Monday, March 9, 2015


When Mark was still a graduate student, we were invited to his boss' wedding on the campus of Notre Dame.  It was a little over a three hour drive from where our apartment was and we left in plenty of time so we wouldn't be late.  Who wants to show up late for the boss on his big day?

We went though the tollbooth and a large school clock hung in the window.  It was an hour ahead of us.  "That's weird," I said.  "Why do they have a clock with the wrong time hanging there."

That's when the "oh shit" got heard around the world.  In every communication that was sent, guests were reminded that certain parts of Indiana don't change to daylight savings time and that included South Bend.  Instead of arriving in plenty of time we arrived an hour late.  Into the church we tip-toed and the giant wood door thudded closed behind us causing the seated guests to turn around to see who arrived so unfashionably late.

"What the heck?" I said later on the drive to the reception.  "The whole country changes time except a pocket of Indiana.  That's the dumbest thing I ever heard of."

That was 28 years ago.  Now I think this changing of time twice a year is the dumbest thing I ever heard of. 

It knocks me out.  I can't get my act together.  I'm in a constant daze from lack of sleep.  My body clock doesn't know why it's been slapped upside the head.

I woke on Sunday - groggy and sluggish from too short of a night.  "It's okay," I told myself.  "You don't have to work.  You don't have to do anything."  And I didn't.  I puttered.  I surfed the computer.  I put Visine in to counter the red, watery eyes.  I finished one book and started another.  I dozed off.  I watched The Good Wife, took a bath and went to bed.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m.  Which was really three.  Or maybe five.  Or not enough.  I tried to go back to sleep but got up an hour later to start the coffee and feed the cats. 

I fed the dog.  Was I imaging things or was there a lot more food in his container than yesterday?  Weird.   And then the craziest thing happened.  That dog didn't eat his food.  That dog that eats so fast he makes prisoners look like retirees at an all-you-can-eat-buffet walked away from a bowl of food.

Tired as I was things started connecting real fast.  The day before a missing container of cat food showed up on the kitchen counter.  "Where's that been?" I asked The Big Daddy.  "Oh, I found it under the sink in the basement."

"Well, that's good," I said.  "It's easier to pour from that," and I went about my business of doing nothing because of the D.S.T.  Awhile later it was empty. 

It was empty all right.  Emptied into the dog food container.

I ran up the stairs.








And The Big Daddy jumped out of bed and said, "I thought he would like it.  What dog doesn't eat whatever you give it?"

"The same kind of pet as the cats who wouldn't eat that crap when you bought it months ago."

"Huh," he said back.  "I guess my experiment didn't work."

"Huh," I sneered back.  Maybe I should experiment with putting birdseed in your meat loaf?"

I got dressed and went to work where I moved papers from one side of my desk to the other.  I drank coffee and tried to look alert and pretend that I knew what I was doing or what was a priority.  I couldn't.  My only focus was my exhaustion and what will here on out be referred to as The Dog/Cat Food Experimental Incident Of The Greatest Magnitude.

Later in the day during a moment of clear thinking it occurred to me that I may have had over-reacting issues in regards to the matter. 

And then I snapped out of that nonsense.

I'm going to go with post-traumatic-stress-disorder secondary to daylight-savings-time. 

It sounds more legit than Stark-Raving-Bitch-Syndrome.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Waiting In The Wings

We got to see our Mallie Bee dance in the Senior Recitals this week.  This is the annual show that features solos by each of the seniors as well as choreographed pieces that they teach to their fellow dancers.

The first year Mal auditioned she wasn't chosen for as many dances as she would have liked.   As a freshman her style and work were a mystery to that year's seniors, and running to see the cast list for every piece she tried out for she would be let down more than not.  "Be patient," I said, "you're time will come."   

How she got to be such a passionate, beautiful dancer is a mystery to us.  When I was growing up I wasn't even aware you could take dance lessons let alone know anyone who did.  Like her sister before her, though, I enrolled Mal in dance because someone else's mom suggested it to me so we could carpool.  It seemed better than standing on the sidelines of a soccer field (although there were years of that, too), and so I'd take my turn driving and write a check at the beginning of each month. When recital or competition time came the checks would have more zeros after it and I would often question just how long we could keep this expense up.

Many times, after sitting in darkened auditoriums for hours at a time in order to see five minutes of Mal dance, I could have easily traded places with the soccer mom for some sunlight, fresh air and a checkbook with a better bottom line.

It has been a long time since we sat through those frequent recitals and competitions.  If you told me then that I would miss it I would have laughed.  Now our only opportunity to see her dance is the annual show for seniors and this group did not disappoint. Talented, beautiful and provocative, each dancer plied, arabesqued and piroutted their hearts out.  A parting gift to the school that has taught them the art of dance for the past four years.

Mal and some friends stood in the wings and watched their friend perform for the last time.  A small sob at the end of the performance would be mistaken as coming from the dancer herself, but rather it was from the friends off-stage.

On the way out to the parking lot we would pass one of the senior male dancers whose performance gave me chills. Scraping the snow and ice from his windshield, he was a solitary man on a cold night after what must have been the highlight of his life thus far.

"You were incredible," I wanted to shout but didn't because that kind of thing has a way of embarrassing my introverted dance child.  Instead I asked the universe to give him a very big life and career, one where the wings were far too small of a place for all he had to offer.

It is the same request I make over and over for our Tiny Dancer whose time has come in so many ways.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Passing of Curmudgeons

One night we were sitting at home finishing dinner and heard sirens.  This always makes my stomach drop, and even more so as it got closer and then down our street.

We looked out the window and saw that the police, fire department and ambulance were just a few doors down from our house.  An older couple has lived there for decades, and a lifetime of smoking had taken its toll on both of them these last few years.  Friendly neighbors who often took time to chat became more housebound.  They rarely seemed to move from the living room where the t.v. was on day and night, and even waving seemed to be an effort of late.

B. was the second person I met when we moved in and he seemed nice.  Enough.  When the house next door to him was sold,  an older man and his disabled wife moved in and almost from the beginning he and B. didn't get along.  In an effort to drain water away from his foundation that would flood his basement, the new neighbor started digging a trench in the front yard.  This was an eyesore for B. and his wife and the feud escalated to frequent yelling matches.  They wanted the neighbors to sign a petition to put a stop to this that they intended to submit to the city for some kind of fine or code enforcement.

Some of us were uncertain if this trench was really going to do much to solve a flooding problem that our end of the street has dealt with on a regular basis.  Rather, it seemed to be the daily, harmless work of a retired guy with too much time on his hands.

B. and his wife went door-to-door to collect signatures.  When they presented their case (which I already knew in great detail), I said that I would not sign it.  "Who would buy a house in this neighborhood with that mess in the front yard?' they asked. All of this had already caused a major rift on this street.  It was my impression that this new neighbor had gotten off to the wrong start with many people due to his sometimes abrasive personality, but when Maggie fell off her bike and badly hurt her elbow he stopped his digging, picked her up and carried her home.  "Mom, make sure you clean all that gravel out of her cut before you bandage her up," he said.  I was grateful he came to her aid and thought most of his problems were due to loneliness exacerbated by neighbors who wished he had never set foot here.

As B. and his wife stood at my front door unable to sway me to their side, his parting shot was, "I guess you don't care about your property values.  Or ours."

Shortly thereafter, the neighbor and his wife abruptly moved to assisted living. For some it was a cause for celebration, for others a waving of the white flag.


Mark was dealing with his own set of conflicts at work.  A longtime colleague who was moved out of his space to make room for the new guy was not happy.  His tactics were more overt, and sandwiched between the two, Mark tried to keep the peace - usually in vain. Any snide remark or put down his senior coworker could come up with was said with abandon and it was a difficult environment to maneuver each day.


Mark's former colleague died this fall.

B. was gone before the ambulance even got here.


When I would be out in the neighborhood, B.'s wife would make a point to stop me and say, "You guys have worked so hard on your yard. I love to look over and see what you're planting next."

When Mark went to the memorial service for his colleague his wife said, "You know you were his favorite, don't you?"

Two women who became adept at scooping the debris left from their spouses verbal land mines, and couldn't we all use someone like that when we fail to recognize our own bullying?

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.