Three Weeks in Chicago

When I lived in Massachusetts and had a different position in my company, I used to travel three times a year. Once to Atlanta and twice to NYC. These trips were just a few days, and sometimes the New York trips were only (very long) day trips. When I moved to California a little over eight years ago, I took a few short business trips, but then I switched jobs. The pandemic followed and it seemed like I’d never go anywhere again.

A couple of months ago, I learned I’d be accompanying several coworkers (most of whom I’d never met in person) for a two to three week stay in Chicago. I’ve been really excited about this opportunity and the chance to visit a place I’ve never been before (outside of a writers’ conference sixteen years ago when there was a blizzard and I never left the hotel). Ryan has not been as excited about this trip as he’s a worrier and is used to having me home, but he’s with Ivy, Trevor, little Trevie and the pets, so I know he’ll be just fine. I missed spending Halloween with them so am adding some pictures so your heart can be warmed along with mine.

It’s been years since I’ve spent this much time alone. Granted on weekdays from about 7:30 in the morning until dinnertime I’m around work friends, and longer some days if we have dinner together. Once I’m back here though, in my hotel room, I feel the full impact of how high energy my brain is. Usually at home I’m with family, cooking, cleaning, playing with the baby, chatting with Ryan, Ivy, and Trevor, oil painting until I’m exhausted, then watching Netflix until I can’t keep my eyes open. But here, there’s just…so much time after work.

Knowing oil painting was out of the question, I brought a set of watercolor paints with me; and when I first arrived to the gorgeous Palmer House hotel I watched several YouTube videos to learn about the process. Since I don’t have formal art training outside of two months of classes, and meander among a lot of different painting styles when I’m working with oils, I quickly grew tired of all the “rules” around watercolors and decided to just do what felt right.

Here are the paintings done since I got here, except two. One I threw away and one I forgot to photograph before I gave it to a coworker. I find watercolors are easier, and quicker because of the drying time. They don’t allow the level of detail of oils and lack the physical thickness and texture but it’s keeping my mind busy. It’s still hard sleeping though because without my family here, my mind is more restless than ever,

I could go home on weekends as most people are, but it’s so far and with the time difference, it’s more work than it’s worth to have one day at home and the rest travel. I chose to stay and do some tourist things on the weekends. This weekend I planned a trip to the Art Institute and an architectural tour. Next weekend I’m seeing a magic show at my hotel and taking a deep dish pizza making class. There’s plenty to do here.

The first few days, I was nervous about venturing out because all I ever hear about Chicago is how dangerous it is. I arrived here on the 30th and the next day there was a drive by shooting about five miles from here. Fourteen people shot, including some children out celebrating Halloween. Still though, where I’m staying and where the office is located is a nice area compared to where that shooting was, so I’ve been told. During the week, whenever I go out I’m with coworkers unless it’s to run across the street to Target or for pizza. So I was feeling maybe it’s just fine here, and okay to explore a bit.

After work on Friday I power walked all over the place, partially because I got turned around and the GPS made it worse. I kept walking and ending up in the same place not far from my office or hotel but not quite sure where I was. On the upside, I’m averaging about five miles a day of walking both from getting lost and going places, with and without coworkers.

Yesterday I went to the Art Institute (which was very pleasant) and then to see Lake Michigan which is only a block from there and just a short walk from my hotel.

On the way home, after a video call with my mother to show her Lake Michigan and the rainy, stormy weather day, I had a jarring experience. I had to cross several lanes of the road, with an island in between. I had the walk signal and crossed the first area. I headed to the next short stretch and a black SUV came from the road on my left and headed straight into the oncoming (but stopped) cars on my right. The car drove up on the curb, blocking one lane of the cars, and two officers wearing black jumped from the car, drew their guns and headed for a white SUV two cars back, still stopped at the light. It was so fast it was hard to register what was going on. The female officer yelled to her partner, “That’s him!” At that point I hurried across the rest of my crosswalk journey, in front of the police vehicle on the curb and got as far away as I could. Then I turned to watch as the cops ran to both sides of the white car, guns pointed at the driver. “Get out of the vehicle!” they shouted.

The cop on the passenger side banged the car window with the gun, trying to break it I guess. You’d think the driver of the white car would have no choice but to get out, or shoot, or get shot, but somehow he got his car out of the lane, over the curb, probably less than fifty feet from where I’d run to, and sped away down the street I was standing on. This was the “nice, safe” street mere blocks from my upscale hotel. The cops then jumped in their car and went after him. Sirens blared from all directions and within a minute or two all the cars that were waiting at the light went about their business.

I was rattled to say the least. If the driver hadn’t been able to get his car free surely there would have been shots fired or at least a violent struggle until the police pinned him down, or he wriggled away, maybe in my direction. After that I went back to the room and stayed inside until later, when I went across the street to Subway, for takeout. I later got dinner (salad) in the hotel lobby and spent a couple of hours having nice conversation with three older siblings from upstate New York who were in town for a funeral. It was a nice diversion.

This violent scene that happened in what felt like less than two minutes start to finish reminded me how much I like my safe little suburb. Violence and crime can happen anywhere, but here, even in this seemingly safe section of town, the sirens are constant. The hotel staff assured me it was safe but “Don’t go out at night alone, hold your phone tight, keep your purse close…”

The cashiers in the stores I visited, for the most part, don’t make eye contact, don’t smile, certainly don’t make small talk. Maybe because it’s chilly out or because it’s a city and not a suburb. I’ve had some nice conversations with strangers since I’ve been here but they were hotel guests from somewhere else not the residents. Is everyone scared, afraid to engage? Am I just too chill now? Too California? Just not used to true urban culture where people want to keep to themselves? After my experience yesterday I kind of get it.

Today it was an hour earlier because of the time change. The buildings from the view in my room were showered in pink light. I quietly snuck down the hall in my comfy PJs to the window that faces the lake. It was a magical start to the day.

I took a 90 minute architectural tour of the city on a riverboat which was nice, and I tried not to dwell too much on yesterday’s almost shooting event, but I was a lot more cognizant of others as I walked.

I didn’t try to engage with people as I passed. They didn’t try to engage with me. I walked back from the tour and made my way to a lunch place, and then back to my room. Tomorrow my coworkers will be back and I’ll have people to walk with but I do feel a little guarded. I find myself walking closer to buildings than the street and not stopping to marvel at the pretty buildings or the Macy’s Christmas window decor. Ryan is always guarded with strangers, doesn’t really trust them, and rarely makes small talk with people on the street. He always locks the car and house doors, and worries about safety. I’ve always been the opposite, a hundred percent trusting everyone to do the right thing, and not seeing the world as a dangerous place or people as a threat. I’m certainly not saying that now I’ve changed over one incident but I can now see the benefit of being cautious and cognizant of one’s surroundings. A little caution isn’t a bad thing.

To visiting new places and navigating the waters,

Carly G.

Another Year Gone, Another Year Ahead

I turned fifty-four last week, and am relieved that at this age I feel content. There are so many people younger and older than me chasing unfulfilled dreams, or beating themselves up over life regrets. Not every choice I’ve made has been the best one, and there were some things I would change if given the opportunity, but overall, I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

My work is fun and rewarding, I have a great husband, a beautiful, kind daughter, a cool and caring future son-in-law, an adorable grandson, two cute dogs, and an old turtle. My house is small but cozy and we were lucky to buy before the housing prices went through the roof.

A month ago, Ryan (in his capacity as a small press publisher), published Goodbye Grandma Anna, my illustrated children’s book about loss. It was based on losing our old Mini Schnauzer Anna, told from our Granola’s point of view. This was a fun project, so much different from my fiction writing in the past. When I wrote long, adult fiction, I’d become manic. I’d stay up all night, start writing as soon as I got home from work, snap at the non-fictional people around me, and obsess over my characters.

In contrast, when I painted the dog portraits for the book, it was a calming, and happy, creative outlet. When I wrote the poems to accompany the pictures, Ivy and Ryan helped and it was easy breezy. Ryan laid out the book and did a beautiful job. It was such a nice process that I want to illustrate and write more Granola books.

Beyond the book, I’ve been painting dog and pet portraits in a frenzy. 8X10 canvases cover one living room wall, and until last week more were stacked up in the kitchen. When the book came out I did some preliminary marketing, Amazon and Instagram ads, bringing it to local shops, going to craft fairs, entering contests, etc. but it was intimidating. This is a different type of book, and tying it into my paintings overall…I wasn’t sure where to begin.  

This issue was solved when I visited an antique store in our town that just opened. After asking the owner about the possibility to sell my art or books there, she offered me a booth to rent. I was surprised, as I’d never considered having a permanent spot to sell my paintings or my book. But there was such good energy there. I’d visited the store often when it had a different owner and it’s always been a happy place for me. Knowing I could have a place to showcase my work, where people could see my paintings and the book at their leisure was a tempting proposition.  It helps too that the owner used to own a bookstore and offered to host a book launch for me. It all happened quickly like most of the big moves in my life have and I have a good feeling about it.

The last week I’ve been going to thrift stores to buy furniture and trinkets, anything to make the as cozy and welcoming as possible Trevor, Ivy, and Ryan all helped me at various times to set up. Trevor’s custom, butcherblock cutting boards will be for sale too and I’m so glad he too will have a place to show off his talent.

It’s really coming along, getting cozier by the day. My book launch is set for October 8th and I’m genuinely looking forward to it, for the book, the art, and because I’m multi-purposing it as a fundraiser for a local animal rescue.

I don’t know what my future will bring, but my present is pretty wonderful.

Here’s to another year of possibilities!

Carly G.

We Are Always Home

Last month I was brewing a cup of coffee in the office. As I waited, I watched out the window that faces the Beverly Hills County Club. There was a woman wearing a blouse and skirt, holding a broom. She swept the area around a bus bench. Then she’d gather whatever she collected into a dustbin and toss it over the fence onto the lush green of the golf course. She swept the small area by the bench over and over. I couldn’t help but think of those spirits on ghost programs that repeat the same task for eternity. Her belongings (about a dozen shopping bags) were stuffed around and under the bench so I suspect she was homeless and this was her “spot,” despite the incongruity of what seemed to be business attire. From my thirteenth floor viewpoint it was hard to see detail, but it was clear she was expending her energy to make her spot homey.

When I walk on the wash/arroyo, there’s usually a man there, on the duck pond side, by the bridge. He’s known unofficially as the Mud Man. Per some neighbors, he’s over-the-top brilliant but… Now he spends his days building large mounds of dirt on the wash. All day, every day, you can see him endlessly shoveling dirt onto a pile. Then another pile. A few months ago Trevor noticed one of his arms had a cast on it. Yet he shoveled away, performing the most important job there was (to him). He takes pride in his home, in his work. This little patch of land is his home, or at least an extension of the area under the bridge where I often see him shaking out blankets and pouring water on the concrete.

Wherever you are, you make that your home. Even if you don’t think it’ll be permanent, you have no choice but to embrace wherever you hang your hat, so to speak, to make it a place you want to be, where you feel safe and cushioned from the world. As humans we crave sanctuary and shelter, our own private nest. As kids we build forts with blankets, and if we’re lucky graduate to a tree house. Later there could be college dorms, or first apartments, or a room all our own at Grandma’s. Second, third, fourth apartments, maybe a house. Renting or owning makes no difference. All that matters is that you’re there for a time and you make it a reflection of who you are, filling it with things that make you smile, all the while bringing your essence along. Each time we pick up the pieces, make a clean sweep, and make the next dwelling our home.

We have a bad drought here, as it has been for a long time. We gave up on grass years ago because of the gophers. Recently our water usage has been restricted further so we’ve adjusted by watering our drought-tolerant plants only once a week. Somehow everything is thriving. Maybe it’s the newfound hippie in me but I can’t help attributing it to my expecting everything to thrive around me because I love it here so much. When I look at the yard and the house I feel warm and happy. Gaining perspective from the Mud Man, the Sweeping Woman, and my earlier Carlys, I know if I lived somewhere else, I’d feel warm and happy there too.

Because of the severe water shortage, part of the arroyo has dried up in the area the town normally supplements. The Mud Man, lacking the water, has improvised. Now he’s focused on rock formations. This is still his habitat, mud or not, the place he finds joy.

Ryan and I went to Orange County last weekend. While we were there we visited several antique stores. Miraculously I didn’t buy anything. This time, it was just about the memories. For both of us, seeing our childhood items in the store brought waves of nostalgia.

As much as I smiled when I saw familiar items, I didn’t want to buy them because they were part of who I was then. Old lives. I don’t ever forget where I came from or my life before, but the “before” part is key. Over the years I’ve accumulated so many items in an attempt to feel complete, to recapture one phase or another of an earlier time. Old toys or figures or books or songs that remind me of childhood or young adult life fill our home. But during this jaunt to the antique stores, I felt like I didn’t need more. For the first time, I was happy to enjoy the memories but leave them there for someone else. I like my “now.”

Arnie G. and I campaigned for Ross Perot and likely had one of those pins. I had a similar shell owl. My mother had that same red fondue set, and there were lots of happy memories that went along with it. That Wacky Witch Golden Book was one of my favorites. The Big Brown Bear was how I learned that bees will sting you and your nose will swell up if you go after their honey. The plastic Disney figures… I can’t recall what I had but I know I had one and it was orange.

In fourth grade I got a snazzy bunny fur jacket. I felt like an absolute princess even though we lived with my grandparents that year and everything in my life was upside down. That Smith Corona was the one we bought used so my mother could take typing lessons. And that toy camera…I admit I almost bought that on Sunday but ultimately decided not to because I’m not five years old, and once I clicked through all the pictures realized that was good enough.

As much as I’m sure this is my forever home, and all the paint and energy and love I’ve poured into it matter, I also know life itself is as transitory as the Mud Man’s mud piles or the Sweeping Woman’s dust under the bus bench. All we can truly hold onto is the memories. They are our home. Not a street address or furniture or books or toys, because eventually everything tangible goes away, even us.

Home is who we were and who we are, and the influence and memory of everyone and everything we’ve experienced. Tonight as I finally finish this entry which I started on July 4th, I look around the silent living room at the cluttered walls and shelves, physical touchpoints of memories. And then I step outside with the dogs and look at the starry sky. This is the sky I’ve always seen, clear and bright. As I child and teen and young adult I looked at the same sky (albeit from the East Coast). Without all the “stuff,” to remind me of earlier times, the sky is always there, and the ground perpetually beneath my feet, no matter where I live.

I think of Arnie G at times like this, as he’s lived in at least fifty places, maybe a hundred since we split up almost twenty-five years ago. He goes from hospitals to rehabs to the streets to apartments and then starts over. Sometimes he’s in a park or a shelter. He doesn’t have much in the way of belongings that travel with him, but each place is his home. Each place he lives, he appreciates that he’s alive in this given body, in this given life, and that’s enough. He doesn’t lament over no longer having the coffee table from 1993 or the old waterbed, or the many, many paintings or prints we loved at various time. Though admittedly he does talk about the old trumpet sometimes.

He treasures the memories and always has those with him. Maybe my recent bout with COVID changed my perspective, but whatever the reason, the idea of things seems less and less important all the time. The memories and new experiences, even the little ones like finding a baby lizard in the house today or watching Baby Trevie laugh…that is what makes a home.

Here’s to prioritizing the things that fill our souls over the things that fill our physical space, and to being home wherever you are.

Carly G.

Return to Office

After two years of being home, safe and sound with my dogs and more recently Ivy, Trevor, and baby Trevie, our company required us to return to the office three days a week. Until COVID and the quarantine, going to the office was a regular thing. For most of my twenty-four year career here, I was in the office five days a week. Full time, no exceptions, until about 2012 when working from home part time became an option for some roles.

For most of my time since I moved to California over seven years ago, I went in an average of ten days a month. So really, the requirement to work in the office three times a week isn’t extreme or insane, but after two years of hanging out at home it was an adjustment.

The biggest part I wrestled with was internal. I didn’t want to go in because, as I’ve pointed out in earlier blogs, I bristle when faced with the unknown or change. This was no different and it was exaggerated because it was a new office with unassigned seating. I preferred the old office in Santa Monica, where I parked in the same place every day, sat in the same cube. Outside was the Water Garden, Adirondack chairs, beautiful fountains, and more than anything a sense of comfort.

The first time I drove to the new office in Century City, a trial run on a Saturday, I was nervous. Ryan came with me to ease the anxiety. He came on both of my trial runs actually. The main thing that stood out to me is that once I took the Santa Monica Blvd exit and headed to the new office, we drove past my first office here. 11111 Santa Monica Blvd. That’s not an address you forget even if it was over twenty years ago.

Back when I started at this company, twenty-four years ago, I came to Los Angeles for two weeks of training with Arnie G and toddler Ivy. He dropped me off at the office and did tourist stuff with Ivy while I navigated working for a new company (after nine years at the last one). Every day I was in awe of the situation. I was in LOS ANGELES. Little old me from Massachusetts, driving around L.A., working in a tall building on Santa Monica Blvd. Just being there was so cool. Everything about those two weeks before I want back to Massachusetts to work was magical. I was scared, a lot of the time, but it was also so interesting. I knew nothing about the business, or my work, or the area. But that big change felt like it opened me up and made me a little less fearful of change overall.

So seeing this building on my left as I headed to the new place was a nice little sign. It didn’t seem as big as it did almost twenty-four years ago.

The first week was tough as I tried to figure out where to park in the garage, how to get my elevator key squared away to access my floor, how to set up my computer and headset. I remembered a lot of the people though not all the names. Since we have unassigned desks those magnetized name plates aren’t there as reminders.

In no time though, my routine was set and I settled in. I park in the same spot every day. Though it’s unassigned seating, everyone sits in their same places so I’m good there. We don’t have the Water Garden but I’m about 600 steps to the Century City Mall which gives me the same “This is so cool” feeling I used to get. If I leave my building and take a right, on foot, it’s the entrance to Beverly Hills. And best of all, some of my coworkers have been with the company as long as me which is comforting. Some are even Boston transfers, like me.

By week two I’d gotten used to the drive, to getting up early and arriving early. I’m lifted with a sense of wonder when driving past the giant lighted cross at Rocky Peak, and seeing the lights of the “the Valley” as I round the bend from Ventura to Los Angeles county. I’m one of the first people in the office so when I arrive, it’s dark and the lights pop on with every corner I turn. I set up my computer, go to the kitchen, and make my coffee. The window in the kitchen overlooks the Beverly Hills Country Club which is cool. Out the other window, there’s a drive up COVID testing center. Not so cool but a sign of the changes in the world in the last two years.

Most people aren’t wearing masks anymore which is a relief because I want to see faces, and because the idea of eight hours of mask wearing with my glasses fogged up would make work almost impossible. It’s been nice to see people again, to interact, to talk about work stuff in person. It’s nice to walk out on a sunny day (most days here) and trot to the giant mall. It’s surreal, and I often have to remind myself I’m really here.

There will always be a part of me that thinks “normal” is taking the Purple Line MBTA, and the orange and red line subways. Normal was being cold most of the year, and walking on bumpy cobblestone to the office. Normal was Dunkin’ Donuts every morning, getting the 24 ounce coffee, regular with three Sweet and Low, an everything bagel and salmon cream cheese, maybe Al Capone’s pizza for lunch. Chip Yard cookies from Faneuil Hall for a snack. And normal was rushing for the train home and ending up in my cozy suburb about 36 miles from the city.

I drive to work now instead of taking a train. I’m warm enough most of the time, and the pavement is smooth under my feet when I walk on breaks. I bring my lunch now, usually vegan turkey and Daiya cheese on low-calorie, high fiber bread. I rush home in my car to home in a cozy suburb about 36 miles from the city.

Ryan and I just celebrated our one year wedding anniversary and I have to say, I like this new normal quite a lot.

Here’s to returning to normal life!

-Carly G.

The New Baby

On 2-22-22 Ivy had a little boy, Trevie the 4th. She really wanted to have him on her due date, since it’s purported to be a date with planetary and astrological significance. She wanted to have a natural birth, in a tub, in a local birthing center. That worked out too. It was a much better and less stressful experience than when I had her.

Twenty-six years ago, when my water broke on a chilly Friday afternoon in mid-February, I had to travel thirty-five miles into Boston, to a giant hospital. I got an epidural and pushed for three hours while three residents tried to move things along, until my regular doctor came in and took care of things. They gave Arnie G. and me, and later Ivy, matching wristbands so she wouldn’t accidentally be switched or intentionally stolen. I didn’t take her home until Monday morning, as we spent spent three days in the hospital waiting for Ivy’s battery of tests to come back. She was fine in the end, and I discovered later the tests and spinal tap were merely because her temperature was a little elevated. Not meningitis as they thought, just a side effect of the epidural. She spent her first two nights in a hard plastic bassinet next to my hospital bed, swaddled tight like a little bullet. I came home to snow, and the sinking feeling I’d have to leave her five days a week to go back to work in the big city. Arnie and I were young and broke, and fought way too much, so those first few months and years were tinged with worry and fear. I instantly loved Ivy but that love reminded me often that things needed to be calmer, easier. Her life needed less chaos than I’d grown accustomed to. This nagged at me, knowing I needed to do better, make her life better. I got us there eventually but it would take years.

Ivy’s birthing experience, in contrast, was thankfully just about perfect. I say “just about” because childbirth really hurts. Apart from that it was a beautiful experience. The center was only about three miles from our house which made a huge difference. It was small and intimate with just her midwife and two nurses, plus Trevor by her side. The birthing tub was only a few steps from a big comfy bed. She arrived at 8:13 A.M. and Trevie was born at 9:11 A.M. She was home by dinnertime with both her Trevors, and with us. The baby slept in their comfy bed with them, with his arms and legs free. This taught me yet again that the way things were done before is not always the best way. Now there are cell phones and internet and information about everything you want to know. She doesn’t have to rely on my experiences or the opinion of one doctor. And she’s not afraid to challenge me if I say something like, “In my day…” I know this because she has challenged me, citing newer research, and more often than not I see the light.

Trevie was born with his arms outstretched like Superman. He and Trevor III often sleep with their arms up. On the right is Arnie G. and Ivy, cuddled together before he lost his way a few years later.

I’m still working from home full time, until April 1st, so get to see the three of them interacting as a mini family every day. It’s nice seeing how smooth it all seems to be going, the way Ivy and Trevor coordinate the diaper changing, laundry, food prep and getting him dressed. Trevie fits just right with them, much like Ivy did with us. Arnie G. and I may have had our struggles but we always agreed she was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Ivy and Travie are posing in front of her new apple tree. No cold, snowy winters for her. She plans to take pictures in front of the tree month after month so we can watch the tree and my grandson grow up together. And here’s a picture of Ryan and me holding the baby. I was afraid to hold him the first few days because he was so tiny and fragile, but now have gotten used to carrying him all the time, every chance I get. Ryan a/k/a Grandpa is still a little nervous about holding him too but we’re getting there.

When Ivy was at the birthing center, getting ready to come home, I bought her a bouquet of flowers. Miraculously, many of them are still alive a month later. I think it’s a sign of good fortune.

Here’s to Ivy making good choices and listening to her heart. For challenging the “way things were” and being courageous enough to do what she and Trevor think is right. The books say the baby is too young to (consciously) smile yet but he’s great at making silly faces.

Here’s to a new life, filled with laughter and joy.

-Carly G.

Hitchhiking To Shambala

The vibe in our house has changed since Ivy and Trevor (the kids) moved in. Maybe it’s because Ivy’s pregnant and we know we will literally have new life breathed into our family, with little Trevie’s arrival just weeks away. Or it could be the energy of their youth, and the relief and joy that my (not so little anymore) girl is back home. Our house is gradually filling in with baby things: a bottle rack next to the sink, a high chair in the kitchen, a changing table and a bouncer in their room. Ivy and Trevor’s belongings are more and more intermingling with ours, and our home feels full and happy. We have dinner together most nights and the four of us watch TV or do activities. Amazingly in such a small home it feels like we all fit just right. I want it to stay just like this forever.

But I know it won’t. Not because I’m fatalistic. I’m sure our relationship with the kids will stay wonderful and the addition of our future grandson will bring us all even closer. But someday the kids will get their own place again where Trevie can have his own room and they can have more freedom. It will be hard to adjust to, the sudden emptiness, but it will be, as Ryan often says, the natural occurrence of things.

We’re all hitchhiking through life, spending time in the company of others in short or long bursts. We have great conversations and share life experiences for an hour, a month, a decade, but then it’s time to say goodbye and take the next ride that comes our way.

The other night I had a sudden memory of an ex-boyfriend from right after high school, over thirty years ago. The whole relationship lasted only a year so it’s not one I think about often. But suddenly the other night I recalled the apartment we shared in great detail. I’ve written frequently about my first apartment but part of me forgot that it wasn’t my first apartment at all. I’d spent almost a whole year somewhere else before that. It was a large, brown, six-family in my hometown. The young man’s brother lived in one of the apartments and told us about a vacant one-bedroom in the building. We didn’t have much time to decide and we were young so we took it. I remember being afraid, and crying, not wanting to move out of the apartment I shared with my mother (shown below with my Cabbage Patch Doll) and Mean Guy, but at the time that home wasn’t a safe environment. (Mean Guy wouldn’t move out until seven years later).

I barely knew the young man I was moving in with, having only met him a few months before, randomly, in the parking lot of my apartment complex. At seventeen, a couple of months from my eighteenth birthday, I was naïve, emotionally raw, and based relationships on what I’d learned from the Disney Princesses and 80s cult classics. He showed up in my life unexpectedly, ready and willing to rescue me. We were young and in love so a few months later moved in together. I hitched a ride, so to speak, with that person for the next leg of my journey.

When I was thinking of this time in my life the other night, mentally walking through the old apartment with the thick wooden bannister in the hallway leading to the second floor, the pocket doors, and the glass doorknobs, I remember most how safe I felt. I planned to stay forever.

But a year later he broke up with me. He was a good person, but had taken me as far as he could and needed to move on. I was devastated, utterly crushed, but had to pack up and start the next part of the journey. I was scared, had no idea how to live on my own. I really did not want it to be over, but you can’t force people to stay.

My mother took me apartment hunting and the landlord offered me a place on the spot. A kind stranger helping me on my path. My boss let me have a company car so I could afford to pay my rent. Another human who helped me on my journey. I was happy there in my first Carly-only apartment, working three jobs while going to night school. I loved my job at the car rental agency, the work, and the freedom to run an office. I would have stayed forever. But two years into it my boss came in one day and said they were closing down.

Again I was scared and sad. I didn’t want everything to change. Didn’t want to leave the company or my boss, or my apartment. But I did, and moved in with my best friend for about six months. When I left my friend’s place, only because I wanted my own place again not because of a “break up” thankfully, I planned to stay in that place forever.

Of course over time there were more changes, more forks in the road, more detours. My fellow travelers have been many, and the locales have changed but there was always someone to join me, a friend, a relative, a coworker, a partner, a pet, to share the ride until it was time for us to part ways.

When I was young I kept deluding myself that my journey would be unchanging. That I’d find a job, a love, a home, and nothing would ever change and no one would leave. But of course that’s not life. Nor is it a journey if you never go anywhere. If all the people you know are the only people you will ever know, how can one learn or experience much of anything? If it’s easy all the time and there’s no heartbreak or challenge, what is there? What’s the point? Where’s the growth?

There’s a song the Three Dog Night performed, written by a lyricist named Danny Moore, called The Road to Shambala. The whole song is great but these lyrics always spoke to me. “Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind, on the road to Shambala.” Shambala is a mythical kingdom in the Himalayas, mentioned in various texts including in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s a place where everyone is enlightened. It’s not a place you get to easily. The way I see it, it would take many lifetimes of learning, many long journeys and long roads to get to Shambala. But as the song says, there is kindness along the way, on the road to Shambala.

I’ve been in the same company for twenty-three years and except for that, and for Ivy, there have been very few constants in my life in that time. Co-workers and friends and partners come and go. Relatives and pets pass away. I’ve stopped clinging on for dear life when people leave or when situations change. I used to do that and looking back now feel foolish. I blame it on youth, on lack of perspective. I spent so many years dwelling on how things didn’t always turn out how I planned, or missing people who were gone, or wondering why someone left and if I could have done anything differently.

At fifty-three years old I’ve turned a corner. I look forward to what each next day will bring the way I scroll Netflix checking for the newest movie or steaming series. What will be different today? What’s the new experience? Who will I meet? Who will I say goodbye to, and who will I say hello to for the first time? To all things there is a season. This acceptance of loss doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what came before, or that I didn’t treasure those relationships any less. But I have to keep traveling, hours to go before I sleep and all that.

I try to learn from each moment and from all my interactions good or bad. Once we have traveled together for five minutes or five years, you have become part of my path.

There will always be another road, always a fellow traveler to share the journey. Remember the rides together with fondness. People are helpful and people are kind on the road to Shambala and wherever else the road may lead you.

To all my fellow travelers, then and now

-Carly G.

The Importance of Feeling

Welcome to 2022!  Here’s to a happy year ahead. May you all reach your goals and find peace, joy, and acceptance of yourselves and others. Those are my daily unspoken resolutions. My specific one is the usual “lose some darn weight before the doctor forces you to take cholesterol meds.”  My first post from ten years ago mentioned losing weight and here I am still talking about it. It’s not that I don’t love my body, or I have self-esteem issues. I’ve made great strides in those areas over time. At this age it’s about health.

My oldest dog, my Mini Schnauzer Anna, passed away the day after Christmas. She had heart trouble for at least three years and ever-worsening dementia the last two. At first it was the little things, like her forgetting how to get back in the house, or standing in the hallway looking lost. Then it was bigger worries, endlessly fretting when something was in the wrong place, like a toy or blanket in her bed. The last few days her combination of deafness, decreasing vision, and her memory loss manifested in her being confused and upset for longer periods each day. We knew we needed to put her to rest once we were sure her quality of life was lousy. That’s not always easy to tell in dogs because they appear happy so much of the time even when they’re suffering. That last very late night she suddenly reached a state where we couldn’t console her or calm her down and she yelped all the way to the out-of-town emergency vet, and until she got her IV of propanol to calm her down. From then she whimpered quietly until I said my final goodbye.

We got home about one in the morning and I had to work the next day. I was numb, sad, though relieved she didn’t have to suffer. The next day I did what I do when I’m stressed. I ate a lot of cookies. I don’t even like those tinned butter cookies that taste like lard and coconut and have giant sugar crystals you have to crunch through. I also don’t like the apple caramels in the snack bin but I had some of those too. Anything I could get my hands on to soothe my sadness and help with my exhaustion.

All that said, I know I’m not the only one who does whatever is humanly possible to avoid feeling. Our culture rallies against any physical or emotional discomfort. Feel sad or sore or scattered, there’s a pill for that. Can’t sleep or sleeping too much? There’s a pill for that too in an effort to make everything comfortable and make sure we never hurt. The consequence is that we numb ourselves into a flatline of emotion and then rely on other drugs, prescription or otherwise, alcohol, food (my drug of choice) to perk us up to an acceptable level of “just right.” We could experience life, rage and cry, fully immerse ourselves in tragedy and disappointment when it happens, face conflict and daunting situations and find we are stronger than we thought. But many of us don’t. Instead we numb ourselves until it’s second nature and we become daunted at the very idea of emotion, all to protect ourselves from unpleasantness.  

 I sit in a corner of my living room nine hours a day speaking virtually with people all over the world. I’m dreading the threatened Return to Office because it’s hard. I’ll need to wake up earlier and drive a long way in L.A. traffic, walk across a parking garage, figure out how to use the new docking stations and my headset. I’ll have to interact with people all day long, many I don’t know, whose names I’ll have to remember. I’ll have to use social skills and NOT BE SHY…. I’ll need to leave my virtual office and exist in a real one with real people and then drive home tired. On the one hand I think it’s unnecessary we go back to the office because the way it is now is easier and more comfortable.

 On the other hand I think back to the summer before fifth grade and what would have happened if I hadn’t been forced to leave the comfort of my home. My parents had split up for part of a year and we all got back together that summer in a new town with a fresh start. At the time it was a luxurious apartment complex with a swimming pool but I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to stay inside with my mom and watch TV and write stories. I didn’t want “the real world” because it was scary and I didn’t want to feel scared, didn’t want to make the effort to overcome it even if there were potential rewards. My dad called from work and told my mother in no uncertain terms that she needed to make me go outside and make new friends. I cried and begged and got myself hysterical, but to his credit I went out, chubby, shy, and with puffy red eyes. I made friends and barely left the pool all summer and it was one of the best times of my life.

Sometimes when I’m complaining about being forced back to the office and how it’s supposedly good for our mental health (blech!) when we’re working perfectly fine right where we are in our home offices with our dogs, in our pajamas, I catch myself and think of the swimming pool and how facing my fear, literally kicking and screaming, made a huge difference in my life.

None of us want to experience anything unpleasant but we need to. There are rewards to facing fears, to letting grief wash over us, to leaving our homes and taking risks, but it’s so much easier to stay in our cocoons, communicating via text and Facebook, watching other people live life on TikTok. And when we’re tired of that we watch TV, hundreds of streaming channels and thousands of shows in every language, convincing ourselves we’re having true-life experiences and that crying during a Hallmark movie is the same as crying over your own lost dog/parent/job/spouse.

In 2022 I will lose weight and keep it off because I’m going to stop using food as a crutch and a band-aid. It’s never the food itself that’s the problem, it’s how I overuse it to feel the rush of endorphins that keep me safe and happy. I’m going to force myself into social situations (with a mask) and stop saying an instant “no” to every activity that involves leaving my bubble. In a couple of months little Trevie will be here and I want him to have a healthy-weight Grandma who will be there for his college graduation and the birth of his kids someday. I’m not going to teach him that the path to happiness and solace is sugar. The path the happiness is living your life and thriving on all the emotions, good or bad, that are part of the process.

Here’s to self-awareness, joy, and looking forward to whatever lies ahead.

-Carly G

Thanksgiving 2021

In November every year, many of us take a day to reflect on what we’re grateful for. This Thanksgiving season was filled with blessings, illness, and tragedy, and more than ever drove home what really matters.

The first week in November Trevor’s mother threw Ivy a lovely baby shower. Since his family lives almost three hours away, we decided to get a hotel and make a weekend of it. This was the first time we’d met Trevor’s family and I was nervous about it. I’m shy by nature and though I do fine in crowds, the anticipation of crowds panics me. The thought of meeting essentially everyone in Trevor’s family, on their turf, after little to no socializing throughout this pandemic, was intimidating.

That Saturday, the night before the shower, we had dinner at his grandparents’ house. When we drove up, a stately, yellow Colonial style home radiated warmth and coziness even before we walked through the door. Inside, the kindness and feeling of love was tangible, and was cemented after spending the evening getting to know Trevor’s grandparents. They’re from the east coast as it turns out so that helped with my comfort level tremendously.

The next day, we got to meet all of Trevor’s family and friends and see where he grew up. Another gorgeous home filled with unique and interesting things. Seeing Trevor the last six years in his world in Santa Barbara gave me a different perspective than I got from hearing stories, and seeing pictures from his childhood. His mother and stepfather, father and stepmother, lots of grandparents and aunts and uncles, friends from his childhood and from his Santa Barbara life. I was blown away by how much work his mother put into the party, and was impressed at how smoothly everything went, so many friendly people milling about to celebrate the new baby.

Though it was a perfect day, a perfect weekend really, my favorite part was how everyone kept coming up to me and telling me that they loved Ivy, that they were glad she was part of their family. I watched her, so at home with everyone, and was grateful too that she was part of their family. I don’t dwell on my mortality much but at times like that, I was relieved that if anything ever happened to me, she’d be okay. There’s a whole, very big, family there who would make sure of it. All this made me even more happy about Ivy’s and Trevor’s future.

Midweek the next week, Ryan texted me that one of his bosses went home sick. Ryan had developed what we thought were allergies and didn’t think much of it at the time, but when his boss went home that Wednesday with fever and chills we feared COVID. When Ryan got home, even though he wasn’t all that sick, he took an at home test. It was negative. The next day his boss went in again and left early. Ryan felt a little worse and we started to get concerned. By Friday, Ryan had a fever too so came home just a couple of hours into his day. One of his other coworkers also started to get sick.

That Friday, two weeks before Thanksgiving, when Ryan got home we did another COVID test and it was positive. He texted everyone at work to let them know but we were still all thinking it wasn’t that bad. He’d been sicker in the past, he said. It was a mild head cold with a mild fever. Nothing major. The thing about COVID in our society, people are getting relaxed. Many of us have been vaccinated, some got boosters, a lot of people already got COVID with or without symptoms. Everyone is tired of quarantining and staying home. With vaccines we’re lulled into this false sense of safety so we go out more. We wear masks everywhere and wash our hands constantly but with people we see all the time, we’re not so careful. At work, for Ryan, with just five people in the front office it felt safe. All five of them caught it.

By Sunday he’d had a fever for a few days. His coworker had also gotten sicker and developed a fever. His boss, who’d been the first one to get sick, texted everyone Sunday night saying he’d been admitted to the hospital. We were in shock. Admitted? It made Ryan’s symptoms seem a lot more scary.

On Monday we got a call at five in the morning. His boss died overnight. Only a few days before, they were working together in the office, and then he was gone. They’d all worked together thirty years and he was gone just like that. This is the man who grew up in the house we now own, who slept in the rooms we sleep in, who played outside in our yard, and spent his teen years watching television in the living room where I am now, typing this blog.

By Wednesday, Ryan was only getting worse. He had a fever, cough, and was dehydrated. We decided to go to the ER to get him rehydrated. I wasn’t allowed inside but the nurse said he’d only be a couple of hours. I went home and went back to work expecting a call any minute to pick him up. Except I didn’t get that call. Instead Ryan texted me to say he had pneumonia. Later he texted again that he was being admitted. A couple of days later we found out his other boss had been admitted, was right down the hall and in worse shape. The details here don’t matter because finally, six days later, Ryan was released in time for Thanksgiving. His boss got out four days after that.

The following Monday (over a week ago now) everyone went back to work, weak and tired, his boss on oxygen. His other boss gone and leaving only memories and an empty desk as a reminder to how things were just a couple of weeks before.

During the week Ryan was in the hospital it hit home how reliant I am on him as a companion and best friend. I missed all the little things, like how when I get up in the morning my coffee cup is loaded with Cremora and is parked in the Keurig machine. Or how he’s always on the other side of the couch when I watch TV, and I squish my cold feet under his thigh. Or how we always go everywhere together even if it’s just the grocery store. The smell of Old Spice, the diet soda always stocked in the fridge, the cute texts and gifs he sends me during each day.

If it weren’t for Ryan, Ivy wouldn’t have met Trevor or be pregnant with a California baby. She wouldn’t have the loving extended family, who threw her a shower and who are grateful she’s here.

We are all thankful this year for what have and for everyone who has entered our lives.

I am truly grateful for you all, and blessed that it’s all worked out just as it should.

-Carly G

And Baby Makes Five

A few months ago, Ivy and Trevor decided to give up their Santa Barbara apartment to save money, buy a truck, and live a somewhat nomadic life. Our house would be the home base but mostly they’d travel around, work remotely and take life day by day, filled with adventure. Though I would have preferred them to be locked into salaried jobs, with a solid life plan, these are different times and we are different people and trying to fit them into a life plan of a girl born in the 1960’s isn’t fair.

They moved most of their belongings into storage and left the rest with us. A bit later I confessed that this plan made me nervous and asked that they explain it to me so I’d feel better about it. They looked at each other then to me and said they’d decided instead to live with us formally, and travel when they could, once in a while. I was relieved. I liked knowing they’d have electricity and running water, and shelter from the heat and cold.

Once they settled in, and the day before leaving for one more long trip, this time to explore the northern states, and circle back through South Dakota and Utah, they handed us a couple of scratch tickets. This didn’t seem out of the ordinary as I buy tickets once in a while. When we scratched them, Ryan had one and I had another, the “we’re having a baby” prize confused me. I looked to Ivy and asked “Is this real?” She nodded. Meanwhile Ryan was still scratching his and hadn’t yet uncovered his prize. “Ryan,” I said, “scratch the prize section at the bottom.” He did but didn’t seem to grasp the message. “Ivy’s pregnant,” I explained.

After the initial surprise, and my getting carried away with rapid fire questions about jobs and insurance, and Ryan telling me to not hammer Ivy with questions and directives, we celebrated and hugged them.

The two pictures on the left are Ivy’s ultrasound pics of Trevie (short for Trevor the 4th). The blurry one in the right was my 26 year old ultrasound pic of Ivy. Technology sure has gotten better.

It’s been a while now, and we’ve all gotten comfortable living together. I think Ivy is almost 23 weeks with a due date of 2-22-22. I dug out her old baby book, where I’d started recording information that first night in the hospital, the day she was born. I also pulled out the baby book my mother started for me. It’s interesting to see the similarities and the differences both in thinking and in technology. Ivy found an online version of a baby book for her little Trevie. I believe she can later print all of her pregnancy and post birth experiences into a nicely sorted book.

Below is a picture of me in the hospital the day I was born, and one of Ivy. Back in 1968 the resolution of photos from home cameras was terrible. There are pictures of Arnie G and I holding Ivy in the hospital. I don’t have any of my mother holding me as she was taking the photos. My father was in Vietnam at the time so my mother delivered me alone. Back then I’m not sure if husbands were involved in the labor but knowing he was so far away must have been hard for her. Trevor will be beside Ivy in the hospital, as he’s been by her side for the last six years.

Ivy and I were born about the same time of day. I was born at 6:04am and she at 5:02am. I was 7 pounds and 5.5 ounces and 20 inches and she was 7 pounds 14 ounces and 21 inches long. I was 27 when she was born, and she will be 26 when she has her baby.

She is a lot like me but is her own person. I wonder what little Trevie will be like. Will he be a carbon copy of Trevor or Ivy? A combination of both? Will he take on Ryan’s love of books and black and white movies? Or will he be, like all of us, a mixture of past, current, and future cultures, which will both confuse and inspire us? I imagine someday Trevor and Ivy will talk to little Trevie and say, “When we were your age, this is how WE did things.” And he will look at them and tell them they don’t understand, and HIS is the generation that has things all figured out. As grandparents Ryan and I will remember fondly when Ivy and Trevor said the same thing, or when we said the same to our own parents. We all think we are the first to experience a revelation and true understanding of how things should be. But the older I get the more I see the relativity of everything.

We spend our lives on a quest to find the answers. At the end, we realize we don’t know much more than when we started and that’s okay. Maybe life shouldn’t be spent trying to solve mysteries and find definite answers and solutions to every variable, and get others to buy into our philosophies, but to admit that none of that matters. It’s only the experiences of being alive and giving and receiving kindness and love that sustain us. The rest is semantics and noise we have to drown out to get to the good stuff.

The night I had Ivy, as she slept cuddled between my legs on the hospital bed, I filled out the Dreams for Our Baby page of the book. Though the picture below shows the text, I’m writing it here too, because they are important dreams. They say be careful what you wish for but in this case, and based on the writings of a new mom almost twenty-six years ago, my wish for what she would become was granted.

“As the baby’s mother, my hope is: that the baby has a wonderful imagination and believes that any dream can come true. I hope she retains a child-like wonder about everything and an innocent hopeful view of the world.  I hope she is brilliant and succeeds in whatever she chooses to do with her life. Above all I hope that she is always happy and never forgets for a second how much I love her.”

Here’s to new life, new babies, and remembering what really matters

-Carly G.

The Last Episode

In a few hours I’ll be fifty-three years old. When I think back to my early youth, teen years, early twenties and onward to the present, the scenes play in my head like TV shows.

With the advent of DVDs, blu-rays, and streaming services, I have gotten in the habit of binge watching television programs I once viewed over the span of years. I’ve watched MadMen (twice), New Girl, The Mentalist, Eureka, Ally McBeal, Sister Wives, House, How I Met Your Mother, Monk, Leverage, Schitt’s Creek, and others. The thing about TV shows, binge watched or the old fashioned way, is that when they’re over I feel an immediate sense of loss. Those characters I spent so much time getting to know, they’re gone. Done. The series is over and my contact with those characters is over. I won’t get updates on their lives and I just have to hope the writers provide a darn good series finale to tie up every loose end.

Sometimes I go back and try to watch shows I used to love as a kid or a young adult and it’s not the same. I used to love That Girl. A few months ago I tried to watch it but it was different now. Societal norms changed since then and so did I. Others I can watch over and over, and starting with the pilot through the final episode is like hanging out with old friends. Then there are other series that I can’t rewatch, not because they were bad, but because they were so real to me, and when they ended, it was painful. MASH is one of those shows. I can’t explain it but whenever I see a reference to it I’m transported back to the last episode, and the time in my life when it aired. With everything else going on in real life, it was heartbreaking to know I wouldn’t be able to hang out with Hotlips, Hawkeye, and Radar anymore.

I was thinking about this lately and how periods of our life end with finality in the same way. We graduate from high school and maybe we stay friends with some of the people but the high school experience of…well all of it, it’s done. Would I want to go back, walk the halls and relive the happy and sad times? No. No I wouldn’t because it was such a special and integral part of my life and going back and “rewatching it” would ruin it. I talk to high school friends on Facebook but it’s now, from here. As much as I get nostalgic about my old town, and the Taunton Green at Christmas, it’s something I want to preserve in my memory. I don’t want to watch MASH now and find it’s not as wonderful as it was then, and I don’t want to see my old hometown with new eyes.

Throughout our time here we star in so many life episodes and series. Some are pilots that never aired: a job I didn’t get, an unfulfilled crush, a short relationship that could have been a long series if things had gone differently. And then there are the years-long series as my life played out: Childhood, My Dating Years, First Marriage, Dating Years, Second Marriage, and so on. There were friendships and relationships that should have ended after a season or two but went too long until there was nothing left. And there were others that I wish had lasted longer, when “characters” died or left, and I was forced to adjust and start a new path. There were times when the consequences of my life choices played out before me in tragic fashion, when I’m sure friends and family knew what was coming and were screaming at their proverbial TV sets, “Don’t do it!” or “Watch out!”

Ivy and Trevor gave up their apartment and will be staying with us for a while to save money for a house. A couple of months ago I drove to Santa Barbara to help pack up the last of their things. Though Ivy’s had three apartments since we moved to California, she’s always lived off the same exit, Bath Street. When I drove to her house that day I got a little choked up. This would be the last time I’d be taking that exit, the last time I’d look to the right on Haley Street and see her first place, and then her second on Ladera. And finally driving up that too steep driveway to the place she’s lived in for five years with Trevor. It’s the end of an era. I saw a crocheted Bernie Sanders which was one of the last items to be packed. It was handmade by the little girl who used to be my stepdaughter. She’s all grown up now but the last time I saw her she was pretty young. Like the Brady Bunch kids, she’ll always be young to me.

As we’re preparing the house to make room for “the kids” we’ve all gone through a lot of boxes filled with old photos, greeting cards, books, you name it. We’ve been engulfed in memories, and sifting through what we need to keep from all our prior years, and which items lessened in importance over time.

The other day I found a small notebook with a cover that read “Jamaica ’91.” As soon as I saw it, I remembered that this was a journal I kept when Arnie G. and I went to Jamaica to get married. I read it, wondering what I’d recorded thirty years ago. It was sweet, the way I chronicled everything: how I felt, the food we ate, the souvenirs we bought, the yoga party and the talent show, the people we met… It was sad because I know how it turned out in the end. I know later we had an irretrievable breakdown of our marriage, and Arnie had an irretrievable breakdown of his mind. I don’t think I’ll read it again even if it was a wonderful story while it lasted.

With break ups, of romantic relationships or friendships, you usually can’t go back and continue on. When it’s over it’s over. You can try but usually by then so much has changed that it’s better to leave the sleeping dogs alone. Same with when they try to reboot a show after so many years. Sometimes it works but more often than not it’s unsettling making the leap to accept characters in their older bodies and pretend it all still makes sense.

When I left Arnie, when I moved out of the Middleboro house, and later the house I shared with Husband #2, and even later the condo, each of those was a period in my life, for better or worse, that ended. I get sad when I see the old places, because each one, at some point, had its final episode and I had to say goodbye.

Though there were happy memories, I wouldn’t want to go back. Those episodes are over. Many a series has ended and I’ve moved on, living in a spinoff, a married fifty-something woman living in California, with her charming and funny husband, her adult daughter and her fiance. I’m the same actor I’ve always been, but I’ve learned a thing or two about acceptance, flexibility, compromise, and method acting. I’m deeply entrenched in this role, not just playing a temporary part as I’ve done in the past as I waited for the big part to come, the one that would fulfill me. This is it. The big part, the role of a lifetime.

The life I have now will change. It always does. The big Director in the Sky likes to add drama and add in excitement. He likes to add story arcs, and new characters to make sure that we, the characters, are always evolving.

I look forward to more episodes.

-Carly G.