Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Night Routine

I have certain routines I do every night before I go to bed.

The Big Daddy's routine is to say he's going to bed.  Then he goes to bed.

First, I have to take a bath because I love baths and if I'm stuck on writing something it relaxes me and I ponder sentence structure.

Usually a bath will make me sleepy unless it was too hot and then it makes me feel like passing out.

If it has been a productive bath I immediately go to the computer and write down whatever brilliant thought I had before I forget.

Then I put on my body lotion which is a very important step because I come from generations of dry skin.

After that I'll do a quick look in the magnifying mirror for those black chin hairs that old ladies get and start plucking.  I call this My Nightly Face Farming.

The magnifying mirror leads to all kinds of analysis about the state of my face and wrinkles.  I push my neck skin back to see what a lift would look like.  I do that almost every night.

I get my clothes ready for work the next day.

I take some melatonin if the bath didn't make me sleepy enough.

I put night cream on.

I floss and brush my teeth.

I put my mouthguard in for my grinding.

The other night I was going through my usual routine next to a dozing Big Daddy.  There was a wee, little bit of body lotion left in the bottle and so I was thump, thump, thumping on it to get that hunk I could see down at the bottom.

The dozing Big Daddy who wasn't really dozing after all said, " long is this going to take and why do you keep beating on that thing?  I'm trying to go to sleep in case you hadn't noticed."

I hadn't.

I always have the hardest time remembering that there's two people in this marriage.  

                                   Best Drugstore Face Masks

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Natties & Me

When the kids were all in elementary school I got a job at Chico's doing stock work.  Another friend had done it before me and called to let me know she was leaving and that I should think about taking it.  It worked out perfectly with having kids in school since you could set your own hours.

Every day UPS would drop off their deliveries and the store manager would call to tell me when it had arrived.  At some point during the day or night, I had to go in for a few hours to unpack everything and get it ready to sell on the floor.  

Since I worked in the basement and never waited on customers I could wear whatever I wanted.  No Chico's styling - just me, dozens of boxes, hangers and the steamer.

When I had been there nearly a year, a help wanted sign went up on the door of my favorite store - Natural Wear.  It was a funky, independently owned boutique that charmed me every time I walked in.  I was often intimidated by the place and its over-the-top styling, but I was ready to get out of that basement across the street.

That August I had a new job.

From the very beginning it was a welcoming environment and I felt like I had found my work home.  A few weeks into my employment, the manager said, "Redo that wall.  It's looking tired."   

You mean the display?  I've never done display work before. 

"Honey, here everybody does display."

I dove in and in time it became my favorite thing to do.  Tearing outfits apart and putting them back together again, for mixing things up meant changing the karma and changing the karma meant getting it sold. 

The owner had great taste and there was a massive quantity of funky antiques to use for display.  The sky was the limit and creativity was highly encouraged.  Looking back, it seems that they threw you in the deep end right from the start so they could see what your talents were and how they could use them in their Anthro-like environment.

At the end of October, I was sent to the back room with a vendor to buy scarves for the store.

Me?  By myself?  I've never bought before.

"We all have a say in what gets sold here so go pick out two dozen scarfs that you like, that you would wear, that you think your friends would wear.  That's all there is to it."

When you had proven yourself and they liked you, you were named a Nattie.  Many Natties had come and gone over the thirty years the store had been around, and when one of them came in that's how they were introduced to me.  "This is so-and-so, she was a Nattie for a few years then she got her teaching degree."

In December we had our open house and for one lovely, twinkling night everything was discounted.  For a few hours before the party started, we would close the store to get ready.  Just before it was time to reopen, Ray, the owner, would pour a glass of champagne for each of us and we would toast the Natties and to a successful holiday season. 

The manager that had hired me left and the other full-timer got bumped up to run the store.  Her and I worked really well together and we often sat together with vendors, bouncing opinions back and forth in the buying process.

One day I came in on my day off to help her buy from a vendor that was repping about a dozen different lines.  Lest you think this is some glamorous job, we were in a hot cargo van with built in racks looking at hundreds of items and trying to determine what our customers would wear.  It took forever.  As soon as we were done, I clocked out and scooted out the door as we were leaving town the next day.

That morning the phone rang just as we were about to walk out the door.  It was Ray.  "You left so fast yesterday that I didn't get a chance to tell you to have a great time.  We'll see you next week and there's one more thing.  I couldn't be happier that you decided to cross the street and come to work for me.  We're very lucky to have you."

Who does that?  Who comes in the door of their store first thing in the morning and grabs the phone to call their employee before she leaves town to say that?


At the very beginning of the financial crisis of a few years ago, and after a warm fall season with a store full of wool, and a cold spring with a store full of linen, sales had been mediocre.  One day I came in to open and Ray sat down next to me.  "I'm springing for coffee.  Let me buy you a cup."  While he went to do that I finished the bank deposit.

When he came back he sat down with tears in his eyes and said, "We have to talk.  I'm closing the store."

Oh Ray.  No.

"I have to and I know you count on this job for extra money so I want you to know so you can start thinking about something else."

There's no other way?


You're sure?


Are you at peace with this decision?

"I am.  I really am."

Okay, then I won't try to talk you out of it.  I want to but I won't.

"I have a lot to figure out that's going to keep us all busy, but we're all going to get through it and be okay," he said.  And there we both sat......too emotional to even take a swallow of the coffee he had just bought.

A few weeks after that the store closed.  Our customers couldn't believe we were closing our doors and when the word got out they all showed up for one last shopping spree.  When that sale was over, an estate company came in and sold the rest of the clothes and jewelry and all those incredible antiques and display pieces.

If you have ever worked at a retail store that is closing you know that it is wild and vulture-like.  The only time I wanted to cry was when I was working the register and one of our frequent customers leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I am so, so sorry about all of this.  You know I love you all."

It had been a hard couple of weeks, and in the buying craziness this woman hadn't forgotten that The Natties were coming to an end.  The life force of that store was the creative, funky, arty women who worked and shopped there, and the realization that they weren't going to be a part of my life any more was too much at that moment.

And Ray.......

Every time I think about that phone call it does me in.

***I still see some of the Natties now and then.  Often when I'm out someone will say, "You look familiar" and I tell them that I worked at Natural Wear.  "That's it," they say.  "Oh how I miss that store."  

I know exactly what they mean.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Just Wait'll I Get My Hanes On You

When I was single and working in Chicago, I would sometimes go to Marshall Field's on my lunch hour to buy underwear.  Not the sturdy, practical kind that Mom bought every year at Sears, but something Sexish In The City.  Even if I was running on fumes in my checking account, a lacy pair of undies would only set me back five bucks.

A lot of years and a few kids changed all that, and pretty underwear just didn't seem necessary in the mini-van.

The last time I sprung for several pairs of underwear at once was when Casual Corner was going out of business.  They had begun to add undergarments to their line and I got several pairs for 40% off.

That was in 2009.

Four years later and with barely any elastic left in them, I knew I needed to replenish the stock.  By chance, I was in Tuesday Morning and they had a rack of underwear marked down 90%.  Score!  I got several pairs that rang up at just under a dollar a piece.

They must have been there for a long while because when I went to tear the sticky product tag off the front it left a big white mark on my black panties.  Not really so much of a score!

I was in Target the other day and passed a display of Hanes underwear.  Right in front were packages of boy shorts.  Well son-of-a-britches, sign me up for that trend.

Oh my gosh, they were so boy short briefs.  I couldn't wait to wear them.

I chose the white ones first.  The polka dot would be saved for date night.

Maybe I bought them a size too big.  Maybe I should have paid attention to the word "brief".  Maybe that's really not the look for me.  Maybe if I get in a car accident wearing these things and the fire department comes...............

Please God not the firemen.

I looked like a fat, middle-aged woman wearing a gigantic diaper.

                          I need panties by the box immediately if not sooner. (So as to get my granny on, obviously.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dreaming Up Ghosts

The Big Daddy travels some for his job and unlike some of my friends, I do not mind being alone in the house.  I rather welcome it.  When the kids were young, we'd get Taco Bell for dinner and the freedom of not cooking kept me happy all day.  The freedom of having the entire bed and remote to myself kept me happy all night.

I never got spooked by noises or sounds and would drift off to slumberland in bliss.


One night I was awakened by the sound of the bedroom door creaking open and I could feel a cool breeze on my face.  I lifted my head up and felt the weight of someone sitting on the edge of the bed.......a shadowy figure sitting at the end of the bed I was in.  I tried to kick it off over and over but my legs wouldn't move.  I was terrified and my heart was pounding for what seemed like an eternity and then it was gone.

Holy shit.

I told Mark when he got home and he said, "Oh, that's happened to me.  You were dreaming."   

No, I'm positive that was no dream.

 "Yeah, it was a dream.  You were semi-awake and that's why you remember everything, but it was definitely a dream."

I told a friend and she told me about the ghost in her house.  She has made several appearances over the years and she could recount in detail every experience.

The Big Daddy rolled his eyes at us.

My friend's ghost got a little too comfortable in her house and she finally told her she had to move on - that the house wasn't big enough for her family and a ghost and that was the end of that nonsense.

The Big Daddy let out a heavy sigh at this conversation.

Months went by until one morning he said to me, "Ummm, yeah, I saw your ghost last night."   

My ghost?  You did?  Really?

I kept badgering him with questions but he was in no mood to talkThe Man needed to make a few calls.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


A couple of years ago, we started taking a new route to Illinois.  We bypassed Iowa, Interstate 80 and its traffic for the soothing Route 36 with its similar speed limit but minus the screaming 18-wheelers, construction or detours.

Because of its tranquil ways, it does not offer the amenities of the interstate.  If you have to pee you'd better do it at the gas station when we fill up as there are no rest stops.  There also aren't any restaurants along the side of the Culver's, Taco Bell or Buffalo Wild Wings.

The lunchtime stopping point for us is in Hannibal, Missouri.  Every time we've been there I must say out loud, "You know, this is where Mark Twain grew up," as if nobody remembers me saying the very same thing six months ago.

Hannibal has seen better days.  It looks a bit run down, likely the result of a lousy tax base and a hit or miss tourist season.

When we stopped there last month, we took a chance on eating lunch at a bar.  We walked into the dark place with the mounted deer heads on the walls and there was but one occupied table.  Hardly a ringing endorsement.

We all ordered.  Mark and Will got sandwiches, Mal and I split the burger.  We got a few orders of fries because they were a buck apiece, and how big could they possibly be at that price?  While we waited for our food we entertained ourselves reading the quotes of Hannibal's famous citizen on the walls while the t.v. blared The Talk with one of reality t.v.'s infamous citizen, Kris Jenner.

What in the world would Mark Twain think of somebody like her?

We got mounds of fries and the burger was the best I'd ever eaten.  I couldn't figure out what made it so good and so I asked the waitress if there was some kind of secret.  Worcestershire sauce brushed on the patty and lots of seasonings.  We all ate for thirty bucks, left a big tip for our lonely waitress and headed to the car.

One last gaze of the Mississippi River with a movie reel in my head of days long gone, and then we drove out of Hannibal until the next time.

"I hadn’t had a bite to eat since yesterday, so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage and greens—there ain’t nothing in the world so good when it’s cooked right—and whilst I eat my supper we talked and had a good time...."               

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Meeting Ann

Last week, Will, Mallory and I took a trip to see Maggie's first grade classroom.  After being a 5th grade math teacher for one awful year and two years as an ELL teacher, she now has her own group of six year olds for the entire year.

She's quite over the moon about that and so are we.  She has paid her teacher dues.

Last year she shared a room with the speech therapist, and though there is about a forty year age difference they became good friends.  While we were visiting I got to meet the famous Ann.

I had to go to speech therapy in high school and so I have a soft spot for the people whose work it is to correct those problems.   I didn't know there was anything wrong with me until I went to a screening, and within a few days I was being pulled out of social studies twice a week.  In the middle of class I'd get up and head for the door with my hall pass and inevitably the teacher would forget and say, "Where do you think you're going?"

Nothing like standing out when you're already awkward, shy, dorky and lispy.

Ann was instantly the kind of person you could see yourself being friends with.  Funny, energetic, passionate, happy.  We visited until it was time to get Mal to work, but before we left she said, "Maggie has shown me some things on your blog.  You're a wonderful writer.  She said you write every day."

"I usually do.  It's how I process things."

Ann's a runner.  She gets it.  No matter how tired or bored or sad or whatever, you fall back on That Thing.

"So," she said.  "When are you going to write a children's book?"

A children's book?

I have thought about that for years and never said it out loud to anyone.

Ann the speech therapist.

Ann the calm in the storm for my daughter.

Ann who uncovered my secret in ten minutes.

Oh, Ann.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Miniature Nun

My dad was a member of The Serra Club.  It got its name from Fr. Junipero Serra and its mission was to promote the vocations of priests and nuns in the Catholic church.  Once a month on a Thursday night he would attend their meetings, and on occasion he and Mom would go to the yearly convention.  You don't hear much about them any more, but back in those days it was a very active group.

Shortly after Easter each year the club would host a family breakfast at a private country country club that some of the members attended.  The group was predominately upper income - lots of doctors and dentists living in big houses.

And then there was us.

Mom would be a nervous wreck prior to this event, making sure we had nice outfits and that we knew to mind our manners.  "And you boys better not try any funny business," she'd sternly tell my brothers.  "I'll be watching you the whole time."

On a Saturday night prior to our annual pilgrimage, Mom wanted us girls to try on the dresses she had sewn for us one more time.  She got one whiff of Jean and said, "What in the world...........?"  Jean had a fondness for garlic salt and had been pouring it into the palm of her hand and licking it over and over.

I thought Mom was going to cry.  Her sure bet - The Girls - had just thrown her for a loop.  "Look at me," she said to Jean.  "Don't you get to close to anybody tomorrow, do you hear?  You and that garlic need to stay next to your brothers and sisters and nobody else.  You're going to reek for days."

Mom was right.  Jean smelled like a garlic farm, but we scarfed down the hash browns we only ate once a year at the swanky, members only club while The Boys crammed their pockets with dessert mints. 


In the group's promotion of this line of work, they would put on pageants at local churches which my dad was in charge of for years.  Stacked in our utility room were boxes of the miniature habits of priests and nuns that kids would get chosen to wear for The Parade of Vocations.

It was Toddlers and Tiaras for The Catholics.

When it was our church's turn to hold this event, my dad (who with my mom shlepped those boxes around the Chicagoland area for years) made sure I was picked to wear the habit of the nuns who taught at our school - The Congregation of Notre Dame.

At nine years old even I knew it was an honor.

I was dressed in the starchy, uncomfortable habit that made turning my head impossible.  Being a nun required putting this on every day?   Sheesh, no wonder The Serra Club had its work cut out for them. 

I whined to Mom as she and the other helpers got the kids ready in a 4th grade classroom.  She would have no part of it.  "You get out there and smile and do your best."

"But Mom......"  I cried.  "My butt really hurts."


"My butt.  It hurts when I walk."

"Oh for God's sake........," Mom said as she marched me to the back of the line with the other miniature priests and nuns for the big clergy parade.  "Act like a nun and pray."

When it was my turn I smiled and tried to look in the direction of the audience but that starch was stiff as a board.  I couldn't see a thing on either side of my head, but the audience seemed to love the pint-size version of that familiar habit.  Unbeknownst to them was the fact that I was miserable with a delicate problem underneath the heavy, black robe.

I followed Mom's advice and prayed to Mary to miraculously heal my burning butt, but with each step I took around the gym another revelation unfolded before me.

I knew that I was born into a family that had no business trying to get into the convent or the country club.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sleeping With Salmon

Our bedroom is on the 2nd floor of a fifty year old house.  As soon as you're halfway up the stairs you can feel the heat.

A few years ago we got a new air conditioner and I talked to the installer about our hot 2nd floor.  "This new AC will make it a little better but you don't have enough ducts up here.  That's your problem," he said.  I inquired if correcting that problem was costly and he laughed too long and that was the end of that.

We also don't have an overhead light fixture to accomodate a ceiling fan and even if we did the bed is too high.  We have investigated room air conditioners but that droning noise all night would make me crazy and then looking at that ugly thing hanging from the window all winter would make me crazier.

We were sweating it out (and offering it up for the poor souls in pergatory as my mother always said until the Catholics decided pergatory was over) when The Big Daddy came up with a solution.  He has access to lots of ice packs (that's what the Ebola/Mad Cow/Legionaires/Cholera/Influenza/Typhoid virus is packed in when it arrives in the lab) and so he brings them home all the time.  Behind our neck, on our foreheads, lower back.............we lay on an ice pack and cool off enough to sleep.  Most nights it does the trick except for the chronic cough, fever and fatigue we seem to have lately.

For our anniversary we decided to spend the night in a ridiculously expensive hotel room.  A bottle of champagne was waiting when we arrived.  We went out to dinner and when we came back to our room on the 8th floor it was chilly.  We slept like babies with the covers on.

We had the covers on.

Ever since then we've been talking about that room, that bed, that air conditioning.

Are there people who really live like this?  They sleep all night in comfort without a lost, sweaty ice pack swimming in their sheets?    

That's absurd.

The Big Daddy summed it up best.

"For the first time all summer I didn't go to sleep feeling like a salmon in the butcher case."
   Pike Place Fish Co, Pike Place Market, Seattle - home of the "flying fish" & the best fresh king crab around!

Sunday, August 4, 2013


When I worked in Chicago my job was in the HR department for Peoples Gas Light & Coke Company - the Gas Company for short.  I processed employee health claims along with two other women.  In our office were four desks lined one behind the other.

The new girl always started at the back of the line which is where I sat for a long time.  Ahead of me sat Theresa.  She processed retirements and pensions.  She was full-blooded Irish, a redhead, not married and lived with her widowed father and sister in a walk-up near Wrigley Field.

Theresa turned me into a tea drinker.  Every afternoon she would make herself a cup, and after repeatedly asking me to join her I finally did.  After awhile I became the brewer and at 3:00 each day I'd get up and go to the back of the office to make our tea.  I turned her into a black tea drinker because I always forgot to add her milk and sugar like the Irish like it.

When the other girls were making us crazy...........Darlene with her constant bitching or Andrea with her on-again, off-again relationship with her 3rd husband..........Theresa would turn around, look at me and roll her eyes.  We were partners in work and inside jokes.

After six years of employment with the company, I was leaving steady, secure employment (on beautiful Michigan Avenue of all places), to marry a graduate student and move to a farm town in central Illinois with no job prospects.   If one of my own kids were about to do that I'd be shrieking in a corner, but I was sure it would all work out and my coworkers were genuinely happy for me.

Except for one person.

Beverly was Theresa's boss.  A few days before my wedding she called me into her office and said, "I think you're making the biggest mistake of your life and it's okay if you back out.  I know your job here has been filled but the company will find something new for you.  Champaign, Illinois with a graduate student?  This can't be what you really want."  I stammered some declaration of love for this man I was marrying in a few days that sounded pathetic even to me and went back to my desk.

When Beverly left for lunch I told Theresa what happened.  She was no fan of hers and it was clear that she thought this conversation crossed the line.  She looked at me and said, "You're going to marry Mark on Saturday and you are not going to give this another thought.  She said all that to you because she's miserable and don't you forget it.  If she calls you into her office again you are not to go, do you understand?  Don't you dare go in there and I'll take care of the rest."

I don't know how she took care of the Beverly problem nor will I understand what happened that day, but I remember everything about it.  Beverly with her self-righteous bun and severe suit, the punch to my heart that her words felt like while I gazed at Lake Michigan from her office window, and the look on Theresa's face  when I told her what happened.

Over all these years Theresa and I remained in touch with notes and cards, but for the last three years nothing I have sent has come back with a response.  The last she'd written is that she'd been traveling in her retirement and working summers as an Andy Frain usher in Wrigley Field.  Wrigley Field, Theresa?  Really?  Every home game?  Lucky you........was my note back.

Since that wedding day in 1983 and three different states, Theresa never forgot our anniversary.  Every year like clockwork a card from her with a handwritten note would arrive in the mail.

Every afternoon I have a cup of tea.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jumpers & Purse Holders

When all of us siblings got to be older we would go with our spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends to Great America in Gurnee, Illinois.  It was one of the first big amusement parks somewhat close to us and all day we could ride the roller coasters, ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl..............

You could get wet from rides that dropped into the water and drenched you or because you peed yourself.

I was a pee pants.

I don't like heights, speed or falling from heights at great speed.

Truth be told a fair amount of my siblings are Fellow Pee Pants and so we would be put in charge of holding purses for anyone braver than ourselves who wanted to go on the rides.

Sometimes the bench would be full of Purse Holders.

One time my brother convinced me to go on a roller coaster with The Brave Ones and I was so woozy and nauseous after I got off that I had to sit down in the grass until I felt better.

And stopped crying.

 "Wasn't that great, Kath?  Didn't you love it?  The pukiness is just excitement.  That's what that is.  Excitement."

No Friar Ter, I thought I was going to die on that thing and I'm never going to do it again.

"Sure you are.  You're just overly excited right now.  You'll do it again.  Mark my words."

This summer my brother-in-law crossed something off his bucket list and parachuted out of an airplane.  What a thrill!  What an adrenaline rush!  He couldn't stop talking about how awesome it was.

The next day he showed us the video.  Him getting training, in the plane talking and laughing, at the door with his instructor getting last minute tips.

The open door of an airplane.

"You guys should think about doing it," he said.  "It's kind of expensive but if we register online we'll get a discount.  If we get a group together another discount."

A group?  

You mean us?

No, sorry brother-in-law.  Wrong family.  We'd all be crammed onto a bench on terra firma fighting over the purse holding for someone who doesn't even carry one, and collectively peeing ourselves at the thought of that airplane door opening.