Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Sabbatical

In Mark's world, going off the work grid for awhile is called a Sabbatical.  He is always saying he's going to whisk me off to Portugal for a few months while he's there to work with a colleague.  What a sweet deal I've always thought to myself. When you get sick of the people you work with every day, you pack up and go somewhere else for awhile and still have your job when you come back - refreshed and ready for new challenges.

I thought of calling my current stint many things (like Oh Shit Now What) but settled on the collegiate Sabbatical. It's got more of a professional ring to it and holds the promise of exciting things ahead instead of panic and self-loathing.

While I would have loved to have gone off to a beach on foreign soil where the port wine flows like water, my personal introspection and career refreshment must take place here in Kansas.  While not totally undesirable....

Sheesh.....who am I kidding? The only people who choose to come to Kansas these days are the ones passing through on the way to Denver to legally buy some pot.

Anyhoodle, the 1st day of my Sabbatical was ripe with land mines.  I was sad.  I was bored.  I was wallowing in a pity party of the largest magnitude.  Hey, this is just like being at work!  I took to my bed for an afternoon rest of my gurgling feelings but couldn't sleep.

"Buck up you Big Whiny Pants," the Sabbatical voice said.  "Get a plan.  Get something done."

And so I got up and got my creative juju ducks in a row and headed to the fabric store.  Three fabric stores to be precise (Who cares? I've got nothing but time!) for some fresh, happy fabric to cover the patio chairs. That little field trip changed my perspective and the week has flown by with many, many Sabbatical activities.  Activities like......


Every morning I head out the door like back in the day when Henry and I started each new day with a brisk walk.

Day 1:  4.5 miles
Day 2:  6.5 miles
Day 3:  2.0 miles (cuz my legs felt like noodles from Day #1 and Day #2)
Day 4:  2.6 miles

What have I learned while walking?  I could use some new gym shoes and rich people in big houses don't pick up their dog's crap.


With more time on my hands I could try some new recipes like these pork chops which were easy peasy and a big Big Daddy pleaser.  That wasn't the only new recipe.  Tonight is Newness #3 thanks to my new BFF and Sabbatical partner, Pinterest.

What have I learned while cooking?  That I could never, and I mean NEVER, write a cooking blog. The comment section was filled with these gems....

"My husband doesn't like spicy.  Can I make these without the cayenne pepper?

"I made these and they were dry but I think my pork chops were thinner than yours.  Should I cook them for less time?"

"In your breakdown of cost, you didn't include the 2T of olive oil."

Each question was met with a lovely reply explaining that you could omit the pepper, turn down the temp and oh-dear-how-could-I-have-forgotten-the-cost-breakdown-of-2T-of-olive-oil.

My standard reply if I were the blogger?  How about you pour some gasoline into that noggin of yours, rev up the engine and see if you can get some cylinders to fire.


Aren't the kind you should go to if there's anything wrong with you.  Dr. Oz had a woman on who did a juice cleanse for three days.  Three meals and a snack for three days all in a glass.  "I never had a craving," she said.  "Not one single craving AND I lost four pounds."  The audience cheered.  Dr. Oz hugged her.  I was highly skeptical.

What did I learn about watching daytime doctors?  That sometimes you have to help a sister out and eat for her.


Though I had healthy options in the house to prevent going down the fat hole, I still succumbed once a day to one unhealthy alternative.

What did I learn about eating my feelings?  All of my feelings all of the time like chips and salsa.


I went from cute work outfits with accessories to yoga pants, a hoodie and no makeup overnight. Mark came bursting in the door on Monday and said, "How was your first day of not..........."  And I'm not entirely sure but I think it was my appearance that stopped him in his tracks.  "Oh.  Oh.  You took it easy, I see."

What did I learn about looking like a slob?  That a good pork chop recipe will compensate.


With my car in the driveway every day (because I spent all of my meager budget on the very first day), I had plenty of time to visit.  Drive-bys, walkers and the mailman became my new friends.  I showed them my pile of weeds, my mulch, my petunias, my recovered patio chairs and my soul.

What did I learn about company?  That they sometimes look like they want to get away.


The breeder dog with undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome had the place to himself most days and now has to deal with me. This is traumatic for him and he doesn't know what to do other than lift his leg and pee on everything.  Then he goes and sits in the corner for doggie time out because he knows he's a little turd on a big chopping block.

What did I learn from Wrigley?  That a dog from the shelter that's been marked down to a sale price is not a good deal.

For Sabbatical Week #2 I have plans to paint the bathroom, craft some macaroni necklaces for Mother's Day and and tool some leather.

And if nothing happens by Sabbatical Week #3?  This turd and I are getting in the car and driving to Denver for a lookie loo.

Monday, April 20, 2015


The Big Daddy and I are deepdeepdeep into our annual landscaping and garden beautification process.  To date, we have hauled home more than forty bags of mulch.  I am using it for the beds in the front of the house.  He is using it on the back for a project that will one day make the cover of Better Homes & Gardens.  If it doesn't kill us first.

Every weekend is mulch buying, mulch loading, mulch unloading, mulch bag dragging to here and there, mulch spreading and then more mulch calculations.  "Well, don't you wish you'd just ordered it by the truck and had it delivered?" Mom said when I told her our weekend project.  "Well yeah but we don't want to pay the delivery charge. We'd rather be mules for the Mulch Cartel every Saturday until we collapse our stinking, dirty selves onto the couch by 8:00."

This Saturday had bouts of pouring rain, steady rain or threatening rain.  When the rain had slowed down we went on a mulch run at a nursery center.  This particular one happens to be the only one in town to carry the kind we want for the back path Mark dug, and so we bought and loaded ten more bags.  No shopping around we agreed.  We'd only get the mulch and then go on our other errand.

That errand was to a local home improvement center that has a Friends and Family sale every spring on hanging baskets.  The 8" baskets of flowers are $4.99.  If you are in the "club" the price is $3.99.  I have been going for years but always alone.   The Big Daddy isn't interested in flowers.  He's planting crops to sustain us for the long winter yet to come and flowers are a distraction.  This time, though, since it was on the way home from the nursery center he got to witness the Hanging Basket Sale for himself.

There is nothing I could say to prepare him for what lie ahead.  "Wait inside," I said like a mum talking to their toddler.  "I'll go back to the nursery and come back when I'm finished.  Don't go out there.  You will see things you can't unsee and it will traumatize you."

He snorted.

I took a deep breath and said, "I'm goin' in."

In the pouring rain I trekked outside to the nursery.  With such lousy weather I didn't think there would be many people there, but crammed down the aisle like refugees waiting for a bag of rice and fresh water from the Red Cross were dozens of gardeners. Surging forward when the metal gates opened to reveal dozens of ten foot tall rolling racks of hanging flower baskets, the frenzy started. Some people had carts so crammed on the inside with baskets that they had to hang their baskets on every inch of the perimeter on the outside. Twice I saw two carts start to tip from the weight of all those hanging baskets.  

I quickly decided on my color scheme and got four baskets of orange zinnias.  When I spotted some various coleus walking by I asked where I might find some of those.  "In the back corner," the woman said.  I never found the ones she had and stopped looking when a woman in her 60s was scaling the side of the rack to get to the baskets on top as it was rolling forward.

It was then that I feared for my life.

The Big Daddy must have thought I'd gotten lost and wandered out there in utter amazement.  "This is all for baskets of flowers?"  "I know," I said.  "It's sick, isn't it?"  As if I wasn't fully participating. We threw some tomato plants and a peach tree in our cart and headed out of Dodge.

Exhausted from the rain, the mulch hauling and the flower pot recon mission, I came home flopped on the bed and turned on the t.v.  I settled on Hoarding: Buried Alive.  Twin sisters up to their necks in garbage were being forced to clean it up or have their property condemned by the city.  When the shrink and the hazmat helpers came along to start hauling stuff out of the house the fragile sisters lost it.  Shoveled out garbage was thrown onto the lawn including books that were headed for the dumpster. "Look at this," one said to the other picking through the garbage.  "They say we can't even keep these.  Sis, they're throwing our library away."

And by library she meant the pet urine soaked books with mildew all over them.

"Who do those f****** think they are trying to take our library away from us," Sis yelled back.  And so they got out some paper and pencil and wrote down the name and author of every book in that pile so they could replace it.    Even that didn't go so well when the writer twin couldn't keep up with the reader twin. "Why don't you pay some f****** attention to me so I don't have to keep saying it twice?  Can you f****** do that?"

Whoa, Nellies, I thought to myself.  Where do they find these people who are so knee deep in mental health issues that they have to keep bringing home crap they don't need until it's stacked to the rafters?

The next day Maggie called me to go to Target.  "Let's check out the Lilly Pulitzer stuff," she said. "Yes, let's," I said back and I washed my stinky mulch hair and put some makeup on so I'd be pretty enough to try on Lilly's expensive-resort-wear-gone-cheap for the masses.  

Twenty minutes later she called back.  "Forget it.  It's sold out everywhere."

"Sold out????  It's the first day and the store's only been open for a couple of hours."

"I know but everybody says there's nothing left in the stores or online."

There I sat with my freshly washed hair, my sparse eyebrows filled in (with a bit of lip gloss to boot) and longed for a sister by my side to ask, "Who do those f****** think they are taking all the pretty flowered dresses away from us???"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jesus & The Gays

My Facebook feed is always rampant with links to articles about the gays.  When our own son came out I read everything I could find about how to not be scared shitless when your kid comes out of the closet. That lasted a couple of years and then absolutely nothing eventful happened so I stopped reading.

Somehow, though, the articles about the gays want to stalk me.

I rarely click on any more, whether they are on Facebook or a news site.  I can predict where they are going to go and heading down the rabbit hole of righteous shame is not healthy for me.  Occasionally I'll read an article that chastises the Christian right on this subject for their failure to put love into practice and I'll pump my fists, open the front door and yell, "YESYESYES.  A thousand times yes." Then I'll read the comments with their wagging fingers of preachiness and Bibleness and say to myself, "Oh, sister, you had to know that was a bad idea."  Again.

As I have loved you so you must love one another.

As someone who was raised in faith and raised their kids that way, who jumped through the Catholic hoops, (Confirmation, anyone? What exactly is that?) and reminded even the littlest of my tribe that they were accountable for how they treated each other, I think the playing field always has to tip to the disenfranchised.

It is what we are called to do, isn't it?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

And yet......

When I was in a study hall in senior year there were three of us that secretly played word games in the corner of the room three boring times a week.

John was his name.  It was the mid-70s.  It occurred to me that he might be gay even though that wasn't much of a thing yet.   At seventeen I worried about how he was treated outside of that room in that big, rough school.  A thousand times since then I have wondered how his life turned out.

Love what is sincere.  Hate what is evil: cling to what is good.

I was in grade school in the 60s and vividly recall the struggle for civil rights.  I have watched women in the workplace struggle for equal rights and equal pay for decades.  I am witnessing the battle for gay rights with some skin in the game. I know that despite all this incessant shouting and laws passed for headlines rather than common sense, that the tide will turn very soon.

There is no fear in love.

I do not need to read the words of another Christian donning the cloak of Jesus and shaming my kid.  It is a horrible waste of my time.  Instead, I am better off using my energy to help push the boat of love and justice for as long and as far as I can, and when I feel my shaky legs giving up I need to push harder.

Love does no harm to its neighbor.

For my kid and for the kid in middle school that is terrified of who they are attracted to.  For John, who kicked my butt in dueling-back-of-the-room-word-games in a study hall at Thornridge High School.  He went on to graduate.  I had another year to go.  In the end of the school year craziness we scribbled our names in each other's yearbook but I forgot to look at him and tell him that he was always the highlight of my day.

When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

I will follow him.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Shopping The Curb

This weekend is large item pickup here in Mayberry.  It is a once-a-year event that rivals Christmas in its participation and scale.  Homeowners can set nearly anything they want (as long as it is no bigger than a fridge) on the curb to be picked up by the trash company at no extra charge.  It is the ideal time to clean out the basement and garage, and though some things are easy to load up and take to Habitat Restore or Savers it is much more fun to haul it to the curb.

Why?  The customers.

Days ahead of the scheduled date, piles start appearing and then the cruising starts.  By far the biggest drive-bys are the metal scrappers.  Truck beds scraping the ground overflowing with washers and dryers, storm doors and grills.  If it has metal in it they are scavenging it, and by Friday night some streets are bumper-to-bumper.

Next are the people looking to outfit their home or apartment with a halfway decent couch, a chair or two and maybe some bookshelves.  They are not as hearty as the metal scrappers, just friendly thrifters looking to score some freebies.

Lastly, there are people like me and my vintage neighbors.  No longer willing to put the hours or gas into it like the old days, we just hope to find something unusual and old as we take the long way to the grocery store.

A young intern at work asked me once about curb shopping when she overheard me telling someone what I found. It started years ago when I saw some old windows on the curb and couldn't believe they were getting thrown out. With my mortified teenage daughter sinking into her seat, I popped open the back of the van and put some in the back.

Was I embarrassed about being seen?  Yes.  Was I hooked?  Like a senior at the slot machines.

Spring is the perfect time to curb shop and the thing I have found to be true nearly all of the time is this:

Nice neighborhoods with big houses don't have the best stuff.

Older homes are the goldmine of great finds.  Cleaning out after a parent or grandparent has moved out, most people seem to want to just get rid of all that stuff.  That's what happened when my neighbor popped open a box on the curb and found it full of glass dishes and quilts.

Here then are some of my favorite freebies....

I have been wanting to learn how to upholster and stopped to look at some chairs  that were on the curb.  I decided to take one of them with me and the homeowner came out to help me put it in the back of my car.  "I have a dresser and mirror in the garage I'm getting ready to put out.  Do you want to see it?"

Mother of all finds.

A friend saw this wicker piece on her neighbor's curb, pulled it into her driveway and called me, "Come right away.  I have something for you."  It was hideous but I didn't have the heart to say that and so we loaded it into my car where it sat for two years in my garage.  One spring day I decided to tackle this ugly duckling. I ripped all the old fabric off and a thousand tacks.  I stained it darker and Mark cut a piece of wood for the seat that I covered in foam and new fabric.  It was a labor of not-yet-love-but-getting-there.  When I was working on it I found a brass plate on the back that said Heywood-Wakefield.  She's all kinds of cute now.

I loved this old little cabinet but it drove me crazy.  It had some broken glass on the sides and old glass is ridiculously hard to break and get out.  It took me forever and it was filthy dirty so I scrubbed and scrubbed until it was clean enough to spray paint.  I filled in where the glass was with chicken wire.  Now?  Swoon...

This old wood trunk on casters was on my neighbor's curb.  The house belonged to his parents and he seems to have no love for anything in it. When I went over to see this he said, "This old thing? Whaddya want this for?"  For eternal happiness.  

Last year the kids found a pile of old pickets on the curb and we have used every single one to replace the broken pickets on our fence.  My neighbor once found an old metal sprinkling can that made me jelly.  Years ago I found the sweetest little red wagon.

In a few days when things start piling up on the curbs I'll say what I've been saying for years now.  "Not this time.  I don't need a thing,"

Then I'll think of something random I need at the grocery store and slowly cruise the streets and terraces of my neighborhood looking, looking, looking.......

Looking for love in all the free places.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Listen Sister

We always have a lot of people over for Easter.  This throws me into my usual entertaining tizzy. 

Ugh.  This paint color.  Why did I even pick this?  How could I paint the whole downstairs with something I can't even pronounce?

These floors need to be stained and varnished.

Mark!!!  Mark, look at this.  Hasn't this wallpaper has been in the bathroom since Clinton was president?

Can anyone tell me what happens to all the silverware around here?

On and on I go.  The inside, the outside.  I get on my broom, wave my pointer and cackle "All of it.  All of it must go."

Nobody even pays attention to me except my sister who is doing the same dance on the outskirts of Chicago.  Cleaning, springing things up and staring at a hundred pillows at Homegoods and thinking the same thing as me, "Good Lord.  Let it go with the pillows already."

With only a few days until Easter I'm not entirely sure how many people are coming or what they're bringing.  "Dessert or side" I say ever so casually like this is just so dang delightful to pull together that we'll all just wing it if there's twenty plates of lemon bars and a ham.  I should narrow these details down but I'm on my hands and knees cleaning baseboards because when I go to other people's homes that's the first thing I look at.

In my cleaning bender I might have been stopped in my Clorox tracks by Jesus ever so gently whispering in my ear, "Listen, sister, I didn't die on a cross for this shit."

And I might have snapped back, "Oh yes, Jesus.  I think you did."


Last fall we had the house painted.  I paid all but $300 to the contractor and even though there was touch-up paint to do, debris to haul away and a porch roof to fix they never came back.  I called or texted a few times a week with not a single response until December when I got a long apologetic text from the owner.

"Come back," I said.  "All is forgiven."

A date was set and no one showed up.  Another date and another and then another.  No painters, no carpenters, no sign of any effort to finish.  Texts and calls from me.  A "let me get back to you" text from him.  A new date was set and nobody showed up. 

A different text was sent this time.  Short and curt.  I said I was going to talk to an attorney if I didn't hear back by the end of the week. 

I never heard back.  My bluff was called and so I started to research just how one goes about filing a small claim.  Like taking down the Clinton-era wallpaper in the bathroom, this seemed like another thing that would get talked about but never done.

And then out of nowhere a van pulled up in front of the house the other day and the owner of the business came to the door.  I tried being an offended, terribly mistreated customer but it didn't last long before I softened and said, "Raul, what happened to you?  Where have you been?  Do you know how crazy you've made me?"

"I'm really sorry", he said.  "Someone in my family died and it set me back in a lot of ways."

We came up with a new plan to finish things around here.  I met the carpenter and the three of us stood on the porch and assessed the damage to my roof and the plan to fix it.  It seemed too good to be true - the wayward painter and his handy sidekick telling me all they plan on accomplishing next Tuesday.  Will they really show up?  Past experience tells me not to bet the farm on that one but I hugged him anyway.

"Thank you for not being mad at me," Raul said.

"Thank you for coming back," I answered, and it occurred to me that maybe we were both letting go of some shit that's been weighing us down for months.

I watched them pull away and Jesus might have leaned in and whispered, "That's better, sister."

"I know," I whispered back.

Happy Easter.