Wednesday, August 31, 2016


It was a dark and stormy night...

Actually it was an overcast Friday and I had no car and was stuck at home.  What to do? What to do?

I started with a coffee from the Keurig.  That was the intent but instead boxes of coffee pods came tumbling out onto the floor from a messy, disorganized cabinet that could barely close.  Pumpkin spice, chai tea latte, hot chocolate, espresso, mocha latte, mocha lessa.

Since I was grounded from going anywhere fun or spendy my agenda was set right then and there.  I looked at that pile of pods and decided that since we may move someday (or never) that the load around here needed to be lightened (personal weight issues excluded).  I strapped on an armor of use-it-or-get-rid-of-it that refused to look back, look over, or keep looking into the ever growing black bag that sat beside me as I sat on the floor.

Sitting amongst one's treasures useless crap can be revealing:

I have never met a candle I didn't think needed to come home with me.

I haven't used a tealight in at least five years but I have dozens of them.

At some point in my life I had grandiose plans of dinner parties with said candles, tablecloths and cloth napkins.

Every beat up pair of shoes I've ever owned got retired to the front closet to become garden shoes.

Anorak?  Now there's a jacket that can make any suburban mom look cool. I would know. I had four.

During my gap year when I was unemployed and searching for my passion I thought I needed to take fish oil, magnesium, iron, potassium and B-12.  Day after day my passion eluded me so I watched Dr. Oz instead.

I got into stamping and I don't really even know what stamping is.  Boo. Joy. Thank You So Much.  Texas.  Texas?   

Ink pads for stamping.  Black, black, black, black, black, red, red, red, red, gold, silver, distressed blue.  I could literally stamp Texas to look like a pair of blue jeans.

A collection of corrugated, cardboard sleeves from Starbucks cups that could be made into, made into, made into WTF?

Tub & tile caulk?  2

Latex caulk? 4 

Vacuum cleaner bags?  10 

Bottles of Ibuprofen? 3

Frontline for an 80# dog?  2 boxes  Years since we've had an 80# dog?  2.5

Gloves with no mate? 6

Whilst in Target (but not in the candle aisle) my neighbor called me to tell me about an ESTATE SALE I HAD TO GO TO NOW.  I hustled out with my cat food and toilet paper (since she said it all in caps) and headed over to the sale.  That's when I saw what accumulation looks like when it goes to the dark side.  Piles of stuff, thousands of books, three sheds in the backyard, a kitchen that barely had a path. 

It made me a little sick - this woman who bought and bought, and how did she even walk in this place?  Did anyone come and visit her?  Where did they sit?

There was no doubt that she was a hoarder, that she probably drove her family and neighbors nuts, that she bought dishes and glassware and garden pots and Christmas decorations by the dozens.  She saved decorating magazines from twenty years ago.  She saved ribbon and fabric, and calendars that were fifteen years old.  She saved toys and games that her kids must have played with decades ago. She saved hat boxes by the dozens.

She didn't know how to stop but if you saw her stuff you would know that despite some serious mental health issues she had damn good taste.

Nothing was priced.  Depending on who was working the money it was either a pile of stuff for $5.00 or $5.00 for each item.  I drifted to The Pile of Stuff guy with my garden urns.

Then I came home and opened every drawer and closet that I had already cleaned to see if I had missed anything else that could go, certain that I didn't want to be the lifelong caretaker of regret.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Minus One

A few days before the birth of our first baby, Mark and I took a walk around our apartment complex. Tired of being pregnant, we walked a lot in those last few weeks in order to move things along with my labor.  This time we walked to a creek with a little wooden bridge over it.  We were leaning over the railing trying to find signs of aquatic life when a group of boys came barreling up on their bikes. Jumping off their Huffys, they all crouched down along the muddy bank and Mark asked them what they were hoping to find. "Crawdads," they all said.  "There's crawdads in this creek." They spent a few minutes poking around until most of them got bored and rode away. Two boys stayed behind keeping up the persistent search until one screamed, "GOT ONE!!!!  GOT A DEAD CRAWDAD PINCHER!" It was a like a call to arms and from every direction the boys who had abandoned the search came pedaling back to the creek to see the dead crawdad pincher for themselves and roll it around in their hands..

"I don't know what this baby is," I said to Mark, "but I've gotta have a boy before my baby making days end."

That first baby was a beautiful girl and a few years would pass before a boy entered our life.  He was a lot like the boys that we saw that day.  He brought home every crawling, slithering, hopping, flying and creeping thing that crossed his path, and our basement and backyard was a temporary nature center for the kinds of living creatures that I would have preferred to have been left where they were found.


Two weeks ago we were eating Sunday dinner when Maggie told us about an accident that she had heard about a few hours earlier at the Schlitterbahn water park.  It happened on the Verrucht slide - the tallest water slide in the world and an ominous presence that all of us have seen dozens of times from the highway.  We read about it before it was built, saw it as it was being built and then the final product.  That final product made my stomach drop whenever I passed it.  There is another water park in town that we had taken our kids to a few times but by the time this one was built our kids were old enough to go on their own if they wanted to.  There were no takers for that kind of thrill seeking.

The initial details of the accident sounded horrific and I chose to believe that they couldn't possibly have been as bad as what people were saying.  The local news media reports were vague about the cause (and to date there are still ongoing investigations) but subsequent reports of the severity of the boy's injuries seem to be as awful as had been initially stated.

I can't stop thinking about this ten year old boy, his mom and dad who left their house that afternoon with four children and came home with three, the two women in the raft with this boy, the lifeguards at the top and bottom of the slide, the older brother who went down the slide first and was waiting for his younger brother to follow, the people in the park who saw too much on their way out, the police and fire department who responded to the accident.

A few days after it happened I was at work heating up my lunch when I said to one of the grad students in our office, "I can't believe what happened on Sunday to that little boy at the water park." And he said, "Geez, thank you.  It's all I can think about and nobody is talking about it around here. I can't even stop with the questions and the wondering and what the heck?  How did this happen?  How did they think that somebody wasn't going to get hurt on that thing?"  Every day that was the daily discussion between us until we exhausted ourselves on velcro straps, weight distribution, metal bars, nets, water slides vs. rollercoasters, a funeral, lawsuits.

Everywhere I have gone recently I keep seeing little boys.  At Target I overheard two boys talking about the pros and cons of a gaming system, on the drive home I passed some boys on their bikes headed to the public pool, at work a little boy came with his mom while she got her new school i.d., the boys up and down the street in my own neighborhood.

It was as if the Universe was saying you need to pay attention to our boys.

A few days after that accident happened two boys in Kansas City were shot and killed in their own home. They were cousins - one eight, the other nine and their grandmother said of the still unknown killers, "They have destroyed us." And then there is the heartbreaking photo of the shell-shocked and bloodied little boy in Syria whose picture will haunt most of us forever.


About a year ago I came across something on a walk along the creek near my house. I didn't know what it was but I stuck it in my pocket and brought it home.  When I showed it to Mark he smiled, handed it back to me and said, "It's a dead crawdad pincher."

We need to pay attention to our boys.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Innkeepers

Mark:  I'm going to take the extra soap and shampoo.

Me:  Why do you do that?  We don't need mini soaps and mini shampoo bottles.

Mark:  Yeah we do.


Mark has been going to Vermont for a bi-annual meeting since 1992 and every time he comes home he tells me that I need to go with him the next time. This summer was next time and he booked us at an inn in the town of Chester. Green, rolling hills and mountains, fresh air, peaceful lakes smooth as glass with not even the whisper of a boat motor or skidoo.  That state is a showstopper in the looks department.

We got into Boston, picked up our rental car and drove to Vermont via a few stops along the way including a fish and chips lunch on a coastal town in New Hampshire.  Land locked in Kansas, we are giddy as soon as we get a glimpse of water.  When we get out of the car and can smell the salty air we are ecstatic.  Things were off to a good start.  Our estimated time of arrival to the inn got delayed a bit by a driving rainstorm but I called to let them know we were on our way and would be there soon.  The inn is owned and operated by a husband and wife and the husband checked us in.  We walked up to the 2nd floor thumping our luggage behind us with each step and opened the door to Country Living circa 1980 and a full-size bed.  Decor wise there was plenty wrong with this room but the most glaring problem was the bed.  We weren't staying with relatives.  We paid for comfort.  "You didn't book a full-size bed, did you?" I asked Mark.  "I don't think so," he said in a manner that conveyed that he had no idea and didn't care.

The next morning we went downstairs to a breakfast buffet of bagels, fruit, waffles and scones.  Oh the scones!! They were fabulous.  We met Mrs. Innkeeper who was running the food show.  The Mr. showed up a bit later and told us that they take Sundays off and we wouldn't see them around after breakfast but that if we needed anything to ring the bell.

Mark had to make a trip to the conference center, register and pick up his packet.  He came back and picked me up and we went back to the opening night happy hour and dinner.  We let ourselves into the inn that night with our front door key and it was quiet.  Very quiet.

The next morning I drove Mark to his meeting and puttered around the small town we were in - going to all the shops and antique stores.  When I came back it was very quiet.  Mark had the afternoons off but he needed the first couple of days to get ready for his talk so we stayed around the inn and not once did I notice anyone else except Mr. Innkeeper who had decided that week to fix the roof that was outside our window. The following morning I drove Mark once again and came back to shower and head out for the day. It was eerily quiet again and when I ran into Mrs. Innkeeper I asked her if there were any other guests staying.  "Nope, you're the only ones.  There's usually not much going on the beginning of the week and then we start getting more guests closer to the weekend."  Oh, so that explains why it feels like we're squatters.

I picked Mark up and told him it was just us and Mr. and Mrs. Creepy Innkeeper.  "I don't like that guy," I said.  "He's not the least bit friendly.  He can't even make small talk.  Who owns an inn and doesn't even say good morning to his guests?"

The next day I overheard the innkeepers talking and he angrily said to his wife, "I'm never using that again. These people didn't even pay full price.  We got ripped off."  Was he talking about us?  I repeated to Mark what I heard and asked him how he booked our room.  ""  "Was the rate really discounted because I think it's you and me that that guy was talking about."  Mark couldn't remember as the room had been booked and charged to our credit card months ago.

Going out the following morning there was a breakthrough at the front desk.  Mr. Innkeeper talked to me!!!!  "I have to go up on the roof again today.  Do you  know how hot it is up there?"  I looked at him.  He looked at me.  "I can only imagine," I said but upstairs my head was having a different conversation. What is your problem?  I didn't cause your roof to leak, I didn't put a discounted rate on and if I were going to complain about somebody who paid to be in my EMPTY inn I'd do it where they couldn't hear me.  How about you tuck that attitude back into your sweaty, innkeeper pants and take an online charm school class. Buster.

After those initial, awkward days we kept busy (and away) from the inn until well after dark - the last day being an incredible drive to Maine.  Upon checking out of the Bates Hotel, Mr. Innkeeper said to us, "Come back again and next time call me direct to book your room."

We flashed him a smile - the kind we usually reserve for door-to-door solicitors and thanked him for his hospitality hostility. On the way to the car Mark said, "That son-of-a-bitch was talking about us."

I patted my purse with its pilfered mini shampoos and soap and the extra scones from breakfast I had taken and wrapped in a napkin to be eaten later.  If the toilet paper wasn't prison grade I would have heisted a couple of rolls of that too.