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.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Bloods, The Crips & The Brit

Mark had a colleague in town last month from London.  He said very British things like, "rubbish, lovely and loo."  I was charmed.  A Londoner in Kansas?  In our house?  Look at my husband bringing home The Classy Brit.  Quite a different lot than back in his roofing days when those guys came with their GEDs and outstanding warrants.

Keith and Mark have known each other for years.  In January they ran into each other at a meeting and Keith said he was coming to the States in June.  He told Mark he'd love to spend part of his holiday seeing what Mark was doing research wise, and was especially interested in going to the Flint Hills to go bird watching.

"I'm an avid birder," he told me the first night over dinner.  "My wife has no interest but I love it and couldn't wait to see your prairies and all the species I don't normally get to see in England."

"Jolly ho, chap," I said.  "You boys have at it."

Jet lag hit him as soon as dinner was over and he went straight to bed.  The next morning I got up in the wee hours, put the coffee on and cooked some bangers and crumpets.  Our new housemate, The Brit, came down sleepy-eyed, poured himself a cup of brew and then went out onto the screened-in porch to watch the birds go about their morning chores.

Eventually Mark woke up and joined him on the porch.  I fell back asleep for awhile and when I woke Mark told me that our cat, Pip, killed a bird right in front of The Brit.

I was gobsmacked.

"Right in front of him?  Today?  Right now?  Pip killed a bird?"

"He did.  It was bad."

"Oh geez, Mark, when did the cat start killing birds?  Mice?  Fine.  Baby rats?  Sure.  Chipmunks?  Okay.  But birds?  Not birds and not this weekend."

"Yep.  A baby woodpecker right in front of us."

"You know this makes us look like bloody a*******, don't you?  Classless Americans with killing machine pets that's what we are.  How did The Brit take it?"

"Well, it wasn't good I'll tell you that."

I was in a kerfuffle.  I wanted to make a good impression on The Brit and at the first break of dawn we had a dead bird and a cat licking his chops.

That night when the blokes returned I expressed my condolences over the incident our guest had witnessed.  "It was a downy-headed woodpecker," The Brit said.  "A baby.  Female.  Those things happen I suppose."  Well, at least it wasn't by gunshot I wanted to say.  Then Mark and The Brit opened the wine and got bladdered - probably to drown their sorrows over what they had seen at the start of their day.

The next morning they went off to the prairies and I puttered in my garden.  On one of my trips in I noticed something black at the bottom of the stairs.

It was a bird.

There was a dead bird in the house.  My knickers were suddenly in a wicked knot.

I chased that cheeky cat out of the house because I was so mad at him for killing another bird.  Then I chased him back in the house so he wouldn't kill any more birds and told him to bugger off.  Then I scooped the dead bird up and put him in the trash.

What was happening?  Why was this cat killing birds all of a sudden?  And why did he have to do it when The Brit was here? 

The Birdwatchers returned home later that day.  Knackered from the prairie winds and their ornithological trek, we turned on the telly and watched England get kicked out of the World Cup in record time.

Keith left early the next morning to shop for a laptop for his son as they are much cheaper here in The Colony than over in England.  Mark offered to go with him but he declined.  "Cheerio, good man,"  I yelled after him as he appeared to be running to his rental car.

Later that day I told my next-door neighbor what happened and how I'd never seen either of our cats kill a bird.  "Oh I have," she said.  "My cats flush them out and then your cats go in for the kill.  There's all kinds of dead animal bodies around here.  Between your cats and mine it's like we're living with gangbangers."

Well ain't that a kick in the arse.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Video

The Listen to Your Mother videos for 2014 made their way to youtube this morning.  My hair is wild.  My mouth got so dry I felt like Pinocchio.   My heart was pounding.   I was still making changes to my piece until the very day of the show. 

It was one of the scariest things I've ever done and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Midsummer Dream

Whenever I get all hot and bothered by something (I'm talking to you Hobby Lobby) and then write about it I usually get a good response.  It seems the tendency these days is to frequently get hot and bothered over current events.  There's refugees this week, Congress, Iraq, Israel and guns every week, and Joan Rivers attempt at humor a few days ago.

There's a blog I read that I often think I should quit because she's so, so deep.  Half the time I feel incredibly dumb and the other half I'm tempted to comment, "LIGHTEN UP FOR PETE'S SAKE!!!!"  This woman recently wrote about the 4th of July and how difficult it is to feel patriotism and pride when you think things in this country are so broken.

"My thoughts exactly" I might have yelled at the screen.

We know so many people in their late fifties or older who have been shoved out of the workforce due to downsizing and a lousy economy.  I could name a dozen off the top of my head.  Though much of the future I saw for our family hasn't exactly been like my daydreams, losing a job at this age never entered the picture and yet it has happened to so many friends and acquaintances of ours.  That isn't our reality, but the possibility of Mark not getting his grant renewed and taking a massive decrease in pay dangles over our heads every day like a swinging ax.

Because this is the nature of what he has always done we live with it.  When colleagues get funded we are elated.  Look!!!  The funding numbers are going up.  If their grant is rejected we are knocked flat.  It's so bad this year.  Worse than it's ever been.  The stress is always there and adding sleepless nights and anxiety to that cocktail makes for a recipe of dysfunction.

And so we are working on that.  Both of us are trying to figure out how to make our mark on the world with more peace and less anger.

In the blog I read about the 4th, the writer's husband told her that Independence Day is meant to celebrate the "intent."  The intent that our founding fathers had for freedom and liberty.  The intent that we can move in a new direction and that our unalienable rights will evolve with the times.  The intent that the braver among us will stand up for the weak.

Intent is so loaded with hope I may have squealed when I read it.

Out of nowhere last week the idea of the children's book I've always dreamed of writing popped into my head.  I could see the main character as clear as day.  My niece will be my partner and illustrator.  I've written a rough outline.  When I told Maggie my idea she steered me in a different direction that makes more sense to the story.  While doing my accounting job by day, my nighttime thoughts are swimming with ideas. 

At the halfway point of this turbulent season, my midsummer dream is for us to move towards serenity while fanning the flames of our individual creativity.

This is no easy task for passionate, political people like ourselves, but each day is starting to feel more weary than the last, and resting in the waters of hope for awhile seems like the best of intentions.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Trouble With Women

We women are a competitive bunch and we compete for all the wrong reasons.  Decades after women returned to the workforce in greater numbers, we're still hashing it out over who is the better mom.  The one who stays at home and raises her kids or the one who goes to work every day and raises her kids?

Or the idea that somehow just having children puts you on a pedestal higher to God than women who can't or don't want children.

Bottle or breast?  Public, private or homeschool?  Soccer or football?  Honors or regular? 


I have never heard my husband or brothers ever compare themselves to another man.  Ever.  But me?  I have played that game with gusto.  I have patted myself on the back many a time at the expense of other woman.  We all have, but today it's important that we stop.


My preferred method of birth control was always the pill.   It was covered under my health insurance plan thirty five years ago when I worked in Chicago and it's been covered under every insurance plan we've ever had.  Similar forms are also covered such as the IUD and implant or injectable contraceptives.

My daughters (for very different reasons) use birth control and it is covered by their insurance.

This is a reasonable expectation from an employer's health plan and far cheaper to provide than the alternative.  Preventing pregnancy, regulating cycles and clearing up acne, are but a few of the reasons one would need birth control.  This makes for a healthier, more productive woman and thus, a better employee.

This Supreme Court, however, doesn't see it that way.  Women (at least the ones at Hobby Lobby........for now) are required to march lockstep with the religous beliefs of their employer.  Rather than a discussion between a woman and her partner about family planning and the method under which they choose to do that, the court believes the employer's beliefs get a say in the decision.

Though I am long past the need for birth control, my daughters are not, and the fundamental decision to prevent pregnancy and manage their own health with their own doctors (by methods that are best for them) took a huge step backwards.  It is no surprise that the majority opinion consisted exclusively of men.

For conservatives and opponents of Obamacare this was considered a huge victory.

The Hobby Lobby customer, however, is predominantly women, and unless their sales strategy was to rely on men from here on out to buy the cheap crap they import from China, they picked the wrong battle with the wrong gender.

Suit up, ladies. 

Game. On.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guns & Books

I have been in love with my little town ever since we moved here.  In our search for a home in a new state, we found it completely by accident.  As we drove the tree-lined streets that day in October, leaves blanketed the lawns, kids were out playing and neighbors were raking.  I knew we had found our home.

All these years later it has never lost its charm.

Our city council (after a lawsuit brought by a resident) voted by a 6-5 margin to allow the open carry of firearms.  The person who brought the suit, and who will now drop it, said it was a victory for gun owners.  I the victory sweeter when you get to fire it?  One can now strap a gun around their waist when they walk out the door including on our city sidewalks and parks.

Parks like the one I took my kids to for years a few blocks away.  The one that pulses with life from sun up to sun down with walkers, runners, moms with toddlers, Little League practice, soccer practice, lacrosse practice, kite flying, kids biking on training wheels and dog walkers.  The park that has hosted birthday parties, graduation parties and the annual touch football game every Thanksgiving.

In the hundreds of times I was at that park, it never seemed to me that anybody needed to be defended.  The only thing that could be considered a weapon is a baseball bat and most of those are bigger than the kids trying to swing them.

A couple of miles south of here a family made national news when the Little Free Library they put up at the edge of their property had to be removed due to an ordinance preventing free standing structures.  Remove it or face a citation the letter from the city said.  The criticism against the city has been fast and furious and they may still be wiping egg off their faces, but so far they haven't relented. 

I have seen many Little Free Libraries around this area, and like the town I fell in love with all those years ago, I am charmed.  Over the moon charmed that on a walk around the neighborhood you can help yourself to a book because of the generosity of others.

I remember reading Diary of Anne Frank years ago and feeling my heart pound as the Nazis combed the neighborhood looking for Jews.  In House of Sand and Fog when Behrani's son is killed by police I felt sick to my stomach.  The story of Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson from a rape charge and racial injustice in To Kill A Mockingbird is as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1960.  In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls writes of the home she grew up in that teetered on the edge of a mountain and I felt that if I breathed too deeply that house might tumble down.  I couldn't get warm the whole time I read Into Thin Air.  I caught myself gasping for air when I read The Perfect StormLit, The Tender Bar, Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter, Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight, Half Broke Horses, A Walk In The Woods, All Over But the Shoutin', The Cliff Walk and Running With Scissors are memoirs that will stay with me for a lifetime.

Every day we are warned that fear is right outside our door.  Bad people doing bad things are "out there" and the only logical answer to that these days is accessorizing with a gun so you're at the ready with a trigger and a bullet.


I believe that the minute you step outside and open the door to a library you are transported to a place of tragedy, despair, humor, joy, and adventure.  Like all those characters from books that take up space in my heart there are the stories of each and every one of us within those pages.

There is never enough time to read all the books in my stack next to the bed but it never discourages me from adding more.  The summer when I was nine years old and still struggling with reading, my mom enrolled me in the library's reading program and I checked out Little House on The Prairie.

Nearly fifty years later, I now live in a town named after a prairie and I have never forgotten my beloved Laura Ingalls and the year I finally learned how to read.   

This is what we owe our communities.  This is what we give our kids.  This is the door that opens us up to the magic.





Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making An Indecision

The Big Daddy and I have been homeowners for the last twenty-two years.  Same crib, same layout, same home owning chores.

By outward appearances we seem responsible.  From the front and side we've got curb appeal, and anyone who watches HGTV or peruses Pinterest knows that's where you make your first impression.  That's what counts in the home-owning biz.

Behind the curtain, though, the wizadry falls far short of the hydrangeas out front.

We have a never ending and growing list of things that need to be done.  Many of these are of the wishlist variety like refinishing the floors, replacing the furniture, updating the fireplace and gutting the kitchen.  We hope to accomplish some of this after the last semester of college tuition is paid in January of 2016, and though it's far too early to order the dumpster for the driveway I think about it.

All. The. Time.

Until then there is a host of non-wishlist, boring maintenance repairs that we talk about frequently but fail to act upon.  We wring our hands over the "what ifs" of time and money and never move from our indecisive asses to get anything accomplished.

Currently the handle on the kitchen faucet shows signs of needing to be replaced, but what kind should we get?  And since we're going to gut the kitchen in two plus years, maybe, just maybe, it really doesn't need a replacement just yet.  No?  Tack on the faucet on the bathroom shower upstairs and the sink in the basement and now we're talking big bucks and a trip to Lowe's and Home Depot for comparison shopping.  Once inside we will get side-tracked by automatically flushing toilets, custom sinks and towel warmers.  Longing for a Lotto win that we never play, we will leave with nothing and stop for ice cream on the way home because that cleanses the palate of the cost of home maintenance.

The outside of the house is in need of a paint job.  The Big Daddy wants to side it to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.  I want to leave it as is and replace the shingles that are split and cracked.  We are at an impasse and then there is the anxiety over color that paralyzes us.  For three years we have talked about the outside.  For months there has been a flyer from a paint company on the kitchen counter.  FREE QUOTE!!!!  COLOR CONSULT!!!  It's as if the Universe was dropping the answer in my lap, and I move that answer everyday when I wipe the ugly Formica counters off and put it back in its Home of Limbo.

Tomorrow, I tell myself.  Tomorrow I'll call them for that free quote.

The roof on the screened porch has rotted in one corner from a leak (because the gutters need to be replaced) and former roofer extraordinaire Big Daddy says "I can fix that" but it is going on two years and I am losing faith in my roofer turned Bill Nye.  And the screened porch isn't so screened with two big holes from a squirrel that came in one end and out the other for a frantic peek inside.

A few weeks ago when we went on a garden tour we came home with GRAND plans for the backyard.  A vegetable garden oasis edged with perennials.  Adirondack chairs in the corner to sit and have a glass of wine and watch the birds.  A backyard that had all the curb appeal of the front with no grass to mow and veggies to sustain us through the growing months.  An apple tree?  Yes, that, and we'll pick some and slice them and have them with our cheese and crackers in our vintage chairs.

We will be that thin, attractive and vibrant couple throwing our gray hair back and laughing with twinkling eyes like those couples in a Cialis ad because they'll be hot sex after sitting in the pretty, new yard.

But wait a minute.

We did have a plan for a backyard oasis from a landscape architect that we paid for and on further digging I unearthed it.  It was dated 2006.

We looked at it with our bespectacled eyes and threw our heads back and laughed.  Eight years ago we started this plan?  Our chubbiness jiggled in on the joke and then I folded it and put it back in the drawer.  HOW MUCH IS THAT GOING TO COST US we pondered as we gazed upon our Sanford & Sons backyard and wrung our wrinkly hands.

Every day we roll the dice of indecision and then sit in wait for the adrenaline to kick in when the faucets reach their tipping point or the air conditioner heaves its final blast of cool air in the middle of July.

It's the fiery spontaneity in our homeowning marriage that comes from being long-standing Suitors of Calamity.  The cure eventually pulls into the driveway and emerges from a truck carrying a clipboard and tool chest.

"Sign here," he says tsk, tsking as we look at the total and take our medicine.  "Probably could have saved you some money if you hadn't waited to this point."

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  If only we could figure out when the moment is right.