Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year's Resolution for 2006

I was chuckling the other day, watching my son angrily snap, "I can do it BY MYSELF!" Chip off the old block, that boy. Just like me. I have always been independent, and proud of it. I was always loathe to have others help me or do for me - just part of my personality, I guess.

Another part of my personality dictates that I always extend help but never ask for help, not from anyone. I have survived divorce, layoffs, unemployment, financial devastation, and have never really asked anyone for anything, not even an ear or shoulder. I have always donated time, money, clothing, food and anything else that I could gather for "the needy", those weak people that require assistance. Up to now, I have considered that particular feat a triumph and a source of pride. Stupid pride.

In the grocery store yesterday, my daughter and I were making our way up and down the aisles when she spotted a school friend. "LeAnne!" my daughter squealed, and the two girls happily chatted while I smiled and nodded to LeAnne's mother. LeAnne was beaming when she told her mother "This is my friend from class, and I help her get ready for the bus!" My daughter was equally happy, telling me "LeAnne helps me zip my coat and backpack and walks with me to the bus!"

There was something on LeAnne's face that I recognized immediately - pride from helping others. I am very familiar with that half of the equation. The warm feeling that you get when you help someone.

The look on my daughter's face I didn't really recognize at all. She displayed the face of a thankful recipient. It dawned on me that she didn't seem embarassed or angry at needing her friend's help as I would have been. At the tender age of 10, my daughter has accepted her disability with grace, and she rewards those that offer their assistance to her with a smile that lights up a room.

I started to wonder . . . how many times have I refused help from others when I really needed it? How many times has my pride short-circuited the chance for me to feel the gift of someone's unselfish efforts, or their chance to feel that they helped another? How many times have I wallowed in martyrdom, doing everything alone, when the people that I had angrily pushed away watched my struggle?

Another side benefit of my daughter's enlightenment - she is unfailingly accepting of other's weaknesses. Because she needs help from other people, she just naturally assumes that others need help as well. She is patient beyond belief, forgiving, hopeful, and never fails to see the best in other people. She is the first to approach a new person with an open smile and a belief that she will be accepted, and she always is.

People love her in large part because she is sweet, but also because with her, they feel needed, appreciated and accepted. It has dawned on me, this last day of 2005, that I make people in my "real" life feel that I don't need their help or support. I intend to try to rectify that this year, if I can.

I knew I would have a lot to learn to take care of my daughter, I just didn't realize so much of the learning would be about ME.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Taco Hell

(This is a tale that bears repeating. I penned this last spring, and damned if it didn't just happen again. Enjoy.)


Far be it from me to give fast food workers shit, but I had the WORST experience this afternoon at the local Taco Bell.

I was lured in by the promises of their new delicious Cheesy Crunchy Gordita Mondo Taco (or something like that, who the hell knows?) So I did what you do when you are craving a CCGMT; I pulled into the drivethru and the dance of madness began:

Order taker: Hi! Welcome to Taco Bell! Which combo would you like?
Bumbling Customer (Me): Uhhhhhhhhh, I don't want a combo. I would like a Cheesy Crunchy Gordita (I kind of trailed off at this point). The new thing. I would like one of those.

Order taker: Anything else?

Me: Yes please. A small Coke

Order taker: I am sorry sir (Sir?!) We only have Pepsi products.

Me (trying to sound more feminine): Pepsi would be fine.

Order taker: Hold for a moment please.

- - - - - - - - - time lapse 3 minutes, I kid you not - - - - - - - - - -

Order taker: Hi! Welcome to Taco Bell! Which combo would you like?

Me: Thanks for the second welcome. I'd like to talk to the old order taker, he already knows what I want.

(lots of murmuring and static)

Order taker: Sorry sir (Goddamnit! Sir again?!?!) Can you repeat your order? My headset went out. (Did it take the other kid that was taking orders out with it?)

Me: I would like a Cheesy Gordita Super Taco

Order taker: I'm sorry, we don't have that. Would you like a Mexican pizza?

Me: (Did I ask for a fucking Mexican pizza? - that is what I said in my head) Um, I just want the new thing that you have on the sign here.

Order taker: Did you mean the Cheesy Crunchy Gordita Super Taco?

Me: (banging my head against the steering wheel) Yes . . . . . please.

Order taker: Anything else with that?

Me: Yes. A small Pepsi.

Order taker: Thank you sir, please drive around.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So, as I dutifully drive around, I notice that the parking lot of this place is a ghost town, nobody, anywhere. The kid at the window was probably about 16, and a very angry, stout, middle-aged latino lady was yelling at him. Now, I remember a little high school Spanish, and I can guarantee you that she was NOT asking him where the party was, or whether Marta and Juan were cousins. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

I am handed a drink and after a great while, a paper bag that weighed no less than 3 pounds. The kid closes the glass window, and I peek in the bag, as you probably would if you had just been handed a 3 pound taco.

I cannot tell you what conglomeration of crap was in that bag. Two misshapen food items that looked like rolls of uncooked refrigerator biscuits, and several packets of Fiery sauce and some krinkly things.

So, I politely wave to the young man, and I swear he is looking my way, but he is just staring. Not drooling, exactly, but close. No response.

I beep the horn, nothing.

I finally drive around the building, and go back to the order window.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Order taker: Hi! Welcome to Taco Bell! Which combo would you like?

Me: Hi, yeah. I am the person from just a minute ago. Can you meet me at the pickup window?

Order taker: Can you repeat your order?

Me: (in as clear a voice as I can muster while leaning out of th window with my hands cupped around my mouth) Please open the pickup window when I drive around!

Order taker: (crickets chirping)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When I drive back around, the kid is kind of desperately looking at the register and adjusting his headset. When he opens the window, he squints at me as though I have just dropped out of the sky. I wordlessly hand him the bag, and he says . . . . .
Did you need sauce?

At this point, I explain to him that I would never have waited outside his window, honked my horn, driven around his building, summoned him through his drive thru speaker and handed him a full bag of food if indeed I was seeking additional sauce. I calmly inform him that I have received some small family's order.

At this point, he stomps his foot and throws the sauce packets he had ready to pacify me down onto the counter. "Dang!" he mumbles, and starts looking around on the floor, I suppose just in case my order happened to be around his feet.

It is at this moment that the matronly latino approaches the window, and asks him what the problem is. He begins to explain that I received the wrong order, and she begins yelling at him again, and reached behind him and produces a bag that I am guessing contains my order. From the look on this kid's face, you would have thought she had just pulled a quarter out of his ear. More yapping ensues, and I am just sitting there, watching and sipping my Pepsi.

So, I make an executive decision at this point. "Can I just get a refund, and you two can work all of this out later?" I ask.

Wordlessly, he hands me $2.37. Never mind that I actually gave him $4.65. I was glad to get it.

As I sit here, I summon the strength of all of my years of study of the beautiful lauguage of Spain and one lyrical phrase forms in my mind:

Yo no quiero Taco Bell.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Worst. Party. Ever.



In the inimitable words of Comic Book Guy . . . .

I attended the Worst. Party. Ever. this past weekend.

First, some backstory. Longtime readers may recall that I have a circle of friends, some inherited from my husband, and some that I added to the mix after meeting the ringleader of a huge pack of brilliant dorks during one of my contracting engagements. The latter belong to a circle that could only be described as "eccentric". Other names also fit the bill:

Nerdly
Socially Inept
Virginal

Now, granted, Atlanta has more than its fair share of Nerdlingers - I blame Tech. They flock here, Texas Instruments calculators and NHS medals in tow. Once graduated, many of them settle uncomfortably among us "regular" folk to begin a life bereft of social interaction and chock-full of dorky, geeky pursuits like gaming conventions, ToysRUs stalking and anime porn collecting. But every once in a blue moon, one attempts to scale the cravasse, to make a connection, to be . . . . social.

So it was that I received an email from one of my Nerdlinger friends last week. It was brief, and appeared to be both to and from him (he had put all of his attendees in the bcc: field to protect their anonymity, I guess. He is a real stickler for privacy issues, which is funny, because there is no one else on earth with less to shield from prying eyes than this guy.) The gist of the message is that he was throwing a housewarming party for himself and his two new roomates who had recently all moved into a 3 bedroom apartment together. I won't even go into the ridiculousness of 3 grown, nearly 30 year old men sharing a 3 bedroom apartment when each on his own earns enough to support a family, yet they always appear 2 steps from poverty and appear to get their furniture and clothing from the Goodwill while getting their computers from NASA.

Anyhoo . . . the email listed the party as beginning at 12:00 noon and lasting until "whenever". Now, I am no social butterfly, but I have had enough party invitations to make the assumption that a noon party generally means a cookout, or something like that. Maybe a patio party, or an outside thing, or at the very least, a potluck. Especially seeing that the shindig was scheduled to last until "whenever", meaning it could span from lunch to dinnnertime to late evening. Knowing that he is a teetotaler, I wasn't surprised to see that he listed the party as a "BYOB" affair, but I was kind of surprised that he said that he would supply sodas and "junk food" otherwise.

I had some reservations about this party from the get-go. Just knowing who was throwing it cast some doubt on its success, but I tried to maintain a positive attitude. In some ways, he has gotten better over the past couple of years. He drives a very sporty little car, he seems interested in "finding a girl", he can carry on a pleasant coversation, he is (of course) brilliant, has admirable morals, earns great money, is responsible, blah blah blah. Unfortunately, all of that is trumped by him being a monumental dork.

I had to admit that his social skills HAD improved a bit over the past couple of years, mostly due to his exposure to my husband and his friends, who have taken the lad and his ilk under their collective wing and attempted to introduce things like sports, social outings, and a one-time trip to a "shoe show" in the hopes of sanding the sharp edges off of their acute dorkdom.

He mentioned that he had invited better than 50 people, and that he anticipated that it would be a "blowout". I had high hopes that it would be a fun afternoon/evening, and despite his invitation, I planned to make something to add to the party table to show my support.

My optimism was smashed to smithereens when we arrived at the apartment. We didn't get there until 6:00 pm (babysitter issues) and the party was, supposedly, in swing for several hours by then. We arrived to a quiet, dark apartment. There were LITERALLY no lights on in the apartment, save the stark flourescent in the kitchen. There were a handful of awkward guests perched on second-hand chairs, no music, no conversation, and oh yeah, no LIGHTS and when we entered the scene with a couple of trays of Buffalo Chicken Dip, the small crowd attacked like a pack of lions on the Sahara.

As the ravenous guests filled their plates with dip, chips and celery, thanking me profusely for showing up and bringing food, I noticed in the darkness that there was one . . . ONE . . glass bowl on a table. It was filled with a strange mixture of children's cold cereal. Fruit Loops, Trix, Honeycomb, and some other crappy stuff. This was the extent of the food at the party.

I shit you not.

Adding insult to injury, there were some off-brand sodas - warm. No ice. No plastic cups.

A couple of my husband's friends were there - one was sleeping in the corner. This was their second stop of the day - the first had been to the Chili Cookoff at Stone Mountain Park, so the beer and chili quotient dulled their perceptions to the point that they really didn't notice the lack of ambiance, or food, or drink, or fun. The other guests were not so lucky. I noticed that 4 or 5 of the guests were a bit older than I was, which baffled me. Turns out that my friend had extended the invitation to several people at his new workplace that evidently had NO IDEA what they were getting into. Bad enough that this fiasco was being visited upon his friends, but his COWORKERS! I just shook my head.

I circled the apartment, opening blinds, switching on lights, and it was then that I noticed that there was a very nice covered patio outside, with room enough for several people, overlooking a nice wooded area. This would have been the perfect place for a tub of ice for the beer and drinks, but as it was, it was dusty and forlorn, probably never even treaded upon since the geeks moved in the place the month before.

Speaking of the geeks that inhabited the place . . . one of them had just left altogether when people started to arrive, and another was hiding in his room, headphones on, not participating in any way, except once when he had to exit his room to go to the bathroom. He paused long enough to enter the livingroom, turn 360 degrees, offering each person there the hairy eyeball, and, grumbling, returning to his room with the slamming of his bedroom door. My friend seemed absolutely oblivious to this and everything else disastrous that was transpiring.

We lasted about 2 hours, then we left for greener pastures. We ended up going to Summits Tavern for burgers, trivia, and long talks about the viability of this guy ever, ever having a normal existence. After gathering up our courage, we swung back over to the party to drop off our friends at their cars and say goodnight to the host. By this time, Roommate #3 (the one that had run away) had shown up on the scene with a guy and 2 girls from his LARP (Live Action Role Play) group. All were dressed up in their little costumes or whatever the hell you call the outfits that grown men and women wear when they are pretending to be elves, fairies, ogres, etc. (Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!) Wordlessly, the four skulked back to his bedroom together, and when the unmistakable sound of ripping velcro echoed through the apartment, we hastily made our exit.


Worst. Party. Ever.




RITA'S DORK PARTY RESCUE
BUFFALO CHICKEN DIP




4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
1 12 oz. bottle of hot sauce (Frank's or Texas Pete or your favorite)
2 (8 oz.) cubes cream cheese
1 16 oz. bottle of blue cheese OR ranch salad dressing
8 ozs. shredded sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack or a combination

Preheat oven to 350.
Boil chicken in water until cooked through (about 15 minutes). Drain and shred chicken with two forks.
In a 13x9 inch pan, combine shredded chicken with hot sauce, spread to form an even layer.
Combine cream cheese and dressing in a saucepan, heat over medium heat, stirring until cream cheese is smooth and incorporated.
Pour mixture evenly over chicken, spreading to the edges of the pan.
Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top, bake an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with celery sticks or corn chips.

Per 1/4 cup serving:
Calories: Don't ask
Fat: uhhhh, nevermind

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Can't sleep . . .clowns will eat me!

Anyone that knows me knows that I hate clowns. Always have, always will. I don't trust them; their greasepaint hides their sinister underside.

First, there was serial killer clown John Wayne Gacy, who led police to 28 shallow graves under his house that contained young boys that he had lured to his home, tricked into trying his "trick handcuffs", tortured, sodomized and murdered.

Pleasant dreams, kids

Honoring THAT tradition, may I present to you Spanky the Clown.

Now it was no big surprise to me that Spanky the Clown has been arrested on child porn charges. What DOES surprise me is that MORE clowns aren't arrested on child porn charges.


Clowns are evil - especially this one.

They are creepy, all of them.

The ONLY exception to this rule is Krusty the Clown. He is what all clowns should be . . . an aging, jewish, alcoholic, chainsmoking marketing whore. Now THAT I can respect.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Nutcracker



I'm taking the kids to see "The Nutcracker" tonight.

Nope, not "the" Nutcracker. It's not the "Big Show" (i.e. Atlanta ballet production at the Atlanta Fox); it's the more modest Georgia Ballet production at the Cobb County Civic Center Auditorium. It's a nice show, lovely costumes . . . but it's certainly not the Fox.

I feel a little bit guilty that I didn't spring for the big tickets. Guilt and Christmas seem to go hand in hand for me, ever since I had kids. I feel a tremendous pressure to create memories for my kids, and sometimes, that compulsion to spin magical Christmas memories makes my efforts seem trivial to me.

I've been thinking how much nicer it would be to take my kids downtown to the beautiful Fox theater, and see their eyes light up from the magic and splendor. I mean, there's nothing quite so magical as downtown Atlanta at Christmas, at least for me.


My Christmas memories of riding the Pink Pig train to Santa and seeing the lighting of the Great Tree at the downtown Rich's seem so much more grand than anything that I am able to cobble together for my little suburban babies. Is seeing Santa at Town Center just as good? Is going to the Cobb Ballet and swinging by Los Reyes for tacos afterward just as good? Is the artificial tree that I put up as worthy as the fresh cut Frazier furs that we had every year growing up?

I find myself scanning store ads and Ebay, frantically locating the "perfect" gifts for them. I lay awake at night, planning how I will get everything ready by Christmas day. I try to think about how I could make it better. And I worry. Alot.

If I'm lucky, somewhere in the midst of this tinsel-induced frenzy, I stop and remind myself that Christmas probably seemed so magical then because the rest of the year in contrast was generally so shitty. If I am enjoying a moment of clarity, I also remind myself that everything doesn't ride on Christmas like it did when I was growing up, that my kids have other good memories of me, of us, that don't revolve around Christmas cheer.

Those Christmas memories, when I was a kid, when our family came together, when the fighting and craziness seemed to just evaporate and all was well . . . they are all I've got, but it won't be all that they have.

And I am going to enjoy Christmas now, and stop letting Christmas past haunt me.

I vow it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Black Friday

Well, well, well . . . The best laid Thanksgiving plans changed.

Since I worked both Wednesday and Friday, I had originally decided to order a catered Thanksgiving. Well, back up. Initially, we had all planned to go to my cousin's house for Thanksgiving in Huntsville, AL. Those plans were made before we knew that my mom was sick, way back in the summer. We held onto this faint notion that we could still go, but I finally came to my senses a couple of weeks ago and realized that there was no way that I was going to haul my sick mom and two little kids 3 hours to Huntsville and 3 hours back in the same day. That's when the divine inspiration for the Boston Market catered dinner came in. Seemed genius, and then I realized I didn't even have the energy for that.

Doing my best to conserve my energy to spend with family and not stand in the kitchen, I decided to cancel the Boston Market order and we went out for Thanksgiving lunch instead. I had stumbled onto a really good restaurant that serves all fresh vegetables, buffet-style, and they were open for Thanksgiving. We went, we were dressed casually, they served traditional Thanksgiving with all the trimmings and we enjoyed every bite (even my kids, who don't much like Thanksgiving fare found things that they liked).

My sister, in her wisdom, ordered Thanksgiving dinner from Publix and spent the better part of Wednesday gathering the order and baking pies to take to my mother's apartment. My dad isn't well enough to go out to a resturant, really, and my mom wanted to make sure that my oldest brother had somewhere to have Thanksgiving. My older brother has been acting out again (longtime readers will remember him as Dark Prince in early blog entries), so that precluded any full-family Thanksgiving function.

We stoppped in to see my mom and dad after our lunch, and she looked happy and energetic. Her sister from California had traveled to the East Coast to attend the Huntsville Thanksgiving dinner, but was delayed a day, and ended up having Thanksgiving with my mother. My mother was so thankful to have had a dinner prepared and waiting. My brother joined them, and they all had a nice visit. We were coming in as they were all heading out, so my mother had lots of company, and that seemed to cheer her, which helped me accept the lack of tradition of the day.

I had a discussion with my sister about how depressing the holidays have been the past couple of years. Parents are getting older and sicker, the traditions that we always leaned on have all but disappeared, and we are left with empty holes where tradition used to flourish. Of course, that is how it feels in my head. My children know nothing of the extended family reunion Thanksgivings that filled my childhood. They were gigantic affairs hosted by my aunt in Alabama, and we looked forward to them all year long. Time marches on, things change, my aunt is 71 and living in a tiny senior apartment and it dawned on me that I had to accept the baton and start making some new traditions if I wanted to ever resurrect my holiday spirit.

To this end, I decided to have a Saturday get together. I figured that most of our friends would be around, and through with family commitments. We had a similar get together last year, and with alot of gusto, I approached the preparations. Hubby and the kids, seeing the first spark of holiday spirit in me in days, enthusiastically joined in, sweeping the deck, helping me prepare tables, etc. Actually, it was way more work than I would have performed to actually host Thanksgiving, but I seemingly had NO energy for Thanksgiving preparations, but had lots of energy to get ready for this party. Figure that out.

There was alot to be thankful for, once I thought about it for awhile. The boy, who had been so sick the week before, seemed like his little old self. Hubby and I were feeling more secure than we had in years, my daughter was doing well, and even though my parents were sick, they were well-cared for and safe. I was thinking about all of these things when I got a phone call. My daughter answered it and said "It sounds like somebody that might be coming to the party," as she handed me the receiver. Breathless from cleaning, I answered "Hello?" and a very nice lady immediately began to apologize, saying "It seems as though I might have interrupted a party, I do apologize for the intrusion . . ."

Within the first minute of the conversation, I found out that she was a counselor at my boy's school (he attends PreK at the elementary school). She was calling me to inform me that his teacher would no longer be there.

He has two teachers, so I wasn't sure which one she meant at first. One teacher is about my age and exactly what you would expect a PreK teacher to be: enthusiastic, sweet, funny. The other is an older woman, very quiet, seemingly kind. The counselor was referring to the older of the two.

As she spoke to me, her voice kind of faded as I began to recall what I could about this teacher. I remember thinking when I met her at Open House that she seemed a bit distracted, she looked exhausted, that she wasn't really tuning in when I spoke with her. I remember saying to my husband, "She's kind of out there, isn't she?" and dismissing it shortly afterward. I got a strange vibe from her, as though something wasn't quite right, and I was too tired, too busy to give it much thought. At that time, I remember thinking that I didn't need any more needy people around me.

The important thing was that my son grew to love her, dearly. He was so shy those first few weeks, and carpool and daily transitions were really challenging for him. He tended to hang out along the edges of activity, and this lady took the time to talk to him, engage him, hold his hand when he felt unsure. He has since found his comfort level in class, and hasn't needed that kind of support as much, but the bond was set: he thought the world of her.

Every day, he walked out to carpool to meet Hubby's mom or dad, and every day, he was holding this teacher's hand. Last Friday, I remember that my mother in law mentioned that this teacher took the time to tell her what a good boy my boy was, what a pleasure he was to teach, and how much she enjoyed him. I made a little mental note then to take the time next week to speak to her.

The counselor was couching her words carefully as we spoke. The teacher had passed away a couple of days before Thanksgiving, she wasn't sure about the details, she had some preliminary information, but out of respect for the family, she was not sharing any further details. She would be at school with other teachers on Monday to talk to the class, and she encouraged me to tell my boy over the weekend so he would not be caught off guard.

I hung up, stunned, and wondered how I would break the news to him. My suggestion to the counselor to tell the kids that Mrs. M had retired and gone to the beach was met with a chilly response. I would have much rather told that lie than dumped the reality on my little one, but I really had no choice, since the other kids would surely know the truth.

The party started a couple of hours later, and it was fun, but in the back of my head, this was brewing. I'm not a wine drinker, but I was that night. Start early, start heavy.

Sunday, I took a quiet moment to tell the boy that his teacher had died. He had a puzzled look on his face, and all he said was "Really?" He didn't say anything else. On and off through the day, he asked quiet questions about how she died, and I told him I didn't know, but that if I found out, I would tell him.

To tell the truth, I wondered too. I hate to think that I am morbidly curious, but I just couldn't really imagine what could have happened. Did she have an accident? Stroke? I found her obituary online, and it really held no clues. It did say that she was 50, married, had 2 kids, had been a teacher for 22 years, and a member of the Baptist church. I began to think she might have just passed away in her sleep. I hoped so.

But, since I can never leave well enough alone, I called the room mother, and when she had even less information than I did, I called the next parent on the list, asking if they had any additional information about whether or not the class would send flowers to the family, etc. This family had somehow gotten some additional information from someone in the neighborhood that knew about the situation, and without much fanfare, the husband told me that the teacher had died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I don't even know if I told him goodbye or not. I stood there, holding the receiver, and let that bounce around my head. The one thing that I kept going back to was the thought that I could have taken the time to speak to her. I could tell that she was struggling when I met her. I didn't know EXACTLY what her situation was, but I damn sure knew that she was a person that needed a little support. It wouldn't have cost me anything to, you know, reach out to her somehow, at least let her know how much she meant to my boy and all the other kids that she had helped for 22 years. But I was too busy, too preoccupied, stretched too thin.

Would it have made any difference? I don't know. Sometimes a little encouragement makes all the difference to someone that feels so defeated.

Giving a note to her family through the online guestbook seemed like too little, too late, but it was all I was left with. It was full of platitudes, like "I am so sorry for your loss" and other hackneyed phrases meant to convey something to the survivors. That note was for them. This one is for her:

Thank you, Mrs. M. You meant the world to my little boy. He doesn't understand what happened, and why he will never see you again, but he has cried over you, in his room when he was alone with the door closed. He never told you that he loved you, but he did. And I never told you thank you for helping him through a painful time. I never stopped long enough to get to know you and offer some friendship. I never took the time to give you a kind word, and for that, I am sorry. You might have taken some comfort in it. I promise to try to encourage people more, to be there for people if I can be. I swear.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Not dead.

Me, that is.

Just thought I would let you know.

Other developments:
New job is going better than I could have hoped for.

Kids had a great Halloween, but the boy got sick, some crazy reaction to antibiotics that landed him in the emergency room. He's getting better, though.

Hubby and I realized that we are experiencing dual permanent employment for the first time in over 10 years. Couldn't be more pleased.

Saw The Grinch last night. Now I feel like Christmas is getting close.

Cancelled pretty much all my best-laid Thanksgiving plans. Pre-ordered dinner from Boston Market, which hubby will bring home on Tuesday evening before Turkey day. Now I can just set a nice table and relax.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Halloween preparations

I dearly love Halloween. Even at 39, I still get all giddy at the prospect of trick or treating with the kids.

We got started on our preparations this weekend. The kids were out of school last Friday, and it was just perfect weather. We took off for one of those big, huge pumpkin patches with farm animals, corn mazes, all that stuff. Unfortunately, the website had failed to disclose that they close for about 3 hours mid-day for lunch, etc., so we were disappointed, to say the least. All was not lost, though. We ended up finding the most sincere pumpkin patch at a church near the house (definitely Linus-approved.) The selection was incredible, and the prices were unbelieveable. We were the only ones there. Each kid picked a HUGE pumpkin and I got a swan gourd and several beautiful ears of harvest corn (all colors) for about $30. It was a great day overall.

We continued the Halloween preparations yesterday morning with a trip to Michael's, where we got a little Haunted House gingerbread house kit. Hubby and I spent the morning making the batches of royal icing (black and orange), assembling the house (the trick is to use strategically placed straight pins until the royal icing has a chance to set like cement), piping all of the icing, and watching the kids have a ball decorating with lots and lots of candy. It was kind of a "one for me - one for the house" proposition.



It was messy, but it was fun!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I made, like, INFINITY of those in Scout Camp


So, boondoggle keychains are all the rage in my daughter's 4th grade class. Boondoggling, gimping, whatever you call it . . . its basically tying knots in plastic string. Over and over again.

It is surprisingly addictive. Probably like knitting. It takes alot of dexterity and coordination and hand strength, and patience. My daughter has very little of the first three of these things, and lots of the fourth. Because she is so keenly interested in participating, I try to encourage her. I find myself picking up her projects and whiling 10-20 minutes away, tying knots.

Imagine her glee the other day seeing boondoggle keychains on "Napoleon Dynamite". Just one more reason that movie is the greatest.


As though it needed any MORE reasons.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

In your FACE, Flanders!


The Simpsons references never end here at Diarya. But this one is well-supported.

I got a job.

And not just ANY job, either. I got a bonafide, permanent job. With a more than decent salary. AND vacation time. AND insurance. AND matching 401k money. AND an expense account to cover my office costs. AND I get to work from home.

All the time.

And the sweetest part is . . . I got snapped up by the sworn enemy and archnemesis of my last client, the nutty one, who didn't bother to have me sign anything prohibiting such a thing.

AND . . . Hubby bought a scratch off lottery ticket on a whim and won $100 last night.

Even though I don't have a damn thing to do, I told New Company that I was available to start on the 24th - a whole 2 weeks from now. 2 weeks of worry-free time off to have fun with the kiddos and relax and get ready for the new gig.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if I found myself standing outside of Nutty Client's HQ, grabbing my crotch, screaming "How do you like me NOW, bitches!?!? " I'll probably just settle for a drive by and a raspberry, but in my HEAD, I'll be totally calling them out.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Long Goodbye

Yesterday, I took my mom to visit her sister Marge. Marge is moving to a nursing home facility in Birmingham today, and we went yesterday to pack her things and say goodbye.

Marge is the oldest of all of my mom's 6 siblings. 15 years older than my mother, Marge was more mom than sister. She never had any children of her own, but she had a very exciting life, traveling the globe with her husband, living in foreign countries for most of their married life, and finally retiring to Florida, where they both enjoyed golf on a daily basis.

I guess it was around 1988 or so that things started to slip for Marge. She was caring for her husband at their home, and becoming more and more reclusive. He and she were inseparable, and when he finally passed away, she was nearly inconsolable. She said over and over that she was supposed to die with him, that her life was caring for him. We all thought that was an initial reaction, that she would get over it in time.

That depression stuck around, and brought some dementia along. Marge began to forget where she was, who we were, what she was doing . . . all signs of Alzheimer's. Over the years, she has gone from living on her own, to living with my Aunt Rita, to living in an assisted living faciliy, to living in a nursing home near my mom. Her progression has been agonizingly slow; she is such a healthy person that her body seems to live on and on and on, but the lights of recognition in her mind have slowly, slowly dimmed, leaving her bedridden, unable to speak or do anything for herself.

Before my dad got sick, my mom went to the nursing home every afternoon to sit with Marge and feed her dinner. I'm not sure that Marge knew who my mother was, but it was a comfort to my mom to hold Marge's hand, comb her hair and to see Marge smile, which she often did. Mama would talk to Marge about Anniston, AL, and there would be flickers of recognition, but none so bright as when Mama would talk about Chet, Marge's husband. Those brought the biggest smiles of all.

Since my dad has been sick, my mom has only occasionally been able to get to the nursing home. Then of course, SHE got sick, and for the past 3 months, she hasn't been able to go at all. I have tried to go as often as I could, mostly to ease my mother's worries about Marge, but I have been too busy to go more than a time or two myself. To their credit, the nursing home has taken excellent care of Marge, and that has been an enormous comfort to my mother through all of the trials of this past year.

My uncle in Florida, my mom's oldest living brother, is the executor of Marge's sizeable estate. For years, he has carefully managed Marge's affairs, paid her bills, and planned her estate so that she would have continual care, and she always has. He and I spoke a couple of months ago, and at that time, I offered to help relocate Marge closer to me, or arrange for Marge to move closer to my mom's sister, Rita (my namesake) in Birmingham. My cousins and my aunt realized pretty quickly that my sister and I had our hands full with Mama and Daddy, so the decision was made that Marge would be transferred to Birmingham, and it has taken about this long to get things organized.

Yesterday, as I packed Marge's clothes, I could see my mother's hand in everything. Every flannel gown had been handpicked by my mother, every little pair of socks had been carefully labelled with Marge's name in my mother's careful print. Every pretty picture, every little bit of cheer in the dismal nursing home room was my mother's attempt to make things nice for Marge.
As I packed, my mom sat beside Marge's bed, holding her hand, sweetly talking to her, encouraging her to wake up. Most of the time, Marge appears to be asleep, although with encouragement, she does "wake up" temporarily, make eye contact and smile.

As she stroked Marge's short silver hair, my mother began to tell me, "You know, when we were growing up, we never celebrated birthdays. There were too many of us, it was the Depression, and we just never had celebrations. But I remember that Marge bought me a pocketbook for my birthday one year. I must have been about 6 or 7, and she made a cake and had a little party for me and the other kids in the neighborhood all came over . . ." She kind of trailed off at that point, and I was biting my lip, still folding clothes silently, not wanting to cry. "You know, there aren't very many happy memories from back then," she continued, "Daddy was a drunk, and Mama was always so sick, we were poor as dirt, but Marge always took such good care of us . . ."

I couldn't even see by then, and I was trying so hard not to sob. I just kept blinking, trying to catch the tears streaming down my face with the tip of my tongue so that she wouldn't spot me wiping them away with my sleeve. I kept folding the little clothes, placing them in the cardboard boxes, and willing the lump in my throat to allow some air through.

It dawned on me that this would likely be the last time my mother ever saw Marge. Birmingham's not far from Atlanta, but as sick as she has been, my mom hasn't felt well enough to travel 20 miles to see Marge, never mind 250.

I finished my task and turned to see my mother quietly sitting alongside Marge's hospital bed, still speaking to her in quiet tones, looking for signs of awakening. Seeing her there, my mother, in pain even then, knowing that she has cancer, and seeing her lovingly stroke Marge's hair, her sister, here but gone, passed away but still alive and breathing, was almost more than I could bear. Finally, my mother stood from her chair, still holding Marge's hand, and leaned over the hospital rails to kiss Marge's cheek. Quietly sobbing herself, my mother seemed so, so, frail to me, and it was the most heartbreaking and most loving sight I think I have ever seen.

"I guess this is goodbye," my mother said quietly as she laid Marge's hand back onto the bedcovers, stepping away, wiping away tears. She was so small as I held her there, quietly sobbing. She has lost so much weight, she feels like a child in my arms now. I wanted to just hold her there, and I did, wanting to protect her from the pain, from losing Marge, from the cancer, from her fear, from it all.

And I can't.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

No good deed goes unpunished . . .

So, after the excitement last week, I received a call from my contracting agency (or my "pimp", as I lovingly refer to the folks that keep me turning corporate tricks for cash).

This group negotiated a contract for me last March. The company that I have been shucking and jiving for is an up and coming telecommunications company, seemingly making money hand over fist, but experiencing definite growing pains. I walked into a chaotic atmosphere and met overworked folks trying to desperately keep up with the constant stream of salepeople screaming for help with proposals and customer presentations.

I'm used to that - I have been doing this stuff for years. The work wasn't terribly complicated, but the guy that I reported to was kinda nutty. No matter, we found some common ground, and after I rescued a few projects at the last minute, he seemed to get comfortable with our working relationship.

So, the contract was supposed to be one year initially. The company asked for a review/renewal at 6 months, which is also pretty standard.

We are at the 6 month mark, and repeated emails asking for the review and approval for the next leg of the contract have gone unanswered.

Finally, the contracting agency pushed the issue last week, and after alot of squirming and grumbling, the nutty guy admitted that he couldn't get approval for the second half of the contract, that some new hotshot VP had decided to "toss things up", and with that, my employment went the way of the wind. Fini.

Oh, and my mom grew very ill over the weekend, and just sobbing with pain and depression.

How many times do you think I can keep saying "I should be thankful - cause at least my house isn't underwater!" and mean it?

Shit.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Volunteer work

I am exhausted.

I have spent the last several days completely turned inside out with grief for the folks in the Gulf - all of them. It has been hard to sleep, and watching CNN isn't helping, trust me.

I have been organizing informational email campaigns via Craigslist and through mailing lists of local churches and civic organizations. I haven't wanted to work a lick at my "real" job, but my mind continually focuses on helping these people. I have sorted clothes, delivered donations, made phone calls, posted volunteer opportunities, and whatever else I thought needed doing.

I still feel pretty helpless.

Yesterday was a rare treat, though. I broke away to go volunteer in my daughter's class. The kids have been studying weather (oddly enough), and in the span of about an hour, me and 3 other mothers helped 27 kids make rain gauges from 2 liter bottles, barometers, windsocks, and other really cool weather-related doohickeys.

Since it was the end of the school day, I stuck around and took my daughter with me. She was thrilled for me to be at her school and in her class, and even more thrilled to be able to ride home with me. Change is always exciting.

On the way home, we stopped at Wendy's. Her class eats lunch at 10:30 in the morning (yuck!) so by 3:00, she is usually pretty hungry. It was nice to have that time with her to just sit and chat about school.

We finished up and headed home, taking the back way through an office complex. I was checking in with my mom, talking on my cell, and my daughter was happily watching the world go by when we were approaching an intersection. I had the red, so I began to slow up. There wasn't anyone in front of me, and I was just taking my time, so I was in no hurry to get up to to the intersection. I glanced up just in time to see a little white car zoom through the intersection just as a HUGE Chevrolet SUV was trying to make a left. They crashed, and the little car became like a ramp for the SUV, cause it became airborne, flipped upside down in midair, and landed with an earsplitting smash on the road on its hood right in front of my car.

I had never in my life seen anything like that. It looked like a whale breeching an ocean wave and crashing back into the sea.

Stunned, I hung up my cellphone, threw the car into park, told my daughter not to move, dialed 911 and got out. I heard screaming . . . big screams and little screams.

This little guy came running up out of nowhere and without a second's hesitation or even a glance my way, started kicking in glass, and the screams were louder. He was a small guy, and he slithered in to the front seat. I was peering in, trying to adjust my eyes, scared of what I was going to see. I could barely see anything, but toward the back, large sections of glass were just gone, and I crawled inside. He was up front helping the mom, and I had my hands on the baby seat. The baby had been screaming, but it sounded more strained now. They were both hanging upside down, and between the guy and me, we managed to get the seatbelt undone and I caught the baby seat and flipped it around.

The kid was safe, but choking. The restraint was up under this throat, and it was one of those 4 point harnesses. It had done its job, but if you don't know how to release those things, it can be impossible to deal with. The guy up front had dealt with it for a second, but I screamed at him that I would deal with the baby and with hands moving before my thoughts could catch up, I unsnapped all of the restraints and got him free. I held him close, backing out of the car.

Rational thought started settling in then. The car could catch fire, or roll some more, I didn't know. By the time I started backing out of the back window, there were about 6 people around, guiding me away from the glass bits. When I stood up, people were scared to look at the little one, not knowing what kind of shape he was in, or maybe not wanting to be involved if he was hurt very bad.

Surprisingly, he had 2 bloody knees, and that seemed to be about it. I knew he could be hurt more than that, so I yelled for a blanket, and laid him flat on it under a tree, watching him for something . . .anything.

Meantime, people were just standing around. It seemed like forever before the ambulances came, but it was probably only a few minutes. The mom was hurt, and it was hard to tell how bad, but telling her that her little one was OK seemed to calm her. I kept telling her that he was ok, that she would be ok, but there was a pool of blood around her, and her legs were tangled up in the steering column. She was a big girl too, like me, and there was very little wiggle room.

When it was all said and done, it looked as though she might have had a broken arm, lots of cuts, and maybe a broken leg. The kid (who was tiny, but not a baby; he was nearly 5, just eensy weensy) was unhurt, except for the scrapes and being totally freaked out.

When my heart started beating again, and the rescue crews were asking everyone to step away toward the sidewalk, I looked around and everyone around me was looking at me, sort of stunned. It was a somber scene, standing there, and for some reason, it felt uncomfortable. I was still shaking, wondering if it would be ok to go back to my car and sit with my daughter. Just them, one lady held my hand and said that what I did was heroic, and I told her that I really wasn't, but that the first guy really was. A couple of other young men closeby jumped in, disagreeing, saying that the first guy's reaction was expected, and then saying that I had done something that most "people like me" wouldn't.

What "people like me"? Women? Chubby women? I didn't really get it at first, then it dawned on me. The driver and her kid were black. The first guy, the one that kicked in the glass . . . . black. All of the bystanders, black.

I was the only white person there, and in a week that has been filled with Southern black people crying for help, and white people seemingly not caring, I guess maybe I was a hero. Not for saving the kid, cause he was ok and would have been ok with or without me, but maybe for restoring some faith that whites could maybe be trusted to help and do something besides be smug and hand out charity and set up human warehouses.

I sure as hell hope so.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Addiction

For the most part, I haven't gotten swept up in the "reality show" craze. I am more of a makeover show person, although Extreme Home Makeover is a bit too dramatic for me.

I like watcing Changing Rooms and Debbie Travis' Facelift and Sell This House. I even like While You Were Out and In A Fix. I especially enjoy Life Laundry and Clean Sweep. Clean House is an also-ran, but I will sit and watch it anytime I catch it.

But they all pale in comparison to my new addiction: MTV's Trailer Fabulous.



This show has it ALL! Trailer parks, dramatic makeovers, funny schtick, exciting reveals, and did I mention trailer parks?

Brooks Buford, the rapper cum showhost who penned and cut the title song "Trailer Fabulous", is a crackup, formerly a crackhead, according to his bio. I believe his newest CD is titled "Straight outta Rehab", an homage to his departure from the rap duo Rehab. Drug addiction aside, this kid is funny. I predict that he will have a career that exceeds Trailer Fabulous, but hopefully, he will stick with this for awhile, cause it is a damn funny show.

Oh, and by the way, the trailer makeovers are stunning. Johnny Hardesty, the flaming designer, whips these trailers into a frenzy like a boa-feathered tornado. He reminds me a bit of Freddie Mercury, which is a plus. The landscaper is stereotypical Queens, ( not A Queen, that's Johnny). The interplay between the cast is fantastic.

If you haven't seen it, oh, you must. For the good of mankind, you simply must.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Speaking of portraits . . . .

Do you ever wonder what I look like? I find myself creating mental images of each and every blogger that I visit, and I wonder how close I am to reality.

Well, in the spirit of goodwill, I have decided to put a face with the name for any readers that might wonder . . .

For those of you that hate spoilers, or just want to stick with the Rita that you might have conjured in your mind, just click away. For all others, scroll down.














It's amazingly close. It really is.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


My "baby" brought this home from PreK today. After a tense few hours at a lottery drawing for coveted PreK spots this summer, we were elated that he was the 19th kid drawn for a single class of 20. Amidst our cheers, he sourly wondered out loud, "Who wants to go to this dumb ol' school, anyway?"

But, turns out that he really loves school, now that he has gotten used to it. First few days were rough, with tear-filled mornings, but now, he springs to life every morning with excitement.

I can't remember where I read it, but supposedly, you can tell quite a bit about a kid's emotional state from their drawings. If they draw fingers and toes, they feel very connected and secure in their surroundings.

If that's the case, then this prickly-toed picture is VERY encouraging.

What a great kid.

Editor's note: After sending this scan to my husband's email account, he printed the picture and hung it in his office. Last night, after he returned home, he told me that when he walked into his office after lunch, he was startled to see that from a slight distance, the drawing resembled something different, and he made some indications with his arms and hands, as though he were holding very large spheres of some kind. I didn't really catch on, and I was busy sorting out the kids, so I just let it slide by.

We went to trivia last night, and Hubby had taken a picture of the printout with his camera phone. Passing it around the table, the (all male) trivia team members all agreed, that yes, indeed, it did resemble a "trouser tortoise".

"A what?" I asked, not quite hearing them correctly over the loud music and other bar distractions.

"You know, Stretch Johnson and the twins . . . ." one offered. "Yeah, Russell the Love Muscle" offered another. Still seeing the confused look on my face, one after another tossed their impressions into the ring . . . "Puff the Magic Dragon!" and "Pink Floyd!" It just started a whole thing . . .


Sheesh. Men.

But I have to admit, it kind of does. That makes it even funnier, actually.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Surfaces

I spent last weekend sorting through my parent's house. My sister and brothers were there; so were my kids and husband. We needed twice that many people. And a dumpster. And a well-placed match.

It's been a constant battle to get my dad used to the idea that we are going to have to sell their home. We talk to him a little every day about it. Initially, he ranted and screamed at each of us, cursing and threatening. Over the past month or so, he has softened a bit, but he still flares up from time to time. He is adamantly opposed to selling the house. He built that home with my brothers back in 1969. Through the worst of times, he and my mom hung onto that house. Through years and years of unemployment, infighting, separation, and financial hardship, he and my mom managed to keep the house. It was the one thing that was stable in our lives, really. The house.

Viewing the house from the street is pretty impressive. It is a beautiful structure. Very modern ranch home with cathedral ceilings and expanses of glass on a huge lot in a prestigious neighborhood. It has weathered storms, survived decades of kids and pets, stood firm from Nixon to Bush Jr and spent decades out of vogue only to recently return to cool with the resurgence of all things 70s.

Inside . . . . a very different story. With his health as with his house, my father's credo has been if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and if it IS broke, ignore it. That outlook paired with his penchant to obsessively buy and hoard things, all kinds of things, has made the house a disaster area. His 2400 square foot basement was, up until May of this year, packed to the rafters with hundreds of rolls of vinyl wallcovering. Over 500 rolls that weighed about 75 pounds apiece. The really heavy duty commercial stuff that you would use in office buildings or hospitals. He was sure that it would be a goldmine, that he would be able to sell it and turn a HUGE profit over what he paid for it at a bankruptcy auction. When he bought this stuff 15 years ago, the basement had only enjoyed about a year of freedom from storing hundreds of airplane seats, purchased at the Air Atlanta bankruptcy auction. Selling those seats was a blessing and a curse. He and my mom really needed the money from the sale, but selling them for a profit only encouraged him to hoard more.

It was something my dad had resorted to in the late 80s after he had burned his last bridge in the aeronautical engineering world and was unable to get any more lucrative contracts. He started buying and selling. Well, wait . . . let me correct that. He started buying with a faint notion of maybe selling. He just loved the buying. And the keeping. And the hoarding.

He has never been able to let go of anything. He and my mom have had half of a garage all these years because he parked his 55 Ford Fairlane there when it stopped running in 1969. It had been his sister's car, and when she passed away in 1957 at 27, the car was given to him and my mom. Once it gave up the ghost, he insisted on keeping it but never intended to fix it; he just wouldn't let go of it. Anytime anyone visited the house, the first thing they would see when they pulled in the drive was this dusty, tarp covered monstrosity (they don't have a garage door, its open). Inevitably, someone would ask "What's under the tarp?" followed by a lift of the corner of the tarp for a peek. This would usually generate a gruff reply like "Don't touch the car - just leave that alone!" Grace and tact . . . that's my dad.

My dad hasn't set foot in the house since before his ill-fated car trip and wreck back in early December of last year. My mom moved to her apartment when he left to go on the trip, despite her begging and pleading with him not to go. He was on his way to Florida to sell his wallcovering to contractors and homeowners dealing with storm damage. He had just received the news that Mama was moving out, that she couldn't take living like they were living anymore, that she had done all that she could to convince him to do something besides sit on the sofa watching Home Shopping Network and ordering hundreds of dollars of crap every month. She was tired of living in her bedroom, avoiding him, watching him as his health slowly deteriorated before her eyes, watching everything except his temper grow weaker and weaker as their house fell into disrepair and her savings dwindled trying to support the increasing costs to upkeep the huge house that they could no longer manage.

In all of these months, a few things have happened to the house. The wallcovering is gone. I tried to sell it on Ebay, and had no luck. I listed it on Craigslist for free, and still had no takers. Thinking that we would have to pay someone to haul it away and dispose of it, we breathed a sigh of relief when my ex-husband (who kept up a friendly relationship with my mom and dad over all of these years) sold the lot for $2,000 and had the buyer come get the stuff. It took the buyers 3 trips with 4 workmen and a tractor trailer truck each trip to get all of it. The few rolls they left behind were the ones that had been crushed under the weight of the stacks and stacks of wallcovering. It was a blessing to have it gone, even though there were 50 or so rolls left to deal with. My ex-husband came back this past month with a dumptruck and a couple of workers and made three trips to the dump with what remained in the basement (wallcovering and other junk), and amidst howls of protest from my dad followed by quiet resignation, we gave my ex the old 55 Ford in exchange for all of the labor and disposal costs. He has coveted that car for years, and will likely spend the money to restore it. Besides, he had saved us thousands of dollars in labor and disposal costs by finding a buyer for all of that godawful wallcovering. Seemed fair.

Then the floods and storms came through in July. Everyone and everything has limits. The old house stood bravely as the water flooded and receded. The basement filled with a few inches of water, and water poured into the attic space through vents and weak spots, I guess. It was a quiet kind of damage, not apparent from the street. The house looked the same from the outside, but the inside was slowly, slowly being overtaken.

As soon as we knew that water had gotten into the house, we called my parent's insurance company. I reported the damage to FEMA. There were so many claims in this area and so few adjusters that it took until this past week for anyone to come out and inspect.

When we went through the house this past weekend, we all saw it: mold. Mold on the cathedral ceilings, mold on the carpeting, mold on their books, pictures . . .

My brothers tore down a bit of the ceiling and drywall and the insurance man stopped in his tracks. He has to escalate the claim up to some other level of adjuster; he called them the "Mold People". It is likely that the contents of the home will be a total loss, possibly even the drywall, ceilings, flooring, everything.

We were counting on selling the house and buying another smaller one for them near me. One that was new and clean and easy to maintain. One that cost less than what their home would sell for, so that they would have some cushion. You know what they say about best laid plans . . .

I was laying awake the other night, thinking about everything, and it dawned on me how metaphorical it all is. My dad, who has been strong and hardheaded all of these years, never sick a day in his life, was walking around with a heart that was essentially 90% blocked. My mom, who held a bedside vigil with him for months, seemed to be an endless well of stamina, was succumbing to cancer before our very eyes. And their home, the solid brick center of our world for all of the years that we grew up, seemingly the same from the street, is being consumed by the minute with creeping mold.

Some would say karma. Some would say inevitable deterioration. Some would say coincidence.

These days, I'm not saying much of anything.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Sorting rubble in the aftermath

First of all, I would like to say a very heartfelt "thank you" to everyone's kind comments and emails. If I had more time, I would answer you all personally. I hope that you won't take my nonresponse as more than anything than it is . . . just a necessity right now. I don't have a minute to spare.

This blog is supposed to be a chronicle, and even though the posts will inevitably get harder, I intend to use this to document my experience, and perhaps vent a bit.

First of all, my mom is out of the hospital, armed with very potent pain medication. Patches and pills for now - they seem to be doing the trick. The kind of cancer that she has is the kind that punctures little places into the bone, almost like cavities, if you will. We have been told that her cancer is metasticized from the breast cancer that she had back in 1987. Nothing about cancer can be considered good news, but compared to metasticized melanoma, this was the lesser of the two evils. We have been on such a rollercoaster, plunging down with one news report, and pulling out of the nosedive with the following report. Preliminary reports led us to believe we had only weeks, now, it seems that chemo is a possibility, not for curing, but for managing and giving her a little more time.

It is amazing the calls, visits, notes, flowers, dinners, and well wishes that have been literally pouring in. She is such a quiet person, shy really . . . I think she has been completely overwhelmed by the waves of concern, grief and love that have been washing over her. Mostly, she just says, "I WISH people wouldn't get so upset . . . . I hate that I am worrying people."

She is worried that she is a burden, that she is causing more problems for us kids. She worries about my dad, about my kids, about the time and energy we are all spending trying to care for them both, about the tremendous amounts of money going out the door for their care, housing, about their old house, storm damaged and rotting by the minute, by the overwhelming amount of things that are left undone.

She's a worrier.

One thing she doesn't seem to be too worried about is herself. She feels that she was given a tremendous gift - years of healthy living long after she battled cancer not once, but twice. She is handling this with grace.

My dad? Not so much.

He is fighting us, all of us. Fighting us about selling "his house", about finding a place for them to be safe and cared for, about taking medications, about everything, really.

He's been a challenge, and we didn't push the issue of a nursing home as long as she was insisting upon caring for him. That's past us now, and having private care is sucking money like a Hoover.

My patience is so thin. I want all of the doctors and staff to respond quicker than they are, or than they ever do. Battling hospitals for records releases and waiting on hold forever to make appointments is driving me crazy.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

I've marked a black X on the calendar today . . .

After months and months of caring for my dad, my mom finally began showing signs of wear. Mysterious back pain that traveled round and round, lots of discomfort, and over the past couple of weeks, that discomfort has turned into agony.

The mystery was solved this weekend. Unable to tolerate the pain anymore, she relented to be taken to the emergency room. Scans there showed what scans just 3 weeks prior hadn't: cancerous lesions on her hips, spine . . .

The doctor said that they were "secondary cancers", probably from the melanoma she had waaay back in the 60s, or maybe from the breast cancer she had in the 80s. He discussed outpatient radiation therapy with us, which seemed promising for a minute.

Then the CAT scans and MRIs came back from her chest xray. It's everywhere, both lungs, just everywhere.

I was with her today when the doctor unceremoniosly told us the results. I had already planned to bring her to my house to live with me for the outpatient radiation. Now I was changing plans on the fly to bring her home with me for whatever time she has left.

We have to wait for the "official" oncology report on Tuesday. The doctor advised me to help her get her affairs in order, get a power of attorney, etc.

I am numb.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Separated at birth . . . or copyright infringement


I doubt there are few people as excited as me about the new Willy Wonka movie. Oompa-loompas aside (I have a "little" problem with dwarves in costume, especially clownish costumes), I loved the original movie.

I haven't really seen or heard much beyond the trailers for this new flick, but I have seen enough to know that Tim Burton HAD to have based Willy Wonka on THIS guy:




I mean, come ON . . . don't these two look eerily similar? Admittedly, Tim Burton is a wildly creative guy, but everyone has to get inspiration from SOMEWHERE.

I can't help but picture Tim surfing the web, sitting in some messy home office in his underwear, and stumbling on THIS guy's site . . . and voila! Willy Wonka is reborn!

You gotta love the original . . . ok, maybe you don't HAVE to, but you at LEAST have to give the guy some credit. Or some antispychotic medication.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Open letters to various entertainers . . .

I had a chance this weekend to catch some VH1 and other entertainment news, and I had a few reactions that I felt were bloggable. You know the old saying: Better to blog it out and suffer the shame than hold it in and feel the pain.

OK, maybe you DON'T know the old saying.

Anyway, without further ado:

Dear Gwen Stefani: Please, I beg of you, stop debasing your considerable talent by releasing such drivel as, "Hollaback Girl". What a craptastic audiovisual experience THAT was, watching you gyrate and sniff your finger for 3 minutes . . . and to think, you dumped your "No Doubt" band for THAT? I overlooked the pet Asian girls, but really, this is just too much. P.S. You are not black, nor are you latin . . . please stop adopting EVERY cultural affectation. It doesn't help.

Good idea. Posted by Hello


Dear Rob Thomas: In a similar vein, for the love of God, please stop releasing latin flavor music. Yeah, you had a hit with Santana, and that was great, but that was CARLOS fucking SANTANA that carried your lily-white ass all through "Smooth". Stop singing Ricky Martin/Marc Antony/Enrique Iglesias-flavored tunes like "Lonely No More". Your attempts to shake your ass on the video were just plain unwatchable, and to quite Simon Cowell, you have "about as much latin flair as a polar bear." Matchbox 20 was great, and this is so much LESS great. Just stop it.

Dear Backstreet Boys: OK, I get it that you are trying one more time, but I would rather you just hit me than make me suffer through that shitstorm song and video "Incomplete". I pray that the viewing audience isn't getting stupider, but you must think they are to film such an obvious, literal video. To see all of you grimacing and throwing dirt as you sing is just fucking laughable, and what the hell does a swelling ocean wave and a fully engaged carfire have to do with ANYTHING? You were barely tolerable anyway, but this is a whole new flavor of drivel. Please invest your money wisely this time; I don't think I can stomach another of your "comebacks". Just go away.

BS Boys showing "anguish". Posted by Hello


Dear Kelly Clarkson: What part of the soulless "American Idol" machine decided to bleach you blonde, starve you to death and force you to sing that shitty, shitty "Behind these Hazel Eyes" song? It should be a crime punishable by at least 2 years in Guantanamo Bay prison camp, eating rice pilaf and actually being forced to listen to said shitty song, and worse, watching said shitty video. Kelly, Kelly, Kelly . . . you were once a talented, curvy brunette with a bit of an edge. Now you are just a poor man's Christina Aguillera, never to know the stunning highs of her fame. But you are sure to get a front row seat to the abysmal lows. The first one took place right in the beautyshop chair where you lost your natural color. And your soul.

Dear Will Smith: Why do you feel the need to continue to "sing" (and I use that term very loosely). Don' t you and your lovely wife Jada have the monopoly on nearly every Hollywood dollar as it is? And please stop insulting my intelligence with that ridiculous "Switch" song where you appear to be "clubbin wit de homies" and espousing that after all is said and done, that you are just a regular guy that likes to go out to regular clubs with regular people. And what the fuck is up with your lovely other half touring with OZZFEST? That has to be one of the 5 signs of the apocalypse. Enjoy your money, stick to formulaic movies, have beautiful babies, and just . . . just . . . stop making music!

Dear Queens of the Stone Age (or QOTSA to us fans): You consistently kick ass. I have "In My Head" and "I Never Came" on constant rotation. All who claim to love music and don't have "Lullabyes to Paralyze" in their CD player should be treated to the Guantanamo Bay Special. Please continue to raise the bell curve of worldwide musical quality for the good of the earth. That is all.


Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

And now for something completely different . . .

Just jotting things down here . . .

Latest funny kid stuff:
Scene: My bedroom, 7:00 am. Silence broken by small interloper, who scrambles up onto my bed, kneeing me a few times in the process.
4 year old: Knock Knock!
Half Asleep Me: (mumbling) who's there . . .
4YO: Feet!
HAM: . . . feet who?
4YO: Feet Dot Com! (dissolving into laughter)

4YO is having some issues with "summer camp" (just daycare, but hotter). Some of his schoolyear friends are gone for the summer, along with his beloved teacher. He was just getting used to things (he started 2 mornings a week back in March) and then summer hit. I know he needs to go to preschool - prekindergarten starts 5 days a week in the fall, so he needs to get used to being in a class with other kids.

Seeing him cry yesterday morning nearly killed me - he doesn't cry much, and is such an easygoing kid. When I went to pick him up, I peeked in, just to watch him for awhile. Some kids were drawing, some were playing with blocks, some with dolls . . . but he was alone, walking around the room, looking at pictures, staying to himself.

It's been this way for the past few weeks. I hate to say that he is shy like his dad, but I think he might have some of the same social anxiety that his dad does. Dad laments that 4YO isn't more like me, and I have always been thankful that he has his dad's quiet, logical presence.

My sweet girl, who has unfortunately worn her (aging) grandparents to a frazzle, is enjoying a 1/2 day crafting and games camp in our fair little city. Bless her heart, she has a tough time making friends, but she tries, she really does. Kids pick up the scent of anything different, or anyone that is a little different, and most kids her age wind up shying away or avoiding her. At this camp, kids from 5-12 are there, and she spent a good part of yesterday happily playing with 6 and 7 year olds who were more than happy to have a 9 year old in their playgroup. She approaches every day fresh and ready to keep trying. She always has, that girl. No matter what, no matter how hard, no matter who has been unkind, she is ready to try again. Quite a lesson there, I think.

I am praying it gets better, otherwise, I am ready to enact Plan B (sell the suburban paradise and cars, quit work, move into a hovel and homeschool the kids, relying on dried beans and government cheese for sustenance.)

And I'd do it, too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Reality bites . . . .

OK, so, it's no big secret that I have been slacking on the ol' blogger postings as of late. Lots of reasons for that, none of them good, but because I intended for this blog to be a historical record, I will put fingers to keys and document the latest . . .

Faithful readers may remember all of the craziness from last December involving my dad, a car wreck, heart surgery, blood clots, and a host of other complications that plagued him. As of today, he is in a nursing home, receiving therapy and determined to come home as soon as possible. My mother has stayed by his bedside throughout the entire drama, wearing herself to an absolute frazzle. I have begged her to stop holding a bedside vigil and get some rest, but she is resolute. The social worker at the facility is organizing a family meeting for tomorrow; seems that she has noticed some "deficits" in my mother's cognition (read: she thinks my mother is a nut), and is concerned that neither of them is capable of independent living at this point. That's news to them, though; they both think that he can come on home to her new apartment, even though he is bedridden, incontinent, and can't do a thing but feed himself. He ran through all of the benefits he had with his HMO, and now he is on Medicaid, which is a godsend, since his care would be about $4K a month otherwise.

Lessee . . . what else? Started a new job a couple of months ago. Easiest just to break it down into Perceived Good and Reality:

Perceived Good: Flexible hours and ability to work from my home office.
Reality: Frantic calls come in constantly with emergencies that cause me to run around like a cat on fire, followed by deadly silences. Oh, and the hiring manager doesn't like to pay for the deadly silences.

Perceived Good: Solid contract with a reputable contracting firm; great benefits.
Reality: It was only AFTER I had accepted the position that the reputable firm recanted the offer of benefits since the flexible position would dip below 40 hours a week.

Perceived Good: The position was created for a self-motivated, self-managed person.
Reality: The hiring manager expects me to be The Amazing Kreskin.

Perceived Good: Money is coming in, and I no longer have to hide my Honda in my garage to dodge the repo man.
Reality: Yeah, that really is a good thing.

Now don't feel slighted when I tell you this one: I have been blogging, just not here. I found a new site to help me in my constant quest to tame my battles with the scale and food: MyFoodDiary.com I have been busy logging my meals, snacks, exercise and measurements. It all seems very vain and self-centered, but then again, putting myself last has kind of gotten me where I am today, so I am thankful to have found it.

Going to see a cardiologist in the next couple of weeks. Have to have lots of dental work done, and since I contracted a heart infection when I had my wisdom teeth out a couple of years ago, I need a clearance letter before my very nice, new dentist will begin the work that I desperately need (2 root canals, 3 crowns, gum treatments).

Yeah, so, I have been all Lords of Discipline lately. Not much fun, but then again, after seeing what my dad ended up with after ignoring and abusing his body for 4 or 5 decades, I have decided that perhaps a little discipline is in order.

At least Weenie the Wonder Dog and the kids are enjoying our evening walks. They aren't too crazy about all the new vegetables, though.

Monday, May 2, 2005

Celebrations all around . . .

Lots to celebrate this past week.

Hub and I celebrated 10 years of matrimony on the 23rd, and this little ol' blog turned 1 this past weekend.

My, how time flies.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter

There is quite a bit to be sedate about today.

The pope wasn't able to deliver Easter services, or do little more than wave.

Prince Ranier, the second-longest reigning monarch, is slipping away.

Terry Schiavo's parents have lost their fight, and now await the inevitable.

Much, much TOO much going on to extract much joy from the day.

But, what the hell . . . . Happy Easter anyway, ya'll.




Yes, and No. Yes, they are cute. No, they aren't mine. Posted by Hello

Monday, March 21, 2005

Weighing in on the Terry Schindler Schiavo case

This Terry Schiavo thing has really gotten to me.

More than I thought it would.

I didn't really know the whole back story. I knew that she couldn't care for herself, and I knew that she wasn't exactly comatose, either. From the coverage, it seemed pretty clear that her parents and family are devoted to her, but that the husband has moved on, had children with another woman, and seems hell-bent on unplugging her ASAP.

Something about the whole case didn't sit right with me. Aside from the husband's willingness to starve her to death despite her family's wishes, I mean. Something about the whole thing seemed to be more sinister, hidden . . .

Even when I read a breakdown of the complaint filed by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) against Hubby, I still felt that there was more to the story. They are charging him with, among a few other things:

Failure to exercise Terri's arms, resulting in "severe contractures,"
Failure to provide appropriate medical therapy,
Failure to investigate the rehabilitation value of newly available technologies,
Interference in communication with and visitation by Terri's family members and friends,
Denial of access to independent legal counsel,
Failure to file guardianship reports as required by law,
Failure to provide required legal notices to Terri, and
Performing experimental procedures without following proper medical and legal procedures.

It finally became as clear as crystal when I kept reading, kept poking around. I finally realized why the case bothered me so damn much.

But for the grace of God go I.

According to this article, Before fight over death, Terri Schiavo had a life , Terry and I are kindred sisters:

We are the same age.

Like me, she was painfully shy around men.

She was a heavy child and a heavy preteen.

She managed to lose a large amount of weight in her teen years.

When she was still too young to know better, she became smitten with a handsome man that told her that she was beautiful. "It was the first guy who ever, ever paid any attention to her," her mother said.

Within a year of her marriage, her Prince Charming saw her high school graduation picture and warned her "if she ever got fat like that again he'd divorce her."

Her husband was controlling. "When she would go visit her parents or a friend from work, Mrs. Schindler says, Schiavo would check the mileage on her car. She could go to those places (but if she went any) other place, he gave her crap."

Coworkers remember that Michael Schiavo would frequently call his wife at work and leave her in tears.

According to the article, Bobby Schindler says his sister began talking about leaving Schiavo in 1989. "She said she wished she had the strength or the energy or the know-how to get a divorce," he says.

By this time, Terri's weight had dropped below 120 and Mrs. Schindler says she confronted her daughter about how thin she was getting.

Terri most likely collapsed from anorexia. I don't think that alot was known about anorexia back then, but most of the articles that I have read state that she collapsed from potassium disorders and heart failure. Combined with her dramatic weight losses, and pressure from her husband to stay thin, I think it is pretty safe to say that Terri had a serious eating disorder.

To be more blunt, she was constantly ridiculed and threatened by her husband about her weight, she starved herself thin, and she collapsed and lost her life because of her husband Michael Schiavo.

I think she stayed because she truly thought it was all her fault, that she wasn't good enough to leave, that her body was imperfect, and that her husband was the only man that ever WOULD pay any attention to her.

God, I remember feeling that. I fought it. I'm still not sure why I did. What if I had been just a little weaker? What if I had stayed?

We were the same, she and I.

Is anyone else marvelling at the macabre coincidence that starvation got her where she is, and her husband, the one for whom she was willing to starve herself to be allowed to stay, is now demanding that she be starved until she is forced to go?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The journey of a thousand miles . . . .

. . . . is upon us.



The surgery was completed yesterday evening, finally. There were multiple delays, and frustrating days, and close calls. We were all gathered in the waiting room, ready for hours and hours of tense waiting. Imagine our surprise when the surgeon came out 3 hours early.



It wasn't the worst news, but it wasn't the best, either. He had performed 4 bypasses, not 6, and had cancelled the aortic valve replacement once he got into the operation.



It's funny how some people are glass half-full people. My mother is one. Despite the grave look on the surgeon's face, she was elated that the surgery was over quickly, and was less complicated than we had originally anticipated. She took this as good news. The surgeon was carefully explaining to us that he had decided against the valve replacement in mid-operation because, frankly, there was a good chance that my dad wouldn't have survived it. Upon hearing this, my mother, moments after the surgeon left us, was on the phone with my aunt, telling her that Daddy was in recovery and really hadn't needed the replacement, after all.



My brother drove her home to rest, and my sister and I stayed on, peeking in on my dad. Hours after we expected him to regain consciousness, the nurses were still feverishly working to stabilize him.



And if you will pardon me now, I think I have a half-empty glass of soda somewhere around here to finish off.

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