Monday, December 31, 2007

Great in '08

Christmas has gone by in a blur of road trips, canceled get-togethers, sick days, elder care, crazy preparation and moments of pure relaxation. Both Craze and I have been sickly and snotty and generally under the weather. Nevertheless, I got some lovely and thoughtful gifts from family and enjoyed time just sitting looking at the Christmas lights with the snow falling quietly outside. And for once, I let myself eat little chocolate Santas without feeling guilty. This Christmas has been remarkable in the delight I've found in it being quite unremarkable. I've enjoyed the quietness of this holiday more than I can say or would have expected.

And now, New Year's Eve is already upon us. Unlike other years, I don't feel the need to make a list of resolutions or run around tidying up to get a jump on things before the new year strikes. Instead, I plan to tip toe quietly into 2008 and pull up a cozy chair and just get to know it a little before I bowl it over with a list of expectations. I don't know what's ahead, but I feel in my heart that I'm going to like this new year. In fact, if it doesn't sound too completely cheesy, I think me and '08 are gonna get along just great. If this new year was a person, I think it would be a kindred spirit. Someone who would knit me a nice, wooly scarf just because and tell me honestly, but kindly, to get a grip when I need a reality check. I look forward to making its acquaintance.

And as 2008 approaches, I'm hoping that everyone can feel some of the peace of mind I finally feel that I have. The peace of mind that I've worked so hard to find over the past few years.

I won't be wishing for more at midnight. I'll be looking around and gratefully counting my blessings. I won't be contemplating what this new year might bring to me, but I'm sure I'll be smiling as I think about the wondrous things that I could bring to it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Dab of Christmas Magic

Today I ran around finishing up some last minute Christmas shopping. And even though the past week has been super busy and I'm running on only five hours of sleep, I was in a great mood. I was noticeably more amiable with cashiers than usual. I let cars pull in from of me. I stopped to let people cross even when I didn't have to. I smiled at tired little children in shopping carts.

The more cheerful I got, the more it seemed to spread to those around me. People were helpful when they didn't have to be. More human even. Funnier.

Maybe that's just a bit of that Christmas magic we're all lead to believe exists around this time of year. If so, I'd like a bottle of it under the tree this year, please, so I can dab a little behind the ears whenever I'm feeling cranky and misanthropic.

And I'm hoping that everyone gets a dose of what I'm feeling and enjoys a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hello, My Old Friends

I had a bad day today. It started out fine enough and a quick call sent it all speeding right downhill.

See, the thing is that a couple of weeks ago, I found out that my Dad has prostate cancer. His health is already pretty poor (he's been in a nursing home for five years even though he's only 76) and we're just waiting to find out if the cancer has spread elsewhere.

I've been kind of a rock about the whole thing. Very matter of fact. Hopeful that it hasn't spread and that, with hormones and radiation, we can just nip it in the bud. That without too much discomfort, we'll be able to maintain his quality of life.

But today just chatting with one of the nurses at the nursing home about all the testing appointments for my dad, the nurse Kim said this, "I'm so sorry to hear this about Charlie. He's such a nice man."

For some reason, those two sentences pushed me over an edge that I didn't even know was there. I couldn't talk for the next minute or so and burst into tears once I'd hung up the phone. Luckily, I had a counseling session already planned for today and so I went to Jane's office and just basically cried for an hour. I felt better afterwards and decided to put my bawling aside and get on with the rest of my day: Going to PetSmart for food. Filling the car with gas. Mailing our last little Christmas packages at the post office.

By the time I accomplished the first of these things it was four o'clock and, not having eaten lunch, I was starving. At that instant, what should conveniently be looming ahead of me but my old high school hang-out, Steak and Shake. I thought about just getting the grilled chicken sandwich and a bottle of water. Instead I went a little nutty.

"Yes, I'd like the Steakburger with Cheese, large onion rings and a vanilla shake. With hot fudge," I heard myself saying into the ordering podium, the possibility of a healthier lunch already forgotten.

Here's the thing: I have spent a good chunk of my life comforting myself with bad food. And, for the most part nowadays, I'm a pretty healthy eater. I might order one of the things I did today as a treat once in a blue moon, but never all three at once.

But I have to tell you, as a pulled away from the drive-thru and took the first sip of shake, things really did seem more right with the world. It wasn't just a "takhomasac" or whatever they call a hot bag of high-calorie foods at Steak and Shake sitting on the passenger seat next too me. I felt like I was in the company of old friends. It felt warm and reassuring. Certainly drive-thru dining is not a long-term coping strategy (unless I want to weigh 400 pounds!), but at that moment, it was just what I needed.

Oh, Christmas Tree

I am way overdue to Christmas-ize our home. When I was a kid, we were never allowed to put up our decorations too early. Though, oddly, I can't remember my mom's exact rule. Was it no holiday decorations until the week before or two weeks before Christmas? I honestly can't recall. What I loved though is that we always kept the tree up until Epiphany (Jan. 6th). And even though, as a kid, I was always annoyed that all my friends had festive trees and decor on the home front long before me, as an adult, I've pretty much kept to my mom's prohibitions (even if I can't remember the exact time frame).

When it comes to our Christmas tree, every year I like to drag out the same old stuff I've collected over the years--including the tree. I love the idea of a fresh tree, but hate the idea of cutting down a living thing for that purpose. Also, I like the idea that the same tree can spend so many happy times with my family. My particular fake tree is a skinny six-footer that I bought in the after-Christmas sales at Target more than ten years ago for less than five bucks. It's nothing special, but once it's decorated, it warms my heart with its loveliness.

And the decorations I've had for years. Ornaments from childhood are my favorites, those that bring back special memories of loved ones still here and those long gone. They're reminders of happy Christmases from long ago, those days when we had so much less, but never seemed to notice. I'm lucky to have hand-made treasures from friends and special children. Each year they're carefully unpacked and put in a place of honor. And the best part is the angel. When I was about four, my mother made a bunch of angels for a charity bazaar and kept just one. My angel is small and made of burlap and gold ric-rac with a friendly painted face that I have a vague memory of mom painting at our dining room table in those far-away days when we lived on Mackinac Island. Every year that angel looks down from the tree top with a kind of sweet benevolence. It reminds me that there are moments when, indeed, my mother is still here.

My tree definitely has no contrived theme. No matching color palette of carefully placed garland, ornaments and bows. On my tree, nothing matches and that's just the way I like it. The course of my life is the only common thread that unites its elements. Every little oddity has a story, a tree of tales you might say.

My big change this year is that I'm going with the larger, multi-color LED lights. They remind me of the big colored lights that we had when I was really little (before it was revealed that they were burning down people's homes and my parents hastily got rid of them). The new lights are more environmentally friendly. So, while things are much the same, we're greening up the Christmas tree a little you might say.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bug!

The Bug is three years old today. We are so lucky to have her.

In the Spirit of the Season

I found this on Ms. Mamma's site and decided to join the gifting fray. Here's my proposition to any bloggers who may read my blog:

I will send a handmade gift to the first THREE people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF (Pay It Forward) exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days. That is my promise.

The only thing you have to do in return is Pay It Forward by making the same promise on your blog.

Anyone interested? The first three takers are in and I'll confirm the giftees.

And if you're really feeling generous and/or flush, please join me in getting a gift for a needy child this holiday season. I'm sure there are appropriate charities in your area. Personally, I'm going to get a letter to Santa via the Chicago Sun-Times Season of Sharing Fund. Ho, ho, ho.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

One of the Best Gifts

Yesterday Craze and I made our way to a suburban shopping mall to jump into the Christmas shopping thrall. I had painstakingly compiled a gifts-to-get list and felt particularly flush because I had a Bloomingdales coupon for an extra 20% of sale items AND a $250 Bloomingdales gift card that I got before leaving my old job by cashing in accumulated AMEX points. I was good to go to score some bargains. . . or so I thought.

Before we went too crazy, I decided to find out how much money was on the card (I thought it was mostly unspent) only to be told the card had expired and I was sent to customer service. Up on the third floor, a young, bespectacled woman was happy to help re-instate my cash. But sadly, I had clearly gone shopping in a now long-forgotten spree and only $62 bucks was left on the card. Can you say Christmas buzz-kill?

Nevertheless, we soldiered on and found some good bargains that should make everyone happy. When we tired, I cashed in a Starbucks coupon for a free "get a friend" coffee I've been carrying around in my wallet for weeks. I had the usual, Venti Skim Latte. Craze prefers the more extravagant fare and ordered a Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha. With whipped cream, thank you very much.

What I love most about these shopping expeditions with Craze, which don't happen very often, is that we work as a team. He carries the heavy stuff and never loses patience even though he doesn't love shopping. He doesn't mind when I spend fifteen minutes perusing the clearance racks in every department and holds things, even my purse, while I scout out bargains. He happily follows wherever I lead with never any rolling of the eyes or loudly expressed sighs of exasperation.

What a difference from shopping trips with old boyfriends and even some girlfriends.

I guess in the end, what I bought doesn't really matter. But the trip does reiterate that when it comes to really great gifts I've gotten in my life, my husband was and continues to be, one of the very best.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Snow's Not the Only Thing I Shovel

I've always been a good liar.

My mother always used to say that a liar has to have a good memory. Luckily for me, mine is excellent. And while I think myself particularly talented in the telling of untruths, I also value honesty very highly and usually try to stick to the straight and narrow as much as possible. It just feels lighter living with a clean slate. Leaves valuable memory cells free for more important things.

That said, I've certainly shoveled my fair share of shit over the years. But, I've almost never lied about anything really important. Probably my most significant, premeditated lying occurred in my early teens. For example, I made up a couple of stories and got my brother to back me up so that my parents wouldn't find out that we'd been smoking my dad's cigarettes.

I lied about how the yellow candle wax got on the sculptured, green upstairs hall carpet. I can't even remember what lie I told, but it was enough for my parents not to ground us right before my friend Sarah's thirteenth birthday party. Which is exactly what they would've done if they'd have found out that we'd had all the neighbor kids over one afternoon for a seance and knocked the candle over when some spooky shadow (shaped like an ax!) appeared on the wall. To my mind, that lie was pretty justified. After all, if my parents really wanted the house to be a seance-free zone when they were at work, they wouldn't have left me, at 12, solely in charge of my 9-year-old brother. All day. All summer long.

And of course, as I got older, I had new life experiences to weave tall(ish) tales about.

I've lied about how many men I've slept with. Not because I've done a lot of whoring around but because, on occasion in conversation, the number seemed pitifully low and it made me feel unsexy and undesirable to admit it. And besides, I totally feel that it's only right to count one man twice since there was a twelve-year gap between our sexual adventures and we were both different people during the second go around. There you go. Not lying, really.

I sometimes tell the story of the boyfriend I had just before I met Craze because it makes people laugh. The pre-husband boyfriend, Joe, had the smallest penis I'd ever seen except for, maybe, while diapering a toddler. So little in fact, that I only saw it once when it wasn't erect and it was like a little, flesh-colored button really. What's unfortunate about that story is that it doesn't involve even the tiniest bit of a lie.

I do though tell white lies occasionally about things most people lie about. How much I weigh for example (I claim less). How tall I am (I claim just slightly more).

I've told people they look fine when they really don't look their best but telling them so would only make them feel worse. I've told recruiters that I make more money than I actually do. Since working for myself, I've claimed to be on a conference call when I was really just catching up on laundry so I'd seem more in demand.

I've bought expensive items in their original boxes on eBay for a pittance, given them as gifts and let some people think I spent a fortune. Though I guess that last one isn't lying per se. It's just being kind of sneaky and, to my mind, pretty clever actually. Financially astute, even. Come to think of it, I pat myself on the back for that one.

Probably the worst lie I ever told was said to my mother. She had collapsed suddenly early one Sunday morning and couldn't catch her breath. After calling 911 for an ambulance, I sat with her trying to calm her. Sitting on the floor together at the side of my parents' bed, waiting for what seemed an eternity for the paramedics to arrive, I told her the same thing over and over again.

"Shhh," I'd say to her as she tried to speak, brushing her hair back from her forehead the way she always did to me as she sat at my bedside when I was trying to fall asleep. "Just be quiet. The paramedics will be here in a minute and you'll be fine. . . You'll be fine."

But she wasn't fine.

After she finally got to the hospital, she died less than three hours later after a particularly nasty battle with a rogue blood clot. She was only 50. "You'll be fine," was probably the last thing I ever said to her, yet again, as they carried her from our house on the gurney.

That's the only lie I've ever told that's really tortured me. Why, I'm not really sure. "You'll be fine," was really more a statement of a wish on my part than some contrived untruth.

Twenty-two years after her passing and thanks to two years of therapy, I've finally gotten over the guilt of that lie. And the stupidity of it really is that, wherever mom is, I'm sure she's never held it against me. Not even for a second.

But the candle wax, cigarettes and sex with HOW MANY men? That might be a different story altogether. . .

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Shoe That Doesn't Fit Anymore

Last week I interviewed for a job that I was somewhat excited about. . .initially. Though, since that day, I've had some misgivings about going back to fast-paced, corporate life. I need more of a regular income and, theoretically, if I got a job doing what I used to do, I could clean up.

But I have a feeling that it's not gonna happen.

I thought the interview last week went pretty well. I was witty, well-dressed and imminently qualified. But frankly, I had a job interview a couple of months ago that I thought was a shoe-in and nothing came of it. So much for my take on things. It's beginning to make me doubt myself when I've usually had such good instincts in the past.

The reality of the whole situation is that I need to make more money. My freelancing isn't reliable enough to keep my family afloat long term--at least not at the current pace. But going back to what I used to do just feels like I'm trying to force on a shoe that doesn't fit any more. Maybe prospective employers are sensing that, too?

When I think of being back in an office every day, the traffic of the commute, the hoards of weary-looking people, the traveling, the annoying clients, it makes me die a little inside.

I did the same work for almost twenty years and I'm honestly at a loss about what else I could do where I wouldn't have to start at the absolute bottom. I love to write and I feel more committed to that than ever. But in the short term, that's not going to help pay my mortgage.

I do feel certain about a way ahead for myself in terms of a long-term goal. I need to work on my writing projects and actually finish something. Be more goal oriented. Try to get something published. Be more authentically myself. That is the way forward.

But how do I find work in the meantime that makes me a decent amount of money and gives me some personal fulfillment? That is the quandary.

I wish so much that I knew the answer. Now. Today.

But the truth is that not knowing is just another part of this journey. And I need to embrace the uncertainty, too. Because the answer is up ahead, just out of sight. I'll find it soon enough. But I guess, if I've learned anything over the past couple of years, I know that how I come to it is just, if not more, important than the answer to it all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned in My Kitchen

They said it would come and it did.

We got a good five inches of snow last night which I'm mentally readying myself to get my ass outside and shovel. I love how bright it is outside with new-fallen snow covering everything. It's like the world is glowing and the most ordinary things become, if only for a short time, magical works of beauty.

And then I fuck everything up by marring the perfection with my shoveling. Ah, the impermanence of it all. . .

On a completely different subject, but something I've been thinking a lot about lately. . .I know that people travel the world seeking enlightenment. They go to shrines and ashrams and the like. And I've done my fair share of globe trotting. But so far, no trip has ever been illuminated by the irrefutable clarity of some great life lesson. I seek, but I just don't find.

So, why is it that my most meaningful life moments always seem to take place in my kitchen?

It's where precisely 26 months ago I sat at our old, red linoleum table at the very end of my rope and actually decided that I was not smart enough to pull myself out of that pit. That for once in my life, I needed someone else's help.

And it was in the kitchen again yesterday that it came to me that these past 30 months of indecision, worry and searching have not been for nothing. These painful but also sometimes joyful moments and months weren't just something to get through. They were, in fact, my gift. And I also realized that the answers I've been searching for were there all along, walking beside me. It just wasn't time yet to see them.

At my darkest moment, what I needed to know sat right across from me at that old table. It looked at me, patient to wait, and wondered how long it would take for the light of recognition to come into my eyes.

The light is finally there I think. And like the glow of the newly-fallen snow, it is vibrant and lovely and so, so bright. I am happy to finally see it and surprised by its familiarity. And more than that, it feels like it lights a path in front of me and I think I finally know what it is I'm meant to do.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December Lameness

Two days after Thanksgiving, the day we were down in Dixie readying ourselves for a 10+ hour drive home to the Land of Lincoln, I got it. That horrible, sore, scratchy throat feeling and the need for an endless supply of tissues (preferably the kind "with lotion").

For a week, I haven't been able to shake it off. It's one of those colds that just makes you feel sleepy all the time (perhaps from lack of oxygen, since breathing has been an issue)--so between sniffling and naps, it's hard to get motivated to start, let alone finish, new household or holiday projects.

Then in the middle of this, I had a job interview. I geared myself up with as many over-the-counter remedies as I could take at one time so as not to appear snotty and germ ridden. I think I pulled it off pretty well. Then I drove home, wrote a follow-up email to my potential employers, put on my "I'm sick, I don't have to look presentable" clothes, laid on the couch and promptly fell asleep for three hours.

When I'm not interviewing or napping, I've been watching a lot weepy holiday movies on the Hallmark channel and crying way too much. Craze just shakes his head in dismay at my overdosing on the bad Hallmark productions. "Meet the Santas" with an overly tanned, glibly-ho-ho-ho-ing-at-every-occasion Steve Guttenberg was particularly awful, but never the less had me tearing up a couple of times.

A virus made me sick. But I don't believe that same bug can be blamed for making me so exceedingly lame!