Bringing New Life To An Empty Nest

I fell off the blog wagon this summer, partially due to life (son’s graduation, travel, house maintenance, family priorities) and partially due to feeling too emotionally scattered to write. I never run out of opinions to share, but I do run out of energy to deal with the jumble of unrelated thoughts in my head. Overwhelm. That is what does me in. To write, you need mental space and time with your thoughts. And because it was such an emotional summer for me as I careened towards the empty nest my husband and I now inhabit, I checked out. Focusing too long on the grief in my heart was not where I wanted to be, nor where I felt I should be as my youngest embarked on his exciting new adventure. I kept telling myself I would break down and navigate the tangled web emotions I was cycling through in background mode in due time. I suspect that time is coming soon.

What happens when you have too much time and a label maker

In the meantime, though, I have been celebrating the good. Our sons are moved in at school, settled into their study routines, and making the most of their college experiences. Thing Two’s transition has been seamless. I don’t think he missed one orientation workshop or opportunity to make new friends. Thing One has been reunited with his college sweetheart, and all is well in his world too. A thousand miles away, we are finding empty nest life kind of refreshing, honestly. Sure. It’s quiet at home, except for the barking of our sporty dogs, but we’re finding ways to distract ourselves. We’ve begun the digging out from underneath the clutter that accumulates when you spend 21 years putting your nuclear family ahead of everything else. We’ve also been meeting up with friends for long-overdue dinners and trying new things, like pickleball. We have relished peaceful nights picking shows we want to watch and enjoying them with a glass of wine and a couple chocolate truffles. So, all things considered, we’re settling into this new phase of life, to quote Larry David, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

With all the newly regained downtime, though, I’ve been doing some reflecting. Our satisfaction with our journey in this life comes down this: we make choices, and our ability to negotiate our expectations about those choices versus the reality those choices bring determines our general level of satisfaction. We chose to have children. The expectation was , if all went well, they would eventually move on to create their own lives, make their own choices, and navigate their own expectations. That has come to fruition, and we are grateful for it. In the aftermath of their departure for their own adventures, Steve and I have new choices to make. What do we want our lives to look like now? What will we choose to prioritize going forward? Yes. There is some grief in giving your children to the world, but there is joy there too. The most important thing I can do is recognize my choice in this moment. I can choose to feel superfluous now that I’ve retired from 21 years as a full-time parent or I can choose to find my next adventure. I can wallow in the vastness an empty and clean house or I can find something new to occupy the space left in the boys’ absence.

To that end, may I introduce Puppy-To-Be-Named-Later, scheduled for a late October arrival.

This little guy

Life is full of decisions. There will be plenty of time to imagine my next career move later. For now, though, I will fill our empty nest with puppy breath, tiny barks, and dog hair and I will occupy myself with frequent walks, potty training, and breaking up raucous scuffles. It might just end up feeling like the old days, when our sons were young and needed me, all over again.

Touring The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, And The Vatican Museums

Our local coffee spot

For our first, and admittedly only, full day in Rome, I booked us a couple tours so we wouldn’t miss must-see attractions. We all wanted to see the Colosseum and the boys were adamant about going to the Vatican. After grabbing to-go doppio espresso shots and a couple cornetti from a store helmed by the friendliest shop manager ever, we walked towards our tour meeting place near the Roman Forum.

Again, I have to admit that I remember next to nothing from my time studying ancient Rome in college. In my defense, when I studied ancient Rome, it was through the Classics department where I spent my time reading Livy and Virgil in Latin. I wasn’t mapping the Forum Romanum. So I was happy to have an actual Roman tour guide lead us through the ruins, some of which date back to 42 BC. The Forum was a gathering place. It began as a marketplace and over time morphed into much more, serving as central location for public elections, speeches, trials, and religious ceremonies, as well as business dealings. The Forum, the heart and soul of early Rome, expanded in size over time to nearly 5 acres. Walking among the ruins was awe-inspiring. Seeing the Arch of Titus, the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, was pretty cool too. The the view from Palatine Hill was worth the trek up there in the 90+ degree heat.

I think the least notable part of the Forum tour was the Temple of Divus Julius, the final resting place of Julius Caesar. I mean, I don’t know what I expected after 2,000 years, but the dull mound doesn’t exactly rival the Pyramids of Giza. I guess, in the end, it really doesn’t matter how important you are because you will end up a pile of ash just like everyone and everything else. And how many people of Julius Caesar’s importance or notoriety have there been among the multitudes of people since the dawn of upright humanity? Not many. Even the most notable of us today will be forgotten soon enough. It’s a good reminder not to take life too seriously.

After the Forum, we walked to the Colosseum to see what that was all about. Our Italian tour guide was brilliant. She was extremely knowledgable. I was happy that Luke spoke up and answered questions she asked. When she told him he should read SPQR by Mary Beard and he told her he already had, she was visibly impressed. At any rate, stepping foot inside the Colosseum was an experience. You can’t imagine the size and scope of it until you are there. It’s massive. There were elevators underneath the floor, operated by slaves, of course. Pretty cool way to make a wild animal appear on the Colosseum floor back in the day, I bet. The engineering was crazy. The tour guide debunked some of the myths about the gladiators, mainly that they weren’t exactly hardbodied like Russell Crowe in his Oscar-winning film and that many of the gladiator battles were more WWE than battle to the death. It was all about spectacle, and who the hell could tell what was really happening on the floor of the Colosseum from the nose bleed seats without binoculars anyway? The Colosseum was for entertainment and while some of that entertainment meant loss of human and animal life, not every event in the Colosseum was bloodsport.

When our tour of the Colosseum ended, we were starving. We’d not eaten since breakfast, and it was 1:45. We had to be at the next tour location for the Vatican by 2:30. So we high-tailed it to the Metro station, figured that out in a jiffy thanks for our time riding the Tube in London and the Metro in Paris, and made it to the meeting point by 2:15 with enough time to grab some Cokes and a couple bags of chips to hold us over.

Our tour guide for the Vatican may have been the most enthusiastic guide we had in our 11 days of travel. He was what Americans would term a stereotypical Italian, the type from the movies. Animated and over-the-top, full of gestures, and passionate about every last thing. I swear he knew every single item in the expansive Vatican museums, and he would talk ad nauseam about every item we passed by that grabbed his interest. So thorough he was, in fact, that we were all exhausted before we’d even reached the Sistine Chapel. Luke actually nodded off while we listened to him explain the ceiling of the chapel before entering. There are no photos from the Sistine Chapel because none are allowed. I will say that I was deeply moved by the artwork in that room. I will never forget my time there.

If I’m being candid, overall, I was a little bit disgusted by the Vatican museums. The artwork stored there is impressive, but it bothers me that a religious group holds that wealth and keeps it rather than using it to help the poor. I can’t help but think Jesus would agree with me. Just saying. Still, when the tour was over, we bypassed the museum gift shops (figuring they didn’t really need our money) and walked to St. Peter’s Square because it seemed like something that had to be done.

Then it was off to get dinner at another recommended place. We were told Hostaria Romana was a place locals frequent because it’s known for its Italian comfort food. Fried rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, and cheese, were offered up as complimentary starters. The bread just kept arriving. We had the freshest melon with the leanest prosciutto we’ve ever had. Then we devoured our pasta (even I ate pasta because the flour in Europe is vastly different and doesn’t make me ill) and shared the best tiramisu we have ever eaten. Dining al fresco in Rome. Is there anything better? Judging by our faces in these photos, I think not.

We waddled back to our rooms without using Google Maps because we were becoming that familiar with the area around the Arpinelli Relais. Although we were excited to be starting our cruise to Greece the next day, we were already missing Rome. When you book a trip to Rome, you may think you are going there to visit, but what you’re actually doing is inviting it to live rent free in your heart forever. It just happens. É la vita.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go When You Travel

Travel plans for next year’s trip to Monaco for the Grand Prix race are gaining steam. I’m actually starting to get excited about the race itself. My sister’s boyfriend recommended we watch Drive to Survive, and now I’m beginning to understand the appeal of the sport. I’ve also been researching accommodations and activities in Nice, France, and well, Nice looks nice. I think I can get behind spending some days in the south of France on the Mediterranean, sitting on a beach sipping wine. My sisters and I were discussing what to do after the race weekend ends, and the idea of taking a train to Italy came up. Why not hop from the French Riviera to the Italian Riviera? We could go from La Belle Vie to La Bella Vita in 5 hours. Makes perfect sense to me. Travel to the Cinque Terre has been on my list for quite a while.

I think one of the most amazing things about travel is how it opens you up to ways of being and living that are unfamiliar and fresh. It awakens your senses and your mind. Even when I can’t be traveling, learning about new places, even places I thought I had zero interest in, makes me feel positive about this life. It’s the antidote to the misery of my time-tested cynicism. It’s one of my top five raison d’être.

I have been a ridiculous level of lucky in my life to have had many opportunities to get out of the US and out of the US mindset. Every place I’ve been is now a small part of me, a small piece of colored glass in the mosaic of who I am. If the time comes when travel becomes impossible to undertake, I will simply slither through the jungle of my mental travelogue and return to the places that made me who I am.

It’s Time For Live Music Again

After years of streaming concerts, it seems bands are ready to trek back out again for shows. Some musicians returned to the scene last year, but this year it seems there is an explosion of bands hitting the road after too long of a hiatus from their livelihoods. This is fantastic news for me. I’ve already got six shows on my calendar for 2022 and I expect that number to increase as I see what else is coming down the pike. I am looking forward to making up for the year and a half I lost to Covid-19.

This morning, out of sheer curiosity, I did my best sleuthing to determine how many bands I’ve seen over the years. I started seeing concerts in 1983. My first show was The Police when I was 15 years old. I’ve conjectured since then how many concerts I’ve been to, but it’s all been speculation. I stopped saving tickets stubs decades ago, so the list I was working on this morning was recreated out of the few stubs I kept, my Facebook and Instagram feeds, my Apple calendar, and my iTunes account. I’m sure I missed some, but this is what I came up with:

These aren’t all separate shows, as some of the bands were co-headliners or opening acts for other artists and some bands were seen at festivals. The numbers in parentheses denote the number of times I’ve seen that band live. It’s a little embarrassing, for example, how many times I’ve seen Sting in concert. I can say for sure, however, that he was the headliner at all those shows so that helps me better estimate how many actual concerts I have attended. I made a guess once that it was around 100 shows. Looking at my list and digging through my memory, I think it’s safe to say I’ve actually seen closer to 120 shows, and it may be more since I just realized I’ve actually seen U2 three times. I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent on these shows, especially when you consider ticket prices with fees these days, but in most cases I wouldn’t take my money back for the experience. There have only been a handful of shows for which I would like a refund of time and money.

My friend Heather and I at a very rainy Decemberists show at Red Rocks on my 47th birthday

Because concert going is one of my hobbies, I’ve turned my sons into concert goers too. Joe’s first show was Imagine Dragons at Red Rocks when he was 8. Luke’s first show (also seen when he was 8) was the Foo Fighters at Red Rocks. We love seeing concerts as a family, which has become costly for the four of us. Nonetheless, we’ll be seeing Spoon in May and The Decemberists in August together. Steve and I are flying to Pasadena for the Cruel World Festival on May 14th too so we can see 80’s bands. I will get to pretend I’m 16 again. All the bands will be showing their age and reminding us, in fact, we are not 16, but I’m looking forward to seeing Blondie, Devo, Violent Femmes, and Public Image Ltd. I also purchased tickets to see The National twice this summer and we’re going to Red Rocks to see The War on Drugs for the first time as well. Have I mentioned I’m excited to get back to shows?

I know stupid Covid isn’t done with us yet. I’m vaccinated and boosted, but I know I will be risking exposure to coronavirus by inserting myself into large crowds. I do not care. Being a music fan is as much a part of my identity as being a mom is. Some people live for sporting events, others for the theater. While I enjoy attending those things too, concerts are my happy place. I’m ready to get back at it. I’m overdue.

Unmoored

Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

I’m having a sad day. I assume you know the kind of day I am referring to. It’s as if all the difficult and emotional things in my life that have been running in background mode for a while all decided to rise up and jump on me at the same time, leaving me at the bottom of a dog pile of sadness. I’m one of the most fortunate people I know, so I fight the urge to feel sorry for myself, even when there are legitimate life experiences that are troubling me. When you have everything, it feels shallow to whine about the few things that feel off in your life.

I allow myself to feel frustration, anger, shame, guilt, and a whole host of other emotions, but sadness is verboten. I think this goes back to my childhood. There are only so many times you can hear someone sing “Cry Me A River” or say “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” before you realize sadness is something to be avoided at all times. The past couple days, though, I let the sadness smother me. I have been throwing myself a pity party, and I’ve not been enjoying it one bit.

Tonight while walking with my youngest, I was talking to him about how I am struggling. In addition to all the truly shitty things happening in the world and the country right now, I’m facing growing older, having my kids go to college and move on with their lives, recognizing that the job I’ve devoted myself to 24/7 for the past 21 years is ending, accepting that the pandemic took a toll on my friendships and hobbies, and trying to figure out what I am supposed to do with the rest of my time on earth. If I had to put a term to what I am feeling, I would say I am unmoored. Luke, being the wise person he is, told me I need to find some anchors, regular routines or habits that will give my life some stability and meaning when I feel like I am adrift. He pointed out that he has reading and school to keep him busy and give him purpose. This makes sense, and I know he’s right.

I have spent the past two years the way many people have during the pandemic: in limbo. I’d like to start back to yoga, but I suspect the minute I do some new variant will come sweeping through, close studios, and set me back again. This fear that the other shoe is constantly about to drop and mess everything up is debilitating. I need to get to a place where I can shove my melancholy and fears aside and throw myself back into life. I need to start moving forward, but it’s hard to do that when all you want to do is lie around and binge watch shows in some sort of meaningless, feeling-less stupor. I am all over the place, stuck in a cycle of feeling superfluous one minute and lying to myself and acting as if everything is fine when I know damn well it is not the next. It’s no bueno.

I need to claw my way out of this hole. I am going to start with forcing myself to exercise and hope that sets me on a better path. It’s either going to improve my mood or kill me is what I figure. At least it will be a step in a direction, which will be better than staying buried under my demons, right?

Life is hard. Anyone who tells you it isn’t is selling you something. On a more positive note, though, I guess “unmoored” is another way of saying “free to explore new shores.” So, there’s that.

Loki, Puppy Of Mischief, Strikes Again

In Puppy Prison doing time

Tonight calls for a haiku about our relentless (and adorable) little corgi who has been living up to his namesake today by pulling double duty in our bathrooms.

.

One corgi puppy

on an epic quest to maim

all the t.p. rolls

I may have to pull a 2020 move and start stockpiling toilet paper because it appears we may be in for a shortage.

Those Who Would Aim To Hurt You Can Teach You A Lot

It took me far too long to grasp the truth of this statement, and it took even longer for me to comprehend that just because someone is in your life because of a blood relation or an obligation doesn’t mean they will look out for you. Sometimes it’s a shock to discover how easily someone I trusted and believed in can turn on me to protect their own ego. There are people in my life, in my circle even, who have their own agendas when it comes to me and who I am. I know them like the back of my hand because I was them. I came from them. I know what resides in their hearts, and I let them stick around anyway. I keep them around not because I feel obligated to but because they remind me where I came from and what I’ve worked so hard to overcome. They illuminate my personal growth. Their presence in my life is a continual, flashing neon sign highlighting what I don’t want to be. The difference between the old me and the new me is that the new me knows the weakest links in my circle and doesn’t put any stock in their world view. The new me trusts my judgment and my heart. I’ve strengthened my ability to look out for myself. I know there are some people in my life who are definitely not in my corner, but it is precisely through their lack of support, forgiveness, and common kindness that I gain a little more wisdom about myself. Every time they test me and prove they are not in my corner, it hurts less and less and I feel stronger and stronger about who I am.

Sometimes, it’s best to cut and run from people who have been hurting you from time immemorial. It can be life saving, even. Sometimes, though, it’s not a bad idea to let some people who don’t deserve to stick around, well, stick around. Sometimes it’s the people who aren’t in your corner who make you see and appreciate those who are. And what a glorious day it is when, through the actions of the people who aren’t looking out for your best interests, you realize that at long last you are and now you are finally, solidly in your own corner.

The One Where Fun With Flags Pays Off

On Wednesday nights, our neighborhood coffee shop/bar/gathering space hosts DJ Trivia. We have gone a couple times with some of our awesome neighbors. This week, none of our neighbors were available to join the festivities. We thought about skipping out too but, with Joe home from college and Luke without homework before spring break, we decided we had enough of a team with just the four of us. The boys were so not thrilled that we were dragging them along that Luke decided the only appropriate team name was Two Willing Participants since they didn’t want to be there.

We got through the first round with all the possible points, but it’s the easy round. We clinched the bonus question because of my gift with lyrics. Who knew that my brain would pull Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me out of its cobwebby recesses? I haven’t willingly listened to that song since, well, ever. Anyhoo, we struggled the second round and ended with 20 out of 40 points and didn’t even dare take a stab at the bonus question. We were sitting in 6th place out of 7 teams, and our confidence was flagging. Somehow, though, we rallied in the third round, scoring 60 out of 80. Luke knew the bonus question about the alloy of copper and tin (it’s bronze), and we were right back in it. Suddenly, we were sitting in third, which meant we were in prize territory.

The final round is fill-in-the-blank questions rather than multiple choice. We got the first two fairly easily, but missed the next two. We were somehow still in third place as we waded into the final bonus round, called the Do Or Die Dare round. We strategized how to play it and decided it was go big or go home. If we got the question right, we would double our entire score and could finish in a higher place, or at least hold on to third and win a prize. And then, as if the gods were on our side, the title of the bonus round question hit the screen. The title was Fun With Flags. We all looked at Joe. This was our Slumdog Millionaire moment. Joe has long been a fan of geography and flags. He’s a regular vexillologist. In his senior year, he had to give a 45-minute presentation on a topic of his choice. The title of the presentation he shared with his classmates? Fun With Flags. I shit you not.

Yeah…I know that flag

Steve pushed himself back from the table with a “this is it” flourish of glee. A flag appeared on the trivia screens. Joe looked at it for a nanosecond, leaned forward, and said quietly with the utmost confidence, “Uzbekistan.” I grabbed the paper and wrote it down. We handed it to the DJ judge in five seconds flat while the rest of the tables sat hemming and hawing and conjecturing. It appeared no one wanted to risk all their points with an answer. Finally, a representative from the Vandalay Industries team stood up and walked to submit their answer. We all knew Joe had provided the right answer. Not because any of us had a clue about the flag of Uzbekistan but because Joe. The DJ did all the tabulating and then announced that only two answers had been submitted for the Do or Die Dare and only one of those was right. The correct answer was Uzbekistan.

Yeah, baby!

The DJ read off the name of the third place winner. We smiled. Second place went to the team that often wins each week, Hot Fuzz. The room was dead silent. Someone had pulled off an upset. The DJ put our team name on the screen, and we high-fived all around while Hot Fuzz looked over at us like we’d just kicked their puppy. Two Willing Participants won largely due to the efforts of its two unwilling team participants, and the coveted $25 brewery gift card and bragging rights for the week were ours. It was positively glorious.

A member of Team Hot Fuzz, still flabbergasted by their unexpected loss, shouted over to Joe to inquire how he knew the answer to the flag question so quickly. To which Joe replied, “I have the flags of the world memorized. It’s a good party trick.” This twenty year old kid just ruined their evening, and I couldn’t have been any prouder. It made all the hours I’ve spent quizzing Joe on flags and listening to him prattle on about the poorly designed ones totally worth it.

Joe with his personal Uzbekistan flag at home after our win

I guess there are a few lessons to be learned from our trivia evening. First, never, ever assume something you are asked to do (like attend a trivia night with your parents) will be a waste of time because you never know what you might learn about yourself or others. Second, if you encourage your child’s obsessions, they might pay off. Third, if you’re going to trivia night, take Joe and Luke with you. Their arcane knowledge about flags or every letter of the Greek alphabet or the names of Roman emperors might be just what you need to humble Hot Fuzz. And finally, if your kid wants to collect flags, let him.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

I went shopping for shoes for my son and myself today. He bought a pair of running shoes and a pair of flip flops. I bought nothing because I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for (cute, comfy espadrille sandals), but Joe spied these glittery, rhinestone, ruby red shoes and pointed them out to me. I have no reason to purchase these shoes, but I did have to try them on because, well, Dorothy shoes.

When I got home, I started wondering if I should have bought them. I mean, I have literally no place to wear shoes such as these given that my usual attire is as pictured, denim and Converse. On the other hand, shouldn’t every woman have a pair of shoes like these? Does it matter if all I do in them is wash dishes? How fabulous would I be rolling the trash can to the curb on Monday morning?

I might have to go back to DSW tomorrow.

Cookies Are My Love Language

Photo by Christina Branco on Unsplash

As I was once again making homemade chocolate chip cookies for my family today, I started thinking about love languages. Acts of service is at the top of my love language list. If I take time away from doing something I would like to do so I can do something for you, that is my expression of love. Making cookies is a perfect example of this. I am gluten free for health reasons and rarely eat baked goods or make gluten free baked goods for myself. Baking a batch Toll House cookies consumes about an hour and a half of my time in a day. So if I make you some cookies from scratch, you matter to me. End of story.

Out of curiosity, I went online and took the love languages quiz to see how the five love languages land in terms of importance to me. They went in this order: acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, physical touch. I sent this list to my husband and asked him to take the quiz as well. These were his results: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts. Hmmm…it appears hubby and I might have to do a little adjusting so we can ensure we are meeting each other’s needs in the best possible way. It would appear I need to be more affectionate with him, and he will need to help me out a bit more.

People innately understand the love language of physical touch, even if it isn’t their thing. But, acts of service can be a bit confusing. It may sound crazy to say, “I know my husband loves me when he takes my car for its oil change or when he washes out his coffee mug so I don’t have to,” but those small acts make me feel worth the effort. It can be difficult to get people to understand how doing something small can make a big difference making someone feel appreciated, acknowledged, seen.

My sons will not be thrilled about this, but I have decided they also need to take the love language test so we can compare notes and make sure we are showing up for each other in the best ways possible. I might ask my sisters to take the test as well. I grew up knowing love mostly via an intellectual understanding of what love is supposed to be. I did not grow up in an affectionate household. Words of affirmation were few. I thought if my parents worried about me and made sure I had dinner to eat and clothing to wear that must mean they love me. Although I am certain my sons have experienced love from us (they have told us as much), I want to make sure that we are all doing our best to communicate our feelings in ways they can best be received and internalized.

The older I get, the more I have realized love is all there is in this life. Making sure the people who are important to me hear and can absorb my love for them is everything. What if my message isn’t getting through because I’m delivering it via a sub-optimal method? I think it warrants a conversation.