Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Model U.N.

Later, as we stood in the hallway with no adults to greet us, in a house that seemed to be devoid of furniture - except for a hair dryer in the living room - I had a better sense of her apprehension.  But at the time, after logging a "oh, so that's where they've been," I couldn't figure out what Josie's problem was.

The house in Virginia that my parents live in, and where we go for Thanksgiving every year, has been their home since I was 14.  Which may not seem like a big deal to people who grew up in one city and live in close proximity to their extended family, but with my peripatetic upbringing, having a single location that has been something of a home base for over 30 years is huge.  Even though I only actually lived there for a year and a half - the time after Israel and before India, when I attended Langley High School for 10th grade and half of 11th grade - it's as much of a "where I'm from" as I've got.

The house is in a quiet, wooded neighborhood and sits up at the end of a pipestem.  There's another house across the pipestem, and until last year, the same family lived in the house since we moved here.  They were a lovely family, with three kids close in age to Josh and Sam and me.  We chatted when we saw each other coming and going and kept up with each others' lives in a general sense.  We were friendly and neighborly, but not really friends.  Their daughter is around my age, but we never hung out - my natural reticence and introversion would never have allowed me to just approach her about getting together.  As much as I can be social and outgoing, it's always been an effort (particularly as a teenager), and I don't approach the world as if I assume that people have any interest in wanting to hang out with me.

My children are another story, however.  Zeke will introduce himself to anyone, and Josie, while slightly more reserved, isn't too far behind him.

The confusion started when Josie came downstairs yesterday morning and announced, "I want to have a playdate with Johnston and Winston."

I didn't have a fucking clue what she was talking about.  In my head, the associations those words brought up were first Brookstone (the gadget store) and then Masters and Johnson, neither of which made any sense.

"Who are Johnston and Winston?"  I asked.

"Our friends across the street."

I looked at my mother for help.

"There's a new family that moved in after Ann sold her house last year.  They've got two kids, I think they're around 7 and 9."

"Ah.  And their names are Johnston and Winston?"

"Justin and Wilson, actually.  The family is Chinese, grandmother lives with them and doesn't speak much English, the parents are both doctors, and the kids go to Spring Hill Elementary."

"Oh, OK.  And you and Zeke have met them?"  I asked Josie.

She looked at me as if I were demented.  "Noooo!  Not yet!  But we're going to."

Fairfax County Public Schools aren't closed all week (the way Denver's are), so Johnston and Winston were still in school, but the plan was to wait until they got home and go across the pipestem, say hello, and play.

Hours later, after we went and got mani-pedis, hiked at Great Falls, and the kids went to the park with my dad, Zeke, Josie and Hazel disappeared.  A while later, Josie came back looking very serious.

"Hi, honey.  Where have you been?  Are you ok?"

"We were at Justin's house.  But I don't want to stay because I don't speak Chinese."

"But Justin speaks English, right?"  I asked.

"Yeah, but nobody else does."

So she stayed with me and colored for a while, and then went to watch Tinkerbell and take a nap.

Zeke came over a while later.

"I had dinner there," he said.

"What did you have?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?  Was it a sandwich?  A hot dog? Was there meat of some kind?  What did you have?"

"I don't know.  Anyway, I'm just getting my Kindle and I'm going back."

"Is Hazel still over there?"

"Yes.  We're playing."

He left.

My mother and I looked at each other.  "We should go over there and say hello and thank the parents," I said.

As we stepped outside, we saw Zeke walk up to their front door and just let himself in.


We walked across the way and knocked on the door.  Through the little side windows, we could see the kids hanging out on the floor right in front of the front door.  The downstairs seemed very bare - no discernible furniture, no rugs on the floor, no pictures on the walls.  Hazel was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, and Zeke and another boy were inspecting a Rubik's cube.  There was a kids' plate of food sitting on a stool.

We knocked some more.  The kids looked blankly at us through the window, but didn't move to open the door.  We couldn't hear any footsteps or see any sign that there were adults interested in talking to us.

So I just turned the doorknob and we walked in.

A little Chinese boy who I assume was Justin looked at me.

"Hi," I said, offering my hand.  "I'm Wendy, Zeke's mom."

He held his hand out and limply shook mine, but appeared so painfully shy that it was as if his personality had been pulled into a black hole.

My mom and I stood there some more.  Nobody said anything.

I could hear some activity in the kitchen, so I just walked back there saying, "hellooooo??"

We found Justin's tiny little white-haired grandparents, bustling around and cooking at a wok.  They smiled when they saw us, said, "hello! hello!"  They gave my mother a huge hug, pointed at me and said in extremely broken English, "you daughter?"  When she said, "yes," they smiled and said, "very beautiful!"  Mom said, "thank you, are the little children behaving?"  They said, "oh, yes, very nice!"

There was some more back-and-forth which led me to believe that nobody really understood what the other was saying.  But it was all good.

So we said thank you, walked back to the door, told Zeke and Hazel to behave, and left.

As soon as the door closed behind us, we looked at each other and said at the same time, "what the hell was that?"

Whatever it was, I understood why Josie felt a little weird.  Nothing was wrong.  Everybody was very nice.  But it was just an odd scene.

Zeke, being Zeke, stayed for another hour.  Of course, this is the kid who can meet kids at a Passover seder in Reykjavik and become best friends with them without knowing their names or having a common language.

I don't understand it, but I admire it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Double life

I don't think I realized initially how splitting child custody would result in an extraordinary feeling of my life being so compartmentalized.

Ever since we shifted to our current schedule, every two weeks I'll have five days with the kids followed by five days off, then two days with them and two more days without them.  The five days-five days are significant chunks of time, and the respective five days are so extreme in their differences that it's like I'm living two different lives.

My 5 day mama life involves me being on and in caretaker mode all the time.  I get up, exercise, shower, get dressed, get them up, get them dressed, make their lunches, put their extracurricular accoutrement into their backpacks (drum sticks, karate uniforms, etc.), hustle them to school, park the car back at the house, and walk to work.  After work I pick them up, make dinner, play with them, make sure they're bathed, read, sing songs, and put them to bed.  I referee fights, put band-aids on ouchies, dry tears, figure out how to fix wayward Kindles, locate errant stuffed animals.

And I clean.  Holy shit, do I clean.  Doing dishes, putting them away, wiping down tables, sweeping popcorn off the floor, putting toys and clothes and books away, sorting mail.

I do get the kids to help out, but the truth is, they're pigs and they suck at it, so I still end up cleaning after they "clean."  It's fucking endless.

Throughout the five days of mama time, it gets progressively worse.  For a couple of days, I'm able to maintain some semblance of order.  And then at some point, we reach a tipping point, and then I've lost all control and it's a total shit show.

And the shittier the house gets, the higher my level of agita.  With every passing mess - and my children's ability to generate creative new ways of making astounding messes is reaching epic levels - I become more and more short tempered, and sometimes lose it altogether.

The other night, the tipping point was reached via the following incident.

I was in my room practicing the banjo.  Zeke was playing Wii in the playroom, and Josie was in the bathtub.  At some point I heard him go into the bathroom with a big empty cardboard box that his giant Lego set had come in.  It sounded like the two of them were playing.  They chattered and giggled as they do.

Then at some point, the chatter became more frantic and nervous, and I heard a "we need to fix it before Mama sees."


I walked into the bathroom and proceeded to lose my fucking mind.

Because what I saw was the bathroom floor, sink, and parts of the bathtub covered with water, clothes, toys, and little shredded pieces of wet, soggy cardboard.  I can't even imagine what could have possibly possessed them to think that whatever they had done to leave the bathroom like that was a good idea.

The aftermath was not pretty.  It involved a lot of yelling on my part and crying on their part.  I threw an empty garbage bag in the bathroom, closed the door, and told them they were not to come out until every speck of cardboard was in the bag, every drop of water was mopped up, and the dirty clothes were in the laundry.

They got it done, crying the whole time.  I heard Josie repeatedly sobbing, "we need to tell Mama we're sorry!!"

After everyone had calmed down, we had a talk about how they needed to be better about not making terrible messes like that, and about helping out more generally.

"When you guys are playing or sitting on the couch watching TV or something, what is it that you see me doing most of the time?"

"Cleaning," they responded.

"Exactly.  And is it usually my own mess that I'm cleaning up?"

"No."  They were sheepish.

"No, it's not.  And that needs to change."

And they agreed and we hugged it out and everything was harmonious again.

And I reminded them of that incident when they were making pom-poms out of yarn, leaving little bits of fuzzy yarn all over the place, and when they were eating popcorn while watching a movie and much of it didn't make its way into their mouths, and when they found the bag of Halloween candy and were depositing candy wrappers around the house.

"Remember how much trouble you got in the other day?  You don't want that to happen again, do you?"

Their eyes would grow wide and they would shake their heads vigorously.

This morning I dropped them off at school, ending my five days with them.  I will see them again on Monday morning, when we leave for Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with my family.

I walked out of the house as the cleaning ladies were walking in.  There were dishes in the sink and pieces of popcorn and yarn and god knows what else on the floor.  Beds that needed to be made and rooms that needed to be tidied up and bathrooms that needed to be scrubbed.

I went to work, got a massage after work, and walked into a quiet, clean house at the end of the day. I'm drinking wine and watching hockey and enjoying the solitude.  And for the next five days, I will live a different life, with a clean house and free time and no one to wait on but myself.

After that, I'll be ready for the messiness again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Be kind to yourself, girl

Josie is long and very thin, and always has been.  Even as a baby, she never had typical baby chub, never had the fat rolls on her neck or legs or wrists that so many babies sport so beautifully.

I remember I was at an indoor playground with her and Zeke when she was only a couple of months old.  Zeke was off playing, and I was sitting with Josie on a bench.  A Hispanic woman started talking to me (I've never quite been able to figure out how some people just know that I can speak Spanish, but on more than one occasion, people have started talking to me in Spanish, and done so with an attitude that implies that they absolutely believe that I will respond in kind).  She asked me how old Josie was, what her name was.  And she looked at Josie and then back at me with a critical gaze.

"Ella es tan delgada," she said, with more than a hint of disapproval in her voice.  She's so thin.

"Sí, pero también es muy saludable," I countered.  Yes, but she's also very healthy.

And she is.  She has a ton of energy, bright eyes, clear skin, shiny hair.  She's a terrific athlete, strong and coordinated.  Her doctor thinks she's perfectly healthy.  She doesn't eat a huge amount, but she eats, and she eats as much good food as she needs to.  She likes vegetables and salad and healthy snacks, and I let her indulge in ice cream and cookies when she wants them.

As my own pediatrician expressed to my mother when I didn't have the hugest appetite as a little kid, you don't hear much about middle class children starving to death.  Kids generally eat when they need to eat, and don't when they don't.

So I've never worried about her being thin.

I've also never dwelled on it with her.  I'll joke with her about how I don't understand how her legs have gotten so long, but I don't call her "skinny" or make any comments about her body except to praise her athleticism or strength when she takes herself hand-over-hand across the monkey bars or makes a great play in soccer or something like that.  Or maybe to tell her, when she's running around the house naked, that I think she has a cute booty.

And as for myself, notwithstanding my own efforts to stay relatively fit/thin, I never talk about feeling fat or wanting to lose weight - I don't even own a scale.  The kids see me exercise every day, but we only talk about it as a way to stay healthy and strong.  Whatever shitty things I say to myself in my own head about my own appearance, however much I pick myself apart every day when I look in the mirror, I never say them out loud, in front of my children.

Which made it particularly alarming when I was informed that when she is at her dad's house, she consistently expresses concern about getting fat, and she will routinely forego things like cake or cookies or other treats out of a concern of gaining weight.

This scares the shit out of me.  She never does this with me, but the fact that she does it at all is terrifying.  I've been terrified of this since the beginning, in fact.  First of all, she seriously doesn't have an ounce to lose.  Her BMI is probably in the 10th percentile, if that, and for a long time, it was so low it wasn't even on the charts.  Second of all, I've read enough articles and seen enough documentaries about body dysmorphia and disordered eating to know that it's something that is incredibly difficult to fight, once it takes root.

As much as I can try to set a healthy example, as much as I can make food and exercise all about health and moderation and strength, every day I drop her off at school where there are 6-year-olds worried about being fat.  There are 8-year-olds on diets.  There are gaggles of 7-year-old mean girls already talking shit about other girls who aren't as cool, who maybe don't look exactly the way these mean girls think girls should look.

So I'm terrified, and I don't know how to stop the onslaught.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Games people play, you take it or you leave it

It's not the fake drinking I mind so much as the fake food.  At least with the fake drinking, when we have to change the pretend diapers, it's just water.  But the fake food comes out the other end as fake poop, and it's this colorful slime that is just gross.

But Josie loves her Baby Alive doll (or she calls it, Alive Baby), so I tolerate it.  And when she ran out of the stupidly expensive diapers that came with the doll, I bought her a box of regular preemie diapers that she could use instead, and that fit just fine.

I refused, however, to buy more packets of the fake food, because it's disgusting.

I was faked out, though, because she was hoarding some.

I was sitting at my desk in the alcove off my bedroom trying to figure out how to get iTunes to automatically search for and import the various music files scattered around my computer.  I ended up figuring it out by accident, and if a gun were held to my head, I couldn't duplicate my efforts, but in the meantime, I was focused on my task while the kids played in their room.  I could hear bits and pieces of their happy chatter.

First it was playing with a sticker book.  Knowing that they tend to deposit stickers on walls and furniture, I was thankful that most of the stuff in their room comes from IKEA, and that I painted their walls with a semi-gloss paint that releases stickers painlessly.

Then I heard Zeke say, "Josie, let's play 'Mamas and Babies.'"

I don't know exactly what this entails, but it sounded innocuous.

A while later, I wandered down the hall to check on them.  When I poked my head into their bedroom, I found Zeke on all fours while Josie stood in front of him, feeding him green goop from a small plastic spoon.

To myself, I said, what the hell??

Out loud, I said, "what on earth are you guys doing?"

"Zeke is the baby," Josie explained. "I'm feeding him."

"Is that the Baby Alive food?"


"Guys, come on. That is gnarly. Don't eat that stuff. It's nasty."

"It's good, Mama!" Zeke insisted.

"Ugh." I responded.  But I figured, whatever.  It's not going to hurt them.

I went back to my computer.

A little while later, Josie came in.  On all fours, panting like a dog.

"Mama, Zeke and I want to play a game with you."

"OK.  What kind of game?"

"A game when me and Zeke are dogs and you are our owner."

I started to laugh.  "You guys are nuts.  OK, how do we play this game?"

"Tell us what to do."  She pointed to an overturned laundry basket.  "That's my kennel.  When you want me to go in it, say, 'kennel.'"

"OK.  Kennel."

She crawled under the laundry basket, and happily curled up on the floor and pretended to sleep.

"Do you want to come out of the kennel?"  I asked after a minute.

"No.  I'm a puppy.  Puppies need naps."

My children are fucking weird.

Friday, November 13, 2015

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need

One of the things about having gone through a divorce and then embarking on efforts to date is that it forces you to figure out what went wrong before and how to make sure not to repeat old mistakes.

It feels almost strange to go through the process so deliberately and analytically.  When I was younger, my feeling - which was reinforced by the social and cultural ethos - was that love is something that just happens and you just have to let it happen and go with it.  Opposites attract.  Love conquers all.  Blah blah.

It's kind of bullshit.

On the one hand, some of it is luck.  My parents were 22 and 25, respectively, when they got married.  When I was 22, the idea of marrying someone was absurd to me.  Even though I was in law school, I still felt like a kid, completely incapable of making that kind of life-long decision.  But it worked for my mom and dad - they remain happily married because they have similar interests, they enjoy each others' company and conversation, my mother continues to find my father hilarious and to laugh at his jokes, my father recognizes that my mother is the delightful, sane antidote to his particular brand of crazy. In the infamous words of Cher Horowitz, they mesh well together.

Still, they had no way of knowing, when they were 22 and 25, how it would turn out.  On a certain level, it was a leap of faith, and it happened to work.  Other people similarly situated might grow apart, stop enjoying each others' company and conversation, become bitter or disengaged or disillusioned, and end up divorced or just miserable in their marriages.

It's all a question of quantum physics, molecular attraction, and timing.

I'm not 22 anymore.  Hell, I didn't get married until I was 35, and I still got it spectacularly wrong.  I think part of it was that my biological clock was ticking, and I ignored warning signs, and I just assumed that love would conquer all.  I didn't realize that love couldn't be a substitute for compatibility, and that compatibility is the key to making love or a relationship last.

Of course, there are different areas of compatibility.  I've been trying to figure out which are the really important ones for me, and which aren't.

There's the cultural compatibility, which can take a number of forms. Being brought up with similar traditions, similar frames of reference.  Religion can be one, but there are also others like educational or socio-economic background.  I don't particularly care if I'm with someone who is Jewish, but it doesn't hurt to have someone who speaks that same cultural language.  Education is very important to me, socio-economic background to a lesser extent.  Not because I'm a snob, but because I spent a long time with someone who was very different from me in those areas, and it resulted in a lack of shared interests, as well as a sense of intense discomfort and insecurity on his part about those differences.

There's the compatibility of values - a sense of the importance of family, and how family dynamics should work.  Values like kindness, compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness.  A curiosity about the world, a sense of adventure. An ability to go with the flow.

There are relational compatibilities - how you are or behave with a partner.  I am affectionate and passionate and can be a bit intense. I tell people I love them and I'm physically demonstrative and I need a certain heat.  I like to feel respected and adored and desired.  I need someone who has strong opinions about things, who has a sense of humor.

I have to be with someone who appreciates the importance of sex in a relationship - not just from the perspective of wanting to get laid, because it's not really about that, but because it fosters intimacy and closeness. I've done my time in a sexless relationship, and I'm not doing it again.

It feels almost clinical to try to come up with a list of qualities to be ticked off.  As I said, it runs counter to the romantic notion that love just is, and you just have to be ready for it and go with it.  But experience provides a counter to that notion.

Obviously, there's no accounting for chemistry.  It's either there or it's not.  But I think it's important to figure out what you want and need.*

And then, when you think you've found it, all that's left to do is take a leap of faith.

*In reading over this, I realize it sounds like I think a successful relationship is all about me - what I want and need.  It's obviously not at all - it's so much more, including the need to make the other person feel loved and supported and desired; the importance of fun and frivolity from time to time; the realization that you can't change the other person, so don't try; not every fight needs to be picked and not every mistake needs to be highlighted; and that many perceived slights aren't personal, so don't take them as such.  Just wanted to point out that I'm not a complete self-centered asshole.   

Monday, November 09, 2015

Let the music in tonight

It was the night I learned what it meant for the moon to be in "perigee" - the point at which it's closest to the Earth in its rotation and thus incredibly bright and big.  That night it was both full and in perigee, reminding me of the huge bright moon in Moonstruck when Cher's grandfather is out walking his dogs and tells them to guarda la bella luna.

I was out in the woods by the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, at a party in a big log cabin that one of my friends was allowed to use.  It was a crisp fall night with a cloudless sky.  Outside the cabin there was a roaring bonfire, and inside there was a big group of bluegrass musicians drinking bourbon and playing music.  The picking circle expanded and contracted as people joined in and then left to get a drink or hang by the fire or go for a walk in the woods.

Dog were allowed, so I had Max and Floyd with me.  When I joined the circle with my banjo, my dogs would get in the middle of the circle and lie on the floor listening to the music.  Or sometimes I would put my banjo down and stand in the circle singing - stuff like Angel Band and Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Driftin' Too Far From the Shore.  I was always a better singer than a banjo player, so it was nice to be able to contribute to the music in multiple ways.

It was a period in my life when I was playing bluegrass a lot, and was friends with a big group of people who did the same.  Playing music was a huge part of my social life.

And man, I loved it so much.  It's such an amazing way to interact with people - it's fun and creative and collaborative and beautiful.

But then I got married and left Atlanta and stopped playing with any regularity.  Every once in a while I would take it out and practice some old tunes that I knew, but I wasn't consistent with it.

On Saturday night I was hanging out at home and saw that the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou was on HBO. I've always loved that movie and loved the soundtrack, so I watched it.  At the end, as the credits are rolling, Angel Band plays.  Which reminded me of singing that song at that party when the moon was in perigee.  Which made me want to play.

So I got out the banjo and tuned it by ear, because the battery in my electric tuner had been dead for years.  I couldn't find my picks, so I just played with my bare fingers.  I sang Angel Band and I Am Weary and I'll Fly Away.  I found my notebook of sheet music and tabs and practiced different picking rolls and banjo breaks.

It was so much fun, and made me so happy.

The next day, I bought new finger picks and a battery for my tuner.  I bought a new book of music for old bluegrass standards.  I cut my nails, because they were too long to fret effectively.  I practiced and played some more.

The tips of the fingers on my left hand are tender and sore today.  But it's a good pain.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Single Line

There's something really cool about skiing on opening day.  I'd never done it before, but the stars aligned and a flex day coincided with opening day at Keystone.

It's more of a badge of honor than a great day of skiing - there was literally only one run open in the entire resort.  But it was a long run, and the conditions were actually not bad at all - soft powdery snow, only a couple of icy patches, nothing too skied off.  It was cloudy and snowing, so the drive over Loveland Pass was of the white-knuckle variety, but no one was in a hurry and everyone got over the mountain in one piece.

And the conditions meant that the light was kind of flat, making it difficult to see the snow clearly.  But still, it was great to be out skiing again.  I didn't do too many runs - I didn't want to burn my legs out on the first day, plus after a certain point, skiing the same run over and over again gets kind of old.  But it was really fun.

Catching snowflakes
I was skiing alone, which I love.  When you ski alone, you get to go at your own pace, take the runs you want as fast as you want, eat when you want, and use the "single" line to get on the lift.  Meaning if it's a four-person chair and there's a group of three in the main line, the liftie will send a single in to fill out the group.  So you get to ride up with different people who are also excited to be at Keystone on opening day.

The view from the chairlift
One of my rides was with a group of guys who looked to be in their 30s and who, based on their conversation, had known each other since at least college.  In a nice touch, they had cans of Keystone Ice beer that they were happy to share with me.  I never drink when I ski, but I figured a little bit of beer wasn't going to kill me.  And it didn't.

The lift was moving slowly, so I got to listen to their stories.

We were talking about wanting to have fun doing things like skiing and biking, but without being a total adrenaline junkie about it.  It's good to have a great time, but nobody wants to die.

Andy said, "all I want to do is stuff like ski long fast runs, drink beer, play some PlayStation, have sex."

We all nodded.  Sounded good to us.

"And if you can do some of those things at the same time, all the better, right?"  he added.

I chuckled.  Hanging with bros is always entertaining.

Andy kept going.  "Well, y'all know I'm a big World War II buff, right?""

"Yeah," said Dave.

"One night in college, I was having sex with my girlfriend, but I was over her facing the TV, which she couldn't see because it was kind of behind her, and there was a World War II documentary playing on the History Channel. So I got to have sex while watching a World War II documentary. It was awesome."

I laughed out loud.  "Oh, that poor woman," I said.

"Any woman having sex with Andy can be called a 'poor woman,'" joked Dave.

"You joke, but who wouldn't want to combine some of their favorite things like that?"

He had a point.

I'm not a huge World War II buff.  So for me, it would have to be having sex while somehow simultaneously singing blues standards in a smoky club and also watching Ted Olson argue a civil rights case at the Supreme Court.

That would be totally hot.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Our house it has a crowd, there's always something happening and it's usually quite loud

I was really worried that the noise was going to prompt the neighbors to call the police.

It was about 3 in the morning and we were outside in the driveway with a circular saw, cutting pipe and ceramic tile and pieces of hardwood flooring.  And it was so, so, gratingly loud.  Crazy loud.  How was it not keeping everyone on the street awake??

I had returned from the Home Depot in Decatur a little while earlier (back when it was open 24 hours) to buy copper piping and a soldering kit so that we could extend the gas line to where the stove was supposed to be - I had been informed that it was already in place, but when one of the guys crawled under the house to check, there was nothing there.  So I handed tools through a hole in the floor to Tim, a 20 year old kid who was lying on his back in the crawl-space dirt under the house in 30 degree weather, while he used fire to connect pipe to more pipe so that I would have gas to cook with .  And then I handed him a spray bottle with soapy water in it, so he could spray the line and see if bubbles were forming, indicating a gas leak that could potentially blow us all up.

Good times.

A bunch of the other guys - who I had begged and pleaded, with all of the feminine wiles I could muster, to come and work through the night in order put enough of the kitchen in place to allow me to cook dinner the following night - were hanging cabinets and doors and tiling the counter-tops and putting down the flooring.  But someone had sneaked in a bottle of bourbon, so most of them were working while they were drunk.  And despite my repeated and increasingly frantic phone calls, the general contractor was totally incommunicado.

Oh, and in about 10 hours, I was due at the airport to pick up members of my family, who were coming to Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving at my house.  My mother was serving in Papua New Guinea, so I thought it would be nice to host the family in her stead.  My maternal grandparents were on their way, my dad, Josh and Lori and Emma (who was 2), Sam - everyone.  And if the kitchen - which was being built from scratch out of my old carport - wasn't done enough for me to cook Thanksgiving dinner in it, I was completely screwed.

I worked with the guys until about 5:30 in the morning, and miraculously, we got it done.  The stove was installed and hooked up to the gas line, the cabinet doors were hung, the plates and cookware and utensils were put away, there was a countertop on which I could chop vegetables and make pie crusts.

There was only one small problem, other than the fact that I had been training to run the Atlanta Half Marathon, and now wouldn't be able to because I was too exhausted.

In installing the stove, the guys had somehow lost the caps to the gas burners - those little flat disc doohickeys that sit on top of the burner and direct the gas around the sides of the disc to create a flame circle.  Without those caps, the gas wasn't directed over the igniter and the burners wouldn't light and no stovetop cooking could be accomplished.

The drive to the airport from my house took about 40 minutes.  And I spent every second of that 40 minutes on the phone with the head of the contracting company I had hired, going absolutely ripshit about how if he didn't find new caps and get them on the burners by the end of the day, I was going to take the check for the remaining $10,000 I owed him and burn it and he could sue me and no jury in the world would rule against me because of what he and his company had put me through, between the AWOL contractor and the drunk workers and me helping them connect gas lines and lay down hardwood flooring at 4 in the fucking morning.

He believed me.  And found new burner caps.  And I cooked Thanksgiving dinner and it all went off without a hitch, except for the part when I made cranberry jello mold but forgot to cook the cranberries first, so it was jello with hard, sour berries mixed in, which made it pretty much inedible. Live and learn, right?

The kitchen ended up being beautiful.  The layout was amazing and I loved cooking in it.  The walls were painted a gorgeous dusty orange, the color of a Colorado sunset.  But the process of building it left me scarred.  I still have PTSD-ish flashbacks thinking about it.

Which makes me nervous about embarking on a kitchen renovation in my 120-year-old Victorian, which has lathe-and-plaster walls (that emit dust if you look at them funny), no square corners and no straight lines.  It's going to be a mess.

But the kitchen is awful - the layout is horrible, the cabinets and counter tops are old and gross, the wallpaper is seriously fug, and it doesn't even have a dishwasher (or room for one, as currently configured).  It needs to be redone.

So I will stock up on bourbon, which will be used to maintain my own sanity, and will not be shared with any workers.  And I will have extra burner caps on hand, just in case.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Come on dance on the freedom train

Even when it's technically over, there are always bits and pieces to finish up.  Schedules to finalize, someone else's stuff to clear out of the cellar.  And the final divvying up of the money.

The house was marital property, and the refinance took awhile because of various and sundry reasons.  I had to spend additional time and money getting it done, and obstacles kept popping up, and it felt like it was never going to be over.

But it is, finally.  The funds have been divided, the deeds have been signed, the joint debt that I was carrying single-handedly is gone, and I now own my house and everything in it, all on my own. Financially, I can breathe again.  I now support only myself and my children, and it feels incredibly liberating.

I am free, in so many ways, and it is a wonderful thing.

I'm not one to spend a lot of money on things.  I couldn't care less about jewelry or designer handbags.  Most of my clothes come from TJ Maxx or H&M or Nordstrom Rack.  Given unlimited funds, I'd spend my time traveling and learning and experiencing things - plane tickets, lift tickets, surf lessons, language lessons.  And some of the money will go to that - I've already got spring break plans to visit friends in Europe.

But sometimes I do like to treat myself.

I wanted my bed to be only mine again, without any link to any other occupant.  So I bought a thick, luxurious new memory foam mattress topper, and deep pocket, high thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets.  I never splurge on stuff like that, and it felt really good.

I put on the new sheets and threw away the old ones and was lying on the bed, listening to music and feeling content, when Josie ran in and jumped on me.  So we started wrestling and giggling and goofing off, attempting cheerleader-type maneuvers in which I would lie on my back and she would put her feet in my hands and she would try to stand and balance while I lifted her up.  Invariably, one of us would start cracking up and she would lose her balance and fall with her butt right on my face, which would cause us to laugh harder.

Then we would collect ourselves and try again.  And again.  We were laughing so hard we could scarcely breathe.

At one point she lay down on top of me and I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a kiss.  And she pulled her head back and looked down at me and said, "are you happy?"

"Am I happy?"

"Yeah.  Are you happy?"

"Yes, I am happy.  Are you happy?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed.  She sat up and smiled and looked blissful.  "I'm more than 100 happy!!"

Me too, baby girl.