One step away

Recently I had the opportunity to join some fellow actors in preparing a meal for some of the underserved in Chicago.  Now you should know that I grew up learning to cook for  large family, in fact I always make too much food when I do cook as it’s all I know!  But we were expecting anywhere from 50-150 people for this lunch so we had to be prepared for any contingency.  To say I was impressed with what the organizer planned and what we turned out of that kitchen is an understatement.  But we had enough food for everyone to get seconds if they wanted it and still had lots of yummy leftovers to send to a nearby shelter.  I kept telling the customers that if the food was good I made it, if they didn’t like it, that guy over there made it.  But it was indeed yummy as I sat down to share the meal with them.

Talking to strangers can be a dicey business.  You never know what you will encounter so I try to stay aware of the circumstances and keep my personal safety foremost in my mind.  But I felt very safe in this situation and wanted to get to know the clients a bit more.  Making eye contact, asking questions about their lives, laughing with them and sharing a bit about my own struggles were simple things to do.  It’s what I do all the time.  Sometimes I feel like I lapse into interviewing people I ask so many questions!  I’m working on that.  While I helped send them away with a full tummy and an orange for when they got hungry later, I realized they sent me away with a renewed gratitude for the support I receive and the gifts and skills I’ve been blessed with.  I was at a pretty low point not too long ago, both financially and personally, and felt like I didn’t have anywhere to turn.  It was an awful and desperate feeling but I was able to work my way out of it.  Hearing the stories of my fellow diners, I realized we are all pretty much one accident, crisis or fiasco away from joining them in their struggles.  Maybe I’ll be slower to put my guard up next time.

Patching holes

Last summer my brother and brother-in-law came up to help me do some minor repairs that I’d been putting off for quite a while.  It was a very busy weekend but great progress was made which I continued for several weeks after they left.  One of the biggest things they help me take care of were two big holes I had, one in a ceiling due to a leak and the other in a wall due to some long ago plumbing work.  The ceiling hole was the newest of the two but was most definitely the biggest.  The wall hole had been there probably 7 years.  Maybe even longer.  I was pretty astounded I’d let it go that long.  Once it was patched and the walls painted and everything else taken care of, I felt like I had a brand new room.  I couldn’t believe I’d let this go for so long.  But in the rush of life, I’d put these repairs and the tattered state of my home in the background along with all the other visual white noise my brain doesn’t see.  Now I go into that room and it makes me smile every time I flip on the light.

Finally patching the holes and doing these repairs made me realize I’d let quite a few areas of my life become neglected and needing repair.  It seems I’d lost the forest while looking at the daily trees.  Note to self, let’s not let that happen again.  Now where did I put that drill?

Sliding into Home

I have been blessed with 8 nieces and nephews.  More nephews than nieces but I’m partial to both.  My brother and sisters were kind enough to select me to be the Godmother of the oldest and the youngest, both boys.  Let me tell you, the youngest one is a pistol and being around him is a blast.  He’s sharp as a tack and built like a toddler linebacker, an interesting combination.  The oldest one is very observant, serious, smart, impatient and likes to know he’s got a handle on everything, that’s he’s in control of his environment.  He’s a good student although I wish he liked to read more as it opens up your world so much.  Whatever Aunt Pam.  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve turned into the adults from the Peanuts cartoon when I’m talking to the kids, so much “wah, wah, wah”.  But start talking to him about sports and watch his face light up.  He’s a huge sports fan, from baseball to golf to football to basketball.  He’s truly a student of the game and it shows in how much he can tell you about any subject.  He’s also an active participant of several sports.  He plays football in the fall, baseball in the spring and has a really nice natural golf swing he breaks out in the summer, which makes his Nana very happy to see.

Since it is Spring, we are in the midst of baseball season for all the kids even the girls.  Every game counts for each team as it gets closer to the playoffs.  This particular game was a real nail biter as it went down to the closing innings and our team was behind.  My nephew is leading off third as the pitcher throws a wild pitch.  He takes off down the baseline and slides into home plate.  Only his cleat catches on the base and his leg goes one way and he goes the other.  Followed by the pitcher falling on him.  Snap!  You could hear it pretty far away.  Both bones, tibia and fibula, broken.  As he was being carried off the field for the trip to the emergency room, tears streaming down his face, he looks up at his coach and asks “was I safe?”  He was.  As the tears resume, he stops them once again to ask “did we win?”  The game wasn’t over but it was the go ahead run.

Pretty amazing.  Not the part that made me smile, the questions that were topmost in his mind, but the total commitment he had to taking advantage of an error and getting to home plate.  Nothing was going to deter him.  His goal was to get to home plate no matter what.  There’s something to be learned from this terrible experience.  There will be obstacles and sometimes setbacks as you pursue what you want.  But being completely fearless and totally committed will get you the results you want in the end.  Oh, and they did win the game…by one run.

Furry Roommates

Pets have always been a part of my life.  I grew up with dogs.  I think I was about 9 or 10 when we got our first dog.  It was a toy poodle and was a complete bundle of nerves. Who wouldn’t be with 4 kids trying to dress you up in doll clothes, running around in total chaos and constantly interrupting your peace and quiet?  Ok so maybe that was just me.  No wonder he didn’t seem to want to come when I called.

When we moved, unfortunately he kept trying to go back to the old house and didn’t make it across the busy road in front of our house.  Mac, our first Sheltie came into our home.   He was big for the breed which helped him hang with our growing family better.  He could keep up with the bike riding and skateboarding no problem.  He lived to the ripe old age of 17.  Then came McDuffy.  His stay was brief, shortened by Lymphoma.

These guys were all family pets.  They weren’t really mine; they bonded most closely with my Mom and Dad.  Partly because my siblings and I weren’t permanent residents in the house anymore but most likely because Mom and Dad were ones feeding and caring for them.

My first pet that was just mine was a Sheltie named Lily.  She was my sister from another mister.  Just as bossy and nosy as I am.  We were inseparable, until cancer shortened her life just shy of her 11th birthday.  It broke my heart to say goodbye, but I was looking into her eyes as she drew her last breath.

It took me a long time to get over losing her but I think I’m finally getting ready for another fur baby.  I’ve had a few practice sessions recently with a friends Lab and most recently my Mom’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  He’s been a trip.  Still a puppy, his training isn’t the best and his primary focus seems to be loud squeaky toys.  Needless to say we’ve had a few accidents on the floor which I seem to have conveniently forgotten puppies do.  And when I’m trying to work, his drags in his squeaky toys into the studio.  If I don’t pick up on the hint, he proceeds to either consistently depress the squeaker or put it under something where he can’t retrieve it and then bark until I get down on my hands and knees to fetch the errant toy.  Who’s training whom here?

Having him around reminds me how much companionship dogs offer.  I miss that.  It’s a lot of work though and I’m rethinking that part of the equation.  No decisions yet but it does give me pause.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

Recently I got to visit a dear friend of mine.  She used to live very close to me and when she wasn’t travelling we did a lot of fun things together.  She’s a fabulous connector and one of her greatest strengths is when she meets you, she remembers you and important details about you.  And she really does this in a very sincere way.  I’ve learned a lot from just being around her and how she interacts with others.

Sadly several years ago she moved back east and we don’t get to see each other as much as we used to.  We talk about once a week or so but it’s not the same.  So when we get the chance to get together, it’s really a treat for me.  This is the third time this year we’ve been able to be in the same room, which I think is the most since she’s lived here.  My flight got in pretty early on a Saturday and since her boyfriend was playing golf that day, we had several hours of uninterrupted time together.  And it was just like I’d seen her yesterday.  Only we didn’t pause to take a breath for about 3 hours!  Once we got caught up on the personal stuff we had lots of current events and political topics to microscopically examine.  We have pretty similar beliefs and philosophies so it’s like hearing yourself talk sometimes.  And when we disagree, it’s always done in an informed respectful way.  Which is so wonderful and sadly not always easy to find these days.  My Mom really gets a kick out of listening to us talk to each other, I don’t see it but she thinks it’s funny.

The bestest thing about this relationship is how non-judgmental, how supportive and how loving it is.  We truly pick up right where we left off with no recriminations if it’s been several weeks or someone forgot to call back or couldn’t talk earlier.  Friendships like that are absolutely golden.  Not all of my relationships have been this way and when I started to find friends who were, it really cast a harsh light on relationships that might have been more toxic than not.  I let those people move on without me and I’m ok with having done that.  Having fewer but really awesome people in your life is more important to me than having lots of not-so-great acquaintances cluttering up the space.

Thousand Points of Light

One of my two favorite Brothers In Law (full disclosure, I only have 2!) co-opted a phrase a few years back in reference to my sister and myself.  It was back during the second Bush’s presidency and was taken from a speech he’d given on volunteerism.  President Bush made reference to all volunteers being a thousand points of light in the darkness of our world.

As I said, my BIL co-opted this phrase and used it when my sister and I would talk to each other.  One of the things I love about her is how fast she processes information.  She’s even faster than I am  – which of course I’m totally jealous of.  I’m so used to how fast we bang around topics that I am always taken by surprise when I meet someone who isn’t quite as adept.  It can be a bit challenging for those around us when we get started to keep up but boy is it fun when we are in full swing.  Lots of ground gets covered in those talks.  And we can switch gears midstream to a new topic, hence the thousand points of light reference, with ease and then pick up the old topic without a breath.  It truly is refreshing.  What’s really cool is her daughter is just like her and to watch her little brain work far beyond her years just blows me away.

We haven’t done that in a while.  Life, obligations and responsibilities often get in the way.  I miss it.  Maybe when things slow down we can get back to it.  I have this vision though that we’ll both be so deaf, we’ll just be having these lightening fast conversations at each other and not with each other.  That’s when I really pity those around us!

The American Idol Effect

American Idol is a show I’ve never really followed.  Sure I’m aware of the show, the participants and the judges.  The qualifying shows have provided a few moments of laughter but once it gets into the actual competition, my channel changer goes into action.  My niece however is a huge fan.  She watches the show religiously and loves singing along with the contestants.  I have a picture she colored for me that shows last seasons winner with the 4 judges on stage.  She’s going to be crushed when the show goes off the air.

When I was visiting her house the other night, she wanted to sing me a song she learned from the show.  And she did a great job with all the words.  I was amazed.  But she threw in a twist I hadn’t expected.  It seems she’d been not just learning the songs but studying the mannerisms of the singers as well.  As she started singing, her facial expressions and vocalization became something other than her normal manner.  In her quest to be like the stars she emulated, she’d lost the essence that was her unique voice and her wonderful personality.

Talk about a 2 X 4 between the eyes.  Standing in front of me was someone doing the exact same thing I’d done  to my voice.  Watching my niece sing was like watching myself in a mirror trying to find my vocal placement.  I really wanted to sound like the sultry voices I was hearing and in pursuing this goal, completely messed up my unique voice.  I really wanted to get my niece to understand this but she couldn’t wrap her brain around the idea.  She just saw the people she admired and thought if she mimicked them, she would be successful like them.

Hopefully this is just a stage for my niece.  She’ll find something else that will pique her interest and she’ll goes back to her awesomeness.  Me, I’ve been trying to find my natural placement again.  I’m getting closer.  But I realize how many of us think that someone else’s way of doing something is so much better than our own natural way.  So there’s comfort in numbers but I’d rather be somewhere else.

The Art of Coloring

Recently I was able to do one of my favorite things in the world.  I got to spend some time with my nieces and nephews.  It’s always a blast and the energy just blows away any bad juju you have going on in your world.  I would never say dinner was a relaxing experience-more like a food triage system of trying to get nutrients into ever moving mouths and keeping butts in the seats.  But it is enormously entertaining.

After dinner one  nephew, who has recently discovered he likes coloring, brought out a huge Star Wars cartoon coloring book, you know the kind that is about 18 inches by 30 inches.  We had our choice between a box of markers, thankfully washable, and a bucket of crayons.  He and I started coloring together, mostly him, but soon his sister had to get in on the action and the attention (I have no idea where she gets that from) and I was nosed out of the picture, literally.  It was kind of hard to get my southpaw in to do any work with 2 kids sitting on my lap and the third one trying to climb up and join them.  There was much jostling for real estate between the two.  Eventually it settled down, the toddler moved off to another flight of fancy and I was able to get in a few strokes of color.  We were staying in the lines but the cool thing was we were also drawing new lines within the bigger spaces.  Colors weren’t locked into specific parts but instead were all over the board.  The big gloved hand had about 20 different colors and patterns on it.  He was promptly christened Rainbow Plo Koon.  It was beautiful in its own uniqueness.

Kids have such an amazing way of seeing things.  They don’t see the rules, the way we’ve always done something, the way it should be done or the logical progression of a picture.  They just put the color down without a thought and are quite happy with the result.  They enjoy the process of coloring and really don’t care about the outcome at all.  Auditioning and performance should be this way and it’s something I strive for every time I step in front of the camera or the mic.  Letting go of all the thoughts and the head drama seems like it would be an easy thing to accomplish but this isn’t always the case.  Next time I’ll thing of Mr. Rainbow, enjoy the process and not worry about the end result.

My Dad

Today is Father’s Day.  It’s a bittersweet holiday for me now that my Dad is no longer on this earth.  The avalanche of advertising that accompanies this holiday started becoming an irritation and a sad reminder of this fact.  Not that I don’t think about him every day and wish I could once again pick up the phone and hear his voice.  As I was sitting in church this morning, I was reminded of all the funny emails he’d send along in our daily correspondence.  They were usually tales of the latest exchange between he and my mother.  I’ve saved all of those emails and often go through them to laugh once again.  My thoughts then turned to his funeral and some of the great stories that were told.  Yes I know, I should have been paying attention to the priest but I have the attention span of a gnat.  There is one story in particular that always makes me laugh and my Mother is going to kill me for telling it.  But I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this so unless one of my siblings tattles, I’m safe.  I should tell the story about bananas and how my mother used to send Dad to the grocery store with a list that included 5 bananas.  He would stand over the banana display looking and looking for a bunch that had 5 bananas and 5 only.  One day to his astonishment, he saw a woman walk up, rip 3 off a bunch and continue on.  What an epiphany!  He never knew this was a possibility in his world.  Yes this was a man with an advanced medical degree.

Instead I’ll tell one of my favorite stories, this one from the OR.  Dad had a wonderful relationship with the nurses, a rarity between nurses and doctors.  For all of his pseudo-chauvinistic comments, he truly liked and respected the nursing staff and the vital jobs they performed.  He treated them as collaborators and equals, which unfortunately doesn’t often happen.  And they in turn respected and had a lot of affection for my Dad.  So on this particular day, he was in the OR performing, yes, a hemorrhoidectomy which is exactly what you think it might be.  The patient is positioned butt high to the sky for this procedure and the workspace is rather, forgive me, tight.  The funny thing about surgery is TV gives the feeling of vastness when it portrays an operation when in reality it is really close working environment.  I once watched Dad take out part of a lung and was amazed at how all those hands were able to fit in such a small space.  Anyway, back to our story.  Light is very important in an operation and the key light that was pointed on the field kept drifting off mark.  Dad kept having to tell the dirty nurse (she’s not sterile so she does all things outside the sterile field) to fix the light, move the light, adjust the light until he finally reached a boiling point.  Without raising his head he yelled “The asshole.  Shine the light on the asshole!”  Well that poor struggling nurse with the light took one look at one of the other nurses, shrugged her shoulders and promptly flashed the light right at my Dad’s face.  And he just cracked up.  He knew he’d deserved it.  She got him back perfectly and he had the grace to accept it.

That’s one of the things that made my Dad a truly wonderful person.  Not only was he a passionate and gifted surgeon (spelled it right this time Dad!), he had a great sense of humor and a humility about what he did.  He treated people as equals and had no time for those who thought themselves better than everyone else.  A lesson he passed on to me.

Forgive me for rambling on longer than I usually do.  I just thought you’d like to know a bit about the hero in my life.  And sorry Mom.  Next time I’ll stop at the banana story.

Happy Birthday Dad

Today would have been my Dad’s 76th birthday.  He’s been gone for about 18 months now and while I don’t feel his loss as acutely as I used to, I still feel it.  The funny thing is I actually feel him around me more now than I used to.  I still miss being able to pick up the phone and call him whenever I get the urge.  I used to do that quite often, especially when it was a call about the latest idiocy from some government or large business.  He was so interested in the workings of these monoliths and how the right hand often didn’t know what the left hand was doing.

He would have loved this past weekend.  We were at a family wedding of one of my cousins, a niece he was particularly fond of.  She’d lost her Dad, my Dad’s old brother, in the mid 90’s so another uncle walked her down the aisle.  I can imagine that if Daddy had still be alive, he would have proudly stepped in for his brother.  The reception was wonderful with a really good band.  Dad would have been up the whole night dancing with my Mom.  They were great dancing partners having had so many years together to practice.  I love watching couples who have been together forever, there is no awkwardness in their dancing, they follow an easy pattern that is so indicative of their marriage.  I was sad for my Mom that she’d lost her partner but plenty of friends and family picked up the slack and she rarely rested.

I know it was Mother’s Day yesterday and I’m supposed to be lauding my Mom.  I am thankful for all she’s done and still does for me.  But my Dad was a pretty important guy to me and his birthday is a day that is very special.  Forgive me a bit of self indulgence.  Happy Birthday Dad.  Miss you more than I can say.