My Carrie Bradshaw Moment

Ok, so I'm not exactly Carrie Bradshaw.  If Carrie Bradshaw was an exhausted single mother to four kids, who wears black yoga pants with frightening frequency, then yes.  Yes I am exactly Carrie Bradshaw.

But here's what made me think of Carrie and moi in the same thought bubble:  Remember in Season Five of Sex and the City when Mr. Big reads Carrie's book?  The person I am kind of dating right now has read my blog.  I haven't felt this awkward since...well...on Saturday when one of my best friends met him and addressed him as "John McCain". He looked at her like she had just addressed him as a former POW/governor/presidential candidate, and then at me. "You call me John McCain?" he asked me. Thanks for that, Terri!  Love you!

Like Lucille Ball, I had some 'splainin' to do.  Keep in mind that on Saturday, my sweet big mouthed friend Terri was celebrating her birthday by renting out what is known as a Pedal Pub.  So she and 15 of her best friends climbed aboard this tipsy thing and pedaled around Northeast Minneapolis for the day (I think someone once said the same thing about me in the late 80's)  (waiting for the laughs) (no?  ok...).

One of my general rules of thumb is "no drinking during the day".  I broke that rule on Saturday.  And sadly, I broke it by drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.  But hey, it's not every day you are pedaling a pub with 12 people you've never met before, right?  So I had a good excuse.  As the day wore on, I had a couple more.  And thus, the texting began.  Poor John.  He handles my liquored-up texting with grace and civility.  Or maybe he makes faces and says bad things to his phone, but he always answers and is always polite.  This time I was begging him to join us at the "post-pedaling" part of the day.  And he did.

Oh, what's that?  You just realized that I am fessing up to seeing John McCain again?  If you're judging me, stuff it.  If you're happy for me, thank you.  He and I have been off and on for the past five years.  I have attributed each and every one of our "break ups" to the fact that I'm mostly insane.  I'm a second guesser and an over-analyzer.  But I'm also a big fan of serendipity, and I think that if someone ends up in your life, over and over again, they're there for a reason and you'd better explore it.

Plus, it's nice having my clock cleaned out again on a semi-regular basis.  And he seems to have no allergies to cobwebs, dust and bat guano, which I'm sure he found in abundance between the sheets after I got out of his bed.  Yes, it's been a while.

I could go all therapisty on you, and explain that after years of rejection and head games I've deemed myself unworthy of love and therefore push away anyone who tries to get close, but the reality is, I'm difficult to love.  I blame a lot of things, including some pretty harsh abuse I suffered at the hands of a stepparent, my own parent's divorce, being married to a cheating a-hole and a few other random hurts.

Bottom line is, I pity the fool who dates me.  I cannot even begin to fathom what it must be like..the mood swings, the hot/cold fluctuations, the nagging insecurities and constant worrying about what my stomach looks like when we're naked together.  And that's just the first night. 

I'm a cargo ship's worth of crazy stuffed into a rowboat, if you know what I'm saying. 

I'm also starting to think about the future.  Right now, I'm still chin-deep in busy.  Busy with work, busy with kids, busy ignoring laundry and dirty bathtubs.  But it's not always going to be this way.  Someday, in the not-so-distant future, I'll be alone.  The kids will (hopefully) get up and out and on with their lives, my dog will get old, and I'll get old too.

I remember one guy I dated during my eHarmony days:  I named him Sad Counselor.  One of his favorite subjects to talk about was the fact that he was terrified of ending up alone.  Back then, all I wanted to talk about was the new hutch I had just bought from Ikea and the latest episode of Bones.  His "what if" talks bummed me out.  But now, I kind of get it. 

So back to the Sex and The City parallels: After finding out that his moniker was John McCain, he pressed me a little bit:  "Have you written about me?" he asked.  I should have been all distracting, like Carrie would have been, and avoided the question by perhaps yanking on his zipper as he drove. But remember, I had been drinking, in the daylight.  Drinking PBR. So I confessed.  Told him that not only had I written about him, I'd written several posts all about him and me and our "stuff".  A smart blogger would have gone home then, and quickly, furtively reverted all incriminating posts to draft form. You know, to hide them from prying eyes.  But I am not a smart blogger.  I went home, burned a bunch of pumpkin seeds in the oven, watched a few episodes of "Charmed" (seriously.  I'm desperate for cable, homies) and then went to bed.

Yes, John McCain read my blog.  He sent me a text the next morning, telling me that going forward, we would refrain from discussing politics on dates.  That's when I ran to my laptop and pulled up every post that mentioned him.  Read them through his eyes, read them like I was reading them for the first time. 

I cringed.  I blushed.  I think I may have actually groaned.  And then, finally, I hid them.  Because it's my blog and I can do that. 

Truth is, in hindsight they weren't ALL bad.  I said some nice things about John McCain.  I said some not very nice things.  But mostly I spoke the way I do in every single post:  truthfully.  And at those moments in  time, those days I wrote about John McCain, I wrote the way I was feeling.  I wasn't ready. 

He didn't say too much about what he read.  In SATC, when Big read Carrie's book, he felt bad about the way he had treated her.  He looked at the woman he was with, and realized he was being played just like he had played Carrie.

In my case, I fear the opposite is true.  I thought, right away, of things I had said about McCain that could be interpreted as hurtful, or worse yet, insulting.  I tried to not do that in my posts about him, because in all honesty I felt as though the problems with "us" were mostly "me".  Here was this guy, this great guy, who loved me.  He thought I was pretty, he wanted to be with me, he didn't judge me or call me fat or point out my shortcomings. 

We had our differences.  And yes, those differences are still there.  But time has passed.  All those big ducks I had in a row have been dealt with (oh yes, there's still more drama to be had but the end is finally in sight).  I've changed, changed a lot, in the past year or so.  I don't know if it's called "growing up" or "maturing" or maybe just "early onset dementia" but I feel different.  I feel more like, I hate to say it, Sad Counselor.  Thinking about the future and what it's going to be like when I don't have to drive someone to hockey or baseball or work or a friend's house.  When my nights aren't crammed full with confirmation, conferences, concerts and other commitments. 

And that's where the Carrie Bradshaw/Happy Hausfrau parallel ends. 

Or is it?  I'm going to close with the very last line SJP spoke, as Carrie, in the very last episode of Sex and the City.  It's a great quote.

"The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous."

Here's to all of us finding some fabulous.


Baby Elephant Legs

Have you read Jennifer Weiner's essay about the F-Word?  Read it here.  It's okay, I'll wait!

So.  Did you love it?  Did it resonate with you?  I did, and it did with me.  Resonate is an understatement.  Stuck to me like pine sap, it did.

It brought back some memories, some bad ones.  Memories I thought I had cleverly hidden, so cleverly that nobody and nothing could release them.

But there they were, flashing, blinking neon memories. Forcing me to reexamine them.  Relive them.

The worst of these memories involved two things that strike fear in my heart to this day:  boys, and swimming.  In fact, when I first opened up Ms. Weiner's essay, the picture at the top caused an instant lump in my throat.  Three girls, huddled at the edge of a pool.  One bigger than the other.  All in swimsuits.  Honestly, the photo alone dredged up long-forgotten emotions.  Her words were like, pardon my food analogy in the midst of a post about weight, the icing on the cake.  

It must have been 6th grade.  Maybe 7th, but by then the junior high nightmare had begun so I'm inclined to think it was 6th.  Anyhoo...a bunch of us, boys and girls, were swimming in the junior high pool.  They used to have open swim time on the weekends, and for a while, it was the cool place to go.

We were splashing and yelling and playing.  I remember standing in the shallower end with a few of my friends, water just high enough to cover our budding bosoms and my already budded belly.  A couple of the boys had goggles on, and were, unbeknownst to us, submerging themselves right behind our little group.

One of the boys shot up, and I'll preface this with my own decades-late jab: he wasn't the most attractive of them all.  In fact, I had already dubbed him Alice the Goon due to his unfortunate resemblance to Popeye's stalker/nemesis (remember her?  All forearms and pin head?).

He popped up through the water's surface, snapped the goggles from his eyes and yelled out:

"Jenny has baby elephant legs!"

For just the briefest of moments, time stopped.  For that second, I was still happy and still blissfully oblivious to judgment and mockery and pubescent cruelty.  I was still me.  Simply, Jenny.

Then time started up again and his words hit me.  They pierced me, and changed me forever.  It was over 30 years ago, three decades have passed, and I can still hear his voice, still smell the chlorine. 

I wanted to die. I wanted the tiled floor of the pool to open up under me and swallow me whole.

This wasn't the first time my weight had come up.  There was the comment from my little brother a million years ago, as we were looking through some photos of us at the beach, "You have a fat tummy."  There was the doctor's appointment with my mom, the diet they put me on that forever ruined my taste for carrots and celery.  Like Jennifer spoke of doing in her essay, I was the one sneaking bread topped with butter after school and late at night.  My mom was forced to keep the butter in the freezer, and I can still see those tattered slices with chunks of cold butter jutting out... tiny, pale yellow icebergs in a soft white Wonder bread ocean.

But..this was the first time it had been brought up by a peer.  By a peer who happened to be a boy.

From that day on, even to this very day, my weight has been an issue.  Not a glaring issue, God knows, I've had to deal with so many other things over the span of my lifetime, but an issue nevertheless.

I dieted myself down to a size 4 the year after high school.  I had taken a year to save money for college, and during that year I did little else besides work and work out.  By the time I started college, I was skinny.  There was a particular hallway in the main building on campus... a long, window-lined corridor.  The jocks (it was a major hockey school) would perch themselves upon the marble ledge under the panes and as girls walked by they would shout out numbers.  Numbers from one to ten. 

And just like the words of Alice the Goon still ring in my ears, so do the voices of the sporty boys.  "You're an EIGHT!" one called out to me, and for the first time in my young life I felt pretty.  I felt wanted.  I had to resist an urge to raise my now-thin arms above my head and triumphantly scream to the heavens, "YOU HEAR THAT, WORLD?  BABY ELEPHANT LEGS IS AN EIGHT!!"

Those are two of the most vivid memories Jennifer Weiner's essay in Allure magazine forced me to recall.  But along with those memories came some soul-wrenching thoughts.  I thought about not only what it was like to grow up as a "fat girl", but also about how it's been being the parent to a daughter. 

A beautiful, smart as hell, freaking hilarious daughter.  Who inherited my weight issues.

I have been blessed with four kids.  Four kids who are, for the most part, healthy.  They have been my constant companions since the first one showed up 18 and a half years ago, and together, we have been through thick and thin.  Literally.

I sometimes question the fairness of life.  I have pondered such big things as destiny and fate and plain old dumb luck.  I have marveled about the roulette game that baby making is, how mind-blowing it is to think that if just four of my ex-husband's millions of sperm cells had been a mere nanosecond slower or faster I'd have four completely different kids with me today. 

I wonder why, out of four children, only one of them received my metabolism.  And why it had to be my only girl.

She was my second baby, and from the instant they identified her tiny girly bits on the ultrasound I fretted.  Of course, like all expectant moms I worried about the biggies:  would she be healthy?  Would she have ten fingers and ten toes and would all of her parts be where they were supposed to be?  But there were other worries.  Worries that made me feel ashamed for even allowing them refuge in my mind:  would she be pretty?  Would she look like her older brother, he of the curly strawberry blond hair and the thick, sturdy physique?  Would she have her dad's beautiful blue eyes or her mother's gray/green ones?  Would she be smart, and funny and would she have good friends and a good life?  And lastly:

Would she be fat, like I was?

Of course, once she was born almost all of those frets were extinguished:  healthy girl, all parts intact and in place.  Lovely blue eyes and a wisp of dark hair.  I named her Molly and loved her immediately, loved her so deep and so true it was (and still is) sometimes almost overwhelming.

As Molly grew I kept a close eye on her.  She was strong, right from the start.  Strong in mind, and in body.  She was sturdy, like her brother, her stick straight golden brown hair cut in a little Dutch boy bob. She loved wearing her older brother's hand-me-down clothes and wore a backpack stuffed with treasures almost every second of the day.  Even as a toddler, she chose her friends carefully and loved those special few with a fierceness that astounded me.

And right from the start, she loved food.  Just like her mama.  Was it my doing?  Did I somehow pass on my penchant for eating my feelings without even knowing it?  Or was this something more than that...was it a kink in her DNA, a dimple in an atom?  I hate to admit it, but I did screw up sometimes.  I offered food as rewards, not often but often enough.

Potty training my daughter took about 3 minutes.  When she was about 2 1/2, I told her I'd give her a present if she started using her potty and swear to God, she put on the pink panties I'd purchased for her right then and asked for a Hershey's Cookies and Cream candy bar.  She never needed a diaper again.  My boys?  It took days, weeks..a month in one case.  And they all wanted a toy of some sort:  a Transformer or a Power Ranger or a Star Wars Lego set.  Only Molly asked for a treat.

Was it something else?  Was it the way I spoke about myself?  "I need to lose some weight."  "I look so fat in this!".  "Ugh..I hate my arms."  Children hear us just as clearly, if not more so, as they see us.  How many conversations did she overhear, chats between my friends and I as we clucked about who had gained or lost weight?

Most girls start to lose their little kid softness around 3rd grade.  Molly's friends started shooting up, thinning out.  Some were string beans, some were already sporting athletic physiques.  Molly grew taller, but hung onto that belly, those soft arms and legs.  Those sweet round cheeks.  By 6th grade, I was buying her jeans at Limited Too in their mini versions of plus size.  12 1/2.  14 1/2.  She wasn't obese, but she was bigger than most of the other girls in her grade.  I was worried, but vowed to not do what my own mother did and make weight an issue.  I offered healthy choices at home, and always reinforced to my daughter how beautiful and smart she was and what a good friend and good sister she was.

When her father left, things went to hell for a while.  I was lost in my own grief, and my parenting wasn't stellar.  To protect my broken children, I overcompensated:  You want to go to a movie?  Let's go!  You want candy?  Here, have some!  Pizza for dinner?  ABSOLUTELY.  Anything to keep you from wanting, my angels.  Anything to avoid having you look around and realize that your world is no longer what it once was.

Would things have been different if our lives hadn't been rearranged?  Would I have been more attentive to my shaken daughter?

The dust eventually settled and we began rebuilding our family.  My blinders came off and I could see that Molly was struggling.  She was big.  Bigger than her friends, bigger than the other girls her age.  Remember I said she chose her friends carefully?  Turns out she chose wisely, as well.  Her friends were, and are, a fabulous few girls who stood by Molly.  The subject of her size never came up.  They loved her unconditionally and for that I will be eternally grateful.  As far as I know, she was never teased at school.  She and I are close, and although I'm not delusional enough to think that she tells me everything, she never voiced fear or self loathing or worry about what other people thought of her.

And then...and then her brother called her fat.  I won't say which brother it was, that doesn't matter.  It came out during a stupid, typical sibling smackdown.  I will never forget her face.  I will never forget how she holed herself up in her room.  I will never forget hearing her cry.

Another thing I will never forget:  the way I took out all of those years of worrying and fearing on my own son.  I spoke not only for my own pudgy daughter who was wailing into her pillow behind a closed door, but for Jenny, with the baby elephant legs.  My son, who had tears rolling down his own cheeks, became Alice the Goon and the jock on the ledge and every guy who had ever called a girl a cow, a whale, a pig. 

Not my best mothering moment, to say the least.  But it happened.  And when it was over I knew that no matter what I said, nothing would take away what my daughter had felt.  Nothing I said would change the world we live in, where women are judged by their looks before their brains or their hearts or their ability to make someone think or laugh.  A world where someone like Kevin James is a movie and television star and gets a girl like Leah Remini and someone like Melissa McCarthy is a movie and television star and ends up with someone who looks like...well, Kevin James.

We live in a world where anything over a size 10 is considered plus size and some stores will only sell bigger sized clothing online, as if allowing fat women the luxury of shopping in an actual building is outlandish and horrifying (Old Navy and Target?  Nice.).  A world where even one of the strongest and smartest women I can think of wrote of how it felt to be fat when she was a size 12 (Tina Fey, I loves you somethin' fierce, woman, but that made me cringe).

I know that's a kind of doom-and-gloom outlook.  There are worse things in this world, things that suck more than being fat sucks.  And unlike some of those things, fat is something that isn't permanent.  It's just hard figuring out how to change yourself without changing who you are. It's hard figuring out if changing yourself is something that you want to do for YOU, or if it's something you want to do for others. Sometimes the only change we need to make is in that space between our ears.

I joined Weight Watchers in July.  I didn't do it in hopes of catching a man, or because I was worried about what other people think about me.  I did it because I was uncomfortable in my own skin.  I was snoring, not cute little chipmunk snores but big old man snores.  I did it because I found myself actually wheezing when I walked to the farthest ball field for one of my son's baseball games.

So far?  It's working.  I have lost 30 pounds, but I am still Jenny.  I am still me.

And my daughter?  My lovely girl with the skin like porcelain and the wit so sharp she could cut glass?  Last summer she started going for walks.  She'd take our dog and just walk.  She started talking to me about healthy foods and exercise and self esteem.  She picked up my dusty kettlebells and fired up the DVD that they came with.

She is tall now.  Tall and slim.  She is a junior in high school.  She has a best friend whom she loves and who loves her right back.  She recently approached me about some anxiety she was feeling and we got connected with a wonderful therapist who talks to Molly about how she feels, about her body and her dad and her brothers.  She's taking something for the anxiety and so far, it's working. 

We talk, every single day.  We laugh together and we make meals together and we sometimes just hang out together.  I help her with schoolwork and we talk about nothing and everything. 

I know that being healthy is something she will need to work on for the rest of her life.  Just like she'll always need glasses or contacts, she'll need to keep an eye on her body and treat it well.  I know she'll never be one of those girls who can eat like a linebacker and look like a supermodel.  I also know that she's strong and smart and has hopefully learned from watching me make my own fumbling attempts to attain self love, and self acceptance. 

My sons, including the one who called his sister fat...they are learning along with us.  They hear me talking about how much stronger I feel, how much faster and farther I can walk now (and run, holy crap..their mom is starting to run!).  They are noticing the healthier foods in the house and how much harder it is to convince mom that McDonald's or Taco Bell is something they need (we still get it, people...just not as often).  They've complimented me on my success with Weight Watchers, and one of them actually told Molly the other day:  "You are really pretty, Molly." 

And what about Alice the Goon?  Want to know what happened with him?  Thanks to the facebook, we got in touch a few years ago.  A bunch of people from my high school got together one night, and he was there.  There was no pool this time, no goggles.  No bathing suits.  I wasn't Baby Elephant Legs, and he wasn't Alice the Goon.  We were two people in our forties, with lives and families and some war stories to tell.  We hugged.  I said, "It's good to see you."

And he said, "You look great."

Somewhere, deep within my soul, the girl with the baby elephant legs smiled. 


New Reality Television Show: Paycheck to Paycheck (P2P)

Seriously.  If you see this on Bravo or Discovery Channel in the next few months, you let me know.  Because this is totally my idea.

Here's the premise:  focus on a couple different families every week.  And you know what?  Make one of them a financially comfy family, the other one a family that knows how to do the paycheck-to-paycheck two-step.  Give them a paycheck to live on.  I guess I haven't really thought out the details because I have no idea how much to pay them.  But give them the paycheck, give them bills to pay for and kids to spend money on and groceries and gas to buy.

Basic rules are:  You don't have credit to fall back on when you run out of money.  You must pay for all essential items:  housing, utilities, food, etc.  Extra points or credit (haven't thought of a scoring system yet, either) for creativity...stretching the budget, finding a way to raise extra cash, etc.

I would dominate on this show.

I'm finally getting to the point, financially, where I have a few good weeks here and there, when I'm left with a little sumpin' sumpin' in the checking account at the end of the day. But I don't let it go to my head.  I don't have a savings account, I don't have a retirement account or a 401k or anything fancy like that.  Those are things I lost in my divorce, and those are things I hope to have again, someday.  Until then, I am the Queen of the P2P (what all the cool people call living paycheck-to-paycheck).

I have been in pure survival mode since October 2008, and although I've become used to it, I pray the day never comes when I am comfortable with it.  Being in this mode, this "we just have to get through the next month, the next week...the next day" mode, it is a scary way to live.

Scary, yes...but damn if I haven't honed my survival skills to a razor-sharp point.

I have a few friends who have danced to the P2P music, of course I will never share their names but suffice it to say, that old adage of misery loving company is true.  I knew I loved one of these friends when she laid the truth on me one afternoon:  "Paper towels are a luxury item".  We cackled as only people who understand that sentence can.

Not to say that living the P2P lifestyle is one of misery:  it's not all that bad.  One good thing about living like this is you become almost hyper-aware of the absolute GOOD in life.  There's nothing like circling the drain to make one appreciate the little things.  And I mean the little things, trust me.

Living like this has taught me how to be flexible, how to make sure the essentials are covered.  It's almost like managing to use that last tiny chunk of butter in the dish to cover your toast.  Is that toast going to taste as awesome as it would with a big ol' slab of buttery goodness?  Nope.  But by God, it's buttered.

I have learned which bills can be paid a few days (or weeks)  late with little to no consequence:  AT&T will just send you gentle reminders for 17 days.  After day 17 though?  You pick up your phone to gab one day and find yourself sans service.  I always pay the biggies right on time, though:  the rent, the electric bill, the gas bill, the internet bill.  Most of those I have taken directly out of my checking account so there's no possibility of forgetting or taking my chances.  My garbage hauler will let me coast for a month.  The water bill from the city, they'll let me have an extra month or two as well.  The same friend who spoke the gospel about paper towels also turned me on to the fact that if you use your Target RedCard (I have the debit version, which takes the money right out of my checking account), it takes a few days to go through.  Which comes in handy when it's the 13th and the cupboards are bare.

I can hear some whispering:  "But Jenny, you are damaging your credit by paying anything late, don't you know that??".  Dude, I declared bankruptcy.  It doesn't get much worse than that.  I'm probably not doing myself any favors by paying a few things late here and there, but that's how it goes.

Today is the 14th.  I get paid tomorrow, and it's coming just in the nick of time.  I got an email telling me that two of my kids need money in their lunch accounts.  Henry has a retreat at church this upcoming weekend that isn't free.  AT&T just sent me another friendly text, reminding me "your bill is ready".  I want to text back, "My checkbook isn't."

But back to the reality show.  Doesn't that sound like a doozy of a show?  It would be kind of like that show where people live like Laura Ingalls Wilder for a while.  Only P2P is a condition that exists today, and it is something that millions of your fellow citizens experience every day.

I mean really, in a country where we tune in to watch an entire family of vapid brunettes who are famous for being famous, a gaggle of pretentious botoxed and siliconed middle aged ladies bitch about everything and everyone, and where we have made knocked up teenagers celebrities, wouldn't a show like this almost feel like a breath of fresh air?

I also thought about a show called "46 and Definitely Not Pregnant" but I don't think that would fly.  And although "Keeping up with The Hausfrau" has a nice ring to it, I doubt the sight of me going through my Netflix queue and refreshing Facebook on any given weekend would be very riveting.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go pay my phone bill.  Because I'm sure the people from Bravo are going to be calling soon.


A Few on Friday

So I guess the bowl post touched a few nerves, eh?  That was one of those posts that demanded to be written.  The bowl broke, the interactions with the kids happened, and then it was like my outstretched hands led me all zombie-like to the laptop to quickly tap out a little essay. 

That was when I realized that writing is a lot like an addiction.  In fact, if you look up the "Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism", just replace Drinking with Writing and it's actually kind of funny.  My favorite list is of course on my bookmarked website, WebMD.  If you want to have a little giggle, click here and then do the word-replacement thingie.  Or heck, replace it with whatever hobby/passion/coping mechanism you enjoy.  Like Words With Friends.  Or running.  Or scrapbooking.  Okay, I'll stop now. 

Disclaimer:  alcoholism is serious and not a laughing matter, of course. But the point is, I was so hypnotized with writing yesterday that I cut it kind of close getting to work.  I made it, of course, but still had words and sentences and images crowding my brain.  Took me a while to clear my head and get down to the business of playing with beautiful 4 year olds for the day.

I've been having some very interesting back and forth chatter (via email) with a bestselling, and amazingly talented, author.  Said author is giving me some seriously awesome words of wisdom and advice.  Said author would also no doubt deny ever knowing/talking to me if asked, so I'm going to keep the identity of said author private.  But one of the things they've shared with me, about writing, is that when you're first starting out, you have to be your own employee.  Like, you have to be your own agent, your own editor, your own publicist.  They told me that this is one time in your life when you can't sit back and kinda hope for, or wish for, or daydream about success.  They told me, "If you think what you produce is worthy of recognition then you have to be the one out there promoting yourself." 

Therein lies my conflict, and may possibly be what is holding me back from greater things:  I don't like to toot my own horn.  Do I like what I write?  I do, and I don't.  Sometimes I love it.  Sometimes, when I'm writing a post, I find myself crying but I'm not aware of it until a teardrop plops on the keyboard.  There are times, too, where I am disgusted with what I've written, and when I'm done reading the finished product I feel almost ashamed.  Like I did the other night when I made, and sadly also ate, Impossible Cheeseburger Pie. Please don't judge me.  We had all of the ingredients and honestly, my boys will inhale that kind of meal.  They get that from their father and his bizarre affection for Tater Tot Casserole.  Bleah.  But yes, that was me standing there in the kitchen, eating the edges of the Impossible Cheeseburger Pie like I do with pans of brownies.  Now excuse me while I go to WebMD and substitute Drinking with Eating.

But that's beside the point.  Point is, if I want my writing out there, I need to be the one spreading the news.  And that's hard for a wallflower like me.  (ha).  Really, though, I have some weird Midwestern modest passivity thing where I find it hard to brag, almost impossible to accept praise and accolades graciously.  So it pains me, almost physically, to ask people for help with anything, including something as innocuous as "Hey, take a look at what I've written, and tell me what you think". 

Apparently, though, that's what I need to be doing.  So if you see me standing there, with a horn in my hands and cheeks flushed, know that I'm trying really hard to toot that horn.  And if you want to help with the tooting, please spread the word.  If there's a post I've written that has really resonated with you, something that you think other people would like to read, go ahead and share it.  And here's the Minnesota Lutheran speaking:  Or don't share it!  Keep it to yourself, because I'll still be here clickety clacking away in the dark morning hours.  But I've received some amazing feedback, and the part of me that isn't swathed in insecurities and self-doubt would kind of like to see where we could take this.

That said, here's a few.  The kids need to get up and get going to we can get this Friday started, so it'll be brief, I promise.

1.  If you see me today, please avert your eyes from the tiny red spot on my nose.  The other day I noticed a little spot there, and as I leaned forward towards the bathroom mirror, I gave it a little poke.  A little squeeze.  And apparently that little red spot is directly connected to an artery, because I bled like a mother-effer for a good half hour.  Seriously.  Like, I had to stick a tissue on my nose like the men do with shaving cuts.  That was hot.  Anyhoo..the only scar from that bloodbath is a tiny red spot on my nose.  But it reminds me of that Seinfeld episode, where George bought the cashmere sweater for Elaine.  The one that was deeply discounted because of the tiny red dot on it.  George was all, "Nobody will notice it."  But everyone did.  And that's how I feel about my spotted nose.  So please, to quote Megan from Bridesmaids, as she was perched upon the sink dispensing of her food poisoned innards, "LOOK AWAY."

 God, I love that movie. 

2.  Note to the manufacturer of Moroccan Oil:  You need to put a little note (or for those of us who can no longer see, a big note) on your bottles warning customers about the damage your admittedly awesome product can cause to clothing!  My friend Kelly sent me a swag bag of Moroccan Oil products at Christmas time last year, and it is truly the only product I have found that will tame my frizzy hair.  No, it doesn't give me soft, bouncing ringlets or waves, but it does make my hair less sharp and dangerous.  I don't have strands of hair, people. I have stalks of hair.  But I put this oil on, every morning after my shower (can I tell you how working every day has improved my personal hygiene routine??).  Yesterday when I got to work I looked in the mirror and noticed a big splotchy blob on the front of my shirt, where my wet hair falls after I get dressed.  It looked for all the world as though I had barfed on myself en route to work, and then scraped it off in the parking lot.  I was sad.  Now I am more careful, and today I am wearing one of my giant t-shirts until my hair dries.  But you've been warned.  And by the way, Kelly??  I am now addicted to this stuff.  I just ran out of the cream and am picking up a new bottle ASAP.  THANK YOU!

That's all I have right now, people.  Time to boil an egg for breakfast and then ease on down the road. 

Happy Friday, my friends!  Be safe and be kind. 


The Broken Bowl

As far as bowls go, this one was nothing special.

It wasn't particularly beautiful, nor was it artistic or unique in any sort of way.

When my husband and I moved into our first house, my mother-in-law came over one day with a large cardboard box.  "Dad and I are moving into the condo next month" she announced, "and I thought you two could use some of these things for your kitchen!"

We unpacked the box together, and as each item was pulled from its corrugated confines, my mother-in-law told me where it was from, what they used it for and sometimes, a funny little story that involved said item.

There were clear glass bowls, and salad plates, and kitchen towels.  A pitcher, a platter and then, she pulled out the bowl.

As I said before, this bowl isn't breathtaking.  In fact, looking at it now, I'd say it is rather dated.  It belongs in a kitchen heavily accented with hunter green and cranberry red.  With some gingham-checked seat cushions and matching valences.

It's a pasta bowl.  A very large pasta bowl.  At the time, it was just my husband and me, just the two of us, and I remember thinking to myself, "Yikes...what would I use that for?".  Our meals back then were small, simple.  Often take out.  Never a huge meal that would require a vessel such as the one before me.

After she left, I got busy washing, and putting away, my new things.  The bowls were used immediately, for they were the perfect size to hold my nightly pregnant-lady portion of peppermint bon-bon ice cream.  The small salad plates were ideal for our sandwiches and individual slices of lasagna or pot pie, whichever was chosen from the freezer for that evening's sup.

Then the children arrived.  One after another, boom-boom-boom-boom.  As they grew bigger, so did our meals.  As any mother knows, pasta is a childhood staple, and as my brood burgeoned, I found myself reaching for that giant pasta bowl with increased frequency.  At least twice a week I placed it in the middle of the dinner table, the steaming mound of spaghetti or linguini or penne glistening with butter and slowly melting parmesan cheese (sauce on the side, of course, as any mother knows).

Too large for the dishwasher, this bowl was diligently washed after these meals, dried and put away in its spot in the cupboard above the double oven.  If I had to hazard a guess as to how many meals it served us during our marriage, I'd say well into the hundreds.

And then our family broke.

My husband left.  He took nothing with him, only his golf clubs, his suits and his car.  His new life awaited him, you see, and I think taking reminders of the old one scared him.  Intimidated either him or his new love.

So I was left with the children, the house, and everything else.  Including the big bowl.

Our lives took many dramatic turns over the next few years.  When my ex-husband stopped paying child support, the turns became plunges into dark abysses, and we eventually lost that house with the double ovens and the arched doorways and the granite countertops.

Our new home, the rental I was able to get thanks to an angel disguised as a landlord, has a big kitchen.  It's not fancy like my old one, but it'll do.

I've now become a master pasta maker, it's amazing how crafty one becomes when faced with near-poverty.  A few eggs and some flour become dinner, and a delicious one at that.  Many nights we have sat at the table, our big pasta bowl filled with thick, hand-cut noodles (with sauce on the side, of course).

We just had that dinner last night.  The pasta bowl sat in the sink this morning, waiting patiently to be washed and put away in its new spot, the storage cupboard by the stairs.

I didn't get to it before going to bed.  I've been working a lot, and my kids still haven't grasped the concept of lending a helping hand when it comes to dishes.  Or anything else, for that matter, but that's another story for another time.

So this morning, I saw the bowl and despite knowing better, I tried cramming it into the dishwasher.  I stuck it in there, on its side, and almost immediately it fell over, hitting a plate.

I knew what had happened before I looked.

Our bowl was broken.

Our beautiful pasta bowl was broken, lying there in the dishwasher like a ceramic Humpty Dumpty.  I was surprised at the emotion that flooded over me as I picked out the tiny shards and the bigger pieces.  And as I stood there in the kitchen, the dark autumn sky slowly lightening up outside, I tried to put it together again.

My son Henry walked in at that moment.  "Oh no!" he said in his sleepy Peter Brady adolescent voice, "our bowl!".  He tried, along with his mom, to put the pieces back in place.  "Can't you glue it?" he asked me, with a look in his eyes that made all of my mommy-senses ache.

"I don't think so, Henry"

He pondered the broken bowl, and said, "But we've had this bowl forever.  What are we going to use for spaghetti now?"

I shrugged.  "I don't know" I said.  "We'll have to find another one."

As each of the kids made their way into the kitchen after taking showers and getting dressed, their eyes settled on our broken bowl, sitting on the counter.  Their reactions were all eerily similar:  a gasp, a statement: "Our bowl!" and then they'd touch it, try to put the pieces together.

I didn't have the heart to throw the pieces in the garbage before I left for work.  I left it there, on the counter.  And as I drove along the highway, the brilliant October sun shining so brightly on the morning commuters...I thought about our bowl.

I thought about how we, as parents, break our backs and sometimes our checkbooks trying to ensure that our offspring will have good memories of childhood.  How we try to make moments into something special, something amazing.

For parents who are in a similar boat to mine, those of us struggling financially, it sometimes feels as though we cannot possibly do what it takes, or buy what it takes, to create those memories.  Those snippets of time that we want our kids to look back on and smile.

I realized, this morning, that it doesn't take a magician or a fat checking account or even much imagination to create these feelings, these moments.

Sometimes all it takes is a hand-me-down bowl. 


Sunday Weigh In..and some heavy sighs.

Weigh in day is Sunday now...not ideal, since it seems as though Friday and Saturday are now my more "freestyle" days.  But it's the only day that works for me, so there ya have it.

It was great news today.  Like, blow-me-away great.

And yet I find myself feeling a wee bit funky today.  I've already gone for a super long walk with my boy Walter, I got a good night's sleep last night.  Life is going ok, but I still find myself kind of blue.

What could it be?  I think it's a cocktail made up of a few different ingredients, an elixir of sorts.

I got an email from my attorney.  We're going to court later this month, to battle out the remaining issues from that sunken ship of a marriage.   All this stress, all of this back-and-forth, all of this struggle...the day we go to court could potentially be the end.  It could be the day everything gets figured out, the day some justice happens.

But I know better:  I know this will never be over.  Oh sure..maybe he'll have to stand in front of a judge and explain to her why, exactly, he didn't pay child support even when he was earning enough to do so.  Why he thought it was ok to ignore the pleading, the begging done by the castoff wife and the tossed aside kids while building a new and shiny life for himself.  

Or maybe he won't.

I've seen how the courts work.  I know, firsthand, that human emotions don't factor into the decisions made by these courts.  It's people doling out judgments and orders and decisions to other people, but there is very little humanity in these judgments and orders and decisions.  It's based on cold hard facts, facts that don't take into account stuff like worry and stress and grief.

The judge won't want to know how many nights I've been unable to sleep, tossing and turning while visions of the future keep my eyes open and my heart racing.  She doesn't want to hear about my broken-but-healing 18 year old, my anxious 16 year old, my 15 year old with anger issues or my seemingly unscathed 12 year old who now knows better than to ask if he can go on the paintball trip with church because it's $35.

She most certainly doesn't want to see the inside of my lip, the spot I absentmindedly chew on when I'm stressed out.  She won't want to hear about the choices I've had to make as a mother, or the things we've gone without, or the pain each one of us has felt. 

She will want to know the facts, and the facts only.  She's going to want to know dollar amounts, and checking account numbers and how much time the kids have spent with each of us and how much each of us has spent on their various needs and wants.  She's going to want to know the dry facts, not the facts that are still damp with tears and sweat.

And I worry about that.  Even though those dry facts speak for themselves, even though when it's all down in black and white it's pretty obvious what should have been done and what wasn't done....I've been burned before.

I've had an attorney standing at my front door the day before Thanksgiving 2008, the engine of his Land Rover idling quietly while he handed me a manila envelope containing papers telling me, in legalese and big words, that the father of my kids wasn't going to pay child support any more.  I'll never forget the look on his face, the utter lack of concern he showed, as I stood there dumbfounded and speechless while the sounds of my children and their friends laughing and playing flowed out from behind me like the sounds of a just-out-of-sight stream gurgling and churning on a clear spring day.  "Happy Thanksgiving!" he said, as he walked down the little sidewalk that led to his vehicle, and he drove away, probably thinking of what his wife asked him to pick up at the grocery store and most likely not thinking at all of the envelope full of hell and devastation he had just placed in my hands. 

So you see, I worry.  No matter what happens, what gets resolved or who promises what, I worry.  No matter how calm I may appear, no matter how enthusiastically I answer "Great!!" when asked how my day is going, I am always thinking about that trick floor beneath me, the one that could open up at any second and swallow me whole.  Even though I have learned to go with the flow, roll with the punches and by golly, turned that frown upside down, every second of every minute of every hour of every day of my life is laced with a vibrating undercurrent of worry and fear.  Will that ever go away?  Or is it something I'll carry with me forever more, like a scar?

I guess it doesn't matter if or when it will go away.  Because I've learned to deal with it.  I've figured out how to handle the worry, how to live with that icky paranoid feeling that looms just under the surface.  Life can be a bitch sometimes, but I haven't used that as an excuse to be one.  I'm happy, despite this crap, and I hope that my kids are too.  I find the joy when I can, laugh whenever I'm able and give out love like a perfume sampler at Macy's. 

That's how I know that no matter what goes down in that courtroom, I will be okay.  My kids will be okay.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:  (any Monty Python fans out there?)

Let's break free from my maudlin tale of courtrooms and lawyers and get to the weighty stuff.  Ha!  I thought I had hit a little plateau in my Weight Loss Journey.  My bathroom scale was stuck on the same three numbers, no matter how hard I sucked in as I stood there, shivering in the dim morning light. I had actually gained a little last week, too. So when I walked up to the scale at Weight Watchers today, I mentally prepared myself for less-than-stellar news.  And then BOOM went the dynamite...not only had I lost, but I finally hit that magical 25 pound mark!  I didn't cry (although with some prompting I'm sure I could have) but I high-fived the weighing chick.  And I floated out to my car.

I feel like every pound I lose is another layer of crud being lifted off, another pound of the past melting away, exposing something fresh and renewed beneath.  Ok, maybe "fresh" is overkill, but you know what I mean.  All of those feelings I was eating weighed me down.

And now I'm feeling lighter.  That's a good thing.  Any other Weight Watcher friends want to chime in with their success stories?  Or maybe you need a little support or cheerleading?  Speak up, friends!  We're all in this together.

Here's the weekly stats, and then I have to check on the sweet potato fries in the oven (4 points for 17 of those suckers...and don't think I'm not going through that entire bag looking for the biggest ones, ladies.  I am.).  I think I may like these more than the light dill dip/cucumber binge I was on last week.  Yum.

Week 1:  -4 lbs.
Week 2:  -3.8 lbs.
Week 3:  -3.2 lbs.
Week 4:  -1.4 lbs.
Week 5:  -3.4 lbs.
Week 6:  -1.8 lbs.
Week 7: +.2 lbs.
Week 8:   -3.6 lbs. 
Week 9:  -2.2 lbs.
Week 10:  +.6 lbs.
Week 11: - 5.0 lbs. (!!!!)

Total weight loss so far:  27.6 pounds!  I'm shooting for the 30 pound mark by Halloween.

I smell sweet potatoes, my friends.  Good night.


Friday Fun Club

It's on Fridays, it's Fun, and it's a Club  -  The official Friday Fun Club mission statement.

What else can I say about it?  Friday Fun Club, or FFC, is a tradition in my little section of the world that began about 3 years ago.  About that time, I helped get my BFF, Michelle, a job at our elementary school (and by "helping" I mean I told the school secretary that she'd be fun to have at the school).  We soon discovered that Friday afternoons were just begging for a little Hen time.  A little wine, a little conversation.  A little fun, if you know what I mean.

And FFC was born.

We also had a few Tuesday Fun Club meetings, and some Thursday ones, and yes I think on occasion we met on Mondays.  But now that we're getting older, and have more responsibilities and these pesky things known as jobs, the Club is a Friday-only event.

I look forward to Friday Fun Club all week long.  Not only for the refreshments, but because it has morphed into something special, something memorable and sweet.  We are the two anchor members, and believe me, there are plenty of Fridays when it's just the two of us.  Those meetings usually end up with us crying and telling each other "I LOVE YOU SO MUCH."  So it's nice when there are other friends in the mix.

We both have kids, and plenty of them, so sometimes the FFC is just a quick sit down after work.  We kick off our sexy Danskos and relax on her couches for just a little spell, sometimes we don't even imbibe.  If the kids have games or playdates or other activities that require adult transportation or supervision, we cut our FFC time short.  But that's ok. As long as we have a few moments to unwind, dish about the week, and cackle we're all good.

One of my favorite things is when we get fresh meat into the FFC.  A new hen who hasn't joined us before.  They usually just sit there for a moment, observing the "old timers" as we help ourselves to munchies and getting more ice and giving each other refills.  It doesn't take long, though, before they jump in and by the time FFC wraps up, they are truly part of the gang.  I love when I'm walking down the halls of the school, or even better, when I bump into a lady friend at the grocery store or Target and they look at me with a gleam in their eye and say, "Friday Fun Club?".

It's like Fight Club without all the hitting.  And we don't deny its existence.  Oh, and no yummy Ed Norton.  But the similarity is there. 

I know I go on and on about friendships and how important they are to me, but I truly believe that all women need them.  I think they are essential to being well balanced, a key piece of the patchwork quilt that makes up our lives.  Your friends can help you with just about any problem you have, and I'm always amazed at how much I have to offer them in return.  Whether it's a shoulder to cry on, a wry observation or a much needed guffaw, we all get, and we all give something to each other.  Something vital.  Something awesome.

Contrary to what some hens might think, there is no gossip at the Friday Fun Club.  That's one of the things I love most about my BFF Michelle.  She doesn't talk smack about anyone.  And I mean that...if she has a problem with another person, if she's heard something through the grapevine or whatever, she'll confront the person.  And she'll do it in a way that isn't threatening, or mean.  She calls 'em like she sees 'em, and I admire that quality about her.  I'm sick to death of hearsay and whispered rumors and finding out things about friends that I wish I hadn't.  We're too old for that kind of crap, and besides...who can you trust in this life if not your hens?  No, the conversations we have at the club are random, wonderful pot-luck style gab sessions that cover anything from food, to what we're all going to do when the husbands pass away and we're old widows (we are buying a one-level condo and it's going to be like Friends, geriatric style).  The goal of the Friday Fun Club is just that:  fun. 

So if you happen to run into me on any given Friday, and you notice a spring in my step or a wider-than-normal smile on my face, now you know why.

Because it's Friday.

Have a beautiful day my friends. 


If a boy wants to play hockey, a boy should be able to play hockey

Big boys, I mean.

Like, boys in their 40's.  Don't you think they should be able to play hockey if they want to?  I sure do.

Henry was the only kid to go to Big Daddy's this past weekend.  Out of four kids, one went.  But that's beside the point.

Henry got home from Big Daddy's a bit earlier than the normal drop off time.  I gave him a big hug, announced, "Yay!  My funny H is home!" and then asked him, "Why are you back so early?  Not that I mind, of course."  I didn't mind, because I missed that kid.  He truly is the comedian in this house.

He looked at me and said, "Dad had hockey."

Oh...Dad had hockey, huh?  You mean, the same Dad who can't help pay for his own son's hockey this year?  The same Dad who said, "I can't afford it" when I asked him to cough up some of the cha-ching when William asked about getting signed up for hockey this year?  That Dad?

I will admit, I know nothing about adult hockey leagues in Minneapolis.  I don't know how much they cost.  Maybe he found one that is specifically for poor men, a free league so men who face financial challenges can still get some ice time for that sad little boy trapped inside them.  A place for fellas who are struggling, a cold place where they can take out some of their aggressions and get some good old fashioned exercise.

But I'm thinking it's not free.  I'm thinking it's probably not cheap.  I'm thinking that in order to play Grown Up Hockey, Big Daddy probably didn't have to call the head of the league and explain his sad financial situation to him, and beg for a chance to play.  I'm also thinking that in order to play, he didn't have to swear up and down and on a stack of Bibles that he'd volunteer in the concession stand every single weekend.  I'm also thinking that he didn't work out a scholarship deal, along with a payment plan, in order to get a spot on this Grown Up Hockey team.

Because that's exactly what I did, and what I'm doing, and what I'm going to do in order to get my son William out there playing hockey again this year.  Because my son wants to play hockey.

I'm not one to toot my own horn, like, ever.  I don't like talking about what I do for my kids, and I really don't like talking about the "sacrifices" I make for my kids.  Partly because I'm modest, but mostly because I don't consider giving things up for the well-being of my kids as "sacrifices".  It's called being a parent.  Doing what needs to be done in order for the kids to have some kind of normal in their lives.  Every day there are parents all over this big blue earth, doing it.  Some gave up dreams and work at a job they only sort-of like.  Some go to school at night and on weekends so they can become more.  Some work two or three jobs so their kids can have a nice warm place to live and food on the table. 

And some play hockey.

The irony of a 44 year old man playing on a hockey team while his 12 year old is relying on scholarships and a hot-dog slinging mom to do the same thing?  It's not lost on me.  It also wasn't lost on William.  When Henry told us the reason for his early arrival, William was sitting in the living room, doing homework.  He looked at me, and then looked down.  He said nothing.

He didn't have to.

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