Friday, December 26, 2008

Farewell, Emilie

My friend Emilie Lemmons died on Christmas Eve after a short but intense battle with sarcoma. She leaves behind a 2-year-old, a 10-month-old and the love of her life. She was only 40. I still can't think what I can write about her that will do her justice.

Emilie and I weren't "close" in the same way she was close to her dear friends. We had only about a half-hour of face time and a handful of phone calls over the six or seven years I knew her. Ours was mostly a professional relationship: she was a reporter for our archdiocesan newspaper awhile back, and I was just another PR flack supplying her with story ideas and sources. But we had a "karma" between us. Whenever we talked, either via e-mail or on the phone, we got into all these conversations that had nothing to do with our original purpose. I've always thought that, had we been neighbor ladies back in the '60s, we'd have spent entire days letting the kids run wild while we talked over the back fence.

When she became a mother and decided to stay home with her little one, she began freelancing. And then there was one more little one, and she was hooked on motherhood. She started a blog when she was trying to get pregnant and wrote terrific columns on parenting and her inner life. She was so happy. Life was good.

We began e-mailing each other at least once a week over the past year. I don't even remember how that began. She read (and commented on -- yay!) this blog, and I read hers devotedly. She was an amazing writer and thinker. Funny. Smart. Gutsy. She was a terrific mother. I was -- and continue to be -- impressed at the depth of her spirituality. We had many conversations about that, and each time we did, I felt like someone out there was making me a better person, dragging me kicking and screaming toward heaven. Now she's gone. Selfishly I wonder if anyone will be able to pick up where she left off. Mostly, I thank her for her ultimate goodness, the positive force she was in the lives of others.

The Basilica of St. Mary should be packed for her funeral on Monday, as she touched so many people in her short life. I suspect her friend Molly Guthrey Millett, a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, will tell about that in a column in Sunday's paper.

I won't say goodbye to Emilie. Thanks to her, I know I'll see her again, no matter how doubtful I am. I just have to get to heaven to do that. Dang it, Emilie. I don't know if I'm saint material.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I've been sorta good this year. If there’s any room on the sleigh, here’s what I hope you can bring for me:

1. A new, solid gold checkbook. The old one is practically empty and is duct-taped together. And, while you’re at it, bring a giant shredder for all those equally useless retirement account statements. Then, deliver a set of angel wings to President-Elect Obama. He’ll need to arrange something miraculous. Alternate gifts: a "Will Work For Food" sign and a matching handbasket.

2. A new ignition switch for our pontoon boat on Cedar Lake. We thought we’d make it through the summer without one repair, but we didn’t and then one of our kids and his friend got stranded when it was too cold to get out and swim. (We thanked our neighbor, The Little Bohunk, for towing them to shore, but maybe you can bring something nice for him, too. He likes switches, too, and things with engines and machinery of all types.)

3. Big bottles of bubbly for my husband's loyal customers. They kept us afloat, or at least treading water, all year. A case ought to do it. Maybe next year we’ll have you bring two cases, but at this point it looks like we may be drinking them both ourselves. (Note to Santa’s Elves: Call us for new shelves in Santa’s Workshop, new windows on the North Pole house or those fancy shower doors that Mrs. Claus keeps whining about.)

4. Boxing gloves for the grandsons but skip the Ultimate Fighting videos. They need to work their way up, and they promise not to practice on their new preschool friends.

5. A perpetual calendar for the grandsons' parents, so they can schedule the next 14 years of babysitters, birthday parties, drivers, carpools, basketball games, spring sings, choir concerts, driver’s ed, swim meets, hockey games, track meets, entrance exams, dance lessons, art shows, college visits, graduations, awards assemblies, proms,tux rentals, limo rentals, all-night grad parties and beer busts. Don’t bother with a checkbook for this pair. The money will just fly out of their pockets on its own.

6. A Sherpa for No. 2 daughter and her boyfriend. Those gory medical books that she reads and the million-page law texts that he hauls around can give people hernias. If anything happens to the Sherpa, the boyfriend should have his J.D. in time for the lawsuit or the daughter can prescribe something for the pain. In a few years, they’ll need a new checkbook for all those grad school payments, so you might as well pack it onto the sleigh while we’re thinking about it.

7. A friendly visit by Martha Stewart or the HGTV guys to the new home of our son and his fiancee. Maybe they can advise what paint colors enhance Xbox 360 and what style of tap handle can dress up a kegerator. Then, perhaps, they can help them pick a nice color palate for the wedding. What goes with "soon"?

That should just about do it. Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

Oh, and before I forget: Throw in some world peace, please. Merry Christmas and love to you all.

The Madwoman

Monday, December 8, 2008

Excuses, excuses

Our friend Meg recently blogged about all her excuses not to blog. So, feeling creatively arid lately, I offer my own list:

I am busy:

1. Wrapping the caramels that I made before Thanksgiving (it's OK, they won't go bad, all ye food safety experts) and I'm not done yet. Caramel wrapping inflicts stickiness on keyboards.

2. Watching the Weather Channel for hints of The Big One (that's a snowstorm in these parts, pardner).

3. Counting the days till my son really moves all his crap out of the house. Him, I could keep. His stuff is becoming rather unmanageable now that his sister's stuff is keeping it company. When, you ask, will his new house be ready? Soon, I'm told. They're plastering Sheetrock and the wood floors get refinished next week. I'm going to make one of those little calendars with the doors (think Advent calendar, but that would be sort of sacreligious) counting the days between "Sign the papers and go into debt for the rest of your life" to "Move every last thing you own out of your parents' house so they can rent out your space for $500 a month."

4. Ticking off the hours until my two-week (count 'em!) Christmas vacation beginning Dec. 22. Working at a Catholic university has definite advantages. Every day I pray for our admissions and financial aid people, as our livelihood depends on them.

5. Crocheting the lacy little snowflakes I intend to give all my favorite people at Christmas because I'm too broke to buy them anything. Which is really a blessing after all: Curling up in my chair with the cat at my feet and watching those weepy holiday specials while I work is much more fun than trudging through the mall, tossing hundred-dollar bills at ungrateful store clerks. And I don't have to chirp, "Happy holidays!" to anyone.

6. Drinking leftover eggnog -- the real stuff laced with bourbon and rum. You can't drink this eggnog and blog anything readable.

7. Watching our students begin to walk in their sleep, a spectator sport that culminates in finals week and graduation. Winning scores come in for for number papers written, tests taken and hours awake. Style points: Unwashed hair, beard overgrowth, wrinkled clothes. Lightning round double-scores are earned for talking to themselves and forgetting their iPods in the library.

8. Writing the annual Sirek Christmas letter. I'm lying about this one because I haven't really written it yet -- just taking notes. This I know: It won't be a parody of "A Visit From St. Nicholas," a.k.a. "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

9. Trying to lay off the sweets and favor the gym so I can avoid embarrassment in Florida -- although almost anything goes in the Land of Inappropriate Clothing for Body Type. I scored four free airline tickets this year from forgotten American Express points, and the other benefiting couple is likely to pick up the rental car charges, so presto! I have a free vacation coming in February! Yay me!

10. And my basic cover-all excuse for my blogging ineptitude? I'm just trying to keep it together until after the solstice. No, I'm not a witch -- I'm a b--ch. I need sunlight to be a nice and creative person. These short winter days put me to sleep and make me cranky. All I want to do is lay in bed and eat massive amounts of dark chocolate and drink gallons of chardonnay. So this is a month of epic scenarios, Good vs. Evil in constant showdown: Do I simply take a little snooze before I go to bed and sleep 12 hours, or do I scream at anyone who drops a Christmas cookie crumb on my floor after I've gained 10 pounds because it's all the fault of Jesus for being born in the dead of winter?

Happy holidays :)