 Then came the milestones (35! 40!) that I dreaded. Who, honestly, WANTS to turn 50? Maybe if we didn't mention it, I hoped, it wouldn't be true. I'd tell myself "It's only a number," in which case, I chose the number 21. Didn't work.

 Once my chickies started leaving the nest, I only wanted one thing for my birthday: everyone home together. Much easier wished for than done.

Gathering even a majority of Seyfried children in one spot requires ridiculous logistics. The last time all five were at home at the same time was Labor Day, 2009.  Since that happy afternoon, group visits of any sort have been like math problems: Sheridan + PJ + Julie-Rose-Evan; Rose+Evan-PJ-Julie-Sheridan; etc. There were always people missing from the equation. While seeing any combination was fabulous, of course, I still longed for the day we'd all be reunited.

 Evan's Navy schedule has always been the wild card. This year, he requested Christmas leave, and got it. Maybe, at long last, the full complement of Seyfrieds would celebrate together.

 As the December days went by, it was starting to look actually possible. They would all be in one place for my birthday, and Sheridan decided that a holiday Seyfried concert at church was in order.

Fast-forward to Thursday, "B'day Me!" (as my Dad used to write on the family calendar every year--now there was a man who loved his birthday).

At 4:30 PM, I got my birthday gift. Rosie walked in the door, and I had my five children, under one roof.

They put on a great concert that night, but it was hard for me to focus on the music. I was just busy delighting in the sight of the Seyfried family. Together at last.

We have no idea when our next reunion will be. Evan heads back to Pearl Harbor; the others will scatter to school and jobs and their busy lives. But if I live to be 100, I think Dec. 22, 2011 will still rank as The Best Birthday Ever.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In the Queue

Twas the Saturday before Christmas Eve. The Oreland post office was closing at noon; our brilliant idea (arrive with a package to mail overseas at 11:30 AM) was shared by what looked like the entire population of our town. The line snaked through the building and out the door, all of us laden like Santas with heaps of outgoing gifts. As the minutes passed, the queue inched infinitesimally towards the counter, where there was only one harried postal worker to serve the whole crowd. It was pretty painful. A typical customer: "I need boxes, lots of boxes, for all these presents. I think I'll grab lots of mailing boxes and just stand here and try to cram things into them while everyone else waits. Oops, they don't fit. Oh, OK, they fit if you turn some of them sideways. Now then, where did I put my list of addresses? Did I leave it in the car?" Our fellow waiters started shrugging and chuckling, amiably resigned to being in the Oreland post office for the foreseeable future. The prevailing understanding and jolly mood made me CRAZY, out-of-my-mind impatient, mentally drumming my fingers, sighing loudly and checking the time constantly.  By the time we finished sending our little parcel to the UK, it was long past closing time, and the door had to be unlocked to let us out. We dashed to the car and I burned rubber getting out of the parking space, determined to somehow make up for each second we’d wasted.

I realize most people don’t love waiting, but I detest it with a passion I’ll bet few can muster. When the pediatrician’s office is running behind, I sit, drumming and sighing once again, with my feverish child, surrounded by other little hackers and wheezers. I flip through Highlights for Children (always a riveting read) and stew until at last our name is called.  I rate food stores exclusively by the number of checkers they have on duty (btw Shop n Bag is a 10, Dresher Acme is a -2).  My ideal grocery experience?  Well, remember the show Supermarket Sweepstakes? That would be me, barreling down the aisles, sweeping bakery trays and chicken breasts into my cart, done in a flash.  I would never, ever, wait in line to buy concert tickets, even if the headline performer was Elvis, back from the dead for one night only. 

It does occur to me, sometimes, that I could make productive use of the time I’m languishing in lines, or sitting on “hold.” Maybe if I were taking notes for a story, or whistling the score of “Cats,” or quizzing myself on the names of the seven dwarves, the minutes would fly. Or I could join the hordes of happy folk who make small talk, and the best of it, with each other.  Can’t I just relax?

Nope. Can’t do it. The world had simply better hurry up and honor my schedule.  I’m a busy busy woman! Don’t keep me waiting here! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

S' Wonderful

Is there anything more comforting than hearing a beloved old movie musical playing in the next room, while you are trying a new recipe in the kitchen? There's something about the combination of the familiar and the brand-new that has a powerful appeal for me. As I write this, An American in Paris is on in the family room, Gene Kelly warbling and tapping away. I'm flipping through cookbooks and searching the internet for something fun for dessert. It's the Sunday evening before Christmas, and the operative word is "cozy." Out of church clothes and in my sweats, I putter around, checking for ingredient supplies (nutmeg? white chocolate?) to a Gershwin soundtrack.

This is a moment when I should say "I remember Mama" because Joanie looooved her Gershwin. It's the baking part that doesn't bring her back to me, though. The only cake I think she ever baked, from a mix, mind you, was for an elementary school event (and they must have been truly desperate). She just plunked a full stick of butter in the batter without blending, and when the first intrepid soul cut into it, there was a telltale lump of yellow mid-slice. I don't remember Nana this way either, except to recall her piece de resistance: banana pudding (from a mix, mind you) into which ( master's touch) she had stirred more bananas. Done!!

 I have been cooking seriously since I was 10. And, always, culinary pursuits and background music have gone hand-in-hand. In the early 70s I turned out a decent grasshopper pie ( a trendy sweet, containing nary an insect: the green was crème de menthe). As I whipped and poured into the chocolate cookie crust, I was listening to Carole King's "So Far Away." The summer we lived in Scituate, MA, I was in my Pennsylvania Dutch phase. Chicken with Potato Stuffing was served to the tune of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedies." Philly as a young married: Osso Buco and Al Jarreau.

 The five senses are, each of them, so evocative. When you combine even two of them you are on sensory overload.  But what a joy it is to experience them in tandem: the sight of a hummingbird hovering in the air and the smell of hibiscus (Costa Rica, 2007). The feel of a young girl’s Christmas velvet dress and the rich taste of wiener schnitzel (Luchöw’s, NYC, December 1968). And, this evening, the smell of Chinese noodles (Sheridan’s girlfriend Ya-Jhu at the helm) and the sound of Eagles football (PJ’s home for winter break) intertwined.

Everything is a gift from God. Everything. We just need to take the time to recognize that, and to open the incredible presents constantly before us. I invite you to light a scented candle. Right now. Browse your itunes library to find the precise music to mirror your mood. Eat, as the Allman Brothers Band would suggest, a peach. Take a bite from the succulent banquet that is life.

                                                                          Bon Appetit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rabbits in Love

Not quite sure how this happened, but we now have three pets. This was a house whose sum total of critters, over 27 years and five children, was: two hamsters, one turtle and a couple of one-week wonders, school fair goldfish. No dogs (nothing to walk) no birds (nothing to hear squawk), no cats (I prefer not to feed a furry snob). The older four had no problem with this animal-unfriendly policy, but Julie lobbied for a pet of her very own. She was responsible for Puffles and Truffles, the hamsters. I must say that Truffles was quite the little acrobat and fairly entertaining—well, if your idea of entertainment is staring into a rodent’s cage. In due course, the pair went up to that big exercise wheel in the sky. 

Eventually, Julie fell in love with a rabbit. Stoli came to us from a bunny rescue organization. He was white, chubby, and even I had to admit he was a cutie. As we already had a beta fish, Bette (get it?), Julie was now adequately set with livestock. 

Apparently Julie had other ideas. We were at the shore, and Julie had gone home with Dad for the weekend, leaving me on Stoli duty.  I was so afraid that he’d escape his pen and go darting off (he’s fast as lightning) that I would lean in and just toss the hay in his general direction.  Anyway, Jules came back with a surprise for Stoli—and me!—another rabbit. Oh, joy!  This one looked like a scruffy little terrier, not like a rabbit at all. Her name was Stevie McQueen. 

I was not exactly thrilled with my surprise, and at first, neither was Stoli. Rabbits are very social, and Julie had been feeling that Stols needed a bunny companion. She hoped they would bond instantly. Au contraire.  When she put them together, one literally attacked the other—and the attacker was the pipsqueak, Stevie. Stoli would quickly hop away, and Stevie would follow, leading to another tussle.
Every day Julie tried to make it work, but her fantasy of two happy campers remained a fantasy. So, as we headed into the fall it was still separate quarters—two pens, two water bowls, two sets of toys. I was annoyed because they took up twice the space I was anticipating. 

Until suddenly everything changed. 

One morning Stevie was out and romping around. Next thing we knew, she had hopped the fence, as it were, and was right in there with Stoli. We held our breath, waiting for the next cage match. But instead—they nuzzled. They cavorted together. They shared a toy. Bonded at last. On their own terms. In their own time. 

And it’s been hearts and flowers ever since.  I hasten to add, theirs is neutered love. But it is love.  And I guess I’m a sucker for romance, so it’s all good with the bunns.  

However, Bette is on her own finding a soulmate. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Booking It

Note to my agent: my book tour is going well, but there have been a few glitches which I'm hoping you'll remedy immediately.

 #1 I believe my contract stipulated bowls of M&Ms with pictures of my book cover on them, in my dressing room.

#2 I believe my contract stipulated a dressing room.

 #3 I have put in for my mileage (which is considerable), and all I get from your office is stony silence.

 #4 In future, please be a bit more selective in booking my gigs. While I enjoy speaking at senior residences, many of my listeners are just post-lunch and headed to dreamland. One memorable afternoon they ALL fell asleep, except for one woman who insisted I keep talking for the full hour. Then there was the gentleman who offered to swap a copy of my book for his. I agreed, only to find out later that it was a nasty, inflammatory anti-Muslim screed (basically I gave a book away so I could throw another book in the trash). Finally, the spot where I decided to give away a free book to one lucky resident as a nifty way to kick off sales: the "winner" was a real grouch, the least popular person there, and my fun little giveaway nearly started a riot.

 #5 Your PR dept. is doing a lousy job promoting the tour. If there is any coverage in the media at all, I have to provide the materials myself. What kind of operation are you people running?

Yes, that's definitely what I would write to my agent. If I had one.

 As it is, I am my own agent. I have learned that unless your name is Rowling, King or Grisham, it is very likely that you will struggle along, largely alone, to promote your book. Nowadays, even with a major publishing house behind you, if your tome doesn't rocket to #1 on the NYT best-seller list, you won't get much support after the first few weeks of sales.

So on I go, a one-man band, writing my own press releases, posting my own flyers in windows, traveling to engagements on my own dime. And I have to say...

I love it. Sales have been strong. The overwhelming majority of my audiences have been wonderful. The actress in me really enjoys public speaking, and there's nothing quite like the feeling of signing an autograph in a shiny-new book that someone has been kind enough to buy.

Yesterday there was a launch for my new book, Underway, at a terrific new literary arts center in Chestnut Hill, Musehouse. Several of my writer friends were there, and I enjoyed the cozy, supportive atmosphere of the place (its director, Kathleen Bonanno, is also an author, and understands what hurdles we all face). As I stood there, reading, I looked out at the friendly, receptive people and realized I was right where I had always dreamed of being: a writer, on a book tour, sharing my stories.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dial Tone

Me: “Hi, Evan!”                                                    
Evan: “Hey.”
Me: “Evan, are you there?”
Evan: “Yeah.”
Me: “I’m so glad to hear your voice!”
Me: “Evan, are you still there?”
Evan: “Yup.”

And so forth. My telephone calls with my second-born since he’s left home have always had the pace and snap of a primitive communiqué from Alexander Graham Bell himself. In 10 minutes of painful repartee, I’ve usually been able to pry out the following information: he was alive, he was “good,” things at school were “good” aaaannd that’s about it. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Even as a toddler, Evan was a man of few words, usually letting Sheridan finish his sentences (which the gabby Sher was ever-eager to do). On the phone he was hopeless. When he’d finished speaking with my mom long-distance from Atlanta (and the phone had been passed along to chatty little Rose), he’d run off to play like a man sprung from prison. 

My favorite Evan telephone memory from school days was the time he had to call a (gasp) girl to get a missed homework assignment. She was not there, so he had to (even worse!) leave a voice mail message. As he finished, he slammed the phone back on the receiver, buried his face in his hands and yelled, “Idiot! I sounded like an IDIOT!” Needless to say, he never missed a homework assignment again. 

When he entered the Naval Academy, he had the perfect excuse not to call—during plebe summer, he basically wasn’t allowed to. They were able to make two calls, 3 minutes each. I imagine this suited my son down to the ground—by the time each member of our big family had said “hello” it was time to hang up. 

Now that he’s stationed in Hawaii, he is, shall we say, off the hook: none of us seem to be able to keep track of the 6 hour time difference. When I’m ready to talk, it is either 3 AM Honolulu time, or 2 PM, right in the middle of his workday. I’m assuming his infrequent calls are completely due to similar confusion on his part (right? Right?) When the submarine is underway, of course, no calls are even possible And even if he was a chatterbox, there’s a lot he is not permitted to divulge—including all details of the boat’s comings and goings (the when, the where—all off limits for discussion). No worries there; the Navy’s secrets are utterly safe with our boy. 

In person, Evan has vastly improved as a communicator, especially when the topics are music (especially new bands) and, of all things, cooking ( he’s a wonderful cook now, and we can actually converse for a long time about kitchen tips and tricks). And he’s always been a GREAT listener—quite a rarity in our yakkity-yakking house. 

I’m guessing Evan will probably remain a phonaphobe. We can live with that. But anytime he does call, we’ll always be all ears. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Growing, Growing, Gone

I had lunch with my friend Susan yesterday. We've known each other since the kids were babies. Susan remembered that our family had always hung our stockings on the mantel for St. Nicholas Day (that would be today). She asked if we were still doing that. We're not. With only Julie now at home Dec. 6th, it didn't seem to make sense to fuss over a Christmas stocking for one 17 year old. This year, I didn't make my customary dash to the mall to load up on last-minute stuffers. This year, and probably from now on, today is just another ordinary day.

Every December, we bought an ornament for everyone to hang on the Christmas tree, then keep in boxes of their own until they moved away. Sheridan, Evan and Rosie are each unsettled on a permanent residence, so we still have theirs (though Steve and I have to hang them up). Yule-loving PJ grabbed his box last year and took it to college at Millersville, where he decorated a small tree in his dorm. It won't be long before our annual evergreen is completely bare (we couldn't afford to buy ornaments for ourselves).

We still serve breakfast in bed to the birthday child, but it's not the same as it used to be. When all 5 of them were small, we'd each contribute something to the breakfast tray--a pretty flower, a Beanie Baby, a crayoned card.  Then we'd add the plate of French toast, and up the stairs we'd troop, singing "Happy Birthday" in what we thought might possibly be harmony. I will always picture my cute young honored ones, sleep-tousled but thrilled, sitting up in bed eating their special meal. Things got tricky after they hit middle school and had to leave earlier in the morning. By the time high school (6:45 AM!) rolled around, we'd be scrambling the eggs madly, stuffing a flowering weed from the yard into a vase, and racing pell-mell through the birthday song as Anniversary Boy or Girl nervously watched the clock lest he/she miss the bus. Lost a little something in the translation.

My children are growing, growing, gone. And I put away their childish things, eyes tearing up. While the days seemed endless when they were still in diapers and wouldn't share their toys and NEVER napped...looking back, it was a ridiculously short span when I had them all home together. I did, on some level, know how lucky I was, but I’ll always wish I had taken the time to savor the moments more. I took for granted that there would always be tiny guys around to make birthdays and Christmas days of such excitement, wonder and joy.

While I am waaaay too young to be a grandma (of course), I look forward to sharing magical childhood moments with precious little ones again someday.

Meanwhile, it’s December 6th, and I’m feeling kind of blue.

St. Nicholas skipped our house this morning, and I don’t think he’ll be back.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Coffee, Stat

OH MY LORD, are we out of coffee? Really? What time does Starbucks open? Not till 5:30 AM? What the #@%"&# is the matter with them? We are experiencing a caffeine crisis here, people. I cannot be held responsible for my actions if I don't get some arabica beans ground, and, pronto!

For most of our marriage, Steve has brought me my first morning cup of java in bed. When I mention this to people, they are big with the "aww's" as in "aww, that's so sweet/thoughtful/romantic." Not at all. Steve's daily gesture is pure self-preservation. He approaches me, mug in outstretched hand, much the way a zookeeper throws a tidbit to the resident lion: keeping a safe distance, he makes his peace offering, hoping not to have his hand bitten off.

I vividly remember my premiere foray into the mysterious grown up world of coffee drinkers. We were on vacation at the Jersey shore. I was 11.  A family tradition was dinner at the Normandy Inn. One night as usual the grown-ups ordered that mysterious after-supper beverage known as Sanka. In as blasé a tone as I could manage, I ordered some Sanka for myself. Oh yes, I assured my grandma, I now drank Sanka every day. The steaming cup arrived at my elbow. All adult eyes on me, I took what I hoped was an experienced sip. Wow! I thought. That was--that was---disgusting!

What began as a bad first date, soon blossomed into true love. By high school I was a daily coffee drinker. I never returned to the foul Sanka, but instead became addicted to the real thing. It was a wake-me-up, a pick-me-up, a keep-me-up (to write that pesky philosophy paper at 2 AM). I grew to love the strong, slightly bitter flavor, the unmistakable buzz. Coffee was, for me, the most fun you could legally have.

And the affair continued, and continues, to this day. Oh, we've broken up from time to time (5 pregnancies), but we've always found each other again (5 minutes after each birth). Coffee is a delicious and energizing constant in a changing world, a drink as delightful to share as it is to enjoy solo.

One of my proudest moments as a mom was the day Rosie became a barista. Suddenly I had a bona-fide expert in the house! Best of all, she (we) had a nifty perk: a free pound of coffee every payday. Rose now lives in NYC, a college grad with a good job...but she still works part-time in a coffee shop. Like her mom, it seems caffeine is in her blood.

Oh, I know I should probably quit. I should learn to love chamomile tea, hot water with lemon. But here's the thing: I don't want to. On the laundry list of vices, I think coffee ranks pretty low.

So bring it on, Steve. Help me struggle to consciousness again this morning with Café Verona. Give me hope. Help me cope. Give me coffee.

Friday, December 2, 2011

St. Anthony's Vacation

We lose things around here on a pretty regular basis. Gloves, camera, library books: you name it, we’ve searched for it. We have a few amazing stories of recovery. Example: Julie lost a ring on the beach in Delaware. She begged me to drive her back to the bay so she could search. I knew the odds of finding a small silver ring on a vast expanse of sand (1:1,000,000), but we hopped in the car. At the shoreline, the digging began. It was getting dark, and we were both near tears of frustration when—what was that glimmer among the seashells? The ring! And how did we find it? Simple. I prayed to my old friend St. Anthony. 

Call it Catholic superstition if you will. Maybe prayer calms and focuses the mind enough to be drawn to the missing object. However it works, I’m here to tell you it works. St. A is the go-to guy when the car keys go AWOL yet again, when the iPod disappears. Losing things doesn’t really bother us too much—all we have to do is call on the Patron of Absentminded People. He ALWAYS comes through.

Until this Election Day. 

The church where I work is a polling place, and throughout the day strangers come in and out as they vote. They vote at the front of the church, in the narthex. My office is in another part of the building entirely. It never, ever occurred to me that I might be vulnerable to theft. 

But that morning, I was next door talking with the pastor. The secretary buzzed in the UPS deliveryman, and someone else came right in behind him. After signing for the package, Meg went down the hall, only to find Mystery Man standing in my office. He mumbled something about looking for the voting booth and left hastily.

 Late that afternoon, I picked up my purse. It was light as a feather!  It was—walletless. What the heck? I’d been robbed, and in church of all places. As I tore my office apart and literally beat the bushes outside, I began my familiar litany: “Please, St. Anthony, please help me find it!” I looked and looked, in vain. The lucky thief had hit a pretty pathetic jackpot: $35, my driver’s license, a used-up Visa gift card. A few other credit cards (quickly cancelled), and proof I was both a Costco member and a CVS card holder. But still…

It’s been almost a month now, and while I retain hope that my tattered leather wallet will magically materialize, I am realistic. It’s probably gone with the wind, along with the perp who fingered it. 

I can only conclude that even saints take time off once in a while. We’d kept Tony incredibly busy over the years. Now he was taking a well-deserved rest. At a heavenly resort, I pictured, margarita in hand. Cell phone on silent. I don’t blame him a bit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

White Knuckles

For years, I scoffed at my sister Carolyn's reluctance to drive on expressways, or in bad weather, or at night (or, God forbid, all three). What in the world was her problem? While I was not what you'd call an enthusiastic motorist, I could always get from Point A (home) to Point B (pretty much anywhere but New York City and Boston, because the drivers there are maniacs), no matter the time or clime.

Well, now I understand C’s feelings completely. Now I am 55 (or will be next month). And, at 55, I'm finding that traveling at speeds OVER 55 is causing me to break out in a sweat and hyperventilate and grip the steering wheel for dear life. Rain, even a gentle sprinkling, causes me to seriously rethink my planned outing on the road. Snow, ice--forget about it! It's really depressing.

And the hardest part, for me, is my new fear of driving at night. My eyesight has been on the decline for years. And then I went on a medication that "may cause blurred vision"--and, lo and behold, it does! Nevertheless, I could basically cope, could stay in the correct lane, could still see the traffic lights. But suddenly, now, I was Mr. Magoo. One memorable evening, en route to a meeting, I literally had to stop and get out of the car and go over to the street signs to read them, twice! I was, of course, late to the meeting. Worse, once there I could not concentrate on the doings of the Naval Academy Parents Club. I was far too busy dreading my return trip, with its attendant pauses to stop, stretch my legs and squint, wondering if the sign read "Moreland Road" or "Meadow Lane"--or something else entirely.

So I finally got glasses. End of problem, right? Well, not exactly. Nowadays, after dark, the oncoming headlights explode like starbursts before my eyes. The yellow lines still frequently disappear, making it a distinct challenge to keep to my side of the street . The road signs may now be tack-sharp, but what good does that do if I am drifting and distracted by the lightshow?

My world, it feels, is shrinking rapidly. No longer confident behind the wheel, I am losing confidence in general. I was never Danica Patrick but darn it, I was a pretty decent driver! Now, I envision a future of more and more limits—limits of speed and of distance, of venturing out, of independence.  And it makes me sad.

Sad enough to fight it. I will not go gentle into that dark and rainy night. I will find glasses that actually work, and practice heading out onto the highways and byways once more. In downpours and snowstorms, at dusk and 11 PM. I will fight growing old, old in spirit. There are 80 year olds of my acquaintance who run rings around me in the courage dept. Let me take a page from their book. Let me keep trying.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Take a Hike!

I’ve never been a Black Friday shopper. Too disorganized, for one thing.  I have NO idea what anyone wants for Christmas this early. Nor do I have the cash with which to buy anything, as overfilling my shopping cart with Mr. Turkey and fixings has usually wiped me out.  And if I do manage to figure out my loved ones’ hearts’ desires—and squirrel away the funds to make their holiday dreams come true—they want esoteric things Walmart and Target just ain’t got. These days, with all the kids but Julie out of their teens, the gift of choice anyway is money to pay their electric bills and maybe a little extra for Ramen noodles. 

So how do the Seyfrieds bond on the day after Thanksgiving? Traditionally, weather permitting, everyone but me troops out to a state park for a vigorous hike. These adventures (I’ve seen the photos) involve endless trails through the forest, steep and slippery climbs to scenic overlooks. Traditionally, I stay behind, alone with my leftover pie, and wait to be regaled when my weary, but happy, family returns. 

For some reason, this year they convinced me to join them for a trip to Evansburg State Park. Maybe I’d finally had enough pie. Maybe I was just acutely conscious of how rare our time together truly is. In any event, there I was, at trail’s beginning, obvious newbie to the rugged outdoor life: pristine white sneakers, too many layers, no water bottle and no clue. My husband had been there before, and confidently led the way. As I huffed and puffed, bringing up the rear, Steve tossed off the fact that we were embarking on a 5 mile, 2 ½ hour “walk.” Too late to retreat—I’d never find my way back to the car anyway. So on I marched, until the first slight incline, when I fell. My hope that my stumble would elicit enough pity to cut the hike short then and there, was dashed when PJ just broke off a tree branch and handed it to me as a walking stick. OK, so this is how it was gonna be—no coddling for Mom, the Mom who had given painful birth to these wretched unsympathetic children!  

The next two hours plus featured: Mud. Mud under fallen leaves, mud hidden beneath the grass, mud right out there in the open. And, of course, mud caked on my formerly pristine white sneakers. It was so bad that Fearless Leader Dad finally caved and let us trek the final mile or so off the trail and on a beautifully dry and civilized paved road. My kind of nature at last! Street signs! Lawns! And, at long last, the parking lot where our car awaited to whisk us home! Home to pie! But also, home, this time, to laugh and remember—all of us, together—our state park adventure. A Black Friday with my wonderful family that no amount of money could ever buy.