Make a New Path

 New year comin’! New choices all around! and the question for me is what it has always been: should I choose custom or should I choose innovation? Do what I have always done, or try something new?

Custom, or ‘tradition’ as we might call it, beckons  powerfully  because it feels so…familiar. I look at my  life and see an instant example:

We have a custom in our house around  the Christmas tree and the custom is:

It falls over.

All I know this year is that the thing was still standing  when i went to bed on the night we put it up  -and by 6am it was lying face down on the rug. It made its swoony dive in the darkened midnight, as I picture it, startling only the mice that come around nightly to scoff at my Jif- baited traps before getting on with the regularly scheduled dance party they hold nights in our kitchen.

But if they were startled at the sight of the fallen tree, I certainly wasn’t. It’s tradition!

It also seems to be tradition for us to seriously procrastinate about putting the thing up. 

It was December 4th when I bought this year’s model but we didn’t get our hands around its little neck to drag it inside until almost three weeks later.


When it fell, it lay in the living room the whole day – because who was going to pick it back up and once again drive in the Frankenstein bolts that hold it upright? I couldn’t. I’m only one person and I have a job too, even thought I do it from home. Old Dave couldn’t; he was off at his place of business. Our son couldn’t; back from grad school for the holiday, he was holed up in his room all day polishing off applications for summer internships.

“Hmmm,” I thought, every time I walked through the living room and saw it passed out on the floor like that. 

“Let’s just skip the tree this year!” I said to my housemates once we three had gathered again at day’s end. “Let’s just drag the poor girl back outside, dab her up with bacon fat, or some of our mouse Jif and let the squirrels and birds come enjoy her.”

I pictured us watching through the kitchen window as they came to dine, even applauding when our pals the raccoons showed up with their fine little hands.

But did my son and husband agree that this was a good idea? Did they see as clearly as I did that the universe was making a suggestion to us about the custom of the Christmas tree as it relates to our family?

No siree. They both gave me that dead-eyed have-you-taken-leave-of–your-senses look designed to quell any future suggestion. Couple of stick-in-the-muds they are. I mean, where’s the adventure in doing things the same all the time?

But the last time I looked  I was still the mistress of this house, so I got to plan the big holiday meal. The theme: Foods That Rhyme.I served ham, lamb, yams, clams, jams and Spam, the latter carefully chopped up and mixed with sweet relish to ‘pass’ as a fancy spread on tiny toast rounds.

I never told that it was Spam, I’ll admit, but hey, a girl’s got to have some fun. And an innovator?  Well an innovator just gotta innovate! 😝

  

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Get Out the Elf Cap

IMG_0939Most years by the time we get to December’s final innings, I’m worn down to a cranky little nub with all the Christmas prep work. 

I know I felt cranky a few weeks back when I got all worked up about how we shouldn’t rush Christmas but instead keep on clapping for those muted late-autumn days until they have swept their cinnamon-colored skirts off the stage.

Yet for all my talk, this year I too started decking the halls right after Thanksgiving; and whereas this project once seemed like the world’s most endless job, this year I found doing it only easy and fun.

I had some help and maybe that’s why. That November day, when I heard that our grandsons eight and eleven were coming over, I dashed out to pick up some food, first texting their mom to ask if the kids could maybe go up to my attic for me and drag out the box with those great battery-powered candles that turn themselves on and off all on their own. Imagine my surprise when I got back in the indigo light of dusk to find them all in place, twinkling with their cheery Energizer life in every window. In an hour’s time while I had been running up and down the food aisles, the children has been transforming my house .

  • Also, they had brought down the Christmas tree stand.
  • Also, the phony-but-flouncy garlands that we can’t bear to throw out because they date back to the phony flouncy 80s.
  • Also all three boxes of ornaments and room decorations, right down to the retired treetop angel on whose face I once drew large stagey teardrops for a YouTube skit I was making.

In our front hall we have a bronze sculpture of a woman standing with her hands shyly clasped behind her back. She’s a nude, or at least she was a nude until the children placed an elf cap on her bronzy curls and draped some wide red ribbon about her like the sash on a Miss American contestant.

Somehow the sight of her thus arrayed really pushed me over into “happy” and I have stayed happy ever since. I’ve been happy every time I’ve gone to the mall and found that they are actually NOT playing “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Sleigh Ride.” Heck, I have been happy even when they are playing those jittery tunes on their endless loop.

We bought our tree on December 4th and until three days ago we let it stay outdoors, enjoying a nice footbath in cool water. I have always felt sorry for all Christmas trees, the way they get stabbed with long screws and are left to parch with thirst in the overheated indoor air. We have been happy to think we did something nice for this one.

These are small sources of happiness, I know, but they have done the trick for me. We all know what kind of year it has been. Out in the world, the news is dire, but the news is always dire out in the world. The news has been dire since the dawn of self-awareness, when, eons ago, people just like us saw the light failing earlier and earlier and heard the wolves howling in the not-so-distant hills.

But thank God here inside – in our apartment buildings, on our blocks, in our neighborhoods – we still have the sense to flounce the place up a bit and lift a glass to brighter days ahead. 

 

Bed Injury

It started with the new mattress we bought because our old mattress had two very deep, distinctly person-shaped troughs in it, one on my side and one on ‘his.’ There had been some question on ‘his’ part about whether we actually NEEDED this new mattress – until the night a thick steel coil suddenly shot out of it and stabbed him bloodily in the ribs. There was also a question, again not in my mind but in the mind of my mate of many years, about whether or not we needed to buy that part of any bed that the mattress sits on. ‘He’ said that part was perfectly fine.
“Look,” he said, lifting the sunken graveyard of our mattress to reveal the box spring it rested on. “It’s like new!” he crowed.

And so, we ordered just a mattress, which, in a week’s time, the delivery guys set down on our old box spring, leaving us with a severely mismatched sleeping surface on which we now spend our nights: It’s a bed as tall and high-hipped as the deck of an aircraft carrier, a bed with such altitude I have to practically pole-vault up onto it.

And this is just what I was doing, kind of pushing off to make the leap up onto it, when a sharply pointed object pricked the ball of my left foot, a  splinter as I thought, from our splintery floor. I jumped a little into the air and landed again, on my heel.  This time the ‘thing’  went in deep.

I yipped. it bled. Neither my mate nor I could see anything under the blood so hey, we figured: it’s a splinter and, like all splinters, it would soon enough work its way to the surface.

But eight days later when it hurt more rather than less, I finally took action and I drove myself to Urgent Care, where the people are always so nice, if you can get past the fact that they insist on weighing you every time, with your boots still on, of all things.

The medical professional assigned to my case took a seat down by my foot, popped a giant magnifying glass into place and peered intently at it.

I peered too.

“Maybe you should lie down,” she said and so I did. She gave it an experimental poke. My whole body jumped.

“Yikes!” I cried. “Lie still,” she said, and poked again. “I feel like Frankenstein’s monster,” I yipped, trying to joke down panic. ‘Jolt me again and I’ll lift up my big square head and lurch around the room.”

She said nothing but only poked me again. Again I leapt like a fish.

“You know what this is like?” I yodeled on. “Electrolysis! Ever have ELECTROLYSIS?”

Again silence, which struck me as odd since I considered this pretty funny stuff.

She exited the room then and returned with syringe and scalpel. She injected my heel, opened a neat canal like the kind people once thought they saw on Mars, and dug out a big chunk of glass.

She gave a low whistle. “THIS is not small,” she said, showing it to me.

Then, as she sewed my foot back together, I told three more jokes all of which she laughed heartily at. I told her I loved her necklace, we made fun of a few celebrities and parted as friends.

I felt so happy I hummed all the way home, stopping only when I entered my bedroom, saw the gosh-darn aircraft carrier and realized that this could all happen again with any of my high-jumps onto the bed, with any kind of shard, be it of glass, wood or plastic.

Thus does marriage wound us, over and over, I mused. This longtime mate of mine is my Achilles Heel, all right. The only comfort comes in knowing …that I am also his. 😉

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Take Me For a Ride

model tWith all the driving folks do at this season I’m thinking a lot about cars. It’s amazing what people can do in a car. Parents in the Roaring 20s went crazy worrying what their kids were doing when they borrowed the Model A for a night out. “Rolling brothels!” one worked-up elder called the cars of those days but cars were always much more than settings for sex. They were wonderfully mobile spaces people could climb into and go just anywhere – provided their tires didn’t blow and their little sewing-machine-sized engines didn’t fail.

But if a car was nice to have then, how much nicer it is now, especially if your car is the much-mocked minivan.

In my book the minivan is the best invention since the blow-dryer, the pencil sharpener, the washing machine even. I bought my first Chrysler/Dodge minivan back when the man with the velvet voice took up residence in the White House. It was bright red, like 90% of his First Lady’s wardrobe. 

nancy reagan

Nancy Reagan was chic all right, but I FELT chic tooling around in my Caravan. And so, seven years later when it died, I traded it in for another one, again made by Chrysler, only white this time.

  • Then, seven years later, I got a green one.
  • Then in seven more years, another red one.
  • And now these 30 years later, I have a van of midnight blue with big wide shoulders and a decidedly masculine feel.

I have loved them all, and done my best to nurse them back to health when any one of them got injured, as this one did, when, in a freak accident, our neighbor’s construction-related porta-potty ended up falling on it.

a plague of porta potties

Yup, in my book, whatever year’s model you have, this seven-seatbelt marvel has all other vehicles beat because of Chrysler’s patented ‘Stow-and-Go’ seats in back, big comfy thrones that, with a touch here and a tug there, sink away under the floorboards, yielding a ballroom of space. Then, another touch-and-tug and up they come again like a band of jolly ghosts bringing mirth to the family table.

I have at various times toted whole dining room tables in there, large and swoony palm trees, and up to eight chairs, both wooden and upholstered. I have practiced both yoga and piano back there, the latter on my portable keyboard.  I have soothed whole pet taxis of white mice alarmed by their visit to the vet. I have even refinished furniture back there, though not with the lung-searing chemicals you’d use for a major strip-job but with sand paper and steel wool merely. And this past summer I filled it with two seven-foot paddleboards while two nine-footers rode on the roof.  

But the chief joy I take in my minivan comes from the peace I feel inside it, a peace that suffuses the whole car so that even behind the wheel I feel held and soothed.

And while I love the model I have now, that doesn’t stop me from imagining the fresh delights that a new model might bring me five or six years hence. Maybe in that van’s roomy back I can set up a ‘The Doctor-is-in’-Style booth for compassionate listening, or – wait, I know! – how about a couple of lanes of bowling for my mice?

In the meantime it will just go on being this family’s faithful friend, in all our comings and goings.

Carrie packing it up to go home

 

 

 

Life in These Yewnited States

IMG_0855Sometimes you come too close for comfort. For sure I did that day I picked up a can of Comet and started shaking its contents onto my oatmeal. You know that creepy all-over tingle you get when you almost fall down a flight of stairs? It felt like that.

And it felt like that again the very next day, when I gunned my car in the driveway and nearly backed into the spanking new vehicle parked directly behind me, a vehicle that visiting friends had just two minutes before proudly pointed out to me from my kitchen window.

That time I actually started hearing things: a kind of tinny high-pitched taunting tune, like the one the maddening little monsters in the film Gremlins sing outside poor Mrs. Deagle’s house.

gremlins sing Mrs deagle. jpg

So I do have to ask myself: What makes people like me lose their bearings this way?

I don’t think it’s the “task” in multitasking that does it. It isn’t so much what we’re actually doing with the many spider-arms we seem to think we possess, but rather what we’re thinking. So many of us get trapped on that to-do-list carousel, going round and round, reaching for that brass ring that keeps reappearing with every circuit.

I think of Sisyphus, fated by the gods to push the same giant boulder up the same hill every day, only to see it roll back down again.

sisyphus

I think of Prometheus, chained to a rock while an eagle plucked his liver out every day – only to have it grow back again, only to have it plucked out again, etc.

prometheus

But it’s not just the repetitiveness of our daily chores that has us sprinkling powdered poison onto our cereal or backing our cars into other people’s cars. It’s the assault from outside of us.

Once it was just TV commercials, radio ads and billboard messages that we had to tune out. Now, the busy chatter is coming at us from a place far closer.

I’m talking about the place inside our pockets. I’m talking about the spot right next to us, while we sleep. I’m talking about the smart phone and all those chimes and dings and hiccups it keeps emitting unless we reach deep into its “Settings” belly and gag it entirely.

I myself, for example, am instantly notified by my college every time the place does something it thinks is cool. I’m notified by NOAA every time there’s a storm brewing three states away.

I’m notified about any and all criminal trials deemed to be of such interest to the public that bulletins go out every time the Defense rests, every time the members of the Prosecution, prepare to question the witness, rising and buttoning their suit jackets the way everyone is always doing on The Good Wife. 

I know it’s my fault. I did, after all, sign up for these notifications, so it’s on me if I get overwhelmed by the unstoppably pouring spout of them. Still, I can’t help thinking of that first phone call in history call made by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant several rooms away. “Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Want You!” he shouted into the mouthpiece.

These days everybody wants us. The challenge is to remember that with the exception of the good safety-minded people at NOAA, really, they only want us so they can sell us stuff.