Friday, December 18, 2009

'Tis the Season...For Anxiety

I came home from my work Christmas party last night with my heart pounding out of my chest, my eyes bugging out, a pit in my stomach, and my palms weeping. Had Jason come up behind me unexpectedly at some point, I'd probably have leapt through the ceiling drywall and would still be up in our attic crawlspace somewhere.

I suspect it had something to do with the 3 refills I got on my iced tea. But I think the biggest fault for my near-panic-attack lies with the insane demands we make on ourselves between December 17th and 24th. When I got home last night, after a party that made me less than cheerful (tight quarters, expensive drinks, a white elephant exchange that took an awkward turn) I still had to do treats for Ainsley's school-day party, treats I was way too bone-tired to want to do.

I would write down all that I have to do between now and Christmas morning to remind myself, but I don't think I need reminding. My to-do list is on a constant thought-loop inside my head. It runs around all day and all night, popping up at random times like a little demon. Have you ever gotten one of those emails so popular right around Halloween where you click on a link and start to play a game, or look at song lyrics, or follow a young girl riding her bike through a perilous-looking maze and all of a sudden Linda Blair's The Exorcist face comes at you, making your soul leave your body for a few seconds? That's what's been happening to me inside my own head. But instead of a demonic child popping up to make my hair stand on end, it's a relentless stream of tasks.

It looks something like this. I'm in bed, the lights are dim, and I should be dreaming of sugarplums. And it starts off that way. Then the hijack starts.

Ahh, Ainsley was so sweet today. Sweet. Like the praline french toast I am making for Christmas morning for my side of the family. Mmmm, pralines. Which reminds me: I need brown sugar. Can't forget that. Anyway, back to Ainsley. This is such a fun age. I remember when my nephew was that age...Crap! Kyle! I still have to buy his present. Okay, okay, I'll do it this weekend. I should be able to get out Sunday. Sunday I don't have anywhere I have to be. It's even supposed to snow. Oh, how pretty. Wait! Snow! Damn! What will I do if the roads are bad? I'll have to postpone finishing my shopping I guess. There's plenty to do around here Sunday. Like wrap presents and drink hot chocolate. Oh, my God, I haven't wrapped a single thing, it's going to take hours. Okay, calm down. Calm down. It will all get done. The groceries. The 2 gifts left to buy. The wrapping. The cooking. The baking. And figure out what Jason's sisters need me to bring to his family's thing. And make it. And shop for it. And DEAR LORD IS IT JANUARY 1st YET? Where's the Tylenol PM? EEEEK!

So...yeah, my strings are tuned a little higher than usual.

Making pretzel turtles is like, the easiest thing in the world, but I struggled through it. I thought I was going to break into tears because putting a Rolo on top of a pretzel struck me as just so damn much to do.

"Jason, I think I'm dying," I said. "I'm flippin' out here."

"Too much caffeine," he said, munching on a pretzel, drinking a beer. "You'll be fine." Gosh, I hate how men don't have to do anything this time of year but buy us pretty flannel pajamas and enjoy the food.

While the kid's school treats were cooling, we turned on the TV. Glory of glories, we caught the SNL Christmas special just before "D*** in a Box". And then we saw Alec Baldwin introduce Schweddy Balls! The slow build of that skit, where you're already chuckling at the straight-laced NPR ladies and their double entendres before you even remember Alec's character's last name is Schweddy..hilarity ensues. And my stress level lowered to such a place that, after rolling around in bed for only 30 minutes, my worry demons took a break and I was able to take a short winter's nap. My eyes did fly open 10 minutes before my alarm went off because I remembered I didn't pick anything up at the store to bring to my own Christmas lunch at work and would technically need to stop on my way in. But that's just par for the yuletide course.

Bah. Humbug.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we over-schedule, over-eat, over-cook, over-buy? When do I get to over-nap? Over-Unibroue? Over-cry over a Hallmark movie? That's the kind of holiday indulgence I could really get behind, if only there were time.

Today is my last day of school of 2009, so I have that going for me. Things will get finished. It might kill me and leave me a ragged mess, but they will get finished. And on Christmas afternoon, after Santa has come, and my family has eaten and left, and all that's left are torn wrapping paper and mangled bows, I will wonder where it all went.

Such is Christmas, I guess.

This is possibly my last post before Christmas Day. Clearly, I have too much going on for my own good, and blogging will be pretty far down on my list. I will be back in time for some New Year's resolutions and hopefully some good stories from Christmas for you.

Take care of yourselves. Stop and smell the poinsettias, and will all be over before you know it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Soundtrack

This is the time of year when many bloggers take a look back on the past twelve months and try to figure out what it all means. Even non-bloggers get in on the act with the annual family letter tucked into a Christmas card, letting all friends and extended relations know what's been going on in their lives: births, deaths, joys, and sorrows. It's a lovely tradition.

2009 is not going to go down as one of my better years, and I have told most of my stories here already. I've tried several times in the past couple of weeks to either compose a newsy Christmas letter to go in the same envelope as our holiday cards (this year, our cards show Ainsley happily snuggled into a Snuggie reading a book) or to write a comedic look back on the blog. But I have a hard time finding the right tone; it's easy to be bitter about a year that had more downs than ups and it doesn't feel appropriate to force a light-heartedness that I don't really feel as I look back at 2009.

I wouldn't bother with the year-end navel-gazing at all except that every time I revisit the major events of my life in 2009, I keep hearing music. Different parts of my life this year had their own theme song. Some are happy, some sad. But that's life, right?

So instead of a holiday letter or a soggy year-end retrospective, I offer you my life's mixtape from 2009. My soundtrack, if you will. A brief explanation of what each song represents is included, as well as a link to some way of hearing each song should you want to capture the mood. Enjoy!

The Dixie Chicks, "Sin Wagon"

Not a new song (not many of these are), but new to Rock Band last winter. Before RB, this was just a Dixie Chicks song that I kinda liked but didn't love. But now it makes me think of a January snow storm where I practiced the vocal with guitar in true Chicks-style during my snow days off and of our "band" performing this song on cold, dreary Saturday nights at the request of my number one fan, Ainsley. "Sing 'Sin Wagon'!" she still says anytime we get Rock Band out. I know I'm no Natalie Maines, but hearing this song makes me happy that my daughter thinks I am.

Kidz Bop, "Hey There Delilah"

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I bought Ainsley her first Kidz Bop CD from a school fundraiser. It was their Valentine CD, and among the gems was this cover from the Plain White T's. 99% of Kidz Bop songs are comically bad at best and grating at worst, but Ainsley loves them. And this one is, in my humble opinion, almost bearable. One of my favorite memories of 2009 is the day I heard Ainsley's little lyric singing voice rocking a probably-unintentional harmony to the chorus from the back seat. I don't know why, but it makes me tear up a little to this day. Possibly because the adult who sings with the kids is so bad.

Miley Cyrus, "The Climb" and "Butterfly Fly Away"

Yeah, I know. I'm not proud of it, either. But I actually like the Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack. Ainsley and I saw the movie on a freakishly warm Sunday in April when life was not so grand; it was becoming clear that Jason's mom wasn't going to bounce back like she had done so many times in the past. To get our mind off of it and to give Jason a day to do what he needed to do, we had a girls' movie day. And stopped at Tar-Jay to get the CD on the way home. And then I hid my tears when "Butterfly Fly Away" came on because it made me think of my little butterfly and her daddy. That is, by far, the best song Billy Ray has ever been a part of. (Is that really a compliment?)

The Beatles, "In My Life"

I am almost as ashamed to admit this as I am to admit I like Miley Cyrus sometimes: this song was barely a blip on my radar before May of this year. It's on one of the Beatles compilation CD sets I have, and it's one of those songs I never really listened to before. As we were saying goodbye to Jason's mom in May, Jason's brother chose this song to go on the memorial slideshow that played at the funeral home. As moments from Kathie's life flashed on the screen--her with her dear late husband, with her kids, her grandkids--I was struck by how perfect this song is for her. She was a huge Beatles fan and was the only person I've ever known who got to be one of the screaming girls you see in concert footage, one of those lucky people who got to see them in person. I'll never hear it again without thinking of her, not with the grief that marked that week in May, but with a smile for how much she loved life and for how many people loved her.

Dave Matthews Band, "Funny the Way It Is" and "You and Me"

I never really got the love for DMB until a rainy Tuesday night in June, my first week of summer vacation, when I finally got to see them in concert. It was almost a religious experience and was one of the best times of my life. Maybe I just needed a night out with my husband after all we'd just been through; maybe I've always been a bigger Dave fan than I liked to let on. But when the band broke into "Funny the Way It Is" from Big Whiskey, I felt transported. I'm pretty sure I had an out-of-body experience. It could have just been a contact high--who knows? "You and Me", another great track from the newest album, has become one of my all-time favorite love songs. It's the kind of song you wish someone had written for you--not cheesy and overly sentimental, but honest and affectionate.

Michael Franti, "Say Hey (I Love You)"

The first and second times I heard this song I was in the Caribbean, having a drink, soaking up the sun. The perfect song for that, no? After we got home from the cruise we kept hearing this song, and I haven't gotten tired of it. When it plays in the car, Ainsley and I sing along, loudly, and get jiggy with it. "This is that song we heard on the cruise!" Ainsley says. "I know!" I say, and we get lost together in memories of Half Moon Cay and the ship's water slide.

Phineas and Ferb, "Gitchi Gitchi Goo"

Phineas and Ferb became a phenomenon in the Cranky house this summer and as school started. It's a rare kids' show that gets Jason and I to stop what we're doing and watch new episodes (or old favorites) with Ainsley. Part of the appeal of this show is the music; most episodes feature at least one original song that pokes fun at or cleverly imitates a musical genre. There are many songs that I would count as awesome from the show's soundtrack CD, but this one (which gets stuck to your brain like wallpaper) from the episode where they attempt to create the quintessential pop hit and become one-hit wonders is the best of the bunch.

The Cast of Glee, "Don't Stop Believing"

I know the pilot aired last spring and this is old news by now, but good Lord, does this song make me all upbeat and cheerful and totally unlike myself. It doesn't hurt that there's at least one musical number every episode that has the same exact effect on me. This song will also always remind me of the first "adult" show that Ainsley fell in love with. Darn you, American Idol, for putting the rest of the Glee season on hold until April.

Mercedes from Glee, "Bust Your Windows"

From the moment details about the Tiger Woods "car wreck" began to emerge, I started thinking about this song. Now any time I see a news story about the continuing scandal and the fallout, this song plays in my head. And sometimes I sing it out loud, just to remind Jason that should he ever stray, I just might bust the windows out his Prius.

Michael Jackson, "Will You Be There"

I took Michael Jackson's death pretty hard, in a way that was fairly irrational since I had never personally met the man and certainly was not a friend. And yet it sure felt that way. After he died as I dragged out the few CDs of his that I own, and started sharing videos with Ainsley to show her who this person was everyone was getting so upset about, and began talking with our friends, I remembered this song. I didn't have it on CD and couldn't immediately remember the title. Jason and I just wanted to hear "the Free Willy" song. Pretty soon we were hearing it everywhere--Jennifer Hudson's from-the-gut rendition at MJ's memorial, an over-the-top performance at a flashy cruise-ship show, a dance at a friend's August wedding reception. It went from that song that I could barely remember to the one that kinda became the theme song of our summer.

The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again"

It used to be, we hated it when Rock Band dealt us this song during a random set list. But after Jason got promoted this year and became a member of middle management, I wanted to play it. You know, for the new boss. Who I hear is the same as the old boss. (And let's just skip the link to this one in honor of it being 10 minutes long, mmkay? And just have me link to the David Caruso CSI Miami one-liners with the "Won't Get Fooled Again" rock-scream after each one? You're welcome.)

That's my 2009 soundtrack. What songs are on yours? Please link so I can listen as I read your comments.

Friday, December 11, 2009


There are moments as Ainsley's mom when I really wish I could bottle her sweetness and save it for those teenage years to come when she's, well, less than sweet.

Maybe it's because she's trying to lobby for more Christmas presents. Maybe she's just really in the Christmas spirit. Whatever the reason, her heart or her shoes, she was an absolute angel this morning. When her alarm went off, rather than making me practically drag her out of bed, she threw back the covers and ran into the bathroom before I knew what had happened. She finished her breakfast with 5 minutes to spare and made a big show of moving more like a hare and less like a tortoise.

This is not how mornings usually go in Casa Cranky.

"Who are you, and what have you done with Ainsley?"

"I have decided. I want to be helpful to you today. I want to be nice to you."

And the way she said it...for those of you have seen Up! (and if you haven't, why on earth not?), she said it the way Dug the dog says my favorite line from that whole movie: "I hid under the porch, because I love you."

And just like that line from the movie, Ainsley's words made me melt into a big puddle of "Awwww."

If that were not enough, when she got here at school she wrote the following message on the portable whiteboard I keep out in the research side of the library:

Dear Mommy,
I will miss you at school today.



All day today, teachers who have come into the library have commented on the note.

"Ah, a note," said one staff member whose daughter is now in middle school. "You still get those. I miss those days."

I know that I will, too. I took a picture of this precious note on my cell phone (seeing more and more why they make phones with cameras) so that, when Ainsley is a nose-pierced, eye-rolling, pink-haired rebellious teenager who pretends I don't exist, I can be reminded of the joy she brought me one cold, December morning when all she wanted to do was be nice and make her Mommy happy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Wow. That went fast.

I keep hearing that we're at the end of a decade. It kinda crept up on me. I guess I am still one of those obnoxious people who believes a decade doesn't really start until the year ends in a 1 and we've got until the end of 2010 before we really start looking back at the "Aughts" or whatever the hell we're supposed to call this decade. But whatever. I'll play along.

First, though...seriously. What do we call this decade? The Single Digits? The "Ohs"? What? I need to know this.

This decade was for me, and I am guessing for most of you who are my age, the decade of "Becoming." We all became things this decade we weren't before. I became a school librarian. Then a home owner. And a mom. Then a cancer survivor. And a mourner.

Some of the things I became this decade were joyful. Some were not. But every change that occurred, every step I took whether it was uphill or down, led me to this place where I am: full-fledged adulthood. Adulthood doesn't begin with a set age; it doesn't necessarily happen when you turn 18 or 21. It happens that first day that you fully take charge of your life and look around and realize that you are 100% fully responsible for yourself. That you are your own safety net. That other people count on you besides just yourself.

And that certainly happened to me this decade.

I thought I became an adult when I became a mom. I became responsible for a tiny, helpless person who depended on me for everything. But we all know (especially those of us who work in a high school with a school-run daycare next door) that just because you're a mom doesn't mean you're a responsible adult. Especially in the beginning, when I didn't know what the hell I was doing and the post-partum depression was causing me to have as many tantrums as Ainsley, I felt more like I was playing house than being a good parent.

Then I thought I arrived into full adulthood when I started cancer treatment. But at that time, I still had both of my parents to help me through. My dad helped us financially and my mom helped me physically, even coming over one afternoon following biopsy surgery to give me a bath because I was too weak to do it myself. Cancer can make anyone feel like a helpless child again.

No, all these things were just stepping stones on my journey. But the day this decade that I realized I had arrived into my place in the world was the day I stood in the kitchen of the house I grew up in and called my dad's brothers and sister to tell them he'd passed away. When it came time to do this and to start making funeral arrangements, my mom and sister looked to me.

"We need you," they said. And I did what needed to be done. As the youngest child in my family, I had never before been called to take care of any of them; they had all taken care of me. But now I had to grow up. They weren't strong enough in that moment. I was. And the man who had been my lifeline the past few years, the person I knew would bail Jason and I out if we ever found ourselves in trouble of any kind, was gone.

It was up to me from now on.

With Jason's mom passing away in May, Jason and I are in a place where we only have one parent left between us. We talk about how this feels sometimes; it feels like we're next in line. The buck stops here. It's a sad, lonely place, but an empowering one, too. We lean on each other, because we're almost all we've got. We're flying without a net, with no one to catch us if we fall.

We're not kids anymore. I can still say I am someone's daughter because my mother is still here; Jason no longer has that label. He is a father, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a boss. It's no longer about us.

We are grownups.

What have you taken away from this decade, whatever we're deciding to call it? What did you become?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Preparing for Pom-Poms

So, the kid wants to cheerlead this winter.

This is a world I know nothing about, and quite frankly, I am frightened.

One of our local youth sports leagues sent flyers to every kid at Ainsley's school about their boys' and girls' basketball and cheerleading programs this winter. I let Ainsley choose one outside-of-school activity each season, and for years now she's chosen swimming. But now she has decided she's burned out with swimming for a little while ("Mommy, I am so over swimming right now," were her exact words) and wants to trade her swim cap in for pom-poms.

It's a non-competitive league where the boys and girls playing basketball just learn the fundamentals and get to wear a team uniform and play shortened games on Saturday mornings at a local middle school. The girls trying their hand at cheerleading get to wear cute uniforms and learn some sideline cheers and have to buy hairbows and socks in their team color and hopefully, for sake of her twice-concussioned head, stay on the floor and not in any kind of pyramid formations.

She did a beginners basketball camp last winter and loved it so I was really hoping, with her above-average height, that she would give basketball a try. But the flyer had her at "registration fee includes uniforms and pom-poms."

I really don't know what I'm getting us into here. This is a world I was never part of, and never really wanted to be a part of (sometimes I think I'm a lot better at something than I am, but I always knew I was pretty sucky at tumbling, being upbeat and cheery, and doing coordinated dance moves, which pretty much took me out of the running for being a cheerleader). I have no idea whether the other moms will just show up to the Saturday games in the spirit of fun or if there will be "cheer moms" armed with hair spray and freaking out if little Madison's arms aren't extended enough during "We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do!" And I can't help but worry that Ainsley is going to really, really like this and want to do it the rest of her childhood. Not because I don't approve of cheerleading as an activity, but because when she gets to the point where she's flipping through the air in basket tosses, I'm going to think about the study I heard about where if someone gets three or more lifetime concussions, their risk for permanent brain damage and dementia goes way up. We're already to two concussions. I'd much prefer her doing activities where her feet stay firmly on the ground (or underwater.)

She's so jazzed to do it, though, that I am willing to give it a try. At the very least, I am thinking it will give me some good blogging material.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Welcome to the 21st Century

I catch a lot of hell over my old cell phone.

For about a year, I have been torn between being ashamed of it and not even wanting to let people see it, to whipping it out with pride because it shows that I am no slave to modern cellular telephonic technology. It's an older (quite a bit older) boxy Nokia with a screen not much bigger than a quarter. It makes and receives calls (when I bother to keep it charged, anyway) and if I am really diligent, I can send texts (it has no keyboard, so I have to text in the new old-fashioned way.)

But it's not the type of phone that all my friends and colleagues and even my own mother carry. It has no camera or videocamera and it doesn't flip open into a keyboard and it doesn't have fun ringtones (I was thrilled when I first got it and bought an "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" ringtone that sounded like an 8-year-old was playing it on a toy keyboard.) I'm mostly okay with that; as Jason will happily tell anyone who listens, this phone of mine, which I procured to carry around for emergencies and the possibility of car accidents, is seldom charged and therefore much less of an emergency cellphone and much more of an emergency paperweight.

Friends ask me, "Hey, what's your cellphone number? I'm updating my contacts." And I have to think long and hard about what my number is, usually giving them Jason's digits first before I realize my mistake. When they look at me weird, I pull out my ancient, un-cool phone.

"Good Lord," the friend sometimes says. "Look at that thing."

"But it has a light on it!" And I show them my phone's coolest feature: a little stick-on LED cellphone flashlight I "won" for helping Ainsley sell something or other at school in kindergarten.

So, yeah, I don't really get into phones.

At least, I didn't used to. But after a good friend got a smart phone, and my sister got an i-Phone, and the whole world it seems is operating on the notion that we must be reachable every single second of every single day, I've been hit by an itch for a new phone.

This goes against my nature because I am seriously annoyed by cell phones. I hate it when people are on their phones in the grocery store, the shopping mall, meetings, restaurants, etc. I think it sends a serious air of, "I am just so gosh-darned important that not only can this call about what my cat was doing yesterday NOT WAIT, but the whole public arena I'm in must hear it as well!" I have no problem with people who must be on their phones frequently in public because it's an essential part of their job. But if you're discussing your upcoming hemorrhoid surgery on the phone at the table next to me while I am trying to enjoy some french toast on a Saturday morning at First Watch, or you have to text at the table while everyone around you is trying to engage you in conversation, well, then, I think you're a douchebag.

But peer pressure is strong, and last week when Jason's just-as-old-but-infinitely-cooler phone began acting up, I lobbied for a new phone for myself, too.

"Can I can I can I please please pleeeeeeze...." I said, doing my best Ainsley impersonation.

"Why do you need a new phone?" he said, doing his best "Dad" impersonation. "The one you have is never charged."


But lo and behold, we found a plan where we could both get new phones (not smart phones, but smarter than our old ones) and a new plan for cheaper than we were currently paying. Oh, joy!

So now I have this new phone. And I get why people like cell phones, at least initially: they are really, really fun toys.

Because if you want to get right down to it that's the only thing that separates my former dinosaur phone from this pretty new red one. It's no lighter and not much thinner than the relic I was carrying, so it doesn't gain points there. But it has so many features that I've been a little overwhelmed in a good way. It does have a camera (still don't know why that has to be on every phone now, but it did come in handy the other night when Ainsley was doing something cute and my real camera wasn't on my person). I got some really cool musical ringtones that I can customize: a Dave Matthews Band song for when Jason calls, "Coal Miner's Daughter" for when my mom calls, and a little Glee for everyone else. The screen is big enough that I can put a wallpaper on there to further enhance my phone-using experience (I'm going back and forth between Phineas and Ferb and the UK logo). I've had lots of fun personalizing it. It's a great little toy. I can see why people and their phones are literally attached at the hip.

And yet the one time this week that Jason did need to reach me on it, that it needed to be a device which makes and receives calls and nothing else, it was (you guessed it) sitting in my purse with a dead battery.

But the darn thing sure is pretty.

I have promised to be a better cell phone user and keep it charged. After all, my new ringtones won't be very fun if I never get to hear them. And yet a part of me doesn't want to go down that road. If I start encouraging people to reach me on it so that I occasionally have that joy of, "Oooh, I hear 'Defying Gravity'! Someone loves me and must really need to talk to me RIGHT NOW!", I also have to deal with people calling me when I'm at the grocery store, or in a restaurant, or in a movie theater even though I was pretty sure I put it on vibrate, and then I'll become a douchebag. It's a treacherous path.

Ooh, gotta go. My phone's playing my song.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My Grown-Up Christmas List

It's Black Monday, readers! That means that, while you are allegedly working, you might have a window open in Explorer browsing deals at your favorite cyber shopping site. I'm cool with that, so long as you are also procrastinating and costing your company money while you have my blog open in another window, ready to minimize when the boss comes strolling by.

And while we're all ordering things online today and maxing out credit cards and hoping that we're not becoming victims of identity theft by ordering zebra-print Snuggies, pick up a little something for Cranky, won't you? Here's my Christmas list this year; some of these items may be hard-to-impossible to get, but probably still not as hard to get as a Zhu Zhu Pet. (Seriously, has anyone else had to tell their kid that Santa's elves went on strike and can't make those this year?)

1. To never, ever hear that Owl City Fireflies song again. Yes, I can always change the channel when it comes on my radio. But I have neighbors who like to play their car radio every Saturday while they're out working on their car or bike or whatever, and I can't turn theirs off when that song comes on and I can hear it through my windows (and this Saturday, it came on TWICE.) So clearly the only solution is for someone to destroy all known copies of that song. If you can figure out how to do this, you would be doing all of humanity a favor.

2. For Jon Hamm to show up on my doorstep, dressed as his character from Mad Men, but smelling like frosting like his character in 30 Rock.

3. A Sunday afternoon with absolutely, positively nothing that I have to do. Sunday has become the dumping ground of my life, the day in which all the stuff I meant to do all week shows up outside my bedroom door and gets in line behind the stuff that I already have to do on Sundays to get ready for the week. I want a Sunday where the most strenuous thing I have to do is get a shower and eat an entire Ghirardelli dark chocolate candy bar by myself.

4. For UK to beat U of L in basketball. It's been a hard couple of years to be a UK fan, and I still don't know how I feel about Coach Cal, but a victory in that game just might make me feel like a fan again.

5. To go see a movie and not see a single cell phone come on, or hear a single person make a comment, or have the child or adult behind me kick my seat.

6. A surprise snow day the last week before our break, when I am stressed out and wondering how I'll get all the wrapping and baking and everything done, but wake up one morning to the sweet sound of the snowplow and a phone call from work telling me school has been cancelled.

7. To cook and eat dinner with the Neelys. They make being in the kitchen for hours look like fun.

8. And now for one very real request. All I really, truly want is for everyone in our family and circle of friends to stay healthy and whole this holiday season. No trips to the ER, no car accidents, no flu, no falls, no hospitalizations. 2009 roared in like a lion and has pretty much been rattling the cage ever since. Here's hoping it goes out like a lamb, with everyone around me in good health and good spirits.

But if anyone knows how to get Jon Hamm to show up for New Year's Eve bringing and smelling like cupcakes, well...that would just be the icing on the cake.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Every year, I stop for a moment on the blog to share what I'm thankful for. It's been a tough year, but I feel like more than ever I have a lot to be grateful for.

Join me by giving your own thanks in the comments section below. Giving thanks here will help you be able to dig into your Thanksgiving turkeys a little faster on Thursday!

This year, Cranky is thankful for...

My funny, big-hearted kid. My husband, who is also my best friend. My mom, who I don't worry so much about these days because she has become so independent and does a kick-butt job of taking care of herself and living her life the way she wants to. For friends who are like family, who jumped right in when we needed support earlier this year. For a cute haircut (the importance of this to a woman cannot be underestimated).

I am thankful for 6 1/2 years or remission and for a year of relatively good health. For the roof over our heads, especially now that the roof has been repaired and no longer leaks. For our jobs, as crazy as they make us sometimes, since they allow us to live comfortably and pay our bills with a little left over for Rock Band downloads and decent beer on Saturday nights.

I am grateful for this life that I have and all the beauty that's in it: good food, great friends, a loving, healthy family. And to go along with those big things, the little things that make life fabulous: good books to read, fun things to watch on TV, Beatles Rock Band to sing harmonies to.

This is a good world I live in.

Your turn. What are you thankful for this year?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yep. We're One Of THOSE People.

It's official. The Crankies are now card-carrying liberal hippie tree-huggers. Jason drove home yesterday in a Prius.

You probably have a pre-conceived notion of the kind of people who drive Priuses. Go ahead. Think those things. There's a grain of truth behind stereotypes, or so I hear.

When Jason's Impala began to resemble a crumpled Dr. Pepper can more than it did a car after his second accident, we decided to take the insurance money and get an affordable, highly-fuel-efficient car. The problem is, those kinds of cars don't usually fit 6-foot-4-inch dudes very well. Jason's head touches the ceiling of my crossover and he hates to drive it; it's hard to find something outside of the good old American land barge that he fits well into.

But he fit comfortably into the Prius. Who woulda thunk it?

We all went for the test drive, but I've stayed out of the later parts of the buying process. When he pulled into the garage last night, and paused for a while before coming in, I knew he probably wanted me to run down and see the new car. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I've told him that for a while, anyway, I don't want to drive his car. It's not that I don't like it.

It's that I like it too much, and that makes me a traitor.

Dad worked for and retired from GM and was a proud member of the UAW. There were a lot of things, growing up, that I would have been terrified to tell my parents. That I had gotten knocked up. That I was in jail. That I was eloping and moving to Kenya. That I had decided to vote Republican in the next presidential election. But the following conversation scared me most of all, because it would have been the least likely to have been forgiven:

Mom, Dad, I...There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just gonna come out and say it. I...I've fallen in love with a Toyota and I signed the papers today. I drove it home, and it's going to be living here with me a really long time.

So now we have this Prius, and I'm worried that my dad is going to perhaps haunt it.

We broke it to my mom last weekend, gently.

"Mom, we decided to buy a Toyota. I know you still want us to buy GM cars, but we have good reasons for wanting this car, and we couldn't find a GM model that had all the things this car does for the price."

I kid you not, my mom actually put her head into her hands.

"Oh, Lord. You didn't."

I am such a disappointment to my mom. I was a valedictorian of my class, graduated from college with honors, have kept the same steady job for a decade, and given her a granddaughter that she adores. But I have gone against my raising by buying a foreign car.

She eventually got over it, and we might even be able to get her to ride in it someday.

But I am never, ever taking it to Dad's cemetery. I believe in vengeful spirits.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanks, God, For Everything. Now, Can I Just Get A Cheeseburger?

Do any of you really, truly like Thanksgiving? Anyone? Anyone?

I know at least one of you has an aversion to eating turkey because, even brined and roasted to a lovely golden brown, it still looks just like it did in life. And several of you chimed in on my "I hate hate HATE stuffing" post last year that you're totes in agreement on that. This week, when I feel Thanksgiving's approach like a death knell, I have to wonder...does anyone really get excited about this holiday, which is a lot more like work and a lot less like a celebration?

If it weren't for the long weekend that usually comes with it, and its Pavlovian association with the start of the Christmas season, would it be missed?

This is from someone who was never really big into turkey or dressing or cranberry sauce or sweet potatoes or even pumpkin pie. No, not even pumpkin pie. Secretly, I think pumpkin is fouler than fowl (pun intended) and I can only mildly tolerate it now in pumpkin cheesecake because I've tried really, really hard to like it and fit in with Jason's family, who all seem to love it. It's not an acquired taste, technically, but I've been trying to acquire it anyway.

Yeah, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about more than the food. And I do take time every year (usually in this blog) to reflect and say what I'm thankful for. That part, I get. What I really could live without is spending hours in the kitchen, making food that I really don't like, for two different meals with two different families. I still like the getting together with both families part, don't get me wrong there. I just think we'd all have a better time if we just got together with food everyone actually likes rather than a predetermined, traditional turkey dinner that you feel is necessary for the American identity. You know, maybe some wings and brew since everyone just ends up watching football anyway.

Every year Ainsley learns about the first Thanksgiving and why we eat what we eat. It usually convinces me to at least play along and make my green beans, dumplings, and crunch-topped apple pie for my family's feast and ham and sweet potato casserole for Jason's. (The interesting thing about the sweet potato casserole is I get rave reviews on it because it's Paula Deen's awesome recipe, but I have never actually tasted it myself because sweet potatoes trigger my gag reflex and cause me to make a very unpleasant "rolf" sound in the back of my throat whenever I try a bite. And yet, I make the casserole anyway because Jason luuuuurves it. That, my friends, is devotion.)

But here's my fantasy Thanksgiving. I do not have the cajones to actually do any of this; my families follow tradition, and so will I, because I'm all about the complaining and not about the rocking the boat. Maybe, though, this will inspire one of you to break out of the "roasted bird/honeybaked pig/bread soaked in broth/green bean casserole to give the illusion of a vegetable" rut that is the American Thanksgiving.

My ideal Thanksgiving would not start with me getting up at the buttcrack of dawn to start the country-style green beans needed for my family's lunch-time "dinner." It would start with me getting up just as late as I ordinarily would on any weekday off from work. In other words, the only alarm that would go off would be when Ainsley comes running in the room to announce she's awake, to which I would reply, "Go watch a Phineas and Ferb while Mommy wakes up," buying me 15 more minutes.

Not having to worry about all the calories and heavy food stuffs coming later in the day, I would start with a creme-filled bakery donut and a cup of coffee. Or maybe, since it is a holiday, after all, a mimosa sipped while soaking in the tub.

Since this is a day about food and thanks and family, the three of us would get all cleaned up to go eat "dinner" with my family at my sister's house. But instead of the usual turkey, my mom has prepared the simple (and not time-consuming!) meal that many an Appalachian has given thanks for over the centuries: soup beans. Not bean soup. Soup beans. Never heard of them, you say? They're pinto beans cooked up with a healthy amount of ham hock or salt pork. Best served with some buttermilk corn bread. Not what the pilgrims had after the native Americans saved their poor white arses from starvation, but very close to it in spirit; I've heard that 50lb. bags of pinto beans and hogs butchered and smoked annually are what kept my ancestors alive during the harsh mountain winters.

After dinner, we'd all settle down for a few minutes with my sister's puppies. Then we'd head home for a nap. A long one.

Later is when the real fun would begin--instead of turkey dinner number two, we'd get together in the evening with Jason's siblings and the kids. And start immediately with some cocktails. No one would have to go through a lot of trouble for food; we could just fry up the all-American favorite. The food that I would argue better represents "USA" than a baked bird. Cheeseburgers. With fries. And maybe beer.

After the kids start getting weary and all the funny family stories have been shared, we'd head home and, after the kid's in bed, watch a very special 30 Minute Meals wherein Rachel Ray does Thanksgiving in 60 minutes. And even that will look like a lot of work, and we'll be glad our bellies are full of beans and cheeseburgers instead.

Ahhh, bliss. And nary a can of pumpkin in sight.

That is something I could really be thankful for.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The (Real) Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My favorite day of the year is tomorrow.

What is so special about the second Saturday in November, you might ask? It's not a holiday, or an anniversary, or a birthday. But it's like Christmas to me. I get up that morning bright-eyed and giddy with excitement.

The second Saturday in November is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's annual Taste of the World event at the Newport Aquarium. It's a lush's paradise.

Not that I am a lush. Don't go crank calling my house asking for an "Al....Al Coholic." But this 3-hour-long tour of a beautiful aquarium accompanied by fine food from Cincinnati restaurants and fine wines and liquors from all over the world (some of which I wouldn't be able to afford to ever taste otherwise) is the highlight of my social season. The only light of my social season, really. Okay, it is my social season.

We've been going since 2006. At that very first event, I tried sushi for the first time. And had my first sip of imported French wine. And tried a stuffed grape leaf. And learned that the calming, surreal jellyfish room is an awesome place to be at the end of a wine tasting. I remember Jason and I going to the Barnes and Noble next to the aquarium, which was open late, having a coffee and sharing a piece of pumpkin cheesecake (the dessert room wasn't as stocked that first year as it later came to be) and sitting in awe of our very first wine tasting ever.

We both sat back in our chairs, sighing and sated.

"That was awesome. We should totally do that again."

"Yes. And we must tell others and get them to go with us."

We recruited a pair of friends that next year and we've gone together ever since. It's gotten a lot more crowded over the years; word has spread that as far as charity events go, this one is one of the most affordable and most worth your time and money. I run into people I know every year. In fact, this picture of me and good friend "DD" (with another familiar face in the background) is from two years ago when I discovered that my good friend from childhood was actually a volunteer at the event in honor of her leukemia-survivor sister. See that big smile on my face? That's what this event does to me.

Later, it also made me throw up into a Chipotle cup in the car on the way home, but that's the only time I've been excessive.

Even if you're not an imbiber, the food alone would be worth it. It's mostly the same goodies every year. Lettuce rolls from a really good Chinese bistro. Pulled pork. Rich, cheesy pasta from one of downtown's most upscale restaurants. Sushi. Cheeses and olives. Sweets. And the kicker: mini roast beef sandwiches au jus from a riverboat restaurant that we can't afford to go to for dinner. Seriously, I don't know what they do to that beef. It melts in your mouth like butter. We've often said that those sandwiches, coupled with a chance to watch the sharks and the sea turtle would be enough, really, to make it worth the money.

Do you see why it's like Christmas?

I always have a special feeling, too, when it's all over and we're in the dessert and coffee room waiting for raffle tickets to be drawn. This event raises money for people like me. People fighting leukemia or lymphoma. I have a kind of pride at the end of it all, that I am a lymphoma survivor healthy enough to attend and to give back to the charity that supported me 6 years ago. It feels good, and I get a buzz not just from the wine and the new brands of legal and safe absinthe, but from being a part of this both as an attendee and as a one-time beneficiary of others' generosity.

God bless us, everyone!

So I am very excited today. It's Taste of the World Eve. I hope I get everything I asked for tomorrow: roast beef sandwiches, Unibroue, rigatoni, maybe a nice sparkling wine in the new, revamped jellyfish room.

It's not just tiny tots with their eyes all aglow who will find it hard to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Cranky Got Her Groove Back

The fog has lifted. The sky above my head doesn't look so dark. I won't lie to you and say life is all rainbows and bluebirds, but it's certainly not the tornadoes and pigeon droppings it was a few weeks ago.

I feel like me again.

Even last week when fate or karma or just plain bad luck dealt me two more bad events, I didn't completely freak out. When my phone rang Monday and it was Jason telling me he had been in yet another car accident, but that he was okay, I took it pretty well. Two days later when Ainsley's school called to say she had an accident at gym and they believed she had a concussion, I was relatively calm. To get two calls at work in one week with words "accident" in the first sentence, I think I have done rather well.

This could be because we've had such a run of bad luck that nothing really surprises me anymore, or that I am so used to unpleasant things happening that this is the norm. Or it could be that I have found a way to navigate the bad stuff with a few simple joys that turn my frown maybe not upside down, but at least into something more like a straight line.

Some of you commented either on the blog or to me privately about things you do to make yourself happy. Here are the things I've turned to these past two weeks to raise myself up out of the doldrums.

I'm not really a stress eater. I'm truly not. If anything, I lose my appetite when I'm overly stressed. But it's amazing how something good to eat can lift my spirits.

I like to cook, but I don't always like to eat my own food. If I spend too much time preparing something, I really want no part of it when it's on the table.

But well-done food that I don't have to cook or clean up after...ahh, glorious.

One day during my trip to Bluesville, a co-worker stopped down to tell me she had won lunch at Chipotle for ten, and would I like to be in on that? Yes. Yes, I would. There is something beautiful about a free burrito bol at school, where we usually can't get anything decent to eat from the outside world. I was on a beans-and-rice high the rest of the day. One of my late-afternoon students even asked me why I was so chipper. The answer? Green chile and tomatillo salsa.

I swear there's healing power in a crispy chicken wing spun in hot sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings (especially when you chase the wing with an ice cold draft.) Or a piece of double-pepperoni pan pizza from LaRosa's (with the extra layer of pepperoni on top of the cheese so it gets nice and browned.) Or a Holland cream donut from the new little country bakery about 10 minutes away, eaten on a sunny Saturday morning with a cup of fresh-ground coffee.

Healthy? No. But I don't do this every day. Which is why it's such a special, enjoyable treat when I do.

Modern Family and Glee
TV has (sadly) always been a joy. But there's something different about these two new shows. They make me laugh out loud without the cringing that The Office so often causes or the snarky after-taste left behind by 30 Rock.

Modern Family is quite possibly the best, truest family sitcom I've watched since I started my own little modern family. These people are hilarious, but never mean-spirited. They fight, they get into ridiculous situations (but not so ridiculous you can't believe these things could happen), they make up by jumping fully-clothed into the family swimming pool. And then, in the tradition of shows like Scrubs, they have those serious moments of genuine emotion that make you stop laughing just long enough to feel the love.

Glee is just...gleeful. I'd like to say it reminds me of my own days as a choir girl geek, but our musical choices weren't nearly as fun. I walk away from every episode with a song stuck in my head. This is a good thing, though. I never thought that a show choir version of "Golddigger" or
"Take a Bow" could lift my spirits so and make me dance around the living room.

The Company of Four-Footed, Furry Creatures
My interactions with that cat we used to have are no longer so pleasant. When I show up at mom's for any reason, Scout takes off and hides because she associates me with a trip to the vet and a thermometer probed into a private area.

My sister, though, has two new puppies. The first was by choice, the second by chance. I'll be the first to tell you I am not a dog person, exactly, but watching two small bundles of energy chase each other, and curl up in your lap, and just generally overwhelm you with impossible can you be stressed when a baby Cavalier spaniel rests its head on your knee?

Last But Not Least...My Funny, Wonderful Kid
Being a mom is frustrating and worrisome and full of scares (like getting a phone call that an ambulance is taking your kid to the hospital.) But balanced with all that is a joy that's hard to believe.

Sometimes it's the things she says, the little nuggets of Ainsley-wisdom that show me that a child's way of looking at the world is both naive and wise. Sometimes its her silliness, the way she's often happy just to be seven and shows it by oretending to be a puppy or dancing to her favorite song or jumping up and down over a batch of cookies or a new Phineas and Ferb.

More and more it's because at seven I can see who she really is and the adult she's going to be. I see both Jason and I in her, which is narcisistically wonderful. But she's her own person, too, a person who defies any resemblance to either parental unit. She is herself. She is Ainsley.

Here's how my kid has made me smile lately:

She loves chicken wings as much as I do and pounded a suprising number at Buffalo Wild Wings on our last trip. She got up and started dancing the day I first played my Glee soundtrack CD as soon as "Bust Your Windows" came on. When she was on "brain rest" following the concussion, she begged to be able to read and to write letters. As soon as I thought it was okay, she curled up on the couch with a book and then went to her notebook to write letters to all her friends about her ride in the ambulance. She does math packets left over from first grade just for fun. She taught herself cursive one rainy Saturday by looking at a cursive alphabet that came with a journal she got for her birthday, but because she hasn't learned cursive in school yet, this is forbidden fruit and she enjoys it secretly as such. She has been going around the house singing the Beatles song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" because it was stuck in Jason's head after a night playing Beatles Rock Band and asked to listen to the Abbey Road CD in the car this week. (Yes, it's a jaunty tune about a serial killer that no 7-year-old should be in love with, but c'mon. It's the Beatles.) She is equal parts a thinker and a partier, a geek and a diva, a scholar and a goof-off. She's everything I didn't even know I needed in my life.

She's my joy.

Dark days will return, as they always seem to do. I am a gloomy type of person, especially as the calendar flips from summer to fall and fall to dreary winter. The good mood I'm in right now, November 11, could be gone tomorrow morning and despair in its place. But Ainsley will sing me a song, or write me a letter, or wax philosophic on how the country-parodying ditty "Truck Driving Girl" from the Phineas and Ferb soundtrack is, in fact, the perfect song to have come on just as we're pulling into the Texas Roadhouse parking lot, and, comes the sun. And I say, it's alright.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

And The Hits (to the back of the head) Just Keep On Comin'

Anyone out there remember a post I did in September, 2007, where I described Ainsley's falling on the concrete parking lot her school uses as a playground and being diagnosed, much to our surprise, with a concussion at our local children's hospital? Remember? And then not too long ago I wrote about how much Natasha Richardson's death due to traumatic brain injury scared me because, like Ainsley, a long time passed between the injury and the first appearance that things weren't quite right?

Would you believe we went through all that crap again today?

I got a call late this morning from Ainsley's school.

"Ainsley had an accident..."

Words you never want to hear.

At first, I thought (and was hoping) the school secretary meant, like, wet-your-pants type of accident. Because as embarrassing as that would be for a second grader, that's an accident that's essentially no harm, no foul, after a change of clothes. Alas, I learned that Ainsley had hit the back of her head hard during a game in gym in which Ains was riding piggyback on another student (still trying to figure out why this was a sanctioned gym activity) and fell off backwards. She cried inconsolably, told the school nurse/secretary that she was afraid she was going to die, and then promptly threw up into her lap after being walked back to class.

Classic concussion symptoms for my kid. And it's sad that I knew these to be warning signs from past experience.

Given that Ainsley has the prior record of head trauma, and that a former paramedic who now works at her school as a teacher was concerned that she hit the back of her head so hard, an ambulance was called. Thank goodness I work only 10 minutes away and could get to school just as the ambulance was pulling in so I could ride with the kid to the hospital.

The doctor and nurses were great, and Ainsley passed the neurological exam with flying colors. Even so, with the vomiting and with the location of the hit, we were told to put Ains on "brain rest" for 24 hours. Anything that could be stimulating to the visual-processing parts of Ainsley's young brain is off limits until tomorrow; she can't watch TV, play video games, do work on the computer, or even read.

Try to entertain a homebound 7-year-old like Ainsley without TV, the computer, physical activity (also out) or reading. Tough, no?

There was actually a moment as we headed to the car that I felt stupid for allowing her to be taken to the ER via ambulance in the first place. Given how she seemed at that point, I questioned whether or not she really had hit her head hard enough to merit the copay and the burden.

But 15 minutes later, after the car went over a bump in the road, she turned white and threw up again just to remind us that concussions are serious business.

The doctor has assured us that, unlike the poor football players who have essentially turned their brains into mashed potatoes who we saw profiled on 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago, Ainsley's concussions have occurred far enough apart that we really don't need to worry about permanent damage.

But just in case, I will be discouraging her from getting involved in contact sports or anything else with a high risk of causing a blow to the head. I am thinking competitive power walking may just be her future sport. Because two concussions before her 8th birthday is just not a good thing.

If she keeps this up, like Cousin Eddie, her hair just isn't going to part right.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Math

Ainsley's in 2nd grade, and already she's doing things for homework that I feel ill-equipped to help her with.It's not that I can't give her an answer to some of these math problems. I know, for example, that if Johnny Appleseed has 36 red and green apples, and 17 are red, then 19 must be green. (Right? Check my math on that, would you?) What I got stuck on yesterday, though, was how I explain this to Ainsley when they haven't yet learned borrowing from the tens to subtract from the ones.

After stammering around for a few minutes I realized that Ainsley wouldn't have had this as a homework question if they hadn't gone over a clever way of solving it in class, so I flipped back through the pages of her math workbook to see that what the teacher wants for problems like that is for them to draw a visual represenation and count. So I was supposed to make sure Ainsley drew 36 blank apple-looking things, colored 17 of them red, and then counted the rest of them to see how many were left.

Am I a bad parent if I was sorely tempted to throw her our calculator and say, "This is how you'll figure that little problem out when you're an adult"?

When I was in school, my mom used to tell me she couldn't help me with my math homework because it was "new math." I was always baffled by that; what the heck was so new about addition and subtraction? To this day, I don't know where my mom got the idea that we were doing anything new and different in elementary math; it was all straight-forward book work and board work and I absolutely hated it.

What Ainsley does, though, really is "new math." At least, new to me. Last year when she was learning basic addition of numbers that added up to 20 or less, she was given a paper of rules to learn. I remember just memorizing, through flash cards, that 7 + 8 = 15. Ainsley's teacher drilled them and had them memorize "doubles": 7+7, 8+8, etc. Then for problems like 7+8, they're supposed to think, "Well, I just add one to 14, since 7+7 is 14, but 8 is one more than 7." A process by which I was impressed. But at the same time, I really just wanted to go, "Or, you could just memorize that 7 + 8 = 15."

Memorization is not encouraged in the "new education". It's all critical thinking and problem solving and real-world applications and blah blah blah. I'm not sure if I would have thrived in that sort of environment. I was really good at memorizing; I have a good memory and relished the joy that came from standing in front of my tenth-grade classmates and being the 2nd or 3rd person to recite the "Friends, Romans, countrymen..." speech from Julius Caesar. (Always the 2nd or 3rd, though, because the kid that goes first is just showy and pretentious.) In fact, the only part of elementary math I was really, truly gifted in was the times tables, because I could imprint that into my brain and not have to think too hard about a train going 50 miles per hour heading west and another train going 70 miles per hour heading east and where, exactly, they would meet up. But when we used to have times table competitions...I was fierce.

Under "new" math, I think I might have been a pretty poor student. I am a visual learner, though, so maybe seeing colored apples and playing with manipulatives would have done it for me. But I have a feeling no matter how the basics would have been taught to me, there would have come that moment in AP Calculus when corycaleb and I stayed after to talk to our teacher about the problem we were having with the concept of limits, which I never did get, and I walked out of the room saying, "I think this is as far as I'm going with math, and I hope to God I test out of any required courses in college."

Now, where's that calculator? I have to check my kid's 2nd grade math answers.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Well...I'm back.

If you're back, too, thank you. Things mostly look better (though Jason was involved in yet another car accident today, which I am not even going to go into, except to say that he's safe but the run of moderately bad luck is, apparently, still on.) I've discovered that the key to happiness, for me anyway, is a tricky little thing called balance.

The last few Saturdays, I have tried my hand at a yoga class. I initially did it because I feel the need to shake up my current workout routine and thought yoga would be a nice, relaxing, stress-relieving way to gently stretch my uptight muscles and rehab the knee I injured a couple of months ago.

I didn't count on it kicking my ass.

The very first class, after being asked at one point to roll onto my back, put my weight on my shoulderblades, and kick my feet back over my head and walk them backwards, I was about ready to laugh yoga off. In fact, I did laugh out loud after that pose and after a few other poses I tried were epic fails. But then I got called into "detention", as I frequently do after fitness classes.

Have I mentioned that I am not really coordinated?

"We need to work on your balance," the pretty little petite instructor said. And as she showed me some tips for aligning my core, and finding my center of gravity, and making small balance-aiding adjustments one teeny weight shift at a time, it hit me.

This is all stuff I need to do not only in down dog, but in life in general.

My troubles in yoga class are just a reflection of the troubles I've been having with life. I am not in alignment. I can't find my center. When my position changes, I can't make the adjustments I need to in order to not fall on my face.

In short, I can't find a good balance.

Balance is hard. I see now why some celebrities with the long, lean, muscular bodies I so want to have can at least partially credit yoga with their shape. It takes muscles you didn't even know you had to support your body weight while you're bent and twisted into a position most of us have only been in during a competitive round of childhood Twister. Some positions I've been twisted into the past three Saturdays seemed impossible to hold with my history of vertigo and a general lack of grace until I pulled from reserves in the core of my body that I didn't even know I had. It was either dig deep into these unknown reserves to try to find strength and balance, or fall into a formless heap on the hard wooden floor.

I chose to find strenth and balance. For a few seconds, anyway, and then I'd fall into a formless heap on the hard wooden floor.

But a few seconds of balance can do wonders for your body and mind.

Balance has been remarkably lacking in my life for longer now than I'd like to talk about. I've always been an all or nothing kind of gal. There have been times when my work has absolutely dominated my life at the expense of my health, my family, my sanity. There have been times I'm so focused on caring for others in my family and others in my workplace that I forget myself. And sometimes I get so wrapped up in me, myself, and I that work goes to hell and my family suffers. When one ball starts to drop, I don't make small adjustments; that always seems too hard. I let everything come crashing down, pick it back up, and swear that I'll do better tomorrow.

Really, though, the answer is to keep the balls in the air in the first place.

The past three Sundays have been hard. My body's search for balance isn't pain-free. I wake up a little tight and a lot sore. But I already feel stronger in a way that repetitions on nautilus equipment wasn't doing for me. I feel stronger in my core. And this Saturday, I didn't get called into fitness detention for remediation on a pose I totally bombed; I mostly kept with the program (I only toppled over once--progress!)

I hope I can also strengthen my mental and emotional core in the coming weeks. I am going to do a better job balancing home, work, and family and not letting any one of those things completely make or break my day. I ain't saying it's gonna be easy, and I ain't saying it won't hurt a little the next day.

But if it keeps me from falling on my face--totally worth it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How I Was One Click Away From Being A Victim Of Sexting

I'm coming out of my week-long break long enough to tell you this. I don't think it can wait.

(Bear in mind as I tell you this story that it all went down just two days after I finished working on a big project where we invited a guest speaker to my school to talk to our teens about the dangers of taking naked or partially naked pictures of themselves on a cell phone. It adds a little irony-flavored seasoning to the tale.)

Saturday I came back from a yoga class knowing that my muscles were going to be sore. Who knew yoga taught by a charming young woman with a German accent could be such a kick-butt experience? I prescribed myself a hot bath to loosen up my tired muscles.

Our master bathroom off of our bedroom only has a shower, so for a tub bath I have to go three paces down the hall to our main bathroom. I stripped down in the bedroom, threw my workout clothes in the hamper, realized I had already taken my bath towel into the bathroom where my water was running, and decided to just sprint right quick down the hall before anyone could see me.

What I didn't know was that Jason was letting Ainsley play with the camera on his Blackberry.

I rounded the corner at full speed, completely naked, to run into my 7-year-old daughter holding her dad's Blackberry at arm's length.

"Smile, Mommy!"

I've never thought that I have quick reflexes. But I am pretty sure that the quickness with which I was able to grab the Blackberry away broke some sort of naked-Mommy land speed record.

I shudder to think how that would have played out had she snapped the photo. His co-workers could have gotten a very interesting attachment.

On the plus side, I got a much-needed laugh. Behind the bathroom door, with a towel around me, of course, lest my little photojournalist get any more bright ideas.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm Off To Find Some Joy

Yeah, it's been a while.

I decided a week or so ago that until I had something (mostly) nice to say, I wasn't going to say anything at all. For the past month, during our string of unfortunate events, I've been all, "Whine, whine, moan, moan, complain, complain." Even in a blog called, "The Cranky Librarian," I have a limit for how much of my own belly-achin' I can take.

This week, I've been incredibly busy. I had a big project I was responsible for at work, a whole bunch of meetings, and a sick kid (just a cold, thank goodness, and not the dreaded flu of the swine.) But even with that, things were good. I had a few positive, perhaps even funny posts rattling around in my head, my luck was seeming to turn around (I won't a $50 Tar-jay gift card as a door prize at one of the evening meetings I had this week--score!).

Then I walked in the door at 9:30pm from the final long night of these past two weeks to learn that we'd just had a death in the family.

This person is someone I haven't even seen in a long time (though by all means should have taken the time to visit in her final years) so I feel all kinds of regret and guilt right now. My mom and sister had a closer bond to this person in life than I did, and they are both taking it very hard and making the trip "down home" this weekend to help with arrangements and begin to grieve. It may only be a small bombshell, but it's enough to shake my world a little bit.

So here's the deal, loyal readers. I can hear an Oprah-like voice in my head right now saying, "Go. Find your joy." That sounds very Oprah-awful, I know. But I think that's exactly what I need to do.

I am going to take another week off from the blog. I know only a few of you read it, and it's not something you can't live without, and all that. But I wanted to let you know. I promise that I will come back if you will. I am going to get my groove back, find my mojo, whatever you want to call it. On Monday, November 2, I am going to come back and start writing again. By then, I will have licked my wounds (as well as a load of Halloween candy) and be ready to look at the world with still-cranky, but hopefully newly-optimistic, eyes.

Take care of yourselves. And each other. And like the Terminator says...I'll be baaack.

Monday, October 12, 2009

In Memory of Ila, Queen of the "See"

On Ainsley's desk sits a little picture she drew of a big goldfish swimming in bright blue water, with the sun's yellow rays shining down on her.

At the top Ains has written, "In Memory Of Ila, Queen Of The See." Her goldfish died this weekend after a mercifully short battle with dropsy, which made her swell up for two days and caused her scales to stick out like the ridges of pinecones. It's a disease caused, so far as I can tell, by poor water quality. So despite the fact that it was only a $1.99 goldfish, and despite scheduled water changes and gravel-vacuuming, I feel sad and guilty that we could only keep our "fancy" goldfish alive for two years.

Ainsley, being seven, bounces back and forth between being sad and saying, "I really miss Ila," to asking excitably what our next pet is going to be. She misses the little (well, not so little at the time of death) golden wonder who bounced back from the brink of death twice before and who swam with such energy that it wasn't unusual for me to hear her gravel rattle against the walls of the aquarium in the middle of the night from the next bedroom. We can't have a dog or cat or hamster or guinea pig because of the asthma and allergies, so she's asking for an Ila replacement from various aquatic and semi-aquatic worlds: a hermit crab, dwarf frogs, snails, even chameleons.

And though I love animals, Ila was more work than I would have thought a fish to be, and against my better judgement I got attached to the stupid little thing, and I've really had it up to here with sickness and death, and I kinda want to put down the "No more pets, ever" stamp and be done with it.

But there's an empty aquarium in my kid's room, cycling through to hopefully get all the bad mojo out, waiting for our next victim. I mean, pet.

What's a parent to do? The ideal Ila replacement would require minimal tank maintenance, not have to be fed while we're on vacation, be pretty to look at, and live a long life. The last I checked, no super-fish meets this bill. Am I a bad person if I just throw some aquatic plants and fake ceramic fish in there and call it a glorified night light and be done with it? Maybe put a pet rock in there?

If any of you are experienced fish keepers and have a brilliant suggestion, I'm up for it. Otherwise, Ainsley is just going to have a vegetarian fish tank.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

All Saints

This is going to be my second blog post in a week that mentions Catholicism, so let me just apologize in advance for that. The kid goes to a Catholic school and 99% of the time I love it and am glad I made that choice. Sometimes, though, I just stop and think...Really? You're really going there?

Today's "Really?" moment comes from re-reading the little classroom bulletin Ains brings home every Monday. It's a great way for her teacher to let us know about upcoming tests and projects and issues that have arisen in the classroom. The only downside is sometimes I don't read it through very well on Monday afternoon because the library is busy or the kid has a lot of homework. It's also on paper, which means that if I leave it lying around, I will often end up picking it up with other pieces of paper and tossing it in the garbage before I ever get a chance to read it. It's the downfall of being the opposite of a pack rat.

I read the bulletin this morning while Ains and Jason ate breakfast and came across a little nugget of information I missed yesterday. The day before Halloween, the school is having a "Harvest" party. It will not be a Halloween party this year; apparently, some Catholics have issues with their kids celebrating Halloween.

But wait. There's more.

That's not really that shocking; I've seen this trend in our area for a couple of years now either for PC purposes (it's also "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas") or because our part of the world is pretty conservative and some parents think celebrating Halloween is giving a day to the devil. That's not a joke.

What is surprising and irritating is that the priest at the parish wants to have a "Parade of Saints" that Friday, too. Instead of coming to school in a traditional Halloween or "harvest" costume or changing into one pre-party the way I always did at my heathen public school, the kids (at least in Ainsley's grade, since they're getting ready for first communion and are being picked on a lot with this stuff this year) have to march in a saint costume.

Yes. A saint costume.

Hey, you got a minute? Google "saint costume." Go into that first non-retail site it gives you. Check out the pictures of kids in holy (not holey) attire. I'll wait.

The picture on the home page of the kid in the priest costume, eyes cast heavenward, is worth the price of admission.

Seriously, though. How, exactly, am I to find a saint costume? The 2nd graders have to do a report on the saint they're dressing as, too, and Ainsley has chosen the patron saint of music for her report. Besides draping her in an oversized bed sheet and giving her a toy flute, I don't really know how to attire my kid. I do not sew, and whatever Ainsley has ever wanted to be for Halloween, I turn to Amazon or the Disney Store or the local Halloween costume shop. The last I checked, there were no Saint Cecilia costumes on the racks at Target.

The teacher did say in the bulletin that she wanted to tell us about this in advance because "saint costumes aren't easy to find."

You don't say.

If anyone has a brilliant idea about how to make my kid look like the patron saint of music, I'm all eyes. Otherwise, I'm making a veil out of an old bedsheet and calling it a day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Out Of The Mouth Of Ains: True Colors

"Mommy, what are my school's colors?"

I was surprised that Ainsley doesn't know this; I have bought hair bows in her school colors to add some spice to her clothes those days that she just wears solid navy pants instead of her unform jumper, which features the school colors in a tastefull, subtle plaid. She was in her jumper when she asked me this this morning, so I pointed to the red and gold stripes running through the navy plaid.

"Your school's colors are red and gold," I said. "See? They're in your jumper. I thought you knew that."

It turns out the two little girls across the street, who I have nicknamed The Pestilentia because they're, well, pests, were talking about the school colors at their Catholic elementary school.

"They said their school's colors were pink and gold, and they had me confused."

"Why were you confused?"

"Their school color can't be pink," Ainsley said. "It has to be blue, black, white, red, or sometimes purple because those are the Catholic colors."

Ah, Catholicism. Prescribing even the most minor details of life, including accepted color schemes, to its devoted followers since the 4th century.

And what, pray tell, is a Protestant color? Fuschia? Chartreuse? Day-Glo orange?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Update...

You know how I did a lot of complaining yesterday? Like usual?

Just a few hours after I posted that entry about the mini nervous breakdown I had as a result of all the crap that has been going wrong in and around my house, I got a call from my hubby.

"So...ah...yeah. I just wrecked my car."

Here are things to be thankful for:

1. He doesn't have a scratch, for it was as minor as a collision with a semi could possibly be.
2. The car maybe isn't totalled.
3. We had renewed our AAA membership this summer, even though I would have bet money before the accident that we forgot and were no longer covered for towing.

But every silver cloud has a dark lining in my book, so let me just also add...


One friend of mine believes in past lives and is now convinced that I was a bad, bad person in a previous incarnation and am paying off cosmic debt right now. One friend suggested that I just wrap our house, our cars, and ourselves in large sheets of bubble wrap until our wonky mojo passes. And yet another friend says this most recent development in "bad things are happening at the Cranky house" is actually very good luck and not very bad luck because no one was hurt and our auto insurance has a pretty low deductible.

I just report. You decide.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours...

...and causes your aging roof to leak, and leaves a big, brown spot on your ceiling, and a few days later your savings account is a few thousand dollars lighter and you find yourself in the middle of your kitchen experiencing a full-blown nervous meltdown.

Really? That's not how that saying goes? It's just me? Huh.

Did we know our roof was in bad shape? Yep. Even before last September's freaky inland hurricane, we needed to replace it. It was on that list every home owner has of Big Things That Need To Be Done, But That We're Just Going To Keep Putting Off Because We Like To Live On The Edge.

Should we have gotten it replaced this spring or summer? Absolutely. I went so far as to get quotes on a new roof, even. But then we had a large unexpected expense (that hit after we had already paid for our summer vacation in full, natch) that made us decide to wait just one more year.

Mother nature had other plans. Do you know what a week of heavy rain does to a damaged roof? You could take a Rorschach test from our entryway ceiling.

The gremlins that inhabit our house decided they wanted to come out and play in the rain, too. No sooner had the roof been installed (and it looks truly lovely, by the way) than our dishwasher started tripping the GFCI outlet in the kitchen. After pulling it out, we discovered that the old dishwasher (it was old when we moved into the house 8 years ago) had been leaking slowly for a while, and the puddle under the unit was close enough to all the electrical stuff that that was what was tripping the GFCI this week. It's so old, we're not going to kid ourselves about the value of repair versus replacement.

Add these things on top of the stress I've been feeling over my knee, which is taking a long time to get pain-free and down to a normal size, and the strain of a delayed repaving project right in front of our house that has kept us out of our driveway and parking ten houses up the street for going on three weeks now (the geniuses decided to rip up the old asphalt the day before a forecasted 10-day-long wet spell and couldn't pour concrete into the rain-filled trench left behind until yesterday), and the fact that we were told this summer by a repairman that the condenser in the fridge is dying and we'll need a new fridge within 6 months, and I had a wee bit of a nervous breakdown Monday night.

It started as mild tears over the kitchen sink. You know how sometimes you just need a good, cleansing sobfest? It was that at first.

"You know we're going to be fine, right?" my steadfast, uber-calm husband said. Then he started detailing all the financial steps he was going to take to make sure we could get over this rough patch.

For some reason, that just launched me into a full-fledged anxiety attack complete with nausea, uncontrollable crying that left me breathless, and a general inability to get my fool self under control.

I started looking around at all the other things that could go wrong. It's been 4-years since we put a 4-year stain and seal on the deck, and the wood is looking dangerously worn, so we have to tackle that. Even if we do it ourselves like we have in the past (and swore we'd never do again) it's expensive. I have wanted to replace the nasty, yellowed flooring in our master bath ever since we moved in 8 years ago. Now that the roof and gutters look so pretty and new, it highlights our faded shutters that we painted the first year in the house but that have cracked from being in direct sunlight most of the day and need to be replaced. Suddenly, the new dimensional shingles on the roof looked to be overlapping Benjamins instead.

Home ownership is overwhelming. Why does so much go so wrong all at once?

Jason shooed me out of the kitchen to go hit the showers and calm down, and a martinti and Sunday night's recorded Mad Men brought me back to the land of the semi-sane. But as soon as I leave school today, I have to go shopping for a new dishwasher. I am getting the hives just thinking about it.

The Money Pit just keeps getting deeper.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Grandparents' Day

My heart is breaking a little for the kid today.

Every year, Ainsley's school has one day where they invite grandparents in for a morning mass, a special activity with the kids, and a picnic lunch.

This year, Ainsley has no grandparent to do all this with.

The only surviving grandparent Ains has is my mom, a non-Catholic who doesn't feel comfortable attending mass without one of her Catholic daughters to guide her through, and who also does not feel comfortable driving by herself to Ainsley's school, which she perceives as being on "bad roads." (Never mind that these are the same roads I drive every single day, and which are veritable interstates compared to the rural Knox County roads she learned to drive on.) Mom is also frequently out of town the last weekend in September, and is leaving this morning for a field trip of her own. So on Grandparents' Day...well, Ainsley's out of luck.

It makes today a little rough for me. Last year, Jason's mom had initially agreed to come to the event because she had done similar things for a couple of the other grandkids. But in the week before, she had struggled getting over a cold and backed out because she wasn't quite up to it yet.

She felt really awful and got upset because she thought she was letting Ainsley down. We said something at the time like, "Maybe next year." And now it's "next year", and she's no longer with us.

It's the little things like that that get you sometimes.

They must be talking about grandparents' roles in our families in her class, because she's been asking a lot of questions. Questions about her "Peepaw", the nickname her older cousins called Kathie's beloved husband and Jason's stepfather and who Ainsley never had the pleasure of knowing. Questions about her great-grandfathers, including some I can't answer because I never knew Dad's dad and Mom's dad died when I was three. And finally, questions that hurt because they're about the two grandparents she remembers losing.

"Did Papaw smoke?" Ainsley asked yesterday at snack time. "Papaw" was what she called my dad. We've been really honest with her about Kathie's illness and told her that it was caused by "Meemaw" having bad lungs to begin with and smoking for years anyway. Since Ainsley has asthma, I have no shame in using "two of your grandparents died from smoking-related illnesses" as a scare tactic.

"Yes, he did," I told her. "He smoked for a long time, but he quit smoking a few years before you were born because he got lung cancer. But he beat that. The cancer he died from was probably caused by his smoking, too, even though he had quit for years. But it was even worse than the lung cancer and he couldn't beat it."

She thought for a minute.

"Don't tell me," she said. "He died of breast cancer, right?"

Go ahead. Start to explain that one to a seven-year-old. I bet you start by saying, "Men don't get breast cancer," but then you'll remember Montel Williams, and then your brain will freeze. I had to make a lot of verbal u-turns in that conversation.

This morning she just seemed a little quieter than usual. When I asked her on the way to school if things were okay, she just said,

"I hope someone has an extra grandparent today that I can share."

Try not to break out in sobs when your little doe-eyed, pony-tailed girl tells you that. I dare you.

At her age, my 2 surviving grandparents wouldn't have been able to come to something like that, either. At that time, they were both in pretty good health, but they lived 3 hours away. And here's where I get a little frustrated with the idea of a school-wide Grandparents' Day--there are some kids like that. Kids whose grandparents, for whatever reason, can't come up and spend 3 hours at an elementary school on a Friday morning. Some parents did not grow up here and therefore the grandparents may be miles and miles away. Younger grandparents may work and in this economy, it's not always possible to take off, and older grandparents may not be around or physically able to get to the school. Those kids are going to feel a little left out today.

I think my kid should be taught to value grandparents and the wisdom and love that they give. I am glad they are discussing extended families in her school. But I am troubled that the focus of the entire first half of the day today is inviting grandparents into school to do fun things with the kids who invited them. I think they should have made this be an optional evening activity where those with able-bodied grandparents could come and have a blast honoring their elders, but those who don't have participatory grandparents could have opted out. Especially with the wound of losing a grandparent still being a little raw, I feel like we just set up my kid to have a pretty miserable, lonely day today.

However, I don't believe in rocking the boat, and I'll keep my mouth shut and let the school do its thing. But don't judge me if I take Ainsley for a Frosty after school to make up for her not having a grandparent doting on her at school today.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How Sweet Was The Valley

Alright, girls, show of hands: how many of you were fans of the Sweet Valley High series?

Oh, c'mon. No one's looking. You can admit it. Just pretend you need a stretch.

I read this morning that screenwriter Diablo Cody (of Juno fame and Jennifer's Body in-fame) is going to pen a script for a cinematic re-invention of the popular 80s series of books. It's the best news I've gotten since my bloodwork for gout came back negative.

When I was in middle school, I devoured the books in the Sweet Valley series. My friend across the street spent nearly every dime of her babysitting money buying the first 20 or so books in the series, and when I got birthday money or allowance money I usually spent it on a new volume that she did not have. We shared with each other (the library never had the copies in that we wanted) and discussed the exploits of Elizabeth and Jessica on a daily basis for well over a year. In the summer, we could each take down one book a day. The books were like junk food: they weren't especially good for us, but they were yummy and didn't require a lot of thought.

For some reason, I didn't like my mother knowing that I was reading and spending money on these books. It's not like they were dirty or anything; the most action you ever got was some guy trying to get to second base with one of the twins but them putting a stop to it with a subtle move that made virginity seem pretty cool. And after all, I had already read the Flowers in the Attic books at my mother's approval and any damage that was going to happen to me from reading racy and age-inappropriate sex scenes had already been incurred. But I knew as I was reading this series that it was not good literature and that the values preached in the books were pretty darn shallow and not really worthy of the time of someone who also had read To Kill a Mockingbird and most of Judy Blume's repertoire. I was kinda embarrassed to be seen with these at home.

By high school, I didn't want to read about blonde, California high-school twins any more. I had moved on to Stephen King novels and short stories, which I still enjoy to this day, but which gave me considerably more nightmares than the teen pulp fiction I abandoned. Though I really think that Carrie is just a Sweet Valley High book on coke. There's nothing more scary than a bunch of cruel teenage girls.

So the news that a hip, snarky, pop-culture-lovin' screenwriter of my generation is going to write the Sweet Valley High screenplay just makes my day. Now if someone like that could resurrect Flowers in the Attic (that one movie they made with Kristy Swanson does not count).

Any Sweet Valley fans out there? Were you an Elizabeth or a Jessica? (I was so totally an Elizabeth.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm Pretty Sure There's a Hell Because I Spent Yesterday In The Inner Circle

I don't know if you all have noticed or not, but I don't really like people all that much.

I need to handle people in small doses. I don't like crowds and can only really put up with them when the payoff is worth it (a good concert, or good festival food, or an abundance of good beer are essential). And I absolutely cannot abide by complete strangers trying to engage me in conversation.

If I am in a waiting room, or the grocery store, or a restaurant line, I really want to be left alone. If you don't know me on a first-name basis, and/or are a complete schizo freak, I would like for you to pretend I am not there. That's why I often have a book with me; I want quiet. I value my personal space. It's not you. It's me.

Which is why yesterday was a season in hell.

My assistant was ill and help was sent down for me in the library. I appreciate help, though my assistant's job is hard to just come in and do with no library training. But usually the person sent to help me finds a book to read, helps me direct library traffic, watches the desk while I eat, and otherwise stays out of my way once they see how many balls I have to keep in the air every day.

Yesterday my relief was in the library waiting for me at 7. My assistant's day doesn't officially start until 7:30. Usually, over-eagerness is a good sign.

In this case...not so much.

By the time I unlocked the three storage room and office doors inside the library a steady stream of conversation had begun that had the speed and unstoppable force of the Little Engine That Could gone downhill. Within the first five minutes, I learned that this person:

1. Has a chronic illness;

2. Has lost 70 pounds through a revolutionary diet of basically not eating or drinking anything during the day;

3. Has severe adult ADHD;

4. Has a brilliant but tragically misunderstood son who once slugged a teacher;

4. Has been told by her doctor to drop down to 95 pounds (!);

5. Did I mention the severe ADHD?

On top of all this, my knee was killing me again (apparently, playing Beatles Rock Band until the wee hours of Sunday morning does not exactly help one's knee injuries to heal), I had even more students than usual needing me for more things than usual before the bell rang, and I had to get everybody taken care of earlier than usual before the library closed for the morning for testing.

In short, it was already one of those days.

Much of the day was a blur. This person pretty much just pulled up a chair next to mine and talked to me ALL. DAY. LONG. And by talking to, I mostly mean talking at. I didn't get too many questions, but I got a lot of answers.

She was sweet, and she tried to be helpful, but sometimes when I have a lot on my plate I can be most helped by someone staying quiet and letting me work. Hearing the details of a stranger's back surgery and her thoughts on vampire novels and her strong, oft-spoke opinion that Robert Pattinson isn't at all attractive enough to play Edward tended to be distracting at best, hair-pulling annoying at worst.

After her lunch of a 20-oz. bottle of Country Time lemonade, she apparently got a sugar rush and she talked at me for a solid 90 minutes about anything and everything that popped in her head (I had some documents to edit and print out and eventually just had to tune her out and nod from time to time) without coming up for air or really trying to engage me in the conversation at all. It was just a spew of random verbage aimed at anyone sitting at the desk. It went on to the point where I found myself staring at my district web page, looking for a link I have clicked on dozens of times in order to open a PD evaluation, and I couldn't find it because of the incessant flow of loudly spoken words in my ear. My brain had reached verbal overload and could no longer process written words because it was so full of spoken ones.

She wanted to stay in the library past my assistant's quitting time because "You're so busy, honey, and I just feel like I need to stay behind and help." That was another thing about this whole thing--she'd have moments of self-awareness and say to me, "Listen to me going on and talking your ear off--I bet you just want me to hush so you can get back to your work, huh?" And then without so much as a TV timeout the vocalizing started right back up again.

It would have been amazing had it not been killing me slowly and surely.

Some people-loving-people might have really enjoyed having a talker in the library all day. For me, it was hell. Hell, I tell you. There's not much worse torture in the world for me than having someone invade my personal space and stay there all day long. I am someone, after all, who occasionally has to get away from even those I love the most and just go read a book and listen to my ceiling fan. She even propped open my office door and stood in the doorway and talked to me during my lunch, that one time in my work day when I try to get away and not be needed for 20 precious minutes.

The good news's totally going in my screenplay one day. (Thanks, MelMart, for the suggestion!)

What's the one thing someone could do or already does do in your workplace that takes an ordinary day and turns it into an afternoon inside the inner circle of Hades?