Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shake it off?

One of the perks where I work is that the school provides lunch for us every day, free of charge. We eat in the dining hall with the boys, at separate tables marked “faculty,” and the teens have by and large learned to make way when an adult moseys up to the buffet. I was thrilled when I learned about this benefit, as I saw immediate savings along with not having to even think about what I was going to eat for lunch each day. I can burn a lot of time thinking about lunch. It’s ridiculous.

When I first started here, the lunch program was good. Really good. A nice salad bar every day, a deli bar with lunch meat, cheese and condiments, a hot entrée with sides, and soup. It was virtually impossible to go hungry at lunch.

Then, some of the school moms got involved. They thought the lunch here could be better. And now, thanks to them, it is. We have an executive chef who puts forth meals that even the mothers can’t argue about. Each day, there is a full salad bar that includes things like feta cheese, fresh cut bell peppers, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sunflower seeds, and four different kinds of dressing. There is cut fruit salad and whole fruit. There’s a deli bar that rivals Jimmy John’s (salami, roast beef, turkey, three kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc.). Fresh made hummus, tuna salad and sometimes egg salad. Artisan bread. Further down you’ll find the steam tables with not one but two hot entrees and sides, along with steamed vegetables and homemade soup. Should none of those suit your fancy, the other wall contains the build-your-own pizza station with flatbread, the cereal/bagel station, and good ol’ PB&J. At the end of the line is the freezer that contains the day’s frozen treat for dessert.

The lunch selection does not include the food mines that pepper the landscape outside the dining hall. For instance, right now, the Headmaster’s office has homemade chocolate chip cookies, Starburst candies, M&Ms, and Darth Vader holding a container of Halloween Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. His secretary has a candy bowl filled with Twix and KitKats. The faculty lounge has a box of Papa John’s pizza someone didn’t finish, doughnuts from yesterday, Chex Mix and birthday cake. The IT office routinely stocks seaweed snacks, deer jerky, Twizzler’s and Diet Coke. (The seaweed snacks are awesome. Really.)

This means that at night when we talk about our days, the conversation goes like this:
A: What did everyone have for lunch?
Zoe: Turkey sandwich and chips.
M: Turkey sandwich and pretzels.
A: Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with baby red potatoes, General Tso’s Chicken with sticky rice, three crab rangoons, a salad, some chicken noodle soup and a bomb pop. Later, I had a Twix, a cookie, some seaweed snack and a piece of deer jerky.

This means that I have gained about 30 pounds and now have only two pairs of pants and one skirt that fit. And those are tight.

Tuesday, as I was cleaning out my coffee mug in the faculty lounge (I’ve been trying to remedy my cluttered desk problem), I had a conversation with the head of our math department, a wicked smart woman who is also funny, kind and generous. She was mixing up some sort of shake. “Whatcha got there?” She explained that she does not fare well with buffets, and has taken to avoiding the dining hall. (Reference my earlier comment that she is wicked smart.) She has been bringing in flavored shake mixes and drinking them for lunch. “They’re healthy, they keep me from over-eating, and they make me feel full. Plus I have more time over lunch.”

It gave me pause to think. Perhaps that’s the key? Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to take it, but for those of us with food issues, there’s no stopping at a meager salad with no cheese or dressing.

She went on, “I’ve managed to maintain my weight by doing this. There’s no way that’d happen if I was heading up to the dining hall every day.”


A little while later she stopped by my office with a shake packet and a cute shaker bottle with a green lid. “Here. I have an extra packet and shaker. Try this tomorrow and let me know what you think.” Cool! I get to do a test drive! The packet has been sitting on my desk, leaning against the cute shaker bottle, just to the left of my computer screen. It’s beckoning me with promises of being able to fit into my pants again. And time over lunch to write. Double bonus.

Yesterday morning, though, I realized it wasn’t a good day to try it. I had a morning meeting at Starbucks so breakfast was nothing more than a stripped down coffee treat (it would not have been appropriate to inhale a bagel with cream cheese at this meeting, as much as I wanted to). I knew that by the time I hit lunch I’d need something solid. Sure enough, at 11:45, I realized I had the shakes and therefore couldn’t stomach the shake. I scurried up to the dining hall, ate way too much, and slogged back to the high school with my tail tucked between my legs. I realized that my friend would be eager to hear what I thought of the shake, and that it’d be better for me to go confess than to wait for her to pop into my office and see the unused packet and mixer sitting there.

I took a deep breath, and headed over to her desk. As I rounded the corner with my excuses ready on my lips, I couldn’t help but laugh. There was my friend, sitting at her computer with a piece of Papa John’s pizza in one hand and a Mr. Pibb in the other. She looked at me and cracked up, and I confessed, and we both let each other off the hook.

So here I am today, eager to try the shake lunch. I did get some food in me this morning, so I shouldn’t have the same issue as yesterday. Thursday is Doughnut Day at Priory, so I had a glazed doughnut with my creamered-and-sweetened coffee this morning.

It’s good that I planned ahead to have my healthy shake for lunch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

More gems from the darlings: Witch's Brew

One Friday each month, more if needed, I volunteer in the writing lab at Zoe's school. It's an hour of bouncing from computer to computer helping kids with everything from spelling queries to how to change fonts and insert clip art. The kids have hand-written their drafts, all on the same theme, and so this hour they are tasked with key stroking them into Word, making last-minute edits, and printing. More often than not, I am kneeling by one child's computer while five little voices scream, "Mrs. Z! Mrs. Z! I need help!"

I absolutely love it.

I get to see how their little minds think, and how creative they can be. And they always, always make me laugh.

Their subject last Friday was Witches Brew. Or Witch's Brew. Some kids chose the former, some the latter, and who am I to say one is right over the other? I can see it both ways. I just made sure no one wrote Witche's Brew or something like that.

The goal of this exercise, as explained by the teacher, was to encourage the children to learn and use sequencing words: first, next, then, finally, etc. I remembered my basic instructions from the first class (paragraph form, with indent, title centered at the top, name, class and class number at the bottom, etc.). I helped the kids log in and fixed the lab's color printer when the computer teacher was gone and the third grade teacher shrugged in frustration. (For what it's worth, saying "I fixed it" sounds way more impressive than clarifying how I fixed it: I turned it off and turned it back on again, amid a cluster of 9-year-olds insisting that the printer was not plugged in despite the lit screen and whirring that precedes printing, that it was broken, that they just wanted to print their papers to the printer downstairs and then run to get them.)

We don't divide the classroom between the teacher and I, rather, we both just float around the lab and help students as needed. This ensures that I get to see all their papers at least once, which is so stinking great. Here are a few things I learned about a Witch's/Witches Brew as conceived by a third grader:

  • Most of the brews required the addition of gasoline. Sometimes spelled "gass."
  • Many of the potions were designed to be fed to Mom and Dad, although one insisted he would feed it to his sister and then predicted she would not like it.
  • Two children are going to serve it to their neighbor, Bob. I hope that there are two Bobs, and not one unfortunate soul who lives between these classmates.
  • One child christened her brew "Bloody Mary." Awesome.
  • My favorite ingredients were: eye of newt and toe of frog, which are found on a newt and a frog, and two bat eyes, which are found on a bat. (Thanks for the clarification.)
  • One girl's ingredient list included non-fat goop. A fine idea; it's always good to make your toxic brew healthy. The non-fat goop will balance out the gass nicely.
  • I think adding an old shoe to the pot is an ingenious idea.
  • One set of instructions said to vacuum up ghost farts. (Who ya gonna call?)
This experience, for a writer, is heaven right on earth each month. I kinda figured I'd enjoy it when I penciled in my name on the sign-up sheet at the beginning of the school year. I just didn't know that I'd cherish it this much.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What's in a name?

Apparently there's a media uproar about the fact that Mrs. George Clooney is Mrs. Clooney. She took her husband's last name.

People, if this type of information is what creates national headlines, we have some serious issues.

Who gives a flying fart what name someone takes (or doesn't take) when she gets married? Why can't people just be all, "Eh, live and let live." Your choices for taking your husband's name might be different from mine so it really doesn't matter. You may have worked hard to create a professional career under your maiden name and your peers would be hard-pressed to recognize your new work under a new name. I really don't give a shit. Change it, keep it, whatever.

I took M's name when we married, for several reasons. The first and foremost being that I like his name better than my maiden name. This, I think, stems from hearing every Polack joke in the book while I was growing up. (That being in the 70s and 80s before everyone got all PC and decided that hey, offending the shit out of people is probably not cool.) My maiden name means green in its native language. My married names means gold. So, you know, obvious upgrade there. (Hyphenation wasn't an option…both ethnic names together sounded crazy and there was the whole double-Z thing. One Z is usually enough to throw people off…two of them would send folks running.)

During our engagement I worked with a woman who, a dozen years after she walked down the aisle, was changing her name and taking her husband's. She told me that she originally chose to keep her maiden name for professional reasons, but now that she had children she was really tired of having a different last name than them (they had been given Dad's name). She said it began to bother her every time she had to fill out a form, and it made her wonder if people reading the form thought she was her children's step-mother or something. So now, 12 years later, when it was even harder to change her professional name, she was going ahead with it. She lamented that she had waited so long. Her story stuck with me, and since I had virtually no professional reputation to speak of when I married, it was much less of a deal to change it.

When my hairdresser got married, her husband took her name. They had talked about which name to take, or whether to make up a new one. His last name was "boring and common," she said, and he wasn't attached to it. Hers is ethnic (Jewish), and they weren't sure it would fit for him. Ultimately, they couldn't decide on a new name for both of them, and they do both like hers, so that's what they went with.

I read a story a couple months ago about a husband and wife who each kept their own last names, and then smashed them together to make up a new name for their children. They had their reasons, and that was fine, although I can't help but wonder what kind of hassle they're creating down the road. It just seems so inefficient.

When I was a kid, my last name was different than the family with whom I spent most of my time. My mother had remarried and from that union came my sister, so part of me always felt a little like the odd girl out. We were the family Smith, Smith, Smith…and Jones. It wasn't anything to really complain about, and most of the time it wasn't even on my radar, but it did lurk there under the surface, a very subtle reminder that I came from something that was no longer in existence, a unit that ended. I was the lone survivor. In this regard, I like that my little family now all shares the same name. Because I never had that (or rather, because it ended earlier than my earliest memories), it's valuable to me.

But, again, this is my own personal history, with my own historic filters and biases and my own baggage. I couldn't care less what other people decide to do. Everyone has his or her own history, suitcases stuffed full of childhood trauma (Polack jokes!) and dreams of creating a different life out of a different name (remember all the kids who experimented with different first name spellings in school: Amy to Amie or Aimee or Aymee or whatever). Names are important, so it's important that yours feels comfortable, that it reflects who you are. I love my married name and wouldn't trade it for anything. It means way more than gold to me, for now it symbolizes this family structure that encompasses my best friend and this little person we created together, and it holds the loving traditions of his greater family that has so warmly welcomed me. This shared history is now what I cherish more than just the opportunity to finally ditch the name that attracted so many jokes over the years.

I told M about my first foray into fiction the other night, and hinted that there's a dark side to it. His immediate response was interesting: "You need a pen name." Ummmm, no. I do not. There is no dark side to M, therefore, he gets a bit squeamish when I show mine. (It's a good thing we did not meet in high school during my alt/goth phase, when all I wore was black.) I don't want to use a pen name because that is not who I am. I am this person, with this name, and I like it. I'm pretty sure he'll get over it once the publishing checks start rolling in.

What I'm saying is rock on, Mrs. Clooney. And congratulations on your marriage. May your life be filled with many shared blessings, whatever they be named.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sweet dreams, motherf*cker

I am wide awake. Again.

I cannot sleep. I cannot turn off my brain.

A little background: I WAS asleep. Or mostly asleep. After laying in bed for maybe 45 minutes, I was pretty well asleep. And then my darling husband jolted me awake, insisting that there was water dripping on the bed and that I needed to turn my light on RIGHT NOW.

As you can imagine, after inspecting the bed and listening to his now highly irritated wife insist that there's no fucking water dripping on the fucking bed, he went right back to sleep. Only after asking, "Why do I keep doing that? Imagining weird things on the bed? Huh." Which only made the situation more charming.

I took two of the possible three sleeping pills my doctor prescribed tonight. I started off with one, and that seemed to work for a day or two. Then it didn't, so I moved to two. I don't think I really had a chance to see how those worked because then I got sick (again, dammit) and switched to Nyquil. This is my first night off the Nyquil and back on the sleeping pills.

My guess is that if I went back to my doctor and described what happens, she might prescribe two separate beds, in two separate rooms. And given my feelings towards the man currently sawing logs next to me, I wouldn't put up much of an argument.

Okay, in an attempt to gain unconsciousness again, I have now downed two Nyquil. We'll see if that works.

In the meantime, I think I will set my alarm for various times throughout the night. I will wake up at these times and scream incoherent things at my husband, hopefully waking him up in the process. Then, due to my sleeping pill/Nyquil cocktail, I shall blissfully pass out again and leave him wondering what the fuck just happened.

Here are some ideas:
1. A huge cantaloupe is attacking us. (or insert fruit of your choice.)
2. There are monsters under the bed.
3. Aliens at the door.
4. Knock knock...who's there...
5. Turn on the light! Turn on the light! (and give no reason)
6. There's a lobster in here somewhere. (I can't take full credit for this. He's already used it.)
7. Spiders! Spiders everywhere! (again, one of his gems.)
8. Hey, is your alarm set? Is MY alarm set?
9. You got orange? You got orange? Ha, all I've got is underwear. (one of my favorites that he trotted out years ago. Turn-around is fair play.)
10. WAKE UP, ASSHOLE. (that one's just sheer retribution.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Apparently, I've moved to the 1950s

Is it misogynistic if a woman makes a degrading comment to another woman, or only if a man does it? Just curious. I got that yesterday, which those of you who are my Facebook friends saw. For those of you not on Facebook (hi, Margaret!), here's the scoop: I went to an event for school mothers on the campus where I work. While I enjoyed the lunch and the time spent with monks and the moms I have come to know pretty well, I also photographed the event, then edited the shots and posted them on the school's Flickr site with a brief description, then sent the HTML code to embed the gallery on the school's website to my marketing specialist. Just for shits, I'll let you know that this was a very small fraction of what I accomplished yesterday.

As I left the event, with the camera slung around my neck, I chatted with a couple of mothers I do not know. One of them asked if I took pictures of the boys, too. I explained that in my role as Director of Communications, photography - both informal and formal - does fall under my responsibilities. I went on to tell her about the other aspects of my position, including developing or overseeing all mass communication, our website and social media, and crisis communications. At the end of my 10-second spiel, she said - I shit you not - "Oh! You have a job job. How cute!"

Really? It's cute? Cute. Five fucking years of undergrad (1.5 of it in engineering school) resulting in a Bachelor of Journalism Magna Cum Laude, and two years of business study for an MBA, and what I do every day, for 40+ hours a week, is cute.

I wanted to punch her with the camera. Only it wouldn't have been fair to the camera. And I hadn't downloaded my images yet and didn't want to chance losing them.

After she made the comment, she turned to the other mother and nodded toward a nearby parking lot. "I'm over here. Where are you?" I turned and walked away across campus, and I'm positive my face was scrunched up in a "Did I just hear what I thought I heard back there? Really?" look.

Then, this afternoon, I received an email request from a male colleague that is essentially one millimeter away from, "Can you fetch me a cup of coffee? Thanks, doll." I nearly exploded in anger. I had to actually get up from my desk and walk away for a moment.

Then after I calmed down I came back and furiously typed composed a response:

1st response: You're fucking kidding me, right? (Deleted.)

2nd response: Very funny, ha ha. What asshole put you up to this? (Deleted.)

3rd response: Yes, I'll absolutely do that for you, because seven years of higher ed resulting in two degrees means that I'm crushingly over-qualified to do this and am therefore the perfect person to ask. (Deleted.)

4th response: I'm sorry I can't help you. Why don't you check with one of the other women in the facility. I'm sure one of them is just waiting to do shit work for you. (Deleted.)

5th response: (endless stream of curse words, some of which I made up) (Deleted.)

6th response: You know I rank about five levels above you, right? (Deleted.)

And then I realized that by being an absolute douchebag this guy essentially put me in a position where any way I respond I will sound like a snarky bitch. Which pissed me off even more. I closed the email window and left a message for the woman in charge of HR. When I talk to her tomorrow, I'll ask her how I should handle this.

I think one of the things that bothers me the most is that I know there is no way he'd send a request like this to a male colleague, even one that ranks below him, much less one that is so much higher in the office hierarchy. (Please know that I'm not that person who is all about title and status...I do grunt work just like I ask my employee to do, and sometimes I do it for him just to lighten his load when I can see he's starting to flounder under his work load. This isn't about that. It's about a man asking a woman to do something that doesn't even fall close to being in her job description, and that is something that I guess some people would say fall's under "a woman's duties." Whatever the fuck that means.)

I'm not afraid to stand up to men, and I'm not afraid to say no to men in the workplace. In this job alone, I've had to tell my boss that he was making a grave mistake (he admitted later that he did, and that he should have listened to me), a monk that his vocations ad sounded like a LGBT personal ad and he needed to change it, several powerful alumni that no, we will not be sharing people's personal emails with them to do with whatever they wish, etc. I say no a lot.

But in this instance, I'm having trouble figuring out how to say no without sounding like a bitch. And now I'm wondering why I'm worried about sounding like a bitch.

Maybe that's what is really bothering me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scribbling and bibbling

I've been writing and writing and writing so much lately, and it's making me deliriously happy. "Here. It's all right here in my noodle. The rest is just scribbling. Scribbling and bibbling, bibbling and scribbling." That's a quote from the movie Amadeus (one of my all-time favorites).

Forever and ever and ever I've only written non-fiction. Well, except for that book I wrote in third grade where I had a magic kite that would take me wherever I wanted to go, which I think at that time was mainly Pizza Hut. What I am, I've come to learn, is an essayist. While thrilling to learn I have an actual literary label, it's not nearly as impressive as the others: author and/or novelist. Then I learned that what I do could also be called flash non-fiction, which sounds way more impressive than it really is. It's where I just sit down and barf on the page. The words just flow, brain to fingertips. It's what causes me to "type too loud" and what what has ensured, over the years, that I am the fastest typist I know. I have to type fast, just to keep up with my noodle.


I have always been envious of fiction writers. I mean, how on earth can J.K. Rowling create a whole different world in her head? And then transfer it to paper where it all makes sense and people love it and obsess over it and dress like her characters for years to come? How does Stephen King create all those creepy stories when he's led, basically, a pretty middle-class vanilla life (not counting the drugs and shit he messed with after he was published and became An Author)? How does one do that? I can only write what I know, what I experience in my own life. I can't make shit up.

Or so I thought.

I got an idea this week. Popped into my head fully-formed, like Athena only without the armor. I stewed on it and made some notes and formed some questions. I sat down and did some research. And then, tonight, I wrote.

It's not huge. It's not like I just slammed out a full novel or anything. It definitely falls into the category of short story. But 1,352 words isn't shabby. Seriously. Stephen King writes about 2,000 words a day, and it took him years to work up to that productivity. There's still some work to do be done on it, and I'm sure I can add more. I just so dang pleased that I wrote something. Let me clarify: I wrote fiction.

So now my big question is: what on earth do I do with it? I am too frightened to share it with anyone, mainly because it's so very different than anything I've ever written. That, and the fear that whoever reads it will say, "Um, yeah. You might want to stick with essays." Not that there's anything wrong with sticking with essays...those are in my wheelhouse and I will probably (hopefully) always write them. I just want someone to tell me that I can indeed pen fiction and that it doesn't totally entirely astronomically suck, maybe it just sucks a wee bit.

The writers workshop I attended two weekends ago had a guest speaker who instructed us to never, ever show our first drafts to people we love. Because they love you, they will either never give honest criticism, or they aren't literary critics and will unnecessarily bash the shit out of your ego. (Sorry, Beano. According to his advice, you're out. Damn. And you were the first person I was gonna let read it!) Can't show it to M, because of the above, and because the most praise I've ever received from him after years of writing here is, "Hm. It's nice." right before he flips over to CNN or home videos of other peoples' yard trains on YouTube.

I joined the St. Louis Writers Guild, and they have critique groups set up. I guess I'll just have to find one of those, which means I have to be patient, which we all know I suck at.

Part of me doesn't care though. It's a whole new world. Fiction, bitches!

Sleep = Happiness

I went back to my doctor the other day, so she could draw blood for some routine tests (I hadn't known to fast at my first appointment, which was at 4 p.m. so that wouldn't have worked anyway for I'd have surely eaten my own arm if I had to fast from midnight until 4 p.m.) and to see how the mood elevator she put me on was working.

I had been thinking about what to tell her, because I knew the first question she'd ask was "How are you doing?" Not the "How are you" that people say in passing, but the making-eye-contact-and-being-super-empathetic-and-concerned-but-with-forced-nonchalance kind of way. "How are you doing."

And here's the thing: I am doing really well. Although I honestly couldn't say that it was because of the mood elevator or if things were just all around a lot better. M has been home a lot more than he was prior to my going in for that appointment and bursting into tears, mumbling, "I just can't do it all by myself." Since I'm not doing it all by myself, that eases the pressure quite a bit. Things slowed down to a steady pace at work. We are back in the school year routine with The Bug. And I had just come off the high of being on retreat. So, given all that, I was pretty sure that the medicine wasn't doing much at all, really. Except possibly dampening down all my emotions, which isn't good. I really wanted, I guess, a miracle drug. One that could identify the crap that I didn't want to feel (like being overwhelmed and stressed out) and knock that shit down, while letting the other emotions (joy, thanksgiving, empathy) run wild as they always have. I sat at that retreat and listened to all these wonderful, heart-warming stories and I didn't really cry. I take that back: I cried for one story. All the other ones felt like I was watching from a different viewpoint than my own. "I know this is totally tugging at my heart-strings right now, but I'll be damned if I can feel it." It was weird. And disconcerting. And uncomfortable. I was a disinterested third-party observer to my own life. This will never do.

I told my doctor all this, and feared that she would say, "Well, it's only been a month. Let's give it another and see how you do." She did not. She said, "Wanna go off it and see how you do?" Which was awesome. I also told her how I've been struggling to sleep (both fall asleep and stay asleep), and she thought about it for a moment and lit upon a medication that isn't habit-forming and was thought to be a slight anti-depressant but couldn't be used for that since it makes people sleep. Bonus! She prescribed 50 mg tablets, saying that I could take up to three at night. I took one the first night, at 8:30. By 9 p.m. I thought, "This isn't working. Bullshit tablet. I'll have to take more tomorrow." By 9:15 I was unconscious on my couch. Once I got myself to bed, I was sound asleep and didn't wake up the entire night. It was heaven. When I opened my eyes the next morning, I was able to get up. Sorta. I realized that I need to take it a bit earlier than 8:30 in order for the effects to wear off when I need to wake up. It has been wonderful. I no longer feel exhausted halfway through the day, and I'm not nodding off at my computer at 2:30 p.m.

I'm thinking that perhaps getting decent sleep might be, just maybe, imperative to actually functioning in a happy, productive state. Imagine that.

In a nutshell: I'm sleeping and things are good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There are just some places batteries shouldn't go

One of our science teachers invited me to photograph a guest speaker in his class today. The speaker is the father of one of the students, and is a doctor.

He brought the goods. I had intended to show up, snap a few photos, and quietly bow out. I mean, it’s not too exciting to show a guest speaker in photographs, right? I figured it’d be one or two pictures with a caption identifying the dad. Throw him a bone sort of thing. Wrong. If the guest speaker is a gastroenterologist, it’s fascinating. I made the first few photos, then got caught up in his presentation. I ended up taking a seat next to the science teacher in the back of the room for the rest of the class.

The doctor did a pretty thorough overview of the digestive system, which I vaguely remembered from my own high school biology class. Only he showed photographs and videos from his own scopes and procedures. I don’t remember seeing that. He also toted in an upper GI scope, which comes in a fancy suitcase with locks because the thing costs $25-$30k. The boys were all about holding it and looking at it, until one of them asked, “So, is this thing actually, like, used? This particular scope?” and the doctor matter-of-factly replied, “Oh, yeah. This one was used this morning.” The circle of boys expanded quickly as they each took a step back, and the one holding the scope end gingerly handed it back to the doctor while looking like he was going to lose his lunch. That cracked me up. I learned that there’s a special dishwasher-type machine that cleans the scopes after each use, and that his practice has several scopes so they can keep going without having to wait for one to be cleaned. He had performed 12 colonoscopies this morning, before lunch.

I was intrigued through the whole presentation, possibly because I have had my own fair share of digestive issues and because I know plenty of people with ulcers, gallstones, polyps, colon cancer, Crohn’s Disease, colitis, celiac disease, irritable bowel and the like. A general topic of conversation among my parent peers right now is colonoscopies. Who’s had them, who hasn’t (oh, let’s face it…at this point we’ve all had one. Except M, who seems to have an unbelievable digestive system despite his brain’s many attempts to thwart it with motion sickness.), and everyone’s experience with the always enjoyable colonoscopy prep work. As one of our friends just said the other night over dinner, “Yep…that’s 24 hours you can’t trust a fart.” (I’ve learned that when you get to be in your 40s, no topic is off-limits at the dinner table.)

The students around me seemed mildly interested at best throughout the Tour of the Digestive System, and I was amazed when one of them raised his hand and asked, “What’s an ulcer?” Then the amazement left and I just felt old.

The coolest part, though, came near the end, so to speak. (Ha.) The doctor started showing his slides of x-rays of foreign objects. I’m not talking a stray chicken bone. I’m talking some weird ass shit that people swallowed. We saw:

  • Padlock
  • Keys
  • Screw
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Toothbrush
  • Fish hook
  • Spoons (Multiple, in the same person. One broken because he was unable to swallow it whole.)
  • Coins
  • Zipper
  • Batteries (Looked like AA batts to me. But I'm no gastroenterologist.) 

Holy mother of God. The doc said, "You'd be amazed at what you can swallow." It's safe to assume I'm not going to test that assertion. These items were located in the esophagus and the stomach, and the toothbrush was actually part of the way into the small intestine because "it just happened to hit that hole just right." (Which is where I saw more kids look like they were going to vomit.)

I’m pretty sure this afternoon’s presentation will be The Coolest Thing I’ll See All Week. It’s hard to top foreign objects in odd places, after all.

Please indicate your highest education level

I have issues. I mean, this is not news to anyone who knows me, but the issues that I’m talking about go beyond my normal insanity. As if garden-variety craziness isn’t enough.

We all occasionally participate in surveys or registrations where the organization with whom we are sharing information asks to collect demographic data. As a marketer, I totally get this. In fact, I have constructed surveys myself where I ask people the same questions. Age. Gender. Marital status. Stuff like that.

There’s one question, though, that trips me up: Education Level. Oh, it seems innocuous enough. There are lovely little categories that make it quite simple to state how far you’ve gone in academia.
  • Some high school High school degree / GED
  • Trade / Technical School
  • 2-year college degree
  • 4-year college degree
  • Graduate degree
  • PhD
I check “Graduate degree.” Which, you know, all things considered, is pretty good, right? I have a Master of Business Administration, jauntily referred to as an MBA. M and I worked our butts off for two stinkin’ years to earn our Masters. We likened it to being underwater, having to leave family parties early – if we could go at all – and turning down social invitations, tickets to Cardinals games and more. It was rough, to say the least, but we did it and we graduated with honors and we walked with our robes and our graduator hats (Zoe’s term) and our honor society ropes and now we can tack those three letters behind our names on our resumes.

And yet…something eats at me when I check that little “Graduate Degree” box. You wanna know what it is? It’s that the “Graduate Degree” box is not the highest box. There’s one after it. Ph-fucking-D.

Let me just say that the thought of returning to school makes my skin crawl right now. I barely have enough time to get the basics done, much less tack on a strenuous study program. But there it is. Mocking me. “You didn’t go all the way. There’s more. There’s one more step…”

I can’t figure out if it’s a Type A personality thing, or if it’s OCD (must. check. all. boxes.) or what. Or maybe it’s just that I know that I like to learn, and that it’s intriguing that there is more out there.

I don’t even know what I’d study. It sure as hell wouldn’t be business. Not that I regret the MBA at all. It gave me a lot of good stuff that I use in my career in Marketing & Communications. It even gave me a good foundation should I ever decide to change my career from Marcomm to artist (stop breathing in the paper bag, M…it wouldn’t be until after Zoe’s through college and I’m ready for my Second Career). But if I’m going to go back to school it’s going to be for something I love, for myself. Be that writing or photography or, preferably, some combination of the two. Can you get a PhD in that? I don’t even know. I do know a PhD is an awful lot of work, so I better love what I’m studying.

I guess until then, I’ll just have to suffer in silence every time I check the Graduate Degree box. Poor, educated me. (end sarcasm)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Do elephants lay eggs?

This past Saturday, five brave women took 11 Brownies to the Girls Scouts annual Troop Round-Up at Camp Cedarledge. This is a wonderful event hosted by our Council. The girls get to try their hand at games (gaga ball, tug of war, shooting basketballs, laser tag) and crafts (making lip gloss, hand exfoliants, bird feeders). They watched show dogs do tricks and slid down huge inflatable slides and saw a ton of their Girl Scout sisters from around the area. It was a great day.

Perhaps the best part for the adults, though, besides seeing what a wonderful time these girls were having, was listening to and sometimes participating in their conversations. I brought along a small notebook and a pen to jot down the best of what we heard, and the girls did not disappoint. Here are a few of their gems from the day:

“If you do this…” (outstretched arm, clenched fist, eyes screwed shut) “It feels like you’re flying. I’M A SUPERHERO!!!”

While waiting in line for the tug of war: “We’re versing those girls up there.” (Apparently there is a verb form of versus. Good to know.)

In the span of thirty seconds:
“Hello, Mate!” (in Australian accent)
“I can’t see.”

“I’m a natural cowboy! WHOOP!”

“Do you know how to be a ninja cowboy?” (Due to the pink bandanas we were wearing, cowboys were a hot topic of conversation at one point.)

“My hat stinks.”
“Does it smell like your head?”

“You fell on your butt!”
“No, I fell on my side. BOOM!”

“The tag on your shirt says ‘Happy Crayon.’ You’re going to turn into a crayon!”
“It says ‘Happy Canyon.’”
“Oh. Well, then you’re going to turn into a canyon.”

An adult conversation that I found funny:
“We’re missing four girls! I don’t know where they are!"
“They’re in there.”
“The firetruck.”
Sure enough, through the windshield you could see four girls wreaking havoc on the inside of a firetruck. I may or may not have been the person who lost four girls to the inside of a firetruck.

“Did you know bazillion is a real number? My dad told me. He’s an accountant.”

“You can’t say that! That’s a bad word.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Well, there’s an n-word that’s bad for black people.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not nougat.”

8:45 a.m. “Can we eat lunch?”
9:24 a.m. “Can we eat lunch?”
9:48 a.m. “Can we eat lunch?”
10:17 a.m. “Can we eat lunch?”
10:38 a.m. “Can we eat lunch?”
11:06 a.m. “Can we eat lunch?”

“Here. Give me your hand.” [pinch] “See? Doesn’t that hurt?”

“No touching nipples!”
“What’s a nipple?”
“We don’t touch each other’s nipples!”

“You need to follow one of your troop leaders.” 
“My great grandma told me to follow my dreams.”

“Put your bandana on.”
“I can’t. It has a big knot.”
“Give it here. I’ll get the knot out.”
As the leader works on the knot: “Why is it wet?” 
“I was chewing on it to try to get the knot out.”

“You won the gaga ball game! Can I call you Lady Gaga?”
“What if I give you some of these M&Ms?”

Upon reviewing the poster of Rams cheerleader headshots:
“Her hair is WAY out of style. Her hair is just a little out of style.”

"Do elephants lay eggs?"  

Friday, October 10, 2014

A little tune-up

When we bought Zoe's piano last year, it came with a tuning upon delivery, and one for a month or two later, after it acclimated to our house. Which I think is funny since we had been in the house for eight months and we were still acclimating ourselves.

Well, it was the holidays and then it wasn't and things got busy and then we spent pretty much the whole summer away from our home and Zoe kept saying, "This key sticks" and "That key doesn't work" and I finally, finally, called the tuner to come out for that second tuning.

A few weeks ago, Zoe came home from her piano lesson with new sheet music. Her teacher had assigned the pieces for the Christmas recital, and she was to work primarily on that in addition to some other, smaller assignments. She was given "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas," which I was thrilled about given that I am not a huge fan of "Good King Wenceslas" and was forced to hear it approximately 1,973,265 times last year. I love this year's tune much, much more.

Her first week of practice, she was frustrated right off the bat. It's a complicated piece compared to what she's been working on. This is part of the reason I love her piano teacher. She makes Zo stretch. She knows that Zoe is capable of great things and she consistently pushes her to go further, go faster. That first night of practice, though, Bug was in tears. It sounded like a cacophony. We talked her off the ledge, and I suggested that she go back to her old habit of learning first the right hand, then the left, and then combining them only after they were individually mastered. So that's what she did.

For the past three weeks, she's gone to her lesson and come home beaming, then bangs away at the piano. M and I have looked at each other in disbelief. What she was playing didn't sound a damn thing like "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas." We played all the versions we have in our Christmas music library (which is a lot) and realized that they all had different introduction segments before the well-recognized refrain starts. We thought maybe her sheet music had yet another intro, and we settled into listening to something unrecognizable. After the past week, though, I thought, "Shouldn't she be past that intro part? Shouldn't she be on that refrain that we know and love?" She came home from her lesson Thursday and I asked what her teacher said. Zoe smiled. "She said she's proud of me!" Not being a music major, I could only smile back and say, "Great!" while wondering "WTF!" in my head. Each time she sat down to practice, M and I have looked askance at each other and shrugged. She's far past our abilities to help her with any of this, and I considered getting one of her great aunts or her great grandmother on FaceTime so they could see/listen/help if we didn't see improvement.

A week ago the business card for the tuner fell out of my work bag when I was unpacking my computer, which was my impetus to finally call him and get the tuning scheduled. I chose Friday afternoon, today, because Zoe had a half day and would be home for it. I just thought it'd be cool for her to see Penny tuned. (Yes, she named her piano.) (Of course.) (Doesn't everyone?) The tuner explained that it was great that she'd be there, as she'd be able to tell him any issues she was having and such.

The tuner came today, and Zoe stood there in her hot pink leopard-print footie pajamas and said, "Um, like, I don't know…maybe this key sometimes sticks? Or doesn't sound right?" It wasn't her finest moment, but whatever. The tuner got to work. He found one key that really wasn't working at all, and spent over an hour tuning all the others. He said, "Yeah, this was really out of tune." I promised him I'd have it tuned annually and made a note of how much it'd be and entered an appointment in my calendar for a year from now so I wouldn't have to rely on a business card falling out of my bag to get it done. I shook his hand and he left, and I asked Zozo, "Wanna try it out?" She sat down immediately, and pulled out the sheet music for Christmas.

Holy Mother of God…"It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas" came pouring out of Penny.

So, yeah, I guess it really did need to be tuned.

Mental note: even though we're not musicians we should trust our instinct that when something doesn't sound right, something might be wrong. Duh.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Where I confess my drinking problem

I have a problem that I think might be shared with other writers who spend much of their days at a desk, pecking away at a keyboard. I tend to accumulate a lot of drinks (non-alcoholic, mind you), or drink-holders (i.e. cups and mugs and bottles and the like), at my desk throughout the course of a day. Usually by the end of a single day at my desk I have a used coffee cup, an empty can of sparkling water, and a plastic water bottle. At minimum, I have at least three different drinks on my desk. Sometimes there is more.

I do not understand why, when I go to fill up my water cup, I do not take the coffee mug and wash it out, then stash it in my desk. I think about this all the time, but I never do it. So things accumulate.

And then, just now, I realized that I’m enabling myself. Because I don’t like to work at a cluttered desk, I found myself pushing the used coffee mug around the back of my laptop screen, so I just can’t see it. It’s hanging out with the lemon drop jar, the Tardis, and a box of tissues. And probably some other cups and mugs. It will not be dumped and washed until tomorrow morning, when I want a fresh cup of coffee.

It is disgusting to me that I leave a mug with some coffee in the bottom sitting on my desk for most of a day and then all night. In the morning, the non-dairy creamer has separated from the old coffee and it doesn’t even resemble what I consumed 24 hours before. Which makes me wonder about the quality of what I’m consuming. Day-old water, after all, looks just like fresh water.

This is the kind of shit that stews around in my brain, but which I just can’t seem to remedy. Maybe another cup of coffee would help.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Sometimes I do know what to write, but it's all fragmented

I knew what to write this morning. I had two great ideas. And then I came to work, and worked, and got busy, and learned that I have a new cousin, and now I can’t remember what I was going to write.
This could be in large part that I got very (VERY) little sleep last night due to one of two reasons: 1.) I’m a total dumbass for picking up a book at midnight or 2.) If J.K. Rowling didn’t make things finally get really interesting in the plot halfway through the book, I’d have been able to put it down after only a few pages, like all the other nights. Instead, I had to finish it. I. had. to. I totally blame the author.

Oh! I remember one of the subjects on which I thought I could write. Our house. Because it continues, over a year after we built it, to amaze me. Maybe because over a year after we built it, it continues to amaze others. When we designed the house with our architect, we focused on what we wanted. Or, more importantly, what we needed. We wanted a big, open great room. We needed tons of shelves. We wanted vaulted ceilings. We needed main floor laundry. We wanted a great party room in the basement. We needed x number of bathrooms. We wanted zero entry. On and on and on. We pretty much let our architect go on design, once we determined the style we liked (Frank Lloyd Wright). Probably the most important thing we’ve learned, or at least that I’ve learned, is to let experts do their thing. Our architect designs homes for a living. We do not. If we trust his instincts and guidance, we’ll get a much better product, much like if we trust a professional chef to make saltimbocca we’ll get a much more tasty meal than if I try to tamper with it (does that need garlic salt? and bacon? everything needs bacon.). Basically, what I’m trying to say is that we didn’t give one thought to anyone else when we built this house. It’s not a Pottery Barn house, or a shabby chic style. It’s just us, and our stuff that we happen to like. So part of me is continually amazed when people talk about how much they love our house. I take it as a huge compliment, because what they are really saying is, “I love your style, and how you choose to live your life.” People consistently love our bright green countertops downstairs, and our sparkly flecked red countertops upstairs. These are things you typically never see in a home. We got them because we liked them. So I guess I’m continually surprised when other people like them, too, since others rarely make the decision to have obnoxious countertops.

Today, I just learned, is National Walk to School Day. Which is awesome, because we did. I love walking to school with Zoe. We chat and I get to see her face and concentrate on her more than when I’m driving. We sometimes do silly walks. We nearly always laugh. We say hello to the penny embedded in the concrete near the crosswalk to school, which Zoe appropriately named “Penny” when she was in kindergarten. And, right before the crosswalk, I get to give her a full hug and a big smoochie, as opposed to a half hug and sideways smoochie as she’s scrambling to get out of the car in the drop-off line to avoid holding up other families. I always walk backwards as she crosses and walks up the school parking lot, waiting to see if she’ll turn around and wave or blow kisses. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t. I really don’t care whether she turns around; I just love seeing her lithe little body heading to school for the day and, knowing that I’ll miss her for so many hours, I want to drink her up as much as possible. A friend was driving by with his kids on Monday, and rolled down the window to make a crack that she’s safe and it’s okay for me to go now. I just nodded and smiled, because there’s no way to explain it all to someone rolling by in a car at 10 mph, going the other direction. Today is National Walk to School Day. I highly recommend it, if it’s possible. It is truly a lovely way to start the day.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

What happens when I don't know what to write

I don’t know what to write.

I don’t know what to write.


And therein lies the problem. I want to write. I want to write oh so badly. But the words…they aren’t coming. Or rather, the words would come (they always come) if I just knew what to write about.

I started trying to write about me and my mother, and I got a lot out, but then I waffled on whether to publish it on the blog and in the end I was a huge pansy and decided not to. Or in one case, I published it, laid awake for two hours, then got up in the middle of the night and took it down. Wimp.

I have about forty women coming to my house this evening. They are women who served on the retreat team with me, and women who came to the retreat as guests. It will be a wonderful night. And I will run around panicked right before they arrive, making sure clean hand towels are in the downstairs bath, and the blankets neatly stacked on the floor in that bathroom waiting for the next storm siren are removed. And in those few hours of rushing around trying to get ready for my guests I will not think continually about writing. It will hover under the surface, though. Pulsing.

This weekend is Homecoming at the school where I work. The student council is sponsoring a bunch of fun themes each day this week. Today is Hawaiian Shirt Day. The faculty and staff are much more interested in this than the students. Nearly all of us are sporting some sort of Hawaiian shirt. A relatively small percentage of the student population is participating. Thursday is Steve Jobs Day, where we are all supposed to wear black turtlenecks and “dad jeans.” I am curious to see whether this will go over better than Hawaiian Shirt Day.

I saw a black bug in the women’s restroom yesterday. It was smaller than a cockroach. Maybe it was a baby cockroach, although I don’t think so because it didn’t have those disgustingly long antennae that give me the willies. I almost squashed it, but at the last minute thought, “Meh, he’s not hurting anyone.” I left him be. Then I realized that he really had no place to go. He was wandering up and down the tile where the floor meets the wall, which is the same kind of white, square tile only it’s curved instead of flat. He kept trying to climb up the corner, then would go back down the wall after learning he couldn’t go up. I thought about what it must looks like from his perspective. A sea of white, square tile in every direction. It’s a surprisingly large bathroom even for a human. Lots of wasted space. For a bug it’s a universe. I wondered where he came from, and if he’d eventually find his way back. Later, I had to use the bathroom again and found that someone else squashed him, right there where the floor meets the wall with the same white, square tile that is curved instead of flat.

I learned a new word today: schismatic. As an adjective, it is “of, characterized, or favoring schism.” As a noun it is “(especially in the Christian Church) a person who promotes schism; an adherent of a schismatic group.” In layman’s terms, a schismatic is a shit disturber. Cool. An intellectual way of calling someone a rabble rouser.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The mess

Two people I love are dying, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

I mean, I know that we all will die eventually, so in essence, from the moment we are born we are all moving along various timelines toward death. (Yes, this is quite the sunshiny post today, isn't it?)

But it's different when you know that death is pending. It's…what? What's the opposite of empowering? Depowering? Unpowering? It sucks. That's what it does. Knowing that I can't do anything, and no one can do anything, and it's just gonna happen.

Yes, there is a part of me that understands that these two are going to a better place. I get that. But the utterly human part of me is selfish and upset and pissed. In a more magnanimous state I'd be able to write that we are all better for having known these two, and that we'll get to see them again in our heavens, and all that other stuff that makes us feel better. But I'm not feeling magnanimous today. I'm full of piss and vinegar and I'm watching those I love hurt (the two and those who love and care for them) and it just doesn't make sense for me.

Clearly, I have control issues.

We have an annual Oktoberfest party tonight that we look forward to all year long. Tons of friends, awesome food, and yummy beer. And given my current mood, it doesn't bode well. It's too easy to drown the feelings of powerlessness under German hops. It's too easy to get shitfaced and try to forget about pain and sadness.

So what I'll do is this: I'll show up at the party and, between beers and chatting with friends, I will look around at this community and realize that this is what it's all about. Even in the middle of saying goodbye. Even in the middle of my heart cracking wide open and its contents spilling messily all over this space. Even while I know people are suffering the world over. And I will give thanks and I will share love and good spirit, knowing that just putting it out in the universe makes for some damn good juju somewhere. Life is messy. Death is messy. It's all just one big, fucking mess, so we might as well enjoy it while we can.