May 11, 2019

Hold the Smoke Bombs...For A While, Please

At a sneeze away from fifty, I’ve been thinking about my teen daughter muddling through college or career, relationships, student debt and just figuring out who she is. She’s not too far off from nineteen -- the age I was when my mom died.

I remember having to discover so much -- too much -- through bumps on the head instead of through her guidance. Now, I figure if can tee my daughter up to be okay by shuffling in all of life’s instructions in the next couple years, AND guidance to learn to be at peace when I’m gone, I will have done my job.

We talk about how although I may, but do not plan to make an early exit, there is that reality. The cool thing thing is that the more she grows in her faith, the more she understands that no one’s spirit ever dies. That while we do miss the person’s “container” for awhile, we will eventually be reunited with their spirit.

She gets it. And I feel good about that.

Except she’s a little zealous in her comfort sometimes. Like, she’s got plans. PLANS.

Okay, so I’m thinking a gold theme for your funeral...
Whatwhutnow? YOU like gold everything. I don’t like gold.

...and if people are crying, I’m gonna be like, 'You have to leave because --
People grieve in their own way. Let them cry for crying out loud, so I mean that -- 

...and we can have John Hiatt and Vince Gill sing….
Now hold on here! I like them NOW -- WHILE I’M STILL BREATHING, okay? How about some concert tickets NOW?

But she was carried away in her zealousness and heard not a word.

...then we’ll bury you on the top of a hill where the sun rises…
I’M NOT DEAD YET. SLOW YOUR ROLL.

Her comfort is bordering on Best Funeral Ever levels.

Days later, one of my best friends stopped over and somehow the conversation was again stumbled upon:

We should have smoke bombs. You know how much she likes smoke bombs...


And my so-called-best-friend had the nerve enough to concur.
HELLO, I STILL WALK AMONG YOU. I DO NOT WANT SMOKE BOMBS AT MY FUNERAL, PLEASE.

They laughed me off.

So all I’m saying is, if  you have tickets for John Hiatt or Vince Gill, they'd make perfect Mother's Day gifts WHILE I'M ALIVE.

On the other hand, if I get There before you do, and you attend whatever gaudy hot-mess of a funeral my kid and best friend have planned for me, I do love blue smoke bombs. Just wait until after the service is over to light them off.



April 13, 2019

All the Brilliant Things

1.) Making béarnaise sauce.
Truth is, I never know what was in béarnaise sauce. I just knew I liked it on poached eggs. One day, I looked up a recipe, made it and was like omg, I just did something I never did before!

That was one of the many “firsts” that keep on coming even as I inch toward the half-century mark.

2.) Traveling 600 miles on Route 66.
It’s a really long drive that carries passengers through endless fields of grass at various degrees of greens and browns, through backsides of forgotten townships, through cattle standing witness to torrential rain and weather patterns that change on a dime. And billboards, endless billboards that invite you to pull over and visit Uranus Fudge Factory. 

Yes. It's a real thing.
3.) That Time I Thought I Was Dying
I had my menstrual period for three weeks. THREE WEEKS. I thought I was dying, and with each passing day, I regretted all the junk I’ve accumulated over a lifetime only to leave it all to someone else to sift through and determine the keep-worthy and the thrift store-worthy.

I mulled whether I had taught my daughter everything she needed to know in the seventeen years I’ve had to teach.

But it was just fibroids and I wasn’t dying. I just wasn’t in on this seemingly secret part of aging.

4.) Aching for, and laughing in the face of, Depression.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled on and off with depression. There was a time when everything seemed dark and the only bright spot in life or about myself were my legs. No, seriously – my legs. They were a gorgeous brown, long and shapely.

But even my love of legs couldn’t stop me from circling round the drain, so I got medicated. A few days after starting the meds, I looked down at my lovely gams to see they were blotchy, red and puffy. I was allergic.

How’s that for irony?

It evoked a prescription change and perhaps a few giggles, but not like the bittersweet laughing I did at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of Every Brilliant Thing.
The play follows a man whose formative years was marked by familial depression and how it plays out throughout his life. (no spoilers here because I want you to see it for yourself).

The brilliant thing about Every Brilliant Thing is the act of numbering. Pop culture calls it Days of Gratitude, my mom would call it counting your blessings, but as an audience we participate in enumerating sights, sounds and smells that make one smile or laugh – or just feel they are alive and engaged.

Which brings me to:

5.) Saw a one-man show
I’ve seen stand-up comics, but never a play where the audience was engaged as characters in the play. No rehearsing or formal acting, sometimes on the “stage” and sometimes in their seats, but there we were. (again, no spoilers here because I want you to see it for yourself)


After each show, a community professional in psychology or trauma briefly talks to the audience/characters about depression, and all are invited to process the play and its content via dialogue circles facilitated by members of The Zeidler Center for Public Discussion.

Even with nearly fifty years under my belt, I'm still learning that every day holds the chance to learn something new or try something different…and that every day is filled with brilliant things.





Terrence J. Nolen on "Every Brilliant Thing" | Milwaukee Rep from Milwaukee Repertory Theater on Vimeo.



December 27, 2018

Out of the Clear Blue

Every night, a million words hover and swirl around my head before my eyes close. They blink in and out, alternating in bold whites and varying shades of gray -- as if in competition against one another. The competition goes on for what seems like hours, and by the time my lids fall like lead, I can never tell which word finally prevails.

I guess that's why people who can pick out one single word to encompass New Year's resolutions, hopes, dreams and themes amaze me.

There are just too many words. At least for me there are.

The last Thursday of the year, I went through the usual morning motions: made the bed, brushed my teeth, refreshed the dog's water dish and poured a cup of coffee with just enough cream so the color matched my skin. I sneaked a cigarette and, coffee in one hand, phone in the other, sat on the porch despite a biting wind that came with morning rain.

Words, in list form, blew in and out with cold blasts of air, and I fanned them away in favor of the tree across the street whose skeletal branches were in sharp contrast to gray sky. A solitary bird was perched on a weird angle, not resting atop a branch, but along the tree's trunk.


Now, from time to time, you can hear woodpeckers around our neighborhood, and on the rarest of occasions, you can see them. Was this little guy a woodpecker? I trained my eye to see the little bird's color, but gray skies suck the color out of everything around them.

I don't know -- maybe gray skies are jealous of cardinal red, royal blue, silky brown or fiery orange. Or, maybe colors just don't have the strength to fight against them when gray is the backdrop that hovers over everything colors are and do.

A clear blue sky, on the other hand, pulls disparate colors into laser focus, like tiny green buds that pop from momma branches in May, or earthy yellow grass patches in need of TLC, or the elusive woodpecker that you hear and rarely see.


In my little corner of the world, the past 360 days have brought more overcast gray skies than blue. Oh sure, there's been days filled with joy, thankfulness, inspiration, struggles and belly-laughs. But if I'm being honest, I've let the gray seep into and tinge these colorful days.

Instead of a word, I'll choose a color to guide the upcoming year.

I CHOOSE BLUE.

...and gold and umber and evergreen and charcoal and all colors in between.

No, blue won't help melt the weight others have lost and that I've found. Blue won't magically pull me out of debt; and it certainly won't help me become an organization maven.

Blue won't help any of those things, but the thought of this simple color will help me clear gray clouds from time to time, and see reality -- be it political, spiritual, familial, cultural (and all the other als, ials & isms) AND ME -- in their technicolor differences.

I guess I'm hoping blue will help me see more clearly...and remind me not to let gray color all the colors.

Whether you choose a word or a color for 2019, I'm wishing everyone a Happy and Colorful New Year.

December 7, 2018

We Didn't Name Her Pearl

It's a girl, mom. We had a girl. my husband sniffled as he told his mom the good news. She replied Are you gonna call her Pearl? My mother-in-law is an educated woman with a wicked sense of humor. She knew it was the 61st anniversary of Pearl Harbor, so yeah: pretty funny.

I giggled at that and felt joyous...and also empty. As I was hooked up to monitors and watched the nurses wash and clean this new life, I wished that somehow, someway in the middle of all the celebrating and praise that goes on in Heaven, that my mom got the memo about the birth of her granddaughter.

But that's not what this is about.

We didn't name our daughter Pearl. Instead, we named her after an aunt who after her presence was a fact, was named, and died shortly after. Our kiddo's middle name is her grandmother's -- my mom. I like to think that's from whom her wisdom-beyond-her-years and discernment comes.

As I celebrate and weep and get teary over the person I see my kid become; and as I worry and wring my hands over screwing her up or being the "right" kind of mom, I also know there are people who are walking through the reality of grief of a child gone too soon. Like one of my daughter's namesakes.

There's part of me that feels the same emptiness I felt on my daughter's birth day.

I giggle and am joyous over her texts telling me this particular birthday is going AWESOME. But the giddiness and joyfulness is tempered.

I know there is a hole in the hearts of moms whose child won't see a super sweet sixteen or milestone birthdays like 30 or 40 or that their kid won't ever call them with a grandchild's birth announcement. That they won't have the chance to ask Are you gonna call her Pearl?

Don't get me wrong. I'm over the moon in joy over the gift we were given today and that I got picked to be my kiddo's mom. I realize it's a blessing to have her in my life, even as tomorrow isn't promised for me -- or her.

Happy Birthday, Babygirl.