Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl

Every once in a while you get to work with someone who just gets you. Someone whose camaraderie makes the work easier and more enjoyable. Someone who brightens the day with her smile. Someone who makes you laugh so hard you snort, or worse yet spew coffee all over yourself. Someone without whom you simply can’t imagine doing this work that you do.

My someone is Brandy.  

Brandy and I worked concurrently in different departments of a previous employer for about nine years. We knew of each other, but never really got to know each other. We would smile our greetings in the hallways, but it was always distantly cordial. I held back because I assumed she was too fancy to be my friend. She held back because she assumed I didn’t cuss.

Fast forward to 2019. Brandy was working as a church secretary where the pastor had asked me to be his business manager.  I kept calling the church office to finalize my start date, certain that I was annoying Brandy with my persistence.   Even though she later confided that she wasn’t at first entirely sure what to expect from the prospect of working so closely with me, we formed a solid friendship rather quickly, reinforced in a matter of months by funeral cookie shenanigans, some furniture rearranging, and an after-work bottle of wine.

One day in that first year we were discussing our closets. Brandy mentioned finding her clothes hangers on sale and registered a look of mild confusion on my face. “Wait a minute, what kind of hangers do you use?” she asked, visibly bracing herself.

I replied honestly. “The plastic ones that the store uses. I like it when they let you take them home.”  I looked to our friend Claire for support.  Claire nodded and shrugged to indicate that she and I were on the same page.

Brandy threw her hands up and sat back in her chair. “Omigod, we cannot be friends.”

That Christmas Brandy gifted me and Claire with our own sets of pretty velvet hangers for our closets.  Claire and I promptly bought more velvet hangers to outfit our entire wardrobes. 

Because of Brandy’s influence I am permanently hooked on bougie skincare, Fr. Mike Schmitz podcasts and BruMate beverage containers. I am fascinated by balloon arches and charcuterie boards which she makes look effortless and luxurious.

Brandy was the first one to see and care for me after I faceplanted into a glass wall at work. She was at my side and filling icepacks the night Claire’s dog tried to bite my lip off. She’s a quoter of movie lines and a lover of songs. She wears the most cha-cha shoes and her signature color is pink. Brandy is never afraid to laugh at herself. She is witty and quick with the one-liners. She’s French Toast Mafia through and through.

I could not have possibly imagined all the joy I would get from working with Brandy. Hearing her talk sweetly to church members, help people on the phone and offer consolation to those who were hurting made me realize how perfectly suited she was for the position she held. In situations I knew I would surely botch had everything been relying on me, I watched Brandy put people at ease with her genuine kindness and thoughtfulness.  She is treasured by parishioners almost as much as she is treasured by me. 

Today is our last day of working together at the church. Brandy is moving on to a new and exciting job and she is going to rock its socks off. All her talents will shine where she is going, but there will be an emptiness in the place she leaves. I am terribly sad to lose my work bestie, even though I am so happy for her success. I feel like I’m losing half of my work-self and it’s going to be hard not to cry all day long.  I dread the moment she leaves today. And next week? Please. I can’t even think about it.

I am so grateful to God for blessing me with this wonderful, beautiful friend whom I adore. Our shenanigans are not over.  We’ll just have to move our morning meetings to after hours when our Brus can hold something other than coffee. Until then…

I love you, B, and I miss you already.

Wake Me When It’s Over

Tags

,

I usually write this annual post around the 26th or 27th of December, right between the buzz of Christmas gatherings and the fireworks of the new year.  But this year is different.  This year I don’t really feel like writing the post, and I’m not sure why.  Tradition, however, is kicking me in the butt right now and I am taking the hint.  So, on this last day of 2021 – and, in fact, in the final hour of the year –  I once again present our annual year in review.

As I looked through the photos of this past year, it should not have surprised me that a solid 75% of them were of our pets.  And maybe that’s why I wasn’t ready for this review. We lost two of those beloved pets this year, and even though the memories are sweet, the loss is recent enough that the pictures still sting just a little.  If only it were possible to truly capture their abundant personalities in photos so that you could understand how incredibly lucky we are to call these animals ours.  Such is the limitation of photography, I guess. Thankfully it is not the limitation of memory.

Without further adieu, let’s see what 2021 looked like from my camera roll. 

January

I came home at the end of a day to one of our smoke alarms beeping, alerting me to the need for a battery change.  No bigs, right?  Unless you’re Max.  He was so wigged out by the beeping that he bolted out of the door and right into the open back end of my vehicle where I was about to unload groceries.  Over the groceries, over the back seat and into the front seat this 90 pound fur factory clumsily climbed through my car in an effort to escape the soundtrack of his nightmares.  It took me roughly twenty minutes to get him out of my car, and I have no shortage of videos of him considering the exit, turning in the seat, and repositioning himself, staring intently at me as if willing me to drive him as far away from this haunted house as possible. 

February

Ahhh, the snow days.  Max’s Husky soul was in absolute heaven!  Mabel spent most of her time outside yelling at Max while he frisked around in the snow.

March

Boo was our first cat experience.  He was Victoria’s cat who entered our lives in October of last year.  Boo spent most of his short life recovering from various illnesses at our home, and Max got to understand cats because of Boo, as did Dom and I.

April

Few things make us as happy as seeing cardinal families at our bird feeder.

May

As we laid Boo to rest, we prepared our flowerbed for future graves, knowing we would be adding to it sooner than we wanted to. St. Francis stands watch over our fur babies, illuminated at night by two solar spotlights. 

June

My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in relative quiet with me and Dom.  Through fifty years of promised love and restraint from wringing each other’s necks, they are my role models. I love you, Mom and Dad.

July

Once Victoria had cried enough tears for Boo, she got Socko, a male kitty who is a sweetheart of a snuggler.  Pepper (Aaron’s cat) hates him. Max isn’t sure if he should snuggle or run.  All I know is, this is the only kitty who hasn’t attacked my Christmas tree.  Rock on, little Sockster.

August

The hardest part of this year, by far – saying goodbye to a faithful companion just a month shy of her 13th birthday. Mabel was Dom’s pup from the beginning, and losing her left a giant hole in our hearts.

September

September tried to sneak by unnoticed, but on the early morning of September 19th, our outdoor kitchen was engulfed in flames. Max awoke us to the danger with his barking and potentially saved the entire house.  Damage was thankfully limited to the patio, and we are working toward restoration now. 

October

It only took me three years, but I finally made it to my bridge.  Thank you, Bella, for making sure all the pics were perfect. 

November

There is nothing Max loves more than when we stock or restack the wood racks.  They are his own personal toyboxes, as far as he is concerned.  He will always grab a log and haul off to chew it, perfectly content with his new treasure. 

December

Since Pepper, Aaron’s cat, has not yet had a photo in this year’s review, here she is under the tree sampling the presents. Pepper is a real sweetheart as long as no animal but Max is in the house. Let her even catch a whiff of Socko, though, and kitty has claws!

These past two years have just stunk, worldwide, and I don’t have the energy this year to laugh it off or make wisecracks about how ridiculous my worries were over the past twelve months.  It is my prayer for each of you that the next year is better than 2021 in every way, that you enjoy peace and health and happiness in ways you have not known.  I pray that 2022 will be infinitely better than the previous two years have been.  You deserve it.  We all do.

Peace to you, my friends. 

The Hard Goodbye

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I’m crossing our bedroom at the old house. Dom is sitting up in the bed when he firmly announces to me, “I’ve made a decision.”

I stop in my tracks. “You have, eh?”

“It’s time for us to get another puppy.”

I almost drop whatever it is that I’m holding. “Seriously? You’re serious?? You want two dogs at once? When? What kind? How is this going to work?”

He shrugs and shoots me a crooked smile.  “Start looking.  Didn’t you say you wanted a black Lab next?”

Yeah, I had said that alright. We already had our beautiful yellow Lab, Mason, and I had determined that my next dog would be a black Lab named Mabel – so named for the express purpose of allowing me to hang out the back door and yell, “Hey, Mabel! Black Label!!”  I don’t know why that image enticed me so, but there it is.  I also knew that I would call her Mabelline and sing the catchy question, “Why cantcha be true?”

The search was on.  Phone calls, classifieds (those were the days!), breeders and litters and small towns so remote I thought we might not make it back from them.  But there in the heart of Castor, Louisiana, were three 10-week old lab pups. One was a black female.  Stacey went with me and Dom to pick her up.  Mabel wrapped her little paws around Stacey’s arm as she held her, and we all fell in love.  The breeder said we needed to name her right then and there so she could tidy up her AKC records, and that she would appreciate it if we included Rose in the name, on account of the numerous Roses in the bloodline. Fine.  Whatev.  I had no intention of ever calling this pup Rose, much less registering her myself, so what could it hurt? Mabel Lena Rose Mainiero, it was.  A few signatures and $300 later (the first and last time I paid for a dog!) and we were headed back to Shreveport with an adorable surprise for the kiddos. 

Mabel on the day we brought her home, November 2008.

Mabel was sweet and docile that first night, as one could only be with Mason slobbering his welcome all over her. Mabel enjoyed being kenneled when we weren’t home, and thankfully so, given the amount of damage she did when we were present. I’ve written numerous posts about the things Mabel has eaten, the embarrassment she has caused, and the times she has worn my patience to its last tiny thread. I have said countless times that she was our wild-child dog. In her early and middle years Mabel cared only for her own entertainment, and let me tell you… if life was a car, then Mabel drove it like she stole it!

Mabel, all up in the camera! 2010

Mabel was known for eating and/or destroying absolutely everything that caught her attention. Her favorite things to “love on” until they were obliterated were Webkinz stuffed animals. She started with only the birds, which always cracked me up. Once the kids were out of bird Webkinz, she moved on to the other Webkinz toys and finally to any stuffed animal she could find until the entire line was extinct. With all of her antics throughout puppyhood and beyond, Aaron disowned her at least twice. Once, for chewing up one of his Lego Bionicle masks. I still remember the renouncement. “Vic!!!!” he yelled to his sister as he balled his fists up at his sides, “You can HAVE her!” I looked from my red-faced little boy to Mabel. Despite having just been declared dead to him, Mabel showed not even an ounce of remorse for having destroyed Aaron’s toy. In fact, I was pretty sure she was sitting on go to do it again. Remorse, regret, repentance…these three R’s were forever absent from Mabel’s vocabulary.

Who, me?? 2014.

Mabel was the quintessential pesky little sister to Mason.  She used to bite and tug on his neck to the point that I would feel sores under his fur when I’d snuggle with him.  Her favorite thing to do was be the first to run outside when the door opened, and immediately spin around to attack Mason as he stepped over the threshold.  I honestly don’t know how he tolerated her.  At one point when Mason was getting on in years, Mabel decided she would hide behind the wall at the top of the stairs and attack him each night as he came up for bed.  What a brat she was!

Ready to pounce, 2012

I spent many years of Mabel’s life calling her “Dom’s Decision,” as in, “Hey, honey, your Decision ran off down the street again,” or “your Decision brought a locust into the house tonight,” and my favorite, “your Decision stole a pound of candy corn from the kitchen and puked it up in the living room.”

The public shaming, 2013.

Life with Mabel was never dull. Fiercely independent and rocking her need for no one, Mabel tried to live on her own terms. Several years ago we nicknamed a large field near our home “Mabel Acres” in memory of the day during Sunday lunch when she took off out the side door and down the street to cut circles in the grassy field while the entire family tried to catch her. But Mabel had her sweet side, and though she preferred to act like she didn’t need our attention, she never seemed to mind when we lavished love on her.

Vic and Mabel, my brown-eyed girls, 2010.

Like me, Mabel loves sunshine.  She would often lay in the yard as her black fur soaked in the warmth.  She enjoyed the porch swing with me on many Saturday mornings. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure the time she spent with me wasn’t all about the coffee.

Stealing my joe, 2009.

Mabel changed when she became an only-dog in 2014.  She mourned Mason for a couple of weeks, not wanting to be alone outside, needing to know where Dom, the kids and I were at every moment.  She became gentler and more loving, and sweetly earned the famous phrase on her dog tag, “Mischief Managed.”  Her nickname morphed from “Dom’s Decision” to “Daddy’s Baby Girl.” She knew who was responsible for her sweet and easy life. 

In Daddy’s arms, 2014.

Mabel was none-too-thrilled with the introduction of Maximus to our home.  But she did eventually adjust to him as he grew and she realized that annoying little thing with the big ears was, in fact, the same species as her. 

Someone get this dude off my back!” 2016.

Max took on the role of pesky little brother, paying Mabel back in spades for all the torture she showered on Mason.  Despite my best efforts to keep it sized properly, Mabel’s collar got stretched so that it ended up looking more like a red necklace draped around her shoulders.  I can’t think of a time they played together that Max wasn’t gnawing on her collar. 

Always with the collar! 2019

Mabel earned herself many nicknames over the course of her life. Mabelline, Mabellini, the Vixen, the Vixenator, Mablet, Mabel-Label, the Leine, Leinie-poo, the Bottomless Pit, the Unfillable Belly, Dumpster Diver, Teeny Weeny Mabellini, Baby Girl, and finally Grandma. I especially loved calling to her in an Italian accent: “Ciao, Mabellini! Andiamo, Mabellini! Why-a do you-a bark-a so much in the house, eh?!”

Helping me study, 2014.

Mabel became a diabetic in 2018. Diabetes for dogs is much like Type 1 childhood diabetes in people, meaning that you can’t “diet-and-exercise” it into submission. Even with the prescription dog food and the twice-a-day insulin injections, Mabel’s blood sugar levels would not normalize. We did the best we could for three years. We spent many weekends running blood glucose curves on her and charting her progress. I spent approximately two months right after her diagnosis chopping, measuring and packaging precise proportions of meats and vegetables to feed her a completely raw diet, and then cooking it for her, and then realizing I was cooking more for the dogs than for the humans before throwing in the towel and signing up for prescription dog food.

Mabel with Walter, 2015.

Mabel went completely blind this year, but she could still hear me come home in the afternoons and would know it’s Wine-Time – that’s when she and Max get to run in the front yard while Dom and I sit on the porch and chat. Sure, it took a little extra effort to get her in and out of the house, leading her through the forest of lilies in the flower beds because she couldn’t go up steps anymore.  But who could resist how happy it made her?  

Wine Time in the jungle, 2021.

I have said for the past few months that as long as she still enjoys Wine-Time, she still has life to live.  There is nothing we won’t do for our fur-babies.  But eventually we realized there’s nothing more we can do.  And that’s where the heart breaks. 

Mabel with another fuzzy, September 2016.

I remember seeing a poster on the wall at the vet’s office when Mason was just a puppy. It was a life expectancy poster and it showed the various breeds of dogs with their approximate life span in years. Labs were marked at 11 years. We were fortunate that both of our pups lived longer than that – Mason at 14 and Mabel, just a month shy of 13. As we realized Mabel’s age and illness were wearing her down, it was devastating to make that final decision. Ironic, that the first decision was so easy, and the last one so hard.

Loving on Aunt Stacey, Thanksgiving 2012.

I hate goodbyes. I hate this part of being a pet owner. There is never a “good” time to say goodbye. We always want one more day, one more chase, one more trip around the water bowl. We took Mabel to the vet for the last time today. The goodbye was just as hard as I thought it would be.

Christmas pup with her stogie, 2016.

The Book of Proverbs tells us that “a righteous man has regard for the life of his animal,” and this is the only thing getting me through this. Caring for them, even to that last day’s decision, is loving them. Mabel has so much more than our regard. She has our undying love and gratitude for the marvelous and mischievous ways in which she brightened our days and enhanced our lives.

Mabel claims all the decorations, 2009.

Take now to that “far green country under a swift sunrise,” sweet Mabellini, and run like somebody left the gate open. We will miss you terribly and love you forever.

Sunning in the backyard, August 2021

Mabel “Mabellini” Mainiero
September 17, 2008 – August 20, 2021

Good Riddance: The 2020 Farewell

Well, this has been a year none of us wants to repeat.  Illness, loss, suffering, isolation, confusion and death have forever marred this year in our hearts and minds.  We have grieved missed events, neglected milestones, and suspended family gatherings.  We have gone months without seeing people we care about – family members, church members, friends.  Some, we will never see again and our hearts break when we think of the year that took them from us. 

The scariest thing is that it’s not over yet.  One virus decimates our bodies while another decimates our nation.  One is thus far incurable; the other completely preventable.  I will say only one thing on the political front: Can we all please act our age and recognize that our personal opinions are not the only ones that exist?  I mean, really.  Don’t make me use my mom voice.   

But this post is not about the crap we’ve all experienced this year and the hardship that may still be to come.  This is about a look back on the weird and the wonky, the mysterious and the mundane, the little moments that I will want to remember when I am old and drooling into my jello.   

So, in keeping with tradition, although this one is several days late, I present the 9th annual year in pictorial review.  Here’s how 2020 looked from the inside of my heart and home. 

January

This is the year I’ve tried to learn to paint instead of just winging it.  However, this picture is totally winged.  For over a year I had been mulling an image over in my head, trying to illustrate a combination of my Texas roots and my Louisiana upbringing.  This is the end result. It’s the first time something I’ve created has looked as good in reality as it did in my head.   

February

Continuing the painting theme, and because there are so few other pics to choose from this month, I finally filled my living room wall with something Dom likes.  The center tree pic is currently being re-created so that it will no longer look like a Kindergartener drew it.  Wish me luck. 

March

Dom and I were each sent from our respective employers to work at home during the state stay-at-home orders.  Dom took the home office for his workspace and I converted my craft room into my “office.”  I may have gotten the printer, but I dare say he got the nicer digs. 

April

Because when you’ve been quarantined for a month together, every day should end with a pristine Irish Coffee. 

May

The month Vic would have graduated (the actual ceremony was postponed until August).  She and Bella executed her Senior pictures instead. 

June

Just what everyone needs… a technological gadget harassing us into exercising.  I learned that Siri does not understand the reply, “Bite me.”

July

Here it is: the annual weirdo picture. I was slicing tomatoes to roast and this slice ended up looking like lips. Ha!

August

One evening on the way to dinner Dom said, “I want to stop into this dealership and look at a truck real quick.  It won’t take long.  I just want to look.”  Three hours later, we finally made it to dinner.  In his new truck. 

September

A rare picture of Max and Mabel together, sitting still and generally looking toward the camera.  Sweet puppies.   

October

Max is not supposed to beg at my table, but he does it anyway. Who can really resist that face?

November

A much scaled-down Thanksgiving gathering, just us and John and Kasie’s crew.  It was not the same without the usual crowd, but we made the best of it.  If you notice a new face in the pics, that’s Aaron’s girlfriend, Annie.  If you notice a new hairstyle, that’s Aaron.  Feel free to hum the theme song to Welcome Back Kotter.  We do it every time he comes home. 

December

Meet Boo, Victoria’s new kitten.  She got him in October, specifically wanting an orange kitten for free and VOILA! The Ruston dog shelter had two such kittens that they just HAD to get rid of (because, dogs…).  Halloween Kitty was not without his issues, and a sinus infection caused his forehead to burst, so he had to seek refuge with us and care from our regular vet.  By the way, Boo is no longer considered “free,” as evidenced by the “medicare” collection jar with his name on it that now has permanent residence on our kitchen counter. 

Looking back on all that this year has dealt us, I’d still like to raise a glass to the hardship we’ve faced, the strength we’ve discovered, and the promise of tomorrow.  I’m having a dry January, so my glass only has decaf tea in it.  I hope that doesn’t jinx anything. 

Happy New Year, everyone.  May 2021 be infinitely more palatable. 

Beautiful Brides and Black Lives

Twenty four years ago, in the months of May, June and July of 1996 there was an epidemic of wedding fever within my social circle. Having recently seen all the anniversary posts on Facebook, I believe there were roughly 10 couples in my relatively close friend group who married within mere weeks of each other, Dom and I making our own vows somewhere in the middle on June 1.

At one wedding in particular, as the bride straightened her veil and bridesmaids fluffed her train a friend commented, “Doesn’t she just look beautiful?”

Another nearby friend replied with a disinterested eyeroll, “Well, you know, all brides are beautiful.”

The backhanded compliment shocked those in earshot and diminished that particular bride’s feeling of joy and elation in that moment.  While the words themselves taken out of context were essentially true, the statement actually refused to acknowledge the bride’s individual beauty and produced an air of awkward tension for a while. It had such a profound impact on our circle that for years later, any time we truly meant to dismiss something, regardless of the subject matter, we would give a Miranda Priestly-like wave of our hand and say, “Well, you know, all brides are beautiful.”

When we say or when we acknowledge that black lives matter, we are not saying that all other lives don’t matter. But when we counter “Black lives matter” with “No, ALL lives matter,” it has the same diminishing effect.  Yes, all lives do matter.  As a Christian I believe that without doubt and without compromise.  But I believe that we must particularly acknowledge in this time that black lives matter because we who have never worried about the color of our own skin have for so long diminished them, dismissed them, ignored them. We may not have been overt in doing so, but by not actively living as though we believe black lives matter, we may as well have said that they don’t.  We need to say, “Black lives matter,” because our collective past actions have demonstrated otherwise. Our actions and attitudes have relegated black lives to the expendable.  If we truly believe that all lives matter, then we don’t need to qualify or specify that they all do. Saying that black lives matter puts the appreciation on every black life and forces us to recognize their inherent value. We should, without reservation and without hesitation, acknowledge the life before us.  Acknowledge that that life matters – the person in front of you, the person next to you, the person you don’t know who might look different from you.  THAT life matters.

Let us not diminish anyone’s value simply because the world is full of valuable people.  My friend was a beautiful bride on her wedding day, even if every other bride in the history of weddings was also beautiful.  We said it out loud simply because we loved her and it deserved to be said.  Can it not be the same for black lives?

Historically, civil rights for all, inalienable rights for all, freedom for all did not really apply to the collective all.  It doesn’t exactly apply today.  Despite history’s best efforts to teach us, we still have a lot to learn.  We can learn.  The question remains, looming like a squall on the horizon: will we?

Cousins, COVID, and the Class of 2020

My mom texted me this morning. Her phone had reminded her – a week early – of Victoria’s high school graduation ceremony that would have been held on May 16 at 9:00 AM.

That is, if the world hadn’t fallen apart.

That’s right – if we were pandemic-free, my baby girl would have graduated next weekend. I would have watched her walk across the stage right behind her cousin, Lucas.  I would have snapped a million pictures.  Seriously.  I would have totally drained my phone battery or my storage capacity, whichever proved to be the weaker link.  We would have left the ceremony and gathered with the entire family at our house, celebrating and laughing until the kids finally decided they had spent enough time with all us oldies and driven off in search of their friends.  Kasie and I would have uncorked a wine bottle and probably dusted off a photo album or two.  Oh, the photos!

We would have first turned to this page. The page appropriately titled “Yucas and Tortilla,” because that is what they called each other when they were toddlers. Cue the awwwwwwwww’s.

Yucas and Tortilla in the toybox – 2004

Born just six months apart, these two were so stinkin’ precious.  And trouble? Don’t even get me started! I mean, really.  Look at those faces.  (Although, I have to add one small caveat here… it was Lucas’s sister, Bella, with whom Vic spent the most time in “time-out” at Mimi’s.)

Trouble with a toy train – 2005

But days become months, months become years.   Kids grow up.  Moments get breathed into being, then reshape and reform until they blur into one strange memory on whose continuum we cannot determine exactly when the change occurred.  We miss the growth while it’s happening.  We miss the sprouting of the seed and the budding of the leaves.  We look around one day and we have a tree.  Or an adult.  Or two, as the case may be.

Growing, growing, GROWN! – June 2019

When we recognize the moment, when we see the pending end of an era that we honestly don’t want to end, we smile at the memories.  We swipe away a tear before it has a chance to ruin the day’s makeup.  And we pray that those trees have strong enough roots.

As my children grew, one of my dear friends told me that it may not always be the “firsts” that tug most at my heart; oftentimes, it will be the “lasts.” She was so right. This is my last baby.  Grown, even if not quite flown from the nest.  But I know it won’t be long. These photos make me sad and nostalgic, but they also make me immensely happy.  For our family, both tearjerkers exist here.  John and Kasie are experiencing their first child to graduate, and Dom and I are experiencing our last.  It is bittersweet, to be certain.  It is worth celebrating; it is worth writing; and it is even worth crying over. We are so madly proud of our babies, though it’s evident they aren’t babies anymore.

Marion C. Garretty is credited with saying, “A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”  I believe it.  I’ve witnessed it. I feel it when I look at these photos.  I am eternally grateful to my niece Bella for taking such great cap-n-gown pictures of these two. Her talent has made my heart smile.

To all the graduates of 2020, but especially to Lucas and Victoria, may every day be an adventure, may you love and live life to the fullest, may the sun shine always on you, and may the stars write your name.

I love you forever,

Mom / Aunt Lori

Three Women

Foreword: Today I was one of three women comforting a co-worker in her hour of grief.  Later, when reflecting on the day, I realized the significance of three women and was instantly honored to be one of them. The essay below was my personal Thank-You note to the three beautiful ladies who got me through one of my darkest hours. It was written just days after Pop’s death in 2018.  Today’s events made me reflect on this, and I post it now to honor the friends who love beyond measure.  

On the last day of March I interviewed for the first time with OIB, after which I went back to my office at the Catholic Center, certain that I had not made the impression necessary to land the job. I reasoned that I could find peace in that fact, that God would place me where he needed me, even if it meant staying where I was.  An hour later I was sitting at my desk when a call came in with news I almost couldn’t bear.  My father-in-law’s upper GI that morning revealed a tumor in his esophagus.  A biopsy had been performed, but even without full results doctors knew it was most likely cancer.

I recall sinking into my chair and putting my head on my desk as tears threatened. We had just come through the darkest night with my mother-in-law’s cancer.  Her healing had been the miracle we dared not expect. Her illness had been tumultuous, and I had taken her care as my personal responsibility, though in fact it was shared by many. The news of Pop’s tumor burst the bubble of hope and ease, the promise of brighter days, that I had allowed myself to seek comfort in for almost a year.

When I raised my head from my desk, three women surrounded me. They were the family I chose, the friends who would stand by me through any storm. I burst into tears as one held me.  All I recall saying is, “I don’t think I can do this again.”  They each assured me that not only was I strong enough, but that they would not leave my side.  And they didn’t.

Leaving the daily presence of those friends whom I love so dearly was not easy. I feared for a long time that I might not enjoy relationships that close, that near to my heart, in my new work environment.

I was wrong.

Last week when I answered the phone call that told me of Pop’s exit from this earthly life, I felt the weight of a sadness I have never known. As a family we have not sustained loss this close.  Dom and his brothers, their wives and I all have our parents, alive and well.  I was wading into territory none of us knew how to navigate.  Fear and hopelessness closed in on me and I could not contain the emotion, regardless of my preference to remain wholly dignified in that moment. I laid my head on my desk and tried to breathe through the sobs that simply would not be silenced.

When I raised my head I was at once moved by the sight of three women surrounding me. Three beautiful women whom I have grown to care for quite deeply in the short time I have known them.  Three women who held me and assured me that I could weather this storm, and that they too would be by my side.

When I consider the parallels of the journey I have taken over the past year, I am struck by God’s truly amazing grace and the constant reminders of his love. His joy shines through you daily and gives me courage to press on through all things. His love poured out through you three on Wednesday and in the days that followed.   For everything you have done and everything that you are, I love you immensely.  Thank you.

Hate Does Not Build; Love Does Not Destroy

There are two things which are eternal: Love and the Soul.

If the things we do in this temporal world do not nurture that which is eternal, then we are doing all people a terrible injustice.

As the Decade Disappears

It’s a grey day as I write this last post of the year.  The branches are bare against the clouds and this time, unlike so many times before, I can see no sun peeking through them.  Looks like 2019 will exit just as it entered – dreary and mild.  And once again, my mood matches the weather.

My funks don’t last for long, but I have noticed them much more frequently this year and I really need to snap out of it.  Perhaps it is the threat of the “empty nest” that looms closer and closer to our reality. If you asked me this year how my children are doing, somewhere in my reply you would hear me complain that I never see my daughter anymore.  True, it feels like she is constantly on the go, what with school, her job and ever-present social life.  So it surprised me as I looked through all the photos of this past year to see that they were predominantly of Victoria.  There is not a single month of photos on my phone (save January) that is not dominated by “Vic pics.” Perhaps it was my subconscious storing up memories for when she, too, is away at college next year. Or perhaps it is only in my imagination that she is never home, and this is my reminder to be more present when she is. Either way, I am so very grateful for the remembrances this time of year brings and for its lessons.

Enough with the whining already, right?  Let’s get on with our seventh annual pictorial year in review, or, as it’s known in my phone for 2019, The Victoria Show.

January

Once the Christmas season ends with Epiphany, we Loozianans drape everything in purple, gold and green and jump head-first into Mardi Gras.  I got the baby in the first King Cake of the year.  I posted it on FB and was censored for the porn.  Oy.

February

Victoria fast-tracked her Confirmation at St. Elizabeth – the benefit of three extra years of religious ed at St. Mary’s. I was too in-the-moment to take pics during the Mass. I always feel awkward pulling out my phone during Mass anyway, so I politely waited until we were home. The ambience was not quite the same.

March

This is why only my tee shirts hang on the bottom rack of my closet.  I love putting on a shirt to find the left sleeve covered entirely in dog hair.

April

Ahhh, April.  The month of Prom.

May

During our vacation to the Big Easy, Stacey and Lee insisted it is tradition to pose on the Pontchartrain Bridge. Aaron and Vic were mortified that we stopped on the bridge, and then promptly wished they had grabbed sunglasses.

June

Marion C. Garretty is credited with saying, “A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.” So it is for Lucas and Victoria, both Seniors and both chomping at the bit for life after high school.

July

After the July Fourth holiday, when I had traded out the patriotic pillows for the summer décor on the front porch, Max claimed my star-spangled pillow as his own.  To date, he still has not relinquished it. And that look says I can fuhhgeddabout it.

August

Our first foray into sausage-making without Bishop Duca.  I texted him photos of the sausage to let him know we miss him but are carrying on.  He agreed that we didn’t do half-bad.

September

More proof that I did actually get to hang out with my daughter, even if she thought I was crazy for snapping odd-angle pics of her.  We never see the beauty in ourselves when we are young.

October

Max is not allowed on this couch, but was apparently feeling all full of himself one evening. He kept eyeing us like he knew he was disobeying, and we just kept waiting for him to explain.

November

One.  Happy.  Family.

December

There’s always one text conversation that makes the end-of-year cut. Dom and I texted the same reply at the same time. The reference here is to Sixteen Candles.  But surely you knew that already.  Seriously.  Tell me you KNEW that.

As this decade slips quietly into the shadows, I wish you every joy that the new year can bring. I pray that we all remember to live the moments and be truly present to those in our lives. Take the weird photos – maybe they will remind you, as they have reminded me, that we have so very many blessings.  And when the sun comes out again, may it shine brightly on you (as long as you have sunglasses). 😉

Peace and love to you, my friends.

The Vaulted Files: Reflections on Advent (2010)

My latest project is recipe scrapbooks into which I am compiling recipes, photos and stories.  As I scrolled through my vault of writings in search of holiday themed essays, I came across this one from 2010. I think it was written as a way for me to reconcile my Catholicism with my love for Christmas decorations.  My kids, now on the brink of full-blown adulthood, are not as likely anymore to gather around the Advent wreath with me for prayers, or collect stars from the Advent calendar as we count down the days to Christmas Eve. But this narrative reminds me of all the joy that is still present in the season, even as my family scatters like dandelion seeds to fulfill the duties of our days.  Happy Advent, everyone. 

While the city is alive with Christmas decorations and as families are planning their gifts and activities and preparing their homes, we Catholics are reminded throughout the Advent season that it is not, in fact, Christmas just yet.  Sometimes, I attend Mass only to leave feeling guilty for having already put up my Christmas tree. Obviously, I need to work through these feelings.

I love the Christmas season, whether it is celebrated liturgically or secularly. I love it for the lights and decorations, for the magic and mystery.  I love the planning and preparing – both in my home and in my heart.    I am generally cheery and positive, but let’s face it – I am waaaaay more joyous during December.  I find that I smile more, I giggle more, and I am more generous with both my time and my treasure.

Every time I look at my office doorway and see the red stocking peeking in, I am reminded of the season’s magic.  I love the signs of the season, and I want to display them as early as possible because I love the feeling that I have during the holidays.

I know the season is not all about presents, shopping and Santa.  I know it is about celebrating the birth of Christ.  I love the liturgical significance of Advent in that it tells us to “prepare.”  I want my children to feel the Christmas spirit all year long, because the reason for Christmas is with us all year long.  I also want them to understand the liturgical significance, so we have an Advent calendar and an Advent wreath.  We say daily prayers during Advent, and we do our best to prepare room in our hearts and home for the Christ Child. Advent is a time to recollect and ready ourselves for Christ. I always thought that meant I had to chill on Christmas until December 24 and allow Advent in as a time to rest and wait.  But that’s virtually impossible for me to do.  I want Christmas, like all. the. time.

To me personally, Advent is about anticipation, not delaying. Preparing, not waiting. We should be busy now – preparation is not a passive thing. May each Advent – whether busy or restful – lead our hearts to the perfect Christmas.