What fresh hell is this?

As part of Girl from the West’s fund-raising efforts for Euro tour ’08, we initiated a returnable bottle and can drive. Oh, what jolly good fun it was to write and print the flyers, wait for the appointed pick-up day, and then stroll about the neighborhood and collect the booty in shiny black bags.

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We marveled at the growing hill of trash in our back yard. We’d get them cashed in right away, we promised.

Well, they sat and collected leaves. They sat and collected rain water and leaves. Finally, after husband cleaned gutters and plopped gutter gunk onto leaf- and rainwater- covered bags, we decided that was our cue.

All I can say is: WTF? No wonder people are more than happy to dump 500 cans on their porch for us to haul away. This is not fun work. Maybe it’s our deflated economy. Maybe it was our choice of market or neighborhood. I don’t know but each time we went to the neighborhood grocery store to cash in these bottles and cans, it was some kind of nightmare.

First time: Every employee we sought help from was in some kind of bad mood on a bad day, squabbling with other employees in bad moods on bad days. Or, the machines were malfunctioning on some kind of bad day. Not only that, but the facility also is a strewn with trash, there are puddles of spilled beer and soda on the floor, and there is no heat.

It got to the point where we dreaded pushing the little buzzer for assistance, as most certainly some growling, cussing worker would emerge from behind the swinging doors in a swirl of discarded plastic bags insisting that we weren’t feeding the cans into the machines properly or that they were too squished. We just weren’t doing it right.

Second time: Not only were the employees in a horrible mood, but also the people waiting in line. With few exceptions, most appeared to be street people who had this down to a science. I guessed they were hungry and impatient to get cash in hand to buy a meal or drink or whatever was tearing at their guts. They probably resented us suburbanite yuppies in to cash out on our garden party returnables.

Girl from the West and I waited longer than anyone should for this sort of thing until it was our turn. As I rolled my overflowing cart to the glass bottle machine, I heard a commotion behind me. I turned to see Girl from the West being bull-dozed by a four-foot tall, screeching and elderly Asian woman in a knit hat. I don’t know what she as saying or why she targeted us. I don’t know where she came from either. She was not ahead of us and I didn’t see her behind us. She came from nowhere plowing her cart like a tank and pinned Girl from the West between two carts. No one else in this long line did a thing. All stood and stared wide-eyed.

Girl from the West and I exchanged knowing looks, meaning:┬áDo not move an inch. First opening, start pitching cans into the machine. Do not let her in. I don’t care if she’s 85 years old and homeless.

We learned our lessons as tourists in China. Once, while waiting in line at an airport bathroom, an elderly Chinese woman pushed and shoved me out of line while no one batted an eye. Not knowing what cultural faux pas I committed, I just endured the harassment. But this is my turf here.
So we stood our ground, while this holy terror continued her tirade in (I think) Chinese. The others in line continued to ignore her and say nothing. At one point, after numerous butts with the cart, Girl from the West pushed back. That stopped the harassment for a while.

Finally we were done and began to work our way through the crowd. Others in line asked us what we’d done to upset this woman. We told them we’d done nothing. One employee piped in that this was “typical stuff.” On my way past her, I stopped and told her there was no good reason for her to push us like that and that we all could be little nicer, couldn’t we? This fueled another tirade. I’m sure I was cursed to endure a thousand snake bites in the firepit of hell, and whatever else would be appropriate.

Who knew? I feel I’ve been introduced to a new world, one in which I hope not to set foot again.

Survey says . . .

Boy, I sure know how to pick ‘em.

In this week alone, my city was named “Most Dangerous in America.”

My car made some Top 10 list for “worst vehicles.

“This news does not make me happy.

Where I live is a larger issue. Technically, it’s not my city on the list since I live in an inner-ring suburb directly north of Dangerville U.S.A. But we are a mere one-half mile from Certain Death. We’ve known this all along. We were warned that we were moving “too close to 8 Mile.” Yeah, Eminem’s 8 Mile. I like to think of it as Detroit:Rock City.

But, I’ve been here all my life. I spent the first half of my childhood living near 8 Mile. (The husband half of this relationship doesn’t like to me throw that around too much.) But it’s true. Eight Mile is a long stretch that covers a lot of territory, not all of it lined with prostitutes, wig shops and “Praise the Lord Auto Parts” emporiums. My parents have lived in and near this city their whole lives; same for their parents and so on. We go back a long way — like to its founding more than 300 years ago.So, there’s pride in that.

Danger, or lack thereof, hasn’t kept me here, either. Frankly, we’re not “safe” anywhere. I witnessed and was victim of more crimes when I lived in outer suburbia for nine years than I ever had within the city proper. I was robbed at gunpoint in the Suburbs. I had stuff stolen out of and from my car in the Suburbs. My neighbors were robbed at gunpoint and all their Christmas gifts taken from their trunk at an upscale Suburban mall. I could go on but the point is, don’t think because you live far from 8 Mile you are “safe.

“Our city has jumped on and off the list for years. The only thing that really irks me about it is when I travel. People really think you’re a hard ass or a survivor when you say you are from Detroit. You may as well say you are from Iraq. They think gunfire and dead bodies are part of our daily experience.

Enough said on that.

About the car, well, … yeah, not surprised. You might be asking yourself: Why, mother of two, would you purchase a vehicle with such a lousy track record? Mother of two would answer: Track record? I’ll have to play the dunce card on this one. My lease was up on my Pontiac Vibe, which I loved but couldn’t afford to buy, and I had no time to search. The Jeep deal was about as well-thought-out as a one-night stand. But I’m stuck for now.

Chalk it up as another lesson in my brimming book of “Why Looks Aren’t Everything.” This right next to the full file with color pictures of “My Impulsive Purchases.” Oh, if Salvation Army could talk, what tales it would tell.

Coincidentally, we are both researching new cars and beginning our five-year plan for relocating west of the Mississippi.Really.

****Yeah! Just read that we are No. 5 fattest city in the United States. Guess that makes us pretty easy moving targets, eh?

Three things

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There are times when I am at a playdate or on the playground with Girl from the East when I let slip that there’s another girl in my life — a teenager — which would be Girl from the West. I love watching the expressions and reactions on people’s faces.Usually it’s wide eyes, opened mouths and then “You have a teenager and a toddler at the same time?”

Only those in the same position nod their heads knowingly.I mean, I’ve never done a poll or anything, but I think most folks wouldn’t plan to have such a huge gap between children. It’s more that life places that gap there. It could be through divorce, death of a spouse, a second marriage, or fertility struggles.

On top of having a teen and a tot, I have other issues with my girls.

Girl from the East was adopted. Not that I embroider that on her shirt but we are, as they say in adoption vernacular, a “conspicuous family.” In shorthand that means we can’t usually to to the mall or the park or an event without stares and questions. After a year, we’re getting used to it. Bring on the nosey questions and rude comments: We are proud of our Girl from the East.

Girl from the West came to me by the old-fashioned method, kicking and screaming into this world after hours of hard labor on my part. However, she is a child of divorce and lives in two homes. In shorthand, she lives with me four nights out of the week. This also causes wide eyes, open mouths and questions about logistics and family dynamics.When she was younger, I’d have to reassure some of her peers that I was her “real mother” and not her “fake mom” as they assumed because our last names were different.

Nothing is easy in this scenario. But I engineered most of it, so I’ve always felt I can’t complain. What I can do is figure out how to make it work.

To get to the point of this post, with all the tot and teen dramas unfolding around here, it’s nice to get some positive feedback once in a while. Three things happened in the last week.

One: Girl from the East has progressed amazingly in her tumble and sports class at the community center. After just six weeks, she’s now able to keep up with the class and break away from me and do some independent play.

Two: Girl from the West had her first rehearsal last weekend for her international exchange program next summer. At the end of an all-day run-through on the other side of the state (in which we left the house at 5 a.m.) her choir performed for us weary parents. Amazing. I was nearly in tears. These kids sounded so good.

Three: Girl from the West brought home an all A and B report card.

If nothing else, at least I can say these girls are moving forward, which is amazing progress from a year ago at this time. It wouldn’t have happened quite so well had I been away from home these last 12 months.

Give me strength

Or give me a gun. Or maybe just a refill on the happy pills.

No, seriously. I’m not a violent person. At least not on the outside. Inside is another matter altogether. And I don’t want to get back on the meds.

I blame this all on the stupid plastic bracelet dangling from my right wrist, the one given to me two weeks ago as a hint to do some personal work. Knowing there was no use even trying to argue this one, I just held out my arm and allowed this piece of petroleum byproduct to share space with my sterling silver cuff bracelet. Beautifully made by Native Americans, the bracelet was slipped on my wrist as a spontaneous gift from my husband five years ago on a perfectly romantic trip to the Southwest. We found it in one of the many jewelry/art shops in Santa Fe. I don’t think I was doing much complaining on that vacation.

The sterling silver is a reminder of good times, perhaps even more selfish times. I’m a sterling silver jewelry person. A bought-it-on-vacation jewelry person. Not a rubber bracelet wearing sort. I don’t put political or cause-related pins on my collars or coats. I don’t slap magnetic “ribbons” supporting the troops or cancer survivors on the tailgate of my car. I like to keep that kind of stuff a little more discreet.

Now I have this pink rubber wristband that suggests I go at least 21 days without complaining. It serves as a beacon to all that I’m on some cause kick. it glares at me, taunting: C’mon crybaby, tell me the tune so I can cue the string section.

I’ll never get the thing off because at least once a day I complain about the wristband itself. It’s too big. It’s way too pink. Since I’ve slipped this thing on, it seems as if I’m being tested, as if every annoying thing ever is happening all at once. Even though no one reads this thing, I’m going to keep the biggest complaints off the Internet. Believe me, they are doozies.

Question is: Do I not have a right to vent about big things? Is it only the small stuff that pink bracelet is reminding me to let go?

Back to work, I guess.

One-year analysis

It’s been one year.

— since I left the workforce. Funny, things seem to be moving along just fine without me.

— since we expanded our family to include Girl from the East. It’s as if she’s been with us always. And yet, we all have so much to learn. We’ve had our observations, our reunions, our celebratory dinners. It’s wonderful to know Baby Girl has been withus longer than without us.

One year has passed.
Oh, I thought I’d have so much more accomplished.
This is a perfect of example of how my husband says I’m a “glass half-empy” kind of person.
I call myself a perfectionist. He says I’m negative.
By now, I envisioned myself having found a Plan B following the end of nearly 20 years of newspapering. I’d have a plan sketched out somewhere on how I was going to accomplish this new life direction.
Well, I have some rough drafts in my head but nothing set in ink or based in any kind of reality. Is that good enough for one year off work?

A year later, I was going to be 25 pounds thinner on my new exercise regimen. Well, not quite at that goal but still working toward it.

We did get some major projects done around the house: new basement windows, a major plumbing leak resolved, finished painting the garage, reigned in some of the major lawn and garden issues.

But glass-half empty me sees so much more that sits untouched: Baby Girl’s bedroom ceiling which is cracked and in desperate need of new paint. The broken, 25-year-old celing fan that hasn’t been replaced. The major water damage on the west end of our home. All the baseboard moldings and doors that need either full repaints or touch up.

Right now I’ve resigned myself to getting from one day to the next.
Yes, it sounds negative. But only to the long-term planner, the visionary. That would be my husband. Not much gets him down.

Maybe to the sick, the addicted, the messed up, having a one-day-at-a-time philosophy is the only way to get through it. That and a nice wine tree in your yard.

Girl from the West is going through some hard times right now: middle-school angst involving girls who once were your friends now who are not due to changes in attitude; she’s also preparing for a major adventure next summer and this involveds paperwork, planning, fund-raising of thousands of dollars.

I find taking care of two girls, one a teen and one a toddler, is full-time in itself. I find taking care of a smallish house on a fairly big corner lot is a full-time endeavor in itself. Finding time for me is just not happening right now. Me time for exercise, reading, writing, exploring new avenues all must be accomplished between the hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. No longer my best hours. More and more lately, I’m opting to sleep.

So, in analysis, I’ve accomplished some things in my year off work. I’ve helped Girl from the West get her academic life on track. I’ve helped Girl from the East attach and bond to her new, forever family. We’ve gotten caught up on a number of home projects. We survived a year of one income. I’ve lost some weight and gained a level of fitness.

Looking at the glass as half-full is going to take some more work on my part.

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

Linus, we feel your pain. Like the hapless Peanuts character, we waited for our little pumpkin to get excited about Halloween, the second-biggest American holiday next to Christmas. We bought the costume early. We tried it on often. All was well until…
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Well, Girl from the East decided she would have nothing to do with such a ridiculous get-up and settled for the shoes only. shoes.jpg