Raggedy Andy

Sometime in the year 1920, Raggedy Andy was introduced to the world in the form of Raggedy Andy Stories. His sister, Raggedy Ann, came on the scene about 5 years earlier, so Raggedy Andy has always been considered a bit of a sequel, forever in his sister’s shadow. Even his Wikipedia page redirects to that of his sister. I’m sure I wasn’t aware of his subordination as a child, but somehow my radar for underdogs drew me to Andy, even though both my dolls came as a set.

Truth be known, I was never into dolls that much. I was a tomboy through and through, and would much rather play with Tonka trucks and chemistry sets than with some silly doll (with the notable exception of Barbie.) But I do remember my two Raggedies.

They were very old school and cheaply made. Their clothing and features were simply printed on the cloth and they were then sewn together and stuffed, and had a bit of yarn for hair. This makes me wonder if my mother bought the printed cloth and made them for me. She did love to sew.

I remember staring at them and not quite knowing what to do with them. I don’t think I was introduced to any of the many books that described their adventures. That surprises me, in retrospect, as my mother was an avid reader and passed the love of reading on to all of us.

I remember being fascinated that their stuffed legs had a sewn seam in the middle, to indicate where their knees were, and therefore the legs could bend. I was also intrigued by the point where the yarn was attached to the head, and that their heads were basically flat, stuffed disks. It seems I was more interested in the dolls’ construction than I was in the dolls themselves.

I wish I could report that I got many years of fun and use from these dolls, but I think I lost interest in them relatively quickly. I don’t know what became of them. I know they didn’t move with me to Florida when I was ten years old. They most likely met some anticlimactic end, as is the way with all but the most beloved of children’s toys.

But despite my benign and youthful neglect, I thought it was appropriate to take a moment to wish Raggedy Andy a happy 100th birthday sometime this year. That truly is a milestone.

Raggedy Andy Stories

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Writing into a Void

Today is the 93rd birthday of a beloved aunt, one of my favorite people in the whole world. Unfortunately, she’s in a nursing home 3000 miles away. Even if I were to go visit, she doesn’t even remember who I am most of the time, such is the level of her dementia. The last thing I want to do is upset or confuse her. I’ve stopped calling her for that very reason. My last call left her agitated and unhappy. She couldn’t understand why I couldn’t visit her, even though I may as well have been a stranger.

So I write her letters and send her some chocolates. She adores chocolate. It’s one of the million things we have in common. I hope she can still eat it. I suspect the nursing home staff are always happy to see my packages.

It’s hard, writing to someone who hasn’t responded to you in any way in about 5 years. I don’t even know if she actually receives what I send. Her primary caretaker has taken a disliking to me for some reason, even though we’ve never met. She told me that my letters are all about me, and she finds that annoying, and therefore stopped giving me the updates, that I long for, years ago.

Of course my letters are about me. It’s the only frame of reference that I have. It’s not like I can ask her what’s new in her bedridden world. The question would go unanswered. It’s like trying to communicate into a black hole. My own voice doesn’t even echo back to me, and hers is long gone.

So, in my letters, I reminisce about things she and I used to do together. I tell her a joke that I know she would have really found funny, once upon a time. I tell her she is not forgotten. I tell her she’s my favorite person. I tell her I’m now married, and happy, and I’ve written a book, and I have three dogs. The person I used to know would have been glad to hear these things. I also send her pictures.

Writing to her these days brings tears to my eyes, because I know that the person that I love so much is already gone in so very many ways. But I’ll continue to write into the void, for the love of the aunt who meant so much to me, and because I want her to know she isn’t forgotten, even though she’s forgotten me.

More than anything, I want to hear her tell me she’s proud of me. But as I drop each package in the mailbox, I know that isn’t going to happen. Never again. And that leaves a black hole in my heart.


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The Gifts We Give Ourselves

So, today is my birthday. I’ve written before about how short-changed we Christmas babies are. And frankly, at this point in the season, I’m kind of over the idea of celebrating.

Maybe birthdays ought to be a day in which we take a moment to celebrate ourselves. We give ourselves many gifts throughout the year. They may not be wrapped up in a big bow, but still, they are gifts.

Doing the right thing is a gift, as is making the hard, but rational, choices. Not eating that third, delicious slice of pie because you know that in the end it will make you feel sick is a gift. Saying no is often the biggest gift you can give yourself, because it isn’t easy, but in the end it’s such a relief. And saying yes is a gift too, because sometimes you need to take a risk and push that outer envelope.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a huge gift, and it often reaps unexpected rewards. Giving people space to be themselves is a gift, because it enriches your world. Giving a hug is like receiving a gift, and it often keeps on giving.

A great gift to give is cutting yourself a little slack. There are plenty of people out there who are going to be hard on you. You should not be one of them.

The biggest gift we give ourselves is acting with integrity, being kind, and treating others with respect, because until we do these things, we cannot expect them in return.

So today, and every day of the year, give yourself a gift. Celebrate the wonderful person you are. By doing that, you’re giving a gift to the world.


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Facebook Drops a Bomb

Recently I got an e-mail from Facebook. “Today is Chuck’s birthday! Let him know you’re thinking about him!” A better question would be, when am I not thinking about him? Since his death my life hasn’t been the same.

Were it not for Facebook I might have made it through that day without the occasional heart squeeze of memory. It might have been business as usual. I might not have been sitting here in a blue funk.

This is not the first hand grenade Facebook has dropped into my life. It does this “memories” thing, which I’ve turned off in my settings on multiple occasions, but it always seems to pop back on. Memories of Chuck. Memories of beloved dogs that have since passed away. Memories of my cock-eyed optimism that never quite panned out. It sucks.

I don’t suppose it’s Facebook’s fault that I lay my life out on their site for the world to see. They don’t know which memories are happy and which ones I’d like to forget, or at the very least, remember at a time of my choosing. Their algorithms don’t allow for the fact that context changes. People change. Memories change.

And then to make matters worse, I went and visited Chuck’s still active Facebook page. (I just can’t quit him.) He was so loved. And I saw a picture of him that I’d never seen before. That cut right to the heart of me. There he was, sitting, being his unwittingly sexy self. I wonder what he was talking about? He was smoking a cigar. I hated when he did that. But if I could have him back, he could smoke one every single day, for all I’d care.

So far, the joy I get from connecting with friends and family on Facebook far outweighs the occasional shiv to my ribs that it delivers. I guess it’s not Facebook plunging the knife in, really. It’s life. It’s just life.


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My Tarot Year

I’m not a particularly superstitious person. I find astrology interesting, and I have noticed that the birthdays of most of my good friends tend to be clustered in certain specific times of the year, but I don’t believe that on any given day, every human on earth has but one of twelve destinies. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I was also born in the Chinese year of the dragon, and I’m not going to let that restrict me in any way from being my own person.

In addition, I wouldn’t alter the way I live my life based on a tarot card reading, but I think the tarot opens up an interesting dialogue about the way you are living your life, and the choices that you are making based on current circumstances. I therefore find it a fascinating exercise. And I have to admit that sometimes it does cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand straight up.

That very thing happened just the other day when a new friend (Hi, Amelia!) introduced me to an interesting tarot game. You take your birth month and birth day, and add those numbers with the current 4 digit year. For me that resulted in the number 2055. Then you add those numbers together, and it comes up with 12. So this year, for me, is supposed to be symbolized by the 12th card in the Tarot’s Major Arcana. And that happens to be the hanged man.

So what does the hanged man symbolize? I visited many websites to find out, and the gist of it seems to be about letting go. About change and emotional release. About becoming vulnerable and opening yourself up to new things. It’s about going toward a new reality. And if you look at the card, the hanged man appears to be at peace and seems to have placed himself there willingly.


Okay, there goes the hair on the back of my neck. Because this year I’ve been adjusting to a new city in a new state where I knew no one. A change that I chose to take on myself. It’s about a new job and a new place to live and it’s about grieving my late boyfriend. Cue the eerie music.

So just out of curiosity, what’s in store for me next year? I did the math, and it’s the 13th card. The death card. Oh, great.

But don’t panic. Tarot cards rarely mean what they seem to at first glance. It doesn’t mean I’m going to die. It’s about ending one phase, but also beginning a new one. It’s about renewal, transformation, a break from the past. Out with the old, in with the new.

Again, I doubt I’ll change the way I live my life based on this information, but still… I’ll take it!


The Birthday Chair

It’s funny sometimes how you entirely forget things that used to loom so large in your life. When I was very small, my mother used to have this delightful tradition on our birthdays. She would allow us to sit at the head of the table in a tall backed chair which she had decorated with balloons and streamers and bows and ribbons.

When it was your turn to sit in that chair, you’d feel really extraordinary. It was as if you were the queen of the world. And then in would come the birthday cake, alight with candles. She used to make it from scratch, just for you. Often it was a unique shape. I remember one year it was a colorfully frosted rocking horse. I was so excited!

Somewhere along the way we stopped having the birthday chair. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because we each got to that self-conscious age and began to chafe at the special treatment. Or maybe as grinding poverty bore down upon us, she lost the will to make the effort. It’s hard to say, but somewhere along the way the tradition died out, and eventually it was forgotten.

I have no idea why it popped into my head at this point in time, but I’m turning 50 this month, and it sure would be nice to have someone treat me as if I were special. I guess I will have to train my dogs to blow up balloons and preheat the oven. What could possibly go wrong?


Getting Older

Today is my 49th birthday. Happy birthday to me. Given that the average life expectancy of the white American female these days is 81 years, I am definitely on the downhill slope. And it’s a rare woman in my family who makes it that far, so I could very well be further down the slope than statistics suggest. Who knows? And that’s a very strange place to be, believe me.

So let me describe the landscape for those young people who haven’t crested that peak yet, and therefore have no idea what’s on the other side.

  • I have aches and pains that will never go away. Ever. Don’t do stupid stuff that will hurt your body. It adds up.
  • I have discovered that the quality of my friendships have only gotten better over the years. Nothing like the passage of time to tell you who your friends really are.
  • With each passing day, I care less and less about what people think of me, and you’ve never experienced true liberation until you know what that’s like.
  • I know myself. What a gift.
  • Looking in the mirror is more of a shock each day. In my head I still look like I did when I was 19, despite the constant contradiction of my reflection.
  • I’m tired all the time. I mean, all the time.
  • No matter how old you get, there will always be someone older who will laugh at you for feeling old.
  • I haven’t stopped learning, and I love that.
  • The older you get, the more people you will lose, so if you’re smart you’ll try really hard to let the people you love know how much you appreciate them every chance you get.
  • When I was young I always assumed that eventually I’d reach a place where I’d be established, and where there’d be no more need for emotional growth. Wrong.
  • I honestly don’t think I’ve become more forgetful. I’ve always been forgetful. It’s just that now I have a valid excuse.
  • I still get pimples. Anyone who tells you that you grow out of that is lying.
  • I’ve discovered that the best things you can do for yourself in the long term are stretch, floss your teeth, and don’t pass up any opportunity to have sex. Forget about eat, pray, love. It’s sex, stretch, floss.
  • For God’s sake, don’t smoke. The older you will pay a hefty price.
  • It’s really important to listen to your inner voice. If you don’t, you’ll usually regret it.
  • The more that happens to you, good or bad, the more perspective you will gain over what’s really important.
  • The older you get, the more society will put restrictions on what they deem to be acceptable behavior for you. So make an extra effort to be outlandish as you get older. Anyone with an open mind will find it charming. The rest of them aren’t worth your time.


Riding the Planet

Today is my birthday, and yesterday, my grandnephew Carter was born. Naturally, this has given me ample opportunity to compare our two situations.

Having spent almost half a century on this planet, you might think I know a thing or two, and I suppose I do. I can pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. I have memories of my travels, and of friends both present and past. I’ve had regrets, I’ve learned from at least half of my mistakes and I’m proud of my achievements.

Carter, on the other hand, after just one day of life, is simply riding the planet. That’s what I call it when you just trust that gravity will hold you to earth’s surface, and you let the planet hurtle through space without making any effort to steer. You’re not there to stress out over anything, you’re not trying to solve anything. You’re just entrusting your fate to the universe, and you’re along for the ride. I try to do this when I meditate, with mixed results. But when I achieve a full state of planet riding, I’m content. Everything seems so much easier. Carter was born with the ability to do this. He trusts that he’ll be fed and cared for. He has faith that things will work out for him. So who is wiser? Nobody’s feeding me, giving over their entire existence to make sure I’m safe, or rocking me when I cry. Lucky kid.

Unlike Carter at the moment, I seem to be in a constant state of surprise. For example, just yesterday I discovered that this creature exists:

Pink Fairy Armadillo

That’s a Pink Fairy Armadillo and it lives in central Argentina. Granted, I haven’t spent copious amounts of time wandering around the heartland of Argentina, but still, I cannot believe that I’ve shared the planet with this animal and have never known about its existence up to now.

And a few years ago, they found an entirely new Indian tribe in Brazil that has never had any contact with the outside world. The only reason they discovered it at all was that an airplane flew over their longhouse. Here was a whole group of people living their daily lives, being born, laughing, loving and dying, and yet we didn’t even know about them. How freaky is that? http://news.discovery.com/human/newly-identified-tribe-in-the-amazon.html

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that you’ll never stop learning, so Carter, even though you’re just starting out, even though I might seem comparatively wise, in the overall scheme of things, we’re really in the same boat, and we’re both just at the starting line of life.

So keep dreaming your newborn dreams, dear Carter, and let the world take care of itself. At least, for now.


My Gift to Myself

For many years now I have been setting aside 45 dollars a month to give myself a gift when I turn 50. Just a sort of thank you for having been on the planet for that long, for having survived with at least a modicum of sanity and good health, for having taken care of myself. By then I think I will have earned it.

When the time comes, I plan to take all that money and spend three weeks in Italy. First I’d like to rent a villa on the Amalfi Coast, and explore Pompeii and Naples. I plan to sit in the sun and do nothing at all. Just watch people, become a regular at a cafe, if only for a few days, eat good food, and bask like a lizard on a hot rock. I want Italy to soak into my skin.

Next, I will go to Rome, and not do as the Romans do, because I’m sure they don’t spend their time seeing all the sights and focusing on the history that surrounds them every day. I will be the typical tourist in Rome, and make no apologies for it. I want to see the coliseum, sit on the Spanish steps, eat entirely too much gelato, and tour the Vatican City.

After that, it will be on to Florence. Ah, Firenze! There, I will focus on the architecture. I want to take photographs, and maybe even draw what I see. I have no drawing experience. I’m sure these drawings will be horrible. But I will take them home and frame them because there could be no better souvenir than a horrible drawing that takes you right back to the very moment it was drawn every time you look at it.

But the bulk of my money will be spent, I’m sure, in Venice. I want to live there like a woman of the upper classes. I want a room with a view of the Grand Canal. I want to wear beautiful flowing clothing that I buy in the city. I want to eat at the finest restaurants. My focus there will be art. I will walk slowly through the galleries and savor the creativity. I want to slowly luxuriate in all the best and most beautiful things in life.

One cannot plan these things, of course, but if I’m not in a relationship at that time, I’d like to fall in love–just for a day or two, and preferably with someone who would be facing the same language barrier that I am. Communication has a nasty habit of ruining the fantasy. I simply want to be enveloped in an Italian aura, and then go home and have people remark that occasionally I get a smile on my face that no one but me will understand.

I’m looking forward to turning 50.

Christmas Baby Syndrome

If, like mine, your birthday falls between now and New Year’s Day, let me offer you my profound condolences. Invariably, you will be asked if your birthday celebration can be combined with the family’s Christmas gathering, because, well, it’s such a busy time of year after all. Your special day won’t even be acknowledged at work because everyone will be out of town. Your gifts, if you even get any, will most likely be wrapped in red and green, and you’ll get those nifty happy birthday/merry Christmas combination cards. If your birthday falls after Christmas, even YOU will be sick and tired of being in celebration mode, and will most likely want to skip your party, too.

Fortunately, there ARE ways to get around this. A friend of mine’s daughter was born on Christmas day, so when she was old enough to notice, they let her pick a day, any day of the year, and that would be the day they’d celebrate. I think this is a healthy solution. I only wish I had thought of this when I was younger. What I do, on the other hand, is celebrate my “unbirthday”. Exactly 6 months from my birthday, I give myself a day of pampering. I buy myself a gift. I eat my favorite food, and/or do something I’ve always wanted to do. This has always been a very satisfying experience. In fact, I recommend it to everyone, regardless of their birth date.

My niece’s baby is due on December 21st. This poor kid will not only be a Christmas baby, but will potentially be held responsible for the end of the world, since the Mayan calendar ends that day. Or maybe, on the other hand, he’ll be considered the reason the world DIDN’T end, which could be kind of cool. No pressure! I’m sure he’ll have interesting stories to tell someday.

One advantage of being a Christmas baby is that you are automatically a member of a very special fraternity (or sorority, as the case may be). When you meet a fellow traveler, you bond over the special thing you have in common, because like no one else can, we all get it.

So Happy Holidays to one and all, especially if the holiday in question is your birthday.