Don’t Bring Roses to the Churchyard

 

 

Today would have been my Nana’s 95th birthday.

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If I close my eyes I can see her entire apartment. The plush, swivel, baby blue armchair near the television. The dozens of photos and cards lined up along the top of the miniature organ. The bathroom smelling of rose soap. The half dry geraniums leaning about the window above the kitchen sink.

This is not the room where my grandmother lived out the last few years of her life, or the house she had before, which I cannot remember. It is the apartment where she moved after my grandfather died. The place I went for sleepovers and holiday visits. It is the apartment that I still pass occasionally in my car, craning my neck to see if the new tenants have their lights on.

In this apartment she had exactly three children’s movies on VHS: a video of the Ringling Brothers Circus, the Muppets Christmas Carol, and a Looney Toons cartoon medley. I would sit under a knobby pastel afghan, watching TV with my sister, drinking cokes and sneaking extra peppermint patties from the glass candy dish beside the couch.

She never drank milk, but she always had some in the fridge with a tin of ovaltine in the cupboard. Her dining room table was the only place I ever drank ovaltine – I would not even know where to buy it now – stirring the swirls of powder round and round in her brown plastic tumblers. Of course, she bought the milk and ovaltine for me.

She was allergic to roses, but not any other flowers. At least that is what she said… a little puzzling given the rose soap affinity. But every time we brought her flowers we were careful to specify “No Roses!” to the florist, or to pull the rose-stems out of a grocery store bunch.

I should have showed her my wedding dress. For ten months, it hung wrapped in plastic and tissue at the back of the closet and I did not show it to her.

I wonder if I parked outside her apartment tomorrow, climbed the gray-carpeted stairs and knocked on her door what I would find. Would there be buttery green beans on the table, the local news blaring from the other room, and her enormous tabby cat glowering at me from under a chair?

Here is the recipe for her sandtart cookies… I don’t think she will mind if I share:

  • 3/4 Pound of Butter
  • 1 and 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 and 1/4 cup Flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pecans

Cream the butter & sugar & vanilla, then add the eggs and mix. Next stir in the flour. Roll and cut into squares. Cover with sugar and cinnamon and place slivered pecan on top. Bake at 325 for approximately 10 minutes.

 

Saying ‘No’ to Saying ‘Yes’

In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no.”

For as long as I can remember, I have always had an issue turning things down – be they work obligations, extra-credit assignments in school, party invitations, missing an event or class I’d planned to attend, even casual get-togethers.

People love stating that saying ‘yes’ to everything opens your world to opportunities and new experiences, which it undoubtably does.  However, agreeing to do everything begins to add up – so where is the limit?  I took a course a few years ago, while still a student, on persuasive writing.  The professor informed all the eager students in my section that in a professional setting, or really any setting at all, people want to say ‘yes.’  Saying yes is easier, it’s fun, it makes you feel better about your decision.  The class taught us, among other techniques, how to craft questions that could always be answered in the affirmative, even if that answer was really a ‘no’ in disguise.  So I am certainly not alone in my aversion to saying ‘no.’

Perhaps saying no – picking and choosing each event, obligation or lunch date – is a skill.  In high school I never had to learn how to be judicious with my time.  The school schedule allowed students to pursue music on one afternoon and sports on another – so I could do both!  In college, there was mention of study-life balance as a concept, but there were also semester credit limits to keep us in check, and leave room for dorm parties and movie nights.  Life in your 20ies is a little less organized.  No one is going to tell you that you cannot practice volleyball on Mondays because you have a history test, or that you cannot take 22 credits and write your thesis (not that I ever attempted that many credits!) like the good ol’ days.  The world is full of possibilities, assignments and commitments, and I could say ‘YES’ to ALL of them!

It is not simply that I say ‘yes’ to events or work that I do not want to do.  I say ‘yes’ to things that are interesting or important to me or those around me.  I do want to finish that draft of the assignment for work, AND attend the volunteer event AND meet my friend from out-of-town for dinner, but I cannot do them all the same night.  So then I have to make a choice, and it’s this choice that leads to the stress.  First comes the anxiety about which event to choose, then comes the guilt about turning down the other obligations.  I know it sounds like I stress  a lot about trivial decisions (I’m not saying this is not true) but I also think it is a wide-spread affliction.  People generally hate disappointing other people, and saying ‘no’, we believe, inevitably means we are disappointing someone.

Since discovering my proclivity toward saying ‘yes’, I have tried to say it in more discerning contexts.  It is getting easier to say ‘no’ to an evening at a bar when all I want is bad tv, pretzels and my sofa.  There are two areas, however, that still trip me up.  One is saying ‘no’ to an ongoing obligation, for example, if I am working on a longterm project and have to miss a meeting related to it, I feel like I have failed to show my dedication.  The second is learning to prioritize social and family events, which is especially difficult if they are in conflict with work.  Simply because I could not make a housewarming party does not mean I do not care for my friend or her new 1 bedroom.  Skipping a meeting here or there to catch up on other projects or attend a family dinner does not mean I am not committed to work.  However, I imagine that practice will make perfect, and I will continue to ask myself what I really want instead of just blurting out ‘yes’ to every request.

Resolutions and Revelations – 2014

It is a new year and everyone is posting their new year/new resolutions posts.  I’ve never been one to make resolutions.  However, after coming back from a week of vacation and realizing that there is a lot of clutter in my life that could be better managed these days, I’m feeling like jumping on the new years bandwagon.

I guess I always thought of resolutions as a nagging to-do list that would inevitably be left, at least partially, undone (seldom is it that a full list of resolutions is accomplished, even given a whole year).  Therefore, I avoided the concept and just hoped for improvement in my life along the way as it comes.  But this year I am re-thinking the concept.  A resolution is not something that I must do (okay, okay, I know that you are actually supposed to do them because you resolve to) but something I am aspiring to do.  I want to do these things, and sometimes just standing up and declaring out loud (or on the internet) that this is something I am going to attempt, and possibly fail, is worth it.   Sometimes there is so much going on in life that we forget to try things just for the sake of trying them.  So without further ado, here are the events/goals/projects that I’m going to leap toward!

In no particular order…

  • Remember to put the tooth paste cap back on the tube, every time (starting small helps build momentum for other resolution follow-through, right?)
  • Be kinder to those I see every day
  • Stick to my workout schedule
  • Write an article to be published in my county’s professional newspaper
  • Learn how to wear bright pink lipstick
  • Adopt an animal from a shelter (going to need some concurrence from my husband on this one)
  • Clean out that one back corner of my closet that never gets attention
  • Perfect the confident handshake
  • Play my cello once a month (at least) just for fun
  • Send more handwritten letters

That’s probably enough for now. Bring it on 2014!

Early Owl and My Quest to be a Morning Person

I was not a punctual child.  When i was an elementary school I was never an early riser, and used to groan and growl about day light savings time and changing my clock – specifically in the Spring when things got an hour earlier. 

As I mentioned in my ‘About’ page, I have always been a night owl.  In college things began to shift a little as I realized that being perpetually late for anything before 9am was not going to be an option anymore.  Thankfully, my college had a policy that everything started 10 minutes late. I guess the reasoning was you could walk between classes and still be on time, even if they were back to back and in different buildings.  So my quest to become more of a morning person had begun, but the 10 minute policy certainly hampered my progress.

Next came grad school.  This is where I really started to hone in on my, i’m never going to be late and wake up early attitude.  I took the subway to school so one missed train meant an extra 15 minutes late to class.  I wasn’t the only one who didn’t naturally awake at the crack of dawn.  One professor, about two weeks into the semester, announced to the entire class, “This class starts at 8:15am.  It will always start at 8:15am, and if you are not here by then, you are absent.”  Message received.  I was on time.  A dozen others dropped the class.

Now my schedule is such that I wake up between 5 and 6am depending on the day, the amount of light seeping past the shades and the level of rustling around the apartment by my husband.  I never would have imagined that I would be driving to work at 6am, but you know what… it’s kind of fun.  The streets are quiet.  The air is still and not yet humid with the sticky, clingy dew of Pennsylvania summers.  So maybe I am a morning person after all!