Tuesday, September 28, 2010


tea and thinking time
We all have it.  Don't lie to yourself and say "not me".  It is something inherent in our species.  From the day we are old enough to look at another human and say or think "I'm different" or "they're different" it starts.  We compare skin.  We compare looks.  We look at age.  We look at sex.  We judge intelligence.  We look at weight.  We look at sexual preference.  We look at how much money someone else has.  We look at what church they attend.  We look at who doesn't attend church.  We look at where someone lives.  We look at who they live with.  We look at who their family is.  We look at who their children are.  We look, we look, we look.

But....we don't SEE.

And as we compare, we form judgements.  Some positive (she is beautiful) and some negative (he is crazy).  As we form judgements, we are actually judging them against ourselves.  What else do we have to use as a standard but ourselves?

The only thing about that is that by judging someone and using ourselves as a standard, we are telling ourselves that we are normal.  And that "normal" is the standard that should be used.

And the problem with that is one thing....there is no "normal".  What is normal for me and what is my standard can't be compared to someone living a different life or lifestyle, here or in another part of the world.  And the reason why?  Because if that person in another place living a different type of life uses the same type of thinking, then they have a different standard.  And I am found lacking.

So what to do?  Prejudice is always there.  To take the teeth out of the mouth of prejudice, the first step is being aware that you are.  Awareness makes you think, and when you start to think, you start to see there is something else out there.  The second step is to not let it keep you from taking a step forward.  Toward that other person.  Toward understanding.  Toward realizing that tolerance can lead to acceptance, and if not acceptance, then at least allowance.

I allow I am a prejudiced person.  I make judgements.  What I choose to do though is to ignore those thoughts and ideas and learn.  Learn more about what I think is true.  To find the real truth.  And to embrace the differences we all have as what makes us unique in the eyes of the creator.

I was blessed to be raised by parents who were liberal thinkers.  I can honestly say I don't ever remember any negative or prejudiced ideas being taught to me, and I thank my mum and dad.  (Well there was that time we were watching Ed Sullivan and Mitzi Gaynor was dancing and mum said she had way too much cleavage showing, but I don't think that really counts.)  I tried to raise my children with open minds and tolerance, so that when prejudice surfaces in their lives, they will keep in mind that being different isn't bad or good, it just is different.

I also think what really affected me as a child was the cruelty I saw in kids my own age, toward other kids who were "different".  Things they learned, most likely at home.  I hurt then for other kids who were targets, and it still hurts to think of it.  Because occasionally I was the target.  Because I was "different".

Take my words for whatever you choose to see in them, and know that I will not judge you for what you think of them.  All I hope for is that perhaps you will think. 

Perhaps the next time you see someone speaking with prejudice about something, you will remember my words.  And begin to see through new eyes.


Laughing.  We all do it.  We should probably do it more.  Most of my life has been spent doing it or trying to get people around me to do it.  I am the clown in my family for just that reason.  To hear people laugh.

Life is serious, it's a struggle at times and sometimes things happening to you can bring you down so low you don't see any way up.  If you have lived on the planet for any length of time, you know what I mean.  I have lost my laughter at times because of things going on in my life, but realized later it was never lost, just misplaced, put aside while drama took over. 

Drama.  I hate drama.  That is the other side of the coin I carry.    I tend to want to escape when useless tears start.  (You know the kind I am talking about.  The kind that says "look at me I am being dramatic here.")  My mum and sisters, and in fact most of the family, will tell you I am not weepy and when someone starts to go dramatic on me I tend to tell them seriously to STOP THAT SHIT.  It is because drama to me is a waste of energy that could be spent laughing.  Drama brings me down and makes me feel like I am carrying a heavy weight on my shoulders.  I know there are sometimes when drama is legitimate.  Like I said, I've been there, when life was so serious, there was no light at the end of the tunnel, and in fact finding that tunnel was an impossibility.

Years ago I found my mantra.  It came to me during one of those no tunnel times, when I just didn't see any way up.  I had chewed on the thing bothering me for a while, and suddenly I heard a little voice in my head saying:


And BINGO!  A light came on for me.  I realized that no matter how bad things looked or got, sooner or later it passes.  It may not resolve the way I want it to, but it will pass, because life is fluid, like a stream.  It continues to flow no matter what.  In the past several years, that mantra has saved my life and mental well being several times.  It enabled me to get past the moment.  Living in the moment is important, but when that moment is hard, it is difficult to appreciate what lessons you may be learning by being alive in that moment.  I think perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is to...

...laugh.  As much as you can as often as you can.  It is what sustains you through the drama.  It is a sharing thing...there is nothing so intimate as a shared laugh, something only you and the other person understand and appreciate.  My family is blessed with laughers and laughter.  Personally I think it comes from my dad on down the line...I don't remember ever seeing my dad on a day when he couldn't laugh.  Even on the day he told me he was dying, we spent some time laughing.  It was just who he was.  My mum and dad passed a warped sense of humor to my sisters and me...I have seen it manifest in our kids, and I am watching the grandkids to see who shows that sense of humor first...

So I guess the whole point of this rambling little blog entry today is to laugh.  As often as you can and as much as you can.  It will sustain you through the drama.

my new teeth
So laugh...go ahead...I dare you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

being lost

I was telling a friend yesterday that I am legend in my family for falling, and for something else.  Getting lost.  Not while I am driving, but when I am on foot, which is worse, really, and I will explain why.

I can find my way anywhere in a car.  I might occasionally make a wrong turn but I just figure out where I need to go, where the sun is and use it like a compass.  I have sometimes amazed my family by telling them how to get here or there, where to turn, and so on.

Being on foot is a different matter.  Once my eyes are engaged on something and my brain gets focused on that something, I am a goner.  I'll share a couple times that still make my family say "keep an eye on Mom (Cathy) and don't let her out of your sight!'

The first time that stands out in my memory was Disneyland in Anaheim, California, when I was about 11 or 12...it was the last family trip we made together as a family that I can remember (I know Vicky our Memory Elephant will correct me if I am wrong).

We were walking around and had seen several attractions.  Disneyland in the 60's was an amazing place.  There was nothing else quite like it.  I was enjoying all the sights, and suddenly I spotted it.  The one thing that can make me forget where I am and who I am....

...a street artist doing caricatures of people.  My family was in front of me, and I was bringing up the rear (a dangerous position for me to be in, they found out that day).  They paused, looking at the artist, then strolled on.  I paused.  And stopped.  Dead in my tracks.  I was mesmerized.  So I watched.  Don't know for how long but when I looked up, I was alone.  I had a second or two of panic, then I went back to watching the artist.  I don't know exactly what I was thinking, but in my mind we would all eventually hook back up.

If you have ever been to Disneyland, the one thing you realize right away is how easy it is to get lost, and how hard it is to find your way around.  That is why they give you one of those printouts that says "you are HERE" and shows you how to get THERE.  I didn't realize that.  In my mind it was an easy place to get around, and I am not a worrier anyway, so I just stood there and watched the artist.  I can't remember how the family eventually found me, but I was found, and I am pretty sure they were all disgusted with me for interfering with their fun.  And I am pretty sure, knowing mum, that she smacked me good for it too.  My main memory of that day will always be the magic that artist worked with pastels and paper.

Fade to several years later and incident #2 in my life that got me in hot water with my family.  I was married,  and we were at the State Fair in Alabama with another couple, friends of ours.  We were all wandering around looking at stuff, and Steve suggested we go to the Exposition Hall and look at the handcrafts, preserves, and livestock.  So off we went. 

I did fine, I really did.  Steve knew by then to make sure to holler at me "Cathy keep up dammit!" every so often, but his fatal mistake?  Putting me in the back of the line.  Yep, I stopped to look at the stitching on some quilts, and when I looked up after just seconds, I was alone.

Holy!!!  By now I had been chewed on often in my life for getting lost, and I knew I was in big trouble...so instead of staying put and waiting for them to come back to find me, I took off to find them. 

Now any of you that have ever been to a state fair know that they usually are sprawled over many acres, and no rhyme or reason to how they are laid out.  The rides were on one side, entertainment and food scattered around, and the Exposition Hall was somewhere in the middle. 

My fatal mistake?  I left the Exposition Hall.  And started darting here, there and yonder (redneckese for all over the damn place).  I passed the Beer Tent, the games, the rides, went through the Exposition Hall several times, and stopped for a while to watch Country Boy Eddie play music with his band (he had a local morning show called, of course, The Country Boy Eddie Show, and I had never seen a real star up close)...the surprising thing to me was that even though his music sucked in the mornings, they could actually play some decent music (maybe Country Boy Eddie wasn't a morning person?).

I ended up wandering and searching, and about two hours later (yes it was that long...I distinctly remember because I was thinking Steve would divorce me for this one), Steve found me.  And cussed me, which I listened to quietly (what could I say to defend myself after all?  it was the quilt's fault?), and also to the other couple fuss disgustedly, even though they had given up after the first hour and gone off on their own to leave Steve to look for me.

The one bright star in the night was the fact that Steve had stopped at the Beer Tent after every circuit of the fairgrounds.  So he found me after about 10 Beers.  Which means he didn't cuss me long cause he was mellower than he would have been sober.

I hate Beer, but I will always love Beer Tents.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

being a nurse

I thought about this post for a while now.  And not sure I will post it after I write it, but it is something I feel strongly about and I find I have a need to see the words in front of me.

I have been a nurse for about 16 years now.  It wasn't something I set out to be "when I grow up", but a conscious change of career in midlife.  I sort of stumbled into nursing at a time that I was feeling restless and a need to change, to do something more productive with my life. 

Starting nursing school at 40 was odd you may be thinking, but there were many people in my class who were older than I was.  Seems I wasn't the only one looking for a change.  I met my best friend Barb the first day of nursing school, and we have been steadfast friends since that day.

To say it was the hardest thing I ever did is an understatement.  I had to learn a whole new language, take Algebra all over again (I hate math!) and spend most of my time studying all things medical and nursing, something I never liked to do.  I have always enjoyed learning things on my own (I get that from dad) and to be forced to learn at a set pace was hard for me. 

I graduated in 1995 with my ADN.  Barb and I registered to take our state boards together, studied hard for a week and made sure we ate breakfast on the day of the test, which was on a computer.  (Our class was the first one at our college to take nursing boards on computers.)  We were driving home after the test, and I was brain bombed and stressed, thinking I had failed miserably.  I was in the left lane on the freeway, and suddenly Barb said "aren't you supposed to get off at this exit to take me home?" and I said "oh yes!" and drove sideways to the right across 4 lanes of traffic and hit the exit lane like an arrow hitting a bullseye.  Barb was trapped and all she could do was grab the dashboard and say "wheeeeeeeeee" as I careened across.

Barb and I both passed boards, and went in different directions with our careers.  I ended up on medical surgical taking care of pediatric to geriatric aged patients. (It was a small hospital with a combined unit.)  Barb ended up after a short stint on neurology at another hospital, to psychiatric nursing at yet another hospital.  Barb, like many nurses, found her specialty and stuck with it.  I found that I liked to move on after I had become comfortable with what I had learned in a particular area.  That means specifically that over the past years I have worked in med-surg, orthopedics, neurology, cardiac, general surgery, pediatrics, and psychiatric nursing.  And traveled to other places to work at times.  (The wanderlust was a surprise to me!)

I quickly had my "I am going to cure the world" bubble burst.  I spent 4 1/2 years on that unit, and it changed my way of thinking.  About life.  About death.  I quickly realized that the most we can usually do is stabilize a person's health so they can go home until they get sick again (med-surg is like that, mostly chronically ill people).  Pediatrics were more upbeat, but you not only had to take care of the baby or toddler, but the parents as well who were usually frightened and exhausted.

I also realized that the care I gave at death was as important as the care I gave for those who lived.  Sometimes I had little time to prepare a family, or provide support.  There was the time that I had just admitted a patient, and was telling his wife she needed to get some rest, spending some time with her, when I noticed that the gentleman I was caring for was dying.  Fast.  I had to explain to her what was going on, and give her time alone with him.  He died less than two hours after I admitted him, and when I left work that morning, the wife grabbed me and hugged me while I was talking to her, thanking me for everything.  What did I do, I wondered to myself?  I really didn't do much.  Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I wasn't able to care for him until he was well enough to go home, but I was able to provide a good death experience.  That sounds weird, but I know now that sometimes as a nurse that was the best I could do, that how we die is as important as how we live, and those last memories are often the strongest ones for  the family.

And I find I have grown as a person.  It wasn't the things I learned in college (many people would think after spending almost ten years in college before I got my graduate degree that I would count that as life changing).  The things I learned as a nurse at the bedside have changed me as a person.  I didn't realize how much I had changed until my oldest daughter said she could see the change in me, after becoming a nurse.  That shocked me, I knew inside I was different, but when Jen made that remark I realized that it was also an outward change.  Strange to realize really. 

The things I have learned since I became a nurse:
1. I am a strong person.
2. I thought I would be touching people's lives and making a difference, but I am the one who has been touched, and those I have cared for have made a difference in my life.
3. You can never undo being a nurse.  Once you have the knowledge and experience, it changes how you think.  Forever.
4. People are whole beings.  I care not only for their bodies, but their minds and spirits as well.
5. We all live in a small world, and the one thing that levels all playing fields (cultural, racial, etc) is illness.  It speaks it own universal language.
6.  Sick people feel powerless, and I must remember that the person in that bed could be me one day.
7.  Touch is the most powerful thing I can do as a nurse.  Laying a caring hand on a sick body speaks all the way to that person's soul.

I wonder sometimes why my life went in this direction.  I am glad it did, but I could just as easily have done something else.  We all make choices.  But I believe strongly that the day I went to take that first test with my friend, I had someone behind me with a finger in my back, poking me in that direction.

I am glad I was poked. 

And thanks.  I don't have to say to who.  They know.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

rest stop

Yesterday I had to go pick up some medication and deliver it to one of the group homes I supervise.  So my husband decided to come along for the ride.  We rode and we rode and we rode.  If you have never driven the roads in north central Alabama, you need to hear what my Grandma said years ago when she and Grandpa came for a visit:

"Every time you take us to your in-laws, we go a different way!"

It only seemed like that because Grandma and Grandpa lived in Indiana where it was fairly flat, and being farm country, the roads were cut straight so as not to interfere with the fields.  In Alabama, the vegetation is lush, the trees are thick and tall, and the roads are curving up hills and down hollers (hills and hollows for non-rednecks), so it can be quite confusing.

Steve happened to know most of the country we were driving through and made comments on this place and that place:

"We hunt all that area on the right til way down there."
"See that shooting house? I built that and I have one over there and way down over there, but you can't see those."
"This is where we went to get fertilizer."
"There was a store there but it burned down."
"There was another store over there but it burned down."
"A woman lived there but her husband was in prison.  Her RV burned one week, and the next week her house burned."
"So and so's daughter was found murdered and dumped in a well not far from here, they still don't know who did it."

And that is the way the conversation went, we me saying uh huh and nodding from time to time and thinking I wanted to get out of this country where people seemed to die and have their places burned, way too often for my comfort zone.

So we were on our way to the group home, and Steve told me the Townley Rest Stop was just ahead and did I need to stop?  I said I sure did, and this is what he pulled up in front of:

I gave him the evil eye and pulled Big Girl out to snap the shot.  I just love his sense of humor.  

Even after 40 years he can still surprise me. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

magic eyelashes

I trust my sister.  Implicitly.  We have been partners in crime for too long and rely on each other's good judgement.

A few weeks ago we were in a beauty supply store so she could get the stuff to make me a new woman (nail polish and hair color...my belief is if you are tweaked on both ends, you can live with what is happening in the middle).  She has been a stylist for over 25 years and my hair has been her playground...sometimes I end up with monkey bars instead of a swing but I am ok with whatever happens, it's all good.  Until now.

So we are at the checkout with our stuff.  And you all know what you find at the checkout.  Impulse buys.  And Vicky and I are nothing if not impulsive when it comes to beauty products.  She spies this stuff that looks like mascara, only it isn't.  It is supposed to give you long eyelashes in 2 weeks.  She cuts her eyes around at me and says:

her: you wanna try it?
me: I don't think so.
her: oh sure c'mon I'll buy it...a late birthday present (I had just gained a year a couple weeks before)
me: it's too expensive.
her: no it's not the stuff I bought before like this was three times as much and it worked.
me: are you sure?
her: yes I am sure, let's get some!
me: ok, I'll try it but it better not make me blind.

So she plunks down nearly $100 for two tubes of goo.  We take it to her house and I find out (she having read the directions and already smeared her eyes full) that you have to put this crap on two times a day.  But by now I am getting in the swing of it and thinking wow! what if it does work and I finally have eyelashes you can see??? My eyes sting like shit when I put it on, and she's laughing at me because I am painting it on so slowly.  So we use it, and use it and use it.

I bring it home and use it.  I am using it on my eyebrows too because it says you can.  So it's been weeks now and I notice a difference.  But it wasn't what I was expecting.  I finally realize it doesn't make you grow more eyelashes, it just makes what you have longer.  And I also realize it's too late to undo the goo.  I have a little problem: 



Wonder what my stylist here in Alabama charges for a hair-eyelash-eyebrow combo?

I'm gonna kick Vicky's ass when I see her.

Monday, September 20, 2010

falling down, and up, and sideways

I fall a lot.  A LOT.  Everyone in my family knows this.  They know to watch out for me when we are out doing anything.  I think Steve's head is permanently attached backwards, ala Linda Blair in the Exorcist.  He gets in front of me on escalators going down, behind me on stairs going up, and runs circles around me when I am on level ground.  And when Steve, the kids, or the sisters are with me, they all pass off responsibility to each other so I am never left unwatched ("hey you watch mom", "Cathy I am watching you", "are you paying attention Cathy").  But it happens anyway.

The first incident in my life is one I don't remember.  Mum has told me about it many times.  It was a near miss, but set the tone for the rest of my life.  When I was just a baby, Mum said Dad was throwing me up in the air and catching me.  But he missed on the catch one time.  Almost.  Caught me inches from a cement doom.  I think that is when my falling karma started though.

My next memory is of sitting on the side of the tub in the bathroom and falling backward into the tub.  That earned me a big goose egg on the back of my head and being kept awake for hours (it might have been days) just in case I had a concussion.  What I remember most about that incident is the feel of that bump on my head, it felt weird and kind of neat.  And wanting to sleep...

My next major memory is of the picnic and swim party for our 8th grade graduation.  I couldn't swim for the reason most girls miss a swim party, so I was lost in thought in the picnic area of the park playground, and walking, looking down (the safest position for my eyes normally) and SMACK...walked straight into the parallel bars, knocking a knot on my forehead.  I would have made a quick recovery, unnoticed, because most everyone had taken off to the pool, but my teacher (a wonderful man) noticed and came running over to check on me.  I was doubly mortified because: a) he knew why I couldn't go swimming, and b) he saw my humiliation.  Not one of my better memories.

There are many falls, trips and bumps I don't mention because I consider them minor.  Minor being that I was alone and had no witnesses.  Some of the incidents that were witnessed include:

1. Falling in the Birmingham bus station when we were taking my sister-in-law to catch a bus with her oldest daughter to go visit her husband in south Alabama.  Steve had her luggage and Elaine had Kathy, and I was bringing up the rear carrying Jenny in a plastic punkin seat (those were cheap plastic seats we used before they made us strap kids into crash-safe car seats, so it was light and thin).  I hit something in the floor and did a magnificent belly flop right there in the middle of the bus station in front of the derelicts that slept on the benches.  I managed to end up flat on my face with Jen stretched out in front of me, still strapped into her seat and none the worse for the ride (she was about 2 or 3 months old at the time).  Steve and I were still relative strangers at the time, so he just looked around at me stretched out flat on the floor, and said "are you ok?" and without waiting for an answer, kept walking.  It was Elaine who told him to stop til I got up, without any help. 

2. Falling flat when I was about 7 months pregnant with my son, in the middle of the in-laws living room.  I was wearing those cute cork-soled clogs that were so popular, but which meant certain doom for me (I've never learned to walk in any kind of heel).

3. Tripping over my sister's luggage while she was visiting years ago, and rupturing a ligament in my right foot, causing my great toe to look more like a monkey's thumb.  It eventually required major surgery on my right foot, which never really recovered because I still have problems with walking and now also with most types of flats (I should really just stick with wearing the shoe boxes).

4. Falling off my crutches and hitting the edge of the couch while recovering from the above mentioned surgery, causing a hematomato the size of a dinner plate on my back (I was on blood thinners at the time to prevent blood clots from immobility caused by the cast that caused my fall and, oh well, you get the idea).  Now even though this happened when I was alone, and was an unwitnessed fall, my youngest daughter was living at home and helping me get around at the time.  When she saw the hematoma (caused by bleeding underneath the skin), she told me I was banished to the couch while she and Steve were at work during the day.

5.  Falling in Redding, California, outside a hotel we had just registered at.  Wretch (aka Deb my youngest child) was right by me when I took a misstep off a curb about 2 inches high and fell on my kneecaps.  She did make a valiant attempt to catch me, but everyone in the family knows there is no saving me when I am on my way to the ground.  It took almost a year before the knee stopped swelling and hurting.

There are many more I could talk about, but I saved the most spectacular for last.  Wretch was with me that night too.  We attended the dance recital of the daughter of one my employees, and were walking to our car behind an older couple, up a slight hill on a sidewalk that was perfectly safe, or so I thought.  My toe caught the little line the separates the pavement, a dip in the pavement of about 1/4 inch, but my toe managed somehow to locate it.  I was flipped on my face so fast I couldn't even put my hands up to brace myself.  I can remember the taste of blood and how concrete tastes.  Kind of gritty and earthy.  I would have popped back onto my feet, and was on my way up actually, but Wretch screamed, and the couple in front of us turned around and ran back to help.  I refused help, but stood up holding my hand in front of my lower face because I could feel blood running down my lips.  I waved them off, and Wretch and I made a beeline to the car.  I was telling her I thought maybe it was fine, but she thought I needed a trip to the ER to get it cleaned out.  Then I took a look in the mirror.  Holy!!!  My lip was already twice as big and I had a huge abrasion across the top lip.  We went to the ER and had to wait forever to see a doctor.  While we were sitting in the waiting room, I would look down and could see my lip sticking out past my nose, then I would look at Wretch and make eye contact, and we'd laugh out loud at how ridiculous I looked.  And the other people in the waiting room would look at us like we'd lost our minds.  I finally got to see the doctor, who told the nurse to give me a tetanus shot.  I asked her after the shot was she going to clean the wound, even?  She grabbed some gauze and saline and started scrubbing my lip, at which point I thought I would slap her.  I told her to STOP, I would clean it myself at home.  You see, concrete that is in dried blood on your upper lip is NOT a fun thing to have scrubbed.  The gauze felt like a Brillo pad.  I still have a slight scar on my upper lip, my trophy from that night.  What saved my nose from being broken that night was my glasses, which were destroyed in the fall.

I really liked those glasses.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

a stranger in a strange place

This time of year when the air is hinting at autumn I begin to be a bit nostalgic and start to think back to when I arrived in the south, almost 40 years ago.  I came on October 15, 1970.  Alone.  Almost 9 months pregnant and about a month from my due date (the doctor thought).

We were living in California, where I grew up mostly (I was born in Texas and lived in Kansas briefly....yes, I was an Air Force brat).  Steve was due to finish his service in the Air Force, but it was about the time the baby was supposed to be born, so he talked to me, and to my mom, and we decided the best thing to do would be to ship me back before he got out so that we wouldn't be trying to move all our household plus a new baby. I had to get an affidavit from my doctor at the base hospital saying I wouldn't deliver on the plane (like that was a guarantee of anything) and before I knew it I was packed and off on my own.  I can remember saying goodbye to Mom and Steve but at that point I was numb with fear so I don't remember much of what was said. 

What had me so scared wasn't the flying.  I'd been flying since I was two weeks old.  It was the idea that I was leaving everything I had ever known and coming to a place completely alien to me and to meet my in-laws, whom I had never met.  We'd spoken briefly on the phone, but this was a first for me.  I had turned 18 years old about 2 months before.  Mom and Steve had no idea how terrified I was.

My memory being what it is, I have no memory of which airports I went through or the stops I made.  The next thing I remember is getting to Birmingham after dark, and as the plane was circling to land I was trying to get a look at the city, and wringing my hands.  I remember that about the landing....me wringing my hands and squirming in my seat so much that the gentleman next to me patted my hands and said "it's going to be ok, I fly all the time and nothing ever happens".  He had no idea, and I didn't open my mouth to tell him it wasn't the flying scaring the shit out of me, it was the in-laws on the ground!

We landed, I walked off the plane and of course the in-laws knew who I was immediately because I was the only woman on board with a big belly...then something happened.

They hugged me.  Real hugs, not fake ones.  You can always tell the difference you know.  These were real because the icy fear inside me started to melt.  And suddenly I knew it would be ok.  These people weren't monsters (they'd raised the man I loved after all) and they treated me from the very first moment like I was one of their children.

I quickly grew close to my mother-in-law.  And loved her.  Still do even though she is gone.  She was always there for me.  She held my hand when I went into labor two weeks early, a week after I got there and before Steve could get home.  And never left my side for the almost 12 hours I cried and begged for my Mom and Steve, until the baby was born.  She taught me how to cook like a Southerner.  How to garden, can, and freeze.  She taught me how to take care of the baby.  She fussed at Steve to send me home for visits when I got so homesick I thought I would die.  And she left an indelible stamp on my heart forever. 

Because of her, I learned how to be a mother-in-law...and I hope I treat my daughter-in-law at least half as well as she treated me.

Yes, fall in the south is my favorite time of year.     

Friday, September 10, 2010

regarding arnaldo and other armadillos

We have swapped our intruders of the two legged variety (see intruder alert blog posts) for one of the four legged variety...  It went down something like this the other night....

Steve had installed a flood light motion detection device, in order to trap the teenage window beaters harrassing us for several nights.  After that issue was settled (my refrigerator cop magnet scared the shit out of them), we never got to test the light...until the Easter Bunny showed up one night and every time he moved the light came on flooding our bedroom with artificial sunlight...he'd freeze...light would go out...he'd move...light on...freeze...light off...until Steve was screaming in agony and beating on the windows and begging him to leave...and swore if he could find the little bastard he'd be a dead bunny...of course the EB made a clean getaway...

All was well for a few nights...until one night the light came on...the conversation went something like this:

Steve: do you see the light?
Me: yes I see the light.
Steve: what do you reckon it is?
Me: I have no idea.
Steve: should I get up?
Me: might be a good idea.

And so Steve rolls out of bed and peeps out the window...about that time the light goes out and Steve gets back into bed.

Me: what was it?
Steve: an armadillo.
Me: how do you know that?
Steve: I could see him creeping along by the fence.
Me: you're sure it was an armadillo?
Steve: yes it was.
Me: why didn't he set the light off when he moved away then?
Steve: because he's a smart little sucker and realized what he had done when he came in the yard so he knew to sneak out along the fence so he wouldn't set off the detector.

And that night I learned that armadillos are smart.  Of course not all of them are smart...there are too many armadillo roadkill victims on the highway.  But we must have been blessed with the smartest armadillo of them all.

Steve: the light's on.
Me: I see that.
Steve: should I get up?
Me: if you want to but it is just Arnaldo the armadillo back again.
Steve: yah you are probably right.

Arnaldo has visited several nights and has gotten so good at it that he doesn't even wake the dogs up.

                                               Other things I have learned about armadillos:
1. They will run right over you if you squat down and try to shoot them with a 12 gauge shotgun and get knocked on your ass by the gun's recoil.  (Happened to a friend of Steve's.)
2. They can jump straight up.  Fast.  And disappear when you blink your eyes because you can't believe something that small with legs that short can jump 3 feet straight up then move sideways without hitting the pavement at all.  (Happened to me when I pulled the car up in the yard one night and surprised one on the front porch.)
3. They can roll themselves up in a ball.  Which comes in handy when the grandkids are playing outside and Gabe the lab has chewed their soccer ball to pieces.
4. Calling them possums on the half shell does not make me more inclined to taste one after it has been cooked.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

to thine own self beale true

As we got ready that evening to go to Beale Street to BB King's place, I felt like nothing else was gonna karma-smack us upside the head after what the day had been so far.... (see previous two Beale Street blog posts)

We had reached Memphis on a Saturday morning, got lost in a 3 block radius trying to find a special restaurant Mona knew was "somewhere right around here", and been thrown into a race down 9 flights of stairs at the hotel after a fire alarm went off and a voice in the wall screamed at us to LEAVE THE BUILDING NOW. 

So I got dressed, put my war paint on, and took out my Maddie earrings to wear (see Maddie's earrings blog post) and put them on for some bling.  I am not a flashy dresser, or even into clothes that much at all, but earrings are my weakness.  Steve was ready before I was, like a typical man, although I have to say I have worked hard to shave minutes off my dressing to go out prep time over the years.  I have two sisters who take twice as long as I do to get ready, because I was inspired to speed up by a man who can huff and make disgusted waiting noises that can be heard from 30 feet away (similar to a bull snorting only more obnoxious).  So now I can be ready to go somewhere from shower to out the door in 30-40 minutes, a record I take pride in.  I had Little Girl packed along with a lipstick and my driver's license and debit card in the camera case and out the door we went.

We met Mona in the hall and headed to Beale Street.  We had walked so many blocks looking for Rendevous at lunch that we knew exactly where Beale St. was.  We didn't want to drive, because we were all designated drinkers that night.  I thought it was a wise decision to walk, after all, how many people do you hear of getting killed by a drunk walker?  So we were on our way and I had LG out taking photos.

The air still held the remnants of the heat of the day, but the hard edge of it had softened a bit so that it wasn't stifling but made you feel as though you were wrapped from head to toe in a soft, warm blanket.  We strolled along, looking at buildings and people, and just chatting as we went.  There was a strong police presence, with cops walking the barricaded street, and police cruisers parked in every intersection.  I had never been to a city that barricaded a street off and turned it into a party.  What a night it was going to be!

We turned a corner and headed up the street.  At the end of the street was BB Kings.  I was so excited I could barely keep from running.  Steve stopped me one time because I was way out in front and Mona had stopped to watch some street acrobats and listen to some music playing in an alley.  I slowed down, stopped and turned around and went back and waited till Steve and Mona were ready to walk again.  Another half a block and there it was!

BB Kings Club!  I was so excited!  I love the blues, and he has always been one of my favorites.  We went inside, sat down and ordered some food and drinks and listened to the band playing.  The name of the band was The Will Turner Band, and even though the lead singer appeared to be very young, he had a lot of talent and I can imagine will probably evolve into a polished performer.  I was waiting for someone else though...the man himself...BB King...so I sat and listened and sipped my drink and just enjoyed the moment.

Now I have to add a little sidebar here about BB King.  Mona had made the reservations for us, and when we chatted online she made the statement that I was gonna be glad I had picked that weekend to go to Memphis because someone I'd wanted to see was going to be there...hints like that.  Now you have to understand Mona...when she tells something you are never sure if you are getting a straight story, but I swallowed that hook, line and sinker and went straight to the conclusion that BB King was going to be there.  And Mona being who she is, never steered me in any other direction...

So here we sit and about 9 PM another band starts setting up.  I am jumping up and down in my seat by then, and as I watch them set up I get LG ready for the photo op of a lifetime.  Then the band is announced:
"Ladies and gentlemen will you please welcome BB King's Allstars!"

Say WHAT?  ALLSTARS?  What the hell is an allstar?  I am sitting there in confusion, looking at them as they start to play, then it dawns on me.....

I've been bitten by a Mona tale....AGAIN....at first I was disappointed, extremely, then the band started to play....and suddenly it didn't matter.  They were pros, and played like they had been born with their instruments in their hands...it was so excellent that I suddenly realized that it didn't matter who was there that night.

What I realized as I sat there listening to the music was that I love music, I was in a place that was steeped in music history and that I was enjoying every minute of it.  My eyes and ears were on sensory overload, the food was great, and I was in the best of company...

I sat there thinking life doesn't get any better...good friends, food and music to share with them....

Yes, I think I can endure any amount of karma I thought to myself, when the rewards are like that night...

And I was feeling mellow and good about the whole thing the next day...a little sad to say goodbye to Mona, who was on her way back to work in one of my favorite places, the Alaskan tundra...but it was all good and a memorable weekend.....

And then I realized that night as I got ready for bed that I had left my favorite nightgown hanging on the back door of the bathroom on the 9th floor of that hotel in Memphis......

...my karma, stabbing me in the ass one last time.....

Monday, September 6, 2010

the god of fire

I hate to cook.  I may have said this before.  My family knows it's true.  There was a time when I might have turned the corner into a real cook, but I missed the turn somewhere along the way and ended up where I am.  I am talking the day-to-day what-are-we-gonna-eat type cooking.  Steve knows it makes me mad to ask me at 8AM what I want for dinner that day.  I don't KNOW.  If I could plan that far ahead I would just plan the whole week's menu out. 

When I was a kid mom never let us help in the kitchen.  Mom had certain ideas about how things should fall.  She cooked, we set the table.  She fed us, we did the dishes.  She washed the clothes, we folded the flat stuff.  We weren't allowed to touch the clothes...I think she thought if we washed them we'd ruin them.  (There was that time we washed Dooj's wool baby blanket mom had knitted for her baby doll and it ended up being a pot holder.)  Same thing for the kitchen. We weren't allowed to cook.  I can remember making a bowl of cereal, or toast or a sandwich and that was it.  Nothing that required heat or the stove (that was before microwaves).  We did get to do the dishes, which usually ended up being something like a quiet fight so Mom wouldn't hear us and smack us.  Or we'd take the damp towel, whoever was drying, twist it into a sling and try to smack the other one and raise blood blisters on each other.  Or try to make each other laugh when we stopped to take a drink of water during dishes, causing one of us to snork water through the nose.  The first one to snork lost.  Usually we snorked into the dishwater, or on the clean dishes and had to rewash.  That was the kind of stuff we were allowed to do, or got away with when Mom wasn't looking.

When I turned 13 all bets were off.  Mom was divorced, with a social life and that meant she was out a lot.  I don't mean every minute, but often enough that I discovered...THE STOVE.  And since I had never cooked in my life, I decided I was going to learn.  And my sisters became the guinea pigs.  I didn't know the first thing about cooking...I mean not even where to start, but I finally figured that if you started with a big pan and started throwing stuff in and kept adding spices and stuff eventually you would have something edible.

And we did...most of the time.  I'd usually start with hamburger, cook that then add spices, macaroni, or rice or whatever I could find and keep throwing and stirring until it was where I thought it should be.  (This was before I won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow award...which was a test, not a cooking contest, and because I can pretty well guess my way through any test...I won....because I didn't want to get up and go to the library the day they gave the test.)

We finally came up with a name for the food I cooked.  Concoction.  That's right, and if you ask Vix or Dooj the Stooj what a concoction is, they'll tell you it was our dinner some nights, after they stop retching.

Fade to years later after I was married.  My mother in law finally showed me around the kitchen and how to cook food Steve would eat, and I settled in all right, but I still didn't like cooking.  And then when the kids got a little bigger I discovered what I do love to cook...

Desserts...pastries...pies, cakes, cookies you name it and I will give it a try.  Oh and I do love to cook some of the old family recipes.  But none of those equal what a meal should be about, and that is at least a few of the food groups that don't involve sugar.

Enter the God of Fire.  My salvation.  He went in just a few years of marriage from being a consumer of food cooked by a wife who hated to cook, to a cook who can stand on his own with anyone.  It was a matter of survival.  If he didn't cook we would all starve.  I was more than glad to give up the kitchen tongs to him.  I have to say that now on the rare occasion I do venture into the kitchen while he is cooking, I usually get thrown out.  But I don't mind because I know that when the God of Fire is in there, it is all good.  He cooks enough food for ten people when there are only two of us, and it means I have to do all the dishes (it was a trade off after all).  But I don't mind.

Because I worship the God of Fire.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

the fonz

Vix and I got to meet the Fonz...yes...THE FONZ...in person.  It was a fluke, but one of those weird things that happen in a moment of serendipity.

It was a time when I was travel nursing in California.  I won't go into the reasons I ended up doing assignments in California, but let's just say I was in the right place at the right time in my life.  Vicky was at a time in her life of great personal stress, and it was fortunate for us both I was out there, because we needed each other.

It was a day in late winter when I was returning my rental car prior to going home for a while.  We were at the airport in Sacramento, and I had gone to turn the car in and was waiting in line.  Vix was out in her car waiting for me.  I have always been a people watcher, so as I am standing in line I am looking around.  The place is nearly empty, and I notice a young man ahead of me in line making arrangements for a car.  He turns around to talk to a man standing back a bit and I look at the man and think to myself "gee he looks familiar".  I look around at other people but there weren't many to look at, so I swing back to look at Mr. Familiar again and while I am looking at him trying to figure it out, he smiles at me.  I am a grinner by nature so I smile back.  Then I get called to another agent and go finish my business.  As I start to leave I look at Mr F one more time and he smiles at me again, I smile, and then walk past him.  As I get outside the door it hits me....

HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!! That was the Fonz!!!!!  I think wow what luck and walk back to Vix's car and climb in.  Our conversation went like this:

Me: Guess who I just saw inside.

Vix: Who?

Me: The Fonz.

Vix: No you didn't you are lying.

Me: No I am not it was Henry Winkler.

Vix: No it wasn't how can you be sure it was?  I don't believe you.

Me: Yes it was Henry Winkler I know it was.

Vix: I don't believe you, I am going in to find out.

Me: You don't have to because there he is.

And I point at Henry Winkler coming out of the car terminal.  Vix drops her mouth open and says "holy shit" (we are sisters after all and tend to think and have the same reactions) and screams "IT IS HIM!!!"

Now at this point Mr F is walking right toward Vix's car....as he draws near to walk by, I holler out "HI FONZ!!!" and of course he hears me because she has the sunroof open a bit....

And he stops....right by her window, which she had rapidly rolled down when she saw he was slowing down.  He bends over, looks in and the conversation goes something like this:

Me: I knew that was you!

Mr F: Looking good girls......

Me: So are you....

Mr F: nice ride......

Me: Thanks....

Mr F: well you girls have a great day....

Me: You too!.....

Now if you know Vix, and I say this with love in my heart, she is NEVER at a loss for words.  She can keep a conversation going and only stop to suck wind every once in a while.  I have always been the stand back and listen one...

Except this time.  When Henry Winkler bent down to talk to us, he was inches from Vix's face.  About 2 inches to be exact.  She said afterward if she had leaned over just a tad, she could have licked him.  And the whole time I am talking to him, she is sitting there with her mouth hanging open and a shit eating grin on her face.  What I don't know at the time is Mum is talking to her in her earpiece (she had called Mum on her cell phone while she was waiting for me) and hollering in her ear "who is it??? what's going on????".  So Vix was on overload.

And Fonz walked out of our life just like he had walked in...and even though he isn't taller than a popcorn fart, he is a gorgeous man in person with bright eyes and has aged well... we were so stunned that after he was gone we just looked at each other....then realized.......

we didn't ask for a photo with him to prove it, or an autograph or anything....

oh well...Vix and I know we saw him....and talked to him...and so does the Fonz.

Me shocking Vix with this ranks right up there with the ice cream cone in the face....but that's another story.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I've started this a multitude of times.  It isn't something I talk about easily.  Maybe writing about it will help.

I hate August.  It is the month in which I was born.  And it is the month my dad died.  The year 2000.  I don't remember exact dates because that is always how I have dealt with things that are painful to me.  I lose the memory.  It somehow makes things more bearable.  But it also has led me to hate the whole month of August.

This year was better.  I spent part of the month in California with my sister Vix and Mum.  I was able to forget for stretches of hours at a time.  Then some little thought would come creeping into the edges of my consciousness and wham me.  I covered very well though.  That is something else I do.  When everyone in the family is in turmoil or upset over some crisis, I can put my emotions on hold until a later time when I am alone and can allow myself to unravel.  Mum says even as a small child I never cried much or got upset.  Guess I get that after dad.

Dad.  What can I say about dad?  I can't say he was a perfect dad.  He was human and had warts just like we all do.  He was gone a lot, flying for the Air Force as a flight engineer.  We would go weeks without seeing him while he was on a trip.  Then one night Mum would pile us into the station wagon and off we'd go to the base to pick him up.  It was wonderful when he was home.  And I missed him when he was gone.  After the divorce, we saw him even less, just on weekends now and then when he wasn't gone on trips.  After retiring from the Air Force he went on to fly for several other companies, including El Saudia and Singapore Air.  We gained two stepmothers along the way, one that I was especially close to, and one that none of us girls (my sisters) were close to, by my stepmom's own design.  We went for years at that point without seeing dad.  There was one stretch I didn't see him for ten years.  He was busy with his work and travel, and I was busy having and raising babies.  Time flies.  We neither one realized how much until later...until it was too late.

I am a little fuzzy on my timeline, my family will correct me on this I am sure, but that is me forgetting purposefully again.  I do remember going to Las Vegas for my daughter's wedding in May or was it June?  Dad and the whole family was there, stepmother and Mum, my kids and my sister Vix and her husband and youngest child.  We all had a great time and planned to have a family reunion similar to one we had back when the kids were in high school and we all went to California.

But it never happened.  A few months after the wedding, Dad called me to tell me he had small cell lung cancer.  He had a cough that wouldn't go away and when the doctor did a bronchoscopy they found it.  Inoperable.  Dad said he had a wonderful oncologist, who was going to give him chemo and radiation at the same time because he was so healthy.  How ironic is that?  You are almost 70 years old and don't take any medicine or have anything else wrong with you except you have this cancer growing in your lungs.  I listened and gave Dad encouragement.  My sisters both called wanting to know all about the cancer, what Dad was facing and what the prognosis was.

And I lied to them.  By then I had been a nurse for about 5 years.  What I told them was that we had to wait and see what treatment would do for him.  Yada, yada, yada.  I was believable.  I found that I could lie very well to protect my sisters and Dad from the truth.  I knew the average life span for small cell cancer was less than 2 years, but I never told anyone in my family that.  And they all believed what I told them.  What I carried in me from that day was the knowledge that my dad was dying.  And he didn't have long.  But I never shared it with my sisters or dad.


We did have one more special time together.  We girls conspired with my stepmom and had a surprise birthday visit...I think it was in October, and a little before his birthday, but he was totally surprised and loved every minute of the few days we all had together.  It was one of those times you remember as magical, and that everything is as it should be, even for just a brief instant.

We went back again a few months later, Dooj on her own and Vix and I at the same time.  By then Dad was frailer, had lost and grown back a head of gray hair (he cussed about that because he swore he would never let himself go gray, but after chemo there he was with gray hair...and we all laughed at him).  By this time the cancer was in his brain and bone.  He was having pain, and losing his balance from time to time, but still bearing up pretty well.  But not the Dad we knew...our Dad had always been strong and vibrant and laughing and joking, never down, never moody.  Dad was always the same.  Now I felt like I needed to do something, and felt helpless.  The nurse in me wanted to be busy doing something.  And there was nothing I could do.

Dad spoke to me and Vix separately.  I am sure he had the "talk" with Dooj too.  The talk about his coming death, and his regrets, and that he wished he could have done things differently...spent more time with us.  That was when I stopped him.  I told him not to regret a damn thing, life had been good and there was no use in spending time on regrets, that was all water under the bridge and no reason to worry about.  He looked relieved...but I meant what I said...life is too damn short to have regrets...you can only move forward.  We sat and talked for just a bit, because forward for Dad meant to die....

And truly, I wanted it all to just go away.  I felt like I had a rock on me, one I carried around all the time.  Part of me knew he was dying, but part of me was so angry about it that I just wanted to scream and curse.  But I didn't.  I stayed steady and planned to return in a few weeks time to help my stepmother care for my Dad til he died.

Only Dad, being the person he is, didn't do it the way we planned...he was in the hospital suddenly a couple of weeks later, for what my stepmother thought was just some IV fluids for dehydration.  And while he was there, he died.  My sister called me on the psych unit I was working on at the time and told me...I unravelled for a bit then pulled it together.  We all met in Phoenix again a few days later, some of the rest of the family there too...for dad's memorial service...we all stayed at a hotel together and I have to say those days were some of the best of my life....we had a few rough spots but I remember a lot of laughing together and good times too.  For some reason my sisters didn't want to tell my stepmother what they needed from Dad's belongings, so I spoke up and snagged one of Dad's hats for Vix (to have his smell near...she still has it in a plastic bag).  For Dooj, a crocheted bedspread my Grammy made that was supposed to be hers anyway (for sure the stepmother wasn't going to keep that if I could help it).  Funny but I didn't get anything for myself that was Dad's from his house.  Nothing.  I didn't want anything.  I did take home the basket that his friends sent to the hotel filled with fruit.  But that was all I wanted.  All I took.
We all went out to eat one night at Dad's favorite Mediterranean restaurant, complete with a belly dancer who used to rub dad's head when he had lost all his hair to chemo (he would tip her in dollar bills)...just a wonderful night...more laughter...

I thought I had it all handled.  And I did, because I am the rock...so no one ever knew that every evening after going back home, on my way to work, I would play some of Dad's favorite songs in the car, and cry all the way to work, then cry all the way home.  My way of dealing with it.  Eventually the tears became less frequent, and I was able to think about Dad and remember good things.  But I had a lot of anger for a long time, toward cancer, toward the circumstances, because I didn't get to see Dad again, and just sometimes in general.  Eventually I mastered that too.

Not long after Dad died, Dooj said he sent her a sign.  I don't remember what that sign was, but Vix said she got one too....she was in Mum's yard and saw a lizard like the one she had as a pet when she was a child (our childhood pets are a whole other story for another time).  So here I am waiting for my sign from Dad.  I am the eldest after all...finally one day I just said out loud "OK DAD THE JOKE IS OVER NOW SEND ME A SIGN TOO DAMMIT".  The next day I was walking in my front yard and stepped on my sign.  A golf ball had been halfway embedded in the grass by my front door....now you may think this is no sign...but....

You see, I live in the country...I mean way out...and no one golfs around me, especially near my front door....

In the time since, I have recieved four other golf balls, always in my front yard.  I travel with one in my purse all the time, for company, and luck.

Dad sent me another sign too...he sent me Maddie Kate.  She has my dad's forehead and ears, and looks out of her eyes just like him sometimes....I look at her and know Dad will always be with us, in ways even we can't comprehend...

 I still miss you Dad, every day.

And here's your favorite song Dad, the one you would fast forward back to on the video tape (as Dunc would tell you to do if he had known you)...