Wednesday, July 30, 2014


When Mark was in graduate school and I was working at a bank, my coworker in consumer loans was a Montana girl named Phyllis.  Like me, her husband was also in graduate school.

We made a good team.  Two women doing the heavy lifting of finances in our relationships while our spouses each pursued a doctorate.  Two women who sometimes weren't so happy about how long that degree was taking and often homesick and out of sorts in the small town we found ourselves in.

Our work styles complimented each other and Phyllis was better at some things than I was.  When we got new calculators that involved a multi-step process inputting rates and terms to come up with a loan payment, Phyllis read the manual and taught herself how to use it.  I couldn't seem to get the hang of it, but with Phyllis around to do it for me it didn't seem like such a big deal.

While I longed for my days in Chicago working on Michigan Avenue, Phyllis longed for her home state out west.  When she booked her flight to return home for two weeks at Christmas she was giddy for months.  In four years in a little office at the back of the bank I listened to her talk about Montana every single day.

Enough with the Montana I used to think to myself some days.

When we took our first trip out west years ago I told Mark we had to stop in Bozeman to see Phyllis' home town.  It was stunning.  Nestled in a valley with a mountain view in every direction, I finally understood how jarring the flat central Illinois landscape must have felt to her.  Because of her I have always had a sweet spot for that state.

Mark had the opportunity to go to a meeting at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton, Montana, and so we took a road trip and spent this past week in my former coworker's home state.  My sweet spot turned to a full blown romance.

When Mark finished his degree we moved out east for awhile.  Phyllis and Bill left after we did and eventually made their way back home.  Some years I hear from her at Christmas and some years I don't.  I have looked for her on Facebook with no luck, but everywhere I went on this trip I thought of my partner in consumer loans.  I looked for her blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes at the gas station, grocery stores and every shop in town.


"Phyllis, I know you're sick of me asking but can you show me one more time how to use this calculator?  I promise it's my last time asking you."

"I'll show you again," she said.  "And if you don't get it this time I'm going to throw my calculator at your head."

Those Montana cowgirls know how to saddle up.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

You Can't Scare Me

Mark and I are headed out of town for a big road trip out West to search for our inner cowboy.  He's going for legit reasons and trying to wrangle some attention and money.  I'm desperate to get out of Kansas and would go to the Quiktrip across the state line if we could make it last a couple of days.

I took the car in to make sure everything was in good driving condition for our long distance trek and mentioned that on occasion our car alarm goes off for no reason.  It's usually around 7:00 a.m. but about a month ago woke the neighbors up blaring at 4:00 a.m.

Back at home a few hours later, I got a call from the service department.  "One of the back passenger locks is corroded which in turn is setting off the alarm.  I can get you out the door for $565.00 and a little bit of tax," the service writer said.

"I don't think so," I replied.  "Forget it.  It doesn't happen that often and I'm not paying that much money to fix a lock."

"Well, what are you willing to pay?"

"What?  This is negotiable?  We can do Let's Make A Deal for car repairs?  Why didn't you tell me this when the last one rang up at $1200.00?"

"I'm just trying to fix your problem to your satisfaction, m'am.  I'll look for a used part and call you back."  Magically the call back (even without the used part) came in at a reduced price of $395.00.

I didn't bite.  "Put it back together.  I'll be in shortly."

"Well, m'am," she said, "I sure would hate for your alarm to trigger and cause the dome light to come on and drain the battery.  Could leave you stuck in the middle of nowhere.  You did say your were going out west, right?  That would be awful to have that happen where it's a bit more remote."

"Sheesh," I thought to myself.  "That one should have been an actress."

A few days later a guy came around selling pest control.  "Spiders, mice, mosquitoes.  We spray the perimeter to secure the house and form a barrier that they can't penetrate.  I guarantee you that your spider population will go down to practically nothing."

I stood in the house while he went on and on and on and for the life of me I couldn't think of the last time I even saw a spider.

"You know," I said, "I just don't have that problem and even if I did I'm not afraid of them."

"Mice, m'am.  We'll kill the mice.  You've gotta have plenty of those running around with the creek and all."

"We do but I have two cats.  They rip their heads off and leave them at the back door."

"Do you know two ants mating can produce 300,000 ants?  Think of that.  Hundreds of thousand of ants trying to get in the house."

"You have to go," I said.  "You're wearing me out."

"We only use organic chemicals," he yelled as he walked away.

"Sheesh," I thought to myself.  "That one thinks he's the Rodent Whisperer."

Two days later the alarm went off, a mouse ran right in front of me by the garage door and a big spider was on the trash can.

I didn't blink.

Maybe I already am a cowgirl.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Bloods, The Crips & The Brit

Mark had a colleague in town last month from London.  He said very British things like, "rubbish, lovely and loo."  I was charmed.  A Londoner in Kansas?  In our house?  Look at my husband bringing home The Classy Brit.  Quite a different lot than back in his roofing days when those guys came with their GEDs and outstanding warrants.

Keith and Mark have known each other for years.  In January they ran into each other at a meeting and Keith said he was coming to the States in June.  He told Mark he'd love to spend part of his holiday seeing what Mark was doing research wise, and was especially interested in going to the Flint Hills to go bird watching.

"I'm an avid birder," he told me the first night over dinner.  "My wife has no interest but I love it and couldn't wait to see your prairies and all the species I don't normally get to see in England."

"Jolly ho, chap," I said.  "You boys have at it."

Jet lag hit him as soon as dinner was over and he went straight to bed.  The next morning I got up in the wee hours, put the coffee on and cooked some bangers and crumpets.  Our new housemate, The Brit, came down sleepy-eyed, poured himself a cup of brew and then went out onto the screened-in porch to watch the birds go about their morning chores.

Eventually Mark woke up and joined him on the porch.  I fell back asleep for awhile and when I woke Mark told me that our cat, Pip, killed a bird right in front of The Brit.

I was gobsmacked.

"Right in front of him?  Today?  Right now?  Pip killed a bird?"

"He did.  It was bad."

"Oh geez, Mark, when did the cat start killing birds?  Mice?  Fine.  Baby rats?  Sure.  Chipmunks?  Okay.  But birds?  Not birds and not this weekend."

"Yep.  A baby woodpecker right in front of us."

"You know this makes us look like bloody a*******, don't you?  Classless Americans with killing machine pets that's what we are.  How did The Brit take it?"

"Well, it wasn't good I'll tell you that."

I was in a kerfuffle.  I wanted to make a good impression on The Brit and at the first break of dawn we had a dead bird and a cat licking his chops.

That night when the blokes returned I expressed my condolences over the incident our guest had witnessed.  "It was a downy-headed woodpecker," The Brit said.  "A baby.  Female.  Those things happen I suppose."  Well, at least it wasn't by gunshot I wanted to say.  Then Mark and The Brit opened the wine and got bladdered - probably to drown their sorrows over what they had seen at the start of their day.

The next morning they went off to the prairies and I puttered in my garden.  On one of my trips in I noticed something black at the bottom of the stairs.

It was a bird.

There was a dead bird in the house.  My knickers were suddenly in a wicked knot.

I chased that cheeky cat out of the house because I was so mad at him for killing another bird.  Then I chased him back in the house so he wouldn't kill any more birds and told him to bugger off.  Then I scooped the dead bird up and put him in the trash.

What was happening?  Why was this cat killing birds all of a sudden?  And why did he have to do it when The Brit was here? 

The Birdwatchers returned home later that day.  Knackered from the prairie winds and their ornithological trek, we turned on the telly and watched England get kicked out of the World Cup in record time.

Keith left early the next morning to shop for a laptop for his son as they are much cheaper here in The Colony than over in England.  Mark offered to go with him but he declined.  "Cheerio, good man,"  I yelled after him as he appeared to be running to his rental car.

Later that day I told my next-door neighbor what happened and how I'd never seen either of our cats kill a bird.  "Oh I have," she said.  "My cats flush them out and then your cats go in for the kill.  There's all kinds of dead animal bodies around here.  Between your cats and mine it's like we're living with gangbangers."

Well ain't that a kick in the arse.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Video

The Listen to Your Mother videos for 2014 made their way to youtube this morning.  My hair is wild.  My mouth got so dry I felt like Pinocchio.   My heart was pounding.   I was still making changes to my piece until the very day of the show. 

It was one of the scariest things I've ever done and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Midsummer Dream

Whenever I get all hot and bothered by something (I'm talking to you Hobby Lobby) and then write about it I usually get a good response.  It seems the tendency these days is to frequently get hot and bothered over current events.  There's refugees this week, Congress, Iraq, Israel and guns every week, and Joan Rivers attempt at humor a few days ago.

There's a blog I read that I often think I should quit because she's so, so deep.  Half the time I feel incredibly dumb and the other half I'm tempted to comment, "LIGHTEN UP FOR PETE'S SAKE!!!!"  This woman recently wrote about the 4th of July and how difficult it is to feel patriotism and pride when you think things in this country are so broken.

"My thoughts exactly" I might have yelled at the screen.

We know so many people in their late fifties or older who have been shoved out of the workforce due to downsizing and a lousy economy.  I could name a dozen off the top of my head.  Though much of the future I saw for our family hasn't exactly been like my daydreams, losing a job at this age never entered the picture and yet it has happened to so many friends and acquaintances of ours.  That isn't our reality, but the possibility of Mark not getting his grant renewed and taking a massive decrease in pay dangles over our heads every day like a swinging ax.

Because this is the nature of what he has always done we live with it.  When colleagues get funded we are elated.  Look!!!  The funding numbers are going up.  If their grant is rejected we are knocked flat.  It's so bad this year.  Worse than it's ever been.  The stress is always there and adding sleepless nights and anxiety to that cocktail makes for a recipe of dysfunction.

And so we are working on that.  Both of us are trying to figure out how to make our mark on the world with more peace and less anger.

In the blog I read about the 4th, the writer's husband told her that Independence Day is meant to celebrate the "intent."  The intent that our founding fathers had for freedom and liberty.  The intent that we can move in a new direction and that our unalienable rights will evolve with the times.  The intent that the braver among us will stand up for the weak.

Intent is so loaded with hope I may have squealed when I read it.

Out of nowhere last week the idea of the children's book I've always dreamed of writing popped into my head.  I could see the main character as clear as day.  My niece will be my partner and illustrator.  I've written a rough outline.  When I told Maggie my idea she steered me in a different direction that makes more sense to the story.  While doing my accounting job by day, my nighttime thoughts are swimming with ideas. 

At the halfway point of this turbulent season, my midsummer dream is for us to move towards serenity while fanning the flames of our individual creativity.

This is no easy task for passionate, political people like ourselves, but each day is starting to feel more weary than the last, and resting in the waters of hope for awhile seems like the best of intentions.