If Thy Country Offends Thee…

As usual on a Sunday afternoon, i’m on my porch with a mug of tea. It’s a beautiful fall day, slightly warm, and SiriDog is enjoying laying on the grass in the sun. The wind rustles the leaves, and my wind chimes tinkle. The spiders hung from the porch ceiling in honor of Halloween sway gently, looking a bit more real than my neighbors would probably like. And my American flag billows as if in a military newsreel.

My flag. If it were human, it would be crying.

Yet another mass shooting. In a synagogue this time. 11 people gunned down while in prayer. Earlier this week, pipe bombs showing up in the mail for prominent political figures.  My disgust with it all is making my tea rumble in my stomach.

The beauty of this country lies in direct opposition to the ugliness of some of its inhabitants. Self-righteous actions of the viciously close-minded are boils on the body of America. Festering, rancid, gangrenous boils. And yet, somehow, it seems against principle to cut off the putrid appendages before they take the rest of the body with it. We cannot become what we despise. Not as individuals, nor as a country.

Part of me wonders how we got this way: So intolerant to our neighbors and countrymen. How did so many people grow to adulthood without realizing that they weren’t always right? How afraid are they of their own lives that they instead spend their time weeding out others’? How arrogant are they who put their own beliefs, comfort, whimsy above the lives of others?

I want to rail against my country. Wag my finger like a nagging and pissed off mother and let them all know what i think:

That we have become a country of narcissists, unconcerned with anyone but ourselves.

That we care more about money than humans.

That we worry so much about our standing that we have lost our understanding.

That we have forgotten the four most important words in the English Language: “I could be wrong.”

I find i have to continually remind myself that most of us are not plotting against others. Most of us aren’t out to rid the country of those who are different from us. And while we do still take issue with some other groups, most of us want to help our country become a better place. We don’t shoot people we disagree with. We don’t set fire to buildings that don’t represent us. We don’t send bombs to people we dislike. I know some very strict Christian people who would still feed a transgendered person in need. And i know some far left liberals who would help rebuild a community church that was destroyed in hate.

But in this era of instant world news, it can be hard to remember that the average person isn’t represented on the newscast. The grumpy old redneck who faithfully mows the yard of the elderly black woman next door, without payment or fanfare… The punk-looking teenager who volunteers at the animal shelter… The Muslim woman who gives every week to the food bank… These people don’t get the ratings or clicks that mass murderers and supremacists get. Blood and hate trump kindness in the news. In fact, we seem to thrive on it.

I’m starting to wonder if Americans just like to be angry.

Well, some Americans anyway. Far too many of them, it seems. Call me a softie, or a mush pot, or a snowflake – I don’t care. No matter how angry i get at the state of things, i will not respond by destroying other humans. Or calling for their destruction. I will do my best to fight the hate with as much love as i can muster. I will do what i can to make things better. I will give what i can to who i can.  And i will vote, as i did earlier this week, for people who i feel might improve the current status quo.

Because i don’t want to hate my country. Or my countrymen. As i look out over my yard, and down the street at my neighbors’, i am content with those that surround me. I know a lot of really good people all across this country. I love the America that i believe in. Even if it seems incongruous with the one in the news.

So come sit with me here on my porch. I’ll make you a mug of tea. And you can tell me something good about your America. The America that you believe in. And maybe also we can share ways to make things better.

 

Serenity In Tinnitus

I opened my eyes early this morning after my phone chirped to inform me of our first frost warning of the season. When i looked out my window, i could see my American flag blowing in what appeared to be a good breeze. Seeing how i was all snuggled under my new duvet, i decided to hop up and crack the window so i could listen to the sound of the wind as i took my leisure in waking.

I snuggled back under the covers, but my tinnitus is too loud for me to hear the wind. I hate the way it gets so bad sometimes.

But then i get to thinking… Does the tinnitus really wax and wane, or is it just that other sounds sometimes take my focus? I rarely am overpowered by it at work, for example. It is possible that, for whatever reason, it isn’t as bad at that time. But it seems equally as likely that my mind is in “work mode”, and so is ignoring the whooshing and ringing in my ears to concentrate on the sounds of the office. I give it a shot and try to focus on the sound of the wind. Still no luck. So i try harder. But the discordant droning in my head plays on.

Grrrrrrr. Stupid ears!

I remember reading somewhere that TMJ issues can worsen tinnitus. Since i have had long-term TMJ damage with multiple corrective surgeries, i deduce that maybe my growing frustration isn’t helping matters any, and try the opposite route. I physically relax my body, breathe deep, and try to forget about the wind, concentrating instead on the feel of the duvet against my skin and the leftover scent of the infuser i set last night. It doesn’t seem to work at first…

But as i continue to breathe in the custom blend i made last night (Clary sage, geranium, and tangerine, in case you’re interested) and revel in how good my bed feels; little snippets of rustling leaves come to me. And as dawn begins to break, the owls start with Last Call.

My neighborhood owls are freakin’ LOUD.

That definitely claims my aural attention.

And once it is there, the rest of nature follows suite and starts wandering into my ears. For a few minutes, i think of nothing else but those sounds. Those beautiful, god-like sounds.

Then the thought comes to me – I wonder if that is what serenity is? Letting those god-like moments claim your focus, instead of all the crap we encounter day-to-day guiding our thoughts? When i am listening to the owls and the wind and the rain, my tinnitus isn’t really gone… Whether by biology or psychology, it is just relegated to the background. What if i could learn to take that same approach to the rest of life? What if, instead of attaching my attention to bills, and politics, and the ever-wobblier hi-helens under my arms, and the inconsiderate schmuck who came barrel-assing the wrong way up a one way parking lot lane this morning and nearly ran me over… Effing moron…. What if i could redirect myself to occupy my mind with the wonderful things my weedlings do, the taste of the perfect tea blend in my cup, the music coming out of my laptop (One of my favorites – The Ramin Djawadi Amazon Prime station), and the scent of autumn that is in the air? The crap that life tosses at us, sometimes like it’s playing a championship game of dodgeball, wouldn’t go away. But just like the tinnitus, perhaps it can be relegated to a less prominent part of my brain, and therefore, become less annoying.

I’m not talking about the serious issues that need to be dealt with here. Health problems, personal safety, parenting – true responsibilities…. These are things that need tending and should never be ignored. I’m talking about the guttersnipe who cut ahead of you in line at the deli. The demon who keeps stealing your reading glasses and hiding them in places you KNOW you didn’t leave them. The evil pranksters who choose the fit models for every women’s clothing company in America. The piece-of-dung reprobate who uses the last of the toilet paper and doesn’t replace it. And the unforgiving rush-hour traffic gods.

You know – The generic assholes and frustrating drudgery that are the gristle on the meat of life.

Lets face it, we can’t get rid of these things, so it doesn’t really make sense to let them rule our moods. I, for one, am incapable of doing this without help. Hell, even with help, i am often incapable. So i am hoping that regular practice of my morning tinnitus breakthrough might gain me a little ground and growth in that area. Maybe it will make me a more relaxed person. If i can just learn to turn my attention away from unhelpful things.

I think this is why the yoga crowd is usually far more peaceful… They’ve learned how to focus all their attention on not falling over when they are standing on one toe with their other appendages fanned out like an abstract peacock – Thereby stealing their focus from the bullshit of life. You rarely see a yoga instructor screaming obscenities at the driver in front of them, so it must work.

If i am wrong, don’t tell me. Let me stay deluded. I need something to hope for.

I am going to try this kind of deliberate redirection of concentration as a life theory. It won’t be easy. I mean, it took my obnoxiously loud neighborhood owls to snap my attention to the wind. Perhaps i need to occasionally smack myself upside the head with some lavender branches or smoosh my face into a slice of freshly baked bread (You know, to make sure i get both the taste AND the smell…) I do have some tools already in my arsenal, but they won’t work for all occasions. I have been known, for example,  to visit the cubicles of certain people at work during high stress times because their hugs have enough warm energy to pull my brain away from the frustration; but i can’t be doing that every time i need to chill… Human Resources would take issue with it, and i’d never meet my deadlines. So i need to find other figurative loud owls. If there were a cannoli shop close by, that would work, but my arse would probably grow to be the size of Wisconsin – So i’m probably lucky i don’t have one near me. I will have to come up with something that doesn’t get me in hot water or worsen my aging bat wings.

But a cannoli really does sound like a good idea.

Anyway, so here’s to continued efforts to learn to drown out those things we cannot change. To cut out the moldy bit in the corner and enjoy the rest of the perfectly aged cheddar. To take pleasure in the intense blue of the sky in spite of the weather report for rain later. To be proud that we earn a paycheck rather than being disheartened at the amount of it. To remember the man who held the door instead of the one that cut us off. To live by compliments rather than insults. If we can find that serenity, perhaps it will boost out courage to change the things we can, and increase our wisdom in knowing the difference.

 

“Next Rest Area: 1,000 Miles”

It has been an emotional couple of weeks. Last week was overwhelmingly sad and scary (And not just because of the news.) This coming week will be just as overwhelmingly joyous and celebratory. And in between, there have been moments of humor, exhaustion, sweetness, anger, numbness, friendship, and loneliness. Granted, all of these things are a part of life and experienced regularly. But they aren’t usually all jammed into a couple of weeks.

Kind of like binge watching all of Game of Thrones in a single day.

Highs and lows, up and down, like a San Francisco street car.

Tom Cochrane may have sung that “Live is a highway”, but i would say that isn’t necessarily a good thing. If your life is like a highway in north Jersey, for example, riddled with potholes, crazy high tolls, and the aromas of Newark … Well, it would be easy to wish you stayed in bed.

Sometimes life has been more like a highway in DC. Overrun with self-serving and dishonest schmucks who refuse even the smallest bit of graciousness by letting you into the fray. With no one giving you a break, you end up railroaded off an exit and into a neighborhood even rabid dogs won’t go near. You tearfully make your way back to the interstate, just hoping you get there before someone carjacks you.

Far too often life is like a highway in NYC or LA – So crazy busy and congested that you can’t get off the highway to pee, never mind eat. You just keep your mind on your destination, cross your fingers and your legs, and hope you get to the end point before you lose your mind or wet your pants. (All the while assuming that you are going the right way, even as you see a landmark that you are sure you passed 20 minutes ago…)

At other times, life can be like a highway in Louisiana. What was once beautiful is now broken. The landscape, still half drowned in rain and tears, is a reminder that nothing in life is indestructible, and not everything is fixable.  You curse Mother Nature, the government, and people’s short memories as you envision what was and what should be. You think about what could be. But you know that even if effort goes in, things are never the same after. The melancholy and resignation is palpable.

When we are lucky, life is like a highway on the Pacific Northwest coast – Long swaths of panoramic views that take your breath away and remind you that God/Goddess/Universe was a freaking artistic genius. Beauty. Majesty. All four earth elements existing at once. Awesome in the literal sense. The caveat to this is that, sooner or later, most of us have to move on to find work or purpose. (Or maybe it’s that most of us can only take viewing so much beauty before we need some urban filth and grit to balance it out. What do i know? I’m not Voltaire.)

Of course, there are the intermittent times when life is like a highway in Kansas. Easy, breezy, and boring as hell.

But lately, for me, the highway of life has been like Rhode Island. At times dirty, dismal, and depressing; other times, picturesque and coastal; sprinkled liberally with all forms of suburbia, good, bad, and ugly… And the whole thing passing so rapidly that you have to pull over at the local Friendly’s and rehash it in your brain to be sure you didn’t miss something. It seems impossible that all that stuff has passed in only an hour.

Truthfully, i hope the next part of life’s highway has Glacier Lake view and a reasonably priced upscale hotel; but with my luck, it will be overrun with dead deer and abandoned truck stops. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. Realistically, i will have to settle for the nice-enough scenic overlook and a strawberry shortcake ice cream bar from the gas station to refill my tank. Thankfully, both of those things are known to keep me from running on empty, even if they aren’t the stuff of pop songs.

So, my friends, if your highway of life has lately been overwhelming, know that it isn’t you. It’s the stars or the gods or statistics or whatever. And all we can do is keep driving. Even the worst traffic jams eventually make their way to open road. And if you keep driving straight ahead, sooner or later, you’ll be at a beach. And things are always better at the beach. Right?

*****

One last thing… The following Stephen King quote always makes me laugh, and much of the reason is that a small part of me wonders if it’s true….

“When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, ‘Why God? Why me?’ And the thundering voice of God answered, There’s just something about you that pisses me off.”

Touché, Universe. Touché.

You Can Name Your Dog “Giraffe”, But He’s Still Gonna Bark

I was out dress shopping today. My niece is getting married, and my closet shrunk my tuxedo. (I hate when it does that.) I will eventually get another, but they aren’t easy to find, so i decided to get a dress for the occasion.

Off i go to a department store that i knew would have some options.

I’m not a fan of clothes shopping, and even less so of crowded department stores. Thankfully, after 52 years on this earth, i know what i like and what generally works for me. So i make a circular pass of the “special occasion” section and grab about a dozen potentials. I don’t look at brands or tags. Just grab what “looks like me” and seems about the right size.

Into the changing room. I take the corner stall. The other two are occupied by teenagers shopping for homecoming.

I really wish Chattanooga had a Nordstroms or something. Far too many of the options were decidedly stuck in “Bible Belt Grandmother” zone. Between my currently blue hair and the ink scattered about my body, it’s pretty obvious that most of these styles would probably jump off my body like a socialite off the Titanic. But i tried to make the best of it. You know, i mean, sometimes things that look like your Aunt Gertrude’s favorite tablecloth on the hanger might look better on a body. And polyester isn’t ALL bad.

I start trying them on, one by one. Well, except for the one that got stuck halfway over the ducks. I damned near had to ask one of the highschool girls for help… Except that my arms were stuck in the dress too, so i don’t know how i would have let them in. I did manage to get it off without ripping a seam. I should win a Houdini award for my efforts.

If i ever go truly bonkers, instead of a straightjacket, just shove a sequined grandma dress over my head in a size 6. That should keep me contained for a while.

By the time i got to the very last dress, i was D O N E. Disheartened, disenchanted, and disgusted. I felt lumpy and dumpy and frumpy. Thankfully, my mood was about to be spared.

The last dress didn’t look like much on the hanger. A knit blush-colored sheath with silver sparkles. A bit generic, but i liked the sparkles. (I refuse to offer up an excuse for that.) So i unzip and step into it. It’s about a half-size too big, but given my recurring cravings for ice cream lately, that isn’t a bad thing. I checked it out in the 3 way mirror. Belly bulge is only about a 2  or 3 on a 10 scale, cleavage is barely within “appropriate for church”, and it even makes me look like i have an ass that isn’t a husband or boyfriend. Not bad! I can do this!

I check the price tag. Redline. And today’s sale means another 50% off that.

BINGO!

I’m pretty sure i giggled out loud as i went back into the changing room to finish up. I took off the dress and put it back on the hanger.

That’s when i saw it.

The size tag.

Now, just 15 minutes before, i had been talking with the young girls in the other room and reassuring them that they looked beautiful. That they weren’t too big. Or bumpy. Or unsightly. They were just right and their dates were sure to be pleased. (And not just because i had seen both in other dresses that barely covered their underoos.) I gave them the whole feminist momma view. And i meant it. For them.

For me, however, that was different. I’ve been a size 8 for the last 5 years. A 10 if it won’t stretch to cover the ducks. But this dress was a 14!

Four-freaking-teen.

The intellectual in my head knows that a tag is just a tag. Heaven knows where they get their fit models, or if they are even remotely industry standard. My desk job has me bigger than my old size 6, but i am still healthy and vital and well within acceptable BMI for my age.

But the diva in me was horrified.

How could i have let this happen? I mean, yes, i’ve been eating Hagen Daz every night, but only a third of a pint. That’s moderation, right? I mean, my only other vice lately has been a jumbo bag of black licorice. (Side note: Don’t eat a dozen pieces in one sitting. It ends badly. Trust me on this one. ) I haven’t been gorging on cheese or bacon. I haven’t been drinking. And i haven’t been any more lazy than usual. It’s hard enough being 52 and single. But 52 and 3 sizes up from my usual?

The world must never know. I can’t get the dress. I can’t. Because it would be admitting i wasn’t what i thought i was. Even as i thought it, i knew it was garbage, but i couldn’t shake it.

Mind you, the reality that no one was likely to ever see the inside of that dress, regardless of the tag, never crossed my mind. This isn’t a Vince Vaughn movie. I’ll be disrobing in the dark with my dog. And doggie can’t read. And doggie don’t care anyway.

Like i said, i wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking that if i purchased a size 14 dress, i was somehow devaluing myself.

But then i thought about the likelihood of finding one i liked as much, and finding it at such a bargain besides… All within the next 2 weeks… Sigh. I knew i was going to have to swallow my pride. So i started giving myself the same lecture i gave the girls earlier. I can’t honestly say it made it any easier, even if i knew i was right. There is something about a tag that can destroy a person’s self-confidence. Even when we know the number is meaningless.

I often shop at a store called Chico’s. They size their clothes much differently. In their line, i wear a 0 or 0.5. And yes, it does kind of make me feel special to be able to go straight to the “Size 0” rack. But the reality is, the pants that i bought there last week fit as well as the size 14 dress i bought today. Obviously, the number is just a number and bears no consistent definition when it comes to clothing. Neither the 0, nor the 14. They are, obviously, essentially the same, since my same body can fit into them. Just like a “natural” label on a carton of eggs, or “fair and honest” on a political ad, those numbers are just constructs with little concrete meaning. Infusing them with importance is just, well, daft.

Labels, in general, are meant to be guides as to where things fit. Clothes, countries, people… We slap them with tags in an effort to find a place for them in our brains’ file cabinets. That size is big. That country is backward. That person is different. But the labels really have very little meaning. There is no industry standard. All of our measuring sticks are in different units of measure, and we all use different fit models. “Civilized” by your standards may not be the same as “civilized” by mine. “Eccentric” by my standards is probably different from yours. Hell, even more concrete terms like “dark” and “light”… Other than the extremes, the rest is just opinion.

So why do we place so much importance in them?

As usual, i don’t really have an answer. Someone in some prestigious psych / sociology program is probably spending more hours than i have to study and figure it out. I’ll leave it to them. But i hope the next time a label hits you in the face like a dirty diaper, you will be able to calm yourself by remembering that “label” doesn’t equal “truth”. Either something fits, or it doesn’t. The label doesn’t change that.

You can name your dog “Giraffe”, but he’s still gonna bark.

The Edge of Parenting

This is a true story, and i share it because i think it’s important for all parents to know that when they have these errant and bad thoughts, they aren’t alone.

Heinlein once said that it takes a human mother to bear a human child. But human children have the uncanny ability to channel the behaviors of animals far less civilized. At various points, they bite like vipers, they get mean like chihuahuas, or they scream like howler monkeys. I have personally seen my children become grizzly bears, wild boars, snapping turtles, and during their teenage years, weasels. And a human mother (Or father) isn’t always equipt to handle these biological morphings. Sometimes, we need help. It doesn’t mean we are bad parents, or bad people. It just means we are human.

My middle daughter, who turns 21 today, was born when i was living out of the country. Our area of the multi-service base was rather small, and we were a tight-knit community. The fenced in arrangement of identical cement block duplexes was a safe haven, and our children could roam and play with a freedom that few neighborhoods afford nowadays.

When she was still an infant, my daughter caught an ear infection. Up til that point, she had been a fairly easy baby – Mostly happy with very little screeching. However, anyone who has ever had an ear infection knows that it is misery. My poor little weedling had a crazy high fever, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t nurse, and was in terrible pain… As was evidenced by the incessant, ear-splitting screaming that cut through every part of my body straight thru to my heart. I’m talking the kind of high-pitched siren that shatters glass, cracks dental fillings, and makes dogs wince and run for cover. Medicine, iced teething rings, cool baths, soothing music, rocking, walks… Nothing made it stop. And i’m not talking a couple hours here. This went on for days. Literally days. I knew it wasn’t her fault, but I got closer and closer to the edge of my sanity. The passing vision of my head exploding gave way to more realistic pictures of me taking a hammer to my head. Or putting a muffler over her mouth. Anything to make the noise stop.

I ended up reaching a point where i could feel my internal switch begin to flip. I was shaking and almost in a panic. Thankfully, something in me spoke up. It was like  a pair of hands were guiding my own as i put my possessed, screaming daughter safely in her crib, pulled up the side rails, turned around and walked out. Walked out of her room and out of my house.

Four doors down was one of my closest friends on base. Her husband was the unit’s corpsman (Medic, for you non-service folk). And she had two teenage daughters.

I walked in her house, sat down at her kitchen table, and said, “Can one of your daughters please go to my house?”

She later told me that i was white as a sheet. She immediately sent one of her daughters over.

Then i cried. I cried because i felt like a terrible mother. I cried because i couldn’t take the screaming. I cried because i was so afraid. Afraid i was going to lose it. Afraid i was going to snap. Afraid i was going to hurt my daughter out of my own frustration.

At some point, she had called her husband, but while she waited for him, she listened. She made me a cup of tea. She told me i had done the right thing to come get help. She empathized. She calmed me. And then her husband came home and gave me the most wonderful gift.

Foam ear plugs.

He explained that they would not drown out everything, but would take the edge off. He echoed his wife that i had done the right thing to get help. He asked me some questions that i now know to be a screening, to determine if i needed further care.

An hour after i had walked out, i walked back. I found my friend’s daughter rocking my baby, who was still crying, but less so. I was renewed enough not to need the ear plugs yet, but i was glad to know they were there just in case. I hugged the teenager who came to my rescue. I packed my daughter up in her carriage, grabbed another set of plastic keys (The little monkeys in the area were forever stealing those and sippy cups out of carriages and strollers) and set off for a walk.

That was the one and only time i ever felt the need to leave. But i am grateful that i could. That i had friends to call upon who would help without judgement. Because we have all been there (If you haven’t, you will be). It might be an ear infection, or the terrible twos, or it might just be you –   Short-tempered from a bad day at work. We all get near that switch. It’s important to know what options you have in those situations. To know how to keep your children, and yourself,  safe. To know where to find professional help if it becomes a recurring problem. And to know that recognizing those moments is crucial and doesn’t make you a terrible person or mother. In fact, it means we are paying attention, and hopefully it makes us more sensitive to the moms that come after us so we can offer help before they get to that point.

In any case, if you are a mom and you are close to the edge, reach out. To friends, to a counselor, to your pediatrician… Someone. And don’t feel badly about doing so. It is better to ask for help than to cross that line.  Your little heathen animals will challenge you ever chance they get. That is part of their job. Take the challenge.

And don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements when the challenge is too great.

 

*** If you are needing help, google parenting  groups and / or social services in your area. If you are in crisis, dial 911, call your local hospital or mental health facility , or try 1-855- 4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) to reach the Parents Anonymous hotline. There is help out there. These are only a few of the options. 

Night Music

Nature is loud tonight.

Cicadas and crickets playing their tunes.

Tree frogs and stray cats singing along.

Owl hoots and bat wings setting the beat.

Thunder rolling in the background like

The rattle of speakers too small for the music.

My pup’s nails click as she trots down the road,

Her occasional pause to sniff and snuffle

Like jazz scatting.

The hard road is just a few yards away,

But i can barely hear the cars over the din

Of the gloaming.

The scent of the mimosa trees is so strong and heady,

It becomes an opera of its own.

The feeling of the damp and warm air –

The cork in my sound booth.

My own, personal concert.

Just me and The Goddess.

Gaia is drowning out my thoughts,

My worries.

She, the Mother of all Mothers, is enveloping me.

I drown in Her embrace

And am grateful.

 

Screw the Frog Prince

I had a nice mini-discussion with a friend yesterday about the single life. About the joys and aggravations of life with a partner. And about how long we had each been without it.

I’m not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing that i no longer miss it. Does it mean that i have finally gotten totally comfortable with myself? Or does it mean that i’ve given up? Is there really a difference between the two? And all that stuff about, “When you stop looking is when your Prince (Or Princess) Charming appears”…… Well, if that isn’t total bullshit, i’ll eat my new (felted wool witches’) hat.

I mean, just think about the (il)logic of it. If you really believed that when you stop looking is when you find it, you would always be waiting for it in the back of your head when you “stop looking”, which means you really are still looking, which means you’ll never find it. And if you truly did stop looking, how would you know when it appeared?

I know. I give myself a headache sometimes.

On the flip side, there is the old saying that you have to kiss a bunch of toads before you find your prince. That at least makes sense statistically. Unfortunately, the world is full of toads. Some of them in princes’ clothing. And true princes are a rare find. You could kiss every frog in your local pond and be lucky to find a baron, never mind a prince. And you would probably end up with warts afterwards.

I stopped actively looking. No websites. No trawling. No more wishing my friends would set me up. My work and my weedlings keep me too busy to go out much anyway. So i stay at home on Saturday nights and pine after the ones who interest me while i eat pistachio ice cream in my pajamas.

I do enjoy going out with my friends. It is far better than dating because there are no hopes or expectations. They already know you and like you. Well, they like you enough to be seen in public with you anyway. They know you aren’t going home with them. And you know they aren’t going to ghost you tomorrow. You can laugh and eat and drink and make merry without discovering their political views disgust you. Or worse, you start to think they are a prince, but discover they think you are a toad.

No one wants to feel like someone else’s toad.

I’ll stick with my buddies, thanks. I’m all good.

It’s a joy to go to one of those paint and drink things with my sistas. I don’t have to explain my obsession with Harry Potter or Firefly, and they don’t laugh when i quote Star Trek. If i don’t wear makeup, and my wrinkles are on full display for their viewing (dis)pleasure, they still like me. Hell, they even still like me if i forget to bring wine! (Now that’s REAL love right there!) What more can a woman ask for?

Also, when you’re out with friends, you can eat garlic. Very important perk. All the best dishes have garlic. You also don’t have to give up stinky cheeses or spices. Big benefit! You don’t want to feel obligated to forgo yummy food because you’re worried that your date might kiss you, and you don’t want your breath to make his nose hairs catch fire. (In my experience, dates don’t like it when you burn their nose hairs.) I mean, yes, he’s a potential partner, but is he really worth giving up garlic linguine with gorgonzola sauce?

I think not.

And lets not devalue the Friday after-work decompression at a local restaurant. You can blow off steam, let go of the week, and enjoy the company of people who know exactly what you’ve gone thru for the last 5 days. You don’t have to explain every little annoying detail of unending meetings, broken interfaces, and phone calls with the daft. They don’t look at you strangely when you joke about the roach that has been belly up in the stairwell all week. You can say “The schmuckatelli drives me nuts” without having to name names. You all get it. You’ve all been there. And, not for nothing, there are nachos, and sliders, and fried calamari. All without panicking because you didn’t shave that morning. It’s a godsend.

So as i sit here, no makeup, eating chili with garlic AND beans, about to watch my favorite movie for the zillionth time (And i will quote along with it), and with full knowledge that when i go to bed tonight, no one will steal my covers… I have to say, tho there are things i miss about being half of a couple, it isn’t the worst thing in the world to be alone. There is a bright side. Lots of bennies. And no more toads. I am ok with that. Truly, i’m good. Even when i’m pining….

A Dress Fit For A Warrior Princess

It has taken me a week to write this story. Since there was no way to change the names to protect the innocent (Ok, we weren’t really innocent), i had to wait for my embarrassment to subside before i could do it.

Both of my daughters are getting married in the coming year. Tho my oldest is eloping out of the country, it seems she was worried that she was depriving me of some momma-daughter time spent wedding planning by doing so. I am totally ok with her decision, as i feel their plans are perfectly suited to them as a couple. But i love spending time with her, so we decided to spend a day doing the frou-frou wedding dress thing. She makes an appointment at one of the local bridal shoppes, and we head there after enjoying a nice late lunch together.

While my daughter is filling out the requisite profile – You know, so they can keep reminding her of how important it is to spend lots of money – I start perusing the gowns. Racks upon racks of gowns. I am not terribly hopeful, tho, because my daughter is more Princess Fiona than she is Snow White – fabulously bold and lovingly Dreamworks real- and all the gowns were definitely Disney.

I get chastised for going off on my own. Apparently there is a system to bridal gown shopping, and i am subverting it. So i am pulled back into ranks, and we are given instructions on what we are supposed to be doing… Finding something that suits her style. Which, of course, was exactly what i had  been doing, but i didn’t wait for Simon Says.

Shame on me.

Most of the gowns were frothy, spun-sugar confections with tulle and satin and beads. Lacy sweetheart necklines, sumptuous satin trains, and full-on crinolines. The stuff that so many little girls’ dreams are made of. My oldest weedling, however, had never been one of those. She is a glorious mix of Frida Kahlo, Tank Girl, and Jessica Rabbit. She needs, deserves, something a bit more unique. Something with sexy flair. Something with an edge. None of these gowns really has that, but just to get a feel for it all, she picks some out, and we start with the trying-on. I go into the dressing room with her to help with the buttons and bows.

The first gown is a sleeveless fit-and-flare in a beautiful shade of champagne. Not exactly her style, but a good generic place to start. On the rack, it looked graceful and somewhat understated. On my daughter’s  killer figure, the skirt spread like she was about to go square dancing. Like maybe she should be poised in a bathroom with a roll of toilet tissue holding the skirt out. Not at all the look we were going for. All that was missing was the scent of lysol-and-geranium.

Nope.

She tries on a slinkier gown. Kind of a 40’s starlet kind of thing. It mostly fits, the bias cut accentuating her badass curves. But it isn’t old-fashioned enough to really look retro, nor is it modern enough to look edgy. And it is white. Blindingly white. It-will-be-stained-before-he-ever-sees-it white. With her beautiful Italian coloring, the white is just too much. And of course, it didn’t come in any other color.

Probably not.

The third gown was the exact opposite of everything she had set out in her guidelines. Miles of white tulle. Strapless bodice with a lace overlay and off the shoulder sleeves. Dotted with tasteful beading and sequins. And a train. A luxuriant, swooshing train. It was the stuff of fairytale and fantasy. And she loved it.

She was stunning.

Oh my, yes.

I didn’t cry, tho i came close. As did she. And then we looked at the price tag. Holy hell. If it wasn’t the most expensive gown in the place, it had to be close. But what the hell, this was our first round of looking, so she tries on the matching veil and headband. And then a jeweled waist sash. At that point, the only thing missing was ostrich feather, but i’m sure we could have found that on a clutch purse. It was the total princess package, and the saleswoman could tell we had bitten the baited hook. So she tells us that she can put in an order, just in case, because it would be terrible if we decided she needed this dress and then it was discontinued before next year.

At this point, we notice the shoppe is starting to close up. All that remains are us and a younger bridal group on the other side of the wedding runway. So we go in to remove the dress. And that is when it all descended into crazytown.

My daughter and her fiance are planning on eloping in Ireland in the off-season, at a place with lavish outdoor gardens near Galway Bay. They aren’t bringing a bridal party, so the dress, which is as much as the rest of their destination wedding budget combined,   is just for them.  And tho i am no wedding expert, i’m thinking that irish moss stains will be a bitch to get out of that beautiful train. So i decide i might need to tell her that she should keep this dress on her radar, but maybe not close the deal today, in case she gets caught up in it all (Which she had already done once before and had to go through the hassle of requesting a deposit refund.)

Unfortunately, my brain wiring hasn’t aged well. Sometimes when i am emotional, the words in my head don’t come out of my mouth in the right order. So tho i opened my mouth with the intention of saying, “We don’t have to decide today,” what came out of my mouth was gibberish. Real words, but in the wrong combination. My daughter asks me if i’m having a stroke, but she doesn’t seem worried because she can tell i knew the moment i heard the words come out that i had missed the mark. And i start to laugh.

Because of the yummy Greek lunch we had prior to arriving, the laughing makes me break wind. And because a small part of me is still a child, that makes me laugh harder. Which makes me toot again. Which makes me laugh even more.  And so on and so on. Within 60 seconds, my oldest weedling and i are laughing so hard we are literally crying, and the highfalutin dressing chamber may never be the same. We bust out of the room wet-faced, barking, and holding our bellies.  The saleswoman immediately grabs a box of tissues. My daughter tells her that we are ok, but the woman offers the box again in our general direction, saying, “You really look like you need these.” She then asks if we are alright and admits that she can’t tell if we are laughing or crying. Between breathless rib cramps, we explain that it is both, but that we are fine. She nods her head and makes towards the dressing room to grab the dresses.

“DON’T GO IN THERE!!!”

We both yell it, and i run in to gather the dresses and bring them out, pleased to find that the little room doesn’t stink too badly, and the paint hasn’t peeled from the walls.

The barbie girls across the room seem pretty certain that we are certifiable.

Minutes later we are outside and still coming back down from the humor high. Even now, i am giggling as i remember it. Man, i love spending time with the woman who is my oldest! It is never, ever boring!

I honestly don’t know what my daughter will end up wearing to her wedding.  She will be beautiful even if she shows up barefoot in jeans and a t-shirt. But getting to spend that time with her: Talking about the magic moments in life, watching her transform into a princess, feeling my heart swell when i see her regal beauty all decked out, and sharing the kind of laugh that bashes the hell out of every other thought in your head… That alone was worth the trip.

 

Ruminating on Luminating

I decided a couple of days ago that it was time to buckle down hard on the self-care. Ok, truth be told, i’ve been telling myself that for months, but i haven’t been good about doing it. As a result, i am exhausted. Flat out burnt. I haven’t any energy to do anything good, but i can’t seem to sleep through the night either. And it’s my own fault. I haven’t spent enough time outdoors. I haven’t been exercising. I’ve been spending far too much time in front of the laptop. And i’ve not been making time for much fun. I’ve made small efforts here and there, but not consistently. It has been like a very badly played game of hopscotch.

The day i had finally had enough, i decided that, to help myself sleep better, i would try to stretch and meditate. And of course, that was a dismal failure. I don’t meditate well when my brain is fresh, so it is never going to work when my brain is a piece of gluten-free, whole grain bread that’s been left unbagged on the counter for months.

That night, as i lay in bed trying to decide if the noise in my head is the frogs and crickets outside my window or just terrible tinnitus, i promised myself that i would so something spiritual this weekend.

Fast forward to this morning, when i woke from a night of tossing and turning, showered, dressed and headed to  the Friends meeting across town. I hadn’t been in a couple years, so i was a little nervous. But the Quaker gathering is the one type of church where i never feel misplaced. In general, it is a very accepting group, dedicated to simplicity and service to fellow man. In fact, i doubt i was the only one there who wasn’t, strictly speaking, Christian. But we all share the common bond of knowing that the particulars aren’t important. The meeting in Chattanooga is unprogrammed, which means that there is no preacher. This isn’t a place where you go to confess, or recite, or be granted forgiveness. This is a place where the Light of each of us as individuals binds together and becomes exponentially stronger. Spiritually ennervating. Meditative. We wait in silence until someone feels moved to speak. Sometimes no one speaks and we all just take in the Peace – The Light that we seek.

The first half of today’s meeting was spent in silence. I closed my eyes and wished my thoughts away. My thoughts, however, had other ideas…

I can’t seem to settle down. I need to relax. Let me do that yoga thing… I tighten and release one muscle group at a time, starting with my toes. I made it all the way to my head and then took in one of those “Deep, cleansing breaths” that is supposed to maintain the stillness. Yah……. Nope.

They’ve changed the light fixtures since i was here last. I think they’ve painted in here too. C’mon Hol, you’re supposed to be quiet. But all the little noises are distracting. I can hear the children upstairs. And the birds outside. Someone is starting coffee. Wait. Did someone just fart? Oh God, that must be so embarrassing. Oh no. Was it me? Did i just fart during a freaking prayer meeting??? I mean, i don’t think it was me. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.It’s so hard not to giggle. C’mon Hol,what are you? 5?  Everyone else is ignoring it, so just move on. Holy hell! There is a wasp in the room! Weird, tho… It doesn’t seem to be interested in bothering anyone. Maybe he knows Friends are pacifists. Doesn’t mean someone won’t squash him, tho. That coffee smells good. Man, i really suck at this meditation thing. I feel like that lemur in that meme where he is sitting there saying, “C’mon inner peace…. I don’t have all day!” I need to restart.

I start that thing where you count your breath as it goes in and out. That lasted for maybe 5 breaths.

Dideedideedideedoooooooo… My brain is a big lump of jelllllloooooooo…. Maybe today wasn’t the best day for me to come. I can’t seem to get into my Spiritual Space. Probably because it has grown a hard shell from disuse. Well, i supposed i have used it, but only superficially. I wonder if that counts? Or does the Universe even keep count? Oh! Sounds like someone is standing….

One of the members begins to speak about how awesome it is that we can meet like this and combine our collective light.  Then another member speaks nostalgically about the history of the church for a couple minutes. Then comes the period when we can all offer up people who need to be held in the Light. Then it is over.

I stuck around long enough to reintroduce myself to a couple people i remembered, and to make new acquaintance with ones i didn’t know. Then i had to head out. I did feel a bit better. Just a bit more energetic. Enough that i actually went outside and did a little gardening after my Sunday chores and a meeting for work. Now i am out on the porch writing this. Maybe it’s not a landmark day, but it’s an improvement. Especially if i am able to get in a little exercise tonight.

Lots of us are in this same spot lately. We are doing a lot, but not the kinds of things that are good for us. We are trudging on with the dailies, while time passes us by and leaves us in the dust. We need to keep reminding ourselves:

If i am busy, i want it to be with fulfilling things, not trivialities.

If i am heavy, i want it to be from good food, not junk food.

If i have wrinkles, i want them to be from laughing, not frowning.

If i have aches and pains, i want them to be from doing things i love, not from allowing myself to get stiff and rusty. 

If i must advance in age, i at least don’t have to get “old”.

And if i die tomorrow, i want to leave behind a life of Love, Light, and Laughter.

Here’s to remembering that daily.

 

 

 

She Looked So Cute With Her Foot In Her Mouth

Last weekend i had an interesting encounter with two women just a tad bit older than me.

I was at the fabric store looking through the pattern books for a specific design. Now, if you have never looked thru a pattern catalogue, or haven’t looked in one recently, pretty much every company now has a few designers dedicated to the more “modern” creative. They have patterns for retro looks, funky punk looks, and even cos-play. The models for these patterns are selected as people who would likely be wanting them. (Makes sense, you don’t want a size 6 modeling a plus-sized pattern, so why would you have a supermodel aesthete modeling a 50s pin-up or Superhero look?) It is actually a very cool thing, in my opinion, because these new pattern makers are bringing a new generation and breed to the sewing circle.

 

Sitting across from me at the pattern table were two women. I vaguely recognized one of them as working at the same hospital i do. Both women have maybe 5 years on me. Both were dressed like more typical 50-60 somethings. Pedal pushers, sensible shoes, and shoulder-length hair dyed the color it was in their 30s. I was wearing a linen dress that i had designed and made myself, metallic sandals, and some kickass holographic lipgloss that i was told complimented the white in my hair. The table is the width of 2 school desks, so tho i was not intentionally listening to my tablemates’ conversation, i could hear every word.

“Would you look at that?” One points to a picture in the pattern book of a raven-haired, crimson-lipped woman dressed in a jumpsuit with a Rosie the Riveter vibe.  “What is she gonna look like when she is our age? She is going to look ridiculous. Like an old peeling billboard. Why would she think that is attractive? She looks trashy!” … As she points to the (beautifully done) tattoos on the arm that is poised in a power move.

I didn’t mean to laugh out loud. It just happened.

They look up at me and turn the pattern book so i can see what they are talking about.

I reach out to hold the page up, showing off my wrist tattoo.

They went parchment white.

“Bbbbuuut, yours is pretty. And it is small. I mean, hers covers her whole arm. She’d never get a professional job.”

I reach out with my other arm, the one with the rat, Algernon, on it, and lift the book to look closer.

I don’t want to make them feel badly, because i am an adult and i don’t pick unnecessary fights. But i also don’t want to let them off the hook because, well, because i’m me and i often do things before i think them thru.

“It’s ok. I know they aren’t for everyone. But i actually have a few others, some very large, and i do have a professional job. In fact, i work for the same hospital you do.”

I didn’t think it was possible, but they got whiter.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just don’t understand the whole tattoo / piercing / giant hole in the ears thing. I didn’t mean that you were… ” She drifts off here, i think because she wasn’t sure what, exactly, she had been trying to imply.

“It’s ok. Really. I understand that many people don’t get the appeal, ” And then i showed her the one that i got to cover a giant spider vein on my leg.

“Oh! That is pretty! I have a bad vein too, and i had been thinking about getting a treatment on it, but it is so expensive! I never thought to cover it that way!” And we start to talk about how all hospital workers end up with spider and varicose veins, and how much it sucks to be on your feet all day, and how so many don’t realize exactly how hard our jobs are, and on and on. A right proper hospital-sisters bitch session. Before you know it, they are asking my opinion on a dress pattern they are looking for that would be suitable for the older of the two to be married in (No… We were quickly approaching lunchtime, so there weren’t enough hours for me to discuss my thoughts on marriage. Or my many failures in them.) I tried to convince them that the Delores Umbridge look wasn’t celebratory enough for a wedding (Not in those words, because i’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have had a clue what they meant), but they didn’t care for any of the patterns i liked because they had this aversion to their Hi-Helens (Or bat wings, if you prefer) flying free in all their glorious, aged splendor. To each their own, i guess.

By the time we went our separate ways, we were laughing.

I am certain i didn’t change their minds on body ink. Nor did they change my mind on the appropriate dress for a woman our age. But maybe they learned that their viewpoint isn’t a given with women our age. Or maybe they learned that inked people aren’t what they expected. Or maybe they just learned to look before they speak. For my part, i got to practice how to confront behavior without being harsh, and how to handle differing opinions with tact (Confrontation in general isn’t my strong suit.) (Neither is tact.)  I learned that i don’t always have to suck it up. And maybe i even made a work connection with someone very different who shares the same love of designing.

In any of those cases, it beats not saying anything and allowing myself to feel stomped. It beats getting angry and causing others to feel attacked or shamed. I’m pretty proud of us and how we handled it. And since practice makes perfect, maybe someday i will grow to be that resolved and tactful all the time.

But i wouldn’t hold my breath if i were you. I’m still me.