Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bon Courage

Last Saturday I attended a memorial service for the spouse of a retired colleague of Mark's.  They were favorites of ours and at every social event within the department and med center we would sit with them.  They were both avid cyclists as well as avid believers in doing their part in the name of social justice - touring the world by bike or working for Habitat for Humanity.

Caroline came home from a meeting on the East Coast this summer where she got to bike for days - the last 200 hundred miles by herself.  Upon her return she went to the doctor for stomach pain and was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  Mark first heard via email and then she began a Caring Bridge page that she updated occasionally.  There weren't very many entries of hers before her husband took over and three months later she died.

We live on a corner house that is the route for many biking groups in town and they would often ride past our house. If we were out in the yard they would stop and talk before making their way home. This sudden illness of Caroline's and seemingly quick death left us stunned.  It is hard to imagine any healthier, more vibrant people than the two of them.

Mark had an all-day conference that day and couldn't attend the service.  I had to work as well but negotiated my hours so I could come in a little later.  I up with another faculty spouse in that packed church and wondered if Caroline had any idea how many people she touched.  I wondered if any of us know that when we go about our life.

Like everything these days, even my attempt at paying my respects was half-ass.  I couldn't stay until the end as I was already an hour late to being an hour late to work.  I couldn't talk to George, couldn't meet the grown kids I'd heard them talk about for more than twenty years, couldn't meet the sister from Indiana or the middle-school geography teachers that Caroline worked with for decades.  Before this final send-off for Caroline I had to get up and leave.

As soon as I walked out of the church I started crying.  For Caroline, for George, for their kids, for work commitments that were getting in the way of something more important.

For Paris.

I drove to work, clocked in, and waited on customers in my standard funeral dress - quite overdressed for the rest of my day.  Melancholy seemed to seep out of me even though the store was so packed I barely had a minute to think about anything but the next person in line.

One after another I wrote up tickets and sent people on their way with ornaments and garland and reindeer pillows and candles that smell like Christmas.  As I was writing up a ticket for one woman she asked me if I was okay.

"Yes, I'm fine.  Just a little overwhelmed at the moment."

"I can see why.  It's so busy here today but I do hope you've checked on your suppliers to see if they are okay."

"Our suppliers?"

"Yes, your suppliers in France.  Has somebody checked on them to make sure they're okay after last night?"

"I don't know.  I think so," I said and I didn't have the heart to say that the store she was in with the very French name on the outside gets nearly everything from China.

"It's so terrible, isn't it?  I can't imagine....," she said and my eyes welled up with tears for a place that is an unchecked dream on my bucket list.

I wrapped her ornaments and handed her bag to her.

She patted my hand.

"We'll be okay," she whispered and that was the first thing I believed in all day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Seeds of Gratitude

I started two blog posts and ended up deleting them.  They both had something in common.

They sucked.

One of them was done and after lots of editing I still didn't know what the point was that I was trying to make except that Christie Brinkley only looks good at sixty because she's had *work* done. And besides being bitchy it was uninteresting.

So this post is going to be shortish and newsy.

*I finally landed a job.  Thank you Universe.  That last interview was the one that finally clicked and I will be working with college students and finances for their organizations.  It was the third time I tried to get a job in this school and I think I landed in a good department.  The interview wasn't easy but I had the overwhelming feeling throughout it that they were pulling for me which I took as a sign that it was the right place for me.

*But I already had a job.  I started working in a home decor store in September that I have shopped at for years.  It is all kinds of inspiring and a fantastic creative outlet for me as they let me do a lot of display work.  Each job knows about the other and they have both been accommodating.  However, from now until the end of the year I will be working six days a week.  Not sure how that's going to look as I'm just now in week one but I've managed to make the bed before I go and dinner when I've gotten home.  That. Will. Not. Last.

*I will be a producer for the Listen To Your Mother show in Kansas City in 2016.  LTYM is so near and dear to my heart that when the opportunity came up I thought about it for all of five minutes and said "yes".  It is such a leap from my comfort zone that thinking about it for any length of time gives me the vapors.  The chance to be the sherpa for the stories of mothers/mothering/motherhood for others, though, was too good of an opportunity to pass up and so I'll carry a paper bag with me to breathe into and bring this to fruition with my partner.

*My blog reached 100,000 hits.  This took nearly five years which was not in the original plan.  By now I should have been a household name in blogland but instead I am more like the little engine that could. What was the purpose and always in the plan was to become a better writer and I can look back at those early postings and see how far I've come.  For awhile there were soaring numbers on the weekends and I was elated. That only lasted until I realized that all those hits came from Russia, so without the attempted hackers I'm probably more at 85K.

*A couple of months ago Maggie and Nate came over with some seed packets that they picked up at a nursery. How nice, I thought and wondered where I would put them until the spring when they could be planted.  "Look them over," she said while Nate decided to record us and it was all so odd. "Really look at them," she said and God help Mark and I we can be so clueless.  We are going to be grandparents this spring.  I started crying when we finally figured it out.  Mark sat in the dining room chair with the biggest smile on his face and tears in his eyes.  A few weeks ago I went with Mags to look at maternity clothes and we wandered over to the baby section.  I think my life and hers in me flashed by in a second when I held up the teeniest little onesie.

I cannot promise this little blog will get much of my attention in the next few weeks (Mark and I were in bed at 9:15 on Saturday night) but good stories have a way of finding an outlet.  I hope to never be too busy to recognize one when it shows up.

Thank you for reading A Speckled Trout.  My cup runneth over.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Leaning In At Lowe's

My neighbor is a woodworker.  What started as a hobby has turned into a business and for the crafters/garbage pickers/yard salers around here he is a dream come true.  Whatever you haul down to him he can fix, replicate or repair.

He now has a store and a partner, making, selling and repairing musical instruments.  Since it opened I don't like to bother him with my lame craft projects like I used to.  He's a legit business owner.  Sometimes I'm just bored.

A few years ago I bought a print from the thrift store just for the frame and recently decided to turn it into a chalkboard.  Before I would have run down to Mark's house with baked goods and a sad face and he would have picked up on my not so subtle hint that I needed some wood cut for it.  This time, though, I decided to leave him out of my project and headed to Lowe's with my measurements.

I got the piece of wood I needed and took it to the saw to be cut.  I gave the employee the dimensions, he lined up my wood and then nicked his finger on the saw blade before he even started.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

It bled profusely and he apologized and said, "I'm on Coumadin. Do you know what that is?  It's a blood thinner. Makes me bleed a lot."

"Aren't you kind of young to be on Coumadin?" I asked.

And that question opened the door to his story.  He pulled down the neck of his tshirt to show me the scar on his chest.

"I grew up in a little town in central Illinois that nobody has ever heard of.  I went to college in Bloomington and got a chance to play on the football team.  I loved it but I was kind of small.  After a year or so of being there I found out that some scouts were coming to the area to look for prospects for the NFL and I decided I was going to bulk up so I'd have a better chance.  The NFL.  I could already see me there.  I started taking steroids. Don't say it. I know what you're thinking. Anyhow, I bulked up pretty quick once I started doing that and it was great.  Lost a little speed but made up for it in tackles. I didn't even look like the same person with all those steroids.  Completely changed my body.  I kept taking more and more but it eventually caught up with me and I got sick. Really, really sick all of a sudden.  My parents came to town to check on me because I wasn't answering my phone.  Sometimes I would hear it ring and want to answer it but I couldn't get up.  I couldn't even lift my head up off the pillow.  I don't remember much once my parents got there but I do remember my mom crying.  They took me to the local hospital and they said I needed a specialist so they loaded me in an ambulance and drove me to this hospital in Champaign, Illinois.

"Was it Carle Clinic?" I asked.

"Yeah.  How would you even know that?"

"I lived in Champaign for four years.  My daughter was born there."

"That's kind of crazy to me that you know that. Who would have thought?  Well, I get to Carle Clinic and I need emergency heart surgery. Let me tell you it was a long road back and many times I didn't think I was going to make it but here I am.  You see where I'm at, right?  From football to steroids to this scar to being on Coumadin the rest of my life.  Never finished college even though both my parents have a PhD."

"I didn't finish college either and married someone with a PhD. so maybe both of us ended up in the right place after all."

"Maybe.  I'd sure go back and change things if I could, but heck, who else in Kansas City has ever been in Carle Clinic besides you and me?  For all we know we could have been there at the same time. You having a baby and me trying not to die."

The piece of wood he cut was off by 1/4".  I'm not sure if it was my mistake at measuring or his at cutting and I ended up taking it to my neighbor to get it trimmed.

My project got delayed by a day but I didn't even care. 

It's not often that a small world and a big story collide.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Last Interview I'll Ever Go On

Since leaving my job in April I have gone on twelve (that is 12) interviews and that doesn't even include the phone ones.  Here's the highlight reel of rolling the please-hire-me job dice:

*The first interview was at a private, expensive school.  I was grilled for an hour and I do mean grilled.  I was so exhausted by the end of it I didn't think I could walk to my car on my own accord.  I sent a follow-up email thanking them and said, "By the way you are not the CIA and I am not Edward Snowden."  Not really.  I said I was "seeking other opportunities" and by other opportunities I meant some Xanax.

*I went on an interview a week after I broke my foot.  The parking lot was closed so I hobbled across the campus in 90+ temps with my ortho shoe.  I arrived sweaty and exhausted.  My interviewers arrived bored and with fifteen minutes to spare even though the entire place was void of any activity. Or energy.  I thanked them in an email the next day and said "Have you ever heard of providing reasonable parking options when you close the only lot to your school?" Not really.  I said I was "seeking other opportunities" and by other opportunities I meant handicapped parking.

*I interviewed with the owner of a jewelry store for an accounting position.  I waited forty minutes to talk to her while the head of one of the German Shepherd guard dogs rested on the knee of my black pants. She told me she's not the least bit afraid to sue people (three currently pending) and that there were five more dogs in the back.  I looked at my hairy pants and wondered if all the dogs there shed or just the German Shepherds. I sent a thank you email the next day saying "I'd consider working here but between the dogs, the lawsuits and the fake Christmas tree by the register in July I don't think we're really in synch." Not really.  I never even sent a thank you email for that one but they still called me to come back for another interview.  Declined.

*I interviewed for another part-time accounting position and at the end was asked about my HR skills? HR? Who the heck said anything about HR?  Not them in the job description but they tacked on that little something something as a special surprise for the interview.  I followed up the next day with a thank you email that said, "I will not be that person that has to tell the tech support guy that his B.O. is offensive to other employees and that he needs to shower more often."  Not really.  I said I was going into the soap making business to save the world from tech support guys with B.O.

*I interviewed twice at a job in the hinterlands.  It was a done deal until they gave me the weekend to think it over and the more I thought about driving to Hinterland every day (a pain in good weather and misery in bad) the more it seemed this job wasn't for me.  I sent them a thank you email and said "Good luck in your search for a candidate as AWESOME as me."  Not really.  Well, maybe on that one I did.

I've smiled and laughed at dumb jokes and awkward silences.  I've picked my outfit to match the job. Conservative? Check.  Bohemian?  Check check check.  The fake diamond earrings that go with me everywhere?  Out out out.  I need to look like I have to make money ASAP.

I've blathered on about my good traits (think Girl Scouts) and my weaknesses (applying for jobs that I'm never going to get because I'm 58 so I might as well be dead).  Diversity, a bad boss, annoying coworkers, stressful situations. Are you organized?  Is that some kind of work thing? You name the scenario and I can guarantee you it's been asked of me. I have flatly stated the amount of hours I am able to work and the pay I want without even a hint of hedging or backpedaling, which might mean I'm growing up to be a real working girl who knows her worth.

Which so far hovers around zero.

I have had a filler job for the last six weeks but out of nowhere I got an email for a job I applied for months ago.  One more time I did the interview tango - this time with a Zyrtec chaser that made me want to do an antihistamine face plant on the desk.

Did it go well?

I'm no judge of that.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

For Good

This is a post about the women I encountered over the course of a week.  Some I knew, some that were new to me.  I have been changed by all of them.

The first week of work at my last job I bonded with the HR manager.  I have written about her before - we did Listen To Your Mother together.  She left a few months after I started which left me twisting a wee bit in a fierce wind. Luckily the bond held after she left the job and then eventually me, and we keep in touch on a regular basis.

A few weeks ago she texted me to see if I wanted to see Kristin Chenoweth.  The non-profit where she is currently working was doing a fundraiser at the performing arts center and she had free tickets. FREE??!  Kristin Chenoweth!!!!  Darling, funny, talented Kristin Chenoweth???  Yes please.

We donned our night-on-the-town finest and headed off.  We were supposed to do some volunteering prior to the event but since that was under control we went upstairs, had a glass of wine and admired the beautiful Kansas City skyline that is so prominent from the performing arts center.  Making our way into the theater Amy said, "I'm so glad to get out for a night.  I don't even know who this person is."

"What????  She was in Wicked on Broadway.  Glinda?  You know Wicked, right?  Popular?  I want to be Popular?  No?  Well, she's fabulous.  We're going to have a great time."

We checked our tickets with an usher - the loveliest woman who told us it was a sold-out event and that the ushers were put in a lottery to see who would work as everybody wanted to see this concert. She pointed us in the direction of the section we would be sitting and said as we left, "You two have a great time. It's going to be an amazing concert!!"  She was so gracious and good at her job that of course she should be a winner in the usher lottery.

Kristin Chenoweth came out in confident, sparkling glory and started off with Que Sera.  Amy leaned over and said, "Do you ever feel like the universe is talking right to you?"


In Wicked there is a duet between Glinda and Elphaba called For Good.  It is one of my favorite songs.  Kristin introduced the song and the lights went up while she interviewed two women in the front row to sing the part of Elphaba.  A young music student from the conservatory got the honors and went up on stage.

If ever there was a person that the crowd was rooting for it was this girl.  Nervous and clutching the bottom of her dress she did her best.  Kristin coached her with the words to her part and she did her best in what was surely an out-of-body experience.

When the song ended the girl apologized for not knowing the words.  Kristin looked at her and said, "That's okay because you know what we just had?  We had an experience.  You and me, didn't we? That's all you need to remember."


My writers group meets early at Panera on an overcast Friday morning.  We usually meet on Saturday mornings at a different Panera.  The summer had gotten away from us, though, and even stealing these few hours was difficult to pull together with everyone's schedule.

I bring the drawing of the main character for the children's book my niece and I are plotting.  "I'm stuck," I say to them.

Stuck is an understatement.  I have a beginning that is utter crap, an end I can see perfectly and the entire middle that sucks wind.  I didn't think this was going to be so hard but so far it has been. 

They look her over and listen to my problems.  They offer advice, good, solid advice and suggest names for her - one that I love.  I drive home thinking I might be capable of pulling this off.  The imaginary Fiona agrees.


She waved me down on a Sunday afternoon as I was pulling out of our street to go to the grocery store.  "The flowers," she yelled.

I had met her a couple of weeks prior when I was working outside and she was walking her dog.  We had briefly been introduced once before through a mutual friend.  A fellow gardener, her charming house and yard look like a page right out of a fairy tale.  She asked me what kind of hydrangeas I had in the front of my house and we talked for a long time.  When we started talking about traveling I said we had just come back from a trip to New York City and loved it. She told me that they had just moved their son from there. "It's not the best place for him now."

She teared up and told me he wasn't doing well but that she thought he had turned a corner in the last two days.  I could feel her heart.  Her heavy, breaking heart.

While talking about my flowers I offered to cut some for her and bring them by her house.  "Oh no, you don't have to do that.  I just wondered what kind they were so I can plant them next year."

"Well I have a few to spare," I said as we looked at these heavy-headed flowers drooping from their own weight.  "I'll drop them by your house one of these days."

I often get asked by passerbys about my hydrangeas - what kind they are and how I got them to grow so big.  Sometimes I offer cuts of them when they have started to dry but rarely do I follow through.  This time, though, I was not going to let time and laziness win.  I went onto the screened porch and found a basket that I loved but had never used - oblong with bark on the outside, it feels natural and connected to the earth.  I held it up and debated.  This one or another?  Maybe I hadn't used it yet but one of these days....... and I decided not to overthink it for once and let it go.

I crammed as many flowers as I could into that basket - it was a showy display of gardening goodness, and a few weeks after our initial conversation I drove them over to her house.  I tucked a note inside that said:  Here are your promised hydrangeas.  I hope things have changed for the better for you and your family.  I'll see you in the neighborhood.

She wasn't there when I went by but the dog sitter was and I left them with her.

There on my street corner on that Sunday afternoon she said, "I can't tell you what it was like for me to walk in after what I've been through to see that basket of flowers and note.  It meant someone cared and I really needed it then.  You have no idea."

We talked for a long time.  Her heart remains heavy - maybe even heavier if that's possible.  Waving cars around us we exchanged phone numbers with plans for coffee. Her challenges and those of her son weigh heavily on me - so heavy at times that it feels like I've been asked to take my turn wearing a backpack of worry all day.

And if it feels like that for me what must it be like to be her?

Her phone rang.  It was her son and she had to go.  I watched her as she and her dog walked away, my heart full and sad and confused about how I happened to be outside on that September morning when she stopped by to ask about some flowers.

"One other thing," she said.  "You could not have picked a better basket to put those flowers in.  It's so me but it's too nice to keep.  I'm going to give it back to you."

"Keep it.  I think it was meant for you."


 I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Let's Go Paleo!!!

After one of Mal's college dance recitals, we went with her roommates and dancer friends and their parents to have something to eat.  I sat down next to one of the other moms and we started talking about books.  I had just finished reading Wild, she was nearly finished with Wheat Belly.  We compared books, promising we would read each other's choice and talk about it the next time we were together.  I had been hearing a lot about her choice and she passed along some information she had learned since picking it up.  The Cliff notes version is that wheat is bad for you.

Very bad.

Mark was across from us and couldn't hear the conversation.  Besides, he was more interested in diving into the bread basket that had been set in front of us.  I displayed enormous restraint seeing as how I was sitting next to a non-wheater eater.

On the way home I told him what I learned.  "According to this book, wheat is bad for you and makes you fat.  We just have to stop eating wheat and we'll be back to our high school weight in no time. Or maybe middle school. Maybe we should shoot for our middle school weight."

"NO BREAD???  Are you kidding me?  How are we supposed to not eat bread?"

"Not just bread but rice, pasta, cereal, pretzels.  Anything with wheat in it has to go."

"That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."

In teeny weeny increments I starting serving meals with less wheat in them.  No longer did we have spaghetti or lasagna with garlic bread on a regular basis.  Chicken stir-fry with rice went from white to brown (yuck) to some Costco blend that wasn't completely inedible.  So tiny were the increments that over the course of months our combined weight loss fluctuated within a half pound range. 

Coming from work one day, Mark ran into a neighborhood guy named Bill and they both biked their way home.  "You wouldn't believe it, Kath, the guy has lost a ton of weight.  I hardly recognized him. He's doing some wheat belly thing where you don't eat anything with wheat in it."

"Geez, Mark, we've had this conversation.  Remember?  The book I told you about that Mal's roommate's mom was reading?  Last year?  It's called Wheat Belly?"

"I don't remember that.  Huh.  So you get rid of all wheat?  What are you stuck with?  Cardboard and some lettuce?"

"We're supposed to eat like the cavemen.  Meat and vegetables only.  I'll fry us up some squirrel and kale in a little grapeseed oil.  You pick some bark and tomatoes and we'll have dinner."

"I think that's a doable plan.  I'm hairy and have noticed that I tend to drag my knuckles on the ground when I'm bowling.  Maybe this is my destiny."

Last month Mark went out to dinner with a speaker who had come to town.  He had recently lost 25 pounds.

"Kath, get this," he said when he got home.  "Turns out the guy has a gluten allergy.  He eliminated bread and the weight just fell off.  Maybe we should try that.  Eliminate bread and lose weight fast."

"Aye carumba, Mark.  We've had this conversation.  It's not just bread.  It's all wheat.  Pasta, cereal, snack stuff, anything with wheat in it.  How was dinner?  Did you have dessert?  Did you get some of that carrot cake they serve?  The kind they warm up and drizzle with icing?"

"Yeah, but it wasn't that big of a piece and after tonight never again.  No wheat from here on out. You and me.  Big changes coming our way.  Yep.  Getting rid of the wheat.  So what are we left with?"

Our muffin tops, my darling neandertal.

That's what you and I always seem to be left with.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Flip or Flop

Earlier this year an older couple two doors down passed away.  He went first and she followed 27 days later. Though both of them had been ill it was rather shocking that they would both go so quickly. There were no services or funeral and so when I saw her daughter's car in the driveway I went down to offer my sympathy. What was shocking to the neighbors was stunning disbelief to their adult children.

Over the months their kids would be over at the house frequently and in the spring there was an estate sale to sell off what they were not keeping.  I had been in the house many times but never past the living room.  When Will worked at the bagel shop and came home with the extras, I would walk some down to them.  The estate sale gave me the opportunity to see all parts of the house and how they lived.  Though it was a bit dated and needed some work (surely due to their poor health in recent years) it seemed to be in good shape for a house that was more than fifty years old.

In June the house went on the market and sold the first day for eighteen thousand dollars over the asking price.

Houses in this neighborhood have been selling like hotcakes.  While always considered a charming area, for many families these houses were too small.  Maybe the housing crash of a few years ago changed hearts and minds because now they almost all sell on the first day and well over the asking price.  I find all of this disheartening.  I remember when we bought this house and having some time to think it over and weigh the pros and cons.  Young couples and families considering this area don't have that luxury.  With multiple offers almost immediately they have to decide in the blink of an eye if a home is right for them.

Since the sale there has been a lot of conversations among the neighbors over who bought the house. Was it being renovated as we had hoped or torn down?  One week someone would hear one thing and then the next week something conflicting.

A few weeks ago the realtors who sold the house went door to door inviting everyone in for coffee on that Saturday morning and to talk to the new owners about plans for the house.  When they came to my door I said, "This is a very close-knit street.  We all know each other and love where we live. I hope that is being taken into consideration in regards to this house."

"Oh absolutely," they said.  "That's why we're inviting all of you to come and see the plans."

As is typical of this street, everyone showed up for the free food and coffee.  I caught up with my next door neighbor who recently had a baby.  "I'm not going back to work," she said.  "Hooray," I said and we made plans for coffee.

I took it to be a great little social event with little regard to the new owners who seemed extremely uncomfortable. Mark, on the other hand, got the scoop.  "They're tearing it down," he said,  "The foundation is bad."

"It's fifty years old," I said.  All the foundations in this area probably need shoring up.  Did they even have a structural engineer look at it?"

By the next day we would learn more.  The house will be more than 2000 square feet bigger than any of the other homes and the asking price will be nearly three times more than what these homes have been selling for.

No wonder the new owners looked uncomfortable.  They are plopping a McMansion among our cape cods and forever changing the landscape of our community.  All we can do is stand by, watch and try not to cry over a perfectly fine house that any young family would have been thrilled to fix up and call home.

Years ago someone said to me, "I give you a lot of credit for staying in one of those old capes and raising three kids there. Most people couldn't have done that in such a small house."

I grimaced a smile in his general direction and thought to myself, "You might be the biggest jackass I've met in a long time."

So loved are these homes that one time when Mark was working in the yard an older guy from a few streets over stopped to talk to him.  "People always ask me when I'm going to move and I say I don't know when but I know how. You want to know how I'm going to move from my house?  Feet first."

From now until spring this end of the street will have more dirt flying through the air and our furnace filters than we can fathom.  Add to that jackhammers, cement trucks, construction workers and landscapers to contend with.  No doubt it will test our patience and not the realtors and the owner who stand to make a killing if this house actually sells for what they are predicting.

Thank goodness we have learned to rely on each other over the years - through Friday night beers, after thunderstorms and tornado warnings, and when things in our own homes get challenging.  I hope that whoever moves in quickly learns the drill and doesn't upset the juju.  A neighbor with a decent craft supply who values the restorative nature of the mighty glue gun.  They may need it when the bells and whistles of their newly constructed house start falling off.