Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Time to Again Gather the Clan

Every year, Labor Day weekend, is the Shields Family Reunion. It is held near the original farmstead where my father and his 9 surviving siblings were born and raised. Though the original dwelling is in ruins, I have visited the old graveyard, the family church and the high school in town that bears my maiden name. It is the bosom of my family to which I have returned faithfully since the death of my father in 2003.

The first year I went, Labor Day 2004, no one knew me, but everyone knew who I was: Charlie's daughter. I am his spitting image, and was welcomed warmly, as the pain of Dad's death was still very raw. I went with my husband and son, and was reintroduced to everyone. I had only met most of these people at my Dad's funeral the prior December. Brian and I stayed in a hotel in town, so we had an out if we needed one. While nerve wracking, it was a wonderful experience.

In the years since, I have earned my place as Rebecca. Still Charlie's daughter, to be sure, but an individual, known in my own right. We no longer stay in town when we visit, we stay with Dad's younger brother Lyndel, right down the road from his older brother, Marvin. I have learned what life was like from their perspectives growing up dirt-floor poor. Through them, I am getting to know and better understand the man that was my father.

I also spend time with 3 of Dad's older sisters: Dorris (whom I most resemble), Joyce and Mary. I met his oldest sister, Reba, on my first visit, but she has not been back since. While I love them dearly, I find them less approachable and more critical than my uncles. They also forget that I am a 40+ year old woman, not a teenager in search or need of a maternal figure.

My son is getting to know his cousins, aunts and uncles, too. When we are at home, we are a small family of 3, with only my husband's youngest sister near enough to visit. It is easy to forget that we are part of something larger. I didn't have extended family growing up, as my mother was an only child, and we were completely cut off from my father's family. It is very important that Christopher knows that he has many, many relatives near and far.

This weekend, the Shields clan will again commandeer the property now owned by my grandfather's brother's grandson, Jerry. There will be nightly cookouts, a live band, karaoke, and way too much to drink. Aunt Dorris will give the evening meal blessing and cry. We will cook and catch up on family news and gossip. We will celebrate my cousin Lisa, who has come though breast cancer treatment bald and bruised, but unbowed. Christopher will learn how to shoot a .22 shotgun, and search for deer and coyote tracks and turkey feathers with his cousins. For the first time since 2004, my husband will join us.

Our gathering together is salve to our souls. Leaving is always hard. Anticipation for the next years' event begins when I step on to the plane bound for New York.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

June 16th

I have visited several blogs recently that have posts regarding events that occurred on their birthday throughout history. So, I went to Wikipedia, typed in June 16, and holy moly, a whole lot has gone down on that day!


  • 1487 - Battle of Stoke Field, the last dying breath of the Wars of the Roses.

  • 1755 - French and Indian War: French surrender Fort Beauséjour to the British, leading to the expulsion of the Acadians.

  • 1911 - A 772 gram stony meteorite struck earth near Kilbourn, Columbia County, Wisconsin damaging a barn. (Hence the Superman myth?)

  • 1967 - Monterey Pop Festival begins; Monterey, California.

  • 1723 - Adam Smith, Scottish philosopher and economist

  • 1829 - Geronimo, Apache leader (d. 1909)

  • 1917 - Katherine Graham, American publisher (d. 2001). She was at the helm of the Washington Post during the Watergate coverage that lead to Nixon's resignation. You go girl!!

  • 1971 - Tupac Shakur, aka 2Pac, American rapper (d. 1996)

  • 1996 - My beloved son, Christopher

  • Bloomsday, in honor of Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce's Ulysses set on 16 June, 1904.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Until last Friday, I didn't think it was possible to hold my breath for an entire week, much less six months. Funny thing is that until I received a letter from a radiology facility, I didn't fully realize that I was holding it.

As part of my 2007 New Years Resolution to take better care of myself, I scheduled an appointment with both my OB/GYN and GP on January 31st. I hadn't been to see either in about 3 years, so I figured I'd knock both appointments out in one day. Since it was 6 months past my 40th birthday, my GYN ordered me to submit to a mammogram. I scheduled the appointment as soon as I left his office. It was set for the sixth of February. I finished my day feeling quite virtuous.

Less than a week after my mammography appointment, I received a phone call from my GYN telling me to schedule a follow up sonogram ASAP. I was terrified! My cousin who is only 2 years younger than I was just diagnosed with breast cancer, involving her lymph nodes, stage 3 or so. I scheduled and kept the appointment within the week. My doctor called a week or so later giving me a provisional all-clear. I was to schedule a 6 month follow up exam in August. While I was somewhat relieved, I still had a heightened sense of anxiety. There were some pretty big words hurled at me, of which I understood only 2: No Cancer. When I hung up the phone, I immediately picked it back up and scheduled my next appointment for 13 August, 9am. Best to just get it over with!

Monday, thirteen August dawned bright and beautiful. I headed to the Grammarcy Park area for my visit with the Breast Crushing machine and the sonographer, and when finished, went about my day. The rest of the week I waited for a phone call that never came. I tried to reassure myself that if there were anything really wrong, the phone would ring. I checked my message light on my home, work and cell phones constantly. Finally, Friday evening, when I came home from work and the gym, there was a envelope from the radiology facility. All clear. Schedule your next appointment for a bilateral exam in February 2008. It is now three days later. I have the letter with me to schedule the appointment.

I didn't spend a whole lot of time talking about my increasing level of anxiety. Neither did my husband, and I know he was just as nervous as I was. When he realized what was in the mail, he nearly tore it out of my hands once I had read it! The relief was palpable. Looking back, it was almost a state of suspended animation that we were living with. I am fine, but the prospect of not being fine was daunting to say the least. Maybe that explains the slightly reckless streak I have been on lately. Now that I can breathe more freely, I think I will take some time out and just be.


Friday, August 17, 2007

A Quintessential New York Moment

Yesterday's evening commute started out quite ordinary. I narrowly missed the Astoria-bound N train at 34th Street. A few minutes later, the W arrived in the station which I boarded and got a seat. At Times Square a tall, slender man in paint splotched clothes boarded and sat perpendicular to me. Two stops later at 57th Street, a tall thin woman in a striped shirt got on and sat next to me. Nothing at all unusual. I took notice the man only because he had a small Band-Aid box that he kept clicking open and shut. The woman caught my attention because the volume on her iPod was turned up high. But no matter, I was absorbed in a book.

Somewhere around Lexington Avenue, the woman asks the man whether he was a painter. He responded no, he just left the operating room--brain surgeon. She seemed to enjoy his smart ass answer, and the conversation continued. He is a house painter. She is a packaging designer for cosmetic companies. He owns his own business with his dad, has a wide and varied clientèle and "is very good at" what he does. She is bored with her job. He is Queens born and raised, she moved to Astoria a year or so ago, and loves it.

"Do you want to go and have a drink?" he asks the woman.

"You buyin'?"

"Sure," he shrugs.

They formally introduce themselves: His name is John, her's is Maria. A short conversation about where to go leads to this exchange:

"Do you know Sparrow?"


"It's on 29th Ave. and Astoria Blvd.," she says.

At this point I reveal that I have been eaves dropping on the conversation the entire time by saying, "Sparrow is on 29th Street and 24th Avenue, across from the Beer Garden."

"Oh, oh, right, right. I always get the Avenues and Streets confused! Thanks."

They agreed they'd meet at 6:30 that evening. Both got off at the 30th Avenue stop. We all bid each other a good night, and I smiled the rest of the way home.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Most Annoying People Ever

I have long held that some of the most annoying people are the recently converted. It really doesn't matter what form the conversion takes. Former smokers, born again Christians, formerly overweight people all fit this category. What is most annoying is their seemingly constant need to proselytize. If you ask anyone I know, I think they will report I have joined the ranks of those whom I so disdain.

I quit smoking in the middle of October 2005 cold turkey. I quit because it was becoming increasingly more difficult to breathe doing ordinary things. A four or five block walk left me panting before I got to my front door. Did I mention that I live on the fourth floor of a walk-up? In the dozen or so years before that time, I had never been winded climbing those stairs, even when carrying a sleeping 5 year old. I didn't find it particularly difficult to quit, as mine was a sub-pack a day habit (unless I was drinking). Besides the fear of emphysema, or any other chronic pulmonary disease is a powerful incentive.

I never went out of my way to talk about the fact that I quit. I didn't make any announcements or pronouncements at all. On occasion someone would notice that I hadn't lit up on a while, and would ask me about it and I'd tell them. The discussion begins with every new person who notices: "When did you quit?" followed closely by "How did you DO it?" They ask, I answer, and those who had a harder time kicking the habit become really sick of hearing it.

Beginning in around March of 2006, I noticed I was beginning to loose weight. I had just started a new job that took me from a 4 hour daily commute to a sub 2 hour daily commute. I had much less sitting around time. Also around then, I took over cooking duties from my husband who also started a new job. In the beginning, I shrugged it off, as incidental. That, and I was scared that it wouldn't last. I was also worried that I might have developed a medical condition that was making the weight come off (that idea has been soundly rejected).

That said, I was pleased that I finally didn't have to buy bigger clothes! I went to the track an average of 3 times a week, and made a much more conscious effort to monitor what I ate. More weight came off. In November of 2006, a good friend of mine was given access to a fitness room that she shared with me an another friend. So, now I went to the gym a couple of times a week, the track once a week, and took mile-long walks at lunchtime. More weight came off.

Fast forward to present. I have shed a total of 80 to 85 pounds. I worked hard to do it. Nothing magic about it. I did the research and the math to figure out how much I can eat, and how much I burn. I never allow myself to feel denied or hungry, nor do I turn away a cookie, pasta, ice cream or bottle of wine. I do, however, think about what and how much I eat in conjunction with the the amount exercise I get, constantly. I am justifiably afraid of becoming that overweight person again. My family tends to the arthritic and the round.

This isn't something I want to spend a whole lot of time talking about anymore. But here again, if someone hasn't seen me in 6 months or a year, the change they see is pretty dramatic, and they definitely comment on it. "Wow! You look great! How much did you loose?" "How did you do it?" "Wow, you must feel so much better!" Comments along that line, that are made, and to which I respond. In so doing, I try to be honest (assuming that if you ask how, you really want to know), gracious, modest, or deflect kudos, or say well, I'm still having a problem with...I can tell you everyone I know is sick and tired of hearing it.

I guess people think that since I am now a thinner person, that all other problems are non existent. I shouldn't still worry about that one area of my body that I cannot reshape no matter how hard I try. I had one woman tell me that talking about my weight was hurtful to every single person on a daily basis. That my weight loss was unhealthy. That I am looking gaunt and unattractive. I would never have expected such an attack from her. While everyone watched me gain weight and vocalize my despair, I was heard with much more patience and encouragement. No one told me to put the damned cookie down, move my ass and quit feeling sorry for myself. While that would have been hurtful too, it might have also been a little motivational.

I have changed my opinion of those who have made life altering conversions. I no longer think they are pompous, insensitive or evangelistic. I was a smoker. I can tell you a smoker doesn't want to hear from a former smoker. Sometimes it is a matter of being defensive about a habit that meets with perceived disapproval. Maybe they are trying to quit, or have tried unsuccessfully and feel judged. But I can tell you that a smoker has never been made to feel uncomfortable in my home or in my presence. Maybe the person who doesn't want to hear about weight loss or related topics is someone who is also struggling with the issue. They'd like to be happy for your success, but can't as it is perceived as an indictment against them. In the meantime, perhaps all that is needed is some time and space away. Maybe I have offended my friends irreparably, and that truly grieves me. But I have to believe the problem is shared at least fifty/fifty.


Friday, August 10, 2007

The List

I found this list on several blogs lately, and thought it an interesting idea. Almost as much fun as Eight Random Facts, but a lot more thought provoking. So, without further ado:

I know ~ that life is good.

I believe ~ that I will continue to evolve.

I fought ~ bitterly with my mother.

I am angered ~ by dishonesty or deception.

I love ~ my family and friends.

I need ~ to run like hell sometimes.

I take ~ most things in stride.

I hear ~ music and it carries me to a different place.

I drink ~ a lot of red wine and whiskey.

I hate ~ monotony.

I use ~ nothing harmful.

I want ~ to see where my spirit can take me.

I decided ~ I would not be a fat immobile old lady.

I’m entirely ~ too defensive.

I like ~ walking in the rain with no umbrella.

I am ~ responsible.

I feel ~ very alone sometimes.

I left ~ a corrosive relationship with my mother behind.

I do ~ have really good intentions.

I hope ~ to sit and have a drink with my son when he is 25 and hear his take on life the universe and everything.

I dream ~ of that which haunts me.

I drive ~ some people up the wall!

I listen ~ to what is NOT said.

I type ~ sloppily.

I think ~ way to damned much.

I wish ~ I could see how it all turns out.

I compensate ~ my occasional lack of substance with style.

I regret ~ not seeing my father before he died.

I care ~ about the world I am leaving behind for my children and grandchildren.

I should ~ know better.

I said ~ I would do it, and so I did or will. Almost always.

I wonder ~ if I am good enough.

I changed ~ my outer appearance.

I am not always ~ strong.

I cry ~ when faced with any strong emotion or loss.

I am ~ unabashedly myself.

I am not ~ mean spirited.

I lose ~ my nerve too easily.

I leave ~ an impression, one way or the other!


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Mid-Life Crisis?

Mid-life Crisis. Usually said with a measure of derision, the words alone conjure images of the absurd. How often have we snickered about someone acting impetuously in an attempt to prove they are not yet old, or to keep them from getting old. Now that I have reached that time of life, I think that might be a little harsh. Once I hit 38 or 39, I began reevaluating many things. I just wasn't really conscious of it at the time. And while I will not color my graying hair, or undergo plastic surgery to staunch the march of time, I will spend a buck or three on good moisturizer.

I was thinking about this on Saturday while sipping my morning coffee, wishing it was a Bloody Mary. Friday night I was out with a bunch of my girlfriends. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a somewhat fashionable restaurant in the City, then picked up a couple of bottles of good wine, and hung out at a friend's house. It's not that I want to be 25 again: hell, at 25 I wouldn't have been able to afford or appreciate such 'grown up' tastes.

After the original crowd of 9 women dwindled down to 4, we decided to go over to a local Irish Pub. It was 2am. I walked into the place with greater confidence than I ever would have 15 years ago. I ordered a Jamison's on the rocks, went over to the juke box and put on what I wanted to dance to. Didn't leave until well after last call for alcohol. What struck me while reliving a fun night was that in another few years it might....will...seem ridiculous to do that. To some people reading this now, it might seem ridiculous to do it, or still WANT to do it at the age of 41.

Is it about propriety? A sense that one should, by a certain age, give up such rowdy behaviors, just as a child gives up his toys. That would seem to me a case of sour grapes on the part of those casting such judgment. Is it about looks? You don't look all that different when you are in your mid thirties than you do in your early forties. But a 45 to 50 year old does begin to show some wear and tear. Then it seems more creepy to hang out at a bar, or drive a powerful sports car, or wear certain kinds of clothes.

Even older athletes are looked at differently, especially if they can perform the same feats as their younger teammates or competitors. It's as if once a person reaches a certain age, a shift should occur, not unlike a gear change in an automatic transmission.

I don't think people my age want to hang out with twenty-somethings. Lord knows I don't wish to relive my own misspent youth. Many of us in our early to mid 40s and beyond think we can still raise some hell. We don't want to go gently into that good night. I, for one, still rage against the dying of the light, and will for some time to come, God willing.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Six Year Reprieve

As long as I don't move out of Queens County, I am free from Jury Duty for the next 6 years. Until fairly recently, the exemption was 4 years if you served, but since the Empire State widened the jury pool by eliminating most vocational exclusions, the exemption was extended.

I was prepared for the worst, but all in all, it was not a bad experience. As intimated in the post below, my first experience with Jury Duty soured me a little. In 1989 or so, the jury room in the Manhattan Supreme Courthouse down on Church Street was very dirty, uncomfortable with wooden pew-like seating and ancient phone booths. The coup de grace was a rather elderly gentleman dressed in a ill fitting navy sports jacket covered with dandruff who had a 'pet' cockroach crawling around on him. I swear to God!

Fast forward to 2007. I arrived around 8:10am, sailed through a metal detector (damned underwire bras!!). The jury room was well lit and spacious with comfortable seats and a nice array of amenities. There were a dozen or so internet ready computers, vending machines, clean bathrooms, reading material and a few tables on which one could work or eat. The Jury Clerk (a NYPD officer) played movies on the large flat screen TVs at a moderate volume. He even cracked a few jokes.

The only bump in the road was when the Clerk told me I couldn't use the computer at 8:20ish...they were not to be used until after 8:30 or 9am. WHATEVER! I asked why not. He refused to elaborate. I copped an attitude. So did he. Yep, I reverted to my 16 year-old problem with authority self in a New York heartbeat. To complete my humiliation, I had to go back to him and ask if I could use the machines, as the posted signs said I wasn't allowed to power them up. The signed lied. He told me to turn them on. Ah, bureaucracy!

I was never called. Left the courthouse by 4pm, with several hundred pages of The Half Blood Prince under my belt (which I stayed up until 1am to finish so I could begin Deathly Hallows today). My husband and son picked me up at our subway stop, and we headed down to the Astoria Park pool. Collected a full day's pay, too. What's better than that!