Thursday, June 4, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Going to the Chapel Edition

 I think I've mentioned a time or two that my remarkable mama really knows how to celebrate big.  So, it should come as no surprise that she is marking the occasion of the 25th wedding anniversaries of both her & my stepdad AND me & my Personal Chef with a vow renewal ceremony in Las Vegas.  Here are some of the joys I've caught getting ready for this fandango:

  • For starters, the generosity of my mama for gifting me and my Personal Chef, along with my brother and his partner-in-crime with not only the trip, but also with the deluxe Hound Dog Ceremony at the Doo Wop Diner Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. That's right. We are getting the full-on, Elvis-themed experience. It might not be your cup of tea, but it absolutely delights me to get to play along with my mama.

Photo courtesy: Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapels

  • With a minimum of eye-rolling, my kids have been going along with the fun. I came home one afternoon last week to find that the Evil Genius had put on a "Golden Oldies Classic Hits of the 50s" station to help get into the proper mindset. The family debate about Black Leather Elvis, Blue Hawaii Elvis, and Fat Jumpsuit Elvis has been epic.
  • Thing 1 and her Best Guy have volunteered to take care of the Evil Genius and the dogs while we are away. Thing 2 promises to help (or at least not burn the house down.)

  • The back and forth with my Favorite House Guest--who lives in Las Vegas--has me giddy.  It's been over a year since we've been together. I am really looking forward to seeing her. That she'll be joining in the shenanigans just tickles me.

Photo courtesy: Deposit Photos

  • I will admit to doing a little happy dance when the UPS guy delivered my Personal Chef's Daddy-O Dress Shirt.

  • My sisterfriends have gone above and beyond the call of duty as Fake Bridesmaids.  There was the incredible evening of dress shopping.  They found the perfect Audrey-Hepburnesque, white eyelet swing dress AND black patent leather Mary Janes that give me that perfect rockabilly bride vibe.  Then, despite being dreadfully ill, my seamstress sisterfriend took some measurements, gave me and Thing 1 a shopping list and sent us off to the fabric store. The next morning, I returned to find she had lovingly put together a teal blue tulle petticoat to complete the look. There has been much giggling about the wedding night lingerie, and secret conversations that I am not allowed to be a part of, and all sorts of glorious bridal party hoopla. I hear that they are gathering together to watch the ceremony by live stream, then whoop it at a Faux Reception, because they are made entirely out of awesome. I have been completely overwhelmed by the love. I am blessed beyond words by it all.

So, in less than two weeks, I get to go on a trip with my FabFam, 
visit with my Favorite House Guest, 
tease my mama & stepdad about being so freaking mushy after all these years, 
have Elvis help me say, "I still do" to the guy 
I cannot imagine going through life without
 (because, yeah, we're a bit mushy, too), 
and revel in the notion that back home, 
there are amazing folks loving the stuffing out of me.  

That's a whole lotta joy right there.  What's filled your heart this week?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Small Town, USA

     A decade ago, our family moved from a small city to a really small, rural town.  Somewhere in the assimilation process, I missed a step.  I had no trouble adapting to the environment.  Turns out I was born to be a country girl. All those cows and turkeys and vegetable gardens that make up my 'hood suit me just fine.   Somehow, though, I never quite became a member of my little community.  My work continued to be out-of-town, and my social life continued to revolve around the same people and organizations I have been engaged with for years.  So, while I have met some terrific folks--some neighbors, my children's friend's parents, fellow marching band program volunteers--I have never quite become a real part of this community where I call home.

Photo courtesy:

     Then I spent this past school year substitute teaching. Many of the teachers and administrators actually live here in town, too, and I've come to know them pretty well. I have to admit it feels good to be greeted warmly when I come into a school building, or to be invited to join a colleague/neighbor for lunch in the staff room.

Photo courtesy of  Blackstone/Millville Parents Group

     Last weekend, I chaperoned the marching band during the Memorial Day Parade. I have done lots of things as a Band Mom, but I have never been the water-bottle-toting chaperone before. It was a revelation of the most heart-filling kind.

Photo courtesy of BMR Band Announcements

     My town is a nice mix of working class and middle class families. They are folks who have lived here for generations, or wanted their children to grow up in that kind of place--a town where families set down roots. My town is the kind of community where whole families gather together to watch the parade. Houses are draped in bunting and flags. Mothers dress their children in red, white, and blue. I've lived here for a decade and somehow missed that. I'm glad I finally caught it.

Photo courtesy of BMR Band Announcements

     Because I have always watched this parade from a prime spot near the end of the route, where the ceremonies honoring our war dead take place (including a very moving ritual where a wreath is released into the Blackstone River by veterans), I had no idea what the start of the parade was like. I was touched to discover that it begins just beyond the town's nursing home. Every year, the residents sit on the home's front porch to watch the parade go by. And every year, the high school band director makes a point of having the kids stop long enough to play through their patriotic songs in their entirety before moving on down the parade route.

Photo courtesy: BMR Band Announcements

     One of the most wonderful, and totally unexpected parts of the experience was the number of people who called my name out in greeting. The MOST wonderful part was the number of school children who gave a shy wave and the children who squealed out, "Hi, Mrs. Allen!"  and "Mommy, that's Mrs. Allen from my school!"

Photo courtesy: BMR Band Announcements

     It's taken me a while to figure it out, but I think I'm going to like it here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--School Days Edition

I'm still something of a hot mess, but it feels like I've turned a corner. Here are some of the joyful bits that have helped get me there:

  • Having a pack of kindergartners from several different classrooms run up to me on the playground at recess to give hugs, high fives, and various other forms of exuberant greetings. 

  • A teacher I covered for came back to the class at the end of the day to thank me for taking such good care of her class. 

  • The reluctant reader I've been tutoring spent about 10 minutes negotiating the number of pages of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory he would have to read to me. I finally agreed to  swap off with him after six pages. He started to read and the magic I had been hoping to conjure for months now finally struck. He lost count of pages and instead got captured by the story. TWENTY-EIGHT pages later, he finished the book. It wasn't until I was on my way out the door that I even told him how much he had read.

  • I was wowed by a group of six-year-olds who really got into the Story Tag Game--one person starts a story, another person picks up the thread and moves the story along, etc.  The students demonstrated tremendous creativity--a Sasquatch came to school and got hurt on the swing so the nurse called his mom to come get him. Zombies chased the class during the "Queen Mrs. Allen Day Parade" so they took the Bat Plane to space and hopped from star to star to escape. Really?! They were respectful of their fellow classmates, and suitably appreciative of the twists and turns the stories took.  (There was much laughter when the Sasquatch was playing video games in his underwear.) It was almost too much fun to be considered work.

  • A sweet little girl was really struggling to get through a class assignment. I sat next to her, thinking she just needed some adult supervision to help her to focus on the work, only to discover that she really did not understand it. We looked at the problems from a number of different angles before the Aha! Moment came, at which point, she impulsively jumped up and gave me a big hug and a thank you.

What little joys have you caught this week?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Music That Made Me Edition

Rolling Stone just did a cool series "The Music That Made Me," where they asked a bunch of musicians to list the songs that really influenced them.   Then a bunch of bloggers I crush on were prompted by Nancy Davis Kho at Midlife Mixtape to post lists of their own.  I have been a bit obsessed with these lists since then.  I love these peeks into the musicians' and  these writers' lives. Then when she invited me to join her with a list of my own, how could I possibly refuse?!

Music is an ever-present part of my life. There is a soundtrack to my days, and my memories are imprinted with specific songs or artists, the way one puts a label on a file folder. So, this week, I'm going to share a list of songs that bring up joyful memories, regardless of what else is happening in my day.

The soundtrack of my childhood was a mix of 60s and 70s folk and rock.  My Dad, Sir favored the Beach Boys, Irish music, and had a weird obsession with Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."  My mama was more of a rocker, and to this day loves the Rolling Stones. (She  really is awesome!) My folks entertained often, and many of their friends were musical.  I fondly remember sneaking down the stairs from my bedroom to spy on the inevitable jam session.  

As a young teen, I spent hours on the blue living room rug, reading liner notes and playing favorite albums over and over. My best friends, Susan and Mary would come over and we'd pretend we were DJs on Station WKSM (or WMSK or WSMK depending on whose tape we were making). Using my Radio Shack tape deck, we'd record our own mixtapes.  They were a goofy blend of my parents' albums and my growing collection of 70s pop--Sean Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Bee Gees...  

If I had to pick the songs that made me in my beginnings it would have to be:

1. Beach Boys "Sloop John B"

2.  Rolling Stones "Satisfaction"

3. The Clancy Brothers "Whistling Gypsy Rover"

High school for me was, like for everyone I know, the best of times and the worst of times. I had lots and lots of fun, I fell in love for the first time, I suffered my share of trauma.

Through it all, music fueled the joy and soothed the angst. To this day, the opening notes of any song by Prince transports me to summer camp. (I cannot hear "Raspberry Beret" without changing the words to "Leftover Buffet.")  David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" brings to mind my friend Monique's subversive insistence on walking up the DOWN staircase, no matter how fiercely the nuns pursed their lips disapprovingly at her. I might have driven my mother mad when I went through my Warren Zevon stage, playing the "Excitable Boy" album on repeat.  It was likely a relief when I got into 80's post-punk.   Who doesn't love the B52's, Devo, and the Talking Heads? Right? Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes" became something of an anthem for me.

If I had to pick a song that made me as a teenager, though, it would have to be something from Rush.  Rush's Moving Pictures Tour was my first concert. Rush was my go-to music for both drowning my sorrows and pumping me up for the next great adventure. I still love Rush today.

4. Rush "Limelight"

In college, I went to a LOT of concerts. I saw Rush every single time they came to town. I saw Lou Reed, the Talking Heads, Squeeze, the Jam, Genesis, Jackson Brown, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, the Moody Blues, Arlo Guthrie & Pete Seeger, Room Full of Blues, Little Feat, Stevie Nicks, Elton John, Peter Frampton, Bruce Springsteen, Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, the Circle Jerks, the Dead Kennedy's, Pink Floyd, the Hooters, Def Leppard, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tom Petty & the Heart Breakers, Bob Dylan...  I saw pretty much everyone.  

I went to my first Dead show on July 4th in 1986. It was like running off and joining the circus. From that moment, until Thing 1 was born, my vacations were built around the "East Coast Tour." 

5. Grateful Dead "The Wheel/I Need A Miracle/Uncle John's Band."

Then I met my Personal Chef. Our first real date was a doozy.  He came to my preschool classroom and did an incredible ice carving demonstration.  Then he drove me home.  Had me pack for overnight. Flew me to Montreal. (Yes, he is the most remarkable man, and I am the most blessed woman I know.)  James Taylor was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson that night.  He played two songs off of his then new album, "Never Die Young."  Before that trip was over, I knew that I was going to love my Personal Chef for the rest of my life, and James Taylor has provided the soundtrack for that love affair for all these years since.

6. James Taylor "Sweet Potato Pie"

Becoming  a mother was transforming. No duh. It is challenging and messy and heart-breaking and the most incredible experience ever. There are so many songs that bring back the joyful moments of motherhood. Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl"  never fails to bring Thing 1 to mind. The beat of a classic merengue always reminds me of Thing 2 dancing in the kitchen.  Frank Sinatra is forever linked to the Evil Genius for me. The Chairman of the Board had magical powers that could make the lad stop crying mid-wail. If I have to pick music that made me a mom, though, it would be something from Nickel Creek. Where they are each very different individuals, all three share a love of bluegrass. Nickel Creek was Thing 1's & Thing 2's  first concert. As a teeny bean, the Evil Genius' favorite song was their version of "The Fox." (Charmingly, he--and my whole family--called this song "Bones-O".) 

7. Nickel Creek "The Fox"

Travel is a big part of my life. Part of preparing for all my trips--weekend jaunts to the lake house, road trips cross country, jet-setting around the world--includes putting together the "Road Trip Mix Tape".  It's a long-standing tradition that every playlist of travel tunes begins with this song:

8. Little Feat "Fat Man in the Bathtub"

Loss has taken a lot out of me in recent years. The grief is acute, but it is a burden I gladly bear because the love of these friends-who-became family was such a blessing to me. They--and all my sisterfriends and the Men Who Love Them--have helped make me who I am. These two tunes never fail to bring to bring them to mind in a way that is sure to make me smile.

9.  Queen "Bohemian Rhapsody"

10.  The Doors version of "Gloria"

What songs have brought you joy, my beloveds?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

In Purgatory

     I was raised Catholic, so I was taught this idea that upon one's death, a soul could spend some time in this in-between place working off the less-than-mortal sins in order to be purified enough to escape hell and enter the gates of heaven. Or at least, that's my vague understanding of Purgatory.  
     I cannot actually claim to be a particularly good Catholic.  In truth, while I was raised Catholic, I wasn't exactly faithful to my, um, faith.  I got my soul saved in the Baptist youth group my bestie belonged to; came to love religious tradition and noodle kugel while working for Jewish organizations; gleaned wisdom from a whole host of beautiful people who believe very different things from any number of faith traditions; married a roving Protestant who spent 21 years with me in a non-denominational Pentecostal congregation. About five years ago, we made the difficult decision to leave that church and have been without a faith community since.  So I get that it is entirely possible that I have no idea what I'm talking about. I do know what it is to be in an in-between place, in purgatory.  I've been living there in oh-so-many ways. 

     I'm in-between sickness and health.  
I'm not laid out like I was this fall, but I'm not back to my best. 
I am somewhere in-between working my way to fully healthy and accepting that this very well could be my best now.

      I'm in-between jobs, somewhere in the late-middle of my career. 
You know, that place where I'm overqualified for a lot of positions,
 too expensive for a lot of others?

     I'm in-between generations. 
 I'm still raising children.  I'm still my mother's child. And I see the days ahead where my mother is going to need some mothering-type care herself. 
(Accepting it is a whole other discussion that neither of us are in any hurry to have.)

I'm in-between joy and despair.  
I am mindful to catch the joyful moments as they rush by, and they are beautiful. 
I'm still hopeful for better days to come,
 but the pain of continued disappointments is acute. 

I'm in-between rage and forgiveness. 
I cannot even articulate what that looks like. It's brutal and messy.

I'm in-between a rock and a hard place.



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Looking Beyond Disappointment Edition

This was supposed to be the week that I gleefully shared amazing news about a string of good fortune that has come my FabFam's way. This was supposed to be the week that changed everything.  This was supposed to be the week where I wrote a made-for-tv-movie happy ending of a post.

It wasn't. This week has been, um, disappointing, to say the least. So, I have had to really work at catching the joys. Thankfully, they were there to be caught.

Here is what blessed me during this tough stretch of days:

  • The outpouring of support, the demonstration of true affection for me and my family fills my heart. It has made this week bearable.
  • The Evil Genius has had a TERRIFIC week--two concerts, scheduling the appointment to get his braces off  TOMORROW, spending time with friends, and best of all (to him) the first marching band practice of the season.  Despite it all, I am truly tickled for him.

  • A dear cousin shared the great news that she's expecting her second baby. As Don Herold said, "Babies are such a nice way to start people."
  • A first grader blew me away with her advanced reading ability.  She brought a book back from her family trip to Florida about Hope and Winter, the famous dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It was definitely a book meant to be read to younger children, not by them. She read it flawlessly.
  • Her classmates blew me away when they cheered for her after she read it to them.

photo courtesy: Clearwater Marine Aquarium
  • All the seeds we planted--flowers and veggies--are sprouting.

  • The apple tree we thought we lost is in bloom.

  • The weather has been spectacular. There really is no place in the world as beautiful as New England on a warm spring day.
  • My husband and children, despite experiencing this week and its disappointments as acutely as I have, have been scurrying like mischievous elves to make sure that I have a Mothers' Day that is full of love and surprises and joy. The first Mothers' Day joy?  Waking up to the intoxicating scent of turkey stock.  It appears I'm getting a Thanksgiving Feast for my Mothers' Day dinner.  THAT makes me very happy, indeed.
photo courtesy: Jason Marzini

What is filling your heart this week?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--May Flowers Edition

Spring has finally sprung.  The joys have sprung along with them.  Here's a few of the things that have filled my heart this week:

  • The Evil Genius has struggled the first two terms of school this year. It really, really bothered him--way more than it bothered me or My Personal Chef. It has been hard to watch him beat himself up so much. Report cards came home this week and he made highest honors.  All his grades are up, but his science grade went up EIGHT percentage points. As we say in our FabFam:  Commence Smarty Pants Dance!
  • When discussing how to celebrate his hard-earned success, the Evil Genius asked for dinner at his favorite restaurant, with some of MY dearest friends. (Each of them are Smarty Pants in their own rights, who have been wonderful, nurturing examples for my nerdy,old soul son.)  That they happily obliged means more to me than I know how to express.
  • Because the Evil Genius is on a roll, I also had the absolute delight to watch him perform as part of the Massachusetts Music Educators' Association 43rd Annual Central District Junior High School Music Festival.  It is very competitive to get a seat in one of the ensembles. So, he was feeling pretty good about himself, just for making it. Having sat through years and years of student performances, my expectations were, um, realistic. I was blown away. The performances weren't good middle school performances.  They were good--really, really good--performances. 
  • An impromptu trip to Newport rewarded me with this incredibly joyful sight:  two busloads of high school students testing out their engineering skills with their homemade kites.

  • The incoming president of my Rotary Club asked me to serve as the emcee for her installation banquet. I am deeply touched and truly honored. 
  • Because I've been sick, I haven't been an active Rotarian in months and months. So, it was pretty awesome to return the week the first of the Woonsocket Rotary Days events kicked off with a spectacular Touch-a-Truck Festival.  The biggest joy?  Going for my first hot air balloon ride.

Photo courtesy: Kevin Greenough
  • I scored big on an outing to my favorite thrift store this week. My $13.00 haul included a spectacular hot pink and tangerine psychedelic tie for My Personal Chef (seriously, I think this trippy thing can be seen from space!), the cutest basket-weave purse ever, and brandy-new Clark's clogs for $5.00.  (I found them on their website for $85.00.)  I know not everyone gets a thrill out of thrifting.  That's fine.  Go ahead and write your own list of joys.  Okay? 
  • My tulips opened up this week.  Of all the flowers in my garden, the tulips bring me the most joy, because they require the most faith.  I plant them in the fall, hoping they will survive my lackadaisical planting technique, my yard of foraging critters, and the long New England winters.  This year's batch exceeded all expectations. I'm just delighted.

What has filled your hearts this week?