Friday, December 31, 2010

Tweaks and Valleys

Christmas was on me like a speeding bullet.  I almost didn't know what hit me.  And then, suddenly, it was done, and the real countdown begins.  Within the next month, with about a million details still to be ironed out, I will be, for better or for worse, a resident of a different state for the first time in over three decades.  Unbelievable, right?  Unbelievable that I lasted three months here with my Yankee ways, let alone three decades.  But, now that I have, it's nearly unbelievable that I'm finally pulling loose.  (And I bet almost anything that my neighbors will think of me as a Southerner.)

But life decided it wasn't done tossing obstacles in my way - just to make sure, perhaps, that I really had the steely resolve (pun intended) to move away from what, for better or worse, is my comfort zone.  Most potentially tragic is our dog Tawny, who we thought for the past year merely had a bad case of early onset arthritis.  Probably not so, as her condition worsened with the first real change in the weather over Thanksgiving and then took a sharp dive off a steep cliff over Christmas.  Admittedly, the young vet who looks as though he is only 12, was nervous about her mix of symptoms from the beginning.  He made a diagnostic call originally that he was shaky about and told me as much - all her issues not fitting together into a tight little package.  It's not his fault that I was raised by a nurse and therefore taught not to be hasty about reacting to symptoms.  Mother's philosophy seemingly was "If you're head's not about to fall off your body, don't panic, we can wait it out and get better on your own or deal with it at home if you don't."  (For a woman who made a living working in hospitals, she was horribly suspicious of them.  Makes one wonder what she saw go on there.)  I've treated my own health that way and, in general, the dogs as well - all resources and energy went to other pursuits, and look where that got us.  Doctors, I concluded, mean well, but in the end are as clueless as the rest of us, just with better vocabulary and worse handwriting.  Well, for Tawny that judgment may prove deadly, as it's relatively clear now that she has a bulging disc that is so far advanced only surgery can fix it.  And the dollars we're looking at make it out of our reach.  That is, based on the fact that I've got enough money allocated to move us and keep a roof over our head long enough to find work - or so I hope - and not much more.  So, as I ply my poor dog with steroids and pain killers, searching for reasonably priced options, none of which have popped up, I'm racked with the guilt of knowing I could swing it if I weren't committed to the move.  How do I look her in the eye and justify letting her continue to suffer or, in the extreme, putting her down, because I wanted to live close enough to drive to a stupid hockey game a few times a year?

But, then on the other hand, as I was about to leave work this evening, literally right as I was about to shut down and walk out the door, a strangely timed email popped up from someone within the company spewing a badly timed, badly researched demand of my group, pronouncing us guilty of an error and demanding we fix it right away.  Turns out a co-worker followed information he provided to us.  Still stewing over it (obviously) hours later, I am sure that my reply, which pointed out his bad timing, his bad research and my co-worker's lack of clairvoyance to know when he feeds us bad information in not-so-polite terms, will land me in hot water.  But, I realize that Fate sent that to me so that I will have absolutely no regrets over handing in my resignation Monday morning.  I should really thank him - because before that, I was very worried about it for a number of reasons, not the least of which was leaving the company that had taken a chance on me coming back and being stable and productive only weeks after Kelsey died.  Now my biggest regret is not thinking of somehow throwing in my reply how the person must have mistaken the company for a stable since he is clearly such a large horse's ass. (Moral to this story: Don't try and throw me or my peeps under a bus unless you're rock solid in your information.  I will take the opening you leave for me and slap you hard with it.  I can't abide people who like to explain errors by blaming the underlings.  Crissakes, we're on the same team or supposed to be; if a situation arises, let's analyze it, decide what to do and work together to fix it.)

However, that goes on in all 50 states, I realize.  And I got a mild taste of unpleasantness from my future co-residents yesterday as well.  My Amazing Realtor emailed me about some things she's helping me with and mentioned that the furniture store where I had picked my new couches was going out of business.  What?!  I hopped online.  Sure enough, their online catalog was down, so I called the store near my house.  The salesman, whose name I did not initially catch, helped me well enough, but there was a bit of edge to it - understandably.  The business had been open and family run since 1958, it employs 350 souls who will shortly be joining me in the job market (oh joy), I would kind of expect less-than-stellar attitude to creep in.  However, what I didn't expect was this:  he asked me if I wrote down the information on the pieces I wanted.  I said, no, I didn't think to because I had no idea this was going to happen.  So, we talked it through and he was helpful, as much as possible under the circumstances, but when I asked him if they worked on commission and to give me his name, he said, "Jim.  You can write that down."  The sarcasm nearly dripped.  I decided not to react negatively, I figure he's under a lot of stress, so I said instead, "Gee, I was sorry to hear you were closing, I had heard a lot of good things about the company."  His reply?  "Yeah, well, it was mismanagement, but..." he seemed to catch himself a bit and hesitated then hastily finished with, "but thank you, I mean, thank you."  Dude.  Saying that to a customer over the phone?  Really?

Then I came home, already agitated by Mr. Horse Ass, to find a letter from Shaler Township (I finally realized that Townships are like MUD's are here in Texas - for some reason, working that out in my head made me feel better about the layering of government up there because it seemed a bit much and more than a bit confusing).  Anyway, the letter states that it has come to the writer's attention that I now reside in Shaler Township, but have "failed" to register for the mandatory 1% income tax.  It demanded that I do so by January 17.  Luckily for the individual who wrote the letter, I received it well after hours so I could not call and tell her that I'm not sure what her sources are - crystal balls, TMZ maybe, but she should get her facts straight before she starts accusing me of something.  (It had been pretty clearly explained to me by Shaler staff that I didn't pay the tax until I was a resident there.)  Again, I wonder, does anyone know what the hell they're doing?  And can anyone do it politely?  Am I leaving one state stacked full of jerks just to find another?  At least it's a smaller state.

And, of course, all of this is scraping against my currently very thin skin because I'm trying to pull off the largest move of my entire life.  I read somewhere years ago that even a positive move will engender negative emotional reactions because the stress is just so intense.  It's physically draining, financially rough, and emotionally a roller coaster ride.  For us, it's all of that and more - handling all of Kelsey's things and trying to decide what to do with them, feeling the emotions rise up with the memories, then trying to weigh that against the reality of keeping whatever it is, well, that's just tough. I could have postponed it had I not determined to move now, but eventually it had to happen.  So, at least, at the end of the process, I'll be only six miles from Consol Energy Center and about seven from Heinz Field.  Go Pens.  Go Steelers.  I'll be there soon.
Now, tell me truly, who wouldn't leave home to be six miles from this?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Long Goodbyes

When the idea to run away to Pittsburgh initially took seed and began to grow, it was an idea born in the ether of football and hockey euphoria, along with a strong desire to get back to my Yankee roots and shock us as a family out of the despair we had been living in for so long - even before June 2009 really.  There was a vague knowledge lurking somewhere in the recesses of my mind that it would involve saying goodbye to people who are precious to me, even if I rarely get to see them, but no real sense of it.  Not really.  I was too caught up in what I was working toward to contemplate what I was leaving behind.  But now, with title to a little house on the other side of the country secure, reality begins to set in.

But, here I am, packing boxes, gladly giving away things that even a year ago I would have told you I never would have parted with and finding myself saying goodbye to people I once assumed were just part of my world forever.  I mean, really, they still are.  We live in the Internet age.  Our friends are only a Facebook post away, but is it the same really as sitting across from them, looking them in the eye, and sharing whatever news/gossip/experiences we can?  No, probably not.  I gathered my friends in reality, not cyberspace.  I was fortunate enough to have met them in person at some point, and we found our bond in something concrete that we experienced together.  Even though the truth of a busy modern life is that it's hard to find time to see one another often, I have a core handful of friends whom I absolutely know would drop anything and come running if I called and vice-versa, no matter the time of day.  I'm leaving a few behind who may have needed to do that at some point in the not-so-distant future as their parents age or life hands them particular challenges, and I worry over my decision to pull myself away and not be there for them.  But, my little house in the North Hills calls my name and tells me its ready for someone to once more inhabit its walls with laughter, love, sometimes joy, sometimes sorrow.  And I realized last night as I watched the customary views of the city from above when the NFL Network came back from commercial breaks that I am beginning to think of Pittsburgh as home.  Maybe to convince myself that I've chosen the correct path for my family, I'm diligently setting my mind to the mantra that this is the most beautiful, awesome city in the country, and I'm going to throw myself into it completely.  I almost ache for it.  So, that means saying goodbye to so many good friends.

And, ironically, I'll be saying goodbye to some new ones.  Just to complicate the swirl of emotions, I've met some new people in the last few months whose company I enjoy, and whom I wish I could have spent more time with.  The lovely, generous woman I sit across from at work, the bubbly, funny and very loud woman who sits next to her, and the fiery red head from across the office, who lost her husband a month before we lost Kelsey.  All interesting enjoyable people to add to my contingent of friends, but who came to my world view as I was already preparing to move, so I'll never get to know them as I have others in the office, whom I will miss deeply.  Among these newer folk is my hairdresser.  Not only did I finally someone who can take good care of my aging hair, but I found a friend in the process, and I actually can't quite believe I'm leaving her.  I told her I was going last month and found it surprisingly hard.  She is a widow of six years, a strong minded attractive Alaskan (not unlike the other Alaskan we all know and some love) whose husband died six years ago of brain cancer.  She is a nurse who works part time at Dell's Children's Hospital, can fix anything, is a master colorist who does shows in New York a few times a year who came here to be close to her adult daughter and grandchild.  But what she is the most is a survivor, and she's offered a emphatic view into the world of grieving and surviving grief that all the counseling in the world could not have brought me.  I can't quite believe I'm leaving her insights, her humor, her fantastic way with my hair behind.  But, she had me come in for one last cut last week, and we said what are likely our goodbyes, and I got through it with no tears.

This process has repeated itself several times over, as I grab a quick lunch with a couple of friends here, or dinner and a drink with a friend there.  Some, sadly, I won't get to see before I pull out, there's too much chaos in trying to wrap up work, pack up a cluttered home, figure out doggy moving logistics, all during the holidays and soon the playoffs.  I've considered having a packing party, actually my friend Jenn's idea, but the house is so chaotic, with stuff strewn here, there and everywhere as we take it all out to examine it and determine its worth to be hauled across country.  Of course, that's the idea of a packing party.  To pack that stuff.  It's not exactly like I'd have to worry about making sure the china is washed and set out.  Pizza, beer and lots of newspaper and boxes is about all the planning required.  The idea has some merit, but I hesitate to ask my friends to come labor to move me away, so I don't know yet what to do. What I do know is that I've been oddly blessed in life.  Meaning, as hard as the last few years have been and as devastating as the losses have been, I've managed to get through it with the support of an amazing group of people, some young, some old, some liberal, some conservative, some sports fans, some not, some silly, some sad, but all of them share one thing in common:  I love them deeply and am indebted to them for seeing me through and not giving up on me.

To my friends:  I would list you all, but there are too many.  I hope you know, as you read this, you are among them.  I hope your love and support is something I can pack and take with me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jingle Hell, but...

... how Marissa saved Christmas.

Every year, the Steelers Defensive Coordinator, the great Dick LeBeau, recites The Night Before Christmas from memory for the players.  It's said to be such a revered tradition that former players will come just to hear it.  I am so enthralled with the mental image of fierce characters like James Harrison from the present roster and former Steeler bad-asses like Kevin Greene sitting demurely listening to a children's poem, that I've decided to pen my own tale of Christmas cheer.

It begins with: Christmas sucks.  Surprising beginning for a heartwarming holiday story?  Not for those readers who have known me over the years.  I have long sang the dirge of how I hate the holidays.  Too much to do added on top of all the regular stuff - which doesn't slow down one iota, I might add - too expensive, people expecting certain things (myself included - if I haven't been obvious enough about wanting a Sidney Crosby jersey, it's really not for lack of trying) and being really pissy if they don't get them when that's not really the point of the holiday, now, is it?

That's all on a normal holiday, which this one certainly is not.  I knew when I flew to Pittsburgh to close on our little house that I was flying into the eye of the storm.  I just didn't know how big of a storm was brewing.  Everything seems to be extraordinarily complicated this year.  I've had issues with gifts I've ordered - I've got one sitting here right now that was meant to ship to a young couple at Eglin AFB in Florida. I KNOW I ordered it shipped there because I always have to stop to think if it's Elgin or Eglin.  Yeah, they shipped it here.  And they wanted a pretty penny to fix their mistake, so I told them they were disconcerting and to forget it; I'll have to find the time to mail it myself, and they are off my vendor list forever.  I ordered another gift for a friend in Michigan.  It went to the right address, but I'm pretty sure it was addressed to me - I'm not sure if she got what I ordered yet or not.  But, if she did, it probably had the packing slip with the cost right on it.  Sigh.  Then there's the largest fiasco at all, which is a special gift I'm trying to have made for one of the family.  I've got one week left to get it accomplished with a shop in south - far south - Austin when I have no time off at my job in far north Austin.  The poor guy who got the job of handling me is as frustrated with me as I am with the situation.  He's not exactly rude, but he's holding it together with the slimmest of threads, I can tell (I worked retail too, I know the tone), and it's a saga that began right after Thanksgiving.  I do a lot of online ordering to make my life easier.  I've never had so many issues for as long as I've discovered the power of the Internet, and I've kind of wondered more than once what I did to anger the Karmic powers around me so much to rain this much crap down on me when I'm supposed to be packing and working on getting me and a lot of animals back east.

Then there's work, don't even get me started.  Suffice it to say, rolling out new processes never goes without a hitch, and they've unveiled two major ones lately, and I work at collections in a down economy dealing with people who owe a lot of money at the holidays.  Enough said.  I should be there now actually, trying to use the weekend to actually do some of my own tasks.  But, as Wayne Campbell would say, monkeys might also fly out of my butt.  It's just not happening.

The fact that I'm supposed to be moving in a very short period of time is almost an after thought, except that I'm trying to continue to cull out things I never thought I'd be able to pry myself loose from.  I'm seriously taking requests.  I pulled out a mis-matched series of wine glasses for a young woman at work last night.  I'll be gathering Lord of the Rings toys for someone later on today.  I've taken to trying to leave every morning with a bag/box of random stuff to take to work and just let people rifle through.  It's been pretty effective, but as I look around - dang, I still have a lot of stuff.  And I'm no closer to knowing how I'm going to get it there than I was a month ago.  I know what I'm not doing, but not what I am.  Same with the fence.  First fence bid came in at $7,000.  What'd you do, I wonder, call the moving company and compare notes?!  Do people think because we live in Texas we're related to the Ewings?  Needless to say, that's not going to happen.  And I'm finding it too hard to navigate the bid process from here - my poor Realtor, who is a saint with a license to sell homes, has been keeping an eye on the house like it's her own and even solicited help from the local firehouse around the corner (don't ever tell me Yankees are rude!).  But, it's Christmas time for her too - she's got enough on her plate.  I simply refuse to ask her to do more.

So, struggling with a sense of panic and despair that's almost a physical thing, I keep myself afloat with something Marissa said to me the other day, and then followed up with a message to me on Facebook.  She said the last two Christmases were really good ones.  What?!  How could last Christmas be good?  Our first Christmas without Kelsey?  But she reminded me of how my mom enjoyed herself that day - spending way longer here than I anticipated she could (and was stocked with sanitary supplies for) because she was having so much fun just watching all the activity.   The family stayed together at our house for the greater part of the day, snacking on finger foods and playing board games, and we'd wheel Mother into whatever room the largest activity was going on, and she'd just sort of sit and absorb it.  I felt so bad at the time when we took her back to the nursing home finally, having stewed in her own juices, if you will, for so long, but when she died, I remember thinking, "Thank God I gave her that last Christmas Day."  Marissa reminded me of that.

This is actually from 2006, but I like it a  lot
But then she also reminded me of the year before.  What ended up being Kelsey's last Christmas.  Marissa sent me this that my oldest daughter wrote on LiveJournal right after, "we all know that the weeks preceding the celebration of baby jesus through capitalistic gluttony had not been kind to my super-spazzy, over-worrying head, but this christmas was the most pleasant holiday i have had since i was a child: no drama, lots of love. i smiled, dad gave me looks of love & relief that warmed my heart to the core, and kyle was with me."  It had been a pretty mellow, uneventful affair - unlike the wild drama of the year before that culminated in Mother breaking her arm almost immediately after we dropped her home, and us spending the evening in the emergency room, Mother madder than a wet hen that we dared take her to the hospital.  I had learned from that year, and toned down the expectations and the agenda and things had gone much more smoothly.

So, I guess I managed to pull off giving these important people in my life the best gift I could have, which is a pleasant day on a holiday supposed to be about celebration, hope and family.  And Marissa gave me the best gift of all:  she made sure I knew it.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a good Christmas story.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

Adventures in Packing Part Three: Moving Mountains

I knew I was in trouble when the nice (yet somehow a little too nice so as to border on annoying) salesman for the moving company walked through my house with me and said on at least three occasions, "You have a lot of stuff."  Therefore, it should have come as no shock to me when I opened his estimate last Monday morning.  But, it was.  Nearly $8,000!  I nearly fell out of my chair and let out a yelp, like a dog who had been stepped on by a giant.  Holy cow - I could practically start over with all new stuff for that.  Problem is, as I explained to the gentleman, Greg as the oldest son and only one with sufficient space, and me as the only child became the keepers of much of our family heirlooms.  Our dining room set was built by Greg's great-great grandfather.  The china you see through its glass doors was my grandmother's.  The silver set was Mother's - Dad had it custom made for her when on leave in Japan during the Korean Conflict.  At this point, I've got enough china, crystal, silver and linen to host the entire Pittsburgh Steelers and their families, and maybe the Penguins too.  Some of it is probably worth something, but truth be told, most of it's probably only worth its weight in memories, but that makes it priceless.  All of that has to come with us.

Then there are my books.  The salesman warned me right off the bat, looking just at the books on the built-in shelves downstairs that I needed to think about getting rid of everything but the most valuable ones because they are concentrated weight.  Greg and I looked at one another and both said at nearly the same time, "Oh, just wait."  The man had yet to see the fourth bedroom that I have always used as a study, three walls lined with books on 6' high shelves.  Have I read them all?  Hell no, but I'm working on it.  I've read a lot of them, so maybe you could argue I should dump those and only take the ones I haven't made it to yet.  But, what if I want to re-read them?  Like I will The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, so I can brush up before I go see the movie.  Like I probably will at least glance through The Stand again in places - it's my favorite book of all time.  Or, how I may pluck one of Anne Rice's books off the shelf to scour for a quote when I'm in a dark mood - her early works are perfect for a brooding parent enveloped in grief.  Or maybe how I'll pull down one of my books about Barack Obama and flip through it to remind myself that he's larger than the problems he's currently mired in.  No, I need them all.  Or so I think anyway.  I did pull out a miserly selection before the fall garage sale, and after the horrendous bid, I tried to make myself take another look.  I pulled out two coffee table books, one of which I've had since high school, and put them in the giveaway pile.  The one I've had for so long however keeps haunting me, and it's taking a strong sense of control to not pluck it back out of the pile.  But, luckily for me, Greg supports me keeping my books.  He's willing to pay the heavy price to cart them from here to there.  As much grief as I give him, I love him for that.  What he'd really like me to do, however, is get rid of the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings collectibles (by the way, for me and my limited discretionary spending, "collectible" means toys, I have very few actually valuable collectibles - important to keep in mind as you read how I agonize over crap I bought in the toy aisle at Target).

I know he's right, but I am finding it so hard to do.  As I glance over them, the rational part of me thinks, "You don't need a Yoda Pez dispenser, a stuffed Yoda and a talking Yoda.  Pick one, get rid of the rest."  So, I determine to keep Talking Yoda because it's just cool.  But, Francine gave me stuffed Yoda, and I like the Pez dispenser.  As of this moment, all of them are sealed in a box upstairs (along with a lot of other stuff, like Death Star Pez dispenser).  As I explained to a friend at work, I packed up that stuff first so it's out of sight and hopefully out of mind, marked innocuously for the 3rd bedroom where the bookshelves will go.  That way it's just not part of the conversation about what to toss out.  Genius.  However, I have recently found a worthy recipient of what Star Wars crap things I can manage to rend myself away from.  Therefore, knowing they will be loved, I will spend some time this weekend choosing some items to bequeath to a young friend to help her on way to extreme nerdiness like me.  Passing down the legacy, that's a good thing, right?

But, it's clear that sacrifices have to be made.  So, I have to look at everything else and ask myself, "Do you really want to pay to move this?"  I already set out a large stack of random stuff for the Texas Paralyzed Veterans, on top of what I pried loose for the garage sale.  All of that was gone before I heard, "You have a lot of stuff."  I clearly have a lot of work yet to do.

In the meantime, I'm getting other moving bids!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Remembering Pearl Harbor, Mom, Holidays Past and Larry Bird

December 7th is always a day of note in our household.  For one thing, as a World War II history buff, I am mindful of the day as one that will always live in infamy, particularly to those ever-dwindling individuals who experienced Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that drew the United States into the war.  One of the fond memories I have of the past decade is when my dear friend Francine and I took off from work and drove up to Fredericksburg, Texas, home of the National Museum of the Pacific War, to witness the official stateside commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor back in 2001.  What an honor to be there with her and be so close to veterans of that awful day.  The senior George Bush was the keynote speaker and, no matter what you think of him politically, it was pretty cool to be that close to a former President and war hero.  But, I digress, as usual.

December 7 is also my estranged sister-in-law's birthday, as it is Larry Bird's.  They are exactly the same age.  For my husband, while he loves his sister, it might be a toss up as to which is the bigger deal.  Larry Bird was always his favorite basketball player.  White men can jump apparently, and I think Greg always fantasized a little what it would be like to be a Larry Bird.

And on this particular December 7, it was Beck Funeral Home's holiday memorial for their clients in the past year.  So, for the second year in a row, I sat with a delicate gold colored ornament cupped in my hand with a loved one's name drawn on it in cursive and listened to a sermon meant to comfort survivors in their time of grief until it was time to hang the ornament on a large tree at the front of the room, where it will stay with a large number of others until I retrieve it just after the New Year's.  Then I will place it in the corner china cabinet to sit next to the other ornament I received the year before (actually it will get packed first, moved to Shaler and then that's where it will live).  In one of those odd, not-quite-rational thoughts I had immediately after I received the news that Mother had died,  I thought, "Well, I'll get another invitation to the holiday memorial."  When it came, I toyed with not going.  Been there, done that, I thought briefly.  But, Mother would have wanted me to go, and the truth is, I appreciate that they do this for their clients.  It's cleansing somehow.  But, even if I didn't believe that it had any healing benefit, I would have gone because I fear sometimes that Mother's memory gets trampled on by the larger tragedy of her granddaughter's passing.  Not only do I worry that she's been over-shadowed by the loss of Kelsey, I worry that I'm still numb from the trauma (for lack of a better word) that came to define her last couple of years.  She gave me a hard run those last few years, and while I rationally know she was not in control of that, my own fragile psyche is still licking some wounds from it.  I'm not proud of it, but I'm being honest.  But, she was my mother, if not by blood, then by responsibility, and I was determined as we slid into our seats to make this evening about Ruth, not Kelsey.  The sermon seemed particularly geared to helping with that task, the minister they brought in telling the story of a grown daughter witnessing the family's first Christmas after her mother dies.

So, my mind wandered back to the Christmases when I was a little girl, before I strained my parent's love with my teenage angst, and before Mother began working again, in retail nonetheless, and her time became stretched and stressed.  She had always been a bit of a hoarder, but it was under better control then, the house still fairly new and crisp, but her Montana social circle established. She had what she wanted, I think; a family, a home, a position in the community, enough money to be comfortable.  This was her zenith.  If there was ever a time when she was content, it was in these years.  And, it was a warm and harmonious time for us as a family.  She would elaborately decorate our house, finding trendy ideas in her Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens, loving to try new crafts every year.  She would bake holiday cookies, patiently allowing me to help, always giving me the beaters to lick (one of the benefits of being an only child, I freely admit, is not having to share the beaters).

One of special things that my parents did for me was allow me my own little tree in the dining room.  I had my own set of mini-ornaments, and I would decorate it all by myself, but Mother would oversee in the earliest years, carefully coaching me to make sure I remembered to put ornaments on all sides.  We would make popcorn and string it up to make garland, along with the cheesy paper chains, which would hang every where in the house.  As a family, we had chosen the trees by driving up the canyon and picking our own along the snowy roadside, a larger one for the family room, a smaller one for me, and Dad would cut them down for us.  Later, as they both aged, they bought the trees in town, but Mother always preferred the smell of a live tree.  (I honored that until just a couple of years ago, buying real trees after she moved here.)

I remember the conflict Mom and Dad always had over icicles - those environmentally horrible plastic silver strands so popular in the '50-'70's.  Dad loved them, but wouldn't help put them on.  They're horrible to put on.  Mother never wanted to bother.  She reasoned that if he wanted them, he should help.  Occasionally, he would make a token effort, but I think even he would admit that he never really worked too hard at it.  To make it worse, he preferred that they be hung individually as opposed to simply tossed on.  Over the years, I became versed at the art of hanging individual strands of those things, figuring I didn't particularly mind doing it, and it was worth keeping the peace between them.  It was their own version of the Leg Lamp (Christmas Story), an on-going battle of power, never taken too seriously by either of them.  Mainly because Dad knew she would give in and make it happen somehow.  After I no longer lived there, I think it became more of a genuine fight.  I remember hanging the icicles again when I would visit as a young adult, but in the years I didn't make it home, I'm not sure how it got resolved actually.  Maybe eventually stores just stopped selling them and that solved the problem.

I have dozens of holiday stories like those, and I've often wondered if part of my rancor over the holiday now is my inability to ever be able to re-create those magical years for both myself and my children.  But, the thing I will never forget is how Mom's dry, biting sense of humor came into play.  Gradually, she would lack the time and energy to keep stenciling holiday greetings on mirrors or stringing popcorn with me, but she never lost that slightly cruel sense of humor that caused her to tease me every year to try and guess what she had gotten me for Christmas.

Inevitably it would start as I helped her at the dining room table, where she had set up her wrapping station.  As she showed me how to fold the ends of the wrapping paper in to encompass a box, or watch as I curled the ribbon, she would casually mention something about what I was getting for Christmas.  Something like, "I already have your gift." or "You'll like what you're getting this year."  Without fail, I would take the bait, my heart palpitating a little more than usual, anxious to break her and get her to tell me what she had gotten.  I would ask her what it was.  She would decline to tell me, but offer to give me a hint.  The hint was invariably totally lame and not useful in the slightest, but I would take a guess, be wrong, then I would beg her for another hint.  She would string me along like that for days at a time.  Every time I would, in my childish way, get distracted and forget about it, she would give me another teasing prompt, and it would begin anew.  I don't remember ever guessing correctly, which is fairly amazing, because I generally got what I really wanted.  As I write this, I gaze over at my original set of The Chronicles of Narnia.  They are worn, the spines broken from repeated readings, the pages yellow with age, yet I can't bring myself to give them up, one of the many precious gifts "Santa" brought me over the years.  But maybe more than the various gifts I received, I remember "Santa" teasing me with pointless clues around our dining room table, her eyes lighting up with delight, that sort of devilish gleam dancing over her features all those many years ago.  That's the Mom that I miss.  That's the Mom that I got back this December 7th.

Mom, I really miss you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Looking for Silver Linings in Our Travel Misadventures

I like to fly, but for the life of me I'm beginning to wonder why.  I will fight for the window seat so I can watch as a skyline disappears or appears, and I love the view up above cloud cover as I speed along to some destination or other.  However, to experience those moments of beauty and wonder, one must endure the most inconvenient things.  Body scanning being probably the least of them for me.  Somebody wants to see me naked, then more power to them, you could not pay me to do that.   Our trip to Pittsburgh and back was a prime example of why air travel is not the glamourous means of transportation I would like to make it.

First, after having hauled ourselves up at 3 AM, I began to get worried as I drove into Mueller International Airport, having had to turn my fog lights on.  And, sure enough, the little commuter plane we were on to Chicago could not take off because of low visibility.  By the time the fog burned off enough to allow us off the runway, it was a forgone conclusion we would miss our connection.  Particularly since we were flying to one of the nation's largest airports where I am not particularly familiar with the layout (I generally fly into Midway), and we landed in Concourse A and were supposed to be at D.  Long story short, they had re-booked us to get on a flight that would have landed us in Pittsburgh at 9:30 at night.  My realtor was waiting patiently to take me to the house, but I knew she had something going on that night, so I was motivated to get us there earlier.  After a bit of whining and some extra money, a very awesome and accommodating United agent got us on a 1:00 flight that would get us into Pittsburgh with a little light left in the day.  I wondered what the odds were of my luggage making it, but she reassured me several times it would be coming with us.  I nearly had tears in my eyes, she was so helpful.  She must be used to odd behavior because she didn't seem overly disconcerted by my reaction to her simply being nice.  Part and parcel of dealing with a customer base that has to haul themselves out of bed at an obscene hour with very little sleep, I guess.

Eventually, we made it.  My Realtor sweetly and without complaint picked me up to take me to the house that I was set to buy in less than two days regardless of what  I thought of it (more on that later).  So, I could conclude that All's Well That End's Well.  But, wait, there's always the flight home.

At first, that seemed to be going smoothly.  The weather in the 'Burgh that day was unseasonably warm, a little overcast, but very conducive to flying.  No worries there.  We got to airport extremely early so we could avoid rush hour traffic, went through the new airport body scanning security checkpoint with no worries or delays, and sat leisurely at the airport TGIFriday's to toast our new house (well, I had the beverage, Marissa celebrated with a piece of Reese's peanut butter pie).  Then we wandered into a Pittsburgh sports shop, and I cajoled Marissa into not complaining while I bought a Sidney Crosby t-shirt.  Finally, we wandered down to the assigned gate, which was loading a plane bound for Toronto, not Chicago.  We looked at one another and worry began to set in.  They finally flashed our plane's info on the screen, and it was a half hour late.  Worry began to seriously gnaw at us.  Here we go, another connection in jeopardy.  Next they moved our gate.  We picked up our stuff, trudged down to the end of aisle, only to be told that the flight had now been canceled and we had to go back to the original gate to be re-ticketed.  So, the group of us trudged back and stood in line, waiting for what seemed forever for someone to come over to help us.  Eventually, four people came over and helped one after another unhappy traveler, the worst of which was the poor young girl in line ahead of us, who was in tears to the point where a friend, who was supposed to be taking another flight, left her queue to come be with her.  Marissa and I wondered what her story was.  We'll never know, but whatever it was, I hope she eventually made it to where she was going and that everything is okay.

Finally, it was our turn at bat.  The first thing the agent said to us was, "You know it's going to be tomorrow, right?"  No.  I didn't.  How was I supposed to know that?  I swallowed the impulse to respond that my ability as a clairvoyant was hampered inside an airport and simply responded, "No."  I could see the people on either side of me being difficult.  Word had gotten through the line that the cancellation was due to severe thunderstorms in Chicago.  Being a butt, I figured, wasn't going to get me anywhere, this was beyond their control and they were simply trying their best to help us work around it.  Asinine behavior certainly wasn't helping the man to my left who had only managed to put his agent on the defensive.   So, I listened patiently to the agent assisting us as she explained that the Austin airport doesn't have late night flights, so the best she could do would be to get us on an early morning flight connecting either into Chicago or Dulles.  Marissa popped up at that point and chose Dulles, explaining she had enough of Chicago airports (there are other adventures I could relate...).  Here's where eavesdropping on the guy next to me really paid off:  I knew the airline wouldn't pony up for hotel accommodations for weather-related delays, but I also knew I wasn't going to let us camp out in the airport over night - I've got a whale of a story about that I'll tell you sometime - so, I very calmly and politely asked if there was a hotel in walking distance.  My agent explained there was, but it was a Hyatt and very expensive.  She told me where to go downstairs to find a reasonable hotel with a shuttle service and arranged to have our bag pulled.  The man next to me was only getting told that United wouldn't pay for a hotel for him - he was on his own in terms of trying to figure something out.  I thanked my agent profusely, she smiled and apologized profusely, I sincerely replied that it wasn't her fault and left the jerk next to me still trying to get it sorted out.  Yes!  Nice guys don't always finish last!

We got a ride to the Crafton Red Roof Inn, certainly a different hotel experience than the Doubletree we'd been staying in downtown, but it was clean, the woman at the desk was very nice, and I managed a few hours sleep.  That's about all I could have asked for at that point.

The next morning, I put on the only clean shirt I had left:  my new Sidney Crosby t-shirt, and we caught the first shuttle of the day back to the airport.  He had to pick up two different hotels, and the second stop took a long time to get everyone loaded, so Marissa and I looked nervously at one another once more.  Would we make the flight?  Worse still, where Monday the airport had not been particularly busy, Tuesday was a whole other situation.  The holiday traffic began.  The place was hopping with elderly people needing assistance, young mothers with babies in one arm, and a lot of baby stuff in the other and everything in-between.   We opted for the "alternate" security checkpoint again, thinking it would be faster, even though that was where the new body scanner technology resides.  I don't listen to conservative media, so I don't what the Teabags have to say about it, but Progressives are all over body scanning technology as a bad and ineffective invasion of our privacy.  I can tell you that, when you're scrambling to make your flight, none of that matters - you just want to get through the cluster that is post-911 security as quickly as possible.  And, I have to say, the Pittsburgh TSA staff was working at optimum speed.  They were less laid back and cheerful than they had been twelve hours before, but they were zipping us through the process, and I really commend them for the work they were doing.  We made our gate with about ten minutes to spare.

Then came Dulles.  I had never flown into there before, always having landed at Reagan when I flew into DC in the past.  That place is HUGE.  I mean really huge.  I think it's nice, they had some beautiful artwork on the walls that I glimpsed as we hurried past, but once again we had to make a connection from Point A to Point D in less than an hour, having no idea where to go and how to get there really, being jammed in with a mass of humanity all trying to do the same thing.  And it was hot.  We hoofed what we estimate to be over a mile as fast as we could, both sweating and tired by the time we made it, just in time to begin boarding.  But, my being nice the night before paid off again I think in that we had been booked into the bulkhead seats, sitting next to a lovely older man who was flying into Austin to spend the holiday with his daughter in Dripping Springs.  So, we stretched out, allowed the kind gentleman to share snacks with us, and I watched Despicable Me on a tiny airplane monitor while Marissa tried to study, realizing that these were premium seats that generally cost more.  All they cost me was a little politeness.

I wasn't happy exactly when we landed in Austin finally, more than 18 hours behind schedule, but it could have been a lot worse I realized.  We were back on the ground in one piece, our luggage made it with us, and we had a house and the Steelers 35-3 win to show for it.

The next day I woke up with a sore throat, thinking three hours of constant screaming at the referees who called the Steeler game had finally caught up to me.  Within a few hours at work, I realized it was something more when my back started to ache, and I began feeling as though an elephant were sitting on my head.  My boss called it correctly when she said I been exposed to the Giant Petri Dish in the Sky.  That mass of humanity left me with a wicked cold.  My grand plans to pack a large part of the house over the four day holiday have been delayed.  I can barely sit up for a prolonged period.  I forced myself to get up and get out to Harry Potter yesterday, mainly because we had already bought the tickets.  I was lucky that no one sat next to us, so I wasn't spreading germs any more than necessary, but just the sheer energy it took to sit through the movie forced me to concentrate just on the movie itself and not to dwell on the fact that I was now sitting through the second Harry Potter movie without our family's biggest fan.  I didn't even think about it until the end.  And maybe there was some grand plan at work, and all of that hassle and illness was meant to protect me from the sorrow that surely would have engulfed me otherwise.  Who knows.  But, let's go with that, why don't we?  There has to be a silver lining in there somewhere...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This blog is centered around what I've lost and what is wrong with my life, I realize:  the death of my daughter, losing my mother, why those things happened and how I deal or don't deal with them, etc.  For once, therefore, I would like to set all of that aside and concentrate on what I do have.  The things that, on this Thanksgiving Eve, that I am thankful for:

Marissa, my travel and football watching buddy, I am so thankful for you.  I am proud of you.  You have struggled through your own addiction and eating issues to become a college sophomore on the Dean's List.  You are thoughtful and kind, being sensitive to the mourning your dad and I have done and still have to do, which has kept us sometimes - often probably - from supporting you in yours the way that we should.  There is no one I would rather spend the day in the stands of Heinz Field with or stuck in a musty airport with than you.

My private zoo - I don't know how I'm going to get all six of the dogs and the two cats safely back to my little house in Pennsylvania, but I'll do it because there is not a one of those creatures who don't make my heart overflow.  They have loved us and comforted us through years and years of neglect as we spent more time trying to wrestle with all the human dramas than their silent needs and wants.  They've gone without a lot that other dogs in our income bracket get routinely and they still love me unconditionally.  I hope they are happy in the little spot I have picked for us and them, but whatever they truly think about this strange new world, I know they will still love me and trust me in a way only dogs can, so they'll accept it and adapt.  I love them for it.

My friends and family.  You've kept the faith even as I've gone fairly crazy.  In the last year and a half, and even before, you have suffered your own losses.  You've had your own triumphs.  You have needed support or at least recognition that I've not been present for.  Yet you've stuck by me.  During those months, I've chronicling our journey after losing Kelsey, leaving it all pretty much out there, but the fact of the matter is you can't really stand in my shoes, just as I can't stand in yours.  But I have a strong network of friends who have chosen to stand next to me, no matter where I am in the process.  I am blessed, and I know it.  Thank you.

My Pennsylvania realtor, Peggy Stouffer.  She took a leap of faith on someone who contacted her by email a few months ago, took me seriously and not only helped me look for houses half a country away, but screened the house I now actually own, having never met me.   She buffered me from a difficult seller, she spent a lot of extra time making sure I had what I needed to make me comfortable before I actually sat down at the closing table all for a modest commission on a modest home.  She has my unreserved endorsement.  I am so thankful I lucked into her through pure chance.

Pittsburgh sports.  Sounds stupid, but I rely on the Steelers and now the Penguins to give me some joy in a bleak process.  When I'm screaming my head off at the ref for calling yet another stupid and unnecessary penalty on James Harrison, I'm not thinking about anything else.  I escape all the harshness of my reality for those moments.  Granted, I take the losses hard, but I love the wins and am so thankful for each and every one of them.  Thank you, guys, for playing for my entertainment.

Thanks to all our service men and women.  Do I need to say more?

Finally, but not least, thanks Greg.  I've been mad at you as much as I haven't over the last few months, but you're hanging in there.  You're allowing me to drag you off to a strange place on a lark.  No one gets "It" quite like you do, because you're in the middle of "it" too.  I complain a lot, I admit it, but the world would be a desolate place without you.

There's much more, but, having caught a bug in the confines of air travel, I am about to be most thankful for my bed and fluffy pillow.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Knowledge about Things

Over the months since I first announced we were seriously thinking of moving to a city none of us had ever lived in before, I've gotten a plethora of reactions.  Some of them, including our former family counselor, were without reservation happy for us, and they have encouraged us to pursue moving forward, not back.  Many others secretly, or not so secretly, assumed it was big talk from people in crisis, but that at the end of the day we wouldn't actually do it.  I have to confess, I sort of wondered that myself from time-to-time.  But, many other people furrowed their brows or gave us odd looks and asked some probing questions about the wisdom of what we are doing.  I gather from the questions I got, some very pointed, that they thought we were making a gigantic leap based only on faith, and that it was folly to do such a thing.  I do understand and appreciate their concern.  I don't resent the questions, I know they are made out of love or friendship.  But, maybe this will help those of you who fall into the latter group.

Things I Know:

  1. My little family is moving to Pittsburgh, PA.
  2. This is not a panacea for all that ails us.
  3. There will be things we like, hopefully love, about Pittsburgh (first thing I'm doing is getting a membership to the zoo!), but there are things that are not so lovely about it, just like any metropolitan area.  For example:  while Marissa and I were there three summers ago, a young girl was arrested for brutally murdering her father with a hammer (as I recall) after she and her brother had suffered years of abuse and she finally couldn't take it any more.  That same night the news featured an expose on the state of the city's bridges in light of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.  Turns out, that's a big problem for a city with limited resources, but an almost limited number of bridges.  They showed one that is crumbling so severely, the falling pieces are captured in a net to protect the cars driving underneath.  Marissa and I looked wide-eyed at one another!  We had just driven under that very bridge on our way to Latrobe and would go under it again to get to Fallingwater.  Since I plan on going repeatedly to both those places again in my tenure as a Pittsburgh resident, I may have to become active in local politics to do something about that.  Point is, I am not naive that I am moving us to Valhalla.  It's a city: gritty in spots, shiny in others, dangerous in still others.  We will be strangers in a strange land, even me, having had a connection to it all my life.
  4. I will miss things about Austin.  As much as I spent the last three decades firmly believing I was out of my element and this place was not for me, it is home to many things I've become accustomed to and to almost all of my friends.  I can actually drive around many areas of town without getting terribly lost, and I will miss that.  For someone as directionally challenged as I am, this is no small statement.
  5. That's just me.  For Greg and Marissa, both born and raised here, cutting the cord is a whole other level of hard. 
  6. Turning my back on the place where my daughter was born and where she died will not change the fact that she is not with us.  I have to be careful, we all do, not to set our expectations too high on what it will mean not to have to drive by places on a daily basis that represent Kelsey and her Beast or worst still in its way, Kelsey before The Beast.  The pain of knowing how much Kelsey would have loved it in Pittsburgh - the art scene, the fact that she would be close to her dear friend Leslie, how it's easy to get to other interesting, dynamic areas like New York, Boston and Philadelphia just to name a few - will be something we will be struck with time and again.  I wonder how many times in the first year I will turn to Marissa or Greg and say, "Kelsey would have loved this."  I know it will be many.  I would have been better served steering us to the wilds of Montana if I wanted to avoided that.  She would have hated it there.
  7. There will be days when I am lost/frustrated/scared/pissed/simply having a bad day and I will say, "I hate it here!"  I imagine one or more of those times may come when I'm running late for work, and I can't get out of my snowed-in drive.
   Things I Don't Know:
  1. If Greg, born and raised in Austin, will be able to handle western PA once he gets there.  Particularly the winters, which he's only ever experienced in brief little spurts.  As an adult, I'm very much in the same boat.  I moved here when I was 19.  I haven't operated a snow blower on my own.  I lived in a small town where I could walk pretty much every where and was older than the norm when I got my driver's license.  I didn't deal with snow and ice and hills on a regular basis either, but I choose to do it now.  Greg's just more or less along for the ride - if you will. 
  2. What happens to us if he misses the Lone Star State?  I don't know.
  3. I don't know how to act when I'm just one of the crowd.  For all my life, I've been flying my Black and Gold flag in a foreign land.  I have to confess there's an edge to that.  I was a noticeable fish in a burnt orange pond, now I'll just be a little minnow in a big, big ocean.  Can I adjust?  Who can say?
  4. Can I learn to navigate in a whole new city after taking three decades to learn my way around this one?  Doubtful, but I did at least wait until there is such a thing as GPS to make another major move.
  5. How can I live without my deer?  I have no idea.  I watch them wander over to see what I put out for them in the evenings when I get home, and I think I must be nuts to be leaving them behind.  When my favorite comes by in her winter coat - a burnt umber, regal and beautiful - I think my heart would break if it weren't broken already by too many other things.
  6. I don't know how to use Yinzer appropriately in a sentence.
Maybe all that I know for sure is that it looks as though, come Monday, November 22, Marissa, Greg and I will own a home in Pennsylvania. 
I'll catch you on the other side of that transaction.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adventures in Packing Part Two: Holy Crap!

The longer we wait around
The faster the years go by

It's not too late
To feel a little more alive
Make an escape
Before we start to vaporize

Doubtless, we've been through this
So if you want to follow me you should know
I was lost then and I am lost now
And I doubt I'll ever know which way to go

The Broken Bells

Dreaming big is easy, living big is harder.  Moving big may be harder still.  But, I guess I'm about to find out because this is really happening.  Marissa and I will be in Pittsburgh in less than a week, and on a week from tomorrow at approximately 10:30 AM I become a homeowner in a little township outside of Pittsburgh.  Now when people stop me randomly and ask me if I am from there, I can simply say, "Yes."  And when they rattle off the name of some obscure place I've never heard of, their eyes alight with the possibility that someone will know it, I'll have my own little obscure township name to respond back with!  But, that's not why I'm buying property there:  to have a deeper connection with people I meet in the grocery store.  I'm buying it to move my family there and give us a fresh start.  Once those keys are in my hand, the real work begins.  And what a load of work it will be!

Remember how I whined and whined because Mother insisted I pack up her apartment two years ago in the month of December?  Well, somewhere in the cosmos she is having a nice laugh at my expense, because I'll be tasked with packing an entire house crammed with not only my own stuff, but the remnants of hers as well in the month of December.  And I still will host Christmas at Greg's mother's request, so I'll have to trot out all the directions and decorate a house I'm trying to close down.  All the while finish up at work, train my replacement, begin sending out serious resumes and making a real attempt to find a job now that I can honestly say I have a place to live and therefore can guarantee a start date.  Yeah, I'm certifiably nuts.

There's so much to do it makes my head spin, but I have to confess, I'm not that upset about it.  What I believe will happen out of it is that I will be so busy, this second year holiday season will pass by in  a blur.  We will have something to look forward to on the other side of it.  Our second year without Kelsey, our first year without my mother will be mitigated by the chaos I've created by finding the Get Me There House this fall, not all the way into next spring.   But, check in with me in about three weeks and see if that sense of resolution still holds, or whether I'm just a stressed out wreck.

Already the challenges are piling up:  finding homeowners insurance on a vacant house is not that easy. I've been turned down by several companies.  I found a company online that specializes in it and, realizing I would likely be fleeced, but deciding that was better than risking having nothing in place, I contacted an agent on Mount Royal Blvd (a street I actually recognized since I looked at houses on it, so I was excited to do business with someone "local" to me) only to have the email bounce back.  Can you say fly-by-night?  There was an issue with the plumbing that the current owner worked diligently to resolve, but it finally ended up being that the 50-year old terra-cotta pipe running into the house ten feet down in the ground is crushed.  The repair won't be done by the time we close, so I'll have to worry over that and somehow getting a fence done in hard, quickly getting harder, winter ground before I move in.

Then there's still the dogs and the two cats.  For a while after Precious died, Noelle, my next oldest, did a lot better.  I concluded that she patterned some of her old dog behavior after Precious, and if Precious wasn't being scolded for peeing in the house, then she figured she wouldn't be either.  Once that was over, no more accidents for a while.  No longer the case.  She is clearly increasingly senile and not in control of all her functions.  She does repetitive tasking, like licking the tops of her paws, obsessively to the point that they are raw.  How is traveling with her going to be, and how will she handle such a radical change in routine?  Then Tawny, with her arthritis, already making it hard for her to move around without assistance.  How are the Pennsylvania winters going to be for her?  And, in addition to those specialized worries, there is just the logistics of moving this zoo, no longer pie in the sky dreaming, to be figured out.  I think I like the idea of renting an RV best, but now that Greg has a paper route, who drives my car behind me and drives the RV back?  One problem was sadly solved earlier this week when the beta fish died.

I've got bids to do with moving companies, decisions to make, sorting through decades worth of stuff to handle, football to watch, hockey to follow (since watching hockey in central Texas isn't that easy) and presents to buy, wrap and mail - because it is still the holidays, no matter what I try and do to mask that fact.  At least I have a working oven again for holiday baking.  And this time next year, if you want my famous pumpkin cookies, you'll need to come to Shaler to get them.  The thought of that will get me through. 

It's too late to change your mind,
You let loss be your guide
The High Road
The Broken Bells

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mean Girls in Pleasantville

Mean Girls, Paramount, 2004
So, what would have happened if the Plastics had ended up in Pleasantville instead of David and his sister Jennifer?  What would have become of them?  Would they have changed the parameters of their surroundings, or would their surroundings have enveloped them and made them pleasant people?  And, would that have been better really or just more convenient for the people they came into contact with?

I have been pondering my own personality and propensity for being judgmental or mean-spirited in light of my strong reaction to the blogger Maura Kelly.   They say confession is good for the soul, and I would also like to believe that I continue to strive for brutal honesty within the confines of this blog or else it won't achieve its goals.  So, here goes.

The question I had to ask myself is whether or not I had ever been mean-spirited at all (that was an easy one:  I'm a gossip-prone female, of course I have), and more particularly, have I ever been mean spirited in my blog?  The answer, ashamedly so, is yes.  For one example, in my little fiction trilogy I wrote last spring to be able to examine my issues with people who wanted things from me following Mother's death that I wasn't prepared or able to offer I dropped one thing in there that wasn't fictional.  With some admitted relish, I attributed a comment to one of my characters that had actually been made to me.  The individual who made it originally happened to read the post and clearly saw herself in the character and was hurt by it.  We've severed our relationship since.

Don't look for that post.  I took it down and apologized to the individual involved.  But, I plopped it in there originally out of spite.  If I said anything differently, I'd be lying.   The individual and I had a history of little tits for tats before we just called it a day actually.  The person said some things about me as a parent that shook me to the core when Kelsey first began struggling, and worse still said them to others, for whatever reason, never having the ability to man-up and say anything to me directly.  But, as will tend to happen, they made their way back to me, with some enhancements, I am sure.  For my turn, I was overly critical of the individual, quick to pounce on any little slip.   We went back and forth in a passive-aggressive grudge match for a long time, neither one of us - in my opinion - occupying a moral high ground.  Finally, and very gradually, it dissipated.  I was able to let the hurt go, the person in question didn't seem intent to build up their own sense of self by tearing me down any longer, and things were repaired.  Until the spring that is.  I could justify my actions in the weight of my circumstances, but I won't bother.  It was just plain mean - even if only the two of us knew about it.  But, surely, you say, having realized the hurt you caused, you have gone on to make sure you don't hurt others in this manner, correct?  So not correct.  I can trash-talk with the best of them.  I won't give you examples, just trust me.

Therefore, I had to question my own right to be so angry with an individual for simply expressing her heartfelt opinion on an issue, just because it dealt with body image issues, which are core to individuals struggling with ED.  That brought me back to some of the other issues I've blogged about recently, which is the State of the Nation's politics.  I was watching the Presidential Press Conference the day after the mid-term elections and was aghast at some of the press and their open disdain of the President.  They were rude, and there were no two ways about it.  Part and parcel, I was sad to think, of the current political climate.  We cannot agree to disagree and leave our differences at the polls.  I want my right to speak out in defense of the things I believe in - I tend to believe in things strongly - but I have to accept that this means others have the right to voice their opinions in opposition.  I've heard the same thing probably all of you have:  never discuss religion or politics.  I'll engage in both with gusto.  But, I want the participants, myself included, to respect others with opposite views.  Discuss and engage, hope to persuade maybe, but don't ridicule or deride the other side.  I'm guilty of not practicing what I just preached, but even I will say I'm not close to the worst.  We've jumped the shark somewhere along the line as a country, I sometimes think.

Yet, as I ponder all of this, I wonder if this is the natural result of the First Amendment in the Internet age, and is it just a price we have to pay for that freedom?  One of the reasons Pleasantville is one of my favorite movies (NOT one of the Big Six) is that it works on so many levels.  You can skim along the surface and watch it as a pleasing, quirky comedy, or you can see layer after layer of social commentary served up like a hot fudge sundae with a technicolor cherry on top.  It also sports one of my all-time favorite movie lines.  One of the lessons of the movie, in my opinion, is that extreme civility and politeness is stifling and insincere.  The prejudices are still there, but they are buried in a blandness and a refusal to recognize or allow anything outside the norm.  Because you do not say it or because you say it sweetly with a smile does not make it any less heinous.   Didn't I grow up believing that if more people had spoken up against the Nazi party as it rose to power, less people would have had to die?  Therefore, should I vilify an individual for simply telling the world what she truly thinks?  Should Juan Williams have lost his job because he told the truth about being nervous about getting on a plane with someone who is Muslim?  Because, tell me the truth, how many of you have, no matter how much you don't want to, had the same misgivings?  You may feel ashamed of it and may fight that inclination in yourself, but you still notice now when you didn't pay the slightest bit of attention before 9-11.  Maybe it was an awful thing to say in public given his position, yet maybe let him take his hits like the editors of Marie Claire are doing with Maura Kelly, but let him keep his job and the chance to mend his reputation.  Who knows what the right thing is here?  Who has the corner on what's right and what's wrong?

I know I wanted that young woman's head on a platter on one point earlier in the week.  Since then, I don't know.  I'm just sad about it.  I'm sad that she feels the way she does (because, no, I do not feel her apology was sincere) because it means she has not truly recovered.  Because it means she feels that certain people are less worthy than others.  Because I have to confess, I am the same way, but about other things.  And because all of us - or almost all of us - are too.  Yet, our differences of opinion make us colorful, and isn't a colorful world more exciting and dynamic?

Pleasantville, NewLine Cinema, 1998

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Best Years of Our Lives

Man, I had no more than posted the link to my prior post than a male friend I've known since forever (I won't specify exactly how long forever is...) pounced to Greg's rescue.  People are often jumping to Greg's defense, and I've often wondered if my comments, which seem like routine wife gritching to me, are harsher than I realize or if he's such a sterling individual and I've lost sight of that in the muck and mire that is marriage.  In either case, Greg abusing my darling car isn't really the point.  Really.  Probably somebody with a lot of marriage counseling under their belt can call our recent sparring for what it is:  the more harmless outlets for the more serious issues we have wrestled with as a couple over the last year that we are afraid to address directly for fear of reopening wounds not even healed.  You could peel away layer after layer on the onion until you hit the real heart of it, which is how he chose to deal with the weight of his grief, and I how I feel about it.  I know that there are no good guys versus bad guys in this scenario, it's just a messy, sad story that creates the backdrop to my Saturday morning.  Maybe it's a heavier load that we carry than most couples, but it's a scenario that repeats itself a million times over every day in the modern American marriage.  And that is the point of the blog.  Marriage.  I am pondering marriage.  Not mine necessarily, just the whole institution.

There are a few intersecting stories about other couples I know that brought me here.  But, that's really neither here nor there either, other than I've taken what I've observed about these situations and chewed over them and this is my conclusion.   Which is: modern society does not prepare us well enough as we are growing up to the grind of daily married life.  This may change in a generation when all the kids who saw all of us struggle choose their partners, but for those of us living through it now, we grew up chasing the fairy tale and just assumed it would be there for us.  Think Brady Bunch and any and every Disney movie you've ever seen.  Admittedly, there was Rhoda - if anyone even remembers that one.  She got divorced after a year.  But for the most part, the stress was on finding the mate, landing the mate and then it was a big vast nothingness as to what happens next.  The shows we watched that did show married life always had these neat little conclusions to the Problem Du-jour played out to a laugh track.

Premarital counseling is nearly a joke.  At least it was for us.  The associate pastor had us come in for a few sessions - I want to tell you three - and asked us some non-probing questions that we were prepared for.  We had neat answers for them - he didn't try and throw a wrench into them and say, "But, what if this happens...?"  And even if he had, the bravado of youth would have caused us to shrug anything he hit us with as inconsequential.  There isn't much you can do with total strangers in three half hour sessions.  And your job as a pastor is to marry people, not split them up before they even make it to the altar and pay your fee.

I'm not disparaging marriage.  Far from it.  I'm just saying it's hard.  Really damn hard.  People should know that going in.  On the other hand, I'm not casting judgment on people who throw in the towel and divorce.  Most of my friends have done just that or consider it from time to time.  But, it's painful.  I watch my friends as their families are torn apart and as things get said back and forth designed to hurt because no one knows where the soft underbelly is better that your spouse, and it's painful to see.  It hurts you, it hurts your kids, it hurts your wallet.   I wish they didn't have to go through it.

Why is it so hard?  Because life is hard and nobody's perfect.  In its mildest, marriage is two individuals coming from different places and trying to meld their differences into one household.  In my case, we each had these little things that irritated us about one another.  He was famous for inviting people over with little or no notice.  He does it still.  I hate that - it makes me crazy.  To him, they're not coming to see the house, they're coming to see him or us, but I go into panic mode trying to prepare everything to be clean and presentable.  Hard to do with six dogs.  For my part, I am known to leave cleaning supplies laying out randomly.  Drives Greg nuts.  I'll clean voraciously and then hit this mental wall where I'm just done.  I'll wander off and leave the cleanser on the counter or - the big one - the vacuum sitting out in the middle of the room.  I have no defense, it's an inexplicable habit.  That's the Mickey Mouse stuff.  We graduated to more serious affronts to one another.   Life threw curve balls, we picked them up and tossed them at one another.  Why?  Because we were right there in throwing distance.

Yet, my husband and I are a testament to the power of marriage actually.  We've for some odd reason preserved over a quarter century.  The last year has been a true challenge, the last six months have strained it to the breaking point more than once, but what I've come to learn is that you have to accept there are times when you look at your spouse and simply not like what you find.  You have to be willing to get through days like that with the belief that they will end, and you'll be glad you stuck it out.  But I wish someone had sat me down and really prepared me for the reality of living with another human being.  It's not a panacea for what ails you.  Sometimes it makes it worse.  But sometimes it's what gets you through the times that are just too horrible to imagine, and I guess that's why we keep on trying to make it work.

Someone should have made me watch The Best Years of Our Lives years before I found it on my own.  One of the many reasons that it made it onto my Big Six List (the six movies that always make me cry no matter how many times I've seen them) is because of the scene where Peggy announces she's going to break up a marriage.  Al and Milly's reaction to that announcement ring pretty true to me.  If you get to where I am in life, it's a pretty safe bet you can say what Milly said to her daughter and mean it.  I certainly can.  If and when Marissa comes home with a shiny ring on her finger, I'm sitting her down and making her watch it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How Maura Kelly Made Me Cry

I have Part Two of my marriage blog ready to go.  As a matter of fact, I had it set to auto post on Wednesday when I was happily (hopefully) on my way to Dallas to watch Sid the Kid and the Penguins battle the Dallas Stars.  God Bless the Internet.  However, I'm going to push it back and divert a bit because of the controversial blog by Maura Kelly of Marie Claire.  (I won't link to it - I refuse - if you want to see it, it's still up and active, you can easily Google it.)  I think, given my experience with body image over the past decade, this is a subject I cannot delay commenting on.

Let me take you through my day:  I was already horribly mortified when I saw photos of myself in my requisite Halloween costume at work.  I swear, if I weren't clearly past child bearing age, I would have looked like I was six months pregnant.  I cannot overstate the complete and absolute mortification I had when I realized this is how I look.  I can preach body image all I want to, but the fact of the matter is I don't walk the walk.  For me, it all began when Mother had her accident.  At the time, I was pretty happy with myself.  I was happy with my size, I was exercising regularly and clothes fit comfortably.  I had a good sense of self for once.  Then she crashed her damn van, my sense of self went with it.  Exercising became spotty, I ate when and what I could, often late, and then menopause hit just to make things more interesting.  Most people know my story.  In the middle of trying to care for Mother, my oldest daughter died.  Since then I've lost a friend, two dogs and, not the least of which, my mom.  I learned years ago when my dad died:  I eat my way through grief.   The results of all of this grief is abundantly clear in the photos.  I wanted to die when I saw them.  Literally.

Struggling with the horror and loathing I felt for myself, I shuffled off to work today where my friend and co-worker asked me if I knew about the blog post by the woman from Marie Claire about the new sitcom Mike and Molly.  She explained that the blogger had blasted the lead actors as "fatties".  I did a little research, but avoided the blog itself, still managed to get righteously pissed off, made a comment on the ABC site, and then tried to set it aside and concentrate on my day.  But, a while later, my surviving daughter sent me a text that she had walked out of her psychology class where the lecture was on eating disorders.  She said she left when the presentation stated that bulimia was not life threatening.  She was right to leave.  We know better.  Her professor knows our story.  It was insulting and insensitive.

I made it through the day, but it was not a happy day.  I am uncomfortable in my own skin, upset for Marissa, and heavy - if you will - with my thoughts of the daughter I failed.

I came home to Greg working on dinner.  When I took modest portions, he questioned me.  Didn't I want more?  When I shook my head, he looked at the mass of food he had prepared for us and paused.  Then he said he should stop making so much food and wondered out loud if his insistence on large meals was a reaction to how he lost his daughter.  I said that it very likely was.

I sat down to eat my dinner, all of these thoughts bouncing around in my head and finally decided I should read the actual blog before I passed final judgment on it.  It's still there.  You can pull it up easily if you really want to.  All I can say is I could not make it all the way through it.  I have had some fucked up things said to me in the months since Kelsey died.  This ranks right up there.  I couldn't make it all the way through it.  I tried.  I really did.  It was offensive and disgusting to me.  I have no appropriate words for how completely horrified I am at this moment that a professional writer not only believes the shit she spewed, but was brazen enough to put it out on the Internet.

You may ask why I'm so upset.  I'm struggling with weight, but not obese.  Kelsey never was.  Far from it.  I have no idea what she weighed when she died - don't want to know - but I know when she left for treatment the last time her 5' 7" frame was carrying around 90 pounds.  She couldn't have been much more when she died.  But it was crap like that that she heard all her life that messed with her head.  She was terrified of being judged by people like this blogger.  She was horrified that she would be thought of as anything but thin.  She hoarded magazines like the one this woman works for.  She had countless pictures of Kate Moss in her room and on her computer.  I destroyed them all.  They helped, in their way, to destroy my daughter; it seemed fitting.

The woman who pounded out this bile is young and attractive I noticed.  Initially, I thought her post must have been written from a position of ignorance, insolence and naivete.  The thing that hurt me was that she said some things that I thought were horribly triggering to someone struggling with an eating disorder, such as, "My initial response was: Hmm, being overweight is one thing — those people are downright obese! And while I think our country's obsession with physical perfection is unhealthy, I also think it's at least equally crazy, albeit in the other direction, to be implicitly promoting obesity! Yes, anorexia is sick, but at least some slim models are simply naturally skinny."  Then I read tonight that someone at the magazine stated that Ms. Kelly actually suffered from anorexia herself at one point.  Clearly, I say, her recovery is not complete.

I have not seen the show she commented on.  I have seen promos for it, and admittedly thought it was an interesting choice in an image conscious world.  I doubt I'll tune in as a result of all of this.  Too many options, not enough time.  Does that somehow pale my opinion of her critique of it?  Maybe.  But, I can tell you this without any doubt:  I don't need to see the show that prompted all of this to know what my reaction to her words are.  Which is that I am completely heartsick.

Some my say that I am projecting my own current self-loathing onto this woman and her blog.  If that's the case, I must really despise myself.  My sincere wish for her is that she come to learn the error of her ways, sincerely, not based on public pressure, and that she become a better person for it.  Maybe then she can use the power of word to help people shed tears of joy, not anger and sorrow.  For now, my tears are angry ones.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Few Words On Marriage

Greg hates it when I blog about him.  So I'm not going to.  I'm going to blog about marriage in general; I can't help it if his name gets brought up once or twice as a familiar frame of reference.  Because marriage as an institution has been on mind lately for a few reasons.  And, yes, in part because I am angry that he's driving my car right now to do his paper route - his stop gap job to keep himself busy.  He's using my car to do it because he wrecked his on the route.  Those of you who know us understand that I HATE it when he drives my car.  When he drives my car in brutal, un-car-friendly situations my dislike overflows.  My car is definitely not liking it.  She generally runs like a kitten purrs, but I noticed on Thursday when I got in her she was idling so rough the rearview mirror was vibrating.  Yesterday, I got ready to leave for work - no makeup on and wearing an outfit that unfortunately accentuated my middle-aged-post-menopausal paunch so I could dress for Halloween (see my Facebook wall) and - surprise! - no gas in the car when only the day before the tank was full.   To say that I was irritated was an understatement.  So, I would lie if I said that the trials and tribulations of having a house husband over the last few months didn't put me in mind to ponder the institution of marriage.  And, some might say, this post is my revenge for my poor sweet baby Subaru, that I constantly worry about when she's away from me in his care.  But, seriously, I've been thinking about it for other reasons as well.

For one thing, I didn't grow up thinking that I needed to be a wife, yet I've been one for a really long time.  When I envisioned my adult life, as I suppose all teenagers do, it was always as a successful businesswoman who either lived in a sophisticated high rise condominium or in a modern log bungalow with high, arching windows that looked out over the Rockies with my several rough collies.  I carefully imagined my dog population, but my fantasies didn't include a man (well, I had this intense crush on this poor guy in high school who was two years older than us so for a while I used to imagine him living next door to me in the mountains).  But, the point is, I was comfortable on my own and didn't picture anyone saying "You complete me" as part of what it would take to make me happy.  Part of the side effects of being an only child, I guess.  Don't get me wrong, I liked men.  It was the 70's - I liked them a lot and felt no guilt about it.  And, my self esteem was such that I wanted them to like me back, but I wasn't sure I wanted the ring on the finger as part of that or that I needed their stuff mingled with my stuff on a permanent basis.

Somewhere along the line that changed and I did want it.  I think it's Bride Syndrome frankly.  Suddenly, as you enter your 20's and your friends begin to get married and you sit through bridal showers, where all the attention is on the glowing bride-to-be and they're getting presents - really cool stuff that you'd love to have - you tend to think to yourself, hmmm...  And then you go to the wedding, and there's your friend in resplendent white being Queen for a Day.  And you think, I can see myself doing that.  And then you visit them in their new little duplex or whatever and see all their new stuff and they seem happy.  And they all are sporting big diamonds to boot.   It's like a chain reaction.  By this time you may be dating someone seriously, someone whom you're now mature enough to truly understand and relate to on an adult level, so you size that person up.  Is he husband material, and how would he look in a tux?  It's almost as though Fate sprinkles Fairy Dust in our eyes and clouds our vision to make us wish for this fantasy land existence so we will go forth as couples and procreate.

Now flash forward several years.  The wedding gifts are used up, broken, lost or at least not shiny new any more.  You're knee deep in a mortgage, your relationship is more about who can leave work early to take this kid to that thing so the other one can shuttle that kid to this thing, you've got spit up in your hair, you're tired, you wonder where your own identity wandered off to, you're so used to being referred to as "Billy's mom", and your husband wonders why you're not romantic anymore.  I watched a lot of those formerly resplendent brides and handsome grooms split apart at this juncture.  Ten years in seemed to be a critical time period.  When my own ten year anniversary loomed large, I thought more than once to myself, "Uh-oh, here it comes..."  I was almost braced for it.

But we muddled through, and some of my friends did as well.  Still others found new husbands and walked down the aisle again, more quietly and less resplendently than before maybe, but still ready to get back in the saddle and try to tame that horse again.

Flash forward several more years.  Suddenly the kids who have made life so hectic for so many years are grown and repeating the cycle on their own, and the house is roaring with quiet.  You look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you've spent so many years taking care of others that you didn't take great care of yourself and you look it maybe.  Your body is changing in its inevitable way, and you're no longer in complete command of it.  Trying to decide how to deal with it - face lifts, Botox, personal trainers which will get you some results, but risk making you look like an older woman who's had "work" done, and that's if you can afford it, or just accepting it and look like a woman past her prime.  That's a big mind trip, let me tell you, and it happens physically before you can adjust to it mentally, so when your husband wants you to be all romantic like the couples in that stupid ad with the twin bathtubs outside now that the house is empty and you look at him like he's lost his mind, then you've reached another critical juncture.  Or maybe, your husband doesn't even fool with you, he goes off and fools somewhere else with something younger.  Very critical juncture!  And, I'm seeing some of my friends who passed through the first gauntlet crashing into this one.

Yet, as a society, we continue to try it. Young men and women continue to walk down the aisle in search of the fairy tale romance.  Women still yearn to call themselves a "wife", men continue to want to be labeled "husbands".   And some of us, almost improbably, survive all the trials that come after the honeymoon to actually have a successful union.  So, I've been pondering why that is.  More later:  I have to begin pacing now since my car's not home yet...

My Version of the Bride Syndrome