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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Two of Them

"I'll go with you, Mom,"" I said that Christmas Eve.  "To church tomorrow at 8:00 just like you and Dad always did.

"You don't have to.  I'll be fine," she said back.

"I want to even though it's going to suck."

"I hate when you kids say suck."

"We know you do, Mom, but this really sucks."


Every September I write something about my dad and the hole in the family that is still there twenty five years after he died.  We've planted plenty since he's been gone and it has been healthy and joy-filled and robust but the hole remains.  Much smaller than it was but still there.

The summer before he died is etched into all of us - the good and the bad.  One of my favorite goods is when my painfully shy and timid three year old sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame for him.

"And it's woot, woot, woot for the Cubbies.  If they don't win it's a shame...."

He laughed until he cried.  "You taught Maggie the Wrigley version?"

"Dad, that has been the only version in this house."

What I haven't written about enough is my mom.  The way she took care of him.  How for years afterwards she would question whether they waited too long with opthamologists instead of oncologists.  Her gratitude towards the neighbors who came by every day to see what she needed, and the oncologist's office at the University of Chicago who became their unwavering support through the hardest stuff.  Her appreciation for the food that arrived more days than not and her six kids who came every night after work to help her.

Twenty five years ago wakes were much longer affairs than they are now.  Mom stood next to Dad's casket for eight hours.  At one point she got pulled downstairs for something to eat.  "I just need some water," she said and went right back upstairs next to him.  The next morning she returned to his side on that unseasonably cold and windy September until we left the cemetery.  He got buried.  The grief tagged along with each of us but she got the brunt of it.

Through these years we have all watched Mom closely - maybe for the cracks but she has kept those to herself. Just when life was supposed to get easier after raising her kids, running a household and supporting her husband's forty year career, she had plenty of time, a pension and social security but no spouse.  What she did have was memories, faith, and a steadfastness that never seems to leave her. She has never complained about her life or felt sorry for herself, and losing her husband at a rather young age was just one of a long list of heartbreaks.

These observations of her have shown something shinier than what we might have anticipated.  That showing up for what lies ahead when your heart isn't always willing is how Dad would have wanted it.  That a cloak of strength and dignity is the most beautiful of garments.  That the two of them will be together eventually. That love that has moved on is still love and has remained with her every day since a few hours past midnight that September morning.


The wad of Kleenex in my purse that Christmas morning lasted about twenty minutes and then I wiped the sadness up one sleeve and then the other.  Surrounded by decorated trees and poinsettias, my mind continually flashed back to his casket draped in white in the center aisle.  Mom cried alongside of me and afterwards her eight o'clock church friends surrounded her knowing how damn hard that was to get through.

When we got in the car she said, "You know how I could tell Dad was there?  Mary Turic was sitting right behind us. Your dad always said she could ruin a hymn just by opening her mouth. I think he wanted to give me a laugh."

And so she keeps repeating the sounding joy.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Eye Of The Tiger

I have been watching (because there's no escape) the media circus in Kentucky with the anointed heroine for the sanctity of marriage via Adam and Eve style.  The one whose job requires her to issue marriage licenses to all since the Supreme Court ruling this summer protecting the rights of straight and gay people to marry.

She shunned her job duties, clutched the Bible to her chest and declared, "Not here.  Not in this office, so shoo shoo you homos.  I say you're not getting married."  The media (with the attention span of a collective group of squirrels on speed) came in running for more more more.  She was the new darling of a 24 hour news cycle that needed filler, and for the Christian right who increasingly shows they have clear and rigid parameters to this whole love one another business.

How this got to be the never-ending story that it is confounds me daily.  If you don't do your job isn't there a supervisor, manager or, I don't know, a governor that isn't the least bit timid enough to say, "Yeah. Kimmy, you do this because the Supreme Court told you so or ask maintenance for a box to pack your stuff so you can get out." Maybe I've always worked for hard asses because insubordination and failure to perform the duties of the job were always deal breakers.  Oddly enough, though, like nearly all people in the work force I figured saying an emphatic "NO!!" to anything I didn't want to do was termination worthy and not newsworthy.

My peek into the world of equal rights started decades ago when the family station wagon passed a group of African Americans, tearful, outraged and protesting when Martin Luther King was shot. The peek grew bigger when I began working and was clearly aware that a man doing the same job as me was paid substantially more.  The crack split wide open when my kid said he was gay.

Like Joe the Plumber, Charlie Sheen, Tonya Harding and the Octomom, the current Kentucky clerk will soon become a question on Jeopardy under Flashes in the Media Pan.  Even though her lawyer lobbed an outrage grenade comparing issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples as "granting a license to sodomize children", there is a limit to how much ignorance an audience can absorb before they're forced to switch to the ballgame to preserve their intellect.  

What else can be said when you have a dog in this fight is that you are left to wonder if the job, promotion or apartment didn't come through because your kid was gay.  After all, robust cheering of discrimination is leading the nightly news.  There isn't a camera crew, preacher or presidential candidate in sight when that story happens, though, just the sound of the wheels in your brain turning over and over hoping what you think is true really isn't.  

In the meantime we remain under attack from the newest poster child stepping onto the podium of hate, much to the delight of a complicit media filling the airwaves with nonsense.

Bur from my shoes there is no thrill in this fight.....only the sickening thought that it's my kid they're after.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Theory of Busy

An odd quiet has settled over this house of ours these days.  The kid who graduated college and got married has been gone for years.  The kid who graduated college and lived at home for two years has moved into his own apartment.  The kid who is in her last year of college spent all summer away, came home for two weeks and then moved into her campus house.

The too small house when all five of us were in it is now home to two.  It is neat most of the time, it takes days to accumulate enough trash to take to the garbage can, there are usually three loads of laundry once a week and a full dishwasher to run every couple of days.

It has taken some getting used to.

The weeknights crammed with homework, Scouts and all manner of practices are now dinner, news, a little t.v. and reading and then to bed.  While it is not true that it happened in the blink of an eye, it is true that the years while sometimes slow and mundane went by in a rush from high school on.

In this new lifestyle I have struggled with the weekends.  For a very long time those started at the crack of dawn with cross-country meets followed by grocery shopping and maintaining the house and yard.  Now there is less urgency to getting things done by Sunday night.  Shopping for two doesn't take much time or planning and it really is okay with both of us if there are weeds in the yard.

I have taken to wandering the house not quite sure what I'm supposed to do since none of it requires my immediate attention.  There is always our bedroom - the room with clothes piled everywhere but where they are supposed to be. It is a never ending mess which I can only seem to get a handle on once a week, and so on a Saturday afternoon I went up to give it a good cleaning again.

As is my habit when I'm going to be in there for awhile, I turned on the t.v. and found The Theory of Everything playing on HBO.  I grabbed some pillows, propped them on the messy bed and was immediately drawn in.  Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawkings was brilliant.  Felicity Jones as his wife was gut wrenching.  I never moved except to get a box of Kleenex.  Tragedy and hope, tragedy and hope.

Since then I've thought about that movie over and over.  How does one hold onto hope when everything is taken away, especially at such a young age?  How does a spouse take on caring for every need of her husband when all the odds are stacked against her?

How?  How?  How?

I never bought into the business of "busy".  I never let my kids do multiple outside activities because I knew when I had to drive all over and we couldn't be home doing nothing I was a miserable mom. A miserable martyr of a mom and I never liked myself when I got like that.   

My intentional attempt to keep us from going down the rabbit hole of busy when the kids were young has been dialed back so much that I am afforded the luxury of a movie in the middle of the day. A thought I couldn't have imagined a few years ago. From the window of the room off the bedroom, however, I can see and hear the kids of the younger parents in this neighborhood ride bikes, build forts and make boats to float in the gutters after it has rained.

Just like when they were my own I am charmed.....and grateful that I was never too busy to remember it all. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Repaid Gift

I have a very hard time taking a vacation.  I know this goes back to my childhood where money was tight and taking six kids anywhere rarely happened.  My only memory of going on a trip was when we all piled into the station wagon to drive to LaCrosse, Wisconsin so Dad could see his old Navy buddy.  They were a family of six as well - all boys. For my sisters and me it was nine boys and a weekend of misery.

Mark was brought up going to Michigan for two weeks every summer for fishing and swimming.  He has very fond memories of those trips and is more than willing to get in the car or on a plane in the middle of summer.  It has been hard to mesh these two different ingrained experiences when it comes to getting away so it is a BIG deal when we go somewhere.

It was seven years ago that we threw caution to the wind and decided to go to Florida.  I got on a house rental site and picked a place in Seagrove.  We drove and stocked the kitchen with food upon our arrival so that we wouldn't be eating out all the time.  The house was perfect.  It had a huge kitchen that was a joy to cook in.  The wrap-around porch had an outdoor table and chairs and we ate all of our meals there. We walked to the beach every morning, would come home for lunch and then go back again later in the afternoon.  The kids would stop at the neighborhood pool on the way back and Mark and I would start dinner.  It was a perfect vacation for us.

While all of this was in the planning stages, I was working with someone who was going through a very bad breakup with a partner who was emotionally abusive.  I had a front row seat to witness what many women go through when they decide to walk away from someone like that and it rattled me to my core.  The absurdity of the common question of "why doesn't she just leave" became very clear to me.  It is never that easy.  Many times this woman and I worked together until close on Friday and so she would come home with me and have dinner with us.  Mark and I were very worried about her and protective of her fragile situation.

While I was excited and looking forward to our trip to Florida I was also feeling guilty about this wonderful opportunity in the midst of the suffering of someone I cared so much about.  Besides the constant emotional abuse she was under she was also in some dire financial straits.  Mark and I discussed it and decided to write her a check to help her out.  On the day before I left I wrote her a note telling her that despite what she was now hearing from someone who used to be an important part of her life, she was truly, deeply loved by all of us at the store.  That even on her worst days her light shined brightly.  I told no one at work and put the note and check in an envelope and clipped it to her time card.

My note made clear that the money was a gift and any intention she had of paying us back was never our intent.  I felt instant relief once I took care of that - as if it was finally okay for me to enjoy the beach with my family.

By the time we got back there was a letter in the mail from her thanking us and saying that she used the money to hire an attorney to see what her rights were.

My return to work was on a Saturday morning where she and I were opening the store.  I was running late and she was already there and counting the drawer when I arrived.  We both cried when we saw each other and when the owner arrived he asked what in the heck was going on. "We missed each other," I said.  "A lot."

We would work on and off again in other places as the years went by - always connected through the retail world of women's clothing.  Not a single time did we ever discuss what was attached to her time card that summer day.

One day she called me and asked me to help her with some furniture in her and her roommate's house.  "I want to pay you," she said.

"You know that I love doing this and I don't want you to pay me," I said.

"Then I'll pay you in wine," she said and the next night I went to her house.

I listened to them as they told me what was not working for them and we ended up doing a massive room move late into the night.  I suggested that they live with it for a few days to see if they liked the changes and that I would come back and help them rearrange it again if it wasn't what they wanted.

The next day I went to work.  A few hours into my shift I decided to get some coffee and went into the back room to get my wallet.  When I opened my purse there was a huge wad of cash.  Too many fifties to comprehend and my heart started pounding.

Honest to God I thought it was drug money that had been planted in my purse.  I didn't even want to touch it.

Where had this come from?

I went to the owner of the business I was working for and asked her if she had given me a bonus.

"A bonus?  Are you kidding?  Have you noticed how slow it's been?"

Right.  What was I thinking?  She was the one who had given me a $5.00 Applebee's gift card when I had my one year anniversary so it was definitely not her.

"There is hundreds of dollars in my purse and I don't know how it got there."

"Maybe it was from Mark," she said.

"We never have cash on us and if either one of us had this much we would say something.  It was just there when I opened my purse."

It was like an Agatha Christie mystery and we churned over the possibilities all afternoon.  Finally my boss asked, "Did you leave your purse somewhere that somebody could have put the money in without you knowing?"

"No.  I went to a friend's house last night to help her move some furniture.  It was by the fireplace all night and........  Yes.  Oh.  Yes.  Oh my gosh."

When I got home from work I called my benefactor.  "Were you the fairy godmother in my life last night?" I asked.

"I was.....just like you were to me a few years ago.  I added a little interest.  Now you and Mark need to do something fun with it."

It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise as the check we had written to her had long been forgotten.

This dear coworker and friend moved west awhile ago.  Every so often I'll think of of those troubled days that taught me so much about the hand that some women are dealt and the quick judgement we pass when we know so little. The same judgement I made before I was a witness to the damage.

I'd like to think that her new start brought her a good-looking cowboy that came with so much abundant love and kindness that it made her forget her past.

A cowboy that knew how to lasso the moon.

She would love that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Back Room

Since April I have been on nine interviews.  Nine times I've tried to sell my skill set with a wink and a smile and a toss of big words like accounting software, spreadsheets and aging reports......and yet I have not found the right fit.

Last week there was a job for the taking.  Good salary with awesome benefits and a decent amount of time off and I walked away.  Beggars can't be choosers and I seem awfully choosy these days. Coming off a bad breakup from the last place, I know that I am searching every closet and file cabinet to find the crazy that's been tucked away and hidden from company.  I also know that being on a hair trigger for office dysfunction is not healthy.  I am ever-so-slowly learning to filter that out and rely on my gut, but so far my gut is saying "run" or "you don't really want to do this all day, do you?"

In my excitement over all that this last job offered I gushed to Mark about the perks and benefits.  "A big office, Mark," I said. "all my own.  There was even a tree right outside the window with birds. Birds, Mark!!!  I could look at the birds while I worked!"  I noticed this nature moment when the MOUNDS of paper the current office holder was surrounded by started making me all twitchy and uptight and I stared out the window in self-defense.

On reflection there were other negatives.

#1.  It was farther from the house than I wanted to commute and the commute would be in the kind of traffic that usually makes the early morning news.

#2.  It was a small staff.  Four people total.  They ate lunch together every day.  They worked together and they ate lunch together.  Every day.

#3.  The office was deep in suburbia which meant that it was in a nondescript building in a nondescript area surrounded by nondescript strip malls.

#4.  There was no back room.

I got used to a back room from my retail days.  The place you could go to get away for five minutes. The sanctuary (albeit as hot a mess as any basement) where you could regroup and breathe when the latest edict came down from on high. Where your favorite coworker asks you to show her where the large gift boxes are so she can really say, "Can you believe that schedule?  Do they think I'm some kind of mule or what?  Every Saturday this month.  What's that about?"

Many a time I have been the ultimate back room girlfriend and confidant.  I'd gladly meet any coworker in the back and nod and listen in sympathy to the issue of the day.  I'd bitch about my own hours and willingly throw gasoline on theirs. If asked to take up the cause I'd say, "Well, yeah, if you bring it up I'll back you," because I didn't need so much to carry the torch as I needed to have a place to complain about the torch.

The back room is an essential part of every work place.  It cannot be replaced by emails, phone calls or texts.....for there is no trail to uncover to what is said in the back room.

When I told Mark I was going to walk away from this prospect he shook his head.

"I have to work in a bigger pool than that and I cannot spend every minute of the day with coworkers and then eat lunch with them on top of that.  I have to have a break.  At least lunch alone to read the news or to shop Loft's Friends and Family online sale to buy my way out of the misery of working in a job I shouldn't be doing."

I'm not sure he understood my reasoning.  I'm not sure I even do.

All I could think of at the time, though, was what if I got into a relationship with these people and all three of them thought Donald Trump would make a great president?   Without a back room to scurry off to my only option would be to crawl out the window of that paper-piled office and tell the birds to scoot over so I could join them out on a limb.