Flashback Father’s Day: The Lessons of a Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrots in My Carryon

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

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

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

I am what survives of me. ~Erik Erikson

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

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

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

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

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The Indelible Ninja Scars

Warning: Dark post ahead. I should probably label this with “trigger warning” for the delicate flowers, but this isn’t a designated safe space, so enter at your own risk. I’m gonna talk about stuff that I shouldn’t be doing. You were warned.

<sigh> This post has been difficult to write. I’ve been knitting it and unraveling it in my head for a couple of weeks, debating whether I’m brave enough to put it out there or if I should continue to pretend it didn’t happen.  At this point, though, the latter isn’t working.

I don’t think I can truly pick myself up until I admit to myself how hard I fell down.

I know HOW it happened. Honestly, I should have expected it. It’s been happening for years, off and on, in unpredictable cycles. Like a well-trained ninja, it lurks in the shadows of my being, camouflaging itself behind my arrogant confidence that I’ve really got a handle on things this time, waiting to pounce in the blink of a vulnerable moment.

I’d been coasting along for weeks in a false sense of security: I’ve been having phenomenal success on a new medication that’s quelled my omnipresent anxiety and quieted it to an occasional flare of “wait…I should be, like, worrying about something right now, right?” that I’ve been able to squash like a bothersome gnat. In other words, it’s been quite manageable.

And I’d been rocking my personal fitness. I was running four miles 3 days a week, and mixing in yoga, too. I was cooking – actual food – with vegetables and quinoa and organically-raised tofu harvested by free-range leprechauns. (Close enough.)  I was nourishing myself.

Everything else was…calm.  Peaceful. The hubs had been treating me like a queen. The kids are doing wonderfully. My daughter had just finished her first year of college with <shameless Mom brag> a 4.0.  My son, a junior this year, has a darling new girlfriend. The situation with my stepsons, while not resolved, has stabilized. I don’t have any significant job stress. Mom was doing great – she was preparing to close out her and Dad’s business, and she has a…um…gentleman caller (?) who spoils her.

Side note: What exactly DO you call it when your 70ish-year-old mother is dating? “Boyfriend” sounds kinda juvenile, while “significant other” implies some sort of long-term commitment. And “friend”….yeah, no. You can just HEAR the air quotes when people say it. “…and this is Mom’s ‘friend’ Bob. Try it. See?!?

Side note #2: Should I feel weird about Mom dating? Because I totally don’t. Well, except that the guy she’s seeing is actually the father of my first ever real boyfriend. (Hurrah for small towns.) So, even though that was thirty (!!!) years ago, I sort of feel like I accidentally kissed my brother. But on the flip side, that means that I know this guy, and somehow, that’s comforting – he’s not a complete stranger. His wife passed several months ago, and as I recall, she wasn’t exactly a fan of me being in her son’s life because apparently, I had evil spirits floating around me. Anyway, I like the man and I love that she’s happy.

In summary, things were going smoothly.

The calm before the storm.

Then Mother’s Day weekend arrived. I wasn’t expecting any grand gestures, but the kids were aware, at least. We had a decent weekend planned – my son was getting ready to go to Prom on Saturday, and we’d have a quick lunch on Sunday before they went to their father’s and I got back on a plane.

Prom day was lovely. The weather had promised rain but surprised us with sunshine. The plan for the day was to head over to the girlfriend’s house mid-day, where my son (read: “we”) would cook dinner for the two of them. Then they’d put on their fancy duds and tolerate a few pictures before heading to the festivities.

And it went so well. My son and I worked together to prepare General Tso’s Chicken; I chopped the meat while he found pans and serving bowls. We opened sparkling juice and toasted the day.

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That’s my boy. LOL

After we Googled how to tie a necktie, we were ready for pictures. We skipped the usual local haunts (a quick drive-by indicated an intolerable crowd) and headed to his father’s house, where I knew the azaleas would be in full bloom. (I offered to take them to the local funeral home, or the cemetery, because OF COURSE there’d be fresh flowers there. But they declined. Sheesh, where is the sense of adventure? Kids today….) I snapped away, capturing the smiles. I even got some terrific shots of my son with his father that I know they’ll both treasure.  (I am SUCH a big person, ain’t I??)

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Shortly, the lovebirds were off to the dance. I met up with my daughter and her boyfriend and settled in to some serious Netflix. My daughter is really digging conspiracy theories lately, and yeah, there’s a series for that, believe it or not. Even though we’d ordered pizzas, her boyfriend, being a young man with an age-appropriate metabolism, brought “snacks” so we wouldn’t starve to death for the three hours we’d be sitting on our butts. His stash included two family-size bags of chips, a batch of beef stew, a kitchen-sink sized bowl of buttered popcorn, and two six-packs of soda.

Eventually, the two of them headed off to host an after-prom party.

Leaving me alone.

With the food. (Except the stew. I convinced him to take that home with him.)

So that’s HOW it happened. I just don’t know WHY.

But it happened.

Down went the family-sized bag of salt and vinegar chips and the rest of the popcorn. Even though I’d finished my gluten-free pizza earlier, I added a few slices of their leftovers to the frenzy. Then I headed off to Wal-Mart to top off the mess with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s finest.

Why not?  It didn’t matter. It’d be gone shortly.

I hadn’t done this in years. Decades, maybe. Sure, I’ve binged, but I’ve avoided sticking my toe back into the purging pool. Overeating is somewhat socially acceptable; we can half-ashamedly confess eating a doughnut we didn’t need or an extra slice of cake. Barfing, though, is still done behind closed doors.

Now, it was time.

I’d forgotten how hard this was. How violent. The body was not meant to do this. Yet, like riding the proverbial bicycle, mine eventually remembers.

Panting, gagging, my stomach rolls and heaves. I’m undressed from the waist down and perched atop a pile of lightly-used towels, as the bladder of a middle-aged woman can no longer bear the seismic onslaught forced upon it by making yourself vomit.

This is not an affliction for the proud.

get it out get it out get it out

Eventually, it’s over. I feel like a dishrag that’s been left at the bottom of the sink, sodden and heavy and unable to take any shape or form.

I clean up and try to sleep.

The next day, I carry the weight of my sins. My tongue feels as though I’ve burned it; my jaw aches like I’ve been chewing bowling balls.  Belches bring an acidic, burning reminder to the back of my throat. And to my heart.

It’s Mother’s Day. The sun’s out again. And the kids actually remember, bringing me cards and presents for the first time in maybe ever. The hubs surprises me with flowers, which showcase my favorite colors.

I am reminded that I am loved. And that today, I can start over. Reset the timer. 1 day since my last purge.

I can’t say this will never happen again. I’ve learned that swearing “never” is a cue for the fates to set up an elaborate exercise in irony.

But I don’t honestly have any idea why this happened. Why now, when things were going (relatively) fine? Why not when my dad died, or when the hubs and I were having more serious issues, or when my stepson was in the hospital? Why did this cap off a beautiful day bookended by my awesome kids?

And if I don’t know what caused this, how do I keep it from happening again? Was this a momentary lapse, or the beginning of a final descent? Was this random or a result? Fluke or fault line?

It’s unnerving. But I suppose that’s the crux of mental illness. If we could always control it, it wouldn’t be an illness, right?

Things have been…well…not great since then. I’ve done some exercise and a ton of eating. Zero days since my last binge. I’m blaming a canceled flight and an unplanned night in beautiful downtown Detroilet for the pizza and two candy bars I ate alone in my hotel room while watching (ironically) My 600-Pound Life for the most recent one.

I’ve kept it all down, though, and I suppose I have to remember to count that as a victory. Because the ninja still calls to me, whispering from the sink, the refrigerator, the checkout aisle. I’d learned to tune her out, and I need to ensure I have sufficient white noise in my life to block her song. Her voice is the mental mermaid that always tempts toward a tumultuous sea.

Sometimes, my footing slips on the rocks as the surf tugs at my toes.

Today, I hang on.

Paving a Positive Path

One of the many, many <sigh> many things I oversee in my HR gig is the company’s wellness program.  Now, traditionally, “wellness” has focused primarily on physical health – you know, BMI, blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol.  And while we do include components of these things, we’ve recognized the need to take a more holistic approach to wellness – so, in addition to talking about heart health and nutrition, we also incorporate activities surrounding financial well-being and mental health.

Mental health is hard to talk about in the workplace.  But it needs to be addressed – if not for the greater good of society, then because it’s costing companies productivity (read: money.)  Take a look at this Harvard article:

Researchers…found that workers with depression reported the equivalent of 27 lost work days per year — nine of them because of sick days or other time taken out of work, and another 18 reflecting lost productivity.

And it’s not just depression….Anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD can wreak havoc on one’s personal life AND career:

Studies estimate that people with ADHD may lose 22 days per year (a combination of sick days and lost productivity)….people with ADHD are 18 times as likely to be disciplined for behavior or other work problems, and likely to earn 20% to 40% less money than others. They are also two to four times as likely as other employees to be terminated from a job.

So many of us are silently struggling – but we’re not getting any actual help:

In one study, only 57% of employees with symptoms of major depression said they had received mental health treatment in the previous 12 months. Of those in treatment, fewer than half — about 42% — were receiving treatment considered adequate….

Anxiety disorders affect about 6% of the population at some point in life, but typically go undiagnosed for 5 to 10 years. And only about one in three individuals with a diagnosed disorder receives treatment for it.

In the United States…only 13% of workers with ADHD reported being treated for this condition in the previous 12 months.

So yeah.  Big problem, here.   And mental illness comes with the challenge of overcoming the not-insignificant stigma associated with it.  Here’s an illustration I’m blatantly stealing from a recent seminar I attended:

First, think about some of the slang terms that you’ve heard to describe mental illness.

Nuts.  Loopy.  Crazy.  Unbalanced.  Psycho. 

Yeah.  You probably have a few more.

Now, let’s list the slang terms you know that describe people with cancer:

Um.  <cough>  <furrows brow> Uh…

 Okay, so what words do we typically use?

Patient.  Survivor.

Ayup.  Exactly.

When we roll this out at the workplace, then, we want to incorporate mental wellness slowly.  With baby steps.  Because while we really want everyone to be all enlightened and shiz, the truth is that blasting them with in-your-face messages that scream DEPRESSION!  ANXIETY! might have them hearing something that mentally sounds more like ZOMG SPIDERS AND CREEPY CLOWNS!!! resulting in everyone scrambling like insects exposed to the light from an overturned rock.  :/  Which helps nobody.

So in order to gently introduce the idea of focusing on mental health to our organization, a few weeks ago we rolled out the Paths to Positivity Program. (Materials here.) During this five-week program, participants choose one of three areas of focus:

  1. Connect with Others
  2. Mind Your Mood
  3. Find Your Purpose

Very non-threatening.

Since 99% of my friends are imaginary people I met on the internet, I decided to focus on Connect with Others.  I took my team to lunch, and we volunteered with our families (well, OK, THEIR families.  Because my kids were at their dad’s, and the hubs and my stepsons won’t do anything with Jesus, even if it’s a good thing) at Feed My Starving Children.  And I thought it wouldn’t hurt to incorporate some of the other suggestions, like reaching out to people in need, helping others….Essentially, I tried to subdue my snark and exercise my empathy a little.


First up:  My college-aged daughter needed some help with her resume.

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Look at me being all servant-hearted.

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She had an actual JOB for two summers, and volunteered at the local hospital for YEARS.  You’d think we could start there….

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Kid can play virtual poker (she won, btw) but listing things you’ve actually DONE is a stretch?  LOL  I’m such a patient mom.  But it paid off:

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Well…it was momentary gratitude, anyway.  🙂  But if you speak teenager, you know what high praise this is.  Further, she asked me to help her roommate, too.  How many college freshmen have YOU met who are happy to get their mothers involved?

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#parentingwin


Of course, I wanted to extend happy vibes beyond just family – I planned to reach out to strangers, too.  I’ve mentioned before that I get a decent volume of misdirected email, so I thought this recent note in my inbox might provide a good opportunity to spread quasi-random kindness:

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While I DO frequent Chipotle (because OMNOMNOM) I didn’t recall sending this.  <headscratch> Certainly not from Illinois, where I haven’t been in over 10 years, save a few unfortunate layovers in O’Hare.  Puzzled, I scroll down:

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Ah, OK.  Someone filed a complaint and inadvertently used my email address.  Shrugging, I typed a reply, figuring I could use this as a chance to say something kind:

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I thought that’d be the end of it, but she wrote back:

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OH HELL YEAH.

And once I got my burrito, I made sure to thank her.

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One more….

A few weeks ago, I attended my annual Safety Conference – the one time a year where oppressed party animals HR and safety professionals get together to share body shots of Fireball best practices and strategies surrounding their respective Safety programs.  This year, the drunkfest conference was held in Las Vegas.  I’d never BEEN to Vegas, and honestly, wasn’t looking forward to it – other than purchasing a Powerball ticket whenever I gas up my car, I don’t really gamble, and I knew we wouldn’t have time for any cool shows due to the “strongly encouraged” networking sessions held after-hours.

So I arrived at Caesar’s Palace on a Wednesday night.

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I was tired, hungry, and largely confused, and the mechanical BLING!! BONGBONGBONG BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING of pending financial ruin combined with the light haze of cigarette smoke made me hella cranky.  After meandering aimlessly for a bit, I found the check-in area.  It was staffed by several kiosks and one very frazzled-looking clerk, who was hopping from screen to screen attempting to keep the guest-grumblings to a minimum.

Sighing, I approached one of the portals and started my check-in.  After a few clicks and pokes at the monitor, I got a status update:

YOUR ROOM IS NOT YET AVAILABLE.  PLEASE ENTER A PHONE NUMBER WHERE YOU CAN BE REACHED WHEN IT IS READY.

“Really?!  It’s 9:00 at night!” I whined.  The clerk rushed over, assuring me that it would just take a few minutes for the system to process my arrival.  With a weary smile, she apologized for what she was sure would only be a short wait, and promised I’d have my keys soon.

I realized that this woman had been politely defusing irate customers for the bulk of her day.  Her eyes were tired, but kind.  Breathing, I thanked her, adding, “You know…I’ll bet people don’t realize how difficult your job is.  You’re here all day dealing with grumpy, entitled, clueless tourists who have absolutely no idea what they are doing, and they probably take out all that angst on you.  Thanks so much for helping me.”

The woman blinked, surprised.  Her head titled to the side as she stared at me for a moment.  Then, she responded, “You…you GET it. You really understand.  Thank you.” 

I wondered if I’d been the first person that day to remember that she was not an extension of the automated check-in bots, but a real, live person with emotions and feelings and a soul.

She winked at me then.  “I’ll be right back.”  She went behind the main desk and assisted another customer before returning to me.  “Your room should be ready now.  I got you a good one.”  I took the keys that popped out from the dispenser and wandered off to follow the complicated series of directions to find whatever tower my room was hidden in….

I exited the elevator and followed signs down a long hallway, passing several rooms.

928…930….

Oh. Here we are. 

But…why are there TWO doors…? 

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I double-check the number.  932.  Yep.  I open the door, and….

THIS.  ROOM.  IS.  MASSIVE.

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The foyer.

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More foyer

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A freakin’ kitchen and bar

Two giant closets – and a fax machine (really!)

One small bathroom and two larger bathrooms (each with a phone, just in case you run out of TP or need to order a pizza):

A hot tub:

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Room for at least four.

…a scale…

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The batteries were dead.  Vegas does vacation right.

…a butt washer thingy (no, I didn’t use it):

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A shower built for two:

…and finally, a mini-suite to sleep in (if one does that in Vegas.)

Oh, and just in case you wanted to have a few friends over?  We got you, fam.  Check out what was behind the kitchen:

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Yeah.  She got me a good room, alright.  The view didn’t suck, either:

hotel12ahotel12bSo, for a safety conference, it wasn’t all bad.  Between the room and the party bus networking session, it was almost…fun.

At least, I think it was.  What I recall, anyway.  Once the notworking networking got underway, things got a little blurry.  A bunch of us piled into this very corporate-looking van.

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You can feel the bass throbbing from there, can’t ya.

 

The driver took us on a free driving tour (which included a stop at the liquor store) and said he could get us into the VIP section of some swanky gentleman’s club.  “Ask for Marcus. Tell him you’re a friend of Pete.  He’ll take good care of ya.”  We declined, as we had pretty much all the party we needed.

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe a liiiiiiiittle too much party.

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Whiskey and ginger ale.

Fortunately, they also feed us really well at these things….

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Hangover breakfast.  I ate 3 pieces of bacon before I took the pic.

And, in the spirit of sharing affirmations, I apparently texted this picture to my entire team AND TO MY TEENAGE CHILDREN.  The caption was profound:  HAHAH HEE NEKKKED WHAO

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Hmm.  I may have gone a tad overboard with the well-being messages.  Or the libations.  Or both.

But I think I cemented a few blocks down on my path to positivity.  They may even be part of my permanent record now.  😀

Your turn!  How do you spread random happiness?  Share in the comments!

Wearing the Stigma Scarf

I love scarves.

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

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

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And that someone is, apparently, moi.

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

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

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

But….

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

But I didn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not?

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

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

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

This was different.

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

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

Oh, yeah.  About that….

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

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

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

Isn’t that enough?

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

But the bottle is hidden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one else has a scarf quite like this one.

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

“Normal” is kind of dull, anyway.

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

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. 

Creature of the Fright

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

…but…

…could it be something…far more sinister?


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

<click>

<blink>

Hmm…everything looks nor-

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

<SHRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK>

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

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

Silence.

Mom didn’t even stir.

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

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

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

batwarningnote

Mad props to my 2AM art skillz

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

batttext2

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

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

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

battext

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for kids badminton set 1970

Looks lethal to me.  (Source)

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

Carefully, we open the door.

Nothing.

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

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

!!!!!!

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

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

Lasiurus cinereus

Awww.  So wittle.  (Source)

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

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

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

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

That?

That is what tried to eat me alive?

That’s…almost cute.

Regardless…this f-er’s gotta GO.

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

Foolproof plan, right?

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

<tap>

<tap>

<Tap tap pat pat pat tap>

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Jezebel is awake and the bitch is NOT happy.

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

I think I am screaming.  Somebody is.

Gamely, we fight back.

SWISH!

The bat jukes left.

Look out!

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

AAUGH!

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

UNDER. THE. BED.

We fall silent.  Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

We pull off the mattress.

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

Oh.  THERE it is!

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

<BLAM>

<pfft>

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

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

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

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

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

“Is the bat still alive?”

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

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

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

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

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

batlab

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

batcyro

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

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

Medium-sized, my a$$.

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

annracquet

Ann reporting for duty, sir.

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

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

ann2

creepydoll-2jpg

Yeah.  I thought so.

Organizing the Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

parkingqueen

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

 

parkingqueencloseenough

…or too close to the car behind me.

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

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

* My brother’s model car collection:

modelcarcollection

I can still smell the glue….

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

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

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

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

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

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

creepydoll

Even more disturbing:  her arm is stuck that way.

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

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

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

creepydollfaceswap

<shudder>

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

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

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

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

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

creepyassvan

Random, but creepy.  Candy?  No thank you.

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

replacedpump

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

Hmm.  Can’t hurt, right?

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

ancientoutlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

<flutter rustle flutter>

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

Focus on breathing. Think nothing.

<flutter thwap flutter flutter rustle thwap thwap>

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

<thwap thwap thwap thwap>

I freeze.

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

<thwap thwap thwapTHWAP thwap flutter>

.

What….

…uh…

…is that…?

<flutter thwapTHWAPthwap flutter rustle thwap thwap thwap>

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

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

It HAS to be paper. 

Just paper.

I take a deep breath.

I flip the switch.

<click>

To be continued….

Dipping into Fall and Falling into Dip

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

Apparently, fall is here.

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

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

Available on amazon.com

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Also on amazon.com

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Jane PBK

8f5f0cbbd0ed1a3c2e54447948f8f731

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

 

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

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

neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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

My go-to?  Dip.

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

Shh…it’s a disguise.

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

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

meze_dips_pinterest_diphealthierv3_hires

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

Now it’s time to trick out your dip.

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

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

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

story-table-shot

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

ZOMG.  Sooooooooooooooo good.

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________

*Recipe time! 

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

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

__________________________________________

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

 

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

Creative Games and Cookie Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

<wipes tears from eyes>

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

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

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

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

pieno

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

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

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

Turkey I think

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

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

strongkid1.jpg

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

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

baseball snow

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

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

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

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

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

Son:  We should make cookies.

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

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

Me:  Which ones?  We made a few.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<insert light bulb flash of recognition> 

No-bakes it is.

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

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

boots

Yes, posting these again.  Because LOVE.

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

Son:  Wait.  What?  They’re shoes?

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

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

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

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

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