Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Cunninghams and Berrigans Easter Egg Hunt
I have 5 cousins. That's it.

Steve has 65 first cousins. That's ridiculous.

Steve's parents were each one of 10 children, so do the math. My hubby does not even know many of these cousins, and has remained in close touch with none of them. Not to judge: I have no idea what I would have done with this largesse. What you have in abundance, you tend to take for granted.

Two weeks ago, Steve and I traveled up to Rye, NY to say goodbye to Uncle Gerry, Mom's brother. He lost a valiant fight against pancreatic cancer on a Sunday morning, and that Wednesday was his funeral. He was buried from the Church of the Resurrection, where he and Aunt Rosemary were married, and where he was a daily communicant for many years. My admiration for my uncle knows no bounds, and it was a privilege to be there with his children, three of my cousins: Meg, Gerry and Michele.

When we left the cemetery, we all went to Westchester Country Club for lunch. We were joined by my Uncle Jack, the sole surviving member of that generation of Berrigans. I can't imagine how Jack felt, all alone with memories no one else is left on earth to share. Jack and Gerry were as close as my Sheridan and Evan, and it tears at my heart to think of any of them without their "other."

At lunch, Meg and Michele told me that from now on they'd be relying on my sister and me as repositories of the Berrigan stories. This makes me panic a bit, and wish I'd written these tales, told often by Mom, down, rather than assuming I'd always remember. C has better recall than I do, but we're still woefully short of knowing the whole saga. Just being together that day helped bring back a few gems I thought were forever lost, and that's a very good thing.

My cousins are all younger than me, and their oldest children are the age of my youngest. We see each other, alas, mostly at weddings and funerals, and despite our vows to get the kids together it never seems to happen. This time, we swore on parting, would be different. We would see each other again soon, under much happier circumstances. And maybe it will happen. Who knows?
Uncle Gerry

What I do know is that we are all aging, faster than we’d like. We are now the older folks, the memory keepers. Those of us who don’t resort to the dye bottle (I do) have gray streaks; we all sport a wrinkle or two. As the years gallop by (Mom used to say that, for older people, the weeks become weekends), we need to lasso the moments and savor them. Savor the laughter, and tears, of a shared past. We are children of parents who had the same mom and dad. We are lucky to have each other, we cousins.

May I never take my cousins for granted.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Guide to Oscar Night

Once more on Sunday evening, Billy Crystal will take to the stage in L.A. to emcee the Academy Award ceremony. Unlike the Super Bowl, I’ve always enjoyed the Oscars. Many years in the past, I saw most, if not all, of the nominated films in advance. This adds immeasurably to the excitement, as you can imagine. 

This year, I realized, to my dismay, that I have not seen a single picture that is in the running for an Oscar. I haven’t even really paid attention to the reviews, so the honored movies are just names to me. I’m a pretty good guesser, however, so herewith I offer my description of the Best Picture roster. Armed with this, you can tune in to the show assured that you are “in the know.”

The Descendants: George Clooney plays lead guitar, and the son of Grace Slick, in a band of 40-somethings, each of whom is descended from a different rock legend. Band members include Brad Pitt as Ringo Starr’s wisecracking drummer son Groucho. 

The Tree of Life: Brad Pitt plays Adam in this imaginative retelling of Genesis. Pitt’s ex, Jennifer Aniston, is a convincing Eve. Meryl Streep is expected to get a Best Actress nod as God. Watch for a star turn by Danny DeVito as the serpent. 

Money Ball: A story about debutante dances among New York’s elite. Two wealthy families vie for the same designer dress for their daughters. Starrring Brad Pitt as the father of Dakota Fanning and George Clooney as Emma Watson’s dad. 

Hugo: Two Hugos, Chavez and Victor, take center stage in this stirring time-travel saga of modern-day Venezuela and 19th century France. George Clooney and Brad Pitt co-star. John Williams provided the score.

The Artist: Brad Pitt shines as a struggling sculptor who works exclusively with butter. His first solo exhibit is destroyed when the gallery heat is turned on. Meryl Streep plays the jealous saboteur. Watch for a Clooney cameo as the opportunistic pastry chef who comes in to “clean up.”

The Help: A madcap comedy set in the Dell customer service center in Cairo, Egypt. Thanks to a language barrier, one million American callers are instructed to soak their malfunctioning laptops in a warm bath. Pitt and Clooney are in fine form as computer executives assigned to damage control.

War Horse:  A musical tale of ancient Troy, told in flashback by 2,500 year old Helen (a tour de force by Meryl Streep).  Oscar-nominated score by John Williams.

Midnight in Paris: Wisecracking Woody Allen strolls around Paris with his movie star buddies, Clooney and Pitt, trying to pick up Dakota Fanning, Emma Watson and Jennifer Aniston.  He is shot down. That’s the entire plot. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Michael Moore documentary on the life of Danny DeVito.

So fire up that TV on the 26th, and see who wins the Academy's vote! In entertainment, as in politics, an informed electorate makes all the difference, don’t you think?

             There’s no need to thank me.             

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Are you there, Elise? It's Me, God.

Christ's Lutheran Confirmation 2008
Among the Commandments I break with regularity, #3 is a weekly offense. "Keeping the Sabbath holy" is tough for me, because I work in a church. You'd think it'd be a piece of cake--I'm in a house of worship every week at this time, so what's the problem?

I am the problem, or rather, my scattered brain is. The Sunday School hour is busy in the extreme (I try to arrive at church at least an hour early to prepare for the onslaught of little darlings at 9, and I still feel unready, often). Up until this year, I co-taught Confirmation in the morning too. We recently moved that class to Sunday evenings, which involves staying geared up for the entire day.

As I dart into church after leading the children's gathering, my pious thoughts run to my mic for the children's sermon (will it work?) and the $30 cash pressed into my hand as I pass a pew (for bingo? the youth group outing? our Sunday School charity project? Who just gave that money to me, anyway?) When Ken begins the organ prelude, I am still having whispered conversations about the bake sale after service. During the announcements, I'm always kicking myself for items I forgot to ask Pastor Kay to mention. The opening hymn is a fine time to wonder if I turned off the projector. And nothing like hearing the Gospel to remind me that I forgot to order new curriculum. At Communion, I reverently ponder whether I replaced the acolytes I'm taking to the mosque next week.

Many Sundays, I drive home and realize I've done everything at church BUT worship God.

I'm sure others have similar distractions at times, but for me this is an every Sunday problem. And it's further evidence that, so much of the time, I'm only half there, wherever I am. The rest of me is a) off in a mental corner, berating myself for my myriad missteps and mistakes b) making shopping lists c) generally woolgathering: hmmm, if I paint the kitchen cabinets white, the walls can't stay white...or can they?

Lord knows I try to focus (I really believe He does), but it feels like a losing battle, especially on the one day we are asked to step off the treadmill of the work week. All too soon, it’s Sunday night--I'm set to launch into another Monday, having taken no time to meditate or calm myself or even really think about my loving Creator.

I’ve (very) recently started taking Thursdays off. My goal on these days is to do no “church” work, but to read, write, have lunch with friends, etc. I sleep a little longer, and linger over my coffee. I’m thoroughly enjoying this total change of pace. And I’m wondering: can Thursday be my new Sunday? Can I stop beating myself up because it’s hard to focus on the “Sabbath,” and instead carve out my own moments to rest and spend some time with God?

Me, someday? Maybe?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Broadway Baby

One of these days, I am going to exhume my collection of Playbills in the attic. It will be such fun to revisit the incredible theatrical events I witnessed over the years--especially the early years of our marriage. Back then, we were too stupid to save our money, and blew it regularly--not only on rent and food (arguably not stupid expenses) but on plays, especially plays on and off-Broadway. At that time, I still thought of myself as an actress, albeit one with no ambition to star on the Great White Way (which should have tipped me off). Steve was a bona fide actor, and I'm sure he did envision himself trodding the boards at the Shubert Theatre someday. In any event, we'd often find ourselves standing in the freezing cold (it always seemed to be freezing cold there, even in May) in the Times Square half-price ticket line, hoping to score cheap seats for the matinee or the evening performance.

And what wonders we beheld! Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof. Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in Sweeney Todd. Diana Rigg and Alec McCowen in The Misanthrope. Peter Firth and Anthony Hopkins in Equus. The exhilarating 1974 revival of Bernstein's Candide. The opening week of A Chorus Line (and yes, we knew it was going to be a hit). Armed with our precious tickets, we entered incredible worlds of illusion, and, for two hours, were swept away.

The arrival of the children put a rather abrupt end to our New York theatregoing. Orchestra seats at the Winter Garden = three months’ worth of Pampers (and that doesn’t include parking and the babysitter). No contest. Attending plays was relegated to the archives of my life, something I no longer did.  When I was feeling wistful, I’d listen to the soundtrack of Company and pretend I was in Row D, soaking it all in.  

There was a brief flurry of off-Broadway activity back in the 90s when our show about Howard Hughes, Flight, had two staged readings in New York. At the time, a real production seemed feasible. Pretty na├»ve. Now, I realize that 99% of all current hit shows either a) feature big names from the movies or TV b) are revivals of past successes or c) both. As a writer, that’s discouraging, because I know there must be a huge number of wonderful scripts that will never see the light of day because Angelina Jolie has passed on them.

I wish we could have swung family trips to the Big Apple to take in some plays, but we couldn’t. But now the kids are at or near the point in life where they have some disposable income to see an occasional show, and I heartily encourage them to do so. Some of my fondest memories involve sitting in the balcony at the Helen Hayes Theatre, and feeling my heartbeat quicken as the house lights dimmed, the orchestra struck up the overture, the curtain rose.

Magic time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Mouth Drops Closed

“Nana will be so proud of me that her mouth will drop closed.”
                                                               --Maureen Rose Seyfried 1993
You’re a character, Rosie.

But then you’ve always been one.

A flood of memories of small “Mo.” You wanted to grow up to be a clown, a farmer, or a recess aide. Your reaction to being sent to your room: “I’ll go, but only if you’ll let me SLAM MY DOOR.” Your ability, even at 6, to shock: “Mom, you know what I think is a great idea? Teenager pregnancy!” You went to “reform school” (actually Reformed Church Nursery School. That one raised a few eyebrows). You had times of high and low self-esteem: “I’m confident because I’m competent.” “I ‘bust’ myself first so no one else gets a chance to.”

You were a tiny spitfire with eyeglasses and curls. As my third child, but first girl, you had many of the traits of a firstborn: bossy, opinionated, critical, perfectionist. I can say that because I’m a firstborn too. Your relationships with your sibs were fraught with conflict. You and Evan, in particular, interacted like an incredibly dysfunctional married couple; he would tease, you would fly off the handle; you would pout, he would tease, and round the mulberry bush we went. 

Even though I wanted to throttle you at times, there was no denying your off-the-charts cuteness factor. I don’t know if it was the specs (you needed them from age 2, after eye-muscle surgery), or your low throaty voice, so jarring coming from such a little peanut…whatever it was, you won my heart, bigtime, and nothing ever changed that.

Fast-forward through school days (wish that had been an option!) You decided that you were a) a traveler and b) a businesswoman. At age 9, you opened Bon Mo Desserts, and sold really delicious homemade cookies, cakes and pies to our hungry neighbors. These goodies funded trips to London and Jamaica (what 11 year old takes her mother on vacation to Jamaica? Mine) and whet your appetite for more. 

High school brought Thailand (and your name change to Rose), college brought time in London and Italy. During that period, you worked as a Starbucks barista, in the international admissions office at Berklee, and served as a Big Sister in Boston. We never lost touch, but it was clear you had to ration your precious and rare free time. As a mom, I understood. As your #1 fan, I wanted more. 

And now I have it—in a way. Thanks to the magic of soundcloud and Youtube, I can see/hear you often, performing original songs. Facebook keeps us in contact too, as I hear about your insane current number of jobs in NYC: audio engineer, Foley artist, composer, editor, singer and the list goes on. 
Through it all, you remain true to yourself. You are a strong, compassionate, capable young woman (and yes, still a little opinionated and bossy). Inside exciting New York Rose, there still dwells precocious Mo—the girl I fell in love with the day she was born.

 I’m so proud of you, my mouth is dropping closed.

The Seattle Song

Thursday, February 9, 2012

It's 11:00. Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

There was a TV public service ad, years ago: "It's 11:00. Do you know where your children are?" As a young teenaged babysitter, these words, intoned solemnly, gave me the creeps. I knew where I was--on the sofa in the Butlers' living room, trying to stay awake until the adults came home. I knew where the Butlers' children were (bed. I'd put them back there roughly 40 times in the last three hours). But in my mind I projected many years ahead, to a future where I would have children of my own, who'd be out cavorting in the darkness at 11:00 PM, Lord only knows where! Henceforth, I dreaded 11:00 PM, with its connotations of wild runaway offspring and parental cluelessness.

Nowadays, 11:00 PM is 5:00 PM for son Evan. He still has many tropical hours to go before catching up to my time in PA. As I prepare for (or am long in) bed, his Pearl Harbor workday is over. It is time to have dinner on the lanai, or enjoy a little Honolulu nightlife.

When Julie was in London in October, 11:00 PM was 5:00 AM the following day. If I wanted to chat, I needed to wait until at least 9:00 AM (but that would be 3:00 AM Oreland time, so I would not be a very fun telephone partner--unless you didn't mind gentle snoring as a response).

Rosie spent her high school junior year as an exchange student in Chiang Rai, Thailand. In this case, 11:00 PM was 11:00 AM (12 hours earlier). The best time to reach her was more like 5:00 PM (alas, our 5:00 AM). Arranging a time for a Skype chat was a distinct challenge, and we often missed connections.

In these instances, I was keenly aware of the distance between me and my loved ones. Indeed, it felt like they were on other planets--planets where they were midway through days I was only now starting to experience, or on the brink of beginning days I’d already spent.

But what I’m learning is, there doesn’t have to be a time difference for us to feel out of sync. Everyone’s schedules are so various that even those of us on the East Coast can go whole weeks without really connecting. Sheridan has a crazy work life that takes him from NYC to Philly to the Main Line to New Jersey. PJ is in his own Millersville world of classes and practices and yes, the occasional party I’m sure. Rose, now in New York, juggles at least 3 jobs at a time.

So. It’s 11:00. Do I know where my children are? For the most part, no. That’s where I count on God to know. They are somewhere, in dorms and apartments, on subways and buses. I don’t know, but I care so much. Parenting is a slow letting go of control, but never of loving.

Dear God, you love them even more than I do. Keep them safe tonight.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Day in Tweets

Isn’t Twitter the coolest? Each tweet so spare, and yet they can be so eloquent! And then there’s the thrill of the chase (following and being followed)! Mind you, I’ve used Twitter exactly twice so far, but if it’s anything like Facebook and blogging (the gateway drugs) I know that soon I won’t be able to stop. The beauty part is that I can make my life (and me) seem so so much more interesting than things really are. It won’t be long before I can stop talking entirely, and let my tweets speak for me. Here is a typical day in my world, in 140 characters or less.

You beckon me to remain with you, my fresh-smelling love, but I must get up and greet the new day #CleanSheetsAreGreat

How bold dare I be this morning? This bold? I have no choice. Carpe diem! #MadeCoffeeTooStrong

Good morning, Joe! Good morning, Mika! Come right on in. Let’s all comment on yesterday’s primary! You are always such fascinating guests in my home! #MSNBC

Unwelcome surprise! I am drenched with a shower of icicles! Someone will pay for my misery! #WhoUsedUpHotWater

Life’s choices can seem so very narrow! Today it is either green wool or plaid cotton. What if I don’t want to wear either? #ForgotToWashClothes

My credit has been frozen. Help! #SteveTookIceScraperAmUsingVisaCardTo ScrapeCarWindows

In an unpredictable world, I have found a refuge of predictability. Reassuring! #MyOfficeSameMessItWasYesterday

A blank slate, full of opportunity. A beautiful white vista, unmarked by words: my computer screen #ChildrensSermonWritersBlock

Let’s have an adventure in June, and go totally "Overboard!" #PickingCurriculumForVBS

How relentlessly you pursue me! Day after day you call. SO flattering, yet once more I must say no. #YouthFundraiserSolicitation

Still a blank slate, still a beautiful unmarked white vista: my computer screen #LentProgramWritersBlock

On the road again! Another exhilarating six block drive home! #IReallyNeedMoreExercise

Out once more, afoot this time, admiring the beauty of nature with a friendly walking companion #WeReallyNeedMoreExercise

Creativity reigns! What gustatory suppertime magic can I work with one red pepper, cornflakes and spaghetti noodles? #NeverGotToAcme

My youngest child Julie, always a special joy! #DidSchoolworkAndCleanedRoom

I am invited to dinner at an active senior community! I am invoiced by our source of light and heat! Our Sports arrive, Illustrated! #MailCameIn

Disaster! Who knew a cornflake, red pepper and spaghetti soup could be so inedible, repulsive even? #BetterGetToAcme

Disaster plus! Who knew that burned cornflakes adhere so tenaciously to a soup pot? #NeedNewSoupPot

Alas! Words of hurt and betrayal, sent to me from a loved one in an Island paradise! How can I make things right? #ForgotToCallMySisterInHawaii

Sending words of hurt and betrayal to a loved one at Millersville University. How can he make things right? #PJForgotToCallMe

Welcome escape to a world of make-believe, where incredible things are possible. How long can I stay? #FallingAsleepWithMyBook
 Wow, I had a MUCH more thrilling day than I thought I had. Can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow!

Sometimes, I just love technology.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bowled Over

I can't tell you how excited I am about the Super Bowl Sunday!! Really, I can't. Because I'm not. Oh, I'll probably wander through the family room at ad times, just to see what edgy humor and special effects a jillion bucks a minute buys these days. I might catch a glimpse of the halftime show, because I've been a fan of Madonna's since I was a little girl. But the gridiron competition itself? For one thing, I lack the background info necessary to truly appreciate the game (it is the Giants and the Patriots, right?) But more importantly, I lack the interest. And at this point in my life, I'm not afraid to say it. 

Time was, I was an utter fraud. Because Steve was a rabid sports fan, and because I was a rabid Steve fan, I feigned wild enthusiasm for the World Series, the NCAA Final Four Tournament, and the PGA tour. Couldn't wait to get up early and catch the action at Wimbledon. Never mind that, deep down, I would only have been intrigued by tennis if McEnroe and Connors were lobbing, say, a live ferret back and forth over the net.  

For the first few years we were together, we hosted a small Super Bowl party. Actress that I was, I rooted for the star quarterback as he snaked through a line of behemoths en route to that silly little victory dance. On pain of death, I'd still be unable to recall a single team or player from those golden days of sport. Can't even remember the commercials. Just a total blank. 

By the way, my make-believe enjoyment extended to the Bob Dylan tickets I bought for us in our dating days. What is the big deal about Dylan? Steve thinks he’s great. Don’t get it. But I dutifully rose to my feet with the crowd as The Great One mumbled that the times they were a changin'. 

Around about year four of wedded life, I dropped the facade. Miraculously, my marriage has survived the following revelations: 1) I truly detest Bob Dylan songs. 2) I will NEVER carry Steve’s golf clubs again (I’d once done this for 18 holes). 3) The second my hubby leaves the room, I switch from Sportscenter to the Food Channel. 4) I hate the Olympics! It seems they come along every 3 months or so, hyped to the nth degree. I am afraid to watch the young athletes' dreams crash and burn when they slip doing a triple axel, or bungle it on the balance beam, and feel they have a better shot at success if I stay far, far away. 

So what are my plans for Sunday evening? 

Nothing involving touchdowns, that’s for sure. The Crown Jewel of American Sports will glitter on without me. That leaves some popcorn in the bowl, and an open spot on our sofa. If you’re a fan, come on by. You and Steve can cheer yourselves hoarse. I am, officially, bowled over.