Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

A Child of Divorce – at 49

This past weekend I went to a bridal shower for my mother. At seventy-something, she is remarrying after nearly 30 years of being single. Her fiance is a loving and warm man whom our family has welcomed with open arms, and who has brought so much to my mother’s life. To see them together is to see the true meaning of miraculous – that they have found each other at this point in their lives, that they are healthy and can enjoy being together, and that they are making this commitment to each other with the excitement of two people decades younger.

But something odd happened to me after the shower, on the long drive home. I realized that despite the fact that my father had remarried twice and he and my mother had long ago both moved on with their lives, there was still a part of me that thought they might someday get back together.

Ridiculous, I know. I mean, besides everything else, my father has been dead for four years.

This is the plight of a child of divorce, even as I am racing towards 50. Even though I came to terms with my parents divorce many, many years ago. Somewhere inside of me, all these years, while my mother was still single, a teeny, tiny part of me always hoped they would someday be together again.

I guess that’s what most children of divorce would wish for, no matter how young or old they might be. I was very fortunate that my mother and father were (nearly) always comfortable being around each other, and most every family celebration included both of them. My mother showed enormous class and dignity when dealing with my father’s second – and third – wives.  My parents both always put myself, my children, and my brother and his family before their own issues.

I was surprised at this very odd thought when it popped into my head as I drove down the freeway – “Mom and Dad will never be married again.” As I mentioned, the fact that my father is dead was a big part of why this was an odd thought.  But also, I don’t remember ever considering that it was even remotely a possibility, nor was it a good idea. And yet the little girl inside of me was speaking up and this was what she was wishing for…mommy and daddy together again.

I am so happy for my mother. As everyone at the shower mentioned, there is no one in the world who deserves to be happy and in love more than she does. A psychotherapist, she has given thousands of hours of her life to helping others to feel better about their lives, and now she feels thrilled about hers. She has found love at a time of life when many people are losing their partners.

I’m not a “woo-woo” person. I’m generally a fairly practical thinker, with a pretty strong bullshit detector. But I am convinced that my father sent my mother her soon-to-be husband, as a way of making up for a lot of mistakes that he made along the way.

My family, circa 1968

Ridiculous? Most definitely. But then, so is the little girl who’s voice I heard as I drove home from the shower – the little girl who wished her parents were still married. Sometimes, our hearts overrule our heads, and we have a moment of emotion that we don’t understand – or maybe we do.

Congratulations to my mother and her wonderful guy. I know they’ll be happy forever, and I’m so happy for them.  And so is the little girl, deep inside of me.

The “B” Side of Life

I recently went to my hair stylist, Gordon, as I have done every 5 weeks for 15 years. I wrote about Gordon previously after he was a survivor of the Salon Meritage massacre in October.  Gordon is an amazing person who has recently experienced far more tragedy in his life than he – or anyone – should have to endure. As we were talking about how he is getting through this uncomfortable and confusing time he said this:

“This is the “B” side of my life.  It’s not what I signed up for.”

I was struck by what a profound and perfect metaphor that sentence was for Gordon’s life at this point, and for, I’m sure, most people at some time or another.  The “B” side – the other side of the 45 record that was an afterthought, not really chosen, just put there to take up space.  The side that no one really liked, or cared about, or possibly even listened to at all.  The less than side.  The other side.  That’s what Gordon was talking about.

I’ve been to the “B” side in my life.  There have been moments that were so terrible, so awful, so sad, that I never thought I’d get through them.  Obviously nothing can compare to what my dear friend Gordon has had to endure, but my “B” side moments were, to me, pretty horrible.  I think most people, by the time  they reach the middle of their life, have had moments when they thought they’d never be happy, sane, safe, secure – ever again.  That’s where Gordon is right now.  He is on the “B” side and the record is skipping.  But eventually, as it did for me, and I’m sure for you, or someone you love, it will get better.  Eventually, it always gets better, even if it’s still awful.  Because we are human, we go on, we continue to look for things that make us happy, that will bring us up from the bottom, that will make the “B” side eventually become the “A” side.

This is a true fact:  Gloria Gaynor’s anthem to getting over it, “I Will Survive,” was a “B” side.  Look what happened to that song.  And what a message it sent.

So here’s to making the “B” side work, turning an afterthought into a megahit, a mistake into magic.  It can happen, and it does happen.

My Guilty Pleasure – at 25% Off

Today, I indulged myself in my guiltiest of pleasures.  I planned for days to enjoy my hours of pure, unfettered enjoyment, with no fear of being caught, no laws being broken, my health intact – and, if I was very lucky, not too much money being lost.

Today I went shopping.


I know, you’re probably thinking this is no big deal – or maybe you’re thinking I’m a shallow, empty human being, if shopping makes me so happy.  But on both counts, you’d be mistaken.  Because for me, shopping is not just about buying stuff – it’s a quick and easy way to escape reality by just driving 20 minutes down the freeway to    South Coast Plaza, the mecca of shopping for those of us that live in Orange County.  I have a well-traveled path at the mall – though “mall” somehow seems demeaning for this place, which houses everything from Cartier to Saks to Ferragamo to Louis Vuitton and Chanel, just to name a few.  Not that I actually buy anything at the priciest of the stores, but still, it’s fun to walk by Bulgari and drool over the jewels.  I have a lovely woman at Nordstrom who knows me by name and helps me find just about anything I need if I ask her.  And of course, there’s something quite wonderful about the makeup counter where you get a quick shot of  “you’re very special and I’m thrilled to be your salesgirl.”  I buy something every time.

But there’s nothing like bargain shopping, and there’s nothing that gives me a bigger thrill than this sign:


I take my time, surveying the racks.  I roam a bit, picking up things here and there.  As I gather my selections, my pile growing larger and larger, eventually a saleswoman will take pity on me and ask if she can get me a dressing room.  Inevitably she will make this comment:

“Wow, you’ve got a lot of things to try on, don’t you?”

I just smile and thank her, because she’s absolutely right.   It’s the hunting and gathering that are exciting, the discount found, the perfect item at the ridiculous price, buried in a rack, missed by the other poor fools who moved on before discovering this gem…I swear it’s like a fever comes over me.   I do have a large selection of things to try on, because, well, that’s just how I do things.  I only go into the dressing room once, but if I’ve done my work properly, once is enough.  At this point in my life, I’m kind of an expert at this.

I am ruthless when  I try things on and dismiss 10 items for every one that I remotely like.  I grow disgusted with my reflection in the mirror until I find IT – the one item of clothing (or two, or three, or more) that looks good, doesn’t cost a lot, and I know I’ll wear.  I think of my extra 25% off coupon and smile – it’s a great day.

I used to shop a lot, but now I rarely shop anymore.  Partly its economics – who among us isn’t trying to watch what we spend – and partly it’s just that I don’t really need as much as I used to.  Now that I am an empty-nester,  I’m not going to as many functions, meetings, activities, luncheons, auctions, Bar Mitzvahs, and on and on, and I spend a lot more time at home reading, writing, blogging, where what I’m wearing is rarely an issue.  Also, when I do shop, I tend to do a lot of it online – though I have to say, it’s not nearly as much fun as wandering around a store, pawing through the sale racks -though I have to recommend Shopstyle.com – it’s almost as good as a mall.

So now you know what my guilty pleasure is.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  It may be brainless and mean nothing, and it may be as substantial as cotton candy, but I enjoy it immensely.  I’ll bet there are a few of you reading this who feel the same way.

I Read, Therefore I Am – Chapter 2

I confess, I haven’t been very enthused about the books I’ve read recently.  It’s been pretty disappointing for me, as I always like to have a book in progress.  There were a few books that I was especially excited about this fall, and a few just didn’t work for me.

First up was “The Night Circus” by Julie Morgenstern.  I don’t know why it didn’t hold my interest, but I just couldn’t stick with it.  A story of two young people who have magical powers and become part of a mysterious circus that only appears at night, it sounded like something I would enjoy – a little bit of fantasy, circus animals, and a big sprawling story that traveled around the world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.  So I sold it on Amazon (a great idea for people who buy books but don’t necessarily want to keep them) and moved on.

The last time I blogged about books I mentioned that I was reading “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty.  I liked this book a lot.  The story of a woman who loses her memory of the previous 10 years after a fall at her health club, it raised some interesting questions: What would life be like if the last 10 years had never happened?  For Alice, there was so much that had changed in the 10 year period.  It’s a good story with  thought-provoking ideas.

Next, I was so excited to read Alice Hoffman’s most recent book, “The Dovekeepers.”  I adore Alice Hoffman’s books, and I’ve read every one of them since “Seventh Heaven,” which was published in 1990.  You can’t imagine how upset I was when, after about 100 pages of “The Dovekeepers,” I had to stop reading.  In the book, Hoffman tells the story of Masada through the eyes of various women and how they came to be there during the time of the Roman invasions.  If I said it was a dreary and depressing book, that would be an understatement.  Nothing good happened at all, and I mean nothing, in the pages I managed to get through.  It was one tragedy after another.  I can only hope that her next book takes us back to her world of magical realism and interesting, odd people who usually populate her stories.

I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend “The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides.  How many books are there that combine 19th century British Literature, Christianity, the study of yeast reproduction, mental illness, suburban angst, 1980’s music and semiotics?  Not to mention the characters are fully formed, and, though a bit too self-indulgent and stereotypical, pretty interesting.  I was completely absorbed from beginning to end.  It’s very wordy and super-intellectualized, but if you can get past the discussions of Nietsche and Jane Austen, you’ll be ok.  I’m looking forward to discussing this book with my book group – it should generate some lively conversation!


Coming up, I’m looking forward to:

“11/22/63” by Stephen King:  My first Stephen King book ever – but I’m a sucker for time travel!

“Then Again,” a memoir by Diane Keaton

“Come Back to Me” by Melissa Foster

“Ed King” by David Guterson


Happy Reading!

As featured on 12most.com – 12 Most Positive Things About Being an Empty Nester



Last night, I was talking with my daughter Katie, a senior in college.  We were chatting about the tv shows she’d been watching – and she mentioned the fact that she didn’t have a DVR.

WELL!  Can you imagine?  No DVR in college?  It got me thinking about all the things I didn’t have back when I was in college, in the ancient times of 1979-1983.  Not that I knew any better – most of the things our kids use on a daily basis now didn’t exist back then – so I thought I’d take a little walk down memory lane and recall a day in the life of me, in college – and probably you too, if you’re an empty-nester or baby-boomer.  Please note, all the corresponding items and/or activities of today are in parentheses.

Wake up for class to a clock radio (CELL PHONE).

Shower and blow dry my hair (STRAIGHTENER, “PRODUCT”).  Get dressed and go to class.

Not sure if my friend will meet me at the dining commons, but just have to wait and see (TEXTING).  Walk across campus in the quiet (IPOD).  Make a stop at the bank to cash a check (ATM CARDS) because the weekend is coming, and I need some money.  Buy a newspaper (COMPUTER, IPAD), and read about the  ten percent unemployment rate and the discord in the middle east – some things never change. Get to the dining commons, where I use my cash (CONVENIENCE POINTS CARD, STUDENT CASH CARD) to buy a cup of coffee (CAPPUCINO, CHAI LATTE, ICED BLENDED, ETC ETC). My friend still isn’t there, so I call her on a pay phone (CELL PHONE), and she tells me she overslept because she forgot to set her alarm (again, some things never change).  We make plans to go see “The Big Chill” that weekend at the movie theater (VCR, DVD, NETFLIX, DOWNLOADS)

During class, I take notes and listen, bored half the time, but with no other choice (IPOD, TEXTING, CELL PHONE). Decide to write a letter to one of my friends at another school (FACEBOOK, TWITTER, EMAIL, TEXTING, INSTANT MESSAGING).  Realize I haven’t talked to my parents in a week, make a mental note to call them when I get home (SEE ABOVE).

After class, I head to the library, where I check out books, which I look up with the Dewey Decimal System (COMPUTER).  Again, stop to use a pay phone to call a classmate about an assignment (CELL PHONE, COMPUTER, ONLINE CLASS NOTES AND SYLLABUS).

After I finish my classes for the day, I head to work, where I make $3.75 an hour selling shoes.  I’m not allowed to use the business phone for personal calls, so I have no idea what the plans are for that evening…it is Friday, after all.  Have to wait until I get home to find out what’s going on (ALL SOCIAL MEDIA AS MENTIONED ABOVE, PLUS PHONES). I stop by the local camera shop to pick up prints of a roll of film I had developed (DIGITAL CAMERA, DIGITAL PHOTOS). When I get home, my roommates have left me a note with a couple of messages on it (VOICE MAIL and/or ANSWERING MACHINES).  I call a couple of friends back.  One isn’t home, so there’s no answer – imagine that! and one’s line is busy (CALL WAITING).  I consider watching a little tv, but it’s mid-afternoon and there’s not much on the 5 channels we actually get in our apartment (CABLE, DVR, HULU, ONLINE TV).  Break open a Tab (DIET COKE) and put an album on the stereo (IPOD, DOCKING STATION, ITUNES). When my roommate gets home we debate having either Top Ramen or Domino’s pizza for dinner (once again, some things are pretty darn constant).

I have a few hours until its time to go out with my friends, so I start to write the final draft of a paper for one of my classes.  I drag out the Smith Corona – electric – which was my  high school graduation gift (COMPUTER).  I change the ribbon on it because it’s starting to look a little faded.  I get out the white out in case I make any errors, and the dictionary to check that I’m spelling words correctly (SPELLCHECK).  There are a few facts that I’m not sure are right, so I have to wait until I get to the library the next day to research them (WIKIPEDIA, GOOGLE, ABOUT.COM, ETC, ETC, ETC).  When I finish the paper, I’ll take it to the copy center to have a copy made for my professor, and I’ll hand in the paper in class the following week (HOME PRINTER, COPIER, EMAIL to TURN IN PAPERS).

I dress to go out, dismayed to see panti-lines under my jeans (SPANX, THONGS, BOYSHORTS).  Change into different jeans, feel better.  Call my parents, but they’re not home (ANSWERING MACHINE AGAIN).  After making dozens of phone calls, finally have a plan for the evening, so we head out, buy some beer, and go to a party (this will never ever change!).  Later that night I have a headache and I can’t sleep, so I take some Tylenol and hope it will help (TYLENOL PM, ADVIL PM, MOTRIN PM, ETC).

It’s interesting, isn’t it?  So much of what we take for granted – and especially what our kids take for granted – was unimaginable back then.  Sometimes I think all of the connected-ness can be detrimental – it’s as if, for some kids, they never really leave home – but overall, I’d love to try being a college student in 2011 – even without a DVR!

Did I miss anything?  What other antiquated things can you remember?


He’s had an easy life, but his life hasn’t been easy.

Do I contradict myself?  Not really.  While we gave him every bit of support, love, and encouragement two parents could give, our son has had challenges in his 19 years that, for better or worse, complicated things.  They may be no more or less difficult than what other children go through, but somehow we believed he was in need of…more.  More of us, more attention, more patience, more protection.  

My son, 3 years old, and me
He woke up one morning at 20 months old with a crossed eye.  Besides my initial terror and fear, there was this horrible thought, that he would be “that” kid, the one with the crossed eye, the one who the other kids taunted and teased.  Fortunately he was young enough and was treated quickly enough, with surgery and eye patches and glasses, that by the time the other kids were old enough to be that mean, he looked fine…with his glasses on. It was hard when he went swimming, or to sleepovers. After 2 more surgeries, he now, at 19, has beautiful green eyes that are nearly 100% straight. 

For me, that morning, seeing his adorable face looking so different, was a game-changer.  It wasn’t until his most recent surgery this past May that I realized how overwhelmed I was by it all, that morning long ago – how my heart broke for him, and for me, and how I wanted to make things better, sooner, right away.

Then, at the age of 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD.  We sort of knew that was coming, but now we had to deal with it, with medication and tutors, teacher conferences and fights about homework.  Between his natural tendency towards inertia (much like his mother) and his obsession with all things visual, be it television, computer, or video games (something like his father), school was really, really tough for him. 

But he had a lot of friends.  And that made him really happy.  And since it made him happy, we encouraged them to be at our house, and so they did…growing boys who laughed and fought and ate and slept on floors and sofas.  We love those boys.  Maybe, just maybe we should have said no sometimes, sent the boys home, especially when his grades were poor or his attitude was bad.  

In high school, he found a level of commitment that he’d never shown before while playing football.  Finally, in his senior year, he was starting on the offensive line.  He was doing it, and doing it so well!  What a thrill it was to watch him play, to have him come home, stinky and tired and excited about the game that week.  And what a heartbreak it was when, after a couple of weeks of pain in his leg, we found out that he had a stress fracture in his femur.  He was out for the remainder of the season.  
My o-lineman and me 2009

Now, in college, he’s had a huge awakening of sorts.  He has finally, finally! figured out that he can study, and learn, and take a test and get a good grade.  Most importantly, it DOES matter to him if he succeeds.  Freshman year, he was so anxious, so tied up in figuring things out, that he never really found his people, never really found a place for himself at college.  

So now he wants to come home, continue college here, near his friends and family, in a place where he feels safe and understood, with people who have loved him for a long time.  We understand this, we really do.  But we won’t let him come home…not yet.

Our son is an incredible young man, on the verge of figuring it all out – for himself.  Where I think we went wrong while raising him was to figure out too much for him, and not let him fall and hit the ground without us cushioning the blow.  We weren’t helicopter parents…we were Sikorsky military copters, eagle-eyed and ready to do battle.  Yes, he was stubborn and careless about his schoolwork, but we were stubborn and careless about the amount of energy we put into helping him, about never letting him pick himself  up without us lending a hand.  

My son and husband, 2010
So we’re insisting he finish this year, even though he’s not very happy there, because we know that what he’s learned over the past few months is just the beginning of him learning about how to be a man, and how to be confident, and how to find his way in the world.  

We know he can do it…now let’s hope we can.


Ah, the joys of getting older.  You know what I mean – the droopy eyelids, the dry skin, the more frequent visits to the hair colorist…and to the bathroom.  And that’s just the beginning.  There are some definite pluses to aging, but they certainly aren’t in regards to our bodies. Of all the things I find bothersome, the thing that causes  me the most distress – even more than not being able to see without my reading glasses – is perimenopause.

Perimenopause sounds sort of innocuous, don’t you think?  It’s almost a pretty word, like periwinkle – the little i in peri, there just to fool you.  Because, truth be told, perimenopause can be a nightmare for some, including me, and by extension my husband, children,family, friends, and pretty much anyone I encounter when those moods and pains and irritations descend on me, taking over my sanity for a few (or many) days each month.

 My husband has come to understand it, bless his heart. He’s learned to live with me – or avoid me, probably – when I’m in the midst of the body snatching that comes each month, sneaking up on me – is this really happening again????  It’s as if someone has stuck a tube inside of me and blown me up like a balloon, then added a vice around my head, then drugged me so that I feel as if I’m dragging 30 pounds of potatoes with me everywhere I go, I’m so tired.     This is way, way worse than pms, which meant a few days of bitchiness and that was about it.

I did a little research today about perimenopause, and I found here a list of symptoms that can occur during this phase of life, which can last a really, really long time for some women.  Seriously?  Haven’t we done enough?  Didn’t we give birth, have c-sections, struggle with birth control? Didn’t we  nurse our babies, turning over our bodies to them for months and months?  Some of us went through hell and back just to get pregnant. And now comes the onset of middle age, and having to deal with the loss of our youth as we grow older.  Do we really need this? Do we deserve this? Come on!

Some of my friends are fortunate, and haven’t really experienced much of the joys of perimenopause.  Others struggle with hot flashes -which so far, I rarely get – extreme fatigue, mood swings, ferocious headaches, and on and on.  We commiserate and help each other through the bad days, and understand completely the need to hide under the covers and not leave the house when things are especially tortuous.  Thank goodness for those women in my life – without them I might have assumed that, once a month or so, I was losing my mind.

Recently, Dr. Oz did a show about perimenopause, and here was the ad for it:

Sort of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  And what is the rage about…is it about being perimenopausal, or is it about the way it feels, or is it just a general rage at the universe that now, at this point in our lives, we have to deal with THIS.  I didn’t bother to watch the show – it’s not as if I don’t know about this already.

And men complain about losing their hair.  PLEASE!

Pass the chocolate, NOW.


Yesterday I learned that a friend had died when I clicked on his Facebook page.  It had been a while since I’d checked in on this particular friend – and it was shocking, to say the least, to see the notice of his death dated September 19, at the top of the page.  I read it a few times, just to make sure I understood what it said.  I couldn’t believe he had died, just could not believe it.

I think part of my shock was finding out this way, on his Facebook page, his happy face smiling at me from his profile picture as I read the news.  Is this any different than reading an obituary in the newspaper?  I guess it really isn’t – except in the newspaper, when you turn to the obituaries, you kind of know what to expect.  When you click around Facebook, checking in on your various friends, picking a random person from your list for no other reason than curiosity, it’s pretty shocking to find out they’ve died, believe me.  You go from looking at pictures of someone’s pets on one page to a notice for a funeral on another.

I was very, very sad to learn this man had died, at the too young age of 57.  He had once been important in my life, and I had been happy to see him on Facebook when he “friended” me about a year ago.  There wasn’t more to it than that – we didn’t chat, or exchange posts or anything.  It was just nice to see him, older of course, but still the same face I remembered.

And then he died.  Wow.

I called his wife, just to tell her how sorry I was.  We’d never met, and she probably had no idea who I was – but she listened as I expressed my condolences and told me he had died quickly, of pancreatic cancer, 2 months after he had been diagnosed.  

I imagine this isn’t the last time I’ll learn of the death of a friend this way – Facebook has become such a big part of so many of our lives, and we share so much about ourselves and the lives we are living, it seems logical to find out friends have died on Facebook too.  

But wow. 

Rest in Peace, my friend.  



The Kardashians are clever folks indeed.  They have turned the skill of doing absolutely nothing productive into a multi-million dollar empire, and have captured the attention of millions of viewers each week who watch them do…I don’t know what.  I am proud to say that I have never watched an episode of the Kardashian’s show.  I’m not a reality tv snob – I love my hour each week with Rachel Zoe, and Storage Wars is pretty entertaining.  There’s just something about the Kardashians and all of their self-promoting excess that seems gross.  Plus, the sound of their nasally, squeaky and utterly dumb voices makes my skin crawl – when my kids watch their show I have to leave the room.

So what to make of their brief, ridiculous marriage?  That 20 carat ring that Kim flashed so proudly on the cover of every magazine?  Obviously it was a publicity stunt, their wedding full of product placement (Vera Wang, anyone?), intended only to bring in viewers.  How could anyone take them seriously?  But sadly enough, many people did…especially the young girls who watch them, read about them, emulate them and (Lord help me) sound like them.  They should all be ashamed of themselves for putting on such a circus of a sham wedding which, from what I’ve read and heard, earned them 18 million dollars, or $10,000 per hour of the marriage.

The trouble I have with all of this is not so much that they put on this freak show of a wedding – it’s that the media, the world, everyone, is taking this seriously.  CNN, the Today Show, Good Morning America, online news outlets – they are all covering this as though it were real news.  It’s disturbing to me on so many levels, but mostly because marriage is a serious business, and these goofballs have turned it into a joke.  I’d have a lot more respect for them if they’d just come out and admit it was all for the sake of entertainment…in fact, I might even have watched the wedding, just to see the bling and the flowers and the clothes everyone wore if they had done just that.  But for me, or you, or CNN to actually discuss this as though it matters is just wrong.

Let’s switch the focus from the Kardashian’s 72 day marriage to couples who have worked, fought, loved and  succeeded for 20, 30, 40 years.  People like – oh, I don’t know – you and me?  Those of us who take our marriages to heart, who know what it means to commit ourselves to making it work, without any kind of product placements, endorsements, or publicity.  Or those of us whose marriages end, and have to pick ourselves up from the mess of divorce and make our lives work again.  Why isn’t there a tv show about people like us?  Well, we know why – it’s boring, ordinary and filled with day-to-day humdrum stuff.  But that’s what life is – that’s what reality really is.  So enough with Kim, Kris, and the rest of the Krew.  They’ve made a mockery of marriage, but mostly they’ve made a mockery of themselves.


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