Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

Archive for the month “October, 2011”


The Voice

We all have soundtracks to our lives.  At times, music has been so important to me. During my teen years there were hours spent listening to the same record album over and over, sometimes even the same song, convinced that the artist had written the lyrics especially for me.  “OHMYGOSH” my friends and I would shriek.  That’s EXACTLY how I feel!!!!” Neil Young, Elton John, Supertramp, Queen, Linda Ronstadt… it wasn’t until we got older that we realized – that was exactly how everybody felt.  In college, music became the backdrop for parties, the thumping beat at bars and clubs – it was the 80’s, after all, and the Cars and Blondie, the B-52’s and Toto didn’t make the kind of music that made you want to cry from the emotions their songs evoked.  We all just wanted to dance.

It was 1984 when I first fell for Sinatra.  And when I say fell, I mean really, really fell.  There was a period of about two years when he was virtually all I listened to, with a little Bruce Springsteen and old Motown mixed in, plus some Elvis Costello to stay current.  But Sinatra was the soundtrack of my early twenties, keeping me company on cassette after cassette as I drove around Los Angeles for my first job out of college.  Falling for Sinatra was an enormous undertaking – his catalog of songs is huge, and he recorded over 50 albums in his lifetime.  I zeroed in on the albums from the fifties, when his voice was strongest and his phrasing was impeccable, when you could hear the joy and sorrow in his voice as clearly as if he was speaking to you, which is what makes his music so appealing – that and the promise of something – love, romance, I don’t know exactly what – but there was promise in his voice. 
Sinatra became a passion for me to share with my mother, my grandmother, and especially my grandfather, who as a young man had been a big band singer with Tommy Dorsey, and had known Sinatra.  My grandfather had a voice kind of like Sinatra’s, deep and warm and lovely, and he would sing to me frequently while I was growing up.  There was always singing going on in my family…as strange as it may sound, we would often sing song lyrics to each other in lieu of speaking sentences.  We were big fans of musical theater, and there was always some soundtrack or another on my mother’s turntable. Those were the years of  Bacharach, Barbara Streisand, and Neil Diamond.  We listened to “A Chorus Line,” “Promises, Promises,” and “Funny Girl,” among many others.  My grandmother liked to play the piano and sing after we’d have dinner at her house. Fortunately, we were all fairly good at carrying a tune.
But Sinatra…he became the voice I chose to hear as often as possible.  The first year out of college was not easy for me, adjusting to being on my own, commuting to work every day, trying to prove myself at my job and find myself in the world – but Sinatra was the soothing voice of reassurance for me, as I learned each and every trip and lilt and turn of phrase he used on the songs I loved best.  From “Young at Heart” to “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Love and Marriage” to “My Funny Valentine,” there was a song for every mood, every time of day, every event.  I, like a million girls before me and a million since, fell in love with Sinatra through his voice, and what a voice it was.
I continued my love affair with Sinatra, and my children were raised on him…there’s nothing quite like a 4 year old girl singing “The Lady is a Tramp,” as my daughter did one evening, delighting us all.  I saw him in concert at the very end of his life, but it wasn’t great – he was old, and his voice was wobbly and weak, and the teleprompter had letters that were at least a foot high – but still, it was Sinatra.  We even considered naming our son Francis, after my husband Peter’s grandfather…and Sinatra.  I think Adam is happy we chose not to, though we would have called him Frank, of course.
On the morning Sinatra died, Peter woke me to tell me the news before I heard it anyplace else.  He knew how sad I would be, and I was.  But I listened to his music, and of course, that made me feel better – which is, I suppose, what Sinatra was all about – making the world feel better through his music.
Sinatra was fond of saying, at the end of his concerts, “May you live to be a hundred, and may the last voice you hear be mine.”  I like that idea!


We were in Boston for Parent’s Weekend, visiting our daughter Katie, who is a senior this year.  Most seniors don’t have parents visit for Parent’s Weekend – after 3 years in college, it seems kind of silly to be the wide-eyed visitors, which we really weren’t.  But Katie wanted us to meet her friends, some of them sorority sisters, some not – and we wanted to see our little girl, of course…only she’s not a little girl anymore, in any sense of the word. Being on her turf, with her in charge – it made me both proud and sentimental at the same time.  She made all the dinner and brunch reservations, guided us through the streets of Boston, and generally took charge of our visit.  It was a pleasure to let her make all the plans, but oh my gosh, where did my little girl go?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to have such a self-sufficient, independent and confident young woman for my daughter.  I just couldn’t help remembering the night we dropped her off at the dorms for her freshman year, after all of the shopping and moving and unpacking was done.  She was such a wreck…scared and crying and all alone, standing in the parking lot of Warren Towers, home to 1800 mostly freshman students, as we drove away.  But as overwhelmed as she was, I was probably more so – saying goodbye to my little girl, leaving her to find her way, to learn to live with a stranger for a roommate, make friends, and become part of the big, urban campus that is Boston University.  But find her way she did, with a few bumps in the road, both large and small – and over the past three years she’s traveled through Europe, spoken at admissions sessions up and down the west coast, joined a sorority, and had 2 successful internships, all while maintaining good grades and (mostly) staying positive, happy and enthusiastic.  I suppose somewhere inside of me I knew she’d be ok when we drove away that night, but still…

Katie and Ana, doing the sorority pic head tilt
The weekend was wonderful.  We met her new friends, had dinner with her roommates, whom we’d known since freshman year, and went to the Founder’s Day ceremony for her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi.  Every senior I talked to said she wished she wasn’t graduating, that college is wonderful and the prospects in the real world are kind of terrifying.  It made me feel sad for these girls – young women – all of whom have worked hard in college, all of whom deserve a chance to make something great happen as adults – but with things the way they are in the world today, it’s understandable, though sort of terrible, that they wish they could stay in college forever.  

What will happen to all of these young adults, recent and future graduates, with their expensive educations, student loans, and stars in their eyes?  A few will make it big in their chosen field, but many will struggle to find a place in the world.  Some will continue their education, spending more money, though the job market continues to be sluggish, and salaries and benefits continue to be meager for all but the most in-demand careers.  I hate to even say “when I was in college,” but, when I was in college, jobs were easy to find, careers were long-term, and there was the sense of opportunity, even for me, an English major. Now, it’s nothing short of miraculous to hear of a recent graduate who not only has a job, but is able to fully support him or herself on their salary. So many well-educated young people wind up having to live at home, cobbling together some sort of living out of part time jobs and help from their parents.  I don’t believe that this generation, at least based on my limited knowledge, is entitled and lazy, as so many politicians, bloggers and editorial writers have suggested…in fact, I think they’re extremely motivated, with big dreams and a lot of great experience and enthusiasm.  It’s a shame that the world that awaits them makes it so difficult to hold on to all of that.

Rockport, MA. So beautiful!
The next time we go to Boston, it will be for graduation.  My wish for Katie and her friends is that they all have jobs lined up, or acceptances to grad school, or plans for whatever it is they want to do with the next phase of their lives.  I hope they are able to support themselves, find good friends, marry when they’re ready, have healthy children, live in beautiful homes, and be happy forever.  My wishes are those of a dreamer, but these girls are all filled with dreams themselves – and I hope they all come true.

500 Ladies Who Lunch- NCL Tournament Day

Today I went to Tournament Day, an annual fundraising luncheon attended by over 500 women from our community.  The purpose of the fundraising is to support a variety of local charitable organizations and provide college scholarships for girls in need.  Tournament Day is put on by National Charity League (NCL), a national mother/daughter organization that consists of 6 years of commitment to charitable work by both mothers and daughters, plus social activities.  Our chapter, NCL South Coast, was founded in 1962, and at the event today there were a couple of founding members – truly inspirational women who are still active in supporting the chapter.  Our chapter raises more money than any other chapter in the country, and we are proud of that fact.

At first, I was reluctant to join NCL.  I thought it would be too much of a time commitment, and to be honest, I was a little put off by the idea of the presentation ball for my daughter Katie, which happens at the end of the girl’s senior year, and requires each girl to wear a white ball gown with petticoats – a concept I had a hard time taking seriously.  But I went ahead and joined, and it was a terrific decision.  Though Katie wasn’t able to give a lot of time to NCL due to a variety of other commitments, I became an enthusiastic member of the organization…and in fact, chaired Tournament Day my second year, and also served on the board of directors.  I made great new friends, grew closer with women I had already known, and felt that I was doing something to give back to my community.  And to my surprise, the presentation ball was a lovely and enchanting experience, and seeing my daughter all dressed up in her white gown was something really special, despite my inital misgivings. 

I’ve continued to attend Tournament Day each year after my tenure as a member was finished, and it’s always fun to see old friends and enjoy a lady’s lunch, while buying silent auction items and trying to win opportunity drawings (which I never do!).  It’s amazing to see the power of women working together and raising money – anywhere between $80,000 – $100,000 each Tournament Day over the past few years. The generosity and enthusiasm of the women who attend is inspiring, and the amount of hard work and time that goes into putting on the event is huge.

But something happens each year that’s a little unsettling.  As each group of girls graduates, and new, younger women join the organization at the beginning of their daughter’s seventh grade year, The demographic shifts to a younger and younger group. There area fewer and fewer women that I know who are still members. Of course this is the way it should be, the way it has to be – but there’s a bit of melancholy for me in seeing the younger women, and thinking of all they have ahead of them – not just in NCL, but as mothers of teenage girls. It seems like just a minute ago that I was one of the “young” moms, and now I’m definitely not – young – but I wouldn’t go back there for anything.  Katie has grown into such a terrific young woman, and middle school is such torment…I’m glad to be where I am, but wistful that time has gone so quickly.

Katie at presents rehearsal

 One of the most interesting things about NCL is watching the girls in each grade grow and change – it’s fun to compare group photos of the  awkward 7th graders with the later pictures of confident seniors on their way to college.  Some of the girls really embrace the philanthropic activities, finding true reward in helping others, and some of the girls are more enthusiastic about the social aspect of the organization, but overall most of the girls, though they may have grumbled as they were going through it,  wouldn’t have wanted to miss their time as NCL Ticktockers (as the girls are known) for anything.  Though they may not all be close friends, there’s definitely a bond that develops with each group, as they spend time together –  and especially as they prepare for the presentation ball.  One of the most poignant moments comes when the girls gather for the presentation rehearsal, wearing their petticoats and sporting their future college sweatshirts. 

Katie in her white gown – Presents 2008

Sharing an activity like National Charity League is a good thing for mothers and daughters to do through the teen years.  For some teens, there’s very little they want to do with their mothers, and participating in NCL keeps them connected to their moms, if only for a few hours a month.  It’s good for the girls to learn about how difficult life can be for some people, including some of their neighbors and classmates, and it’s important for them to grasp the value of giving back.  But most of all, what I think NCL does for the girls – and some of their mothers, too – is instill confidence.  By participating in something bigger than they are, and seeing how they can make a difference, they realize that they are valuable members of society, not just because of who they are or what they look like or where they live, but because of what they can do for others.  And though the presentation ball may seem like an unnecessary indulgence to those not involved in NCL, it really is a magical night, when the girls are honored for all of their hard work, not just for the hundreds of hours given to NCL but in school, in sports, and in extracurricular activities. It’s impossible to be there, and hear about each girl as their brief bio is read, standing in front of  hundreds of people in their white gowns, and not feel a great sense of pride – in the girls, their mothers, National Charity League –  and a job well done. 


Not in my town.

Mass murders don’t happen in Seal Beach, this sleepy little beachside community. I live in Los Alamitos, the next town over, but the two are intertwined by shared schools, shops, restaurants, hair salons. It’s a place people come to raise their children, a place known for it’s peaceful, friendly atmosphere.  It’s where many of my friends live, many of my children’s friends grew up.  It’s where our favorite barbecue place is, the sushi place we love.  It’s the place where a few kids from the high school could organize, in just 24 hours, a memorial to the victims that was attended by over 1000 people.

Not in my salon.

These things happen in other places…that’s what they thought in Tucson, while they were grocery shopping.  They believed they were safe at Columbine High School, going from class to class, getting an education.  I believed, every five weeks for the past ten years, that I was safe sitting in Gordon’s chair, laughing with him and the other stylists, 5 of whom were murdered. In fact, it never occured to me that I wasn’t safe – it was such a nice place to be. By the grace of God, Gordon is ok.  For some reason, I scheduled my appointment this week for Thursday instead of Wednesday…a random decision. It’s just by chance, by luck, that none of my many friends who go to Gordon to get their hair cut and colored were there that afternoon.  How lucky are we, and how unfortunate are the 9 victims of this man, only one of whom survived, this man whose vengeance and anger fueled the insane massacre of 8 innocent people, including the mother of his son.

Not to my friends.

Each person I knew that was murdered was someone I liked.  They were part of the big picture of my little life – people with whom I laughed, chatted, gossiped.  It’s impossible for me  to understand how Michelle Fournier, who did my daughter’s makeup for her Bat Mitzvah and her prom, could possibly be dead.  How could Victoria, the ball of fire who cut hair in the chair next to Gordon’s and was his dearest friend, be gone?  How could sweet, adorable Laura, who not only cut hair but did manicures, as solicitous of her elderly clients as she was of the young ones, have been shot by this angry man?  Christy, the nail technician, who always looked so chic and incredibly youthful and made beautiful jewelry – how could he have shot her?  And Randy, the salon’s owner and calm at the center of the busy craziness that was Salon Meritage, the unofficial dad of the place, how could he have been murdered? 

Salon Meritage was a really fun place to be every five weeks.  It was the kind of place where everyone chatted with everyone…and everyone knew everyone.  In a very real sense, it was a microcosm of Seal Beach.  Mention a name and someone knew that person.  Talk about a restaurant and someone had been there recently.  It was warm and cozy and welcoming – everyone said hi when you walked in.  They all watched my children grow up, and Victoria liked to say about my daughter – “She’s gotten so stinkin’ cute” (though she said this about everyone’s kids!). When my son played varsity football at  Los Alamitos High, they asked about his games and his performance each time I was there. Just a few weeks ago, when Gordon cut bangs for me, they all hooted and hollered about how good it looked.  Salon Meritage had that kind of atmosphere – it wasn’t “the salon,” it was “my salon” – not just to me but to many, many people.

There’s been a lot of chatter on the internet about this terrible tragedy.  A few comments have implied that those of us that live in this neighborhood were delusional to think that we were safe here.  I suppose there’s some truth to that – certainly violent people are everywhere, as we see day after day after day in the news.  But feeling safe is a big part of living where we do – raising our children in a place where we can feel reasonably confident violence won’t occur.  I used to tell both of my children, after Columbine, to be nice to the lonely kids, the outcasts – because we never really know what’s going to push someone over the edge, do we.  Well, now we do, here in Seal Beach, at Salon Meritage.

Not in my life.

These kinds of things don’t happen to us, any of us…until they do.  Violence occurs in other places, to other poor, tragic victims…until it comes to our neighborhoods and homes, touches our lives so profoundly, so intensely.  The shock of the murder of 8 people, right down the street, right around the corner, in my salon…to have known five of the victims, and now sense the empty space where they once were, and to feel so badly for the other three – it has turned me inside out, filled me with pain and fear and a deep, heavy sadness.  There have been constant phone calls, so many phone calls…”can you believe…I’m in shock…what can we do…how could this happen…”  We need to remind each other that we are all still here, still safe – and mourn together.

We are all so terribly, terribly sad.
Photo courtesy of Lynn Gosselin


One of the best things about being a mom has been the experience of watching  my parents be grandparents.  This was especially true of my father, who died four years ago this week – October 16, 2007 – at the far too young age of 67.  To watch him being the fun, loving, kind grandfather that he was really born to be was enormously gratifying, and kind of a reconciliation.

My father – 1977

My father would never have been voted father of the year, not by a long shot – though his intentions were good, his behavior…not so much.  I always knew that he loved me, though he sometimes had a hard time showing it as I grew from a little girl to a teenager, when my behavior and demeanor drastically changed after a cross country move at the age of 14.  I do remember being enchanted by him when I was a child – he was my big, strong, handsome daddy who would swoop me up in his arms and calm my fears when I had nightmares, who would watch Batman with me and take me with him on Saturdays to get the car washed.  But my father was difficult. He had very little good luck and even less common sense, and it caught up with him.  For all his charm, his great sense of humor, his knack for being the consummate party host, be it backyard barbecues or all night poker games, my father never really understood what it meant to be responsible for anything…and that was his downfall.  He was a dreamer, a gambler, immune to anyone’s advice or opinions – and having lost his own father when he was 26, he’d somehow also lost the ability to see the writing on the wall, no matter how big the font may have been.

But then, my children were born.

My father became Papa, and he was the most loving and involved grandfather I could have asked for.  Though he still stumbled through his life, continuing to veer off course instead of following the road he was on, when he was with my children, all of that was forgotten – and he got such joy from being part of their lives as they grew up.  He went to their sporting events, cheering loudly (very loudly!), and spent countless evenings at our house for dinner, and, for a time when things were bad for him, even lived with us for a while. My son and my father had a particularly special bond, beginning with their shared birthday, and culminating, at the end of his life, with the thrill my father, a huge football fan,  got from watching my son play football in high school.  He gave so much love to my kids, and they loved him back so purely – because none of his shortcomings, his imperfections, or the mistakes he made had any bearing on them at all.  With them, he could just be Papa, with no real responsibility or accountability – and so they got the best of him.

Adam and Papa – 2001

The greatest part, though, was I ultimately got the best of him too.  Now that I was a mother, I could relate to him in a different way – and he finally could see me not as his “darlin’ daughter,” as he sometimes called me, but as a grown woman taking care of my family.  He grew to respect me in a way he never had before, and I learned to love him despite whatever pain he might have caused me as I was growing up. The similarities in our personalities became more apparent as I grew older, and I could hear my father in my voice on more than a few occasions…as could my husband!  One of the things I learned when I became a parent was how easy it is to make mistakes, to make bad choices, to miss the moment because I was too busy looking at the big picture.  I began to understand my father in a way I never had before, and we became closer, and – more importantly – comfortable with each other.

When my father was diagnosed with Lymphoma at 65, it was the beginning of  a difficult three years – for him, of course, but for all of us who loved him, too.  The disease took away what he prized the most – his physical strength and independence – and beat him up badly, as cancer does.  We did everything we could to help him, to be there for him, to love him – and losing him was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through.  Because in the end, though I knew I’d told him I loved him so many times, and shown him in so many ways, it just didn’t seem like I’d done enough. What I’ve come to realize is that’s what it means to miss someone you love after they die.  You never feel as though you’re finished with them, but there’s no more time. I miss him every day.

My father – 2005

I’m not a very spiritual person, but every so often I have a dream about my father that seems so real, it’s as if he’s come to visit me in my sleep, and it affects me so profoundly…and though I’m sad, I’m also very grateful.  Because, even if it’s only in a dream, I get to see him and hear his voice again – and to let him know just how much he is still with me, with all of us.


I mourn the loss of Steve Jobs,along with the rest of the world.  He was one of the world’s greatest visionaries ever.  However, I know that far more eloquent people than I will be eulogizing him, so I will pass on the opportunity to share my thoughts about this brilliant man. However, his death did get me thinking about something that is sort of overwhelming  – how many people’s lives he touched, and, in a much, much smaller way, how many people’s lives I’ve touched – and how many have made a mark on my life, too.  

Have you ever given this any consideration?  Do you remember the kid you used to wait with at the bus stop in 3rd grade?  How about the lunch lady you and your friends would harass in junior high?  Do you remember that boy that had a massive crush on you in 9th grade, the one you just wanted to “be friends” with?  Imagine what kind of an impact you might have had on his life.    There was your RA in college, the one you thought was such a dork, but who probably had to work his tail off just to pay the bills and tuition.  There was the waitress at the Denny’s where you went with your friends after parties and ordered coffee and split one dessert between 6 people. Hmmm.

One thing facebook has done, for better or worse, is take away a lot of that “whatever happened to” mystery- wondering about old friends, romances, roommates, co-workers, even family members – pretty much any name a person can dig up. You don’t always actually connect with everyone – sometimes its just enough to see their picture and where they live.  Now you can find out, basically, where most everyone you’ve ever been curious about is, and what everyone is up to.  And, of course, they know all about you too.  

Just this week, I had a cousin – well, the granddaughter of my grandmother’s sister – (and if you know what cousin that is, please let me know!) contact me.  It was such a great moment, reading her email, in which she talked about her memories of my grandparents – just that little connection meant so much to me.  Then we became facebook friends, and looked at each other’s pictures, and who knows if we’ll ever talk again…but that’s ok, because knowing that she was thinking of me, found me, and wrote to me was enough.  With facebook, this kind of think can happen often, but it never fails to give me a little thrill, finding someone I once knew, or, even better, being found by someone who was looking for me.

Sometimes people come back into my life who I barely remember, but who vividly remember me.  That’s kind of an odd experience.  But it’s ok too, because everyone who remembers you, even in a small way, is somehow keeping that version of you alive, their interpretation of who you are, or who you were, for better or worse.  And what more do we all want, ultimately, than to know that, out there, people are thinking of of us, remembering us – that we had, even briefly, an impact on their lives.

There’s no doubt Steve Jobs will be remembered, written about, and revered for decades, if not centuries, to come.  And though the memory of who I am will certainly fade away from this world long, long before his iconic persona does, at least I know that I’ve made an imprint on some of the people whose lives I’ve passed through. And, more importantly, I know I wouldn’t be who I am without the hundreds of moments shared with others –  both important and fleeting.


Yesterday in the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote an editorial regarding the media’s skewering of Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey, who is the latest in a long line of bright shining hopefuls for the republican party presidential nomination.  I don’t know a lot about Governor Christie, though I’ve seen him speak and found him to be intelligent, engaging, and full of good energy and positive ideas. But believe me, this is not a political endorsement!

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey

The reason some of the pundits have been going after Governor Christie is because he’s fat.  Not just a little chubby, or sort of out of shape, but really, genuinely obese.  If you had to sit next to him on an airplane, it would be uncomfortable.  If he was in front of you at a movie, it might block your view a bit.  He undoubtedly shops at the big and tall store, as he is rumored to weigh close to 300 pounds.  But does that mean he wouldn’t be a good president?  Does it mean that the American people would have a hard time turning to him in times of crisis for leadership, inspiration and comfort?  That seems doubtful to me, if he has the other qualities it takes to lead our country – something we are desperately in need of at this moment.

The real problem here is the way the media is bullying this man for being fat.  This is what children do to each other on the playground, and bullying is about the most heinous behavior a child can exhibit, and the most demoralizing for a child to experience.  So why is it ok to attack a man who is in the public eye for being fat?  Can you imagine if the talking heads did this to a woman?  The outcry would be instantaneous and furious.  

It seems to me that everyone, even those who are slim, fit, and committed to healthy eating and exercise in a big way, struggles with their weight. Some are much more successful than others at being able to control their appetite, work out consistently, and live a healthy life.  Because Governor Christie is fat, he is assumed to be undisciplined, lazy, unmotivated and slovenly – which seems a bit unfair.  Who knows why he’s fat?  And frankly, who cares?  If a candidate was pockmarked, or short, or bald, or just plain ugly, we all might think those things would keep him or her from getting elected, but the commentators on television and in the papers would never say anything about it, because mentioning those things is not politically correct.

 If Dick Cheney could be vice president after 5 heart attacks, and George Bush, a recovering alcoholic, could be elected president, and if Jack Kennedy, who lived in chronic pain and took multiple medications could effectively lead our country, a fat guy should be able to be in the oval office too, if he’s qualified and intelligent.


 It’s commonplace for children to bully the fat kid, and its acceptable for news anchors and editorial writers to bully the fat politician…and that’s not right.  Let’s try and show some restraint, some respect, and some self-control when going after a candidate.  Criticize what they have to say, what they’ve done, or what their ideas are.  But  really – let’s leave the fat guy alone.  Because, believe me, he knows he’s fat. And so does the kid on the playground, the one who’s being bullied right now.  

To help stop bullying, click here for organizations that offer support and guidance, courtesy of the Ellen Degeneres show.

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