Making it Work

This is a classic picture from my childhood. I am on the right with the crazy huge smile. I have no recollection of this event but any time my sister and her friends allowed me to be in their presence it was the BEST DAY EVER. My sister is five years older than me, back then she was a god-like. Now…now, she is just Allison, a normal human, that said, she would still focus on her marshmallow roasting technique with the same need for perfection.

Back to the picture. My guess is it was a hot summers day, it started to rain, and my mom wanted to keep us busy. No better solution than “roasting marshmallows” over what looks like a citronella bug candle. Carcinogenic summer fun. It was probably 1968 or so, guessed by my lack of hair and my sister’s hip sandals. Did you know Birkenstocks came to America in 1966? Allison always had the latest in fashion trends, she also had Frye boots, and macrame wedged platforms in the 70s. Perks of spending weekends with her mom in Manhattan. I enjoyed the perks of hand-me-downs, win win.

Like most kids in the 70s, we grew up making it work, no instant Amazon solutions, no random purchases just because. If you wanted a toy when it wasn’t your birthday or Christmas…you made your own version. If you needed paints while on Fire Island…you smashed some beets, crushed some green leaves, or watered down thick house paint from the shed. Rainy summer days might mean mud fights in our bathing suits, frog hunting, or puddle splash wars with umbrella shields. Boredom was the path to creativity and we were bored a lot… all kids were.

Greg recently read me a eulogy his cousin wrote about their Aunt Rosie. I met her on our honeymoon in South Dakota…where we had the classic honeymoon experience of…visiting a pig farm. Seeing a billion baby pigs climbing all over each other was like being on another planet. Did you know their cute little spiral tails are clipped off so they won’t bite them off later? Fact. I squealed in delight at the thought of living a Fern and Wilbur moment…so Rosie let me pick up a piglet. Uncle Rubin arrived during said moment and everyone went quiet…and that’s when I learned holding piglets is a no no. Anyway, we moved on to sun tea and cookies, and it was glorious. The eulogy made Greg’s eyes water…filled with memories of playing games created by older cousins, having fun in the “itchy pit”, and Aunt Rosie…always with a smile. This gaggle of Midwesterners made their fun just like us New Yorkers…different worlds, same solution to boredom.

I interrupt this Swoon to point out that the beautiful fields (and pits) in South Dakota are sinister and evil. At age the of 24 (while on the same honeymoon), donning a very cute babydoll dress, I ran through the fields of the Nemec homestead. Living my long-awaited Little House on the Praire moment. While experiencing this bliss, I was bitten by a million and one chiggers. It was not the most romantic development…I itched for weeks. I am not sure why they would fondly remember the “itchy pit”, maybe it had nothing to do with chiggers.

Today is a winter Sunday…cleaning, writing a Swoon, making a turtle shell for the high school play, cooking, and football…not much boredom these days, but still making it work.

Meatloaf

I love me a good meatloaf…a bit burnt on the outside, nice and firm inside. Ketchup top with a side of string beans and mashed potatoes. Yum. A blast from the past…but I am writing about a different blast from the past…Meatloaf the man.

Bat Out of Hell which sounds more like bad atta hell in my head, was one of my first record purchases. A trip to Korvette’s was always a treat…having enough saved money to buy an album instead of 45s was heaven. Flipping through the stacks, that indescribable smell, music of the moment playing…hoping mom would take an extra long time to do her shopping or returns. Somehow she was always back in a blink. Come on Kit Kat, pay and let’s go. Smoothing out my wrinkled dollar bills, counting my change, being handed the coveted brown paper bag with ragged edges. Once in the car…plastic wrap off, liner notes out, and the studying began. Home. Help mom unload the car and run up the stairs. Slamming my door to listen to the album while hanging off the bed, switching between lyric memorization and watching the record spin. Again, and again, and again. New records…so shiny and black, scratch-free and pure. Musical mishaps. Remember the sound of the first scratch on a pristine record, zippppp, ugg, it hurts my ears…or the sound of a cassette tape being eaten by the machine of choice, makes my stomach drop. Things my kids will never experience.

Before kids we attended a lot of weddings, hotel overnights, grown-up cocktails galore, dancing…celebrating beautiful couples. Love Shack forever in my mind as a moment from our wedding…dancing hard, bouncing, my dress so so very heavy, not a care in the world. Joy. Meatloaf…I think of my sister-in-law’s beautiful church wedding and reception in the heart of the country…and loved ones ages 5-70 dancing and singing Paradise by the Dashboard Light at the top of their lungs.

I started swearing to my god and on my mother’s grave
That I would love you to the end of time
I swore that I would love you to the end of time!
So now I’m praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don’t think that I can really survive

Watching the bride twirling and experiencing pure contentment…perfection. Wondering, hmmm, is this an appropriate song for a wedding…then getting out of my head to enjoy the moment, because in my heart I knew….they really would love each other to the end of time.

Meatloaf…may you rest in peace. I adore your music to this day. Thank you for sharing your talent, I am eternally grateful to you for supplying me with a forever moment.

Actual wedding photo (thank you Jan), not sure if this is THE Meatloaf moment.

Being Five

Being five means you get to wear two pairs of gloves when you want to. It means french toast tastes better when cut into 24 bite sized pieces. It means being both in love and a bit afraid of a 10 pound dog.

Being five means you can ask to marry that 10 pound dog, “even though the dog is a girl”, and even though you are so much taller. Those are the only obstacles to marrying a dog…when you are five.

Being five means repeating “I’m gonna shake my butt”…while shaking your butt…is hysterical. It is even funnier when you can get an 84-year-old woman to shake her butt and chant with you. Being five means singing Christmas songs at the top of your lungs…in late January.

Being five means it’s okay to be really really excited about your birthday months ahead of time. You can ask for specific gifts and you can declare you want a banner saying happy birthday…in a home other than your own. Being five means you can invite your babysitter to your party and also remind her to go to your house right after school to help clean up the outside toys before the snow storm.

Being five in suburbia means public buses are mysterious, and the Metro Card on the bus sign is coveted. Being five means walking backwards is a blast and jumping off low walls is “so dangerous”…so dangerous that a hug is in order once you land safely. Being five means you give and get lots of hugs.

Being with a five year old is magical.

I hope my kids remember the every day joy of being five. When jumping into my arms was the safest place in the world. When building, crafting, baking, playing, reading, and swinging was their job and night time giggles filled our souls.

As my daughter listens to our banter and watches us play before running out the door to work, I hope she remembers I did the same for her…when she was five.

January

A Roz Chast cartoon was being forwarded on social media last week, A Year-At-A-Glance pie chart. January is the biggest piece, February is a bit smaller, then March, April, and so on. November and December are barely there, slivers in time, gone in a blink.

January, not much to look forward to, the coldest of the cold ahead. Snow shoveling and frigid walks, long gray days. Oh January, does anyone like you?

I blame everything on the month at this time of year… it was January’s fault that my Zoom stopped working. An exercise Zoom scheduled with friends, I was a gray rectangle…a meeting with clients, still a gray void. Following advice from online geniuses (try restarting the computer) I got the camera working again…and there I was…upside down and silhouetted in space.

This is Major Tom to Ground ControlI’m stepping through the door…And I’m floating in a most peculiar way…And the stars look very different today…

Thinking about David Bowie, sigh…he died in January…of course he did.

January, means a plethora of annual doctor appointments for me. Scheduled with a why not, there is nothing else going on attitude. Doctors investigating every orifice of my body…for a month straight…not the best plan. My mouth has a temporary crown, my right breast has been abused by numerous sonogram machines, and the rest I will just keep to myself.

My dentist is a great guy. He and his wife welcome each patient as they arrive. The dog in the waiting room in front of the electric fireplace of “crackling wood”. There is soft recognizable music playing and pictures of their daughters on the mantle. They go out of their way to make everyone feel comfortable. Heaven. Today I looked at the poor man and said, I’m sorry, I hate to be rude but I really don’t want to be here and I need to put in my earphones before you start drilling, the sounds make me so sick, I like YOU but I really really hate being here. Laughing, he told me he has heard it all and has developed a thick skin. I wonder if January knows most people hate it? I wonder if it sends us snow storms in retaliation for our disdain.

Poor January.

With a restart AND a reinstall…Zoom was back and I was no longer floating in space.
That is my slaphappy borderline going insane face, my family knows it well.

Sharing Goodness.

Good Morning! My fb memories have been bringing me smiles lately. A few years ago when the future seemed dark and grim (and I am talking before the pandemic — ha, who knew) I reached out to my fb community and asked them to share a nice story, some goodness they had created or experienced. I just needed some beauty in my soul. The response was overwhelming. People wrote little quips about the good in their lives for days. Posts filled with comments containing only positivity and warmth. Rereading them made my heart sing. People wrote about the innocence of a tiny red leaf frozen in a puddle, happy medical news, surprisingly lovely art created by their students, and ridiculous stories about their kids and pets. Reading about the lovely of others…makes for an amazing start to the day.

There is a pay it forward experience at Starbucks drive-thrus. People pay for the car behind them in line…then that car treats the car behind them, and so on. Social media brags pop up from people in the paying it forward line. “We got to 50 cars! Fun fun fun.” I just read an article about how this isn’t always the greatest situation for the workers (it complicates the orders and some people get rude when they have to shell out more then they ordered). It also creates hurt when someone can’t afford to pay a $76 coffee bill for the carload of teenagers getting their sugar fix behind them. Interesting. I never considered these issues. Sometimes our fun creates a hardship for others, sigh, learning is good. Maybe paying it forward by overtipping minimum wage workers is better than “treating” people who can afford $6 coffees to begin with.

Recognizing those who work hard…that is a concept I adore. As a middle schooler I used to work local parties. Helping the lady of the house set up, serve, then clean after guests left. It was usually 5 or 6 hours of non-stop work. These were the days when one made 2-5 dollars an hour babysitting. After one party I was paid $60…three twenties…it might as well have been a million. The patron handed me the cash and said something like, Do not argue with me, you worked so hard and you deserve every penny. Always accept what you deserve Katharine. The fact that she had Jackie O beauty and a Spanish accent did not hurt her delivery. I remember her grace to this day.

My art teacher guy just re-posted the image below done by a student many moons ago. He wondered where the beautiful road below had taken him. Greg is the kind of art teacher that does not only focus on natural talents…he works hard at getting the academic oriented kids and jocks to enjoy the process of creating art. Sometimes they respond, sometimes they resist…but when they choose to accept the guidance presented to them…they create art from the soul, like the print below. Teachers spend their lives sharing their gifts and paying it forward, they are good people.

Ahhhhhhh what a lovely morning of memories. Enjoy your day.

Clutter

My girlfriend is moving, actually a lot of my girlfriends are moving…or have recently moved. Downsizing to be closer to family, downsizing to rid themselves of cheating husbands, downsizing so they can work less with lower overhead, upsizing for some lovely generational living with their parents. Cha cha changes.

With change comes decluttering. One of the most tender chores is going through the boxes and boxes of photos. Remember physical photographs? Rewinding and removing the rolls of film then dropping them at the Fotomat kiosk or local photo store. Watching as they wrote your name and phone number on the envelopes… picking print size, b/w or color, matte or glossy. Matte was cool, cool people chose matte-finished photos. The wait… oh the wait. Waiting is so good for the soul. Writing the due date on the calendar, that day being so long…knowing you would see the pictures after work. Being handed the envelope. Ripping the super sticky outer envelope glue strip to find those glorious packets of images and negatives…careful, don’t drop the negatives. Shuffling through the images as your credit card was cla-clinked through the machine…sharing the best moments with strangers waiting their turn. Not so different than posting online…but much less danger of people being rude. Such such innocent fun.

Boxes of photos, moments, negatives…what do you do with this stuff. It has to be trimmed down. Stuff. I have been receiving texts with images of moments long forgotten. Bits of gold passed on. Now digital…they are forever…or until the laptop login no longer works. Nothing is forever.

Our refrigerator used to be the catch-all for all photos we received from friends… announcements, school photos, bits of our daily life. I removed them years ago to do a “good clean”…the stark blue of the refrigerator was so refreshing…they never went back up. Now just things in a box, to be found when we too decide to move. This picture, a reminder of the time when people actually printed photos, when we shared the best of the best with the people in them, when we held our loved ones in our hands instead of flipping through them on the screens.

Different times.

Many many moons ago.

Da Mens

This picture is from our wedding, a last goodbye with my childhood girlfriends before heading out to Vegas. We had no idea what was going on behind us, and for years I was annoyed our friend “ruined” the picture. Now I find it hysterical, he is who he is and he likes to get attention, good or bad, it’s a win. He is also currently overseeing care of his elderly parents…which makes him one of the…da mens.

Yesterday, a conversation confirmed that when my brother was staying at our house lovingly protecting my mom from his COVID kids (while we frolicked in California)…he slept on a bed with no sheets. For days. For days, a grown man with a PhD slept wrapped in a quilt, I wasn’t on the mattress, it’s all good, no worries. This too is a da mens situation.

Our babysitter used to go…tsk tsk tsk, head shake, da mens when she found an off situation around the house. Da mens are wonderful people, they love their wives, play with their kids, and can cook a mean frittata…they also open mail leaving the envelopes on the counter, forget to put the toilet seat down, and tend to leave socks ev-ver-ry-where.

Da Mens.

I swore I would not raise a “da man”. Our son…in addition to being kind, respecting all humans, working hard, and loving his family…would pick up after himself, put things back in their place, and never in a million years would he leave a dish NEXT to the sink. We failed on part two of that equation.

Da mens popped in my head after reading a Reddit “Am I The A**hole?” entry. A woman wanted to know if she was TA because she wanted her husband to use the extra bathroom for his morning 45 minute smelly videogame playing poopathon. She thought it seemed fair that she get ready for work where all her prep tools and products were…in a pleasant smelling space. He did not. So, she reached out to the world…literally the world…asking if she was an a**hole. My initial reaction after reading it was eyeroll, da mens…but that is so wrong. This guy is not a da mens, he is a caveman…and she most certainly was not the a**hole.*

Swoon…our babysitter had it right…she gives a scold and a hug at the same time, she loves her da mens… and they love her right back.

*for those who think I am being too judgmental about the poopathoner please read the Reddit thread.

Winter Weekends

Time to de-Christmas, put away decorations, distribute forgotten C-level gifts to the bedrooms, trash boxes of treats housing only crumbs. Deliver gifts to those we didn’t see… limp and crumpled tissue leaning out of the seasonal bags…Santa is so last month. Every year I try and organize a bit better for the decorating marathon the morning after Thanksgiving, mental notes of what is in which box. This year I went over the top and labeled the boxes. It only took me 33 years to figure that one out…progress.

Winter weekends are for cooking big pots of comfort. Chili, stew, soups. Some for today, a dinner next week, and a week worth of lunches. Love in a pot. Yesterday I made chili, switching it up going all vegetarian, and honestly not sure I will do that again. Delicious but missing something, maybe I’ll try vegan, the masters of imposter textures. Going from months of baking for others…to creating meals for my family. It feels so right, if I make a cookie…it is for them.

Winter weekends used to be about projects. Kids working on their Olympics of the Visual Arts creations, taking over the living room and porch with oversized art…acrylic paints everywhere, dreamy. The whole family focusing on the high school play, each doing our part…set painting, prop making, actors, and runners…a gift for so many years. Projects reorganizing, purging, and clearing out what we had outgrown. Getting stuff done with few interruptions, inside is the place to be.

Today I am remembering the love and the crazy of the holiday season…like childbirth, the good memories float to the top…and pretty soon, the light and the energy of the busy seasons ahead will have me spinning with glee.

Swoon.

Chili from many moons ago, this one had meat. Aren’t spices gorgeous. Swoon.

Re-entry

While on our first family vacation in years (pure fun…no weddings, commitments, or musts), I read an Insta post from a local mom of four littles. It was labeled “Day 4864 of Winter Break”. I remember those days, when ten days off from school seemed like a lifetime. The circled date on the calendar when we returned to school and work was the pot of gold at the end of the holiday insanity rainbow. Back to structure and order…the system that calmed the chaos.

Where am I? You know that feeling when you forget you’re back home. The dog and two cats snuggling against me were a clue, as was the dark dark room, the clock reading 6:25am was the final tipoff. I was in New York, our kid was 3000 miles away, the holiday was over…back to reality.

Re-entry is harder when vacation mode was so much fun.

Back to the morning routine. Wash up, wait…who is that person in the mirror, they look 110 years old…oh yeah, they are still on California time. Feed the animals, feed the Christmas tree, straighten the house, wait for my little morning charge to show up.

Sunshine and energy bursts into the house, there is nothing better than having a 5 year old for an hour a day. Kat, it will be my birthday soon (it is in late March). Kat, I want 24 pieces (I cut his French toast strips into 24 pieces so he doesn’t choke to death on my watch), Kat, does Jasmine still love me so much? (yes, she loves you and your French toast droppings). Kat, what will we do now? (no more advent calendar of lego brilliance to keep us busy every morning).

I give him a little souvenir from California…plastic astronauts, rockets, and vehicles purchased at the Griffith Observatory after an amazing tour by our son’s partner, Ella. Ella loves space and stars…and she is beyond knowledgeable and I actually understood the tour when she switched to her “observatory goodness for 4th graders” mode. We were invited behind closed doors to see the “huge telescope in the center dome” and the “view the sun in real time contraption in the little dome”. People who actually have knowledge of science and space are probably getting hives at the descriptions of those beyond special places… I apologize that I got to see them. Greg immediately started using the toys to teach rockets, launchers, and who the first men on the moon were…Dillon soaked it all in. Kat, how do Neil and Buzz get back for dinner? I explained that they would ride part of the rocket back. Re-entry, back to normal…home for dinner.

Home…doing chores, tons of laundry, filling the fridge, opening mail, and getting in back to work mode. Taking down the holiday decorations and tree can wait, I want to savor that a bit longer. January needs some bling.

Halfway on our walk to school, my little man looked up and asked…Kat, why are you wearing those shoes? Hmmmm…I still had my slippers on.

Re-entry takes time.

The special “view the surface of the sun in real time” room…note the blue sky…sometimes it doesn’t rain in California!

Survivor

Happy New Year. Since I closed 2021 swooning about a tv show from my past, I will start 2022 swooning about a current favorite.

It took us two cancelled trips to get out to California to visit our son. This past December as the pandemic resurfaced we considered cancelling again, but in the end decided to go for it, to push forward. Double vaccinated and boosted, quarantined from seeing others a few days before our flight, K95 and surgical masked, we arrived in California five hours delayed surviving 18 hours of little to no food or drink, tons of sanitizer, and masks that felt like suction cups protecting us from the unseen dangers around us. Kind of surreal but worth every crazy minute. Survivors.

Survivor. I have watched every episode. Since I am not a legit writer and my swoons come from my soul the moment I feel them I have no idea if I am repeating myself. Am I that auntie that tells the nieces and nephews the same story over and over? No clue. I love the show Survivor. Politics, interpersonal relationships, balance skills, and thinking out of the box. Awesomeness. I have always said I would be first off or in the final five. I am not a middle of the pack kind of gal…maybe a Jan Brady in my family…but not in life.

This past week we survived the unthinkable…well, according to every Californian we came in contact with…we survived…sit down…we survived a week of…rain. Evidently it NEVER rains in California. They plan weddings without contingency plans for rain or weather, they get amusement park tickets without checking the weather, they tell people to pack for a week of sun. It rained for all or part of 4 out of 7 days and we…survived!

New Years Eve we awoke to a jam packed day, it was going to be sunny and warm, a California miracle. It was a typical Nemec vacation day. Drive to Eaton Canyon for the waterfall hike, get vegan fast food, clean up, go to The Getty, then to The Grove, visit with friends from NY now living in CA, and celebrate NYE. Hugging friends we have not seen in years…amazing. Experiencing The Getty and The Grove…delicious. Eating Ella’s delicious veggie pasta dish and watching the ball drop in NY with one eye closed in a blinking crown of flowers…my kind of NYE celebration. Playing Survivor on our hike…EVERYTHING.

Our trip to California has been wonderful for many reasons. It has been a treat to see where our kid lives, I love knowing that when we chat on his drive home from work I will be able to picture the 110 and know that when he turns off 33rd he will be seconds from home. This is a huge gift for a visual person. Friends have said that visiting one’s “kids” in their space is difficult, causing lots of arguments on who is in charge. We left all the planning to the kids…they bought the tickets, they planned the itinerary, they gave directions. I found it beyond liberating to just…let…go. We took turns treating for dinner and yummies, every one of us paying for one thing or another. We were equals and only had a few slips back into nutty family dynamics.

Back to Survivor. Jacob was beyond excited to take us on his favorite hike. Prepping us for its difficulty (hello young man, I walked for miles with your 25 inch body and huge head dangling off my 60 inch body in a baby Bjorn, I think I got this)…explaining the trip was through a desert-like setting, into a forest of trees, then ending at… a waterfall. The grand prize in the land of dryness, where it never rains.

We walked through the sand/dirt…past cacti and low greens, then I heard a sound, the sound of a running creek, the sound of…water. The kids heard it at the same time. They stopped in their tracks, then ran to the stream. The stream that according to them…was not there. They were in shock. We moved on, the path we were supposed to take was closed, there was a river there now, a gushing, white water river. Always the Boy Scout looking for an adventure Jacob decided we could “go around” the river. We followed. We walked through brush of blackened trees from previous fires, past cacti with prickly pears, over rocks that looked much sturdier than they were, walking and looking for a place to cross the river.

New Yorkers tend to give off the vibe that they know what they are doing…even if they don’t. At the La Brea Tar Pits Jacob had so much knowledge…people starting asking him questions. On our hike there was a line of tourists following us, little ants following the leader. Finally we found a bridge…when I say bridge I mean a fallen tree. Hiking at 5 feet has its perks, low to the ground is generally good, short legs are not so helpful when trying to hop on a tree while crossing a stream. As Jacob reached out a hand to help me across, I realized even with his hand, Olivia and I were going to end up wet. So, I grabbed some big rocks and threw them in the water, making a stepping stone for us littles…problem solving at its best, then with my boy’s hand helping me to the tree…I crossed…step by step, four points of contact, over the water. My Survivor moment.

We did not make it all the way to the waterfall, at one point the path was completely underwater. We were a little disappointed but soon realized it would be fun to come back and do the hike the dry way…no obstacle courses, no drama, no water. We hear California has fires because it’s so dry, it never rains…we shall see.

Surviving… family vacations, pandemic flying, rainy California, washed out paths on our hike…we did it. Who needs a tv show when you can live it.

Happy 2022…it’s going to be ok, we don’t need any more than that.

The most unflattering picture of all time, but I still LOVE it…and that is called growth!