Of Stoppers and Finding “Yet”

Of Stoppers and Finding “Yet”

It’s nearly the one-year anniversary of The Fire, when our lives got upended.  We’ve moved into a new apartment (never again will I live above the 2nd floor), gotten furniture and cars.  No art though. It’s too painful to consider. We work and workout, the kids are launched on their individual paths. Our wonderful rescue dog who rescued us is stiff in the joints, but still game for a walk.  On the outside, we look pretty good, pulled together you might say, except if a fire alarm goes off.

The inside job is taking longer. First it was dealing with the suddenness and shock, then it was anger and resentment, and in the last few months a bleak existing with occasional fun moments. It’s been friends and family or nature that have provided the healing touches. It hasn’t helped that the world is increasingly incomprehensible to me. Just not the way I thought things should go.  Living bereft of trust is a bitch.

I realized a big picture goal might pull me out of The Pit of Despair* which (this surprised me also) was getting deeper.  If anything, I’m a fighter.  If I’m going to go down, it will happen swinging at those inner demons.  I let Christmas pass and tried setting a new goal or two in January as usual. Didn’t happen.  I haven’t been inspired, I’ve been comparing my insides to other’s glorious and happy outsides and it’s been hellish.  It’s always the worst when you know what SHOULD happen, and it isn’t coming to you. Something always stopped me from formulating a good goal, let alone a great one.

This week that effing stopper revealed itself.  It wasn’t graceful, this revelation. I was yelling at myself in the car as I drove to go take Mom to church. At the top of my lungs, furious that yet another week had passed, and I was still stuck in mendacity.  Being a Sunday, I refrained from beating my head and hands on the dashboard, but if you were in the next car over, you heard me.  Berating myself for not being able to apply brainpower and willpower and find a way out, damn it!  Sometimes being overly dramatic works. My AHA moment appeared with bell-like clarity between one curse and the next, the core principle that had replaced hope and the ability to dream:  I now expect everything will be taken away from me in a conflagration of loss, so why try?

That’s been the stopper. The Fire’s legacy.  The thing shaping my inaction. Everything will be taken away anyway, so why try. Wow. I pulled over and cried and was late to get Mom.

I can’t tell you what the sermon was this week, nor what Mom and I chatted about on our drive to church and back.  I was in the process of “Uncover, Discover, and Discard”.  Now that I have discovered the crux of the issue, there is confidence to add a ‘yet’ to the sentence, “I don’t know what I really want”.  It’s now changed to “I don’t YET know what I really want”.  And that one word makes all the difference. Within the YET are hopes, and a sense of purpose. “Yet” means I believe that its going to get better.  It’s taken me longer than I thought it would to turn this corner, a year seems an awfully long time to get a revelation.  But maybe that too has purpose, allowing me in the future to truly hear other folks who are having a rough go, who haven’t quite gotten to their “yet” yet. I hope so. I hope

*you know, from “Princess Bride”.  What a great movie.

On Death and Bullets for Valentines Day

On Death and Bullets for Valentines Day

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”. Powerful opening lines for a novel written in 1859.  I wish it didn’t also depict America 2018.  Yesterday, on what is usually a happy fun day, Valentine’s Day, 17 children lost their lives at the hands of a kid using a semi-automatic assault rifle.  The bullets for assault rifles are meant to pierce helmets at 500 yards.  What they do to an unprotected child’s body at much closer range is rip them into little bits of body parts. This is the same rifle used at Sandy Hook on 2nd graders.  And on concert goers in Las Vegas.  And on people having fun in a nightclub.  I loathe and detest the disgusting politicians tweeting their asinine “thoughts and prayers” while continuing to pocket money from that bloated gun club the NRA to do nothing to change it.  It’s blood money.  Body parts of kids who were just going to school on Valentine’s day money, and those who take that money are flat-out cowards and sycophants of the worst variety.

In 1929, in Chicago, 7 men were gunned down in another Valentines Day Massacre. It was horrific back then, and now?  Now it seems like we are getting used to it.  This is the 18th mass shooting in American THIS YEAR.  We’ve only had 44 days so far this year. Thompson machine guns were used to murder in Chicago 89 years ago.  Same principle, slay as many people as possible in a short time with big bullets. 89 years later we’ve just upgraded the hardware and downgraded the ages of the victims. If you are inclined to drag out an antiquated portion of the Constitution to justify this barbaric, preventable behavior, I recommend you first perhaps do a bit of research into what happens to people shot with these things, and secondly go look at all the other countries who have managed to regulate the sale and use of these weapons and have NO school shootings or mass shootings of any kind. It’s only us — the great US of A.  There is an argument that our schools would be safer if weaponize our teachers and give them tactical training.  Really? Do you want your kids and grandkids growing up in an environment of fear layered on top of fear and gun on top of gun to the extent that the United States of American devolves into a Totalitarian state?  Numb them even further into thinking that the current deathly reality is “normal”.  This is not normal!

As I talked with people at the swim meet I was volunteering at yesterday about this, I was struck that many of them had the attitude of “Well, can’t do anything about it, those weapons are out there now”.  Yes they are.  But doesn’t it make sense to at least stop the flow?  At least for semi-automatic and automatic weapons.  You can’t convince me that anyone needs that kind of weapon for personal use  unless you are in a war or a police officer. That would be the first step.  Sorry rifle manufacturers, yep its true, your job will disappear, just like the folks’ job it was to make buggy whips.  Secondly, require mandatory refresher courses for all gun owners (just like we have for driving a car) so they can keep the weapon and license.  If people don’t comply or pass, they then need to take a class or surrender their weapon. It seems pretty straightforward.  It actually creates jobs.  Why is this too hard, too big to manage?  I refuse to sit down, shut up and pretend nothing is wrong with our current gun ‘policies’.  I truly have nothing against hunting, or guns in general.  I have lots of friends who are responsible gun owners.  My husband and my boys both love shooting, and have learned to do so safely and sanely.  

I’d recommend the 3rd leg of a gradual shift to making this better is to get Mental Health programs provided in more places at more ages with adequate funding and staffing (more job creation!).  There are a lot of people in this world barely holding it together. On some days I feel the same way. If we’re being honest, I think most of us can use a bit of help at times in our life, and gather tools to help us out when the world feels hopelessly black and our inner pain seems unbearable.  Do I think these steps would stop all the crazy?  No, but I do think better is better.  And we can certainly do and be better.  We can.

If you, like me, are done with sitting and not doing anything as screaming parents realize their child is one of the ones ripped to shreds by an arsenal driven forward from an agenda by a bloated gun club looking for profits, here are 3 organizations that fight gun violence: 

https://giffords.org

https://everytown.org

https://www.sandyhookpromise.org

Thank you to my friend Sally Nemeth for those links.  From my friend Jodi Jones who posted my featured image on her page:  you can text READY to 64433 which helps out the Moms/Everytown organization. 

Of Rocket Ships and Turkey Meatballs

Of Rocket Ships and Turkey Meatballs

I grew up believing Tang was better than orange juice.  After all it was what the astronauts drank.  I remember being 8 years old, sitting on the floor watching a black and white television set as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.  It was so exciting. I wanted to be an astronaut myself and bounce around on the moon in big leaps and collect rocks – lunar sampling sounded so exotic.  Later, learning you had to do serious math – correctly – to be an astronaut, I had to let that dream go. But at that moment on July 20th, 1969, I was riveted, and I’ve been a space geek ever since.  I’ve always regretted not going to space camp. I  tried to talk my boys into it so I could live vicariously through them but they didn’t fall for it.  *sigh*

This week’s launching of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket was really something. And out of Kennedy in Cape Canaveral too!  That place has a special meaning to a whole generation of us, I think.  There it was again — the countdown, the cheering of the crowd, the amazing blast of light and heat, then the slow, slow upward movement as fierce firepower won over gravity. I held my breath as the rocket escaped Earth’s atmosphere, and then even better to my mind — the booster rockets came back down and LANDED in one piece. Delicately and in synchronicity.  It made me misty. Something about it just gives me hope. That was a lot of correct-the-first time math, and I’m proud that human beings were able to do that.   The Tesla in space is kind of fun too, nice to see a sense of humor.

I may not be able to do the kind of math needed to be an astronaut — or lets be honest – pass the physical exam, did you see “The Right Stuff”?  Boy Howdy.  However, my darling boys who stymied my hopes that THEY would be astronauts tell me I make an exceptional turkey meatball.  We sent our youngest jetting away to the other side of the world this week, and this was one of the requested “last meals”.  Here you go, in both original and gluten free substitutions:

TURKEY MEATBALLS

2 packages ground turkey (about 2 lbs)

Garlic, chopped, 1 T

Soy sauce or coconut aminos ¼ cup or so

Progresso Italian style bread crumbs, 1 cup

Mix together the above.  Swirl 2 T of olive oil in a frying pan on medium. Make your meatballs about the size of a large marble (I told you, I grew up in the 60’s) okay, the size of half a golf ball then.  Brown on all sides.  The soy sauce will caramelize as they cook.  Once you get one side browned, flip them over and then lower the heat and cover the pan for about 6 minutes.  Then take the lid off and finish the browning process letting the steam evaporate. That will get the insides cooked through.  We like this with mashed potatoes, or of course with pasta and red sauce.

GF subs:  No bread crumbs – finely chop until you have about ½ cup of spinach and onions. Add various Italian herbs to taste and add a well-beaten egg to make it all stick together. Cook as described.

On Nietzsche and Negotiating a Different Mom Status

On Nietzsche and Negotiating a Different Mom Status

Our youngest son has a habit of starting deep conversations at the very end of the day.  You know that time.  You’ve done multiple meals, multiple drives, multiple errands, spoken with varying degrees of success to multiple people, listened politely or perhaps listened in seething anger to multiple opinions, and now what you really want to do is get into sweats and Go To Bed.  However, I love listening to what our son has to say, so I rustle up a spare pair of listening ears.  A few nights ago, he was sharing some Nietzsche philosophy about the morality of accountability.  Yep.  As Spencer says, its “incomprehensible, but not as incomprehensible as Hegel.” …Sure. I’ll roll with that.  I genuinely tried to listen and participate, but my head kept wanting to be horizontal.  Experiencing the past year, I should probably embrace Nietzsche.  After all we seem to be living and embodying his famous phrase, “What does not destroy me makes me stronger”.  Oh Joy.

The ideas and subsequent half-conversation of the other night (Spencer explaining, my husband asking smart, interesting questions and me “Mmmm”- ing occasionally to let them know I was still in the game) was above my intellectual pay grade, which is humbling.  I’d love to chalk it up to the late hour and that my brain had reached it’s automatic shut off point, but truth is, I wouldn’t have grasped the concepts even bright and chipper after 8 cups of coffee first thing in the morning.  In college I loved reading books by Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf, and could wrap my mind around complexity, symbolism and deep meaning. Not anymore. My mid-life brain is happiest in Nora Roberts land, or a good fantasy trilogy.  I don’t know if I just killed a lot of brain cells between then and now, or if at the end of the day I just want something easy to do.

Speaking of easy, parenting is not.  Easy.  I rather liked the younger years of parenting our boys, there was a transactional quality to them – I feed you and dress you, you do what I say and our playdates are with kids whose Moms l like.  The middle years got harder, and I am profoundly grateful I never have to help with another science project ever again.  Future grandkids, you’ve been alerted.  Then there was the whole take-tests-await-results-apply-to-and-visit-colleges phase. I liked the visiting phase of that, but then I’m always up for a road trip. Now however, all our kids are either in college, or have graduated from it and a new negotiation has started.

Yes, I am still the Mom, but my influential, personhood-creating Mom-ing days are done.  I’m now in relationship with adults who have their own ideas and preferences.  And who are clearly reading and thinking in atmospheres my rocket ship can no longer reach, even with booster engines.  Its been painful for me, wending through this past holiday season and having our boys sometimes kindly, sometimes snippily letting me know that my services are no longer required – they’ve got it handled.  I am grateful on one hand that they are equipped for life and can do their own laundry, drive the car, and cook and think deeper thoughts than me.  But.  I miss the days of picking out their outfits and deciding what fun thing we will do today.  I miss feeding the ducks, going to see the trains and the fun of swings swishing through the air on a cool spring afternoon. Nietzsche discussions while impressive, just don’t fill my heart the same way.  There is a line at the very end of the Inge play “Picnic”, when the Mom of the play learns her daughter has run away to be with a wayward boy.  She pauses, and says: “But there was so much more I wanted to tell her”.

On Not Writing and Monarch Butterflies

On Not Writing and Monarch Butterflies

I know. I broke faith with you.  Instead of pushing through the deep valley of Nothing Good To Say these past few weeks, and writing about it, I just… didn’t. I did TRY to write, but it was all so very whiny and complain-y and that is sooooo boring. I know this because I’ve lived through having 3 teenagers. Side note, my British cousins say “whingy”, for this same affliction.  I like that more.  Whiny is like a dog whimpering because you forgot to feed it, whereas whingy sounds like an old door that creaks every time you open it.  Annoying vs. something you might be moved to feel sorry for.  For everyone’s sake, backing away from this public journey, and keeping my bleak thoughts chained in a dark corner where they could brood and scratch epithets on the dungeon wall was a clear best choice.

Usually when I go “inner” like this, I have a writing project starting to swirl and form like a galaxy that is still far, far away.  Being quiet and letting fragments of ideas float up is an exercise in patience, but its part of the creativity deal.  That’s half the equation for my wading back into this weekly blog.  The other half was the realization, “Hey, maybe I’m not half bad at this,” which was prompted by the news that two theatres are looking to produce “Like Kissing Moonlight”.  That’s my wonderful laughter-through-tears mashup of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and “Cherry Orchard” set in modern-day Appalachia. My newest play, a fun murder mystery in the vein of “Death Trap” or “Sleuth” is also nearly done. I love the phase of writing I am in with that one. The hair-pulling, grinding agony part of creation is done and now I am in the delicious slashing of at least 10% of the sucker. I love cutting.  And! A screenplay I wrote a couple of years ago is getting serious attention from…  Someone Rather Important.  That’s all I will say on any of that, as excess talk can juju up good news when you’re a writer.  Call me superstitious, I don’t mind. I just know not to flap my gums overmuch. If anything happens in these next few months I will tell you. Scout’s Honor.

Speaking of a few months, we’re closing in on the 1st anniversary of The Fire. I chalk up some of my inner Quasimodo feelings to this pending event and have been looking for ways to mitigate it.  My Mom’s Garden Club** met yesterday, and a sheet was passed around to help plant milkweed in a Monarch Butterfly habitat at the local grade school on March 3rd, which is the exact date of The Fire.  I signed up immediately. It’s an antidote of sorts – doing something worthwhile to balance out the destruction of that night.  I can help the remaining 10% of Monarchs left in the world have a snacking place.  It’s a shocking statistic, isn’t it?  According to the etymologist who came to speak to the Garden Club, in the past 30 years, we’ve killed off 90% of the Monarchs.  That makes me sad. I hope they can make a comeback, like the Grizzly Bear or Przewalski’s Horse.  And no, I’d never heard of Przewalski’s Horse either, but came across it when I was looking up animals which are no longer on the endangered list. They’re adorable and extra furry and live in Asia.  They are the only true wild horse known in the world today. I love little facts like that.  Watch, it’ll swirl up in my next play.

** I felt quite out of place sitting with the perfectly coiffed and size zero bedecked women at the Garden Club.  Additionally, I was blindsided and informed that as a new member (and here I thought I was just bringing Mom), I am required to create a flower display for the “Mini Flower Show” that is coming up in March. I was given a large, detailed packet on how to do it correctly, so my initial thought to go to a florist and have them do it is out.

On Not Sleeping and Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream

On Not Sleeping and Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream

I heard on NPR a few days ago that author Dan Brown starts writing daily at 4am. That’s probably why dark and complex conspiracies haunt his books. Not a lot of positivity floating around at 4am in my experience. Happy and uplifting ideas start appearing around 5:30 or so, but not before that.  Used to be, I’d automatically define any idea that popped up past 11pm as not being a good one.  Over the years, I’ve expanded those parameters.  These days any idea that surfaces past 9pm or before 5am is plopped in the “questionable” pile.  First off, I’m not asleep when I want to be, and feel robbed of a basic human right and grumpy about it.  Secondly, those dark hour ideas and thoughts are consistently negative.  There are no great ideas of how to save humanity or make the world a better place.  Nope, its all about things that could have, should have happened.  Or what I should’ve said, or worse, what they should’ve done.  Its astonishing how far back into the past resentment and regret go at that hour.  Just last night, on a wee hour mental wander, I got mad all over again that a schoolmate in middle school (we called it Junior High back then) took the last chocolate ripple ice cream* at lunch time when she KNEW that was my favorite. Did it right in front of me and laughed.  These are not helpful thoughts for anyone. Because on the heels of the memory is, “Why the hell am I remembering this?”

This time of year, there’s a proliferation of good thoughts and perky memes that pop onto Facebook. Hopeful declarations that yes indeedy we can live life without regret, dancing to our own tune, planting happy seeds of joy and let go of doubt and fear, no matter our age or life conditions.  It’s a new year, a new day, and the authors are feelin’ fine. These memes and wishes were clearly all conceived during the daytime and not in the 9pm-5am pocket of doom.  Now, I’m not a curmudgeon (yet). I like seeing them, and often take a moment to try them on for size. I just don’t think they reflect our true human condition.  I think we all try really hard every day, but none of us is regret free, and I bet nearly everyone has those 3am visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past that are decidedly unpleasant.  I’m learning the best way to make peace with myself is to embrace my regrets, and even my resentments as opportunities for me to Not Do That Again.  Problem is, if you’ve had a bout of early morning memory review, and haven’t slept, those happy-sappy memes are likely to simply make you mad.  Hands up if you’ve ever just wanted to punch something after you see a carefree, lilting little graphic blissfully assuring that you CAN do it, little camper, if you just buck up.

Yet. I’m guilty of hopeful posting myself.  I posted about going wheat-free, dairy-free, soy-free, booze-free, coffee-free, and sugar-free for 30 days on New Years Day. By gum it was a perky post, reflecting my expectation of getting comfortably back into my jeans without resorting to lying on the floor to get the zipper up.  I loved eating all those holiday treats, and baking them, but am past the point of leggings being a fashion choice, so must perforce, get back into my jeans.  I’ve done this detox before, with great results, and now on day 4 can expect to start feeling better as I am nearly past the sugar detox, which is always the worst – its probably why I was grinding about someone stealing my ice cream when I was 12 at 3:30am this morning.  So, my apologies if my perky and hopeful post about getting back on the health track annoyed you – here, you can have my chocolate ripple ice cream if you want it.

*side note: my standard lunch in those days was a container of chocolate milk which cost 5 cents, and a container of ice cream which cost 6 cents.  You’d get a glass, put the ice cream in it, and then pour the chocolate milk over and mix it up, creating an ice cream sundae for lunch.  It was great, and cost 11 cents.   

Of Rescue Dogs and… Squirrel!

Of Rescue Dogs and… Squirrel!

The adage that people and their dogs look alike is debatable in our house.  However, as Christmas day approaches, I find that I am ACTING like our dog Keisha in many ways.  Here are a few:

Treats:   Keisha gets a biscuit after her walks. She has a habit of going in the kitchen and staring up at the glass jar on the counter we keep them in, and then at us in clear communication she’d very much like another please. I am behaving the same way with the almond paste* I made this week. I keep going to the refrigerator and looking at it. Being an adult human with an opposable thumb, I also reach in, take it out, and “taste” it to make sure it’s just as good now as it was 15 minutes ago. This is proving to be not a good thing. 

Sleeping:  The holiday bustle and keeping up my swim schedule in the attempt to keep weight-gain carbon-neutral this year makes me need a nap every day at 4pm precisely.  Just like our dog, I lay down anywhere and within seconds I’m out — perhaps snoring and woofing in a muffled way as I dream of all the things I can make with almond paste. If I don’t get the nap, I am apt to become growly.

Over-excited reaction to the doorbell:  I’ve shifted to pushing “submit order” for most of my holiday shopping this year.  The UPS delivery gal knows my gate code.  We’ve been seeing a lot of each other recently.  Perhaps should get her a gift.  When the doorbell rings I don’t leap up and bark, but do bounce to the door and get that little “whoo” feeling on seeing the boxes and prance about excitedly.

Wearing odd clothes: Yes, the photo is our dog tolerating her reindeer hat.  She shakes it loose after about 20 minutes – which in dog years is about the same amount of time that I will deign to wear my ugly Christmas sweater.

Heavy dog:  Keisha’s super power is making herself weigh more than ten times her actual weight when she doesn’t want to move. I’ve adopted this strategy at the end of a busy day.  Don’t try and get me off the couch if “The Crown” or “The Great British Baking Show” is on – or “Peaky Blinders” soon. I shall simply deploy “heavy dog” with Ghandi-esque calm. I plan on keeping this behavior past the holiday season.

The …Squirrel! effect is the final and most pertinent way I’m like Keisha in this holiday season.  She loves going for a walk, politely sniffing at the pee mail and enjoying the stretch of her legs, and then… squirrel!  You can see her spin out and lose any mandate except to Chase That Squirrel!  That’s me these past few days. I’m usually organized and on-point, but this week I’m permanently distracted.  Even with a list, my brain scatters at the slightest thing:  I dart to and fro, sure I can catch the …Squirrel!  Ooooo, Pretty wrapping paper. Ooooo Almond Croissants in the window of the bakery. Oh! Pop-up Ads from Amazon with MORE gift ideas. UPS is here, must say hi to my delivery gal and then hide or wrap the new arrivals…. Oh, the laundry… what did I come in this room for?

I need a biscuit.

 *recipe in last week’s blog. It’s very good, but perhaps I should go taste it one more time to be sure….