My Life as a Borg

The tiredness descends:
Like a fog it surrounds me
Chokes the light, the life.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was with some amount of kicking and silent screaming that I went to the sleep center for an evaluation. “Who me? Sleep Apnea? No way…” I kept repeating.  But 3 skeptical looks from the sleep doctor while taking my personal history, and one terrifying bit of understanding later, I had booked a sleep study. Although unenthusiastic, I felt the best way to silence everyone was to take the damn test.

The test was actually fun. Well, fun in the “I’ve never done this before so might as well enjoy it” kind of way. The staff was lighthearted. I had my own room with a TV and no other family members… it felt a little like summer camp, only a summer camp where they hook you up to machines via wires attached all over your body.  That would be a creepy summer camp if I didn’t look so hysterical.

I took a picture of myself all wired up which I will NOT share here, or ever. I was fully clothed in my PJs and you could clearly see I had things attached to my face, my head and my chest under my shirt.  There were wires down my legs and attached to my shins.  I had two black belts wrapped around my body above and below the girls, which trust me was one of the least attractive things I have ever seen in my life.   When I saw myself in the mirror I burst out laughing and immediately took a picture and sent it to Frank. His reply was simple and to the point. “I want you.”

As you will accurately imagine, sleeping in a strange bed, with wires all over you, keenly aware that there is a low light video camera watching you and people listening to you sleep is a little on the difficult side. Took about an hour to fall asleep even with the help of a lovely little Rx. Imagine my surprise and dismay, then, when what seemed like 15 minutes later, the tech came in and woke me up.

“We’re going to go ahead and have you sleep with the CPAP machine,” she said.

Uh-oh, I thought. They prepped me for this. If this happened, it meant that I clearly was testing positive for sleep apnea and they wanted to see how I did with the mask on.

“Okay.” I mumbled. How in god’s name was I going to sleep with all the wires and Darth Vader mask on my face. These people had moved from being lighthearted and kind to unrealistic jerks. And then I asked a question.

“So I must have stopped breathing some then, huh? How many times did it happen?”

“In the last two and a half hours, about 50 times an hour.”

Long pause.

“50? Like five zero?” Praying I mis-heard one-five…

“Yes, five-zero.”

Holy be-jeebers. “Where’s the machine…”

Thus began my life as a sufferer of sleep apnea. The next 4 hours were entirely restful – yes, restful —  mask, wires, cameras and all. The next day, surely it was in my head, I had a tremendous amount of energy. I started to think about how tired I was all the time — the tired that is just below the surface which I have always been master of — could it be that that feeling might go away? And that the energy that people always remark that I have naturally (I don’t use caffeine) might get even higher?

Two weeks ago I got the official results of the test — talk about eye-opening and depressing.  I’m not sure how I was functioning on a daily basis if that test was any indication of my normal sleep quality.  And now I’m here, 2 weeks into sleeping each night with Snuffy, as in Snuffaluffagus (my name for my CPAP machine) to tell you that I feel great.  Yes, I have more energy. No, I don’t feel dead dog tired as often as I used to.  There have been only a few drawbacks, if you want to call them that. One, Frank says that now I am freakishly quiet and still while sleeping. He’s had over 19 years of snoring to deal with — and snoring more in the 18 wheeler range than the Ford Focus  range. Now I sleep on my back, quietly, still-ly. He says it’s a little weird.  I also haven’t figured out how to not wake up with strange marks on my face from the mask — clearly a vanity issue, but something I’m not enjoying. And lastly, I wonder what the kids are thinking. They get the concept, but how odd to come into your parents’ room and see your mom with a weird elephant-like tube snaking from her face. I’ve gotten very good at snatching it off the instant I hear our door open.

So there you are – I’ve become assimilated. I am now, at times, more machine than me.  But I’m pretty much ok with that. Unfortunately for my family and friends, I’m now telling everyone they need to “get the test” because it clearly cures everything just look at me… I’m sure that will wane as the novelty of feeling rested wears off and the assumption of feeling great takes over.  That’s kind of cool.

Do your new reading glasses make my ass look fat? The evolution of a marriage…

Small, square, the ad read:
“…A cuddly renaissance dude…”
With that, I was hooked.
———————————————-

Today I celebrate 19 years of wonderful marriage to Frank. Wow. Nine-teen. That’s a lot. We’ve known each other 20 years – yikes!  that’s like two decades! It has both felt like a very short period of time and like forever, because it seems I can’t recall much before we met.

I’m not sure I’m going to add anything new to the “anatomy of a marriage” genre, but I thought a trip down memory lane would be fun to write. So I present to you my marriage, in 6 stages:

Dating, 14 months: We spent a lot of time at my apartment. I lived alone and it was snuggly.  During this time Frank killed a rat in my apartment (the rat had the strength of 10 men and the daring of a playboy centerfold; I was terrified). He took me sledding for the first time in my life (winter snow is a little thin on the ground in middle Georgia).  It was a lovely place and a lovely time. I enjoyed our courtship a great deal. (I know, I know, who the hell calls it a courtship…)

Marriage years zero to 4: Our first apartment together. I moved in first, a few weeks before the wedding. I knew when the washer and dryer arrived the day after I moved in — my first major appliance purchase ever, let alone with another person — that this was serious. Why the 100 wedding invitations and the white dress hanging in the closet didn’t also convey this, I don’t know. But the washer and dryer… that was it. It was a great apartment. All new building, third floor on the back. We could watch the fireworks at Kings Island every night from the deck (ok, so you had to stand at one end and lean over the railing a little). We lit fires in the fireplace (also a novelty to this childhood victim of gas heat).  We sat on the floor and ate on the glass-topped coffee table in front of the TV so often I made a little table-cloth. (It currently lays folded on a shelf 4 feet from me now; we’ve never been able to part with it.) When we started rehabbing my husband’s childhood home, spending all but sleeping hours elsewhere, the place felt less lived in. Imagine my surprise then when we moved out in 1997: I sobbed uncontrollably at the loss of our first marital home. Even Frank shed a tear.

Homeowners, Part 1: We were virtually immobile for the first 2 years of our life in this home. The previous 18 months of near constant rehabbing had stripped us of our youthful vigor (being newly married and mostly broke, we did almost all the work ourselves. We started by removing the entire roof, trusses and all, and setting new trusses with a crane, if that gives you an indication of how much work we did…). The walls remained boring beige. The last few bits of rehab went untouched for years. But we enjoyed being homeowners. Frank bought me a go-kart disguised as a lawn mower which I joyfully drove like a maniac every summer weekend. I planted a few vegetables. I took a landscape class and redid the front yard. Frank put in a concrete driveway that could withstand the landing pressure of the space shuttle.  Five years after moving in, and nearly 10 years into our marriage, we decided to start a family and quickly (and thankfully) after that, our daughter was born. (I loved painting her nursery (thanks Teneal!) and would silently weep when years later it was undone by another family.) We had cats and house plants and relatives next door and across the street. It was a good party house and the vaulted ceiling hosted a 12 foot tall Christmas tree each year. When we sold the house in 2005 to the first people who looked at it, we were pleased someone who appreciated our hard work, craftmanship and obvious love of the place had purchased it.

The Expat Years: In 2005 we moved to England for my job; Frank became a stay at home dad. We learned to drive on the other side of the road and call it rubbish and motorway and car park and mum. I loved it… and it was hard. Redefining your roles in a marriage and as parents isn’t easy, and often I struggled balancing work (and my perceived higher expectations being an expat) with being a second-in-command parent with being a mom with being a wife with wanting some alone time. But we learned to go with the flow.  Two years into it our son was born and I watched with amazement as my husband grew into an expanded role as caregiver and home-keeper and I chilled out about being the primary breadwinner and an expat. Although we were happy to come back to the US in 2008, I will always love England. I never did fully say goodbye to our rental home there… not sure why.

Growth & Maturation: Remember 2008? Gas prices were sky high? House prices were rock bottom? We returned then, rented a home and stood ready to finally build a house on the 5 acres we had purchased in 2000 in a dream location in the country. But we had to wait. Had to get one kid in school and one in daycare. I had to get used to a new job with what seemed like a 24 hour clock. Frank had to restart his engineering business. And we had to decide on how to proceed with building the house.  Have Frank be the general contractor or use a builder? Will the bank loan us the money in this economy? The house we designed will cost HOW MUCH to build? Meet with the architect and redesign the house smaller with fewer bells and whistles. Revisit the budget, crunch some numbers. Argue with the homeowners association that we weren’t quite yet ready to build… These were the longest 18 months of our marriage I think. My son wasn’t getting along in day care; we were falling deeper in love with our daughters school 45 minutes in the opposite direction from our 5 acres. Did we really want the custom home? Was country living really the right thing for our little family? Was day care really the best option for AB at this time? Did we want a nice house but no money for vacation for the next 20 years, or some other path? When the universe presented to me, one January afternoon in 2010, a 4 bedroom house less than one mile from school on over an acre… an English Tudor no less… with one of those rock bottom prices nearly half of the dream home’s… well, the rest as they say is history. It was one of the most mature things we ever did – picking the collective future of our family over an old dream that didn’t really fit anymore. It was like finally parting with that really cool pair of designer pants that you bought on deep sale at Saks on a whim… they fit, but you never really had the right place to wear them, but you couldn’t bear throwing them out.  Selling the 5 acres felt like taking those pants to Goodwill. You know it’s the right thing, but you still wonder if you made the right decision – will you have just the right event to wear them to come up in a few days…

Homeowners, Part 2, No regrets: 2010 – to present.   I love my marriage. I love my kids and husband and the family we make. I love my house. I (mostly) love my job. We have a good dog and a short commute.  We sold 5 acres of specialty property in a down economy. We can take a vacation each year. The cars are healthy. I have to honestly say I am more content now than I have ever been. Don’t get me wrong — the first 19 years have been wonderful and I’m happy for the journey (and often dumbfounded at my good luck that started with reading that personal ad one NyQuil-drunk March evening…). And yet right now, everything seems to have come together at the same time. I have always mocked those 40-ish actresses who report that their 40s are sooo much better than their 20’s and 30’s. That they know themselves better, feel more comfortable with themselves, etc etc. I don’t feel like I have that level of self awareness – I have no clue if I “know myself better” or not. However, when viewed through the lens of the last 20 years… of the evolution of my married life, well then I must agree. It is, right now, the best. Amongst all the really amazing and wonderful great times, now is the best.

All my love, Frank. So very glad you picked me.

Depressing Mail

We both watch you age.
You cannot halt the winter;
I long for the spring.
………………………………………………

The title of this post might indicate that today’s mail was filled with bills or something of the like. Perhaps a magazine that touted younger skin or tighter abs… No, today’s mail brought a catalog. Not a cool catalog, like Nordstroms or Levenger or something like that. It was “Gold Violin, Helpful Products for Independent Living”.

Thanks, direct marketing association.

I am only 44 years old. Although I’m missing one original part (gall bladder), none of my other parts have ever been replaced. I haven’t purchased orthotic shoes or cable knit sweaters or any other item that would correlate to needing “helpful products”.  I’m more than just a little worried about what in my catalog purchase history triggered this. (To be clear, I also regularly get a catalog aimed at very stylish black women (I’m a decidedly un-stylish white woman) so who knows what my profile looks like…)

I could have thrown it out, but instead I decided to try to understand what all is considered “helpful” today. My parents are aging, so I might want to familiarize myself with these items.  I must say the “Suction Cup Tub Rail” featured on the cover was a real eye catcher, so I dove right in.

Page 3 – Dual transport chair and Rollator. What is a “rollator”. Is the ‘a’ pronounced ‘a’ like acorn or ‘a’ like away? One sounds sinister: the Roll-A-tor, like “Terminator”. RollaTOR sounds like an antacid. Hmm…

Page 5 – Between the Seat Stuff Catchers. No more lost keys or coins. Looks kinda cool.

Pages 8-11 – Shoes. Holy crap, some of these look like ones I already have. I especially like the Acorn Z Strap Spa Slippers, simply because they combine the class of velcro with the softness of terry and the attractiveness of something Pepto-pink. Have dog-eared the page for future reference.

Page 17 – Bibs disguised as aprons. I’m not talking the plastic things you get at the BBQ joint. These are ponchos that extend to your thighs with a wide pocket at the bottom to catch what you drop/dribble. The models wearing them couldn’t look less happy to have gotten this particular job.

Page 24 – I’ve never seen so many magnifying devices… 2x, 2.5x, 3x (really, that difference matters?), 6x, 10x, plus the 6 piece set ranging from 4x to 10x. Who needs to work through 6 difference magnifying glasses to read a map. And who actually reads maps anymore?

Page 28 – Look at all the different gel wraps you can get for your toes! No wonder old people walk slow: they have all this crap in their shoes. I swear this one cap is just a cut down condom. Really creepy looking.

Pages 38-39 — So many options to keep from killing yourself in the tub or shower or on the toilet. Good to know.

Pages 52-53 – Pain relief. Also where they assume the catalog’s readers are idiots. Dr. Necky Pain Relief? Dr. Archy Pain Relief? Boo boo cover up? I refuse to order anything that makes me sound like I’m talking to a 3-year-old.

And my favorite… Page 40 – Wipe assist. Nice.

I really can’t think of a way to wrap this up. I mean, after “wipe assist” there really isn’t much more to say. I can only hope this has been helpful to those of your wondering what help looks like later in life…

If it’s Velvet does it count? On becoming Charlotte…

Oh mirror, mirror
Reflect me cool, young, hip, smooth;
Deceive my eyes, years.
”””””””””””””””””””””’
The similarities are beginning to worry me. It’s been happening for a while. But it just used to be in how my brain worked or what made me laugh. Now it is appearing in more troublesome ways.

I’m becoming Charlotte.

I’ll give you one guess as to who she is… did you guess? Yep, my mom.  Now I like Charlotte. Someone telling me I’m like her is a huge compliment because I think she is smarter than me and a lot wiser (the benefit of our 25 year age difference).  But those compliments are usually directed at how I think or how I approach the world.

Now the “Charlotte-ness” is seeping into other domains of my being…

I recently purchased a housecoat. That is a very Charlotte thing to do. I justified it as follows:

Charlotte’s housecoat: fleece or terry, hits just below the knee; color family of pale blue or red; purchased at Sears; snaps or zips up the front; worn for several years until the pockets are worn through or there is a good sale at Sears. (There is only modest exaggeration here…)

Picture from Sears' website.

My housecoat: dark blue velvet with satin trim; floor length; floaty; purchased at Dillards; great for lounging after a long day in work clothes. And I prefer the term caftan to describe what I’m wearing, thank you very much.

Picture from Dillard's Website

Who the blazes am I kidding! It has a freakin’ zipper down the front! Just because there is a tassel on the zip doesn’t glam it up! I purchased and am now wearing a house coat.   AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

You know, they are quite comfortable. 

But, but, but… it’s a housecoat! My mother wears these. She travels with one. She wears it over her clothes when the house is cold.

You don’t have to hold in your stomach when you wear a housecoat, did you know that? And I might even receive guests while wearing my blue velvet, satin trimmed caft-

Repeat after me, it is a flipping housecoat, Maureen. Don’t kid yourself. Get rid of it now. Save yourself… This is a slippery slope you are heading down.

It’s only a matter of time before the assimilation is complete and I’m one of her…

*sob*…  I just found out it isn’t even velvet. It’s velour… noooooooooooooooooooooo!

Dad, Now I Understand

My parent’s wisdom:
fits better with age, although
acknowledged too late.

………………………………………………………..

The title of this posting is one of the hardest to see in writing. Who wants to admit their parent may actually have a valid point? Granted, it is far easier to acknowledge in my 40’s than in 20’s, but still, it ain’t easy. This one especially…

me and dad - no stress here! I love you dad!

One of my least favorite memories as a child (and there are very few of these) was when my dad, completely frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t ready for school yet and we were very late, left without me. My recall of this event centers on me trying hard to get ready, but being foiled by my inability to fasten my sandals: the strap was the type with the holes in it, and you had to push the floppy pin into it and thread the end of the strap through the buckle. Know which I mean?  The single most complicated system for children who are struggling with fine motor skills, the inventor of which was a complete dick? Anyway, I was really having a hard time, almost in tears because I couldn’t make it work, and he walked out the door.

(Before you scream child abuse, my grandmother lived with us… I wasn’t alone or in danger.)

Again, my recall of this event, which is shadowy and tortured because, well, I was 6, is a little dodgy. I believe (but am not sure) I walked to school, which was 3 blocks away through residential neighborhoods; I had to cross two streets (again, not complicated or dangerous). I was exceptionally responsible, even back then — even if I couldn’t get my shoe on, I knew that not going to school wasn’t an option, so I made it happen. And in that moment, my little 6-year-old brain vowed to never, ever leave my kid like dad did.

Flash forward several decades to the early years with my first-born, AP. I recall being at the mall and hearing other moms bribe their children into attentiveness with the phrase “I’m going to leave without you, Stephen! Get over here now!!”. I would stand there, judging these moms, disdainfully thinking to myself how horrible they were for promising abandonment. I told myself that I would only ever threaten that which I would actually do, and I would never, ever leave my child.

Flash forward again to the present and this first-born is now 9 years old. She is a highly capable young person. She has 2 arms and 2 legs. She seems to do well in school or has learned how to bribe her teachers into saying so (either of which indicates a fairly high level of thinking/problem solving skills). She is potty trained and regularly feeds herself. And yet, she seems incapable of getting her god damned shoes and socks on without being told one thousand, two hundred and sixty-six times each effing morning.

You know what’s coming… I almost left her the other day. I was beside myself pissed off. We live 2 minutes from school – and my husband can easily take the kids on mornings I’m not able to – but when I plan on it, and she is huckity-pucking around petting the dog or counting the rice crispies that fell on the floor during breakfast… well, let’s just say my patience runs a wee bit thin.

That morning, in a seething fit of “through my teeth” talking (would.you.get.your.blasted.shoes.on.now!), I realized with a pang of horror and remorse that I, gulp, now fully and completely understood why my father had left on that day so many years ago. I now believe that had he not left he would have done or said something horrid. Something that I was fully prepared to say at that very moment.

In the end, I took a ragged breath and stood up straight (I had assumed a hunched monkey position, so that I could look her in the eye with that “don’t eff with mommy today” look). I slowly turned, walked out the back door and went to the car. “Walk out and she will come, walk out and she will come,” I thought to myself. And you know what? She did.

And then she left again because she had forgotten something.

I let out an anguished scream as she bolted for the house; lucky for her she was back in a flash (the car was already in reverse).  And after my little “in the rear view mirror so you only see my narrowed eyes and furrowed brow” speech about her responsibility-each-morning-old-enough-to-handle-this-without-being-told-a-million-times, we came to an understanding. So far, so good — or I should say, so far the required number of shoes and socks reminders hasn’t exceeded the low double digits.

I still have a hard time with the “do this or I’ll leave you” approach to child behavior management as it really pangs me to think about it from the kid’s perspective. But I now have far more compassion for my dad’s actions in that moment than I have had for the last 38 years.

It’s My Birthday!!

My birthday demons:
vanquished thanks to a Cosmo,
Cake and nice strangers.

“““““““““““““““““

Yesterday was my birthday. And it was a fabulous day. I don’t have a history of great birthdays.

Long time ago; with Kaye, Melody, Stephanie's sleeve... others?

As my parents are CPAs and my birthday falls in Tax Season, my birthday wasn’t always celebrated on the specific day. It was usually deferred (with my awareness and somewhat reluctant agreement) to a more convenient day. Growing up I can remember spending the actual day in several less-than-celebratory ways:

–          Working at my parents’ office. Nothing says happy birthday more than bookkeeping or data entry.

–          At a college class with my dad, who was getting his degree. In one memorable biology class they were experimenting with mice. I’ll leave out the details here lest any PETA people see this.

–          Watching the Brady Bunch and wishing I had MarciaMarciaMarcia’s hair.

As a result, many years ago I made the terribly mature proclamation to my husband that no matter what – come wind, rain, appendicitis or Armageddon – we would celebrate my birthday ON THE ACTUAL third of February. He has no issue and has obliged.  Birthdays have been better since then.

But this one was borderline great. It didn’t end in a zero or involve gifts or parties, so why was it so great? Here is what I did…

–          I told everyone it was my birthday. With arms spread wide, I boldly declared it and basked in the well wishes from people I knew as well as complete strangers. Two guys in the elevator at work thought I was a little mad, but they complied. In a meeting where half were visitors from another company I didn’t know, I found a birthday buddy – it was her birthday too.  The people at the hibachi grill sang to me with gusto.  Now I didn’t walk around shouting this or wearing the birthday crown like my kids do at school, but you’d be amazed at how easy it is to slip it into otherwise natural conversation topics.  Meeting introductions are a perfect way: “Hi, I’m Maureen and I work in HR. Been with the company 22 years and speaking of that, today’s my birthday.”  Or in chit chat: “Yes, it is Friday. I love Fridays. This is an especially good Friday because it is my birthday.” See, not awkward at all.

–          I shared my age when asked, 44, and left it at that. Usually I share this expecting someone to say “Surely not, NO! You couldn’t be that age! You look far too young!”  When you have that expectation and no one says such things, it can be a real downer. This time I had no such delusions. I officially look about my age. On a well rested day, I might get away with late 30’s/early 40’s, but Friday wasn’t a well rested day. Regardless, I’ve lived 44 years, I have a good life, and if you think I look older than that, I’m learning to be ok with it. (Don’t get me wrong, I slather 7 different potions on my face each day and really believe they make a difference. I’m not so much into embracing my age that I won’t impede its progress with hair color, good skin care and a decent bra.)

–          I left work early to surprise my daughter by picking her up from school (my son was already home). My company allows really great flexibility – and since I had put in a 12 hour workday the day before, I had no qualms about leaving at 3:15. Seeing my daughter’s face when she was expecting a black car and not my red one was a treasure.  When I got home, the weather was such that I all played outside for over an hour with both kids, something else I rarely get to do during the week. Glorious.

–          We ate cake first. Since it was a date night, I wanted to be sure I celebrated at some point with my kids. So at 5:30 the Bonbonerie Opera Cream Torte came out of the fridge, a candle was lit, the kids sang to me and I read my cards. Then we ate. Nothing like cake before dinner to make any day special.

–          My birthday dinner was kid-less. I know I just spent several lines talking about how much I like my kids, but my birthday dinners with them, I have learned, historically suck.  Dinner with small/medium kids are “squat and gobble” meals.  You eat fast, don’t really know what you’re eating and at the end are shocked at how much it costs since you barely tasted anything. Either that or you park your kid with your smart phone playing Angry Birds while you finish your meal, hoping the people at the next table won’t think you are a horrible parent and report you to some kid-snatching state agency. Neither are appetizing.  This time we left the kids with our well trusted babysitter and the two of us went to a new Japanese Hibachi restaurant and shared a meal with strangers. It was delightful! The younger couple next to me were soon to vacation in London and thusly had to endure a list of recommendations from us (we lived there for 3 years). The older couple next to Frank had grown kids who had gone to the same school our kids attend (and have also lived in London) – more story swapping. She was also a writer who hadn’t yet embraced the web and gave me her card and asked me to get in touch about writing blogs. We all had too many things in common for it to be mere chance. It was just great birthday karma.

–          I had two Cosmo martinis at dinner. I don’t drink often, but I enjoy its effects when I do. That’s all I really need to say about that.

–          Facebook. Why? Because people I haven’t seen in 25 years take the time to wish me happy birthday. I know people don’t really remember my birthday, they just see the reminder, but there is something fun about seeing a few dozen birthday wishes from the people you call friends, regardless the tightness of the relationship.  Add to that that this posting might result in even more people I don’t know commenting with “happy birthday”, well, I’m back to my first point – bring on the well wishes!

So that’s my recipe for a great birthday. I’m ever so hopeful I remember this come next year. It will be a Sunday thanks to leap year – hey, I just realized, it will be Super Bowl Sunday!  Maybe I’ll have a Super Mo Sunday party!  You will all be invited.

Old Women with Shovels

With a quiet strength
Old women with shovels can
Handle anything

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This post is dedicated to all the old women with shovels I know.  I hope to be one of you someday. 

Did you see the article about the 85-year-old woman from Alaska whose husband was being trampled by a moose? She grabbed a shovel and used it to beat the moose until it took off. It was 30 below; they had been out walking their dogs.

I love this woman.  In fact, I know several old women with shovels who are amazing role models for me.

These are not “old ladies”. Old ladies carry handbags.  You give up your seat on the bus to old ladies because you fear for their hips.  Old women carry shovels, or the metaphorical equivalent. You give up your seat to them  in deference to their fortitude and the paths they have quietly walked for decades.

Here are a few of the old women with shovels I count myself lucky to know.

We used to live 2 doors down from my husband’s Aunt Sarah. Frank and I were doing a major house rehab — so much so we couldn’t live in it — and she would help us out. I remember one afternoon, my job (as unskilled labor) was to clear up all the shingles that had been stripped from the roof and now lay strewn all over the ground (where I swear they reproduced).  Aunt Sarah came over and we worked shoulder to shoulder loading the wheel barrow. Then she would wheel it to the dumpster (she wouldn’t let me push the wheelbarrow; I was relatively new to the family and still perceived as a city princess, I think. And it was true).  Once at the dumpster, she and I would get on either side of that wheel barrow, pick it up, hoist it over our heads, and empty it into the dumpster. We did this dozens upon dozens of times until all the shingles were cleaned up.  I was in my late 20’s. She was in her mid 60s. She worked me into the ground. I couldn’t keep up.

The Howard Sisters; Aunt Sarah is in the middle, in purple

Not too many months later, once we had moved in, I uncovered a snake under a bag of mulch. I have a real problem with snakes. Scare the bejebers out of me. Who did I go to? Actually, I ran… two houses down to Aunt Sarah. She grabbed her shovel and marched over to where the snake was, completely nonplussed.  The snake had already departed, but I was left with a feeling of deep astonishment and gratitude for this woman.  With nary a worry, she was ready and willing to chop up a snake to protect me.  There are 9 Howard sisters and 7 are still living.  All of them are amazing old women with shovels.

My mom is an old woman with a shovel, although her shovel is less literal.  First woman in my hometown in Georgia to do just about everything – from President of this to Chair of that, she has been a role model for many professional women, including me.  I spent many afternoons after school in her office (she and dad had their own CPA firm), listening to her counsel people not just on taxes, but on life. I watched her manage her staff — from the CPA’s to the bookkeepers to the secretaries to her daughters. She was always able to get the best out of each, and each felt important and vital to the running of this small business.   And 40 years after she arrived in that small city, she is still blazing trails. In her semi-retirement, she is working up an idea on how to help out women who find themselves, 20 years after shelving a college education to raise babies and keep a home, divorced and not quite sure how to proceed. She knows how to shepherd them. Her shovel is her brain.

Miss Atwater, my second grade teacher, passed away a few years ago. Major first class old woman with a shovel.  Second grade was a crucible year for me — I know that’s laughable, but it’s true: I tried to do just about everything wrong I could, all in the name of testing boundaries. Tried to cheat (got caught). Wrote on the bathroom wall (got caught). Was a jerk to another kid (I know, who isn’t at that age, but I still got caught).  She also introduced me to the woman who would be my piano teacher for the next 10 years, a gift I treasure still today.  Another gift she gave me was the Golden Rule – each day, someone would recite it in class, and that remains a primary guidepost for how I live my life today. Her shovel was an unwavering dedication that provided a type of guidance that was critical for me at that time.  I am a better person for her teachings.  And she did it for 30 years of students.

Women with shovels cultivate.  By digging in the earth to raise food to raise a family. By using words or actions or convictions to raise awareness or help grow the generations after them.

Women with shovels build things. They have “a lot of work in them” and want to stand side by side with the partners in their life – partners in business, in love, in friendship, in life. Their shovels topple things. They reshape things. They brings things into being.

Women with shovels protect what matters to them. They don’t pick a fight, but be warned if you come after one.  That isn’t a handbag, it is a shovel, and they know how to use it.

To the old women with shovels I have known and loved, thank you for helping me find my shovel and so gracefully wielding yours.

Brick House

Ow she’s a brick… house
She’s mighty mighty just let-
tin’ it all hang out
(copyrighted lyrics from the song Brick House by Lionel Richie, forced into a Haiku)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ladies – we are cheating. We are deceiving each other and the men in this world.

How? With our bras and the external perception of fullness and symmetry they provide. We should be ashamed.

Why? Because these new bras with the foam padding and strategically placed wedges are hiding the truth. We should be stopped.

For the uninitiated, I categorize these new bras as “enhancing smoothers” and “push up”.  The first type is a bra with a thin layer of foam where a normal cup should be. This thin layer gives you the look of a perfectly perky, balanced and smooth bosom. The problem is on the inside, however:   I look down and see my breastfed-two-kids-lost-and-gained-weight-happily-lopsided breasts almost puddled inside this bra. Sure the bra looks good, and the sweater fits nice, but the girls seem defeated and sad in there, like they are only along for the ride but not allowed to get out of the car.

And the push up? Who wears this? I broke down and bought one a while back, but when I wear it, I get this boob-shelf thing going, where my cleavage starts just south of my clavicle and keeps going and going – this is attractive?!?!  It just becomes a place to catch crumbs.

In either case, if I were dating and wore one of these bras, I would be worried if my relationship progressed… he would know I was deceiving him from the start. What do you say in the bedroom?

“Oh, you look, er, um, different.”

                     “Ah…yes…I, um,  forgot about that.”

“Do you mind putting your bra back on again?”

Total humiliation.

But let’s assume that the bedroom wasn’t my issue. What would happen if an overly tight hug left me dented?  In my case would there be enough internal resistance to pop the dent out? I don’t know! And what does it feel like to hug someone with wonder woman breasts? Would they notice? I don’t know!!

I’ll stick with my normal bra – boring, lace, off white, functional. Far less anxiety.

I realize there are men reading this who vehemently disagree with me (my husband, who likes crumbs, is surely one of them).  And if all you are looking for is eye candy, then fine, enjoy the trend. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about them being deceitful. For the women out there who look good in these bras and fill them in nicely – more power to you. I salute you. But I’m going to stick with my original equipment for now.

I Miss Car Flirting

He winks, then she smiles;
A coy look between strangers.
Then the light turned green.
………………………………………….

Recently, I took a business trip that was close enough to drive – about 4.5 hours away through some beautiful country. I much prefer driving to flying – air travel is only really worth it when you are in the mood for a friendly stranger grope.  (That shall be a future blog title, I think…)

Anyway, the car rental place delivered my rental car for the trip directly to work – a nice touch. When I picked up the keys at the front desk, I noticed they upgraded me to Premium class.  And then I noticed what they upgraded me to:  a Crown Victoria. I kid you not. How that was deemed an upgrade I do not know.  I’ll give you one guess as to the color of the car. Yes, appliance white.

This car had only 12,000 miles on it.  I do not believe it was because it was new. I believe it was because NO ONE WOULD RENT IT.  I think they upgraded me just so that someone, anyone, would drive the thing and knock the carbon out of the pistons (my dad says things like this…).  And since they delivered it, and thus I had no say in the make or model, here was their chance.  I could almost hear the echoes of “suckerrrr” as I approached the car.

If this was indeed a 2010 or 2011 model, Ford should be ashamed. The interior electronics were from the 90’s at best. My sister’s $12,000 Kia has more features than the space shuttle. This car had the computing power of the bathroom hand dryer at Wal-Mart.  No iPod jack. No auto tuning on the radio.  A sliding knob for temperature.  The front seat was a beige bench with a seat belt for someone to sit in the middle. If someone sat in this seat, our hips would NOT have touched (I have hips, so that’s saying something).  Granted the leather seats were “recliner like” and comfy, but honestly, I felt like I was sitting on my couch in the middle of a large refrigerator. Overall, it was just too unwieldy.

And soooo not cool.  I’m at the age where I don’t get a lot of “looks” when I’m driving. I remember when, much younger, I did a lot of innocent car flirting. You know, checking out the guy next to me at the stop light. Watching out for other singles in cars.  But marriage and then baby seats put an end to that (not to mention gray hair, age, pounds, etc…).  But every once in a while I would like to get noticed while tooling around in town.  It doesn’t happen, so ok, I’ll live with it.

On that trip, in my Maytag Crown Vic, everyone noticed me. I’m not kidding. The construction workers at the gas pump, the fast food clerk, the other hotel patrons… they all watched me extract myself from the car (those damn seats are slippery and deep), probably all asking the same questions – “I didn’t know anyone other than cab drivers and retired insurance salesmen drove Crown Vics… What’s that middle-aged lady doing? Wait, is she ok? Should I help her get out?”  That’s not the kind of attention I was seeking.

Next time, I will refuse the upgrade. From here on out it’s Chevy Cavaliers for me.  Either that, or I’m getting another Crown Vic, putting a scarf around my head ala Susan Sarandon, and heading out with the windows down, tunes up (I’ll have to dig up an old cassette mix tape), pretending I’m in Thelma and Louise… but with a much happier ending. Maybe then I’ll seem cool and get in some good car flirting.

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