The Legend of the Arching Eyebrows

Patti P, the self-taught make-up artist of the stars, invited friends to her home for a once in a lifetime class. Asked to bring their own make-up and mirrors, Sandy, Trish, Bonnie, Helen and Ginny took their places at the dining room table. Betty and Karin opted to observe though were allowed to ask questions.

Perhaps due to the excitement of being transformed into an ageless beauty, the room was abuzz as comparisons were made of what each had brought from home. An endless variety of creams, lotions, brushes, sponges, darkeners, lighteners, concealers; then the mirrors, standing upright, propped up, magnifying, large and small with multiple amounts of light settings.

Patti one-upped everyone when she presented a dresser drawer filled with compartments holding every cosmetic tool imaginable. At least a dozen make-up brushes. Throughout the afternoon, Patti reached into her supply and passed out just the right accessory as needed.

Her lack of experience as a classroom teacher was apparent though once she gained control of this unruly gathering (deeming we were “talkers”), she began with the basics: moisturizer, foundation, powder. But the room took on a heightened mood as the subject turned to eyebrows. Patti appeared to have the only arch in the room and was determined to correct that.

Once everyone had put on their head band (hair must be out of the face for best results), Patti began with an illustration on herself. Sharing the tips and secrets of the stars (insisting she’d learned only from “reading a few articles”) she enjoyed the oohs and aahs of her enthralled audience when she achieved a perfect arch. Then, as any good teacher, she observed and assisted the efforts of others.

The work was arduous at the beginning. Sandy lamented how could she do this when she needed her glasses to see what she was doing. Ginny was sure she couldn’t get an arch because her eyebrows were so low. Trish had never even considered an arch and Bonnie was most taken by the eye shadow, the bolder the better. Helen was deemed most advanced with the largest make-up bag. She admitted she had an eyelash curler, the only one in the room, and that she used it daily. And the most unusual sponge, round on one end and pointed on the other.

After ending with lipstick and desert, the room was aglow. Patti declared that the present examples of wilted maturity had been brought alive. Ginny was declared the most improved.  What a special group who can expose their wrinkles, dimples, spots and bags and have fun doing it. From this day forward, every eyebrow arch will be noticed, evaluated and envied. Patti says follow-up  sessions are available.

 

 

 

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No Rules at the Louievilla

I feel so lucky when recalling memories of staying at the Louievilla, an old and worn-down farmhouse in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, in the heart of Door County. My college friend, Betty, started the whole thing when she had a job that gave her time off in the summer. So, that’s when she took her vacation, two weeks, renting the Louievilla.

Liking and wanting company, she began inviting friends to join her. She rented the house and then asked for a nominal nightly rental fee from each of us. How lucky was I to stay in a house in the center of a tourist’s paradise for a mere $10.00 a night.

A misfit among the up-scale summer homes and cottages that surround it, the house does have location, location, location going for it; the public beach is across the street and the heart of this busy tourist village and harbor is less than a block away. But that’s not why we loved it.

The owners of the Louievilla lived in Louisville, Kentucky and had a local real estate company manage it for them. They’d owned the house for a long time and came up only for a week, usually right before our two weeks around the fourth of July.

Betty did lots of decorating, red white and blue banners and signs. Our trademark was a large stuffed flamingo that sat on the front steps and announced that we had arrived.   Quite festive. Once a man came into the porch thinking he was entering a drinking/ eating establishment. We had a good laugh, then sent him down the street.

The Louievilla has six bedrooms, a large living, dining room and kitchen on the first floor. The one bedroom on the first floor belonged to Betty. The living room furniture was old, of garage sale caliber. Mismatched and worn. Bed sheets hung from rods as make-shift curtains throughout the house.

The kitchen cupboards were filled with cracked and faded dishes and cookware. I’m pretty sure this was mostly made up of a collection of items former renters had left behind. I recall one year finding a mug I’d left there years before. The rent was quite high, $1500.00 a week, and I got it that the owners felt no need to fix up or improve since there was a waiting list. I’d have to call the place a dump if you think of décor but to us it was a castle.

Each year upon arrival, after unpacking, we’d tour the house to see what was new. There was always one thing that was new.  It could be something as simple as the addition of a new toaster to replace the dilapidated one that always burned the toast. Imagine our joy the year we found a real shower in the downstairs bathroom. No more sitting in the tub leaning under a shower sprinter.

Then there’s the porch, a glassed-in room that spanned the entire front of the house which became the center of our social life. The porch was also filled with rickety and shabby furniture. Since Betty was renting and paying top dollar she got to designate her chair on the porch.  All she had to do was appear at the door and if anyone was sitting in what we lovingly called the queen’s chair, they relocated without a word.

We were known to spend many days sitting on the porch. Sometimes never leaving the house at all, except for a few brave souls who walked across the street to the beach or set up a card table out on the front lawn to do a jig-saw puzzle while taking in the sun.

It could be confusing sometimes when we planned a dinner out only to be discombobulated trying to time our departure. Just when it seemed everyone was ready, someone would say they needed a few minutes to finish their beer.  So, then someone else would start another and not be done for a while. Pretty soon, snacks came out and once the board games appeared, the trip to the Bayside for a burger was lost in the wind.

It was an easy time with no pressure to do anything. As soon as we got up we headed, in our pajamas, for the porch with a cup of coffee, lounging and thinking about what, if anything, to do that day. Morning ritual was for someone to walk down the street to get ice for the cooler and the newspaper.

I recall at least one time, I never started by car for the whole two weeks I was there. And yet I was busy. We car pooled when going out and designated an early and a late car that was sure to serve the needs of all. Shopping and restaurants were just down the street. In fact, I did more shopping and drinking during that two weeks than I did the rest of the year.

But all good things must come to an end. Betty retired and reasoned why spend so much money and drive so far when the peace and serenity she wanted was right there in her own back yard.  So, wistfully I recall the walks down to the sunset each night, the trips to the educational book store with several of the teachers in the group, the annual dinner at the Greenwood, and bean bags at the A-C Tap. The Bayside still has the best mushroom swiss burger in the world.

The Louievilla was a summer respite for this very special group of friends for over twenty-five years. Toward the end of our time there I recall Betty calling a meeting and sheepishly, almost apologetically, saying that the rent had gone up and she needed to raise what she charged us. I gasped then laughed when she announced from now on she’d be charging $12.00 a night. Still lucky!

 

No Rules at the Edgerton Lake House

Magical days at the Louievilla in Fish Creek were replicated on the Rock River near Edgerton in November, 2016. Our new digs were a large lake home fully equipped with all modern appliances and wi-fi. A far cry from the sparse Louievilla and we deserve it! Real curtains instead of sheets on the windows! Several bathrooms instead of one. Matching glassware and china; a dishwasher! A fireplace and flat screen TV.

As we oohed and ahhed upon entering the house, we knew the important thing was the warmth and closeness of this special group of friends who’ve hung out together for over thirty years. It makes no difference where we are or what we do, thankfully some things never change.

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As we drifted in throughout Friday afternoon, the fridge and kitchen counters quickly filled with multiple plastic bags of snacks and bottles, and cans of favorite beverages. Little Patti quickly hunkered down to food and drink. Betty had allocated herself nine beers a day and coolers were set outside the front door for easy access. Everyone had fulfilled their food assignments and soon there were enough provisions to survive a zombie attack.

The best joke was the shared stories of where and how we each got lost on this fully paved and marked highway leading to our wilderness retreat. Karin had two GPS’s going at the same time and they both recommended a different route, recalculating in unison. The three round-abouts in tiny Edgerton that got everyone almost lost received the most tweets (in this Trump era how else to communicate!).

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Friday night, after the usual catching up, Betty’s impromptu game of answering questions drawn from a bowl led to revelations and new information. Helen shared details of her German heritage and childhood experiences. Kathy and Karin revealed their fantasy of finding the self-sufficient man.  Diane disappeared to bed early, as must those who are still working. Actually only Helen and Diane are unfortunate enough to not have reached the magic age of retirement. The group tried hard not to gloat.

 

 

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img_3403Saturday began slowly since no alarm clocks were set. Coffee and sweets led to snacking and drinking throughout the day. More games, rummicub and talk to Oh Hell!, and a TV football game followed. Go Badgers!  Lex and Kathy arrived late and shared tales of the challenges of the round-abouts, caring for horses and a busy life left behind. The day was capped off with Little Patti’s delicious lasagna for dinner. Patty P. couldn’t help herself doing kitchen clean-up. Interesting that no one seemed to mind, in fact, were completely supportive of her endeavors.

 

 

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Betty insisted the get together wasn’t for her birthday and you know how she DOESN’T like or need special attention. Regardless there were gifts and toasts. Little Patti sweated until the chair cover and tiara were in place lest Betty launch another search. Where are they!

img_3390img_3392 A less complicated version of charades followed with Sandy taking home the prize. There was none. Sandy and Trish compared their experiences taking care of dear relatives offering support to Diane. Trish passed out many good book suggestions and provided the happy news of her daughter’s engagement and upcoming marriage. Patty P. continued to relentlessly clean up the kitchen. Bonnie’s homemade Bailey’s was enjoyed by all.

 

Sunday came way too soon. Patty P’s baked French toast dish was a treat and she gets five stars for cooking and then cleaning up too! As quickly as the counters and fridge had filled up, it all disappeared as the cars were packed for the return home. A tutorial was arranged for a lesson in locking the patio door that Betty used for her occasional smokes.

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When Betty retired and no longer needed to travel all the way to Door County for peace and quiet, this group of friends lamented. What now, they wondered. That was answered this weekend as they found they could have fun anywhere, even close to home.  What’s important is the warm support and caring that’s given and shared to each other. Luckily some things never change.

Getting a Word in Edgewise 2016

Some things never change. And that’s a good thing! The Babe’s (Julie, Carolyn and Karin) met once again in Milwaukee in October 2016. It was a whirlwind of shop talk, catch up gossip, shopping and eating. The only change was scheduling issues to accommodate Julie’s new work schedule, teaching at UWM.  Her academic  gig is “good.”

Karin and Carolyn spent the first afternoon admiring all the nooks and crannies of Pier I and Crate and Barrel then a coffee stop at Panera Bread.  Leave it to sweet Carolyn. It wasn’t until the day after she was gone that Karin would discover, hidden in a cabinet, that lovely mug she’d admired at Crate and Barrel. She’d wondered what took her so long to check out and now she knew. Carolyn and her hostess gifts. She is so “good.”

They then headed to Julie’s for evening activities. Karin and Carolyn were in for a real treat, a chance to be with children. Julie’s daughters Natalie and Lydia were scheduled to appear in an all school concert that evening. At first, Julie insisted she didn’t want to impose so they had to nearly beg her to let them attend. Couldn’t she see what a great opportunity it was for those without kids to get in on the action!

It was a delightful evening with grades 6 through 8 each taking the stage to do a medley of songs all in a beach theme. Lots of familiar music from our younger days. The Beatles and Beach Boys dominated. Kids in hula skirts, with lei’s and bare feet.

What a marvel how Mr. Shue, the very competent and energetic music director, orchestrated (pun intended) the logistic miracle of getting each class, 30 plus students each, on and off the stage without a major collision. Karin refused to be corrected grammatically, insisting the girls “sang good.”

Julie’s parents (Lynn and Jerry) joined them for the concert; on the way home, in the car, Jerry offered a long explanation of Julie’s habit of always being overly sensitive to other people’s feelings, not wanting to impose. Julie laughingly reminded her dad that she was in the car and was hearing everything he was saying. So, it was no surprise when Jerry and Lynn insisted on leaving early, so as not to impose on the girlfriend get together. Now we know where Julie got that oh so annoying habit, Karin joked.

Some other things also hadn’t changed. Skeeter still loves Karin and hopped on her lap as usual. Put an MD (Julie’s husband, Dennis) and a Nurse Practitioner in the same room and the conversation surely turns toward such hot button issues as reproductive rights and the latest OB/GYN procedure. Put an MD, a Nurse Practitioner and two Social Workers in the same room and the conversation surely turns to the state of the world, training advances, educational imperatives and the election.

Julie recounted the challenges of parenting eleven year old twins while managing her demanding lecture schedule. Carolyn’s massive preparation for her bat mitzvah scheduled for December was admired. A thorough analysis of her relationship with Lawrence, approaching its second year, was dissected. He passed with flying colors. Karin’s named scholarship with the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare and her recent writing successes were praised. All of the women’s latest accomplishments were declared “good.”

Carolyn was the first time user of Karin’s new sleeper and gave it her own good housekeeping seal of approval. Next day, Julie joined the party later and dinner was the plan. Julie knew a “good” place in Wauwatosa. Getting there was another story.

Why can’t these highly educated women get from one place to another without a major glitch? Missing the first turn in Wauwatosa (and we know how easy that can be) led to a cat and mouse chase around corners and down narrow back streets amid laughter and jokes. Oh, I know where we are…my sister used to live up that street…….this road doesn’t go through… but I know which one does…..turn left…no right.

They finally arrived at Juniper 61 and settled in to a “good” meal despite Julie’s bath of a spilled drink down her back. The waiter still got a “good” tip. Back home for more talking, something they never seem to get enough of. And isn’t that the basis of the best friendships.

Not meaning to get schmaltzy, it’s truly amazing how these three women who worked together over twenty years ago are still connected. It’s one of those situations where though you haven’t seen someone for a while, you can pick up right where you left off. These relationships are not only precious but “good.” They’re planning for the next time already.

 

Rummikub Drama

So, this is what retirement has come to. The calmness of no schedules to keep, no meetings to run to, has been partially filled with the excitement and intrigue of my two, not one but two, Rummikub games.

And how come I’m having so much fun with these two groups that are different and similar in such interesting ways. Game playing often reveals interesting bits of personality and differing levels of competitiveness. And while there are hints of both personality and competitiveness, what’s more important is that we just want to have fun.

For those who may not know, and you are few, the game is like rummy but with tiles instead of cards. Players try to make runs and three of a kind match ups. Numbered tiles in four colors are drawn and played until someone goes out. There’s lots of playing on the tiles of others; and sometimes the only chance to get rid of that difficult tile is to wait and hope for that perfect spot.

One of my groups is in the building where I live. So, it’s made up of people I’ve known for just a short time. Let’s call it John’s group because we call him our Rummikub guru. He’s got the rules down pat and holds everyone accountable.  And let’s call the second one Betty’s group because it’s at her house. This one is made up of girlfriends I went to Door County with for many years.

Betty calls her gathering Afternoon Delight, emphasizing there’s no sex involved. She’s pretty lax with the rules though she teases anyone taking too long to play: don’t’ make me get that timer! John’s group can be up to eight people. It just depends on who shows up and we often have two boards going. Betty’s group is strictly kept at four. Each involves food, of course, with both focusing on an equally small amount of preparation. That means snacks.

I laugh when I wonder what would happen if John and Betty sat down to a game. John is very certain about having all the groups of tiles laid down in a neat and precise row, numbers in ascending order of course. As new tiles are played, John jumps in, swooshing tiles around the table in an ice skating kind of action to maintain his perfect order.

With Betty, we continue playing for second and third place. With John, we keep score. Not with Betty. Betty’s quirk is that the tiles of each group must line up next to each other perfectly. No space between. No tile off-center. I wonder who’d win the war of the tiles. My money is on John.

Both groups have differing types of conversation. One of the great things about this game is that you don’t have to think hard and that leads to lots of chatter. Some people talk constantly and others not so much as they stare furtively at their tiles.

Betty’s group is all women which leads to more intimate talk. We recently had a long and revealing discussion about how often we have a day when we don’t get dressed. Then we confessed our varying degrees of acceptance on how many days you can go without a shower or doing your hair. Revealing stuff.

John’s group begins at 4:30 and ends at 7:00. On the dot. With Betty, we play until we no longer want to. Last game began at 1:00 and ended at 6:30. And it was only the coming rainstorm and the impending darkness that stopped us. Also, how many more beers did Betty want; since we were at her house she made good use of not needing a designated driver.

There are many web postings about how to pronounce the name of this popular game. Some call it rumi like the poet or rummy like the card game. Some say cube as in ice or cub as in bear. Most popular is rummy like the card game and cube as in cube. There are multiple web sites including Wikipedia that discuss this very important dilemma. No answer is definitive.

Rummikub, however you choose to say it, was invented by Ephraim Hertzano, a Romanian-born Jew, in the early 1930s. It was hand-made for his family to play in their backyard He sold sets door-to-door and on a consignment basis at small shops. It went from being Israel’s biggest exported game to the bestselling one in the United States in 1977.

So much for its interesting history and the naming controversy. I’m just grateful for this not too complicated pastime; it gives me an opportunity to keep my brain active while enjoying the company of like-minded people. Now, it’s time for true confessions. Call me crazy but I also have an infrequent and impromptu Rummikub game with Kathy, another resident in my building. I guess I’m addicted!

 

 

Bad Ass Partay

I have a sister who calls a fancy party a “partay,” so it seemed apropos for me to throw a bad ass 71st birthday partay. You may ask, why such a big deal for a 71st birthday? Don’t people usually make a fuss around milestones such as moving from one decade to another?  So why such a flurry for the 71st?  It began so innocently.

I turned 70 in March, 2015 and my friend Betty turned 70 in November. I commented that 70 is so momentous. How great that we’d made it this far and maybe, just maybe that meant we should celebrate every year from now on. From here on out, they’re all milestones, I laughed. I gave this no more thought until I got a phone call from Betty a few weeks before my 71st birthday. What about that pledge you made? she asked. And that’s all I needed.

Betty is part of a group of girlfriends I’d celebrated my 70th birthday with. With this group, I have a long history of fun vacations in Door County and many parties together. But partay planning excitement got the best of me this time. First, I added my family to the guest list. Then it expanded to others. Writing friends. Friends in the building I lived in. Other unrelated groups of friends. Before I knew it I had a list of over thirty people.

party 002I wondered if these various groups, whose only common denominator was me, would hit it off, would get along,  would like each other as much as I liked each of them. This worry left my mind as I became engulfed in partay planning.  Being one who, over the years, had ignored birthdays I was out of my element. But determined to be the best hostess possible.

After multiple shopping trips and checking things off my list, the day was finally here. As my guests arrived, I made sure to pull up the cuff of my pants to show my bad ass socks and explain they had been an actual birthday gift from my friend, Julie Schuppie. I then explained how she and Stephanie and I had become the Stankin’ Ho’s. It’s a very meaningful-only-to-us name for our friendship. Silly perhaps, but we’ve been members of this exclusive cult for over twenty years.

The room was full of non-stop chatter. What had I worried about? The Door County group rekindled memories of bean bag competitions at the AC Tap in Bailey’s Harbor. I vividly remember how the elderly bartender once commented: I’ve never seen people your age have so much fun. 

party 003We quickly recalled how sides were taken as we declared our height designated team loyalty; either you were a Giant or a Munchkin. Trish proudly stated how she, not too tall or too short, would cross over to either team when there was a shortage. Little Patti’s legacy lives on due to her team song: “Mighty, mighty munchkins!” We’ve been doing this for over thirty years.

Colorful family characters such as my youngest brother Kent asked to be introduced to the Door County group and allowed me to tell the story of his childhood nickname: “whiney-wet-his-pants.”  He also took it pretty well when I revealed how the family called him “Corky” due to his physical appearance and general attitude so similar to our rambunctious father’s.

When announcing the social work scholarship for non-traditional students I’d established, my niece, Kristin defended the wisdom of her decision not to be a non-traditional student.  Hearing of my donation,  my family now knows they aren’t inheriting anything! I loved the reaction when names and faces came together: “where is your sister Karla: I want to meet her” “Oh, this is your niece, Julie, who I’ve heard so much about.”  “So, this is Betty.”

party 006The thoughtful cards and gifts included a cookie with my name on  it, flowers and plants, decadent chocolates, apple pies, candle and earrings, wine and TWO bottles of Korbel (some of my friends  know me so well!). I’m so thankful for set-up help from Laurel and niece Julie, and clean-up help from Kris, Keith and niece Julie.

But the greatest joy was simply the presence of so many of the important people in my life. All in the same room. This day made me feel incredibly fortunate as we recalled memories of past and present good times that signal a rich history for which I am so grateful. Birthdays, especially after 70, are milestones indeed and should be celebrated. I’m doing this again next year!

 

Can I Get a Word in Edgewise 2015

Scan0008We met, Julie, Carolyn and Karin, while working in the Naseau Project, a research pilot program funded by the Medical College. The name, the Naseau Babes, just sort of happened with no way of knowing how they’d stick together over time. But they did. Here’s an account of two days spent together in August 2015. Within seconds, they got right down to business.

“So, Carolyn. Are you dating,” asked Karin. It was important to find out if recently divorced Carolyn had made the transition; seemed she had. Her Match.com-match, a dog owning, never been married with no children sound engineer, seemed to be a keeper. They already have Thanksgiving plans.

And that’s just the beginning. Inviting Julie’s husband Dennis along to a local bistro, they’re dinner conversation included thoughts on the female Viagra pill getting FDA approval, sharing similarities and anecdotes from the practices of Dennis, an MD, and Carolyn, a family nurse practitioner, congratulating Julie on her new teaching position at UWM, and sympathizing with Karin’s retirement dilemma of deciding each day “what do I want to do.”

Carolyn slept at Karin’s the first night and it only took five minutes for her to fix Karin’s DVD player and to answer burning questions on home decorating. Karin knew Carolyn would have great ideas but her offer to move the furniture right then and there was deemed premature.

Next day, once Julie arrived, the discussion advanced to how Karin should consider a chair and a half with sleeper to solve her living room conundrum and still be able to accommodate the occasional overnight guest. This of course led to urgency: shopping for furniture right now!

The Babes have never been known to do things half way, so what followed were visits to every furniture store in the vicinity. Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Steinhafels, Lazy-Boy. Carolyn introduced herself to puzzled sales persons as “Karin’s advocate.” She asked all the tough questions.

Overwhelmed from shopping, the Babe’s had to have an ice cream break and got lost looking for Culver’s on Mayfair Road. How is it that three competent women with over 150 years of life, one PhD and three master degrees between them can’t find a shop on Mayfair Road?

Using an I-phone with Google maps that wouldn’t work right, in desperation, they stopped at the first ice cream shop they found. After a challenging picture taking session with a very needed-to-be-useful man, they headed back to furniture stores, laughing and pointing when they spotted the Culver’s a few blocks north.

Returning to Julie’s house and fully accepting their dwindling stamina, they scrubbed the planned trip to the art museum in lieu of an afternoon chai, nap, TV and preparing dinner. Watching an episode of the Barefoot Contessa inspired Julie and Carolyn to go through all Julie’s cookbooks and then visit the grocery store.

Kitchen-averse Karin was awestruck as these creative ladies went from allegro to adagio, whirling and twirling from one end of the kitchen to another. No collisions or missteps reported! Carolyn completed a pirouette as she used a zester on a lemon; immersion blender in hand, Julie executed a flawless pas de deux.

Final product: the Contessa’s cream of tomato soup and a peach crumble. Add grilled cheese sandwiches and salad for perfection. Karin insisted that they should audition for a reality food show. Bobby Flay or Emeril Lagasse would be judges.

With dinner precooked and stored, the Babes headed off to a Milwaukee River Boat tour. Riding from the dock past the many condos and apartments, it was amazing to see the city’s transformation from the once busy factory and warehouse district it had been.

DSC_6567The trip included going outside the breakwater with the boat tipping and swaying. The captain assured of their safety as they seemed to be following the Denis Sullivan across the lake. Sighs of relief when their boat turned back.

GetAttachmentAs they sat atop and sipped their Marguerita, they noted how odd it was that most passengers remained below in the lower quarters. Close to the bar, perhaps. The Babes loved the fog and the landscape of the city. An hour and a half of relaxation.

DSC_6600When they got home, Dennis had made a special trip to get Karin’s brandy. What a guy! A perfect night as they had dinner, sensing that the Contessa was beaming from the shadows.

The Babes wrapped up this marathon talkfest with tired jaws and shriveled brains. They’d fully discussed the trials and tribulations of both dating and relationships. Agreed that being alone was not all that bad. Questioned how, in hindsight, they’d become so wise when looking at past relationships. Shared insights into what lies ahead as health care concerns must be thought through each day.

IMG_6498Finally, there was happiness all around that Skeeter and Karin were once again friends. And that he, as a small dog, still does have a long life ahead. Speaking of a long life, it’s amazing to recall that they’d met around 1994 and became the Naseau Babes shortly thereafter. That’s over 20 years ago! And they still have so much to talk about!

Stankin’

IMG_3064There are four of us. Julie, Chris, Stephanie and me. We are the Stankin’ Ho’s. People are bonded together forever when they survive a competitive and challenging work environment while enduring the boss from hell. Such was our connection as we tried to survive in a family practice residency program affiliated with an inner city hospital. Humor saved us.

The allegiance between me and Chris began innocently on almost the first day we met and meandered quickly into easy, ongoing teasing. One day, I looked up from my desk to see her standing, lurking really, around the edge of my door.

“You bitch,” she snarled with a grin then quickly walked away. I laughed and got back to work, only to return the favor later when I could catch her off guard. This took on new meaning when Stephanie overheard our name-calling jokes. She said she was shocked at seeing middle-aged white women acting so out of character. Bringing Stephanie into our exclusive cult only solidified our bond. And further elaborated our vocabulary.

“Sometimes its ‘bitch’ and other times its ‘whore.’ Any nasty word will do,” Chris giggled. But Stephanie, as usual, had her own ideas.

“No. You don’t call yourself whores,” she said. “You is ho’s.” From there, Stephanie began teaching these middle aged white women how to perfect their ghetto talk. We learned how it’s said in the hood, that something is out of this world or special beyond belief.

”That’s stankin’ “ Stephanie spat out. Chris and I wanted to be just like her and gave a milquetoast rendition that caused head shaking and a look of dismay. Stephanie jumped into teacher mode, putting more punch on the middle of the word: “st-ANK-in.” A guttural pronunciation with a body language swish added. We finally got it and from then on were proud middle-aged ghetto girls talking trash.

Stephanie became my own Queen Letifah that day, swinging effortlessly from street talk to the high-brow King’s English required in an academic setting. From there, it was an easy jump to calling ourselves the “stankin’ ho’s.” It just sort of happened. This has led to all kinds of variations. When I see an E-mail with the subject line “Hi Ho’s!” I know fun is on the way.

Everyone knows the angst of academic settings and this one lived up to all of those expectations. Add to this the shenanigans of the lady in charge who will be referred to throughout this story as CMD (crazy medical director). This white, Jewish woman who self-identified as Hispanic because she was married to one, deeply impacted our day to day work life; and that only drew us closer. Though we met over twenty five years ago and worked together for only a very short time, our friendship has sustained the separation of age, time and distance.

Stephanie and Julie are young enough to be my daughters and there are times I feel that way toward them. Chris was the program coordinator and second Mom to the residents. Stephanie took over the job when Chris left and Julie was coordinating a program in the clinic. I was the Behavioral Scientist for the residency.

Julie joined our clinic as an MSW student and, even though well aware of the craziness, graduated and came to work with us anyway. Shortly after starting her new job, she was told by CMD that she needed to quit so a minority candidate could have it. That was only fair, CMD said. How can that even be suggested in the 21st century?

In power and authority dynamics, I don’t know what’s worse, the stated or the unstated. I haven’t carried away any hard feelings for my treatment as a second class citizen. CMD hired me, really kind of stalked me because she wanted me in that job, pushed me through, against the wishes of medical school department heads. I didn’t have a PhD so was seen as underqualified. One of the higher-ups in the program told me outright, though tactfully, in what ways I was lacking. The department chair simply ignored me.

CMD wanted what she wanted but I’m the one who bore the brunt of not being fully accepted. Like when it came time to move to the new clinic. I noticed right away that the furniture in my office was different than in the MD’s and PhD’s offices. They had large credenzas and fancy chairs. I had a computer table and standard doctor’s office chairs. Ah, the hierarchy. But that’s another story.

Crazy work environments give ample opportunity to develop new skills. Like when Stephanie became a detective. Part of my job was to see patients for psychotherapy several half days a week and the clinic had a counseling room for that purpose. Imagine my surprise, when preparing for an appointment I had to explain to this clerical staff and her “patient” that they had to vacate the room. Or seeing her patting a person on the back and saying things like “that’s okay, you’ll be fine” as they headed down the hall.

I alerted Stephanie to my suspicions. Since she could more easily blend in and go unnoticed in the clinic she launched an investigation. Hovering. Eavesdropping. Her detective work paid off. It seemed the clinic’s medical patients were actually coming in just to see this clerical staff. She was running her own little out-patient therapy clinic. The ethical issues make me shudder.

Once Stephanie had gathered enough evidence she reported this to CMD who shut it down. Of course this was only after CMD deliberated and worried that she might be discriminating against the clinic staff. CMD also considered this might be depriving patients of needed services from someone like them (read: black).

It wasn’t until we’d all moved on from this work situation, that Stephanie finally shared the details of how she got her job. She’d come as a patient to the clinic for the first time and was seen by CMD for a gynecologic exam.

“Here, I was,” says Stephanie. “My first time visit with this doctor and while I’m on the table with my feet in the stirrups, she starts asking me all kinds of questions about my work experience. After we’re done, she pulled me back to the faculty offices to give me an application. That’s the only interview I had and she offered me the job almost before she’s even taken off her rubber gloves. I guess she liked what she saw down there and just knew from that, I could do the job.”

Chris probably had the hardest time since she was CMD’s administrative assistant. After hours CMD would call Chris’s phone and dictate reports. When the line buzzed and disconnected, she’d simply call again and pick up where she’d left off. Think of the many hours for Chris, transcribing without the forward and reverse of a Dictaphone.

Then there was CMD’s son. Chris often had to pick him up from school, provide his lunch and do other motherly duties. The story goes that while at a faculty luncheon, he was told by someone, not his mother, to stop brandishing a steak knife. Instead he loudly yelled “I can do anything I want. My mother is the boss.” We don’t have the nerve to check CCAP to see if he has an adult criminal record.

As I said, our time working together was short. We all went on to other jobs and Stephanie transferred to the department offices at the medical school. Since she still works at the same place, we hear the latest news on people we haven’t actually seen for decades. Some of it’s just like yesterday.

As a group, we’ve graduated from lunches, dinner and drinks to road trips. Our trip to Madison was memorable. Stephanie had never been to Madison and I still can see her dancing with wild abandon to a street band in the middle of State Street. I wasn’t sure she’d ever want to go home. We’re planning a casino trip and a train trip to Chicago for a play and shopping. The fun continues.

We are the stankin’ Ho’s. This illustrious group of fabulous women is as kooky as Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex and the City gang. Too bad we never made it to the movies or TV because our stories could entertain the world! A retelling of how we got our name and our many adventures never gets dull. As I am never dull about the specialness of these ladies and how precious their friendship is to me. Hi, Ho’s!

 

My Big 7-0 Birthday Month

(March, 2015) It was one innocent conversation that changed my thinking. Talking with my friend, Betty, who would reach the same birthday milestone as me later this year, we commiserated about turning seventy. Moving from one decade to the next seemed ominous. Then, she wisely reminded me how lucky we are. Relatively active. Moderately healthy. Retired and enjoying it. Just think of all the people we know who didn’t make it this far, she said. And oh, was she right. From there I decided to meet life’s inevitability with a smile. I’m going to have a birthday party, I told her.

Childhood memories resurfaced of how in my family, we got to have a birthday party only once, when we turned twelve. Sure, we got a cake and ice cream at dinner with our family each year, but the big thing was when we turned twelve. Then it was a real party, inviting friends, complete with hats and games. With so little attention paid to these days when I was a kid, many adult birthdays passed with little notice. Time for a change.

I recalled my friend, Carolyn who each year celebrated a birthday week. Each day of that week, her husband knew he was expected to plan something sweet. Not anything big, just something to mark the occasion. Carolyn was my inspiration and planning seemed to take on a life of its own. I realized I had several groups of friends who didn’t know each other so it made sense to plan something with each of them. Soon, I had scheduled four events. Before I knew it, I was having a birthday month. I sure never thought I’d out-celebrate Carolyn!

T022he group of women I went to Door County with since the late 1980’s had a long history of game playing and porch sitting traditions I wanted to replicate. On Saturday March 7th eight of us (me, Betty, Patty P, Pat H, Kathy, little Patti H, Diane, and Sandy), (Bonnie, Trish and Ginny wanted to be there but couldn’t) met at McGinn’s in their side room surrounded by pictures of Robin Yount and old County Stadium. Some got glassy eyed, recalling spring training adventures of the past and opening day parties.

tiara 001Diane Marie (our “new best friend” sitting at a nearby table), took our group picture. When our Diane revealed that she was also a “Diane Marie,” major bonding ensued. When new friend Diane Marie declared that I didn’t look 70, I tipped the traveling tiara toward her and wore it proudly all day! “Karin Trivia” was played with gusto. My trivia questions were pretty basic with ten queries about my family, school history and special interests. No one remembered how I and all first time attendees at Betty’s annual Christmas party had to mime the Twelve Days of Christmas. Or the part I played in the maids-a-milking debacle. We laughed a big one.

024Little Patti H and our Diane Marie tied “Karin Trivia” with a score of five. The two light-up chicks, the prize, was awarded jointly to them and then deemed great toys for little Patti H’s granddaughters. I loved all the cards, Betty for the nuts (no need to steal cashews now), little Patti H for the “few little things,” Trish for the books, (now we know that reading is my second favorite hobby).

On March 18th, the Plain and Simple Book Group met at my apartment. I’d belonged to this group for ten years before moving to Eagle River and when I returned to town, they found me and made me feel welcome once again. That night, it was a small group (me, Jane, Susan and Mary Beth) due to several others being off on spring break, out-of-town adventures.

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For this regular monthly meeting, I’d gotten a small cake and candles, wine and snacks. In one hearty puff, I blew out the candles (7, one for each decade). It seemed so fitting that the book under discussion was The Alchemist. The meaning of life’s journey was fully examined.

70th birthday 00670th birthday 005

On March 26th, three of the four stankin’ ho’s (Julie, Stephanie and me, Chris was recuperating) met at the Cheesecake Factory. Though we haven’t worked together for over fifteen years and our age spread makes Julie and Stephanie young enough to be my daughters, we can laugh and talk for hours. Which we did, of course! Julie’s card included a hand-written John Lennon quote (“You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” ); it almost made me cry. When our handsome, young waiter, Derrick, took our picture he insisted I couldn’t possibly be seventy. In fact, he thought I was fifty! Needless to say, he got a very big tip!

birthday lunch 002

On March 30th, I ended the month with a cocktail lunch with my niece, Jujee, at Eddie Martini’s. By far, the classiest place, the waitress overheard it was my birthday and delivered a chocolate treat complete with candle. My lunchtime Manhattan was especially flavorful. Great atmosphere, great food. Great conversation, as always.

And so the month ended with wishes fulfilled and parties that will be a fond memory forever. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful friends who shared this time with me. And perhaps I’m getting wiser in my old age. Oops, that’s not what I meant to say! Let me try again. Perhaps I’m getting wiser as I learn to have more fun in this next phase of my life. Not wanting to be mushy, I have to wonder if I’ll make it to the next decade. If not, I can at least say that I had a blast marching into my seventies. Happy birthday to me!

Just another “First”

Published in The Girlfriend Connection, Autumn 1999.

 

In 1999, my special group of women friends added another ritual, just one more to be folded into our well established highlights and celebrations. We’d gathered at Trish’s new home for a lovely lunch, complete with china and linens. A fresh flower from her garden was wrapped into the napkin which meant, I was informed, that this was a very classy event. We felt filthy rich in the comfort and camaraderie of the day.

After lunch we’d moved to the living room to get down to business, celebrating the purpose for our gathering. This was a monumental milestone, I realized, one that would become more common for us as the years passed. Relish this first one, I told myself. This is big, really big.

Pam was the first of my friends to retire! I had flashbacks of all the milestones of life that I’d held as precious memories. Now it’s a new phase: retirement.

We’re a fun and fun-loving group of women, proud to be young at heart, acting and feeling more youthful than we actually were. We’d get together once a month for “girl stuff” at a local sports bar. Betty, our unofficial leader, had been my college roommate back in the early 1960’s. We’d reconnected ten or so years ago and I’d merged with her group of friends, joining them for monthly get-togethers, summer vacations and fall week end trips. Our summertime stays in Door County were the foundation and our bond went deep.

Betty kept meticulous records of our adventures, a diary that helped us remember all the important things that happened at the Louievilla in Fish Creek. Like, what year did we inaugurate the bean bag tournament between the “giants” and the “munchkins” at the AC Tap? Or, when did we stack up all the empty bottles against the front door to warn us if “Barbara, the stalker,” a much too friendly stranger, had followed us home.

Or, was it Ginny or Patti who felt sorry for all the people trying to find last minute parking for the fireworks; so they’d opened a parking lot in the front yard. No. It was Pam who so proudly offered the $12.00’s in parking fees to Betty. Betty worried that the owners of the house would find out and evict us. So much for Pam’s entrepreneurial endeavor.

But on this more sedate day, we watched with delight as Pam, a third grade school teacher, retiring after 33 years, opened her gifts. A newsletter had been written that cleverly described each item and how it would be essential to Pam as she transitioned to retirement. Each gift was silly, funny, touching or poignant. Or, all of those things. Pam covered her face with the card and cried.

I was momentarily saddened. This is what we have to look forward to, the first of many other retirement parties to follow. I’m not ready for this. It’s too soon.

But Pam was the best example of happy retirement I could think of. She’d been sensible and frugal, worked hard, taking advantage of her pension and retiring at age fifty-five. Still healthy and vibrant, she bubbled over with all the plans and the things she wanted to do and would do.

Obviously, she’d given this a lot of thought. I was at first surprised, and then not, when Pam said she might even consider substitute teaching. “Not for at least two years,” she laughed.

As I listened I began to feel envious. The freedom. The choices. Then I felt uplifted. Soon, I too will be where she is. I watched Pam’s beaming face and looked around at the others who were sporting equally vibrant looks. Imagine what we have ahead of us!

 

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