Set in My Ways


As a younger person, my observation was always that older people were curmudgeons; cranky and inflexible.  To me, they lacked the beguilement and wonder of my generation.  I saw this as an irritating feature of this group of people, and asked myself why they didn’t share in my own open-minded culture.  Seeing it as something that was characteristic of “them” made it easier to accept that this brand of cynicism would not happen to me.   I would never become “set in my ways.”  Having seen what became of people who were, I felt cocky that the inevitability of this fate would never come to pass.  I wouldn’t become one of them, no fucking way.

Time has dealt me a cruel blow.  Much as I hate to admit it, I am beginning to be set in my ways.  Years of experience have formulated my opinions on such things as waiting in traffic, the high price of travel and the skimpiness of  clothes on today’s young women.  Politicians are too jaded.   Movies are too violent.  Kids are too spoiled.  These are actual thoughts I have had recently, and it scares the shit out of me.  Being judge-y is not in my character and when thoughts of this nature appear and reappear, it is striking to say the least.  I was going to be impervious to age, always keeping up with trends and relishing free thinking!  A goddamn goddess of change and compromise!  My ideas would continue to be unspoiled not by years of disappointment in how things were, but instead, energized by pure possibility!  And then, eventually, you get screwed.  No one wants to lose the ability to see the world through a free thinking lens.  But no one wants to sit in the middle seat on an airplane, either.

As you get older, you start to see things less out of possibility and more out of practicality.  You figure out what it is that you don’t really like or want in your life as a result of having gone through it in the past.  You know that there are all kinds of cool new artists out there, but you still love to listen to Tom Petty.  You know that change comes slowly, but the chaos and gridlock in government have turned you sour.  You know that taking a class will be really good for you, but you bristle at the cost and inconvenience.  You want to jump in the lake, but don’t want to get wet.  You want to learn how to snowboard, but can’t be bothered with the cold.  Maybe these aren’t all directly relevant to your life, but this is what happens.  The head knows what it likes.  That’s why I want to listen to my heart.

When I think of someone I’d like to age into, I think of someone I know named Nancee. Nancee is 70, 23 years older than me.  She has opinions, she’s doesn’t get pushed around.  But she retains a sense of wonder that is truly remarkable.  She takes dance classes with girls 30 years younger.  She asks for other people’s opinions.  And then she listens.  In a culture of “us vs. them,”  she is open to new ideas.  She has friends of all shapes, sizes, religions and political persuasions.  She hugs and kisses her husband while pinching his ass.  She curses in ways that would make some folks’ hair stand on end.  But she also prays vigorously.  She is in pain most days from arthritis, but you’d never know it.  She doesn’t have much money,  her home is small, but she lives big.  While I realize we can’t all be Nancee,  and that I might never be, I relish her abandon.  She is her own person.  She hasn’t created a small, safe box around herself.  On the contrary, her box is huge and her heart is limitless.

Now I know that our experiences don’t always jade us, they often serve us.  Just because I want to see the world anew sometimes doesn’t mean I’m going to love the idea of the guy my age who smells like vodka coming over and pick up my daughter.  Hell, no. Keeping your sense of openness in the face of reality is a challenge, one that I don’t think those in the thick of middle age (or young middle age in my case) get enough credit for handling.  It can be a bitch to reconcile it all.

So here I am, 47 years of voices informing me to not listen, not to get involved and to say no.  But I know better!  Deep inside there is a kid who thought there was no line too long to get a ticket (and no price too high) for my favorite band’s upcoming show.   A kid who didn’t care that falling and getting hurt was part of learning how to roller skate.  Who didn’t instantly judge.  Who didn’t lose her shit when someone doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll.  I wouldn’t trade my sorrows and regrets for anything, but I do wish I could turn back time and regain a fraction of the sheer hope and optimism my daughters possess.

For now, I’m going to pay attention to my kids’ music.  Force my brain to learn tough new things (on my list:  programming, sewing and constructing a drip irrigation system).  Ask questions.  Listen.  Listen.  Listen.   My goal is to not be predictable.  To filter myself not based on what I don’t like, but on the very best things about me.  Because I know one day I’ll be sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, on a tarmac, next to a person who won’t stop talking, before a long flight.  And at  that moment, on this journey, I want to be open.

To all the ways.


photo by Barbara Paulsen at  Go check it out.





Ode to Blockbuster





did it get so complicated to watch a show

Man, I fucking

just want to watch something

Not go through

ten thousand channels

They say to watch this show or that but

I am just plain

overwhelmed at the prospect of so so so

Many.  What if I choose

poorly?   And waste a couple hours just





So damn many good shows they say

but isn’t that the


Sometimes I think of a movie I saw

long ago.  Well

where do I get it?  Sure as shit not in that

little red box outside the

grocery store with lines of people on a

Friday night

looking dead tired from a long day

but still

holding pizzas and sodas and treats for

ungrateful kids

who don’t even know the meaning of

a real video store, man.


And that’s not even talking about



I guess I’ll just read my book.   Sip my drink and then

my brain can

lay it all down.

This Stage of Life


Recently, my father in law got remarried.  This is a welcome development for everyone involved.  We love his new wife, and the happy couple are busy doing newlywed things and being in love.  My father in law took incredible care of my mother in law while she was sick.  He was completely devoted to her, forsaking any other claim on his time to care for her.  His loyalty to her was unconditional and he was with her every step of her journey with cancer, ultimately ending in her death a couple years ago.  So, his new-found happiness is truly a blessing in our family.

The wedding took place this past summer on a steamy late August day.  However, being “home” this time had me and my husband out of sorts.  First of all, there was a huge “for sale” sign in front of the house.  It felt odd, like we didn’t belong there anymore.  Like this was no longer home for any of us.  Despite the happy occasion, it wound up being unexpectedly sad to be there.  It really made me think about what makes a house a home.  Is it the time your Dad screamed at you at the kitchen table for getting a ding in the car?  Is it the time you made brownies with grandma?  Is it the first bath you gave your newborn baby in the kitchen sink?  It turns out it’s all of this, and more.

Once we realized this would be our last time in the house, all of a sudden, everything was infused with meaning.  There were paintings hanging on the wall that suddenly became visible after years of walking by them on the way to go to bed or run out to dinner with the family.  Plates and tzchotchkes that adorned the shelves were relegated to “take what you want!” status from my father in law.  These objects served as the background of my husband’s childhood home, much as the stage does for a play.  But in this would-be theater, all the props are going away.  The time had come for the play to close.  All the scenery, gone.  Virtually the entire house would either be given away or thrown in the trash.  The thought of this is jarring to say the least, but even more so considering my 46 year old husband has thought of this as home since he was 5.  It felt disrespectful.  It hurt.

Prior to leaving, my husband, his brother and each of our families tormented ourselves over what to take.  It had to fit in our bags.  If we wanted it shipped, it had to be worth the cost.  How do you take a lifetime and put it in a carry-on bag?

In the end, we wound up taking a few very special items.  My husband’s bar mitzvah photo album.  His stamp collection.  Lots of photographs.  Some jewelry.  But, now that the house is sold, I keep remembering things from the house.  I will sit up in bed and think about a ring my mother in law wore.  My father in law’s fencing mask.  The huge marble covered dresser that they let us borrow for our first apartment.   The record collection.  These things are now scattered around, detritus of a life no longer shared.  Of four people no longer under the same roof.  That shit is just plain sad.

So now I look around my house.  I try to see it from the eyes of my own kids.  They will grow and one day leave this beloved dwelling.  Will they remember how they helped make gingerbread in this kitchen every Christmas?  Will they remember painting their rooms?  Do they notice the photos we have hanging?  Will it hurt when the for sale sign is dug into the ground?  Only time will tell.

But I know this much to be true.  This house, my home, is more to me than bricks and walls.  She has kept my loud cursing silent to the outside world,  and she has gently held my whispers.  She has swelled to welcome visitors and she has held us tight when it is just us four.   She keeps us warm and dry  through the storms and gives light on dark days.  She has welcomed two babies and been steady through diapers, flus, tears and the inevitable Sharpie on the walls.  She has borne witness to it all and remains strong for all of us.  She holds my deepest heart, my playful days, my sleepless nights, my worries, my dreams and all the days of this crazy wonderful life we lead.  Backstage, I write these words.  On stage, as they say, the play goes on.


photo by Barbara Paulsen at


Snow it Falls

IMG_5712Snow is all about in the tranquil grace of falling


lightly, as though by slow motion reel

the flake, she bobs and twists on the hands of her

gentle friend, the wind.


Snow chills the present and sends away

the idea of the grocery store replaced by

visions of sleds and laughter and hot cocoa the thrill

of a snow day eclipsing the gray day to day.


Snow, that sly little girl she surprises and comes up

behind you and gives you a tickle and makes

you giggle all hopeful and renders you a child as well

all squishy and cozy and ready and willing.


Snow, she is so silent you must cover your ears and

not let the loud-less noise-less overwhelm you

and you long for the sounds but she hushes you and

comforts you with the quiet-full world.


Oh snow, your crunch and hiss delight and so

when the rain and sun come and take you so quickly it

feels like an ending but I know I think I dream you

will come again so I will wait, snow.  I will wait.


photo by Barbara Paulsen at