Wednesday, October 28, 2015

20 Years Ago


20 years ago this week, I left my hometown, my extended family, my job, my friends, and everything I knew. I took a chance and moved 1,000 miles away from my home in Northern Virginia. It was just a few days before Halloween, in 1995. My boyfriend and I packed up everything in our apartment, including our two kitties, and hit the road. Why did we move? Well, my boyfriend (who later became my husband, of course) was a Midwestern boy. After he left the Marine Corps, he wanted to move back home. He asked me if I wanted to come, too. There were many good reasons why it all made sense: lower cost of living, decent job market, and affordable real estate. Also, I had finished college and now it was his turn to go. He had the GI Bill waiting for him. Plus, we knew that we planned to get married and buy a house. With even the skinniest townhouses selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars in Virginia, we could spend a lot less and get a lot more. And so, we packed up and moved.

The transition, at least for me, was hard. Really, really hard. I was terribly homesick for the first year or so. P had flown out ahead of time and found us an apartment. When I saw it, tears sprang to my eyes. I couldn't cry, though, because my (future) father-in-law was there, hugging me and welcoming me. I cried later. It was a one-bedroom apartment, which was fine, but it looked like it had been built sometime between the two World Wars. Old, dingy, ugly carpeting, ugly tile in the kitchen. Waaaah!

It took me a couple weeks to find a job.  I hated that first job I landed after the move (I was a project assistant for a manufacturing company), but I stuck it out for six months before finding a job with an Information Technology company.

P and I got engaged on New Year's Eve, 1995. We moved into a muuuuuch nicer apartment and then got married on May 24, 1997. A year later, we bought our first home. We are still in that home because, frankly, moving is a shit ton of work. I'd love to have walk-in closets but every time I think about packing up my kitchen . . . that thought is quickly followed by, "Nope! This is juuuuust fine."

I could probably write a whole essay on the differences between the East Coast and the Midwest. There are plenty of pros and cons for each, of course. I've had 20 years to get used to people calling a water fountain a "bubbler" so I can't really pretend to be a newcomer anymore. It's interesting to think back on my 25-year-old self. I had no idea of the joys and heartbreak that lie ahead. I didn't know that I'd get involved in dog rescue, miscarry four times, adopt a baby, lose my in-laws, change my religion, go vegan, and all the other crazy/wonderful/awful things that have happened.  I'm still hanging out with the same dude, so that's good.

Do I ever think about moving back?  Not really. I have gotten used to living in a town that doesn't really have a traffic report. I make less money but have more time. On the other hand, I miss being near my family. I miss the stores. I miss the Metro and the unlimited supply of fun things to do. I miss the diversity.

P and I have talked of moving to the Carolinas when we retire, but who knows. According to those reports I get from the Social Security Administration, it looks like I'll need to work until I'm about 107. So, that may put a damper on the retirement plans. If we do move, it will probably depend on where our daughter ends up. I don't want to be too far away from her. When she has kids of her own, I really need to be there so that I can watch them reject the food she has cooked for them. What comes around goes around, sister! 

It's all good, though. All good.

I hated this tile with a burning passion that will never die.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Boys Don't Listen

My husband is a good egg. He really is. He's a great dad. He works two jobs to provide for our family. Sure, he reads comic books and he has a metal container full of multi-sided dice (that I don't think I'm supposed to mention, so shhhhh), but I think he spends a lot more mental energy putting up with my quirks than I do with his.

He is not, however, a good listener. Tired of answering questions like "What are we doing this weekend?" I bought a magnetic monthly calendar and slapped it onto the refrigerator door. I make sure it's always up to date.  Of course, this doesn't stop him from asking questions like, "What time are you leaving for church?" (Answer: "The same time I've been leaving for church for nearly a decade now.")

It does get a wee bit frustrating at times. One day last week I needed to take my daughter to the orthodontist at 8:30 a.m. The night before, I told my dear husband that I had turned off the kid's alarm clock and that I would wake her up myself at around 7 a.m.  The next morning, at 6 a.m., he flung open the kid's bedroom door, turned on her light, and notified me that our daughter wasn't up yet. Grrrrr.

Do you know how many times I've announced, "I'm going to the gym!" only to return home to have him ask, "Where'dja go? The grocery store?"

When I need to tell him something really important, I usually require eye contact and then quiz him on what I've just said. My other beef relates to his information gathering skills. This is why I don't send the guy solo to parent-teacher conferences. He would surely come back with no information at all, outside of confirmation that our daughter is indeed in fifth grade and does, in fact, have a teacher.

I've had 23 1/2 years to get used to my husband's brain and how it works, so I usually don't get too bothered by the whole not-listening-and-not-asking-questions thing. However, I guess my sub-conscious is a little more upset about it.  I had this dream the other night:

I was in the hospital having some sort of surgery. My sleeping brain didn't tell me what kind of surgery it was, so I assume it an exploratory surgery or a relatively minor fix of some sort. When I got out of surgery, the nurse gave a post-op information sheet to my husband. We then went home. I asked him to let me see the document so he handed it over. The document diagnosed me thusly: "Terminilly Ill." 

"This says I have a terminal illness," I said. "Are you sure it's from the doctor? It seems weird that a doctor would misspell the word 'terminal.'"

"Yes, it's definitely from the doctor," he confirmed, nodding.

"Well, what kind of terminal illness do I have?" I asked. I was understandably upset.

"Oh, I don't know. I didn't ask." 

I'd like to think this scenario would not actually happen. But my unconscious mind, clearly, is not so sure.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Unattended Parents

Our daughter went to an overnight camp with her choir group last weekend. The choir people are very organized. They sent out a very detailed checklist. She needed to bring a flashlight, two changes of clothing, her sheet music, and a bunch of other stuff.  I had to go to the grocery store on Friday evening so I left her to do the packing. I figured . . . she's 10 1/2, the checklist was very explicit, and she should be mature enough to handle this sort of thing on her own.

Needless to say, she didn't pack while I was a the grocery store. So, I made some rumblings about canceling the trip and then she stomped off to her room, ostensibly to pack.  The next morning, I went to the gym and to Weight Watchers, then dashed home to grab a shower before dropping her off for camp. She was so excited and couldn't wait to go. When we got to the church parking lot (the choir's offices are inside a local church), she checked in and then hopped on the bus. I put her duffel bag in the luggage compartment and then chatted with my friend Sharon while we waited for the buses to pull out. (By the way, spell check doesn't like "duffel" or "duffle" so I am officially giving up.) My friend mentioned something about how her daughter almost forgot to pack a towel. I didn't remember seeing a towel in my kid's stuff.  I climbed aboard the bus and found my daughter. "Did you pack a towel?" I asked her. She shook her head. "Then why did you bother packing shampoo?" She shrugged. The expression on her face was something like, "Mom. Go away. Now. Ixnay on the oweltay."  She'd almost forgotten her sheet music as well, but I happened to ask about that at the last second.

Anyway, I guess I don't know what she packed or didn't pack, but it was only a 25-hour absence so I figured she'd be fine. After leaving the church, I did a little shopping and then headed home. How come when parents get a little time away from their children, they immediately do something for the kid(s)?  I found myself using a coupon on snow boots for Her Highness and also bought her a shirt to go with a hard-to-match sweater she has.

Now, Mr. M and I had a whole afternoon and evening to do whatever we wanted. He played video games and I cooked.  I know - crazy! I am not a particularly good cook, but I do like to cook.  Well, I like to cook what I want - mostly for myself (because my family thinks everything I make is simply too exotic for consumption). I am not as big a fan of the I-have-to-cook-dinner-for-my-family-on-weeknights scenario. I feel like I got elected to that position based solely on the fact that I have ovaries, which seems unfair. Anyway, I spent the afternoon making butternut squash soup, chocolate zucchini muffins, mock tuna casserole salad, vinegar and sea salt roasted potatoes, and peanut butter cups.  I took the peanut butter cups to church the next day because I cannot be trusted with such things in my house.

After dinner, we went to see "The Martian."  We didn't have to get a babysitter! It was all very exhilarating.  The movie was good, though a bit long for my tiny attention span.

Later, we tried to watch Saturday Night Live, which seemed like it should have been really funny because Tracy Morgan was hosting. But, alas. I think we were both asleep before midnight.

After church on Sunday, we picked the kid up and the three of us went out to lunch. She couldn't stop talking about how much fun she'd had with the choir - the new friends she'd made, the singing, the team-building exercises, and so forth.  Oh, and in case you wondered . . . no, she had not showered.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No More Brace Face

The kid got her braces off today. She was a pretty good sport about it. They also fitted her for a retainer, which we will pick up next week.

When I look back at photos of her taken a couple years ago, I can really see a huge difference. The palate expander re-arranged her face (by correcting an underbite) and then the braces straightened the top teeth. So, for the moment, we are in good shape. She'll wear the retainer until she loses enough baby teeth that it no longer fits. Or, until she leaves it on her lunch tray at school and throws it away, I guess.

I do suspect that we have some more dental woes ahead of us. The kid has a baby tooth that will need to be pulled because it is attached directly to the bone. It hasn't "erupted" properly. (Is it just me or is it super gross to use the word "erupt" in conjunction with one's mouth?!) We'll address that wacky tooth at her next dental appointment this winter. Also, we don't know what will happen when more adult teeth come in. As in, will they point every which way? I'm crossing my fingers because I can think of other things on which I'd like to spend a few thousand dollars.

Now, someone bring this kid some taffy, caramel, and corn on the cob.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mandatory Halloween Activities

Last week, I packed up my summer clothes. We were getting close to the freezing mark at night and I found myself needing a jacket for the chilly journey to work in the mornings. So, I figured it was time. My closet is too small to host winter clothes and summer clothes simultaneously, so I swap them out seasonally. So, my flip-flops, tees, and capri pants were unceremoniously shoved into plastic totes, which were then stacked precariously in our basement.

What this means, of course, is that the temperature immediately skyrocketed to 76 degrees. Sunday was flat-out hot. It was in the 60s on Saturday. The kid had a friend over on Sunday and I all but begged the girls to play outside. "You won't see 76 again for at least eight months," I told them. They didn't look up from their iPads. Because Minecraft.

Anyway, we did some traditional October-y stuff over the weekend. On Saturday, we joined a group from our church at a farm (about an hour south of our house). It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed getting to know some of my church peeps a little better. We took a hay ride and learned about the farm's maple syrup operation and other stuff. As we rolled past a small herd of beef cattle, I overcame my urge to yell, "I don't eat your people!" to the cows. After the hay ride, our group hung out in the barn and had some lunch. I knew there wouldn't be anything there I could eat, so I had brought along a gargantuan Honey Crisp apple.

Next up was the corn maze. Believe it or not, I had never been in a corn maze. I was a little bit concerned because I have no sense of direction. I never knew just how bad my internal compass was until we went to Disney. At Epcot, my husband kept saying, "You're going the wrong way." And he was right every time - I was usually off by at least 90 degrees and sometimes by as many as 180. Thank goodness for GPS or I'd get lost in my own town.

It was windy, so that's why I looked like the Unabomber.
My main strategy with the corn maze was: follow the children. They seemed like they knew what they were doing. The farm also handed out clues to help visitors make their way through the maze. Other than a tantrum thrown by a pre-schooler in our group who was furious that he couldn't take two paths (in opposite directions) simultaneously, we all made it out just fine. The maze was divided into two parts. We'd already completed the first part, which took about 20 minutes. Part 2 was estimated to take about 45 minutes. Most of the members of our group decided to go for it. I decided to sit with my friend Michael who keeps getting body parts replaced and didn't think his new hip was up to the corn maze. Another friend from church stayed behind with her baby. So, we just hung out, enjoyed the weather, and tried desperately to keep the baby from eating wood chips. You have never seen a child so determined to eat a wood chip.

We ended the afternoon with a trip to the pumpkin patch. They even had a slide that took you from the top of the hill down to the pumpkins. Yes, I rode the slide. Did you have to ask? There is a certain appeal to the time-honored tradition of trudging through a muddy field to pick out your still-attached-to-the-vine pumpkin. I carefully selected the prettiest pumpkin with the most perfect "face side" and then when Halloween rolls around, I will use my limitless artistic skills to turn that pumpkin into a fanciful, magical jack-o-lantern . . . by which I mean that I will stab out some triangles with a steak knife.

By mid-afternoon, we were dirty and tired and I was getting hangry, because that apple could only do so much. So, we headed home, making a couple of stops on the way. I had some Kohl's cash (and a coupon, of course) so I bought Her Highness a pair of ugly boots she wanted.

On Sunday, after church I took the kid and one of her friends to a haunted house. The haunted house people set aside two days in October where they keep the lights on and let kids in during the day. It's a lot of fun (and only two bucks a person!). You get to take a train to the haunted house. Then, while you're waiting in line, people dressed up in various costumes toss candy and little trinkets out of the windows of the haunted house. The kid shoved her goodies into my purse. We were then escorted into the haunted house. The three of us wound our way through the various rooms. Kids from local organizations were dressed as ghouls and dead people and such, popping out around corners and attempting to scare us. One of them broke character, pointed at my daughter, and said, "Hey! I know you from summer camp!"

On the way back to the car, I noticed that one of the trinkets my daughter had received was a plastic magnifying glass. The day before, she had woken up with a pimple. She was trying to cover it up with her hair but I knew it was there. Before the haunted house, I told her that I was pretty sure that her zit was the scariest thing I'd see all day. Much to my amazement, she actually let me hold the magnifying glass up to her pimple and snap a quick photo. Don't say anything to her about the pimple, though. She was mortified enough and I know some of you people have a lot of trouble keeping things to yourself.

So, that was the weekend. Lots of fun stuff. My daughter is a rock star for Halloween. We aren't taking her to as many activities this year because, to be honest, most are geared towards younger children. But don't worry - she'll still have several opportunities to wear her costume. She gets her braces off tomorrow so she is excited about being able to eat her Halloween candy this year. Last year she had a palate expander in her mouth and it seemed like every house in town handed out nothing but Jolly Ranchers and caramel blobs.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A fast is so slow

On Friday, October 2nd, I completed the #fastagainstslaughter sponsored by the Farm Animal Rights Movement. I have to confess that I felt a bit anxious beforehand. The last time I missed three meals in a row was when I had my foot surgery last spring, and in that case it was because of the painkillers. The pills told me, "You don't need food, you only need uuuuuuuusss!" The pills also told me to sleep a lot.

My last meal was on Thursday. I went to the gym and then had tofu scramble for dinner. It's heavy on protein and usually keeps me full for a while. On Friday, I skipped breakfast and then headed to work as usual. At work I sometimes chew gum to keep me from eating other stuff. I couldn't decide if chewing gum would be cheating or not, so I opted to go gum-free for the day. I usually also eat a granola bar mid-morning when I'm at work. On Friday, I could hear them calling me from my desk drawer. "We have nuts and choooocolate," they said. "Also, we are gluten-free." I kept the drawer closed.

I pounded water all day. I think I peed about four times before noon. It was a long day, indeed. Every time my stomach started to rumble, I just reminded myself that it wasn't about me. It was about raising awareness for the plight of animals on factory farms. At lunchtime, I did a little shopping in an attempt to occupy my brain (which loves bargains almost as much as my stomach loves food).  Many states away, my wee baby sister was also fasting (she's the one who told me about the campaign) and also did some shopping. Great minds think alike! My friends Jennifer and Leslie fasted on Friday as well.

Because I am hopelessly schedule-oriented and do almost everything on a schedule (or at least according to a to-do list that I've scrawled in my serial-killer handwriting), I was scheduled to go grocery shopping on Friday night. So, after not having dinner, I headed to the grocery store. "I'm buying everything they sell," I told my husband on my way out the door. You know how they say not to go to the grocery store hungry? Try it when you haven't eaten in 24 hours.

The first thing I saw was a display of these:

There are products on the market that are referred to as being "accidentally vegan."  Oreos are one of those products. Nabisco didn't set out to make a vegan snack, but there you have it. They are not in any way healthy, of course. Believe me, we know. Anyway, I couldn't get them in my cart fast enough. Normally I do not even buy cookies at the grocery store because I cannot be trusted with them.

Another accidentally vegan item?  These:
Oddly enough, the smaller version of Keebler Fudge Sticks are not vegan. This is probably for the best. I've had a problem with fudge sticks dating back to childhood. There were times when I actually denied buying a box of them so as not to have to explain where they had all gone. They're right up there with Girl Scout Thin Mints. The term "serving size" is so subjective, amiright?

Anyway, I bought the jumbo fudge sticks, too. "I should probably just go home," I thought. But, I persevered and finished my grocery shopping. I didn't buy anything too outlandish.

The next morning, I went to my usual Weight Watchers meeting. I didn't eat before the meeting (because that would be crazy). I figured I had gone that long without eating, so what's another hour?  When I got home, I decided that I'd probably better eat a fairly light meal so as not to overwhelm my empty insides. I ate a piece of sourdough toast with Earth Balance, a veggie sausage, and a handful of grapes. I have to say that the toast seemed like the best thing that had ever happened to me. The bread was really fresh, ya'll.

By the end of the day, life was back to normal. My co-worker gave me a butternut squash, so I roasted that (and then used it in vegan burritos the next day). I did a lot of cooking over the weekend - sometimes I make stuff ahead of time to make life a little easier during the work week.

Will I do the fast again next year? I'm sure I will. Me skipping meals for a day doesn't really do much in the scheme of things, but I think every little bit of awareness helps. I posted my photo and the corresponding hash tag on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thousands of people around the world participated in the event. If it causes even one person to make the connection between the meat they buy at the grocery store and how that meat got there . . . then I think it's worthwhile. All it takes is that one little spark of awareness. And awareness can lead to compassion. I'm sure of it.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

File this under "over-sharing"

Knowing what to share (and what not to share) on my blog . . . it's a fine line sometimes. There are lots of intensely personal thoughts and events that I certainly do not share here. I'm sure I am guilty of sharing too much at times. I know my daughter wishes I'd keep more of her escapades to myself. In many ways, I consider my blog to be a chronicle of her early years. Even now, it's fun to go back to the early entries (written when she was two) and remind myself of just how fun it was to housebreak a toddler. I am capable of keeping some things to myself, though.

In this case, I couldn't decide. But, here goes.

A few days ago, a blood test confirmed what I have basically known (or at least strongly suspected) for a year. I'm in menopause. Not perimenopause or some other cousin to menopause. I'm in full-on menopause. Part of me was comfortable with the idea. Now I don't have to wonder. Part of me felt like it was just one more "fuck you" from my body. I feel like my body has been betraying me my entire life. From growing up with various auto-immune disorders and later suffering through multiple miscarriages . . . I couldn't help but feel a little indignant towards my own flesh. "Early menopause? Thanks for nothing, jack ass." Fortunately, I have experienced exactly zero symptoms that are often associated with menopause. I read that a vegan diet can be really helpful in this regard. Score one for the tofu!

My brain also veered off in another direction, though. The other day I passed a Lane Bryant and saw this message in the window (in very large letters): #plusisequal. And I thought, "Empowerment for all - that's a good thing." I read an article a while back that explored how American women have gotten larger, but fashion models have gotten progressively smaller. A size 8 or 10 model is considered plus size. Crazy. Why is there no happy medium in the world? Lately I've been hearing a lot of buzz about model Tess Holliday. The girl, simply put, is stunning. She's a size 26.

So here is where I have to confront my own baggage. I look at Tess Holliday and I think,"Beautiful!"  However, I also sort of wonder about how her knees are going to hold up over time. I know from spending the last decade at Weight Watchers that knees hate extra pounds. I've seen a lot of women who struggle mightily with this.

Then I remember that Tess Holliday's health is none of my beeswax. None. Also, she's under no obligation to be a role model. She seems very confident and rocks the tattoos like nobody's business.

Last Sunday, a good friend of mine spoke at my church. She's heavily involved in roller derby. She talked about how going vegan, participating in derby, and running long distances helped her to quit smoking, get healthy, and lose some weight. She also talked about how the roller derby world is full of small women, large women, strong women, and bad-ass women. Being part of that world helped her to reject body shaming and to feel more comfortable in her own skin.

I wish I could get in on that action. Not the roller derby action, because I can't see me doing that. I can just picture me trying to knock an opponent on her ass. I'd be like, "I'm just going to scoot you out of the way now, and I'm really sorry about this. Please don't unfriend me on Facebook or anything." No, I just want to get in on the whole self-acceptance thing. Like exactly when do I get to stop worrying about losing 15 pounds? On my deathbed? ("Sweet! I'm finally off the hook. Please add dark chocolate to my IV - stat.")

I want to be a good role model for my daughter. That's why she and I participated in a 5K and a 10K over the summer. I'm the world's worst runner but by gum, I got out there and tried. So, as tempting as it is to say, "I'm menopausal, my youth is gone, and I'm just going to let myself go," the truth is that I'm too vain to do that. Plus, staying healthy really is important, too.  I owe it to myself and to my daughter to keep an eye on my health and make sure I keep chugging along for as long as possible. After all, her dad and I are planning to do the robot at her wedding and I can't let them down.