Just say it

There is nothing subtle about this. The cat knows we are leaving and he wants to come along.
Cats don’t mess around. Give them what they want and they are pleased. Mess up in the delivery of water and kibble or forget to scoop the litter box clean and you’re bound to step in a warm surprise on the staircase.

It’s the same with children. Slip some water wings on Girl from the East, let her splash in a hotel pool until her fingers and toes turn to prunes, feed her a plate of macaroni and cheese, let her have a sugary dessert and all is right in her world.

Children let us know what they want. They ask. We answer. Sometimes there are tantrums. Unpleasant as those outbursts are, we know how they feel and they know where we stand on an issue.

Then we grow up and become vague adults. We assume things. We talk in riddles. We hold grudges and pile on the baggage. We don’t say what we mean or ask for what we want. We allow ourselves to be manipulated or attempt and fail to micro-manage the lives of everyone around us.

Then, one morning, someone stands up and shouts: Enough!

The morning after that someone else wakes up alone, with no plans for the day and asks: Why? What did I do?


No-fight club

Despite what my husband thinks (*ahem*) I do not like fights. I end up in them sometimes because I lack a filter. I let things tumble out of my mouth.  I react first and think second. So, yeah, there are those clashes that build and erupt like thunderstorms on an August afternoon.

What I like even less than the one-on-one encounters is going up against the Goliaths. A few years back, I engaged in a legal battle with my former employer. It was stressful. I did not prevail in the end.

Now, it looks like something simmering on the stove has potential to boil over. I cannot reveal many details; I don’t want to hurt my chances.

I’ll say this: We pay dearly for this product and now the company is saying it doesn’t want me as a customer anymore because it feels I have withheld information on my initial application. Further, had it known these “things,” it wouldn’t have touched me with a long, sanitized pole. It has done some investigating of my past, it says, and found things it doesn’t like. If I cannot document and justify these “things” in a convincing way, they are pulling the plug. Fighting words.

All this came out of nowhere.  It makes me wonder. There are many battles in progress out there. I wonder sometimes, on a larger scale, what it really means.

A few weeks ago, when I told my story to a stranger at a forum on issues about this industry, she looked me in the eye and said, “You are screwed.”

I didn’t believe her. I don’t now. But that doesn’t mean I’m not scared. There will be a fight. Large or small I do not know. Win or lose, I have to try.

Unless it’s all a dream.


Just say no to buzz kills

The problem that really keeps me up at night is feline AIDS.

Girl from the West used to call me Eeyore, because I tend to have lowered expectations and accept bad outcomes as if they were my destiny.

Then, Saturday Night Live gave us Debbie Downer.  Now, Girl from the West gives me a figurative kick in the shins  — followed by a loud “wah waaah” (the sad trombone)  — when I turn down certain conversational roads. So when someone remarks on how the sunlight feels so good on their skin and I get all:  better put on SPF 250; those ultra-violet rays will turn you into a walking melanoma, she gives me “the look” and a quick sad trombone. Hint.

Debbie Downers. Buzz kills. No one likes them. No one wants to be one. Yet, it happens. Do we know it when we are being one?

Sometimes I slip into the role, generally when my mom pants are notched too tight, when I think I’m being helpful, or wise, or worrying every little thing to shreds.

Recently I was on the receiving end of a Double-D Debbie Downer. It was a sad experience and a good reminder to check myself.

Someone I’ve known for many years invited me to lunch for my birthday. She encouraged me to pick the place. So I chose a fabulous breakfast/lunch diner in town that I thought she might like. The first sign of trouble came as she began snapping the one-page menu back and forth with such force it created a stiff breeze. It was as if all her anger over my choice of restaurant was compressed in that laminated slip of paper. It was as if the chef personally designed a menu to alienate her digestive tract.

I could feel a perfect storm brewing. I made a few menu suggestions. All were rejected. I said maybe she could ask the waitress for some ideas. Instead, when the waitress asked for our orders, I placed mine and she quickly ordered the same thing, handing back both menus before I could protest.

(You know how this is going to end, don’t you?)

The complaints started coming two bites into the Tex-Mex breakfast burrito. It was too spicy. It had onions, too many onions. And too much cheese; do you know how bad cheese is for you? Why didn’t I tell her the burrito had this stuff in it?

All the joy I felt being in my favorite diner eating my favorite meal, drinking my favorite coffee drained out of me, quickly replaced with guilt: for picking this restaurant, for not helping her find something on the menu she’d like, for not knowing all her dietary restrictions and issues, for having the audacity to be hungry, for not conveniently dying during the year so we wouldn’t have to celebrate my birthday.

In one final act of rejection, she set down the fork, pushed away the plate and grabbed her napkin.

She’d just have coffee, she said, dabbing her brow, but that ended up being too caffeinated, too hot and in too big of a mug. Also, the restaurant was loud. And the plates were too round. As I continued eating in silence, she got up from the table and went to the restroom. For a long time.


We’d have to leave soon, she said when she came back.

She paid and we parted ways. I went home; she, I suppose, began a three-day cleanse.  I made a mental note to keep tabs on my negativity and the need to have things my way. I also promised myself I would spend less time around people who pick apart everything to the point of being a destructive, negative influence.

Buzz kills. Debbie Downers.

I started out my day on a happy note. But one Tex-Mex burrito and coffee later I was depressed.



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The new normal

rshartley via creative commons

Forget about setting schedules, syncing calendars, or crafting some semblance of normalcy in my life. It’s not going to happen. Even though my soul craves order and organization, the universe thinks otherwise.

After giving myself a month to just relax and enjoy life home alone, October was the month of getting back into it — whatever “it” is supposed to be. I was going to polish the résumé, network a little to find freelance jobs, go to the career center for advice, research graduate degree programs, sign up for job retraining, reinvent the wheel.

Yeah, right.

Here it is Nov. 3 and none of those things happened. The networking event? Ended up falling on one of those teacher planning days. Training session last week? Had to cancel when Girl from the West’s car died in a far-off subdivision. I’ve been the go-to parent for the last few weeks while husbands and fathers traveled to far-off regions for their work. Seems as though every time I make a plan to move forward, the universe makes another plan.

Did I mention I took on a big project with a short deadline?

My inner wonder woman refuses to concede defeat. I keep thinking if I do things differently, they’ll come out in my favor. Is it any surprise that I have relapsed?

This is my new normal and I’m just going to have to accept it for now. Swimming against the current just gets me sick and crazy. I don’t want to be sick.  I have two sick kids in my house now. I don’t want to be crazy. I want to buck the family trend.

So, in a big middle finger to the universe, I’m participating in National Blog Posting Month for the second time. My first NaBloPoMo began while on a junket to Vegas with full-blown pneumonia, why not do it again with a raging case of the hives?

Life is good.


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What I haven’t done

Recently I conducted my first jump-start of a car using those confusing cables. Not that it was a successful attempt, but I’m patting myself on the back anyway for at least trying. Until now, I’ve always deferred to whomever was the fastest to act, usually whatever man was around. Dead batteries are one of those let’s-see-how-much-of-a-manly-man-you-are kind of moments. Who am I to get in the way of that? Except when there’s no one else around but you, your daughter’s car with the dead battery on the faraway subdivision street, and your very-much-alive car purring away behind you.  In the spirit of doing new things or of procrastinating on things that you don’t really want to do — ever —  and inspired by Suniverse’s post on the matter, I submit my top 10 ne’er-do-well  list:

1. Sang Karaoke. It’s so popular. Everyone loves to sing. Everyone has such a good singing voice. Not really, but if feels that way sometimes. I always feel like a party pooper when the equipment is pulled out and plugged in. Recently, I’ve decided I need to practice a go-to Karaoke song so that, if forced, I can fake my way through. How about  Meg White singing “In the Cold, Cold Night?”  Can’t mess that up too much, can I?

2. Skied down a big hill. Never made it off the bunny run. Childhood traumas are hard to overcome. It’s cross-country all the way for me.

3. Paid for a manicure or pedicure. But maybe I will someday. I used to think I never would, but after my first session with an esthetician as a birthday gift, I realized it’s really more than just a frivolous indulgence, it’s about taking care of your body. I have skin problems. This has kept me away from places where people might scrutinize it.

4. Had the good drugs at the dentist. The “laughing gas” was pooh-poohed by my mother and the post-surgery pain pills were always flushed down the toilet. “Those things will turn you into an addict,” she’d say as we watched the colorful dots swirl to their watery grave. For whatever reason, the dentists I’ve gone to as an adult don’t use laughing gas, or their shots don’t seem to work on me, or they’ve deemed my procedures below the need for the “good stuff.”  Dentistry = pain. What’s up with that? Am I on some list?

5. Dated a man outside my race. Not by choice.  I would have been open to it if it were the right guy. It just never happened. I was quasi-stalked by a guy of another race, but it was more of a family effort at matchmaking. Did I mention I was a sophomore in high school at the time?

6. Seriously played a drinking game. Even at the nadir — or would it be zenith? — of my youthful stupidity, I backed away from those games. I had a deep fear of projectile vomiting in public.

7. Mowed a lawn, used a weed-whacker or one of those loud, exhaust-spewing blowers. I feign ignorance around garden implements requiring gas and oil. I do what I can by hand and leave the rest to the experts.

8. Visited the tropics. I’ve been to the semi-tropical areas of Florida and the Mediterranean region, but never to a place with rain forests, bird-eating spiders, and sassy monkeys that jump out of the jungle and throw fruit. I’m not sure why it doesn’t appeal to me.

9. Walked a picket line, crossed a picket line (I should note that I was asked to do so but would not.) or engaged in a public protest. For many years, as a member of the media,  this was expressly prohibited. Now? I feel unless I’m on fire for a cause, I’d rather do good works (plant trees, pick up trash, tutor children, feed the homeless) that have tangible results.

10. Watched one episode of ‘Oprah’ except that time when I was called for jury duty and sat in that big room half the day waiting for my number to be called. ‘Oprah’ was on and I admit to peeking at the screen for a few minutes. Which reminds me, I’ve never served on a jury. I’ve been called three times and dismissed three times. I’m sure it’s because I never watched ‘Oprah.’

And because my list is so awesome it goes to eleven:

11. Participated in NaNoWriMo. Not that I didn’t entertain the idea for a few days, poll friends on Facebook, develop an outline and a chapter plan, set up an account on the site, name the book, and be struck with a great plot idea on Nov. 1, the first day.  LIfe, however, got in my way. In addition to many other things, our Internet went out yesterday. Not that it should stop me, but all my notes and plans were hidden online. When I considered packing up and going to a local coffee house, the school called to tell me one of my kids was sick and needed to come home. Later that evening, after a new Internet wireless router was purchased and installed, the words would not come. I was tired. I was beaten. I gave up. Not on the idea in some form, but on NaNoWriMo itself. Damn.

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Snake charms

Garter Snake, close up, taken in North Ontario...

It's NOT gardener snake. It's garter snake. Without arms or legs you cannot effectively raise crops.

Having been reared by a person rife with irrational fears, I’ve had to work hard all my adult life to reign in the crazy. Two things I’m still working on in the fear department: packs of feral dogs and small electrical appliances spontaneously combusting. (I’ve had an unfair share of freak accidents involving home appliances.) The former is a justifiable fear as I live one-half mile from a particularly mean part of Detroit that regularly expels feral dogs. The latter, well, that’s what therapy is for, right?

I do not have a fear of snakes, per se, but when I go West I take measures to avoid rattle snakes.  LIttle did I know some folks keep them as cuddly pets. (Stop goofing around and click on over to The Bloggess; you won’t get what I’m saying unless you do. Plus, she’s so funny.)  I showed this post to my husband and he gave me “the look.” Even though our marriage is so good it goes to eleven, I know my husband doesn’t always get a certain side of my humor.

The Bloggess’s post about snakes — or is it about signs? — reminded me of period in my life when posting crazy signs all over the place was a major part of my weekly routine. The best ever? Removing all the toilet paper rolls from the ladies room (two floors up from our office in a crumbling old high-rise), posting explanatory signs on the stall doors about paper rationing and how employees could earn squares on the merit system, and stashing the emergency supply on the 23rd-floor fire escape. (Wow. Who knew wind could unravel toilet paper so quickly?)

The Bloggess’s post about signs — or is it snakes? –begs me to share this:  On a bike ride through a thickly forested park last week, my friend and I happened upon two women walking their dogs. Suddenly, they began shrieking and waving their arms. We pedaled over to see if they needed help.

“Snake!” they shouted and pointed toward this bitty little striped garter snake slithering silently past my front tire and over a bed of fallen leaves.

“It’s harmless, only a garter snake,” I told them.

Then, (It was not my goal to be a bitch, but I knew it was bitchy the minute it came out.) I said to the snake: “Go on, little snake, before someone runs over you or steps on you.” Because I knew, just knew, that if we hadn’t come along, a foot or a log was coming down on that snake.


“Well, we’re not afraid of snakes,” one of them finally said.We just didn’t expect to see one out here.”

Of course not. The dense Michigan woods is no place for a small snake.  They belong in the Wal*Mart pet department next to the goldfish.

Now, if I were shivering in a paper gown at the hospital awaiting a colonoscopy and I saw one slinking along the carpeted floor, I might scream and wave my arms because there was nothing in the pre-procedural literature about snakes. Nothing.


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Why blogs are important

While on blogus hiatus I didn’t publish, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t write. Here’s a draft from mid-August:

My first blog

I am in a world of pain today.

The kind of pain delivered bedside, on a cold platter, following a night of alcoholic indiscretion.

My breakfast of regret consists of humble pie baked with the fruits of worry, stress and fear. Weeks before, I planned a night out with friends* that did not happen because hours earlier I could not access my bank account.  Today, I opened a stern letter from the IRS explaining everything.

The letter says the games are over. Since I didn’t pay up like they asked, they have my lunch money and they’re not giving it back. Oh, and if I don’t comply with all their terms, they’ll come back and take more toys.

Life feels very unfair. We work hard. We live very frugally. If we go on vacation, out to eat, do anything, it’s with cash, and planned with careful consideration of our household budget.

Simply put, our brown rice days are rarely spiced with spontaneity.  We landed in trouble a few years ago when the economy severed our main sources of income. I tried for almost a year to find work. Here and there I had odd jobs with expiration dates. We drained our savings and retirement accounts to keep our home. We relied upon the help of family and friends and the food pantry at our community center until we could get above water.

Then, my daughter with asthma lost her medical insurance.

I’ve gotten really good at reducing, recycling, and the wonderful world of resale. (Really, we have some fabulous second-hand shops around here.)  We grow vegetables. We take part in clothing and household item swap parties and freecycle with our neighbors.

Slowly, things have gotten better. I found a solution for my daughter’s health care. Things are not what they once were and won’t be until I find full-time work to replace the lost income. We’ve made good on most of our problems except one. And that isn’t an easy fix. Finally, it seemed we had a solution. All we needed to do was sign the papers. But before we could uncap our pens, they swallowed my modest little bank account.

*Meanwhile, I live in this wonderful community of people who really do hold one another up. Many of us are paddling the same straits. That is why we often go out, not expensively, to boost morale. Most of this spring and summer I’ve been too preoccupied or sick to join the group outings. I so badly wanted to go out on this night. Most of all, I wanted to save face.  

And I almost made it. But I didn’t get past the ATM. My shame and fury sent me home that night.

Five days later, at book club, I am a raging river. I want to apologize for not showing up the week before. One thing led to another. Suddenly I was really drunk.

Usually I go to the gym or ride my bike or meditate or clean.
Usually I know better than to hit the bottle.
I was too drunk to drive, to make any rational decision. The host sat with me for an hour after the meeting, on her couch, talking, while I sobered up enough to drive the few blocks to get home.

I woke this morning to a cup of hot coffee waved under my nose and the worried faces of my family.
I suffered through this day without taking so much as a Tylenol to ease the throbbing.
I sat with it, with what I did, what I said, all of it.
This is why blogs are important.
This is why I am back.

Pictures of my life, Part IV

Girl, you have no faith in medicine.
Is there a way to find the cure for this implanted in a pill? 
Is it just the name upon the bottle That determines if it will? 
Is the problem you're allergic to a well familiar name? 
Do you have a problem with this one if the results are the same?
-- Jack White, The White Stripes


In black and white, I’m on  a regimen of crap that I hate. The pills get stuck in my throat. The one I take at night sometimes makes me nauseated. I resent the idea that I need these things to feel/appear normal. Sometimes they don’t work at all. I’ve prided myself on being medication-free for years. I told myself that it meant I was healthy. Was I? Am I now? Today I heard a common-sense talk about wisdom and knowing when to let go of control. Wisdom is knowing when to take the medicine. Wisdom is knowing there isn’t a fix at a nearby big-box store for every problem in life.

In the world of color, I added some red to my hair.

Still haven’t mastered the art of self-portrait photography



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I've got red on me — again

No, not The Hives ...

... but these hives


Allergies are hell.

They killed my father.

I’m not sure why, unless it’s psychosomatic or a hell of a coincidence, that a (suspected) severe allergic reaction has colored the last 12 days of my life. Each morning I awake to a new batch of itching, screaming hives, an angry mob swarming somewhere on my body. By noon, if I’m lucky, the swelling calms to an angry skin flush. I look like I fell asleep in the sun.

Nothing has been spared. Nothing. Today my whole face is swollen and hot to the touch.  My husband and I noted that I would not look good with those coveted collagen-injected lips so many women of Hollywood are sporting.

I’ve been to the doctor twice.

I’ve had a cortisone shot.

I’m living on anti-histamines.

I have an appointment for a full line of tests. But that’s not until next week.

I must wait.

Suspecting the lavender-infused laundry detergent I bought a month ago, I’ve been washing and rewashing everything.

Suspecting certain foods, I’ve been eating cautiously, making note of everything that crosses my lips.

Suspecting my overgrown yard and all its pollen and mold spore glory, I’ve not set food outside to tend to any of it.

I’m inside, slightly drugged, with ice packs where they need to be.

What a life.

Allergies are hell.


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Is that a pear in your pocket?

By cwbuecheler via Creative Commons

Age moves on stealth feet. Except that tip-toeing is getting noisier with each passing year. In a few years I imagine it’ll be like Gene Simmons, in full Kiss regalia, stomping all the juice out of my youth.

It’s getting harder to hide the signs, such as the under-eye circles (Just how much of that caulk they sell at Sephora can you cake under each eye?) and that flotation device permanently attached to my waist.

Years of smoking and tanning have etched lines on my once-perfect skin. Yes, I once had perfect skin. No makeup needed. Ever. I quit smoking 17 years ago. More than anything I hope my lungs have somewhat regenerated. But my skin, well, the damage is done. I wish every young person lighting up and buying a tanning club membership would consider this. I know I didn’t.

If anyone is guilty of thinking youth would last forever, it’s me. I had it so easy for so long. I always looked far younger than my years. I was carded for alcohol well into my 30s. (I was carded at Target last week for buying NyQuil but that’s something different entirely.) But now? My knees ache and throb after I run on the treadmill. They require ointments to feel better.

I’m getting the hereditary veiny, twisted hands of my mother and grandmother. I don’t sleep well at night anymore. I no longer feel sexy. My body cannot produce a baby. My silhouette no longer forms the hourglass figure of youth.

I am a pear.

I am the pear-shaped princess of perimenopause.

Inside I feel young. I have good energy. I am strong. I have will and fight. Most of the time. I still swing on the swings at the playground and laugh at poop jokes and The Three Stooges.

I don’t want to fight  gravity with shots and creams and endless slices under the knife. Yet, if the money were available, I’d probably submit to “just one” procedure. I’d have my eyes fixed. They are aging me faster than a carton of Marlboro Reds. But, I know one procedure begets another and another. Younger eyes would beg for a smoother forehead and taut cheeks and a tight neck. On and on it goes until you are a cartoon character named Joan Rivers.

So, what’s gotten the pear-shaped princess singing the blues lately? I’m surrounded most days by much younger women. Women at the starting end of the fertility curve.  Women who are worried about getting pregnant while they are pregnant. One day I did the math. Some of these mothers were flying out of their mother’s uterus as I was peeling rubber out of the high school parking lot on commencement night.  I am — gasp — the old mom.  I don’t even know where everyone my age is hanging out anymore. Are they all dead?

God knows, I try to go out and party like it’s 1989. I’m almost always the first to check out. I was called on it at the last girls’ night out. I’d been up since 5 a.m., had one too many glasses of red wine, and had a date with my pillow.

“Lame, lame, lame,” said one of the young moms as she slapped my drooping shoulders.  She had the fiery intensity of a woman determined to get her way.  “You are coming this time.”

So I did. If only to save face, to prove them wrong about being the old mom. I found a second wind and together we christened the newest wine bar in town. I’m glad I did. Even if it meant I had to wear dark glasses to school drop-off the next morning and go home and put an ice pack on my face before taking a three-day nap. The rest of those young things? They looked fresh as morning dew on an Easter lily.

Damned youth.


If you aren’t already a fan, check out Bossy’s take on a wishy-washy friend named Peri.