The truth about love


It’s a rainy day and I sit for a minute staring out at the trees beyond the Maplewood parking lot. I check my phone again, just in case. The reception out here is really bad I tell myself. Then I gather up the flowers, mom’s green jacket and a travel mug filled with *real* coffee for mom and head inside. She thinks they don’t give her real coffee here. Once she drinks it she always tells me to hide the cup so they won’t see. I tell her every time that it’s OK , that I can bring her coffee, but she’s never convinced.

As I walk to the entrance a man drives up in a car wearing thick heavy framed glasses and a touring cap. I wonder for a minute if he’s a resident in the assisted living side, but he parks in the guest parking and follows me into the lobby, his gait slow and uneven . He is known by the receptionist, and I realize I am too now as she takes the jacket I’ve brought that will need to be washed. I don’t have to tell her, she already knows who my mom is.

At the elevator I wait and hold the door open button as the man gets on too. I ask what floor he’s going to. 3, -the same as me- I say too brightly. His face seems open and inquisitive. We make eye contact for a moment and I feel that familiar flash of empathy that I often get with fellow visitors here. He comments on the prettiness of the Jerusalem artichoke flowers I’ve cut from the garden in a thick New England accent; the accent I associate with my grandparents, farms, wood stoves and an utter lack of bullshit. I notice he’s missing a tooth when he smiles as we part ways on the floor, going to opposite wings.

Mom likes the flowers. She is surprised they are blooming now. I remind her it’s October. She drinks her coffee quickly and tells me to hide the cup

Someone on the staff has given my mom a copy of The Lovely Bones from the library. Mom has asked me to read it to her. I am doubtful of the wisdom of this, but she insists, so I oblige. Books have always been a bond for us. She stops me to cry at almost every page. “Mom, is this too sad- should I stop reading?” She wants to keep going. At one point, Susie, the narrator, mentions Breakfast at Tiffany’s and mom starts to cry again. “I saw that movie many years ago. It was the last movie I ever saw. Who was in it? Was it color or black and white?”

“Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, color, and I don’t think that was the last movie you ever saw, was it?”

She is inconsolable.

But on we read. After an hour and a half I tell her it’s time for me to go and she grabs my hand.

“I’m afraid. You shouldn’t have come by yourself.”

“I’ll be fine, mom. It’s broad daylight. There’s plenty of people around.”

I take the coffee cup and an aide badges me out of the unit.

Sitting on a couch directly facing the elevators is the man from earlier with his wife. Their arms are entwined and he sits very close to her, their hands clasped, but she isn’t looking at him. She stares at the floor in the opposite direction, her face expressionless. He looks the other way, out the rainy window at the trees beyond the parking lot.

I know nothing about them but I think I know everything:

The trip here is the one and only focus of his day.

The physical closeness he has to her here is vital to him

They once saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a theater when they were dating.

He will do this every day until he can no longer physically do it.

Then I notice a little gap of his belly because his shirt is a bit too small. Maybe it shrank in the dryer or he has put on a little weight. He hasn’t gotten a new shirt since she came here. That was something she did. And he will never think to buy another shirt for himself.

The elevator dings as it’s doors open. His face begins to turn from the window as I frantically push the door close button so he won’t see me start to cry.


came to New Hampshire from an overcrowded kill shelter somewhere in the south. Dad said when she got to the farm she just ran around  and around in big excited circles, you know, the way dogs do. I’d always thought mom said she came up on a plane full of rescued dogs but dad says it was a van. But the image of a plane has stuck with me, and I guess that’ s why instead of seeing her crossing the rainbow bridge, my brain has put her up in a sunny sky on a plane full of dogs , bound for somewhere even better than New Hampshire, a place with no fences or leashes.

She was my parents dog but her death has left me feeling gutted. In what is turning out to be an extremely emotionally challenging year, Bella, with her warm comforting heaviness against me in the bed, her reassuring pull ever forward on our walks, the uncomplicated grounding goodness of her doggie soul, had become my personal furry four legged life preserver. She was the one family member I wasn’t worried about and obsessing over.   And then suddenly there we were three weeks ago, the kind, soft spoken vet Dr Neely handing me a box of Kleenex.

I can’t help think of the well meaning advice how worrying about things doesn’t help the situation- but maybe if I just hadn’t been so self absorbed, maybe if I’d paid more attention to her instead of just leaned on her, maybe I would have noticed something sooner and we could have saved her. Maybe if I’d just worried more….

Because she was the one mental flank I left unguarded and now I’ve lost her.

I hope she’s too busy running in big excited dog circles where she is now to care about any of this human bullshit angst.

Run free, sweet girl…


A Moment of Clarity

Just reposting this because I’m so happy for all the William & Alistairs out there.


William and Alistair were the first gay couple I ever knew. I have known them as far back as I can remember. They lived in the house next to my grandparents farm. William’s family had used the former colonial inn as a summer house for years, and now William and his partner Alistair lived there year round. On summer vacations as an only child expected to entertain myself, I would often wander next door to William and Alistair’s house. I would play in their beautiful gardens, sometimes being invited in to chat.  William was a schoolteacher and Alistair just liked to talk, so there was always something interesting to discuss- a Luna moth I’d seen, the meaning of an epitaph on a headstone in the cemetery across the road, or  stories from their own childhoods in Holland and New York. Their two golden retrievers accompanied me for many long happy walks in the woods and fields…

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My Idiotic Bucket List: An Update

Back in 2012 I posted My Idiotic Bucket List.
It was one of those spur of the moment, hastily written posts that now leaves me scratching my head and thinking “That was your list? Really?” I guess it’s OK. I might want to give it some more thought. But in the meantime, thanks to the people at Pulse, I am checking one thing off my list, which is/was #9: Get one thing published. Although my little story is not published on actual paper, it had to go through an editor and be accepted and lord knows this might never happen again!- so I’m counting it. I am very flattered that they felt it worthy of their publication because just like here on WordPress, there are some truly talented authors and fantastic writing over at Pulse. If you are at all interested in reading firsthand accounts of aspects of the healthcare experience, I urge you to check them out. Here is my first ever published piece:

And since I took one thing off my list, I’m going to add something, and that is:
Go to a They Might Be Giants concert with Erik. They were in Chapel Hill and Charlotte last year and we missed both shows. It was a most epic of failures. Next time they’re here in NC, even if we have to totally skip school and work, we’re GOING.

Valentine’s Day Message

Today at the nail salon I happen to notice I have a voicemail on my phone. I don’t recognize the area code. I Google it and see it is a Florida area code. I settle back in the chair, feet soaking in the hot water and dial voicemail…waiting to hear the message. A soft southern accented, slightly quavery voice begins to sing.
“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Master Gunneryyy. Your sister loves you… and so does Leeza.” There is a pause and then the voice says: “I may have gotten the day wrong. Well, if somebody’s listening to this, I’m not crazy, I’m just ninety. God bless you. I love you.” End of message.
I giggle and tell Tina. She laughs “Aw, you should call her back.”

I wait until I leave the noise of the salon and am standing in my driveway at home to call. It’s been so dreary the past few days and the sun feels good on my face. The phone rings a few times and then picks up. I recognize the voice. Before I can say anything, her answering machine picks up and we both wait patiently until it finishes, just like my own grandmother and I would do when I used to call her. I explain who I am and she is understandably a little confused.
“Is this Christina?”
I explain again.
“Oh. I was trying to call my brother who lives in Jacksonville, NC”
“I live in Jacksonville, NC too. Your brother and I must have similar numbers.”
“My brother is 89 years old.” Her voice sounds wistful to me, as though she can hardly believe her little brother is that age. I see in my head a photograph of my own grandmother with her brother and sister from the 1920s; their little booted feet, their faces serious. “He’s a retired Master gunnery Sgt. He fought in three wars.”
I tell her my husband is also a retired Marine. We chat for a few minutes and then she thanks me rather formally, calling me ma’am and telling me she was glad she was close to the phone and was able to take my call. I tell her to take care and we say good-bye.

After I hang up I stand there for a while next to the car. Maybe it’s because I lost my last grandparent a year ago in December; my grandfather who was 90 and a World War II vet, but I suddenly feel transported to the kitchen of their house in Florida. The phone with the over sized numbers hangs on the wall. All our numbers in Gram’s handwriting are there on a manila folder tacked to a corkboard. I am filled with such an intense longing to hear their voices, my eyes tear up. Happy Birthday Master Guns. God bless you. Your sister loves you and she’s not crazy, just ninety. I wish I could hug you both.

How to Make Nutritionally Dubious Enchiladas the Way ~K Does

Step 1.
Give in to requests to make Enchiladas and get ingredients at store.
You will need:
1 package tortillas. I like Banderita, myself. But that’s just me.
1 big or 2 small packages of ground beef.
An onion
A bell pepper
2 cans of enchilada sauce
Sour cream
Monterey Jack cheese, 2 blocks
1 large package of shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 packet of toxic burrito or taco seasoning.

Step 2.
A day or two after buying the above ingredients, go to kitchen

Step 3.
Realize the ground beef is still frozen solid in the freezer and those little metal clampy things on the ends of the package will preclude defrosting in the microwave.

Step 4.
Announce that we will have to go out for Chinese tonight instead. Try to sound convincingly disappointed.

Step 5.
The next day, repeat Step 2.

Step 6.
Plug in MP3 player to kitchen speakers and open cabinet where K-cups are kept. Fret that there will not be enough to last until the next club shipment and tell self you’ve had enough coffee today anyway, so forget the coffee.

Step 7.
Remember this is not Soviet Russia and you can get K-cups anywhere any old time.

Step 8.
Make a cup of Italian Roast.

Step 9.
Stand around drinking it while sorting through a pile of mail on the kitchen table.

Step 10.
Eventually look for glass baking dish. It is not in the cabinet.

Step 11.
3 quarters of an hour later, finally discover the dish on the floor of your son’s bedroom where he is using it to sort this gigantic pillow case full of coins he has been amassing under his bed, into those little bank roll things. Also discover the missing marinade container and that deviled egg platter thing.

Step 12.
Marvel at the amount of money your son has collected (>$500!) and suggest he take you out to dinner with that money. Say you're just kidding. Try to sound like you mean it.(This is an optional step)

Step 13.
Repeat step 2. Glance at clock. Rinse dish.

Step 14.
Squish the ground beef out into a big sauté pan and brown it.

Step 15.
While it’s browning chop up onion and pepper. Realize you should have done this step first and after sautéing veggies, added the beef. Shrug. Keep going.

Step 16.
Cut up Monterey Jack cheese into chunks, a chunk for each tortilla. Give a piece to your adoring canine companion who is gazing up at you with a look that you know says “You are the best chef and mommy ever.” Reply “Aww, thanks, baby girl.” Give her another piece of cheese.

Step 17.
Dump contents of enchilada sauce cans into saucepan turn heat to medium

Step 18.
Stir the beef and onion and pepper mixture. Think you should drain beef but this super expensive Emeril pan G bought is just too damn heavy.(Seriously, it must weigh like, 50 lbs. Emeril doesn’t look that strong on tv) Decide to skip that step, rationalizing you’re using 97% lean beef anyway.

Step 19.
Give Blossom another piece of cheese when she wags her tail to let you know she thinks you made the right decision. As per always.

Step 20.
Add toxic flavor packet to ground beef according to directions.

Step 21.
Glop some sour cream into pan of enchilada sauce and stir it in, until the sauce turns a nice orange color.

Step 22.
Pour a little enchilada sauce on the bottom of baking dish. And then in a pie plate.

Step 23.
Realize you forgot to turn oven on. Do that now. 350 degrees sounds about right.

Step 24.
Dip each tortilla in sauce in pie plate and flip over coating each one. Spoon some beef mixture in each and one chunk of Monterey Jack. Then roll up tortilla and place in dish. Warning! This is a very messy step.

Step 25.
Repeat this step until you have run out of tortillas and filled the dish, all the while trying to guesstimate how much beef to put in each one so there will be enough for each. Wind up with one very overstuffed enchilada.

Step 26.
Pour all remaining sauce over the top and dump bag of grated Mexican cheese over everything and place in oven for 30 minutes, give or take.

Step 27.
Survey kitchen and smile with a sense of a job well done and the carb-o-luscious nutritionally dubious meal that will be ready in just under 30 minutes.

Step 28.
And the grateful husband and son who will eat said nutritionally dubious meal.

Step 29.
And the fact that someone else is going to clean up.

Step 30.
Give the dog some cheese.

Buen Provecho!

Last Day/First Day


The thermometer on the back porch says it is 10 degrees Fahrenheit when we set out on an afternoon walk with Bella on the last day of the year 2013. Fortunately for our thin blooded coastal North Carolina living selves there is not the faintest whisper of wind and the sun is shining brightly on this frigid New Hampshire day. I share Bella’s doggie-zen enthusiasm as I breathe in the sharp cold air as we walk from the wood shed out into the white landscape.

I stop to take the above picture and Erik says
“Mom! An owl!” It has flown over my head and I only see it from behind as it glides away over the snow covered garden. It looks off white in color. Erik had been looking in the other direction and had gotten to see it’s face.
“I think it was a barn owl.”
I think of barn owl faces. Their dark eyes and white face a disconcerting mask that betrays no emotion, at least not one recognizable to humans. This was probably the one I heard last night as I was brushing my teeth for bed. I had stopped mid brush and looked out the window. There was no moon or streetlights and I was unable to make out even the silhouette of the nearby hills. My little mammal heart shivered at the thought of that owl perched somewhere watching, it’s bird heart beating in steady alien-like tolerance of the deep sub zero cold. The myths surrounding owls as harbingers of death seemed completely obvious and reasonable as I curled up under the electric blanket.

Today I just smile and marvel at the complete absence of sound it made as it flew over. A winter’s day here is so quiet anyway, there are no leaves to rustle, no outside voices besides our own. If Erik and I were mice, his warning would have come too late and owl would have got me.

Later, sitting on stools and drinking tea in my uncle’s warm kitchen, we discuss the owl sighting.
“It could have been a Snowy Owl. They’ve been coming down from Canada.”
“It was a light color, but maybe not pure white. It all happened so quick. Erik saw it’s face.”
“I think it was a barn owl.”
My uncle is a woodsman, that is he manages people’s forested properties and often works alone in the woods. He once told me he would never get a license to hunt a bear. ” Oh no. I don’t want to ruin my karma. You leave me alone, Mr Bear, and I’ll leave you alone.” His eyes twinkled.
Now he smiles, the laugh lines around his eyes crinkling up
“Well, I think seeing an owl, especially a Snowy Owl, on the last day of the year, that would have to be a very lucky sign.”
I suppose it depends on which mythology you choose.
Polish= An owl is the ghost of a married woman.
Japanese= An owl is good luck, an ancestral spirit
Native American= Symbol of death, unlucky or a spirit
Old English = Unlucky omen
Roman/greek – Symbol of wisdom
Modern day- An owl is wise
Target= An owl is very trendy and looks good on clothing, cups and kitchen appliances
Me= owl is a very unique and fascinating life form. You leave me alone Mr. Owl, and I’ll leave you alone.
But maybe you don’t get to choose the mythology. maybe the mythology chooses you.
Anywho….Ha-ha….Sorry. =)

Sonya says: Nevermind the last day, it’s the first day of the year that matters, and whatever you do on that day is indicative of how you will spend the rest of the year.
On the first day of 2014 I spent the day driving away from New Hampshire, outrunning a monster snowstorm. Dad, Erik and I stopped for the night in N.J. and we all shared a room. The next morning dad said,
“You must have been having a nightmare. You screamed in your sleep.”
“Yeah, mom. You woke us up.”
“Did I?”
I am embarrassed and a little creeped out because I’ve been doing this a lot lately.
I can’t often remember the dreams, but this one I do.
I was back in the room at the farm, not facing the window, filled with a sense of dread. A barn owl sat outside on a Mapletree branch, staring in, compelling me to turn over, raise the shade, and look it in the eyes.