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.

Facebook Fights Are No Walk in the Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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Ugh.  Ugh???

Really?  Was that…necessary?

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

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

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

So.

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<mic drop>

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

And what happened when I did arrive home?

Nothing.

Nada. Zip.

He didn’t even mention it.

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

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

But, the next day, I noticed a response:

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Okay, some thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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So how did the hubs react?

He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was a gathering of all things, great…

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(It just barged in… <snort>)

…and small.

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

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UNDERSTAND.

Not a bad goal.

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

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.

On Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s unnecessary.  I know what today is.

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

This is not my today.  Today is different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did what I thought was best at the time.

Isn’t that all any of us can do?

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

It’s just different.  Especially today.

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

I should probably do that every Thursday.

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

I hear it most clearly from my heart.

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

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

catnap

I’ll try to be, too.

Organizing the Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

parkingqueen

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

 

parkingqueencloseenough

…or too close to the car behind me.

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

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

* My brother’s model car collection:

modelcarcollection

I can still smell the glue….

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

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

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

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

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

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

creepydoll

Even more disturbing:  her arm is stuck that way.

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

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

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

creepydollfaceswap

<shudder>

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

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

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

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

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

creepyassvan

Random, but creepy.  Candy?  No thank you.

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

replacedpump

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

Hmm.  Can’t hurt, right?

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

ancientoutlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

<flutter rustle flutter>

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

Focus on breathing. Think nothing.

<flutter thwap flutter flutter rustle thwap thwap>

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

<thwap thwap thwap thwap>

I freeze.

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

<thwap thwap thwapTHWAP thwap flutter>

.

What….

…uh…

…is that…?

<flutter thwapTHWAPthwap flutter rustle thwap thwap thwap>

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

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

It HAS to be paper. 

Just paper.

I take a deep breath.

I flip the switch.

<click>

To be continued….

Searching for Butterflies

<clears throat, approaches microphone>

<tap tap tap>

Is this thing still on?

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

<hurriedly unplugs mic>

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

Hello?  Test test test.

OK.  We’re back. 

Hi, this is Kate.  Remember me?

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

Communion Wafer.  Sacramental bread - Wikipedia:

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

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

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

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

<stamps feet and waves fists>

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

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

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

OK.  <sigh>  I’ll get to it.

“Um…Kate?  Still dripping here.”

OKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYY.   FINE!!!!  

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

WAX THIS, MOFO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

I don’t know if…

Wait.

What?

I don’t know…

 

…if I love you anymore.

 

 

This.

This is terrifying.

But…it’s honest.

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

cardboard

Piles and piles. <sobs quietly>

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

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

<cough>

(Let’s try this again.) 

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

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

So what did I decide to do?

Nothing.

For now, at least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free to choose what’s best for me.

For the first time in my life.

I’ll be free.

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

power

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

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

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

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

nekkidlady

Statue’s got a crack in it….

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

gumtree

Whoops.

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

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

This one had a little surprise on its back:

frogflower

ZOMG TINY FROGGIE

flower1

flower3

flower4

bigface1

This is one of the coolest things ever.

bigface2

Seriously, look at that FACE!

flowera

This one had a guest….

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

eyeballfly

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

eyeballfly2

How many can you find on this tree?

butterfly

Stunning.

butterflylove

(insert butterfly porn music) Bow chica wow wow!

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

flyonme

The hubs got one first…

flyonme2

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

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

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

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

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

I just have to keep looking for it.

Days of Wine and…Popcorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

religion_is_bunk_bumper_sticker-r692e2b5ac9a54586b39e5e568e1b5614_v9wht_8byvr_630

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixteen f*%#!%@ miles.

That’s effing MADNESS.

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

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

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

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

So – repeat after me:

No, I can’t make that work right now.

No, I’m not available.

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

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

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

Or so I’m told.

<ring ring> Is kettle there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kickass_socks2

And speaking of wine…

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

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

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

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

So here’s my recliner retreat checklist:

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

From my recent queue (don’t judge):

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

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

winestock

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

I also liked this one, for $6.99:

wine

Because the label.  So cute!

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

mead1

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

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

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

Ah, popcorn.  How I love thee.

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

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

SkinnyPop%20Wine

Find out more at SkinnyPop.com

A couple of thoughts on the above:

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

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

I’ll keep looking.

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

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

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

The Lessons of a Legacy

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

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

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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 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.

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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.

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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:

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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