Tag Archives: family

Why I Love Modern Family

12 Mar

I watch very little television and am predictable in the programs I watch.

Project Runway,” “Glee” and “Modern Family” normally get my attention. I rarely watch when they air and either DVR or catch them on Hulu.

Lately I’ve found myself being fascinated with the characters on “Modern Family” and have even watched a couple of episodes multiple times. The writing, acting and general family dynamics have captured me. I have a crush on “Modern Family” and readily admit it.

Why is this? I’ve been asking myself why I spend 20 or 40 minutes a week so engrossed in network programming. Why bother? There are probably things I could to that would better feed my brain, or make more efficient use of time.

Sure, it’s entertaining. It’s funny. And the convuluted circumstances cooked up by the writers and played out by the genius of Ed O’Neill as Jay Pritchett or Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy are pure perfection. But here’s the thing I’ve figured out:

The storylines, character nuances and complex interplay are all achingly familiar to me. I can see myself and my own family in several of the characters. This is why I love it so much. It’s poignant and true in a “you can’t make this sh*t up” way.

As they say, true life is always more interesting than fiction. The great thing about “Modern Family” is that in its fiction, it manages to strike a chord that’s true in me. And in so many of us.

Take for example the latest episode, “Two Monkeys and a Panda.” Jay and Gloria have an interesting disagreement about how to handle burial arrangements. She wants to be buried in the ground, “where God can find [her],” and Jay would rather be buried in a mausoleum “drawer,” where the bugs and worms can’t get to him. I won’t give away how they solve this dilemma. But the solution has more to do with the delicate balance of well-meaning manipulation that is present in the most healthy marriages.

Gloria and Jay are opposites in more ways than age. There’s a tension in their marriage that works. Like in most good marriages. It made me think a lot about the give and take in my own marriage. I can be the fluffy ditz in the same way that Gloria is sometimes, and Ben can be the sane one, the one who makes the steady and rational choices. Case in point: He is WAY better at dealing with money than I am, and we’ve figured out ways to compensate for all of that with our family finances.

But there are times when I reset him and “win” — similar to what Gloria did to Jay — lovingly — in the recent Valentine’s Day episode. Or the way that Jay worked through all of the what-if’s of Gloria’s future after his death, so that he didn’t end up being “The Putz” husband. His solution is something that I would have done.

Phil Dunphy’s cluelessness with his wife Claire is another thing that makes me both laugh and cry. All of us, including me, have a bit of Phil Dunphy in us. I’ve done things that I know have hurt my husband’s feelings — completely unintentionally. It’s a bad feeling to recognize these things in retrospect, like what happens to Phil in the “Two Monkeys and a Panda” episode when he gets some much-needed guidance from the ladies at the spa after they overhear his conversation with his wife Claire. At times when he just needs to listen and support, he tries to solve Claire’s problems. I do this ALL THE TIME with Ben.

Claire is tightly wound and at times righteous in ways similar to me. The episode when she stands outside the house with the bullhorn yelling at the unsafe driver…I have done this very thing (without the bullhorn) in front of my own house.

And I’ve seen bits of myself in Mitchell, trying to control the situation in “Two Monkeys and a Panda,” in the situation with Lily’s birth certificate. And withholding information from Cam under the pretext of protecting him, only to find in the end that it was not a good decision. We’ve all been there, in some respect. Thinking that we know best and discovering in the end that it’s bettter just to have tough discussions up-front rather than cleaning up the mess after the fact.

So there you have it. In the big scheme of things, TV doesn’t matter. But the little details in “Modern Family” have big meaning for me, and I assume or a lot of other people, especially since it’s become so popular. It gets us right at the heart of things. Where it really makes a difference.

When the GPS is Wrong…O, Canada

4 Jan

Over the holidays, my husband and I had an interesting bonding experience and marital trial re: the GPS. We were heading home from Maine, with my husband in charge of driving and navigation (never again on this one) since he brilliantly decided to leave at 12:30 am.

“What else am I gonna do? I’m awake, so I’ll drive. All you have to do is sleep!”

Right. Sleep. I vaguely remember that we left the resort by turning left (internal compass: “Why are we heading north?”) and then convincing myself that we’d eventually hang a hard left and end up going southwest.

My sleep lasted all of 40 minutes. When I was rudely awakened by bright lights and a red and white striped gate that read: ARRETEZ!

Capital letters and French, 2 am. Where’s my cafe au lait? Where the hell am I? In Canada?!?

Yes, it turns out we’d stumbled into Canada. Briefly. Just long enough to remind myself of my French and swiftly apologize to the border patrol. My husband, meanwhile, sat beside me stunned and pondering. “Huh. How’d we do that?”

There was no “We” in this faux pas. It was most assuredly not this map-lover’s fault. Mais non!

After about 10 minutes of proving our identities — which required waking up both children so that they could personally verify their birth dates and locations — we passed back safely onto American soil.

Lesson: The GPS was right. The fastest route from northern Maine to Columbus, Ohio is through Canada. But it didn’t factor in passing through a border that now requires passports, which we do not have.

We should never have relied on the GPS, with its myopic point A to point B incremental algorithms. There’s so much more to consider. Like much of life, it’s good to step back and take the big picture view with a large map in hand.

I’ve taken this lesson to heart as a good New Year’s reorientation. You can’t just putter along between points on the map and let the GPS do the driving. You’ve got to get situated, know where you are, where you’re headed and what’s the best route for any given moment in time. Rules change, and it’s good to be in the know.

Life has a way of lulling us into a false sense of security that we’ve found the quickest way, when in fact we’re always better off if we stay awake and aware of our surroundings, watching for signs to point us home.

No More “What’s Next?

3 Oct

For most of my life I’ve been aspiring to get to whatever was next. High school. College. Career. Marriage. Children. Always looking to that next point on the horizon. Not ever perfectly content with where I’ve been, always pushing forward with the thought in mind that whatever was next would be better than what came before.

Now, what’s next? The major milestones have been met. I’ve been restless the past few months and am just now realizing why.

I am at a midterm point. A crossroads. Middle age. I can now look backward and forward with some perspective on life. This is a point of dissatisfaction and “midlife crisis” for some. I’ll admit I went through that a few years ago and after an honest self-assessment determined that I am quite fortunate to be loved by a husband and family that are sometimes too patient with me. I am not perfect, and they love me anyway. This is a blessing that not everyone fully appreciates.

Now, the life decisions are more nuanced. Not about what I have, but about how I want to live in this world. More about form than function, such as:

  • Will I continue to do things the same way I’ve always done them, or will I change?
  • Will I truly know myself — my limitations and strengths — and accept both?
  • Will I make conscious choices to have the experiences that are most fulfilling, with the people in my life who can best share in that joy?

I think that adolescence is about determining the who am I and the why, young adulthood is determining the what and middle age is about the how and the with whom. I am feeling like the next decade or so will help me to learn more about people, care about the human interactions that energize life,  change the habits that are no longer helpful for me and accept the things about myself and others that are never going to change.

We’re Out, We’re In: An Update on the Houses

8 Jul

Well, it’s now been just over a month since we moved into the new house. There are still a variety of projects underway. But we have thankfully hit the milestone of getting the old house ready to sell. It went on the market today.

While I’m at it…anyone want a cape cod in Bexley? Cute house, great yard and awesome neighbors. (Yay to our listing agent, Alex Macke, for these words: FABULOUS VALUE and KOI FISH POND and PREMIER NORTH BEXLEY STREET. Hey Alex, we never had koi in there, but it is deep enough…so why not?)

Since our move, Ben has hit the breaking point many times from sheer exhaustion. He’s been getting the old house prepped to go on the market. Easier to do when you don’t live there, but it’s still VERY hard work. He has been a trooper through it all, working on the house before and after he goes to his real job. Today he had some fun and took the kids to the movie. He deserved it! Here’s his blog about work on the new house. He’s been too busy to post lately, but there are some handyman type stories about his work on fans, light fixtures, fences and other “effing” things. I am his proofer and have had to go back and edit things just to keep them “G-rated.”

At the new place we have all established our traffic patterns. Having a more open floor plan has been great for our family. We are enjoying the unique 20s and 70s features of the home. It’s soothing to sleep with the windows open and hear the night sounds from the ravine in back. I’m spending a lot of down time on the deck, enjoying the view and the shade from our beautiful trees.

The dog is happy because we’ve discovered a dog park and a group that assembles there every night after work. That makes me content, too, because I can socialize with people and decompress after work, get some much needed outdoor time and wear out my little barking ball of energy.

My teenage girl is now rarely seen as she is happy spending time in The Teenage Suite upstairs. My 9-year-old son has spent a lot of time exploring the creek in the ravine. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to have inherited my allergy to poison ivy.

In my next post, I am going to focus on some of the interesting aspects of the new house. First up will be ceilings and light fixtures. We have some cool ones.

Greensleeves, Anyone?

14 Feb

I thought I’d post this photo of the chandelier in my in-laws’ house. This was custom-ordered by my father-in-law. It is an awesome piece of metal and glass, but it’s a bit heavy for our taste.

My husband went to Columbus Alternative High School, where many of his friends were involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I can see many of these friends in pre-17th century garb dancing below this chandelier, with “Greensleeves” as the soundtrack.

We have been consulting with family members to determine who will get this when we take it down and install a lighter replacement. I believe that we’ve found the one who will truly appreciate and care for this piece in perpetuity, but we need to confirm the transfer of goods with my father-in-law first.

We’ll follow the journey of this chandelier, from its removal and replacement to a posting of the piece with its new owner. Stay tuned!

Today in Joint Compound

7 Feb

I spent most of the afternoon at the Ingham house, pulling out nails, screws and anchors from the master bedroom, then starting to patch holes and prepare for painting.

This was after my “warm-up” day yesterday. I spent much of the three hours then just walking from room to room and assessing what all needed to be done, feeling pretty overwhelmed. Decided at the end of that extremely unproductive time that I should probably just stay put in one room and not leave it until it’s finished. That’s what I did today, and it worked.

There’s always a pregnant pause when you pull out a deeply embedded piece of metal from a plaster wall. Plaster makes a crumbling, coming-apart noise that is not so comforting. I had some worries about a wall just disintegrating like a mummy that’s been left in the pyramid too long.

While hoping that the plaster would splinter off less often, I thought: Wow, my in-laws hung up a lot of stuff in their bedroom. I guess you don’t think about that until you have to prep for painting. How many of these screws and nails should I leave up, for the stuff my daughter will want to hang? I left about 1/4 of them in.

Then, it was time to spackle. This time I used the joint compound provided by my husband. Much wetter than the marshmallowy stuff I’m more used to. I followed all of the directions, letting it dry enough and anticipating shrinkage, before reapplying a second coating.

Realized several hours later that I have a big stripe of joint compound on my parka. Nice.

Next weekend: Sanding, and more joint compound in the hallway and office.

The Company of Canines

25 Aug

I never knew how much I enjoyed the company of dogs until I didn’t have a dog. Over the past month, I’ve said goodbye to two canine companions—one expected passing due to old age and another unanticipated loss initiated by behavioral issues. Neither was easy, and both were quite different grievings.

IMG_0085Hera was a dog we adopted from the Humane Society as a puppy, back in 1993. My husband and I had been married for just three years when we brought her home with us. We were young and so was she. Her passing is a milestone in our relationship that bookends her adoption. We took her on vacation, worried over her every need and trained her to be a civilized beast. She was the smartest dog I’ve known. Despite being smaller than most of the dogs we had as buddies for her, she out-maneuvered every other dog. She was the canine equivalent of a chess champion. If she wanted a toy, she pretended that she was in love with another fetch-worthy item until the dog who had the toy she wanted couldn’t help but drop it with unwitting greed. Hera thought well into the future, a quality that most dogs lack.

Her face was unique. She had a black mask like a raccoon’s, and it grayed with age so that by the time she died it was 100 percent silver and quite striking. The last few years of her life, we had to call her name loudly even when standing next to her, and cataracts made her eyes mood-ring cloudy and she was apt to run into things. When she stopped being able to get up reliably on her own—at all—and seemed to be just biding her time, we made an appointment. She really, REALLY hated being carried around and resented us terribly for it. Her time had come. The vet came to the house, and the family gathered around Hera in the back yard on a beautiful day. It was a very peaceful passing, and she is forever resident underneath the big pine tree at the back of the yard.

IMG_0295Mobley was a big black hundred-pound mess of supposed Black Lab and Newfoundland melange. Since he didn’t like water and couldn’t retrieve to save his life, I am not entirely sure about his rumored lineage. His head was disturbingly large—providing ample breathing room for a sadly undersized brain. No dog welcomed the world of the backyard in quite the same way as Mobley. Every morning, he could not wait to get outside. The phrase, “He could not contain his excitement,” does not begin to describe Mobley’s insane exuberance. I was routinely knocked over by him either in his goings or comings. I still have bruises and scratches to prove it.

Mobley was only six when we had to make the decision. A heart-wrenching decision. We had invited very good friends to come to the house to say their goodbyes to Hera. They brought their dog with them, and I should have told them not to. As he got older, Mobley became more and more aggressive towards other dogs similar in size to him. Instead of telling our friends to take their dog home, I locked Mobley in the house behind two closed doors while we visited with Hera, our friends and their son and dog in the backyard.

Everything was fine until circumstances went awry. Children came in and out of the house. Doors were opened inadvertently, and Mobley got into the backyard. As he burst out the back door, I knew it was going to be bad. And it was. Mobley viciously attacked my friends’ dog and grabbed its throat in his jaws. He would not let go. We did many things over the course of 10 very long minutes to get the dogs apart. My girlfriend was smart enough to think of turning the hose on the dogs, so that finally we were able to separate them.

My friends’ dog was terribly injured. Both my friends and I had been bitten. That night, my friends spent all night in the ER after taking their dog to MedVet. I went to the urgent care. We all got tetanus shots. As for Mobley, he  knew something bad had happened. He just didn’t know that he caused the problem.We were grateful that we had the presence of mind to send the kids all into the front yard while the dog fight was in process.

I rewound and replayed the entire series of events over and over in my mind all week long. I should have told my friends not to bring their dog. I should have locked Mobley in an upstairs room. We should have worked harder to socialize him. Why were we such miserable dog-owners? My failure to control my dog surely made me unpardonable, I told myself.

Mistakes were made, but there’s no rewind in real life. Decisions were imminent. We had to really be grown-ups about this. Because after things happened, we realized that we could not in good conscience adopt Mobley out to another family knowing that this could happen again. We knew we couldn’t keep him safe from other dogs. He could vault the fence and was strong enough to pull us over when leashed. We’d had dogs that we were able to find homes for in the past, either dogs we’d owned ourselves or fostered. And we knew that we had worked hard to train him. There was just something weirdly off with him, something that affected him early in life when his social skills were developing, so that once we adopted him at 2-3 years of age there wasn’t much that could be done. Perhaps he had been trained as a fighting dog. Who knew? He had been rescued after living with numerous owners before us. His behavior was getting more erratic. During a walk during his last week of life, he snapped at a person who wanted to pet him. He was not a bad dog, he was just a dog who would never really change. Although incredibly loyal and devoted to humans, he was a loaded gun with other large dogs.

We talked with our friends whose dog got hurt more than once a day for the week afterwards. And we talked with the family that owned Mobley before us. We told them what we were thinking. That despite the fact that Mobley was true and good in most ways, we felt that as his owners the only responsible choice we could make was to put him to sleep. Sadly, everyone agreed. The affirmation was both validating and painful to hear.

Mobley was a dead dog walking. Because there were bites to humans during the dog fight, we had to quarantine him for 10 days in the event of rabies. And so we bided our time. In some ways it would have been easier to put him down right away, saying our goodbyes and taking swift action. Our house was already quieter for having had to say goodbye to Hera that same week. But we knew that our decision to say goodbye to Mobley was the right one. His former owners came over for a visit. We took him for his last few walks. And we loved him for who he was, nothing more and nothing less.

The passing of Mobley was like his life: tumultuous. We took him into the vet. Because of his size, and because he got nervous around shots, we wanted to be able to help things go smoothly. Well, they didn’t. The vet had to give him two doses of a sedative to get him calm enough for the shot of sodium pentathol. He had to be double-muzzled to keep from biting the vet. And then the anesthesia had to be administered three times because he was so full of life. I am sorry to say that he just would not go quietly. The entire event took about an hour from start to finish. We were physically spent from helping to keep him still, and emotionally worn out from the trauma of making the decision and then seeing it through.

The kids were with a neighbor during all of this. On the way home, I talked with the mother and apologized that we were so late, explaining why. She said, “Well, God didn’t mean death to happen that way.” She didn’t mean to be harsh, and I wholeheartedly agreed with her sentiment. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, dog-owner or dog.

It’s been about a month now since everything happened. I hesitated about posting this. Judgment from people about situations like this can be quite cutting. Fair warning: If anyone comments about the decision, giving advice about why we should have chosen differently, I won’t publish the comment and probably won’t read all of it. I just can’t second-guess the choice we made. Making the decision was difficult enough.

I believe that as animal “owners” we become the stewards of our animals. They are like family members. If you’d asked me a year ago whether I would ever consider having to take this course of action, I would have said no. And I would expect most people to not really understand getting to the point of having to make this kind of decision for an animal in their care. It is truly the worst possible decision to make.

We have been healing, but we’re missing our dogs. Hera and Mobley were incredible companions. We know that their souls have moved to the great beyond. With some trepidation, we are taking steps to get a puppy that we can train from the ground up. We’ll see where this goes, but if I had to guess I’d say that we will soon again be in the company of canines.

Social Media Musings

13 Aug

This summer has been an interesting set of firsts for me in social media:

  • I got my first “commercial” offer on the blog–an incentive to run a contest. Gratifying to get asked to help promote a publication as lofty as Harvard Business Review.
  • Just a few weeks ago, I friended my mom on Facebook. It’s been interesting. She will not let me help her to post a picture of herself, but she was very interested in joining the fan page for Elvis and her church. She’s a bit lonely out there right now. I don’t think that there are many septuagenarians on Facebook. But my mom is not afraid to try new things, and I am quite proud of her.
  • I made the decision to “defriend” some people on Facebook who don’t interact with me anyway, in person or online. I am all about having quality interaction with the people that share back with me—not those who share nothing or just include me in push messaging that I’m not interested in. Life is too short to waste time. This defriending lightened my load in terms of friends but gives me more time to read and enjoy content from people where the friending is reciprocated. In case I accidentally deleted someone who really does matter to me, I made sure to let folks know that they should give me a shout to refriend–just as a safety net.

Nothing revolutionary here. Just some social media musings.

“Just Drive,” She Said

6 Aug

The family that drives together thrives together. Long car rides, if they are not stressful, can build great memories. Together, my family of four has traveled this summer by car to Nebraska and Florida–both 18-hour drives–without staying overnight anywhere en route. We managed to stay awake for these marathon trips. And we didn’t drive each other crazy.

Here’s how:

  1. We leave insanely early. I mean o’dark-hundred early, as in 2 a.m. This gives us a chance to let the kids sleep (translation: quiet time for adults). We have found that our kids will sleep soundly until the sun starts coming up. After that, all bets are off. The benefit to leaving this early for a long trip is that you can arrive at your destination still having time to get in some sightseeing or visiting.
  2. My husband and I share the driving fairly evenly. He is more awake than me at 2 a.m., so he does that leg of the trip while I sleep. Around 5:30 or 6:00, I take over, and we continue switching off from then on, with the non-driver taking naps or doing other activities when off duty (see #5 for more info on “other activities).
  3. We separate children in the backseat by a hard and fast barrier. What do I mean here? I’m talking a large cooler, preferably stocked with sandwiches, cold water and fruit/other snacks. The barrier serves as a boundary line defining each child’s “space” in back of the car, keeping screaming and whining at bay. Particularly helpful with the “little brother or sister” heckling phenomenon. Parents, you know what I mean here. The food will keep them happy.
  4. As much as possible, we limit stops to rest areas. This controls the amount of time spent getting off the road and back on again. Rest areas are pretty predictable in terms of getting in and out. Restaurants are not. Fast food is bad for you and gets slower the further south you drive.
  5. Make sure that everyone has activities to keep them busy if bored. Mad libs, car bingo, books, knitting, handheld video games, audiobooks, podcasts, music, math facts. We have found that it’s useful to have the kids also be in charge of ONE DVD player between them, so that they are forced to interact with each other, negotiating on movie choices. Each child should be equipped with their own headset, so that the adults up front are not in on the movie noise. Ladies, take note: I have found that the car is an excellent location for eyebrow-tweezing when you are not on drive duty. Plenty of light and otherwise optimal conditions unless the road is bumpy. This really passes the time productively. I tried to paint my nails during this most recent trip, but my husband complained about the closed space and smell of nail enamel. Oh well.
  6. A Garmin is essential. I prefer to have a hard copy map so that I can see the entire route–and because I am a lover of maps. But the audio directions of the Garmin are very helpful when the other adult is sleeping. And the woman’s voice is sufficiently snarky when you go off course (i.e., the nasal, “Recalculating”) that it’s entertainment in and of itself.
  7. A pre-teen to teenaged girl is extremely helpful when you run the risk of dozing off. She can be talking to you, her brother or a friend on the phone–it makes no difference. The nonstop talking is key here. And the somewhat high-pitched intonation, with unpredictably loud outbursts. Very important.

Enjoy your time on the road this summer. It’s precious family bonding opportunity.

A Tale of Loup City

3 Jul
Communism among the Cornhuskers!

Communism among the Cornhuskers!

Loup City, Nebraska is in the center of the country. Pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s so small that the intersections do not have stop signs. Whoever’s on the right goes first.

When my in-laws decided to move here a couple of years ago, we were not sure why. Now it makes more sense.

My husband’s family has always been about big family gatherings, involving large doses of food and opinion. His parents bought their house in Clintonville/Columbus, Ohio before he was born, and he and his four sisters lived there until they moved out. I can appreciate that, having moved more than a dozen times with my parents before moving into my own place—including a few moves right down the street. There’s something to be said for continuity.

But the concept of family togetherness changed after my husband’s oldest sister died at 43. She had lung cancer but never smoked a cigarette in her life. From diagnosis to death, she had 8 months. It was a painful time for everyone in the family, and she is still greatly missed. The old house in Clintonville just had too many memories of growing up. The other three sisters had already moved away, to the coasts, but my in-laws were still in that house full of memories. They had to move on.

That’s what prompted the relocation to Loup City. I’ve got to hand it to my in-laws. They wrote their own solution to their sadness, and they did it in a way that’s true to their values of family and time spent together.

This is sort of a biblical family name rundown, also in the style of Tolstoy, so bear with me: My husband’s Aunt Janie, my mother-in-law Sandy’s sister, started it off. She bought a house in Loup City that belonged to their mother’s family. My husband’s grandmother, Helen Lewandowski Sorenson, was born in Loup City. The town was settled primarily by Polish and Danish immigrants. Her parents were Polish, off the boat. Her husband’s parents were Danish, off the boat.

Then, my in-laws Sandy and Tim bought Grandma Sorenson’s parents’ house. This was a house where Janie and Sandy had fond memories of visiting their grandparents, Valeria and Waldemar Lewandowski.

Now, for the second summer in a row, all of the family members have converged in Loup City. It’s a vacation choice difficult to explain, on the surface. But when everyone is here, overrunning Sandy and Janie’s houses with 11 cousins and four sets of parents, plus the grandparents and great-aunt, there is a sense of family that has historical threads and a path to the future.

There’s not much to do. We ride old bikes and take walks around “town,” visit the Polish Historical Society and the new town pool. My in-laws have renovated the old house true to its original trappings and have resuscitated the old garden in the backyard. This year, they are celebrating their 50th anniversary in their Loup City home, and we have flocked here from afar to commemorate their commitment to each other—and their ability to move forward past their sadness.