Aging Out of Halloween?

Our son John, 14, is on the fence about Halloween tonight. He’s the youngest of six and we haven’t rushed him to put away childish things like trick-or-treating.  His friend Will already gave up Halloween two years ago, opting instead to stay home and hand out candy to the younger visitors in his neighborhood. John has made tentative plans but we have the feeling this may be the last time. I know one thing: he’ll be ready to give up Halloween before I am.

You can’t do Halloween without youthful accomplices, either your own or someone else’s.  Unless you are invited to one of those adult Halloween parties that require you to dress like a naughty nurse. Was it just yesterday that I was dressing my daughter, now 27, in a pink stretchy and bunny ears? How many flashlight batteries did we burn through as we lurked on the sidewalk, fidgeting in the cold, while our kids ran eagerly from door to door? The parade of costumes is marching through my head, their order blurred by the passage of time: the clown collar and hat I made for my son, now 24; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Sonic the Hedgehog outfits; the year my daughter dressed as a football player and my son as a cheerleader; the year my Evan-Picone white coat became a pimp’s costume; the ghouls and ninjas and arguments over which costumes looked too bloody; the year son Ben dressed himself as a bag of trash; John’s portrayal of wrestler C.M. Punk last year, in which he looked less like Punk and eerily like big brother Jesse.  Last year was the first time we let him go around unsupervised, although it was in a familiar and well-lit neighborhood that could be easily conquered for a quick and generous haul.

As I wrote a year ago, our neighborhood gets few visitors at Halloween because we are on a lonely country road.  The small children who once lived next store – the only reasons we bought candy during the last week of October – moved to California last month.  Still, as long as our youngest is into Halloween, the Styrofoam tombstone and plastic skull will take their place beside the tasteful mums in the front yard. We’ll gingerly scrape out seeds and pulp from a boulder-sized pumpkin, place a candle inside it and revel in the holiday’s cheesy ghoulishness.

What happens when he is no longer into it? Will it happen next year, or the year after?

Last night I visited our basement freezer and found dozens of candy bars and bags, leftover from John’s adventures last Halloween.  We had gorged ourselves last Halloween night, gradually tapering off to one candy item each day after that, until we were sick of sweets.  The leftover candy was inedible, tasting of freezer burn; not sure why we kept it that long.

The memories of those past Halloweens are still unspoiled by time.  So tonight we will send John, dressed in his Homer Simpson costume, into the darkness once again. We’ll wait for him to return home, hoping for a generous number of Three Musketeers bars.  I’ll eat at least three of them and hope we get another chance next year.

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Sandy: Stirring up a Storm of Memories

The blizzard of 1978.

Like the buildup to a Mohammed Ali/Joe Frazier fight, the buildup to Hurricane Sandy’s most bruising hours is filled with anticipation. School is canceled; stores are closed; trash collection postponed; many are ready to stay put for a long time. As we listen to the doleful TV weather reporters, we wait for the storm’s first jabs to turn into a steady pummeling.

At 11 a.m. I’m watching the treetops begin to stir more vigorously and listening to the first winds tapping gently against the windows. By 1 p.m. the towering elms surrounding backyard begin to do the limbo, like crazed summer party guests after too much tequila.

We’ve stocked up on AA batteries, bottled water and food that doesn’t need refrigeration. We’ve gassed up the car, filled our bathtub with emergency water and filled our wallets with fresh 20s from the ATM. We’ve brainstormed about what to do if our 10-pound dog has to go to the bathroom when Sandy is hitting her hardest, haunted by visions of Toto being carried off to Oz.

While I have plenty of chores I could be doing, this it the perfect time to remember storms from my past. We were lucky that we escaped their most destructive effects, and the passage of time has romanticized them somewhat. A hurricane’s landfall always meant a windfall of time, which could be spent with loved ones. Here are some of them:

1. Hurricane Hazel, 1954 – I was an infant but my mom still talks about this destructive storm. Like Sandy, it was an

The aftermath of Hurricane Hazel, 1954

“extratropical” storm that picked up juice from a second front rather than from being over water. It was so bad that they never used “Hazel” for a hurricane name again.
2. Christmas snowstorm from mid-60s. The roads in my eastern Pennsylvania town were impassable but we put on our knee-high snow boots and trudged to church. We felt like we were in a Currier and Ives print.
3. Blizzard of 1978 – A snow plow driver in our New England town told me that his plow broke during this blizzard, so wet and heavy was the snow.

The path of Hurricane Bob

4. Hurricane Bob, 1991. Went to Martha’s Vineyard shortly afterwards. In early September all the leaves had been stripped from the trees because of the salt water sprays. Bees looked frantically for something sweet because all the flowers had died; two found their way into my son’s orange soda and eventually to his arm.
5. Huge snowstorm, January 1996. My children and their friends dug tunnels on our front lawn; our good friend broke his snowplow trying to clear our driveway. My son Ryan, then 7, offered to clean off my car. As I chatted on my phone with a friend, still in my bathrobe, I looked out the window and saw Ryan using a metal shovel to clean the snow off my old Toyota, which afterwards had more nicks than a Greek picnic.
6. April Fool’s Day Snowstorm, 1997 – My fiancé/now husband worked for days in the dark, without power, and slept in front of the fireplace. I talked to him many times from my home 300 miles away and wished I could have been with him.
7. Hurricane Katrina, 2005 – The scenes of destruction from New Orleans are still haunting, seven years later.
8. Early 2011 snowstorms. This blizzard seemed to last the entire month of January. Fresh snowfalls always arrived

Our home after one of the many snowstorms of January 2011.

on Tuesdays, the one day of the week when I could not work from home. By late March New England was covered with a dirty gray permafrost that we thought would never go away. The last patch of icy crud finally disappeared in April.
9. Hurricane Irene, August, 2011. The wedding of our friends’ daughter – in a tent – took place the night before, as sheets of rain began to fall. While everybody was a soggy and frizzy mess, we will never forget being in a candlelit tent, battened down enough to keep out the wind and rain, and listening to wonderful talks about love and commitment as the storm raged outside. We were lucky that we did not lose our power for long…one of our neighbors was without power for five days; others in Massachusetts for much longer.

What is your most vivid memory of a past storm? I am sure there are many that I am forgetting! Better post this before my power goes out.

Why I Canceled ‘More’ Magazine

This was a post from long ago, when I had no followers!  Wanted to re-blog to see how others felt!

The Sandwich Lady

Is there any other midlife woman out there who gets annoyed when she reads MORE magazine?
I canceled my subscription last year after their story about Nancy Pelosi. The story itself, by Lynn Scherr, was great…well-balanced, neither fawning nor trashing. What bugged me was the tease for it on the cover: “The most hated woman in America.”
Who are they talking about? I wondered, since the tease did not include a name. Is it the woman who drowned her kids? Ruth Madoff? Casey Anthony?
Instead, their “most hated woman” could indeed be the epitome of MORE’s target reader: middle-aged or older, impossibly well-coifed, impossibly well-dressed, well-spoken and rich. A woman who has everything except self-doubt.
And that’s what else bothered me, beyond MORE’s assumption that Pelosi is universally hated. MORE is more or less for older women who have the world figured out. Does that include you?
I’ll admit that…

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In Praise of ‘Casserole Catholics’

During vice presidential debates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan were asked what it meant to be a Catholic in public office. Biden talked about social justice; Ryan about religious freedom. I am amazed that this is still a hot topic 50 years after JFK, our only Catholic president, elected despite people’s concerns over his Catholicism.

I am a lapsed Catholic who hasn’t been inside a church in years. Like many others who’ve left the fold, I feel angry…at the church’s attitude towards gays, women and birth control; at the pedophile priests; at the crackdown on nuns who the Vatican thinks are too concerned with social justice and not toeing the line on Catholic dogma. Yet despite not being a practicing Catholic I still feel as if the church is a part of me. And I’m frankly angry that the most strident factions of the Catholic church have come to define its image.

As I write this I am looking out the window at our neighbor Ed, who is aerating our lawn. Normally my husband Bob would be doing this – Bob and Ed for the past several years have split the cost of renting an aerator for this annual fall ritual. But last week Bob fell down our deck stairs at night while trying to take our dog out for his pre-bedtime ritual, and now he is hobbled by a boot and crutches. Ed graciously offered to push this 200-pound aerator around our yard when Bob couldn’t.

Ed is what I describe as a “casserole Catholic,” those who wear their Catholicism like a humble brown robe rather than like a cardinal’s red cloak. He doesn’t preach or try to foist his ideals on everyone else. He and his wife Margie attend Mass every Saturday evening; Ed volunteers with the St. Vincent DePaul Society, which quietly helps people in need. Casserole Catholics quietly reach out to injured neighbors with casseroles, rides home from school for their children, comforting phone calls and offers of support.

This is the essence of the Catholic faith…not the fight over whether Catholic employers have the right to deny birth control, or whether a fertilized egg is a human being, or whether gay couples should have the right to marry. It’s in the Catholic nuns who work among the poor (as Nicholas Kristof, the brilliant New York Times columnist, pointed out, a few of them defy their church by handing out condoms in AIDs-ravaged African countries.) It’s in the story of St. Theresa, the saint who made it a habit to do good deeds in secret, without expecting a gold star or a feature story in the press.

Indeed, the best parts of all Judeo-Christian religions can be summed up not in Leviticus, or Revelations, or the story of Abraham, but in the Beatitudes:

• Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 3)
• Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. (Verse 4)
• Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Verse 5)
• Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. (Verse 6)
• Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Verse 7)
• Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. (Verse 8)
• Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Verse 9)
• Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 10)

No Longer Attracted

These magnets are now homeless because for the first time our refrigerator is not magnetic.

This afternoon we took delivery of a brand new stainless steel refrigerator, and I was dismayed to find out that my magnets will not stick to it. Now I have dozens of magnets with no place to go, and I have no idea where to put our calendar.

Our old fridge (an LG…DO NOT BUY!!!!) died the other day, after eight years of temperamental service. It was a sleek and beautiful French door model, and it still looked brand new. But it was full of annoying quirks, such as a beeper that sounded if you had the door open for one minute, which made it a hassle to put groceries away. The food in the back of the fridge frequently froze; the vegetable doors were prone to cracking and falling off track; the gaskets twice became flaccid and useless. Finally, last Monday, I noticed the ice in the ice-maker was melting and the food in the fridge had grown warm. The refrigerator would hum briefly, then I’d hear a click and it would be silent. After researching and talking with repair guys and with friends who’ve buried refrigerators, we got a grim diagnosis: a busted compressor, which is like Alzheimers for fridges. Faced with at least a $600 repair bill – and filled with tales about LG’s notoriously slow delivery for parts – we decided to replace it instead. We shuttled our food to a 30-year-old GE refrigerator in the basement (which still runs beautifully although it guzzles power like Gatorade) and went shopping for a new one.

So today Lee and Chad, two burly delivery guys from Frank’s Appliance Store, took away the LG – which still looked

Our new refrigerator: gorgeous but no magnetism.

beautiful, like Blanche DuBois being carted off to the asylum – and brought in a new Amana, a dead ringer for the old LG. But when I went to put the big magnetic clip on the new fridge so I could hang up the calendar, it did not stick.

This is a disaster. I have never owned or rented a refrigerator without owning at least one magnet to go on it. My first refrigerator magnet was a plain black button on our battered fridge at a rental in Avalon, New Jersey, where I’d spend summers with friends when I was in my 20s. It held a cartoon from Cosmo magazine that had a woman saying to a guy at a bar, “Yes, I’m multi-orgasmic…and you?”

Over the years we’ve collected enough magnets to remind us of all the places we’ve been, the friends who gave us the magnets, the places we have dined, orthodontists and repair companies that have taken our money. For about a year our refrigerator was covered with hundreds of magnetic words from which we could create our own witty phrases. My favorite was when our son Ben anchored a photo of my husband to the fridge with the words “no” and “patience.”

Now we have magnetic bottle openers, magnetic clips strong enough to hold a big calendar, magnetic goofy sayings, magnetic photos of Hearst Castle, Nantucket, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. We have a very hard time parting with them…if they are not on the refrigerator they go into a drawer.

The magnets of course collected papers to go under them, until our refrigerator looked like a cluttered bulletin board, the papers rustling when we open the door, which is frequently. It looked tacky but I couldn’t help myself. Whenever we’d have people over I’d usually take all the magnets and paper and store them somewhere so that the refrigerator looked sleek and glamorous. Then the day after the party I’d carefully place the magnets back on the refrigerator in an attractive grid pattern and weed out some of the papers, so that it looked at least like a neat bulletin board. But within days the clutter had returned like a toenail fungus that won’t go away, and the fridge looked junky again.

So now I have a refrigerator that will end my magnet addiction for good. It will always look as pristine as it did in the showroom last night. My guests will admire it. But I’ll have trouble remembering appointments, school picture days, and when they collect the recyclables until I have a new system. And I’ll need to visit the old magnets in my junk drawer to re-read the stories they told.

This is a wonderful post by a member of Gen Y…if you are a Baby Boomer your children are probably having many of these same thoughts.

Gen Y Girl

My senior year of high school, I had the genius idea of taking AP Physics, AP Calculus, and AP Statistics, all at the same time.

I pushed myself so hard that year all because I wanted to earn college credits and therefore graduate from college in less than four years.

I did that.

I started working a full-time job at the age of 19 and earned my bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

I figured that if I got my degree early and had some experience under my belt, I’d be ahead of the game career-wise and would be taking steps towards my journey up the quote-on-quote career ladder. If I did this, I would be a few steps closer to becoming the VP of some great company where my work would consume all of my energy every day.

That’s what success looked like most of my life.

I was…

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Is Career Passion Overrated?

In a column in the New York Times on Sunday, Georgetown University Professor Cal Newport put forth a daring concept: that most people should disregard the conventional wisdom of “following your bliss” when it comes to choosing a career. His words ring true not only for young people deciding on a career, but also for older people at a crossroads in their professional or personal lives.

Newport, a gifted student who had three career paths open to him once he graduated, proposes that it doesn’t matter which path you choose; what matters is how hard and creatively you work once you make the choice.

“To other young people who constantly wonder if the grass might be greener on the other side of the occupational fence, I offer this advice: Passion is not something you follow,” Newport wrote. “It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”

While Newport’s column was meant for young people, it struck home with this middle-aged woman who left a paying job a year ago for the uncertain life of a freelancer. It can also resonate with other midlife folks who’ve left careers and dream of reinventing themselves and making money doing something they love; with women who’ve traded a job for motherhood or vice versa; with someone contemplating a move to a new part of the country or the world; or with anyone considering beginning a relationship, or ending one.

His words are a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that they’ll never be happy unless they “follow their passion.”

“To a small group of people, this advice makes sense, because they have a clear passion,” he wrote. “Maybe they’ve always wanted to be doctors, writers, musicians and so on, and can’t imagine being anything else.

“But this philosophy puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us — and demands long deliberation. If we’re not careful, it tells us, we may end up missing our true calling. And even after we make a choice, we’re still not free from its effects. Every time our work becomes hard, we are pushed toward an existential crisis, centered on what for many is an obnoxiously unanswerable question: ‘Is this what I’m really meant to be doing?’”

As I write this I am thinking of my brother Dan, who is celebrating his 53rd birthday today. More than a decade ago Dan traded a six-figure corporate job for more fulfillment and a dramatic pay cut as a private school physics teacher. He has never looked back and regretted his choice. But his stories tell me that his work can sometimes be exhausting and thankless. He deals with a few difficult people, including students, parents and coworkers. He takes on extra assignments, including teaching at a local college, to earn extra money. He does all his own repairs around his home. Yet despite being exhausted, Dan gives his best, whether he is explaining a complex physics law to a befuddled freshman or re-doing a bathroom. As a result Dan has won many admirers and much respect on the job and in his community. He has truly followed Newport’s advice and “put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”

So what we can all learn from my brother and Cal Newport is that passion for what you are doing can only take you so far. What matters is choosing a path, making a commitment, working hard, and not expecting a bed of roses. What matters is less focus on what the new path will give you and more on how you can make yourself more valuable to those around you. For those of us in midlife, trying to find our way in the world as we leave behind our primary careers and the child-raising years, this is great advice.