Sunday, May 31, 2009

Raised To Be Sleek?

by Pat Antonopoulos

In Michael Perry's book Coop, he writes about the funeral of his young nephew, Jake. Michael looks around at the 'sunburned old dogs' with Brylcreemed hair approaching his brother, (Jake's father). Michael writes, "At times like this I am grateful I was not raised to be sleek.".

I love that. I love Michael Perry's perception that grieving touches the heart, no matter the look of the mourner. I love the acceptance of everyman, no matter his dress. What matters is the need to share the grief, to do something to make the pain less crushing.

"...not raised to be sleek."
My dad was born in 1910, a long time before education and experience brought us to our easy enjoyment of cultural diversity, our acceptance of everyman. But Dad knew all that without education and experience.

Some family lore has him graduating from high school and the flip side says he quit high school to earn money so he could impress Mom. Heads or tails, the story works.

Our high school (1950's) had some cultural diversity though not the degree enjoyed today. Dad saw color, but color had no other significance than shades of skin. His friends were as diverse and they often filled the big kitchen bantering with us and filling the house with laughter.

Dad was bandbox perfect in his personal appearance, but the scruffiest kid could come to our house and be welcomed. Dad really believed that idea that every moment is just that---a moment, a snapshot in a life.

Actually, the aftermath of the depression probably prevented us from being raised 'Sleek', even if our parents hoped for that. But I believe that Dad saw people as good, as a reflection of one another mirroring only the best.

I am grateful to Michael Perry and his book for reminding me of this wonderful part of who my father was, of the depth of this special side of his character.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"New York, New York....."

Patti Dickinson

Twenty-four hours from now Wood and I will be seat-belted into our Midwest Airlines seats and heading to New York.  With any luck at all, our suitcases will be in the cargo area of the same plane.  After a week of maniacal chore accomplishment to prepare to leave town, including, but not limited to, stocking the kitchen with kid-friendly food -- spaghetti O's, the ingredients to make salsa, four gallons of milk (it's where my kids get most of their nutrition) HoHo's and pistachio nuts. Plants are watered. The kids have some pizza/pool/movie money.  Our suitcases are packed, the kids have been told that this better not be the location of the next party that includes three zip codes, and that I want no phone calls asking me to put so-and-so on the phone to tell so-and-so that their music is too loud, that they've been in the shower for too long and used all the hot water (this happened last time we were out of town....the kid who called stood outside the bathroom door banging on it, shouting to the kid in the shower that "Mom is on the phone and wants to talk to you now." or that so-and-so has left toothpaste globs in the sink (me?  I'm glad someone is brushing their teeth!)  

We are going to New York to attend the NYC Book Expo.  It is there that our book Four Ordinary Women will be introduced.  I will get to hold the book in my hands for the first time. Not the galley, the real deal. Years of work, with three other women. There are days when I feel like I am living a dream.  I have always been a "writer".  I wrote some really bad poetry in high school, and have always enjoyed writing the kids cheer them up, to celebrate an accomplishment, or tucked into their suitcase when they are heading to summer camp, opening their lunch at school, or being dropped off at their dorm.  Words can heal, encourage, make you laugh, dry tears.

Heading for the City that never sleeps.......

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tribute to a Friend...

Patti Dickinson

On Saturday, I attended a memorial service for a friend of mine that lost her four year battle with lung cancer in January of this year.  Janice and I were friends for thirteen years.  We met on the soccer field at St. Ann's.  Her husband, Jim was coaching a team of kids, my son Andrew, included, from Ilya's Kindergarten class, while Janice was shoving the stroller through a bumpy terrain of dirt, rocks and grass, with eighteen-month old Nicholas in the driver's seat.  Out of breath, she extended her hand to introduce herself, and that is how our friendship began.

We shared a gamut of firsts with our kids.  First lost tooth, first solo on the two wheeler, first soccer goal, first spelling test, first performance at the Westwood View Talent Show.  

During a bumpy patch with my oldest daughter, Elizabeth, Janice stood with me on the sidewalk of the elementary school, her trademark giant McDonald's Coke in her hand, listening to daily updates on the angst of raising this particular kid and dispensing advice while we waited for our kids.

She was a doer, a strong woman who stood her ground.  Her moral compass was always pointed due north.  She was a champion of the underdog.  Beneath that tough exterior was a woman who could get teary at a perceived injustice. But she didn't just stop there, she did what she could do to right that wrong. And oh yes.  Courage.  Janice fought the good fight at the unseen enemy called cancer.  For four years.

In Janice's last weeks, I had the privilege of sitting with her at Hospice House. Oftentimes, I just held her hand while we sat in a comfortable silence.  Her last days were filled with visits from her sisters, Barb and Judy, her dad and her college roommate, Renee, her husband and her two sons.  I hope the family knows how much I appreciate them making room for me in the quiet family vigil.  I am honored to have been part of that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


by Pat Antonopoulos

Individual Milestone cocooned in Group Passage.
The months of May and June are gorged with celebrations from pre-schools to university campuses.
Faculties prepare and families rejoice with gifts and parties. For many, the festive air is charged with joy and success. The hat-toss can signify completion of one challenge and moving onto the next.

Even though an individual might receive twenty invitations to various graduation ceremonies, a sorting is necessary. Some invitations are more announcements due to limited space at the event and not enough tickets to include every person to whom an invitation is sent. There are as many reasons for receiving invitations as there graduates sending the cards.

Each year there are individuals who stand out from the group---individuals for whom all the accolades and celebrations seem to pale in light of what those individuals deserve. Andrew and Kathleen are two such young people. Admittedly, in recent years I know them more through the words spoken from each parent's heart, but that is a deep and respected knowing.

Andrew is graduating from high school. From button-down little boy to stand-tall young man, Andrew has handle his life with integrity. He has graciously accepted both 'learning-takes' and wonderful successes. I first knew him as an A+ first grade gentleman and I am proud to know him as a young journalist preparing for college.

Kathleen is graduating from college. She is a deeply beautiful and accomplished young woman weighing job opportunities and making important choices. Kathleen has coupled her talents as a writer and a theater major with her unshakable dependability and strong work ethic. I cannot count how many times, Kathleen's mother has said, "I love that kid!"

I salute Andrew, Kathleen and all graduates as they move though this milestone and enjoy the recognition of their accomplishments.

Monday, May 18, 2009


by Pat Antonopoulos

Actually, machine quilting.
Tried hand quilting and learned that arthritis precludes making those tiny stitches. Plus there is my perpetual problem of learning to sit still for longer periods of time. Machine quilting gave me a bit of a creative outlet and a chance to learn a new skill.

A couple of years later we are many quilts cozier, and family closets are well supplied with winter warmth. The unwelcome side effect is several drawers filled with unmatched, unrelated fabric pieces. The new challenge is to use the fabric to create a quilt that isn't hodge-podge ugly, but rather one that resembles a planned project.

Shades and designs in reds, purples, blues yellows, blacks and whites separated in heaps and batches covered the sewing area. Florals, geometrics, pirates, bears, bunnies, beautiful scraps of a huge variety of patterns resist a theme of quick description. Each piece of material is important because it represents the loved one for whom it was chosen. So I walked away from this for several days and waited for something to gel, a idea to take this from a mini-mess to a beautiful project.

In those intervening day, I attended a funeral service for a dear friend, enjoyed a Mother's Day celebration, accepted the chair position of another volunteer activity, and helped with a graduation ceremony. Out of town family phoned for extended problem solving conversations and I cared for a grandson. A local institution, Rainy Day Books, accepted Four Ordinary Women for an author event on July 30. Together, my husband and I planned for family visits during the summer as we continued the day to day routines of our life together.

The 'quilt' theme slipped quietly into a moment of passing as I came in from yard work.

It isn't the separate events that hold us together, but rather the binding of those events---the values that tie---family, good friendships, commitment, perseverance, hard work, a solid belief system, determination, giving back and caring. The bits and piece of the ordinary combine and are shaped to become something both comforting and beautiful---the quilt of my life.

Now I will have the fun of selecting that perfect piece of fabric to outline and bind my hodge-podge into something beautiful, something to remind me of the extraordinary people in my life.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Me??? Signing Books????

Patti Dickinson

There is a wonderful little book store in our neighborhood, called Rainy Day Books.  It is a small shop, where if you are a bibliophile like I am, you can satisfy three of the five senses while being surrounded by books.  The close physical quarters just enhances the quaintness. No big bookstore conglomerate feel here.  Here the salespeople have read the books, can recommend a book, or find you a book when it is not available in the store.  These are people that know my first name.  

And it is at this shop that we are going to have a book signing for our upcoming book release. Heady stuff.  I still pick up the galley (I have several) and see my name on the cover and remember all the energy that Pat Antonopoulos and I brought to selling ourselves and the book.  How out of our element we felt. I have spent years at home with kids and Pat is a retired schoolteacher. We had no idea what we were doing.  We knew we had a stack of writing, dog-earred and earnest, and we knew we had the energy and the self-esteem surplus to hear "no" a time or two.  (Okay, it was four times.)  

So the Marketing Plan, the haggling over the subtitle, the color of the flowers on the book cover are behind us....we will have a real  book to share. If you are in the neighborhood, stop in. Because this celebration isn't just about the book, the autograph, the cookies and the punch. We celebrate women, all of us, finding a voice and the commonality of our collective experiences.  To meet us and share this special event learn more by clicking HERE.  If you want to email me click HERE. I would love to hear from you.  And I promise to answer you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hair Standing on End....Calendar Overload

Patti Dickinson

What was I thinking?  I have been living by the school-year-calendar for so long that I think of quarters, semesters, and school's end.  Time off in the summer....from lost library books, forgotten field trip permission slips, the occasional detention (and that would require me ad libbing a convincing lecture when the detention slip is presented for a parental signature), conferences and all the other things that go hand-in-hand with having one/two/three/four kids involved in elementary/middle/high school.  Last night was pretty typical for May.  A kid that needed to be at a swim practice, and a kid that needed his parents at the high school tennis banquet.  This was after a day that required my presence in the six-month dental chair, a run to the grocery store to get the ingredients for a meat/vegetable for the banquet. Today was a mammogram and an eye doctor appointment.  Follow that by a Journalism Banquet, in the same cafeteria where we sat last night for the tennis banquet!!!  (As an husband and I are both doing Weight Watchers.....throw that idea out the window.  Have you ever been to a high school banquet?  Fried chicken, creamy, cheesy, sour cream laden potatoes, and cake.  I have no more Weight Watcher points left.....for the WEEK!!!)

And so the school year draws to a close.  And in the coming weeks we will attend two of our kids' from high school and one from college.  Endings and new beginnings. But first, we will savor the summer....flip flops, sun sprinkled faces and time to spend together as a family, uninterrupted by the have-to's.  I'm ready.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cleaning out the Freezer

Patti Dickinson

We have had some interesting meals this week.  I am a woman on a mission. It's time to get the freezer emptied of some food. Every time one of the kids opens the freezer, six Lean Cuisines and a frozen chuck roast fall out on the floor.  So -- last night I defrosted something beef-related. I could tell by the color. Maroon.  So I thought we would just grill whatever this was when it defrosted. I don't label what goes in the freezer, because I always think I will remember. Turns out that it was stew meat. Beef-in-precut-pieces. Hmmm. No time to prepare stew.  So we had shish-kabobs.  Not the usual kind of visually pleasing skewers alternating meat-green pepper-red pepper-onion-maybe-pineapple-if-we-have-it.  Nope.  Had an onion, and did an alternating meat-onion pattern.  A little salt and pepper.  Called it dinner. If there were a food version of "What not to Wear", this would have been it.  "What not to Cook."

The night before that we had chicken drumettes.  Broiled them, and doused them with "Cookies Wings-and-Things".  (Could have bought Hooter's Sauce, but since I don't subscribe to the Hooter's Restaurant philosophy....well, that's another blog for another time.  Can't get into that now.)  The drumettes weren't bad.  Not good either.  About a four on the how-good-is-dinner scale.  

But the freezer is emptying.  There is room again.  All the Lean Cuisines have their own shelf. Nothing falls out when the door is opened.  I told the kids I was not baking one more batch of brownies or making any more pudding until the Rainbow Sherbert, Cookies and Cream ice cream and the fudge-sicles are eaten.  And the push ups (not the bra variety, but the frozen confection of sugar overload).  All seventeen of them.  (All grape, because everyone likes the lemon and cherry flavors better.)

The kids have been funny.  Now that we have a three night pattern going here, they warily ask what is for dinner.  My middle schooler is packing her lunch. Construction worker kind of lunches.  Not too sure what dinner is going to be like so she makes sure that she is good and full mid-day!



Sunday, May 3, 2009

Which Idol?

by Pat Antonopoulos

Never having watched American Idol could disqualify my opinion.
Never having heard Susan Boyle sing could diminish my opinion.
Listening to others speak, reading commentary and marveling that we salute in others what we would dismiss for ourselves prompts my blog.

It seems to be a universal that Susan Boyle has a magnificent voice. I look forward to hearing her sing. The stories of her so called 'frumpy' look, the reaction of the AI judges to her look and the absolute wonder when Ms. Boyle sang are well known.

Following Susan Boyle's appearance on American television, the salutes to frumpy began.
"How wonderful to see an authentic great that Ms. Boyle has the confidence to present herself as she is, plump body, unaltered eyebrows and granny dress..."

Next came the comments on Ms. Boyle's make-over. "New hair-do, trimmed brows, leather jacket..." Comments that diminished her authentic look, that seemed to chastise her for changing the woman who wowed the world with her voice and her looks.

A different slant on that same old double standard? Probably.
We salute Susan Boyle for being frumpy in a culture that has disdained frumpy for decades.
We praise her authentic look when most of us spend dollars to take ourselves as far from frumpy as possible.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could honor the talent of Susan Boyle...admire and accept the beauty of her voice...get to know the woman who owns that voice...and allow her the privacy of choices that each of us makes on a daily basis?