Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Search!

Our 22-year daughter hasn’t lived at home since the summer of her freshman year in college.  Four years worth of clothes, books and apartment life are now jammed packed in her small 15 by 10 foot bedroom.  I can tell this transition will be much more challenging for her than it will be for us.

With one week under the same roof together, we have not yet gotten into a rhythm. Routines seemingly so insignificant are noticed once again; sharing a drawer in the bathroom, making a full pot of coffee instead of a half, parking in the driveway.  And more.

For us, it’s making small adjustments to space.  For her it’s making large adjustments to her independence, or at this time, lack of it. The fulfillment of successfully completing college in four years with a double major has taken a backseat to “what will I be doing now?” and “when will my education begin to pay off?”  She’s too young to know that it already has.

Because she’s sensitive and considerate, there is an obvious effort to do extra chores and help out.  I appreciate that, but I see a longing in her eyes for her own space, her own daily routine, her own financial independence, all the while trying to be grateful and appreciative of her opportunities. 

The daily search for a job has become her job.  Too bad that doesn’t pay. A rejection letter feels like a personal affront, yet there is an understanding of the competition and the general malaise of the economy.  Every positive response and interview is what keeps her going. 

Many years ago I too was searching, and not just for a job. What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? And, most importantly, who am I? These were the thoughts that would drift in and out of my head as I turned the to the Wanted Ads in the newspaper. 

So as she fires up her computer, clicks on Craigslist, Monster Jobs, and all the other clever job posting sites, I’m sure she’s thinking the same things. 

Do we ever really know?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Noisy Neighbors!

            I’m tired today.  After a 4-hour lengthy hike in high altitudes, I was looking forward to a good night sleep.  So was my husband. Not to sound like Debbie Downer, but sleep we did not get.  Waa.  Waa.

The air in Tahoe is wickedly thin.  So thin in fact, that a whisper can carry down the trail, through the pines and land on someone’s ears miles away.   We’re careful, so very careful to be aware of that. And anytime our voices reach a decibel that might be heard from more than 6 ft. away, one partner gives the other partner the signal to shush, too loud.

            Our neighbors up here do not employ the same set of rules.  Last night for hours they sat on their deck visiting, loudly, late into the night.  We tried to ignore it.  We put pillows over our heads.  We put on the sound of soft music. We considered shutting the window, except it was warm up here. 

            At one point around midnight, I could hear our neighbors talking about another couple.  I tried not to listen, but admittedly was intrigued with the infidelities of our neighbors friends, thinking, wow do people really do that? Shame on me for listening. That was about the time when one of us, trying desperately to drift into a blissful, restful slumber, had enough.  Guess who?

            No, not me, but papa bear stormed to the window and loudly implored “WOULD YOU LOWER YOUR VOICES? PLEASE?”

            As incredibly tired and frustrated as I was, I just couldn’t take it any longer.  I buried my head in my pillow and laughed.  Fatigue will do that. The look on his face, the sound of his voice, the absurdity of it all was funny.  Not sure if my husband thought I was laughing or crying while the bed was lightly shaking.  He was so tired, he didn’t even ask.  Bless him for that.

            What do most people do in situations like this?  Is it socially acceptable to say something?  Is it more mature to ignore and hope it doesn’t happen again?  I need advice here.  Anybody, please!

            The loud talking continued for about another hour, probably until the wine ran out.  Perhaps they didn’t hear the request from 40 yards away?  Or, most likely decided to ignore it.

            I’m all for people having fun.  I love conversation.  Partying and enjoying the company of others is fine.  But, please, just a little civility and attention to the needs of others would be so very much appreciated. 

            As I walked by their deck this morning on my way to run the dog, there my neighbors sat, happily drinking coffee, smiling away, their little mutt barking at us through the deck posts.  I considered saying something clever.  I thought perhaps I should implore them to lower their voices in the future. 

            But after a pleasant good morning salutation from these chatty partiers, I just couldn’t do it.  I nodded, smiled and silently chuckled, as I knew more than I cared to about these people. Let’s see what happens tonight.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Year!

I did it!  I took on the challenge of chronicling our first year alone without teens underfoot.  The challenge was to explore this life stage and post one weekly blog for family, friends but mostly for me. 

The questions considered for exploration, How is it?  What’s different?  How did the coeds do?  And, most importantly, how have I changed? 

The funny thing is, I found myself reading (more than writing) other blogs from women of all ages.  Young moms write a lot and sometimes I wonder where in the world they find the time.  Menopausal women, god bless them, write a lot and I wonder from where do they get the courage to expose the changes in themselves in such a public fashion? Single women write without contempt for the moms of the world. Men don’t seem as into it and I wonder, when do they share their stories?  Or does it matter?

My own posts just touched the surface of our first year as empty nesters.  To avoid getting too personal, I kept looking for the humor in the daily grind and laughed out loud frequently as I am so easily amused.  Occasionally, I would attempt to chronicle the humorous and every chuckle was like balm for the soul.  It helps to have a husband with a funny sense of humor.

But, I just couldn’t publically share my deepest, darkest, brightest revelations.  Those are tucked away in the privacy of my desktop folder for me and only me.

So, what’s it like?  At first the magnitude of silence is deafening, but then the silence quiets too.  There is still chaos, life is messy after all, but that also takes up less space in the heart.  Time is what really stands out, there’s more of it to become self-obsessed, hence the narcissistic blogs. Less cooking, less laundry, less conversation, less, less, less.  That’s not so bad.

How did the coeds do?  There was the typical euphoria of something new.  There was the honeymoon period when all is well.  There was the moment of homesickness that all kids must work through.  There was the excitement for a future graduate.  There were lessons of all kinds, clean, messy, good, bad, shallow, thought provoking, easy, not so easy.  In other words, they changed and matured and learned how to maneuver through the ups and downs of life independently.  Well, mostly independently. 

How have I changed?  My identity as a parent took a major shift.  Parenting from a far requires an acute skill in listening.  I started listening for nuances that are subltle, a change in text or phone patterns, a shift in tone, what’s not being said.  And then there’s the temptation to give advice and the inner voice that screams STOP, they are not asking for it. They just want to be heard.  Such self-control and often I wasn’t very good at it.  I think I’m getting better, however.

At home as the quietness increased, the tension decreased, which is normal when there are fewer personalities afoot. I do like the energy though with a house full of young people.  That I still miss.  A lot.

I found joy in playing scrabble, dominoes, watching a ballgame with my mate.  I loved the freedom of spur of the moment meals, an evening walk or bike ride.  I learned to quiet the chatter of my mind.  Where initially there was agitation in that stillness, now there is peace.  Mostly.

So just as I got use to this new way of living life in its typically fantastical fashion, changes again. 

Advice to family and friends who are transitioning the kids out of the house, it’s really fine.  Really.  Enjoy it while it last.  Because it is likely they’ll be back.

Next up, home again home again giggity gig!  I cant’ wait.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Although it places a near second, the weather is not the universal language.  The subject of food, food and more food is the language we all speak.  At least that’s how it is for our family and friends. 

Weeks before their arrival, we began discussing what I would be preparing for a 9 day visit from our Italian friends, who by the way, own a restaurant below the lovely ancient city of Sermonetta.  They know how to cook and they certainly know how to eat, hence my anxiety.

Beginning in June, I started thinking about the menu.  I knew I didn’t want to serve pasta and compete with their native cuisine.  In fact, I thought it would be better for them to taste the local flavors of California, vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, fish, cheese, great bread and wine.  We are so lucky here. 

Around middle June I noticed our garden would have an abundance of zucchini, squash, basil, lettuce, arugula, parsley, too early for tomatoes, however, with our cool summer weather. The thinking of food progressed to perusing cookbooks, recipes and web sites. 

An obsession was beginning to take root.  Here I am 52 years old worrying about feeding two 20 something visitors.  Little did I know that I did in fact have something to worry about.

End of June, I carefully tended to the garden, watered, picked, plucked, cooked.  Still wasn’t sure what I was going to prepare for them, however.  I experimented with what was available locally.  California cuisine (thank you Alice Waters) would be the deciding factor based upon what was in the market and garden.  What was available would be what got prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I shopped the day before they arrived and had my plan in place for the most part. 

On the day of their arrival, I was informed that one of the visitors had recently developed severe allergies to most fruits, some vegetables and all nuts!  Her allergies were so severe that her mate was afraid to taste the foods in fear of kissing her may spur on an attack.  Much to my dismay, the dried fruit and almonds purchased were placed in the back of the cabinet.  I did, however, bake the fresh peaches in wine for a dinner party in their honor and served them vanilla ice cream instead. 

There were two near disasters.  The first was in Virginia City.  Italians love the romance of the “old west”.  Here we were clopping along the wooden walkway when we came across an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.  Friend with allergies wanted a scoop.  Her mate was adamantly against this idea because of the possibility of fruit and nuts contaminated on the scoop would be transmitted to the ice cream.  I implored the worker to scrub the spoon with hot water in the event she decided to risk it.  Mildly annoyed the worker obliged.

An argument ensued in Italian that only native speakers can understand, but one can only imagine the exchange.  Allergy girl trumped her boyfriend and vigorously attacked the cone like it was her last meal.  Boyfriend in broken English looked at me and said, “the problem is now hers.” We all watched, tense and ready with epi-pen in hand.  Apparently the scoop was in fact cleaned properly. Disaster averted but not without drama.

The second episode was during a visit to a local coffee shop.  In search of an innocent muffin without the problematic ingredients we spotted what looked like a decadent chocolate brownie sans nuts, perfect with strong coffee. Five times I asked the barista if there were nuts in the brownies and five times she answered NO.  I emphasized how horrible it would be if this young Italian ingested nuts while the customers waiting in the ever increasing growing line were watching with mildly amused expressions.  Like my husband reported to a waiter during dessert on another night, we cannot have nuts, look at nuts or even think about nuts. The waiter laughed and I’m sure thought it was we who were nuts. 

I was 99.9% sure after the 5 emphatic No’s that the brownie was ok.  Brownie purchased, our friend began walking out of the cafĂ© and carefully placed a very small portion in her mouth.  The barista, in the meantime, was having second thoughts and pulled out the book with the ingredients of all the pastries.  Last ingredient, WALNUTS!  STOP EATING!

I cannot describe my horror.  Apparently my faced blanched, one could see my heart thumping in my chest.  Italian friend quickly ran into the bathroom ingesting large quantities of water, finger down throat to regurgitate what was the equivalent of perhaps 1/8th a teaspoon of brownie.  We all sat nervously waiting for a reaction, praying that there would be none.  So upset was I, I could not eat my own brownie. 

Oh Dio! It took me hours to recover.   

In the end, much to my delight, our visitors were furiously writing down the recipes of their favorite meals during their visits, all of course without nuts, dried or fresh fruit.  Translating some of the ingredients proved a bit difficult with me gesticulating, miming and using sound effects to describe goat cheese, Dijon mustard and Herbs de Provence for a French lentil salad that was a big hit. 

I love food.  I love cooking.  I love the watching those I serve enjoying every morsel eyed, sniffed, swallowed and digested. 

Our friends have returned to Italy, delighted in every aspect of their visit, including the food.  I miss them already.  Am I nuts?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

“Sunny, with a slight chance of T-Storms” By Gary

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were enjoying a warm weekend at Lake Tahoe.  I opened the paper to the weather section and saw the forecast: sunny and warm, with a slight chance of T-storms.  I chuckled out loud as I reread the forecast to her. “Sounds like your personality sometimes!”  The girls and I have  jokingly described her very rare outbursts as “T-Storms”, short for Teresa Storms.  We both laughed,  easy to do when it’s summertime and the livin is easy.

If I had to describe a place with a climate that represented my day to day life with Teresa, I’d look for the warmest, most tropical place on earth--Hawaii or Fiji, perhaps, and still declare it not temperate enough.
I’m the first to admit:  In the Super Pick Six Lottery of Marriage, I had all six numbers and the bonus. I have friends who remind me of this all the time. Just earlier this year, after a sensitive faculty meeting in which a particularly stylish Teresa made a couple of incredibly apt and to-the-point suggestions benefiting the entire staff, a young charismatic Social Studies teacher leaned over to me and said, “DAMN, Oefinger, you really married UP!”  He was right.

With that said, every once in a long while, amidst all the obligations, expectations, caring, counseling and doing for others, even Teresa reaches a breaking point where she proves she’s human after all.  If pushed just a bit more at this time,  she morphs into a character that my daughters know I refer to as her “Cruella De Ville” mode, the villain from “101 Dalmatians”. In the movie, Cruella acts harshly and in a state of frenzy. There is fire in her eyes as she grabs her steering wheel and zooms off looking for vengeance.  Around here, on the rare occasion when Cruella arrives, Teresa is uncharacteristically short in compassion and long in directives.  It’s not a time to look for sympathy (she once told one of our daughters to ‘get off the pity-pot’ during the T-Storm of ‘09).  Asking what’s for dinner is practically a capital offense .  These are treacherous times that try men’s souls.  These are  “T-Storms”.

A Cruella-infused T-Storm lacks all of the usual patience, kindness or logic of the normal climate.  A T-Storm can’t be reasoned with, coerced or lessened in intensity.  A T-Storm must simply be endured; after all, it was deserved.  T-Storms come when the unbelievable expectation we assume in this incredible person are momentarily unattainable as the giving well runs temporarily dry. One should be able to see a T-Storm coming, but in our self absorbed focus we don’t.  If not recognized early, our only recourse is to allow it to pass, to stay safe and out of harm’s way and to know that eventually the sun will return.  An enlightened person will learn about their own short comings and perhaps, minimize the chance of a similar T-Storm returning in the future.

Last Friday, after a day of golfing with my buddy while Teresa was home with a myriad of chores,  I averted a T-Storm.

After golf and post-round libations,  Teresa drove down and joined us at our friends for dinner and card playing. The night was quite enjoyable, as it always is with these very dear friends. By midnight, though, I was quite tired from a day that had been full of fun. My fatigue probably showed.
As we were leaving,  Teresa announced that she’d be driving home. I didn’t have a problem with that.  In the car, she questioned my ‘sportsmanship’ during the card games.  I explained that the long, full day may have contributed to my less-than-chipper demeanor near the end of the evening (not to mention the thrashing we absorbed at the hands of our competitive friends). I thought I heard the rumble of a distant cloud. Teresa then announced that we would be leaving the top down on the little miata.  Hmmmm, quite chilly.... My request to put the top up was immediately vetoed....very unusual.  I’m pretty sure I caught a glimpse of Cruella, nearby, in the shadows, and definitely noted the flash of lightening in the distance.   It was only then that I realized the possibility of a storm. I hadn’t really given much thought to what my wife’s day may have been like. But lately they’ve been long on caring for her mom, commiserating and listening to others,  short on the supposedly carefree days of summer.   While I was out seeking pars and birdies, she had been doing laundry, baking a pie, gardening, preparing for our incoming Italian guests all while giving her sister some relief by entertaining her mom for the afternoon.  She never complains, but I sensed an impending gully-washer.  I quickly calculated the approximate time it would take to get home and inventoried the clothing I had with me.  Suddenly it seemed like a right fine night for a convertible ride home.  Resolutely, I sighed, put on my golf jacket,  entwined my arms around my midsection for warmth, closed my eyes, and nestled in for the chilly ride home.  Back at home, my reward was knowing that I had, at least this time, circumvented an impending storm....a T-storm. I hope I’m enlightened enough to learn from it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Easy Living Yellow!

Uh oh! Oops!  Think I may have blown it.  Not a huge deal, but kind of a lot of work for what might be a mistake not likely to be corrected for a while.  It’s the paint.  I love the color, bright, cheerful, and fresh.  But…. the room might just be a tad too bright.  I hope our guest will be able to sleep.

When we moved my youngest daughter into her apartment, the only furniture left in her bedroom was a pine cabinet and small end table.  With Italian guests visiting for 9 days this summer, and to inspire our daughter to come home from time to time, we bought a new bed, sheets, and bed cover.  I’m refinishing a very old, but cool end table that’s been sitting in my garage since my dad died. 

The walls were definitely in need of painting.  It took me a total of 3 minutes at the hardware store to choose the paint.  The color “called” me to it. Paint sample on wall, I made sure my husband, who is actually quite good at decorating, liked it.  Giving me the thumbs up, we zeroed in on getting the job done one week before they are to arrive. 

Day 1. Being the good painters that we are, we first primed the god awful purple walls.  (We did let our kids pick out their own paint colors as they got older.) We carefully covered any floor space with old sheets and moved the new bed to the center of the room.  Walls primed, the excitement to open the beautiful new color was palatable, but the primer needed to dry.

Day 2. What a team we were, music blasting, fan buzzing, husband meticulously feathered in the corners, and borders, careful not to get paint on ceiling and blue taped covered baseboards.  I rolled, loving every sunny stroke.  One wall down, pour more paint, two walls, pour more paint, the odd corner by the window, three and finally four walls complete.  Stepping back and admiring our work, it looked lovely.

Perhaps it was the time of day, but later on as I walked by the room, I stopped in my tracts and actually had to squint from the blinding brightness.  Into the room I went, examining the color and lighting from every angle.  Perhaps if we strategically place the bed over there away from the window, the color will be subtler. On the bed I plopped, pretending to nap.  No can do.  Too bright.  Well, when the window covering gets back on, maybe that will reduce the intensity?  But what about the sky light?

Oh dear.  Tomorrow, Day 3, we will apply coat number two.  No turning back now. 

I’ll make a point of checking it out at different times of the day and pray for the late afternoon and early morning cloud cover during their visit.  Hay, their from Italy, they’re use to intense brightness.  

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A 4 Day Visit From Two!

My children.
They come home. 
How much I love them. 
How they drain me.  As how it should be. 
How they energize me.  Always a miracle. 
How I can still after all these years vividly see their sweet, cherubic faces in my minds forever imprinted memory. 
I inhale these babies, even now, it’s hard to resist. 
My hand reaches for the back of their necks, soft, holding up a head that needs me no longer to support it. 
I instinctively reach for them, in sleep, in wakefulness, in an insatiable need to nurture these young adult women. 
They leave. 
Back to a place without me. 
I bless them. 
Pray for them.
Know I am with them.
Be safe.
Come back.