Holiday Craft-up Mash-up

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

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

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

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

pump1

Note the coffee mug dwarfed by this monstrosity.

Oh, yeah….the pumpkin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pastpumpkins

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

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

pumpkinbabies

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

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

<sigh>  Sounds like a party.

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

15135899_1261529543914309_6371334200203993686_n

This “angel” never gets old….

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

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

Anyway, I need some paint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I found this:

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

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

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

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

pump2

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

Okay.  Looks doable.

<deep breath> Knife time!

pump3

Eeeeewwwww

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

pump4

Still gross.  But better.

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

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

Whose idea was this again?

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

pump5

Progress!

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

pump6

Hey.  That’s not half bad. 

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

pump7

Look Ma, more cardboard!

YAY!  Let’s light it!!!

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

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

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

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

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

pump9

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

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

pump10

Seeds for DAYS, yo.

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

pump8

Still decidedly not terrible.

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

What to do…what to do….

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

Three hours and two new sweaters later:

pump12

Wait. Shut off the porch light, dummy.pump13

Well, whaddya know.  I CAN CRAFT!!!! 

Sometimes, procrastination pays.

Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. 

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On Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s unnecessary.  I know what today is.

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

This is not my today.  Today is different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did what I thought was best at the time.

Isn’t that all any of us can do?

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

It’s just different.  Especially today.

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

I should probably do that every Thursday.

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

I hear it most clearly from my heart.

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

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

catnap

I’ll try to be, too.

Performance-Enhancing Slugs

It’s performance review time!

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

<snort>

HAHAHAHAHAHA no.

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

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

(No pressure.)

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

So why do companies still DO performance reviews? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill still uses a little knife.

That’s the comment in its entirety.

Fin.

??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<facepalm>

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

There is no moss growing under this manager.

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

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

Ted is good at lessening to his crew.

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

Supervisor: “Hey…anyone seen Ted today?”

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

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

<group rushes to vending machine>

Employee #2: “Dammit, Ted!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<scratches head>

Employee: “…keep being….uh….”

<squints and rereads>

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

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

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

Kyle has asked to be more evolved in business operations

Um….

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

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

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

Key faucets. 

Believe it or not, they actually exist. 

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

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

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

 <holds fist to chest, blinking back tears>  

Words to live by.

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

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

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

Oh yeah….

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

I love HR so hard.

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

I CAN’T WAIT.

Remind me again why I quit teaching….?

<slugs hemlock>

Creature of the Fright

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

…but…

…could it be something…far more sinister?


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

<click>

<blink>

Hmm…everything looks nor-

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

<SHRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK>

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

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

Silence.

Mom didn’t even stir.

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

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

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

batwarningnote

Mad props to my 2AM art skillz

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

batttext2

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

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

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

battext

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for kids badminton set 1970

Looks lethal to me.  (Source)

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

Carefully, we open the door.

Nothing.

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

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

!!!!!!

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

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

Lasiurus cinereus

Awww.  So wittle.  (Source)

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

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

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

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

That?

That is what tried to eat me alive?

That’s…almost cute.

Regardless…this f-er’s gotta GO.

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

Foolproof plan, right?

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

<tap>

<tap>

<Tap tap pat pat pat tap>

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Jezebel is awake and the bitch is NOT happy.

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

I think I am screaming.  Somebody is.

Gamely, we fight back.

SWISH!

The bat jukes left.

Look out!

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

AAUGH!

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

UNDER. THE. BED.

We fall silent.  Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

We pull off the mattress.

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

Oh.  THERE it is!

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

<BLAM>

<pfft>

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

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

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

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

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

“Is the bat still alive?”

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

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

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

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

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

batlab

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

batcyro

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

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

Medium-sized, my a$$.

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

annracquet

Ann reporting for duty, sir.

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

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

ann2

creepydoll-2jpg

Yeah.  I thought so.

Organizing the Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

parkingqueen

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

 

parkingqueencloseenough

…or too close to the car behind me.

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

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

* My brother’s model car collection:

modelcarcollection

I can still smell the glue….

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

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

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

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

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

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

creepydoll

Even more disturbing:  her arm is stuck that way.

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

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

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

creepydollfaceswap

<shudder>

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

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

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

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

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

creepyassvan

Random, but creepy.  Candy?  No thank you.

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

replacedpump

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

Hmm.  Can’t hurt, right?

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

ancientoutlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

<flutter rustle flutter>

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

Focus on breathing. Think nothing.

<flutter thwap flutter flutter rustle thwap thwap>

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

<thwap thwap thwap thwap>

I freeze.

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

<thwap thwap thwapTHWAP thwap flutter>

.

What….

…uh…

…is that…?

<flutter thwapTHWAPthwap flutter rustle thwap thwap thwap>

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

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

It HAS to be paper. 

Just paper.

I take a deep breath.

I flip the switch.

<click>

To be continued….

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