Every Little Ornament Counts

Christmas, 1984. My family was living on base in West Germany, all eight (EIGHT!) of us shoved in a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment. We were on the top floor of three, one of six apartments per stairwell, two stairwells per building. Built in World War II, the architecture was best described as, “early oppressive Stalinist utilitarian.”

Living conditions were cramped, but the youngest three of us were small and therefore not quite as affected. We had the first bedroom when you entered the apartment, a roomy retreat with a set of bunks and my single bed. There was a door into my parents’ room from ours, and as we lived on a guarded and fenced-in base with bars on the window, they probably didn’t feel at all worried that we were the first room accessible from the front door. They wouldn’t have expected any of us to escape, anyway, as we were just not that type of children.

We were, however, the type of children who loved Christmas. And that first winter overseas, we were excited to open up the boxes of ornaments we’d lugged over the Atlantic and make the apartment as close to home as possible. That Friday night, we’d secured a tree from the only lot on base, and after getting it situated in the corner of our crowded living room, had only managed a few decorations before it was time to go to bed. The rest would have to wait until morning.

Around six A.M., the sun was up and so was my brother, Joe. While his twin snored away, his six year-old self was unable to sleep and so he shook me awake. He had a plan: we would tiptoe out to the tree and finish decorating it before anyone else woke up. They would be so excited to see a fully decorated tree!

It was a lovely plan. Truly. We had the best of intentions. We envisioned all of the thanks and admiration we would inevitably receive from our parents and siblings.

But we were two of the shortest kids you’d ever seen. And when two tiny people kneel down, they can only reach their tiny arms so far onto a tree.

And when two tiny people are overloaded on Christmas joy, they overpopulate a very concentrated section of tree branches with every ornament their tiny arms can hang.

Which is right around the time that two tiny people are pinned under a falling tree.

I distinctly remember the clinking and clanking and yes, sadly, some shattering, as the ornaments went every which way, along with our cat who had been silently judging us from her perch on the back of the sofa. My parents shot out of their room and while I’m sure they were ready to murder us, the sight of us trapped under the pine tree more than likely made them unable to stop laughing. As everyone scurried to free us and salvage the ornaments that hadn’t broken, my dad realized that the tree water had poured all over the floor and seemed to be leaking through to the apartment below us. As my mom rushed to warn our downstairs neighbors, the far more refined Bradleys with their perfect two children and their lovely sportscar, I’m sure she momentarily regretted having a big family.

I usually remember the times I was punished, and they were many. But I don’t remember getting in any trouble for this particular disaster. I do believe, however, that was the last Christmas the tree trimming was put off until morning.

fallen tree

 

Happy Birthday, Baby Brothers!

I have exactly two memories of my biological mother: one is of listening to her bicker with my dad about needing to stop at the drugstore for pantyhose, presumably having run the ones she was wearing. The other, attempting to sit on her lap and not being able to, since she was a tiny woman and pregnant with my twin brothers.

There should be no surprise that in spite of our 3-year age gap, these two are part of my earliest memory. They have always left quite an impression!

My brothers are two of the most unique people one could ever meet – and while they look so much alike that no one ever believes they are fraternal, they are two very distinct people. That’s not to say they aren’t a lot alike, however.

When we were younger, they wowed the grownups with their abilities. Reading before three. Math problems, too. They knew all the states and their capitals. They read maps better than my mom. To this day, they both can tell you not just who won a Super Bowl of any given year, but they can tell you the scores of any game, the breakdown of points by quarter, which player scored which points, and as an added bonus, what happened in our own lives on that day. I am not even kidding. I’ve witnessed arguments between them concerning which shirt they were wearing during a game that took place in 1985.

I shall spare them the extended memory list, as it is their birthday and I don’t wish to embarrass them, but while they may exist as children in my memory, they are now grown men: each with  beautiful wives whom I not only approve of but love like sisters. Both now fathers. Both not only smarter than anyone I’ve ever known, but also wise.

Happy birthday, Adam and Joe. I love you.

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#BEFOREFORTY

In thirty-five days, I’ll be moving into a new decade. I have obviously known about this event for quite some time, but I hadn’t really given it much thought lately. It’s been a bit busy, what with four kids and keeping them alive and relatively cared for. Additionally, the fall is a busy time full of family birthdays, our anniversary, and of course Halloween. And what with Indian Summer being in full swing, I mean, I am sweating for crying out loud, it hardly seems that close to my Christmas-seasoned birthday.

But there you have it. Staring down the barrel of forty, I am. FORTY. it’s kind of an ugly word, don’t you think? If only the word gods had left the “u” in there, at least. I could be all Britishy about it, but noooo, it’s just a crass little word now. Not dignified like “colour” or even “honour.”

Blah.

Half of the time, I completely forget I turned 39 already. For some reason, (baby?) I still keep telling people I’m 38. I liked 38. 38 was a good age. I liked it so much I inadvertently stayed there for two years.

All the same, turning forty is overwhelmingly better than the alternative. As I’m already a year older than my mother was at her passing, of this I am keenly aware. And there are a great number of fabulous forty year-olds these days. I’m still younger than a number of actresses still portraying sex objects as opposed to wise grandmotherly types.

In anticipation of this birthday, I’ve got a few items on my list to accomplish. Finishing up my book, for starters. But on a smaller scale, I still don’t have a lipstick shade. I’m nearly forty, for heaven’s sake, I should be able to pick a lip colour. (see how much more dignified that “ou” is?) This weekend, I intend to find one. And maybe some makeup to wear every day. After all, I am no longer 38. No reason I should be scaring small children with this bare face.lips

I Made it, I Did

Today is the last day of the #write31days challenge. If anyone is reading this and read all of my posts, you know far too much about my family and my life. My apologies.

If you had any favorite stories, please let me know!

Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I’ve got about 1/3 of a novel to complete and edit in that time.

I loved using this writing challenge as practice for next month, and I’m excited to get started tomorrow. I will probably pop in and share tidbits, if that’s kosher.

Hope you all have a wonderful Halloween – kindly save me any Take 5 bars you might come across!

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That Time the Hubs Was a Rockstar

As most of you know, my fantastic husband is a musician, which is indirectly how we met. His band, Juniper Lane, often hung out at an open mic night where I ended up singing a few times. It was there that we first became friends.

Several years and two children later, Juniper Lane won a contest to be among a few finalists from which Coldplay would choose an opening act for their Verizon Center show.

YES. Coldplay. Chris Martin. Yellow. The Scientist. Commence the squeeing.

I had a six-month old at the time of the show, and he’d really never been left for more than a few hours, but come ON, my husband would be opening for Coldplay, so I packed my breast pump in the cutest bag I had, piled on the black eyeliner, and we all headed downtown for one of the most surreal nights of our lives.

The first funny happened when we got there. Apparently, when you tell the security guard you need to get in because you’re playing tonight, and you literally have your instrument swung over your shoulder, they are suspect. And when you’re so flipping excited that you are opening for one of your musical idols that you can’t wipe the smile off your face and loudly declare, “I AM OPENING FOR COLDPLAY WHICH WAY TO THE DRESSING ROOM!” they may or may not consider calling for back up.

But we eventually proved ourselves truthful and headed in.

There was a lot of waiting around, a lot of wide-eyed wonder, a soundcheck, and some visiting with Coldplay’s drummer who is a lovely man who tolerated all of our star-struckedness and even signed all the things for us. I wasn’t allowed to tag along to the official food area, but hubs did eat dinner at a table next to the band, which is kind of fun as well.

Some other famous people were milling about backstage, like the Foo Fighters drummer and Kate Bosworth, I think. I say I think, because I wasn’t the one who spotted them, having spent a solid amount of my time in the back of the dressing rooms, pumping. But I guess that is what happens backstage at giant rock shows? Famous people just come walk around?

When my husband’s band played, well, it was ridiculous. I don’t think my wordy little self has any words to capture the metric tonne of pride one experiences when you see the person you love getting to live out a dream. It’s nothing short of amazing. I think it’s probably better than having your own dream come true, if I’m being honest.

Although it didn’t catapult the hubs and his bandmates to instant fame and fortune like it should have, it was an amazing celebration of all they had worked toward for so many years. And in addition to having that amazing experience, all of our children will certainly drag this story out to impress their friends for years to come.

And when your kids think you’re cool, that may be more valuable than any record deal. Close, anyway.

just my hubs, rockstar extraordinaire.
just my hubs, opening for Coldplay. as one does.

My friend, Aeryn Gillern

The first time I met Aeryn Gillern, he walked into a study room in the mens’ dorm where I was cramming for a midterm with some friends. He was wearing a full length nightdress, an actual nightcap, and carrying a candlestick. He looks like a very manly and handsome Wee Willy Winkie. He swung open the door, muttered something about having a productive evening, slowly passed his disapproving eyes over the three of us,  and dashed out. I remember being equal parts alarmed and amused.

Aeryn was a memorable character that I had seen around campus and town. He used to ride his bike to and fro, dressed impeccably with starched shirts and an interesting armband, the meaning of which I never did learn. His posture was flawless, even on his bicycle. He would have been a shoe-in for the part of Rolf if The Sound of Music film was ever re-cast. For the first couple of years on campus, I don’t think we ever spoke to one another, although I would see him from time to time in classes and on the rare occasions I made it to the gym, he was always there, headphones on, laser-sharp focus on his fitness routine. He was a bit of a mystery character – very reserved, stately, and not one for casual conversation.

It wasn’t until my semester abroad in Austria that I got to know Aeryn. As there were only about a hundred of us, it was impossible to avoid getting to know on another to some extent. But with Aeryn, I was happy for the close quarters. We took Austrian folk dancing lessons together, and we sang in the Latin Schola choir together. He was a fiercely loyal friend. I remember one time being asked to sing a part by myself, and feeling extremely self-conscious about it. One of the other choir members poked a bit of fun at me, highlighting just how quivery my voice had sounded. Aeryn stared him down, and in his booming baritone declared, “It’s called vibrato.”

Aeryn guarded his personal life closely, and it would several years before he was fully open with me about his reasoning. But even when I was a nineteen year-old spaz of a girl, he looked after me and tried to help me understand some of the world that my sheltered upbringing had left out. I didn’t even fully comprehend it at the time, but Aeryn came out to me one early Spring day as we sat on a bench outside the Kartause, our Austrian campus. There on the lawn of this centuries-old Carthusian monastery, bundled under our wool coats, he was trying to help me sort out my confusion about a mutual friend. I distinctly remember his tapdancing around the word gay, never uttering it in fact, as he went to great lengths to explain just how he was able to empathize with our friend. I still have no idea why my fiercely-private friend shared so vulnerably with me that day, but I am honored he did.

At Mic & Joe's wedding in a rare capture of that smile
At Mic & Joe’s wedding in a rare capture of that smile

Aeryn only let most people know him at arm’s length. If you look through photo albums of our semester abroad, for example, there aren’t that many pictures of him. He didn’t come out to the pubs, he rarely traveled with any of us unless it was part of the school program, and he was fond of turning up his nose at most of our adolescent antics. Once, on the bus trip back from Rome, he even convinced our friend, Libby to take some Nyquil, pretending he thought she had the sniffles, but really just hoping she’d konk out and stop pestering him.

It would be years before all of the pieces fit together in that particular puzzle of his guardedness, but just as they were coming together, my friend disappeared. He hadn’t answered my latest email, and I wondered if I’d somehow offended him with my intrusive questioning. I only wish that had been what happened. I wish that he was just giving me the silent treatment, but sadly I would learn months later that he was really and truly missing.

The last time anyone saw my friend Aeryn was eight years ago today.

Today his mother, Kathy, stands vigil in Vienna, taking cold comfort in being close to where her son last stood. I wish I could be there with her – that I could kick down some doors and get answers for her.

But above all else, I really just wish that my friend were still here, still making me laugh, still making me think. While his last email to me was a bit of juicy gossip from our old stomping grounds, (he always had the dirt!) his second to last email started like this:

Greetings! You know, it just occured to me today, I like you! Not in that kind of way, but in the sense that I like hearing from you by e-mail and I look forward to the chats we have on line. It is funny, we have ekpt up with eachother for a good while. That's it. It just popped into my head today. Just let it go to your head, I know, I am wonderful, but, I am already taken!

Miss you, friend. You were one in a bajillion.