Sunday, April 2, 2017

Counting by Tens

Often times, we look back at life or celebrate milestones in 10s - birthdays, wedding anniversaries, college reunions, cancer-free years, etc. My life is no different. And as I look in the rear view mirror and count by 10s, I am at a milestone year from a few angles.

I got married about 10 years after high school. I became a mother two 10s ago, this month. I left the workforce about 10 years after leaving college to be a stay-at-home mom. Those years at home added up to 10 (plus one), before re-entering the very changed workforce. I've been getting paid for some sort of work for the past 9 years.

I remember, distinctly, the first week I went back to work, to a part-time consulting job that I could shoehorn into the short hours when my youngest son was in kindergarten and had 2 days a week at an extended school program. It was the spring of 2008. I had been walking up to the neighborhood school to pick him and his brothers up (the one year they were all in the same school - ages 5, 8 and 10) in my unfamiliar work clothes, when my neighbor approached me in the school yard. She made the accurate observation that I must have returned to work. I said, yes I had and made a comment about how much had changed in 10 short years. Without skipping a beat, she agreed and we both exchanged a deeper look. Her three children were also at the school, but her 10 years included losing her husband in one of the planes that hit one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. She had since then, started and nurtured, first-hand, an amazing charity to help and empower women of Afghanistan, widows of the endless war in their homeland.

It is hard to contemplate her 10s. But I think she would prefer to be known by what she did to rebuild what she lost; the amazing family she rebuilt and the Afghan women she continues to save.

I have the 10th anniversary of my father's death coming up in July of this year. Today would have been the 80th birthday of my mom who died 17 months after my dad. I match my life up against the years with them and the years without them. The 10 years of learning to parent when I relied on them for support, guidance, reassurance and hugs. The 10 years of parenting without them, feeling the empty space they left but still trying to make them proud. 

We build, for the kids and each other, a safe harbor from the storms. My extended family puts great value in and effort into getting together. We preserve what traditions we can and create new ones when we have to. I try to rebuild the faith that I lost and learn from others in my family who are better at it than I. We celebrate the good stuff. We help our friends and family navigate the hard stuff. We try to do small things with great love.

I learned this phrase today: We salvage with love, what chaos destroys. Insert any word that applies. We salvage with love, what cancer destroys. We salvage with love, what addiction destroys. We salvage with love, what hate destroys.

Love is the answer.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

The House That Built Me

A few months ago, my traveling sister and her daughter were on the road and stopped at our childhood home in Ohio where our parents lived from 1966 to 2007. The current owners let my sister and niece in and chatted with them. Maureen captured the conversation.

"We are re-doing the basement," said the owner. "Come downstairs, I have to show you something." They had pulled off the paneling to reveal painted flowers on the plywood. He pried the piece of flowered plywood off the side of the basement stairs, "you should have this, a piece of Arundel." A text of the picture of the flowers arrived in my phone as Maureen tried to find the artist. Without skipping a beat, I texted back to claim it. The artwork was mine from that flowery time in the 1970s.

My sister and niece thanked the owners as they left, and he said, "so many people tell me, 'you live in the McCarthy house!', and proceed to tell me what a great guy - and a character - Jack McCarthy was."

It makes me pause and reflect on what makes a house become a “McCarthy House” -  what does it take for any house to earn the name of its former resident and maintain that name years later? And even though I have wonderful memories of life inside that house, it is how the owners lived their life outside of that house that brought it fame. Clearly, my dad was one of a kind. He worked, he coached, he taught, he organized adventures, he danced, he sang, he joked, he made friends easily, he read, he made killer whiskey sours, he shared his intellect without ego, he ran outstanding all-night-parties for his high school seniors, he told stories (then told them again), he beat everyone at Trivial Pursuit (and every other game I can think of) while making it outrageously entertaining for everyone, he adapted to change, he showed up, and he loved all of us, especially my mom.

They were a quietly astounding pair – met in their high school years, went to college far apart, married a year or two after separate grad schools, raised four girls, intertwined with their communities on countless levels, gave their time and talents to people and organizations that needed them, inspired us to do well and do good and always had time to listen like you were the only one in the room. And as I watched my mom gracefully slip off her wedding band and place it on the urn that holds his ashes, before it was placed in its niche, I remembered for the umpteenth time that most people never have what they had. And that I am the person I am because I lived it with them.

So of course the house didn’t build me. They did. But the house carries the spirit of the people who make it a home. And that home continues to be my “home”, my compass, my “where I’m from” even though I haven’t lived there for almost 30 years. My mom referenced an adage she had heard that a house becomes a home when it hosts the trifecta: a birth, a wedding, and a death. Our home hosted one birth, 2 living room weddings and was a home long before my dad passed away in it.

So I send a thank you to Mom for letting me paint on our walls and for loving the guy who made our house legendary.

And, a little music to round out the post: Miranda Lambert's, The House That Built Me

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lessons Learned and Reminders in 2014

What 30-year-old friendship looks like (with moonshine!)
The formative years are, well, formative: I had the good fortune to reconnect with my college friends, in person, for a girls’ weekend this year and the concentrated togetherness was a pure gift. What sums it up is how deep those bonds of friendship remain after all of these years. The same is true for my special group of high school friends. And as I watch my children in their formative years, I see how that bond is minted. Everything is so raw and exposed in our teens and twenties. Emotions are deeper and experiences, all of which are new, seem to be etched with a sharper point.  Even the music we listened to stays with us 30 years later; lyrics to songs from those years are crystal clear whereas my internet passwords are forgotten in weeks. The deep friendships we made then come back in a rush when we gather in a room or restaurant and find ourselves figuratively sprawled out in the dorm triple, laughing and remembering. But real life is all around us and, even though my friends and I live long distances apart, their joys are my joys and their losses are my own. With them, the highs are higher and the lows are more manageable.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: This reminder has been making itself known to me for many years. But this year was particularly convincing as adults in positions to evaluate my boys (i.e., school counselors) offered their opinions on my boys’ personalities. Not only do they get my cowlicks, fair skin, perfectionism (intermittently dispersed), demanding self-criticism (also not equally distributed), clicking jaw (1 out of 3), and under-weight status (with a vengeance), but now I’ve sat and listened to evaluations that sound like my own self-analysis. Hopefully all of the good stuff will outweigh the stuff I wish I could have kept out of the gene pool!

You can teach an old dog new tricks: I found myself presented with a challenge at work that was squarely outside of my comfort zone – to create animated videos for a marketing campaign to generate leads. I tried to pass the hot potato back to our graphic designer, but she was swamped. Under the eyes of a new boss, I realized it was sink or swim. So I dove in and what began as 3 little videos turned into 6 after my reputation spread. Now it is up to 7 and growing. New software learned and new right hemisphere brain functionality discovered and my little videos supported the campaign and have ended up on the new corporate website unveiled this week. As an observer, I also “watched” from afar as my aunt in DC (who is in no way an “old dog”, but she made a brave change in her life) made the huge move from her house of 40 years to a condo that is more conducive to her and my uncle’s lifestyle. Those passageways through dark hallways imprinted in memory after so many early mornings and late night checks on the kids, that familiar route to the grocery store and Metro stop, that same parking spot, the comforting sounds of each hinge squeak and floorboard creak, the urban identity embraced and emboldened in a changing world, the smells and living embedded in memory, all lovingly handed off to a new young family with the hope that it will be for them the comfort zone, the family hub, and shelter in storms that it was for my extended family.

Laughter is the best medicine: Sometimes it is just a table cloth covering a cracked and damaged table. Other times the laughter actually caulks and mends the cracks. Sometimes the covering is good enough, for the moment. Laughter is a godsend in the teen-raising world, helping to not take myself or the minor troubles that arise too seriously. Recognizing the minor from the major troubles is another whole story. If laughter were as quick as suppressed grief, I’d be in much better shape to counter the stubbornly strong and unpredictable hold that grief has on me, pulling the tablecloth off way too often for my liking. But I work toward the constant goal of living in the moment and face life with a smile. At the end of the day, laughter is a survival skill. And I was groomed all my life to love to laugh. So if it is all that is left. Then maybe laughter is enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Seeking Significance


My Great Aunt Margaret McCarthy was a fount of what we now know to be timeless wisdom. So I'm not surprised to learn that when her son, Tim, broke the news to her that he was about to become a very wealthy man, Aunt Margaret's response was, "Oh honey, I'm so sorry." She was concerned about the burden that wealth would become to Tim, having "seen better people than [Tim] changed by money."

Tim has written a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book titled Empty Abundance in which he details his winding path to wealth and the empty rewards and lack of satisfaction that came with that wealth. Most importantly, his writing describes the solution he discovered to the problem of illusive happiness - the happiness our culture conditions us to expect as a reward for wealth. The solution is what Tim calls 'mindful giving' and while his application of that solution is unique to Tim, the principles and guidelines he shares are a great foundation to anyone seeking to find meaning in their lives.

While I don't speak from a position of wealth, I do speak from a position of a decent understanding of the human spirit. And I can say without hesitation that at any time in my life when I was lonely, discouraged, grieving, helpless, or unhappy, my reliable cure was to give whatever time or talents I could offer. There is tremendous power in giving but we sometimes forget that we have much to give. For all of those low times in life, the feeling of significance craves attention. And there is nothing like giving to bolster that feeling. From the richest to the poorest, everyone seeks significance. How great that the answer lies in helping others.

I was taught from a very early age that wealth doesn't always mean money. From the inevitable question of a child - "Mommy, are we rich?" - to the answer I grew up with - "We are rich in the very best of ways" - there is always room to give. And if there is no more room, then receive, and give when you are back on your feet.

Tim's personal solution involved seeding and now continuing to support and grow his The Business of Good Foundation which serves those who serve the poor. His great posts on the Foundation's blog give a sample of his writing, humor, mission, and what makes him tick, including excerpts from his book. I encourage anyone who is curious about how to find meaning through mindful giving to take a look at his blog and consider ordering his book. 

I wish Tim and everyone an abundance of happiness and good reading. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Pulling Away

I have come to learn that there are many different kinds of "pulling away."

As I get closer to the day when my oldest son heads off to college, it makes sense that goodbyes are on my mind. But it isn't the physical pulling away from the curb and heading off to college that I'm writing about. It is the psychological change that happens as my boys hit their teens and pull away in the sense of connectivity. I'm now knee-deep in the third pulling away and it is the hardest of the three, and I'm not sure why.

There has been the here's-your-hat-what's-your-hurry pulling away, when this energetic teen couldn't spend a minute of down-time with us without going out of his mind (and driving us all there with him). It hurt to have my company be considered so undesirable! But it wasn't unexpected. And I admit to encouraging the space, at times.

There has also been the pulling away that has felt like prying his hands, one finger at a time, from the handle of home. Where constant prodding, brainstorming, and offers of way-paving were met with deep-seated resistance and flat-out rejection. I suppose that only vaguely resembles pulling away. It is more pushing than pulling, but it is still a kind of reluctant, necessary, underlying pulling away.

This last one, is so subtle. There is no deliberate planning to ensure maximum time with friends. There is no obvious withdrawal. There is no need on my end for persuasion toward going out or inviting friends over. It is found in small steps away such as a new disinterest in usual conversation topics. It is found in the polite declines of offers to do the things we liked to do together. But I can usually still bring him back to pre-teen mode: He will even pose for a picture holding a doorknob if I ask it just right.


It is harder because he is the youngest. I know. And because I didn't really have the perspective or experience to see it in real-time with the others. The two older ones still drive a lot of activity around the house, but I can see the direction in which their pulling away is taking them. At the same time, I cherish the new mother-son relationships developing. I'm thankful for the little stuff. Liam spent most of the drive from Boston to Philadelphia patiently trying very hard to explain quantum physics to me. I will always support his passions, keeping up as best I can. I should get an A for effort as a captive student. Garrett makes sure to warn me when to look away from gory movie scenes (we don't watch many romantic comedies in my house). If this is budding compassion, I'm all for it. He has figured out pretty much on his own that Mass is hard for me. That gives me hope.

And in this season of thanksgiving, I'm thankful to have them all under our roof. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I'll be sure to coerce them into a family game of Scrabble, for some forced connectivity. They moan at the beginning, but then we settle in for some good old fashioned fun. At the core of it all, I just try to listen. Sometimes it is all I can do. Other times it is all I need to do.

So they pull away. But if I'm blessed, we won't ever lose our connectivity completely. They will have successes and failures. Loves and losses. And they may seem physically or emotionally far away. But I'm confident that the pulling away won't take them to a place we can't both share. I may be wrong. But I hope I'm right.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A New Direction

This blog started out as a business idea, one that I hoped would help me build my social media portfolio and become my own independent business. My primary goal was to start and maintain a business I could manage from my home so that I could achieve the perfect home/work balance I sought. Unfortunately, my financial portfolio and backers didn't have the patience to wait for me to grow Red Cupboard Solutions into a bona fide business. And when I received a great offer to market for a software company part-time, I couldn't refuse. So the blog posts became less frequent.

Then I published my book and dedicated space on my blog for promoting Preacher Kid. Always, the posts are interspersed with completely unrelated topics on my thoughts or beliefs, as I navigate through life.

So I thank those of you who have subscribed and followed me on this journey. I am not retiring the blog but I am going to turn it very definitely in the direction of personal experience and opinion and life lessons. I'm sure I will still find myself blogging now and then about the challenges and successes of small businesses, because it is a topic dear to my heart. And I'm positive that my book will slip in here now and then as I move into my next writing project: an eBook for the 10- to 15-year-old girls in my life about a fictitious young girl growing up in early 20th Century Ohio, based on Esther Miller's story.

To my subscribers, I value your loyalty but respect that you may have come upon my blog for reasons other than hearing my personal views. And if you choose to unsubscribe, that is perfectly understandable! If you choose to stay, thank you! Staying may mean you will hear, with irregularity, about raising three teen males (who are quite sure they don't need any more raising), how I miss the Midwest, and the silly questions in my life such as should I replace my 100-year-old main staircase that has gotten progressively creakier. Oh, wait. Those are just my knees. Ah yes, that fun topic of aging and all of the retrospection, realization, and grounding it brings.

So if someone were to stumble newly upon my blog and peruse the archives, they would see a journey from small business social media maven (2012), then author promotion (2013 and a little in 2014), turning to life in general - which has been going on all along, in and around the marketing and promotion. Now, maybe as I see my years of direct parenting dwindling in front of me, it is what I should have been writing about all along. It is the best job I've ever had.

So the journey continues. And for those who have been following my more personal posts...My family traveled to the Grand Canyon this summer (in addition to 1,600 other miles of adventure)! Another check off my bucket list!



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Making the Marquee

As a child and teenager, I spent countless hours at the Rocky River Public Library and my children became intimately familiar with it on our many visits back to see my parents. Growing up, if we ever couldn't find Dad, we knew to look at the library. Though long gone, I can tell you exactly where the enormous card catalog used to sit. And my mom enjoyed immensely her terms on their Board of Trustees. So it was very special for me to speak there last week. I even made their marquee!


Thank you to all of the kind folks who came to listen, especially my fantastic family, a wonderful high school friend who has kept in touch and helped me out all these years, the mayor and her husband, one of my mom's friends, and the friend who drove by the marquee at 6:50pm, looked it up online because she is interested in family genealogy, and came in to listen when she recognized my name!

It was a very special event for me, made more so by my nephew who went home and began a genealogy search of his own (in the lull before driving to UC Berkley for grad school). See?! Everyone can find a little time to find their family story.

Thanks for joining me on my journey.