Monday, December 28, 2015

The Sofa That Was Stolen From Me

A few months ago I went to an estate sale and looked at a dresser in the basement.  I loved it.  It was small enough to fit a still undetermined space in my house.  It was older than me.  The drawers opened and closed.  It was $60.00 - very much in my price range.

However….

I was shopping on a broken foot.  I hobbled to the basement to find this gem in a forlorn corner as if the angels had shined a light for me to find it in my handicapped state.  The sale had just started and things were busy.  Who would haul it upstairs for me?  Where was my sherpa?  The women running the sale didn’t look much better than me as far as mobility and so I decided to walk away.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about that dresser and so on Saturday morning I went back to see if it was still there.  Oh my goodness, it was marked down to $25.00 and moved to the garage!!!  I found the woman running the sale and said I WANT THAT I MUST HAVE THAT I DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY ON ME BUT I WILL RUN TO THE BANK AND BE BACK IN FIVE MINUTES PLEASE HOLD IT FOR ME.  And she did.  

“It was my grandmother’s,” she told me.  “I’ve really debated on whether or not to sell it.”

“Well, if it’s sentimental…” I said.

“It is but I can’t keep everything,” she lamented.

I went to the ATM and returned with my money and as luck would have it there was a dolly right there to load it up and roll to the car. It was meant to be for me.  As I was doing that the family gathered around me.

“She’s taking Grandma’s dresser?”

“What?  Oh no.  Why are you selling that?"

“It’s okay.”

“Helen, she’s taking Grandma’s dresser.  Helen, come look.”

“Why is she taking Grandma’s dresser?”

“I would have bought that for myself if I knew that was all you were going to ask for it.”

Finally, I said, “Just to be clear I paid for Grandma’s dresser.”  And still they all looked at me like I was a thief.

******

The store I have been working at sells furniture - expensive furniture that is out of my price range even with a discount, but one day I noticed a love seat parked in the blue room.  It was a misorder selling for a bargain basement price.  I fell in love.  It was sexy-metro-gray and the fact that it was armless and not conducive to napping didn't stop me.  I COULD AFFORD IT!!!!!

I snapped a pic with my cellphone and sent it to my designer kid.  He texted back, "Not a fan of armless sofas."

What was that attitude about?

A designer happened by just then and so I asked his opinion on the sexy-metro-gray-armless wonder.  "I like it. Very urban and loft feeling but you'll need to flank it with some end tables."

I didn't have any of those but how much could that be?

I shared my impending purchase with my coworkers and they were in agreement.  "You should buy that," they said in unison which is why I love them.  They always encourage the buy.

My neighbor came in and I showed her.  "Gah, it's on casters!!  You can move it anywhere. If you don't buy it I will."

Then I knew I had to get it because if I walked into her living room and saw my sofa in her house I might accidentally drop a glass of red wine on it in a fit of envy.

"Pull the trigger," Mark said when I showed him the picture which totally threw me for a loop because he never says that.

I figured out the total with tax and geez, that tax thing always trips me up and so I deliberated awhile longer on the sofa with no arms.

One day I asked the owner if I could buy it and keep it at the store until after Christmas and he told me I was a pain in the ass (which I am) but it was fine with him.  I could already see the entertaining we would be doing with Sexy Gray Metro in the living room. The modern vibe that it would set for our future.  This sofa was going to make us hip.

I came into work the next day and one of my coworkers said, "You better get downstairs. Some customer is looking at your sofa and seems really interested."

"Nononono," I said flying on my broom to see for myself.  Sure enough there was the manager working it like a boss and selling the sofa I couldn't commit to right out from under me.

"I'll go home and measure to be sure and call you back within the hour," the customer said. 

Who are these people that can decide things in an hour??

She called back as promised and sealed the deal over the phone with a credit card.

I was heartbroken.  I let Sexy Gray Metro slip through my hands, only to be stuck with the same sofa I've had for twenty years.  My bulky, overweight, tired-looking sofa.  

The one that looks a lot like me lately.

Later that day two younger women stopped in the store and wandered over to the sofa that had been stolen from me just a few hours before.

"Oh my gosh, I love this," one of them said.  

"I know, but unfortunately it sold earlier today," I said choking on the information.

"Too bad," she said.  "This sofa is hot."

"You're telling me," I said.


Sexy Gray Metro was the dream that came crashing down that day.  In another hour I'd be walking back into the living room of my reality.  A marriage between a fat sofa and grandma's beloved dresser.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Rest

My two-job gig is winding down and I have some mixed emotions about that.  I have loved working at the store but it is grueling for my 50+ legs and the pay is one grade above crappy.  Through these last few months, though, I have met some lovely people and I will miss them a lot.

All of us working there are so tired.  The pace has been relentless and while that is fabulous for business it feels like Groundhog Day every single morning.  The vacuum comes out, the candles get lit, the Christmas music comes on, the glass is cleaned, the bags and tissue get restocked, the door gets unlocked, and then jingle jangles open a hundred times an hour.  Every single day.

This morning before the day started the manager gave me a card and note and I got a little weepy and then she got a little weepy.  I adore her.  She is the ying to the owner's yang.  She is steady and funny and thoughtful.  She is kind.

"I cry all the time lately," she said.

"Me too," I said.  "Yesterday we were opening gifts before Maggie and Nate left town and I could barely talk.  Then Will said that next year they'll be a baby in the house and he started crying and Maggie started crying."

And I started crying when I was telling her the story.

"What is wrong with us?"

"It's all so fragile," I said.  "We all know that especially this time of the year, and yet the background noise of our times is meanness.  It's wearing me down."

"I watched my nephew this weekend," she said.  "I was so tired that as soon as we got on the couch to watch a movie I started to fall asleep.  I had all these fun things planned and I kept dozing off.  When I laid down with him at bedtime to read him a story I told him I was sorry that I fell asleep."

"That's okay, he said to me.  You didn't do anything wrong."

She cried.  I cried.  Then we finished our vacuuming.  Another day of selling was minutes away and there were a few things left to do.

Rest will come soon and I will take the word of a little boy that it is okay.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bon Courage

Last Saturday I attended a memorial service for the spouse of a retired colleague of Mark's.  They were favorites of ours and at every social event within the department and med center we would sit with them.  They were both avid cyclists as well as avid believers in doing their part in the name of social justice - touring the world by bike or working for Habitat for Humanity.

Caroline came home from a meeting on the East Coast this summer where she got to bike for days - the last 200 hundred miles by herself.  Upon her return she went to the doctor for stomach pain and was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  Mark first heard via email and then she began a Caring Bridge page that she updated occasionally.  There weren't very many entries of hers before her husband took over and three months later she died.

We live on a corner house that is the route for many biking groups in town and they would often ride past our house. If we were out in the yard they would stop and talk before making their way home. This sudden illness of Caroline's and seemingly quick death left us stunned.  It is hard to imagine any healthier, more vibrant people than the two of them.

Mark had an all-day conference that day and couldn't attend the service.  I had to work as well but negotiated my hours so I could come in a little later.  I sat with another faculty spouse in that packed church and wondered if Caroline had any idea how many people she touched.  I wondered if any of us know that when we go about our life.

Like everything these days, even my attempt at paying my respects was half-ass.  I couldn't stay until the end as I was already an hour late to being an hour late to work.  I couldn't talk to George, couldn't meet the grown kids I'd heard them talk about for more than twenty years, couldn't meet the sister from Indiana or the middle-school geography teachers that Caroline worked with for decades.  Before this final send-off for Caroline I had to get up and leave.

As soon as I walked out of the church I started crying.  For Caroline, for George, for their kids, for work commitments that were getting in the way of something more important.

For Paris.

I drove to work, clocked in, and waited on customers in my standard funeral dress - quite overdressed for the rest of my day.  Melancholy seemed to seep out of me even though the store was so packed I barely had a minute to think about anything but the next person in line.

One after another I wrote up tickets and sent people on their way with ornaments and garland and reindeer pillows and candles that smell like Christmas.  As I was writing up a ticket for one woman she asked me if I was okay.

"Yes, I'm fine.  Just a little overwhelmed at the moment."

"I can see why.  It's so busy here today but I do hope you've checked on your suppliers to see if they are okay."

"Our suppliers?"

"Yes, your suppliers in France.  Has somebody checked on them to make sure they're okay after last night?"

"I don't know.  I think so," I said - not having the heart to say that the store she was in with the very French name on the outside gets nearly everything from China.

"It's so terrible, isn't it?  I can't imagine....," she said and my eyes welled up with tears for a place that is an unchecked dream on my bucket list.

I wrapped her ornaments and handed her bag to her.

She patted my hand.

"We'll be okay," she whispered and that was the first thing I believed all day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Seeds of Gratitude

I started two blog posts and ended up deleting them.  They both had something in common.

They sucked.

One of them was done and after lots of editing I still didn't know what the point was that I was trying to make except that Christie Brinkley only looks good at sixty because she's had *work* done. And besides being bitchy it was uninteresting.

So this post is going to be shortish and newsy.

*I finally landed a job.  Thank you Universe.  That last interview was the one that finally clicked and I will be working with college students and finances for their organizations.  It was the third time I tried to get a job in this school and I think I landed in a good department.  The interview wasn't easy but I had the overwhelming feeling throughout it that they were pulling for me which I took as a sign that it was the right place for me.

*But I already had a job.  I started working in a home decor store in September that I have shopped at for years.  It is all kinds of inspiring and a fantastic creative outlet for me as they let me do a lot of display work.  Each job knows about the other and they have both been accommodating.  However, from now until the end of the year I will be working six days a week.  Not sure how that's going to look as I'm just now in week one but I've managed to make the bed before I go and dinner when I've gotten home.  That. Will. Not. Last.

*I will be a producer for the Listen To Your Mother show in Kansas City in 2016.  LTYM is so near and dear to my heart that when the opportunity came up I thought about it for all of five minutes and said "yes".  It is such a leap from my comfort zone that thinking about it for any length of time gives me the vapors.  The chance to be the sherpa for the stories of mothers/mothering/motherhood for others, though, was too good of an opportunity to pass up and so I'll carry a paper bag with me to breathe into and bring this to fruition with my partner.

*My blog reached 100,000 hits.  This took nearly five years which was not in the original plan.  By now I should have been a household name in blogland but instead I am more like the little engine that could. What was the purpose and always in the plan was to become a better writer and I can look back at those early postings and see how far I've come.  For awhile there were soaring numbers on the weekends and I was elated. That only lasted until I realized that all those hits came from Russia, so without the attempted hackers I'm probably more at 85K.

*A couple of months ago Maggie and Nate came over with some seed packets that they picked up at a nursery. How nice, I thought and wondered where I would put them until the spring when they could be planted.  "Look them over," she said while Nate decided to record us and it was all so odd. "Really look at them," she said and God help Mark and I we can be so clueless.  We are going to be grandparents this spring.  I started crying when we finally figured it out.  Mark sat in the dining room chair with the biggest smile on his face and tears in his eyes.  A few weeks ago I went with Mags to look at maternity clothes and we wandered over to the baby section.  I think my life and hers in me flashed by in a second when I held up the teeniest little onesie.

I cannot promise this little blog will get much of my attention in the next few weeks (Mark and I were in bed at 9:15 on Saturday night) but good stories have a way of finding an outlet.  I hope to never be too busy to recognize one when it shows up.

Thank you for reading A Speckled Trout.  My cup runneth over.





Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Leaning In At Lowe's

My neighbor is a woodworker.  What started as a hobby has turned into a business and for the crafters/garbage pickers/yard salers around here he is a dream come true.  Whatever you haul down to him he can fix, replicate or repair.

He now has a store and a partner, making, selling and repairing musical instruments.  Since it opened I don't like to bother him with my lame craft projects like I used to.  He's a legit business owner.  Sometimes I'm just bored.

A few years ago I bought a print from the thrift store just for the frame and recently decided to turn it into a chalkboard.  Before I would have run down to Mark's house with baked goods and a sad face and he would have picked up on my not so subtle hint that I needed some wood cut for it.  This time, though, I decided to leave him out of my project and headed to Lowe's with my measurements.

I got the piece of wood I needed and took it to the saw to be cut.  I gave the employee the dimensions, he lined up my wood and then nicked his finger on the saw blade before he even started.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

It bled profusely and he apologized and said, "I'm on Coumadin. Do you know what that is?  It's a blood thinner. Makes me bleed a lot."

"Aren't you kind of young to be on Coumadin?" I asked.

And that question opened the door to his story.  He pulled down the neck of his tshirt to show me the scar on his chest.

"I grew up in a little town in central Illinois that nobody has ever heard of.  I went to college in Bloomington and got a chance to play on the football team.  I loved it but I was kind of small.  After a year or so of being there I found out that some scouts were coming to the area to look for prospects for the NFL and I decided I was going to bulk up so I'd have a better chance.  The NFL.  I could already see me there.  I started taking steroids. Don't say it. I know what you're thinking. Anyhow, I bulked up pretty quick once I started doing that and it was great.  Lost a little speed but made up for it in tackles. I didn't even look like the same person with all those steroids.  Completely changed my body.  I kept taking more and more but it eventually caught up with me and I got sick. Really, really sick all of a sudden.  My parents came to town to check on me because I wasn't answering my phone.  Sometimes I would hear it ring and want to answer it but I couldn't get up.  I couldn't even lift my head up off the pillow.  I don't remember much once my parents got there but I do remember my mom crying.  They took me to the local hospital and they said I needed a specialist so they loaded me in an ambulance and drove me to this hospital in Champaign, Illinois.

"Was it Carle Clinic?" I asked.

"Yeah.  How would you even know that?"

"I lived in Champaign for four years.  My daughter was born there."

"That's kind of crazy to me that you know that. Who would have thought?  Well, I get to Carle Clinic and I need emergency heart surgery. Let me tell you it was a long road back and many times I didn't think I was going to make it but here I am.  You see where I'm at, right?  From football to steroids to this scar to being on Coumadin the rest of my life.  Never finished college even though both my parents have a PhD."

"I didn't finish college either and married someone with a PhD. so maybe both of us ended up in the right place after all."

"Maybe.  I'd sure go back and change things if I could, but heck, who else in Kansas City has ever been in Carle Clinic besides you and me?  For all we know we could have been there at the same time. You having a baby and me trying not to die."

The piece of wood he cut was off by 1/4".  I'm not sure if it was my mistake at measuring or his at cutting and I ended up taking it to my neighbor to get it trimmed.

My project got delayed by a day but I didn't even care. 

It's not often that a small world and a big story collide.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Last Interview I'll Ever Go On

Since leaving my job in April I have gone on twelve (that is 12) interviews and that doesn't even include the phone ones.  Here's the highlight reel of rolling the please-hire-me job dice:

*The first interview was at a private, expensive school.  I was grilled for an hour and I do mean grilled.  I was so exhausted by the end of it I didn't think I could walk to my car on my own accord.  I sent a follow-up email thanking them and said, "By the way you are not the CIA and I am not Edward Snowden."  Not really.  I said I was "seeking other opportunities" and by other opportunities I meant some Xanax.

*I went on an interview a week after I broke my foot.  The parking lot was closed so I hobbled across the campus in 90+ temps with my ortho shoe.  I arrived sweaty and exhausted.  My interviewers arrived bored and with fifteen minutes to spare even though the entire place was void of any activity. Or energy.  I thanked them in an email the next day and said "Have you ever heard of providing reasonable parking options when you close the only lot to your school?" Not really.  I said I was "seeking other opportunities" and by other opportunities I meant handicapped parking.

*I interviewed with the owner of a jewelry store for an accounting position.  I waited forty minutes to talk to her while the head of one of the German Shepherd guard dogs rested on the knee of my black pants. She told me she's not the least bit afraid to sue people (three currently pending) and that there were five more dogs in the back.  I looked at my hairy pants and wondered if all the dogs there shed or just the German Shepherds. I sent a thank you email the next day saying "I'd consider working here but between the dogs, the lawsuits and the fake Christmas tree by the register in July I don't think we're really in synch." Not really.  I never even sent a thank you email for that one but they still called me to come back for another interview.  Declined.

*I interviewed for another part-time accounting position and at the end was asked about my HR skills? HR? Who the heck said anything about HR?  Not them in the job description but they tacked on that little something something as a special surprise for the interview.  I followed up the next day with a thank you email that said, "I will not be that person that has to tell the tech support guy that his B.O. is offensive to other employees and that he needs to shower more often."  Not really.  I said I was going into the soap making business to save the world from tech support guys with B.O.

*I interviewed twice at a job in the hinterlands.  It was a done deal until they gave me the weekend to think it over and the more I thought about driving to Hinterland every day (a pain in good weather and misery in bad) the more it seemed this job wasn't for me.  I sent them a thank you email and said "Good luck in your search for a candidate as AWESOME as me."  Not really.  Well, maybe on that one I did.

I've smiled and laughed at dumb jokes and awkward silences.  I've picked my outfit to match the job. Conservative? Check.  Bohemian?  Check check check.  The fake diamond earrings that go with me everywhere?  Out out out.  I need to look like I have to make money ASAP.

I've blathered on about my good traits (think Girl Scouts) and my weaknesses (applying for jobs that I'm never going to get because I'm 58 so I might as well be dead).  Diversity, a bad boss, annoying coworkers, stressful situations. Are you organized?  Is that some kind of work thing? You name the scenario and I can guarantee you it's been asked of me. I have flatly stated the amount of hours I am able to work and the pay I want without even a hint of hedging or backpedaling, which might mean I'm growing up to be a real working girl who knows her worth.

Which so far hovers around zero.

I have had a filler job for the last six weeks but out of nowhere I got an email for a job I applied for months ago.  One more time I did the interview tango - this time with a Zyrtec chaser that made me want to do an antihistamine face plant on the desk.

Did it go well?

I'm no judge of that.




Sunday, October 11, 2015

For Good

This is a post about the women I encountered over the course of a week.  Some I knew, some that were new to me.  I have been changed by all of them.

The first week of work at my last job I bonded with the HR manager.  I have written about her before - we did Listen To Your Mother together.  She left a few months after I started which left me twisting a wee bit in a fierce wind. Luckily the bond held after she left the job and then eventually me, and we keep in touch on a regular basis.

A few weeks ago she texted me to see if I wanted to see Kristin Chenoweth.  The non-profit where she is currently working was doing a fundraiser at the performing arts center and she had free tickets. FREE??!  Kristin Chenoweth!!!!  Darling, funny, talented Kristin Chenoweth???  Yes please.

We donned our night-on-the-town finest and headed off.  We were supposed to do some volunteering prior to the event but since that was under control we went upstairs, had a glass of wine and admired the beautiful Kansas City skyline that is so prominent from the performing arts center.  Making our way into the theater Amy said, "I'm so glad to get out for a night.  I don't even know who this person is."

"What????  She was in Wicked on Broadway.  Glinda?  You know Wicked, right?  Popular?  I want to be Popular?  No?  Well, she's fabulous.  We're going to have a great time."

We checked our tickets with an usher - the loveliest woman who told us it was a sold-out event and that the ushers were put in a lottery to see who would work as everybody wanted to see this concert. She pointed us in the direction of the section we would be sitting and said as we left, "You two have a great time. It's going to be an amazing concert!!"  She was so gracious and good at her job that of course she should be a winner in the usher lottery.

Kristin Chenoweth came out in confident, sparkling glory and started off with Que Sera.  Amy leaned over and said, "Do you ever feel like the universe is talking right to you?"

******

In Wicked there is a duet between Glinda and Elphaba called For Good.  It is one of my favorite songs.  Kristin introduced the song and the lights went up while she interviewed two women in the front row to sing the part of Elphaba.  A young music student from the conservatory got the honors and went up on stage.

If ever there was a person that the crowd was rooting for it was this girl.  Nervous and clutching the bottom of her dress she did her best.  Kristin coached her with the words to her part and she did her best in what was surely an out-of-body experience.

When the song ended the girl apologized for not knowing the words.  Kristin looked at her and said, "That's okay because you know what we just had?  We had an experience.  You and me, didn't we? That's all you need to remember."

*****

My writers group meets early at Panera on an overcast Friday morning.  We usually meet on Saturday mornings at a different Panera.  The summer had gotten away from us, though, and even stealing these few hours was difficult to pull together with everyone's schedule.

I bring the drawing of the main character for the children's book my niece and I are plotting.  "I'm stuck," I say to them.

Stuck is an understatement.  I have a beginning that is utter crap, an end I can see perfectly and the entire middle that sucks wind.  I didn't think this was going to be so hard but so far it has been. 

They look her over and listen to my problems.  They offer advice, good, solid advice and suggest names for her - one that I love.  I drive home thinking I might be capable of pulling this off.  The imaginary Fiona agrees.

***** 

She waved me down on a Sunday afternoon as I was pulling out of our street to go to the grocery store.  "The flowers," she yelled.

I had met her a couple of weeks prior when I was working outside and she was walking her dog.  We had briefly been introduced once before through a mutual friend.  A fellow gardener, her charming house and yard look like a page right out of a fairy tale.  She asked me what kind of hydrangeas I had in the front of my house and we talked for a long time.  When we started talking about traveling I said we had just come back from a trip to New York City and loved it. She told me that they had just moved their son from there. "It's not the best place for him now."

She teared up and told me he wasn't doing well but that she thought he had turned a corner in the last two days.  I could feel her heart.  Her heavy, breaking heart.

While talking about my flowers I offered to cut some for her and bring them by her house.  "Oh no, you don't have to do that.  I just wondered what kind they were so I can plant them next year."

"Well I have a few to spare," I said as we looked at these heavy-headed flowers drooping from their own weight.  "I'll drop them by your house one of these days."

I often get asked by passerbys about my hydrangeas - what kind they are and how I got them to grow so big.  Sometimes I offer cuts of them when they have started to dry but rarely do I follow through.  This time, though, I was not going to let time and laziness win.  I went onto the screened porch and found a basket that I loved but had never used - oblong with bark on the outside, it feels natural and connected to the earth.  I held it up and debated.  This one or another?  Maybe I hadn't used it yet but one of these days....... and I decided not to overthink it for once and let it go.

I crammed as many flowers as I could into that basket - it was a showy display of gardening goodness, and a few weeks after our initial conversation I drove them over to her house.  I tucked a note inside that said:  Here are your promised hydrangeas.  I hope things have changed for the better for you and your family.  I'll see you in the neighborhood.

She wasn't there when I went by but the dog sitter was and I left them with her.

There on my street corner on that Sunday afternoon she said, "I can't tell you what it was like for me to walk in after what I've been through to see that basket of flowers and note.  It meant someone cared and I really needed it then.  You have no idea."

We talked for a long time.  Her heart remains heavy - maybe even heavier if that's possible.  Waving cars around us we exchanged phone numbers with plans for coffee. Her challenges and those of her son weigh heavily on me - so heavy at times that it feels like I've been asked to take my turn wearing a backpack of worry all day.

And if it feels like that for me what must it be like to be her?

Her phone rang.  It was her son and she had to go.  I watched her as she and her dog walked away, my heart full and sad and confused about how I happened to be outside on that September morning when she stopped by to ask about some flowers.

"One other thing," she said.  "You could not have picked a better basket to put those flowers in.  It's so me but it's too nice to keep.  I'm going to give it back to you."

"Keep it.  I think it was meant for you."

*****

 I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you

 
 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Let's Go Paleo!!!

After one of Mal's college dance recitals, we went with her roommates and dancer friends and their parents to have something to eat.  I sat down next to one of the other moms and we started talking about books.  I had just finished reading Wild, she was nearly finished with Wheat Belly.  We compared books, promising we would read each other's choice and talk about it the next time we were together.  I had been hearing a lot about her choice and she passed along some information she had learned since picking it up.  The Cliff notes version is that wheat is bad for you.

Very bad.

Mark was across from us and couldn't hear the conversation.  Besides, he was more interested in diving into the bread basket that had been set in front of us.  I displayed enormous restraint seeing as how I was sitting next to a non-wheater eater.

On the way home I told him what I learned.  "According to this book, wheat is bad for you and makes you fat.  We just have to stop eating wheat and we'll be back to our high school weight in no time. Or maybe middle school. Maybe we should shoot for our middle school weight."

"NO BREAD???  Are you kidding me?  How are we supposed to not eat bread?"

"Not just bread but rice, pasta, cereal, pretzels.  Anything with wheat in it has to go."

"That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."

In teeny weeny increments I starting serving meals with less wheat in them.  No longer did we have spaghetti or lasagna with garlic bread on a regular basis.  Chicken stir-fry with rice went from white to brown (yuck) to some Costco blend that wasn't completely inedible.  So tiny were the increments that over the course of months our combined weight loss fluctuated within a half pound range. 

Coming from work one day, Mark ran into a neighborhood guy named Bill and they both biked their way home.  "You wouldn't believe it, Kath, the guy has lost a ton of weight.  I hardly recognized him. He's doing some wheat belly thing where you don't eat anything with wheat in it."

"Geez, Mark, we've had this conversation.  Remember?  The book I told you about that Mal's roommate's mom was reading?  Last year?  It's called Wheat Belly?"

"I don't remember that.  Huh.  So you get rid of all wheat?  What are you stuck with?  Cardboard and some lettuce?"

"We're supposed to eat like the cavemen.  Meat and vegetables only.  I'll fry us up some squirrel and kale in a little grapeseed oil.  You pick some bark and tomatoes and we'll have dinner."

"I think that's a doable plan.  I'm hairy and have noticed that I tend to drag my knuckles on the ground when I'm bowling.  Maybe this is my destiny."

Last month Mark went out to dinner with a speaker who had come to town.  He had recently lost 25 pounds.

"Kath, get this," he said when he got home.  "Turns out the guy has a gluten allergy.  He eliminated bread and the weight just fell off.  Maybe we should try that.  Eliminate bread and lose weight fast."

"Aye carumba, Mark.  We've had this conversation.  It's not just bread.  It's all wheat.  Pasta, cereal, snack stuff, anything with wheat in it.  How was dinner?  Did you have dessert?  Did you get some of that carrot cake they serve?  The kind they warm up and drizzle with icing?"

"Yeah, but it wasn't that big of a piece and after tonight never again.  No wheat from here on out. You and me.  Big changes coming our way.  Yep.  Getting rid of the wheat.  So what are we left with?"

Our muffin tops, my darling neandertal.

That's what you and I always seem to be left with.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Flip or Flop

Earlier this year an older couple two doors down passed away.  He went first and she followed 27 days later. Though both of them had been ill it was rather shocking that they would both go so quickly. There were no services or funeral and so when I saw her daughter's car in the driveway I went down to offer my sympathy. What was shocking to the neighbors was stunning disbelief to their adult children.

Over the months their kids would be over at the house frequently and in the spring there was an estate sale to sell off what they were not keeping.  I had been in the house many times but never past the living room.  When Will worked at the bagel shop and came home with the extras, I would walk some down to them.  The estate sale gave me the opportunity to see all parts of the house and how they lived.  Though it was a bit dated and needed some work (surely due to their poor health in recent years) it seemed to be in good shape for a house that was more than fifty years old.

In June the house went on the market and sold the first day for eighteen thousand dollars over the asking price.

Houses in this neighborhood have been selling like hotcakes.  While always considered a charming area, for many families these houses were too small.  Maybe the housing crash of a few years ago changed hearts and minds because now they almost all sell on the first day and well over the asking price.  I find all of this disheartening.  I remember when we bought this house and having some time to think it over and weigh the pros and cons.  Young couples and families considering this area don't have that luxury.  With multiple offers almost immediately they have to decide in the blink of an eye if a home is right for them.

Since the sale there has been a lot of conversations among the neighbors over who bought the house. Was it being renovated as we had hoped or torn down?  One week someone would hear one thing and then the next week something conflicting.

A few weeks ago the realtors who sold the house went door to door inviting everyone in for coffee on that Saturday morning and to talk to the new owners about plans for the house.  When they came to my door I said, "This is a very close-knit street.  We all know each other and love where we live. I hope that is being taken into consideration in regards to this house."

"Oh absolutely," they said.  "That's why we're inviting all of you to come and see the plans."

As is typical of this street, everyone showed up for the free food and coffee.  I caught up with my next door neighbor who recently had a baby.  "I'm not going back to work," she said.  "Hooray," I said and we made plans for coffee.

I took it to be a great little social event with little regard to the new owners who seemed extremely uncomfortable. Mark, on the other hand, got the scoop.  "They're tearing it down," he said,  "The foundation is bad."

"It's fifty years old," I said.  All the foundations in this area probably need shoring up.  Did they even have a structural engineer look at it?"

By the next day we would learn more.  The house will be more than 2000 square feet bigger than any of the other homes and the asking price will be nearly three times more than what these homes have been selling for.

No wonder the new owners looked uncomfortable.  They are plopping a McMansion among our humble cape cods and forever changing the landscape of our community.  All we can do is stand by, watch and try not to cry over a perfectly fine house that any young family would have been thrilled to fix up and call home.

Years ago someone said to me, "I give you a lot of credit for staying in one of those old capes and raising three kids there. Most people couldn't have done that in such a small house."

I grimaced a smile in his general direction and thought to myself, "You might be the biggest jackass I've met in a long time."

So loved are these homes that one time when Mark was working in the yard an older guy from a few streets over stopped to talk to him.  "People always ask me when I'm going to move and I say I don't know when but I know how. You want to know how I'm going to move from my house?  Feet first."

From now until spring this end of the street will have more dirt flying through the air and our furnace filters than we can fathom.  Add to that jackhammers, cement trucks, construction workers and landscapers to contend with.  No doubt it will test our patience and not the realtors and the owner who stand to make a killing if this house actually sells for what they are predicting.

Thank goodness this neighborhood has learned to rely on each other over the years - through Friday night beers, after thunderstorms and tornado warnings, and when things in our own homes get challenging.  I hope that whoever moves in quickly learns the drill and doesn't upset the juju.  A neighbor with a decent craft supply who values the restorative nature of the mighty glue gun.  They may need it when the bells and whistles of their newly constructed house start falling off.






Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Two of Them

"I'll go with you, Mom,"" I said that Christmas Eve.  "To church tomorrow at 8:00 just like you and Dad always did.

"You don't have to.  I'll be fine," she said back.

"I want to even though it's going to suck."

"I hate when you kids say suck."

"We know you do, Mom, but this really sucks."

*******

Every September I write something about my dad and the hole in the family that is still there twenty five years after he died.  We've planted plenty since he's been gone and it has been healthy and joy-filled and robust but the hole remains.  Much smaller than it was but still there.

The summer before he died is etched into all of us - the good and the bad.  One of my favorite goods is when my painfully shy and timid three year old sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame for him.

"And it's woot, woot, woot for the Cubbies.  If they don't win it's a shame...."

He laughed until he cried.  "You taught Maggie the Wrigley version?"

"Dad, that has been the only version in this house."

What I haven't written about enough is my mom.  The way she took care of him.  How for years afterwards she would question whether they waited too long with opthamologists instead of oncologists.  Her gratitude towards the neighbors who came by every day to see what she needed, and the oncologist's office at the University of Chicago who became their unwavering support through the hardest stuff.  Her appreciation for the food that arrived more days than not and her six kids who came every night after work to help her.

Twenty five years ago wakes were much longer affairs than they are now.  Mom stood next to Dad's casket for eight hours.  At one point she got pulled downstairs for something to eat.  "I just need some water," she said and went right back upstairs next to him.  The next morning she returned to his side on that unseasonably cold and windy September until we left the cemetery.  He got buried.  The grief tagged along with each of us but she got the brunt of it.

Through these years we have all watched Mom closely - maybe for the cracks but she has kept those to herself. Just when life was supposed to get easier after raising her kids, running a household and supporting her husband's forty year career, she had plenty of time, a pension and social security but no spouse.  What she did have was memories, faith, and a steadfastness that never seems to leave her. She has never complained about her life or felt sorry for herself, and losing her husband at a rather young age was just one of a long list of heartbreaks.

These observations of her have shown something shinier than what we might have anticipated.  That showing up for what lies ahead when your heart isn't always willing is how Dad would have wanted it.  That a cloak of strength and dignity is the most beautiful of garments.  That the two of them will be together eventually. That love that has moved on is still love and has remained with her every day since a few hours past midnight that September morning.

*******

The wad of Kleenex in my purse that Christmas morning lasted about twenty minutes and then I wiped the sadness up one sleeve and then the other.  Surrounded by decorated trees and poinsettias, my mind continually flashed back to his casket draped in white in the center aisle.  Mom cried alongside of me and afterwards her eight o'clock church friends surrounded her knowing how damn hard that was to get through.

When we got in the car she said, "You know how I could tell Dad was there?  Mary Turic was sitting right behind us. Your dad always said she could ruin a hymn just by opening her mouth. I think he wanted to give me a laugh."

And so she keeps repeating the sounding joy.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Eye Of The Tiger

I have been watching (because there's no escape) the media circus in Kentucky with the anointed heroine for the sanctity of marriage via Adam and Eve style.  The one whose job requires her to issue marriage licenses to all since the Supreme Court ruling this summer protecting the rights of straight and gay people to marry.

She shunned her job duties, clutched the Bible to her chest and declared, "Not here.  Not in this office, so shoo shoo you homos.  I say you're not getting married."  The media (with the attention span of a collective group of squirrels on speed) came in running for more more more.  She was the new darling of a 24 hour news cycle that needed filler, and for the Christian right who increasingly shows they have clear and rigid parameters to this whole love one another business.

How this got to be the never-ending story that it is confounds me daily.  If you don't do your job isn't there a supervisor, manager or, I don't know, a governor that isn't the least bit timid enough to say, "Yeah. Kimmy, you do this because the Supreme Court told you so or ask maintenance for a box to pack your stuff so you can get out." Maybe I've always worked for hard asses because insubordination and failure to perform the duties of the job were always deal breakers.  Oddly enough, though, like nearly all people in the work force I figured saying an emphatic "NO!!" to anything I didn't want to do was termination worthy and not newsworthy.

My peek into the world of equal rights started decades ago when the family station wagon passed a group of African Americans, tearful, outraged and protesting when Martin Luther King was shot. The peek grew bigger when I began working and was clearly aware that a man doing the same job as me was paid substantially more.  The crack split wide open when my kid said he was gay.

Like Joe the Plumber, Charlie Sheen, Tonya Harding and the Octomom, the current Kentucky clerk will soon become a question on Jeopardy under Flashes in the Media Pan.  Even though her lawyer lobbed an outrage grenade comparing issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples as "granting a license to sodomize children", there is a limit to how much ignorance an audience can absorb before they're forced to switch to the ballgame to preserve their intellect.  

What else can be said when you have a dog in this fight is that you are left to wonder if the job, promotion or apartment didn't come through because your kid was gay.  After all, robust cheering of discrimination is leading the nightly news.  There isn't a camera crew, preacher or presidential candidate in sight when that story happens, though, just the sound of the wheels in your brain turning over and over hoping what you think is true really isn't.  

In the meantime we remain under attack from the newest poster child stepping onto the podium of hate, much to the delight of a complicit media filling the airwaves with nonsense.

Bur from my shoes there is no thrill in this fight.....only the sickening thought that it's my kid they're after.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Theory of Busy

An odd quiet has settled over this house of ours these days.  The kid who graduated college and got married has been gone for years.  The kid who graduated college and lived at home for two years has moved into his own apartment.  The kid who is in her last year of college spent all summer away, came home for two weeks and then moved into her campus house.

The too small house when all five of us were in it is now home to two.  It is neat most of the time, it takes days to accumulate enough trash to take to the garbage can, there are usually three loads of laundry once a week and a full dishwasher to run every couple of days.

It has taken some getting used to.

The weeknights crammed with homework, Scouts and all manner of practices are now dinner, news, a little t.v. and reading and then to bed.  While it is not true that it happened in the blink of an eye, it is true that the years while sometimes slow and mundane went by in a rush from high school on.

In this new lifestyle I have struggled with the weekends.  For a very long time those started at the crack of dawn with cross-country meets followed by grocery shopping and maintaining the house and yard.  Now there is less urgency to getting things done by Sunday night.  Shopping for two doesn't take much time or planning and it really is okay with both of us if there are weeds in the yard.

I have taken to wandering the house not quite sure what I'm supposed to do since none of it requires my immediate attention.  There is always our bedroom - the room with clothes piled everywhere but where they are supposed to be. It is a never ending mess which I can only seem to get a handle on once a week, and so on a Saturday afternoon I went up to give it a good cleaning again.

As is my habit when I'm going to be in there for awhile, I turned on the t.v. and found The Theory of Everything playing on HBO.  I grabbed some pillows, propped them on the messy bed and was immediately drawn in.  Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawkings was brilliant.  Felicity Jones as his wife was gut wrenching.  I never moved except to get a box of Kleenex.  Tragedy and hope, tragedy and hope.

Since then I've thought about that movie over and over.  How does one hold onto hope when everything is taken away, especially at such a young age?  How does a spouse take on caring for every need of her husband when all the odds are stacked against her?

How?  How?  How?

I never bought into the business of "busy".  I never let my kids do multiple outside activities because I knew when I had to drive all over and we couldn't be home doing nothing I was a miserable mom. A miserable martyr of a mom and I never liked myself when I got like that.   

My intentional attempt to keep us from going down the rabbit hole of busy when the kids were young has been dialed back so much that I am afforded the luxury of a movie in the middle of the day. A thought I couldn't have imagined a few years ago. From the window of the room off the bedroom, however, I can see and hear the kids of the younger parents in this neighborhood ride bikes, build forts and make boats to float in the gutters after it has rained.

Just like when they were my own I am charmed.....and grateful that I was never too busy to remember it all. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Repaid Gift

I have a very hard time taking a vacation.  I know this goes back to my childhood where money was tight and taking six kids anywhere rarely happened.  My only memory of going on a trip was when we all piled into the station wagon to drive to LaCrosse, Wisconsin so Dad could see his old Navy buddy.  They were a family of six as well - all boys. For my sisters and me it was nine boys and a weekend of misery.

Mark was brought up going to Michigan for two weeks every summer for fishing and swimming.  He has very fond memories of those trips and is more than willing to get in the car or on a plane in the middle of summer.  It has been hard to mesh these two different ingrained experiences when it comes to getting away so it is a BIG deal when we go somewhere.

It was seven years ago that we threw caution to the wind and decided to go to Florida.  I got on a house rental site and picked a place in Seagrove.  We drove and stocked the kitchen with food upon our arrival so that we wouldn't be eating out all the time.  The house was perfect.  It had a huge kitchen that was a joy to cook in.  The wrap-around porch had an outdoor table and chairs and we ate all of our meals there. We walked to the beach every morning, would come home for lunch and then go back again later in the afternoon.  The kids would stop at the neighborhood pool on the way back and Mark and I would start dinner.  It was a perfect vacation for us.

While all of this was in the planning stages, I was working with someone who was going through a very bad breakup with a partner who was emotionally abusive.  I had a front row seat to witness what many women go through when they decide to walk away from someone like that and it rattled me to my core.  The absurdity of the common question of "why doesn't she just leave" became very clear to me.  It is never that easy.  Many times this woman and I worked together until close on Friday and so she would come home with me and have dinner with us.  Mark and I were very worried about her and protective of her fragile situation.

While I was excited and looking forward to our trip to Florida I was also feeling guilty about this wonderful opportunity in the midst of the suffering of someone I cared so much about.  Besides the constant emotional abuse she was under she was also in some dire financial straits.  Mark and I discussed it and decided to write her a check to help her out.  On the day before I left I wrote her a note telling her that despite what she was now hearing from someone who used to be an important part of her life, she was truly, deeply loved by all of us at the store.  That even on her worst days her light shined brightly.  I told no one at work and put the note and check in an envelope and clipped it to her time card.

My note made clear that the money was a gift and any intention she had of paying us back was never our intent.  I felt instant relief once I took care of that - as if it was finally okay for me to enjoy the beach with my family.

By the time we got back there was a letter in the mail from her thanking us and saying that she used the money to hire an attorney to see what her rights were.

My return to work was on a Saturday morning where she and I were opening the store.  I was running late and she was already there and counting the drawer when I arrived.  We both cried when we saw each other and when the owner arrived he asked what in the heck was going on. "We missed each other," I said.  "A lot."

We would work on and off again in other places as the years went by - always connected through the retail world of women's clothing.  Not a single time did we ever discuss what was attached to her time card that summer day.

One day she called me and asked me to help her with some furniture in her and her roommate's house.  "I want to pay you," she said.

"You know that I love doing this and I don't want you to pay me," I said.

"Then I'll pay you in wine," she said and the next night I went to her house.

I listened to them as they told me what was not working for them and we ended up doing a massive room move late into the night.  I suggested that they live with it for a few days to see if they liked the changes and that I would come back and help them rearrange it again if it wasn't what they wanted.

The next day I went to work.  A few hours into my shift I decided to get some coffee and went into the back room to get my wallet.  When I opened my purse there was a huge wad of cash.  Too many fifties to comprehend and my heart started pounding.

Honest to God I thought it was drug money that had been planted in my purse.  I didn't even want to touch it.

Where had this come from?

I went to the owner of the business I was working for and asked her if she had given me a bonus.

"A bonus?  Are you kidding?  Have you noticed how slow it's been?"

Right.  What was I thinking?  She was the one who had given me a $5.00 Applebee's gift card when I had my one year anniversary so it was definitely not her.

"There is hundreds of dollars in my purse and I don't know how it got there."

"Maybe it was from Mark," she said.

"We never have cash on us and if either one of us had this much we would say something.  It was just there when I opened my purse."

It was like an Agatha Christie mystery and we churned over the possibilities all afternoon.  Finally my boss asked, "Did you leave your purse somewhere that somebody could have put the money in without you knowing?"

"No.  I went to a friend's house last night to help her move some furniture.  It was by the fireplace all night and........  Yes.  Oh.  Yes.  Oh my gosh."

When I got home from work I called my benefactor.  "Were you the fairy godmother in my life last night?" I asked.

"I was.....just like you were to me a few years ago.  I added a little interest.  Now you and Mark need to do something fun with it."

It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise as the check we had written to her had long been forgotten.

This dear coworker and friend moved west awhile ago.  Every so often I'll think of of those troubled days that taught me so much about the hand that some women are dealt and the quick judgement we pass when we know so little. The same judgement I made before I was a witness to the damage.

I'd like to think that her new start brought her a good-looking cowboy that came with so much abundant love and kindness that it made her forget her past.

A cowboy that knew how to lasso the moon.

She would love that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Back Room

Since April I have been on nine interviews.  Nine times I've tried to sell my skill set with a wink and a smile and a toss of big words like accounting software, spreadsheets and aging reports......and yet I have not found the right fit.

Last week there was a job for the taking.  Good salary with awesome benefits and a decent amount of time off and I walked away.  Beggars can't be choosers and I seem awfully choosy these days. Coming off a bad breakup from the last place, I know that I am searching every closet and file cabinet to find the crazy that's been tucked away and hidden from company.  I also know that being on a hair trigger for office dysfunction is not healthy.  I am ever-so-slowly learning to filter that out and rely on my gut, but so far my gut is saying "run" or "you don't really want to do this all day, do you?"

In my excitement over all that this last job offered I gushed to Mark about the perks and benefits.  "A big office, Mark," I said. "all my own.  There was even a tree right outside the window with birds. Birds, Mark!!!  I could look at the birds while I worked!"  I noticed this nature moment when the MOUNDS of paper the current office holder was surrounded by started making me all twitchy and uptight and I stared out the window in self-defense.

On reflection there were other negatives.

#1.  It was farther from the house than I wanted to commute and the commute would be in the kind of traffic that usually makes the early morning news.

#2.  It was a small staff.  Four people total.  They ate lunch together every day.  They worked together and they ate lunch together.  Every day.

#3.  The office was deep in suburbia which meant that it was in a nondescript building in a nondescript area surrounded by nondescript strip malls.

#4.  There was no back room.

I got used to a back room from my retail days.  The place you could go to get away for five minutes. The sanctuary (albeit as hot a mess as any basement) where you could regroup and breathe when the latest edict came down from on high. Where your favorite coworker asks you to show her where the large gift boxes are so she can really say, "Can you believe that schedule?  Do they think I'm some kind of mule or what?  Every Saturday this month.  What's that about?"

Many a time I have been the ultimate back room girlfriend and confidant.  I'd gladly meet any coworker in the back and nod and listen in sympathy to the issue of the day.  I'd bitch about my own hours and willingly throw gasoline on theirs. If asked to take up the cause I'd say, "Well, yeah, if you bring it up I'll back you," because I didn't need so much to carry the torch as I needed to have a place to complain about the torch.

The back room is an essential part of every work place.  It cannot be replaced by emails, phone calls or texts.....for there is no trail to uncover to what is said in the back room.

When I told Mark I was going to walk away from this prospect he shook his head.

"I have to work in a bigger pool than that and I cannot spend every minute of the day with coworkers and then eat lunch with them on top of that.  I have to have a break.  At least lunch alone to read the news or to shop Loft's Friends and Family online sale to buy my way out of the misery of working in a job I shouldn't be doing."

I'm not sure he understood my reasoning.  I'm not sure I even do.

All I could think of at the time, though, was what if I got into a relationship with these people and all three of them thought Donald Trump would make a great president?   Without a back room to scurry off to my only option would be to crawl out the window of that paper-piled office and tell the birds to scoot over so I could join them out on a limb.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Meet the Author

On our travels last week we went to the New York Public Library.  It was quite grand and beautiful and oh so far from the maddening crowd.  It was the perfect oasis on a hot afternoon after miles of walking the city to see the sights.  On the way up the steps I glanced to my right and there was a card table with a Meet The Author sign taped to it.  I was fervently waved over but instead smiled and waved back and we went inside.

When we were leaving the library I said to Mark, "Let's go meet the author. I don't know why but I think we should go over there."  We approached the table and were greeted warmly by two men.

The author launched into his sales pitch.  I was expecting there to be a single book but instead there was a variety of neatly stacked books to chose from.

As I perused them I asked "Are you self-published?"

"Indeed I am.  Like all the great authors are - Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Rubyard Kipling, to name but a few."

"Well you're in good company," I said.  "Which one of these is your newest?"

"This one," he said picking up the one titled Zoe.  "It's the story of a teenager traveling the country and writing letters home to his Zoe.  Letters about life and love."

"Is that one your favorite child at the moment?"  I asked.

"Oh no, it would have to be this one," he said picking up the one titled Martha.  "The story of a dancer told in poetry."

"A dancer?  Really?  We came to New York to see our daughter in a performance tonight.  She's a dancer."

"I am of the opinion," he said, "that a dancer is the most disciplined of all the artists.  That in most cases they give up everything to dance, especially their youth and their bodies.  That the slightest of gestures, the delicate placement of their hands when every muscle in their body is under extreme stress is discipline that takes hours and hours of practice and is over in the fleeting minutes of a performance.  But you know all this right?"

I was taken aback.  Did I know that?  I don't know.  Maybe.

"I thought about this story for years but couldn't figure out how to write it.  Then I went to a live performance and it all came to me when the announcer came on stage before the show started.  Do you want to know what he said?"

We nodded.

"In humanity I see grace, beauty and dignity.  Here.  Let me show you."

"That was my inspiration for my story and I started writing."

Mark and I stood there spellbound.

He continued. "Then the curtain lifts with the rush of Niagra.  The music moves, filling the openness with consoling tones, a melody of the woods twirling ribbons of wind and gently, the dance begins."

"A perfect description," I said.  "That is what I feel when I watch our daughter dance."

I turned to the man who had been quietly sitting there this whole time and asked, "Are you his friend?"

"Every Saturday I come to the library and I kept seeing this man with his card table selling his books. The first time it was bitter cold and he was here for hours.  The next Saturday the same thing, and the next and the next. Finally I walked over to talk to him and I've been keeping him company ever since. That was two years ago."

He reached into his wallet and pulled out a tattered photo.  "See her?  That's my daughter.  She's four years old.  I take her to dance every week.  You and me are alike with our dancing girls. It's crazy, isn't it?"

We bought the book (as if there was ever any doubt) and bid farewell to this author and his companion.

"I don't know what to make of all that," Mark said as we walked down the steps,"except that I feel like crying."

Kindred spirits on the steps of the public library.

It was the most divine intervention.



***You can read more about Garrett Buhl Robinson here

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Easing My Grip

Maggie was recently talking about when she was in high school and wanted to work at the Rainforest Cafe but I said 'YOU CANNOT WORK THERE.  IT IS AT THE MALL."

I don't remember this conversation but it sounds like something I would say.  I hate most malls.  No window to the outside world, the Abercrombie smell from fives store away, the Dead Sea scrub stalkers, the flat-iron kiosk where they eye me so eagerly with their hair tools, and all that stuff.  I will think of any alternative to avoid the mall (including shipping charges) and so the thought of sending my kid there every day must have sent me over a maternal cliff.

She also said I told her she couldn't work at Culvers because the location was sketch and those places don't close until at least 10:00.  This also sounds like me except the location isn't sketch and I am up and down that street at least 2-3 times a week.

Oh the poor firstborn with the drone for a mother.

Will worked at a bagel shop all through high school and on college breaks.  This was acceptable until he had to work on Easter.  "EASTER?  YOU HAVE TO SELL BAGELS ON EASTER?  THAT IS RIDICULOUS AND TELL THEM I SAID SO." But that place usually closed by 4:00 and so that was okay because he wouldn't be coming home after dark and I wouldn't have to go on anti-anxiety meds.

Mal has worked for the last couple of years at a restaurant in the KC shopping and dining district. She often gets off work past midnight.

Oh the third child with the mother who has surrendered.

For two years Mal has talked about going to New York City for an intensive dance program.  She worked like crazy and saved all the money to pay for it herself.  I tended to think (or maybe hope) that my youngest one wouldn't really go to that big city for a whole summer, and so when she'd haul in another big check and I'd see her bank balance online I'd think, "Well good for her.  Look at all that money she's saving."  Then she applied, sent off a video of her dancing and got accepted.

I stuffed down every fear I had and breathed into paper bags.

We talked over and over about her going there by herself.  I tried to enlist her brother to accompany her but he started a new job and had no vacation time.  Mark had a grant deadline and couldn't take off work.  Taking me and my sense of direction would have been a hindrance instead of help.  She insisted she was perfectly capable of going alone.  I ordered a car to meet her at the gate and take her to her summer home and then put the fear of God into her about calling me when she got there.

Her summer dance program ended on Saturday and Mark and I went there to see her and the performance.  I needn't have worried so much.  She has been more than capable of managing the city, her classes, her money, her future career and the subway.

In our conversation about working and first jobs Maggie asked me why I was always so goofy about launching each of them off into the world.

"Oh dearie," I thought.  "Only a mother would understand the answer to that question"

In the blink of an eye all three of them have grown up and surpassed me in many ways when it comes to life experiences. The hard, day-after-day work of raising them is behind me.

My new job is to stay out of their way.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Call The City

My gardening friend had come over and we were surveying my flowers.  We chatted for awhile at the end of my plot about what was doing well and what wasn't, perennials versus annuals, and what would make good filler for the empty spots.  We were having a typical gardeners conversation when we heard some rustling by the liriope.  We stopped talking, turned in the direction of the sound and the biggest rat I'd ever seen ran out in front of us.  We screamed, we jumped, we peed ourselves a little.

When our hearts stopped thumping out of our chests we wondered how long that thing had been hiding three feet from us, where it came from, and most importantly were there more.

"You need to call the city and tell them you have a rat problem.  They need to know about this," another neighbor said when I told her what happened.  "They'll send somebody out to bait the sewers."

I wasn't sure if one rat was a problem for the city but it was for me and so I called.  The guy who answered the phone at the public works department asked for my address and when I told him he said, "Oh I know exactly where that is.  We made some people clean up their yard of wood and other debris nearby and it probably disturbed some of the rodents.  I don't think you're going to see anything else."

I described how big it was, how it ran right in front of us, how we dang near had a heart attack.  He  assured me that rats aren't really a problem around here.  I wasn't so sure since we live across from a creek but he insisted that this suburbia and rats don't interface.

Much.

That was many years ago and this summer after a long, absent spell we've had a squirrel plague.  "They're rats with bushy tails," Mark says as he embarks on a one-man crusade to rid his garden of them.  Every morning he stands at the back door and counts them at our neighbor's feeder.  Then he moves to the front door and counts more in our own yard.  He calls me over to the fence and points out something red high up in a tree.

"Do you see that, Kath?  Do you know what that is?  That's another one of those effing squirrels eating my tomatoes.  I think the son-of-a-bitch has an heirloom."

Since I don't like tomatoes this isn't my fight but every morning I hear the head count and the cussing.

Last weekend Mark decided to buy another trap.  One for the front yard and now one for the back.  We walked up to the hardware store and he came home and set it up with the bait inside.  Before long he had an occupant. 

And where does he take these yard rats after he traps them?  To the park near City Hall.

"The people running this town need to know we have a squirrel infestation," he says as he drops one after another off on their doorstep.

At least he wasn't trapping and drowning them like the old guy down the street did for years.  We always knew when he got another one because he and his wife would walk up to the shopping center after dinner with a plastic bag to toss it into the dumpster. 

No, this wasn't a death panel but a humane relocation program.

I've only half-listened to most of this squirrel problem until the day I came home and saw two half eaten tomatoes in the front yard.  It was like empty Budweiser cans tossed from the car of a bunch of rowdy teenagers on a Friday night and I wasn't having it. 

This war just got personal.

The next morning Mark went off to work.  As he does every morning these days the traps were set and ready.  That afternoon from an upstairs window I saw our cat crouched near the trap.  Ding ding ding!!!  We had a relocation winner!!!!  Then I saw two little girls stop their bikes and walk up to the trap.  I ran down the stairs and onto the porch.

Noting the concerned look on their faces I said, "It's okay you guys.  My husband takes them to the park so they have more room to run around.  You know, that big one by the pool?  Plus it's probably cooler over there for them.  Really, it's fine.  They're fine.  You're fine.  No worries.  Nothing to see here."

"Oh we thought it looked so sad and scared," one of them said.

"Nooooooooo.  Why would it be sad and scared?  It's going to a bigger yard.  It's going to the Mayor's yard!"

"Okay," they both said and hopped on their bikes and rode away.

But it was too late.  While I was running down the stairs they had opened the door and released the squirrel. 

I felt like making another call to the city.  We had some renegade PETA do-gooders trolling the hood and they had no idea what they were unleashing on this neighborhood.  They were freeing the ones who have a lot of problems.  They bring those problems here.  The ones who bring crime.  The ones who bring drugs.  The ones who steal tomatoes.

And some, I suppose, are good squirrels.

Nah..... 

I asked the guy who's out there every day securing the vegetable border.  He says every single one of them is a rat.

Ready for transport to their new home

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Mending Season

                                     
                                           ~What breaks quickly generally mends slowly~


On the first day of the job I left this spring, I was escorted to the third floor where I would be working by my then supervisor.  Immediately upon arriving on the landing, it was as if every sense in my body was screaming GET OUT. By the time I got to my desk I felt like crying.

It was bizarre and scary and telling, and since I'm not some new-age, hippie chick that dances by the light of the moon every night I shut that business down pronto.

The first month, however, was such a struggle that when friends and family asked, "Don't you just love it?", I would offer a weak smile and say, "I can't say yet.  There's so much to learn and it's really different than anything I've done before."  What was unsaid is that from the beginning it was the most difficult work environment I'd ever been in.  If I were smart I would have turned around that first day and said, "Sorry, HR.  You're not going to believe this but The Universe just sent me quite the warning and I'm going to have to go."

Responsible people, though, don't get a job and then walk out on a feeling.  You stick it out and hope that the karma you're picking up on is dead wrong.

While there was a conflict that tipped the scale for me that week, I really hadn't planned on quitting on the day I gave my notice.  But I walked up to the third floor once again and wondered, "How many more days are you willing to be miserable?"  I clocked in, put my stuff away, got a cup of coffee and went into my new supervisor's office to give my notice.  We both cried because we had a mutual adoration society going and my leaving was going to break that up.

There were many people there that I adored and leaving those friendships was incredibly hard, but I felt that I was spiraling down so fast that it was scaring me.  There were attempts in the following week to talk me out of my decision but it was to no avail.  I did my best not to panic about losing a second paycheck around here but that was on the outside.  The inside was swirling and nauseous and checking multiple job sites over and over waiting to pounce on the right opportunity.

Six weeks later I broke my foot.

I went to two interviews after that wearing an orthopedic boot.  Was that why I didn't get the job? Did they think my broken foot would never mend and they'd be stuck with a hobbling employee that is always late because she has to go to the doctor again?  For the third interview I stuffed my swollen foot into a regular shoe and had my daughter drop me off outside the building so I wouldn't have to limp from a parking garage.  I didn't get that one either.

Three "thanks but no thanks" emails in less than a week could make even the most optimistic job seeker a little shaky in their confidence.  I started out shaky.

When I first quit my job, my neighbor who works for the school district said, "Oh good.  Don't get anything until August so we can hang out this summer."

"August?  Oh no, I'll have something before that," I said.  Or so I thought.

It seems like destiny to me that I broke my foot.  The thought of repairing my damaged emotions after two tough years was not what I was planning to do this summer.  I was looking to dive right back into the work pool but was instead forced to prop my foot up with an ice pack and deal with my feelings.  Some days that felt like being forced to sit in the cafeteria with the popular cheerleader in high school that was dating the boy who dumped me.

When another neighbor who is a nurse asked me how my foot was doing I told her that it hurt most of the time, that I couldn't seem to get anything done and that at some point during the day I would usually fall asleep. "Well, that's because you're in pain," she said, "and pain is exhausting."

It was as if my world cracked open and it was finally okay for me to take the time to take care of me.

Last week I saw my hairstylist and told her my summer saga of a broken bone, torn ligaments and dwindling job opportunities.  Then I showed her the picture my niece drew of the main character for the children's book we've been conspiring to do together for more than a year.

She stared at the drawing and said, "Oh, she's adorable.  Her hair!  I think I might already love her."  Then she looked at me and said, "You know that you're not getting the jobs because that isn't what you're supposed to be doing now?  That writing her story is the job you're supposed to have?"

I do know that. 

In my still, quiet summer I have discovered that landing the next job was never part of the plan.  It was learning how to listen.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Matchmakers

Over the the past few years Maggie and I have taken it upon ourselves to look for suitable candidates to date our Will.  He never asked us to do this (and would roll his eyes when we brought it up) but we decided that since we've both had success in the Cute Husband Department we were the perfect choice to help him out.

Both of us narrowed in our man.

Last year when I was going to the dentist weekly for a rogue tooth, I got to know the dental assistant. Besides being good at his job he was very cute and very funny.  He could talk about anything, but what sealed the deal for me was his advice on hair products to control frizz during the humid summer months.  I had met a soul mate.

Besides that, he wore a scarf fashionably tied around his neck with his blue scrubs.  I'm going to repeat that.  He wore a scarf tied fashionably around his neck with his blue scrubs.

After Maggie started going to the same dentist, our conversations always turned to Dan.  How fun he was, how much we liked him, how perfect he would be for Will.

"We need to work on this," I said to Maggie, "and since I'm the one that's there all the time it's up to me.  I'll get the scoop on him, figure out how he and Will can meet and then let love do its magic." We discussed our strategy and how we could find out if he was attached.  "There's no way around it," I said.  "I'll just have to come out and ask."

So on one of my weekly visits I said to the dentist, "I need to talk to you about something.  Is Dan dating anyone because Maggie and I were talking and..........."

The dentist's face fell as she put her hand on my arm and whispered, "I'm so, so sorry. That's not going to work.  Dan is gay."

I burst out laughing.  "Oh geez, I knew that with the scarf and all but I didn't mean for Maggie. I meant for my son."

"DANNNNNNN!!!" She yelled.  "Get in here.  We've got an opportunity for you."

Dan came running in.  The other dental assistant came in.  The hygienist peeked around the corner. "Do your thing," the dentist said to me as the crowd gathered around my recliner.  I presented my case my son and frantically tried to pull up a picture on Facebook.  They all leaned in to get a good look.

"We don't always get good reception in here," the dentist said and disappoint hung as lifeless in the air as a shot of Novocain.

"I'll friend him," Dan said.  "Tell him who I am so he knows and then we'll see.  I can't believe I don't know him already.  I think I've dated every gay guy in Kansas City."

The fact that he got around a lot was a little concerning but I ignored that and called Maggie with the deets.  "It's in the works and before you know it Dan will be eating Sunday dinner with us. Maybe he can show us how he ties his scarf in that cool knot?!"

"I know, Mom.  Will's going to thank us for this one," Maggie said.

Before long they did end up meeting through a mutual friend.  In fact, Will met a bunch of new people all of a sudden but, alas, there was not even the slightest spark of a love connection.  "He's not my type," was all he said.

"Not your type?!!"  What do you mean?  He's cute, he's funny, he's fashionable," Maggie and I yelled. Will wouldn't budge.  He moved on rather quickly from this plan of ours but we were having trouble doing the same.

I hadn't seen Dan in over a year until I went in for a cleaning last month.  He poked his head in the room and said.  "Hey Kathleen, how's it going?  Haven't seen you in awhile.  Is Will doing okay?"

We got caught up on everything and I was a little sad it didn't work out with Will.  He would have been a fine addition to the family roster.

The original cute son-in-law started going to the same dentist recently.  "Did you meet Dan?  Isn't he so good-looking and fun?" Maggie asked.

"I can't believe you and your mom ever thought he was a good match for Will.  Two minutes in and I knew he wasn't the kind of guy Will would go for.  That was a bad idea you two had from the start."

"What???  Of course it could have worked."

"Nope.  Not Will's type.  You guys don't know what you're doing."

Will did meet someone recently, and what may be the biggest shock of all, Maggie and I had nothing to do with it. We don't know how he did it without our guidance but he did, and we all like this cute, nice guy who makes Will so happy.

But what are we to do with our time now that our matchmaking skills are not needed?

I'm so glad I asked.

We think it's time to teach the straight men around here how to accessorize.