Holiday Craft-up Mash-up

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

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

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

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

pump1

Note the coffee mug dwarfed by this monstrosity.

Oh, yeah….the pumpkin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pastpumpkins

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

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

pumpkinbabies

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

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

<sigh>  Sounds like a party.

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

15135899_1261529543914309_6371334200203993686_n

This “angel” never gets old….

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

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

Anyway, I need some paint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I found this:

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

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

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

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

pump2

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

Okay.  Looks doable.

<deep breath> Knife time!

pump3

Eeeeewwwww

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

pump4

Still gross.  But better.

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

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

Whose idea was this again?

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

pump5

Progress!

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

pump6

Hey.  That’s not half bad. 

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

pump7

Look Ma, more cardboard!

YAY!  Let’s light it!!!

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

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

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

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

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

pump9

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

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

pump10

Seeds for DAYS, yo.

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

pump8

Still decidedly not terrible.

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

What to do…what to do….

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

Three hours and two new sweaters later:

pump12

Wait. Shut off the porch light, dummy.pump13

Well, whaddya know.  I CAN CRAFT!!!! 

Sometimes, procrastination pays.

Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. 

On Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s unnecessary.  I know what today is.

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

This is not my today.  Today is different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did what I thought was best at the time.

Isn’t that all any of us can do?

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

It’s just different.  Especially today.

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

I should probably do that every Thursday.

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

I hear it most clearly from my heart.

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

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

catnap

I’ll try to be, too.

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….

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!

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.

note2

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

Things My Dad Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids:  Chocolate?  Rocky Road?

Dad:  Peanut Butter!  <reveals flavor>

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

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

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

note3

I suspect I get my verbosity from Dad, too.

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

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

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

I get it now, Mom.  I truly do.

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

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

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

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

note1

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

It’s worth a shot.

3. It’s OK to cry if you’re sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(She’s my kid, alright.) 

Later, at the viewing:

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

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

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

And at the funeral service:

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

<insert two beats of stunned silence>

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

Dad would heartily approve. :)

And, most importantly…last, but not least:

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

This one hardly needs explanation. Because ice cream. 

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

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

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

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

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

icecream1

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

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

icecream2

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

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

icecream3

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

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

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

Analyzing the Angry

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

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

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

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

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

emptyhands

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

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

I’m angry.

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

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

yesitis aword

George Lucas begs to differ.

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

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

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

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

So why else?

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

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

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

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

Why?  A number of reasons:

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

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

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

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

Not right now.

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

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

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

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

And your heart breaks a little more each day.

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

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

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

So it can’t be too much longer.

But, so far, it hasn’t been today.

Not yet.

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

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

My love for you is like a song

In my ears, where you belong

My heart will sing it night and day

I hope to marry you someday

<BARF>

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

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

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

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

Here was my first pick:

dogs1

This looks promising….

dogs2

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

I put it back and picked up this one:

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

And then I opened it.  And HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

cats2

<snort> I AM TERRIBLE.

Laugh or cry, right?

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

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

So that’s why I’m angry.

Because I’m really…sad.

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

And power means control.

And you know what I can control?

What I eat.

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

Not much lower.

Not yet.

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

text haha no

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

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

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

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

I’ve made myself a disguise:  hunger.

Hunger I expect.  Hunger I understand.

When you eat less, you feel hungry. 

It’s black and white.  Concrete.  Reliable.

Anticipated.

Welcome.

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

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

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

I can be a few pounds less angry.

I can remain in control.

Love in Limbo

A few months ago, this popped up in my reader, from Soul in Surreal’s blog:

“You can’t fall back in love with someone. Because you can’t love the same person twice. Because they’re not the same person. They were changed by the first time you loved them. And they were changed by the first time you left them too. So when you lean in close and whisper that you’re falling in love with me again, after all this time, make sure you’re in love with me, and not the memories.” – Danielle via Scribblingsanddust

(The post was here; it references this Facebook post.)

I had bookmarked the link back in January because with all the stuff going on with the hubs, it hit pretty close to the heart.

Fast forward to July, and I’ve been spinning my wheels in the mud, investing a lot of head energy to this whole mess, and getting nowhere.

evjb8

Source: Imgflip

So how’s that there marriage goin’, Katie? 

Well….

We’re certainly pleasant and courteous to each other.    He’s kind and attentive.  He’s as affectionate as I allow him to be, giving me hugs often, and respecting my space when I circle back into myself and withdraw.  He’s willing to do whatever it takes to rebuild my trust, and is completely open to my inquiries about where he’s been, who he’s seen, what his email is about, and where he’s off to next.  And I should add that he’s more than helpful around the house – he gasses up the mower and puts the dishes away without me having to ask him.

So…it’s quiet, for the most part…as long as neither religion nor politics comes up as a subject.  When they do, the water begins to seep out between the carefully mended cracks in the vase, highlighting its weaknesses through the imperfect repairs and uneven layer of glue.

And before I get into this, let me state again that I 100% support varying religious, spiritual, and secular belief systems. I’m all about Team Coexist.  What I’m not a fan of is dissing the sincerely held beliefs of others.  Express what YOU believe, and let’s talk about it over whiskey coffee respectfully, like grownups.  But let’s not use it as a platform from which to spew hate, okay Skippy?  I’m not playing if you want to sling mud at the heartfelt beliefs of others.  Tell me what YOU believe for YOU; don’t sully the landscape by flinging verbal flaming poo bags around highlighting why you think everybody else is wrong.  All that does is add big brown spots to your lawn. It doesn’t help anything good grow.

So the other day, I surprised the hubs by coming home early.  (Spoiler:  this never ends well, does it?) He was corralling his boys to drop them off somewhere, and as he saw me, his hands went to cover the front of his shirt.

He was wearing…this:

easter_bunny_jesus_santa_cl_tshirt

Source:  Cafepress

His rationale, which he threw at me while boys were flying out the door, was “I thought I wouldn’t see you today.”  I guess in his mind, that makes it okay.

In my mind…notsomuch.

And yesterday, we were outside lighting sparklers, when I noticed that his car was sporting a new bumper sticker:

religion_is_bunk_bumper_sticker-r692e2b5ac9a54586b39e5e568e1b5614_v9wht_8byvr_630

Source:  Zazzle

He was standing a little awkwardly behind his vehicle, blocking it with his body.  (Exactly how long did you think that plan would be effective?)  It’s like shielding the shirt design.  Why have it, then?  You want to tell the world something you don’t want your wife to know?

Why should that be okay?

And what do I do now?

I already don’t touch the shirts.  If they’re in the laundry, they stay there until he washes them himself.  It’s a bit passive-aggressive, to be sure.  But since he’s a grownup, I have zero obligation to do ANY of his laundry, so while I’ll happily chuck in boxers and socks if I’m doing a load anyway, I’m not enabling your hate for you.  (And yes, I could easily stage a horrific bleach accident.  I’ve considered it.  But destroying his property won’t resolve the issue; it’ll just escalate it.  I mean, I have a lot of really nice shoes.  Plus, he’ll just buy more shirts, right?  And the whole point isn’t the laundry, it’s why he feels the need to HAVE these shirts in the first place.  So.)

I don’t want to ride in his car any more.  He has a few other stickers on there that I don’t like.  In the past I’ve bitten my tongue for the sake of convenience.  And, admittedly, I’ll probably do that again.  But for now, I ain’t setting foot in it.  Because when I get out of that car, everyone will assume that the language on it represents me.  And while I shouldn’t care what others think, I’m just not okay being associated with that.

The hurtful part of this is that we already had this discussion fifteen months ago.  I told him that his need to rip apart the beliefs of others was spending a lot of my emotional currency…and I was going broke.

At the time, he cared enough to throw out the really offensive shirts.  Back then, I meant enough to him that my beliefs were worthy of some respect – at least in my own home.

Now, though, either he’s forgotten what I said, or his needs are screaming so loudly that mine can no longer be heard.  And I’m dangerously close to filing a mental Chapter 11 on it all.

He did suggest a couple of weeks ago that we try counseling again.  Would it help with this spiritual disconnect?  I can’t say until I try it, right?

It is a good sign…but these days, I’m not sure a sign is enough.

One of the questions we’re told to ask ourselves when questioning a relationship is “is your life better/easier with him or without him?”  And I’ll readily admit that he makes my life much easier.  He shares the household chores – and the bills.  It’s super handy to have someone around who can open stubborn jars of salsa and stop your bike pedal from making that weird noise, and it’s awesome to find that sometimes the Clean Dish Fairy has visited your kitchen AND put all the silverware away.

But are convenience and apathy a solid reason to stay married?

Or are they just enough reason to try?

The bottom line here is that the hubs and I are just very different people.  We’ve known that from the get-go, but it wasn’t challenging the relationship until about a year and a half ago, when he changed the dynamic; he changed the rules and started blowing whistles and I no longer understand who’s on my team or where the ball needs to go.

I no longer know who I married, exactly.  Was it this guy? The one I’m with now?  Because I would never marry a man who had this car and those shirts and this…hate.  Yet…I did marry him.  Was he just pretending before, suppressing who he is for the sake of winning my heart?   And if so, I don’t want to be with someone who has to pretend to be someone he is not, do I?

I’m still in love with the man I married.  Or the man I thought I married.  I’m just not sure I’m married to him anymore.  I don’t know if I ever was.

You can’t lose something you’ve never had, can you?

But…we had something great once.  We had that once-in-a-lifetime BOND.  The stuff of fairytales.

Didn’t we?

I’m hoping it’s like one of those times where you think you lost your car keys, and after looking frantically all over the house, emptying every purse, pocket, and hook searching for them, you look down to discover they’ve been in your hand the whole time.

Then again, the car keys I have didn’t ever go around trying to start other cars.  So there’s that, too.

A while ago, I bookmarked this quote from the book Full Circle by Tamra Price:

“We liked the idea of each other much more than the day-to-day reality of each other.” 

Maybe this relationship isn’t misplaced keys.  Maybe it’s more like a misguided art purchase – a bold sculpture in the center of the living area that we’re trying to decorate around in a way that makes it “work,” because we’ve invested a lot into not just the statue, but the furniture and the pets and the way we watch TV at night, and none of it really makes much sense together, but it’s a lot of work to disassemble it all and start over.

And then there’s the whole bit about…well, passion.

The other night, smack-dab in the middle of band rehearsal, we started working on this song:

I don’t sing lead on this one, so I got to sit back and listen.  And it gut-punched me right in the feels how much I miss being sung to.

See, when you make music with someone, you can really connect on a deep spiritual level.  There’s a fire fueled by the passion of doing what your soul is meant to do that spreads by doing it WITH someone.

This connection doesn’t have to come from music.  The hubs doesn’t sing – at all.  But there was fire at one time.  I know there was.  We had it.  We had it in spades, yo.  We had more passion than I had mint in the garden.  We were solidly, madly, and completely in love.

And now I’m looking at a pile of graying charcoal, poking it with a stick to see if there are any sparks left in the embers.  Because I’m just not attracted to the message of the shirts and the stickers.  Honestly, I’m completely turned off.  A campfire doused with an ice bucket.

But then rehearsal ran late, and I came home exhausted and spent, to find that the trash had been taken out, and the garbage cans were already out at the curb, ready for pickup.

Because he’s that kind of guy.

Crossroads, will you ever let him go?
Will you hide the dead man’s ghost,
Or will he lie, beneath the clay,
or will his spirit float away?

But I know that he won’t stay without Melissa.

Limbo, party of one, your table is waiting.

Save

June Was Blingin’ out All Over

Since you’re all quite figuratively dying for an update….

No.  The landscaping isn’t done yet.

But it’s not due to lack of effort…if by “effort” you mean I glance at the stack of edging rocks collecting pollen beside my driveway every day when I’m tooling into the garage after work wondering what’s for supper.

In my defense, there’s been a bunch of other shiz going on this past month, too.

First up – I had a birthday.  (Shout out to my fellow Gemini peeps.)  Now, normally, this would be largely a non-event.  I’m not one who needs a huge fuss on her birthday.  I mean, first of all, I’m probably dieting, so it’s not like I’m getting any actual cake, right?  For the most part, I’m happy just getting a few cards, and having one day with a steady stream of Facebook notifications from folks who but for the gift of technology would neither know (nor care) about your special day.

And if you remember, last year’s birthday was kind of a bust.  I didn’t get even a mention of the day from the hubs.

(Side note:  This year, he did remember to at least wish me a happy birthday.  Still waiting for that card.  So much for managing my own expectations, I guess.)

This year, I decided to proactively treat myself.  BY SHOPPING. Because obviously, I am worth it.

Without further ado, I bring you the 2016 Birthday Loot Review.

**NOTE:  Men and non-shoppers can scroll down to the next bold green words.**

Since I shop a lot (A hella lot.  Hello, my name is Kate, I have A Problem) I have quite a few store-branded credit cards.  Now, if you use these cards, you absolutely HAVE to pay them off in full every month, because they charge an astronomical interest rate that will make your $50 sweater purchase rival the national debt in a matter of months.  But, as a token of gratitude for your money patronage, many of them send you “Free Gift on Your Birthday” coupons.  Usually it’s $10-15 off any purchase – no minimum.  So, at that point, it’s Game On! to see how much you can bag for essentially free.

Here’s my $15 Free Loot from The Limited.  (Total for both:  $14.71.  Yes, I did leave 29 cents on the table.  I promise I’ll try harder next year.)

bdayshop2bdayshop3

I still have $15 at NY & Company and Ann Taylor to use before the end of the month.  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.  Yay free stuff! 

I also spent a day at one of the regional art (read: jewelry) fairs.  We happened to have three local shows going on at the same time (because we hippies are into crafts, yo) so we opted for the slightly more rural locale in a nearby quaint river town.

And by “quaint,” I mean:

SWsign1

That’s…a little TOO quaint. DOWN WITH OVERAPOSTROPHICATION!

SWsign2

I didn’t eat here. But HAHAHAHA <snort>

Bonus:  It was cloudy and threatening rain, so it wasn’t too crowded.  Makes it MUCH easier to paw through everything when you’re not elbowing other shoppers out of the way and stroller-dodging the strapped-down rug rats.

SWart

With the weather on my side, it didn’t take me long to walk away with some new bling.

First score:  two necklaces.

On this one, the artist made all the beads by hand.  Some were forged, some were polished, some were hand-twisted, others were…uh…baked?  X-rayed?  Spelunked?  Anyway, it’s super cute and goes with everything:

SWshop2

This one was probably made in China, but I don’t give a rip because PRETTY (and goes with everything ELSE):SWshop3

This hand-drawn sketch is for my daughter’s room, because she has a thing for pie:

And this shawl was on the clearance rack in a tourist shop…not a bad $12 find, especially if your favorite color’s orange!

SWshop4

Wanna place bets on how long my cats take to demolish the fringe on this baby?

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!  (Guys, don’t come back yet.  Keep scrolling.)

I also treated myself to some new nose bling.  And I NEED to share this jeweler with you, because her stuff is FABULOUS.  I was hunting around Etsy looking for pieces that don’t look like every other boring, jewel-dot nose stud on the planet, and I stumbled upon a shop called RockYourNose.

And I am SO IN LOVE with this lady’s stuff.

I had previously acquired these:

bdayshop1

Clockwise, from top:  Sterling flower with garnet; lotus flower with amethyst; rose gold triangle; malachite stud in sterling

I was so pleased with them – the quality, the size, the service – everything – that I decided I needed some more:

bdayshop4

From left:  14k butterfly; Mexican fire opal in sterling; moonstone in antiqued silver daisy

If you need nose jewelry that makes a statement, go visit RockYourNose right this minute.  Seriously, her pieces are beautiful, bold, and comfortable to boot.   I WANT THEM ALL.  (Well, maybe not the rat, but I totally appreciate that there’s an audience for it.)

While I was scouring Etsy, I did find a couple other pieces that I JUST HAD TO HAVE.  This one arrived today:

bdayshop5

He sent it with a penny from his home country!  Etsy shop: PicoNosePiercing

And this one is waiting for my signature at the post office:

This one was a real find.  I collect frogs, so OF COURSE I should have a frog nose stud.  But do you think anyone actually MAKES one?  Well, apparently, only ONE person does, and they live in Israel, but thanks to the Interwebs, I CAN HAZ NOSE FROGGIE. 

**End shopping montage.  Men and non-shoppers can resume reading here.**

So…another thing I did this month:  I wrote my first article for xoJane.

Now, before I share the article, let me just state that I’m…not proud of the subject matter.  I’ve written about this subject before, and I’m not sure why I decided to bring it up again.  Perhaps it has to do with my attempts at healing.  Or maybe even though it was a long time ago, and I have no way to undo it, I haven’t completely forgiven myself.  Either way, it’s a very real part of my past from a very dark, confusing, overwhelming time.  While it certainly doesn’t mean I’m glad it happened, you can’t exactly unbake a cake, and I got several life lessons out of it.

So I put myself out there, and <deep breath> here it is:  Kate’s First xoJane Article

I’ll admit that the comments were pretty rough – but that’s to be expected.  I mean, you don’t go writing about that sort of thing and expect the internet to throw you a ticker-tape parade screaming your accolades, right?  It’s more self-righteous indignation and flaming torches (and not completely unjustified, either.)  People reacted pretty much how you’d expect, and I’m (mostly) OK with that.

What really DID sting, though, were the criticisms of my actual writing.  (And NOW I sound kind of narcissistic and whiny.)  But…I don’t think I’m an awful writer.  Juvenile?  Sure.  Immature?  DUH.  But…not terrible.  (And come ON – Sick of CAKE?! That is SO NOT A THING.)  I’m trying to console myself with chips and dip the realization that 1) sometimes, people on the Interwebz are randomly mean because they CAN be and 2) perhaps my writing isn’t a style they care for.  And that’s OK…but, like a hangnail that you’ve caught on an afghan, it pulls and smarts all the same.

(Side note:  xoJane was wonderful to work with.  They made it really easy by outlining the process thoroughly, patiently suggesting edits to this complete noob.  Despite the icky feelings I got in my gut from the Mean Girls (and, to be fair, the honest ones), I might actually be tempted to try again.  Besides…I made $50.  Which is TOTALLY AWESOME, because I have a lot of bling to finance, as referenced above.  So there’s that.)

Oddly, the article was published on the same night that my daughter graduated high school.  (Which is the OTHER Big Time Eater I had this month.)

I was scrolling through Facebook while I was waiting for commencement to start, and saw the article link just as the lights were dimming in the auditorium.  I skimmed a few of the comments, and shut off my phone to deal with the virtual wrath later.  I’m somewhat proud of myself for that one – normally, I’d be obsessively refreshing to see every last post the moment the user clicks “send.”

But this night was about my daughter, not me.

So off the phone went, and I stuffed it and the accompanying anxiety deep into my purse.

In addition to ordering invitations, sending announcements, and taking TONS of pictures, I also planned a party for her – meaning, I co-hosted a huge shindig with her dad.  Which is monumental because we had a pretty ugly divorce in 2006 (that started in 2003!) and it’s only been maybe the last 18 months where he and I could go beyond stiff politeness and overwhelming mistrust to being kinda cordial once in a while.

But all the families, on both sides, who hadn’t seen each other in over ten years, ACTUALLY GOT ALONG.  There was small talk, there was hand-shaking, there was the exchange of genuine “how have you beens”and “what are you up tos”.

Everyone set aside the old hurts and haunts and just…celebrated.

Together.  For her.

And we had a lot to celebrate – namely, the achievements of this terrific kid of mine who <shameless brag> graduated third in her class and earned a full scholarship to college.

And afterwards, this amazing young woman pulled me aside and thanked me profusely for making the day run so smoothly.

It was a beautiful celebration of a milestone – a marker in time. A crown on the ability of her parents to work together and co-parent, and, despite being a little too human, have it turn out FABULOUSLY.

gradcap

So, now that June is pretty much over, I’m hoping things settle down a bit and I can get back to the very hard, back-breaking, gritty work that is my marriage.

<sigh>

Or maybe I’ll address the landscaping first.  That might be easier.