Crazy Fun

archer has funYou’ve got to love a holiday! We’re here on this Glorious Fourth eating eggs for lunch and left over fried chicken for breakfast, going out on paddle boards and fishing off the dock. Even baseball right IN the water was on the agenda this weekend.

Archer, this handsome Rhodesian Ridgeback of a canine, captured the spirit nicely.

By day there was the swimming and the spraying of hoses on sturdy baby legs by sturdy baby humans.


Then the  in-the-water baseball looked like this:


…while and the paddleboarding looked like this:


By night there were fireworks, every night leading up to the Fourth,  and man they were CRAZY fireworks, that went on and one for an hour, because this is after all New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state where nobody dares tell anyone else what to do. They were going off from every corner of the cove and from two towns both up and down the lake from this cove.

To me the din was awful which seems strange since you’d think the older you get the deafer you’ll be so no problem about the loud noises.

For sure I am old: if I didn’t know it before the weekend, I know it now. The little baseball player pictured above asked me the other night just how old I was.

“I’m sixty-seven,” I said.

He looked up at me with his large brown eyes and said so sweetly, “I knew you were old, TT! You know how?”


“Because your face has those crinkles.  And you have to bend down to hear me. Also, your voice.”

I’m not sure how my voice gives me away. To me, inside the chambers of my old skull my voice sounds to the same way it always has, but who knows? Maybe to the young I sound like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. 


It is what it is, eh? All I know is I’m just glad to be here on this anniversary of our nation’s birth! Here I am three years ago on the same day with grandson David. It’s the kids who keep us smiling!






On Houseguests and the Laundry

Carrie packing it up to go homeFor most of the last decade I moonlighted as a massage therapist, and this story begins in those years.

It begins on the day a tall big-boned woman of 75 appeared in my office for her first appointment. After completing the intake form together, she and I entered the massage room itself where she took one look at my thickly linened table and without preamble turned to me. 
“So you’re Irish,” she said.  “How did you know?”I said back, startled.

“Hey just look in the mirror” she shrugged, and then nodded toward the table. “And I see you do a WHOLE lot of laundry!”
“I sure do!” I sigh, thinking of the Santa-sack of sheets and face-cradle covers I toted from office to home and back every day.

“Well,” she went on matter of factly, “it’s lucky we Irish are good at washing because we sure ain’t much in the kitchen!”

I laughed out loud then. And I’ll admit that for all its ethnic stereotyping, her remark about laundry has made me smile many a time since that day.

In fact I am thinking of it now. Why? Because for the last two weeks we have had five extra people in this house, three young children and their two parents.

They are family so I love them already, but the truth is I love it anytime guests come to this house and sleep over. I just find the arrangement so …cozy.

I mean sure it was a little more work having five  ‘boarders’ for a fortnight. And yes the children brought with them everything but their very beds; from favorite books to their stuffed animals to the small electronic devices all school-age kids seem to have these days.

But in general they were among the most low-impact guess we have ever had. They prepared the food. They cleared the table. They loaded the dishwasher. They emptied the dishwasher.

And when they climbed the stairs for bed each night, they did so taking every last sneaker, bookbag and babydoll with them, leaving our first floor as tidy as the rooms in a funeral home.

They left this morning, – that’s a picture of my girl Carrie above starting to make their move – which is why I find myself now once again doing laundry.

I have gathered the linens from four beds and a crib; I have dragged downstairs the tall damp mountain of towels left in their wake, and all these I have submitted to the slow churn and gurgle of the washing machine; to the busy spin of the drier.

And now, in remaking the beds, I am finding traces of this family’s stay. Here, for example: here is a tiny sock. And over here: here is a small stuffed bunny.

I’m also learning things as this task progresses. I’m learning that one child appears to have slept all these nights with a giant box of tissues right in under the covers with him. I’m learning that his mother has curled up all these nights attended by a travel pillow in a hand-stitched pillowcase case from the 1890s.

Chiefly I am relearning things I already knew. I’m learning again that I rather enjoy sending a fresh clean sheet aloft with a billow and a snap, whether it is to settle finally on a message table or a bed;

And I am learning again that I do so love the feeling of having lots of people here in the dark midnights, all breathing safe and quiet under the same roof. It’s what I imagine God must feel too, gazing down, from that Heavenly realm, on all our little heads.

callie in her bed-within-acribour littlest houseguest, 

Spring (almost)

IMG_4558We had a day of warmth.  

One day anyway.

It was Wednesday.

I brought two of my grandchildren to the zoo near us, a small-scale zoo, easily understood and easy to navigate, like some say the city of Boston is.

One of these two is still in his wheelchair, having RE-broken the leg he broke on January 5th, this time by falling down and twisting it just the wrong way in his very own kitchen. (So close to healed he was! Such a shame!)  And so at the zoo we had a wheelchair and crutches, the three of us. ‘We’ were a seven-year-old, his little sister just turned three and me, a person who after this extremely vivid winter looks every inch her age.

As we studied the lynx and the llama, the tarantula and the monkeys, the seven-year-old insisted on poling along with his crutches over concrete walkways as compromised  by frost heaves as all our roads are. 

So I pushed the wheelchair. which his little sister decided to ride in, everyone under eight casting aside these aids every three minutes  to clamber close to the fences  and TRY to see inside the nostrils of the bison; TRY to grasp the sipping-straw legs of the many flamingoes, those comical birds, dipped in pink-orange dye as they appear to be always. 

And when this happened, I would  be pushing the empty wheelchair while carrying the crutches and their two jackets.

An hour in, the boy with his heavy cast and crutches finally did grow weary. “I think I need the chair now Callie,” he told his sister.

Her face showed her disappointment – of course! I mean who DOESN’T want to be propelled along aloft like this. But his little brother, ever kind, said “You can sit in my lap,” 

So the boy settled in the wheelchair,  I hoisted his little sister up into the chair, balanced the crutches across the top and hung the jackets from the crutches’ two ends.

So the day was tiring, yes, but it sure was fun. We kicked every rotting snowbanks we passed along the pathways, yelling “Die, snow!’ 

The little girl loved the snow leopards best. Pointing to the three heavy rubberized balls set in their environment for them to paw and play with, she told me gravely, “Those are their eggs,” and I wasn’t about to correct her.

The chair lurched at every crack in the concrete and we were all getting tired, but just then an older man appeared who volunteers at the place.

“Which way is out?” I asked him, the grounds having begun to somehow seemed to me less small-scale and easily grasped  than I had thought.

“Follow me,” he said. 

And so we had an escort,

AND the fun of snow-kicking,

AND the sighting of two mammals capable of laying large round  eggs.

It was a a great afternoon, and for one short hour the temperature hit 60.

According to, next Wednesday the day will start out at 17 degrees but we’re getting there, WE”RE GETTING THERE ALL RIGHT …..aren’t we? 



Funny Lady

ermaLast week, when my birthday rolled around I reflected once again how nice it has been to share the day with one of America’s great humorists. 

At the time of her death, every print and broadcast outlet in the country ran a tribute to Erma Bombeck, the homemaker from Dayton who one day sat down and began sending out dispatches from the front lines of motherhood. The dispatches grew into first a column syndicated to over 900 newspapers and then some 15 books, including the wickedly titled The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.

But as uniformly fond as these tributes were as I reread them online now, many of them read as slightly dismissive, framing her almost as a clever dabbler, a suburban mom who started writing columns as a lark.

As if any writer doing a thing ‘as a lark’ could produce the tightly crafted sketches she was known for. 

As if anyone tossing something off in the odd half hour could describe the child-rearing game the way she did.

She wrote in one column that she once lived in a place so small she had to iron in the baby’s playpen.

She wrote in another that if her kids had looked as good as the kids of her perfect neighbor, she would have sold them.

She spoke about the child who could “eat yellow snow, kiss the dog on the lips, chew gum that he found in the ash tray, but wouldn’t drink from his brother’s glass.”

And then there was the column where she imagined how each of her three kids might someday recall her: Her first-born would think of her as “the slim dark-haired mom who used to read me stories and paste my baby pictures in the album.” Her second-born would picture “the somber-looking bleached blonde who used to put me to bed at 6:30 and bought me a dog to save on napkins.” And the baby of the family, she wrote, would remember her as “the grayish lady who fell asleep during the 6 o’clock news, and was GOING to display my baby pictures, as soon as she took the rest of the roll – at my wedding.”

She had just that light way of describing time’s effect. But funny as she was, she always told the truth.

She spoke of the feeling that comes to women raising kids in the then-newly fashionable ‘nuclear family’ where a man, a woman and their children went off and lived on their own, sometimes far from all kin.

Her commentary on this new arrangement: “No one talked about it, but everyone knew what it was. It was a condition, and it came with the territory.”

She called that condition ‘loneliness.’

I found out about this loneliness when I left my job teaching to care for my own small children. In their baby years, I would stuff them into coats and snowsuits and push, or walk, carry them – somewhere – anywhere I might find another woman in another house trying to do the hardest job on earth all by herself.

But when those babies napped? When they napped, I’d kick the toys under the couch and begin to read and read, looking for something I could not name – until one day in my daily paper I met the writer who would show me what I most wanted to do in life.

Erma wrote a column every week for 32 years. 

By now I’ve been writing one for 35 years – and with every passing birthday I think what a privilege it has been to follow in her footsteps, recording life as we really live it and celebrating its vicissitudes.

the calm before the boy child

this was us in 1980, before the final child come and broke the snoozy,two-little-girls peace


Together at the Table

norman-rockwell-thanksgivingNowadays families eat in their cars, eat standing up, eat in the shower practically but once: things were different.

Once what times we had in the great days of the family meal!

In the house I grew up in, we talked so much at the table it was a wonder anybody got any food down at all. Weeknight meals, Sunday dinners, holiday feasts: each took a full hour as we kids sat and listened to our five (count ‘em) grownups hold forth.

On and on our grandfather would go: about President Wilson’s and the League of Nations, about the assassination of President McKinley, about Lindbergh’s flight talking of these events as if they had happened just yesterday. (We all know about the Lindbergh flight but how many little kids learned know about the two French aviators how went down trying to match Lindy’s triumph?) And these meals took an hour ONLY IF our grandfather didn’t then decide we should get down on our knees and recite the Rosary, right there at the table, each of us crouching with heads bent and forearms resting on the the seats of our chairs.

We moved from that happy house when I was nine but I can still see the shadowy old dining room with its oak paneling and its heavy velvet drapes that separated it from the front parlor. Our grownups drew them when the nights were cold and an East wind off the Atlantic rattled those big front window. To my sister and me they were like the curtains at a theatre and the room itself was like a stage set, where any dramatic thing might happen -even beyond the falling-to-our-knees part after the meal. 

Forty years before at that table, our pretty aunt Grace was only eight, her elders stifled laughter as she read aloud her book report in those same French aviators who, poor things, had gas for 40 hours.  

I knew that story and I wanted to make my older people laugh too, so in the show-off-y way of the family baby, I stood up next to my chair and did imitations of a girdle ad showing how little constrained this one housewife felt by what was basically a straitjacket without the arms.  

I also did the prologue to the old Superman show at warp speed, which turns out to be the only way you CAN do it; “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane it’s SUPerman!” it began. I can recite the whole thing to this day. And I killed ‘em in that house off Blue Hill Ave.

But most dramatic time came when our tiny great aunt, was born a scant year after Lincoln’ death, fell sound asleep during dinner and fell right over onto the rug. Didn’t she jump right up though, dust herself off and scoot back to the pantry to fetch the pie she had baked.From the apples she had peeled. And quartered.And even picked herself.

I see her now in her baggy dress and her little blue Keds and her falling-down hose that wound like the red banner on a barbershop pole around her skinny legs. 

I see her and I miss her.

I guess thought my sister and I could stay forever at that family table and be looking at those same dear faces, but no. The faces are different now if no less dear. And the times are different too, God knows God knows.

I hope that you all  find a table to gather round this weekend, as you eat, and laugh and tell stories. Let’s all send up a prayer too, even if we’re not kneeling by our chairs when we do it.


See It Through THEIR Eyes

new here and lost

For a long time in our family, this was the season when a new person would come to live with us. Every fall for six years running, we would nervously drive to the airport to meet the new young woman from Austria who would join our family and begin to taste the jazzy sauce of American life. How lost and uncertain must they have felt on arriving here on Foreign shores to live for a full year with virtual strangers?

But being a self-centered soul I always saw it from MY point of view: what if the young woman didn’t have enough English to get along comfortably here? What if she only THOUGHT she knew how to drive a car? What if God forbid, she was a disliker of children, a secret pincher, say?

All these old fears came to mind again during the fall when our youngest was a high school junior and we found ourselves again driving to the airport, this time to bring home an exchange student from Madrid.

His name was José and all we knew of him was that he had a ponytail. Within minutes of identifying him, we were walking that long mile to the car, during which my whole family seemed struck suddenly dumb. Desperate to keep thing going, I talked my head off, with great animation and very s-l-o-w-l-y.

“On drugs,” the kid must have thought. But things got easier once we were driving. A Bruce Springsteen tune came on the radio and he said “Ah, de Boss!” – and when “Stairway to Heaven” started, we knew we had not one, but two Led Zeppelin fans on our hands. The rest of the language barriers we got past with pantomime.

At supper that first night, I thought I might go for the historical angle. “So what was the deal with FRANCO?!” I yelled, pronouncing the name of that old Spanish dictator with what I hoped was a meaningful anti-fascist frown.

“Franco!” cried José, and executed a Nazi salute.

But lucky for us all, we were all soon talking more naturally.

My man David is often busy nights with meetings and dinners out, and in the fall of his killer Junior year our poor burdened youngest who was the unofficial ‘host’ of José was constantly plugging away at homework every night.

That left me.

And since by nightfall I have always been way too sleepy for any ‘thinking ‘ work, I spend evenings catching up on mindless tasks. And so José, who was neither busy nor sleepy, would keep me company, lounging on a nearby chair.

I learned the words for existentialism , which is existencialismo, the adjective for manic depressive, which is maniaco depresivo and the term for paranoid schizophrenic, which is esquizofrenico paranoide. (We were drawn to the darker themes, José and I.)

 He told me he thought all humans were basically out for themselves – egoista. I told him I felt sure he would soon encounter at least one person whose unselfishness had helped change lives. 

Prompted by his stay with us, I began thinking back over time to those Austrian girls and remembered that some of them really couldn’t speak much English – and then was that one who is spite of her very earnest nature kept locking the car with the engine still running. 

We loved them anyway; of course we did.

And now here was José who didn’t need to drive, and whose English, if slower than ours, was pretty damn good. Once he left, we missed him like crazy.

So in the end, there was nothing to dread and everything to look forward to on any one of those runs to the airport.

I’ll have to remember how often this is the case – and how we should all recall that if we think it’s hard to welcome strangers, how much harder is it to BE them? 

Now I don’t have a picture of José but here now are two of our former au pairs, Alex and Gabi, once strangers, now our forever friends. 🙂

alex Gabi close

 And HERE is Sonja, the one who stayed stateside, went to school, married  and raised her own family, seen at my landmark birthday party a few years ago – WITH the child who was once the baby these young ladies came to help care for.

Sonja with former baby Michael

Time does fly does it not? I never thought he’d even shave!

mpm at five

Holiday Weekend

This past weekend when I realized i was really NOT at the center of things, my time was marked by all I did not do.

I didn’t help put up the new basketball hoop.

photo (1)

2014-07-05 17.30.38

I didn’t hold the toddler so she wouldn’t get hurt as they hoisted it.

2014-07-05 17.34.29

I didn’t even so much as hold a screwdriver

callie has the tools!


I didn’t go out and get the fireworks 

2014-07-05 17.31.39

AND I didn’t prepare any meals…

Really I just worked at my work and folded laundry.

Oh and I took these pictures. This is our oldest, Carrie, who had more sense than I did and more energy too. She was a key part of the basketball-net-hoisting duty AND  she, wise girl, got out on the deck.


It’s Ok I think. Summer is just starting, right? It is, right? Isn’t it? Someone tell me it’s not a sin to waste a Sunday such as we just had!


Everyone But Me

laundromatPeople are crazy. I’m always asking myself: why can’t they be normal like I am? Why don’t they do things the way I do them, the right way, in other words?

And I know what I’m talking about. I get around. I go to laundromats for example. I watch the way people stuff their clothes into those washing machines. Crazy! 

SOME people – people in my own family, in fact – crowd up a washing machine like you wouldn’t believe. In go queen-size sheets, a few bath towels, a mattress pad, all in one load, and how is it going to get pounded clean THAT way?  I’d rather make a dress out of newsprint and wear that around than put on some of the clothes I’ve seen washed like that.

 Also, you hate to say it but a lot of people are crazy and nervy both. Young people, I’m thinking in this case.

 Young female people.

Who are my children. 

They won’t wear stockings, even in winters as frigid as this one just past. 

Their legs are purple. But will they listen if you mention this fact to them? 

They will NOT. And they then have the nerve to frame ME as some kind of throwback.  They even mock me, for the nice Queen Size Suntan pantyhose I happen to be sporting. 

Which, by the way, are wonderfully warm. 

AND make my legs look great. 

“Sausage casings!” they hoot. “You’re wearing sausage casings!” 

And speaking of nervy, Get this: I’m at the leotard-and-dance-shoe store stocking up on Zumba essentials this one day and I ask the clerk if she can point me in the direction of the tights.

“I’ll fetch them for you,” she says. 

“How tall are you?” she then asks, and I give her the same answer I gave at age 16 to the Registry cop who was filling out the paperwork after my road test.

“Five-seven,“ I said to him at the time, thinking, ‘Why not round it upwards, Terry? You’ll grow more …’

So, “Five-seven ” I say to the clerk. 

“Five-SEVEN?!” pipes up this perfect stranger beside me at the counter. 

“I’M five-seven and you’re totally shorter than me. Plus, look. I’m in ballet shoes and you’re wearing a boot with a heel. You’re no five foot seven!” 

I handed over my money and hurried away from that dame fast.

Damn fast, I can tell you.

So see what I mean about people? Nervy and crazy both.

Because isn’t a girl free to say what height she is?

I’m five-foot-seven! A cop said I am. He wrote it down. And his word lives on, right here on my license.  🙂

ottodrivers license



I’m Happy Today

I’m happy today hanging out with my old man David  – these are his arms –

the arms of dpm

who slept so late I thought he’d been kidnapped from our very bed, sucked out through the bedroom window by aliens. Call Liam Neeson!

I’m happy because we will see our daughter Annie and her man John,

just annie

though not their baby-dog Archer, still just a pup, though tall enough at 8 months to sweep the counters clean if left unattended.


We’ll see our daughter Carrie too, which makes me happy…

mama carrie & baby caroline 11 days old

…though sadly not her  Chris, or their oldest son, since the two of them will I suppose be watching basketball or some such silly March thing while the rest of us are at our favorite eatery.

Along with Carr, we’ll also get to see their two younger children who are always ready to join me in restaurant fun. (Today: tiny black-velvet fuzzy-posters with bright neon-colored markers!) 

Sadly, we won’t get to see our son Michael

mike says didnt we say no pictures

since he’s out in Utah this weekend pretending to ski, a thing not really in our blood. David grew up with sandlot baseball, and pounding and being pounded by the other kids at the park, while the main pastime for my one sister and me was sneaking into the alley just around the corner from Blue Hill Ave. to inspect this one dead cat as it went through the absorbing transformation from the three-dimensional to something flatter than an old kid glove squashed under somebody’s tires. 

I’m happy because I’m about to sit down and write 14 days’ worth of entries in my diary. (My entries are a lot more interesting, I find, if wait ’til I’m really in the mood for the endeavor and can do the mental levitation that let me look at my last few weeks from the air, so to speak, and thus spot the highlights.)

I’m happy because I just said ‘Screw returning those shoes to Macy’s today. The store will still be there tomorrow when my workday ends.’

I’m happy because I think I might be about to actually vacuum that room I’ve been meaning to vacuum for a month.

I’m happy because we watched that old chestnut Ghostbusters yesterday and I read my three books and stripped the lid to the piano bench for a piano that lives at the ABC house. I’m happy because I got it all sanded and primed and even stained. Now David will help me screw on the lid, I can put on two finish coats and then trot it on over there.

I am not so happy when I remember that I almost learned to play the piano as an adult, together with Michael who was then 11, but quit just as I was getting that itchy feeling in the top of my head when my fingers were starting to know what a note was. We both quit and I’m sad now that we quit, causing the people who gave us the loan of that nice old upright piano to take it back again to give to worthier persons … But the days are getting longer now and who knows but what I’ll go out and buy a little keyboard and have another go at learning a new thing? We learn till we die do we not? I’m happy remembering that truth.

And now, me playing that classic beginner’s piece The Happy Farmer at age six (but why doesn’t that guy in the suit leave my nice pink dress ALONE! 


The Fun Never Ends

Really and truly, in this life the funny stuff never stops coming. That is, if you’re willing to LOOK at it as funny. 

And if you have people around you who support you in that view. 

Time was, my ten-year old boy and I used to think everything was funny. Microwaving an egg with the shell on as we once did? Hilarious! Duct-taping my old wig-head to a folded-up ironing board and dressing it in my bathrobe to scare his napping dad? Sidesplitting! 

Last week at the supermarket with the new ten-year old in my life along for the ride, I selected a bottle of sparkling water flavored to taste exactly like a fresh pink grapefruit. 

I needed some of this Ruby Red, and I needed it bad, because my trusty thermos-with-the-pop-up-nozzle had been sipped at over the last 30 minutes by this grandson of mine, whose mom and baby sister were bumping along in their own aisle, several food categories away. 

The boy just loves the special concoction I fill it with, a zesty combination of lemonade and mint tea that I mix up by the gallon. He named it ‘TT juice,’ when he first learned to talk, I guess because he calls me  ‘TT’ and he sees this as my signature drink. 

Anyway, he had drained it down to the final two inches in this jaunty blue thermos of mine when at last we stood on the far side of the checkout lanes. 

Thirsty as I had been, I’d wanted to set an example for the child and not be one of those shoppers who begins devouring the bag of chips or cookies before even paying for them, secure in their belief that no ‘mere’ stock boy or sales associate would dare call him on this behavior. 

I had waited until I’d handed over the money and was on the ‘paid’ side of the register.

But at that point, as my daughter paused to re-fasten the baby’s shoes, I saw my chance: In one swift motion,  I twisted off the cap of that bottle of Ruby Red and began swiftly pouring it into mouth of my handy little thermos.

In went the fizzy stuff. On went the screw-on top with the pop-up nozzle.

I knew there was still SOME TT juice down at the bottom so naturally I shook the thing, to mix it up.

I shook it hard. Then, I pulled on the pop-up nozzle…

When I say the stuff geysered like Old Faithful I am not exaggerating. There was a loud pop and it flew high in the air, utterly soaking the whole front of my head before raining a fine mist down on the nine or ten people in the three checkout lines closest to us.

Worse, it kept ON geysering, for almost half a minute. I couldn’t stop it, hard as I tried.

And what did my young grandson say?

“Don’t look up. Don’t look around. Just let’s walk out of her fast.”

His mother, my own daughter, agreed, and so we did walk out.

Which I found kind of a shame.  I mean, I SAW those people’s faces. I KNOW they were about to join me in the laugh.

As it was, I had to wait ‘til we got home with the groceries, where my mate was making a sandwich, along with our own visiting former ten-year-old, now a thoroughgoing adult of 29.

I told them both the story.

My mate just rolled his eyes, for the ten-thousandth time in our marriage.

My son, however,  laughed delightedly.

Then he and I staged a reenactment – and the geysering was every bit as funny the second time as it had been the first.

Who says you can’t repeat the past?