Every day is Halloween

 

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Photo from Encyclopedia Brittanica

Photo from Encyclopedia Brittanica

 

 

Is every day Halloween in Las Vegas?

There are plenty of tricks: husband encountered some prostitutes yesterday.

There are lots of treats: Oh, the eye candy. And the shopping! And the food! And the Bellagio fountain show at night! There is something to satisfy all of the five senses here.

There are the costumes: Hello, shows?

Also, there is a lot that’s scary:

  • In the throes of a major caffeine withdrawal, I went to the lobby coffee shop to get my fix and marveled at all the people strolling around with cocktails in hand, sucking on cigarettes, parked in front of slot machines  – or all of the above. At freakin’ 6 a.m.
  • I’m not talking about young people with stamina or high rollers who can afford to lose a wad of cash. I’m seeing seniors on Social Security. Folks in wheelchairs and walkers. I’m barely coherent at this hour. I wondered: Have they been there since last night? Or did they rise even earlier than the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. to gamble? I don’t mean to be insulting, but this is a world I just don’t understand.
  •  This is a city that never sleeps. Traffic, both on the sidewalk and on the streets is pretty thick and erratic. Attempting to navigate this town on foot with a stroller was daunting at times. Then I saw a dad pushing a triplets stroller and felt humbled a bit.
  • Con artists and shady characters abound. Apparently I am a bulls’ eye, being a woman alone with a small child. While out walking “The Strip” yesterday, I had several men approach me with all kinds of crazy pitches and propositions, including a handsome 20-something who encouraged me to “come with him. He had something to show me. Something for my skin.”
  • I’ll be he did. Incredulously, I pointed to my baby girl in the stroller and reminded him that I had a small child to attend to. Oh? Is she yours, he asked.  I couldn’t resist checking for my valuables after that encounter, fully convinced something had been up.

Let me just clarify right now: The husband is here on business.  Girl from the East and I tagged along. I had reservations about coming to Las Vegas with an almost 3-year-old because just about everything there is to do here in Sin City is the direct opposite of what you do with a toddler.

There is to be no unbridled drinking and foolishness for the MomZombie on this trip, although I get offered free drinks everywhere I go. There will be no Chippendale’s revue or Blue Man Group experience on this trip. There will be no “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” moments. Sigh.

Know what’s scariest of all? Imagining what I’d do if I came here with a group of friends.

Unforgettable day

Two years ago today we awakened very early in China and rode a bus to the provincial civil affairs office. We were a bundle of nerves. I clutched a stuffed bear in my hands on the bumpy ride to keep me from wringing them excessively. Two years of waiting and wondering were about to end.

Soon we would meet our Girl from the East, who’d been a plan, a hope and a dream for so long. Her picture was posted everywhere in our house. We looked at it constantly. Held it up to the light, tilted it, anything to reveal the unanswered questions: Who are you? What does your laugh sound like? Will you be happy with us? Will be know you when we meet you?

And then it happened so fast.

We are led into a crowded smoky room on an upper floor of a high-rise. A din of voices in Chinese and English, the squalling of babies, the oohs and aahs of parents-to-be and newly formed families, blend to become a high-pitch babble. It almost become too much. I feared I’d cry on this day. Instead, I retreat to a bench and sit with my head tucked between my knees, praying I don’t pass out.

Then I hear our family name called out by our guide and a cluster of orphanage workers rush toward us with the tiniest living doll I’d ever seen. And then she is in our arms. Her eyes wide and her brows raised as if to ask: What’s all this about? 

Two years later we are one as a family. We are so proud of both of our girls and the family we have created. Girl from the East proudly declares herself “a Chinese girl.”

According to her we all are Chinese girls. On the inside, we clarify. We all are Chinese girls on the inside.

Where in the world am I?

I woke up this morning, boarded a plane and watched the landscape evolve from 30,000 feet above the earth.  My land of lakes and streams and woods slipped away to open farmland and rippling plains that surrendered to the jagged peaks of the Rockies and ended in an oasis in the desert. As each mile faded behind me, so too did the layers of stress that threatened to suffocate me in the last few weeks. By the time we arrived in our destination, I felt 10 pounds lighter and actually smiled at strangers.

Can you guess where I am right now? I’d have pictures but *someone* forgot to pack her digital camera’s card reader.

Let’s put it this way: I can visit Paris, Venice, the Sahara all in one shuttle trip around town.

Yup, you go it. Sin City.

Not my first choice for a family trip with a toddler. But we had the opportunity to go. I am not one to pass on travel opportunities.

It’s always surreal to me to leave home in the cold and wet and dark and arrive somewhere that offers sun and heat and palm trees. And people live here! This is their life. I imagine what that must be like. To see mountains on the horizon as you move about your day. Appreciate that if you do because I am so freakin’ jealous.

After only one day in Vegas, I’ve made the following observations:

There are a lot of people with a lot of money to burn in this town.

There are a lot of people here who look like they cashed in their life savings to be here.

Some people move around the casinos on Segways.

Some couples buy matching “Las Vegas” outfits to wear around town.

For the record, I am not and have never been a gambler. I’ll not be rolling dice or wrestling the one-armed bandit.

More to come.

Slice of America on whole wheat

 

See this? This is the back window of the truck parked next to our car.

Both of our vehicles are in the parking lot of a typical, rural destination in autumn.

The kind of place where families go. They pull Radio Flyer wagons and fill them with freshly picked bags of apples and pumpkins they selected from the patch. They may even have a gallon of fresh cider and a bag of doughnuts still warm from the oven. Kind of a wholesome venue.

Our vehicle contains a family. A mother. A father. Children. A grandmother.

Their vehicle also contains a family. A mom. A dad. Two children. Two children, who look old enough to read, who are seated directly in front of these words. 

Did you read those words? On this vehicle. This family vehicle. At a family venue. I erased a letter here and there to keep this family friendly. Sort of.

All I could do was grab my camera and snap a quick picture and jump in the passenger seat and get out of the parking lot before that family saw me and kicked my butt. You know they would.

It would be a battle in a muddy parking lot in rural America. A battle over who among us was the Real American in the Real America. This is what it has come to. Everyone looking at everyone else’s stickers and lawn signs, wondering: Whose side are  you on? Are you with us or against us?

Scary times.

Overheard

Overheard at the local campaign office where I’ve been volunteering:

A middle-aged man walks in, asks for some information about the candidate. After he’s handed materials and leafs through them, he tells the volunteer that his biggest worry is voter apathy.

Volunteer offers a number of ways in which this man can help combat voter apathy.

Would he like to canvass neighborhoods? 

Hmmm….. no, he says, shaking his head.

Would he like to work the phone banks?

Oh, no, he says, shaking his head a little faster,  I couldn’t do that.

Would he like to volunteer for a number of jobs on Election Day or the three days preceeding Nov. 4?There are all kinds of things to do: distribute fliers with voter information, serve as a greeter at polling places, or donate food and/or beverages to the campaign office?

Nah… I don’t really like to get involved, he says and leaves the office.

Volunteer turns on her heels and throws her hands in the air.

Wheels of my logic go 'round and 'round

I went three months without a car. I dared myself to do it and I did it.

In concept, it was a great idea. We’d save money having only one car payment. Our insurance would shrink. We could shop around and save for the right new car at our leisure. And with gas prices at these rates, it seemed like an economical plan:

AP photo/Jeff Chiu/ stolen from:www.americanprogress.org

 

In concept, I like to walk and to accomplish a lot of simple errands on foot rather than waste gas. In concept, I am a mature, rational adult.

In reality, going without a car for three months had its drawbacks. While I did tone my legs and get a lot of sun, I somehow equated these things with full-out exercise.

In reality, by the time I got my butt back into the driver’s seat, it had actually expanded. Turns out with my 40-something metabolism, one hour of brisk walking a day did nothing to burn the robust intake of food I preceeded and followed each walk with.

In reality, our only car — my husband’s work car and my back-up when needed — was totaled a week after the one-car program was enacted. Thereby voiding the whole deal of paying off Car A and saving for Car B.

In reality, all my bragging about shopping, running errands and meeting friends via walking all summer was no match for all the complaining I did at home.  Just ask the husband, who practically ran to the dealership in September to pick out a second car to shut me the hell up already.

In reality, when you are car-less, you are a pain the ass to everyone who wants to make plans with you. All the logistics of offered rides or asked-for rides, gas money reimbursement, guilt and/or refusal of rides leads to awkwardness. Enough said.

In concept, there are enough alternative methods of getting around without a car.

In reality, not in “The Motor City” which is laid out and designed with car ownership in mind.

In conclusion, absurd as it sounds, I now have a gym membership. I drive to the gym. To lose the weight I gained when I didn’t have a car. I got rid of the car to save money and get in shape. Neither of those things happened.

End of story.

Even glamour has an underbelly

Welcome to the monthly installment of Glamorous In Real Life, sponsored by Marcy, who has it goin’ on when it comes to the glamorous life. Today’s rhinestone-encrusted gem is from the November 2007 vault. If you live in a state with the bottle-deposit law, you may know what I’m talking about.*

 

Image from examinor.com

 

As part of Girl from the West’s fund-raising efforts for her trip to Europe next summer, 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.

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.

 

Image from hamiltonspectator.com

Image from hamiltonspectator.com

 

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: Do 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 the woman 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.

** Quick tutorial: Collect bottles and cans marked with bottle deposit refund. Take bottles and cans to store. Got to bottle collection machines and feed them into machines. Collect receipt from machine. Go to cashier to claim your deposit refund. Go home and take a shower.

Sticky situation resolved

This is not colonial America, but my older daughter’s school district made me feel like Hester Prynne when they handed me a modern-day Scarlet Letter.

Unlike Prynne, I refuse to wear this badge of shame, seeing as I did nothing wrong.

Instead, I chose to fix the situation.

You see, school employees, upon viewing my daughter’s file, decided that since I do not live in the district and her father does, that I must not have custody of her. They decided that this needed to be publicized by writing “noncustodial parent” on paperwork for me. Paperwork left on a table in plain view. 

This was the second time in the last two years that employees made this huge leap from fact to fiction. I couldn’t imagine what their motivations were or why any labels needed to be placed on anything addressed to me.

When it happened the first time, I addressed the matter on the spot and chalked it up to one person’s rudeness. When it happened again, in a new building with new employees, I knew there was a bigger problem at hand. I made it my mission to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. It took about a week of phone calls to various departments at the administrative level to get the wheels turning.

I learned two very interesting things:

1. This school district does not have on file distinct classifications for parents such as “custodial” and “noncustodial” as I was told my two employees last week. “Divorced” parents are listed as such, with no further information about custodial matters unless the court has issued an order. This tells me, as well as the apologetic administrator investigating this for me, that the employees at my daughter’s school took it upon themselves to make this distinction and publicize it for some ignorant and cruel reason.

2. I also learned that in my daughter’s vast suburban school district —  in an area growing so rapidly they can’t build schools fast enough — I am one of only FIVE families that have joint legal custody with one parent living outside the district. I’m not a statistician, but this seems like a small number by today’s standards.

The administrator I talked to said that in 99 percent of the cases, if a divorced parent lives outside the district, they are non-custodial. 

Which explains how people with no access to my personal information made such assumptions about me. They did it based on past experience. 

It sounds like the administrator did her job quickly and efficiently, even going so far as to talk to the employees’ supervisor concerning their insensitive and damaging behavior. She issued an apology to me on behalf of the district. 

Although I’m relieved this has been resolved, I’m not really happy. I feel the damage has been done. Eventually time will fade this memory. Hopefully I can replace it with a positive experience at her new school.

But I worry about this unbridled ignorance that permeates our  society. One in which people make such snap judgments without knowing the facts. One in which people barely hesitate before reacting to these judgments in damaging ways.

Harvest


Earlier this year I boasted about our amazing garden and how it produced so much food for us that we had to give a lot of it away. We’ve been spoiled. So many of the meals I prepared and put on the table came from our garden and not the store.

We’ve enjoyed vegetables and herbs as they should be: fresh and free of pesticides and other chemicals.
Yesterday we sliced the last mini- watermelon, munched the last of the grape tomatoes and chopped the last stalks of celery for a salad. We have a few ripening tomatoes lined up for duty on the window sill. And then … that’s it.
Kind of sad for us all. Most of all for Girl from the East, who discovered the joys of the garden this season.

We captured the above picture of her a few weeks ago carrying in the day’s harvest. She has been an active participant in the garden all year. She helped drop the seeds into the earth this spring, and checked almost daily for sprouts — proof that the planting was successful. She learned how to pull weeds. How to water the plants. Most recently, she perfected plucking the fruits of all her labor from the stalks and placing them gently into a basket. 

It just may come naturally to her. I sent this picture to a friend I have in Nanchang, China, the nearest large city to where my baby girl was born. She wrote back that with her interest in growing and eating vegetables, my baby is truly a Jiangxi girl. What little we know about baby girl’s roots is that she came from a rural, farming community. I’m grateful to have this one connection to my girl’s origins.

120 volt wake-up call

Today’s lesson: Read the sign above and replace the word “game” with “life.” Life should be like a game and we should be able to gain some amusement from it, right?  Although we will be offended – campaign advertising and network TV programming guarantee that – we should be able to enjoy the show without walking away.

Seems I’ve been spending some time at the carnival lately.

First, the acrobatic feats:

 

One of our cats mysteriously fell into the neighbor’s pool. The neighbor’s yard is properly fenced. It’s not our place to judge that the pool, with it’s murky black and green water, looks like the home to this creature:

 

 

Following the discovery of our soaking wet, shivering, howling, muck-covered cat on our doorstep, we follow the paw prints to a hole in the fence at the back of our lot. A feat our dear cat accomplished by prying off the lattice work at the bottom. 

I peer under the fence to see the once sparkling, chlorinated pool next door is now a  swamp o’ horrors, topped with a thick layer of green algae. I’m not sure what series of events led our cat to plunge into the depths or how he clawed his way out. All I can think is that it’s lucky he got out.  This  is the same cat who pried off one of our heating vents in the wall and plummeted into the ductwork of our gas furnace. Clearly for him, life is a game.

Next, the fireworks:
Somehow Girl from the East managed to procure a copper penny, jam it behind one of those little button night lights plugged into the electrical outlet, and trip the circuit for our second-floor bath and office.

I was drying my hair when this happened so the sudden power outage startled me. I stepped out of the bathroom to find my baby girl on the floor just outside the door, the nearby electrical outlet blooming with black streaks.

The nightlight was blackened.

The penny melted at the contact point.

Miraculously, Girl from the East was OK.

You know those moments when you’re looking at something happening, but it’s not registering with central command? Like when you stumble upon a big, wild animal in the woods or when one of your customers at the bank pulls out a handgun and announces a holdup? This was one of those moments. All I could do was hold my girl tight and hope she was OK. She was fine. But the thought of “what if?” wouldn’t leave me for days.

We’ve had a few close calls this year. Girl from the East had the big spill and six stitches. We had the car wreck. In each case, we were jarred a little bit harder. We were forced to examine what the heck we were doing (or not doing). Some things (car accident) happen and cannot be prevented. Other things (big spill, almost electrocution) can be avoided. The trick it seems is to keep perspective and get out of the park before the scary carnies get you.