Thursday, February 19, 2015


As I watched the snow swirl outside the 3rd floor window, I said to my coworker, "I hate February.  It's only a couple of days past the halfway mark of a short month and it has already gone on for too long.  It needs to go away."

"Oh spring will be here before you know it," he said, and implied that I was a drama queen which is sometimes true.  Or usually.

After weeks of celebrating the holidays, January is almost a relief.  Organize your house, get your paperwork in order, settle into bed early with a good book.  The hors d'oeuvres and wine and interesting conversation are over.  It is needed rest for the weary.

But after a month of that comes February and what are you supposed to do with all twenty-eight days of that? 

The stores are filled with spring clothes in colors that are too cheery to even consider.  The home improvement centers have started stacking the mulch and wheeling out the grills while the remaining ice melt and shovels keep each other company in a forgotten pile in the corner.

It is Groundhog Day over and over.  Same coat, salt-stained boots, the 10th pair of cheap gloves because you have left nine pairs at the grocery store, in the parking lot, and God Knows Where. 

I told Mark my writing well was frozen solid.  "Not one single thing of interest has happened to me in weeks."  Then I read a blog post about being present and there were all kinds of comments as if this was the most fascinating thing to consider.  "Mark.....can you even?  I think I read about being present ten times a day and somebody writes about it AGAIN and everyone raves about it like they've never heard it before.  This kind of stuff is making me bitter."

"Just that?" he asked.

"Well, maybe everything."

We celebrated Valentine's Day.  He got me a mug for left-handers.  I got him a Lego Zamboni, and if you ever asked him he'd tell you about back in the day when he got to work the coolest thing at the ice rink.

I sip from my new mug and complain that maybe the coffee maker isn't working right because it's just not hot enough.

I wear something black.  Again.  I scrape the windows and kick gray snow off the wheel wells.   I go to Target and try to find wool socks on clearance because my only pair has disappeared.  I have no luck but bikinis are plentiful.  I shake my flaky, dry hands at the gray skies that have settled over the slushy parking lot and my mood.  Then I go home and look at my husband, who is many things including an experienced Zamboni operator, and try for his sake to not say aloud every whiny thought that crosses my mind. 

It is the hardest thing I do in an already hard month.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fast Forward

A soon-to-be-new colleague of Mark's came into town with a friend to scout out the housing and daycare situation for he and his family.  He asked Mark and I to join them.  Mark gets excited about this kind of stuff.  Me?  Not so much.  As the only non-scientist, the thought of sitting with three guys talking proteins and molecules for a couple of hours over dinner seems as miserable as going to look at tool rentals.

But I had no better offer on a Saturday night in the Cow Town.

We met at a barbecue restaurant.  The friend was there on a fact-finding mission himself - entertaining the idea of moving to Kansas City as well.  It took about five minutes for me to figure out that this was not going to be one of those kinds of dinner.

Both of them hammered us with questions about the area.  Where to live?  Our neck of the woods if you know what's good for you.  Housing prices?  Shockingly low compared to the east coast.  Job market for teachers?  Just offered early retirement to three hundred teachers in our school district so tell your wife to check out this website.  Traffic?  Well, people here think there's a bit of it but if you've lived anywhere else you will be delighted.

It was a conversation that was so very reminiscent of us when we moved across the country.   Excited and scared of what lie ahead with a five-year-old and a toddler in tow.  Housing, schools, banks, grocery stores and babysitters all to figure out.  It was our grandest adventure.  In it together long before cell phones, debit cards or GPS we held hands and jumped into the deep end of our new life here.  It has worked out but there have been plenty of times when we wondered if we did the right thing, when as a stay-at-home mom I was lonely for friends and family for far longer than I would have thought.  The years Mark has swam against a tide that believes that only the best science comes from the coasts. We overcame the obstacles and made a life, and we shared our stories with two professionals trying to do what's best for their careers, their spouses and the babies that are already on the way.

When Mark and his colleague became engrossed in a conversation about the university, the friend looked at me and said, "So are you guys looking forward to being grandparents?"

I stared blankly.


In the nostalgia of our conversation I had forgotten that more than twenty years had passed by.  That the house got bought, the bank and schools settled on, the friends made.  That the kids long ago outgrew babysitters and bedrooms and we'd gotten older.

And then when my thoughts drifted back I looked at him, smiled and said, "Oh yes.  You can only imagine how lovely the thought of it seems."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I Love The Bitter Nights

I have been feeling kind of pookie of late.  All weekend I lounged around with little energy except to scream at the Seahawks for not running the ball at the one-yard line.  The. One. Yard. Line.  I had to eat three cookies and half a can of chocolate covered almonds to deal with my super emotions.

The Big Daddy and I dejectedly went to bed and I took some drugs to ward off my body aches.  I woke up Monday morning and started getting ready for work but did an about-face midway through.  I was staying home and taking care of me.  I rarely miss work but on this day I was happy to be staying in a warm bed and not dealing with the cold, dreary day.  The Big Daddy's choice for warmth was to fly to San Francisco.

I was chilled to the bone all day so I made some chicken soup and finally warmed up enough to sleep for a few hours.  When I woke I went downstairs and looked at the thermostat.  It had yet to reach sixty degrees.  All day the heat was running and not warming up the house and that's when I finally figured out that there was something wrong with the furnace.

This led to a Google search and a call to the neighbor for the name of her heating and AC guy.  "Maybe your pilot light is out," she said.  "I don't think Steve knows how to light one but I bet one of the other guys have done it.  Call one of them and ask them to come over and check."

I called Neighbor Mark The Woodworker who can make anything.  "There's still furnaces with pilot lights," he asked.  Maybe I should have asked him to carve me a furnace instead of lighting one.  "Ask Walt.  He used to be a heating & ac guy."  By now it was 9:00 and I didn't feel comfortable knocking on Walt's door so late.  Will (who was toasty in bed with a space heater and watching movies on his laptop) and I were going to have to tough it out.

We found all the heavy blankets, long underwear and wool socks.  I was bundled in bed when the phone rang.  It was The Big Daddy.  I told him my tale of woe.  "It's so cold in here," I whined. 

"Well, why don't you make a fire," he asked.

"A fire?  But I'm in bed.  What good is that going to do when I'm upstairs and the fireplace that we haven't used in ten years is downstairs?"

"It would heat up the house.  That's what fires usually do."

I didn't care for his attitude. 

"Really?  Am I supposed to go out looking for wood at 10:00 at night then start a fire?  You know you're not being the least bit helpful."

"Be like a Scout.  It's called indoor camping."

Rule #1 for husbands who get to go anywhere warmish in the winter:  Don't say anything from the comfort of a hotel room except "I'm sorry for everything bad that has ever happened to you."

I cranked up my heating pad, turned off the lights and started thinking.....

*I wonder if I'm going to get carbon monoxide poisoning and be dead in the morning.

*Why don't I ever get to go anywhere?

*Is tomorrow a shampoo day or a skip day?

*I should pee.  (four times)

*Shivering must burn some calories.

*Did I floss?

*What if the nobody can fix the furnace tomorrow?  I'll go to a hotel.  In Florida.

*Is that chirping sound the carbon monoxide detector?

*Maybe Neighbor Mark the Woodworker can make me a new staircase. 

*If I quit my job how long could I go without spending any money?  (a week, maybe)

*The painter hasn't been back since October.  Maybe he's not returning my calls because he's in jail.

*Who killed Jon Benet?

*Do I have a headache?  Is that how carbon monoxide poisoning starts?  I should Google that in the morning if I'm not dead.

*We should get a new lawnmower this year.

*Taxes.  Meh.

*I bet the dog has Asperger's.

*Somehow this is The Big Daddy's fault even though I can't figure out how.  Yet.

*I need to get baking soda.

*I'll get new tires on the car on President's Day.  That would be a fun thing to do on my day off.

*They say carbon monoxide is the silent killer.

*I should start walking every day like I used to.

*Natalie Wood on that boat.  Sheesh..... she didn't fall off on her own.

I slept for two hours.  The house was 51 degrees when I woke up.  I called the heating guy at 7:15 and he said he'd be over by nine.

At 8:30 my neighbor called.  "I walked by and your paper was still out.  I thought you got carbon monoxide poisoning and were dead so I'm calling to check.".

Thank you Jesus for sending me people who understand.

The Big Daddy called and I told him about my long, sleepless night.  "Carbon monoxide poisoning," he said.  "Heck, the damn thing wasn't even heating up.  You couldn't get that.  I could have told you that."

Oh sure.  After it was all over and done I find out he could have saved me from my night of torment with his Bill Nye science brain. 

But what about Natalie Wood I wanted to ask the Smartypants.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Intrusive Thoughts

On the way home from work I listen to Terry Gross on NPR.  It makes me feel nerdy and smart when I can say, "Oh yes, I heard that on NPR".  I try not to make that statement be followed by any in-depth conversation since the show itself is an hour long and I only listen to it for twenty minutes. And since I miss the beginning I often don't know the name of the person being interviewed or the book, movie, t.v. show or political race that is being referenced.  I am a Cliff Note kind of listener and knowledge seeker.

On a recent show the conversation was about OCD, what this guy knew about it and how he dealt with it in his own life.  I once took one of those Are You OCD tests in a magazine.  Halfway through when I had answered "yes" to all of the questions, I laid the magazine aside.  I knew where this was going.  I didn't need Glamour confirming it so I moved on to the do's and don'ts of prairie skirts and what to wear to bed to keep your man interested - one of which has served me better than the other.

The guest described brain function and the idea of intrusive thoughts.  "These are the kind of shocking things that pop into your head out of nowhere.  Things like standing on a train platform and thinking you're going to jump onto the track when you see the train approaching.  Everyone has these.  The difference between this being normal or not is if these thoughts become compulsive or you begin to act on them."

This was the most enlightening thing I'd heard in ages.  For years I stood on the Grant St. station platform in Chicago and had that very thought all the time.  I tucked it away in my when-you-go-to-see-a-therapist notebook and went on with my life.  Through the years it got replaced by other shocking thoughts and imaginative ways to die that would pop up, and I thought that if I said any of these things out loud I would get admitted to the psych unit.

But now I find out that this is common.

Why don't they tell you these things in school when you're busy lining up your #2 yellow pencil from shortest to tallest over and over while your seatmate eats Elmer's glue all day?  Or color grouping your Crayolas and getting the heebie jeebs when Glue-Snacking Friend borrows one and doesn't put it back in the right place?  Or worse when he colors so fast and hard that the perfect pointy tip gets smashed down and ugly? 

Why. Did. He. Keep. Doing. That. To. Me?

Last weekend we made a quick trip to Chicago so Mark could attend an authentic Nerdy and Smart Conference and I hung out with my family.  My brother who is an engineer for the Edison Company was talking about electricity and the different ways a lineman can meet his Maker.  These are not helpful things for me to hear because I internalize all this where it ends up working its way into my bulging Intrusive Thought File.  He told the story of a group of media trucks that were covering a news story.  They were clumped together with the exception of one.  Off by itself when lightning struck, someone opened the door to depart and as soon as he stepped on the ground he was shocked and died.

The Brothers still love the scary shit stories.

"What you need to do in that kind of situation,"  Brosef said, "is to jump as far from the vehicle as you possibly can away from the charge."

"OHMYGOD!  What????  You can die exiting an RV just by stepping on the ground?"

"Yes.  You'll be the exit point for the electrical charge."

I thought about my jumping abilities and those track days in high school when my friends and I thought it was a better idea to ditch half the class to smoke a cigarette instead of working on our long jump.

Three feet, tops, I thought.  Three lousy feet, but God willing maybe it would be enough.

"And your feet have to land together when you hit the ground," Brosef said.

A lifetime of Intrusive Thoughts shuddered and scooted over. 

There was a new player in town.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Sacrament of Listening

There is someone I know who in the course of a conversation about a stressful problem you may be experiencing immediately responds with "I'll pray for you".  It almost always catches me off guard. 

Wait.  What?  Pray for me?  For that

While more faithful servants might find this comforting I am often confused by it.  For starters I am an ADD prayer.  While my intentions are pure and the beginning is sincere, I tend to wander far from my fervent base.  Your mom's scheduled surgery quickly morphs into my dinner plans and whether I should make baked chicken, chicken soup, chicken chili or stir-fry chicken.  Do I even have chicken?  Is it too late to defrost it?  Pizza instead?  Did I ever switch those loads of laundry?  Is the dog still outside?  What did you say your mom was having surgery for?

Prayer fail.

The gap between life shit and life and death shit is usually very clear to me.  Things not going my way and causing stress is not the same as going to see an oncologist because those random pains turned out to be much much more.     

Like the ubiquitous "have a nice day", the "I'll pray for you" seems to lack sincerity these days.  While there are some people you can count on to pray for you when times are tough, there are other cases when it seems to lack the heartfelt certainty that such matters require.  Does an emoticon on a Facebook comment of praying hands mean anything?  Is it supposed to be comforting?

At a shoe store recently, Will overheard someone giddy over finding some shoes she loved marked down to under twenty dollars.  "I prayed to God for some good shoes I could afford and he answered my prayers".  And the friend chorus nodded with a resounding "amen".

Is God spending eternity helping people find shoes on clearance?

What all of us need when life is causing us strife is a friend to listen.  Someone who leans in to hear every word.  Someone who doesn't try to fix, doesn't listen for the sake of responding, doesn't interrupt with unasked for advice, and doesn't tell you about her sister-in-law's second cousin that had the very same thing happen to them.  Someone who will step up to the plate to absorb some of our turmoil for the sake of making life a bit easier. 

Someone willing to get in the mud with you....

....because when you're on the receiving end of that it feels like a prayer.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Small Talk & Appetizers

This is the week when many bloggers do a recap of their year.  I don't remember much of mine.  It's a fascinating blur of going to work, cleaning, paying bills, and remembering to not throw my new favorite shirt in the dryer so it wouldn't shrink.  It was hair appointments for cut and color, a tooth that wreaked havoc for months, some blood work and a mammogram.

It was Montana in July.

The biggest blur was this month.  It was seven parties with a couple more on the books for New Years.  We each had our work parties to attend while the others were dear people whose homes we were honored to be invited to.  That is a lot of parties but at no time did it ever occur to either of us that we could decline any of these invites unless there was a conflict.  Maybe my mom's words echo in my mind.  "If you say no too often people stop inviting you."

And now that it is all winding down I am worn out.  I have eaten too much, drank more than I should have and spent too much on party clothes.  If left alone at a buffet table I could clean a hostess of her plate of olives and wipe out the Chex Mix, and yet those aren't even my downfall.

On Saturday we were at a party and Mark was doing a show and tell of a 3-D printer anthrax toxin protein.  Our hosts were the parents of a high school girl who worked this summer in his lab and she was daily involved in this undertaking.  She beamed with pride seeing the outcome of her work while Mark was in his element explaining their science project. 

Somebody asked me if I ever know what my-husband-the-scientist is talking about.  I usually do not.  I told them about the dinner in Montana for an infectious disease conference he was attending.  Terms about Ebola and MERS were thrown around so casually they made my head spin.  At one point I wondered, "Is there anyone here like me?  Is there an introvert with a splash of social anxiety who wants to keep me company?"

Maybe not that time but as soon as I said that on this Saturday night I was met with some like-minded souls who answered with a resounding "me too."

Now the time has come to close out this year and ring in the new one.  Let's kiss and hug the ones we love and hope for the best year ever.  Then let's stay inside, pull up the covers and dive into our stack of books so that next December we can take our shy selves to our parties and say to the stranger next to us, "Have you read........."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Should The Fates Allow

On the Sunday before Christmas I spent a little time shopping.  Mostly last minute things that I knew where to get instead of the frantic quests for the perfect gift that seemed to be surrounding me.  It is what I also did on Saturday until I ran out of steam and came home to the safety of our house, our tree and our calm.

Mark napped on Saturday afternoon - the perfect wintery, gray day that begs to be napped in after getting up early to meet the boys for a bike ride and breakfast.  I napped Sunday, and while there are gifts to be wrapped and a Christmas card that isn't even ordered (New Years perhaps?) I felt no guilt surrendering to my weariness.

Prior to that, though, I flipped through the channels and found The Family Stone was playing and there went any plans I had for getting anything done.  The movie stars Diane Keaton, Sara Jessica Parker, Craig T. Nelson and Dermot Mulroney among many others.  It came out nine years ago and Mark and I saw it in the theater.  It is the story of a raucous family coming home for Christmas and one of the siblings is gay.  He brings home his significant other.  That relationship is a very small part of the movie, but it was only a few months after we had found out our own son was gay and so it holds a special place in my heart.

I cried for the normalness of the portrayal of the Stone family and thought "that is us, that is this family."   I knew when that movie was over that in time we were going to be just fine and every single time I see it I cry. Last year, Will and I watched it together and he said, "I love this movie, Mom. You remind me a lot of Diane Keaton."

Oh geez, kiddo.

On Saturday night, Mark and I went with some friends to see Wild.  It is the book I have talked about most in the last two years since I read it.  Prodding, begging and cajoling anyone and everyone to read it. I don't think a single person has taken me up on my recommendation but it doesn't stop me. One of the security guards at work talks about books with me all the time.  "Wild," I say.  Read it and then we'll talk for hours."

So with just a few days left until Christmas my mind is a confused mess of happy and sad, of loving the people who are with me and missing the ones who aren't.  Of being thankful one minute and empty the next.  Of overdosing on food and drink and company but mostly wishing to catch a glimpse of the hawk perched on a light pole like I did on another wintry Sunday last year. do me in.

I am well aware that there is a glut of blogs out there and some really, really good ones at that. Someone I met recently asked me how I make mine stand out.  I wish I knew what that secret is. Four years later I keep showing up and muddling through, for it has always been in words that I have sought and found redemption.

Thank you for muddling with me through the light and the dark.  Now let's go have ourselves a merry little Christmas.