2/15/24

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It seems like late at night is when most of the worries and questions come. The introspection. The looking around and wondering just what the hell happened a month ago, and how can it only be a month, and at the same time, it feels like years have gone by.

Nights are raw and confusing. And very, very lonely.

One evening, as I was watching the latest episode of the old television show, Eight Is Enough, I turned to point out to Michael that an actor from The Waltons was on the screen. Eight Is Enough was often called the modern edition of The Waltons, back when “modern” was the late 70s. The shows frequently shared the same writers, and so actors, actresses, and even storylines sometimes crossed the screen. Of course, when I turned to talk to Michael, his recliner wasn’t reclined, and it was empty.

He was at the hospital, where he’s been since January 17th. And so I burst into tears.

Nights are for tears too.

It occurred to me this week that I am grieving for Michael, even though he’s still here. As he heals, there are days when he’s fully alert, when he knows me and tells me he loves me, when he asks about work, when he asks for his phone or his computer. And there are other days when I morph into his sister, when he says he was never married, and I basically cease to exist.

And so there’s grief.

I am pretty well-versed in literature, between being an English major and then a grad school student and then a writer and an editor and a teacher who reads pretty much every genre there is in this world, and some that haven’t been created yet. But I remembered reading in novels about grief that women who lost their husbands would often sleep with the husbands’ shirt. That shirt held his body and, if unwashed, still contained his scent.

In the early days of this event, I folded the laundry that Michael left in the dryer. As I folded it and stacked it, while simultaneously watching yet another episode of Eight Is Enough that I couldn’t talk to Michael about, our dog Ursula came over, sniffed the pile, and then flung herself over several stacks.

She’s never done this before. But she’s also never had an important person disappear on her like this, and have the other important person often dissolve into tears. Especially at night.

So I thought of those references in novels and I thought of Ursula. But Michael didn’t have any unwashed laundry.

When my mind wandered more down Ursula and the laundry, I remembered the clothes that Michael was wearing on the day of the accident. I remembered the shock when I got home on that first night, carrying the bags of his belongings. I pulled out his clothes, one by one. Jacket, shirt, pants, underwear and socks. And all shredded to rags by the paramedics as they worked to get to Michael as fast as they could. The next day, I put the bags into the dumpster behind my condo. Then that night, Ursula sprawled on the laundry. I decided to get the bags back out and find what was left of his shirt.

It was the last thing he wore when our life was our life. And it was what he was wearing after the disaster. The “accident”.

I brought it in and gave it to Ursula. For a few days, she plopped herself on it and mouthed it gently. But then she left it alone. I placed it in Michael’s space on the couch, where Ursula often cuddled with him.

And now, as I thought of grief and novels, I thought of that shirt again. What was left of it.

That night, when I went to bed, I draped that shirt over Michael’s pillow. And then I draped my arm over it all.

And lord help me, I slept better than I had in a month. It was like he was there.

Earlier this week, Michael was having one of his bad days. Over and over, he asked me, “Where’s the captain?”

“What captain?” I asked back.

“The captain of the boat.”

“You’re not on a boat, Michael. You’re in the hospital.”

“Where is Captain Stubing?”

Captain Stubing. Played by Gavin Macleod, on the 1970’s show, The Love Boat.

Just as Michael and I were watching Eight Is Enough together before the disaster, we were also watching The Love Boat. We’d made reservations to go on a cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. The cruise was to be in August, our anniversary in October. We were flying overseas, and then cruising through London, Paris, and parts of Scotland and Ireland.

The trip of a lifetime. It’s canceled now.

So we watched The Love Boat. I wondered with Michael if we would throw confetti over the side and wave at people as our boat left the harbor. If we would have friendly funny people like Captain Stubing, Doc, Gopher, Julie, Isaac, on board with us. What things we would see, what things we would do.

“Where is Captain Stubing?”

He was talking about a show we were watching together, to prepare to celebrate our 25 years.

It was like he was there.

My moment of happiness? Gratitude for novels that tell me about lives that I’ve never experienced, but find myself in now, up to my neck. Novels that give me ideas on how to handle something I have no idea how to handle.

Gratitude for The Love Boat. For Eight Is Enough. For a dog who is grieving with me.

And absolute happiness that Michael is here, even on those days when he’s not.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Ursula on Michael’s laundry.
Michael and Ursula.
Cast of the Love Boat.
The cast of Eight Is Enough.

2/8/24

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

My husband is talking to Matthew Perry.

Yes, you read that right. My world has become very surreal.

My husband Michael continues healing in the hospital. Three weeks ago, he was hit, and then run over, by a minivan. He has multiple skull fractures, a fracture of the T-10 vertebrae in his back, and traumatic brain injury.

Up until this past Tuesday, he was in and out. Sometimes making sense, most times not, almost constantly begging for help, asking that his “mittens” that keep him from pulling things out that can’t be pulled out, be removed, asking that the NG tube be removed from his nose, the cervical collar from his neck.

It’s been a very hard three weeks. When you have to say no to your husband, over and over and over again, when he asks for help and you can’t offer any, it’s just the most helpless feeling in the world. Especially when your husband doesn’t understand why you can’t help.

This past Tuesday, my day started with the hospital calling and saying Michael was being moved back to the ICU. They said he was wheezing and had a high whine in his upper respiratory system, and so they wanted the closer attention of the ICU staff to watch over him. I made it through my morning clients and then ran to the hospital. I went to the Neuro ICU, only to find he wasn’t there. There were no beds available, so he was moved down a floor to the Transplant ICU.

Sure.

By the time I got there, Michael had had a breathing treatment and his breathing was fine. I got to his room, walked in, and he looked right at me. I mean, right at me!

“Kathie,” he said. “Where am I? What is going on? I don’t know what’s going on.”

He was there. HE WAS THERE. Awake, alert, making sense.

I tried to tell him what happened. I had to stop and start over several times, because he said, “Wait, I’m not understanding you.” All of his responses were appropriate.

But then…in between all coherent statements…

First, he asked for someone named Theresa. “Where did she go?” he asked. I messaged his sister and asked who Theresa is. “That’s a cousin, who died a while ago.”

Okay.

Then, a little while later, he called, “Matthew! Matthew! Hey, Matt, buddy! Can you come help me? I need these mittens off.”

Matthew? I don’t know a Matthew. I asked who that was.

“It’s Matthew Perry,” he said.

Um…what?

I asked him how he knows Matthew Perry.

“I met him a few days ago.” He kept asking Matthew, “Matt, buddy!”, to come over. And then he sighed and said, “He just isn’t listening.”

So my husband knows Matthew Perry, who played Chandler Bing on the television show Friends. Matthew Perry died on October 28 of last year.

Throughout the afternoon, Michael continued to call for Matthew Perry in between normal conversation. He asked about his boss and about work. He asked what happened to him. He recognized the hospital. “I know Froedtert,” he said. “My doctor is there.”

Yep.

It was nothing short of amazing. He was there. He was talking, having conversations, making observations, and then from time to time, drifting off to a land only he could see.

And Lord help me, I laughed. Every time he called for Matthew Perry, every time he called Matthew Perry “buddy”, I giggled.

And when Michael heard me laugh, he laughed too.

It’s been three weeks since Michael and I laughed together.

After I left the hospital, our daughter came in to see her father. He recognized her, called her every single one of the nicknames he has for her. And then, in between conversations, he asked for Monica, another character from Friends. He asked for other names, which we didn’t recognize, but we were told by a Friends fan that these were names from minor characters who made short appearances with the show. Characters he couldn’t possibly know.

Here’s the thing. Michael and I don’t typically watch Friends. If it was the only thing on when we were staying in a hotel, we’d watch an episode or two.

But here he was, talking about minor characters. Looking for them.

All the characters were called by their character names. Except for one. Matthew Perry. And the only one he asked for help, to come release him from the mittens, was Matthew Perry.

And to top it all off – his nurse’s name was Ross. The name of another character on Friends.

He also asked for his father. Michael’s father died when he was in college.

At one point, when I told Michael that Matthew Perry was not in the room, he said, “Yes, he is.” He pointed. “He’s standing right behind you.” he told me.

And I decided to believe him.

Let me tell you, if Matthew Perry is helping to bring my husband back, I’ll start watching Friends. And I will say thank you every time Matthew Perry steps onto the set.

Bring back the laughter, Matthew. Bring Michael back home.

We will watch Friends together.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Michael.
Matthew Perry. I don’t know if you’re helping, but if you are, thank you.

 

2/1/24

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Ever since my world turned completely inside out and upside down two weeks ago when Michael was struck by a minivan, I’ve been finding my Moments in weird places. The not-weird are the obvious ones, the ones everyone looks for. Sunshine after days of gray. A cat purring on my lap. My kids.

But the Moments that are sticking with me, that are resonating, are different, and sometimes, I think they’re things that people will wonder, “She gets a Moment of Happiness from THAT?”

Yep. And I just don’t fight it.

Since Michael’s accident, and I hate the word accident, because it just doesn’t seem to fit, it’s so much bigger than an accident, but since his disaster two weeks ago, I’ve really only had two major meltdowns. I’ve been teary here and there, I’ve choked up, that sort of thing. But I’ve returned to teaching, and people seem surprised. I even had someone ask me if I was okay, and when I said I was, she said, “It’s okay to not be okay, you know.” I do, and I also think it’s okay for me to be okay. Michael is alive, I am putting one foot in front of the other, Michael is alive, I am waking up, doing what I need to, and going to sleep, Michael is alive, Michael is alive, Michael is alive. Maybe when all the facts finally come in, I won’t be okay. But I am for now.

Except for 2 meltdowns.

On one night, as I was driving home from the hospital, I decided to treat myself to dinner from Culver’s, a burger place with fantastic frozen custard. I knew I had a meal at home, left for me by a caring student, but suddenly, my world just shrank down to a desire for a burger and a strawberry shake. So I went through the drive-thru, got my meal, and went home.

I didn’t realize that when I put my purse in the passenger seat beside me, the shoulder strap curled into my cup holder. The same cup holder where I placed my shake.

When I parked, I reached for my purse first, to put it over my shoulder. When I grabbed it, it launched the shake. Strawberry shake went all over my car, and I mean all over. The dash, the windshield, the seats, buried my remote to run my car, and all over my cell phone.

And I lost it.

Anyone who looked out at my car at that moment would have seen the car rocking. I hit everything my fists could reach. My language made purple look pastel. I went from me to animal in one flat second.

And then…I cleaned up my car. I cleaned up my remote. I cleaned up my cell. And then I went inside and ate my supper and drank the teeny bit that was left of my shake. I shared my fries with my dog, Ursula. I slept well.

Several days later, I was hustling to get out of the house and back to the hospital. I’d packed my lunch…a ham and cheese sandwich, and a little container of peaches. I didn’t want to bring one of my own spoons as I was afraid I would accidentally throw it away or leave it at the hospital. So I stopped in my classroom to look in the drawer where I keep plastic silverware for when students bring treats to class.

No spoon.

I was digging and digging and digging, while trying to hold on to my purse, my computer bag, the bag that carried other things that I might need at the hospital. And my thermos of cold water, which recently lost the little plastic appendage that closes up the spout.

The thermos slipped out of my arms, crashed to the concrete floor, and the lid flew off, and 22 ounces of water and ice spread everywhere.

And I lost it.

I threw the thermos across the room. I kicked the cabinet. I slammed the drawer closed. And I shrieked to the world, “I just wanted a f…ing spoon! That’s all I wanted!”

And then…I spread paper towels down on the puddle to pick up later. I picked up my thermos, which survived, and refilled it. I decided I would ask the nice nurses for a spoon, or I’d go down to the cafeteria in the hospital. I got in the car and drove off. My car still smelled of strawberry shake and I decided I liked it.

So was it these particular meltdowns that were my Moment of Happiness? No.

It was the aftermath. My shoulders relaxed. I breathed deeply. I laughed at myself and this whole bizarre situation. I felt a sense of calm come over me that left me…okay. And it’s okay to be okay.

I’m okay. And in those aftermath moments, I knew it. And didn’t question it. The pressure blew, I let it, and then…I was okay.

Still am. But it’s finding myself like that that helps me to realize that, no matter what, I will deal with this. I can deal with this. I don’t want to, but I can.

Just don’t be near me when one of these meltdowns hit. You might get hit by a flying thermos.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

What I probably looked like while having my meltdown(s).

1/25/24

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, my world shrunk this week to the size of a hospital room. Last week, my husband Michael was hit by a car. He has multiple skull fractures, a possible vertebrae fracture, and a traumatic brain injury. It’s been one week and one day now since he was hit. He is out of the ICU and in a “step down” room – one step down from ICU, but not in a regular room yet. He will likely be heading to rehab.

Hard to find a moment of happiness? Well, yeah. I feel like I’m being challenged to the max. I thought it was hard when I was dealing with breast cancer. That now feels like a walk in the park. There are so many fears. So much sadness. And the paperwork is relentless. I wish there was a business out there that simply stood by you during times of crisis and guided you through what you should be doing and what everything means. I am having to learn new languages and learn them fast.

But the moment of happiness. When I sat down to try to consider this, I found that there were several moments that made me smile or laugh, and many moments that brought me to tears.

*the moment he finally opened his eyes, clearly looked at me, widened his eyes in recognition, and opened both arms for a hug.

*the next day, he opened his eyes and said, “Hi, hon.”

*yesterday, he called me by name. By name. I hadn’t heard my name in a week. And there it was.

*support from my students has been incredible. I’ve had an absolute rainstorm of Starbucks cards, which, believe me, are more than welcome. Some days, knowing my iced grande cinnamon dolce latte with just 2 pumps of cinnamon dolce is what gets me through. Students have been dropping off lunches and dinners so I don’t have to put my mind to cooking – which is going to be a challenge anyway, since I don’t cook.

*readers, fans, writers, students, clients from around the world have been posting on my Facebook page. I can’t answer all of these, but I do read them, and they lift me. Please continue being there. You can find me on Facebook under my name.

*my kids are wonderful. Olivia has been at the hospital with me every single day. When I start to cry, she’s there with open arms. When she starts to cry, I return the favor. My son Andy has been stopping by the condo after work to let out Ursula the dog and to feed everyone, Ursula and the two cats, Edgar and Muse. They are so confused. They know Michael is missing and I’m sure they’ve picked up on my stress.

*Michael’s boss and the people at MATC (Milwaukee Area Technical College), where Michael is an accountant. Michael’s boss has been calling me almost every day. She’s delivered messages from the school president. They’re doing everything they can to help. I’m learning that when they refer to the MATC family, they mean it.

I won’t say that this isn’t hard. It is. I’ve certainly had my moments of breakdown. Last night, I couldn’t stop staring at the counterspace in the kitchen designated as Michael’s, which held the orange bag he always carried to and from work. I just couldn’t stand looking at it anymore, knowing that he wasn’t going to be picking it up in the morning and taking it with him. So at two in the morning, I cleaned off his counter. I put things away. It’s clean and clear. Tonight, I plan on folding the laundry he left in his basket and putting it away. I’m an organizer, and I know this is my way of trying to gain control of this uncontrollable situation.

But my moment. The one Moment Of Happiness Despite The News. Boy, “despite the news” took on a whole new meaning this week.

Without a doubt, it was when he said my name. As much as I felt the connection when he opened his eyes and then his arms, and when he said, “Hi, hon,” it was immediately followed by doubt. Did he recognize me? Was I the person he saw?

But when he said, “Kathie.” And his voice came out as his voice, not the strangled and pained voice I’ve been hearing, and not the silence I heard before that.

He saw me. He recognized me. He knows I’m here, and at some level, I hope he knows I’m doing everything I can to care for him, and make sure those around him are caring for him.

My name never meant so much.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The three of us, on the day Olivia voted for the first time.
The three of us writing. Photo by Ron Wimmer of Wimmer Photography.
Michael and Ursula.
Michael and me.

1/18/24

I’m afraid that there will be no Moment this week. Right now, I am sitting in the NICU (Neurological ICU) of a local hospital, watching my husband of almost 25 years. Michael.

Last night, as he walked from his office to the bus stop to come home. When he crossed the street, he was in the crosswalk and with the light – Michael has always been an impeccable pedestrian.

But a car coming to the intersection decided to take a right turn and not wait for the light. He drove into Michael. And then he rode over Michael.

Michael has a fractured skull and possibly some factured vertebrae. He is covered with bruises and contusion.  Almost 24 hours later, he is still in shock, but beginning to talk and move a little in his bed – which he’s not supposed to do. Michael is a side-sleeper and they want him on his back. From time to time, he calls out help.

He has not said my name. And I can’t help. Last night, when I brought home his things, I discovered all of his clothing, jacket, shirt, pants, underwear, are in shreds. From the car? From having the clothes cut off? He is missing a shoe and his glasses.

I am having a hard time dealing with this.

So no This Week’s Moment of Happiness Despite The News today. This is only the second time I’ve missed since starting this blog in 2017. I’m sorry. But I can’t.

Except for this. He’s alive. He’s alive.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Michael.

1/11/24

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I’m one of those people who likes things organized. If I wasn’t a hyper-organized person, I doubt that I could do all the things I do. Everything, from my daily schedule to how my clothes are hung in the closet to how I keep my computer files, is neat and tidy.

It used to be that my house was neat and tidy too. Eons ago, before I owned a business and before I even started teaching, I cleaned my house according to the day of the week. I lived in a one-story ranch house then, with a mostly completed basement. On Mondays, I dusted and vacuumed the living room and all of the bedrooms. Tuesday, I cleaned the bathroom. Wednesday, I dusted and washed the floor in the basement and cleaned the kinda/sorta bathroom down there. Thursday, I cleaned the kitchen. And Friday, I dusted and vacuumed the bedrooms and living room again.

My house was spotless. My neat freakiness extended to my kids. Their toys in their bedrooms were neatly kept on shelves, where they could reach them easily – which also meant they could put them away easily. The rule was that when you were finished with a toy, you put it back, and then selected another.

My cleaning schedule was combined with going to the gym, which I’ve talked about before, and my writing, which, when the kids were little, was done late at night. They went to bed at eight o’clock. I was in my office immediately and working til midnight.

Being neat and orderly makes me feel neat and orderly.

So as the additions to life came in, turning my neat and orderly to chaos, I was hard-pressed to roll with it. There was a divorce. Then a remarriage. I began to teach. There was a baby, 13 years after the prior baby, so I suddenly had a 16-year old, 14-year old, 13-year old and a newborn. I went to grad school, so I could expand my teaching from community and continuing education classes to credited college classes, but then I eschewed that and went into business for myself. I’ve had to let some of my rules and routines go and learn to embrace surprises and accept that not everything can be controlled by a schedule and routine.

For the most part, I’ve thrived. But my house, and my feelings about my house, have suffered.

When we first moved into our live-where-you-work condo 17 years ago, I hired a housecleaner. For several years, I maintained this, and it was wonderful – my house was clean, and I didn’t have to worry about finding the time. But over the years, things changed. My original cleaners, who I loved, went in different directions. One had a military husband, and she moved with him when he was transferred. Another decided to go into being a tattoo artist and body piercer (she pierced my left ear with the permanent cartilage earing). And one developed cancer and had to leave to deal with her health. The other cleaners I found were pricier, and they didn’t do nearly as thorough a job as my originals did. So I fired them.

Every now and then, I began to declare a weekend as a cleaning weekend. Michael, Olivia and I would scrub the house top to bottom. But the weekends began getting further and further apart and my “help” grew grumpier and grumpier.

As this happened, I found myself liking my house less and less and less. This made me really sad. We built this place and the developer kept all of the interiors of the individual condos blank so we could all develop our own style. Everything here has my touch on it, except the tile in the en suite bedroom. Michael chose that while I was out of town. He was terrified.

But I no longer felt comfortable in my home. In fact, it was making me miserable.

I kept reading articles about how you should just clean one room a day. While this seemed doable, I really wasn’t impressed. It would mean that, every day, I’d be getting out the duster, the vacuum cleaner, the broom, the mop, and cleaning supplies, and then putting them back. We have concrete floors, and we have area rugs, so it’s necessary in each room to both vacuum and mop. This didn’t feel very time-constructive to me.

So I stewed.

Last weekend, when I looked up from reading a manuscript to see a ball of cat hair as big as my cat blowing across my floor when the furnace turned on, I had it. I had to find a way.

The one-room a day was a good idea, but I modified it. I decided to do one cleaning activity per floor level a day. On Sunday, I put my plan into motion. I dusted the third floor, which is my office and bedroom. On Monday, I vacuumed and mopped the third floor. Tuesday, I cleaned the bathroom. My plan was on Wednesday to start the second floor, dusting on Wednesday, vacuuming and mopping on Thursday, cleaning the kitchen on Friday, and cleaning the bathroom on Saturday. But Michael, who was home for a snow day on Tuesday, got into the spirit, and in a burst of energy, he cleaned the second floor.

So by Wednesday, I had a clean house. And each day, as I sat down to write or to read manuscripts or to meet with clients or teach a class, I breathed deeper. I wasn’t surrounded by a mess. So I wasn’t a mess myself.

I know there’s all the placards and signs and cross stitch art out there, proclaiming things like, “A cluttered house is a cluttered mind,” and “Dust is a protective coating for fine furniture,” and “Both of us can’t look good at the same time, it’s me or the house,” and “A bright person can always think of something better to do than housework. ” The argument of to clean or not to clean has always been a big source of anger and frustration in the world.

But I realized this week that my environment was making me very unhappy. And this was something I could actually do something about. And so I did. Believe it or not, there is empowerment in cleaning your house and making it look the way you planned it to look.

Whew.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

For those who are interested, this is a feature article that was done on my home several years ago.  Some of the rooms have been changed since (in particular Olivia’s room, Michael’s offce which no longer exists, and the deck), but you can get a general idea of what my house is like:

https://archive.jsonline.com/features/home/artwork-inspires-waukesha-condo-b99273705z1-262003221.html

My office – my favorite room. All clean!

 

1/4/24

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news. And welcome to 2024!

The Moment, either in its original format of Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News, or its current format as This Week’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News, has sometimes been a difficult thing to write. I’ve been working on the Moment since the beginning of 2017, which makes it 7 years old now. When it’s difficult, it’s usually because I get up on a Thursday morning that I’m due to write it and post it by 3:00 p.m. and realize that there isn’t any Moment that sticks out. These usually occur during rough weeks and I really have to dig to come up with a memory of a single moment that made me smile.

This week, though, it’s the complete opposite. I’m struggling with coming up with a Moment, not because it was a rough week, but because it was a week of contentment. It was one smooth day after day of “Aaaaaaah.”

Christmas was Christmas, of course.  But the day after Christmas, I shipped my husband off to Omaha to visit with his family, who he hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. He didn’t return until New Year’s Day. My youngest daughter, the only one of four children who can still be considered “living at home”, spent most of her time at work or in her apartment at school. Because she’s in graduate school now and not in the dorm, she didn’t have to move out for winter break. She’s living in an apartment complex built on the university’s property for retired nuns, single parent moms, and graduate students. They don’t make these three groups leave during school breaks, so she popped in and out of my home, but mostly stayed in her apartment. She even had her own Christmas tree this year – pink, of course, and decorated with Squishmallows.

I stayed at home. The plan was that this would give me time to fully focus on the next draft of my newest novel, allowing me to write without distraction. In truth, it ended up being so much more.

It was QUIET. It was like going to the Oregon coast on one of my retreats, but staying within the walls of my home.

And magically, it became the home of my dreams, while I lived the life of my dreams.

I slept until I woke up. I went to bed when I was sleepy. In bed, I read until my eyes were caving in and then I fell asleep effortlessly.

I had breakfast, lunch and dinner every day at my kitchen island, not at my computer. And I read there too, novels, books of my own choosing.

I practiced the piano every day. I played Animal Crossing on my Nintendo Switch every day. I watched a few favorite television shows every day. I took a long, hot shower every day.

And further…

My dishwasher was unloaded every morning and dishes accumulated during the day went right into the newly empty dishwasher, not left to pile in the sink. No one “forgot” to load it or start it, because I was the one doing it.

Every morning, there was freshly made coffee waiting for me, because I took care of setting up the coffeemaker every night before bed.

The garbage wasn’t overflowing because I took it down to the complex’s dumpster before it became overflowing.

The counters were clean and free of clutter. There were no piles of things in the hallways. The pillows were in place on the couch and the loveseat.

I went to the grocery store, bought what I wanted to have for meals, and prepared them when I was hungry.

The dog and two cats, of course, were still home, and I took care of them.

And of course, I wrote. All afternoon, into the evening, and late at night. I finished the next draft of my new novel, and on New Year’s Day, the last day of this respite, I started the next draft, which I believe will be the last. My confidence in this book soared with this ability to work on it every day, in a continuous streak that allowed me to see all of it, beginning, middle, end, with a minimum of time between writing sessions.

Was I lonely? No.

Was I bored? Absolutely not.

In terms of household chores, I was actually doing more than normal, as no one else was around to do them. But that was the thing…they were done. There was no putting it off. There were no half-attempts. There were no groans and complaints while doing them.

I like things neat. I like things organized. I like to know where something is when I need to look for it.

Honestly, I was so content. Content is absolutely the word for it. And it was different than going to Oregon. This was a whole new level of contentment, because I was home. I didn’t have to travel, spending most of the day in the air, followed by a three-hour drive, to get to this contentment. I just walked down the stairs every morning and poured myself a cup of coffee that was ready for me.

So why was this so difficult to write about? Because I didn’t want it to seem like I didn’t miss my family, my students, my clients, my job.

Do I love my husband and my kids? Oh, absolutely.

I didn’t want it to seem like I didn’t miss my students, my clients, my work.

Do I love my students and my clients? Do I love what I do? Oh, without a doubt.

But sometimes you just need that Moment of Quiet. That Moment of Self. When everything you do in a day (or a week, as this was) is something you want to do right then. And when everything you do in a day (or a week) just fills you with comfort. Contentment.

This is why I go to Oregon, by myself, at least once a year.

And this last week, I found it without ever leaving my home.

Aaaaaaaaaaah.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

In my happy place.

12/28/23

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, Christmas, of course. It was a very nice Christmas, with most of my kids here, and my granddaughter here. We had the usual flinging of Christmas wrapping paper toward the honorary holder of the garbage bag, we had the usual reactions to presents, we had an hors d’oeuvres bar for lunch, which included such delicacies as pizza rolls, mozzarella sticks, and onion rings, we played Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch. All was merry and bright.

Around it, though, we planned several events that didn’t quite make it without a hitch.

I have always loved seeing Christmas lights. When Olivia was born, we started a tradition of going to the drive-thru Christmas light display held at a local hotel. My big kids were with their father on Christmas Eve, and this little event helped take the sting off of my kids’ absence. Plus, it gave a new tradition for my new husband, new baby, and me. We’ve gone every year (the “baby” is 23 years old now) and so this was planned as usual.

But I also added a trip to see the light display at the Milwaukee County Zoo. We went last year, and it was wonderful. My middle son, Andy, who is a zoo fanatic, also loves Christmas lights. So on the 22nd, we planned our return trip.

What we didn’t plan was my getting sick again on the 21st, this time with the Norovirus. My poor stomach was not enthused in any way about going to see the lights and the animals. Then my son was suddenly scheduled to work. And it poured that evening. Not snow. Rain.

And so that trip was scratched. But we’re planning on trying again this Saturday.

Also planned was a trip on the 23rd to Lake Geneva, to board a two-level cruise boat and see the Christmas lights all around Lake Geneva. Besides the lights, we would also see Santa, and so we brought along Grandgirl Maya Mae. In the morning, I considered backing out, as I was still recovering from the Norovirus, but in the end, I decided to go. The five of us, Michael, me, Andy, Olivia, and Maya, piled into my car.

On the way there, as I watched sudden moist clouds hit my windshield, I said, “Is that fog?” In the next minute, that was answered as we drove into fog as thick as peanut butter, as Yukon Cornelius says on the classic Christmas show, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The rest of the drive was white knuckles for me, as I could barely see the dividing lines on the road. I drove right past the gathering place for the cruise, got us lost in the middle of nowhere where we couldn’t even see the intersections. Finally, through the miracle of GPS, we found our way back, parked the car, rode a shuttle bus to the dock, and then proceeded to have the most amazing time. The lights, with an eerie glow, thanks to the fog, were beautiful. When Santa, on the shore, called out the names of good boys and girls from his list, Maya Mae was the first child he listed.

She’s been very good.

But then we all noticed the boat wasn’t moving. The captain came over the intercom and said, “Well, we should be back to the dock by now, but we can’t find the dock. We’ll play some more Christmas music while we attempt to find our way.”

Olivia, being Olivia, immediately cried out, “We’re lost at sea!”

Um, no.

Eventually, we found our way back to land. But the ride home was also white-knuckled, and I got us lost again.

On Christmas Eve, Michael, Olivia, and I went on our traditional trip to the light show behind the local hotel. We were joined by Andy. The lights seemed brighter than ever this year, and the trip was delightful.

On Christmas Day, in the evening, Michael, Andy, Olivia and I planned to go to a new Christmas light show in the area, called Enchant Christmas Milwaukee. This time, as we ventured out, it was not only foggy, but pouring again. On the freeway, I managed by following the car in front of me, and we somehow found our way via the GPS. But when we got there – and “there” was a huge place, we could see lights everywhere – there were no guides leading cars to parking spaces. I’d paid for parking, so I wasn’t too worried…until I saw that the signs that were set up as guideposts had fallen over flat on the road, and turned so that the arrows went every which way. Twice, I circled around and never found where I was supposed to park. With the last trip, I found myself on the exit. So that’s what I did.

Tally: 4 trips. The zoo, the lake cruise, the Christmas Eve light show at the local hotel, and Enchant Christmas.

Final result: 2 trips, the zoo and Enchant Christmas, never happened. One while it was literally right in front of us. 2 trips taken were wonderful.

So which of these were my Moment?

None of them. My Moment happened on the shuttle bus to the lake cruise.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve met Grandgirl Maya Mae on Zoom every night at 8:30. We read a book together. We’ve gone through quite a few, and I love these moments with her. But recently, I noticed she seemed distracted during the visits. She usually was watching television while I read, and when I was done, she often didn’t seem to know what I’d been reading, and sometimes, she didn’t even notice that I stopped.

So I suggested that maybe she didn’t want to do the nightly visits anymore. Or at least, not so often.

She agreed.

One of the hardest lessons in being a parent is learning to let go. Realizing that while your children are still a huge part of your life, you are no longer a huge part of theirs. And that’s just the way of things.

So apparently, I now have to learn that this is true of grandchildren too.

Typically, when I see Grandgirl Maya Mae, she gravitates to her aunt, Olivia, and the two of them have a wonderful relationship. So I expected, on this Christmas boat trip, that she would be glued to Olivia’s side.

When I unstuck my fingers from the steering wheel of my car, I led my family over to the shuttle bus and I was the first to climb on. I chose a seat, and across the aisle from me, Olivia slid into a seat as well. Then came Grandgirl Maya Mae. She looked at the two of us…and then she turned to me.

“Can I sit with you, Grandma?” she asked.

I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After she sat down, I hugged her and said, “I am so happy to see you, Maya Mae! I’ve missed you!”

“I’ve missed you too,” she said.

Moment made. I experienced a whole different kind of Christmas lights.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy holidays. Joyous days. Peaceful nights.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

 

Difficult to see because of the fog, but this is the boat, all lit up with Christmas lights.
Grandgirl Maya Mae on the Christmas boat.
Olivia and Andy, posing at the Christmas light drive-thru display behind a local hotel.
Driving through the light tunnel at the drive-thru Christmas display.

12/21/23

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Yesterday, when I walked into the AllWriters’ classroom to lead the Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop, I was greeted by 10 merry-making women, a table loaded with food of all kinds, and the makings for a happy afternoon, which would lead into a happy holiday season.

The Wednesday Afternoon group has always been the personification of why I teach. I don’t know why it works out to be that way – I teach a lot of classes, meet with lots of students, and coach many, many writers individually. Since starting AllWriters’ 19 years ago, I’ve maintained a steady schedule of 85 hours of teaching per week. I am thoroughly enchanted (and exhausted) by all of my students and clients, who share a deep passion of writing with me. No matter who walks in the AllWriters’ door, either the on-site door or through the miracle of the internet, I know I will always have something in common with that person. And it makes for really tremendous relationships.

But the Wednesday Afternoon group…maybe it’s special because it was the very first class I ever taught. 29 years ago, I walked into what was then the Friday afternoon SeniorScribes, a class held by Waukesha Park & Recreation that was specifically for people 55 and up. I was asked to teach because their previous instructor suddenly left. I’d never taught before, never considered teaching, didn’t think I wanted to. I was planning on saying no, but my then-husband, who always had dollar signs in his eyes, insisted I take the job. I said, “Okay, I’ll do it. But if I’m ever teaching more than I’m writing, I’ll quit.”

(Hint: I don’t write for 85 hours a week.)

At the time, I was 35 years old, and I fretted over teaching “Seniors”. “They’re probably all writing about their grandkids and their latest operations,” I moaned. But while I moaned, I was also absolutely terrified to walk into my first classroom. What did I have of any worth to say to these wanna-be writers? While I was well-known as a short story writer, I didn’t have a book out yet, and I was walking a path of terror that I would ultimately be a failure. Teaching offered me yet another way to fail, and I really didn’t want to do it.

In that first class of seniors, filled with people I expected to write about their grandkids and operations, I listened as a man read a poem about a bracelet on his wife’s wrist that was so sensual, it made me sweat. Someone else read a piece about growing marijuana in his back yard.

Boy, did I ever have a lot to learn.

But as it turned out, so did they…from me. By the end of that first session, several students achieved their first publications. This had never happened in this class before I got there.

And by the end of my first year of teaching and as my new reputation spread, I’d had more offers from continuing education departments of several colleges and universities, as well as online for Writers’ Digest and other online schools. I went from not teaching at all, not even thinking about teaching, to 65 hours a week and traveling everywhere.

And my one constant for my full 29 years of teaching now…the Wednesday Afternoon workshop. The class has always filled and maintained its presence. When Park & Rec let me start a Wednesday Evening Workshop for all ages, they also let me move the Friday SeniorScribes class to Wednesday afternoon. When I started AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop LLC 19 years ago this January, Wednesday SeniorScribes became the AllWriters’ Wednesday Afternoon Workshop, with no age limitation. And when the workshop grew to all women, and I absolutely loved it, it became the Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop, filled with women of all ages and backgrounds and abilities. But even with all those differences among members of the class, it has consistently held one attribute:

Heart.

The Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop embodies the AllWriters’ tenet of All Writers Are Welcome Here. The biggest goal I had for AllWriters’ when I created it was that it would be more than a school, more than a place of education and encouragement and enlightenment.

It would be a community. A home. A family.

In a wonderful moment of kismet this morning, I scrolled through Facebook memories, an every-day collection of my posts over the years I’ve been on Facebook. One showed up today, from 12 years ago, on this day in 2011:

“The Wednesday Afternoon Workshop just threw one whopper of a Christmas party in the classroom.  Complete with lights strewn across the workshop table.  And homemade rhubarb wine.  I’ve never had rhubarb wine before.  I’m going to have a lot more.  It might just solve my sleeping problem.  Rum chata was there too, and all sorts of yummy food.  Wednesday Night Workshop, you have a lot to live up to!”

As I sat at the head of the classroom table yesterday, at yet another Wednesday Afternoon Workshop Christmas party, and watched these women sharing food and experiences, and later, sharing stories and poems, I saw the AllWriters’ I envisioned 19 years ago.

Writing can be a lonely avocation. But at AllWriters’, no writer is ever alone.

Including me.

Oh, and I also have to ask that Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop: HEY! WHERE WAS THE RUM CHATA? WHERE WAS THE RHUBARB WINE?

Just kidding. Maybe.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

AllWriters’ front window.
The AllWriters’ classroom.
AllWriters’, and my home. AllWriters’ is on the first floor, and we live on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
The Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop Christmas party yesterday. (Taken by student Mary Ann Noe)

12/14/23

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This past Monday, I returned to the gym for the first time in just over a month. The last part of October was spent with crazy hours as the final parts of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books were put together, and I didn’t realize, though I wasn’t feeling well, that I was about to go into a horrible case of bronchitis that would throw my asthma out of control for the first time in over 7 years.

When you can’t breathe, exercising just isn’t possible.

But Monday night, I was back in exercise clothes, including a breast cancer warrior shirt and leggings covered with images of clocks, and I walked into Planet Fitness. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then felt grateful I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Looking at me, you would never guess that exercise ranks high on my list, and that I relish the absolute joy of movement and challenge. You also wouldn’t guess that I spent years as a weight loss counselor and once considered going on the amateur body-building circuit.

You just can’t go by how a person looks on any given day. The body holds a lot of history.

I worked for three different weight loss companies, none of which were the weight loss company I actually lost weight with, and all of whom eventually went out of business. In 1987, after a weight loss of 82 pounds, I was a size 8. By the time I left the weight loss industry, I was a size 0, which was sometimes too big for me, and I had a roaring eating disorder that claimed pretty much every moment of my life. I do not remember being in shape with any fondness, and eventually, I wasn’t in shape anymore, not because of being overweight, but because of being underweight.

For each of the three companies I worked for, there were monthly meetings of all the counselors. In the front of the room was a medical scale, with the numbers turned toward the meeting attendees. All of them. You weighed in in front of everyone, your weight was announced, and its relation to your goal weight was announced too. If you were five pounds or more over your goal weight, you had one month to lose it, or you lost your job. One woman, who’d just had a baby, had to lose 40 pounds in a month. She made it, but ended up in the hospital the next week. On weigh-in day, all of us would wait in line for the restroom. Some of us used it to lose whatever was left in our stomachs after not eating for the last 24 to 48 hours to ensure that we passed the weight test.

By the time I left, I was consistently 30 – 40 pounds below my goal weight. But I stood in line with the rest, terrified I was going to lose my job.

Exercise-wise, I spent 2 – 3 hours in the gym every day. Advanced stepaerobics was my thing, and it was a daily occurrence. My bench always had four to six risers holding it up, which of course led to the knee issues I have today. I also fell in love with weightlifting. There was something about seeing the visual proof of my strength. Even as my body lost fat and then moved on to losing muscle mass, I lifted.

At home, I had my own step bench and my own weights, for days when something happened that I couldn’t get to the gym. I weighed myself countless times a day, any time I ate, any time I used the bathroom, to make sure I hadn’t put any pounds on. My then-husband actually hid the scale from me. I’d go to the store and just buy a new one.

I wasn’t writing. I didn’t have time. I was encouraging people to lose weight, I was at the gym, I was recording everything that went into my body and came out of it. I was exhausted.

I thought I looked great. I didn’t. I thought I was healthy. I wasn’t.

But I had company. My mother lived in terror of being overweight. The day I woke up to what I was doing to myself was the day she told me that at my height, 5’2”, I was still fat at 100 pounds. I needed to weigh, she said, 85. She didn’t know that on the scale that day, I weighed in at 82.

I quit working at the weight loss company. And I got help. As I put healthy weight back on, I continued at the gym. But then I got divorced, and as a divorced woman with 3 kids, I could no longer afford the gym.

Between stress and fear, within a year, all of the original weight came back on.

A lot of time has gone by. Over the years, I’ve attempted to go back to the gym from time to time. But as soon as I found myself enjoying myself, I became afraid that the old obsessions were coming back and I would end up in trouble again. So I’d walk away. It wasn’t hard to do – since creating AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop almost 19 years ago, my schedule has been nuts. Most gyms weren’t open during the times that I could get there.

In January of 2020, right before the pandemic hit, a new gym, Planet Fitness, opened in Waukesha that was 24 hours, 7 days a week. They said they were a “no judgement zone”, that everyone was welcome. I tried it out and felt at home. I could work out late at night, often not showing up there until eleven o’clock or midnight. There were a few of us nightowls there, and I felt able to do what I was doing without eyes on me. I started on the treadmill, and eventually, walked over to my old friends, the weight machines.

And they showed me that I was still strong. Not just still strong, but stronger than ever. I was able to be aware. I knew my limitations. My self-talk was different than it was back then, full of encouragement rather than insults and recriminations.

And there’s just something about the movement. Feeling muscles pull and lift, feeling the joints cooperate, following a rhythm.

Then, of course, the pandemic hit and the gym shut down. I bought my own treadmill and free weights, and they were okay, though not the same. When the gym finally reopened, it wasn’t 24/7, and I couldn’t go. I went to a second gym and took swimming lessons, and then joined a third gym that had a pool and I enjoyed that for a while…and then that gym shut down.

I returned to the original gym, the one that promised me no judgement, and the one where I rediscovered my strength. They’d returned to 24/7, and I walked back in and felt welcomed.

And now, back again, after being sick for a month. My first day back, I only did the treadmill. But last night, I returned to the weight machines. I saw my strength. I admired it. And I went home, not feeling like I should have done more, but like I’d done just enough. Just enough.

I am just fine, as I am.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The day I received my “Lifetime Key” after achieving my goal weight and then maintaining it for 6 weeks. I still wore my too-big clothes – I didn’t believe I was actually at goal weight. (I’m on the right.)
Dressed up, made up, working as a weight loss counselor.
At Planet Fitness, this past Monday.