31 May 2011

Memorial

Just a quick post to let you all know I am still here.  I haven't written in over a week - not because I don't love you all, but because so much has been going on.

First of all, we had a confirmation last Sunday.



(Necklace from The Vintage Pearl.)  I tried to keep it small - family and godparents only - but it was still a pretty big production.  Actually, everything is a pretty big production for me these days.  But seeing my second daughter become a card-carrying adult Episcopalian was worth it.

Second, I am taking a writing class with Christina Katz, the Writer Mama.  Pretty much the first thing I did was flub an assignment, so now I am completely behind.  I am, however, getting a fair amount out of the class, and I'll share more about that when I have more time.  In the meantime, though, you should check out her blog.  (Links above and to the right.)  If you want to write professionally, her books are wonderful resources.

Spring has arrived in northern New Jersey.  Actually, we seem to have skipped spring and gone straight to summer.  That's okay, though, because there's a rose-grower in my family who is quite happy with the hot days and mild nights and their effect on his garden.


(The garden hose isn't all that photogenic, I know, but I'm a writer, not an organizer or a photographer.)

We've been to a couple of Yankee games.  (I haven't posted a lot of pictures of myself, so in case you are wondering what I look like, that's me on the lower right.)


And finally, we spent this past weekend in somber contemplation of the memory of those who gave their lives for our freedom.  Okay, maybe not the entire weekend.  In between moments of somber contemplation, we had a little fun in Grandma and Grandpa's pool.


Wishing you alternating hours of somber contemplation and fun, roses and pools, ball games, writing assignments, and coming-of-age ceremonies.  I'll be back soon.  Thanks for being patient with me.

Jennie

20 May 2011

Apocalypse

If you haven't heard by now that the world is scheduled to end tomorrow, let me be the one to break it to you.  I don't follow these things very closely, but apparently there is some preacher somewhere, with a big advertising budget, who claims to have been tipped off about the impending doom.  My Facebook friends are all signed up to participate in the post-Apocalypse looting spree, scheduled to begin right after the Rapture.

Let me be extremely clear about my opinion on this:  it's nonsense.  If there's a God and He plans to end the world, why would He tip off a slick televangelist with a bullhorn and charismatic minions driving tricked-out Apocalypse vans?  If I had heard it from someone who possesses any sort of moral authority whatsoever, I'd be more worried.

And what's to be worried about?  A couple of years ago a dear friend of mine passed away.  She was the type of person who made me think, "if there's a heaven and anyone's going there, she's a shoo-in."  She promised to prop the door open for me.

All that aside, I think that it's probably not a bad exercise to take stock of one's life now and again, and to think about the idea of the world coming to an end.  If today is my last full day on Earth, am I happy with how I am spending it?

The short answer, for me, is "not really."  I don't mean to be whiny about my life, because I am blessed in many ways.  I am healthy, and so is my family.  I have three beautiful children who are pretty much on track to become good people.  My house is a mess, but it's a big old house in a leafy suburb, close to most of my extended family.  My middle daughter is to be confirmed on Sunday, and old friends are coming from miles around to witness the event.  Two of her godparents are flying in from Chicago for the day.  It's hard to ask for better friends than that.  And I am beginning to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a writer.  My blog gives me practice, and I am taking a wonderful online class right now that has already produced some publishable material.

But it's not quite 8:00 in the morning, and I am sitting at a desk in midtown Manhattan, with a pile of paperwork in front of me that interests me not in the least. I long to be home with my children, tidying up my house in preparation for the weekend's festivities, sharing a cup of coffee with one or more of the other moms, or taking care of a few of the household errands and tasks that need to be completed.  I scan the blogosphere (which, I concede, paints a skewed portrait of American women in my age group), and it seems that everyone else has time to care for their families, their homes, and themselves.  There is time for peace, quiet, family, creativity and friendship somewhere in the world - just not here.

If this really were my last day, I'd be home with my husband and children.

What would you be doing?

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Yesterday I created a particularly successful crockpot dinner.  I promised my helper (whose friends read this blog - thank you!) that I would post the "recipe" in this space.  There isn't really a recipe - I just threw a bunch of stuff that was handy into the pot and turned it on, hoping for the best.  It just happened to come out really well.

Empty a can of crushed tomatoes into the crock-pot.  Stir in about a tablespoon of cornstarch, a few beef bouillon cubes, a pinch each of dried oregano and basil, and some black pepper.  I had a plastic jar of dried assorted "gourmet" mushrooms that I got at Costco, so I threw some of those in too.  On top, I placed several frozen boneless, skinless chicken thighs (also bought in bulk at Costco).  I sprinkled a little more salt and pepper on top, covered it, put it on "low," and went to work.

Late in the afternoon my helper gave it a stir, and the chicken broke into a million little pieces and got mixed in with the tomatoey goodness.  We ate the concoction over a bed of rice last night, and there was not a speck left over.

Watch this space!  More about my writing class, and about coming-of-age rituals, soon.

Jennie

17 May 2011

A Brief Multiple Choice Quiz



1.  Jennie hasn’t posted on her blog in a while because:

a)  Blogger went down last week
b)  She’s lazy
c)  There’s a lot going on
d)  All of the above

2.  The panhandler’s sign at the deli yesterday said:

a)  “Parents killed by ninjas.  Need money for karate lessons for revenge.”
b)  “Give to the United Negro Pizza Fund.”
c)  “My unemployment ran out.”
d)  “Support my addiction now or pay for my rehab later - your choice.”

3.  My daughter had a substitute in math class yesterday because the regular teacher was on a:

a)  Jury
b)  Bender
c)  Field trip
d)  Plane

4.  As of this writing, the Yankees have lost how many games in a row?

a) Three
b) Four
c) Six
d) Five

5.  The Rapture can’t take place on Saturday because:

a) My daughter is being confirmed on Sunday and I have prepaid the caterer
b) My laundry isn’t caught up
c) The Yankees are on a losing streak
d) All of the above

6.  The substitute math teacher doesn’t know what she’s talking about because she says:

a) 1 isn’t a prime number
b) Core math students don’t ever move into the mainstream
c) Time travel is impossible
d) Algebra and geometry are unrelated

7.  According to the sages of suburbia, the most important birthday of your life is your:

a)  Hundredth
b) Sixteenth
c) First
d) Fortieth

8.  I am insulted because:

a)  The butcher thinks I don’t know that chuck steak is for the crock-pot and not the grill
b)  No one ever makes an effort to spell my name with an “ie”
c)  Both of the above
d)  None of the above

9.  I unsubscribed from a blog for the first time ever today because:

a)  The blogger unsubscribed from my blog
b)  I got sick of all the typos and bad grammar
c)  I got bored with all the fabric-covered pencil holders
d)  The blogger posted a picture of herself with Mitt Romney and said she supported his efforts to “restore America’s dignity”

10.  The guy who makes my lattes at the Starbucks across the street is named:

a)  William
b)  Carlos
c)  William Carlos Williams
d)  Jeff

Answers below.  How did you do?

1) d; 2) a; 3) c; 4) c; 5) d; 6) a; 7)b; 8)c; 9) d; 10)b

08 May 2011

To Mothers

Here's to the silent heroines of everyday life.

Here's to our mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, sisters, girlfriends, and aunties.  To our godmothers, our teachers, our mentors, our partners, and our wives.

Here's to the women who gave birth to us and adopted us, and who married our fathers.  Those who live in freedom, and became mothers by choice, and those who don't, who had no say in the matter.  Those who fight for custody.  Those whose prayers to become parents have not been answered, and those whose have.  Those who have shouldered the responsibility without complaint.

Here's to those who parent with a partner, and those who go it alone.  To those who stay at home, and to those who work elsewhere.  We know you all earn a living for your families.

To those with tiny newborns, who would give anything for a rest.  To those with toddlers, who wish for peace and quiet.  To those with teenagers, watching them test their wings, and catching them when they fall.  To those who help with the math homework, who waitress late into the night to pay the college tuition, and who pace their empty nests because the worry never goes away.  To those who babysit the grandkids.  And to those with elderly parents, who care for them without complaint. 

To those who pack lunches, drag us to worship services, mend our clothes, dry our tears, and (sometimes) cause them.  To those who cook, and those who order in.

To those who visit their children in jail, in the hospital, or in far-off places.  To those who, despite their docile nature, have ever screamed at a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a lawyer, a legislator, or a learning specialist.  Here's to those who march and lobby, who raise funds and write and complain.  We know you do it only out of love.

To those who mourn and spend their long nights wondering what could have been.  To those who have gone on to their rest.  To those who have lost the irreplaceable - on the battlefield, in the intensive care unit, and in the delivery room.  To those who will never be the same.

To those who receive diamonds today, to those who receive hand-scribbled cards, and to those who receive nothing.

Here's to women everywhere.  To feminists and traditionalists.  To those on the cutting edge, and to those who hang back.  We owe you everything.  Thank you.

02 May 2011

Osama

I went to bed on the early side last night, so I did not hear the news of Osama Bin Laden's death until this morning, when I went downstairs to the kitchen and flipped on the television news in the hopes of getting a weather report.  The news showed pictures of great crowds of people rejoicing, primarily in New York City.  Throngs had been out all night in Times Square and at the World Trade Center, waving flags and singing patriotic songs.

At the end of the summer in 2001, my husband and I were on a little bit of a fitness kick.  We had developed a habit of getting up early and driving to the local community center for a swim before work.  My husband is a very good swimmer; he competed in high school and then taught swimming in college.  I, on the other hand, am a terrible swimmer.  I paddle slowly in the grandma lane while my husband cuts smooth laps at the athletic end of the pool.  One of these days I am going to take some swimming lessons so that I can actually swim a recognizable stroke.  I enjoy it, so it would be nice to be competent at it.

But, as usual, I digress.  On Tuesday, September 11, we were running a little late after our morning swim, and we did not get to the George Washington Bridge until around 8:30 AM, or possibly a few minutes later. It was a beautiful morning, and the sun dazzled and danced off the Hudson River.  Just as we approached the bridge, something happened.  Far down across the river, we could see smoke.  Traffic came to a sudden and instantaneous halt.  We flipped on the radio.  The traffic reporter said that there had been an accident; a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.

"That's not an accident," my husband said.  "You don't accidentally fly a commercial jetliner that low to the ground."

I pulled out my Blackberry and e-mailed Patrick, the partner at my law firm with whom I had been working.  "I'm going to be delayed," I told him.  "Something has happened that has caused some significant traffic at the bridge."

He e-mailed back almost immediately:  "Go home and stay there.  Be safe."

Traffic on the highway was reversed, and all the cars on the bridge turned around and headed slowly back to New Jersey.  After a few minutes, we knew more about what had happened.  I e-mailed my dad to tell him I was safe.  He responded that the Pentagon was also under attack and, like Patrick, instructed me to go home.  We stopped at the bank and took out some money; we did not yet know the scope of the attacks, and my husband feared that we might have to flee the metropolitan area.  We picked up the children from school and sent the nanny home.  We watched television.  We saw the towers fall.  Fighter jets scrambled overhead and drowned out my sister's voice when she called to see whether we were okay.

We sat in silence for a long time, and then I said, "I'm going to go donate blood."

I drove to the blood bank and waited in an extremely long line.  Tents had been pitched in the parking lot to accommodate the large numbers of volunteer donors.  I was fast-tracked because I have the type of blood they anticipated needing the most, and I ended up donating on a bus parked outside the blood center.  As I was filling out the paperwork, I asked the man sitting next to me, "What's today's date?"

He looked at me wide-eyed, as though that were an unbelievable question.  "September 11, 2001," he said slowly.

I don't think they used my blood that day.  There were very few injuries requiring it, actually; people either lived or died.  If they lived, their illnesses were not immediately apparent and were not of the type that required blood transfusions.  If they died, they died almost instantly.

It was probably about a week before we were able to get back to work.  I spent my lunch hours wandering Grand Central Station, reading the missing-person posters pasted up by the bereaved and desperate.  There were photographs of lost loved ones everywhere.  My office conducted a disaster drill once or twice, and once we were evacuated for a bomb scare that turned out to be just that - a scare, nothing more.

I was lucky, but my life was not unaffected by the events of that day.  That winter, I quit my job to stay home with my children.  I did not want to end up on a poster.  I wanted to see my children grow up.  No job in a prestigious law firm was more important to me than that.  I had never before experienced visceral fear.  The fear was not of death, but of loss of the future.  Of not seeing my son shave.  Of not seeing my daughter in a bridal gown.  Of not holding a grandchild in my arms.  I could not live with that kind of fear.

So this morning, when I saw the news on the TV while I was unloading the dishwasher, I paused, dishes in hand.  I looked at the people in Times Square.  I remembered the old Jewish tradition that when the waters of the Red Sea drowned the Egyptian army, the angels in heaven were forbidden to rejoice, for the Egyptians too were children of God, and the death of any of His children, no matter how evil, causes Him pain.  I reflected on that for a moment - how difficult it is to live up to such a standard, given the pain and suffering caused to so many people by the man who died last night.

Then, I collected myself and went upstairs to wake the children.