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….

Dipping into Fall and Falling into Dip

So I’ve been tooling along, happily enjoying summer (and being warm instead of ABSOLUTELY FREEZING COLD every second of the day) when I noticed that somehow, somewhere, things had changed.  At some point, the foliage had surreptitiously begun to autumnize – the leaves had started to blush as they helped the trees disrobe, and I couldn’t enjoy the show without throwing on a jacket.

Apparently, fall is here.

And while I’m not entirely jazzed about the weather getting colder, or Nature’s naughty children leaving huge piles in the yard for me to rake up, there are some good things about autumn:

  • Football (GO EAGLES!)
  • Boots.  New season, new shoes, yo:
bdd15f2b64f7230d76dfc356de432b40

Available on amazon.com

d60fbadfb9ffb9878ca4e424c5707f6c

Also on amazon.com

  • Winter squash.  Yes, I know it’s kind of odd to be excited about a vegetable.  But squash is a side dish of convenience.  Unlike its more delicate summer cousins, who shrivel up about fifteen minutes after you get them home from the farmer’s market, winter squash will politely sit on a shelf and wait until you’re ready to give it the Gremlin Spa Treatment with a knife, a microwave, and perhaps a bit of curry*.
  • Thicker sweaters, which oh-so-kindly cover the lumps and bumps of summer’s ice cream obsession and, paired with long pants (read: no need to shave) and boots, drastically cut down on your required morning hygiene time. (Unless you’re into open-toed boots.  Which, frankly, are stupid.  The ENTIRE POINT of boots is to forgo the pedicure, people.  And to keep the snow off your foot.  Neither of which is achieved when you hack a big hole in the front of an otherwise perfectly good boot.  Weirdos.)

It’s also the time of year for the second-biggest commercial holiday in the United States – Halloween.

Now historically, I haven’t been a huge participant in the costume-and-candy cattle call.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s super cute to see all the children in their little character impersonations, and I love the neighborhood camaraderie when everyone is walking around knocking on doors begging for treats.  (Which, interestingly, we parents caution against for the other 364 days a year. Don’t take candy from strangers, kids, unless you’re dressed up as your favorite Disney character and all the other kids are doing it, too.  Have fun running around in the dark with all the masked miscreants covered in fake blood!)

The problem (in addition to the blatantly mixed parenting message) is the requirement to stockpile big bags of candy in anticipation of this event.

Candy simply cannot live in my house.  It’s not safe.  I will eat it.  All of it.  Well, except these:

Mary Jane PBK

8f5f0cbbd0ed1a3c2e54447948f8f731

Ah, Necco.  Disappointing children of all ages since 1847.

 

So my choices are either to hand out the sort of candy that moves your house right to the top of the egg-and-TP hit list, or to shut off the porch lights and hide in the basement.  Since the only candy I won’t eat does the former, I’ll be lurking in the dark.

The neighbors, however, do this time of year up right.  Here’s their spooky display, currently under construction:

neighbors

Before the big day, they’ll add a few more ghosts, lights, a fog machine, sound effects….clearly, they’re the cool parents on the block.  I bet they hand out full-sized candy bars, too.  (And yes, they’re both marathon-runner thin, and if they weren’t so nice I might hate them a little.)

So let’s revisit costumes for a bit.  This is the fun part of Halloween.  For one day, you can shed all the expectations society has for you and be someone else entirely.  It doesn’t have to be something attainable or realistic – you can be anything that you invent in your mind.  Astronaut mermaid princess?  Yes please. 

Halloween is an opportunity to “try on” the thing you want to be…and a chance to disguise what you don’t want others to see.  You literally put a mask on all that and just enjoy stepping into the role.

And speaking of disguises…don’t forget to put a costume on your food.

We’re getting ready to kick off the holiday season, folks – and that means we’re about to be surrounded by food.  You know how this goes:  It starts with the aforementioned candy, rolls into stuffing and potatoes with gravy, and the next thing you know, the cookies and treats have piled up faster than the snow at the end of the driveway.  And the duration of the frenzied feast is punctuated with eggnog at cocktail parties and the beer, nachos, and wings that show up at your tailgate.

Since it’s not entirely practical to spend the next three months incognito in your basement, you might want to find a way to navigate the holiday spread…before YOU spread for the holidays.

My go-to?  Dip.

But…wait a second.  Dip is sour cream, cheese, and mayo, loaded onto delicious, carby, crunchy things.  How exactly is this helping the annual belt-busting here?

Shh…it’s a disguise.

We’re pretending we’re indulging in fatty food when we’re actually not.

Let’s start with WHAT we dip.  Sure, you can use chips…but since this is a costume party, let’s do something a little more dolled-up and dress it like a rainbow.  Just look at this gorgeous plate that Chobani assembled:

meze_dips_pinterest_diphealthierv3_hires

OK, maybe eggplant is a stretch, but LOOK AT THE PRETTY.

Now it’s time to trick out your dip.

We want something smooth and creamy to fool our palate into thinking we’re eating something decadent.  There are lots of options here, and if you have a halfway-decent food processor, you can make a decent dip out of chickpeas, avocado, or beans.

But if you’re looking to cut calories, there’s really no better base than fat-free Greek yogurt.  It’s high in protein, tastes a lot like sour cream (especially when you add other dip flavors like caramelized onions or roasted red peppers) and you can eat quite a lot of it without blowing your calorie bank for the entire season.

And because we live in America, we don’t even have to get all fancy in the kitchen.  We can head to our local Target and buy one of the concoctions dreamed up by the geniuses at Chobani.  Take a look at these rich, creamy, delicious beauties:

story-table-shot

I stumbled upon these yum cups a couple of months ago.  Full disclosure:  I was looking for binge food – a.k.a. something “bad.”  And I walked away with the Roasted Red Pepper and the Smoked Onion and Parmesan.

ZOMG.  Sooooooooooooooo good.

And the best part?  Even if you just sit and eat the dip with a spoon (don’t judge, I REALLY need to buy groceries) the entire tub is only 250 calories.

By the way, this stuff also makes an amazing sandwich spread.  Try the Roasted Red Pepper with some fabulous grilled chicken breast, the Chili Lime in tuna salad, or the Smoked Onion and Parmesan on a turkey burger.  Adios, mayonnaise, I’m dating your hotter brother with the good hair and the washboard abs. 

So while you’re strutting around in your goth-tooth fairy-unicorn getup, remember to reach for the Greek yogurt instead of the guilt and dip away, dip away, dip away all!**

What’s your costume this year?  Do you “do up” Halloween?  And what’s your favorite dip?  Share in the comments!

__________________________________________

*Recipe time! 

Stupid good squash:  Nuke 1 acorn squash (or whatever you have.  Squash can’t read, so feel free to use one of those baby pumpkin-looking ones) until tender.  Scrape the flesh out of the skin and mash it in a bowl with 1/2 T garlic and ginger, 1/2 tsp coriander, and 1/4 tsp turmeric, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Stir in 1/2 non-fat plain Chobani Greek yogurt and chow down on your bowl of comfort-food goodness.

And while you’re staring down the squash guts, you might as well save the seeds.  You can roast ’em just like you would pumpkin seeds.  Rinse them well and let them dry (I just put them on a plate and stir daily until they dry completely, then transfer to an airtight container.)  To roast, set your oven to 275F.  Spray a sheet with cooking spray.  Toss the dry seeds with a few good splashes of Frank’s Red Hot (trust me – they’ll be seasoned, but not unbearably spicy) and a sprinkle of salt.  Bake them in a single layer for 10-15 minutes, and watch them disappear like peanut butter cups from your kid’s trick-or-treat stash.

__________________________________________

**Only 69 days until Christmas.  Which means 75 days and 12 hours until your New Years’ diet resolution begins.  Holly Jolly, my ever-spreading @$$. 

 

Searching for Butterflies

<clears throat, approaches microphone>

<tap tap tap>

Is this thing still on?

<jumps back as ear-splitting SCREEEEEEEEEEEEE builds to a rapid crescendo>

<hurriedly unplugs mic>

<turns speaker ten degrees to the right, reconnects wires>

Hello?  Test test test.

OK.  We’re back. 

Hi, this is Kate.  Remember me?

I’d throw up the usual, tired excuses about why I haven’t had time to write lately, but frankly, those are sounding pretty lame.  Maybe I should make up something fantastical, like “the dog ate my laptop.” Not that I HAVE a dog, mind you, but all of my neighbors do, so that could totally happen.  They’re humongous beasts that could easily take down a moose and run away with the carcass in their mouths, dragging the antlers on the ground.  A laptop would be about as significant a meal as a Communion wafer.

Communion Wafer.  Sacramental bread - Wikipedia:

Anyone else have fond memories of how well these stuck to the roof of your mouth? (Source:  Wikipedia)

Or maybe something about aliens?  THAT would be super cool.  Once they landed, I’d totally take them over to the Mall of America and either we’d shop ’til we dropped, or they’d be so confused by the juxtaposition of an amusement park, several chapels, Hooters, Kate Spade, and giant Lego characters all under one roof that they’d immediately pull up their space wheels and make a beeline for the Galaxy Beyond.  (And if MOA doesn’t chase ’em off, TV will.  Just put on truTV or The Learning Channel for a day and they’ll declare our species hopeless and seek intelligent life elsewhere.  And full disclosure here – I big-puffy-glitter-heart BOTH of these channels, so I suppose I’m part of the problem  But where else can you sit in bed all day eating cheese popcorn and peanut butter cups in your pajamas and feel BETTER about your life choices?  It’s a service to society, I tells ya, and I’m a better person for it.  Or, at least, not THAT bad <gesturing towards reality trainwreck on Love at First Kiss>  a person.  Whatevs.  When is that pizza getting here?)

OK.  The truth is, I haven’t been writing, because by writing, I give my feelings words.  And when I do that – once I’ve identified them with phylum, class, and species –  I have to 1) acknowledge what I’m feeling and 2) attempt to deal with it.

And I don’t wanna deal with any of the feelings right now.

<stamps feet and waves fists>

I just don’t have the energy, ya know?  Even though I know that I’ll feel better once I air out the mental bedsheets a bit, I’m resisting.  I’d rather just pull a quilt over the whole mess and hope no one notices how badly it’s rumpled underneath.

I could blame some of this on my dad’s recent passing, but – again, being fully honest here – that was just a distraction from the shiz I REALLY need to handle.  It’s not unlike a lit candle  with a crack in the glass.  As the candle burns, the voice in your head is nagging you:

“You know…you probably need to do something about that before it slowly drips wax all over the carpet, right?    Right?!”

OK.  <sigh>  I’ll get to it.

“Um…Kate?  Still dripping here.”

OKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYY.   FINE!!!!  

Resolutely, you grab some kerosene and a match and proceed to light the entire wall on fire.  Because now, a little wax doesn’t quite matter so much, DOES IT??!

WAX THIS, MOFO.

Hey.  Don’t be giving me the side-eye here.  I KNOW you do this too.  Think about it.  $5 says you’ve got scorched curtains somewhere in that glass house of yours.

What I’ve been avoiding is a final verdict on my marriage.  Specifically, the answer to “now what?”

I’ve been treading water in this relationship for a while now, kneading my arms back and forth in a sea of inertia.  Generally, I can float here for days at a time:  He’s kind.  He takes out the trash and feeds the cats.  He gives lots of hugs.  He asks about my day.  And he tells me all the time that he loves me and that he’ll never leave me.

So I start to relax.  My head’s above water and my arms feel like they could do this all day.  I can chill a bit.  I take a deep breath.  And then another.  But then a sudden, angry wave slaps me in the face, robbing me of air.  It might be a political news article.  Or perhaps a TV character mentions prayer, or God, or faith…and he responds.  Negatively.  Cracks, criticisms, and cynical comments rush in, the roar making my ears uncomfortably full.  And I sputter, gasping, as my arms cramp and my legs kick and my brain races, thinking, “dude, this is never gonna work” while I desperately look for a fallen tree or discarded, broken styrofoam cooler to cling to so I can get my bearings and find a shore to head toward.

Meanwhile, he’s chillaxin’ on a floating raft, ice-cold beer in hand, thinking everything is just dandy.

He tells me that he’s not worried about us. Sure, it’d do us some good to reconnect a bit, but he’s been down for a few weeks with the flu and bronchitis, and that hit right after my dad died, and the kids have JUST now gotten back to school and started a million activities ALL at different times and it’s my busy season at my job and his contract work’s just picked up but don’t worry, we’re fine, hon.  Just give it time; we’ll get there.

But…

I don’t know if…

Wait.

What?

I don’t know…

 

…if I love you anymore.

 

 

This.

This is terrifying.

But…it’s honest.

When I started this post, I was thinking that Today was The Day that I was going to park my butt in my desk chair long enough to get SOMETHING baking in the now-cold blog oven.  Today, finally, I’d get back to writing and quit finding other stuff to do instead.  Like…cleaning out my basement.  Yeah, I even did that, and yes, there was more freaking cardboard down there:

cardboard

Piles and piles. <sobs quietly>

Seriously, people, I JUST DID THIS LAST DECEMBER.  Curse you, Amazon, and your two-day quasi-instant gratification.  And eBay?  You can shove your “Buy it Now” button deep into the darkness of your “Everything Else” category.

When I sat down (after paying some bills, cleaning the litter box, backing up my iPhone, and downloading all my pictures from 2010 to present so I could free up enough storage for the new iOS upgrade, which, by the way, allows HANDWRITTEN TEXTS, meaning that my already frequently-undecipherable messages will be taken to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL, YO)

<cough>

(Let’s try this again.) 

When I sat down today to write, I was cooking up a completely different post.  But when I started beating the eggs and sifting the flour, I somehow ended up making peach cobbler instead of pie crust.  (Neither of which actually have eggs in them.  That might be part of the problem here.  Maybe I was craving something more like custard.)

Anyway.  I knew that I needed to get myself to making a decision on this whole mess, because having a massive life-direction sandbag of limbo swinging precariously over your head, waiting for you to decide whether (or when) to cut the rope, is no way to live.

So what did I decide to do?

Nothing.

For now, at least.

See, here’s the thing.  I know we’ve had some serious challenges this year, what with his spiritual Shock and Awe campaign.   Oh, and let’s not forget the Other Big Deal – it’s not like THAT goes away quietly just because you throw other problems into the mix.

But despite all that…he truly makes my life easier.  He can lift heavy things, open stuck pickle jars, and change filter blades (or whatever the thing is you do on your car periodically.  Tire ratchets?  <rolls eyes and throws down Girl Card>)  And he’s one of those rare males who doesn’t have to be ASKED to put the laundry away or empty the dishwasher – he does those things simply because he’s a grownup and recognizes that they need to be done.

In many ways, he’s simply a good man.  And I genuinely like the guy.  I really do.  He’s super-smart, and witty, and can keep up with my butterfly-with-hiccups trains of thought without me needing to stop and explain, for example, why I start talking about black holes in the same sentence where I’ve outlined why most breakfast cereals are not, in fact, good for you.

He…gets me.  Most of the time, anyway.

And that, along with nine years of marriage, is worth something.

Besides…I’ve been divorced.  It’s exhausting.  It’s like starting a bike ride at the bottom of the mountain; it’s tiring just leaving the bike in the house and staring up at the mound in front of you.  Divorce is like trying to unbake a cake, meticulously and microscopically separating the batter of “ours” into the individual elements of “mine” and “yours.”

So I’m going to give this situation a valuable commodity:  time.  Two years, to be precise.  My younger child has two years of high school left; when he graduates, I’ll have more resources – emotional energy, some financial flexibility, and some more vacation time.  I won’t be tied to THIS job and THIS location.  I’ll be free to stay, if I want…or free to wander and find my next adventure.

Free to choose what’s best for me.

For the first time in my life.

I’ll be free.

Just knowing that I’ll HAVE options makes things a little easier to bear.

power

Artist:  Painted Stuf.  I got this at our State Fair.  Sent my sister one, too, so we both can remind each other what it says now and then.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to work on the relationship, and we’ll see where that leads us.

For an initial effort, the hubs and I recently went on a date.  Our last outing was underwhelming, but in the spirit of “trying again,” we visited the local conservatory where we got married.

(Side note:  Pretty much all my kids remember about our wedding is this statue.  Guess why.)

nekkidlady

Statue’s got a crack in it….

The date started out a little rough when he went to spit out his gum, and….

gumtree

Whoops.

Yes, he did dispose of it properly.  Because he’s that kind of guy.

From there, though, it was a really, really nice day.

This one had a little surprise on its back:

frogflower

ZOMG TINY FROGGIE

flower1

flower3

flower4

bigface1

This is one of the coolest things ever.

bigface2

Seriously, look at that FACE!

flowera

This one had a guest….

And speaking of guests…we spent some time in the butterfly tent.

eyeballfly

Yeah, technically, it’s a moth.  Whatever. Still awesome.

eyeballfly2

How many can you find on this tree?

butterfly

Stunning.

butterflylove

(insert butterfly porn music) Bow chica wow wow!

There is no better validation that someone is watching over you than to have a butterfly rest on you for awhile…and we both got a visit:

flyonme

The hubs got one first…

flyonme2

…then this dude landed on my skirt.  Front and center.  We affectionately named him “Taco.”  Then he tried to crawl up my shirt.  Perv.

If we can have more days like this, we’ll be OK.  What relationship couldn’t benefit from a booster shot of butterflies?

I know I won’t always be so fortunate as to have an entire tent of them nearby.  Normally, it takes some effort to find them.  Perhaps the hubs can spend the next two years bringing them to me.

I also know that I need to work on me.  I need to be open to accepting whatever life grants me as the “new normal.”  Whether it’s butterflies, flowers, or thunderstorms.

It may not be what I thought I wanted, and it’s certainly not unfolding the way I planned, but it still has the potential to be something beautiful.

I just have to keep looking for it.

Days of Wine and…Popcorn

It’s been a rough couple of months here, folks. As you may recall, I’ve had a few things going on.

As I mentioned in my last post,  we just finished a month-long stint with my Dad in hospice care, where he spent most of his days sleeping and we spent the bulk of ours checking our phones and emails constantly for updates while we waited for the inevitable.  While we certainly knew what was coming, the anticipation of bad news wears on ya after awhile:  Is today the day I put life on hold?  The day I set everything aside?  Will it be later today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Month?    It’s absolutely draining, and I didn’t appreciate HOW exhausting it was until it had raced past me, kicking dust and leaves into my sweaty, sticky face and leaving me coughing.

Meanwhile, life’s been hucking other curveballs at my face, too.

First up:  We had a wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  We “celebrated” nine years of sometimes-blissful, lately-often-stressful marriage by attending the viewing of a friend who passed away suddenly.   Ted was one of those genuinely terrific guys (insert obvious reference to the relevant Billy Joel tune here) -the world should be really sad to have lost him.

And it was one of those “died in his sleep for no discernible reason” deaths, which is typically code for…well, stuff no one wants to talk about.  While I have my suspicions, we’ll never know for certain, and besides, it doesn’t MATTER what happened.  It won’t change the fact that he’s gone.  And he was a week YOUNGER than me, which makes it all the more…disquieting, ya know?

Stuff like that will cash your mortality check in a hurry.  Plus, it sort of trumps any sort of anniversary celebration.

Second: the hubs finished his letter to me – the one where he planned to outline all the reasons that Religion is Bunk.

religion_is_bunk_bumper_sticker-r692e2b5ac9a54586b39e5e568e1b5614_v9wht_8byvr_630

This is still on his car. No, I haven’t said anything. Yet.

I haven’t read it yet…more on that later. But it’s there, lurking under the bed like the proverbial monster from when you were five, just waiting to grab your ankles if you DARE use the bathroom.

Suffice it to say that living day-to-day with this level of stress takes a toll – and it was manifestering (like that?  I just made it up) as an escalation in my disordered eating habits.  I’ve been running 16 miles a week on 1200(ish) calories a day (Okay…maybe 1100.  Or 1000.  Most days.)

Oh, and speaking of running, even my food/exercise-tracking app is out to get me.  I use MyFitnessPal and sync it with MapMyFitness.  Normally, these tools work GREAT. But recently, there was a software update…and now, my 4-mile run burns 65 fewer calories than it did before.

@#)$(@#%@%^£{£}*|€\€]^$^%$&@!!!WHYYYYY?!?

Did a lower weight finally sync up? Rectified math error?  Dunno.  But let’s break it down to what’s truly important here:  with the new calculation, I have to run nearly SIXTEEN MILES to burn off ONE pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Sixteen f*%#!%@ miles.

That’s effing MADNESS.

Anyway, I decided I needed to circle my mental wagons around and work on ways to take better care of myself.  Before I disappear completely.  Or implode from stress overload.  Or start randomly stabbing furniture.

So HOW do I nurture myself?  While I’d prefer to be independently wealthy and retire to a warm, tropical location, I’m just a few gazillion dollars away from making that a reality.  So here are some things that I know I can do:

Stand up for myself.  Saying “no” can be tough.  Why?  Because we don’t want people to be mad at us?  Because we’re afraid people won’t like us if we don’t cater to their beck and call?  Or is it simply easier to cross favors off the list so we don’t have to think about them – and the potential fallout of saying “can’t today” – anymore?

Women tend to take on the overwhelming responsibility of ensuring the happiness of others.  And we make this a priority, neglecting ourselves in the process.  The results include exhaustion, frustration, and resentment.  Who’s happy now, chica?  Everyone but YOU.

So – repeat after me:

No, I can’t make that work right now.

No, I’m not available.

No, I don’t have the energy to address that at the moment.

No….Let’s discuss this at a later time.  I’ll let you know what works for me.

I know the words initially feel foreign, but trust me, it DOES get easier.  The world will not vote you off the island if you liberally apply these phrases, I promise.

Or so I’m told.

<ring ring> Is kettle there?

But in the spirit of “practice what you preach,” I’m doing this, too.  Remember that letter I mentioned above?  Given all the other white noise drowning out my mind, I actually stood up for myself – I told the hubs that now was not the time for his letter.  I can deal with the relationship issues LATER – after the kids go back to school, the election is over, and future bacon sprouts wings and flies right past my window.

Eventually, I WILL have to address this. It’s hanging over my head like the proverbial mistletoe at Christmas, just dangling there cluttering up the aesthetics, waiting for me to unsuspectingly park there while some opportunistic slightly-greasy dude plants a wet, juicy smacker on my lips.

But it doesn’t have to be TODAY.  Or tomorrow.  I can rest and recharge, and cross that emotional gorge once I’ve cleaned off my windshield and am running on a full set of batteries.

Exercise.  Yeah, I know.  <blearghhhhhh>  But regular exercise DOES help with stress.  You can read the science here, or review Dr. Kate’s breakdown:

When you’re stressed, your body releases this stuff called cortisol – it’s your body’s reaction to that whole fight-or-flight thing – so if you’re surprised by, say, a hungry bear in the woods, you have a “burst” to help you run away – fast.

The problem is that our modern-day stress is generally less about things that require physical flight.  It’s more along the lines of the annual tax bill, an unplanned job loss, or the unexpected arrival of swimsuit season.  (Which, despite arriving at approximately the same time every year, I AM NEVER READY FOR.)  We don’t have a physical need for this sudden storing of hormonal rocket fuel.  But it’s there anyway – and cortisol kicks you in the knees by weakening your bones, lowering your immunity, and killing your sex drive.  The more stress you have, the more cortisol spews out.

So how does exercise help?  Exercise is controlled stress.  You’re running/walking/Jazzercising/whatever, but there are no zombies waiting to sprinkle your backside with Frank’s Red Hot.  So your body thinks, OK, we’ve got some cortisol in da house, and we be chillin’.  We good.  Since there’s no direct threat, your tolerance for cortisol increases, and it can’t cripple you as effectively as it did before.  Essentially, your stress “muscles” are stronger, – you’re more resilient to stress , and it takes a bigger bucket of cortisol to knock you out.

Little Indulgences.  Whether it’s a mani/pedi, a massage, or a fancy coffee at a frou-frou java house, there are lots of small treats to be had when you need a boost.

I tend to look at inexpensive retail therapy.  You don’t have to spend a lot to get a lift – new earrings or socks can really cheer you up.  Just take a look at, well, ANYTHING from Blue Q: 

(Warning – adult language ahead.  But these are kick@$$ socks):

kickass_socks2

And speaking of wine…

Sometimes, there’s nothing like getting lost in your own sofa.  I’m talking TV, people.  And since we are an evolved, organized species, we can watch pretty much anything we want at any time of day.  Thanks to Netflix, Amazon video, YouTube, and other avenues, we have a nearly endless buffet of programming to choose from.  And, unlike the olden days when we had to actually dial our phones and GET UP <gasp> to change the channel, this is all available instantly.  So if you need a quick mental break, it’s there for the taking.  And it’s judgement-free, because no one can see you.

YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO WEAR PANTS.  (Sign ME up.)

Whether you’re into drama, comedy, or somebody-else’s-reality TV, nothing goes better with electronic entertainment than a good glass of what makes you smile and a bowl of something that satisfies.

Don’t get me wrong here – I am NOT advocating eating or drowning your feelings.  That just turns your current problem into a fat, bloated, belchy one.  (Which is far less entertaining than it sounds.)  But sometimes, you need to have a mini-getaway, and small, planned indulgences can make your couch more vacation-like, especially if you’re doing it in the spirit of nurturing your soul.

So here’s my recliner retreat checklist:

Entertainment:  For me, nothing relaxes like mindless TRASH TV.  Being an overworked intellectual (HAHAHAHA <snort>) I need a break from my exhaustive thinking, re-thinking, and over-thinking, so I amuse myself with the human freak-show circus. 

From my recent queue (don’t judge):

Beverage:  Wine.  (Duh.)  Red, white, or pink – I’m equal-opportunity and all about embracing the diversity.

Pro tip:  In some locations, there are “blue laws” and the liquor stores are closed on Sundays – so you might need to stock up on Saturday just to get through the weekend.   Given my life as of late, I had the foresight to prepare. (again – don’t judge):

winestock

Note – all of the bottles in this cart were $8.99 and under.  The Double Dog Dare reds were $2.99 each – and perfectly drinkable. (Then again, as you can see by my viewing choices, I may not have the most refined palate.  But you do you.)

I also liked this one, for $6.99:

wine

Because the label.  So cute!

I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying mead lately.  Generally, I prefer my drinks quite dry, and mead tends to be on the sticky side.  But this brand from Nectar Creek fits the bill nicely:

mead1

Don’t fear the bee.  Halfway through the bottle you’ll wanna give him a big ol’ hug.

Snacks:  Since I spent way too much time obsessing over my weight, I don’t want to pick a noshable that fills me out even more.  I mean, stressing over your de-stressor is like worrying about watermelon making you fat.  WHICH AIN’T RIGHT.

So I gravitate towards volume-packed munchies that fill up a big bowl for not-too-many calories.  The perfect choice for this, as we all know from years at the movie theater, is popcorn.

Ah, popcorn.  How I love thee.

The beauty of popcorn is that it’s no longer the dull, dry, packaging-material flavor it was back in the day.  Like TV programming, it’s evolved tremendously in sheer variety.  There’s a concoction for every craving.  Sweet?  Salty?   Spicy?   Yes please.  It’s out there, and in versions that will NOT make your butt look big.

Take a look at this snazzy infographic, courtesy of SkinnyPop:

SkinnyPop%20Wine

Find out more at SkinnyPop.com

A couple of thoughts on the above:

1.  I have had most of these flavors AND THEY ARE ALL DELICIOUS.  Just the other day, I found the Jalapeño at Walgreens, of all places. It’s really flavorful with just a hint of kick . I was thinking it’d be perfect with a crisp white, and it looks like the peeps at SkinnyPop agree with me.

2. The only flavor I haven’t had is the Dusted Dark Chocolate, because I can’t for the life of me find it anywhere.  This is Great Popcorn Sadness.  This shiz needs to be in my life, like, immediately, but for some reason, it hasn’t surfaced in the hippie-dippie part of the Midwest I reside in.

I’ll keep looking.

3.  You can’t really go wrong with wine – or mead, or beer, or ginger ale – and popcorn.  So mix it up and have fun!

I just have to remember to park on the couch with a bowl and a glass, NOT the entire bag and a bottle…because, after all, chip clips are for quitters, yo.  <burp>

How do you unwind?  What’s your go-to for chillin’?  Share your escapes in the comments!

Reblog: How to be Less of an A$$#ole in Life and Relationships

This hits so close to home that my windows are rattling.

Must Be This Tall To Ride

you're an asshole Yes, even you. (Image/dailycal.org) Sometimes I’d walk into the living room tofind my wife watching 16 and Pregnantor some other TV show I thought was stupid or morally baseless.

I could have ignored it.

I could have sat with her to try to better understand the things she liked and why.

I could have suggested another activitythat didn’t involve TV or seem stupid to me.

But instead of those mature and relationship-nurturing alternatives, I usually acted like an asshole.

I think deep down in the furthest recesses of my heart and subconscious, I believed I was doing the right thing by reacting negatively.

Because I loved my wife and wanted her to be the best person she could be, I didn’t want her to enjoy watching things that were “beneath” her or “bad” for her.

Because I thought television programming like MTV’s 16 and Pregnantwas ultimately a bad…

View original post 922 more words

The Lessons of a Legacy

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 of what my parents did, nor who they were. But Dad just kept on being exactly who he was, because that was all he knew how to be.

And as it turns out, he ended up teaching us many, many lessons just by living his life.  As the mourners came to the viewing, one by one they shared with us how much they appreciated Dad – his honesty, his spirit, his loyalty, his skill, his sense of fairness, and his willingness to help everyone.

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Dad left us an admirable legacy.  And as a tribute to my dad, I’d like to share this legacy with you.

Things My Dad Taught Me

1. Use the talents you have. You may be differently talented than the person next to you, but if you use your skills and work hard, you’ll be OK.

Dad was always working.  He had a full-time job as an HVAC supervisor at a local hospital, and he had a lawn and garden tractor business at home.  Mom ran the shop during the day, and Dad fixed mowers and weed whackers during the evenings and on weekends.

When he’d finished a repair, Dad would drive to customers’ houses to deliver the fixed tractors, and he’d often take me along (probably to give Mom a break from the frequent sibling spats.)

Once the restored equipment was off the trailer, he’d hang out for a while for some chit-chat.  And often, he’d want to show off my skills:  I learned to read at a really young age, so he’d hand me something to read aloud – a newspaper, an instruction manual – and stand there proudly as his four-year-old explained how to start the trimmer and revealed the day’s horoscope.

Dad didn’t read well, so he was especially proud of the grades his kids earned.  I strongly suspect he was dyslexic to some degree, but back in the day, no one checked for that – they just whacked your knuckles with a ruler and told you to sit up straight.  (Catholic school flashback, anyone?)

I distinctly remember one time where he went to get ice cream for us, and came back with a large tub:

Dad:  <covering the flavor with his hand> Guess what kind I bought? 

Kids:  Chocolate?  Rocky Road?

Dad:  Peanut Butter!  <reveals flavor>

Kids:  Um…Dad…that says “Butter Pecan.” 

Not wanting Dad to feel bad, we enthusiastically dug in to the Butter Pecan ice cream.  (It WAS ice cream, after all.) But this memory still hurts my heart.  Dad loved us and wanted to provide for us, and he worked incredibly hard to do so, despite these struggles.

How?  Dad was an ace mechanic.  He spoke the secret language of engines – if it had a motor, he could get it running.

note3

I suspect I get my verbosity from Dad, too.

As a teenager, I didn’t really appreciate this talent.  I had a conversation with my mom about this once:  I noted that she was really intelligent, had graduated second in her class, after all, so why didn’t she marry someone smart, like a doctor?  Couldn’t she have done…better?  (Yeah, ouch.)

But Mom responded – undoubtedly more gracefully than I deserved – that Dad works really hard, he’s really handy around the house, and he faithfully comes home every night to spend time with his family.  In other words, he possessed the qualities that mattered, and was a real catch that most women would be thrilled to have.

Dad worked two jobs for most of his life, and he raised three (mostly) decent human beings in a huge house.  We had enough to wear, plenty to eat, and we were safe and loved.

I get it now, Mom.  I truly do.

2. Not everything can be fixed. But most things can be if you take them apart and really look at them.

Like I said, Dad was a champion mechanic.  There wasn’t a trimmer or tractor that could outsmart him.  And this talent expanded to household appliances, too.  Broken record player?  (Kids, ask your grandparents.)  Dad to the rescue!  Fridge starting to sound like it’s attempting to contact an alien species?  Drag it away from the wall and let Dad work his magic.

Because he could bring discarded, abandoned devices back to life, we had some unique appliances in the household.  We were the first kids on the block to have a paper shredder, and the only ones I knew of who had a trash compactor.  (And how much fun is that?  Who needs cable TV when you can squish several takeout boxes into a cardboard pancake?)

Dad was the Engine Whisperer who revived many a mechanical Lazarus.  Ya gotta respect those mad skills.  Heck, he kept his own ticker going for over a year and a half, despite the puzzled wonder of several cardiologists.

note1

There can be a lot of life left in things you think are broken.  I’m trying to remember that with my marriage right now.  We’re taking it apart, replacing the gaskets, and cleaning the little pieces in an attempt to put it all back together.  Once we flush all the gunk out, it just might work.

It’s worth a shot.

3. It’s OK to cry if you’re sad.

Dad came from a family that didn’t talk much about feelings.  But when we left home – for boot camp or college – he’d stand at the window, quietly watching the car pull away, a tear or two silently falling.

We’d witness this scene every time we came home for a visit.  As soon as we packed up the car and left, we’d see him standing there, at the window or in the driveway, showing us without words how much we were loved.

4. Let your inner child come out and play once in a while. (Even in church sometimes.)

Dad had a bit of a mischievous streak.  (I suppose I come by mine honestly.)

My cousin’s kids called Dad The Tickle Man, because at family gatherings, no child could walk past him without being grabbed for a tickle.

At Mass, we’d often be standing silently in prayer, hands folded serenely in front of us…when, without warning, he’d unclasp his hands, pull back his left arm, and gently shove his right fist backwards – smack into the elbow or ribs of whichever child was standing next to him.  This inevitably resulted in a giggle, which snowballed into chuckles (from everyone except Mom, who shot us The Look.  Lord help you if you dropped a hymnal.)

So, in Dad’s honor, here’s some wildly inappropriate funeral humor.  (You’ve been warned.)  

As we traveled to the funeral, my siblings and I were trying to make arrangements via text, picking out songs, Bible verses, flowers, and what shirt to bury Dad in.

Me:  Oh, your uncle says that the grandkids need to provide a bouquet for the viewing.

Daughter:  A bouquet?  Like you do at weddings?  Do we toss it at the end to see who’s next?

(She’s my kid, alright.) 

Later, at the viewing:

Neighbor:  <speaking to Mom>  Dick was a great man with a great business.  Now you should take his place.

Me:  <eyeing casket, horrified>  Uh…not right now!

We laughed until we cried.  (The neighbor man was slightly mortified.)

And at the funeral service:

Priest:  God loves us and wants us to be closer to Him.  He wants us to be with Him.  He wants you.  <dramatic pause> And right now, God wants Dick.

<insert two beats of stunned silence>

My daughter snorted.  Audibly.  And the shoulder-shaking that followed was surely captured as an abnormality on the global seismic monitor.

Dad would heartily approve. :)

And, most importantly…last, but not least:

5. There’s always room for ice cream. (And you don’t always have to tell your mother.)

This one hardly needs explanation. Because ice cream. 

I can’t stop for ice cream without thinking about Dad.  Frequently, when we were out on a service call for the tractor shop, we’d sneak off to the local Quickie Mart for a small treat – a Scooter Crunch, Strawberry or Chocolate Eclair:

Are you a Strawberry Shortcake fan or Chocolate Éclair junkie? Whatever the…:

And, some evenings, the whole family would pile in the car and head to the ice cream shop just up the road.  Dad would invariably get a soft-serve vanilla cone dipped in a chocolate concoction that hardened the instant it hit the ice cream.  (This was back before Magic Shell was a thing you could buy in the store and have any time you wanted, like for breakfast or something.)

Dad ordered this primarily so he could tease the wait staff while they dipped the cone – the ice cream had to be turned upside-down in order to be dipped, and once in a while, the entire wad would schplop right off into the vat of chocolate topping.  This proved so tremendously amusing (even though it only actually happened twice that I can remember) that he ordered this – and we watched for the ice-cream avalanche – every single time.

Sadly, that shop closed long ago – but there are plenty of mom-and-pop ice cream stands between my childhood home and the airport where I could honor my dad appropriately.

icecream1

My pick as a kid.  Couldn’t take a picture until I had a lick.

And when I got home, I tried a new place here in the Midwest – you know, for Dad.  Check out the size of this bad boy.

icecream2

Nelson’s did not disappoint.  Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl on top; Monster on the bottom, jam-packed tightly into the cup.

I indulged without guilt, self-judgment, or fretting about how many marathons I’d have to run to burn that off.   I ate enthusiastically, heartily, and with joy.  And I almost finished it all.  Even though I did leave just a little, I think Dad would be proud of my efforts:

icecream3

I didn’t bother taking the rest home. <burp>

I love you, daddy, and I miss you already.  Get some rest.  Give Grandma a hug for me and save me a seat next to you on the organ bench.  I’ll be ready to sing with you when I get there.

You can’t change your fingerprints. You have only ten of them. And you leave them on everything you touch; they are definitely not a secret. ~Al Franken

Analyzing the Angry

Dear Family, Friends, Coworkers, and Random Drivers Going 58 in the F*(#!&@ Fast Lane:

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge my state of mind this past week.

You’ve noticed that I’ve been on edge.  Stressed out.  Tense.  I’ve given curt, overly blunt responses to innocent, honest questions.  My personal volume’s been elevated by at least two clicks, and if I had this ability, there’s be a ton of ashes to scatter right now:

As much as I try to be an easygoing, stretch your wings and fly type, I just can't stop trying to burst people into flames with my mind:

I’ve been…prickly?  No.  More like…stabby.  Yeah.  Slightly stabby.  And while you may be feeling a bit put out by my abrasiveness, all the $#!ts I give about that are right here in this basket I’m not holding:

emptyhands

Side note:  It’s not easy to take a picture of your own hands.  Seriously – try it.

After much analysis – you know, dissecting those feelings, sitting with ’em, letting the thoughts marinate while I take long-distance bike rides and rip the life out of unwelcome weeds in my garden – I’ve identified what’s going on.

I’m angry.

So I’ve been working to understand WHY I’m feeling this way.  Because if I have a REASON, I can FIX it, and subsequently feel better, right?

Generally, life has been good to me, I know.  But there are a couple of things lately that are making me feel like a cat you’ve pet backwards from tail to head.  And it’s not for things like Words with Friends disqualifying PERFECTLY LEGIT words (though admittedly, that’s mildly irritating):

yesitis aword

George Lucas begs to differ.

No, there’s some marginally less superficial shiz going down here.

First, I was angry because we were at my in-laws last weekend.  And while you should know that I love them dearly, visiting them is a challenge because of the massive amount of temptation everywhere.  And by “temptation,” I mean FOOD.  Cookies (three freshly-baked varieties) and rich desserts and meaty entrees.  Nuts and chocolate in little jars on the table, out in the open for the taking at any time you just want a bite (yeah, right, one bite) of something salty or sweet.  And, because the hubs and his entire family – his teenage boys and his mom and dad in their 70s – are tall and lean, they can all partake heartily in all of this delicious, glorious food, just because they want it.

And I was angry because EVERYONE GETS TO EAT ice cream cake and fried fish and buttered potatoes and I do not.  And it’s HARD sometimes – especially when they have a ginormous meal at noon, WITH dessert portions that contain at least half my daily caloric allowance, and then have another plate FULL OF FREAKING RIBS for a SNACK (a snack!!) at 3:00 and I have to pretend to be happy with a bowl of watermelon.

I was mad. Angry mad. Because life is unfair when it comes to food, and I’m never, ever going to be the kind of person who can walk past an ice cream store, think “hmm, sounds good,” and eat a simple cone and have that be the end of it – no drama, judgement, or guilt.  The scale is my probation officer who commands me to report in almost daily; dalliances are immediately evident and the punishment is severe.  Best not to tick her off.

So why else?

I’m angry because the hubs has been somewhat distant this week.  That’s partly because he’s trying to be respectful of me “needing my space,” and partly because my vibe this week’s been pretty much “touch me and die.”

But he’s also been working on writing me a letter.

What about?  His quest to explore his spirituality.  (Or lack thereof.)  He’s been crafting a letter to me explaining how he feels about the Bible in general.

And I have zero – ZERO – interest in reading this.

Why?  A number of reasons:

1. I already know how he feels about it.  He’s made it abundantly clear – in his choice of T-shirts, his bumper stickers, his inability to refrain from rude comments….I get it.  I know.  You’re not on Team Jesus.  Copy that, loud and clear, bro.

2. I’m not in a good place for this right now.  WE’RE not in a good place for this.  I still can’t hear your opinions on the subject without feeling personally attacked; you’re not in a headspace where you can communicate these issues without a ton of editorial emotion; and frankly, I’m still not over the whole Ashley Madison thing, so giving me more reason to feel like we can’t bond, to realize that we might not ever again be close….Let’s just say now is not the time.  I still feel like I’m being emotionally waterboarded over here.  I need time to breathe.  Our relationship needs time for the glue to stabilize and set a bit before you start using this newly repaired vessel as a cocktail shaker.

3.  It’s hella long.  It just feels like…work.  Like writing-your-Affirmative-Action-Plan work.  Which is somewhere between <snoooooooooooore> and PLEASE SHOOT ME.

In other words, I just don’t have the energy to bring this festering lump to a head and clean up the mess when it ruptures and oozes all over the place.

Not right now.

Because I’m also angry that my Dad started hospice care last week.

We’ve known it was coming.  He’s been slowly withering away for the last nineteen months, losing weight, eating less, getting out of bed less often.  If you haven’t lived through something like this, you likely underestimate the stressful state of limbo this puts you in.

Every morning, you check your phone for news:  Nope.  Not dead yet.  And you get on with your day.  Eventually, you get accustomed to this as the status quo, and you work with it.

But once you call in hospice, you know you’re racing the final lap.  No more pit stops; the checkered flag’s somewhere in front of you.  But the road’s all wavy and bendy, like the heat mirage on the highway in July, and you really don’t know how much further you need to go before the path ends and it’s finally over.  And every day you preface work, kid activities, and other commitments with “…unless something happens to Dad.”  And people nod somberly, and they understand.

And your heart breaks a little more each day.

And the light of your soul just isn’t quite as bright. 

And the steel of your armor rusts, bit by bit, until the things you’re shielding yourself from start to leak through. 

Mom called hospice two weeks ago. Dad isn’t getting out of bed any more.  And he isn’t eating, though he’s still taking fluids.

So it can’t be too much longer.

But, so far, it hasn’t been today.

Not yet.

Dad had a birthday on Friday.  Since I live 1000 miles away, I had to mail a card.  I already hate greeting cards, because most of them are either insipidly saccharine or blatantly insulting:

Syrupy Sentiment:  Cards that rhyme make me want to shove lit cigarettes into my eyeballs – there’s a reason Dr. Seuss isn’t required reading past the first grade, people:

My love for you is like a song

In my ears, where you belong

My heart will sing it night and day

I hope to marry you someday

<BARF>

Ridiculously Ridiculing:  Birthday cards no longer read “Let’s Celebrate” – they’re all about “ha ha, you’re old, and I find that funny.”  Here comes the fire department to put out your cake, isn’t that hilarious?  (No, but if you send me some shirtless firemen, I might forgive you, just a bit, especially if they bring cake.)

And just try to find a Father’s Day card that doesn’t refer to beer, farting, or both.  Unless it’s one from the cotton-candy sticky-sweet category, you won’t find it.  (I’d insert some examples, but yuck.)

So finding a decent card is tough.  Now find one for your Dad when he’s terminally ill.  Remember, this is probably the last card that you will ever buy for him.  So no pressure.

Dad likes funny pictures of animals, so I headed to that section first in an attempt to find something lighthearted that would make him smile.

Here was my first pick:

dogs1

This looks promising….

dogs2

Um…like Mother Theresa and Jesus?  Not yet, Dad.

I put it back and picked up this one:

cats1Seems appropriate – especially when I tell you that Dad had an orange tabby named Blondie before us kids were born.  And every time he sees an orange tabby ANYWHERE, he says, “Looks like Blondie!”  (Yeah…. Every.  Single.  Time.)  So, hey, here’s Blondie in his fifteen minutes of fame, great card, let’s send it!

And then I opened it.  And HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

cats2

<snort> I AM TERRIBLE.

Laugh or cry, right?

OK, highly inappropriate.  If it were my mom, or ME, this might fly. But Dad’s more of a sentimental, emotional guy, so I settled on a fairly innocuous card with a smiling nun on it that simply said “Happy Birthday” inside.  (Because, since he was raised Catholic, nuns are also funny.  We get him the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar every year.)

And he lived long enough to get it.  So there’s that.

So that’s why I’m angry.

Because I’m really…sad.

And I can’t control feelings like sadness.  OK, full disclosure, I’m not really great with taming anger, either, but it feels more powerful to me.

And power means control.

And you know what I can control?

What I eat.

All this stress has been remarkably effective in helping me control my weight.  Today, I stepped on the scale, and saw a number I haven’t seen since high school.  A number lower than when I was unwell a few years ago and lost weight almost by accident.

Not much lower.

Not yet.

But the hubs actually noticed, as witnessed by this random text he sent this week:

text haha no

I can’t control what happens to Dad.  His itinerary is non-refundable; the only variable is the arrival time.

I can’t control how my spouse feels about things.  I can’t make him more accepting of other viewpoints.  I can’t force him into a mindset of “live and let live.”  I can’t make him see that he’s destroying us, comment by comment, shirt by shirt, letter by letter. He’s asked what he can do…but I already told him, and he’s no longer DOING it.  So what’s the point in adding to the bucket of unmet expectations?  It’ll just glop out onto the linoleum and be another mess for me to mop up.

I can’t control the overwhelming sadness.  This emotion is foreign to me; it feels like an unwelcome parasite, sapping my soul, draining my energy.  It trips me up at random times during the day, jumping out from dark corners, startling me into spilling hot coffee onto my hands.  It reminds me that it’s here.  That I can’t get away from it.

I can’t escape, but I can hide. I can duck behind something I know.  Something I can predict and control.

I’ve made myself a disguise:  hunger.

Hunger I expect.  Hunger I understand.

When you eat less, you feel hungry. 

It’s black and white.  Concrete.  Reliable.

Anticipated.

Welcome.

So I’ll wear the anger blanket instead of the sadness scarf.  It goes much better with the hunger hat that I’ve invested so much of myself into buying.

It’s a classic; I’ve worn it for years.  I don’t know what I’d look like if I had to replace it.

And when the temperature rises, and I’m no longer chilled by the icy emotions that threaten to overtake me – when they’ve been replaced by that gnawing, familiar, hollow, empty nothingness of hunger – I can take off the blanket for just a little while.

I can be a few pounds less angry.

I can remain in control.

Creative Games and Cookie Names

My son and I were kicking the yoga ball around in the basement the other day when he suggested we bake cookies.

OK, lemme back up a sec….That might have been somewhat confusing, especially if you don’t have children.

One of the things that no one told me about having kids is their constant need to be entertained.  This is mostly true when they’re little; once they get to the age where they can really participate in the fun adult stuff, they declare you unfleek (or whatever today’s word is for “uncool”) and plug into their electronics, effectively tuning you out until they need money or a ride somewhere.

But let’s take the nostalgia train to the days when they were little and still needed you.  <insert nostalgic sniff>

As parents, you have many choices of methods by which to entertain your children.

Electronic Babysitters.  Obviously, nowadays there are a number of electronic toys that can be used – iPads, laptops, your phone, video games, and good ol’ TV programming will all entertain your kids for days hours at a time.  However, society will deem you an unfit parent if you use any of these in public, and you risk losing your little ones and having them shipped to be raised on a rural farm in Idaho.

Chores.  Interestingly, many older toddlers actually find it FUN to vacuum, dust and mop. (Clearly, they’re too young to know better….)  Unfortunately, in the playacting, they tend to make a bigger mess than what you started with, and by the time they’re old enough to actually be helpful, they’re no longer interested in housekeeping as recreation.  (Further evidence that our Creator loves irony.)

Reading.  Since there are a bunch of writers here, we can’t forget about books.  I LOVED books as a child.  Still do, when I have time to read.  Unfortunately, my son didn’t inherit this gene.  One summer, when he was struggling to learn to read and we were trying to get him to go over his practice readers, he attempted to feed the books to the cat.  At the time, our cat did like to chew on paper on occasion, so the plan isn’t as farfetched as it sounds, even though it failed.  Eventually, when we threatened him with a tutor, he did a complete 180 and suddenly figured it out.  (Literally – within a week he went from barely recognizing letters to plowing through the practice readers.  That tutor must have been a real ogre.  Hey, whatever works, yo.)

Arts and Crafts.  Oh, I nearly forgot “crafts.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

<wipes tears from eyes>

Have you tried crafts with little kids?  If not…well, really, it’d be more contained of a mess if you just opened fire with a paintball gun in your living room.  And if you’re stupid brave enough to open the glitter, know that this is a decision more permanent than a tattoo, and you WILL be finding random sparkle EVERYWHERE IN THE HOUSE FOREVER AND EVER.  On the ceiling.  In the carpet.  Behind the fridge.  IN the fridge.  You could burn down your house and rebuild and I guarantee you that you’ll STILL find glitter somewhere, right along with cat or dog hair, even though Sir Shedsalot died well over fifteen years ago.

Anyway. My son hates crafts.  But we’ve tried.  I do have evidence of a couple of attempts.

Exhibit 1.  Ice Cream Pie.  I’ve shared this one before….but it’s worth another look.

When my son was in kindergarten, his class made a recipe book.  He needed to illustrate a favorite recipe from home. I present his interpretation of “Ice Cream Pie”:

pieno

It’s worth noting that I have never, EVER, made Ice Cream Pie.  Ever.  I asked him later why he chose this recipe.  “Mom.  It’s pie.  Anyone can draw a circle.”  Well, kiddo, clearly not EVERYONE.  Love you.

Exhibit 2.  Turkey Disguise.  In this traditional Thanksgiving exercise, children were sent home with a paper drawing of a turkey, and were told to make a “costume” for it so that it would not be recognized, therefore escaping the seasonal fate of ending up on someone’s dinner table.

So…here’s the one he made, next to the one his sister did:

Turkey I think

Now, to be completely fair, since he turned it upside down and cut all the feathers off, he really DID disguise the bird beyond all recognition.  So, super effective, but kind of missing the point.  I think.  Either that, or it’s genius.

Athletic Activities.  Since we’ve exhausted the other options, it seems that the only thing left is sports.  Unfortunately, physical activity is not my forte.  But my son is quite athletic.  First, he’s super-strong, like Bamm-Bamm from the Flinstones.  Here he is at age 7 1/2, carrying his cousin:

strongkid1.jpg

Note that the older cousin was about NINETY pounds at the time.  Hell, I can’t lift 90 pounds.  I can barely get off the couch some days, ya know?

He also loved baseball. He had a wicked arm back in the day, and loved to play in ANY weather:

baseball snow

I don’t remember being quite that heavy here.  I think I was just dressed in 14 layers.

But now that I’m in the Midwest, there are days where it’s truly too cold to be outdoors.  (Or too hot, so they tell me, although I have yet to find a day where it’s too warm for me to sit outside.  Clearly, I’m an orchid in a family of crocuses.)  So we have to get creative with the indoor games.  Fortunately, we have a mostly-finished basement that gives us a 25×20 space in which to roughhouse.  We have a dartboard and a foosball table, but you can only play those for so long, so we supplement with pool noodles and a variety of inflatable beach balls and Nerf guns to create a variety of indoor sports.

Side note:  Pool  noodles are awesome cheap indoor entertainment.  You can get ’em at the dollar store, and they’re quite versatile:  Lay it flat and it’s a border/line for dodgeball, fold it in half and it’s a baseball bat, or hold one end in each hand in front of you and you’re a human basketball hoop.  And, of course, they’re naturals for sword play.  (Well, until someone gets whacked in the face, at least.  But you normally get about ten minutes of uninterrupted time first, so balance that risk/reward portfolio for yourself.)

This summer we’re more into playing darts with the Nerf Gun (which, surprisingly, seems to work with the electronic board) and playing some version of two-square with the yoga ball.  (Yeah…this is the most use my yoga ball has had since I bought it.  Don’t judge; I know you probably have some piece of exercise equipment in your personal Graveyard of Good Intentions, too.)  Basically, you have to keep the yoga ball moving – but you can’t use your hands.  And it’s more fun to kick when it bounces, because you can lob it off your knees and make it ricochet off the ceiling.  (Am I not the coolest mom on the planet?) You get bonus points for keeping the ball airborne, even though we don’t seem to quite know how to keep score.  Second bonus is that it seems to be a pretty decent thigh workout, but don’t tell my kid that, because he’ll probably quit playing if he discovers it’s actually GOOD for you.

So the other day we’re in the two-square zone, on a wicked streak, with the score Q to ketchup or some such, when we have this conversation:

Son:  We should make cookies.

Me:  We can do that….I’ll need to buy stuff.  What kind are we making?

Son:  The kind you made last year with M.  (his sister) 

Me:  Which ones?  We made a few.

Son:  The oatmeal raisin ones.  Except without the raisins.  Like, with cinnamon and stuff.

Me:  …we never made those without raisins.  Do you mean the peanut butter ones with the chick peas?  (We made these – and they were DELICIOUS.)  We’d have to get chocolate chips.

Son:  No, they didn’t have chips.  But they were chocolate. 

Me:  You don’t mean the black bean brownies, do you?  (Yes, we tried those too.  Also two thumbs up, as long as you don’t tell anyone what’s in them.) 

Son <with eyroll>:  Mom.  I know what brownies are.  No.  These were, like, flat on the bottom.  (Super helpful clue there.)  What shape are peanut butter cookies?

Me:  They’re…like, cookies.  You drop a blob and smoosh ’em and bake them….

Son:  No…wait.  We didn’t bake them.  And they looked like no-bakes.

<insert light bulb flash of recognition> 

No-bakes it is.

So we made a batch.  And then another, because I can’t be trusted around no-bakes.  The recipe I use is pretty close to this one, except I use brown sugar, and I omit the butter and use more peanut butter instead.  (Because butter is narsty.)  Also, I seem to need more oats than the recipe calls for – it might be because I use the hippie-dippie gluten-free oats, which apparently have superpowers and repel sugar and chocolate, or something.

Anyway.  While we were stirring, I asked him what he thought of my new Dr. Martens.

boots

Yes, posting these again.  Because LOVE.

Me:  So…do you think your sister will like them, or will she totally be annoyed by them?

Son:  Wait.  What?  They’re shoes?

 Me:  Yeah…they’re boots.  <nervous pause>  What did you think they were?

Son:  Pants.  Like, cheetah-print pants.  Or something.

I’m not sure which is more disturbing:  the fact that my kid didn’t know what Dr. Martens are, or that he thought I would actually buy cheetah-print pants.

Clearly, this parent’s work isn’t done yet.  But hey, he still talks to me, and still wants to kick a yoga ball around with his mom, so I’ve gotta be doing something right, right?

Since this recipe seems to be working, I’ll just keep stirring.  No baking required.  🙂