Friday, December 27, 2013


I've been feeling churlish of late and I know it's because I'm basically Gorilla-glued to the heavy boot that is helping to stabilize my broken right ankle for the next--Jesus, take the wheel!--six weeks. Now daily movement constitutes a humbling experience for someone like me who cannot even stand to walk in the general vicinity of slow people because: 1)  I am easily irritated by slow walking 2) I don't like being late to wherever I'm going  3) I fear that walking slowly forces me to appear aimless, and 4) Again with the irritation.

It's worth mentioning the irritation twice simply because there is so much of it. However, because I've also been referred to as a "Type A personality" twice in one week, it appears that I'm going to have to pump the brakes on my sucky attitude with regard to my sudden medical house arrest status. Toward that end, I've lovingly assigned a name to my boot and it will henceforth be known to all as Lurch. For reasons I should not have to explain.

Christmas Day was a jumble of emotions. On the side of GOOD: Having all the kids home at one time for 24 hours. On the BAD side: All the food! Lord Jesus, lead me to someone whose love language isn't fried, smothered in gravy or doing the backstroke in a pool of melted butter. And the conveyer belt of sweets (Not to mention the loving little gifts from students at the beginning of the holiday) is going to force me into an impromptu case of the "diabeetus" or simply render me all trembly from  the sugar shakes. As soon as I stop eating. It's all made worse by the fact that Lurch does not allow me to generate the body heat necessary to burn more than a calorie every other month. I do what I can by crying hysterically, but tears don't weigh as much as sweat. It's a scientific fact, people. Look it up.

In other news, I learned that it is possible to nearly burn down your house by putting two slices of bacon into a microwave  (One that has an unfortunate habit of resetting itself so that 7 minutes becomes 70) and then wandering off and forgetting about it. Exhibit A: The smoking mechanical heap currently gracing our courtyard outside and Exhibit B: The smell of burning plastic throughout the house.

And this puzzler: A childhood friend of my husband's came by on Christmas Day evening and brought a small gift wrapped package that he said was specifically for me from his parents. They wanted--no--insisted--that he give it to me. Behold: A kitchen sponge for pots and pans. 

Because nothing says We are thinking about you during the holidays, special person, like an implement for removing stubborn food particles from cookware.

I cannot even begin to speculate why they wanted me to have this. Nor if they meant to suggest what this gift implies when you consider that my husband and sons received maps and music CDs. It's important to add that both of these people really do like me and neither is currently suffering from dementia. I confess that I'm stumped.

And finally....some advice from me to you. If you decide one evening to surf the internets in hope of ordering some sweaters that will spruce up your jeans-only work wardrobe while your bum ankle heals and you do a search for "oversized bohemian sweaters for women"? Please confirm that the sweater you ordered is not being manufactured in China and modeled on a very petite Chinese teenager and that said sweater is not being shipped from China. Why? Because what looks oversized on a headless photograph of a female model whose country of origin is not known for its tall citizens, will--in fact--fit  easily inside a quart-sized plastic mailer and the result will not be at all flattering to your 5'8" frame.

 I am now the proud owner of a sweater that would look perfect on a Cabbage Patch Doll.  Hope your Christmas was merry. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holding Pattern

In years past my Christmas Eve day was often a flurry of last minute wrapping the crap out of gifts, five trips to the grocery store and cleaning my brokedown palace of a house in anticipation of a traditionally major family celebration, the preparation of which rendered me just shy of being Liza Minnelli crazy.

Today, however, I'm settled in front of a Christmas episode of "That Girl"  while eating celery and drinking a Pinterest recommended fat cell flush of ice water, cucumber, lemon, lime and mint. Not because I'm attempting a different kind of nervous breakdown--but because I broke my ankle two weeks ago in an epic fall in the icy teacher's parking lot and--in the process--lost most of my dignity and self respect. And most of my mobility.

It's a terrible time to be sidelined and it's tempting to express my despondence by lying on the sofa huddled in a slanket while hopped up on butterscotch schnapps and Tramadol. Instead I'm crutching about with my black boot which is the fashion equivalent of pantyhose and white sandals and somehow getting it all done.

I'd love to whine about everything I can't do for the next two months, but I'm too medicated to move and it's not the season for whining anyway. Merry Christmas, readers. The art of blogging may be dying, but I'm going to limp along regardless. Take care.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Unsolved Mysteries...Solved

               The fitness movement had a Hit Parade?

Do you ever have one of those days where a moment from your long ago past is accidentally uncovered and you can't believe that you ever forgot it because it was so unusual or important at the time? My husband refers to this as "The Closet". He believes that there's a closed closet in your brain containing all the things you've experienced and forgotten and you mostly forget that the closet even exists, until some stray thought or event opens that door and you're presented with this perfect slice of time that you didn't even remember you had. This happened to me last week.

So, I'm in the 5th grade. It's a crisp fall day as we file into the slab floored and corrugated metal building that my school used for PE class. My hair is in pig-tails and I'm probably wearing a jumper with shorts underneath because that's what girls did in those days before gym suits were required. Our PE teacher is a tiny chain-smoking leprechaun of a woman named Mrs. Benny whose daily uniform consisted of a powder blue Adidas track suit, Keds and a police whistle.

Regardless of what drill or skill we were learning on any given day, Mrs. Benny was always big on warming up with "old school" exercises. Deep knee bends, toe touches, arm spins...the works. One day, and I can't even remember when it started, she switched on the record player, ordered us to line up in rows with an arm's length between us on either side and a roomful of 5th graders began marching in place to the mysterious "chicken fat" song.

I say mysterious because, even though I heard this song at least four times per week and for two years afterwards, I never understood what it meant. Didn't know what chicken fat was (unless it was attached to the meat course at dinner) and had no idea why I was doing push ups with this tune as the background music. The man singing it had a big, booming, look at me! show-tune kind of voice and his delivery did seem oddly familiar as he articulated what a daily exercise regimen should look like.

As I struggled to execute my sit-ups in time with the cheerful rhythm of the music, the only image that ever came to mind was that of a plucked chicken jumping rope while wearing a hat. Pity me, readers. This was back in the day before any kids had ever even heard of the word cellulite or adipose.

Mrs. Benny would stroll around the gym giving the side eye to any slackers and would sometimes attempt to model jumping jacks until a tubercular-style coughing jag brought her flailing to a halt. Unlike the male athletic coaches of later years whose physiques were more of a cautionary tale for the students they taught, Mrs. Benny was as thin as a Vanilla Wafer, but also as dark and sun-wrinkled as a piece of beef jerky. She loved a good joke, but could quickly decide when it was over, and her terrifying visage could scare the donut holes out of even the worst kid. At first, "chicken fat" seemed as though it could be one of those jokes, but after two years of "Go--you chicken fat--go away!", there was clearly something we were supposed to have learned from it. I confess that I never did. Until last week.

During a conversation with my husband about something that I can no longer remember, the door of "The Closet" swung open and a dusty crumb of a memory caused me to I ask him if he had ever done exercises to the song about chicken fat. He looked at me funny and said that he had not. I was forced to turn to my boyfriend, Google, who quickly swept back the cobwebs of time and revealed something pretty astonishing to me. Others had been doing their side bends in fear of the dreaded chicken fat also.

The song had gone by another name: The "Youth Fitness Song". Words and music were provided by Meredith Willson, who had also written the score for "The Music Man". The singer with the booming voice who critiqued our spastic moves as though he was watching from behind a two-way mirror was Robert Preston, Broadway's original Music Man. What's more, the song had been commissioned for President Kennedy's Physical Fitness program of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and  copies had been sent out to all elementary schools during that era, though Kennedy had been dead for years by the time I did my first toe touch while listening to it.

Like all naive and sheltered kids, I had too easily assumed ours was the only school required to get into good shape while un-ironically listening to a song about a crucial member of the food pyramid. And because were probably the only ones being taught to run relays by someone who looked as though she had fallen off of a box of Lucky Charms but who--if provoked--had enough moxie to kick an old man down a flight of stairs, I never questioned it or her.

Clearly, I lived in a vacuum, but it only took a quick and unexpected trip into the closet in my brain to show that we had actually been participants in a nation-wide phenomenon. True I didn't know it then, but sometimes late is better than never.

Everyone has a memory closet. What has yours revealed to you?

P.S: I went on to win the President's Physical Fitness award for the two years it was offered during middle school, though I can say with confidence that the fear of chicken fat had nothing to do with it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hanging Up

I think my friend is losing her mind. Has lost her mind. There doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it, but what's worse? I don't know that I even want to.

Having grown up in different parts of the same state, we met as juniors in college when we applied for the same campus job. Our dorm complex advertised for 12 people to work at the 24- hour reception desk in the main lobby. We were both hired.

She always seemed more resourceful than me. She had more interesting and profitable summer jobs, dated guys with whom she didn't get too hung up on when the relationship ended and exhibited an upbeat and happy exterior. She never stressed about anything.  As a Marketing major she was practically guaranteed to make more money than someone like me who was naively but stubbornly majoring in Secondary Education.  When we weren't at school or work we would meet up with others for pitchers of beer at a well-known bar on the north side of campus and occasionally, she and I went for a run. She was not my best friend, but there seemed to be at the time a sort of dormant potential for something deeper.

We kept in touch after graduation. Long-distance phone calls and weekend visits where I did the traveling. She introduced me to Gary Larsen's "Far Side" cartoons and demonstrated how she could prompt herself to wake up at a designated time without the use of an alarm clock. I was perpetually poor and envied the occasional modeling gigs which augmented her regular paycheck and the generic good looks which photographers seemed to go for. The last time we saw each other as single women we shopped, took a long run through a wooded park, and spent the afternoon at her apartment pool. I returned to my tiny studio apartment tanned, rested and clutching a recording of "Songs From the Big Chair".

I married and had a family. Several years later, she did the same and then moved to California. I met her husband only one time when they were in town for a golf tournament and he seemed like a nice enough guy. By then we touched bases only at Christmas, except for the time when her father died and I had just called out of the blue. Come to think of it, I was always the one who called. She was staying at her parent's home and I remember cradling the phone with one hand and stooping to straighten the Batman comforters on the boy's bunk beds as we talked. After that...she sort of disappeared.

In those early days of the internet, picking up the trail of a woman with a new last name (Damn tradition and the loss of identity!) was not that easy. Seven or eight years had passed and after quite a bit of digging, the reasons for which I don't entirely understand now, I discovered that she and her family had returned to our home state and she was living 45 minutes away. As always, I made the first move to visit.

She was different. Still the same, but then not. Enthusiastic one minute and then brittle and dismissive the next. Why had I never noticed her dislike for progressive politics? How ruthlessly concrete her ideas were about who was ruining the country! How easily she served up Jesus as the answer to everything with one hand while using the other to pour sour judgement over any thought which did not line up with hers? There seemed to be no middle ground. We ate lunch at a trendy cafe/grocery and she told me about her new start up furniture business, but it was during a long walk that I first noticed how infrequently she asked me about my own life and how anything I did say seemed to spark random torrents of unrelated words from her. I might start a sentence or  a story and she would interrupt with a steady flow of  stridently declarative expositions--one after the other-- with only the briefest of pauses for a breath in between to change topics. Complaints about her husband. A veritable fatwa against all social media. That day a shy word tapped lightly at the back of my brain, but it wasn't until later that--much like one of those old Polaroids that took some time to completely develop--showed itself: manic? The afternoon was exhausting and by the time I left, I felt somewhat certain that I would not seek her out her again.

Except...of course...I did. This past summer I dug in again. The internet offered up so little that I found myself wondering if she had divorced her husband and the cell number I had was no longer valid. Surprisingly, I found a bare bones Facebook account for her. It didn't even have a photograph. I sent a message and eventually she replied with a new cell number and a few months later I used it to call. I regret that now.

She was angry when she answered the phone. Almost shouting. Not at me, but I had apparently caught her in the middle of an emotional tirade as she was driving. She verbally skirted past the preliminary niceties typically used in phone conversations. Did I know that she had nearly died last year after surgery? I did not. Didn't I think husbands should be more supportive of their wives? With no real background information as to why she would ask,  I agreed that this was so. Why would a husband call his wife stupid in front of their children and give her a series of orders ending with the phrase, "Do it because I said so". To this I replied that her husband was not her boss and that marriage did not give a man the right to tell his wife how to live her life.

She exploded. "I have chosen to live a servant's life in obedience to my husband!" she yelled. "This is how God wants wives to behave!" I told her that I did not hold with that view of marriage, but even in cases where a relationship is forged within these guidelines, there were rules for both people and not just the wife. She did not seem to hear me because she was on to the next topic. It was as though she was swinging through the jungle from vine to vine-- grabbing onto the next thought and the one after it. Her kids did not respect her. She felt abused. Physically? She said not. "They" were ganging up on her. She asked if I knew a lawyer she could contact. Before I could answer she was talking about her mother and her sisters. They? Were siding with her husband.

She had been "homeless" for a week, but living in a hotel. Then, in an apartment. She'd spent Thanksgiving alone because no one wanted to be around her. She was sure there was a conspiracy against her. Her husband was telling her that she spent too much money. She lamented not having done anything to support her family, a remark which seemed a far cry from all the ventures I knew she had pursued. She had gone to her pastor for advice and during the meeting, grabbed the woman to demonstrate what she thought her husband was saying or doing. The pastor? Called the police. On her. Not out of concern that my friend was truly the victim of abuse (which I am now fairly certain she is not), but because the pastor (a female) thought she was in the presence of a dangerously unstable woman. My friend would ask me a random question and before I could answer she was shouting again.

"People are telling me I need medication!" my friend said  "I just think I need a husband who will fix the broken doorknob on the bathroom." (?) "I think a good husband should love his wife on all days and not just when she's having a good day, don't you?" Yes, but--  "I think I'm going to call my daughter and see if she will go shopping with me." She was calmer now and using a totally different voice. "Maybe we can go buy snow suits together. Maybe she will want to come to my apartment and play in the snow with some kids there. I know I want to play with some kids...." She faded off. It is important to note that at the moment she was saying this, icy roads were predicted for our area...but no snow. And the daughter of whom she spoke is a senior in high school. Do you know any 18 year old girl who wants to dress up in a snowsuit and then drive to her mother's apartment to play in the snow with "kids" she does not know?

I stood there in the middle of my kitchen watching through the windows as the cold darkness of evening closed in. I listened to my old college friend ramble about her sister staying for a weekend at a lake house (Theirs? Hers?) and then not inviting her. This was followed by more talk about their house and how it was a bad investment. That her husband did not seem to want her anymore, but she was also unwilling--despite her bid for obedience--to bend to his will since it was clearly wrong. I tried to follow the dizzying see-saw of her thoughts about her son and how she had not seen him recently. I asked her if he wasn't away at college and after a long pause she answered "yes" in a soft voice. Then she told me she was calling up everyone she had not seen in years and decided that they would be her new friends and support system. How she was driving home now from a trip to Costco. To her house or her apartment? She said yes but did not distinguish which was her destination. "Don't you think it's important to fix a crack in the pool?" she asked suddenly. "My mother told my husband that I'm not making any sense. How am I supposed to live when no one respects what I am saying? I can't believe my husband would expect me to fix dinner for him after I've been in the hospital. " You mean--right after you got out? "I mean that I never get any support and that my own children have turned against me."

 I continued holding the phone to my ear and while she delivered a jumbled collection of unrelated questions and statements about food and the status of a house she wasn't living in. About people plotting behind her back and then her plans for shopping.  Finally, when there was a pause in the flow of words, I told her I needed to go and that we would keep in touch.  And then I hung up.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snow Forecast Promises To Foul Up My Christmas Shopping Plans. Bless It!

I have started the first sentence of this post five times and I've erased it just as many. Nothing sounds good to me tonight, though the words in my head all sounded quite brilliant when I was running at the track today. Or when I was unloading groceries for the sixth time in as many days. Ditto for when I stumbled over a big bag of English I compositions that I brought home nine days (five school days bookended by two weekends) ago with the best of intentions to grade. I could have started a fire with all of those thoughts. They were that good.

But today? Stella definitely can't get her groove back and I think it's mostly due to the fact that OMG BATTLE STATIONS!! it's already December 1st.   My school holiday starts a scant three days before Christmas Eve, which means I have three weeks until I am actually free to get ready for Christmas. I don't have to tell you that by the time it is 4:20 p.m on December 20th it will be the time to start drinking heavily too late. I also realize that this is as long as anybody else who celebrates Christmas has to get ready, so don't think I'm asking for any special sympathy here. We're all in the same boat.

I could have started getting ready for Christmas earlier, but that's the unholy conflict that a late Thanksgiving brings about with its seductive lure of that extra week to prepare and plan...for Thanksgiving. It just feels strange to get ready for one holiday when the one prior to it hasn't even happened yet.  Yet, the minute that last slice of pie has been served up--and even before the dishes are done--it's technically already the Christmas season. Deny it all you want, but it will do you no good. Me? I'm determined not to panic about it this year. One thing I do know is that everything important always gets done. Eventually. Tree up, cards addressed, gifts wrapped and lights all along the roofline. So what is this post even about if not to bitch relentlessly about all the stuff I still haven't done as I do every year?

I'm going to focus on all of the things I did do during my Thanksgiving break. I finished a fantastic book and started another one. I wrote two blog posts and third for another website. I had dinner with friends and another one with family. I bought Christmas cards and gingerbread-style stamps to go on the envelopes. I worked on Christmas lists. We walked the dogs. I spent time with two of my three kids. I went to yoga and I ran. I visited my favorite junk shop. I made yeast-rising cinnamon rolls and FedEx-ed them to the sons who live away. I polished all the tarnished silver. I started eating more Paleo and less "crappio". I spent quality time with my husband. I walked along the river with an old friend. I watched my favorite Thanksgiving-themed movies, the last being Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." I discovered blueberry granola.

And I gave thanks. For still having two living parents and both my in-laws. For the two sisters who always have my back. For funny, smart and compassionate sons who are making their way (some slowly and others not as slowly) in the world. For their jobs or the prospect of jobs. For the ability to provide higher education for our sons so that they will not experience the drain of paying off student loans. For a husband I adore who is also my best friend. For a job which is frequently maddening and--sometimes--surprisingly-- rewarding. For the advantage of possessing more than one skill in the event that the maddening eclipses the rewarding and I leave the teaching profession for good. For a full pantry, a car with a full tank, a roof that does not leak and a house full of books.

And for snow.  As long as it doesn't show up until after Christmas.