Strange Dreams are Happenin’ to Me

Well, it’s been another week. The sun is (not) shining, and everyone in the house is sleeping soundly. Out on the front lawn, two crows are tearing up my dead lawn, chucking tufts of dusty sod left and right, looking for the nice, juicy grubs.

Not my video, but it’ll give you an idea of the beautiful snippet of nature I’m viewing in my own front yard:

POV: you’re an all-you-can-eat buffet hosting the high school football team

(Side note: my “lawn” looks like we buried old leaking batteries, and at some point I Really Need to Do Something About It, but I can’t be arsed to care. Eventually, the creeping Charlie and dandelions will fill in the brown spaces, and we’ll call it a native landscape. It all mows the same. Until then – eat up, lil’ birdies.)

Anyway – it’s time to write. It’s funny – often, when I start these posts, I don’t feel like I have much to say. Fast forward three hours and 1500 words and well, there I am mopping up all the mental tea I’ve spewed about. I had taken a significant hiatus from writing for a while, mostly because it just started to feel like So. Much. Work. And it’s easy to find other things to do. <shooting side-eye at Netflix, Reddit, and the internet in general> Yesterday, for example, I got sucked in to HOURS of Dog the Bounty Hunter. It was utterly fascinating. Yeah, I know he can be somewhat controversial. But reality TV putting very human conditions on display for all of us to analyze? I’m here for it. (See also: 90-day Fiance and Married at First Sight.)

Excuses aside, I know writing is good for me. I remember being commanded by my last therapist, who I was seeing when I wasn’t actively blogging, to WRITE. Not because she knew I “used to” do it. But because it seems to be the only way I manage to be honest with myself. Stuff comes out that I don’t always expect…but it’s usually something my soul needed to express.

Another way humans do this (in my unprofessional, reads-a-lot-of-articles-on-the-internet opinion), is through dreaming. In dreams, the brain is free to wander unleashed – there are no parameters, no fence posts, no rules at all. And the mind reacts sometimes to this state like a toddler with free reign to gummy bears, appearing to be hyperactive and irrational, yet if you can peel back the layers of chaos to the emotions surrounding what’s happening, you can often get to the root of the real issue and understand why some of it actually might make sense.

In other words, the key to dream interpretation is often not what is actually happening, but how you feel about it. Figure out what those feelings represent, and then you can tie in some of the random juxtapositions of potentially symbolic items.

I had two fairly specific (and unusually clear) dreams on Friday night. It’s probably not coincidental that I had my second COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, too, and the chemical cocktail firing up my immune system (and a dress-rehearsal fever) likely contributed. So let’s take a deeper dive into the abyss:

Dream #1: The hubs and I were standing outside my younger stepson’s bedroom. The door was closed, but we could hear that there was another person in the room with him. When we opened the door, we saw an older teenager halfway out the window, the soles of his white sneakers flashing as he tumbled to the ground. He quickly got up and sprinted away across the yard. He was wearing a Hawaiian-style black and white shirt, baggy white shorts, and sported a spiky, light-blond, Guy Fieri-style haircut. Which OBVIOUSLY meant he was the neighborhood drug dealer. (Right? )

So I promptly began searching the room for weed. I looked EVERYWHERE, certain it was here SOMEWHERE, while my stepson protested the search and the hubs stood around seemingly very lukewarm about the whole dealio.

Finally – JACKPOT! In a small earbuds case, I found a single bud. Triumphantly, I showed the bounty to my spouse, who was suddenly interested in what I was doing. My stepson looked very confused. I thrust the offending plant in his face, eagerly awaiting his creative excuse.

“Um….isn’t this a cactus?”

Sure enough – upon closer inspection, it was a tiny, tiny cactus.

<facepalm>

What this means: OK, first of all, I should point out that even though I’m a nearly 50 40-ish mom, I DO in fact know what marijuana looks like. Because – fun fact – I worked for a cannabis company for a while during my writing break. So I’m actually, like, a professional or something. At the very least, I’m pretty hip. (Fly? On fleek? What’s the word for with-it and cool now? Sick? Whatever it is, I am It.)

But I think the big clue here is that in my dream, I was certain Something Was Amiss. And in the end, it actually wasn’t. Could this be my mind sorting out the differences between my spouse’s parenting style and mine? Do I often think I’d set different rules surrounding acceptable grades and video game time?

Absolutely. But the frustrating disconnect about being a step-parent is that while you will always have an opinion, you don’t really get to have a say.

And the reality that perhaps my brain is trying to communicate to me is that these boys are seeming to turn out largely okay anyway.

Are they perfect? HAHAHAHA <coughcough> no. But neither am I (hello, food issues, and I see you, irrational anger.) So perhaps my thinker is telling me to slow my roll and back off a little – while I fancy myself a parenting travel agent, I need to let them plan their own trips, and while their journey is far different from what I’d choose, I have to have some faith that they’ll get there in their own way. Sure, that might mean failing classes and attending summer school (AGAIN) – but a diploma is a diploma, and if they get it, we’ll have to call it “good enough.” <sigh> See? I’m trying.

Dream #2: I’m half-awake, and feel myself being dragged (gently) out of bed. My spouse has pulled the scale over to where I’m sleeping; he helps me stand upright on the scale. Bleary-eyed, I look at the numbers, and see it registers a good seven pounds more than I’ve been lately. In my mind, I’m protesting – I’m wearing a heavy sweatshirt! I haven’t been to the bathroom yet! (Because no one weighs in with clothes on AND a full bladder. That’s…psychotic.)

And I hear him whisper, “…disgusting.”

I fall back asleep, then, and when I “wake up” (I’m still dreaming here) I look at the scale again. The dial is all…cattywampus. It’s an analog scale, and usually the 0 is at the bottom, but the dial’s been rotated to where the 0 has migrated to about the four o’clock point. Tentatively, I step on it anyway….and the reading with the twisted scale requires me to do more math than I’m mentally prepared for, so I walk away confused about whether I’ve gained or lost.

What this means:

Well….

Captain Obvious did a fly-over and mentioned that we didn’t really need to spell this one out in too much detail. But to add some context: on Friday night, as I was falling asleep, the hubs brought up my weight…again. (While often he can be oblivious to a lot of details – like whether I’ve eaten today or not – he can be a bit of a bear with laser-like focus once something does blip his radar. I suppose that’s why he’s so good at programming, or website building, or coding or whatever exactly he does that I clearly do not understand in the slightest. LOL Either way, I’m the bee in his bonnet right now, and I’m not entirely sure I like it all that much.)

He’s just worried about you. And besides…didn’t you start this whole mess by seeing how long you could go before he noticed you’d lost weight?

He’s noticed now; what more do you want here, Kate?

He’s commented that my chest has “wasted away” in the past. And I guess that’s kind of true; you can see my ribs from the front of me. (They’re usually covered up with a few thick sweaters, because I live in the Midwest where it is freaking COLD.)

And on Friday, he was kind of…feeling around for bones (in the eating disorder world, we’d call this body-checking, although we usually just do it to ourselves) and whispered to me that he was still “concerned about your weight.” And on Saturday morning, he confirmed it. “Your spine shouldn’t stick out further than your butt.”

(Says who?)

And then, “You lost all this weight right under my nose. I feel like I failed you.”

And a little piece of my heart cracked in two.

I told him that he isn’t responsible for my physical health; as an adult, that job is mine and mine alone.

Yet….

I still want him to find me attractive, though, don’t I? Or do I? Because I can kind of tell he doesn’t. And wouldn’t I do something…different…if i did?

Why can’t you at least compromise here, Kate? Can you meet him in the middle with a couple of pounds?

I’m trying. Somewhat. I did increase my calories…sort of. I’m eating what My Fitness Pal believes I need to maintain my weight. I’m also attempting to eat back my exercise calories.

I believe one would argue that it still isn’t enough. Because the tracking app thinks I’m 4’11”, not 5’5″ (this way, it doesn’t yell at me for weighing too little.) And I don’t fully trust that the app is accurately tracking calories burned, so I eat…some of them. Sometimes half of them.

Well, once I ate half of them. Yesterday, I was too full.

But at least I’m not losing any more weight, right?

At least, not today?

source

<big sigh>

P.S. I’m still muddling over what a teen Guy Fieri means in my first dream. It’s occurred to me that he could certainly be a representation of how I wish I could feel about food. His relaxed, gregarious enjoyment of pizza, ribs, French fries….I might be just a tad jealous of that level of ease. I mean, I just recently realized that I don’t actually know if I prefer creamy peanut butter over crunchy – I just always choose it because two tablespoons spreads further on the bread, resulting in fewer calories per sandwich. But do I enjoy it more? I have no idea.

Do you have meaningful dreams? Share in the comments! You might get a free interpretation that will be well worth the price of admission….

Canceling the Caustic Contingency

(Hey y’all….Before I get too far into this…I understand that nowadays these posts are supposed to come with trigger warnings.  So, if you’re not in a space to read about suicide, maybe skip this one.) 

Let’s take a quick trip back in time together.  You won’t need snacks, because we’re not going far.  We’ll rewind just about a year or so, to March 2020, when the nation was just beginning to shut down.  With COVID spreading faster than glitter in a preschool craft room, we all found ourselves rapidly removed from our daily hustles.  Sports practices and music rehearsals came to a screeching halt, concerts and games were cancelled, and restaurants and bingo halls shuttered for the immediate and undetermined future. 

As a result, we were all unceremoniously stuck at home surrounded by nothing but our families – and all our “stuff” – for the very first time in a long time.  (And we were all apparently out of toilet paper.  But being a resilient species, we got that sorted.  Somehow.  I’m not gonna ask; I will assume you did what you had to do and we will not speak further of it.) 

Anyway.  Given virtually no other options, and few exciting new releases on Netflix to distract us, we all started taking a hard look at all of the tchotchkes, objects, collectibles, and other material things we’d chosen to surround ourselves with.  And most of us decided we had Too Much Stuff.  (I recognize that in the thick of quarantine, many of us determined that we had Too Much Family, too, but that’s fodder for a different post.)  Since all the cool hangouts were closed, several of us rolled up our sleeves, channeled our inner Marie Kondos, and cleaned out closets, garages, and attics.  Outgrown baby toys?  Donated.  Clothes that no longer fit (courtesy of boredom and food delivery)?  Bag ’em up!   We repurposed furniture and packed unused dishes and emptied garages of clutter, clearing out the chaos we could control while weathering out the storms of the chaos we couldn’t. 

And we stood back and admired our new, clean, organized spaces, and felt a little bit better.

But sometimes, as we were deciding what to include in our newly organized lives, we hesitated.  We might have elected to discard a small box of baby teeth (because now that the “babies” are old enough to drive, vote, and buy lottery tickets, it occurs to us that dislodged human teeth are kind of gross), yet preserved the tiny hospital bracelet and the small blue onesie worn home from the hospital.  We could easily part with our kids’ old math worksheets and broken macaroni jewelry, but may have not been able to condemn a first-grader’s family portrait to the recycle bin.

For example:

I’ve aged remarkably well since this rendering. I think. I may be the one between the two panda bears that are supposed to be the children.

And while we may have finally accepted that we’ll never be a <insert dream size> again, we might store our favorite pair of jeans in the back of the closet for just a little while longer.  You know.  For the…um…memories??  And because while we’ve relinquished most of the hope that one day, they WILL button, we might be tottering on that fine line between denial and acceptance.

I’ve gone through this reorganization/decluttering exercise a few times here and there – even before COVID made it cool to be minimalist.  I find clutter to be stressful – this is probably because my ex-spouse and his family were hoarders collectors, and after years of being neck-deep in clothes and books, and having a four-car garage too full to park in, I prided myself somewhat on frequently donating items I didn’t immediately need or want. 

But after over a year of being at home (and some not-insignificant changes in size), I found it was time to yet again comb through my wardrobe and donate the excess.  I reorganized my closets (wardrobe AND linen, thankyouverymuch) and my dresser drawers.  And in the middle of sorting my socks, I stumbled upon something I’d forgotten I’d kept.

I pulled out the orange bottle, still sealed with red tape, a bit quizzically at first.  Is this medicine?  What is this doing in my sock drawer?  I read the label and quickly remembered:  Back in November of 2017 (shortly after I stopped writing here), I had an outpatient surgical procedure, and as is custom in the US, I was given a parting gift of a few days’ worth of a fairly powerful painkiller.  (Specifically, hydrocodone.)  After the surgery, and a day-long power nap (aren’t post-procedural naps the best?  You can’t work and you can’t clean the house; your job is literally to rest, and with zero immediate stress, you can just melt into your couch and relax. Ahhhhh.), I wasn’t feeling the need for anything stronger than ibuprofen. But I filled the prescription anyway, just in case. I mean, I’m feeling okay now, but things might get worse. I might wake up in a ton of pain.  What if I want to take one, and I don’t have it?  Better to be prepared and not need it versus wanting it and not having it there.  Right? 

As it turns out, I recovered quickly and didn’t need the high-powered pain relief.  I never cracked the tamper-resistant packaging. 

But long after the scars healed, I hung on to that medication.  While physically, there was no need to have a controlled substance in my possession, I wasn’t quite ready to go through the motions of disposing of it, because while I didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t doing so hot mentally.  And while my food issues weren’t quite so prominent at that point, the stacks of anxiety and boxes of unexpressed emotion were accumulating higher and higher.  And like any hoarder in denial, I refused to believe that they could topple and fall, crushing me underneath them. 

And I’d think, on occasion, things like sometimes the energy it takes to just exist is exhausting.  And no, I’m not, like, depressed or anything.  I’m just…tired, I guess?  And yeah, maybe once in a while, I think that it might be an incredible relief if I just, I dunno, went to sleep and didn’t wake up.  Like a post-surgical power nap. 

And while these thoughts buzzed around my head from time to time, I could largely swat them away, knowing that I had a contingency plan tucked away between my patterned tights.  If things DID get to be too much, that bottle was there.  I’d never ACTUALLY take the whole bottle at once, of course.  It was just there as…an option.  A packed parachute.  Break in case of emergency.

The trouble with mental clutter is that it’s really difficult to remove.  It’s like trying to refinish a room and preparing to take down the wallpaper only to discover that the dingdong who lived there before you plastered the paper three layers deep, painted over layer two, and super-glued the first layer directly to the drywall.  (It’s a universal real estate fact that every handyman who owned your house before you bought it was CLEARLY an A-class idiot.)  Fixing the mess is a ton of thankless work, followed by hours and hours of spackling and sanding, and most of us bail out of the project and opt instead for the minimally cosmetically-acceptable solution of textured wallpaper or yet another layer of paint.  Sure, it hides the problem instead of fixes it, but it’s sometimes enough where if you hang pictures over the lumpier sections, it’s passable. Until you have a water leak and the whole wall peels and bends, exposing sins straight down to the slats.

Eh, that isn’t going to happen.  I only have these thoughts once in a while, and they always pass. 

And at first, that was true.  It was really only about once a month or so, during the occasional night where sleep was elusive and the hours of darkness spun out in front of me.  And then sometimes it’d be during the day as I was driving home from work:  I’m tired. If I had a car accident today, I wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow.  And maybe here and there in the middle of the day, perhaps while mowing the lawn.  If I mow over a bee nest, I might get stung and die.  I’d hate to not be able to breathe, but four minutes isn’t that long….it’d be over soon.  And I’d sleep.

And I still have that bottle.  If I’m still hurting when I wake up.  If things get worse.

If the light never comes. 

Just in case. 

And then I found myself on an out-of-town trip during the summer of 2018 contemplating the ocean in front of me and wondering if I should wade out until I could no longer see, hear, or feel anything at all.  No one would see me go.  The roar of the ocean was louder than the screaming inside my head and the lull of the waves could silence it all.

I walked out to the beach and, staring into the endless blackness of the horizon, called the suicide hotline.  I’d had it programmed into my phone (which in hindsight I recognize was maybe a bit of a hint that something wasn’t quite right inside my head.)  I talked to an absolute sweetheart of a young man who just listened.

And after about a half hour, I hung up and went back to bed. 

And while my mental storms didn’t magically blow over right away, I kept living.  And some days were pretty good.  On other days, I focused on keeping myself moving forward, reminding myself that every sunrise brought a chance to start over.  And for the days that proved more challenging, each sunset was a promise that the day was over, for good. 

But I kept going.  It was the best I could do, but it was more than good enough. 

And eventually, I forgot all about that bottle…until last weekend, when it presented as a bit of a surprise.  I’ll be honest – I considered stuffing it back into the drawer for a moment.  But you don’t need a stockpile of parachutes when you’re no longer flying on airplanes.  And this little bottle wasn’t a parachute – it was an anvil.  If I pulled the rip cord mid-air, there was nothing to slow my descent. 

It was time to kill the contingency plan. 

So I opened the bottle, crushed the pills, and mixed them with the used cat litter.  I peeled off all the warning labels and dropped the empty container in the recycling. 

I didn’t need it anymore.

Well, that’s good.  But, if you’re “better”….what the heck is going on with your weight?

Why have you lost so much?  Why can’t you eat more?

Aren’t you just leaping slowly? 

I suppose I’ve traded in my secret stash for an empty lunch bag, hoping that gliding slowly to earth will soften the blow of the eventual landing.   

Pizza isn’t much of a parachute, I guess.  But it’s all I have packed on this plane.  I don’t know where the oxygen mask is, nor if we’re really crashing anytime soon…or at all. 

Right now, I guess I keep gliding through space and time.  One foot in front of the other.  Checking off the sunsets and trying again with each new day. 

It’s the best I can do, and for now, it’ll have to be good enough.

Fast Forward to…

<turns on lights>

<ignores cobwebs and slides Risky-Business style into center of room>

Well, hi there.

It’s been so long, I don’t even know where to begin…So I guess I’ll just throw in some updates and see where that takes me.

I mean, the last couple of years have been a wild ride for everybody, so there’s a lot I don’t need to say. But lemme see if I can condense the last two three (?!?) years into Kate’s Cliff’s Notes (do kids even use these things anymore?)

First – the kids are doing pretty well. My two graduated last May – sadly, without the usual pomp and circumstance (y’all know why, of course.) But they’ve accepted their lot and stepped boldly into adulting, and I’m so proud of those two wonderful creatures that I could just bust open thinking about it. I also miss them terribly, but it’s nice to have people you care about enough to miss, right?

The stepsons have, remarkably, stabilized. Pre-COVID, they struggled with their mental health issues, and depression (and honestly, wedged in some hard-core manipulation, because they’re teenagers, after all) resulting in barely-passing grades and an impressive truancy record. (I think the older one had a 34% attendance rate for one school year. 34%. HOW?!)

Anyway, I’d been (somewhat) silently screaming “REMOTE LEARNING” for months – and now, given no choice in the matter, they’re almost…thriving. The older of the two is actually getting straight As and Bs now. (What’s the best warm-up for the “I Told You So” dance? There are a lot of kicks to the face and I don’t want to pull a hamstring.)

There have been some losses, too. Last November, I lost my father-in-law to prostate cancer. My in-laws are fabulous people…it’s been an adjustment, for sure. My mother-in-law powered through the final months in hospice, and has been filling the long, cold, lonely winter by sorting and cleaning all of the “collections” he had. (He was a jack-of-all-trades, not unlike my dad was. While the piles of stuff, parts, and wood and metal things were impressive, having a major sorting/cleaning/scrapping project while you’re trapped at home isn’t the worst fate, I guess. It’s a project with a goal and something to cast your focus on while you adjust to that new normal.)

I also lost my 3-legged cat, Eileen (get it?!) to what was likely old age. She was over 16 and died from kitty anorexia (ironic, yes?) in December. (And yes, because I’m insane, I promptly adopted a new one, and I have four now. Since you clearly did not ask, I’m including pics of three of them.)

Last February, I almost lost Carrot, the nearly-19-year old orange tabby. He too had anorexia (yeah, I know, man…I’m surrounded) and kidney failure. However, after a short kitty hospital stay (and half of my joke of a retirement account), he’s doing really well. I know he’s of an age where every day is essentially borrowed time…and I am thankful for each one.

Carrot, my old man

We adopted Dave and Stella shortly after Ollie passed a couple of years ago. Stella only likes the hubs, so I don’t have many pics of her. But here’s Dave – he’s a total character and usually steals the show.

Dave, the best cat ever. Yes, I have a favorite.

And here’s Will. Will is an a$$hole. But he’s cute.

Will, purring while plotting your demise

Work-wise, there were losses, too. I’ve actually had <mentally counts> three jobs since I last posted. I left the company I’d been at for five years (because I hated the new CEO, who thought his management skills from 1982 were still pretty valid. No, Steve, they are not) to go work for a startup in a somewhat controversial industry (I’ll let you guess which one. Hint: it wasn’t porn.) After 18 months of 60-ish hour work weeks and a significant toll on my mental health and my marriage (startups be crazy, y’all) I quit to take a role at a quiet, stable consulting company…which was promptly sold nine months later to a Very Big Company. Those of you working in “corporate functions” know exactly what that means – the writing was on the wall that my role would be “centralized.” UGH MAN. Job searching is EXHAUSTING. Fortunately, I landed a new gig and started just two weeks after my prior job ended. (Got to collect a full week of unemployment, too…which is surprisingly lucrative nowadays. I mean, yeah, I could make more money working, but then I have to put on shoes. And pants. And I’d miss watching The Price is Right every day. Boo. Adulting blows.)

So – I think that’s about it. Bye!

Um. Kate. What’s going on with you and…you know, food?

Well. Hmm. <big sigh>

I guess if you’ve read this in the past, you’d be asking about that.

I think part of why I’ve been away for so long was because for a while, food wasn’t the center of my life. Would the experts call that “recovery”? I honestly do not know. I know having a super-stressful job packed some weight on me. (Did it, though?) Okay, maybe it’s more fair to say that while I was working at the startup, I was not spending a lot of time thinking about weight and food. I was kind of…normal. Or at least what I perceive “normal” to be.

But sometime during quarantine/lockdown, I looked at my overly-squishy body and decided it was Time to Do Something. I quietly got back on the 1200-calorie-a-day train, and settled in for the ride.

But I got derailed somewhere between healthy habits and my hometown of decidedly disordered. It was a slow drift, and I couldn’t tell you where things went wrong, or why.

And I’m not sure where that leaves me now.

Early on in this mess (around July-ish) I decided that I wouldn’t be chained to the scale this time. Because, you know, it’s not healthy to weigh yourself multiple times a day! I instead avoided stepping on the scale…at all.

And somewhere along the way, after avoiding the scale for about two months successfully, it started to become a weird kind of…game?

How long can I go without weighing myself?

Won’t it be SUPER COOL to see a big loss all at once, rather than fighting for every half-pound and going through those oh-so-frustrating ups-and-downs of water weight?

Yes, but…when does that mean I can check my weight?

Well…how about you wait until your spouse says something about it? When he actually notices, THEN you MUST have actually made successful progress, and THEN you can step up to the stage!

And this is how it begins. Again.

See, eating disorders are sneaky that way. My food issues know that the hubs doesn’t comment on my weight very often, because 1) he loves me no matter what, and 2) he doesn’t want to trigger disordered behavior. (And also, 3) he knew I was stressed about finding a new job, and didn’t want to pile on stress, because despite our prior issues, he is generally not a d!ck of a person.)

So, hindsight being what it is…this is where the beach turned into quicksand, and by the time anyone noticed I was stuck, I was in deep.

The hubs finally commented about 6 weeks ago. It wasn’t a compliment. He was worried. Very worried.

And while my brain thinks he’s overreacting, and perhaps feeling guilty about not noticing sooner, I do have to confess that I am at the lowest weight I’ve ever been in my entire adult life. I’ve even beat my high-school weight (which was supposedly concerning at that time; back then no one talked about this stuff, so who really knows?)

OK, Kate. Maybe you can work on maintaining your weight. Just for now.

Erm….

So, the thing about that is….well. OK. Let me put it this way. I can see, fairly objectively, that I’m not fat. And I had to buy new pants for work (because my entire wardrobe is ridiculously big now; I spent nearly a year wearing nothing but leggings and yoga pants and was largely oblivious to the fact that my closet was outgrowing me. Moving from a BMI of maybe 22ish almost 23 to one a paper clip and Kleenex above 17 will apparently do that.)

So at this point, do I really want to lose more weight?

No, not really….but….I don’t want to gain weight, either.

And losing weight, even v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y (as happens at this age, coughcoughalmost50andshouldknowbettercough) means you have legit PROOF you’re not gaining weight.

So my current course of action is…do nothing. Wait and see.

The hubs is still checking in on occasion. Cautiously. Tentatively. As if he’s approaching a pot full of boiling water that’s been filled to the brim. He doesn’t want to upset me and make me spill over and sputter and scald and burn, and withdraw and hide things and spiral further.

Which is silly. I am fine. I am OK.

Right?

I mean, I am a productive member of society. My cholesterol is good. I can walk several miles. I can create. I cook and clean. I dress myself. I work full-time, I exercise, and yes, I do eat.

So….

source: KC Green

I’m doing fine. How have you been?

Flashback Father’s Day: The Lessons of a Legacy

It’s my first Father’s Day without my dad.

In the days leading up to today, I’ve been stunned at the impact the absence of HAVING a dad would have on me.

I don’t have special plans. No picnics, no barbecues.  I’m not frantically scanning the greeting card racks, looking for ANY card that doesn’t reference beer, golf, or bodily functions.

I wonder if this is how singles feel on Valentine’s Day. Or perhaps this is just one or two pointed stickers from the cactus that also pokes and pierces women on Mother’s Day when the Fates haven’t granted them a baby.  At the very least, I suppose this Hallmark holiday has broadened my understanding of empathy.

I was blessed with a terrific dad.  I know how precious this is.  It’s a gift I will always treasure.

I love you, Daddy. Thank you for all you’ve given me.

Carrots in My Carryon

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. ~Pericles

One week ago, I received the message I’d been anticipating and dreading for months.  Dad passed away, peacefully and quietly, on August 3.

funeralbig

As you’d expect, we’ve spent the last several days with family and friends, making preparations and reminiscing over old photos.  While there were certainly tears, it truly was a time of remembering and honoring the man my Dad was.

I am what survives of me. ~Erik Erikson

“Legacy” is a pretty hefty word, isn’t it?

It outlines your responsibility to pass on something of value to the next generation.

My dad was a hard-working, down-to-earth guy.  Stable and solid.  He led by example, not by force.

As a child – and later as a rebellious, moody teenager – I certainly didn’t appreciate much…

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Facebook Fights Are No Walk in the Park

OK…there wasn’t really a fight, per se.

But it’s been a week and it’s bugging the crap outta me, so instead of actually sitting the hubs down and TALKING about it, I’m gonna chuck it out to the interwebz for everyone to look at.  Because I’m a mature grownup and all that shiz.

So anyway.  I was trapped on a hella boring conference call and “multi-tasking” (read:  paying ZERO attention, because social media is WAY more entertaining than the nuances of OSHA’s Final Rule on accident reporting) when I saw this post from a cousin-in-law on Facebook:

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OK.  I know this relative pretty well.  She’s an absolute sweetheart.  I like her a lot.  And for the record, she hosts barbecues, swears, and drinks beer, and she’s never shoved anything down anyone’s throat regarding what they should or should not believe.   In other words – she’s pretty cool.

I’m not put off by this post, even though I generally don’t do the whole “like if you agree” or “copy and paste or a unicorn dies” thing on social media.  Of course, on occasion I’ll make a sarcastic play on a Facebook fad just for funsies.  Like the recent wave of “post ten concerts you’ve seen but one is a lie” – I really wanted to play, but the list of artists I’ve seen live is woefully underpopulated, save some middle-school band performances and cantatas we do at church.  So:

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Anyway.  The point is, post whatever you want on YOUR page.  In my cousin-in-law’s case, she was sharing her views and NOT HURTING ANYONE.  Social construct dictates that the appropriate response is to either click “Like”, or shrug/roll your eyes and keep scrolling for videos of baby goats having a pajama party.

Right?

Well.  Maybe not, as I saw this reply from the hubs….

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Ugh.  Ugh???

Really?  Was that…necessary?

Some background:  the hubs kind of grew up with this cousin and her brother.  The hubs is about ten years older, but he was firmly locked in the “kid” role at family gatherings, so they spent a lot of time together at holidays and reunions and stuff.  Essentially, he was the cousin she always looked up to – which probably means she took these three little letters to heart.  Incidentally, she also has bouts of anxiety, and comments like this surely don’t help.

As you probably recall, the hubs is militantly anti-religion, and likes to be absolutely certain everyone knows it by expressing these thoughts on his bumper stickers, his T-shirts, to strangers at the grocery store wearing religious garb…at which point I walk away and hide behind the produce, praying I don’t knock it over.

To his credit, he’s toned down significantly…at least around me.  But now we have this not-so-subtle Facebook jab.  I felt compelled to respond – partially because his Facebook profile pic is a photo of the TWO of us, and I don’t want people to assume I’m on Team Teardown.

So.

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<mic drop>

OK, immature or not, that right there is freakin’ hilarious, amiright?  I was a little hesitant to come home from work that day <nervous chuckle> but sometimes, a good stinger is sooooooooooo worth it.

And what happened when I did arrive home?

Nothing.

Nada. Zip.

He didn’t even mention it.

Which got me totally overthinking (because I’m female, and this is what we do, yo.)  Is he waiting for me to bring it up?  Is he plotting his revenge?  Did he even SEE it yet?  (Side note:  The hubs has the impressive superpower of NOT being obsessed with social media; he doesn’t automatically jump at the <ping> of a new notification.  This makes texting him urgent messages a frustrating exercise in futility – if you need something at the store, for example, you have to reach out caveman-style and actually call him.  He doesn’t even read all his emails the same day he gets them.  So it’s entirely feasible that he hadn’t even READ Facebook since he posted.  Weird, huh?)

So I dutifully play the role of a socially-stunted preteen and also say nothing.

But, the next day, I noticed a response:

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Okay, some thoughts.

First – I read too much into “Ugh”?  Well, then, what the hell was it SUPPOSED to mean??!  (As one of my dear friends put it: “It means exactly what you think it means.”)  Nice backpedal, honey. 

Second – I suppose it’s progress that he admits we have to put some work into loving him around his <cough> outspokenness.  It’s somewhat encouraging.  Maybe some of our conversations have actually…gotten through to him?

Third – Aw, he loves me, even though I’m apparently misguided.  (I must be really hot. HAHAHAHAHA)

Fourth – I’ve read some of that book, and…no.  The reviews site helpful feedback such as “use of crude street language” and “meant to be a sarcastic rant” – tell me if this is something you’d hand to a conservative person to convince them of the error of their ways.  I figured there HAD to be a more balanced tome out there, plus I find it amusing to throw kerosene on a blazing dumpster fire, so I responded one more time:

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So how did the hubs react?

He didn’t.

But this probably isn’t because the hubs is as emotionally immature as I am, passively-aggressively ignoring the mental hippo poo in the middle of the living room.  More likely, it could be because when I saw that he had written himself a reminder on a hot-pink Post-it note, which said “check FB post”, I may or may not have given it the equivalent of cement shoes and a dirt nap in the recycling bin.  YOU CAN PROVE NOTHING.

In the spirit of self-education, I did ask a pastor friend for some recommendations for books that might appeal better to all sides of this complex equation.  Here were his suggestions:

There Is a God:  How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind Might be an interesting read, but I can tell the title will be off-putting.  And honestly, I’m not interested in converting anyone – heck, I’m still traipsing along my spiritual journey and believe a lot of things both inside and out of the bounds of traditional Christianity.

Fool’s Talk:  Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.  This might be OK for me to review, but again, not a label that the hubs will find compelling.  So…maybe later.

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.   Ooh, it mentions science.  This has potential.  The reviews make it sound like it kind of morphs away from a literal Bible interpretation…but that might make it palatable for someone who wants to reconcile science with faith.

Anyway.  The subject seems to be forgotten at the moment, so perhaps letting sleeping rabid wolfhounds lie is the best course of action at the moment.  Still, one day I’m certain it will resurface, so I’ll at least have some suggestions for ways he and I can learn together.

And, honestly, there’s no rush.  We’ve been getting along swimmingly as of late.  Yes, we’re avoiding some of the more tender spots, but we’ve had the opportunity to reconnect in areas where we DO fit together.  Today we enjoyed a long hike (six miles, thankyouverymuch) through a local wildlife refuge, and the spring rains got all the flowers to yawn and stretch while the trees and mosses turned green.

There were violets in every shade of purple, alongside white and yellow:

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And in celebration of diversity, some other flowers joined the festival:

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It was a gathering of all things, great…

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(It just barged in… <snort>)

…and small.

There was nothing about today that wasn’t beautiful.  It was a gift wrapped in sunshine and adorned with a violet bow, delivering a message directly on the path in front of us:

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UNDERSTAND.

Not a bad goal.

I’m trying.  And I hope he’ll continue to try, too.

April Fools: Jokers on the Job

WARNING:  The acts described in this post were performed by trained professionals who had zero f*cks to give about their careers.  So unless you prefer a life of couch-surfing and Ramen, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS.  Leave it to the experts and the independently wealthy.

So how was YOUR April Fools’ Day?

In all honesty, I pretty much forgot about it.  I wasn’t at work, so I simply didn’t have a ton of people around to mess with.  Plus, yesterday I was in the biggest funk I’ve been in since I started my new medication, so I spent the day firmly planted on the sofa watching April the Giraffe NOT give birth yet.  (Seriously…I have probably lost 48 hours of my life watching a giraffe that’s probably just sporting an impressive food baby.)

But, in browsing my Facebook memories, I found this:

AprilFool

Yes, I had a Blackberry.  It was six years ago.  Cut me some slack.

The woman in green was one of my direct reports.  Never let it be said I’m one of those stuffy bosses steeped in formality.  🙂

Since I had just given notice, and absolutely DESPISED my manager, I may have gotten just a little carried away with the festivities.  (Side note:  My boss was one of those outdated stains on humanity who truly believed that women belonged only at home, barefoot and pregnant, supporting their husbands.  And, when someone stole over $800 from our United Way fundraiser, he told me – and I quote – “that’s what you get when you start hiring ‘diversity.'”  :/ And yeah, I reported him to our ethics committee and yadda yadda, but somehow he was still my boss after that.  So I quit.  And then had some fun.  Because what were they gonna do, fire me?)

So I heartily embraced April Fool’s Day in 2011.  By the end of the day, my poor coworker was pretty much ready to KILL ME.  See, she wasn’t too fastidious about locking her PC before she left her desk.  This enabled me to “correct” her email signature to indicate that she was the Goddess of Paper Cuts.  I also set her email to auto-reply that she had run away to pursue her lifelong dream of raising and training crickets so that she could open a mini-circus (because fleas are so overdone, ya know.)  And, of course, I flipped her screen upside-down so she had to read all of this while standing on her head.

I wish for the life of me I could remember what I put in the printer.

I didn’t neglect the rest of the office, though.  I recall attaching a sign to the coffee machine indicating that it was now voice-activated…so just speak your selection!  Our Senior Controller – second in command at that office, after my boss – came over, red-faced and caffeine-deprived, asking my co-worker, who was in charge of vending management, for assistance on the new feature.

“KAAAAAAAAATIEEEEEEEEEEEE!  WHAT. DID. YOU. DO??!?!”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

<wipes tears>  Ah, memories.

So, a couple of years ago (and two jobs later), my new team returned the favor.

We’d had an absolutely brutal winter in this part of the country, and the snow was piled up a good nine feet (!!!) outside my office window.

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Hard to see, but that’s a pink flamingo pen on my desk., next to the boxing horse pen and the giraffe pen.

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My window is the 2nd window from the right.

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Like a scene from Dr. Zhivago.

Since I couldn’t really see outside, one of my team members donned his snowmobile suit, grabbed a spare coal shovel he found in the closet, and went to the sidewalk and started to dig….

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Never underestimate the power of motivation.

…and eventually, he found my office window.  He left me a couple souvenirs to improve my view.

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The face is a mask made from a picture of one of our VPs.  They dressed up like him for Halloween that year.

Impressive, huh?  Even more fun was when he surprised me by crawling BACK in there right before lunch.  I turned and the resulting scream brought the CFO running downstairs to see who was being murdered.

I love my company.  LOL

So it’s generally been quiet since then…until recently, when one of our VPs (not the guy who inspired the mask) thought it would be hilarious to plant a plastic bug under the earpiece of one of our phones.

He’s only been there two years, and CLEARLY didn’t realize that doing this means it is ON LIKE DONKEY KONG.

He likes candy, so we left him a little gift.

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Diaper + melted candy = YOUR MOVE, b!tch.

Yes…we are woefully immature.  And fortunately, we know our audience well enough to pull this off.  The VP came over IN TEARS.  “I wanted to poke it.  I KNEW it was candy but I just COULD NOT TOUCH IT.”  Then he paid it forward by leaving it in the desk of his Director of Operations.

I can’t wait to see what he bunts back.

Sometimes, something turns into a gag accidentally.  For example, there is a national  HRIS software company with an overly-ambitious marketing department who occasionally sends us creative little bribes to get us to look at their product.  Last spring, they sent this:

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Hint:  It’s an ineffective sales “pitch”

Any guesses?

Anyone?

Apparently, it was a baseball bat and baseball.  (No, really.  Look again.)

We didn’t buy it.  The software OR the presentation.

But it could have been much worse, as a friend of mine discovered earlier this week.

It was an otherwise-normal Thursday when my beautiful friend S received a fairly nondescript package from the afore(un)mentioned software company:

“Do your Payroll/HRIS systems need a Spring Cleaning?” 

She opened the box to find a reasonably cute tchotchke:

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Aww.  I guess.

A mini-trash can.  That’s new.

Hmm.  There’s something inside….

It was…

…wait for it….

This.

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Her nails, though.  Gorgeous like she is.

I.  AM.  CRYING.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

It was SUPPOSED to be chocolate-covered caramels:

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A surviving set.  And again, those nails.  LOVE

But they sort of forgot that the southern part of the US can get a little warm by the end of March, and ended up shipping what looked like a giant blob of fibrous seeded poo.

Not that it matters, because who’s lining up to eat candy from a garbage can???

The ultimate <coughcough> marketing fail.

I have no good way to wrap up this post, so here’s a random screencap from Snapchat where I face-swapped the hubs and my cat.

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I honestly don’t know how to feel about this.  I’m totally creeped out yet CANNOT. STOP. LAUGHING.

Did you pull any wool on April Fools’?  Share your wins and fails in the comments!

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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.

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

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

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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:

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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.

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The end, right?

Nope.

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Hoo boy.  Well, I’ll try to explain….

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Super basic…but….

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<headscratch>

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

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Spoiler alert:  Nope.  It clearly did not.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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>

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:

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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:

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$120.  I’m in the wrong line of work.

Or this disturbing piece….

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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:

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<rim shot>

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

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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.

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And one more thing, just because it looked cool:

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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. 

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>