Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Our year of living frugally.....

     2012 was a transitional year for our family.  We had notice that my wife's job of 10 plus years was ending, and she went the majority of the year without working. We experienced a drop in income of 30% and this is the story of how we not only weathered the storm, but thrived during it.

     My wife is a independent medical transcriptionist, or was, or is, or I don't even really know how to describe her anymore, I mean she still has that skill set, but no longer works in that field. She was fortunate enough, for years, to have enough work from a single client that paid her handsomely, and allowed her to work from home.  Her schedule was her own to make, she worked the hours she wanted each day and told them the days she was and wasn't available to work.  It wasn't a great business model, being an independent contractor with a single client, but truth be told, there was always work there, so why develop other clients?  It worked, right up to the end of 2011, when that client told her that they would be moving their work to a larger transcription company in mid January and terminated her contract.  She interviewed with the larger company, but it would have meant going back to the bottom rung of the work ladder, working some nights and weekends for less money, so we collectively rejected that idea, and prepared for a period of unemployment while she looked for a more appropriate job for this time in our lives.  With that industry going to more voice recognition software, overseas transcription, and electronic devices for capturing data it was a shrinking field, so we hunkered down and prepared for an indeterminate period of unemployment, but I don't think either of us suspected it would be almost an entire year.

What my wife used to do.
     We were in decent financial shape to start off with.  Contrary to what our current President would have us believe, we have always had money in savings.  While we weren't quite at the 3 months salary that is recommended, we had money in the bank, a company bonus pending, and some tax money coming back. As a saving strategy, we've always purposely overpaid our taxes each year and get a refund of $5,000 or so.  It comes to us right after Christmas, right when the 2nd semester college bills are due, and right before our annual vacation, so it's nice timing.  A sharp money man will warn you away from this savings mechanism, as you actually have to declare the refund as income on your next year's taxes, but it has worked for us for years in spite of the additional tax burden.  My bonus, though not guaranteed, is earned regularly, and we are smart enough to not pre-spend it, so that went into savings as well.  We had our pot of money, we only had to figure out next how long it would last us.  We spent some time recording where our money went for the last year and developed a proposed budget for the family.  It was pretty easy to do, you look at the bills that you pay each month and record them against your
net income and then see what you have left over.  On  the first go-round, we just recorded what we had previously spent and that budget put us in the hole about $2,000 each month.  Next we paid off some short term bills like a credit card and the final payments to an orthodontist.  We then attacked the rest of the monthly expenses to see what we could reduce or eliminate.  We slashed our entertainment and grocery budgets, we renegotiated our phone and internet, we reduced our fuel and electric expense, and we put off some home improvement and car upgrades that were planned for the year.  We weren't Draconian in our cuts on the first round and we didn't plan a balanced budget for our drop in income, we compromised on a -$800 shortfall each month and pledged to keep to it.  Throughout the process we included the kids, living at home or not, in our plans and asked them to share in the pain.  We had created a solid, reasoned, logical plan and the only thing left to do now was to implement it, which we did.

     I have had 2 periods of unemployment in my life and I was bound and determined to be as supportive of my spouse during her time off as she had been during mine.  She never doubted that I would find work and the right job, just not any job, and I had faith that she would do the same.  I also wanted her to enjoy her
At dinner in London Ontario
time off.  She had worked continually since she had been a teen, so I encouraged her to take this break and work on some long term projects and to enjoy some of the travel benefits that came with my work.  Our company policy is that spouses can travel along with you as long as the additional expenses aren't charged to the company.  That meant she could jump in the car on any driving trip and stay in my hotel room in that city, and only pay for her meals.  Her work schedule previously hadn't allowed her to take advantage of this benefit, but in 2012, she was able to on several occasions.  We went to 2 Canadian cities, NYC, Boston, and even extended a trip to Phoenix a few days to drive up to Sedona.  We used hotel and car rental points, and Group-ons for meals and when necessary dipped into our savings to supplement our travel.  I'd place us centrally in the city and work during the day and she would walk and explore the parks and museums and we'd get together at night and compare notes.  She would drive to the cities allowing me to work on my laptop in the car, so I actually improved my productivity during these trips.  It was a win-win and it gave her a break from all the job searching.  I've often said that the hardest job I ever had was looking for one, and I think Char found that to be the case too.  She would check the job websites and papers each
In Florida at my nephew's wedding
day, she'd network with people and go to job fairs and interviews, but the right opportunity never presented itself.  We were looking for the right fit, a part time, flexible position and one that would not require a lot of travel.  The interviews kept coming, even a few job offers, but not what we were looking for, so we kept to our plan and kept enjoying the time too.  We even were able to spend half a week in Florida as a family (sans Molly) and attend my nephew's destination wedding there.  The year was quickly coming to an end and we were on pace to finish with money in the bank and with smiles on our faces.  We were truly blessed to have been given this opportunity. 

     In the end she secured work, and being the over-achiever that she is, it's actually 2 jobs.  The first is a flexible transcription job, not in the medical field this time, and the second is an administrative assistant job, part time and walkable from our house.  Incidentally, both were gained from networking with friends (Thanks Lisa and Bruce).  The pay is fair for both and our budget is balanced again, but more importantly, they both allow the freedom and flexibility that we wanted.  Nolan has 5 years of school left, and we want to be actively involved in them.  Her mom works part time, and is aging, so she'll have some time to spend and enjoy with her, just as I was able to do with my mom, and it's time spent that she'll never regret.  So in 2012, we tightened our belts, we trimmed some fat and kept our eye on the prize, but we also made sure to enjoy the ride.  Not a bad year at all, even living frugally. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'm off this week with naught to do....

I'm off this week, with naught to do,
If I ponder this long though, it's never quite true.
Yes, I've officially requested and been granted vacation,
but there are things to do here, I'll give a summation.
Too many times, blank schedules get written
Then free time is bombarded, like the battle of Britain.

There's a honey-do list on my counter that's growing,
I should check the snow blower (in case there's some snowing).
There's Scout paperwork that's a little behind,
There's a few Christmas presents, that I have yet to find.
 I can gather my papers for my taxes are pending,
I can catch up on Dexter, please don't spoil the ending.
I can visit some family, who've been on my mind,
I could do charity work, Now that would be kind.

I've got work to do on a coming reunion,
I could work on this blog, that I call "The Ongion"
I'll probably keep up on my daily e-mail,
lest I come back to an epic work-fail.
There's a golf tournament that I need to start planning, 

I've got bones in my limbs that they say need some scanning.
If I am being truthful, there's 2 doc's a-waiting,
to prod and poke me with no tests abating.
I've a Christmas Eve party that needs some attention,
and some tween the sheets fun that I probably shouldn't mention.

I've college bills owing for my two oldest prog'ny,
I should exercise more to improve my physiology.
I've got at least one computer that is likely infected,
with those diabolical viruses, that can loom undetected. 
My youngest son needs a ride to the mall,
There's work to be done in the Garaj-Mahal
My cute kitty-cat needs to go the vet,
and my list is still growing, it's still not done yet.
with last week's events I should spend some time praying,
for those innocent souls with their families dismaying.
It's never too late to do some soul searching,
and to fill one's heart with good deeds til it's bursting.

To finish it off, I've an office to clean,
to get set for success in two thousand- thirteen.  
and our family budget now needs some adjusting,
cuz my wife's back to work and with pride she's a-busting, 

Yes, I am off this week, with naught to do,
But if I ponder this long, it's never quite true.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'll miss the newspaper

     I'm a dinosaur, I truly am.  I hold on to things for sentimental reasons and am slower to change than the Catholic Church.  This week, however, I finally moved on from a one sided relationship that I have had for a while that I can only liken to being an abused spouse.  This week I broke it off with my local paper.

     It's been bad for years, but I've hung on hoping for it to get better.  I started reading my local paper at the age of 12 or 13 at the same time I accepted a job to deliver it.  I found great value and worth in the job.  It was good exercise, not only the walking but carrying the 100 or so papers in my shoulder bag, and I felt I was doing an important service, keeping the public informed with topical happenings, world-wide news and sprinkled throughout with human interest stories about my neighbors in Canandaigua.  People looked forward to seeing me come and waited anxiously to read the latest news, and they tipped me handsomely for delivering it properly.  A retired Methodist minister was known for putting full size candy bars in his paperbox as a treat for the carrier, and my last stop each day was in the kitchen of a retired veteran named Mr. Giles.  He would take a Boston Cream pie out of the freezer, cut two slices for us, and then we'd talk for a half an hour while waiting for it to thaw enough for us to eat it.  I shudder to think what a nice guy like Mr. Giles would be called today, the nerve of him, inviting young boys into his home and plying them with pie, but back in 77, that's how I ended my paper
route each day.  Is it any wonder that I have fond memories of the paper Since I have memories like this that connect me to it?  That's the problem with memories though, eventually you have to stick your head out of the sand and view the new reality and like I said, it's been going south for a while now.

     I don't think I was asking for too much, and in fact I didn't want the paper to change at all, I would have been happy in the relationship, if it had just stayed the same, but it didn't.  Each and every aspect of it that I had loved, changed for the worse.  The comic page that used to be 3-4 pages with big print with the most current strips, shrunk to half it's size, left the worst strips in and let the best ones go, added huge ads for closeout stores onto it and shrunk the print to the point that I couldn't read it, even with my glasses.  Why?  The front page that used to have hard hitting journalism, that was meticulously edited, became a repeat of the mornings news peppered throughout with misspellings, sometimes even in the headlines.  Sad when they let themselves go like that.  Then it was the missing pieces where a story would start on page 1 and tease you to page 6 to find
out the rest of the story, but sometimes I go there, and they would have forgotten to put in the end of the article.  It was like buying a garage sale book and finding the last page torn out, except that I wasn't buying the paper at a garage sale, I was paying a premium price to have it delivered, almost daily.  I say almost daily, not because they didn't publish on Saturday, that I expected, it was the occasional, "oops I forgot to bring you a paper today" thing  that became more of a regular occurrence than it should have.  I'd walk to the end of the driveway to come back empty handed, and that was the beginning of the end, because some days I didn't miss it.   It would come the next day, and it would go right to the recycling bin, too late, you can't take this guy for granted.  I have more self respect, but I'll admit, I did hang on a little longer, it was just never the right time to separate. 

     The paper kept getting more and more expensive and my budget was shrinking last year.  I already had a wife and 3 kids to support, and this mistress of mine was costing me over $230 a year and that was without tipping my sometimes errant route driver.  The paper kept shrinking in size and the adspace kept increasing.  They started putting in information from surrounding counties just to fill it.  I guess it's all right to review restaurants in Fairport or Perinton, but geez, could you toss a few in from Geneva or Canandaigua sometimes? They started a section where they asked local people to send in their photo's, and then printed them.  If I wanted to see the local people's photos, I'd go sit on their couches and watch the slideshows of their vacations like normal people.  They weren't fooling me,  they just didn't want to pay photographers anymore. I kept putting off the decision to terminate but a few weeks ago, the decision got easier to make.  First it was the article about the Culinary Center in Cdga that was half of a page of words, but truly told nothing of the exciting changes at the facility.  Ironically the article that followed a few days later in the Rochester paper did do a great job and went in depth to describe the new direction and plans for the center, but I had to go elsewhere to get satisfied with this information.  It made me fell dirty and cheap, but my needs were not being met with my home paper relationship  (I know it sounds like I'm justifying it....)  The second thing was the "Best of Ontario County" poll that they sponsored.  It was so lacking in information that it would have been tough to vote for most of the categories.  Waitresses were nominated, but no mention of the restaurant where they worked?  Why?  I was fortunate enough to get nominated as best blogger but they didn't research or tell people how to get to any of the nominee's blogs, including mine.  I did cancel my subscription prior to the results being posted and incidentally I didn't win.  I hope it doesn't sound like sour grapes, but the business that did win for best blogger and liquor store had a full page ad in the same paper where it was announced.  Call me cynical,  but if you'll selectively leak the results of a poll to sell ad space is it too much a stretch to think the poll may have been less than unbiased?   I don't know, but clearly it wasn't about educating the public about the winners, no pictures or bio's or any information was given about the winners.  Would it have killed them to send a photographer out to take some pics of the winners?  It clearly wasn't about them, it was about selling more ad space.

    So I'm out now and will soon receive my last paper. I'll miss it at first, but I'll replace it with something better, less expensive, and something worthy of the time that I choose to spend with it.  It will be a relationship not based on disconnected  memories of how it used to be, but one of equal value where I find new things to love about the practice each day and one that fulfills all my needs as a reader.  Hmm, I wonder if there is a decent blog somewhere out there that will do this?  I'll have to look.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

They bulldozed my memories this week......

          I'm not one to live in the past...much.  This week, however, even knowing the inevitable outcome of an impending event, it still struck me a little deeper than expected.  This blog is about my history with a place that met it's end this week.

The lot last week
     I remember it first as Caruso's Restaurant.  I had a telephone sitting job at the home of the local funeral director (that could be a blog in itself), and he and his wife were regulars there.  Frequently I'd see the name and number on the chalkboard and wonder what the place was like. A few years later, I have a vague recollection of helping my brother Aquaman direct cars into their lot for an annual event near Kershaw Park.  Aquaman worked at the Colonial Inn down the street and if the restaurants didn't have shared ownership, they must have occasionally shared staff.  Truth be told, I'd spend more time at the Colonial Inn drinking beers on "Nickel Night" than ever eating at Caruso's, because around that time,they moved away from being a restaurant to strictly a party house.  They did that as well as they did the restaurant and that didn't stop me from dancing the night away there just a few years after that, with a girl who still had that "New Wife" smell.

     Caruso's opened in 1930 and moved later to what we now call Lakeshore Drive. Then it was simply called Lake Street.  Caruso's was named for Enrico Caruso, an Italian tenor, and it was just as classy as he
was back in the day.  What might be considered gaudy now, the place was gilded in gold with heavy curtains, a drop tiled ceiling and a long serpentine bar built into the west end of the restaurant.  In its prime it was difficult to get a reservation there on a Saturday night and the bar was 3 deep with people most weekends.  Classic cocktails, once common then, and never served now, flowed across it's length like water cascading over Niagara Falls. I'm told it had the distinction of being the longest bar in the State for a number of years.  Not a bad accomplishment, being able to fill the longest bar in the State, 3 people deep, is it?  It spoke to both the success of the restaurant and the need for such a place at that time in Canandaigua's history.  The Cusimano family that opened the place had the best reputation for homemade Italian food, served at Depression era prices, by loving family members in a beautiful lakefront setting. That's more than the trifecta of things that you have to get right to operate a great restaurant, and it's no wonder it's remembered so fondly by so many, even after all this time. 

     In searching for information on it, I came across the minutes of the Cdga Rotary Club from last year, and one of their long standing members mentioned how great it was in his recollections to the group.  Another
blogger from Rochester (In pursuit of Quietness) reminisces about her trip there in 1958 on Mother's Day and how her father made it a special occasion place for them.  She remembers it as being "fancy".  I suspect that if you polled the senior citizen's of Cananadaigua, the ones that grew up locally, every one, would have fond memories of both the place and the food.  I know I do, and I really remember it best as a party house.  The Fargo family would convert it to The Lakeshore House, Cdga's premier party house in the 80's and for the next 25 years hosted more events there than any other Cdga venue.  I attended lunches there when I was a Kiwanis member and countless members of my class had their wedding receptions there, my own included.  A classmate, Robin, tells me that I attended our 10th class reunion there too, but you couldn't prove it by me.  She says we sang "American Pie" together, but frankly that doesn't narrow down the location, crowd, or decade for me.  I'll just have to trust that she is correct.  She's not the only woman in my life who corrects me either, the one I took to our wedding reception at the Lakeshore House does that too. 

     We were married at St. Mary's Church, but we celebrated that day at the Lakeshore House.  The Rolls Royce pulled into the covered portico that ran along the east side of the party house and we disembarked to
I got the better deal, just look at her.
greet the 150 family and friends that attended.  No reception runs completely smoothly and this was the first time our two big families really met, but we avoided a brawl, in spite of my sister Hummingbird's constant inadvertent kicking of my new Father in Law's shins during dinner.  The Lakeshore House was known for many dishes including pasta and chicken, but I remember the Seafood Newburg the most. One of their long time chefs later opened up Pepper's Restaurant in Cdga and most recently Timmy G's in Penn Yan and I've never had a bad meal in either of those places either.  It speaks to the calibre of employee that the Lakeshore House had too.  Since we had picked the attendees, the music, the formal wear and the date, it was kind of tough not to enjoy the reception, and enjoy it I did.  My wife likes to tell the story of me singing at the top of my lungs as she drove all the way to Niagara on the Lake where we honeymooned.  I like to tell the story of what I did when I got there, but this blog needs to keep it's PG rating, so I'll tell that one in person.  Back on point, that day will always remain with me as the best day of my life and I couldn't have created a better place to have celebrated it than the Lakeshore House. 

     I'll finish, maybe not as expected, but with hope for that parcel.  I think we can share wonderful memories of a location, but allow for the fact that time does march on.  Business models from then don't necessarily work today, but that's not to say you can't create a place that will be equally as memorable for the coming generations.   That's up to the developers, and I wish them well.  Make it good enough and you'll have my business again, you see, I have a history with that place.   


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The return of the Turkey Cake......

     My mother, God rest her soul, was a person of legendary frugality.  The kind of frugality that would not occur to people now, so this story will likely never be re-played in the future, but it is a part of each and every one of my sibling's past.  

     For many years on Thanksgiving my family would rent the local firehouse and host our holiday there.  It was a large space with a commercial kitchen and enough tables and seats to host the 40 plus of us that would be in attendance.  I've blogged about this before in one I titled "What I did on my Thanksgiving Vacation" so feel free to look it up if you want a little background on this story.  I'll pass along a little tidbit if you ever want to quickly search for a previous blog I've done.  Go to Google and type "Ongion" along with a phrase or topic that you remember from that blog.  It will automatically re-direct you to "Onion" but click below where it gives you the option to really search for "Ongion" and the blogs with that phrase will come right up.  Back to the story now, we had some great Thanksgivings at that firehouse, but one was slightly more memorable than the others, the year that the Turkey Cake made it's first appearance.

     The dessert table was always full at this event, chock full of pies, cookies, cupcakes, jello, and assorted pastries.  One year, however, a sheet cake was set amongst the other items and frosted into the top of it was a picture of a turkey.  It's a matter of debate now as to who even brought the turkey cake, some
siblings say it was my brother Aquaman, but what isn't debatable was that it sat untouched for the duration of the dinner.  No one wanted to take the first piece and the pies are so much more traditional for that holiday, so the party ended with it intact, and when Mom saw it, she graciously offered to take it with her to feed her guests over the coming days.  I was actually one of those guests a few days later when I visited her house in Bristol and sure enough, on the counter, sat the Turkey Cake.  I wasn't really sure about the frosting on the cake and whether it was meant to sit out at room temperature for half a week, but considering I was in a house where the occupant would cut around the spots of mold on bread and serve it, I politely declined (While I do whine about this, it's likely why I have such a great immune system, thanks Mom).  No one else took her up on her offer either and a week later when I visited, the Turkey Cake was gone, I assumed that it was disposed of, but I could not have been more wrong.

     Fast forward to the 2nd week in August, that following year and we were once again at my Mom's celebrating our pre-reunion annual corn roast.  It's pretty informal, so we just set the food outside on the
What heat does to frosted cake....
tables and people find places to eat.  I walked down the line to get my food, and it ran pretty close to normal, corn, hamburgers and hot dogs, salad, buns, but then on the end sat a sheet cake with it's frosting slowly melting off but still clearly distinguishable as a picture of a turkey.  "Mom", I inquired "Is this the same cake from last Thanksgiving?"   "It is" she replied "I couldn't see it going to waste, so I froze it for the next time we had a party."  Needless to say, I skipped the Turkey Cake once again.  I shouldn't have been surprised that she had done that.  Countless times, I'd go and get a beer out of her refrigerator downstairs and find it was skunky.  After parties, Mom would simply unplug the fridge that held the beer until a day or two before the next party and then plug it in again.  The cold beer you tried to drink had actually been in a warm fridge for months prior and most times, tasted like it. The same folks that had not eaten the Turkey Cake 240 days earlier, chose not to eat it again and the party ended with the cake still intact.

     The last sighting of the Turkey Cake is up for debate too, my sister, She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named thinks that she was offered a piece of it at Mom's house the following day and others of us think it made it to
A simple optical illusion
the family reunion.  What is consistent in both stories, however, is that the Turkey Cake no longer had a turkey on the top of it.  When Mom realized that people were hesitant to eat something that was leftover by that amount of time from Thanksgiving, she took a knife and removed the frosting and tried to present it as a plain sheet cake.  She almost got us, but we figured it out prior to cutting into it. It could be like one of those optical illusions that you see on the internet, we had seen that same cake with a Turkey on top if it so much that we only had to glance away and back quickly again to get a quick glimpse of the missing turkey.   The cake was unceremoniously disposed of, after that, and I'm sure my mother shook her head the entire time she did it, thinking what a waste of food it was.  I started this blog saying that this feat will never likely be attempted, but it pays to be vigilant.  Next time you are at a party, before you eat the sheet cake, make sure the design is appropriate for the holiday that you are celebrating, cuz you just never know. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The "I'm Sorry, but" Jar.

     This last Sunday I sat at my in-law's Thanksgiving celebration with absolutely no idea for a blog.  My kids were all present, and I was reminded that, if you have a bad memory like me, it pays to have your kids repeat back your stories to you.  This blog idea came from my daughter Molly and I had forgotten about it completely until she reminded me.  

     I think we used an old pickle jar.  You see, when our daughter Molly was 11 or 12, she had developed a bad habit of "apologizing" for bad behaviors, but always conditionally.  She followed every single "I'm Sorry" with the word "but".  She couldn't just admit that her actions were wrong without conditionally trying to blame the bad behavior on something or someone else. Now admitting we were wrong was something that both my wife and I have struggled with, at one time or another, ourselves, so we recognized that it was a bad behavior that was best nipped in the bud, so we came up with the idea of the "I'm sorry jar".  It was a brilliant stroke of parenting, or so we thought, until we presented the idea to the aforementioned offender.

    That's the problem with 11 or 12 year-olds, they have no appreciation for great parenting, they don't have the perspective yet.  We presented the idea one day after school.  We had decided to wait until she actually said the phrase and then tell her our plan to help cure this bad habit.  It was simple and based off the "Swear Jar" concept, which I had used myself a few years earlier to help me to curb a bad habit of mine.  Each time we heard her use the phrase, she would have to put money into the jar.  I don't recall if it was a quarter or a dollar, but each and every time, that money was due. The first payment came instantaneously.  In trying to explain why she was using the phrase she immediately went to her old stand-by, in order to blame this behavior on someone other than herself.  "I'm sorry but", she started. "I only say that because......"  It proved our point immediately. Ka-ching!  She wasn't on board with the plan, but in this house, parenting isn't negotiated.  At the point that my kids have more years experience of being a parent, then I do, then I'll ask their opinion, until then, this system seems to work.  The jar took it's place on top of the fridge in the kitchen, where it could be seen and accessed pretty quickly.

Not as relevant, but what can I say, I like Batman.
     The first week using the jar, was filled with tears, raw emotion, and foot stomping.  Molly didn't do too well that week either.  The jar started at a pace that would surely allow enough money for the family to take a vacation.... in Paris..... at the Ritz......flying first class......(you get the picture).  Every time we heard the phrase uttered, we'd stop her in her tracks and make her pay the fee.  Immediately.  That's one thing I have learned about parenting and that is to put the punishment as close to the crime as possible, so that your kids better connect the dots that something they did was egregious and that it had consequences.  Another parent coined the phrase to "Never spank your kid while you are Angry".  That sounds really good in theory, but in practice?  I'm supposed to wait until I'm no longer upset or mad that they were bad and then spank them?  I'm no psychologist, but tell me how the relationship with your kids gets better when they are always watching for you to jump out and spank them at random times?  AHA ! "Remember last week when you did that thing...."  That doesn't really work.  But I digress, the jar was filling up fast ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. 
Molly and her friend Danielle
     Week two we went from the denial to the negotiation phase.   Molly actually stopped herself from saying "but" and started using "however" instead.  A quick trip to the Thesaurus looking up synonyms for "but" stopped this trend.  We took the liberty of eliminating "nevertheless", "although" and "yet" while we were there.  What it proved to us was, she was indeed capable of stopping herself, it was just going to take a little more time...and money (hers, not ours).  It probably took less than a month total to be able to declare Molly "cured" of this habit.  The spacing between slip ups became longer and longer and the pickle jar went into early retirement.  I'm pretty sure we refunded the money to her as a reward for curbing the bad behavior, that sounds like us anyway, we are carrot and stick type parents.  The fact that Molly remembered this so clearly and we did not, probably adds a little credence to this method, and I wonder if, even today, she can say the word "but" after the words "I'm sorry", without glancing over her shoulder.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, you don't have to invent how to be a parent, it's already been done correctly many times before, and help comes from the most unlikely places sometimes, even from old pickle jars. 



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I have a stranger on my Facebook......

    I am a fan of Facebook.  When I signed up, years ago, I thought it was a great way to stay connected and to share the happenings of my life and family with those that I care about.  Inevitably though, if you have been on Facebook long enough, you will get friend requests from people you don't know and some dubious types at that.  This is my story of being that guy.

     I was still new to Facebook at the time.  I had a kick-ass farm on Farmville that was raking in the virtual dollars every day, and I was still building my circle of acquaintances and friends.  I came back to my hotel late one night and rushed over to check my crops and I noticed a witty comment from a friend of my daughter's who had gone away to college in a Southeastern State.  After commenting, I noticed that his sister had commented as well and we weren't Facebook friends yet, so I friend requested her.  As I sat there a little longer, my eyes adjusted to the room and the lighting and I looked again at the comment, and realized that it wasn't his sister that made the comment, it was a girl with the same first name and a last name that started with the same letter, but it wasn't his sister, it was just a random student that attended his college, and I had just friend requested her, Ooops.  I had never made this mistake before, so I looked for the "Retract" button, but didn't find one, the "Cancel" button, Nope, the "I Really Didn't Mean It, I'm Old and Need Glasses" button, still no dice.  That young college girl was going to get the friend request, from a 40 guy sitting in his hotel room 6 States away, whether I wanted her to or not.  I suddenly flashed on every episode of "To Catch a Predator" on Dateline NBC with Chris Hansen, and I wondered how long it would be before they knocked on my hotel door.  I could see my answers to the interview questions and I imagined it going as well as every other interview I'd seen on there......

"I didn't realize she was only 18 when I friend requested her"
"I thought she was another person I knew, What? Oh the other girl is 19"
"I was drinking and planting corn when I friend requested her"

It all kept sounding worse and worse to me, but I consoled myself that night by saying, "she probably won't accept the request anyway"  That worked, until the next morning, when she did.  Hooray, I have a friend, with no connection to me, that I never intended to have.  What to do?

     Any normal person would have just deleted or Unfriended her immediately, I realize.  If you were under the impression that I am anything close to being a normal person, then you haven't read enough of these blogs.  I knew from her profile that she was new at college and she was a New Englander, so I decided to try and do it after a bit of time had passed.  I didn't know her frame of mind when she accepted the request, but I do know how hard it is to go away to school and try and fit in, so I wasn't going to upset that delicate balance by dumping her like that.  I think everyone has to wonder why they got Unfriended on FB when it happens, I don't care how cavalier you say you are about it, but when someone that wanted you to be part of their circle, suddenly doesn't anymore, any emotional person would wonder what they might have done to deserve that.  I wasn't going to do that to this freshman girl in her new college trying to fit in.  I resolved myself to finding the "right time" to remove her from my list.

      I'd check her statuses randomly, but there never seemed to be a good time to do it.  She was homesick one time, she had bombed a test another, her High School boyfriend Tucker and her broke up shortly thereafter, but I kept trying.  At some point, I did get sucked into this complete stranger's life and imagined I knew what she was going through.  She suddenly changed schools and ended up transferring to a college in her home State.  That wasn't a good time to do it.  More time passed and I caught a status of hers that she was back from a semester abroad, Darn it, that would have been the perfect time, but I missed my window.  Soon she was out of school and looking for work, not a good time, probably living at home again.  She recently became certified to teach Kripalu Yoga, but isn't doing it yet (I don't know what that is, but it sounds painful).  I caught a comment this week that she is heading to Asia shortly, so I'll have my opportunity to finally do it.  Truthfully though, I'm not sure I've got the stones to separate us.  She still makes the occasional comment on my page or likes my status, and I've gotten interested in her story.  Small town girl goes off to school, comes back home, travels abroad, finds enlightenment, and then travels some more. I kind of want to know the end of the story now.  Will Tucker come back?  Will she move to a marijuana friendly State (she's kind of a granola head liberal)? Get married? Have kids?  There is a whole blank page in front of her, and now I am interested.  We started as strangers, and we've never met, but through Facebook we know a lot about each other now.  You'll have to decide whether this makes me a 47 year old Facebook Creeper, or just a nice guy who got caught up in another human being's life and loves, and you'll have to take the appropriate action.  If you decide to Unfriend me though, can you wait until next week? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I live with the Cheeriest of the Cheerful

     Motivational speaker and salesman Zig Ziglar, is quoted as saying "Your Attitude, not your Aptitude, will determine your Altitude".  Even if I didn't know that Zig was a salesman/author who was born 10th in a family of 12, he'd have had my full agreement on this.  My children will quote another salesman/blog author who was born 10th in a family of 12, that frequently told them to "Love the job you find, not find the job you Love".  We have preached, and tried to live this, so when I saw a shining example of this in action, was there any doubt that it would make it into a blog?  Of course not.

     We are Scouters in this family.  That's is not to say that we agree with every national policy in Boy Scouting but it is to say, we appreciate that this organization has done more to foster and create good character development in youth, than any other, bar none, so our kids have all participated.  Our youngest Nolan, has been a Scout since Tiger Cubs and 2 years ago was nominated by his Troop to become a member of the elite Honor Society of Scouting, called the Order of the Arrow.  This is not a secret society of Scouting, but it is an additional part of Scouting that is shrouded in mystery. It's also referred to as the "Brotherhood of Cheerful Service".  The OA calls Scouts to be even better, more involved in good works, and most importantly to do so with a cheerful attitude.  We were proud when Nolan was nominated, but even more proud when he came back from a Conclave gathering with an award for being the "Most Cheerful Arrowman", but when you hear the rest of the story, it gets even better.

      The Conclave is a gathering of many Order of the Arrow lodges and the first one that Nolan was invited to attend, his lodge also hosted.  It meant a lot of work and pressure, especially for a newly inducted
member like Nolan, but he was looking forward to the challenge, but also glad that another Scout in our Troop was planning on attending with him.  Parents traditionally don't attend these, unless they are members of the OA lodge themselves, and we had decided that Nolan would benefit from this activity without our input.  As we are both leaders in the Troop, we have plenty of interaction with him.  The Conclave was to be around 150 participants, and Nolan only really knew the one Scout from our Troop that was to join him, which made the call we received that morning all the more difficult.

     "My son decided not to attend the Conclave" said the mother on the other end of the phone.  We didn't pry as to the reason, we fully understand that life gets in the way of Scouting sometimes, and we've made that call before ourselves, but as we hung up the phone we realized that it left Nolan going camping with 149 virtual strangers for the weekend.  We were due to pick him up directly from school and take him to the campout, so there would be no advance warning for him. Nolan has a naturally gregarious nature, but even this would be a stretch for him.  My wife actually picked him up and headed out for the event.  He seemed a little lost in thought, but finally realized that they were headed out of
Nolan working on signs for a fundraiser
town.  "Are we not picking up the other Scout" he inquired?  ""No" Mom replied.  The realization dawned on him even as he asked if the Scout was meeting him there.  "He bailed, didn't he?" Nolan said.  Mom confirmed it and the rest of the ride was spent in contemplative silence.  I know my wife enough to know her thoughts during that ride and her instinct would have been to smother and cover and to protect Nolan from this possible hardship, but she mustered through and pulled into the camp.  Nolan slowly gathered his pack and bedroll and as he went to close the van door, after saying goodbye, he said " You know, I'm going to have a good weekend".   I suspect that he was saying this as much to himself as to his mother, but say it, he did and then trotted off to find his bunk.  Char drove home wondering if he would make it through the weekend, we've seen those calls come a few times in our Scouting career.

     No call came.  We spent the weekend involved with friends and doing some things together, but our
Nolan cooking at an informal campout in the garage
thoughts were never far from Nolan. Sunday morning came, and it was time for Mom to head back to camp to pick him up.  He broke off from a group and headed to the van and started to put his stuff in.  He was wearing something that he didn't have when he got out of the van, a smile.  He was also carrying a sheet of paper and when he got home, he showed us both what he had received.  He went off to camp, virtually alone, and as the youngest member of the lodge, and came home with the Award for the Cheeriest Arrowman of the 150 Scouts there.  We could not have been more proud, or so we thought.  The blog could end here, and it would be a great story, would it not?  There was more, however, that would come to light a few weeks later.

     We installed a hot tub in our back deck a half a dozen years ago, and I have never regretted that decision.  I like it for the pain relief I get soaking my old bones in it, but also for the time we get to spend
with the kids in it.  The timer goes for 15 minutes and you'd be surprised at the number of deep conversations that have been had in it, with us sometimes re-setting the timer to let the kids share.  A few weeks after the campout, Nolan and I were soaking and we had such a moment.  It dawned on me that I hadn't heard his phone buzzing as much lately, he keeps it on vibrate and had a girlfriend for a few months who liked to text him.  Most mornings he'd have messages waiting for him when he woke up, and I hear it buzzing as I turned it some nights too.  I inquired about the lack of calls and he casually said "Yeah, she broke up with me a few Fridays ago at school". I expressed my sympathy but as I did was doing the mental math as to when it happened.  "Wait" I said "Wouldn't that have been the day you went off to the Conclave?"
He affirmed that it was.  So our son, the weekend that his girlfriend broke up with him, the weekend that his buddy bailed on him and the weekend he camped with 149 virtual strangers, came away with the award for being the most Cheerful Scout, and he earned it at a gathering of 5 lodges full of the region's Cheeriest !  That boy got Zig's advice and took it to heart.  I've posted 2 pictures of Nolan at OA events, and his OA brothers spontaneously hoist him onto their shoulders, I wonder if that's because they recognize his potential altitude? 


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nun today, Nun tomorrow?

    My parents thought it was important to have a Catholic school education, so they sacrificed to send all 12 of us to St. Mary's School in Canandaigua.  You hear this a lot, but it was truly a simpler time back then.  At that time we had something that the school doesn't have now, teaching nuns, and a friend from that time asked me to write about one in particular. I would have struggled with that so I made this blog more general and included my thoughts on several of them. 

     If you never had a nun teach you, then you'll want to know the difference, right up front. Misbehave with a teacher and you get sent to the Principal's office, misbehave with a nun, and you get sent to Hell.  That's it in a nutshell.  Even when a nun turns away from the class and all you can see is the back of her habit, she's still got God looking out for her, so you tend to behave better with a nun teaching you.  I can't remember each of my elementary school teachers anymore, but I know that I had at least 6 nuns teach me back then, Sr Mary Alma, Sr Theresa, Sr Patricia, Sr Diane, Sr Deanna, and Sr Benedicta and of those, I have lasting memories of 5. 

     Sr. Mary Alma was the principal of the school when I started and the kids all called her "Bubbles".  I didn't make the nickname up, and I don't recall any of the kids using it in front of her, but I can see where it was likely derived from.  She had cherub-like cheeks that were perpetually puffed out, as if she were blowing a
bubble, so I think that nickname stuck for that reason.  I didn't get sent to her office very often but when I did it was usually for doing something exceptional like winning a spelling bee or something like that.  I have no stories of being corporally punished by the nuns, not because I behaved all the time, but because I didn't get caught often, and besides, like most kids those days, you had more to fear at home than from the nice nuns.  I think she was there for a while, and she was replaced by Sr Diane around 1973.  That school year we had a fire in the school and we spent the winter of 1974 in make-shift classrooms thrown up with drywall sheets in the school gym.  That's a tough way to take over a school, with a fire the first year that you run the place, but Sr. Diane managed it well, and I suspect had learned a little from Sr. Bubbles. 

     I'm going to batch the next 2 nuns together as I remember less about each of them.  I think Sr Theresa was really pretty for a woman, much less a nun, but I can't really picture her, except for remembering that she was exceptionally pretty.  When I was in school, I often thought of her as a candidate for giving up the
habit, but as far as I know, she remained a nun.  Sr. Patricia, on the other hand,  did not.  I'm pretty sure she taught me in 2nd grade, and after I left St. Mary's I didn't see her very often except for the occasional sighting at church.  Years later, however, I ordered lunch at a drive thru at a Wendy's restaurant in Rochester and when I pulled around to pick it up, it was the nun formerly known as Sr. Patricia, that handed me my order.  It flustered me a bit and later, on my drive home, I thought of 2 things.  1. Did that make my 2nd grade education invalid (Back then it was probably finger painting, not Algebra like today)?  2.  How do you give up being married to God, to being married to a deep fryer? I don't mean to make light of what was likely an agonizing decision, but I was young and it was something I hadn't seen before, heck, I didn't know any divorced parents at that 
point, so why would I even think of that possibility? As I had said earlier, it was a different time, to illustrate that, I'll post a picture next of a tool that my nuns used to teach me, and I'll bet the younger folks in the blog  

audience can't even fathom what it would be used for.  Bring back any memories?  A lot of folks seem to remember having their knuckles rapped with rulers for writing poorly, but if that happened to me, I can't recall it now.  I do picture the nuns walking with a stick in their hands, but if I had to place it, I'd say it was a single chalk holder.  My handwriting is atrocious, so if anyone deserved to have their hands slapped it was me.  I have heard that a lot of Catholic kids were forced to write with their right hands even if they had left hand tendencies, and I've heard of some anecdotal stories of it causing stuttering, which I find more interesting than abusive. Keeping it in context, women didn't wear pants then, and we sprayed DDT around anywhere we wanted, so we live and learn. 

     The last nun that I remember was my favorite and probably the one that most kids at St. Mary's think of when you think of nuns, Sr. Benedicta Redmond.  I'm pretty sure she was there when the school opened in 1849 and she was one of 2 nuns remaining in 1996 when the sisters stopped teaching at the school (I should have paid more attention in math class).  Actually, I'm pretty sure that she taught 50 plus years and she
passed on at 92 years of age.  She probably originated the "carrot and stick" method of teaching, because if you didn't try hard or do well, you were a "Dumb Bunny" or told to "Mortify Yourself", but a little extra effort would find her hand reaching into a drawer in her desk where she kept a candy stash.  Teachers stride around their classrooms, but I remember Sr Benedicta kind of "floating" or silently shuffling around hers. If you were doing something you weren't supposed to, you can be sure that when you turned your head, she would be beside your desk, she had that nun, sixth-sense to appear at that exact moment.  I'm not sure if everyone will share my impression of her, and I do invite you to share yours, but mine was a a quiet, reverent presence, not of a strict disciplinarian.  My last pictures here are of my report card from the year that Sr. Benedicta, taught me.  You'll see I was a B+ student, with poor handwriting, but Sr. Benedicta still calls me a "Good Boy" and not a Dumb Bunny.  Is it any wonder that she was my favorite? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A primer for the next guy who marries my wife

      I'm not wishing that I won't be here to have and to hold, and to love and to cherish, but if heredity and genetics play out, then my wife will likely survive me by a good twenty years.  I would want her to remarry , if she wished, so that she could have a companion to share those years with too.  She is stubborn however and can be unforgiving, so that guy who comes along is going to have to have a fast learning curve.  I write this blog to give that guy or guys a peek inside what I have learned of her peculiarities and likes and dislikes. You'll thank me later, trust me.

     I'll start with doors.  At some point you are going to have to come into the house and you've got to know that there is only one correct way to come into this house.   It gets tricky, because you'll try to be helpful carrying groceries or something and approach the house from the back (Don't be silly, nobody comes in their front doors and if you thought that, you've got no shot with this girl, give up now)  and you will see two doors.  The closer one is a double sided French door with a curved handle that you can push down with your elbow and easily walk through the wide space and directly into our dining room. The further door is a smaller exterior door with a handle which sticks and turns as easily as opening a 10 year old jar of pickles.  When you do get it open, you are standing in a small, cramped, foyer, with no counter space to set anything down and inevitably you have to walk to the kitchen or circle back around to the dining room to set down what you are carrying.  You (and logic) would think that the better door to enter the home would be the closer, wider, and the easier to open door with convenient access to the rest of the house and counters, and you would be completely
wrong, the only "right" way to enter the house is door 2, which requires much more effort and inevitably puts you exactly where you wouldn't want to be, but there it is, my wife's first peculiarity, things get labeled "right" and "wrong" in her head pretty quickly, and you'd better learn which one is right.  This comes in handy when you are doing things like loading the dishwasher (dished pre-rinsed, but more like pre-washed, forks on the far right, facing towards you, not away, etc) or folding the bathroom towels (in thirds, not halves, so you have space between them). Scared away yet?  OK, I'll give you more.

     Wine.  You'll need this beverage if you are going to date this woman, and more of it, if you end up marrying her.  You'll start by asking her the classic question, Red or White?  She will politely reply that either is fine with her, but don't fall for it, it's a trap, the Answer is always Red.  The only reason we cellar some wine is for the white bottles that we buy or are given, as they have no shot of being enjoyed in this house, so we surround them with bottles of red, and if we get poor enough on the
Only one is correct
monthly budget, we drink them, but thankfully that doesn't happen often.  I know that we live in an area that produces better whites than reds, but she'd rather drink a bad bottle of red, than go near a bottle of white wine.   There's a perk to it though, she looks great with red wine-stained lips.  I hope you get close enough to find out.

     Cooking.  The great news here is that she loves food and derives pleasure from eating it, sometimes so much I blush when I watch her do it.   If you are a foodie, you are going to love to watch her eat a great meal.  The problem lies in her inability to realize that great food preparation requires great messes.  In 20 years of dating, I've not been able to serve her that rare steak with bernaise sauce and sauteed mushrooms, those roasted red potatoes with garlic and onion, Caesar Salad with homemade croutons, and that bundle of small asparagus spears, and make them come out of one pan, but she somehow thinks that it can happen.  She's a great cook in her own right, but either denies or forgets the fact that it takes time, space, and some cookware to make
Don't do this.
great meals.  If you do cook for her, don't be surprised when you place that gourmet meal in front of her, that it is rated by the number of pots and pans that you used (think golf, a low score here is good).  On the topic of cooking, never underestimate the time it will take you to put the food on the table.  You will be questioned unmercilessly during those few extra minutes on what you may have done to make sure dinner arrived on time.  What she truly likes for dinner, is reservations. 

     Family.  This woman lovers her family to death.  Her sisters and brothers mean the world to her, but like with any family, they have their moments when they frustrate you or create unnecessary drama.   At some point this will happen and she will come to you and vent about that minor issue, and you will think she is looking for you to agree with her, but do not do it.  Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!!  Only she is able to criticize her family, if you agree, she'll quickly come back with, "Well, your family is not perfect either!" and proceed to tell you why.  I have a large, imperfect family, so I try not to make this mistake anymore.  I've found the best way to reply to this initial situation is a non-committal grunt, but do not nod your head when you do it, it's the same as agreeing.  

     Coffee.  Strong, black, and ready when she first gets up.

    Smells.  You need to know and remember that she has a very sensitive nose and palate.  If she finds a smell offensive, and there are many that she does, and you can't even smell or taste it, this does not relieve you of your responsibility to find and eliminate it.  The garbage will start to stink, to her, as soon as you take your shoes off and sit in you recliner, every time.  When nature calls and you head to the bathroom, you've simply got no options, she doesn't like the smells that you create, nor the sprays that she purchases, to cover up the smells that you create, so I'd recommend going to the bathroom at the neighbors, no, not the close one, the one way down the street.  I happen to like a local beer that is brewed with black raspberries (Shout out to Naked Dove and their Berry Naked).  My wife, however, thinks it smells like dirty feet.  She reminds me of this each and every time I order one and drink it.  I have considered, calling the brewmaster and asking if he could somehow remove the dirty feet smell, as it would be easier than to try and change my wife's mind about it.  If I had a picture of her with a wrinkled nose, smelling something offensive, I would post it right here now, but you won't need the picture, you'll see that face often. 
     Corn.  What? Yes, corn, and yes it deserves it's own paragraph. It's a straight food, but can never be an ingredient in food.  Do not over-think this one, just go with it.  Bread good, corn bread Bad.  Salsa good,
Corn Salsa, Bad.  Chicken soup good, Chicken and corn soup Bad.  Summer Salad good, Summer Salad with roasted corn, Bad.  I am convinced that she must have had a really bad experience with corn as a kid, because how can you like the taste of something, but not like it as ingredient, major or minor, in other dishes?  It's weird, right?  You'll inevitably come across a really great looking recipe that uses corn in it, and want to try it out.  Don't bother, been there, done that, got the wrinkled nose, and the comment "How many dishes did you use to make that Corn Dish?" Save yourself the hassle and have these meals out, when you are dining alone. 

     So this was 7 paragraphs on the quirks and dislikes of my wife.  If I've given the impression that she isn't worth putting up with these small things, I apologize.  The truth is, she'd be worth it, if it were a hundred paragraphs, and after I'm gone, you might get the chance to find out for yourself and reading this blog might get you far enough in the game, that she'll see the best in you too.  Good Luck!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Remind me again? (or the funny cancer story).

     I know that cancer isn't funny.  It's a heartbreaking illness that claims too many people, too early in their lives, and the treatments for this awful disease can be worse than the illness itself.  With that being said, I also understand that you don't pick the humorous moments in your life, the best ones simply happen and I have one of those that is tied to my Mom's probable diagnosis of cancer.  Please don't read this blog if you aren't at a point in your life, where you can see the humor in this.  I don't wish to offend or diminish any one's life who has battled this illness, only to share this funny story about my Mom and her diagnosis.

An early ad for Chesterfields
     My Mom passed away last year, a few years after the doctors thought that she would.  She spent the last years of her life living in my sister Teary's home, which was our home from childhood, and being cared for by wonderful aides and by family members.  During that time she had several medical conditions that were competing to be the first to take her including, COPD, diabetes, a mental aphasia similar to Alzheimer's, an aneurysm in her back, and finally a cancer diagnosis that loomed over her. My Mom had smoked Chesterfield unfiltered cigarettes for over 50 years, so when he was hospitalized a few years prior to her death, and an X-Ray of her lungs showed a spot there, no one was surprised when the probable diagnosis came back as cancer.  My Mom had designated two of my sisters, Nightingale, and She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named as her health care proxy's, so after discussions between Mom, her proxy's, and her doctors, it was decided that no action would be taken to deal with the cancer, so they patched her up and sent her home with that diagnosis, oh and don't forget... the aphasia.

Chirp, Chirp.
     In many way's Mom's aphasia was a blessing.  The aneurysm in her back should have given her constant pain, except for the fact she forgot it was there each day.  I figured that it was God given so that my Mom wouldn't have to live out the rest of her days in pain, and truth be told, it allowed her to discover "new" things on a daily, if not hourly basis.  To my knowledge Mom retained the knowledge of all of her children and grandchildren and a lot of small details of her childhood and adult life, but her short term memory was just plain shot.  An hour after eating breakfast she wouldn't remember if she had eaten, much less what she had eaten, and a greeting card set in front of her, would become new again, after only a few hours passing.  One of my siblings gave Mom a gift of small stuffed birds that would chirp or tweet in different bird songs and she re-discovered these several times a day, casually picking them up and shaking them and being surprised each time they would start to chirp, so she'd work her way back through the basket of them, and shake each one.  It was a great gift for my Mom, but I'm not sure that the caretakers that were with her each day, would agree.  In front of her at the same table where she sat, also was a notebook where she had asked that some more important things be written down, so that she would "remember" them on a regular basis.  I'm not sure now if it was a composition type notebook or a spiral bound smaller one, but the point is, it sat near her each day and she thumbed through it and read the notes inside as the mood struck her.

     I never read Mom's notebook, but in my world it was filled with notes reminding her to praise her other
The "Cancer" Diary
kids as much as her favorite son, the Ongion (Well, she raised me from a small shallot, so we've always been close.)  More likely it was filled with reminders of people that she wanted to remember to pray for, or reminders about people's families,, but she would ask for things to be put in there, and one of those things was a small statement about her trip to the hospital and her cancer diagnosis.  I wasn't there for the discussion but I could have agreed with putting the note in there, just like my siblings who did, it was the right thing to do.  It was a life altering event and at that point we were just trying to give Mom the best possible care and trying and fulfill her wishes as best we could.  So in, it went, mixed among the other notes and prayer requests.  Here's where the story starts to get funny.

     Mom's routine didn't change after that day, with one small exception.  She'd still sit at the table drinking her coffee or water, and casually rediscover her chirping stuffed birds and the new cards and letters that
were on the table and of course then pick up her notebook.  She would peruse the news and reminders of family situations and of those who needed prayer and then she would see the Cancer note.  "What"?  She would exclaim? " I Have Cancer !!"   The caregiver that was there would then come out to find a very startled Mom and have to sit with her and explain how she had gone to the hospital, had the X-ray, gotten the probable diagnosis, and had decided that she didn't want to treat it.  Each time, by the end of the discussion, Mom would be shaking her head in agreement, and say things like, "Oh, that sounds like me", or "That makes sense" or more probably, "I'd let God handle that one" and things in the house would go back to normal.  On a side note, I'd always respected my Mother's steadfast decision skills, she thought logically, made firm decisions and she stuck with them.  If your bedtime was 8:30, it was 8:30 Mister and it wasn't her fault that the football game ran late and the Wonderful World of Disney was only halfway through "Old Yeller", if 8:30 came, you'd be in bed, period.  This was a great blessing when she would hit the "Cancer Line" in the book, as she always came to the same decision as to the treatment, given the time to work through it, but every time it came to her with the same shock as it did the first time.  The reminder notebook, therefore, became a ticking time bomb set in front of her.   You'd be at the stove making something for her and you'd glance over and see the notebook in her hand, and pray "Dear God, please
Reminding people of things can be painful
don't let her get to page 6 "(or whichever page it was on).  You could distract and delay but it played out like a game of "Keep Away" on a school playground, eventually everyone gets their stuff back and Mom would read her notebook and exclaim "What?  I Have Cancer !!", and you knew how your next hour would be spent.  It would happen just before church, lunch, the nurse's visit, and at any other inopportune time.  There was a movie made about short-term memory loss a few years ago called "50 First Dates", I'm hoping you are finding this blog funny, but if not, rent that, and you'll surely get a chuckle.  That's was Mom's life at that point, always interesting but with the impending threat of tragic news on the horizon each day.  We thought we were doing the right thing, trying to respect her wishes and letting her keep some semblance of control in her life, but this meant, that at any given moment, on any given day, Mom would get the news that she had cancer and as far as she knew, it was the first time she'd heard it.

     At some point, it may have been weeks, or days, I don't remember (FYI, that's why I write blogs, I have a spot for all my memories), it was decided that ultimately it was cruel to remind Mom each day that she might have cancer. That page from her notebook disappeared and the chirping of the stuffed birds stopped being interrupted by gasps and shocked exclamations.  Things became routine in the house once again.  The ultimate irony came a year or two later when, just prior to her death, Mom had another chest X-Ray and the spot on her lungs had not grown at all and the cancer diagnosis was removed.  This reaffirmed our decision to remove the page from the memory notebook, but could you imagine how we would have felt if we hadn't?  Elder care is not that different from parenting, you try to get it right all the time, but you rarely do, so you settle for "close enough"  (A quick shout out to my 10th grade Geometry teacher Mr. Weinel, who taught me that "Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and sometimes, dancing")  That's my funny "cancer story", and if we meet on the street and I try and tell it again, feel free to remind me that you've heard it. 

The chirpy birds with their new owner Oretta