Anne Notations

Sunday, December 31, 2006


In less than 90 minutes, I can officially begin using my ....

... 2007 Star Wars daily calendar!

Happy New Year to all.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Hanging in the balance

The news flashed across the Internet tonight: Saddam Hussein is dead, hanged moments earlier by order of an Iraqi court for crimes against humanity - specifically, the murders of 148 Shias in the town of Dujail in 1982. These particular executions represented, of course, a mere fraction of the death and suffering the man inflicted on his fellow Iraqi citizens during his reign of terror.

It may not be the world's loss that an amoral, power-besotted man has been put to death. I had no respect for Saddam, who, when not persecuting Kurds and Shias and vilifying America, could appear sleazily comical: absurd in his banana-republic military mufti, clownish in his rampant megolomania. Such a man will not be widely missed, and I'm not feeling ambivalent about whether justice has been served, although the death penalty is not something I generally support. It was, rather, the image of Saddam's hanging that made me shudder when I read the news. It seems to me that we did lose something tonight - not a man, but a small shred of our humanity.

In 1961, during the annual book fair at our elementary school in Riverside, Connecticut, I opened a large volume on the American Civil War. Flipping through its pages, I was stunned to come upon an old black-and-white photograph of four human beings hanging by their necks from a gallows, faces shrouded and limbs bound. A crowd was beginning to file out of an enclosure past the bodies, which belonged to three men and a woman convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of President Lincoln.

I was in fifth grade, 10 years old, and had never seen anything in my short, sheltered life as horrifying as those hanged bodies. My hyperactive imagination began reconstructing the moments leading up to the scene in the photograph. I doubt I slept well that night. Forty-five years later, I recognized the photo instantly during a quick Google search this evening.

If civilized people must inflict death on individuals in the name of justice, I would plead that we do so in a manner that causes the condemned to suffer the least possible mental and physical agony. Surely the lethal injections we give our dying pets are final enough for even the beastliest mass murderer.

So much for Saddam's hanging, per se, and enough of my childhood psychodramas. This execution's implications for stability within Iraq, not to mention in the Middle East and globally, are immense. What next? To me, the Middle East is the navel of the world, a place of portentous beginnings where spirituality is literally part of the landscape and tribal tensions become global flashpoints with unnerving regularity. In my mind I walk to the Western Wall tonight and shove a paper prayer into a crack among the ancient stones: "Let wisdom lead us to peace." Humankind may not yet be capable of enacting the Golden Rule, but at least we might behave as if we're trying.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Do the locomotion

Yesterday Caroline crawled in our house for the first time. In recent months she'd become adept at wriggling across the floor with her tummy scraping the rug. But she is officially on all fours now.

Time to babyproof the electrical outlets, the cabinets, the staircase! Didn't we just put all that stuff away? Having children and grandchildren is like watching a time-lapse movie. The film frames race by, people pop out, grow like weeds, and run out the front door forever, while the next generation zooms in to start the cycle over again.

Yesterday, in a wistful moment, I said to Melinda, "Oh, I wish you were still four years old. You were so adorable!" In a split second she retorted indignantly: "Don't you like me the way I am now?" Well, yes. Yes, I do, sweetheart. I'll hold onto that thought. It's a perfect antidote for nostalgia overdose, an indulgence to which I am prone. It reminds me to savor each fleeting frame in my life's documentary.

Someday I'll long to relive these winter nights when my 16-year-old daughter and I hold hands while watching "The Gilmore Girls." For now, I must remember to simply enjoy them. In the immediacy of the moment, I will shout with excitement when Caroline puts one knee in front of the other and crawls to my side, pulling herself up until she is standing with her baby hands on my shoulder.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

La familia

Andrés (20), Anne (nevermind), Michael holding granddaughter Caroline, Kevin (14), and Melinda (16)

The family
We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.
– Erma Bombeck

From our family to yours: Happy Holidays and heartfelt wishes for peace in the New Year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

All I want for Christmas

Yes, of course I want world peace and good will among men and all that jazz.

But what I really want is one of these:

Am I a cheap Christmas date, or what?

Lately I've been preoccupied with matters domestic and Yule and work-related. When I'm this frazzled, I find it difficult to read actual books. Even the New Yorker is beyond me most evenings.

More than 20 years ago I discovered that doing crosswords - not reading a book or a magazine - most effectively distracted me from my excruciating acrophobia when I had to fly. They engage my mind to the exclusion of all else. So, these past few months I've reached every night before bedtime for an old, spiral-bound book of New York Times crosswords. I do them obsessively and with gusto, often talking out loud to the puzzle, bargaining for just one more clue to a missing word or phrase.

Millions of people have been sucked in by Sudoku, including Michael for a while. I guess it's fun. But I'm all about words. I'll stick to what I know and love.

Last night I noticed that I have only six puzzles left in my spiral-bound book. This is giving me a panicky feeling. My palms are starting to sweat.

Please, Mr. Santa. I don't want jewels or cashmere or fancy perfumes. I've been a (mostly) good girl. Won't you put that big ol' crossword anthology under my tree?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I dare you...

...not to smile.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My inner June Cleaver

BZZZZZZZZZZT. The dryer buzzer just went off.

I have a love-hate relationship with the laundry. Right now I am avoiding rising from this chair and walking across the room to the freshly dried clothing that awaits my ministrations. Sometimes it is Simply Too Much at the end of a long working day.

In general, though, I love doing laundry. There is a thrill inherent in taking soiled fabric and making it clean and bright. I savor the smell and feel of the warm shirts and towels on my hands as I remove them from the dryer and arrange them in separate orderly stacks for each person in the household.

Here is the proper way to stack the laundry: jeans and khakis on the bottom, sweatshirts and heavy pullovers next, skirts, shirts/blouses, tees, pajamas, undershirts or camis, boxers or bikinis, bras (always air-dried, never put in the dryer), and socks. Clean laundry is so much easier to put away in the proper drawers when organized this way! (And anything that makes the kids more likely to put the damn laundry away is a good thing.)

Bringing order to this part of our family life is pleasing - soothing, even. As a chronically anxious and panicky person, I seem to gravitate to this humble ritual involving pleasant odors, textures, and warmth.

What everyday tasks do you adore - or dread? Why?

Sunday, December 17, 2006


What makes a great Christmas gift for a child? I was thinking about my own childhood favorites in response to a newsgroup query today. Two came immediately to mind:

1) The white tripod telescope Santa brought me when I was 7. Astronomy was my passion that year. Dad and I spent many a cloudless, brisk night in the driveway gazing at the moon's craters, Saturn's rings, and Jupiter's moons. The telescope came with us to three different homes in three states. It stood the test of time as a thrilling tool for seeing far beyond the leafy confines of my suburban neighborhoods.

2) My first three-speed English bicycle. It was a Raleigh, a beautiful midnight blue with a tan leather seat. When I was 9 it was the first thing I saw as I descended the stairs on December 25. It was possibly the most-used thing I owned. I rode that Raleigh everywhere, including to Cape Cod and back my senior year of high school. After I graduated from college, someone cut the bike's lock in the basement of my apartment building, and I never saw it again.

Those two gifts far outshone anything else I recall receiving. What made them instant hits and gave them legs? Both were tools for exploration. Both took me outside my usual orbit. They were versatile and never boring; they caused me to be active, not passive. I was able to operate them by myself after some instruction. (Insert "empowering" cliché here.) They were not stereotypically girls' toys; in fact, they were gender-neutral. I never outgrew them.

Think about these qualities and potentials when you shop for the children in your life. Don't reflexively grab for the latest Tickle Me Elmo. (Remember how fast kids got tired of Furbies, the must-have toy some 10 Yules ago.) The most used, most versatile gift we gave our own kids was a double set of sturdy, polished-hardwood wooden blocks. Stored in two plastic milk crates, they were in constant use (as castles, as garages for Matchbox cars, as pens for plastic animals) right up until our kids' teen years. Now they've gone to Leslie, for Caroline.

I reached for a few old photo albums to see if anything else stood out from Christmases past.

When I was around 9, I received this Betsy McCall doll and her pet - a Steiff airedale. The world globe was probably a present, too. Betsy was a sweet and well-made doll, and I spent hours playing with her in my walk-in bedroom closet. I kept her until this past summer, when I sold all my old doll items to a dealer. The globe was another gift that saw constant use. When we started our family in 1991, I made sure to purchase a world globe and keep it in a prominent place in the living room. We still use it now to track current events.

In 1967, at age 16, I didn't look thrilled with this faux-brocade overnight bag. Grandma seemed to approve, though.

Dad's 1973 gift to me - $50 in ones, wrapped in a box - was a hit.

As was Tammy's case of dog food. Note the tongue action. Mmmmm. That is one appreciative mutt.

One shopping week remains until Christmas. Be smart out there.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Jimmy's mom

Tonight the phone rang, and it was Peggy. She was a dear friend of my late mom's. In the early 1950s they were young mothers in a new suburban neighborhood, with toddlers born five weeks apart. Peg's little Jimmy and I played together every day and held hands. Then my family moved - first to Chicago, then Connecticut. After we returned to Massachusetts, our two families reconnected. Jimmy and I were 14. He was tall and what we girls called "cute," with wavy auburn hair and smiling eyes. He became my first boyfriend. We were innocent and bubbling with puppy love.

Peggy was the first of several incredible "mothers of boyfriends" I was lucky to know, including, ultimately, my mother-in-law: lively, extroverted, affectionate women whom I adored. I think I talked as much on the phone in those years with Peg as I did with Jimmy. She and I were pals. During the summer of 1967 I would hang out with Jimmy's family at their beach trailer on Angelica Point. We spent all day in our bathing suits. We caught and steamed teeny periwinkles and ate them from their shells, speared with pins and dipped in butter, at the picnic table. Peggy sang to me: "Annsy, you are my Wannsy." She and her handsome, rugged husband, Dick, flirted and embraced. Jimmy's younger brother and sister were tall, tan, and blonde. In the presence of that technicolor family, life was vivid and fun.

At my mother's memorial service in 1998, Peg and I reconnected, and we have stayed in touch via e-mail and Christmas cards. It was our holiday card last week that prompted Peg's call. Right away I knew why she was calling me. I could hear it in her voice - devoid of its usual sparkle, spongy with mourning. Her dear Dick had died last February.

"I still miss him every day. We were never apart, Anne. I know he is at peace now, but I miss him. My children are so good. They do everything for me now.

"This year I don't have a Christmas tree, just my creche. Dick used to set up the train for me. I have the whole Dickens village, but it's packed away.

"My eyesight is bad. I have macular degeneration. I can't paint anymore. It's hard to dial the phone. I'm waiting for a new drug to be approved by the FDA.

"Last spring I took my granddaughter to Greece. We stayed in an apartment by the water. We went to Athens and saw everything - the Parthenon, the Acropolis. The sea is the most beautiful turquoise. Everyone sits outside on their terraces. The children play soccer until late at night. You would love it, Anne.

"This year I'm going to Portugal. Dick and I stopped there once on the Queen Elizabeth. My kids say, 'Ma, you have to go out and do what you want.' And I do. You can't stop."

I said: "Peg, do you realize you are one of the people who has known me the longest? My parents are gone. I have only one aunt still living. You have known me since before I turned two. That's more than 53 years."

Good-bye. Good-night. My love to your family. Merry Christmas.

Now, several hours later, I have a small, warm, sweet feeling in the center of my chest. I think I'm still in love with Jimmy's mom.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bye-bye, birthday grinch

When our kids were little we had a "no birthday parties" policy. They got invited to plenty, and they always went with great anticipation and glee, but we never hosted such parties for their own birthdays. I'm afraid I was insufferably superior about the whole deal: All that junk food! Those hordes of overexcited kids (and it was always the entire preschool class, and most of the elementary school classes) bringing way too many presents for children who already had more than they'd ever need. The show-offy expensive theme parties: Clowns, ponies, visits from the fairy princess, pool parties, Chuck E Cheese and Discovery Zone marathons.

Not us! We had family gatherings with a special dinner, presents, and a birthday cake. Occasionally our kids could invite one best friend over, maybe even do something special - Melinda's fourth-birthday outing to The Nutcracker ballet with her pal Olivia, for example. (Both girls slept through the second half.)

The kids begged, grumbled, proclaimed how "mean" we were. But we never budged. Our parsimony seemed healthy and sane, similar to limiting their TV to PBS, or banning junk food.

But now: the revenge of the teenager! Last year Melinda organized her own Hello Kitty party for her closest friends. This year she planned and carried out an even more elaborate Princess Party for her sweet 16.

Princesses having their luncheon.

Pink is the new (and very bright) birthday cake.

There were sandwiches, a decorated princess cake, sparkling tiaras, games, a singing princess balloon, and a trip downtown for outdoor ice skating - all the perks a six-year-old might have demanded. Melinda had a blast and took great pride in having pulled the whole thing off, from invitations to food to decor to thank-you notes on princess stationery.

Off to the skating rink...

I like a kid who can make her own bliss. I'm proud of my daughter, I adore her friends, and I regret rien about our earlier anti-party policy. I suspect Melinda's Sweet 16th was all the sweeter because she was old enough to appreciate it and, most of all, because she made it happen.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Empty headed

Some days - too many days lately - the words just won't come. Ideas wink and flit inside my brain but when I try to write them here, they seem ridiculous or flimsy. I look at bloggers and columnists who stream words into cyberspace or newsprint every single day, and I am amazed and envious ... and ashamed.

In my early 40s, a year or so into fulltime parenthood, I began to realize that my creativity was being diverted and sapped. Motherhood, or the way I approached motherhood, required energy, imagination, adaptation, and most of my brain cells.

Now our kids are older and only two are still at home. I want to write again. More than that, I want to have something to say. Where did my thoughts go? Have I become banal and arid?

When I was younger, there was no World Wide Web, and in my spare time I read and read and walked outdoors and wrote. I kept journals. (Recently I shredded them all, finding them unbearable to read.) It's frightening to hit these empty spells, to think I have nothing left to say, no new experiences or thoughts to share.

Maybe I will try to write something, even a sentence, every day. We'll see.