Anne Notations

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meme time! The boy that I married

Well, he was never a boy, to me. Six years older, so he was truly a grownup and I was just a kid out of college. But something clicked for real and for good, and Michael and I are still a duo more than three decades later.

Anyway. I keep running into these fun "memes" (question sets to be shared and passed along) on Facebook. I decided to answer this one here instead.

The meme: "Here's a chance to see how well you really know your husband. Cut, paste and fill in the answers, then forward. The real challenge is to send it to your husband to see how right you really are."

1. He's sitting in front of the TV, what is on the screen?
My answer: NCIS, CSI, Bones, House, or 24.
Michael's answer: NCIS, Bones, CSI, or Yankees game

2. You're out to eat; what kind of dressing does he get on his salad?
My answer: Oil and vinegar.
Michael's answer: Olive oil, or none.

3. What's one food he doesn't like?
My answer: Sweet potatoes.
Michael's answer: Sweet potatoes

4. You go out to eat and have a drink. What does he order?
My answer: Glass of cabernet.
Michael's answer: Cabernet

5. Where did he go to high school?
My answer: Mount St. Michael Academy, the Bronx, NY
Michael's answer: Mount St. Michael

6. What size shoe does he wear?
My answer: 11.5
Michael's answer: 12

7. If he were to collect anything, what would it be?
My answer: Books
Michael's answer: Books

8. What is his favorite type of sandwich?
My answer: Sliced turkey on rye with (yes) butter and salt/pepper. Optional: provolone.
Michael's answer: Turkey

9. What would he eat every day if he could?
My answer: He can and does eat Campbell's Select Harvest Lite Savory Chicken and Vegetable soup every day for lunch.
Michael's answer: Turkey or chicken

10. What is his favorite cereal?
My answer: Does not eat cereal. Breakfast is always a big slice of When Pigs Fly cinnamon raisin bread, toasted.
Michael's answer (re cereal): Blah.

11. What would he never wear?
My answer: Aftershave, cologne – anything scented.
Michael's answer: Overcoat.

12. What is his favorite sports team?
My answer: New York Yankees; Notre Dame football
Michael's answer: Yankees, Notre Dame

13. Who did he vote for?
My answer: Obama
Michael's answer: Obama

14. Who is his best friend?
My answer: Joe (former colleague)
Michael's answer: Joe

15. What is something you do that he wishes you didn't do?
My answer: SNORE
Michael's answer: Yawn LOUDLY. (omg, I sound like such a boor!)

16. What is his heritage?
My answer: Irish and Armenian
Michael's answer: Dumb.

17. You bake him a cake for his birthday?
My answer: I bake him an apple pie; never cake.
Michael's answer: Are you kidding? (hmph)

18. Did he play sports in high school?
My answer: Football, track.
Michael's answer: Duh. (I think he's getting burned out with this quiz...)

19. What could he spend hours doing?
My answer: Yard work, reading.
Michael's answer: Manual labor.

20. What is one unique talent he has?
My answer: He can play "trumpet" songs on his mouth and cheeks with no trumpet! A sure hit with young children.
Michael's answer: Being obnoxious.

Gotta love a guy with a sense of humor. I guess I know him pretty well.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Oh God,

Save me from superstition. Or if I must be superstitious, let me see good omens, not portents of bad luck. Let me not be afraid.

I am 10 years old. We are visiting my grandparents in Massachusetts, setting up a cookout in the backyard in late afternoon. It must have rained earlier, because in the rays of the setting sun I see, suddenly, a perfect rainbow against gray clouds.

"Look!" I shout, pointing. "A rainbow!"

My grandmother, my dear adoring grandmother, is standing near me. Frantically she snatches my hand and pulls it to my side. "Don't ever point at a rainbow," she says. "Or a ringworm will grow around your finger!"

My eyes widen, and I stare at my finger. The rainbow is forgotten. Over near the grill with its glowing charcoal I hear my father mutter under his breath, "Aw, shut up, you old killjoy."

Growing up, I heard more like this. "Bad things [or deaths] come in threes." "Pearls foretell tears." "Never give glass or cutlery as a gift; it cuts friendship."

Save me, oh Lord, from allowing superstitions to rob my life of joy. Liberate me from attaching primitive human meanings to Your creations.


This morning as Daisy and I return home from our walk, a flutter of pure-white wings flashes above us. A dove – definitely not a pigeon, but the kind of dove you see on Christmas cards with an olive branch in its beak – lands on the roof of the corner house. It flutters to the ground, and after putting Daisy inside our front door, I go back and approach. Yes, it's definitely a dove. I talk to it, and it allows me to get within five or six feet of where it stands on the cold flattened grass. Then, with a nervous sidelong look, it soars up and over another house toward Brushneck Cove.

After posting an anonymous "Is your dove lost?" message on the Craigslist pet forum, I find myself waxing anxious. White: the color of death. In Costa-Gavras's excellent movie Missing, about the 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende in Chile, Sissy Spacek's character slinks furtively down a Santiago street, ducking into store entryways, while machine guns chatter in the distance. Then – oh, the heartbreaking beauty of it – a white horse gallops alone up the street past her. If you know anything about symbolism, you know that horse is Death. From that point on, Sissy's desperate mission to find her loved one is doomed, although she doesn't yet know it.

Why, God, am I fretting that the white dove that dropped into my life this morning is a harbinger of death? Why am I afraid of our little trip up Route 146 to Worcester this afternoon? Why can't the gleaming bird be a sign of good news, of peace, of love?

Only when typing the previous sentence did I remember that in our faith, a white dove represens the Holy Spirit. Jesus rose above the waters of his own baptism and "saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him."

Superstition is a quirky legacy of beloved ancestors, but it is not a mature, useful, or faith-attuned attitude toward our world and its mysteries. We all know the power of the lucky charm, the amulet or ritual that wards off evil: a rabbit's foot, a gods-eye, a medal around our necks. Witness the power of the chain letter: Don't break the chain or you'll suffer! It can't be true, yet how many times do we forward those letters – just in case? We're annoyed at our foolishness yet we can't help hedging our bets. Step on a crack and you'll break your mother's back! My progress to and from school as a first and second grader was a comedy of sidewalk half-steps, skips, and dread.

Those of us with anxiety disorder are particularly susceptible to magical, and fearful, thinking. It is often difficult for us to distinguish between the random occurrences of everyday life and a sense that Fate decides our fortune – a fortune that we can read in the stars, the tea leaves, the lines on a palm, or the surprising appearance of a dove the color of death.

Let me put away childish things, save my vivid imagination for creative endeavors, and go forth unafraid. Let me cheerfully watch our children venture forth into their lives without fixating on danger and doom. Let me accept that I cannot possibly divine the prophetic significance of a dove, or a rainbow, or a broken mirror. Today, let me enjoy the graceful swoop of a gleaming white bird with peace in my heart.


Friday, February 20, 2009

A … B … C …

Grandmas are allowed to post cute videos of their darlings. Here's Caroline, two weeks ago, singing to Uncle Andrés.

For some reason, she always takes her socks off while she's singing!

Monday, February 16, 2009

10 "P" things you may not know about me

There is an alphabet meme going around. You get a specific letter from a previous meme-er, then you write about 10 things that begin with that letter that mean something to you.

Mary had "S", and she gave me "P". Thanks, Mary! Here goes.

Parsimony. After a lifetime of recreational shopping (the great American pastime), we and many others are in fiscal-retrenchment mode due to a nationwide economic collapse. I have survived withdrawal from my retail addiction and am now enjoying the virtuous feeling that comes with pinching pennies. I've taken the bus (with my free employer-supplied pass) to work all week, we get our books from the library rather than Amazon or Borders, I make cheap and tasty meals in my two crockpots, and I whip out the ol' green Amex card so rarely it almost hurts to use it.

Pets. Love love love animals and birds. Starting at age 11, I (or my family) have owned the following dogs: Beau (beagle), Tammy (small golden mutt), Tasha (German shorthaired pointer), Heidi (GSHP), Kelly beagle), Bonnie (three-legged GSHP), and now Daisy (pit/beagle mutt). My brother and I owned a series of red-eared sliders, turtles named Tommy, Timmy, Terry, and Iggy – the last of which lived some 12 years. As a child, I had an orange canary named Chip and a parakeet named Sky. In recent years we've listened to the chattering of our parakeets Patty, Laurie, Blueberry, Chip, and Puff Birdie – who adores fresh parsley.

Perfume. While I am not the girly-girl princess type ("tomboy" is what my ilk used to be called), I enjoy wearing cologne and perfume. Not long after Michael and I began dating, he gave me a spray bottle of White Shoulders. It became my signature scent for decades. I have branched out in recent years. While I still wear my trusty White Shoulders occasionally, I mix it up day to day with Shi by Alfred Sung, Happy Heart by Clinique, J'Adore by Dior, Mediterranean by Elizabeth Arden, and Ralph Lauren Blue.

Pie crust is one of my proudest accomplishments. When we married, Michael praised his mother's pies to the sky. He may as well have thrown a gauntlet. I practiced endlessly and eventually perfected a shortening-based flaky crust. Everyone in my family would rather have one of my apple pies than a fancy cake.

Providence. I work in Providence. I went to college in Providence. I have written about Providence. I have lived most of my adult life in Providence (although not at present). Current recession aside, it's a beautiful college city located on Rhode Island's crown jewel, Narragansett Bay. It's crammed with historic architecture and is a magnet for artsy types, thanks to RISD and Trinity Rep. Come visit!

Pembroke. Until 1971, women applied to Pembroke College, men to Brown University. We had separate deans and admission offices, but all of our classes were together, we received the same Brown diplomas at graduation, and by 1970 our dorms were becoming coed. When I arrived in the fall of 1969, Pembrokers were stereotyped as prissy academic "grinds" by the Brown boys, possibly because it was harder to get in as a woman (Brown guys outnumbered us by more than 2 to 1 at the time). Let it be known that I did my best to personally dispel that stereotype – for better or worse! (Oy.) Our Pembroke dorms still had parietals – strictly enforced visiting hours for males, with sign-ins required at front desks. How quaint that seemed even one year later!

Peanut butter cups. Reese's. Best candy invention ever!

Panic disorder and its evil spawn, phobias. I had my first panic attack at age 18, driving west over the Braga Bridge in Fall River, Mass. I didn't know it was a panic attack; I just knew I suddenly felt awful, dizzy, about to pass out as I crested the bridge. Years went by until at age 24, on the same bridge, I had another panic attack. Thus was born my bridge phobia: bridges became sources of discomfort, and I began to avoid them. My panic disorder metastasized to include driving on interstate highways, flying, and skyscrapers. For some years in my mid 30s I suffered mild agoraphobia, panicking while talking to a friend on the sidewalk or having lunch in a restaurant with colleagues. Sometimes I had to leave meeting rooms to compose myself.

Panic disorder is an invisible handicap. Those of us who suffer from it (and often with its best friends "generalized anxiety disorder" and depression) exhaust ourselves trying to face down our fears or construct elaborate schemes to avoid our panic triggers. Yes, I took the bus to Indianapolis in 2005 rather than flying! Yes, I traveled old Route 6 from Little Compton to Providence and back every day in the mid 1980s.

Today, thanks to years of psychotherapy, desensitizing practice, and medications, I can and do drive on highways. Bridges and flying still bother me, but I can contemplate doing both without being overcome with heart palpitations and sweaty palms. I'm no longer agoraphobic. And I have made amazing friends via several online panic/anxiety support groups, some of whom I've spent time with in real life. These fellow travelers are smart, compassionate, generous, and loyal. I treasure their continued presence in my life.

Peonies and pansies. You can get drunk on the heady perfume and spectacular blossoms of peonies, one of my favorite garden perennials. See these from our previous home. The plant starts out as a cluster of tiny nubs in the soil in spring, and by June it's two to three feet high and nodding with enormous blossoms. Another flower, the pansy with its perky little face and disregard for cold temperatures, is special to me because when I was a preschooler, my mom and dad called me "Annsy Pansy."

Piano. Both my grandmother and my mother played all their lives. I began taking lessons when I was eight and continued through high school. I was quite good – but only in the blessed privacy of home, executing thrilling runs and crashing chords on Mom's antique upright. Beethoven's Sonata Pathétique was a favorite. In recital before strangers, I absolutely choked. "Pathétique" sounded pathetic. Now I play only during Advent, bringing the beloved handed-down sheet music and books out of storage. "Silver Bells" and its opening two-octave descending sequence fill me with Christmas spirit – and reassure me that I haven't lost my ability entirely.

Oh man. I've reached my limit of 10 "P" items. I wanted to include poetry, another passion of mine. Photography. Prayer. Peaches. Padawan. Pooh and Piglet. Pasta. Pearls. Pillows. Purses. Prenancy. The Pembroke Pandas (my college ice hockey team). Paregoric. Post-impressionism. Petersen's Ice Cream. Pet peeves. Perhaps (snort) I'll accumulate enough for another several "P" posts!

In the meantime, if you'd like me to tag you with a letter of your own, just leave a comment. It's fun.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Short month. Long wait.

Long wait for spring, that is. Just ask the crows, above, waiting outside Iggy's Chowder and Doughboys this brisk Sunday morning for the return of warm-weather outdoor diners and their dropped french fries, clamcake crumbs, and half-eaten hamburger rolls.

Spring? It's a fairly theoretical notion in New England. Right about now, in mid-February, as the sun begins to loop higher in the sky and linger in the afternoons, we all start to get the fever. Sure, the air is still frosty, the wind screams around the eaves at night, and crusts of stubborn, dirt-pocked snow and ice remain on the shady side of our streets. But spring comes to seem possible, and worse, desirable. We want it now!

This is when I envy the snowbirds, those fortunate residents of the north who head to Florida, St. Croix, and other warm places to wait out the butt-end of winter. Time was when such migrations weren't only the province of the privileged. My grandfather left school after eighth grade and worked in factories that made tacks and nails all his adult life. My grandmother gave piano lessons to neighbor children for a quarter. Once Grandpa retired, the two of them spent part of each winter in "St. Pete", driving to Florida in their big Chrysler sedan and renting a little house among other retirees for a few months. By Easter they'd be back in Massachusetts, ready to start preparing the vegetable patch and fertilize the lawn.

My "St. Pete" is closer to home. It's an attitude, a way of seeing photogenic details that distract me from the bleak wait for spring in February, March, and early April.

Like this tree at the beach with a hollow heart.

A bare willow weeping over Warwick's 9/11 memorial.

A pair of googly eyes in the sand.

Tall rushes swishing in the onshore breeze.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Two nights ago, driving home from work past the airport on Main St. in Warwick: Over the air field, behind the tree silhouettes to the east, rose the hugest new moon I've ever seen. It was the exact color of Cheshire cheese against the deep-blue evening sky and could have been (if oval) the Hindenburg tethered to a post: a colossus, unbearably light. If I could have stopped the car on that busy four-lane road, I would have, just to gape. As it was, Kevin and I drove past our street to the Oakland Beach parking lot and watched the golden disc continue to float up and over Warwick Neck.

PROFANE (but lovely in its leap of logic)
Caroline, looking down to check: "My poop is brown."
Me: "Yes, that's exactly the color it should be."
Caroline: "Snowmans make white poops."

This morning when I got downstairs around 6:35 am, the sky to the east through our living-room windows was striated in rippling bands of pink, purple, and peach against the palest of blue skies, rolling out a colorful carpet in advance of the sun's appearance. I found myself pacing toward the sunroom to grab my camera, then stopping and realizing "It will look washed out," then thinking "Oh, so what, get the camera anyway." Finally I realized that in my dithering I had forgotten to be, forgotten to see. I stopped and gazed through the windows, past our back yard and those of our neighbors behind us, and took in the black lace of bare tree branches against that glorious, ephemeral morning sky.

Yesterday's lunch with Sarah at Phonatic: Over Vietnamese noodle soup and spring rolls we commiserated about teenaged sons, shared the good and not-so-good about our lives in recent months, and ended up laughing until tears formed in our eyes about the pretentious earnestness of our young adulthood, the crazy optimism of anyone who has children and is dazzled by their babies and toddlers (Look out! we want to tell new parents), and the saving grace of humor that puts many things in perspective – perhaps most of all, our own foibles. Camaraderie... release... the pleasant exhaustion of laughing it all out with an intelligent kindred spirit... And back in the office, a shot of energy to carry me through the afternoon. This, we must do more often.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Onward and upward

We all know the archetypal anxiety dream: the one where you're back in college and on your way to class, and you realize you haven't even begun the semester's reading but it's already midterm. Or where you're in class and realize you're naked. (Exposed as a fraud!)

My unconscious mind in its dreaming state has specialized in a combination frustration/anxiety dream. I am usually in another city – New York, perhaps – and trying to get back home. But I can't read the train schedules, or the trains/busses aren't running. I'm in Arizona and suddenly find myself boarding a plane, my worst phobia, and am scrambling through my purse to find some Xanax but the bottle isn't there. Or, speaking of phobias, I'm driving on a highway and, as I round a sharp curve past a hillside, I realize the road is headed straight toward an enormous, steep suspension bridge, a nightmare bridge five times higher than any in real life and shaped like an upside-down U; I'm paralyzed with fear. Talk about waking up in a sweat. (A Google image search for "nightmare bridge" led me to this poor woman's Flickr photo, which pretty much embodies what I've just described.)

Last night I had another sort of dream, a revelatory one I'm grateful for. My handful of faithful readers know that the past year and a half have been stressful for us, for me. Aside from the usual complications of raising teenagers (Melinda's college application process, Kevin's stomach problems, failing grades, and ADD), we seem to have walked unknowingly into a perfect economic storm. It began in 2007 with Michael's unforeseen unemployment, the failure to sell our Providence house for over a year from the time we listed it, carrying two mortgages on one salary, Michael's many job interviews and zero offers, and now the national recession that has slid into a depression, with the very real possibility that we will have to default on our mortgage (we're upside-down given the decline in real-estate values and the glutted market). Everything is uncertain, and I am afraid. During the week my work routine happily distracts me. My schedule is go-go-go from the time I leave the house with Kevin at 7 a.m. until I sink into my blessed recliner with the newspaper or a novel after supper.

On weekends, though, it all catches up with me and I crash. Hard. I sink into sleep whenever I sit down somewhere comfortable. I despair at my lack of energy for doing anything besides puttering in the kitchen, taking care of the parakeets, refilling the outdoor feeders, and maybe taking some sunset photos. Rare is the Saturday when Michael can entice me to go out for a movie. (I'd rather stay in and watch a Netflix video, or NCIS and Friday Night Lights re-runs.) Sometimes I think I have a physical problem that makes me sluggish. I've come to believe, though, that I'm simply exhausted by worry and bad news. I ache, I yawn, I crash.

Back to last night's dream. In it, I was bicycling around New Hampshire by myself, having found my way there easily from Rhode Island. Unlike in real life, where I am currently unfit and torpid, in the dream I pedaled without undue effort up and down hills, past farms and golden fields. I shopped at a glorified country store on a back road, and met kind people who wished me well. As I turned around to head back to Rhode Island, the sun was beginning to set. I knew I could get home but worried about the temperatures, which were falling.

In one of those unreal dream developments, I was instantly back at home to grab my brown zip-up hoody before resuming my ride. But wait: Michael said, "You can't go back – who will take care of the baby?" And he handed Caroline to me – a much younger Caroline, tiny and chubby and in diapers, a beloved bundle of responsibilities. I felt my goal begin to recede. Then I returned Caroline to Michael and said, "No, I'm going back. You'll have to deal with her." And *poof* I was back on my bicycle in New Hampshire, cycling easily toward home. I didn't know the way, exactly, but I wasn't afraid; I was confident that road signs would lead me to where I wanted to go.

Capable. Confident. Fit. Free. That was me, in my dream last night. My life felt spacious with possibility. The future opened before me and I was up to its challenges. I said "no thanks" to Michael's burdens – not unkindly, but firmly and with the knowledge that to progress, I had to disengage for a while.

Today the sun is shining and, like Caroline's beloved Little Engine, I say to myself: I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Nana is snoring

Lately I am either anxious or asleep. Or, in the case of some recent nightmares, both.

Small pleasures, part 1: Feeding wild birds in the winter is relaxing for me in somewhat the same way as puttering in my gardens in the summer. Even the commonplace sparrows, which dominate my mixed-seed and sunflower-seed feeders, delight the eye and ear. When we sit in our sunny living room on a bright winter day, the birds alighting on feeders outside cast flickering shadows.

The squirrels amuse me now that I've squirrel-proofed all the feeders and they are reduced to ground-feeding on whatever spills, or finding frozen berries.

Related avian pleasure: Puffy, the gorgeously colored rescued adult parakeet (at right) who joined our Blueberry after Chip, his former cage companion, died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve. They are quite happy together, and like to "talk" about it.

Rant: In today's Parade magazine, an article points out that women's heart health is relatively uncharted territory. For example, taking aspirin every day (which I've done for the past five years at my doctor's request) is a much more effective heart-attack preventive for men than for women. Ditto many drugs. My BP is good and my cholesterol excellent (yay for good genes), but my CRP reading is terrifyingly high. Which leads me to the rant part of this: I am only 57, but I feel as if I, and other baby boomers, live each day with the shadow of doom over our heads. We know too much, in a way, about health risk factors. We read too much about prevention only to read a year later that the earlier findings were wrong. Do eat this. Don't eat it! Exercise. Wait – only strenuous exercise for 90 minutes at least five times a week makes any difference. Eat margarine, not butter. Wait – margarine has bad trans-fats; butter is actually preferable. Eat olive oil. But remember that all fats add 100 calories per tablespoon. Etc. Etc.

My grandparents lived to 88 and 95. They had some health issues along the way, but I can't imagine they began living in fear in their 50s that their breakfast ham and eggs was going to kill them, possibly soon. Grandma never jogged or did water aerobics (the very idea is laughable); she did adapt her diet after age 70 or so to offset type 2 diabetes – successfully. But this wasn't something she was dreading in her 40s and 50s, as I have ever since I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant.

I realize, intellectually, that blissful ignorance can be risky. I know that health experts and medical journalists have only the best intentions in publicizing what they know. But every once in a while, I wish I knew less.

Small pleasures, part 2: Kozy Shack Flan single-serving desserts. Heavenly.

The economy: It sucks. In May Michael will have been unemployed for two years. He is getting interviews but no call-backs. The Sunday classified job section has shrunk from its normal three to four pages of listings to a half-page or less. My own employer is eying staff cuts. Economists can't seem to agree. Are we inching into a depression now? Already there? Will the markets begin to recover this summer? In three years?

I could not have imagined as a young person just how much I would care about my children's lives and welfare, even after they became adults. Whether they're experiencing good (exciting, cool) things or struggling, I am right there with them emotionally. It's exhausting to care this much! Before we had full-time kids, in my late 30s, I had been a prolific writer of magazine features, profiles, and news stories. I worked at this full-time and freelanced on the side. I won awards for my articles.

Within a year of adopting three children, and certainly after giving birth to a fourth, I noticed that I struggled with the longer feature medium. Eventually I became more editor than writer. It was very clear to me at the time that much of my creative energy was re-routed to solving the puzzle of parenting. To caring. I rarely have the energy to write in this blog, but when I do, it's wonderful to find that zone again.

Small pleasures, part 3: Snow. This year we've had a real winter like those I recall as a child in New England and Illinois. We've had snow on the ground for at least a month, with modest snowstorms almost weekly to replenish it, and cold temperatures. It's pretty. The reflected light is bright. It wins hands-down over depressing brown lawns and shrubs.

Another small pleasure, every Friday: our three-year-old granddaughter. Sometimes I doze off while reading her book after book – last Friday it was The Little Engine That Could, seven times – but Caroline takes my unscheduled mini naps in stride and plays with her toys until I come to. Once I awoke to hear her commenting matter-of-factly, "Nana is snoring."

Our winter sunsets are an enduring source of awe.