Monday, April 20, 2015


The Big Daddy and I are deepdeepdeep into our annual landscaping and garden beautification process.  To date, we have hauled home more than forty bags of mulch.  I am using it for the beds in the front of the house.  He is using it on the back for a project that will one day make the cover of Better Homes & Gardens.  If it doesn't kill us first.

Every weekend is mulch buying, mulch loading, mulch unloading, mulch bag dragging to here and there, mulch spreading and then more mulch calculations.  "Well, don't you wish you'd just ordered it by the truck and had it delivered?" Mom said when I told her our weekend project.  "Well yeah but we don't want to pay the delivery charge. We'd rather be mules for the Mulch Cartel every Saturday until we collapse our stinking, dirty selves onto the couch by 8:00."

This Saturday had bouts of pouring rain, steady rain or threatening rain.  When the rain had slowed down we went on a mulch run at a nursery center.  This particular one happens to be the only one in town to carry the kind we want for the back path Mark dug, and so we bought and loaded ten more bags.  No shopping around we agreed.  We'd only get the mulch and then go on our other errand.

That errand was to a local home improvement center that has a Friends and Family sale every spring on hanging baskets.  The 8" baskets of flowers are $4.99.  If you are in the "club" the price is $3.99.  I have been going for years but always alone.   The Big Daddy isn't interested in flowers.  He's planting crops to sustain us for the long winter yet to come and flowers are a distraction.  This time, though, since it was on the way home from the nursery center he got to witness the Hanging Basket Sale for himself.

There is nothing I could say to prepare him for what lie ahead.  "Wait inside," I said like a mum talking to their toddler.  "I'll go back to the nursery and come back when I'm finished.  Don't go out there.  You will see things you can't unsee and it will traumatize you."

He snorted.

I took a deep breath and said, "I'm goin' in."

In the pouring rain I trekked outside to the nursery.  With such lousy weather I didn't think there would be many people there, but crammed down the aisle like refugees waiting for a bag of rice and fresh water from the Red Cross were dozens of gardeners. Surging forward when the metal gates opened to reveal dozens of ten foot tall rolling racks of hanging flower baskets, the frenzy started. Some people had carts so crammed on the inside with baskets that they had to hang their baskets on every inch of the perimeter on the outside. Twice I saw two carts start to tip from the weight of all those hanging baskets.  

I quickly decided on my color scheme and got four baskets of orange zinnias.  When I spotted some various coleus walking by I asked where I might find some of those.  "In the back corner," the woman said.  I never found the ones she had and stopped looking when a woman in her 60s was scaling the side of the rack to get to the baskets on top as it was rolling forward.

It was then that I feared for my life.

The Big Daddy must have thought I'd gotten lost and wandered out there in utter amazement.  "This is all for baskets of flowers?"  "I know," I said.  "It's sick, isn't it?"  As if I wasn't fully participating. We threw some tomato plants and a peach tree in our cart and headed out of Dodge.

Exhausted from the rain, the mulch hauling and the flower pot recon mission, I came home flopped on the bed and turned on the t.v.  I settled on Hoarding: Buried Alive.  Twin sisters up to their necks in garbage were being forced to clean it up or have their property condemned by the city.  When the shrink and the hazmat helpers came along to start hauling stuff out of the house the fragile sisters lost it.  Shoveled out garbage was thrown onto the lawn including books that were headed for the dumpster. "Look at this," one said to the other picking through the garbage.  "They say we can't even keep these.  Sis, they're throwing our library away."

And by library she meant the pet urine soaked books with mildew all over them.

"Who do those f****** think they are trying to take our library away from us," Sis yelled back.  And so they got out some paper and pencil and wrote down the name and author of every book in that pile so they could replace it.    Even that didn't go so well when the writer twin couldn't keep up with the reader twin. "Why don't you pay some f****** attention to me so I don't have to keep saying it twice?  Can you f****** do that?"

Whoa, Nellies, I thought to myself.  Where do they find these people who are so knee deep in mental health issues that they have to keep bringing home crap they don't need until it's stacked to the rafters?

The next day Maggie called me to go to Target.  "Let's check out the Lilly Pulitzer stuff," she said. "Yes, let's," I said back and I washed my stinky mulch hair and put some makeup on so I'd be pretty enough to try on Lilly's expensive-resort-wear-gone-cheap for the masses.  

Twenty minutes later she called back.  "Forget it.  It's sold out everywhere."

"Sold out????  It's the first day and the store's only been open for a couple of hours."

"I know but everybody says there's nothing left in the stores or online."

There I sat with my freshly washed hair, my sparse eyebrows filled in (with a bit of lip gloss to boot) and longed for a sister by my side to ask, "Who do those f****** think they are taking all the pretty flowered dresses away from us???"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jesus & The Gays

My Facebook feed is always rampant with links to articles about the gays.  When our own son came out I read everything I could find about how to not be scared shitless when your kid comes out of the closet. That lasted a couple of years and then absolutely nothing eventful happened so I stopped reading.

Somehow, though, the articles about the gays want to stalk me.

I rarely click on any more, whether they are on Facebook or a news site.  I can predict where they are going to go and heading down the rabbit hole of righteous shame is not healthy for me.  Occasionally I'll read an article that chastises the Christian right on this subject for their failure to put love into practice and I'll pump my fists, open the front door and yell, "YESYESYES.  A thousand times yes." Then I'll read the comments with their wagging fingers of preachiness and Bibleness and say to myself, "Oh, sister, you had to know that was a bad idea."  Again.

As I have loved you so you must love one another.

As someone who was raised in faith and raised their kids that way, who jumped through the Catholic hoops, (Confirmation, anyone? What exactly is that?) and reminded even the littlest of my tribe that they were accountable for how they treated each other, I think the playing field always has to tip to the disenfranchised.

It is what we are called to do, isn't it?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

And yet......

When I was in a study hall in senior year there were three of us that secretly played word games in the corner of the room three boring times a week.

John was his name.  It was the mid-70s.  It occurred to me that he might be gay even though that wasn't much of a thing yet.   At seventeen I worried about how he was treated outside of that room in that big, rough school.  A thousand times since then I have wondered how his life turned out.

Love what is sincere.  Hate what is evil: cling to what is good.

I was in grade school in the 60s and vividly recall the struggle for civil rights.  I have watched women in the workplace struggle for equal rights and equal pay for decades.  I am witnessing the battle for gay rights with some skin in the game. I know that despite all this incessant shouting and laws passed for headlines rather than common sense, that the tide will turn very soon.

There is no fear in love.

I do not need to read the words of another Christian donning the cloak of Jesus and shaming my kid.  It is a horrible waste of my time.  Instead, I am better off using my energy to help push the boat of love and justice for as long and as far as I can, and when I feel my shaky legs giving up I need to push harder.

Love does no harm to its neighbor.

For my kid and for the kid in middle school that is terrified of who they are attracted to.  For John, who kicked my butt in dueling-back-of-the-room-word-games in a study hall at Thornridge High School.  He went on to graduate.  I had another year to go.  In the end of the school year craziness we scribbled our names in each other's yearbook but I forgot to look at him and tell him that he was always the highlight of my day.

When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

I will follow him.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Shopping The Curb

This weekend is large item pickup here in Mayberry.  It is a once-a-year event that rivals Christmas in its participation and scale.  Homeowners can set nearly anything they want (as long as it is no bigger than a fridge) on the curb to be picked up by the trash company at no extra charge.  It is the ideal time to clean out the basement and garage, and though some things are easy to load up and take to Habitat Restore or Savers it is much more fun to haul it to the curb.

Why?  The customers.

Days ahead of the scheduled date, piles start appearing and then the cruising starts.  By far the biggest drive-bys are the metal scrappers.  Truck beds scraping the ground overflowing with washers and dryers, storm doors and grills.  If it has metal in it they are scavenging it, and by Friday night some streets are bumper-to-bumper.

Next are the people looking to outfit their home or apartment with a halfway decent couch, a chair or two and maybe some bookshelves.  They are not as hearty as the metal scrappers, just friendly thrifters looking to score some freebies.

Lastly, there are people like me and my vintage neighbors.  No longer willing to put the hours or gas into it like the old days, we just hope to find something unusual and old as we take the long way to the grocery store.

A young intern at work asked me once about curb shopping when she overheard me telling someone what I found. It started years ago when I saw some old windows on the curb and couldn't believe they were getting thrown out. With my mortified teenage daughter sinking into her seat, I popped open the back of the van and put some in the back.

Was I embarrassed about being seen?  Yes.  Was I hooked?  Like a senior at the slot machines.

Spring is the perfect time to curb shop and the thing I have found to be true nearly all of the time is this:

Nice neighborhoods with big houses don't have the best stuff.

Older homes are the goldmine of great finds.  Cleaning out after a parent or grandparent has moved out, most people seem to want to just get rid of all that stuff.  That's what happened when my neighbor popped open a box on the curb and found it full of glass dishes and quilts.

Here then are some of my favorite freebies....

I have been wanting to learn how to upholster and stopped to look at some chairs  that were on the curb.  I decided to take one of them with me and the homeowner came out to help me put it in the back of my car.  "I have a dresser and mirror in the garage I'm getting ready to put out.  Do you want to see it?"

Mother of all finds.

A friend saw this wicker piece on her neighbor's curb, pulled it into her driveway and called me, "Come right away.  I have something for you."  It was hideous but I didn't have the heart to say that and so we loaded it into my car where it sat for two years in my garage.  One spring day I decided to tackle this ugly duckling. I ripped all the old fabric off and a thousand tacks.  I stained it darker and Mark cut a piece of wood for the seat that I covered in foam and new fabric.  It was a labor of not-yet-love-but-getting-there.  When I was working on it I found a brass plate on the back that said Heywood-Wakefield.  She's all kinds of cute now.

I loved this old little cabinet but it drove me crazy.  It had some broken glass on the sides and old glass is ridiculously hard to break and get out.  It took me forever and it was filthy dirty so I scrubbed and scrubbed until it was clean enough to spray paint.  I filled in where the glass was with chicken wire.  Now?  Swoon...

This old wood trunk on casters was on my neighbor's curb.  The house belonged to his parents and he seems to have no love for anything in it. When I went over to see this he said, "This old thing? Whaddya want this for?"  For eternal happiness.  

Last year the kids found a pile of old pickets on the curb and we have used every single one to replace the broken pickets on our fence.  My neighbor once found an old metal sprinkling can that made me jelly.  Years ago I found the sweetest little red wagon.

In a few days when things start piling up on the curbs I'll say what I've been saying for years now.  "Not this time.  I don't need a thing,"

Then I'll think of something random I need at the grocery store and slowly cruise the streets and terraces of my neighborhood looking, looking, looking.......

Looking for love in all the free places.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Listen Sister

We always have a lot of people over for Easter.  This throws me into my usual entertaining tizzy. 

Ugh.  This paint color.  Why did I even pick this?  How could I paint the whole downstairs with something I can't even pronounce?

These floors need to be stained and varnished.

Mark!!!  Mark, look at this.  Hasn't this wallpaper has been in the bathroom since Clinton was president?

Can anyone tell me what happens to all the silverware around here?

On and on I go.  The inside, the outside.  I get on my broom, wave my pointer and cackle "All of it.  All of it must go."

Nobody even pays attention to me except my sister who is doing the same dance on the outskirts of Chicago.  Cleaning, springing things up and staring at a hundred pillows at Homegoods and thinking the same thing as me, "Good Lord.  Let it go with the pillows already."

With only a few days until Easter I'm not entirely sure how many people are coming or what they're bringing.  "Dessert or side" I say ever so casually like this is just so dang delightful to pull together that we'll all just wing it if there's twenty plates of lemon bars and a ham.  I should narrow these details down but I'm on my hands and knees cleaning baseboards because when I go to other people's homes that's the first thing I look at.

In my cleaning bender I might have been stopped in my Clorox tracks by Jesus ever so gently whispering in my ear, "Listen, sister, I didn't die on a cross for this shit."

And I might have snapped back, "Oh yes, Jesus.  I think you did."


Last fall we had the house painted.  I paid all but $300 to the contractor and even though there was touch-up paint to do, debris to haul away and a porch roof to fix they never came back.  I called or texted a few times a week with not a single response until December when I got a long apologetic text from the owner.

"Come back," I said.  "All is forgiven."

A date was set and no one showed up.  Another date and another and then another.  No painters, no carpenters, no sign of any effort to finish.  Texts and calls from me.  A "let me get back to you" text from him.  A new date was set and nobody showed up. 

A different text was sent this time.  Short and curt.  I said I was going to talk to an attorney if I didn't hear back by the end of the week. 

I never heard back.  My bluff was called and so I started to research just how one goes about filing a small claim.  Like taking down the Clinton-era wallpaper in the bathroom, this seemed like another thing that would get talked about but never done.

And then out of nowhere a van pulled up in front of the house the other day and the owner of the business came to the door.  I tried being an offended, terribly mistreated customer but it didn't last long before I softened and said, "Raul, what happened to you?  Where have you been?  Do you know how crazy you've made me?"

"I'm really sorry", he said.  "Someone in my family died and it set me back in a lot of ways."

We came up with a new plan to finish things around here.  I met the carpenter and the three of us stood on the porch and assessed the damage to my roof and the plan to fix it.  It seemed too good to be true - the wayward painter and his handy sidekick telling me all they plan on accomplishing next Tuesday.  Will they really show up?  Past experience tells me not to bet the farm on that one but I hugged him anyway.

"Thank you for not being mad at me," Raul said.

"Thank you for coming back," I answered, and it occurred to me that maybe we were both letting go of some shit that's been weighing us down for months.

I watched them pull away and Jesus might have leaned in and whispered, "That's better, sister."

"I know," I whispered back.

Happy Easter.

Monday, March 30, 2015


"I can't accept this," she said as we both looked at the piece of paper on her desk.


It was this time last year that I was in preparation a panic for the Kansas City version of Listen To Your Mother - the wildly popular show that started in the Midwest and spread like wildlife - where selected writers would read an essay they wrote about motherhood before a very large audience.

Public speaking isn't my jam.  On any number of previous occasions when I'd have to introduce myself to a few people my heart would pound.  I would state my name in a shaky voice and relate some fascinating tidbit about myself to an audience who smiled back mostly in pity.

Friends, not-yet-friends, dearly beloved.....I am about to have a heart attack.  Can you hear that pounding?  If I drop dead here tell my husband and kids I love them and this was probably not at all how I thought I would go. Scratch that.  This is exactly how I thought I would go in the same nightmare over and over.

But I decided that telling this story was worth the risk and so I submitted my work, auditioned and made the 2014 cast.  For weeks before the big day I watched youtube videos on how to publicly speak, how to calm your nerves before publicly speaking, how to successfully speak before an audience without humiliating yourself.  Some videos were so dumb that I spent mere seconds listening before I moved on to the next, but every night I diligently did my homework assignment. Even with all that information when I dared to imagine myself on stage I would dive headfirst into a full-blown panic attack.

You cannot pull this off I told myself a thousand times.

"You'll be great," my husband said.  The husband who has spent a career publicly speaking about what he does.

The morning of the show I practiced at home once again.  There was one part I choked up at every time.  This time a new part caught in my throat and three paragraphs in I flung the pages of my story across the room and wondered why I thought challenging myself like this was ever a good idea.

And then a funny thing happened.  Hours before showtime we all arrived at the venue and I was the calmest I'd been in weeks.  I did another practice on stage with the microphone and I didn't fumble, lose my place or get emotional.

I was ready.  I had spent plenty of time practicing and when my turn came I stood firmly at the podium, shushed my loudly pounding heart and read my story.


"We're going to send you home with some pain killers and instructions to get rid of that kidney stone," the ER doctor said.  "But what is more concerning is the mass we see.  You need to get that checked out."

"Mass?  I have a mass?"

"Yes, on your kidney.  It could be a cyst but you need to see a urologist about that."


"Your Dad decided to end his treatment.  I'll put him on the phone so you can talk to him, okay?"


"I'm gay, Mom."


"Honey, can you tell Mark?  I can't do it.  I can't tell him."


"She seems to have come out of it okay but you'll have to watch her closely.  Wake her up every couple of hours and ask her some questions.  If it's a concussion you'll know.  She'll be confused and then you need to bring her back in.  Don't wait."


"Terry's procedure went fine.  Now it's a wait and see to find out if his heart is going to go back to a normal rhythm."


"You can wait in the car while I look.  I'll just be a minute."


"Mom, I've been in an accident."


"I can't accept this," she said as we both looked at my resignation letter on her desk.

There were many things I wasn't sure of in that moment.  How much the accountant was going to tell us we owed in taxes.  How long we could go without my paycheck that covered living expenses for the last kid in college. Whether state budget cuts were going to affect the only stable salary in the house.  What in the hell was Plan B.

But I did know that I could stand before hundreds of people and tell my story, that the cyst was benign, Dad died but not before I told him how proud I was of him, my daughter had no lasting effects from being knocked unconscious after a fall on the ice, my son is gay, that I did break the news to my husband that his dad had suddenly died, that the brother were all crazy about would need two procedures before his heart would beat normally, that I could stuff down a paralyzing fear of heights to get out of the car and look out onto Glacier National Park, that the sight of the crushed driver's side of our youngest daughter's car would make me gasp, and that despite a lot of "what ifs" I was ready to leave a job that was no longer healthy for me.

"You're going to have to," I said.

Then I adjusted the velcro under my chin, fluffed my cape and did what I have done every time I've been afraid.

I put my faith in the wind and jumped off the edge.

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.