Sunday, September 29, 2013

In God's Name

Last weekend I did a volunteer gig at the Plaza Art Fair in Kansas City.  It is an annual event in our shopping district made all the more appealing by the perfect fall weather.  I met a darling, young family and while the Dad was helping their boys craft some mustaches, I struck up a conversation with the very pregnant mom.  They are recent transplants from the Washington D.C. area and she had the shaky legs of a new resident trying to get her bearings in a place that looks and feels very different from home.   "Coincidence," I said.  "That's where we came from before we settled here."

A bond was formed and I crammed her with information in hopes that she would feel welcome in my adopted city.

We were that family twenty years ago and busy raising kids when an admired and well-loved judge in the area passed away.  The funeral was to be held at the church across from the kids elementary school and a relatively unheard of group called The Westboro Baptist Church announced that they would be protesting his funeral.  Their reason?  His liberal court decisions had brought the wrath of God, and so they came with their GOD HATES FAGS signs across the street from three hundred 5-12 year olds who were doing flips all day in the learning pool.

With help from the parents, elaborate plans were made by the principal to shield the school population from seeing any of this at dismissal time, and alternate routes were devised away from what was happening across the street.  For the kids it was a departure from the usual routine and a grand adventure, for their parents it was a gut punch.

Fast forward to 2007 and the kids and I went to see the candidate, Barack Obama, when he came to speak in Kansas City a few weeks before the election.  We parked blocks away from the event and as we got closer we could see that the Westboro Baptist Church had taken up residence with their GOD HATES FAGS signs on the corner.

My gay son grabbed my arm and said, "Let's just cross the street now you guys."  I felt and heard his panic but his big sister, who has a habit of punching fear in the face, said, "No, we're not going to do that.  You and me and Mom are going to walk right past them cuz they don't get to win this one.  Not today."  And so we did with thousands of others.

When the casualties of two wars came home, that same church decided to up the ante and bring their protest to military funerals.  The nation was outraged and appalled.  The residents of Kansas were not.  "Welcome to our world," we said to those cable news anchors who blathered on about the 1st amendment.  "We've been putting up with this shit for years."

Two years later, the Westboro Baptist Church protested at the kids high school where an openly gay student had been elected Homecoming King the year before.  Social media had put a match to this fire and every teenager in a twenty mile radius showed up for the fight.  A group of seven God-fearing church members (including a boy of about eight years old) stood on the corner with their GOD HATES FAGS signs while hundreds showed up across the street with their rainbow peace signs, and that church looked small and insignificant in the light of a new order.

Sadly, that is what goes on in Kansas more times than I would have ever thought possible, but I didn't share any of that with my new acquaintances, for theirs is a family that seems full of plans and dreams for their future here.  I hope they live a happy, healthy life that never crosses paths with that group.  I hope their children will never tremble in fear because they are in the bull's eye of hate.

My favorite writer, Anne Lamott, says, "Love bats last."  That is my prayer every day for the trembly kids forging a trail on the road less-traveled.  The ones who stand on shaky legs with brave voices and say to their parents, "I need to talk to you about something."

And before Love steps out of the batter's box I wish she would take a swing at those signs.

Kingdom come seems like an appropriate place for them to land.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Writing Partner

If you saw the room I write in you'd say, "Oh you poor thing, it's a wonder you can get anything done in there."  It used to be an unfinished room off of our bedroom and over the garage with built-in cabinets (circa 1950s) with linoleum countertops that sparkled gold.

I used to keep my clothes in those cabinets and in the winter I'd dash in and get what I needed for the day and bring them into our room to get to room temperature.  Especially the undies.

Then we ripped everything out, had drywall installed, an air duct and carpeting.  The computer is in that room and at times it can be a nice environment, but mostly I dump my clothes everywhere and pay the bills at the desk and try to decipher all the little notes laying around with writing ideas.

When my friend, Henry, was in better shape he'd come up every day and sleep in this room. 

If he and I were up here and I was having a good writing moment, I'd spin in my chair and belt out a little Alicia Keys to him.

"Henry, this girl is on fiiiiiiiiire............"

If I was having a normal writing day, I'd spin in my chair and say, "Geez, Henry, what the hell am I trying to say?  Help me out, Bud.  I haven't a clue where I'm going with this."

He'd cock his head the way dogs do when you talk to them, look at me for a minute and then lay his head back down.

Henry's hips haven't allowed him to travel up the stairs in over a year and so I'm flying solo in my messy clothes/bill paying/writing room........... 

Sometimes on fire but more often floundering, and wishing my partner's weary bones could make the climb and keep me company.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Walk

Early this spring, The Big Daddy and I started doing a three mile walk after dinner.  Some dear friends of ours were coming to see us from Cleveland and we were determined to lose some weight and look awesome by the time they came.  Because the fitness plan in place for the daughter's wedding the year before didn't quite work out which was surely due to stress.

It didn't happen that way and they have the same middle-age issues that we do.  What a relief.  We celebrated by eating and drinking all weekend long.

Then summer parked itself over Kansas City and though we often did our usual walk after dinner, the prolific sweating had everything to do with humidity and little to do with busting our fat, saggy butts.  Now the days are growing shorter and there are very few nights with enough daylight left to walk after dinner.

I put the squeeze on The BD to go with me on Sunday morning and we started like we always do.....patting ourselves for the effort and walking at a quick, # melting pace.  Before long we settled into our routine - Mark jumping from talking about mitochondria and protein folding to derivatives, big banks and 1%ers.

Four cars passed us at one point.  Mercedes, Mercedes, restored vintage car, Land Rover.  It's like they have some sort of secret power that knows when they're being talked about.

I talked about writing angst and job angst and then we trespassed in a home under construction and pretended it was ours.  The back yard?  Not going to work for us, people.  Gotta redo it.  A few doors down at the house "under contract" for a fat 1.5 mill we hoped to swipe some fruit off the pear tree we'd seen last week but somebody beat us to it.

An hour later we were home.......energized and proud of ourselves for doing something good for our health.

Two hours later we were stuffing our faces with chips and salsa, and contemplating the beer in the fridge while making a date for the next time we'd fake our way to fitness in the neighborhood over yonder, where there are clubs for burning fat and the cops patrol the streets for suspicious types just like us.
                                  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gladiators

Most Sundays around here there is football playing throughout much of the day.  Mark will say that he hardly watches any football and this is true.

When he's asleep.

I wander in and out of the room and in and out of the games.  I know enough about the sport to follow it, but there are some things I just can't get past.

If somebody barreled into me with their big, sweaty body and knocked me to the ground I would cry.  If all eyes were on me and I dropped the ball I would cry.  If I got off the field, sat on the bench and hurled in front of t.v. cameras I would cry.

For the most part I keep these things to myself.  Or rather, Mark has heard all of these thoughts a thousand times and doesn't want to hear them in the middle of a game.

Again.

Despite my efforts, when I see a hard hit (which is all the time) I will wince and say things like, "This is such a violent sport.  Why do you like to watch men getting their brains rattled around inside their skulls?"

Mark must think this is one of those philosophical questions that the universe has pondered since time began because he never answers.

This week my mom, sister and brother-in-law were in town and we all went to a soccer game.  Sporting KC.

There were hits and wipeouts and tumbles and plenty of injuries.  I sat next to Maggie (who is a season ticket holder with her hubs) and she explained to me that these players weren't really hurt but rather milking it to stop the game and to give their players a chance to rest.

I didn't think so.  There was grimacing and rocking back and forth in pain, knees that looked wonky and bloody noses.  There were lots of body parts getting sprayed with some sort of numbing painkiller because after a few shots of that the injured player would slowly rise to his feet, straighten up and play would resume.

If an injured player required a stretcher (which was about four times that night) the crowd would chant, "BRING OUT YOUR DEAD..........BRING OUT YOUR DEAD."

Bring out your dead?  Really, people, is that necessary?  Especially when the team is from Nicaragua and probably doesn't comprehend Kansas and its people who seemed to need a sympathy check.

After ninety minutes of play the game ended in a tie.  There was no winner.  There was no loser........

...........but there was me and I discovered another sport that troubles me about the future of all mankind.

My Girl Card is intact, shiny and loaded with empathy for the weekend when the Chicago Bears vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.  I'm already feeling some deep thoughts emerging that I feel compelled to share with a man.

A Bear Man with a beer can.



Sunday, September 15, 2013

Editing The Shot

Before I started A Speckled Trout, I toyed with the idea of making it a home decor blog with cool pictures of our house and projects I've done.  Then I just started writing stories and it never materialized into that, but once in awhile I tap into the interior decorator in me and want to share the results.

At the start of summer I painted our bedroom.  Mark painted the ceiling because of my bum shoulder.  He is always reluctant to board the decorating train with me - this one especially so.  I'm not sure why.  No, wait a sec.  There was this one night early on in the project when he was just about to drift off to sleep and I let out a big sigh and said, "I don't know.....maybe all of this was a gigantic waste of money."  I think that might have been the game changer for him.

Now we are headed into fall and it is still not done.  The Big Daddy joined was forced into the project and installed some bamboo shades and declared when he was done, "You know, this is really hard on my hands and wrists.  There's going to come a day when I can't do these kinds of projects around here any more."  That's because we don't have a power screwdriver like normal people.  We do it the old-fashioned way like the Amish.  In fact, the Amish often come by in their buggies and ask us what's the hardest way to do something around the house and we say, "Well, we've heard that if you use a tool that plugs into an outlet and makes the job easier you will burn in hell."  And they say, "That sounds about right," and clip-clop away.

Anyhoodle, when he said that I was all like, "Wait just a minizzle, Lance.  Didn't you just stuff your hail-damaged ass into some spandex and ride forty miles on a bike this morning?  Now you're telling me you're weak in the wrist and can't do this?"

And he was like, "Oprah, you're busting my chops like I'm some kind of lying cheat low on testosterone."

And I was like, "Un-huh."

After that I brought home three different pairs of lamps.  Disclosure:  I worked in a lighting shop for two years.  My job was to help people pick out lamps.  I liked the second pair but Will made a face like he'd just seen that new wrecking ball video and so they went back on the shelf at Home Goods with Lamps #1.  After I left with another pair, #1 and #2 said, "Best of luck to you Brushed Nickel Lamps.  That freak couldn't decide between paper and plastic if the grocery store was burning down around her."

Then I went next door to T.J. Maxx and bought two tops because I had Acute Decorating Stress.

It was time for a craft project.  I painted a clock that we've had forever.  First I painted it gold, then bronze, then gave it a sanding and a coat of wax and that's when it was official.  I turned a perfectly good clock into a ticking piece of shit.  I also didn't tape it off to touch up one little spot because I knew I'd be extra careful, and so its face was splattered with a mist of spray paint which resembled Al Roker doing beach coverage during hurricane season.

I hated looking at all the bare walls but when I looked down that was even worse.  Have we been wiping our butts on the carpet?  We went to Lowe's and got a quote for new flooring that was $2777.15 which was quite a surprise, much like the "guess how much our health insurance is going to be" surprise that we'll be getting on October 1st.

The scenes from the crime................

The bed.........  Not sure about the baby beluga because, after all, we do live in Kansas.  I tried hot-gluing wheat and soy beans up there but they kept dropping into my hair and crowding out the acorns.



The nightstand with the latest lamp, still wearing its tags in case it goes buh-bye like the other two.  And what's that by the frame you ask?  Why that would be my drooly mouthguard which you won't see on most any decorating blogs.



Here's the wall that was supposed to be a cool Pinterest inspired mix of prints and photos but is neither because big prints and photos cost too much to frame so I repeatedly use small ones.  This repeatedly looks cheap.  And stupid.

                                

The Craft Project Clock which looks like it belongs in Liberace's house (or around the neck of Flava Flav), and when I ask The Big Daddy what time it is he says, "Why, it's half past that metallic monkey's ass."


And here is the real reason I have no business having a decorating blog...........the photo with the hand held massager (is that what the young people call it these days?) that my neighbor lent me for my bum shoulder.  Holy shit.......how'd I let that get into that picture?

In the design blogosphere this is referred to as "that unexpected touch of whimsy." 

Alrighty then.  I got me a design blog.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

This Side That Side

The summer my dad died was a slow and steady march towards the end.  I had last seen him in July and when we came back six weeks later his thin, gaunt appearance was so startling to me that any attempt to hide my reaction was surely in vain.

By then he was under the care of hospice which was a very new thing back then.  A couple of times a week a nurse would come to the house, and no kidding, this one would sit in her car parked on the curb and have a cigarette before she came in.

Mom, who was desperate to make Dad comfortable, would look out the front window, shake her head and say, "She's the one who's going to need hospice pretty soon if she keeps that up."

The last time she came she gave Dad a sponge bath and when she was done declared, "You're all good now.  Eat, drink and be merry."

He barely ate.  He barely drank.  There was no merry to be had.

When his pain became unmanageable at home he got admitted to the hospital.  He was only there a few days when we got the call at 2:30 a.m. that he had died.  Mom and my brother, Jim, and his wife, Nancy, had been there all night and were with him when he passed away.   Jim called the other five of us and we all drove to the hospital with our spouses to be together with him one last time.

The days that followed were a blur of abundant love and overwhelming sadness.

When some time had passed, I asked Jim what it was like at the end and he said, "Oh, you wouldn't have wanted to be there, Kath.  He fought until his very last breath."

And when I heard that I was so angry at my dad.  The man who fiercely loved his God and believed in a better life after this one put up a fight and did not go gentle into the night.

Fought against what, Dad?  That's not how it was supposed to be. 

And I stayed mad about that for a long time.

Twenty three years have passed since then, and long ago I had a change of heart about those thoughts that swirled over and over in my head about my plan for how Dad should have left this earth.  The "I know what I would do" of my more youthful years has lost its luster, replaced by a more frequent and pensive "I don't know."

I don't know what my final moments will be like but it is human nature to hold onto life.

I don't know if I'll surrender or be a fighter like Dad.

I don't know if my children will be mad at me if I don't depart on their terms.

I don't know........

My father would not have wanted any of us to stay angry about the most unheard of cancer out there, his misfortune in getting it, or the way in which his story ended early.  He was a man that was always grateful for the life he had been given and that has remained the beacon in my own life.

My brother and I never had another conversation about that night again. 

I know that the ending wasn't the end............




Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Midlife Goals

I took a break from the 50+ section of the Huffington Post on how to look, feel, appear, deny, accept and embrace the midness of my lifeness, and instead read an article about goals and how to achieve them.

The piece was inspired by Diana Nyad, the relentless dreamer of the Florida-by-way-of-Cuba-by-way-of- the-freestyle 60-something that is the It Girl for Never Giving Up.

On that Saturday I kept checking my phone to see if she made it and was silently cheering her on.  And when she did...........holy speedo and swim goggles........the fifth time was finally her lucky charm.

That night when I saw the news and her looking dazed and staggering out of the water I thought differently.  This is what achieving your goals look like when you're sixty?  You can't talk.  Your lips look like intertubes.  You've got the shaky shakes.

She thanked everyone, told the crowd to never give up on their dreams and be sure to drink your Ovaltine.  Or something like that.  I had a hard time understanding her before she was whisked away to the hospital for observation.

Wait.

What?

The hospital for observation?

For a dream?


I'm not that kind of a dreamer.

For the last few months at our local grocery store, when the checker has handed me my receipt I have been informed of the number of  points I've accumulated for the cookware promotion.  I never paid attention until I hit the 80 mark and then I took a long look at these Promo Pots and Pans and saw one I fancied.

While Diana Nyad was swimming in the gulf and her team kept watch over sharks and the dreaded box jellyfish, I was at the Hen House in hot pursuit of my own dream.

The.  Stock.  Pot.

It was mine for FREE once I made it to The Promised Land of 120 points, so this week I loaded my cart for the final attempt, pushed down the pain and made my dream a reality.  By my calculations (# of $$$ needed per one point) it only cost me $2,520.00, but I may be a little off on that. 

But not much.

When Extreme Dreamers strap on their extreme gear and proclaim, GO BIG OR STAY HOME, I know they are taking pity on the likes of me.  The ultimate stay at home girl.........happy that fall is in the air, that the football gods will sometimes smile on us and televise our beloved Chicago Bears in Kansas City, that my big, fat sweaters can come out, and chili will be simmering in my freeish stock pot.

A little dream.  A little victory.  A little of the shaky shakes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pure of Intent

When I worked at a small boutique, the owner befriended a customer who started an after-school program for Catholic school-age girls on dressing modestly.

It was called Pure Fashion.

The culmination of the program was a fashion show and the owner would let the girls borrow clothes from our inventory to model.  Twice I was involved when the mothers and their daughters would come in to pick something out, and to say it was awful would be an understatement.

Clearly, the mother who started the program was The Queen Bee and all the other mothers deferred to her for approval on attire for their children.  While I was asking the girls, "Do you like this?  Does it feel like you?"......their mothers were frantically paging through the handout regarding length (not too short), cleavage (don't even think about it), and sleeves (no bare arms).

Since I have never dressed like a hooker or a cougar and have two daughters of my own, I felt like I was more than capable of finding trendy and age-appropriate outfits for these young teens that reflected their spirit and personality..........that made them feel good about their style.

This was a different beast.

It didn't take long for the girls to be near tears, the moms to become unglued and me wanting to walk out the door.  None of this seemed pure of intent, but rather an idea that got hijacked by a control freak who didn't seem to notice that she was making everyone miserable.

By now you have likely read or heard about Mrs. Hall's letter to teenage girls regarding their inappropriate pictures posted on Facebook and how her teenage boys can't just "unsee it."   Friends who go down that road even once get kicked off the Pure Hall Island where shaming girls seems to be as ordinary as "pass the salt" at the dinner table every night.

In her blog post gone viral, Mrs. Hall posted numerous pictures of her boys on the beach in their swimsuits flexing their muscles, and isn't that what boys have done for ages to show the girls that they're hot?

And so, Mrs. Hall got busted fast and furious on her flagrant double standard.

Though brought up in a devout Catholic household, my dad always flinched at public proclamations of Christianity.  "When you walk out the door of this house people should know who you are by the way you treat them," he used to tell us.  "If you have to tell them, you have missed the point."

I always remembered those words of his and so I, too, flinch when someone verbally climbs the cross and asks Jesus to scoot over a bit so they can take a good look at the sins of others from a better vantage point.  In the raising of our own kids, neither my husband or I were ever afraid to draw the line on where we stood, or to make them accountable if they crossed that line.  In a world that resembled little of our own teen years, it seemed like that was a full-time undertaking as they got older.

That's why I never had the time to tell anybody else how to do it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Peeing on Propane

After a year of the dating life, Mark and his parents invited me to vacation with them at Horsehead Lake in Big Rapids, Michigan.  It was a six hour drive from the Chicago suburbs.

I packed my shorts and swimsuit, plus a couple of sweatshirts for the cool nights and happily made the trek with my boyfriend's family for a week at the lake.

When we arrived at our designated cottage, I met Marv.  He was the caretaker of these vacation homes and year-round resident of Horsehead Lake.  Mark's mom would say to me, "Marv's been here for years.  I can't imagine coming here and not seeing him taking care of everything."

He seemed like a nice enough guy and I would later learn that every morning for breakfast he would pour unpopped popcorn kernels in a bowl with milk and crunch away.

Every morning.

For years.

After we settled in I was told about the toilet.  Because of the close proximity to the lake and the possibility of a regular toilet accidentally causing contamination in the lake, Marv installed toilets that burnt waste via a propane tank.  It looked like a regular toilet but there was no water in it and it sounded like a jet taking off when you flushed it. 

I used this odd contraption the first night and then went to bed.

The next morning I was the last one up.  Mark's mom made oatmeal.  I didn't want to be "that girlfriend" with picky food issues but I hate oatmeal.  She offered to make me scrambled eggs and while she was doing that I went to the bathroom.

I started peeing and was instantly burned by hot steam from the propane tank that engulfed my bare butt.  I hopped off that fiery toilet and finished peeing in the shower but it was too late.

I was injured.

Injured real bad.

I hobbled out to the table with tears in my eyes.  Mark asked what was wrong.

"It......it........it was that toilet.  It started steaming and then it.....it......it burnt me."

And those Fishers tried to look sympathetic but they couldn't help themselves from bursting out laughing.  They had forgotten to tell me that after the toilet had been used a couple of times it needed to cool off for awhile or it would be like peeing on a hot radiator.  "You've been christened," Mark's dad howled.

Really, Tom?  Are you sure about that?  Because where I come from a christening requires water which that effing toilet doesn't have a drop of!!!

From that moment on I made sure to ask how many flushes had been before me as I wasn't taking any more chances with that beastly propane toilet.  By mid-day when the sun warmed things up I peed in the very lake that Marv was trying so hard to keep clean.

After that summer Mark's dad decided that Horsehead Lake was too far of a drive and so they started going to a lake that was a little closer.

No mention was ever made that a toilet that had the ability to incinerate your ass was a factor in their decision.

Or that a crusty, old guy named Marv could spend a lifetime eating popcorn kernels in a bowl of milk every single morning and not shatter every one of his teeth.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Antlers

I will blame my friend, Mary.  The friend with the dining room that made my heart fibrillate years ago when I first saw it.

Oh, and Pottery Barn.  That relentlessly prolific company that sends a catalog of creative mojo once a month that I study like The Beatitudes in 4th grade.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for decorating ideas for they will be filled.  Financing available. 

Between the two of them I have become obsessed with antlers.

I have a few of them within The Man Cave, but I have been on the hunt for more and The Sparks Labor Day Weekend Flea Market is my annual ticket to some horns.

The Fisher kids developed a fondness for the flea market when they went with us last year so they were up and at 'em with us at 7:30 a.m. for the ninety minute trek to the middle of Nowhere, Kansas where vintage reigns supreme.

The Sermon.........Kids, trust your eye.  You'll know when you see it.  Do Not Pay Full Price.  Everybody deals.  Be nice and smile when you ask for their best price.  We can always backtrack if you can't stop thinking about something.

We wandered and wandered and wandered.  Prepared with sunscreen, a box of Cheez-Its, water and the rolling metal cart The Big Daddy insisted we buy a few years ago which has been the best twenty bucks we ever spent.  While the kids were on the hunt for cameras I moved ahead.......and like a stairway to heaven There Were My Antlers.

A whole stack of them.  The singles (how 'bout two bucks, Ma'm?) and the pairs (ten work for ya?) and oh my goodness, it was like winning the World Series.

And while I was deciding which ones I liked best, and The Big Daddy was saying "Really?  You really want more of those?", a country guy was watching all this unfold and shaking his head.

"You know, lady, that you can get those for free?  The deer shed them and they're all over the woods.  You just have to get out there before the bugs get to them."

So I've heard, but I'm not sure exactly sure when I'm supposed to go into the woods to find them.

"Well now let me see.  Hmmmmm..........nobody's ever asked me that before.  I'm gonna say before winter you should go out.  Yeah, that's when I would go.  All you want for free.  I sure wouldn't pay for those things if I were you."

I thanked him, smiled, ignored him, closed the deal on my antlers.

Fifty feet away at another booth I picked up a skull for $8.00 and could have used a paper bag to breathe into to calm my thumping decor heart down.

The Sermon Updated.........Kids, we're city folk.  We don't mind the flea market, the curb, the dumpsters, the garage sale or the dimly lit back room of an antique store to rummage for what we want to replicate on the nature inspired pages of the latest Pottery Barn catalog.

But without a doubt we leave a forest full of blood-sucking ticks to the hunters and gatherers and lay the cash down for the suggested retail.

Lust is a full-priced sin.

The kids pretending they're listening to the sermon.

Now I need more turtle shells.