Monday, August 25, 2014


Before we got married, our families threw us a bridal shower in the basement of my brother's house.  Nothing catered or extravagant, but rather a simple party for family and friends to celebrate our impending vows and outfit our new home - a basement apartment near the University of Illinois campus that was empty save the roaches.

But we didn't know that just yet.

We got the practical things of the early eighties that everyone needed.  Mr. Coffee.  Bath and dish towels.  T.V. trays.  Pots, pans and gadgets.  Folding lawn chairs.

We got a heating pad. 

The t.v. trays and lawn chairs would be our dining room set for months.

The heating pad would be the third person in this marriage. 

Through cramps, pregnancy, surgeries, root canals, bad days and good, I have used that heating pad.  Sinus headache?  Fold it in half and put it on your face.  Hangover?  Don't fold.  Lay it right on your face, put a pillow on top and go back to bed.  Backache?  Lay the heating pad on the floor.  Lay your bad back on top.  Really bad back from hauling chubby toddlers?  Take the cover off the heating pad and grill those tense muscles.  Neck ache?  Wrap around a rolled towel and lay your head down.  Bum knee?  Roll around and secure with a rubber band.  Cold feet?  Put at the end of the bed, bend your knees, place on top and read a book.  Wonky atmospheric changes that are making you feel out of sorts?  Heating pad and power nap. Toothache?  Ibuprofen, call the dentist and put the heating pad under jaw.  Bum shoulder?  High every night for years.

There was a lull in the dating life of me and my heating pad during The Menopausal Years except for the coldest of nights, but we got back together cuz I just can't quit that thing.

One night when it was on Mark's side of the bed he took a good long at it and said, "I can't believe you're still using this thing.  It could burn the house down."

I knew that my 20+ year old heating pad might be a fire hazard but I couldn't give it up without a fight.  "I think it'll probably just smoke," I answered.

And then that beautiful thing just stopped working and I was brought me to my creaky knees.

Since then I have replaced it twice.  Drug store Sunbeams that the lawsuit industry prevents from getting anywhere near the sizzle temperature of my old one.  It's better than nothing but not by much.

I went shopping on Amazon for an industrial-sized heating pad.  A model that sells for $60.00 had plenty of admirers in the reviews.  "It's heavy but a good heavy.  The heaviness pushes the heat straight into your muscles."

The caveat?  It reaches a high temperature between 145-155 degrees.

A mere five degrees away from the optimal temperature for pork tenderloin.

I think I have found the one for whom my heart loves.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Seizing The Day

I work Monday through Thursday, and though it's only a part-time gig, my brain is pretty spent when I get home.  Any intentions I have of getting much done other than making dinner go by the wayside.

Ahhhhh........but Friday.  I always have a three day weekend and I live for Fridays.

If I don't have a frequent dentist or hair appointment, a car repair or lunch date I am in heaven.  The whole day to get caught up on everything.  Everything!

That's where I found myself this past week.  I talked myself out of getting routine blood work first thing in the morning from a physical that was done in April, and ignored a change oil and low tire pressure light on the dash of the car.  This Friday was going to be about me doing what I wanted to do.  Me!

Oh the thoughts swirling all week on the possibilities.  No grand projects this time.  No sirree.  I would clean the house, get some bills paid and enjoy not being committed to anything all day.  While the laundry was going maybe I'd maybe make some zucchini bread with all those veggies coming from the garden and finish a sewing project.  Or make some calls for estimates on painting the house that we've been talking about.

Maybe I would write.  Ack!  Not that! 

I started with the sewing project - valances for Maggie's kindergarten classroom.  I'd already cut the fabric.  I just needed to pin it and sew it up.  First, though, I needed to read the paper and check out Facebook, Pinterest and Huffington Post.  And eat.  Yes, I needed food to keep me energized for the tasks at hand.  This took longer than expected.  Finally, I sat on the floor with the box of pins and turned on the Young and the Restless while I worked.  Who are these people?  Jack has a fiance?  But Jack's married to Phyllis In The Coma For The Last Year.  The deceased daughter of Sharon and Nick has come back as a barmaid who seems to be in love with Nick?  What a tramp that one is!  Paul has a son that looks to be five years younger than him?

When was the last time I watched this show?

I put my project down.  This required my full attention.

And a snack.

When that was over I plugged in the sewing machine and got busy.  Piece-o-cake.  I'd be done with this project in no time.  I finished the first two and then took a little break.  I checked out Facebook, Pinterest, Huffington Post and Craigslist.

I had a snack.

The seam ripper I needed to open up where the rod needed to be inserted was nowhere to be found and so I used teeny scissors that were bent at the tip from being smashed in the drawer.  This was making the job much more time consuming.  How frustrating!

I needed a break and a snack.

By this time it was early afternoon.  Had I even brushed my teeth?  I couldn't remember.  Maybe some personal hygiene and makeup would help this Friday Attention Deficit I seemed to have.  I got out my makeup bag, sat on the bed and turned the t.v. on while I beautified myself.

It was The Talk.  Sherry explained that she had bladder leakage and that one in four people have this.  One in four!!!  What's the answer to chronic bladder leakage?  Why, Depends, silly girl.  After an explanation on the leakage holding ability of Depends there was a fashion show.  Four men would walk the Depend Fashion Runway and the women of The Talk had to guess which one was wearing the man diaper.

After the second guy I turned the t.v. off.  Bored out of my Friday gourd, even I couldn't watch this humiliation and call it entertainment.

So I checked out Facebook, Pinterest, Huffington Post and a few blogs.

Maybe I needed to get out of the house?  Of course I did.  I decided to go to the shopping center.  After all, I needed navy pants for work.  Yes.  That's what I need.  I already felt more energized just driving there.  I had a plan.

The store I often find pants that fit my shortyness was having 50% off the entire store.  50%?  The whole store???

I bought two pair of colored jeans that I cannot wear to work and a black cardigan because I only have twenty of those and I needed twenty-one.  I went into another store and after they promotion-assaulted me with a dozen deals that I couldn't keep track of they called me "sweetheart" more times than I have cardigans.  I had to leave.  I cannot be the sweetheart of a high schooler.  There are laws against that.

The last store I went into was having 40% off the entire store.  40% off?  Even sale stuff?  I took some things into the dressing room and tried them on.  I would get completely dressed and undressed three more times.  I was getting confused on what I didn't need but had to get anyway because it was on sale.

I had a talking to myself on the way home about my behavior so far that day.  There was still time to finish something I started and to make some healthy choices when it came to my Friday Frequent Eating.

"Okie dokie", I said back to me.  "When I get home I'll have an apple with my cup of tea and kick it into gear."  I walked in the door, dropped my bags down and went into the kitchen to make my healthy snack.

Mal had made cookies.

I ate four and checked out Facebook, Pinterest, Huffington Post and Ann Taylor Loft (where, in fact, I had just come from).

Then I put a fork in my productive Friday.

It might not have been done but I was.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Suffer The Children

I was not raised in a military family.  My dad was in the Navy, but with the exception of a few uncles nobody else followed suit.  Dad kept detailed photo albums of those years with every buddy named in each picture.  They are in a box in Mom's basement along with his uniform and Navy manual.  I like to sneak down there when we're home, sit on a plastic tub and look at the remnants of an era gone by and the only evidence of a part of my dad's life that I know little about.

I'm not sure if what I know about combat and the military has come from movies or the nostalgia that sweeps over me when I open those boxes and pull out the brown photo albums with each snapshot secured by a black triangle in every corner.  Newly made friends at basic training smiling in front of tents with their arms wrapped around each other.  A stray dog adopted by men who were just boys a few months earlier.  Living at home with a mama who woke them up for school with the smell of bacon and eggs and now learning how to use a scope and rifle.

This is what I know about getting ready for duty.  Young men in black and white photos.

Is it that nostalgia that makes me think children were off limits in the rules of war?  Does the musty smell of another time make me believe that honorable men did everything they could to leave the future out of the carnage of the present?  Was just the opposite true and I didn't know?

Today's conflicts and wars show no signs of rules.  Bombs hitting elementary schools in Gaza, shelling and poisonous gas in Syria, a passenger plane scattered in pieces in the Ukraine, thousands of people forced into the mountains with no way out in Iraq. 

The eyes of traumatized children staring into the camera.   

A reporter asked some six year old boys in Syria what they wanted most.  "Peace," they said and collectively wept for none of them had a father still alive.  A little girl in Gaza picked through the remnants of her home, crouched down and clutched a rock.  "All my grandparents died today," she cried with her head in her tiny hands.  "All of them."

In the newest conflict in Iraq we are air lifting water and food to a mountaintop where thousands are stranded.  Are we the good guys?  Weren't we the bad guys for a decade?  Bombing a country day in and day out where civilians surely bore the brunt of the modern weapons of war in the name of democracy.

In our own country where thousands of immigrant children made a harrowing journey to escape the violence of a drug culture fueled by Americans, we scream at the desperate with their backpacks of worldly belongings to get the hell out of here.

A daily onslaught of despair fills the news and my stomach twists in knots at the brutality of these times.   

PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod.  My constant prayer over and over and over.......

.....because if I stop for one minute I think my soul will be crushed by the burden of bearing witness to what we are doing to the most innocent among us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Anger Management

The Big Daddy and I are working on controlling our moods.  Angery moods like yelling at the newspaper when we read the letters to the editor.  Or hissy fits when a screw falls out of the bathtub faucet for no apparent reason and the replacement doesn't fit.

"Look, Kath," The Big Daddy said, "it's too big even though it's exactly the size the original paperwork says will fit."

And I lean over his shoulder and look at the faucet while in my head I'm saying, "Well, isn't that just the greatest?  What are we supposed to do?  Buy a new $300 faucet because the seventeen cent screw won't work?  Well why the heck not?"

Out loud, though, I say, "Perhaps we got the wrong size screw from the hardware store."  Because getting mad is counter-productive to a happy life.

Or so they say.

All of this would be so much easier if there weren't faucet conspiracies, we didn't have to work with, you know, people, or there weren't so many Republicans in Kansas.

Since exercise is a good mood stabilizer we try to go after dinner for our twoish mile walk.  On this day it was hot and humid.  So humid it felt like we were doing laps in a swamp.  Mark chatted with some bike buddies and we ran into an old classmate of Will's and her mom.  We saw an owl on the ground near the golf course and tippy-toed closer for a look.  Near the end we saw our friends and told them where to look for the owl.

All in all a good way to end the day.

We walked our drenched selves home and just spitting distance from our own yard a pickup truck drove by.  The kid hung out the window and screamed WOOT.  It scared The Big Daddy and I so that we jumped a foot.  The kid laughed and slapped his steering wheel as he drove off.

And I yelled back "F*** YOU."

The Big Daddy turned around.  "I can't believe you said that.  No, wait, let me take that back.  I can't believe you screamed that.  In broad daylight."

Technically it was pre-dusk and not broad daylight, and upon reflection it did seem to be one of those things that might fit into an angerish column.

But why did that little hooligan have to go and ruin my zen mood?  Why take the call of the mighty owl we had just seen and use it to scare us?

Our long-time Republican senator who hasn't even lived in this state in years is beating the tea partier in the Kansas primary tonight and I'm sorta okay with that.  It's like having a deadbeat boyfriend.  You know he'll never do a single thing to make your life easier but at least he won't burn the house down while you're off working to pay the bills.

Lookie there.

I just managed some anger.

Woot.  Woot.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thoughts From The Road

The Big Daddy and I logged 3000 miles on the car and more gas station and rest area stops than we could count.  All that time in a car watching the scenery gives one more than enough time to observe some things.

This must be hay bailing season from here to Montana.  We saw all shapes and sizes of hay bales.  Stacked, rolled and pancake size.

I only saw a few (one especially handsome one on an ATV repairing a fence) and have but one word to describe them.  Hubba hubba.  So cute I had to use the same word twice.

They are essential to the farm/ranching life and are like hay bales......unique to each place and daily being mended.

Believe me, this seems to be the only form of vegetation in the entire state of Wyoming.

We did little interstate driving and more highway roads.  Some were so desolate that I prayed for me and the few people we passed that they have no car problems.  There isn't a mile marker, a water tower, a town or business for miles and miles to even guess where a tow truck would find you.  That is if you could even get a two truck to help you out.

Little Towns
We passed so many of these.  One had a sign with a population of 35.  How in the world???  I couldn't imagine where you grocery shop, get your hair colored or send your kids to school.  Remote, isolated, small.  Maybe the point in some cases is not to be found.

Gas Stations
Some looked liked they'd been around since The Flintstones.  Regardless, they are a welcome sight and despite sometimes having more than half a tank stopping and filling up is a given as God Only Knows when you will come across the next one.

Liquor Stores & Casino
They are one in the same.  What could go possibly wrong with that?

I cannot remember the last time I've seen someone throwing garbage out their car window but we followed two yahoos in Montana who decided to clean their car of Dorito bags and other snack trash.  It is a disheartening experience to see someone toss their garbage onto such a pristine place.

Hotel Pillows
I thought about bringing our own pillows but talked myself out of it.  Next time I will think better of it.  Regardless of the price, from a Motel 6 to the Hilton Garden Inn, hotel pillows are crappy, flat things that will make your neck do funny things for days.

Wild Animals
Mark wanted to see a bear.  I wanted to see moose.  His wish came true when twenty miles from Glacier a black bear crossed the road in front of us.  I never saw any moose but we did see lots of deer, prong-horned antelope and buffalo.

Farm Stands
The entire western half of Montana has roadside stands selling cherries.  Closer to Glacier they sell huckleberries.  We stopped at one that was selling three varieties of cherries, bought six pounds and ate every single one.

Climate Change
It is most undoubtedly here.  Once we left the midwest we saw evidence of forest fires EVERYWHERE.  Massive swaths of burnt trees as far as the eye could see.  And Glacier National Park?  We didn't see any glaciers though a few still exist.  At one time there were 150 in the park.  Now there are 25 and they aren't expected to be around much longer.

We passed a water truck which we first assumed was headed to Washington State due to their forest fires.  In reality, though, these trucks are used for fracking.  While proponents of fracking say that it uses less water than the average household (and this is true), water used for fracking can never be reused.  The water we use in our homes is always being recycled.  Water that has been used for fracking then becomes toxic.  In a time when so many states are in dire drought conditions it is disturbing to see trucks of water tanks going to support such a controversial and environmentally harmful endeavor.  

We not only survived eight days together in a car, we had a really, really good time.  That's not to say we didn't have our moments but they were small and insignificant.......which is fitting under the majesty of nature's handwork.

Big Skies & Starry Nights
Without a doubt, Montana has the biggest sky, the brightest stars and freshest air. 

I am smitten.

The answer to fracking?

Almost to Idaho so no sagebrush.
My sherpa.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


When Mark was in graduate school and I was working at a bank, my coworker in consumer loans was a Montana girl named Phyllis.  Like me, her husband was also in graduate school.

We made a good team.  Two women doing the heavy lifting of finances in our relationships while our spouses each pursued a doctorate.  Two women who sometimes weren't so happy about how long that degree was taking and often homesick and out of sorts in the small town we found ourselves in.

Our work styles complimented each other and Phyllis was better at some things than I was.  When we got new calculators that involved a multi-step process inputting rates and terms to come up with a loan payment, Phyllis read the manual and taught herself how to use it.  I couldn't seem to get the hang of it, but with Phyllis around to do it for me it didn't seem like such a big deal.

While I longed for my days in Chicago working on Michigan Avenue, Phyllis longed for her home state out west.  When she booked her flight to return home for two weeks at Christmas she was giddy for months.  In four years in a little office at the back of the bank I listened to her talk about Montana every single day.

Enough with the Montana I used to think to myself some days.

When we took our first trip out west years ago I told Mark we had to stop in Bozeman to see Phyllis' home town.  It was stunning.  Nestled in a valley with a mountain view in every direction, I finally understood how jarring the flat central Illinois landscape must have felt to her.  Because of her I have always had a sweet spot for that state.

Mark had the opportunity to go to a meeting at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton, Montana, and so we took a road trip and spent this past week in my former coworker's home state.  My sweet spot turned to a full blown romance.

When Mark finished his degree we moved out east for awhile.  Phyllis and Bill left after we did and eventually made their way back home.  Some years I hear from her at Christmas and some years I don't.  I have looked for her on Facebook with no luck, but everywhere I went on this trip I thought of my partner in consumer loans.  I looked for her blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes at the gas station, grocery stores and every shop in town.


"Phyllis, I know you're sick of me asking but can you show me one more time how to use this calculator?  I promise it's my last time asking you."

"I'll show you again," she said.  "And if you don't get it this time I'm going to throw my calculator at your head."

Those Montana cowgirls know how to saddle up.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

You Can't Scare Me

Mark and I are headed out of town for a big road trip out West to search for our inner cowboy.  He's going for legit reasons and trying to wrangle some attention and money.  I'm desperate to get out of Kansas and would go to the Quiktrip across the state line if we could make it last a couple of days.

I took the car in to make sure everything was in good driving condition for our long distance trek and mentioned that on occasion our car alarm goes off for no reason.  It's usually around 7:00 a.m. but about a month ago woke the neighbors up blaring at 4:00 a.m.

Back at home a few hours later, I got a call from the service department.  "One of the back passenger locks is corroded which in turn is setting off the alarm.  I can get you out the door for $565.00 and a little bit of tax," the service writer said.

"I don't think so," I replied.  "Forget it.  It doesn't happen that often and I'm not paying that much money to fix a lock."

"Well, what are you willing to pay?"

"What?  This is negotiable?  We can do Let's Make A Deal for car repairs?  Why didn't you tell me this when the last one rang up at $1200.00?"

"I'm just trying to fix your problem to your satisfaction, m'am.  I'll look for a used part and call you back."  Magically the call back (even without the used part) came in at a reduced price of $395.00.

I didn't bite.  "Put it back together.  I'll be in shortly."

"Well, m'am," she said, "I sure would hate for your alarm to trigger and cause the dome light to come on and drain the battery.  Could leave you stuck in the middle of nowhere.  You did say your were going out west, right?  That would be awful to have that happen where it's a bit more remote."

"Sheesh," I thought to myself.  "That one should have been an actress."

A few days later a guy came around selling pest control.  "Spiders, mice, mosquitoes.  We spray the perimeter to secure the house and form a barrier that they can't penetrate.  I guarantee you that your spider population will go down to practically nothing."

I stood in the house while he went on and on and on and for the life of me I couldn't think of the last time I even saw a spider.

"You know," I said, "I just don't have that problem and even if I did I'm not afraid of them."

"Mice, m'am.  We'll kill the mice.  You've gotta have plenty of those running around with the creek and all."

"We do but I have two cats.  They rip their heads off and leave them at the back door."

"Do you know two ants mating can produce 300,000 ants?  Think of that.  Hundreds of thousand of ants trying to get in the house."

"You have to go," I said.  "You're wearing me out."

"We only use organic chemicals," he yelled as he walked away.

"Sheesh," I thought to myself.  "That one thinks he's the Rodent Whisperer."

Two days later the alarm went off, a mouse ran right in front of me by the garage door and a big spider was on the trash can.

I didn't blink.

Maybe I already am a cowgirl.