Singing My Loudest — Why I Love My Car

I went to the movies last week and saw Baby Driver,  a movie so full of amazing action, romance, sweetness, fast cars, evil, and the most fantastic sound track, it has me thinking about cars and music, and how sometimes the combination can be life-changing.

I also now understand why people get so attached to their cars.

My car is not flashy. It’s a 2006 dark gray/blue Honda Pilot. I didn’t like that color, my ex picked it, but since I’d made all the payments on the car, I got it in the divorce and it’s grown on me. It’s only broken down on me a couple of times in over 150,000 miles, which is a pretty decent record. My Pilot drove me out of California with a couple of El Sauz burritos, two horchatas, Brandon, my step-son-co-pilot,  and two dogs in the back — after a divorce that shredded romance for me and left my soul gasping for air.

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The driver’s seat of my Pilot

I took turns with Brandon driving across the country, almost 2500 miles. I wish I’d taken photos of our journey — but I have none. It was a great trip for me, and the most time alone I’d ever spent with Brandon.  He’d originally agreed, thinking the kids would be along too. When he found out it was just me, he could have backed out, but he didn’t. I’m still so grateful he went.

We walked the dogs, talked a lot, practiced Italian, went to Prairie Dog Town — a place that claimed to have the world’s largest Prairie Dog, got a ticket in Kansas (I was driving) and arrived at my brother’s home in Ohio after four days.

Kids with Bernie and dogs

I never noticed how worried Bernie looked in this photo until now. I think I know why.

Brandon got a flight back to New York — he had to be back for work — and I finally landed on my dad’s doorstep. I knocked on the door of the house where I grew up, and when my father opened the door, I broke down in tears.  We hugged for a long time, just standing in the doorway and finally made our way, up the three steps into the kitchen.

I felt like a pathetic loser. How lucky I was to have a dad who loved us enough to take me, my two kids and even the two pooping dogs in.  I stayed there for two years,  unable to buy a house because of stricter loan requirements. I worked on re-inventing myself, helping my dad while he helped us, and trying to stay sane.

Having my family there was wonderful, but getting divorced, losing my job two weeks later, then having to sell the home we painstakingly remodeled for 13 years, and losing with my entire way of life and lots of friends, was a challenge. In the wide scope of things, and compared to serious life and death situations some people endure, I know it was definitely a first world problem. But being career-less and moving my family into my childhood home, with my 95 year-old father with worsening dementia, was not what I imagined I’d be doing at 55.

My escape road

My escape route

So, at night, after I tucked him into bed, sometimes I’d run an errand, just for a ride alone in my Pilot. I’d drive down the roads I used to drive on when I was a teenager looking for fun, only now I was driving to escape.

I’d put one of the CD’s in the car that my daughter painstakingly made for me, roll down all the windows, even in the dead of winter, and sing at the top of my lungs. A couple of favorites were “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, Diego Garcia’s, “You Were Never There,” Bon Iver’s, “Holocene,” and a song by Cults called “Bad Things,” that had this line in it: “I’m gonna run, run away, run, run, away…” you get the idea.

I’m quite certain, I looked like a lunatic, but it kept me sane.  Screaming those lyrics was pretty cathartic, but I couldn’t run away. I had my dad to think of, kids and dogs and a career to resurrect. I had to stay and figure out what the hell I was going to do.

But those moments, when it was just me, my car, my sadness and frustration, loud music and country roads in front of me, made that Pilot more than just a car. It was a friend, who carried me away and let me sing at the top of my lungs when I needed it.

Two years later, I drove back across the country so my daughter could finish high school in the same town she started kindergarten, get a better education, get to know the cute boy she’d met on summer vacation, and I could figure out how to start over in California, the place I had contacts and a track record. It took a few  starts, but at least I’m on a path now and have more of a plan than I ever did before. I’ve heard the saying, God laughs at plans, but you have to start somewhere.

I still have my Honda Pilot. I can’t imagine ever getting rid of the car that carried me out of California and brought me back in, a stronger, more whole person still singing at the top of her lungs.

Apparently, I AM My Mother

Last Sunday, just before my daughter left with her boyfriend to take some things to college, she mentioned that the refrigerator light wasn’t on and the refrigerator didn’t appear to be working.

I leaped into panic mode because:

  1. Getting anything repaired in Los Angeles is usually expensive.
  2. Getting anything repaired on a Sunday in Los Angeles is usually very expensive.
  3. I just bought a plane ticket to go back to visit family for Labor Day, which I probably couldn’t afford, and this was God’s way of showing me that, (in your best God voice) “Yes, it’s true Fran, you probably can’t afford to go anywhere, and I arranged for your refrigerator to break down to beat that into your thick head.”

Thanks God, I needed that.

Then Hamlet showed up.  Hamlet was the repair guy from MK Appliance Repair, who not only came on a Sunday afternoon, less than two hours after I called him, but showed me that my refrigerator was not broken! We just had so much crap piled in it, a habit I picked up from my mother, that the air flow was restricted and therefore it wasn’t cooling like it was supposed to. And Hamlet replaced my refrigerator light for nothing!

The whole thing cost me 40 bucks.  I almost hugged him, but it would have been a really awkward moment. In my joy, I tipped him five dollars,

The only bright spot in all of this was that Hamlet forced me to take everything out of the freezer so he could check it.  It was a humbling experience because the contents of my freezer looked scarily like my mother’s, minus the small package of chicken feet she was hiding. Otherwise we could be freezer twins.

I found:

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Some of my freezer stash

3 separate bags of grated cheese, one with less than a teaspoon of cheese.

Two very small pieces of frozen pie dough that, together, would barely even make a small tart.

4 bags of frozen bananas – some horribly brown, some hideously brown (the ones pictured are the hideous ones)

1 large bag of lemon juice left over from a wedding I catered last January

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New Year’s Eve Lemon Juice

1 small bag of frozen diced quince from God knows when

2 leftover ham bones (I had to throw one out – it was like Sophie’s Choice for me)

2 bags of chopped walnuts

1 small bag of hazelnuts

1 mostly empty container of leftover pesto

3 bags of Nestle’s white chocolate chips (I’m testing a theory that they last longer if you freeze them after opening them — I’ll let you know the results.)

1 container of chopped peanuts

3 bags of coconut

1 container of leftover peanut butter icing

1 container of vegan coffee icing from a blog over a year ago – Dear God what was I thinking?

2 peanut biscotti – those had to be from Christmas!

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When would I use this again?

1 bag of wheat buns

And that isn’t even all of it.  That was just what was in the door of the freezer. I’m sure this proves I have freezer-hoarder syndrome.  But, like my Greatest Generation parents, I hate to throw out perfectly good food. If I just baked a ham, I save the bone for soup. I do the same with chicken. If I make icing and have some leftover, I save it for the next cake.

I honestly can’t help myself. I can hear my mom’s voice in my ear. “Honey, dond a trow datta out — dattsa good a food!” I freeze nuts because they last longer that way. I freeze buns thinking I’ll make burgers, then never do.  I make plans for baking things that never transpire – that explains the brown frozen bananas. Even as I type this I was thinking about how many eggs it would take to make lemon bars from that lemon juice I found. But I decided to chuck it all since the plastic probably leached into it by now and I’m better off without lemon bars anyway.

The good news is I just made delicious split pea soup from the ham bone that won the Sophie’s Choice decision. Here’s a link to an old blog post with that Split Pea Soup Recipe. It’ll come in handy this fall and winter. I’m also going to wash all my plastic bags, then dry and re-use them. Then I’ll figure out what to do with all the Costco ravioli in the freezer, pick out some recipes for the frozen fish, then tackle the frozen meatball problem, then probably pass out.  But at least I’ll rest comfortably knowing my mother’s legacy lives on.

 

What Happens When You Stop Making Plans

Back in 2010 when I moved back to Pennsylvania, post divorce, I spent a lot of time with family.  My brother Bob, who was semi-retired at that time and I would occasionally go for walks, and he’d start reflecting back on his life.  He’d ask me things like what I wanted to be remembered for.

I kept thinking,  What the hell! I’m only 55, do I have to reflect already? I’m just getting started on my new life. I want to make plans, not reflect! I thought he was getting really morbid and it worried me. But he was sort of semi-retired after a very fulfilling career as a successful president of a company and he was in his reflecting phase.

Fast forward to today – guess who’s reflecting now? I think finally turning the age when a person can successfully apply for Social Security is what’s made me princess of the dark side.  Plus, working in a place filled with nubile 20-somethings sometimes inspires you, and sometimes makes you want to drag your withering corpse to the crypt already.

I’ve been torn recently, between making plans for the success I still feel like I haven’t achieved, and saying terrible things to myself about what the point is now anyway. After all, the painful truth is I’m closer to death than birth, unless I live to be 125.

But, you know me. I sometimes slip into a funk, but I always spring back because I know a powerful truth.  When you stop making plans and following dreams, you die.  I watched that happen to my ex mother-in-law and I know it’s true.

Life is just a series of goals you set for yourself. Some goals you reach, some take you down paths you never even imagined, and some never materialize. But pursuing them is what gives you a reason to get up every morning. And achieving them makes you feel amazing. And there are a ton of people who found amazing success when they were older. You can never give up the dream of being one of them.

So, maybe it’s crazy to want to finish this screenplay, or keep pursuing the other goals I’ve set, but the alternative is so much crazier. How could a totally healthy woman, with tons of energy, in one of the best countries in the world, with limitless possibilities at my fingertips, not set goals? That would be much crazier.

The Academy Awards of Cleaning

“And the Oscar goes to (your name here) for the cleanest house in the world.”

You’ll never hear those words in your life, so for God’s sake, put down the Swiffer and go have some fun while there’s still some summer left. Or better yet, write that book/screenplay/blog post, take that class, dance in the kitchen, or climb a mountain because no one is ever going to say, “Wow didn’t we have fun at (your name here)’s house last summer. It was so clean – I could have admired her floors all day long!”

I’m really writing this to myself.  I make mental notes of things that are dirty as I walk past, then they weigh on me until I take care of them.  What kind of crap is that? Who is responsible for this ridiculous behavior?

Apparently it’s hereditary because my father’s grandmother, Carolina was over the top about a clean house. It’s somewhat comforting to know heredity’s to blame although you couldn’t tell by my kids rooms.

In my observations,  Italian women come in two types, Clean and surgically clean.  The surgically clean ones cover every conceivable surface in plastic. It was a nightmare in the 60’s. Your skin peeled  off on the plastic, if you dared sit on the living room couch of a surgically clean woman

The bottom line is, I won’t make more money if I’m clean.  I won’t have more friends, neither my kids nor my dog will love me more, and statues won’t be erected memorializing my amazing cleaning arm — dust cloth in hand — raised to get that last cobweb. I will have wasted precious time that I could have spent doing more important things than cleaning.

I’ve never dumped a true friend over cleanliness, and I have to believe people don’t care about mine either.  So I’m trying to stop worrying about it. It doesn’t matter. I have yet to see a talk show host ask to interview someone because she or he has great cleaning habits. And I’ve never seen a tombstone that said, “Here lies Sponge Girl, she won the Academy Award for the cleanest house in the universe.”

As my mom once said, “Da hell witta da houza work.  Wenna you’re dead, da houze willa still be dirty.” And she was so right. Enjoy your summer, there’s only one month left!

 

 

I Can’t Shut Up Anymore!

I know, most of you are saying, “Wait, when have you ever shut up?” But I do sometimes edit what I say here for fear of offending some readers, but I just can’t worry about it anymore!  I just watched “Chasing Coral,” a multi-award winning documentary on Netflix and was so affected witnessing the devastation of our coral reefs, I whipped into action. I am not a diver and I’m a barely capable swimmer, but this isn’t about saving coral reefs just because they’re beautiful to look at, the death of coral reefs is a very serious threat to our planet and it’s been going on for decades.

“Chasing Coral,” is all about the impact global warming is having on our coral reefs. They’re dying because the temperature of the ocean is rising. Some sources say the earth has lost half of it’s coral reefs in the last 30 years. The documentary was created and researched with the help of some outstanding scientists and marine biologists and they all agree, coral is a fundamental part of a huge ecosystem.

If there’s one thing science teaches us it’s that all life is connected. If you get rid of one thing “you” might not consider important, it affects everything else.  I’ll pick something annoying like mosquitoes. Everyone hates them. Let’s say we eradicated all mosquitoes — then what would creatures like birds and bats eat? Pretty soon all sorts of species would die, just because of stupid annoying mosquitoes. That’s the way it is with coral reefs, which are neither stupid,nor annoying. They are gorgeous and they’re home to an amazing number of fish and sea animals. If you think their death isn’t going to affect sea life, and you, you are badly mistaken. Continue reading

Tomato Fever

Summer in Pennsylvania meant stepping downstairs to a kitchen table overflowing with tomatoes.  It taught me to both love tomatoes and wonder when they were going to take over the household and squeeze me out of my room.

My father could never plant less than 20 tomato plants. Our cousin Tony would start seedlings and bring them over, then dad would go buy plants, then someone else would bring plants, so every August, tomatoes covered the basement kitchen table. Yes, basement kitchen table, because in our Italian household, one kitchen was never enough.

Even in the last two years of my dad’s life when he couldn’t plant tomatoes or dig anymore, he supervised. He wasn’t strong enough to help, so he stood in the living room’s picture window, looking out across the grassy backyard, watching me digging in his garden. I remember my hands wrapped around the wooden handle of the hoe on a sweltering July afternoon. I felt compelled to weed around all the tomatoes –grabbing the clumps of weeds with my hands and tossing them aside. I was hot, sweaty and exhausted. I  looked up and he was standing there giving me the OK sign with his hand. Nothing pleased him more than seeing his kids work their guts out. Continue reading

Life’s Magic

I spent the Fourth of July having lunch with a friend, then responsibly cleaning, doing laundry, and ironing the fat pile of clothes that sits in my room staring at me every day. I could have gone to a party, but decided to stay home and get things accomplished.

If I was any more boring, I would have to be dead. Going out would have been fun, but I told myself the same thing my ex-mother-in-law used to say, “Oh, I’ve seen lots of fireworks in my life, I don’t have to see them tonight.”

As the evening wore on, I ironed, watched a movie and a few episodes of Frankie and Grace, then heard the boom of fireworks  and regretted not going out because no matter how old I get, I never get over the thrill of seeing those cascading sparkles against the navy sky. To let in some cool night air, I flung open the short casement window at the top of the stairs and noticed, that if I stood on my tiptoes, I could see flashes and sparkles in the distance. Continue reading

The Audacity to Bloom

Jamal:name.JPGA few months ago, we had some really windy days –the kind that knock down power lines and blow my casement windows open — and a tragic thing happened. Jamal got knocked off our back stairs.

Jamal is a cactus my daughter bought years ago at Ikea. He’s one hell of a cactus. He sat ignored in my daughter’s room for about a year, then got moved to the outside stairs, where he was even more ignored. Occasionally I watered him when I remembered he was even there. But mostly he was forgotten.

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Jamal’s first bloom!

Until one day when I walked past and he had a glorious yellow bloom bursting from the top of his prickly little head. I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture, told my daughter and we were in awe of him for a few days. Then Jamal’s bloom faded and we went back to forgetting him. Continue reading

The Days of Spatula Licking are Almost Over

This week, I baked cookies because someone at work asked me to. I’m pretty easy. All you have to do is flatter me by telling me my cookies are the best you’ve ever had and I’ll bake for you too.

I also baked because one of my young co-workers lost his dad to a sudden heart attack a few weeks ago and the pain is still so raw for him that it breaks my heart. So, baking his favorite chocolate chip cookies couldn’t hurt.

Miss Milena

She had the whole thing licked clean before I could even take the picture.

As I was in the kitchen baking, my daughter was on the comfy, sage colored couch in the living room working on a paper for school. I was cleaning off the beater, wondering if she’d want to lick it like she used to when she was a kid. I hesitated, thinking she might not go for it, then offered it to her. She happily took it like she did when she was three. Continue reading

Women Always Find the Good in Each Other — Garlic helps

Theresa is the first wife of my ex-husband.

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Fran and Theresa the only two members of a very exclusive club.

She rocks.

But for years I didn’t realize that because I was married to my then husband, and his characterizations may not have been completely accurate because pesky emotion was involved.

I should have known better because the son she and my ex had together is absolutely wonderful. You don’t turn out that great if there isn’t someone molding you, and the master molder was Theresa. We only got Brandon a few weekends a month, so we were assistant molders. And I have to say, that my ex was a good dad to Brandon. He loved him completely, Brandon knew it, and that makes a big difference.

But now that my ex is my ex, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Theresa much better. It all started around the time I was getting divorced. I had the massive realization that there were going to be stories out there about me that might be one-sided, colored by emotion and, therefore possibly, not completely true.

I realized then, that for decades, I’d only been getting half the story about her and their relationship.  Much of it was factual, but much was colored by emotion, and we all know emotion is a lousy gauge for accuracy. Continue reading