May 21, 2017

Losing a Friend

I lost a good friend last week. My sister-in-law, Jane Petersen Mongelli, finally surrendered to cancer after a two year battle she always knew she would lose. But fight it she did because that was Jane. She left us peacefully with her beloved daughters at her side on Wednesday May 17th.

When I met my husband, Tom, I was a bit of a mess. I was all of eighteen, shy and insecure, lacking quite a bit in the way of social skills. 
Penny, Matt, Jane, Terry, Tom, Courtnay

And so as much as I love Tom’s family now, I have to say that at the time we were first introduced I found them all incredibly intimidating. But Jane reached out and took me by the hand and made my entry into the Petersen clan a little less daunting.

Looking back, I think part of this may have been Jane making sure that her brother wasn’t dating some lunatic who would break his heart. She was always protective of those she loved.

I am so fortunate that we became close friends and have remained so for almost fifty years. Jane could on occasion a bit of a handful. She could be stubborn and hard-headed one minute, laughing and helpful the next. But she was always Jane. There was never pretense, no dissembling. With Jane what you saw was what you got. And what you got was a woman fiercely loyal to her family and friends, who loved a good party, good food, music, political discussions, and a bit of catty gossip.

And of course, Jane loved her girls, Courtnay and Terry, and her grandkids, Ben, Nick, Abby and Grace. They made her life complete. She was so very proud of them all.

Well, I firmly believe that Jane has now been reunited with her husband, John. He is singing a little Willie Nelson as he brings her a cup of coffee. She's smiling. And she’s keeping a close eye on us all.


February 3, 2017

How I learned the Infield Fly Rule

I know it's only the beginning of February, but what better time to start thinking about baseball? The political climate is dismal, the sky is grey, it's chilly outside, but not cold enough for a good snow, warm fire and hot buttered rum. I am not a football or a basketball fan. But I do love springtime and the boys of summer.

When my husband, Tom, and I met we differed in one major respect, our choice of recreational pursuits. Tom has always loved sports. He played sports in grade school. He was Gonzaga's shortstop in high school. His playing career may have ended with high school, but certainly not his love for most things sporting. He watches baseball, college basketball and football. He likes throwing balls around. The man has been know to golf, play tennis, racquetball, swim and water-ski - and enjoy it. He fishes, for crying out loud. Being smelly and sweaty, standing in the hot sun, appears to be his idea of a good time.

Whereas, I have always been the kid in left field praying that the ball will in go any direction, but toward me. I can't swim. I have no depth perception. I am a klutz. I can trip over my own feet anytime, on any surface. If you mention water and fish to me, I think hot shower and canned tuna. I have always believed that sweating is to be avoided. The great outdoors is for picnics under trees and slow walks around lakes sporting the intoxicating scent of Eau d'Backwoods OFF. I had no interest in sports and, to a great extent, still don't. But I now have to admit a strong liking for baseball. And it's due to having a kid.

Tom and I have two wonderful children. Rachel Anne, our first, is a lady after my own heart. We love dancing, singing, theatre, fantasy, and movies. All the things my dear Thomas will never really comprehend. But he was always immensely proud of Rachel knowing her to be the best at whatever performance he was watching - plays, dance recitals, speech contests - which (and this is a completely unbiased opinion) she often was. But Tom was as much at sea about the finer points of stage presence, leg extension, and speaking from the diaphragm as I was about tackles, punts, and traveling.

When Matthew, our second little bundle of joy arrived, he was (I really hate this term, but...) All Boy. He dug in the dirt, fought off bad guys, ran, jumped, kicked, climbed. He was an active, happy kid. But nothing prepared me for the look of pure joy on Tom's face when Matt, at three years old, let loose a cannon in the back yard. Tom walked into the house and said, "He can throw! And he's left-handed!"

Matt played soccer, basketball and baseball. I cheered him on the soccer field, but never did understand the off-sides thing. Basketball was a bit better, but the smell of the gym and the squeaky noise their shoes made were off putting.

Matt was pretty good at all three, but he loved baseball best. And so did I. Baseball is a wonderful game that teaches kids structure, patience, strategy, leadership, and teamwork. All the practices and games also meant that he was dog tired at the end of the day, always a good thing.

Not understanding much of what was going on myself, I marveled at the fact that the kids seemed to have absorbed the rules and the etiquette of baseball as if by osmosis. They learned the art of pitching, hitting, fielding, stealing, bunting, sliding into base without damaging themselves. They tipped their hats, ran home run bases with straight 'just doing my job' faces, and were gracious in victory or defeat (mostly). We saw the Orioles play during the Ripken era. It was exciting and just plain fun. And in time I came to appreciate the elegance of the game.  

Matt isn't playing any more, he's coaching. We root for the Nationals and I fully expect to see them make it to the Series this year. What I am most proud of personally is that, while I still don't get a lot of the intricacies of the game, I do know the Infield Fly Rule. For a girl who has never swung a bat or caught a fly ball, I think that's pretty good.

December 7, 2016

A Happy Holiday Story, sort of

Well, it's the holiday season once again and, once again, I am trying to find some of the spirit that it should bring. I am having a more difficult time than usual this year. The hate, divisiveness, and ignorance that seems to surround us is just really getting me down.

To top it all, in August I had requested tickets for a White House Christmas tour and just received word that our request was denied. Lots and lots of people want to go to the Obama White House. They couldn't fit us in.

So I have been wracking my brain, something that has become increasingly hard to do as the little grey cells seem to be dying off at an alarming rate, and I have remembered a Christmas that made me smile. I have no idea why, except that it was so typical for our family.

When our girls were little my sister, Chris, and I would plan a Christmas outing. My mother, trooper that she was, would go with us and pretend to enjoy the chaos.

In the particular Christmas season that I am thinking about we chose to take the girls to lunch and then on to see The Nutcracker at Lisner Auditorium. Rachel, my own little angel, must have been about four, and Erika, Chris's little sweetie, about seven. The girls had their new holiday duds on and I like to think they could pass for extras from Miracle on 34th Street, but probably they looked like a couple of the Herdmans straight out of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. And so, tickets in hand we made our way into the big city for a delightful afternoon.

Well, no one can ever accuse me of over-planning anything. Lunch did not go off well. I did not think to make calls to find out if restaurants in the area were actually open. (Note to the IPhone generation - there was a time when there was no internet, no GPS, no Siri, no cell phone of any kind. My family had to rely on a half-witted event planner (moi) to make actual phone calls on a land line, no less, to various eating establishments to find out hours, menus, etc. It was a cruel, uncaring world!)

Needless to say, on a Sunday afternoon in 1978 very few restaurant options in the GW campus area were to be had. We finally found an eatery in a hotel. The kids menu boasted hot dogs. This sounded like a safe option. Of course, they were foot-long hot dogs. They were also VERY expensive foot-long hot dogs. So did we do the rational thing and get one for them to share? We did not. They each got their own rather lousy, expensive, hot dog. They did not finish their lunch. They did not appreciate the cuisine. This set the tone for the rest of the day.

After leaving our ghastly repast, Rachel, being a card-carrying member of the Clover family klutz club to which we all belong, promptly tripped and fell on the sidewalk ripping her new tights. This took valuable time to sooth, as we were running late due to the search for a restaurant. She was quite upset about the tights. The skinned knee seemed less of a problem.

We finally made it to Lisner just as the orchestra was beginning the overture. Of course, we had seats in the nose-bleed section. We were halfway up the steep steps to our little aerie when all the lights in the theatre went out. All of them. It was dark. Pitch. There were no little safety lights on the end of each row. There were no lights at all. I know this didn't last more than a minute before the curtain came up, but if you had been there I am sure, unless you happen to be a mountain goat, you would have agreed with me that it was a minute of sheer terror. I latched onto my daughter, at least I assumed it was my daughter, and climbed on hands and knees eventually making it to our seats unscathed.

The rest of the afternoon apparently went fairly smoothly, as I don't remember any other hiccups. Yes, The Nutcracker seemed to go on forever. But it was colorful and festive and, best yet, neither girl had to go the restroom during the performance. We made it home in one piece. We had our family outing.

We still try to do something each year - see a play, take a White House tour, or just have a cookie day. It's special time with the people we love and memories of holidays past and hopes for the future.

My wish to all of you - whatever you celebrate - Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Winter Solstice, or Christmas Day - may your memories and the love of the season keep you warm and bring you a joyous holiday and a peaceful New Year.

November 11, 2016

A Veterans Day Message

I would like to take a moment to remember all of our veterans, especially the men of the 3/17th who served with my brother, Tim Clover, in Viet Nam. I lift a glass to you all.

And I am privileged to share with you a letter from my great-niece, Mia Rafield,
to her uncle who is serving overseas. She's a beautiful ten year whose heart is filled with compassion and love. She is also, quite clearly, a budding writer. She beautifully states what I think most of us feel.



August 25, 2016

A nice little vacation

Well, we got back from a family vacation last weekend. I believe a good time was had by all. Tom and I relaxed. We read, played Bananagram, and did crossword puzzles. The kids swam, rode bumper cars, and mini-golfed. My birthday came during the week, so we had cake!

No one got sunburned. No one stepped on a nail. No one had to visit a medical professional for a tooth repair, strep throat, or urinary tract infection - all of which we had done in previous years. In fact, I didn't even open the first aid kit. The only down side was the impressive lack of fish in the Atlantic Ocean willing to play tug of war with a fishing pole. Perhaps they didn't know my son is a fan of catch-and-release. Perhaps they are just sadistic little teases. However, if the worst I can say about this vacation is no fish were caught, I am a happy camper.

Having time on my hands these days, sort of, I spent the week before we left planning a treasure hunt for our granddaughter, Sophie. She is eight now and loves to play pirate. She is constantly digging up our yard searching for treasure or insisting that I be her first mate and stand under the wooden play house. Ideally she would like me to climb up and be a look-out, but we first mates are getting too old for that.

So, I drew a map depicting the beach at Nagshead. It included a pirate ship sailing the bounding main, three rather obvious clues, and a large X marking the spot. I then aged the paper in tea and singed its edges. I also aged a little wooden casket, filled it with silver and gold dollars and an old locket that belonged to my aunt in which I put pictures of Sophie's parents. I locked it with an old suitcase lock and tied the key to the string around the map.

On our last full day, Matt and Theresa buried the treasure on the beach while I hid the map in the laundry room. I asked Sophie to help me with something and we 'found' it. I have to say this for my granddaughter. She is smart as a whip and you really cannot fool her most of the time. Unfortunately, Sophie had seen the key in my office. But she is a sweet girl and a dead game sport, as my mother used to say (if anyone knows the etymology of this phrase, I'd appreciate hearing from you), so she played right along.

First, she said the map must be meant for someone else. I reminded her that Pirate maps are fair game, so we kept the map. She told me that the key was the same as the one at my house. She posited that the pirates must have broken in, made a copy of the key, and tied it to the map. Then she laughed and said, "No. That's too farfetched!" You gotta love this kid.

Sophie showed her parents and excitedly pointed out that it must be a map of the beach and the trail must be the one in front of our house. As we walked to the beach she looked for clues along the way. When we got there, we found the bucket of blood, the peculiar foot garb, and the orb of the sea, but couldn't locate the X. It was not in the exact location of the map. We decided that sands shift, so we looked further and, lo and behold, a large seaweed X marked the spot indeed.

She dug up the treasure, opened the casket and threw the coins in the air - just like in a movie. She loved the locket and couldn't get over the fact that the pirates had put her parents pictures in it. We decided that these were magical pirates who could see into the future.

Now here is the best part of my week. Later that day Sophia told her mother not to tell me, but that she knew all along that I set up the map and the treasure so she would have some fun on her last day. Life does not get any better.

August 24, 2016

Performance Art is not for sissies

This little experience happened quite a while ago, but someone brought it up recently and I decided that I might as well share it again.

I try to be a good hostess. I like to go the extra mile and make sure my guests have a memorable experience. So when Lynda and Paillen, family from Minnesota, came to stay this week I wanted to do something special.

Tuesday morning we met my sister, Chris, and had an uneventful Metro ride downtown, got off at the Archives, made a Starbucks stop, and walked to the Mall for some museum visiting. While walking on 7th Street right outside the National Gallery of Art I thought I might try a little Performance Art to add some spice to the morning.

I was pondering what I might perform - maybe becoming one of those living statues, perhaps 'Tourist walking with Starbucks cup on corner of 7th and Constitution' - when my right foot decided for me. It caught on an uneven piece of sidewalk and I proceeded to fly forward. When I tried to correct, this not being the particular piece I wanted to perform, my left foot got into the swing of things and it, too, caught on the same uneven piece of sidewalk. So I just went with it. Uttering an impressive string of barnyard invective, I soared through the air like Dustin Pedroia diving into first base.

This performance was a bit more physical than I had anticipated, so I lay there a few moments before sitting up to an outstanding reaction. Chris, Lynda and Paillen were awed. Tourists on the street were riveted. And the Museum staff! What can I say? They came in droves to see what the heck was going on.

Luckily, I had used my chin to keep my knees and elbows from harm. I sat there surrounded by loved ones and strangers and proceeded to give my head the once over. Things seemed okay until I took my hand away and found that it was covered in a rather impressive amount of blood. At this point, I wasn't so much about the art anymore as about keeping the blood off my suede jacket (which I did) and not throwing up.

A really sweet young man from the Museum called an ambulance and brought me a new cup of tea. In no time at all an ambulance pulled up and two nice EMTs made sure I was in one piece more or less and that the cut on my chin, while having bled like Victoria Falls, was really quite small and seemed to be closing nicely. They recommended a stitch or two at the mention of which I promptly got rather faint. Medical professionals take fainting VERY seriously. My family does not. Luckily my sister was there to back me up that this was just a normal family trait and a little fresh air would fix me up in no time. Bleeding under control, Band-Aid in place, I breathed in the cool D.C. air and felt marginally better.

During my ambulance stay, a little police lady from the Museum was taking information from Lynda. I did not get her name, so I will call her Mabel. Mabel did not say it in so many words, but she was all in favor of lawsuits against the Museum and the City. She had Lynda take pictures of everything. She took down my information. And when I said I thought I was all right to continue our day, she almost insisted I see the Museum nurse. "You want to document this. You never know!" So I did.

By means of golf cart, then wheelchair, I was taken into the bowels of the National Gallery of Art to visit the nurse. My comrades were escorted by a Sergeant through the gallery and met me downstairs. After documenting my little project and hearing exactly the same thing from the nurse that I heard from the EMTs and having the same reaction, I was wheeled out of the Museum and put in a taxi.

I did not go home. I was attempting to be a trooper. And besides, I was a bit low on sugar and needed a coke. So we taxied around the corner to the beautiful American Indian Museum and had a bite to eat and some Advil. After which we proceeded to go about our day and very much enjoyed the wonderful displays.

Alas, the story does not end here. At about quarter to five we were milling around the gift shop and discussing our dinner plans with my son and his girlfriend when Chris said, "You're dripping." And sure enough the bandage on my chin was leaking. This was enough to make me woozy again. There are no chairs on the second floor of the American Indian Museum. Nor are there any bandages of any sort. But there is a ladies room with a very long counter on which I ended up laying while my caretakers searched out Band-Aids and paper towels. Lynda remembered that she had some very pretty polka dot and striped bandages in her bag. As Paillen was the only one who could look at the cut, she was in charge of applying direct pressure and finally covering to my little wound. My sister was in charge of walking around the ladies room repeating, "I can't look".

I finally felt like I could get up without keeling over. I had just swung my legs over the counter and eased to the floor when Chris changed her mantra to, "I'm going to faint." And she wasn't kidding. She was absolutely white as a sheet. We laid her down on the marble bed and I called my son and told him that, perhaps, this was not the best night to dine downtown.

We limped to the subway, a bedraggled troop of overwrought women, one holding brown paper towels under her chin while continuing to apply direct pressure. We caught the Metro home. When I walked in my husband looked at me and said, "You tripped and fell, didn't you." I got no sympathy. He added that I'm a klutz, the implication being that I should be more careful. The cut closed up quite nicely. I didn't need stitches. My chin is an impressive purple and black, just right for Halloween.

But I am giving up Performance Art. It's a young woman's job. Next time company comes they will have to make do with homemade Manicotti and a nice Chianti.

April 29, 2016

Fun at the DMV

Not too long ago I renewed my driver's license. It was a fairly painless process that was completed without any particular angst, outrage, or marathon running, unlike the time in 2005 that I ventured into the Department of Motor Vehicles to have my eyesight tested and fork over a substantial fee for the privilege of driving in the great state of Maryland. All because of my name.

Names are funny things, aren't they? I should know having been saddled with Regina Penelope Clover for my first twenty-one years and adding Petersen (spelled with 3 'e's, mind you) for the duration.

I shouldn't say saddled. It's a lovely name. I was named Regina after my mother, but because my mother was adamant that there be no Big Regina and Little Regina in the family, I was called Penny. This was easy enough until I ran into a really nasty third grade teacher who refused to call me Penny. And so from grade three to eight, I was Regina at school and Penny at home. It's a tad confusing for a little kid, but I survived.

And on the plus side there were few competing Pennys or Reginas during my formative years. I just finished an Evan Evans mystery by Rhys Bowen set in a little village in Wales. Since there are apparently few surnames in Wales people are known by their occupations; Evans the Milk, Evans the Meat, and so on.

This was a charming reminder of my youth. When I was sixteen my best friend who was the first of us to drive was (and still is) named Linda. My brother was dating his soon to be wife who was named Lynda. And my younger sister's BFF who had just turned 13 was also named Linda. So something Welsh came out in us and Linda the Driver and Linda the Teenager were christened. For whatever reason, we didn't latch onto Lynda the Girlfriend. We used her middle name instead. So Lynda became Lynda Alice which we still call her today. 

When I married Tom, I pretty much dropped the Regina Penelope and used Penelope Clover, instead. Fair warning to anyone who wants to do this - government agencies don't like it. They whine and
complain and make rather tedious demands. At the time I actually toyed with the revolutionary idea of keeping my own name for a minute or so, but the State of Maryland would not let me do this! Remember, this was 1971 and I still wasn't allowed to wear slacks to work! But they did go along with R. Penelope Clover Petersen on my license.

But after 9/11 things got even stranger. In 2005 I once again needed to renew my driver's license. After spending a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours at the DMV, meeting so many friendly people in various lines and relaxing in the easy chairs provided while waiting, I made it to the top of the queue - only to find that, after years of renewing my license unimpeded and no one ever questioning my name, this year, I was told, my DMV name must match my SSN name exactly or I could just start walking. "Just run over to Social Security and they'll fix it for you." So, a marathon race around Annapolis, an entertaining sojourn at the Social Security office, then back to the warm inviting atmosphere of the DMV, one hysterical fit and five hours later, and Bob's your uncle! License renewed. I was go to go for another couple of years if I could just get my breathing back to normal.

My advice for anyone who cares to hear it, sometimes it's just easier to call Uber!