Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Letter

Dear family, family I never see, family I see more than I'd like, friends, acquaintances, friends who used to be acquaintances, and acquaintances who used to be friends:

I hope this letter finds you well and that you and yours thrived in the year 2013. Unless you're one of those people who always seem to fall backwards into good luck and prosperity even when you've done nothing to earn it, in which case I hope you at least had a terrible stomach bug or found a hair in your filet mignon or got a speeding ticket on the way to the new Mercedes Benz dealership in Fort Mitchell (where, and I am not making this up, you can practice your putting on an indoor miniature golf green while your luxury vehicle gets tuned up and crusted in diamonds.)

2013 was a good year for our family. Better than 2012 in that no one in the immediate family died. But we still went to a lot of funerals. Hey, Death. Can you do us a solid? Maybe dial it down a notch in 2014? Thanks, bro.

When we weren't at funerals we were travelling to swim meets, and while the latter is more enjoyable than the former, it's only by a small margin. We learned a lot this year as our young daughter became more competitive in this sport. For instance:

1. Swim parents are big drinkers.
2. Swimming is a wonderful sport that teaches children the value of hard work and perseverance, keeps its athletes in peak physical condition all year long, and can remain, more than many other sports, a life-long passion and its own way of life.
3. Swimming has the ability to suck the energy from a parent's soul and the money from a parent's wallet once every month when the whole family joins in the caravan of swim gypsies spending entire weekends in hotel rooms and crowded bleachers struggling for air and just a few precious moments of unscheduled time.
4. 1 and 3 are related.

But our kid did well, and while not the fastest girl on the team, she was the hardest worker and one of the most-improved. She has a significant collection of 4th- and 5th-place ribbons from last year, and I promise you I am more proud of those than the superstars' parents are of their swimmers' gold and silver medals.

Our daughter also gave a piano recital this year, played a few hymns in church, and, more importantly, learned to play an indie-rock song called "Ghosts" by the band The Head and the Heart, who we all also saw in concert. This is an exciting development, because we desperately want our child to have better musical taste than we did as kids so we're not forced to listen to her practice Tiffany's 1988 classic "Could've Been" 20 times a day the way our parents had to. Sorry, Mom.

The hubby and I are at our same jobs, which, God willing, we will keep long enough to get big, gaudy service awards from when we retire to New Mexico, which we fell in love with this year as we got caught up on Breaking Bad. Subtract the meth, the intense showdowns, the amazing acting, and the heartbreaking study of the addictive nature of power and greed, and that show was really just a long commercial for the desolate beauty of the desert southwest. I'm buying that blue stuff Walter White is selling, if all he's selling is the clear skies of Albuquerque.

We did not take a vacation this year, a situation we will surely rectify in 2014. In fact, we have bright hopes for the upcoming year. We'd like to get away for a week to somewhere with warm sun and blue waters. We'd like to do a little more home renovating. And we'd like to see a bit more of our friends, who are like family to us. And just like with our extended families, we have a bad habit of not taking time out of our busy schedules to simply enjoy their company.

If I make a New Year's Resolution, it would be this: to stop more often and be with the people whose company I enjoy the most, my friends. Because they're awesome people. And they usually have good beer around. And we are, after all, swim parents, and that sort of thing matters to us.

Just kidding! We'd love you even if you didn't drink. But we would worry about you, because seriously, not even the occasional glass of wine with dinner? How do you make it through the holidays?

Join us at a swim meet 2 1/2 hours away from home after driving through a snow storm, and we may convert you.

So, as the old song says, as we inch closer to Christmas, and the end of this year, and the beginning of a new one, and to our inevitable doom (sorry, I turn 40 this year):

May your days be merry and bright.

(Just not so bright that you find yourself on more than one occasion on the putting green of a Mercedes dealership, because that's just excessive.)

The Cranky Librarian
December, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Very Boy George Christmas

The December of my fifth grade year was going to be full of awesome.

After a year spent in the wilds of Knox County, we were finally back home in northern Kentucky where I could get good pizza and cheese coneys any old time I wanted to. I was a hot-shot fifth-grader ruling the roost with my best friends in our last year of elementary school, and after much cajoling, I finally had 80s hair; my mother had given up the fight and my hair was cut from the "Dorothy Hamill" I'd had since I was 3 into a short feathery bob that tried to be Courtney Cox in the "Dancing In the Dark" video and some days actually reached that mark.

Because the previous Christmas had been so lonely, and we'd had so little money, my mother and sister were making up for it by organizing a steady stream of big-ticket family activities every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Our little family, very Hobbit-like in general and not inclined to adventures when there were naps to be taken, actually had plans. Plans that went beyond going to Florence Mall or throwing pennies into the indoor fountains at the deserted shopping center beside McAlpins. It was an exciting time to be one of us.

And yet, as it so often wasn't, luck was not on our side.

The first blow to our schedule was completely Dolly Parton's fault.

My mother had always loved Ms. Parton and related to both her humble Appalachian upbringing and her obsession with big hair. So when we heard the news that Dolly was going on tour with "Islands In the Stream" partner Kenny Rogers, were we supposed to say no to that? One of their winter stops was in Rupp Arena, a shrine in the minds of most Kentuckians and a place Mom and I had never been to before. Tickets were purchased and the countdown begun.

Honestly, I did not care about Kenny and Dolly. I was in it for Boy George.

In a gesture that would continue for years after, and one that I continue with Ainsley to this day, I received an early gift of one stylish and showy outfit that would be my uniform for all dress-up events that holiday season. Mom's taste was not as trendy as I would have liked for these outfits, but in 1984, she totally nailed it.

She bought me an off-the-shoulder oversized silky white tee with a multi-colored, be-glittered likeness of the one and only Boy George. (It was only later that she realized the face on the shirt was male and the lead singer of the group that sang "Karma Chameleon"; she thought it was a woman's face in a really kick-ass art-deco style.) His eye shadow was represented on the shirt in purple glitter, and the eyebrows, blush, and lips were airbrushed in charcoal and pastel pinks.

Be still, my beating heart.

Pair that baby with new zipper-leg ankle-length jeans and the off-brand pale gray penny loafers Mom found, and I was ready to rock the Arena. I even had a mesh head scarf that could be tied in a bow the size of Texas to hold back my newly feathered hair.

Look out, Dolly. This kid was totally going to steal your spotlight.

And then Dolly got sick. She fell ill with pneumonia and cancelled several tour stops. Rupp Arena was not rescheduled. There was nothing I could do but look longingly at Boy George hanging forlorn in my closet. And listen to my brother-in-law ask, over and over again, if Dolly Parton with a chest cold was worse than a giraffe with a sore throat.

But then my mom gave me permission to wear George to our fifth-grade Christmas program. I had a small poem to read (with two other girls, but still) and a place on the first row of the risers for our group choral numbers. I couldn't wait to be seen.

"Who's that charming young lady with the great hair and the totally rad Boy George shirt?"

"I don't know, but baby, she's gonna be a star!"

Alas, on the day of in-school dress rehearsals, the intense sore throat and body aches I'd woken up with that morning, but hadn't told my mom about (the show must go on and all that), caused me to make a sudden exit during "Silent Night" to rid my stomach of my breakfast and huddle shivering in the bathroom until the school secretary could check on me. I had my first and only case of strep throat. I had to drop out of that evening's sole performance.

Boy George and I were devastated.

Our family had one more chance at fun, and Boy George just one more chance to come out of the closet. (My closet, I mean.) On the evening of my last day of school before Christmas break, we had tickets to see our beloved Kentucky Wildcats play. I was going to get to see Rupp Arena, after all. Though everyone else was going to wear blue and white, I was by-God going to wear my new shirt, which still had the tags on it. It was all I could think about all day, even though we were going to be racing scooters in gym class, which was every 5th-grader's favorite thing to do. That and pulling bra straps.

When it was my turn to race, I was so focused on the evening ahead that I was in my own world. I was a distracted driver who couldn't be bothered to focus further than the blue plastic handles on the sides of the scooter.

I went out of my lane and into another student and landed on top of a scooter handle. With my face.

My eye bruised and puffed immediately and blood trickled from a cut above my lip. Our gym teacher led me aside to clean me up and ice my eye. I was inconsolable.

"They won't take me now!"

"Who won't take you where?" (I'm sure she thought I had a concussion. And given that I saw stars and talked nonsense for 5 minutes, I may have.)

"My family! They won't take me to see UK and eat at Joe Bologna's and I won't get to wear Boy George because my eye is swollen and I have a busted lip and they won't want me out in public!"

The gym teacher sighed as only an annoyed teacher trying to be patient can.

"Your eye will be fine. Your lip will be fine. I don't see any reason why you can't go to the game. Now go sit down before you hurt yourself."

We did go to the game. But I was defeated. I decided I should not wear a shirt featuring a face with purple eye shadow and voluptuous pink lips when I also was sporting an accidental purple eye and a very pink lip. For once, I wanted to fade into the crowd. I wore a UK sweatshirt and allowed my feathery hair to partially conceal the damage to my face. It was fun. But it's hard to see a game through a painful and partially shut eye.

I did finally get to wear Boy George when a boy in my class (named George, and I swear I'm not making that up) asked me to go see a movie with him over Christmas break. It was magical in a way that Dolly & Kenny, my school Christmas program, and even the UK game could not have been. For it turns out that my "date" was a huge Culture Club fan. Unlike my mother, he  knew exactly whose face was on my shirt. And gave me the first compliment I ever got from a boy:

"I like your shirt."

It was an innocent date, of course, chaperoned by his parents and discussed over the phone with mine. It was spontaneous, born of two friends with nothing to do on a snowy Sunday afternoon after our Christmas presents had been thoroughly explored and were beginning to get boring. It wasn't a dramatic scheduled thing like a concert, or a basketball game, or a Christmas program. I had built the expectations for these things up so much in my head that when they didn't go as planned, I was disappointed and disillusioned. I had no expectations for my trip to the movies, except that the movie keep me awake and provide more entertainment than watching my father watch football. It did not disappoint.

At Christmas, we tend to over-schedule, over-plan, over-think. We raise our expectations for magic so high that we are bound to go out of our lane and fall face-first into disappointment.

It's not the big things at the holidays that create the magic. It's the little spontaneous moments that make the joy.

That, and fabulous t-shirts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A moment of sincere (mostly) gratefulness.

Every year, despite the fact that I hate Thanksgiving (not the idea, but the execution), I like to pause and list some things here that I am thankful for. Because I think it's important to do that more than once a year, not just on that one day when some poor sap who drew the short straw has to work her butt off preparing a huge meal and cleaning up a huger mess and then sending everyone out the door with just enough goodwill to keep them from murdering someone in a Wal-Mart over a Black "Friday" deal on a TV made in a factory employing foreign children working for pennies an hour.


So here it is. What I am thankful for in the closing days of 2013.

That we sold my mother's house. And put that whole chapter of grief and "closure" in our rear view. Finally.
And that the young woman who bought it was happy with her purchase and did not ask if someone had died in the house.

Ten years cancer-free.
Technically, I'm cured now. Technically. My body, I think, knows this, and is just waiting for my brain to accept it and stop worrying so damn much.

A healthy daughter who is bright, kind, and the hardest-working kid in the pool at swim practices.
No matter what becomes of this "dedicate your late adolescence to the Swim Gods" thing we have going on, whether she pursues it in college or someday leaves it in her wake, she's learned a lesson about the value of hard work that I never could have taught her.

That, in a nation with an increasing wealth divide, I'm part of the few. The proud. The middle.
We're two employed people who live in a modest house in a safe neighborhood and, when we wish, can afford to buy the good beer. My thankfulness for this, and my awareness that it could all change in the blink of an economic downturn, cannot be overstated.

Not having to put my hand inside a turkey cavity at 6am on Thanksgiving day.
My sister and I are dining out, and one of Jason's sisters is doing the turkey for his family gathering later in the week, so I get the year off from fondling livers and giblets. Woot.

For the tall guy.
I'm sure it doesn't shock you to know that I'm not an easy person to live with. This year was worse than most; I spent too many free Sundays in my mother's house cleaning out 35 years worth of memories, and then came home with both literal and emotional baggage that made me weepy, angry, and a touch temperamental for days afterward. Thank God I have someone who puts up with me. And who has the good sense to know when I'm lingering on the ledge and calls me down for Dewey's Pizza and a Breaking Bad marathon.

That's it. What are you thankful for?

Now, go beat someone up for that TV. 'Tis the season!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Santa, The Boogeyman, and a Shooter On the Grassy Knoll

When I was eighteen, I believed in a much more interesting world.

Magic was real. Miracles happened. Aliens had crash-landed in the New Mexican desert and sometimes hovered their super-cool aircraft above populated areas.

And Lee Harvey Oswald was only a patsy in a vast conspiracy that took out a vibrant, charismatic leader.

These things were certainties. I knew them to be true in the same way I knew that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It never crossed my mind to doubt; I had seen evidence on the TV and in books. I was young, innocent, and impressionable. Anything that I couldn't grasp in the context of what little experience I had gathered in my short time on earth had to have a dramatic, if not otherworldly, explanation.

Then life happened.

The girl who sat enthralled by her high-school government teacher's unit on the Kennedy assassination and possible Cuba/mob/CIA connections, who wrote a 5-paragraph persuasive essay that Oswald was not the only person with a gun trained on the President that afternoon in November, who believed that a dark contingent in our own government wanted this man out of the way due to a cold war agenda, is now a woman who no longer believes in fairy tales. A woman who watched the towers fall because a handful of men successfully hijacked commercial jetliners in a plan that should have gone wrong. A woman who learned first-hand how fragile life is and how easily it can be taken from even the most youthful and vigorous among us.

On this, the 50th anniversary of the "Where were you when..." moment of the generation before mine, even the teacher who taught me so much about that day is gone. Good men are taken every day by illness, by accident, by bullet, by cruel act of terrorism. It doesn't take a conspiracy. Sometimes it's just a tragic alignment of the stars that places a person in the wrong place at the wrongest of times.

So, at 39, I no longer believe a well-trained, well-camouflaged government agent fired the fatal head shot from the grassy knoll. Though we will probably never know if someone in a position of power encouraged an angry, unstable young man to head up to the book depository that day, I no longer believe it matters. I believe that Oswald sighted the President through his scope and pulled the trigger. And that's the part of this tragedy that really matters. That decision in that moment contains all the blame and all the tragedy of this murder most foul that we ever need to know.

As unfair as it seems, the power of one person to do evil can change the world. And take away a father, a husband, a leader of a great nation. I understand the need for so many to see conspiracy; it's comforting to think that it takes a tangled web of organization, coercion, and cover-up to kill a man who was larger than life. That a single person can't possibly bring a nation to grief.

But a single person can.

I have made peace with the lone gunman. For there is a flip side:

One bad human in the right place at the right time can create tragedy. But one good human in that same place and time can stop it. If you believe the one, you have to believe the other.

And, in the immortal words of Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

When I Fall

I've been thinking a lot about fathers and daughters.

It started when the kid tackled her dad last night as soon as he walked in the door from work. Before he could even put all of his stuff down, she grabbed him from behind and wrapped her arms around his waist in a ferocious and genuine display of affection. It was such a moment of pure adoration that I had to turn away; my heart hurt to see it.

I'd always heard about the special bond between fathers and daughters, but didn't really get to experience it myself. At least, not while I was a child. Just when my father and I began to truly know and appreciate each other, and just when we began to see the world from the other's point of view, I lost him.

In the years after I lost him, and especially after I lost my mom, I had moments of revisionist history where I could only see the good in my parents. Ask me about them, and they had suddenly ascended into sainthood.

But I also had moments of intense anger where I blamed them for how screwed up, to put it delicately, my sister and I are in our own distinct and colorful ways. They were both severely dysfunctional people who didn't always put forth a great deal of effort to live normal lives, and a lot of that crazy rubbed off on their children.

It doesn't help that my father was really two different people, and my memories are colored either "good" or "bad" depending on whether it involved "Sober Dad" or "Drunk Dad." I'd like to think that had "Sober Dad" been the only one I'd known, our story would have ended very differently. And more peppered with stories of me tackling him as soon as he got home from work.

I believe this is how it would have been. I do. Because no matter what, my dad was ready to catch me when I fell.

One night when I was very young, not even in school yet, I was awakened by a horrifying nightmare. A cartoon bear had appeared in the window above my bed, and as I struggled against the awareness that it was just a dream, I saw its massive claw break through the wall and reach to pull me out of my cozy bed.

I screamed a scream that my mother remembered and talked about for years. A scream that made her knees weak in the tub of warm water she was soaking in and made her not immediately able to stand up to see what was killing me.

Still screaming, I tore back my covers and took off out of my room and down the hall so quickly that my dad hadn't even gotten out of the living room yet. I found him in front of the couch, crouched, both arms open. It was the position you assume when you are about to catch something vaguely the size of a small human. I didn't stop until I was safe in his arms.

"Someone in the window!" I said. I have no idea why I said that. It had been a something, not a someone. And I had dreamed it. And it was wearing a hat.

My father's protective instincts and adrenaline in full force, he so aggressively took off out of the front door in search of the assumed peeping Tom that he ripped the nail clean off of his left middle finger. By the time he searched the yard, my mother had removed herself from the bathtub and learned that it was not so much a person I saw as Smoky the Bear.

We laughed about it later. Not at the time. But later.

My mother would always remember how Dad tried so hard to protect us that he painfully injured himself. I would always remember the pose he struck--part Johnny Bench, part firefighter catching a kitten falling from a tree.

I would see the pose one more time. This time I was an adult, living at home (but not for much longer; Jason had put a ring on it), finishing up my first year of teaching. I was experiencing a bout of the worst insomnia of my life and had taken a dose of melatonin given to me by my future mother-in-law. It was a Sunday night, and as we always did that year on Sunday nights, my parents and I were watching a rerun of Cheers. I felt a tickle on my bare leg and looked down to see a rather large, black, hairy spider on my leg.

I screamed loudly. And stood up and shook all my limbs in the most frenzied Hoky-Poky of my life.

And as soon as I starting shaking, my father got up off the couch, crouched, and held out his arms to me.

After the pandemonium had passed, after the spider was searched and destroyed and a Silkwood shower taken to remove all the spider cooties, I had to ask my dad a question.

"Why did you get up and hold your arms out when I screamed? What did you think was wrong?"

He puffed on his cigarette for a long moment. "You had just taken one of those sleeping pills, and you've never taken one before. I thought you were having a reaction. A seizure or something." Another puff. "I thought I might need to catch you."

That was the last time my father physically caught me. But he saved my ass from hitting the ground in other ways. When I was in grad school and my car needed a new transmission. When a long lapse between pay periods while Jason was still in school and I was working at EKU threatened to keep us from buying groceries during the holidays. When I was going through cancer treatment and taking unpaid days off from work.

And every time he wrote me one of those checks, turning the money over without a lecture or reproach, knowing that I would be good to my word and pay him back, I saw the same picture in my brain--my dad, arms out, keeping me from hitting the ground.

For that is at the heart of every decent father-daughter relationship. And what makes them so special. Even with his faults, I knew, deep down, that my father would always catch me. It's what the good ones do. And as much as 50% of the time, he was one of the good ones.

(That sounds sad and self-pitying, but it's not. I work in education. Some kids' dads don't even break into the double digits.)

All this to say that I understand why my daughter adores her father. Why she throws her arms around him so unabashedly.

A mother's job is to raise her daughter up as high as she can go.

A father's job is stand beneath, crouched, arms outstretched, waiting. Just in case.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

But that's so much less interesting than my ghost theory.

When my mother started having what she called her "spells," I, of course, started to have them too. I've never been one to let a loved one suffer a medical condition on their own.

When I first experienced the same strange and horrifying nocturnal freak-outs my mother had been complaining of there in our little one-bedroom apartment in Knox County during our lost year, I knew that this was different from the time my sister broke her foot and I developed a limp. This was no sympathy pain or attention-seeking behavior. My mother, for once, took me seriously. And it was decided.

The only logical explanation for what we were experiencing was supernatural. Possibly demonic. Either we were being haunted, or our souls were leaving our bodies nightly. The light of day always made this sound ridiculous and we smiled and shook our heads and made jokes.

But when it happened to us at 3am, it was no joke.

Upon our return back to northern Kentucky, Mom went through a battery of tests. She wore a heart monitor for a month, submitted to a stress test, had a brain scan, and spoke to someone who I think may have been a psychologist. All was normal. Our old family doctor shrugged it off, and as the years went on we had fewer of these episodes. Though they did not go away entirely. Since it's rare to have one of these episodes now, years have gone by since I last thought about them. Until I read an offhand comment left on my favorite blog last week, and I realized what so terrified my mother and me has a scientific, medical name.

Sleep paralysis.

Basically, it's a moment of mental wakefulness but physical paralysis early in the sleep cycle. You have all the crazy brain activity and dreaming of REM without being fully asleep. You also have the physical paralysis associated with REM sleep, which doesn't bother you so much when you're deep in slumber.

It bothers you a lot when you're not in slumber and are hallucinating that there's a demon in the corner of your room.

Trying to give myself a good scare on Halloween, I read the comments section of a blog post where readers were asked to talk about the most terrifying thing they had personally experienced. One responder mentioned sleep paralysis and the hallucinations that come with it. I gasped.

So that's what that was. Huh.

Further research reveals that some people feel a presence pushing them down into their mattresses. Other people feel themselves levitate. Still others see nightmare creatures that, of course, aren't really there. My mother and I experienced all three.

The worst was always the nightmare creatures.

Mom frequently sensed a dark male presence just at the foot of her bed and once saw horns sticking out of the shadowy figure's head. I usually saw ordinary objects transform into terrible apparitions.

The first time I experienced what I now know was sleep paralysis, I was snuggled with Annette, my knock-off homemade Cabbage Patch doll, sewn by a friend of my mother's to tide me over until the real thing was easily available and affordable. I relaxed under the covers and in a lightning flash felt the world shift. There was a buzzing noise inside my head. My eyes were transfixed on Annette and I realized I couldn't look away. I couldn't move my eyes, or my head, or my limbs. I willed myself to scream but could not. Annette's face then began to change, turning monstrous and evil and alive. You know the clown in Poltergeist? Annette became that clown. And I was powerless to escape.

I know, right?

Having a name for this still doesn't explain a few things about it. Why, for instance, my mother and I suddenly started having them at the same time. And why any time we travelled together after I reached adulthood I would have a "spell." The last one I remember having, in fact, was one of the last times we went to Barbourville together and shared a guest room. In that one, I hallucinated that she morphed into your traditional large-eyed, oval-headed, pale-skinned Roswell-ish alien.

When I was finally able to move, I woke her up screaming, "Your face is white! Your face is white!"

We had a good laugh the next morning over coffee. I can't say she found it as funny that night.

Like many that have these, I've found ways to get myself back to reality-world when in the grips of an episode. Knowing that what I'm seeing (probably) isn't real helps bring me fully awake, as does concentrating on one body part that I'm trying to make move. If I can move a finger, I can break out of it. As a tired mom, I sometimes just will my eyes closed and hope for the best.

On rare occasions, though, I still freak out whoever happens to be sharing a bed with me by watching his face turn into a monster's and screaming myself awake. What can I say, it makes the hubby's life more interesting. Fall asleep next to me and expect the unexpected.

Now, at least, one of my problems has a name that isn't "crazy" or "mildly possessed." I'll sleep better at night.

Or not. But either way, I'll know any clowns I see in my bed are hallucinations.

(Insert joke here.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I ain't afraid of no ghosts. But I am afraid of everything else.

I no longer sleep with a light on. It's been years since I had to peek out of the shower curtain every 5 minutes looking for Norman Bates. I only check closets and under beds on those rare evenings I get home and realize I left the garage door open all day. Most of my childhood ghosts and superstitions have been scared away by advancing age, growing wisdom, and working-woman's exhaustion that makes me not care so much if a homicidal maniac is hiding out in my basement to murder me in my sleep so long as it gets me out of a faculty meeting the next day.

That does not mean I've outgrown being afraid. For I still see the boogeyman. It's just that now he looks like suspicious growths, fiery auto accidents, and women who have borne multiple children and yet still wear size 4 skinny jeans. Seriously? Nothing scarier.

So this Halloween I will not be frightened by Michael or Freddie or Jason (the masked murderer) or Jason (the husband who likes to startle me in my sleep by having the nerve to think that he can just wander into our bedroom willy-nilly while I'm having a nightmare about tax audits). I'll only be spooked by the truly scary things in life, which aren't so easy to dress up as for trick-or-treat.

Unexplained basement floods. (The water's coming from inside the house!) Melanoma. A large spider that disappears in your bedroom in the 2 seconds it takes for you to retrieve a shoe. Colonoscopies. A really long and recurring hair in a mole. Loss. Being so desperate for money and power that you put all your principles aside to become the kingpin of a drug cartel specializing in blue meth and high body counts.

Actually, I hear Walter White is going to be the big costume of the year, so I guess that last one's totally do-able.

This year, instead of watching monster movie marathons and the creepier episodes of The X-Files, I will be freaking myself out checking for lumps and swollen lymph nodes, running a credit report to look for signs of identity theft, and maybe spending some time standing next to our washing machine, which may or may not have been part of a recall of washers that have randomly exploded during the spin cycle.

Because on October 31st, everyone deserves a good scare. Don't look now, but your retirement plans might have just walked up behind you, ready to say, "Boo!"

Happy Halloween, fellow adults.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Just because it's dark doesn't mean it's serious.

Oh, autumn. That time of year when the rolling hills of my old-ish Kentucky home become so fiery beautiful that my heart aches. It's my favorite time of year, and yet it brings with it the return of an old friend I'd rather not have visit.

Seasonal Affective Disorder.

As far back as my sophomore year in high school, I've struggled with feelings of despair that strike on the first truly cold, dreary day in October and last until roughly President's Day. That first bad day is always the worst--I wake up knowing before my feet ever meet the chill of my bathroom floor that that day will be different. Worse, without reason, than the day before. But probably not as bad as some of the days to come. It's not a great way to wake up, really.

I think Cate Blanchett's opening voice over in The Fellowship of the Ring best (and most geekily) explains it:

The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was is lost...

Okay, so maybe that's a little over-dramatic. But not by much.

I've learned some ways to get by. After all, S.A.D. isn't as bad as its cousin, depression. I've had both knock on my door, and depression is the Cousin Eddie to S.A.D.'s Clark Griswold. One of them you may not enjoy having stay at your house for an extended period, but you can get through it with only your newel post damaged by the end of the vacation. The other is going to park his R.V. in front of the house, let his dog destroy your kitchen, and kidnap your boss.

So I can deal with Clark. I get out and run on rare warm, sunny fall and winter afternoons. I keep lights on in every room of my house, even in daytime. I meditate. Yet the thing that helps the most flies in the face of convention a bit and is generally met with raised eyebrows.

On my darkest days of the winter blues, I simply wallow in it.

I might have a "Sad Songs" playlist on my iPod. And you may find me listening to it while blankly staring at a wall on some random afternoon in mid-to-late October. If you do, do not worry about me. Or pity me. Or pray for me.

For in that moment, I am much, much happier than I look.

Allowing myself to go to my sad place and listen to droopy music and think morbid thoughts for a while does more for me than a dose of Prozac or a shot of bourbon. I let my mind wander to the darkest corners of my imagination without judgement or worry. And after a while, I feel cleansed.

A high colonic for the soul.

And it's even proved to be productive. For the last 3 Octobers, I have set a day or two aside to update my own funeral plans. Seriously. Scratch that one right off the old "To Do" list. (I really hope you can make it to my memorial, because it's going to be amazing.)

Yesterday I felt the first twitches of winter sadness and pulled up my "Funeral" file. While meandering through the dark night of my own soul, I overheard a news story about, fittingly, the dignity of death. Apparently the family of a deceased service member wants to put up a large Sponge Bob tombstone in the cemetery marking the final resting place of this young woman. The cemetery does not find it entirely appropriate. Controversy ensues.

I listened to sound bites from both sides of this argument, and could see the cemetery's point of view. Because one of my favorite dark-days activities is cemetery-walking, I can understand the desire for beauty and solemnity in a place where the living go to visit in their own way with the dead.

On the other hand, I think we take our own mortality way, way too seriously.

The reason why I ultimately wallow in the morbid is that there is a hair-thin line between the tragic and the comic. Spend enough time in the shadows, and eventually you wake up to the humor of it. It's why there's such a thing as gallows humor. And why The Addams Family was so popular. And what makes the cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias a brilliant movie moment. A situation can be so bleak that it eventually becomes comedy. Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion, too, Dolly Parton.

So while a huge cartoon character as a grave marker is not in my written final wishes, I smile to think that it was in someone else's.

And in that smile, I find the humor I need to turn off the sad playlist, close my funeral document, and rejoin my family in the land of the living where I hunker down to fight through another winter.

I'll get through. The sun will shine again, the days will get longer, the flowers will bloom.

But for now, I will find time to stop and enjoy the darkness.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I hear people say sometimes (and these people are usually high-school students with a romantic view of world history) that they wish they lived in another era. Maybe in the time of Shakespeare, maybe the roaring 20s, possibly just the 50s and 60s when real-life Mad Men roamed the earth smoking cigarettes and bedding married women. These times-gone-by would perhaps be a nice place to visit, but I for one could never live there.

Because in an era without advanced dentistry, I would not have a single tooth in my head.

At my first dental appointment, when I was only three years old, I had nine cavities in my baby teeth. Or so the story goes. Our local dentist worked out a plan with my mom to fill these a few at a time over a series of months and told her that I would probably have weak teeth for life, a trait inherited from my parents, who wore partials and full dentures.

Partially inherited from my parents. Partially inherited from drinking Coke out of my baby bottles as a toddler.

The plan went awry when I decided that the dentist's life had been too easy up to that point and made it my mission to even that score at the first filling. To this day, I don't know what possessed me. (Could it be...Satan?) I was a well-behaved child in every other venue. But for some reason, I took great joy in making drilling as difficult as possible for the good doctor and his staff. I screamed. I kicked. I refused to open my mouth. I cried about pain I had had way too much Novocaine to technically feel. After the first few appointments not going well, the dentist sent my mother home with a prescription for happy pills I was to take 30 minutes before each remaining procedure.

Yes, kids, I had a prescription for Valium at three.

His mistake was suggesting that the first dose be administered in the office by him so that the timing would be right. Have you ever tried to give a pill to a pissed-off cat? It was like that. Except that the cat in this scenario could yell louder.

My mother tells me I couldn't possibly be remembering this right, but I swear that at one point the dentist pinched my nose shut to get me to open my mouth and poured a dissolved tablet down my gullet. I admit this could be a hallucination, because, well...Valium for a three-year-old. But it was the most frightening moment of my life up to that point, so whether it was the medication or PTSD, I behaved angelically for every appointment thereafter.

Though that also might have been due to the copious amounts of nitrous oxide pumped into my nose. Either way, I spent most of my childhood dentist visits high. Drugs are bad, kids. Unless you have to get a broken molar repaired when you're nine, and then they're awesome.

This Monday saw me back at the dentist to get one of my oldest remaining fillings removed and replaced with a crown. The tooth in question had cracked, and my current dentist discovered a deep cavity underneath. While in the chair getting news that my tooth was more a disaster than previously thought, not sedated but kinda wanting to be, I had a flashback to my childhood dentist breaking the news of tooth decay:

You have some bugs in your tooth. I just need to dig them out with my drill. All you'll feel is a little pinch.

No wonder I fought this guy. Comparing dental decay to bugs? In your face? Not cool, dude. Not cool.

Hours later, still numb and swollen (my current dentist's philosophy is "enough injected anesthesia to take down an adult elephant"), I realized that every biting surface is now covered in composite resin or a porcelain crown. (Years ago, I lost the gold molar that gave me street cred. I looked like such a bad-ass when I yawned.) As these begin to fail, I wonder what will be next. I think of my dad, who had every tooth pulled in his first weeks in the army and who wore dentures the rest of his life. Of my mom, who had a bridge to replace most of the molars on one side of her mouth and failing crowns on her two front teeth. Of a host of aunts and uncles who don't even bother with such formalities and have fewer teeth than they do dogs sleeping under their front porches. Is that next? Will my worst nightmare, a recurring gem where I spit out my own teeth as though they're Chiclets, come true? Despite the wonderful advances of modern dentistry, are my genetically-inferior, Coke-marinated teeth doomed?

And will I ever regain full feeling on the left side of my face? Only time will tell, I suppose.

Maybe innovation in dentistry will keep up with my bad biters and I will become the first member of my family to go to the grave with all of her natural teeth. My parents, who sacrificed a lot of time, money, and sanity the first 22 years of my life to help me keep my mouthful of problems, would be as proud of this feat as of my college degrees. It was certainly a more painful and dramatic process. (And this is coming from a girl who suffered through a philosophy of religion class.)

If not, and if extractions are my inevitable endgame, one thing is for certain--I will not fight the Valium. Lesson learned.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Sometimes, life is overwhelming. It's easy to get so caught up in all the things you have to do and all the deadlines you're asked to meet that you lose sight of one of life's most important truths:

Any day that you have a dry basement is a good day.

This time a week ago I was kind of an emotional wreck. I felt life had me boxed in. Trapped. Every second of every moment of every day planned out in advance with no time to enjoy life. By Tuesday night, I had told my husband that I felt ready to crack from the pressure of working full time, being a mother, being a swim mother, cooking, cleaning, maintaining an older vehicle, and dispatching the stink bugs and chipmunks trying so hard to invade my home. The kid had just shown me her right shoe, which was suddenly falling apart, and that one extra unplanned chore in an already busy week sent me over the edge.

I need a break. I can't keep this up. I'm burning the candle at both ends. 3-dimensionally. There are so many ends, and oh, they're all alight.

But God, or Fate, or Karma, or just plain dumb coincidence, has a sense of humor. And 24 hours later, I stood in a flooded finished basement, sopping towels at my (wet) feet, thinking about what an idiot I was that days before I was stressed out about just needing to run the sweeper down there.

Oh, what I wouldn't have given in that sopping-wet moment to be able to solve the problem with just 30 minutes and a Dyson.

It was pretty bad, but as is so often the case, could have been so much worse. We're out some of our saving-for-hardwood-floors money to pay for water restoration and the problem that necessitated the water restoration. And we still are not completely sure that we solved the problem, so simple tasks of daily living like running the dishwasher, getting a shower, and doing a load of laundry cause multiple trips to the basement to make sure we don't once again have a river running through it. Yet nothing of great monetary or sentimental value was lost. The carpet and drywall dried out quickly with the help of a couple of experts and do not have to be replaced. We can even be semi-happy about a couple of the side effects. The malfunctioning bi-fold doors that separate the laundry room from the finished room, which we have hated and fought with since the day we moved into the house, got just wet enough that we feel justified throwing them out and replacing them. And nothing compels you to scrub a concrete floor like a little standing water, so my laundry room floor now glistens and smells of artificially-scented lavender and chamomile.

Truth be told, this watery setback could have been a blessing in disguise. I realize now how ridiculously petty I was being getting so stressed out and worked up over the small tasks of life that everyone has to do. How self-important I was, feeling sorry for myself that I have a house to clean and a family to cook for and a kid who swims and outgrows shoes. It's a cliche to say this, but only a cliche because it's so very, very true--I should, instead, be over-the-top grateful that I have a house to clean, and a family to cook for, and a kid healthy enough to swim and outgrow shoes.

Because sometimes life hands you a pretty bad hand. And you wish your life could rewind to the day before, back to busy and normal.

While I am in no way glad this happened, I am glad for the relatively painless wake up call it gave me. I need to learn to recognize when my life is good and appreciate it. While I am busy whining and complaining and feeling a nervous breakdown is nigh because a headlight just went out on my car, there are others who, in that very moment, are losing their most treasured possessions to fire or natural disasters. Who are holding vigil at the hospital bedside of their beloved spouse. Who just got that call from their child's doctor, the call that changes the pattern of their lives forever. Who would give anything, anything, to have the most stressful thing they have to deal with that day be tracking down the correct auto part and a skilled person to install it.

So thanks, I guess, to God, or Fate, or Karma, or Coincidence, for not making your wake up call louder.

And please...don't try to contact me again for a while. My basement carpet would really appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Ends of Things

Every year when I have my last day with seniors, and we're at that moment when the bell has rung and it's time to say farewell, I always tell them the same thing:

Let's not say goodbye. I hate goodbye. Let's say, "I'll see you around." Because more than likely, I will.

When you work with some of the incredible young people I do, sometimes having them as a student for more than one year, goodbye is too sad and too final. I want to believe we'll stay in touch, that they will occasionally email or drop by or not get too annoyed with me when I run into them with their significant others (and eventually, children) at local restaurants and ask them what they're up to.

As I get older, I realize more and more that some goodbyes are forever. Some paths never cross again. It's more than my soft little squishy heart can bear.

And so it also goes with books and television shows.

I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird every few years because missing Scout, Atticus, and Miss Maudie becomes a physical pain that can only be relieved by a week in their presence. I have re-watched the entire run of Lost, even the dreary first episodes of the 3rd season. I can't bypass Friends, Scrubs, or Everybody Loves Raymond when I stumble upon them during channel-flipping because to do so would be akin to pretending not to see a friend from high school in line at Old Navy. (Which we're all guilty of doing. But not with the fun friends. The ones like Chandler, J.D., and Robert.)

My entire family said some sad entertainment farewells this weekend. On Sunday, Ainsley finished reading the final pages of the Harry Potter series. And just hours later, her parents watched the last hour of Breaking Bad.

How do we go on without Snape and Walter White in all their flawed glory? I wish I didn't have to try to know.

Ainsley still has the final movies. But after that, our entire family is finished with Harry Potter. Our  childhood is over, officially. When Jason and I finished the last book, our consolation was that our daughter would someday read them, and in her re-reading, we would relive the joy we had in the books.

We didn't think ahead to how it would hurt just as badly to leave those characters a second time.

The mood, then, was already grim when the kid's lights were out and the adults settled in to watch Breaking Bad. I did not have the ugly-cry-for-2-hours reaction I had to Lost. And I found this ending to be deeply satisfying. But still--endings. I like them not.

The kid already has said after the last movie is watched this weekend, she wants to read the entire Harry Potter series all over again. She misses the magic already. So as she wraps it up during Saturday family movie night, and perhaps finds herself in the same finality funk her dad and I found ourselves in on Monday morning after seeing Walt and Jesse for the last time, I will teach her one of life's most important lessons: how to say goodbye. And I will give her my words, for in this case, they are apt.

Let's not say goodbye, Harry Potter. Let's say, "See you around." Because more than likely, I will.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The One Where the Bleeding-Heart Liberal Goes to the Target Range

Several years ago, I wrote about my bucket list. I'm too lazy to link to it and it probably wasn't very well-written anyway, so just try to remember.

One of the items on it was...firing a weapon. As of yesterday, I can cross that sucker right off the list.

It was a big day. I first met my sister to sign off on the final paperwork to close my mother's estate. (The holdup after the sale of the house? A final $8 water bill and a misfiled IRS form. Incompetence for the win!) And then I just, I don't know...felt the desire to shoot something.

No, it wasn't that sudden a decision. A dear friend offered to help me put this one in the "Done" column weeks ago. It just worked out that I was able to celebrate life moving on (by holding a deadly weapon) after closing that particularly painful chapter of my life.

I was thrilled that the range we went to had zombie targets. So instead of refining my aim on a figure modeled after a living human, I could pump lead into something modeled after a theoretical dead human. This actually made it easier. Point a weapon at a real live man, even if he has broken into my home? Scary for me. Point a weapon at Osama bin Zombie? All in an evening's entertainment.

The first shot left me completely overwhelmed and frightened by the power I held in my hands. The sound and kickback were nearly enough to make me put down the firearm and walk away for good. This was not a toy. This was not a game. This was not a TV show or movie. This was a deadly weapon. Made for one purpose--killing. I felt neither worthy nor qualified to be responsible for an object and action with that kind of power. I am not sure what I expected. But it looks so easy in fiction.

The truth is that it takes intent to squeeze the trigger of a firearm. It took physical and mental focus and a fight against my most base human instinct--do no harm. That might have just been a paper zombie I was pointing a gun towards. But looking down the barrel, lining it up with his body, aiming, firing...I knew that whatever I did in that moment was irreversible. Destructive.


I am exactly as good a shot as you would expect. Which is to say I'm not a good shot at all. Against an extremely slow-moving Walking Dead zombie who hasn't fed in a while, I might be able to save my life. Provided ammo is plentiful and I get multiple tries and he eventually just stands still about five feet away from me. You know, as hungry zombies are wont to do. Against a 28 Days Later zombie, I'm still going to need a shooting partner with terrific aim and an infinity clip or I'll be lunch.

And against a living person who may or may not also be armed himself...yeah, I'd be a goner.

I did improve after going through a crap load of my friend's ammunition. And it wasn't so scary after the first few reloads. It became more comfortable, more natural.

Which, come to think of it, might be the most unsettling part.

Some other observations from this experience--

We shared the range with several people firing guns of the variety where you don't really need to aim and squeeze so much as point and spray.

"You got him 4 times in the chest that time, babe!" I heard a guy tell his girlfriend.

Seeing as how you fired about 100 rounds in that thing's general direction, I should hope so, I said. But only in my head. Because that gun was SCARY.

I guess I thought we'd all be separated from each other in some secure, concrete fashion, seeing as how we were all in a room with only one way out, trapped with a bunch of complete strangers holding guns and ammo. That was not the case. I worried, sincerely, that I was either going to accidentally shoot someone or get purposefully shot myself, because again, POOR AIM. I was a terrific target for any crazy who maybe decided blue paper forms were a little boring and not nearly bloody enough for true shooting practice that day. It's a miracle that there's not a daily headline along the lines of, "MURDER AND ACCIDENTAL SHOOTING AT LOCAL FIRING RANGE. AGAIN."

Also, gunpowder smells. Two showers and multiple hand washings later, and I still think I smell it on my hands. I worry for the respiratory health of anyone who practices regularly at the range, especially if that's part of their job. But I guess if you have that job, you kinda have bigger job hazards. Like death. Law-enforcement-type people--I respect you more than ever.

After all this, will I do this again? Or was this a one-and-done? Would you judge me if I said I would like a second shot (!) at it?

Because I think I might.

Because of the zombies.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Another young life lost. Eff you, cancer.

A girl I went to school with, who kicked my ass at track practice during my short tenure in that sport, who fought with everything she had, who leaves behind children too young to be without their mom, died from breast cancer this week.

It's made me sad. And then angry. Because I just don't understand why cancer has to take the good ones. Why can't cancer take out the assholes and let the rest of us be?

God knows there are enough of them.

Seriously, can you imagine a world where Osama bin Laden died a slow, painful death from anal cancer shortly before his 38th birthday? We'd live in a better place, wouldn't we?

Instead, cancer takes the good people. Our mothers and fathers. Our sisters and brothers. Our spouses, in the prime of their lives. Children. Those we love. Those we need.

Life's not fair. I know this. I've said this to my own daughter. But that's cold comfort when someone dies before their time, and the only thing they're guilty of is cell division gone amok.

Meanwhile, there are murderers and rapists and sociopaths and genocidal maniacs who live to be old.

Go pick on them a while, cancer. Do the world a favor.

But leave the rest of us alone.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Swim Mom Boot Camp

If you wonder where I went this summer, and why I didn't post, it's because I went to Swim Mom Boot Camp.

I started this season as a proud but reasonable human being who swore that we would not let swimming take over our family and our lives, that we would do the bare minimum to meet the requirements of the kid's team and her dreams of moderate success. I ended the season more animal than woman, a creature subsisting on tumblers full of Starbucks and the tears of other swim clubs' children. I screamed "GO! GO! GOOOOOOOO!" from crowded and overheated bleachers until my voice gave out. I wore team colors and spirit wear. Hell, I even bought a team coffee mug perfect for carrying spiked coffee to Saturday night finals.

I sold out. I drank the Kool-Aid. I made small talk with other swim parents who were one click to the right of being complete strangers. Small talk! I don't do that.

I even (gasp!) bought my daugher a fast suit.

When I look in the mirror, I barely recognize my own tired face. This could be because the humidity inside heated natatoriums steams the mirrors. But I'm going with the whole fatigue and shock-and- awe thing.

I was willing to do all this because I believed that Ainsley's success this season would be the last success she'd see for a couple of years. The plan was that we would devote ourselves wholeheartedly to swim for her last season in the 10-and-under age group, for once she aged up to the 11-12 group, things would be harder. She wouldn't be expected to make cuts and finals. We could, as we had done in previous seasons, allow ourselves to fade into the background.

But funny things happen when you play the game. You rise from obscurity and make yourself known. Sometimes it's impossible to just fade back into apathy and mediocrity once you've shown coach-type people your potential as both an athlete and an athletic supporter. (Ba-dum-dum.) So instead of going back to being bleacher wallpaper and middle-of-the-packers in the first year of this new age group, the kid done got herself, and by proxy, us, promoted to the performance group. Where the kids are expected to truly compete. And the parents to participate. And not miss practices, and swim in every meet. And sign our names in blood on the dotted lines.

I kid you not--the invitation to join this group actually said, "If you accept this invitation, you are putting swim above all other activities." It's worded like a fricking commandment. Thou shalt have no other gods before swim.

It's intense. And stressful. And time-consuming. There were days this summer that I looked at my husband and said, "I can't do this anymore. I need my life back."

And yet.

There is unspeakable joy in watching a child celebrate an unexpected top-10 finish. Ainsley was not one of her team's superstars who always won everything, so her underdog and most-improved status made every trip to finals all the sweeter. I got to watch my kid's team win state. I saw the pride on Ainsley's face when she told me that her coach singled her out for praise during an extremely difficult practice set. I stood breathless on the shore of a lake as my only child swam a kilometer in open water, with the kid telling me after that it was both the hardest and best thing she's ever done.

It was a lot of work for her. And for us. But never in my life have I had more concrete proof that hard work pays off.

It all started over again last week as Ainsley had her first practice in her new age group. She was thrilled, and ready for a new challenge, and committed to being the best swimmer she can be. I was mostly overwhelmed.

But I've been to camp. I've got this.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And suddenly, everything changed.

Ainsley only just turned 11, and I know adulthood is still years away.

But for the rest of my days, when I look back on the summer of 2013, I will see it as the summer when my little girl grew up.

Some of the changes were physical. We had to go bra shopping and have discussions about how to shave. (Some of you know that I am not the best role model for this, but I'm all she's got. Let the tourniquets begin.)

Others were more subtle. Her sarcasm has become more frequent (and more annoying, because it's generally aimed at me.) She's been a little more moody, a little more dramatic. The first month of summer, all she wanted to do was run and play outside. By the final weeks, all she wanted to do was text her friends and read or watch Harry Potter. Particularly the third movie, which is arguably the one where you realize, "Hey. These kids are no longer kids." How fitting.

Her metamorphosis shouldn't have been surprising. She just started 6th grade, after all, and that is officially middle school. In-Between Land. The horrifying time in a young person's life when she has one foot in the shimmering world of adolescence and the other firmly stuck in the quicksand of teenagery. She's young for her grade, though, and I thought we might get one more year of true, joyful childhood from her before crossing that bridge.

Alas, she outgrew herself right on schedule.

So this Christmas will be the first Christmas that Santa doesn't come. And, she claims, the first Halloween with no tricks or treats. (I can't help but think the lure of chocolate will change her mind.)  For her birthday, the only requested item in the "toy" column was a Magic 8 Ball. The main thing she wanted for her 11th was to have her best friend over to eat pizza and watch a movie.

Goodbye, Chuck E. Cheese. Hello, girls' nights in.

With so much innocence lost, I feel more compelled than ever to cherish those rare moments when I look at her and see the little girl beneath the slimming face, deepening voice, and abandonment of childish things.

One day this summer I checked on her while she was taking a post-swim-practice nap. It's been years since she last napped regularly, but two-a-day swim practices made them a necessity for several weeks this season. In her dark and quiet room, decorated with black curtains and neon-bright peace symbols, I found her curled on her side, holding her precious stuffed elephant tightly under her chin.

In sleep, she wasn't talking back to me. Or rolling her eyes. Or being moodily sarcastic. Her flushed cheeks and deep breathing took me back to her toddler days, when a shared nap was our favorite hour of any summer day. In that moment, she was my sweet little girl again. The one who watched The Goodnight Show on PBS Sprout every night. The one who danced to Wiggles songs and asked me to play Laurie Berkner CDs in the car. The one who wanted to be a different Disney Princess each year for Halloween and who believed wholeheartedly that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.

I knew the moment, like childhood, was a fleeting joy. So I did what any nostalgic mom would do.

I gently wiped her damp hair from her forehead. I brought her summer quilt up to cover her chilled knees. I kissed her flushed cheeks.

And then I grabbed my phone to take a picture.

For if I've learned nothing else this summer, I've learned that the sweetest moments of childhood are gone before you know it. Grab them while they last.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Checking the obituary section of Facebook

A member of my graduating class from high school died yesterday. It was not me. This time.

When you're relatively young and someone you know who's exactly your age dies, your own mortality raises its weaselly little head and says, "Boo." It's like coming home from work and finding Death's business card tucked into your front door.

Was in the neighborhood today and thought I'd check in. Will be in touch.

He was not a friend, but in the small high-school I went to, our circles crossed from time to time. Our last names were close enough alphabetically that if an unimaginative teacher sat us in this order, we were seated together. In our very small music appreciation and theory class our senior year, we walked over to class in the adjacent middle school together every morning, commenting on the weather.

He was kind of a goofball. The kind of big, lumpy guy who would say or do things in class that made everyone make "WTF?" faces at each other before we knew what WTF faces were. Though it wasn't like we were laughing at him; he was in on the joke.

And now he's gone.

The details are fuzzy, but it seems to have been an accident. A senseless accident that has everyone scratching their heads. As if there's any other kind.

It had Facebook buzzing for a while. But then, because we had all lost touch with the deceased, we went about our day.

"How sad," we said.

"Too young."

"He will be missed."

His family will miss him and mourn his untimely death deeply. My heart breaks for them. But can we, who talked about him today from the comfortable distance of texts and social media, miss someone we only thought about when reminiscing about our high-school days? I think it's more likely that his death affected us all today because it made us feel our age and our vulnerability. Death knocked on the door, and it wasn't for one of our parents or grandparents. It was for one of us.

My mother used to talk about how she subscribed to her hometown newspaper after we moved to northern Kentucky simply to keep up with the growing number of friends and former classmates who were dying. I found it morbid. But that was before Facebook, and today's circle of "Did you hear?" announcements was no different really than Mom checking the obituary section of The Advocate every week and immediately calling her fellow ex-pats.

"Remember so-and-so? He died last week."

How sad. Too young. He will be missed.

I imagine I will be reading these words a bit more frequently now. And fearing each time that my number is up next.

Never send to know for whom the Facebook tolls; it tolls for thee.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

All Good Things

Well...the house is now someone else's.

As with all things having to do with my childhood home, the path was neither smooth nor expected. A week before the scheduled closing, our agent called and was like, "Hey, you're not going to believe this, but there has been a mess-up and the closing is actually tomorrow and not next week. Surprise!" And after the artery in my right temple stopped throbbing, my sister and I agreed to let it go early. Sadly, though,  we didn't really get the goodbye with the house we were planning.

But what the hell. I met my childhood best friend for one final blue Icee walk and we stood out in the driveway and giggled for a couple of hours the night before the closing, and for a just a little while I was twelve again. That's really all the goodbye I needed, I suppose.

The girl (sorry, young woman) who bought my childhood home looked twelve herself when I met her, and I was tempted to ask her where she was planning on parking her Big Wheel when she moved in. Smartly, though, I stopped myself and simply wished her the best. She's getting a good house. A good home.

A chapter in my life has ended. A chapter in hers has just begun.

May her story in that house be a happy one. All things considered, mine was. A comedy, even, in the end.

Goodbye, house.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Food (stamps), glorious food (stamps.)

Where is it, where is it...ah! Here it is! My soapbox. Just let me blow the dust off...there we go. And now we step up to the's all coming back to me now! Testing, 1, 2, 3...ooh, hot mic. Hot mic.

Today I want to talk to you about food stamps. Or for the young and hip, EBT cards, which I hear they're calling them these days.

Are we uncomfortable yet? Good. It's a touchy subject. And one that social media has forced me to open my mouth about.

In the couple of years I've been addicted to  using Facebook, I've seen several of my friends make comments about food stamps. Most of them have been jokes about the stereotypical food-stamp user at the store who uses them to buy junk food while talking on an iPhone with manicured nails. The gist is always that someone made a choice there to get an expensive phone and an unnecessary beauty treatment while hard-working taxpayers are buying this person's Cheetos.

I've let it go. I could comment, but that's a battle I know I can't win.

But recently someone posted that he was having hamburger for dinner while welfare moms were using their EBT cards to treat themselves to steak. And I felt something in my soul go, "Poof."

And once my soul implodes, I can't keep my mouth shut.

It's been on my mind for a while, and I initially really, really wanted to speak my mind in the comments section of that post. In a nice way. And let the original poster know that not everyone who uses food stamps abuses the system, and that the face he is associating with this program is a very different face from the one I know.

Because it's my face. And my mother's face.

But Facebook isn't the forum for that. This probably isn't, either. But I don't have a news show on MSNBC or Fox News, so this is about the best I can do.

So here it is, my rant on food stamps/EBT and government assistance programs in general.

Had you been behind my mother in the checkout line of the Barbourville A & P in the late winter of 1984, you would have seen a smartly-dressed woman with manicured nails pull food stamps out of her Aigner leather bag to pay for her Coke, some cranberry juice, Campbell's soup, and canned tuna. Oh, and maybe a Snickers bar. What would your judgement have been, had you seen this?

Here's the full story.

The woman, who you might have assumed was taking handouts she didn't need while you were working your butt off and paying for it with your tax dollars, was a beautician working three jobs, including one in a well-respected beauty shop on the court square in Barbourville. People walked in and wanted to be made beautiful by someone who looked like they knew what they were doing. Therefore, my mother scoured clearance racks in department stores for hours for the rare pair of almost-designer pants marked down to below $10. The nail girls in her shop kept her nails looking nice for free when she didn't have the time to paint them herself. She had just moved back to the area and didn't have a lot of clientele, so looking professional to try to snag new clients was important. She changed into old clothes before doing cheap shampoo-and-sets at the nursing home or cutting hair out of her own tiny 3-room apartment for friends and family who couldn't afford to visit her shop and who sometimes tipped her in cigarettes or small gifts of pens and notebooks for her young daughter.

The designer leather bag that caught your eye was a hand-me-down bought for a few dollars at one of her wealthy aunt's notoriously awesome yard sales.

The woman's daughter was sick a lot that winter and sick a lot in general. Every winter she got a sinus infection that made her lose her appetite and drop to a dangerously low weight. The mother often bought junk foods, like Coke or Snickers bars or Ruffles potato chips to try to get her sickly little girl to eat whatever sounded good just to get some calories. She didn't have much time to cook for her daughter with three jobs, and canned tuna and canned soup allowed her child to be able to feed herself.

Before she applied for food stamps, during this separation from her husband who was paying not one dime to her, her child sometimes went to bed hungry. There was food down the street at the little girl's Mamaw's, but she was elderly and on a fixed income and couldn't provide every meal and snack for the both of them.

There was a lot of macaroni and cheese made with government commodity cheese served in Mamaw's trailer.

Of course that woman was my mother. Who was embarrassed every time she pulled those stamps out of her purse to pay for something we needed. Who cried the day she went to the welfare office to apply for them. Who eventually went back home to live with her alcoholic husband because she couldn't afford not to.

Does the system get abused? Absolutely. But don't assume that the person you see using them is abusing them because she is well-dressed, or has nice nails, or is buying name-brand potato chips.

Or even steak.

That May, when we were packing up at the end of the school year to move back home, my mom wanted us to spend all of the food stamps we had left on my Mamaw to stock her fridge. We wouldn't need them anymore. She sent me to the grocery store with one of her friends and a list of my grandmother's favorites, which Mamaw couldn't afford to always buy herself. On that list was 2 t-bone steaks. My Mamaw had never in her life had a skillet-grilled steak until about a year before, when times were better for Mom and she bought and cooked one for Mamaw for dinner. She loved it, of course. So we used our last food stamps, in part, to treat her and my aunt to one again. As a thank-you for all they had done for us while we lived there.

And when my mom's friend did the math and told me there was enough left for 2 Snickers bars, I got them. And one of my favorite memories of me and my mother is sitting on the front stoop of our cruddy apartment on our last night there, eating chocolate, sharing a glass bottle of Coke, and knowing that that time of our lives was behind us. And that, God-willing, we would never again feel ashamed at the grocery store.

So there you go. It's easy to generalize. It's easy to judge. But when you put a human face on it...well, maybe the next time you feel your dander rise because the person in front of you paying with an EBT card, and you start scrutinizing their cart, and checking out their clothes and hands and accessories, you will be a little more forgiving. And not assume you know that person's story. We so rarely know someone's story.

End rant.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Playing With Lead

There's just been so much talk about Angelina Jolie's boobs that it's been impossible for me to not think about them this week.

Ask any cancer survivor and my guess is he or she completely agrees with Mrs. Pitt's decision to have a preventative surgery. If any of us could have looked into an crystal ball and seen our future diagnoses, we would have done whatever was in our power to not get that phone call. Including having beautiful body parts cut off. And given her family history and genetic testing results, Angelina was pretty close to being able to look in a crystal ball.

It's gotten me thinking about what crazy cell mutation caused me to develop Hodgkin's lymphoma a decade ago. Was it my genes or my environment? And how do I make sure I protect Ainsley from it?

From everything I've read and everything I've been told, there aren't good answers for these questions for the type of cancer I had. No current genetic test can predict its likelihood, no solid hereditary link has been found. That my mother died of lymphoma's cousin leukemia is interesting to my oncologist, but even he shrugs when I ask if this means Ainsley is more at risk than the average bear. Maybe; maybe not.

The Magic 8 Ball says, "future uncertain."

When I look back at my past, I can remember some choices and behaviors that, if not caused my cancer, certainly didn't help my physical health on the cellular level. Stupid things that seemed not a big deal when I was young, but are horrifying to me as an adult.

Here's why I got cancer. Maybe.

1. As a small child, I once got a thermometer out to play with (unsupervised, of course) and bit into it on accident, breaking it in my mouth. I spat out the foul-tasting substance that had been inside the thermometer, rinsed out my mouth, hid the evidence, and did not confess to my parents. Was it red alcohol or silver mercury inside that old thermometer? I honestly can't remember. Since I'm alive and gave birth to a child without birth defects, I'm leaning toward alcohol, but who knows? I have a mouthful of old mercury fillings, so I can't completely rule out mercury as a culprit in general.

2. In high-school chemistry class I played with some lead pellets. They were BB-sized and spread flat in a large dish in one corner of the lab and they felt really cool to rub my palms over while waiting for our experiment to start. A friend saw me playing with them and told me I probably shouldn't be touching them, and when I rolled my eyes at him he asked our teacher, "Hey, what would happen if someone were to play with this dish of lead pellets back here?" To which she responded, "That person would get cancer and have mutant babies." I stopped, but the damage was maybe already done.

3. My parents both smoked in the car with me in it with the windows rolled up. You can say what you want about second-hand smoke not being irrefutably proven to cause cancer, but breathing it during 3-hour car rides to Barbourville in the winter (in a small Chevy Cavalier, no less) cannot have helped. Especially that one time that, for reasons I cannot explain, I kept licking the yellow nicotine coating on the inside of my car window. (I might have been a weird little kid.)

4. I did not wear sunscreen until I was 17 years old. Seriously. Like, ever.

5. I went through an adolescent stage where I ate Penrose hot pickled sausages by the jar. On purpose.

6. As a young adult and new homemaker, I used the following products to clean different things in my home without gloves or proper ventilation: Tarn-X, Easy-Off, CLR, Lime Away, and Ajax. At least two of those had warning labels that said they contain compounds that have been shown in the state of California to cause cancer. Thank God they don't cause cancer in Kentucky!

I talk to friends sometimes about how much more today's kids are bubble-wrapped and protected than we were. I am one of these parents, so I don't judge them. But I catch myself saying things like, "Our parents didn't worry about this stuff, and we turned out just fine!" And then a second later I realize that, well, maybe not so fine after all. I mean, I'm healthy now and not even all the people I work with know that I'm a cancer survivor. But that all could have worked out badly for me. I could have been a statistic. So, you know...maybe erring on the side of caution isn't a bad thing. For one of the world's most beautiful women, the side of caution meant a double mastectomy. For you, it might be putting down the Marlboros or choosing SPF 30 over the Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil. (Oh my God, do you remember how that stuff smelled? I mean, in the moment before it allowed you to get pre-melanoma? At least I smelled awesome while my pigment cells were mutating.)

And, when given the choice...please don't play with the lead.

Monday, May 13, 2013

And now for something completely different.

Remember when I started this blog and I was going to use it primarily to talk about books, since talking about books is a big part of my job? Ha, ha! I was so cute. I should have known me better.

But today, an honest-to-goodness librarian post about a book that came up as part of a discussion on my state librarian email chain about why we weed out-of-date, inaccurate, and irrelevant books from our collections on a regular basis. Our patrons sometimes get angry that we are throwing perfectly good books away, and it helps to be able to show them an example. And this is one hell of an example.

If you've ever wondered why we librarians can't keep every book we and our predecessors have ever bought on our shelves for all eternity, even if we have plenty of empty space, I give you exhibit A, discovered on her picture book shelves by an elementary librarian her first year on the job less than a decade ago:

Epaminondas and His Auntie.

When you open the link, look off to the left where it says "View the book." Take a moment and read it.

Did you catch the old-timey racism with a side of animal cruelty? (Maybe not racism so much as naive and offensive racial stereotyping, but why split hairs?)

And this is why librarians weed their collections. Times change, attitudes change, and even facts change. (Exhibit B: the planet formerly known as Pluto.) Even fiction can become irrelevant and, yes, distasteful.

The more you know. (Insert network logo and theme music here.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

She's brave. She's brilliant. And she's back.

In case you haven't heard, Allie Brosh is back with a new Hyperbole and a Half post. If you have ever struggled with depression, please go read it. I'll wait.

It makes my depression post from over a year ago seem timid. It took a lot of courage for Allie to not only talk about her debilitating depression, but to frickin' draw it. Some of her drawings hit so close to my own experiences that they were painful to see.

That graphic of her in a coffee shop in her hoodie giving stank eye to the non-depressed people enjoying their coffee? That was me every morning that I stopped at Stabucks over my spring break before heading to my mother's. I couldn't understand how people could be happy while I was sitting there gathering enough strength to go clean my dead mother's kitchen.

Since my mother died, depression has reared its ugly head twice--once about a month after she died, and then again this winter and spring. Like the other times in my life when I've had it, I  first was weepy, then numb, then obsessed with planning my own funeral and wishing I could just close my eyes and go away.

It's a slow and uphill climb, but I'm getting better. I wish for Allie, and all who find themselves swimming in the depths, to eventually be able to climb out.

And I thank her for being open and honest. It makes it so much easier for the rest of us to come forward and join the club.

It came from the woods...

A wooded lot has its advantages. Privacy; shade; a pretty summertime view.

But it also means you have an overabundance of wildlife.

Our move to our current house was, technically, a lateral suburban move. We sold a house with woods in the backyard leading down to a well-travelled road on a cul-de-sac street; we bought a house with woods in the backyard leading down to a well-travelled road on a cul-de-sac street. We had birds and squirrels a-plenty outside our old house, and were thrilled one spring when we spotted a deer in our back woods. A deer! How exotic!

When we moved, we moved to an older suburb a little further north and a little closer to the city. We can hear the hum of an interstate highway and another major artery when our windows are open. I figured our deer-spotting days were over. I was sad to leave "the country."

Little did I know we would practically have a nature preserve on our backyard.

In the two years we've lived there, we have seen on our property...

Chipmunks. Large snakes that flee into open garages and have to be killed by the Kona Ice man. Lots of deer. Owls. Hawks. Woodpeckers. Turkey vultures. Frogs. (We currently have one living in a little hole in front of the front porch. Nothing gets your heart started like reaching to fill in a hole in your landscaping and having a large amphibian eye blink back at you.) Bats. A very rare salamander. And, as of last night, wild turkeys.

At this point, I would not be surprised to see the trees moving one day and watch a polar bear with a Dharma logo emerge from the greenery. If not a polar bear, maybe an Ewok. The view from my deck looks a lot like the green moon of Endor.

On our honeymoon years ago, we went to Gatlinburg. Being city-dwellers, we drove and hiked all the well-known wildlife-viewing trails in search of deer and bears and bobcats--oh my! All we saw were some feral kittens and lots of red squirrels. We should have just stayed in and taken a scenic tour of the wilds of our home county.

I am sure that eventually the wildlife spottings will get to be common-place. A turkey wandering through the backyard will not cause all of us to pause our dinner and stare out the kitchen window in awe of an awkward creature that's technically a bird but seems to defy God's blueprint for flying animals. We'll just shrug it off as another day in the life and then go out and check our chipmunk traps and be sure to wear shoes when stepping out into the garage.

In the meantime, I can't help but echo the words of Charlie Pace:

"Guys...Where are we?"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Girl Who Doesn't Cry

I cry at fiction. A lot. Books, TV, movies--all the moments where authors and director and producers manipulate their audiences to tears totally work on me. I can't help myself.

So of course I have a kid who not only never cries over anything she reads or watches, but just recently yada-yada-yada-ed over the death of Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

She finished it last weekend, and as we saw she was near the end, we sneaked peaks at her to see if she had the same reaction many young readers (and possibly her not-young mother) do at the ending of that story.

When no tears formed, we asked how things were going for Mr. Potter.

"They were just at the Ministry of Magic and there was a huge battle."

"Oh, really? How did that go?"

"Dumbledore fought Voldemort, and it was really cool."

"Yeah? Anything else?"

"The prophecy broke and no one could hear what it said."


"We get to see that crazy lady. Bella...something or other."

"Bellatrix LeStrange? And what did she do?"

"She aimed a Crucio curse at Harry but it didn't hit him."

Oh, for pity's sake.

"Did anyone die?"

"Oh, yeah. Sirius died."

Sirius-ly, Ains?

"It was sad..."

I would worry about her being a sociopath, but I think she's probably just normal. She has a soft heart; I've seen it break. But her standard response to her overwrought mother reaching for tissues during The Wizard of Oz (she'll miss the Scarecrow the most of all!) is...

"It's just a story."

Real life affects her. But Dorothy and Snoopy and Charlotte and Wilbur and Fantine and Aslan--they are not real life. She knows that there isn't really a Sirius Black, and therefore he didn't just die and leave Harry more alone than he already is.

Pardon me. There's something in my eye.

It's not a bad thing that she's a stoic sort. In fact, it has served her well on at least one occasion when she was able to perform a beautiful piece of music at a very sad occasion and not cry while those around her openly wept. She will be that go-to person who can hold herself and everyone else together and not get overly emotional when bad things happen to the good people around her.

She's kind of like her father that way. And that's a really, really good thing.

Time will tell if there's ever a movie or work of literature that ends up being her emotional downfall. As a librarian, I know where these bodies are hidden. I look at it as a personal challenge--what work will go beyond "It's just a story" and take her to that mysterious place where the teardrops fall? Bridge to Terabithia? Where the Red Fern Grows? To Kill a Mockingbird? ("Hey, Boo.") Or maybe that new classic The Fault In Our Stars?

I will stand in amazement of her if she is always able to walk that fine line between being sympathetic and caring, and wearing her heart too far our on her sleeve. And if, by her early 20s, she has not yet had a good cry at a Steel Magnolias or Terms of Endearment, I'm just going to have to bring out the big guns and tape her eyelids open and force her to watch Lost straight through to the sob-fest end.

Because if Vincent doesn't get you, nothing will.

What was the first book that made you cry? Chime in below, if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

For sale.

For sale:

One house. Three bedrooms, one updated bath, one updated kitchen. Many memories.

Former home of Appalachian migrants who moved north to seek better employment opportunities and a more prosperous life for their two girls.

Also the home, at two different stages of its history, of two beloved cats. (And one that was merely tolerated.)

Newer windows; older view.

Recently remodelled carport, driveway, and concrete back porch provide a shady, safe location for cherished granddaughters to blow bubbles, draw with sidewalk chalk, sip Icees, and snuggle with their Mamaw on the porch swing.

Extra-large side and back yard for outdoor entertaining or for simply letting the kids run relay races, play Whiffle ball, or sit and do nothing at all.

Fresh paint, new lighting fixtures, clean carpet, closet doors that finally open and close as smooth as butter.

The feel of a new house in an old neighborhood where everyone looks out for each other.

Enquire within.

Friday, April 26, 2013

In the event of zombies, please just hold it in.

So, I was in the bathroom, and I started thinking of The Walking Dead. As one is wont to do.

And I had a serious thought. When you are in the throes of the zombie apocalypse, and you really have to, exactly, does that work?

I mean, I know how it works. But it seems awfully dangerous. Like, everyone in that world is just one bowel movement away from death.

Do the toilets still work in an apocalyptic situation? The sanitation workers are long dead and/or munching on the intestines of others. And there's no electricity. But would the mechanics of a toilet still work?

They were in the prison all season long, and for once, toilets were plentiful. But were they able to use them? Or were they all having to go out to the prison yard for their morning constitutionals? Because the prison yard was not terribly private. And also not real secure. The walkers had an awfully easy time getting through that big, gaping hole in the fence. Would you have to take a bathroom buddy to stand lookout?

I really do not think I could, front of Daryl Dixon. I'm a private type of gal who prefers to keep a little mystery, you know?

In a world that's low on fiber but high on flesh-chomping undead, I'd hate to survive the melee at Hershel's farm only to be undone by occasional irregularity whilst hiking through the Georgia backwoods.

"Wait, wait, stop you guys! Just a minute! I'm doing to duck behind this tree, and..."

Raaaaawr chomp munch munch

And then Rick would have to shoot me in the head, and I would die just about the most senseless death possible in the zombie apocalypse.


Ugh. I am so glad we do not live in that world. For a lot of reasons. But primarily for the personal hygiene.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thank You.

While watching the live coverage of the manhunt/discovery/arrest of the surviving Boston Marathon suspect, the kid confessed that she was a little freaked out.

We could have changed the channel, but we used it as a teachable moment for our daughter instead. She talked about why she was scared and we listened and told her some truths that we feel she's old enough to hear.

One thing we told her is that the world is sometimes a scary place. Innocent people get hurt, and it doesn't make sense.

I told her this is why it's important to live each day to the fullest; there are no guarantees. And I also told her it's important to make sure the people in our lives know we love them; you just never know what each day might bring.

Jason told her that the week's events show one reason why we worry about her, fuss over her (and sometimes at her), want to know where she is and who she's with at all times, and get angry when she doesn't follow the rules that keep her safe. Not everyone she will encounter in life will have good intentions.

And then later, when she was going through her nighttime routine and we were alone, I shared with her what I felt was the most important thing to take away from this terrible week.

Throughout the bombing itself and in the chase and standoff that followed, we saw images of police officers, federal agents, firefighters, EMTs, and military personnel putting themselves in harm's way to protect others. They did it without hesitation. They do it every day without hesitation. Because that's their job.

"The next time you see a police officer, or a firefighter, or a soldier," I told Ainsley, "thank him or her. They risk their lives every day to keep us safe."

As soon as I said it, I realized I need to practice what I preach.

So, to those impossibly brave men and women who put their lives on the line when duty calls just so that ordinary people like me feel safe enough to sleep at night...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And now I need to get even more serious. One of my regular readers and dear friends experienced a loss this weekend. I will protect this person's privacy, but if you're thoughts are with you and your family.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Add to the long list of unpleasant but necessary things I have done in my life, somewhere between "Cleaned up my husband's bourbon-and-green-bean-containing vomit from a friend's bathroom floor while 6 months pregnant" and "Gave myself 4 injections into my upper thigh to raise my white-cell count during chemo", the fact that I am now a willing killer of chipmunks.

I did not want it to come to this. At first I thought the chipmunks we saw frolicking in our front yard and scurrying onto our back deck were cute. Outdoor pets that require no vet visits and feeding! Hurrah! But then they started to dig under our front porch and under the front walk, in large enough numbers to dislocate much of the topsoil that supports these structures and keeps them from cracking and breaking. No longer cute.

So I tried sprinkling various types of deterrents into the holes and around our landscaping. But the large ringleader of this particular chipmunk band, not as talented as Alvin but twice as annoying, was undeterred. He barely ran away when I appeared on the front porch, and I am fairly certain I heard him laughing at me once. Though that could have just been the Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka beverage I was consuming. Either way, it was unsettling.

I had all but given up and adopted "live and let live" as my official chipmunk motto until the little frickers chewed through the wires that power our landscape lights.

Nope. Sorry, Chip and Dale. That was the wrong damn answer.

Clearly, the peace treaty we had enjoyed, after many generous concessions on my part, was broken. After talking with a local farmer about my problem, I came to a grim conclusion:

The chippies must die.

If it were a mouse or rat inside my home, I would not have hesitated to set a trap to kill the invading rodent. But chipmunks have less of a pest stigma and have starred in movies and television cartoons, and the girl ones also sing a delightful cover of "Single Ladies."

Something in me grew cold, though, as I watched my husband spend an entire day fixing the damage they had done to the lights, a project he had already spent considerable energy on when we moved into the house 2 years ago. I no longer saw the creatures who had burrowed under my porch as anything other than the vermin they are. And vermin must be destroyed. Preferably, humanely. But as a friend of mine with mouse issues assured me, "humane" takes on a broader definition when dealing with rodents that carry disease and destroy property.

I shall not go into specifics here as to how I killed my first 'munk. Let's just say...chipmunks will go just about anywhere to get a few sunflower seeds. And they are not very good swimmers.

We have had some success, but have been encouraged to try several different types of traps, both live and not, to fully control what we believe is a large population. This war is really just beginning. I will continue to smear on my grease paint, in a distinct stripey pattern, and lie in wait for the enemy. Like Rambo, just more easily startled. And more skittish about corpse disposal.

For I have killed. And I did not enjoy it. But as I learned from Mufasa, it's all part of the Circle of Life.

Nature happens.