One Man’s Spam is Another Man’s Shenanigans

Can you believe Gmail has only been around since 2004?

Okay, “only” might be somewhat misleading, as 2004 was actually THIRTEEN YEARS AGO.  Basically, if Gmail was a child, she hit puberty last year and is eyeing high school and her first school dance.  But, if you’re old mature well-seasoned like me, 2004 seems like pretty much last Tuesday.

I am normally horrible with dates, but I remember this time period because, due to my mad networking skills, I had the opportunity to be one of the beta testers for Gmail.

Side note:  “Mad networking skills” means I was at a job where I was BORED OUT OF MY MIND, so I spent much of the day on online message boards with other HR pros who also either had a bit too much free time or just needed a break from all the freaking DRAMA <sigh> that disgruntled employees can bring.  That practice continues to this day – we affectionately call it “notworking.”  And yes, if you visit HR with something juicy, we probably ARE talking about you in these notworking venues.  But don’t worry – we generally are a compassionate bunch, and all names are changed to protect your privacy.  We’re a conscientious bunch that way. Often, we’re just reviewing the best and fairest way to handle a situation.

Rest assured, however, that there are plenty of conversations around “stupid employee tricks.”

Like when someone barfs on your desk.  (Yep.  That’s happened.)

Or when you get an unemployment claim from someone you fired for tardiness – she couldn’t get to work on time because she NEEDED TO STOP FOR CIGARETTES on her way to work.  And we LOST the claim because, even though we had a clear attendance policy where employees accrued “points” for tardiness and being absent, and they’d be terminated if they accumulated a certain number of points, AND we had exercised progressive discipline AS OUTLINED in the policy, our handbook wasn’t super-precise about you losing your job for being late pretty much every single day.  It said you could be fired for absenteeism…not tardiness SPECIFICALLY.  Because common sense and reading at a fourth-grade level wouldn’t lead you to that obvious conclusion.

Or that one time a forklift operator was drinking a brown liquid that smelled like furniture polish, so we called him up to my office for questioning:

Me:  Ted, we had some concerns voiced about what you’re drinking in your travel mug today.  What was in there?

Ted:  <blinks>  I don’t know. (GREAT ANSWER.  If you’re, like, four.)

Me:  You don’t…know?  Let’s try again.  What was in there this morning?

Ted:  <Long pause.  Shifts uncomfortably in chair.>  I can’t remember.

Me:  <reaching over to grab my HUGE Bubba keg, where a tea bag is conspicuously steeping – HINT HINT>  Well, think harder.

Ted:  <blinks.  Looks at floor.  Looks out window.  Blinks again.  Swallows.>  Uh…Orange juice?

BRILLIANT.

Anyway.  Back in 2004, on one of these gossip professional discussion boards, someone who had just started working for Google was looking for some testers for this new email program Google was planning to launch.  At the time, I was planning the escape from my first marriage, so I quickly volunteered to get a personal, private email – one the spouse couldn’t access.  And, since I had one of the earliest accounts, I was able to get a very simple Gmail address – without extra numbers, characters, or underscores.  But because it’s so basic, occasionally someone will “accidentally” use this email instead of their own, and I wind up receiving emails that weren’t meant for me.  Often, I think people intentionally provide the wrong email address to avoid drowning in spam and special offers, but I’ve received some legit stuff, too, including student grade reports, overdue electric bills, travel itineraries, and random baby pictures.

Now, typically, I just politely respond that they have the wrong email, and ask to be removed from their mailing lists and address books.

email0

But, once in a while, I can’t help but respond.  Like this time:

email1

Um.  What?  I feed EVERY DAY, YO.  He must be talking about….

email2

He seemed really confused after that.  HAHAHAHAHAHA

I suggested that he might have the wrong email; we had a good chuckle and he went away.

But it isn’t always that easy.  Like this exchange the other day:

email3

E-cigs?  Oh HELL no.  Smoking gives you wicked lip wrinkles.  Plus I’m too poor to smoke.  Because shoes.

Now, to be fair, this was the second or third email I’d received from them. I’d ignored the previous two, quickly clicking them through to the virtual trashcan, but since this was becoming a habit (see what I did there? <snort>) I thought it best to cut it off.

email4

The end, right?

Nope.

cigemail5

Hoo boy.  Well, I’ll try to explain….

cigemail6

Super basic…but….

cigemail7

<headscratch>

Is this really THAT hard?! Because I’m totally losing patience here.

cigemail8

Spoiler alert:  Nope.  It clearly did not.

email9

Attached is a copy of an order containing $113.50 in Mandarin and Passion (!!!) e-cigs.

email10

I can’t get any more black and white than that.

Yet….

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OK, folks.  I think this game is over.  Besides, I had just left my mammogram (public service reminder:  get one, ladies!) and I was feeling a bit bruised – certainly not in the mood for battling with the cognitive equivalent of a cement block.

email12

And now the fun begins.  I go to the account, reset the password, and make up a new, random, completely fake email so I never, ever hear from them again.

Wait.  I spoke too soon.

email13

No.  NO YOU MAY NOT.  (And why do you need to talk to me?  Does your system only work on voice command?  Because I gotta tell ya, automated voice prompts usually fail me, too, but that’s fodder for an entirely different post.  JUST DELETE THE BLASTED THING.)

Besides…it’s too late.  I exercised some virtual street justice already. You won’t be bothering me anymore.

email14

Oh, and P.S. – your customer, now known as Boogerface McShitterpants, might be a bit peeved when you talk to her next.

You’ve been warned.

Peace out. <offers cocky salute and exits, stage right>

#MyFirstPostRevisted

So my “friend” (haha.  Love you) Fatty McCupcakes tagged me to play along with #MyFirstPostRevisted.

It’s a pretty simple game.  You repost your FIRST post.

Even I can’t mess THAT up.  Right? 

DA RULZ:

Obvious rules:

  • No cheating. (It must be your first post. Not your second post, not one you love…first post only.)
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).

Other rules:

  • Copy and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine but NO editing.) 
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title. 
  • Tag five other bloggers to take up this challenge. 
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post.
  • Include the rules in your post.

Pretty basic.  Easy peasy.

But then I looked back on my first post, and it’s kind of…sad.  Not funny at all.

And I’ve been through a helluva lot since then, with the whole Ashley Madison dealio, my dad passing away, and, more recently, my stepson’s mental illness.

But despite all that, I never quit laughing.

It’s what keeps me going.

So here’s where it all started….


So why am I here?

Big question with a long answer….

I’m Kate.  I’m in my 40s.  (EARLY forties, thankyouverymuch)

I have happy, smart, well-adjusted kids.  I have a devoted husband. We both have stable, steady jobs that we don’t hate.   No one has a troublesome illness, police record, or embarrassing YouTube videos.  So everything is wonderful…everything should be fine.

But it’s not.  And it’s a shame, because this should be a wonderful life.

Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate what I have.   How could I not?  But I’d like to enjoy life more.  And I think I COULD, if I could just get rid of all the noise in my head.

So what exactly is the problem here?  I hate to spell it out, because it feels so trivial in black and white.  But I need a safe place to talk some things out and unload the weight of the thoughts that keep me from seeing the sun in all the places it shines.

I want to find my joy, but I struggle.

I struggle with my relationship with food and my weight.   That began when I was ten.  Until that time I had no idea I was fat, or really any sense of how I looked at all.  Until one day, during a school assembly as I sauntered to the front of the gymnasium to accept some geeky award for math or spelling or some such, my brother’s friend told him that I was getting as fat as he was.  And of course my brother told me, and POOF, I was suddenly fat, and have been ever since.  My weight’s gone up and down a number of times since then – I’ve been 65 pounds heavier and 15 pounds lighter – but I’ve always been too fat.

The trouble with food issues is that it really isn’t about the food.  It’s about a convenient thing to be upset about so you don’t have to think about whatever it is that you’re REALLY upset about.  In other words, the size of your thighs can be easier to fret over than the stability of your marriage, or whether your kids love you, or why your mom doesn’t really like you all that much, or when your boss will find out that you’re really a poseur and have NO idea what you are doing, or why the heck you’re on this planet in the first place and is there really any point to life?  (Side note – I’m not in the market to off myself.  Just don’t feel like I’m doing much more than existing sometimes.)

To add to this, my husband has been stretching through some sort of spiritual mid-life crisis.  Spiritually, this has been a challenge.  To be fair, when we met, I knew we approached religion from different angles – I identify with Christianity, while he is agnostic.   This has mostly worked just fine for us, and we’ve explored some ideas together and kept it respectful.

However, as of late, he’s been on a mission – he wants to be the Voice of the People for atheists everywhere.  This has involved ripping apart the Bible and buying in-your-face blasphemous T-shirts.   I’m all for freedom of religious expression, but it’s hard not to find his behavior hurtful.  It’s hard not to take it personally.  Yes, I know a lot of wars have started over religion.  Frankly, I think God hates that.  I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that everything associated with Christianity is automatically bad.  People can be very bad, religion can be very political, but that’s not its intent.

I could write a lot about that, and I might later.   But that’s one of the things that brought me here – my husband says he loves me, but when he goes on these anti-religion rants, I feel like he’s wrenching my heart out.  I feel like every harsh, angry, derogatory thing he says reflects how he really feels about me.

So it all came to a head last December, when my husband was at his peak vitriol and my dad suddenly had a heart attack and life just got really dark really fast and I no longer wanted to eat anything at all…and I decided that enough was enough and I’d better learn to handle this better.  I decided I needed to attack this thing and address the noises in my head.

I need to cope better and not be so darn hard on myself.  So this year, I’m working on getting well.

I started therapy.  (I’ve only gone once so far.  But making the appointment and actually showing up is a big step.)  I’m trying to learn to meditate.  I’m trying to get regular exercise.  And I’m trying to be gentler with myself.

I’m hoping that getting my thoughts out here will help me better deal with them.  I’m hoping this can be somewhat of an online journal to assist me with the process of therapy.

And maybe if I post things out loud, maybe it’ll help someone else who wrestles with this mess to walk just a little bit closer to wellness.


So there ya go.  The first day Kate spilled her intestines on the interwebs.

And now it’s YOUR turn!  Let’s hear from

Have at it, kids.  It’s all fun and games until the IRS sends you a past-due notice.  🙂

Wearing the Stigma Scarf

I love scarves.

I have an entire drawer full of them, in all textures and colors. They’ve been inherited from relatives who’ve passed on, unearthed in thrift stores, discovered on clearance racks, and joyfully received in wrapped boxes at Christmas.

My favorites, though, are the ones that were hand-knit for me. I’m blessed to have people in my life who want to make me pretty things, and I wear these gifts with pride. I have two scarves in particular where I know the crafter saw the yarn and thought of me – primarily because the colors were…um…rather bold. They were materials that you really wouldn’t buy unless you distinctly had someone in mind who would actually WEAR something that obnoxious bright and colorful.

scarf1

And that someone is, apparently, moi.

scarf2

I’ve wondered on occasion if these scarves were perhaps a backhanded compliment of sorts.  Did they pick up the skeins and think, “Wow. Who on earth would wear THAT?” Did they twist the strands in their fingers, mildly horrified, and realize, “I bet Kate would. Yep. She would TOTALLY wear this”?  Did they giddily race home to half-jokingly create a monstrosity just to see if I’d dare sport it in public?

Maybe.  But it’s totally OK if they did. Because I love these scarves. They’re cheery, soft, warm, and they bring me joy. And someone created them just for me. Who cares if they don’t meet someone else’s taste? That’s fine. They can wear whatever makes THEM feel beautiful, and I won’t be offended if they don’t want to borrow anything from my closet.

We’re all unique, right? And the things that make us individuals don’t make us better or worse than anyone else.  They just make us…us.

But….

In my last post, I mentioned that things were going much better with the hubs, and that I was taking a more active role in my recovery.

But I didn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, the hubs has mellowed considerably on the subjects of religion and politics. Not, unfortunately, due to any spiritual shift, but because he’s got a new focal point: his sons. My stepsons, 12 and 14, are just starting the challenging transition from boy to man, with voices deepening and pants shrinking and sneakers no longer fitting on suddenly-larger feet. And with this hormonal tsunami, they’re pushing for other changes – primarily, to spend more time with their father, in the form of 50/50 custody.

Those of you with exes can probably guess how THAT’S been going.  Lead balloon?  Fart at a funeral?  (The latter of which may or may not <cough> have happened at my dad’s wake, and I might be acquainted with two stubborn, thoughtless children who will never let me forget it.  Kids can be jerks that way.  They must get that from their mother.)

Anyway.  For most of my stepsons’ lives, their mother has held primary physical custody, and with it has maintained tight reigns of control. Admittedly, while the hubs has been absolutely reliable in seeing the boys and paying support, he hasn’t been as involved in some of the “mom minutiae” that sucks so much mental energy, like scheduling immunizations or staying on top of what homework is due tomorrow. But he’s trying to take on his share, and while he’s made a huge effort in getting to know teachers, packing lunches, and slogging through the mental labyrinth of 8th grade algebra and Spanish, he’s getting shut out of what should be joint decisions, such as medical care and high school selection.

And the two of them have a long-standing inability to communicate effectively (read: without fighting.)  It’s epically horrific, to the point where I have absolutely ZERO idea how they stayed together in a room for long enough to make ONE baby, never mind TWO.  (Like how the praying mantis literally gets his head bitten off if he spends too much time thinking about baseball or didn’t feed her first.  Really.  Click here.  You’re welcome.)

As you’d expect, the custody battle barely tapped the border of negotiating “what’s best for the boys.” Since the parents despise each other, they were completely unable to focus on working out when the boys would live where. Instead, they hung verbal clotheslines and pinned up years and years of dirty laundry, finding faults and flaws in everything from nutrition to hygiene to spirituality to what cars they each drove and how long their emails and texts were.

The judge, of course, didn’t have time to be bothered with the parental equivalent of an alley cat fight, so he hosed them down by ordering them to attend…wait for it…marital counseling.  Yeah.  MARITAL COUNSELING.  They’ve been divorced for eleven years, and NOW they’re in marital counseling. Part of me wants to find this hilarious, but since the kids are the tragic punch line, I can barely manage a smirk.

So start with that constantly-roaring fire, and douse it with the kerosene of “Mom, I want to live with Dad half the time from now on” and “Why are you putting ideas in the boys’ heads/turning them against me/NOT LISTENING to me/diminishing my contributions/STILL EXISTING? Sprinkle on some grain dust in the form of autism spectrum disorder (both boys are officially diagnosed; Dad isn’t, but it doesn’t take much to see where they got it) and depression and anxiety (both boys; just depression for Mom and Dad, with medication all around) and you can probably see the pending mushroom cloud from the demoted non-planet Pluto.

The detonation occurred two Saturdays ago, when we received a 4 AM text that my older stepson was being taken to the local university hospital because he said that once everyone was asleep, he was fairly certain he was going to kill himself.

Boom.

It’s eerily quiet after an explosion. The silence is unnerving. Haunting.

The next day, the treating doctor ordered counseling for the “family unit.” The hubs texted his ex to clarify: biological parents only, or should the step-parents attend? She replied: “this is for guardians only.” So off the hubs went, while I waited at home for a report. After he arrived, it was clarified that he was expected to arrive alone, but she and the stepdad would both be in attendance since she had primary physical custody.

I was the odd man out. Not considered significant enough to participate in this very critical healing process.

Well, you can imagine how THAT felt.  But this isn’t about me.  (And, on the bright side, I suppose my exclusion proves that no one thinks I contributed to the “problem.”)

After a week of comprehensive inpatient therapy, my stepson was released, complete with tools, reminders, and a “safety plan” that included his wellness strategy.

This included a very specific note to his parents: “Quit fighting about custody.”

Gut-punches ya right in the feels, don’t it?

And you are the only people I’ve shared this with, except for my siblings and my mother.  Even then, I danced around what really took place, using words like “he’s safe now” and “getting the help he needs.”

No one else in my life knows that we had this crisis.

Why not?

Why did I hesitate to say that my stepson is struggling with a mental health issue, and it’d reached a critical point where he needed more intensive treatment for awhile?

When my dad had his pulmonary issues, I had no problem telling people the full medical situation in full detail.  See, heart issues aren’t loaded with connotations and bias.  They just happen, to good people and bad people and people who are…normal.

If heart issues were a scarf, they’d be a neutral color, like navy or black, which goes with many things and can be tossed atop nearly any outfit.

This was different.

For some reason, I didn’t want anyone to see the mental health scarf we had stuffed in the back of the closet.  After looking at it, I decided that it simply doesn’t match my outfit.

Suffice it to say it’s been a stressful time in our household.  Thank goodness I started that medication when I did!

Oh, yeah.  About that….

I haven’t quite gotten around to telling the hubs this little detail.

I didn’t intend to keep it a secret.  But when I went to the doctor, I was pretty convinced that nothing would work, and I didn’t want to get his hopes up that there might be something that could “fix” me.  I didn’t want my moods and actions analyzed, and I didn’t want a layman’s opinion of whether it was working or not.  I didn’t want a magnifying glass aimed at my cracks and fissures.

What the hubs does know is that he’s starting to get his wife back.

Isn’t that enough?

It’s not that he wouldn’t be supportive – heck, he takes meds himself.  If it had a chance of helping, he’d be heartily in favor of it. He wouldn’t criticize or judge.  He understands mental health issues as well as any non-medical person possibly could.

But the bottle is hidden.

It isn’t a scarf I’m ready to show him just yet.

Hmm…now that I think about it….maybe it’s NOT a scarf.  Maybe it’s Spanx. Or a Wonderbra.  YES!  That’s EXACTLY it.  It pushes everything around so that I can present my very best self to society.  It tucks and sucks the floppy bits that pollute my put-together look.

And no one has to know.  All they’ll see is fabulous.

I’m aware that mental health issues aren’t within my control. I know without a shadow of a doubt that hormones shoot holes in my stability.  I understand that I’m managing what is largely a chemical imbalance.

Yet often the scarf of anxiety is itchy and uncomfortable, and I don’t want to wear it at all.  I don’t want people to start judging my job performance through the lens of mental illness.  I don’t want my weight to be scrutinized by coworkers and friends:  Is she thinner today? Is she in trouble?  She seems so scattered…do we need to intervene?  Or worse:  She’s put on weight; she can’t be THAT broken if she’s able to eat all that food.  She must be exaggerating her so-called anxiety since she completed the 1095c forms on time. 

I know I shouldn’t feel this way.  I mean, okay, YES.  I’ll say it:  I have mental health issues. 

But they’re part of what makes me…ME.  They’re powerful spices in the Kate stew.  My anxiety and my food issues are colorful threads woven in the tapestry of the personality that is exclusively MINE.

No one else has a scarf quite like this one.

Perhaps I should embrace my individuality and be proud of the quirks I have.  They add some glitter to an otherwise flat surface.  Like any hand-crafted creation, they should be worn proudly.  Right?

“Normal” is kind of dull, anyway.

With a little elbow grease and a dash of confidence, maybe I can sparkle and shine.

The Effects of Effexor

I know I haven’t been writing as much lately.

I’d like to say there’s a good reason for that…but actually, there’s been NO reason. Life has been tooling along steadily and uneventfully. After the last eighteen months, the calmer pace of “normal” is a blessing. (Although I’m writing this from 30,000 feet and I literally JUST saw another plane hurtling through the sky in the opposite direction uncomfortably close to the right wing. So maybe chaos hasn’t left, but is lurking around the corner, waiting to pull the ultimate “Gotcha!”)

So…some updates:

The hubs and I were going through what one might say is a “rough patch.” (These are probably the same people who say that childbirth is “uncomfortable.”)

By some miracle, things are actually better. MUCH better.

What’s changed? He’s toned down the hate speech. He’s told me every day how much he loves me, that he sincerely appreciates me, that he’s thankful to be married to me. He gives me the space I need.

And we talk. Truly COMMUNICATE. Where he says a thing, and I respond, and there’s a sharing of ideas and thoughts and opinions that’s respectful and intelligent. When we disagree, we do it with love. We seek to understand. And we hold hands.

I’ve been working on myself, as well.  Because I firmly believe that when a marriage fractures, you have to cast both bones. You cannot dance as a couple and only blame one person for the fall. If you want long-term healing, you absolutely have to be able to step back and understand your role in ending up where you landed, or you’re doomed to repeat the injury when you tango with someone else.

To be fair, the blame split isn’t usually 50/50:  My ex was abusive. Or she cheated.  In no way am I saying that people who have affairs or personality disorders can shift the blame…but it’s worth analyzing the events that lead up to falling in the pit.

I mean, most spouses don’t go seeking an affair because the relationship at home is amazeballs, right?

NOT THAT THIS MAKES IT EVEN REMOTELY OK OR IN ANY WAY EXCUSES THE BEHAVIOR.

But we can learn from pain, even if all we gain is a better awareness of how to spot the beginnings of cracks in the dam.

An example:  In my first marriage, my ex was mentally abusive. Clearly NOT my fault.  But it did me quite a bit of good to study the vulnerabilities in myself that drew me to this person.  It enabled me to shore myself up so I’d better identify the warning signs and avoid falling back down the rabbit hole. I practiced standing up for myself a little more often. Slowly, tentatively at first, I found my voice and a spare backbone.

In other words:  you need to master the difference between a surprise treat and a baited trap.  Or you’re doomed to wonder how you YET AGAIN got stuck in this cold, metal cage.

I’d been trying to do some healing through this blog, and occasionally I’d take a swing at therapy.  But in the spirit of really fixing myself and my marriage, I thought perhaps it was time to get more aggressive with the Care and Feeding of Kate.

So I went to the doctor and asked to try medication again.

Now, I’ve tried prescriptions in the past. Zoloft. Wellbutrin. Great antidepressants for many people.  However, my issue really is more anxiety.  Depression meds may or may not work when it comes to treating anxiety, and finding the right cocktail can feel as randomly impossible as picking the winning Powerball numbers.

And then there was the Lorazapam Incident. Yes…”incident.”  Which SHOULD be a great story, but unfortunately, I cannot remember ANY of it. What I do know is that sometime within the first week of taking this drug, I suddenly found myself home completely confused about how I had gotten there at 1 PM on a work day. The next morning, when I went to the office, I got a ton of concerned looks and questions: “Are you OK? No, really…are you?” No one would tell me what I did or what I said, other than, “you just didn’t look…right.” I also have NO CLUE HOW I DROVE HOME. Yikes. (And thanks, everyone, for letting me operate heavy machinery. Love you all.) Suffice it to say I got rid of that Rx in a hurry, and it’s notated in my medical chart as an “allergy”, right next to penicillin. (I’m also allergic to cockroaches. But they won’t add that in there, for some reason, even though I think it’s super interesting and a GREAT icebreaker for those awkward silences at parties. I guess it’s a good indicator that they won’t be using cockroaches in medicine in the foreseeable future, right? Because yuck.)

I’ve also tried sleeping aids, thinking that if I could get quality rest, it’d help. On some nights, plain old melatonin helped a little, but melatonin is like a Band-aid – fine for minor cuts, not so good for gaping sleep wounds.

So, a few years ago, I tried to find something stronger. Ambien, anyone? All of my friends* swore by it: “It’s a miracle drug. Best shuteye I’ve had in years. You might eat the entire contents of your fridge at 3 AM, but you’ll sleep right through it.”

*Yes, all. Why does it seem like most people I know are on some type of medication? Is this true in your circle, too? Maybe we all send off invisible signals to one another, an unlisted side effect attracting us together like magnets.

What did Ambien – the miracle siesta drug – do for me?

NOTHING.

Nada, zip, zero.

No drowsiness, no restorative REMs, no sleepdriving across town at 2AM to buy donuts at the 7-11. It was like all my buddies were ripping open presents while Sandman Santa had missed my house completely.

I switched over to Trazodone, which actually unwound me enough to help me sleep. Problem was, I wanted to KEEP sleeping.  Since my job expected me to show up before the socially accepted lunch hour, I had to give it up. Plus, when you sleep until noon, it’s impossible to fall BACK asleep anytime before 2 AM. It’s like getting jet lag without the tropical vacation and enviable tan.

So I gave up.

It had been about ten years since I attempted medication.  Honestly, I wasn’t terribly optimistic that there was an appropriate cocktail* out there that would help.    But in the spirit of shoring up myself so I could better focus on my marriage, about six weeks ago I put on my adulting shoes and headed to the doctor and asked for help.

*Yeah…wine helps too.  But that’s not a crutch I want to depend on.  Because addiction.  And calories. 

I wasn’t sure there was much left that I hadn’t tried. But there was. “It shows here that we  prescribed you Effexor a few years ago, but you never filled the script because it was too expensive.” (They wrote THAT in my chart, but not the part about cockroaches?) “There’s a generic available now. Let’s give that a whirl.”

So off to the pharmacy I went.

I got my caplets, took them as instructed, and waited.

The good news? They worked. THEY ACTUALLY WORKED. I started to sleep. The racing thoughts subsided.

The biggest change?

I no longer felt compelled to weigh and measure my food.

Lemme let that sink in for a sec.

After spending years of my life counting olives and weighing salsa, I put my food scale away.

This. Was. Huge. Miraculous. Life-changing.  I stole bites of whatever treat the hubs was enjoying.  If I wanted ketchup and mustard on my burger, I just slopped it on willy-nilly without really caring whether I had 1.5 tablespoons or two.

I was more relaxed everywhere, including the dinner table.

But….now the bad news:  the side effects.

First, there were the headaches.  Constant, nagging, aching.  Half my daily caloric intake was analgesics.  I rapidly depleted my Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, which didn’t do anything positive for the other problematic issue:  nausea.

Have you ever dealt with chronic nausea?  It’s debilitating.  Exhausting.  You feel awful all the time.  You’d think this would be an absolute dream for someone with an eating disorder, wouldn’t you?  But it’s not.  It’s the kind of nausea that can only be relieved (ironically) by eating.  It was a cruel need for constant calories, and I was too ill to care.  From the couch, I kept up with a steady stream of carbs (mostly tortilla chips and pizza*) and focused on trying to function.

*No matter how sick I am, I can pretty much always eat pizza.  This was also the case when I was pregnancy-puking.  Most people gravitate towards ginger ale and saltines.  Me?  If I’m refusing pizza, take me to the hospital STAT.

It was maddening.  I’d found something that relieved the constant barrage of negativity in my head – yet made me as sick as my bulimic cat.  I debated toughing it out, but after missing two days of work, I decided it was far too high a price to pay for relative mental stability.  Reluctantly, I messaged my doctor.  Thankfully, there was a different formulation I could try – a fast-acting, smaller dose, taken twice a day.

One more. 

Just try.

What did I have to lose?

I picked up my prescription and I held my breath.

And, in a few days, I was able to step outside of myself and enjoy the view.

sunset1

The view from my vet’s office.

Am I 100% cured?  Of course not.  But someone’s come and cleaned the film from my internal windows.  The voices in my head are quieter.  More subtle.  Suggestions, not commands.  I can diagnose irrational thoughts and tamp them down with reassurances that my brain is attempting to mislead me.

And there are still some side effects – namely, REALLY detailed and vivid dreams. (Which I should totally write about.  Except for the one that starred Will Smith.  Hubba hubba.)

Will Smith completes his gray #Tuxedo with a tailored black #TuxedoVest.:

I love Pinterest.

The queasiness is minor and fleeting.  I’m getting some headaches, but they’re manageable and treatable.  And I’m a bit tired, so it’s not exactly easy to get out of bed.  (Not that it ever was.  Mornings and I aren’t exactly BFFs.)

So I have a slightly longer climb most days.  But so far, it’s been worth it to enjoy the view.

sunset2

The sights as I left the office.  Working in BFE has some advantages.

What’s worked for you?  What didn’t help at all?  Medication?  Therapy?  A combination?  Share your triumphs and tribulations in the comments!

 

Furnishing an (Im)Perfect Holiday

Hey!

Long time no see!  Come in, have a seat. <pours coffee>

And how was your holiday?

Yeah, I know the holidays were more than a few days weeks ago.  But since my tree is still up, it can’t possibly be too late to talk about them.  Right?

OK, OK.  I confess that I don’t exactly take a traditional approach to holidays.  I did absolutely nothing for Turkey Day, and didn’t get around to decorating my Halloween pumpkin until early December.

But there are some reasons for that.

I wasn’t always like this.  When I was a kid, we celebrated holidays in the expected fashion.  The extended family would get together for the Big Three – Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, where we’d gather ’round a seasonally-appropriate roasted animal and stuff our faces.  Pretty normal.

After dinner, the family would split into two groups:  One set would schlep the dirty dishes and the decimated carcass off to the kitchen, where they’d begin the seemingly endless work of cleaning and putting away.  The others would lazily saunter off to the living room and either watch football or play video games.

Don’t look so surprised.  Yes, we had video games in the 80s, when most families were either Team Atari or Team Intellivision.  Atari’s user interface was a little simpler, consisting of a joystick and one FIRE button, but it was Intellivision that possessed CLEARLY superior graphics and more complex game play.

Have a look.  Atari:

Atari console.  Simple, right?

The “smash” hit Asteroids.  Meh.  You can still buy this one, kids.

And the highly sophisticated Intellivision:

Not impressed?  Rest assured that this was top-of-the-line gaming back in the day.  Plus it got me out of doing the dishes.  So I got really good at Burger Time (a food game…the irony is not lost on me) while my brother whipped my butt at Football.  Mom was KILLER at any and all space games – she’d routinely score a million points or more on the one above.  (I should also mention that your parents’ generation didn’t have any of this overcoddled candy-a$$ “beating” of a game.  It just kept repeating the action faster and faster until you perished.  You never, EVER won.  Nowadays kids get a freaking parade for managing to wear shoes on the right feet for three days in a row.  Gaaaaaah.)

Anyway.  It wasn’t until I was quite a few years older that I realized that it was the WOMEN who did the dishes and the MEN who retreated to the sofa.  I was the sole female exception.  I remember commenting to my mother that this seemed like kind of a raw deal – to which my mother said, “but we women had such great conversations and bonding time.”  That’s…nice, but I have ESPN and a dishwasher, and I’m quite certain I’d bond just fine with Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb if you left me alone in a room with them.  Hubba hubba.

Plus, after the kitchen was clean, the ladies would sit down to play “cards.”  This game consisted of about eight decks of cards, and looked like a group game of solitaire, but the object appeared to be to fling cards in the middle of the table while yelling, jumping out of your seat, and slapping everyone blocking your path to victory.  (Good thing they started this AFTER the knives were put away.  If that’s “bonding,” then you have no right to mock my dad’s love of WWE.  I mean, they play with chairs, too, right?)

So holidays were pretty nice for me.

Until I got married.

I wed into a family with “traditional values” – and the unspoken expectation was that if you needed anything, you as the wife would be obligated to make it yourself.  The paradigm shift surrounding the holidays was absolutely jarring.  If I reminded my spouse of an upcoming birthday, I’d sometimes get a card, usually late and not particularly heartfelt.  Bake your own cake if you feel like you need one; but you’ve been putting on weight since we got married, so….

Valentine’s Day?  Well, the candy’s half-price the next day, so here’s something grabbed from what was left in the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart on the 15th.

Christmas?  You, the wife, plan the getting of the tree, and while the MAN would set it up, it’s up to you to decorate and water it, and it’s STAYING there until YOU figure out how to get it to the curb.  You, as the house matriarch, buy all the presents for the kids and BOTH sets of parents, and do all the prepping, cooking, and wrapping.  If you’re lucky, you might get a present.  My favorite “surprise” gift:

We already HAD a waffle iron, of course.  His logic was that now “we” could make waffles TWICE AS FAST.  The saddest part about this gift was that it didn’t contain the letters I needed to spell out my true feelings.  (Well played, Black & Decker.)

The tipping point on my anti-holiday stance came on my second official Mother’s Day.

It was a sunny, beautiful Sunday.  We had just come home from church, and my two-month-old son was down for his post-drive nap.  I was exhausted, and desperately wanted to join him.  But my daughter, nearly two, wanted to go outside and play.  I happened to glance out the back window, and saw something that turned my stomach:  a wild rabbit had apparently been chased by a neighborhood cat or dog, and had horrifically and painfully lost the battle.  The poor bunny was completely destroyed in our backyard.  It was a gruesome scene that I absolutely did not want my daughter to see.

Tearfully, I asked my husband to please go outside and take care of it so our little girl could play.

He sighed heavily.  “Maybe after my nap.”

He went to bed, and broke my heart.

Resolutely, I plopped my baby in front of Elmo and told her we’d go outside in just a few minutes.  She happily waited while I found a large coal shovel and marched to the backyard.  I did my best to heave the rabbit innards over the embankment, and raked the soiled leaves into the runoff creek so she wouldn’t see them.

Happy Mother’s Day to me.

It was the finishing touch on a valuable life lesson:  If you have no expectations, you don’t get disappointed. 

When I periodically forget this, and experience minor disappointment at, say, a forgotten birthday, all I have to do is conjure up the mental image of the gutted rabbit, and the day looks a little bit brighter.  How could it not?

Fortunately (?) I married someone who’s perfectly fine with not making a big fuss over the holidays.  We’ve established minimal expectations – a card on your birthday, and one for the anniversary.  If we remember, that is.  Witness our fifth wedding anniversary:

Me:  <arrives at work, quickly logs into Facebook.  Sees message from brother>

Brother <via text>:  Happy Anniversary, Sis! 

Me:  <thinking> Oh $#!t.  Is that today?  <grabs phone, texts the hubs>  Happy anniversary, babe!  I love you!

The Hubs:  <via text>:  Oh $#!t.  Is that today? 

We’re clearly well-matched in that department.  HAHAHAHAHA

For Christmas, we’ve never actually exchanged gifts.  We instead use the opportunity to buy stuff for the home.  This year, we were on a mission to replace our mattress – last year we invested in a really nice bed frame and comforter, and our mattress was as old as our marriage.  So we trekked out to the local furniture warehouse to see what we could find.

While we spent WAY too much money that day, there were several things we didn’t buy.  These end tables, for example:

furn_catcage

The LAST thing I need is an excuse to hoard more clutter.  But I sort of want to trap my cats under them and play zoo.  (And now you do, too, don’t you.)

Sensing danger, the hubs “steered” me in another direction:

furn_steer

Not entirely sure what they’re going for here.  Is Cowboy Bling a thing?  I guess I just do not understand art.  Especially when it looks like something you’re forced to hang on the fridge when little Kate Junior brings it home:

furn_art1

$120.  I’m in the wrong line of work.

Or this disturbing piece….

furn_art2

For $300 you’d think it’d come with thighs.

A little modern for my taste.  And by “modern,” I mean “WTF is this crap?”

So on to something more useful.  A sofa!  For…a hobbit? A spoiled dog?

furn_tinycouch

Serving suggestion only.  Spouse not for sale.

$500? !?  I’m not sure I love my cats enough to spend $500 on their medical care.  Forget frou-frou furniture.  (Besides, they’d just sleep in the box anyway.  Or on my bladder.)

Later, from across the store:

The Hubs:  Hon!  Come QUICK!  I just found chairs with HUGE KNOCKERS!!!!

I scamper across the store, where he proudly shows me:

furn_knockers

<rim shot>

I got even, though, when we encountered this display:

furn_pears

Me:  Look, hon!  Candles!

The Hubs:  Cool.  Are they scented?  <sniffs, looks puzzled>

Me:  Yes…but just PEAR-ly.

<snort>

We did, eventually, find a great mattress.  And, because it was the holidays, we gave our wallets a workout and splurged on a new kitchen table and chairs, to replace the set we bought for $80 from craigslist ten years ago:

tablechairs

Picture taken of the five minutes it was not buried in clutter <sigh>

And a new sofa and loveseat, since our old one’s “genuine leather” was flaking in a weird psofariasis kind of way and I was getting tired of sweeping up cow skin.

sofas

And one more thing, just because it looked cool:

furn_owl1

I figured if I (meaning “the hubs”, of course) sawed off the base, it’d look amazeballs on my kitchen wall.  What do you think?

wallowls

Only $20, and it makes me smile.  Well worth it for the blast of color and joy it brings.

It’s the bow on my gift.  Merry Christmas to me!

I’m so worth it.  Aren’t we all?

We’re not traditional, but I’m (usually) OK with that.  At least I get exactly what I want.  Now bring on Valentine’s Day – Momma needs some new jewelry.  😉

Holiday Craft-up Mash-up

After my rather non-eventful Thanksgiving, I found myself facing the cavernous space of a largely open weekend.  My two little darlings were at their dads, and the hubs was taking my stepsons to see their grandparents.  Except for a brief rehearsal Sunday morning, I had nothing in front of me.

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

OK.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do love my family.  Most of the time.  Usually.  But when you’re a parent, you really come to appreciate having the house all to yourself on the rare occasions it actually happens.

So I grabbed the TV remote and prepped for a long-overdue recliner sesh complete with hot coffee and trashy TV.  But when I headed to the kitchen to score an accompanying nosh, I spotted this:

pump1

Note the coffee mug dwarfed by this monstrosity.

Oh, yeah….the pumpkin.

Maaaayyyyyybe I should be getting around to…doing something with this thing.

I should explain – I never intended to HAVE a pumpkin.  But for years I’ve participated in a crop-share, and sometimes you get some rather unexpected items.  As a result of my weekly veggie boxes, I can use the word kohlrabi in a sentence, I’ve learned how to make pickles, and I’ve discovered several delicious ways to cook turnips. (Really.  Cube them and roast them, then mash with either winter squash, sweet potatoes, or russets.  You’re welcome.)

So I hadn’t gone out and bought this thing on purpose. (Can you imagine lugging that sucker home in a plastic grocery bag?  It’d cut off the circulation in your pinkies faster than a haul of 2-liter sodas and cat litter.)  It just appeared next to my CSA delivery in mid-October.  I rolled it home and shoved it into my pantry, and let Halloween AND Thanksgiving roll by while I largely ignored it.

Pumpkins don’t last forever, though, and I knew that the clock was ticking on this one.  Plus, I hate, hate, HATE throwing food away.  The thought of “wasting” something totally sets off my anxiety (I even addressed it in therapy.  Once.  I can DO it, but I still don’t like it very much.)

So, with an entire day (and no witnesses) in front of me , I decided to tackle my propensity for procrastination AND my deficient crafting gene and get my carve on.

I wash the pumpkin (logical next step, right? I mean, if you’re going to face a project like this, and you’re me, you have good odds of embedding a blade somewhere in a hand, foot, or left buttcheek.  I’m up-to-date on my tetanus shots, but best to scrub off any residual fertilizer just in case.)

I stare at it.  I’ve carved pumpkins, before, of course.  Like, a million years ago when the kids were little.

pastpumpkins

Circa 2003.  Some of you weren’t even born yet, were you.

Literally the last time I attempted a pumpkinectomy was 2005.  ELEVEN YEARS AGO.

pumpkinbabies

They would kill me dead if they knew I posted this…but they’re so damn LITTLE.  (sniff)

What I remember about this process:  pumpkin-carving sounds like a really engaging family activity at the onset…but after about five minutes of wrist-cramping, digit-threatening knife moves, the whole thing deteriorates into a clumsy, slippery, why-on-earth-did-I-think-this-was-fun chore that you just.want.to.be.DONE.with.  (And how exactly did pumpkin entrails get stuck on the ceiling??)

<sigh>  Sounds like a party.

So whatever I decided to do was gonna have to be pretty dang simple.  And it wouldn’t hurt to have something at least quasi-seasonally appropriate.  I did have my tree up, after all:

15135899_1261529543914309_6371334200203993686_n

This “angel” never gets old….

Hey, if my tree topper can sport an MG08/15, then Christmas pumpkin it is.  Why not? 

I called out to the hubs, who was running around packing up the car with all the electronics the boys would need to stay entertained at Grandma’s house.  (They’d be there a full day and a half, ya know, so best to pack up the Xbox AND the Playstation AND a couple of laptops.  Being the stepmom, I don’t get much of a say in that, so whatever.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.)

Anyway, I need some paint.

Me:  “Hey hon…do we have any Christmas-appropriate paint?”  He had to have something – in addition to collecting cardboard boxes, he also keeps a variety of paints around, just in case he gets a hankering to play with his airbrushing tools or his 3D printer.  (Aaaaand now we see where his boys get it.)  I’d complain, but I have to admit it does come in handy when you suddenly have to do a project like RIGHT NOW.

Hubs:  “I’m sure I do.  What kind of paint?”

Me (confused.  Kind?  The colored kind. ???):  “Um…the kind that…goes on, like, walls and crafts and stuff.”

Hubs:  (gamely trying again):  “Well, what are you using it for?”

Me:  “To carve this pumpkin.” (Obviously.)

Fortunately, the hubs is used to me pretty much not making sense, so he rummages around in the basement and unearths two cans of spray paint – one red and one green.  That’ll do! 

I hop on the interwebs to find a simple Christmas design.  I know I can’t draw, but I can trace.  Maybe a stencil?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.  Pretty, but no.  This is more my speed:

And then I found this:

It’s pretty much one long line.  And not even a straight line, which I can’t cut anyway.  PERFECT.

But I wasn’t happy with the star, so I found this one to use instead:

I printed these out, and traced them onto coffee filters.  (Which are perfect for not only tracing crap, but ALSO for making snowflakes, because in addition to being really thin paper that’s easy to cut, they’re also ALREADY ROUND.  Try it.)

I dig some double-sided tape out of the junk drawer.  Pro tip:  double-sided tape + coffee filters = not very forgiving.  But, after some colorful language, I got there:

pump2

You can see on the left where I ran out of filter before I ran out of stencil.  Whoops

Okay.  Looks doable.

<deep breath> Knife time!

pump3

Eeeeewwwww

In case you’ve forgotten how slimy pumpkin guts are….let me remind you.  Each of the eleventy-kajillion seeds are attached to what looks like internal pumpkin hair.  <shudder> I grab an ice-cream scoop, and, after some vigorous scooping, use a razor blade to “shave” the insides a bit.  It helps:

pump4

Still gross.  But better.

Now for the fun part.  I trace the entire stencil with a razor blade, and follow it with a marker so I can see where to hack.  This leaves me feeling like some sort of odd-duck vegetation tattoo artist.  Empowering, in a basement-creeper sort of way.

I begin work on the star, which because of the intricate, teeny tiny points, takes me approximately fifteen @#$(@#$@ years to complete.  (Give or take.)  I find, in the hubs’ stash, a surgical scalpel (because doesn’t every hoarder have one?) and channel my inner Dexter as I scrape and pick out every fussy little corner.

Whose idea was this again?

Thankfully, once I start on the tree part, it goes much faster.

pump5

Progress!

I keep plugging away.  After the tree is cut, I grab a screw hook and drive several holes into the gourd to make stars:

pump6

Hey.  That’s not half bad. 

Now for spray paint.  I take the whole mess outside and, after a few tentative squirts, go to town:

pump7

Look Ma, more cardboard!

YAY!  Let’s light it!!!

Oh…wait.  I read the label on the can (because it would have been really amateurish to do that BEFORE I started shooting paint everywhere):

Dries to touch in 15-30 minutes; 60 minutes to handle

SIXTY MINUTES?!?!  I have to wait AN HOUR???  @#($@#$#@$

Reluctantly, I go inside and clean my kitchen.  Most of the squash innards are confined to the kitchen table and floor (and yeah, the walls, but just two and just a little.)

Oh, and I’d better deal with these, I guess.

pump9

One pumpkin = one metric f*%&ton of seeds.

I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds float, so I filled the bowl with water and just sort of mushed the sludge to the bottom, which made fairly short work of the mess.  Make no mistake – it was still work.  But after an hour, I had a clean(ish) kitchen and a lifetime supply of pumpkin seeds for roasting later:

pump10

Seeds for DAYS, yo.

<BEEP BEEP BEEP> That’s the timer.  We’re ready to light this shiz UP!

pump8

Still decidedly not terrible.

I can’t wait to see it at night.  But dark is TWO LONG HOURS AWAY.

What to do…what to do….

I go shopping.  (Of course.  Because Christmas.  Ha, who am I kidding.  ‘Tis the season ME ME ME.)

Three hours and two new sweaters later:

pump12

Wait. Shut off the porch light, dummy.pump13

Well, whaddya know.  I CAN CRAFT!!!! 

Sometimes, procrastination pays.

Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. 

On Thursday

My eyes slowly open.  It’s brighter out than usual.  I must have slept in.

The blinds are closed, but a foggy, soft light peeks into the room through the small slits.  I roll over and squint at the clock.  A red 7:37 confirms for me that today is not a normal work day.

It is Thursday.  It is unusual to have a day off in the middle of the week.  My brain works to reconcile this.  I am still in bed after the sun woke up.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

I turn over and blink at the ceiling.  I could get up.  Or I could close my eyes and doze for a bit longer.  Knowing that tomorrow I will have to get myself up, dressed, and presented to the world in time to support my coworkers in the Black Friday madness, I decide that I best roll out of bed and face the day.  Otherwise, sleep won’t come until the wee hours.

I go to the window and part the blinds with two fingers.  It’s overcast, but most of the snow that fell earlier in the week has retreated to the grassy areas.  The roads are clear, damp in spots and dry in others.

It is Thursday, and on Thursdays, I run.  I don my shoes and my fleece running tights and head out the door.

It’s cold and damp, but not offensively so.  I ask my phone to shuffle my music, and start my run-tracking appThe scale knows only that today is Thursday.  My thighs don’t know today is different. 

My spouse chose to sleep in, so today’s workout is a solo effort.  The hubs prefers a specific route, but today, I can choose my path.  I pause for a moment, overwhelmed by options and unsure of my direction.  On Thursdays, we go right.  But today is different.  I turn left at the end of the driveway.

Siri‘s in a Broadway kind of mood today.  My phone blasts excerpts from Aspects of Love and Hairspray. I don’t wear headphones when I run; I want to be able to hear approaching cars and unleashed dogs.  This morning, the air is largely still.  It’s unusually quiet for a Thursday.  The normal hum of rush-hour traffic is missing, and I can’t decide if the incongruous silence is comforting or unsettling.   My eyes and ears note the contrast.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

The lack of activity makes me hyper-aware of my surroundings.  I note the lone passenger at the bus stop, bundled in a thick parka.  I start as a squirrel darts a few feet in front of me.  A partially rusted car, painted with gray primer, makes a U-turn in the middle of the street and parks a half block ahead of me.  It’s a safe neighborhood, but I confirm my grip on my pepper spray, moving the nozzle to “fire.”  I watch as a wiry, bearded man exits the vehicle, hoisting his bag of newspapers over his shoulder.  I nod in his direction and smile as I call out, “Good morning!”  He looks up, surprised, but returns the greeting.  Perhaps on Thursdays, no one says hello to the junk paper delivery guy.  But today is different.

My phone announces the start of Mile Two.  Halfway there.  I cover a few more squares of sidewalk before carefully turning around to reverse my route.  I leap over small snow piles, avoiding the bumpy metallic curb slopes.  (Those suckers are slippery. ) Occasionally, I land in a pile of slush.  It clogs the treads of my running shoes and I lose a bit of traction.  I press on.  I shouldn’t fall.

I shake the snow loose and let my mind wander as I pass the ranch-styles and split-levels.  Is the neighborhood awake?  Are they in their kitchens, slicing potatoes?  Are they at their laptops, frantically Googling “fastest way to thaw a frozen turkey”?  Perhaps they’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of family – or maybe everyone arrived last night, leaving them wondering if it’s too early to uncork a bottle of red.  I wonder if any of them are looking out their windows.  Do they see me?  Do they think “look at her dedication, running even today!”  Because although it is Thursday, and there is no reason not to run on normal Thursdays, today is different.

Mile Three.   I run across a normally busy street without looking.  On Thursday, this is dangerous.  But it’s so peaceful, the possibility of traffic doesn’t even occur to me until I’ve crossed two lanes.  Today is different.  Even Siri attempts to remind me of the date, as she offers up When October Goes (yes, Barry Manilow is in my collection, don’t judge) and November Rain as subtle hints.

It’s unnecessary.  I know what today is.

Today, families across the country are gathering around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberries.  They’ll cheer their favorite teams as they lift forks and spoons filled with spiced pumpkin and ice cream.  And after the game, they might sit around the table, sharing old stories and sandwiches and card games and coffee, reminiscing and laughing by a crackling fire.

This is not my today.  Today is different.

I arrive home, clapping bark and leaves off my shoes.  My kids are celebrating the holiday with their father.  My siblings are with my mother as she navigates both her first wedding anniversary and first major holiday without her husband in over fifty years.  Sure, I could have boarded a plane to be with them. I could have joined the millions of Americans who just yesterday jammed the airports and highways, shelling out dollars and tempers and myriad frustrations in order to chase their expectations.

Out loud, to coworkers, I pride myself on refusing to travel during what I have deemed “amateur hour,” fighting to get to my gate among beginners who don’t understand which line to wait in and never remember that a full water bottle is a weapon which must be discarded before you hit Security.

I opt out of the madness.  I claim to prefer a relaxed, subdued holiday.  Sometimes I manage to convince myself this is true.

The house is quiet.  Warm and dark after the damp, oddly bright cloudiness outside.  My stepsons are awake and plugged into their respective computers, oblivious to my entrance.

I retreat to the basement to stretch.  The cats join me, craning their necks for an ear-scratch while I release the tension in my quads and hamstrings.  I clean up a small pile of regurgitated cat food.  I scoop the litterbox.  I dole out hairball treats.

The scale is there, waiting for me.  It’s Thursday.  Hop on.  I sigh, exhale, and ask the judge for mercy.  She grants it, haltingly.  I’m still on probation.  Five more pounds, maybe seven.  I can do this.  Even today. 

After my shower, I switch on the coffee pot.  I assemble a green smoothie.  It is Thursday, after all.  No reason to switch to pancakes or cookies.  No occasion warrants a sidestep from the calorie-counting regimen.  Not even today.

Sipping slowly, I plot out my day.  There’s a sale starting at 6 PM; I get $10 off my purchase.  That might be worth waiting in line for.  Football will be on most of the day; I can toast some pumpkin seeds and relax in my new recliner until then.  I pick out an afghan that my husband’s grandmother made.  I turn on the Christmas tree, letting the lights illuminate the room.

Today, it is Thursday.  And my life will not be a Norman Rockwell painting.  Nor will it be an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  I suppose one might be thankful for that.

My life isn’t what I planned.  I envisioned hectic holidays, crammed to the gills with family laughter and delicious food and epic card games and stolen naps.  As a child, I never thought through the what-ifs of divorce and geography.  Yet I live it today, the quiet being a product of the choices I’ve made.

I did what I thought was best at the time.

Isn’t that all any of us can do?

Make no mistake, I’m aware that I’ve been richly blessed.  My life is, overall, quite good.

It’s just different.  Especially today.

Later, I’ll bake some fish and roast some of the veggies from my weekly crop share delivery. I’ll get my Christmas lists ready. Maybe a new pair of booties will wend their way into my Amazon basket. I’ll work to shove the should-haves and don’t-eats out of the way as I focus on nurturing my soul.

I should probably do that every Thursday.

But today is different.  Every part of my body and all of my senses are telling me so.

I hear it most clearly from my heart.

I settle into the couch and flip on the game.  One of my cats is curled up next to me.

To him, it’s just Thursday.  And he seems perfectly content with that.

catnap

I’ll try to be, too.

Performance-Enhancing Slugs

It’s performance review time!

Ah, yes – that time of year when employees can finally receive valuable feedback and career guidance from their engaged, involved managers who

<snort>

HAHAHAHAHAHA no.

It’s the time of year where supervisors need to assess a large group of employees within a ridiculously small time frame.  (Hey, HR would give you MORE time, but let’s be honest here – you’re not going to actually DO the reviews until the last minute, no matter HOW many weeks I give you.  So let’s not pretend that you rushed the process due to lack of “time,” mmmkay? It’s more a combination of procrastination, poor time management, and Murphy’s Law spitting all over your inbox.)  This leads to  a frantic pencil-whipping of the evaluation form that results in a largely ineffective – if not entirely inaccurate – assessment of job performance.

The end result?  You hastily assign each team member a largely subjective “rating” that drives the entire trajectory of each employee’s future with your organization.

(No pressure.)

No, really.  Don’t sweat it.  It’s more than likely that you’ll quit, get laid off, or be transferred before there’s any possibility of your employees getting promoted, and once THAT happens, you’ll be persona non grata with your company, rendering all of your feedback null and void.

So why do companies still DO performance reviews? 

Great question.  And no…I don’t have the answer.

I think the intent is good – it’s meant to ensure that employees get at least ONE session of individualized feedback per year.  It also provides a mechanism to require the lazier managers to document performance – good, bad, or meh – annually, at a minimum.  (The good managers are doing this throughout the year, of course, but when you have 45 employees reporting to you, it’s hard to remember to actually DO this unless your company forces it.  Frankly, it’s a broken system, not unlike other political systems <coughcoughAmericacoughTrumpcough> that we’re all quite sick and tired of discussing at this point.)

Regardless of intended purpose, the performance management process invariably results in some cringe-worthy comments that serve to thoroughly entertain your HR team.  (In other words, yes, we are, in fact, laughing AT you.)

So let’s chuck professionalism completely out the window <crash!> as I share with you some of our Fiscal Year 2016 Performance Review gems.  Below are actual excerpts from real-life performance reviews that are now permanently preserved in our HRIS system for all eternity.  (Or until there’s a clever hacking attempt, a nuclear war, or the next software upgrade mysteriously yet completely obliterates several years of company history, which they assured you could NOT happen, yet here you are, staring down blank screens and swearing like an angry football coach.)

Names have been redacted to protect the innocent, but otherwise, these are the unfiltered, unedited comments in their raw, unpasteurized glory.

Safety: One of the requirements we have in our review process is that “everyone gets evaluated for working safely.”  From the 15000-foot level, it makes sense – everyone SHOULD be thinking about safety as part of their jobs, right? If it’s important (which it is, OSHA, in case you’re trolling this blog) everyone should be held accountable for it. And what better way to hold people accountable than to make it a score-able section on the review? (Avoiding serious, permanent injury  clearly isn’t incentive enough – it’s only when it might impact your whopping 2.5% raise that people pay attention.)

When it comes time to write something in that little box, though, some managers are at a bit of a loss, as referenced by this manager’s answer to “Does Bill work safely?”

Bill still uses a little knife.

That’s the comment in its entirety.

Fin.

??

Normally, I strongly discourage managers from openly discussing the sizes of their team members’ knives. Because harassment, ya know. But…is using a small knife a good thing? Bad thing? Dangerous? Should he be using a machete, or is a scalpel a better tool for running a cash register? (Yep, that’s his job. So I’m unclear why a knife needs to be mentioned at all, unless that area has REALLY gone downhill in the last four weeks.)

But clearly, it was important enough to mention. As you can see, we have insanely rigorous standards for safety:

This is a category that the company can honest say…No one lost a finger, or was electrocuted.

Evidently, the only way to set the bar any lower is to bury it.  But speaking of raising the bar….

Room for Improvement: Before I begin this section, let me just say that the annual review is NOT the place to introduce performance issues. Ideally, the manager’s been discussing any concerns with the employees  immediately when they occur, and uses the review to reiterate and reinforce the message, and to document progress.

Success on this item, though, might be a bit of a challenge to measure:

You can get lost it seems in the break room for a variety of reasons

Let me be clear – our work sites are not the elaborate engineering feat that is the NYC Subway System. Our “break areas” aren’t exactly palatial – they’re much closer to a glorified utility closet furnished with a small table and a microwave. How one gets “lost” in a room equipped with not much more than the two required means of egress is mildly concerning, given the other complicated tasks that need to be accomplished every day, like feeding oneself or remembering to zip your fly after you use the rest room. The remainder of the review was  a solid “meets expectations,” though, so I guess he’s doing just fine. (Or our expectations are at zero altitude. Not sure which.)

Now, if you DO have to provide negative feedback, common management coaching recommends serving the “feedback sandwich.” Essentially, you provide the constructive criticism (the “meat”) in between two layers of kudos (the “bread.”) Here’s a solid example. (I think.)

While a superior leader, John could use some improvement on employee development. While not just his fault, the receptiveness of the employees is partly to blame.

Waitwaitwait.  What??? Employees don’t always want to do what you ask them to do?  WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO?!

<facepalm>

Praise and Progress: Performance reviews aren’t just a vehicle to provide correction. They’re also an opportunity to share what your employees are doing right. For example, if your employee is TERRIBLE at, say, humidity and horticulture, you might write something like this:

There is no moss growing under this manager.

To be fair, I totally get why this is a good thing. I mean, if you stood up at work and saw moss under your chair, I’m 94% certain you’d have a problem with that. (The other 6% of you work in a forest, with Snow White and the Three Bears or something. Cool gig if you don’t get eaten.) But I had NO idea that workplace moss was such a real hazard. Wasn’t the Affordable Care Act supposed to help prevent this? How would OSHA fine a moss-sighting, exactly? And do you need HAZMAT training to correctly remove it?

If dirt algae isn’t your employee’s strongest suit, don’t despair. Perhaps he has other magic tricks up his sleeve.

Ted is good at lessening to his crew.

So I’m envisioning that dude from Thinner (which is the only Steven King novel I’ve read, because it’s the only one that has anything to do with weight loss.) Or the Incredible Shrinking Woman (which I have GOT to find and watch again, because I haven’t seen it in probably 30 years, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s as horrifically bad a movie as I remember.)

Supervisor: “Hey…anyone seen Ted today?”

Employee #1: “He was in the break room getting coffee a few minutes ago….”

Employee #2: “Oh no! Did he get the 20-ouncer and end up trapped under the cup again?”

<group rushes to vending machine>

Employee #2: “Dammit, Ted!”

Employee #1: “We only needed two more accident-free days to earn a pizza party. Jerk.”

On second thought, maybe it’s not quite that bad. Maybe Ted had bariatric surgery, or a really successful run with Weight Watchers. Either way, perhaps this is a sign that we need to lay off the high-pressure wellness programs we’ve got going on.

Anyway. When you do provide positive feedback, try not to kill the mood with overly dramatic platitudes:

The trajectory of the facility is headed in the right direction, and the future looks very bright. I think we are one lead away from having a nearly perfect staff. The driver of this ship in maintaining the staff is you. I will not be here forever or for that matter very long.

Wow. First of all, I had no idea I worked for NASA. Because apparently, this employee is an astronaut. Or a firework. <cue Katy Perry>

But dear heavens.  Is her manager terminally ill? Did he get an unfavorable reading from a psychic? Either way, your departure from Earth really isn’t relevant to your employee’s performance – it’s part of YOURS. And we frown upon unscheduled absences, so please pick up a leave packet from HR later today.

Whatever the feedback, just remember to make it clear and concise so your employee can really appreciate the compliment:

You are able and willing to run the Packing Department when your lead in gone our out of the department. Continue to be that asset for us this next year.

Employee: “Thank you, sir. I’ll be sure to keep doing…um…”

<scratches head>

Employee: “…keep being….uh….”

<squints and rereads>

Employee: “wait, what was I doing well again?”

Supervisor: “Thanks! You’re a great asset. Keep up the good work!”

Employee Development:  The performance review is the perfect time to discuss professional growth and career development.  Be sure to let your manager know about your future aspirations so they can be documented:

Kyle has asked to be more evolved in business operations

Um….

(Well, for starters, Kyle, you could quit dragging those knuckles. Blood is hard to remove from office-grade carpeting.)

And if your employee HAS stepped up, don’t be afraid to point that out:

This program has been taken to the next level for your department.  You presented several key faucets of this in our recent team meeting.

Key faucets. 

Believe it or not, they actually exist. 

Honestly, I don’t know WHY they exist, or how they have anything to do with…well…anything.  But they were presented, so <head tilt> I guess that’s one less thing I have to worry about that I didn’t know I was supposed to be worrying about.

Finally, as you wrap up the review, don’t be afraid to share some of the wisdom you’ve accumulated through your years of experience:

If everything’s coming at you too fast, it might just be because it is.

 <holds fist to chest, blinking back tears>  

Words to live by.

I was so moved <coughcoughSNORT> by this workplace proverb that I promptly shared it with my team.

Me:  This is why you shouldn’t be eating fortune cookies while you’re writing reviews.

Team Member:  …and you know what they say about the fortunes from cookies, right?

Oh yeah….

If everything’s coming at you too fast, it might just be because it is.  In bed.

I love HR so hard.

And next, the CEO wants us all to write SMART goals.

I CAN’T WAIT.

Remind me again why I quit teaching….?

<slugs hemlock>

Creature of the Fright

In our last episode, we left Kate, physically and emotionally exhausted, lying awake in her childhood bedroom, praying desperately that the gentle fluttering of papers on the memo board was caused by the innocent and soothing sounds of her fan…

…but…

…could it be something…far more sinister?


I put on my glasses and reach for the light switch.

<click>

<blink>

Hmm…everything looks nor-

The big brown bat can often be found roosting in home, barns and churches throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Angell Williams/Flickr)  Source

<SHRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK>

I scream like a six-year-old who just won front-row tickets to a Justin Bieber concert, flee the room like there’s free pizza outside, and slam the door.

Heart pounding, I look down the hall towards my mother’s bedroom.

Silence.

Mom didn’t even stir.

What the hell?!?! I WAS ALMOST MURDERED.

(Side note: This is probably penance for that one time, when I was maybe nine or ten, when Mom fainted in the bathroom. After she managed to crawl over to my room and pound on the door, apparently I looked at her, shrugged, and returned to bed. Or maybe it’s for that night in college where my roommate, half-asleep herself, answered a knock on the apartment door to find a tall, disheveled, very drunk and extremely creepy-looking dude spilling into the doorway. She screamed and slammed the door. The next morning, she asked me why I hadn’t gotten up to come to her rescue. I said something like, “well, if you had been killed or something, you’d still be dead in the morning, right?” Yeah, I know, super helpful. But don’t mess with my sleep. I have priorities.)

So anyway, there’s a freaking pterodactyl with giant teeth and a three-foot wingspan in my bedroom. IN. MY.  BEDROOM. WHAT DO I DO? It’s 1:30 in the morning, and I can’t think clearly enough to recall if we had a flamethrower in the Yard Sale stash we sorted earlier that week. I stuffed a towel under the bedroom door (because obviously, that’s like a forcefield in the world of vampire bats, right?) and left a helpful note on the door:

batwarningnote

Mad props to my 2AM art skillz

Satisfied that the area was secure, I then retreated to the main floor, and promptly texted my brother (who lives across the street) and my spouse (who had left for home JUST YESTERDAY and was now very inconveniently 1000 miles away, despite the fact that it’s his job to protect me, dammit.)

batttext2

Yes, the hubs is ID’d in my phone as running from the cops.  He’s a leadfoot.  His day will come.

Since apparently, no one was on call for bat removal (I am so filing a complaint), I spent the rest of the night online, learning about how horrific it is to die of rabies. (It’s bad. Like, brain-eaten-from-within bad.  If you DO get rabies, do yourself a favor and pay someone good money to take you out back and shoot you before you drown in your own spit.)

Finally, after a long, (obviously) sleepless night, I hear back from my brother just before 7 AM:

battext

Thank goodness my brother is a morning person.  I will never, ever, mock this trait again.  P.S. Yes, my texting skills suck.  We’ve established that already.

He comes over, wearing thick leather gloves. By this time, Mom was up, getting ready to hit the gym (yeah, she’s in her 70s and goes like four times a week.  She’s amazeballs.)  She had completely missed the note on my door, as well as my 1 AM bloodcurdling scream. (“I thought maybe I heard something, but then it stopped, so figured I was dreaming and went back to sleep.”  Well played, karma.)

Mom popped outside to look for a box to stuff the bat in. (Irony. I spend much of my life chucking cardboard when the hubs isn’t looking and NOW we actually NEED a freaking box.)  She returns with two. The first is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards.  HAHAHAHAHAHA no.  Clearly, she has no idea the size of the winged monstrosity that has taken over my bedroom; it’s large enough to totally steal a VW and drop it on your head.  Giving me the side-eye, she discarded that one for the larger option.  (It’s almost like she thought I was exaggerating or something.  SHEESH.)

Now, in the rural bowels of Pennsyltuckey, you do get bats in the house from time to time. We’d had it happen once or twice during my childhood.  Normally, their eviction notices were served by Dad, who would stun them with a standard-issue straw broom, and then stomp them into a pancake with his size 7 EEE work boot.

Dad was no longer here, though, and, due to my perhaps slightly overzealous purging, neither was the broom. Fortunately, though, we had unearthed a childhood badminton set. What better to bludgeon a bat with?

Image result for kids badminton set 1970

Looks lethal to me.  (Source)

So the three of us, fortified with adrenaline, the larger box, and three child-sized play racquets, steel ourselves to do battle.

Carefully, we open the door.

Nothing.

Gingerly, we poke around for a little bit. We look in corners. We peer into closets and search light fixtures.

After about fifteen minutes, Mom gently asked me, “Kate…are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”

!!!!!!

Bless her heart. NO. I am 150 million percent certain that at 1 AM there was a freaking 10-foot pterosaur circling my room just TOYING with me waiting to decide which of my entrails to devour first. YES THERE WAS.  Really. STOP LAUGHING.  MOM!!!!

To placate my histrionics, they keep looking. Mom chats, somewhat nervously, about how, when they had bats in their chimney a few years ago, they were found to be hoary bats, which are endangered.  (And kinda adorable.  See?)

Lasiurus cinereus

Awww.  So wittle.  (Source)

“Endangered” means it’s illegal to kill them – UNLESS they come into your house.  And I’m totally behind that. I’ve always heartily supported the premise that the penalty for trespassing is death, and I apply that liberally to bugs, mice, and persistent salesmen.

Problem is, we can’t FIND the blasted thing. Did it get out? How? (Yeah, probably the same way it got IN, which we don’t really want to know, because if there IS a way in, this could happen again, and then I can never ever visit my mom unless and until she burns the house down or moves somewhere else.  WAY better to pretend the tooth fairy delivered this one, or something.)

My army is just about to retreat when Mom calls out, “Aha. Found him!”

We look. She’s delicately holding the edge of the curtain back. We see a small 3” ball of brown fur.

That?

That is what tried to eat me alive?

That’s…almost cute.

Regardless…this f-er’s gotta GO.

We devise a strategy:  Mom instructs me to hold the box beneath the now-sleeping critter.  She tells my brother to knock the bat into the box, at which point I should slam the lid shut.  Quickly.

Foolproof plan, right?

Gingerly, I hold the box below the bat.  My brother takes the racquet and taps the back of the curtain softly.

<tap>

<tap>

<Tap tap pat pat pat tap>

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Jezebel is awake and the bitch is NOT happy.

This harmless button of fur morphs into a terrifying, fire-breathing, fang-baring gargoyle that is now swooping, circling, and dive-bombing us in rapid succession.

I think I am screaming.  Somebody is.

Gamely, we fight back.

SWISH!

The bat jukes left.

Look out!

SWAT!  I narrowly miss making contact with my brother’s face.

AAUGH!

The bat, tiring of this game, flies under the bed.

UNDER. THE. BED.

We fall silent.  Now what?

You know how when you were a kid, your parents told you that your fears and suspicions were totally unfounded, and that there were, in fact, no monsters under the bed?

THEY LIED. Because bats can TOTALLY fly under beds.  (I apologize in advance for sharing the nightmare.)

And NO WAY, NO HOW am I getting up close and personal with this:

Bravely, my brother lifts the bed skirt with his racquet, and peers underneath. “I can’t see it.”  Me either. Not from way, way over here where I’m standing.

I suggest that, rather than lie on the floor and go head-to-head with this bastid, we take apart the bed and then attack it from above.

We pull off the mattress.

Slowly, tentatively, we slide the box spring off….

Oh.  THERE it is!

<cue more terrifying shrieks, further choruses of Benny Hill chase-scene music, and more fruitless racquet-swinging>

<BLAM>

<pfft>

My brother – MY NEW HERO – makes contact and stuns the fight out of the bat. It falls to the floor, where I pin it down with my racquet.  My brother ceremoniously takes the torch from my father, ending the battle with a fatal blow from his size 10 New Balances.

I put the bat in our now-useful box, seal the box inside a giant freezer bag, and set the bag outside on the front porch. You know, in case it’s also freaking Houdini and revitalizes itself for Round 2.

Next, I wait for fourteen tortuous minutes so I can call the Department of Health AS SOON AS IT OPENS to find out where to send the beast for its autopsy.  I need to know if this horror story is over, or if I now need to get freaking rabies shots (because wouldn’t THAT be the cherry on the guano sundae?)

Finally, they’re open.  (Never in my life have I wished for an earlier arrival of 7:30.) I call.

“Hi.  I have this bat in a box that needs a rabies test.  Can I come over and drop it off?”

“Is the bat still alive?”

“No.  We killed it with a badminton racquet and then we stomped on it.”

“Um. Okay. What you need to do is put the bat in a plastic bag, and then put THAT bag inside a one-quart Ziploc with ice, and then make sure you” (Blah, blah, blah.  I got bored and quit listening.  Too many directions.  I doodle and stare out the window until she pauses.)

“Okay.  It’s in a bag with ice and whatever you said.  I’ll bring it over.”

“Well, it has to be here by 10:00 or we can’t test it.” (Like I’m keeping this beyotch any longer than I have to.)

“No problem.  I can totally see your office from my house.”  Which, in hindsight, sounded kind of creepy.  But cut me some slack – I’d been up all night watching my life flash before my eyes.  And this office is, actually, just 1/10th of a mile from my mom’s house:

batlab

So I put the bat coffin into its own little cryogenic container, walk over (fitness points!) to the DePArtment of HEALTH (their spelling, not mine) and sign our little intruder up for rabies camp.

batcyro

Just two days later, I receive the call that no one is going to be killed by brain rot.  We are rabies-free, yo.  She also said that it was identified as a Big Brown Bat. No $#it, right?  But it did justify my terror a little to read about the size of these suckers:

This medium-sized bat ranges from 10–13 cm (3.9–5.1 in) in body length, with an 28–33 cm (11–13 in) wingspan, and weighs between 14–16 g (0.49–0.56 oz). (Wikipedia)

Medium-sized, my a$$.

But since we’re still not entirely certain how the bat got in, I left an old towel stuffed under the attic door that’s adjacent to my room…and I left someone guarding the fort.

annracquet

Ann reporting for duty, sir.

Laugh if you must, but Mom reports no further bat sightings, so it’s clearly super-effective.

I mean, would YOU break into this bedroom with Ann at the helm?

ann2

creepydoll-2jpg

Yeah.  I thought so.

Organizing the Next Chapter

After my dad’s funeral, I spent a few days at my mom’s house. (Mom’s house. Not “my folks’ house” anymore. Sigh.) Dad had been sick for a long time – nineteen months – and Mom had provided the bulk of his care throughout his illness. So once the funeral was over, she seemed to be adjusting remarkably well – and was really, really ready to begin the work of downsizing.

Mom wasn’t necessarily looking to MOVE right away. It’s just that Dad had a lot of…stuff. He and Mom ran their own business for over fifty years, selling and repairing lawn mowers and weed whackers. Many years, it was more like what the IRS might define as a “hobby” (read: we were kinda broke.)

Add to this that Dad’s parents were in their prime during the Great Depression, and you have a formula that generates Mass Hoarders of All Potentially Useful Items. And by “Potentially Useful,” I mean “pretty much anything that can’t run away from you.”  I’ve mentioned my grandmother before – she was the one who had an entire bedroom of her house filled with three things: empty boxes, plastic bags, and clothespins. My dad was her only surviving heir, so all of that went to him when she passed – her house AND the barn filled with old farm equipment, big field tractors, and, oddly, more cardboard boxes. (Hmm. The hubs is ALSO a collector of cardboard. They say you look for a spouse that resembles your parents….)

Additionally, Dad had a “shop” where he ran the business, plus a ginormous metal shed out back, which held a lifetime of pieces and parts of engines, tractors, mowers, and some random other mechanical whatzits that he’d saved from the dumpster at work to repair later, or just to HAVE, in case, you know, one had a doohickey thingamabob that might be useful on another mystery object.

So, to summarize – by the time Dad passed, he had filled three very large buildings with sundry metal objects. It was our personal tractor graveyard – three mausoleums, each filled to the brim, complete with wildflowers (okay, weeds) growing up around the rusty metal skeletons that spilled out into yard and the driveway.

And we can’t forget that Mom and Dad also had a four-bedroom house where every closet and basement corner was a veritable time capsule, filled and sealed off to the human eye once no additional objects could be crammed inside.

After over fifty years of this, Mom was ready to rumble.

We had started some of the excavating while Dad was still alive. But we had to be sneaky about it, moving items out of the house while Dad was asleep, and only the stuff he couldn’t see was missing if he’d had a good day and chanced to look out the window. (Because Mom didn’t want to upset him, ya know.  A few weeks earlier, the priest had come by to visit, and, noticing the reduced clutter, said to my mom, “It’s looking really good out there!” The Look of Death that Dad shot to both of them permanently seared their souls. The priest was still rattled about that at Dad’s funeral – enough so that he apologized to my mother more than once for the egregious security breech.)

But Dad had been largely bedridden towards the end, so we managed to have one solid work day a couple of months ago.  After hauling away three pickup-truckloads full of scrap metal, and leaving a couple large “free at the curb” piles for drive-by pickers, my siblings and I managed to clear out roughly half of the basement.  Half.  Almost.

Now that Dad was gone, it was time to start the heavier-duty purging. So Mom and I dug in.  I had a few days off from work, so I wanted to plow through as much as I could before I had to return.  And we were extremely productive:  In two days’ time, we’d managed to clean out nearly every closet in the house. We took an entire car full of cans and bottles to the recycling center, and my “intermediate” rental was stuffed full (front seat, back seat, and trunk) of clothes to donate.

Look, here’s me dropping off the load. Check out my mad parking skillz:

parkingqueen

Can’t say I parked too far from the curb…

 

parkingqueencloseenough

…or too close to the car behind me.

We might have gotten more done, but Mom has these grand plans to have a huge freaking yard sale one of these days. So a lot of what didn’t get donated or trashed is now neatly organized in boxes that say “Yard Sale.”  (Hey.  It’s still a start.) 

Going through parts of the house that hadn’t been disturbed in over thirty years yielded some interesting finds….

* My brother’s model car collection:

modelcarcollection

I can still smell the glue….

* My dad’s hunting outfit – and his hunting license. From 1968. Which was probably the first, last, and only time he hunted.

* Four bottles of liquor that were actually old enough to have gone bad. (Yeah, that’s actually a thing. Not that I’m a champagne expert, but I don’t think there are supposed to be flakes of what appears to be fish food in the bottle…which we THOUGHT was brown, but after dumping out the booze, was found to be, in fact, clear. EEEEWWWW.)

* VHS tapes. NINETY-FOUR OF THEM. #useless

* Six of those huge, Victorian-looking flocked photo albums, along with several boxes full of old pictures. None of which, unfortunately, were labeled, so we have absolutely zero idea who these people might be.  History, lost.  Document, people!

* Roughly four dozen carousels for slides. Remember slides? If not, we can send you some, because there’s probably eleventy billion boxes around here yet.

* My mom’s childhood doll. Her name is Ann. Isn’t she adorable?

creepydoll

Even more disturbing:  her arm is stuck that way.

My daughter was horrified that Ann was meant to be a child’s plaything. When she unearthed it, she came out of the attic, eyes wide:  “Mom. That doll is freaking TERRIFYING.” Because I possess superior parenting skills, I decided to embark on a desensitization experiment with her, placing it next to her while she slept:

creepydollwhileyousleepThe next morning, after she awoke, she quietly and calmly approached me. In a very even, controlled tone, she said: “I know where you sleep, too…” and walked away.

And then texted me this picture done on the Face Swap app:

creepydollfaceswap

<shudder>

Anyway. Ann belongs to Mom, so she got to stay.

In addition to getting crap out of the house, we also tried to tackle other annoying projects that needed doing. The hubs has been really good about exercising his handyman skills when we’re visiting, and heartily tackles projects like replacing faucets, installing a wireless router, and fixing toilets while we’re there. (Admittedly, that’s probably way more interesting than sorting the aforementioned eighteen bazillion carousels of your wife’s dead grandmother’s vacation slides, right?)

I know how much Mom appreciated this. I wanted to help, too, but I don’t really have mechanical skills. However, I am pretty good at sorting and organizing, which is actually kind of ironic, because when I was a kid, I had The Messiest Room Ever. (You thought YOU did? Nope, sorry, that award’s been spoken for. It was so bad, my father actually agreed to quit smoking if I’d only clean my room. Now, Dad didn’t smoke a lot. (Thankfully.) He only puffed on the occasional cigar outside while he was repairing tractors – he claimed it “kept the bugs away.” Not loving the smell, I retorted that it kept the whole FAMILY away, and eagerly jumped on the deal. We shook on it, and while Dad kept his word and never bought another cigar…I never actually did clean my room. Well, not until now. (Apparently, I didn’t hold the title for Daughter of the Year.  Meh.  Can’t win ’em all.)

One of the things that was bugging Mom was her broken apple-shaped soap dispenser. Mom’s kitchen has an apple theme; she has an apple cookie jar, apple wallpaper, an apple clock…. The soap dispenser wasn’t expensive, but a quick Google search came up largely empty – most of what was online was definitively not cheap, and the apple shapes and colors available just weren’t quite right. But the pump on hers had crumbled with age; while you could sort of get soap out of it if you held the spout just right, the top kept tumbling off into the sink, diving precariously towards the drain.

I decided to head over to the local K-Mart (which the hubs calls K-MaPart, making me giggle every single time) to see if they sold soap dispenser pump thingies. The trip did not start out too promising:

creepyassvan

Random, but creepy.  Candy?  No thank you.

After wandering about Housewares for awhile, and having no luck finding replacement apple soap pumps (go figure!) I ventured into cleaning supplies, where it occurred to me (duh) that I could probably just buy a new bottle of liquid soap and screw the new lid onto the apple dispenser. 99 cents and a slight trim to the straw part, and VOILA! We be fixed.

replacedpump

And the day before I left, Mom’s internet up and died. All the spouses, who fluently speak computer, had left a few days ago. Of course. But, since I wanted to help, I thought back to the many IT help tickets I’d filed in my lifetime, and all the frantic calls I’d made to Technical Services, and remembered the First Rule of IT Repair:  try turning it off and back on again. 

Hmm.  Can’t hurt, right?

And that is where I discovered the problem: the router wasn’t getting any actual power. It was plugged into…well…this:

ancientoutlet

I’m fairly certain that this was one of the many items repurposed from Dad’s day job. In, like, 1972 or something. You can see that someone very helpfully supplied a job aid by taping over the non-working component. We added the now-dysfunctional power strip to the ever-growing trash pile and plugged everything into the actual wall. (Which took some maneuvering, because there was some seriously shady daisy-chaining going on behind Mom’s desk. I am just thankful the “power” strip didn’t go kamikaze on us and burn the house down on its way to that big dumpster in the sky.)

I powered everything down, waited exactly thirty seconds, and rebooted….SUCCESS! I AM AN IT GODDESS.

Anyway. At this point, I’d had several days of sorting, dumping, recycling, cleaning, and firmly persuading others to discard stuff. (I believe the term my brother used was “bossy.”)   After nearly a week of this – not to mention the emotional upheaval of the actual viewing and funeral – I was pretty wrung out. I don’t normally sleep too well when I travel, and when you add that to the stress of the whole burying-your-dad dealio, it takes a toll.

The night before I left to return home was no different. It was stupid hot; I had a window open and a fan blowing on me, and my mind was racing and stuttering. After tossing and turning for a couple hours, I finally, eventually, drifted off to sleep.

A couple hours later, I found myself half-awake. Stress will do that to you. Stress at 95 degrees will do it to you harder.

Lying there, hoping for sleep to come back, I noticed the sound of the papers gently rustling on the memo board over my head.

<flutter rustle flutter>

I laid there for a few minutes, eyes closed. Tried to relax.

Focus on breathing. Think nothing.

<flutter thwap flutter flutter rustle thwap thwap>

Wait a second. Those papers are kind of…marching in step here.

<thwap thwap thwap thwap>

I freeze.

Kate. It’s the oscillation of the fan moving the papers. Go back to sleep.

<thwap thwap thwapTHWAP thwap flutter>

.

What….

…uh…

…is that…?

<flutter thwapTHWAPthwap flutter rustle thwap thwap thwap>

Maaaaaaybe I’ll just turn the light on for a second. I mean, I KNOW it’s just paper. But if I LOOK at the papers, and SEE that it’s just papers, I can go back to sleep.

I put on my glasses, and reach over to the light.

It HAS to be paper. 

Just paper.

I take a deep breath.

I flip the switch.

<click>

To be continued….