I Am A Lunchlady

I am a  lunchlady.

For those of you who may not know what that means, it means that I work in a cafeteria with middle school and high school students. I don’t actually do any of the cooking, but I monitor and clean up and occasionally serve the food. I break up fights and mop up spills and try to make sure everybody eats something. 

It also means I have sensible shoes, an unflattering uniform, and a constant concern that I smell vaguely of day-old broccoli. 

It means digging through garbage cans for lost retainers. Wiping a sticky substance off a table and praying it’s not snot — or worse. Trying (and failing) not to laugh when a middle schooler sculpts a banana into a disturbingly realistic penis. Being pelted with flying fruit; one kid hit me with an orange and proceeded to apologize with such charm that I ended up praising him for his aim.

That kid is going places in life. 

You know what else it means? It means I love my job. 

These kids ….

When the resident “tough guy” calls me Mom, I melt. When the shy girl finally makes eye contact and whispers “Hi, Miss” on  her way past, I can’t help but grin like a fool. Every time that group of eighth grade boys inexplicably greet me by shouting “HI, DAD!” I respond by throwing my arms out and shouting back, “Hello, my beautiful daughters!”

I’ll admit I get a little nervous when I see the girl who likes to greet me with a robust, “Hey, Miss, did you know … “ before hitting me with some bit of mind-blowing trivia, like how many bananas will fit inside the anus of a monkey. 

The answer is two, by the way. 

Gotta admit, I worry about that kid.

These kids … 

I know every face that comes into the cafeteria. I wish I could say I know every name, but there are a lot of kids and let’s face it, I’m not as young as I used to be. There are days when I’m lucky to remember the names of my own children. But I learn as many names as possible, and when I can’t remember a name, I say “kiddo” or make up a nickname. I’m not sure how Jellybean and Allegan feel about their nicknames, but Killer seems happy with his. 

I laugh with them and I scold them and I write them up when I have to. And I enjoy every one of them, even the naughty ones and the disrespectful ones and the ones who smell like stale body odor smothered in too many layers of Axe body spray. They make it worth the sticky tables and retainer hunts and fly-by fruitings. 

These kids …

We lost one of our kids this past weekend. He took his own life. 

I just can’t …

… I don’t …

I want to travel back to last week and look at him one more time. Really look at him. I want to try to see whatever it is I missed. Did he give any of us any kind of sign? 

Did we fail our kid?

Did I fail our kid?

The faces in my cafeteria this week have changed. They are scared. Lost. Angry. Not just the kids’ faces; I’m seeing the same looks on the faces of my fellow lunchladies, teachers, administrators. Everyone seems shell-shocked. 

They’re handling it as well as can be expected, I suppose. There are grief counselors on hand, of course, and everyone is watching our kids with eagle eyes. The teachers and administrators are doing a fantastic job of swallowing their own grief long enough to make sure our kids are doing okay. 

And the lunchladies?

We’re handing out smiles with the cheeseburgers.  We’re making eye contact and calling the kids by name, and we are doing everything in our power to communicate without words to each child: “We are here and we care.”

“Please, talk to someone if you are struggling.”

“Please let us help you.”

These kids …

…sometimes they break our hearts.

Hair Today, Wine Tomorrow

In my defense, I just want to say that I used to cut other people’s hair for a living. I know what I’m doing when I pick up a pair of haircutting shears or my prized feather razor. I may not be able to do it professionally any more, but the knowledge is still there in my head.

I still know what I’m doing.

Even if I didn’t have all those years of experience, I’d probably still have a rough grasp of the concept. After all, I grew up with two aunts and an older sister who have all worked in the industry and owned salons at one time or another.

All of which does nothing to explain just exactly what the hell I did to my hair last night.

Seriously, I know better.

It’s been sort of a spiral that I should have seen coming. It started when I saw my hairdresser sister a few months ago and realized that she has let her hair go gray. But it’s not just gray. It’s glowing, shiny, resplendent in its shimmery grayness. It’s the only kind of gray any self-respecting cosmetologist should ever be allowed to wear.

That was right about the time my state shut everything down because of the pandemic. With no salons open, and no concerns about people seeing me with white roots, I decided to give it a shot. Let the ol’ grays sprout and do their own thing. What’s the worst that can happen, right?

I should know by now not to ask that question.

I got to see my other sister last week for the first time in months. The non-hairdressing sister, for the record.

That’s important to the story. Trust me.

“I cut my own hair!” she announced. It had gone from long and wavy to shoulder-length, with thick, bouncy curls that were streaked with shiny gray. It was, quite simply, the best haircut I have ever seen on her. Ever. The length, the shape, the color … it was all beyond perfect for her.

“I just pulled it into a ponytail on top of my head and cut it in a straight line,” she explained.

I think we all know what happened next, don’t we?

I’ve got a good three inches of steely gray hair at my roots. Not a shiny, pretty white like my sisters have, but it sure is gray. Oh, yeah, it is gray.  I took a glass of wine with me into the bathroom and stared at my hair in the mirror.

“She has no experience with hair,” I said out loud. “She’s had no training. She just pulled it into a ponytail and cut it off and it looks amazing.”

“Mom, are you talking to yourself in there?” my son shouted through the bathroom door.

“Nope. Talking to the mirror.” And the mirror thinks I need more wine. 

I’ve seen the ponytail-cutting technique. I watched Trevor Sorbie demonstrate it at my first hair show. I understand the concept of angles and a stationary guide and every little thing I learned in my continuing education classes. Logically, it all made sense.

I, however, am no Trevor Sorbie. Not even a distant cousin.

After a bit more wine, it really began to seem like such a simple thing to do. And so silly that I’d never done it before.  I mean, c’mon, I used to cut other people’s hair every day. Why wouldn’t I be able to cut my own?

So I scooped it up into a high ponytail, took a deep breath, and went to town with my trusty little  five-inch Fromm shears.

Big mistake.

After a little more wine, I decided it might look better if I snipped at a few of the jagged pieces.

More wine became vital at that point. As did volumizer, gel, a diffuser, and several gallons of hairspray. After that, I decided I should go to bed because everything would look better in the morning.

It’s morning now.

My kids can’t stop laughing at me. The dog hid under the table after seeing me, and she’s still there now, whimpering. Even the contractor had to put down his tools and step outside for a moment to regain his composure.

I’m trying really hard to put a positive spin on this. Like “any experience I learn from is a good one” or “it’s only hair, it’ll grow back” or some other such platitude. But honestly, all I’ve got is “don’t ever leave me alone with wine and sharp objects.”

Right now, I’m facing a huge dilemma. I need to call in a professional to fix this, obviously. But which sister do I call — the one who has been doing hair for decades and whose skill is unrivaled, or the one who knows nothing about hair but made her own look fabulous?

Or should I leave town and go somewhere anonymously to let some stranger fix it? While laughing her ass off, probably .

You know what? None of these options are really appealing. Maybe I’d be better of trying to fix it myself?

Yeah, I’m gonna need more wine before I try that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Walls Can Talk

Do you ever get that weird feeling that the universe is trying to tell you something? That fate is giving you a gentle nudge in a specific direction for reasons you don’t understand?

If so, have I got a story for you!

If not, well, it’s entirely possible that I am the only person who has ever felt this way, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been delusional about things.

Let me give a little background information to set this up.

I grew up in a suburb of Kalamazoo, Michigan, but my father’s four sisters owned a cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan in the little touristy town of South Haven. I spent every summer of my childhood at that cottage and eventually ended up living in an even smaller town somewhere in between Kalamazoo and South Haven.

South Haven has always been important to me, as has the Big Lake. Lake Michigan. Mishigami, the Ojibwa word for “large lake.”

Despite my love of water, however, I was never really allowed to go out on the big lake in any boats. My aunts and Dad had some very strict rules about boating since their own brothers were killed in a tragic boating accident in 1954. Totally understandable, but understanding it didn’t do anything to stop my curiosity about boats, especially when it came to the subject of Great Lakes shipwrecks.

Stay with me here. I’ll get to my point eventually.

I first learned about the Eastland disaster when I was in college. Not only did it have connections with my little town of South Haven, it was a fascinating, horrifying tragedy that should be more famous. Everyone should know about it, but very few people actually do.

The Eastland was a steamship designed specifically to accommodate South Haven’s shallow harbor, and was launched in 1903. Its owners originally chose to name it the City of South Haven, but that name was taken by another ship launched a few months earlier.  Thus, it was renamed  the Eastland and began its nautical life shrouded in superstition because sailors believe it is bad luck to rename a ship.

After a long run of bad luck and near-misses as it changed ownership over the years, the Eastland became a passenger ship with a reputation for being unstable and prone to listing. On July 24, 1915, it lived up to its reputation by rolling over on its side while still tied to the dock in Chicago with over 2500 passengers on board.

844 of those passengers died. That’s the most lives lost in any single vessel disaster on any of the Great Lakes.  70% of the victims were aged twenty-five or younger. Twenty-two entire families were completely wiped out.

And yet …. very few people have ever heard of the Eastland. I wanted to understand why.

I’ve studied and researched the Eastland off and on over the years. Someday, I kept telling myself, I’m going to write a historical fiction set around the story of the tragedy.  But, as anyone who’s read my blog probably knows by now, I’m pretty easily distracted. For a lot of years, I didn’t write anything at all, much less any kind of fiction about the Eastland.

A few years ago, the museum in South Haven had an Eastland exhibit. I went to see it, of course. I listened to a lecture about it as well.

Cool. Totally fascinating. I got excited about it again.

Oooh, look, something shiny!

I worked front desk at a hotel in South Haven for few years. One busy summer night, I saw a couple of men lugging cameras and video equipment as they checked in with the other desk clerk. When I asked her about it later, she told me they were in town to do some interviews for a documentary they were making about “some big boat that tipped over a Chicago a long time ago.”

Holy crap.

I may or may not have broken a few rules about guest confidentiality that evening, but I ended up having a very nice chat with Chuck Coppola, who was in town to interview author Michael McCarthy about his book Ashes Under Water: The SS Eastland and the Shipwreck That Shook America. 

Mr. Coppola, by the way, is a very kind man who shared his knowledge and encouraged me to write my historical fiction. He even told me I could use his name as a reference if I ever wanted to contact Mr. McCarthy for more information. For the record, I haven’t done so yet. That’s just too scary at this point.

More shiny things happened. I wrote other books. Researched the Eastland some more but never quite figured out what story I wanted to tell about it. Moved a few times, settled into my old house, started a renovation.

Okay, this is where it gets weird.

I’ve gone through five contractors and learned a lot of strange things about my house. Found an old bamboo pole, some broken china, a dipstick, and a mummified bat inside the walls when the old lath and plaster came down. Yesterday, though, my contractor found a real treasure.

Tucked neatly inside the walls of my future office was a folded brochure for the City of South Haven and Petoskey for the summer of 1917. Two years after the Eastland disaster.

1917 was the last year the City of South Haven would sail as a passenger ship on the Great Lakes.  In April of 1918, it was purchased by the U.S. Navy.

That’s a pretty narrow window, right? The shipwreck I’ve studied so diligently over the years happened in 1915, and the flyer for its competition from 1917 somehow ended up inside the plaster walls of the house I am renovating in 2020.

What are the odds?

As I carefully looked through the old pages, the pictures and descriptions attacked my brain. That’s the only way I can describe it. By the time I went to bed last night, I knew my characters and their stories. I’ve got it. It’s in there.

I don’t want to jinx it by saying any more about it just yet. I don’t want to mess with fate, or the universe, or my 54 year-old brain that tends to forget things. I just want to write it down before I see anything shiny.

And yeah, have I got a story for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preview: The Wheels Fell Off My Wagon

Finally! I have a publication date for The Wheels Fell Off My Wagon!

August 26th is the big day. Sorry to keep you all waiting, but that date is sort of special to my family and it feels like the perfect day for this particular book to be released. To give you a little taste of it, I’m sharing a look at the first chapter. Please, let me know what you think!

The Wheels Fell Off My Wagon

It began, as so many catastrophes in my life do, with a plan. It was a good plan. A solid plan. It was one of those plans that I actually put a lot of effort into organizing right down to the final detail.  But because it involved my two oldest children, me, and my genetic inability to complete anything according to plan, it all fell apart with astonishing speed.

“We’re going to fingerpaint today,” I told my husband as he left for work.

“That’ll turn out well,” he snorted.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” I said airily. 

When he returned home later that day, he walked into chaos. Our daughter was using the dog’s tail to paint the walls green while the cat happily rubbed his wet blue coat against the living room furniture. Our son was wailing at the top of his lungs, most likely due to the paint-covered finger wedged firmly in his left nostril, apparently stuck in the process of trying to reach an itch on his frontal lobe. 

I wasn’t paying attention to any of the uproar because I was tearing apart the medicine cabinet in search of Benadryl as I struggled to come to terms with the horrifying realization that I had not, in fact, outgrown my childhood allergy to the dye pigments in certain types of paints. 

Our fingerpaints, for example. 

I was covered in hives. My eyes and throat were in a race to find out which could swell shut faster, and my tongue was roughly the size of a small Buick. 

“So,” the Big Guy ventured, after observing the chaos for a moment, “At what point –exactly — did the wheels fall off the wagon?”

In other words, at what point did I completely lose control of the situation?

During the course of our near quarter-century together, he asked that question a lot. So did I, actually. It sometimes seemed as though nothing in our lives was ever going to go according to plan. From our honeymoon–which included an outhouse museum and an encounter with an angry dog in a random Wisconsin parking lot–to the day we decided to end our marriage, our entire relationship was little more than a series of wheels falling off an ever-increasing stream of metaphorical wagons. 

Our house, to keep the metaphor going, was basically a hundred year-old, two-story wagon that shed wheels at an alarming rate. 

Buying the ramshackle old farmhouse seemed like a good idea. We had a plan, man. A good plan. A solid plan. The Big Guy had grown up on a farm and dreamed of owning land, while I was a romantic idiot with a fantasy of someday buying and renovating an old house; the dilapidated home on forty acres of wooded land less than fifteen minutes from the lakeshore seemed like it was the perfect thing to bring both our dreams to life. And the price was right. The realtor even told us that we were basically paying for the land and getting the house for free.

We should have known by then to pay attention when people said things like that.

We signed the papers in March and took possession of the house in May, shortly before our wedding. We planned on taking a few weeks to clean and organize, maybe start a few repairs, and then move in immediately following the honeymoon. Once again, we had a plan. A good plan. A solid plan. Right up until the wheels fell off the wagon.

Our plan didn’t  include Floyd.

Floyd was a former owner of the house who had somehow managed to move back into the downstairs bedroom somewhere between the time the family put the house on the market and the time we took ownership. Some people find hidden treasures or lost bits of history in their old homes, but not us. No, our home came with its very own old man. 

Floyd’s family kept insisting that they had a mobile home all ready for him on his son Mark’s property just around the corner. The problem, however, was that no one knew where Mark was. 

“We can’t find Mark,” they kept telling us. “He travels for work sometimes.”

“What kind of work does he do? How long is he usually gone when he travels? Can’t Floyd stay with one of you?” we wondered. 

“We can’t find Mark,” they repeated. 

And that’s how we ended up as homeless newlyweds making mortgage payments on a house we couldn’t live in. We finally decided that Floyd needed to go, with or without Mark’s help, so we contacted both a lawyer and Social Services to step in. At which point, we discovered that roughly 80% of the people on our street were related to Floyd — and Mark, apparently — and we had just pissed off every single one of them. 

Except Mark. We couldn’t find him in time to piss him off before moving in. 

The first thing we did when we moved in was tear off the nasty old plywood countertops in the kitchen. The cabinets, we soon discovered, were held together by nothing more than those nasty old plywood countertops, so they promptly collapsed. And as we hauled the remnants of the cabinets away from the walls, we made a shocking discovery. 

Bones.

Lots of bones.

“Oh, my God,” I gasped. “We just found Mark.”

“Those are chicken bones, Amy.”

“No, they’re Mark.”

“Only if Mark was a chicken.”

“So, did he sacrifice chickens in the kitchen or something? Oh, God, maybe Mark practiced some kind of Satanic rituals here.”

“Or maybe he was just really lazy about throwing away his garbage,” my husband suggested. “Look, there’s pork chop bones in there too. And beer tabs. And I think that’s a tampon.”

“Mark is a woman?”

He rubbed his face. “Is this what I have to look forward to being married to you? Conversations like this?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Joy.”

Once we’d disposed of Mark’s chicken bones and tampons, we thought we had survived the worst the old house could throw at us. We were wrong. We were so, so wrong. 

As the weather warmed up, a horrible smell emanating from the crawlspace led to the discovery of a rotted pipe under the house. A pipe that led from the toilet to the septic tank. Well, in theory, anyway. In reality, we learned that several years’ worth of sewage hadn’t quite made it all the way to said septic tank. 

“I wanna sell the house,” I told my husband when he came out of the crawlspace in his shit-encrusted coveralls.

“I can fix this,” he said. 

“We can live with my aunts. Or my sister. My sister is nice.”

“I can fix it,” he insisted. “I’ll need you to wash my coveralls, though.”

“I’d rather burn them.”

“It’s just a little shit, Amy. I’ve dealt with worse. I’m a maintenance man, remember?”

“It’s still shit,” I told him. “Other people’s shit. Shit is shit, Ken.”

“Can you please stop saying ‘shit’?”

That was only the beginning of a downward spiral that involved a leaky roof, collapsed ceilings, a bat infestation, and so very much more. Meanwhile, I lost my job shortly after our entire savings were wiped out thanks to the IRS and Ken’s first wife. I got pregnant. His truck got repossessed. I got pregnant again. We totalled my little car. We had another baby ten years after the first two, and then I crushed my neck and shattered my spine  in a freak car accident. One expensive development after another, and our dream of renovating the house soon turned into a nightmare of quick fixes and patch-up jobs that barely kept the house from falling in around us. 

We struggled just as much to keep our marriage from collapsing as well. Quick fixes and patch-up jobs don’t work as well on people, however, and the Big Guy and I drifted. He fell in love with someone else, and I spent money we didn’t have on things we didn’t need. We both screwed up. There was no villain, no “bad guy” in our situation, except maybe the house. 

God, I hated that house. 

When we agreed to split up, I let him keep the house. We owed more than it was worth at that point. Besides, it was his dream house. His acreage. His barn with the “man cave.”  I didn’t want any of it. I was overjoyed to drive away from it the last time. I may or may not have flipped it off a few times as I drove past on my way to and from work over the next few years. 

We never got around to actually getting a divorce. There was really no need to, since we finally figured out how to get along with each other once we stopped living together. So when he died suddenly four years after our split, I was still on the deed and the mortgage. 

That is how I became the sole owner of a hundred year-old, two-story metaphorical wagon that I hated with every ounce of my being.

And that, folks, is when the wheels really fell off my wagon.

 

A duty to act…or not?

I do my best to steer clear of politics here at A Goode One. But this…this isn’t a political issue. This is so much more.

Don of All Trades is one of my favorite blogs, written by a police officer. He’s occasionally funny, often irreverent, and always — ALWAYS– able to get right to the heart of the matter.

don of all trades

When I used to teach law at the police academy, one of the subjects that always stirred some lively debate was that of criminal liability and, in particular, how that relates to any duty we as citizens and the class as future police officers, owe to others.

As a general rule, we don’t owe other people any duty to act on their behalf, even in an emergency, and this includes police officers.

In other words, doing nothing isn’t against the law unless there’s a statute or relationship in law that requires one to act on behalf of another.

An example of a statute making the failure to do something illegal would be something like one that makes failing to pay (failing to act) your taxes or licensing your car illegal.

A relationship in law that would punish a failure to act would include a parent/child relationship. Failing to feed or…

View original post 1,567 more words

Call Me Larry

I was working on a cute, fluffy little post about our new cat, Lila, who hates me and hisses or growls every time I walk into my own bedroom. Which, apparently, is now her bedroom because I believe it is entirely possible that she might just be planning to murder me in my sleep.

But … suddenly “cute” and “fluffy” aren’t really the mood I feel like hitting today.

There are so many discussions out there about Coronavirus, and I have no interest in talking about any political angles. It’s here, it’s scary, and it sucks. Period.

I want to believe that the media is blowing everything up for the sake of ratings. I want to believe that we’re all going to look back at this and roll our eyes at the overreactions. I want to listen to a bunch of people grumble in July that there was no need to cancel basketball games or close schools or whatever.

I want it to all be a tempest in a teapot. A mountain out of a molehill. Much ado about nothing.

But I also want the people I love to be safe.

I’ve got a nephew stuck in Europe. A high-risk family member showing symptoms. A friend in Washington whose entire family is sick and afraid.

I’m scared.

On Thursday, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that all schools in my state will  be closed for at least the next three weeks beginning on Monday, March 16. My son didn’t go to school on Friday (no, I’m not that mom; he was vomiting from something un-Coronavirus related) but I went to my job as a cafeteria monitor in the middle school/high school cafeteria.

I looked around at all of those faces, and damn if it wasn’t hard to keep smiling.

Years ago, my older children were in a minor accident on the school bus, and they came home mocking their bus driver, Larry. “He just acted like it was nothing!” my daughter seethed. “Larry’s an idiot,” my oldest son agreed; “he didn’t care that we could have all been killed!”

As an adult, I understood that poor Larry was probably in dire need of a change of underwear when he got home. But he was smart enough to know that he needed to act calm in order to keep the kids calm, no matter how rattled he may have been. So he acted as though crashing a bus full of children was no big deal. Not scary at all, right?

I think I may have channeled Larry a wee bit yesterday. Some of the kids were rejoicing over their unexpected “vacation” while others griped about it as nothing but an overreaction by the governor. Still others were obviously terrified, wanting to talk about it. And as one of the adults in the situation, I had to be Larry 2.0.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” I kept saying when asked. “Just a precaution. Just stay close to home and wash your hands a lot, and you’ll be fine. No big deal. Media is just blowing everything out of proportion.”

And that’s …. probably true.

Probably.

Possibly?

I couldn’t help it, though. I kept looking at those faces and wondering if some of them won’t be returning to school when (if?) this all blows over. Supposedly,  very few young people are being affected by this. They’ll all probably be just fine.

Probably.

But how many of them might lose a parent or a grandparent or other loved one? How many have families that are going to struggle in the economic disaster that’s hitting right now because of all of this? How many are quietly terrified every time they feel the need to sniffle or cough? One way or another, lives are going to be changed in the coming months.

I think about all the times I’ve said “it’s a different world now from the one I grew up in.” Yeah, I know you want to shout “OK, BOOMER” at me. But it’s true. The world is different. And it’s true for all of us at this moment. Whether you believe Coronavirus is an over-exaggerated common cold and we’re all idiots, or you believe it’s the end of the world as we know it, you have to agree that this is a pivotal moment in history.

Whether it’s pivoting more around out-of-control illness or a media-manufactured panic remains to be seen. But in terms of economic crises, loss of trust in our government officials, and just plain old worry, we are currently in the midst of a unique moment in history.

Damn it, I’m scared. I’m scared for my kids and my sisters and my nieces and nephews and my friends. And yeah, I’m scared for “my” kids in the lunchroom, even though they all have their own families and really don’t need to have some random lunchlady worrying about them.

I promise, I’ll be back with “cute” and “fluffy” soon. Probably tomorrow. At times like this, sometimes the only way to calm down is to escape into books or hobbies, and I’ll do my best to keep creating fun stories to help folks escape. Because that’s all I can do to help: create some lighthearted escapism, worry a lot, and maybe do some baking to work off some stress.

(Note: I won’t be baking. That was a test to see if my kids read my blog.)

Please, folks, be careful. Wash your hands, stay home if possible, and make sure to say “I Love You” as much as possible. Stay positive if you can.

And call me Larry, I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wagon Wheels

 

The Wheels Fell off My Wagon is done and with my editor right now. I am hoping to have revisions and rewrites finished soon, but in the meantime I want to share a little bit about it.

This is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It’s a bit of a departure for me, and I’m rather nervous. Let me explain.

This book will be the fourth in my Goode For A Laugh series; it was written in the same spirit as the others and is the natural progression in the story, but it’s different at the same time. Unlike the first three, the story told here is a bit more linear, with a slightly more unified tale from beginning to end.  And unlike the others, this one touches on life after the death of my kids’ dad.

Not exactly material for a comedy, you say? Maybe not. Stay with me here.

The Big Guy — Ken — was indeed a big man, with an even bigger heart and a sense of humor as endless as the sky. We clashed as spouses but made a perfect team as co-parents and friends; he was the best almost-ex-husband any woman could have asked for.

It could have been awkward. It should have been awkward. In a town of just over 500, everyone knew us and it seemed like everyone wanted to take sides. We still went to school events together and carpooled to family birthdays and such, and confused the hell out of everyone because we refused to take sides.

Sometimes it felt like the people around us wanted us to be at each other’s throats. Sure, we had some ugly moments. I’m fairly certain he probably wanted to toss me off a roof almost as many times as I fought back an urge to kick him in the balls while wearing steel-toed stilettos. But … it worked for us. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why. It just did.

And no matter what, we never stopped laughing. Sometimes we laughed at each other more than we laughed with each other — usually during the aforementioned ball-kicking-roof-tossing moments — but we always found reasons to laugh.

That’s who we were.

At his funeral, one of his co-workers stood up and performed an original blues ballad about him, complete with harmonica, dark glasses, and black beret. And we laughed. All of us. Because laughter at a funeral was such a Ken thing. We laughed and we cried, and no one questioned whether the tears were caused by our laughter or our grief.

Because that’s who he was.

And that’s how I want to remember him.

There was a lot of anger after he died. A lot of ugliness. Some folks saw me as the villain, a bad guy of sorts. The evil ex-wife who had no business at the hospital or at his funeral; I was the ex who wasn’t really an ex, and it was easier to judge me than to try to understand. I shouldn’t have let it hurt me, but I did.

I wrote this book because I don’t want to feel hurt or betrayed or angry any more. It seems disrespectful to him, somehow, to associate any of those feelings with him. Memories of Ken should bring smiles, laughter, warmth. Okay, maybe a little sadness because he’s not with us any more, but none of the other negative stuff. He deserves better.

The Wheels Fell off My Wagon isn’t about Ken’s death. It’s not a tragedy. It’s about celebrating life and healing and recovering from unimaginable loss and grief. It’s about the kids and me using humor to move on without him, rebuilding our home as we’ve rebuilt our lives. It’s about hope.

This one’s for you, Ken. Miss you, Big Guy.

Geese,Traditions and Booger Soup

When I was growing up, New Year’s Day was sort of a big deal in my family. New Year’s Eve partying wasn’t all that important beyond the obligatory junk food, Guy Lomardo TV specials, and noisemakers at midnight, but January 1 was always filled with Family Traditions.

Yes, I capitalize Family Traditions when it comes to my family. That’s just the kind of people we were. Still are, in some instances.

My sisters and I always spent the holiday with the Amoeba (our nickname for Dad’s four unmarried sisters). They’d begin New Year’s Day by dragging out The List (yup, that one’s capitalized too), which began with the kind of normal trivia that usually gets recorded on this type of list: average price of a loaf of bread or gallon of gas, celebrities who died the preceding year, the number one song according to Casey Kasem, and so on.

But then my family had to take things to the next level by jotting down questions to be answered the following year.

Did Vernabelle finish her quilt? Always yes.

Did the Aunts finally get their kitchen remodeled? Always no.

Is Smudge the cat still alive?  Yes, remarkably, for 18 years.

At some point, the questions veered off into more personal territory. We each had our own section, and mine was always the same:

Did Amy ever have a growth spurt? No, still hoping for 5’5″.

Did Amy lose weight? Yes, the same ten pounds I lose and gain every year

Did Amy get a boyfriend? No. Always no.

Did Amy finally finish her novel? Yes! Finally!

After the list was completed for the year, we’d all bundle up and head out to Milham Park to feed the ducks and geese, regardless of the weather. Our boots would crunch through the snow as we hiked along the trails to our favorite stone bridge in the center of the park, lugging bags full of cheap, stale generic bread to feed the most aggressive flock of birds known to man.

We’d end up running and shrieking in terror, flinging handfuls of bread behind us as they chased us up and over the bridge while the Aunts stayed safely out of range and laughed their asses off.  I found out later they used to place bets on how long it would be before I got treed on top of the bike rack. Because it happened every year. Every year.

I’m starting to believe those ladies had a bit of a sadistic streak.

When we went back as adults with our own children, I ended up laughing, too, when my niece was bitten by a goose. No, I didn’t laugh at her pain; seriously, I’m not that twisted. I laughed at the panicked phone conversation that followed between my sister and her pediatrician.

Did it break the skin? No

Can she move the finger? Yes

Call me back if she sprouts feathers or starts quacking. Otherwise, she’ll be just fine.

In case anyone is worried about my niece, she is now a lovely and well-adjusted twenty-something young woman who has never, to the best of my knowledge, sprouted a single feather or quacked at inappropriate moments.

Although, are there really appropriate moments for quacking?

At any rate, after our annual duck apocolypse, we’d return to the Aunts’ house to warm up with big  bowls of Aunt Ida’s oyster stew, which was basically hot milk with butter, pepper, and a handful of boogery-textured oysters. It was positively revolting, and the only way to choke it down was by adding copious amounts of soggy oyster crackers to each bowl and praying to God that each snotty, lumpy swallow contained more cracker than oyster.

Nobody actually liked  Aunt Ida’s Booger Soup. We ate it because the Aunts were a superstitious lot who firmly believed that eating seafood on New Year’s Day guaranteed good luck in the coming year. Personally, I think they just wanted to start the year off in the worst way possible so things could only get better from that point on. Either that, or it was all part of the whole sadistic streak thing they had going on.

The only other time I have eaten oysters was at the after-party following my first hair show, when swallowing a half-dozen raw oysters seemed like a good idea after the fifth or sixth gin and tonic.

For the record, it was not a good idea.

Neither were the gin and tonics, now that I think about it.

Did you know that raw oysters taste and feel exactly the same going down as they do coming back up? Good to know, right?

And going down or coming up, they still don’t taste as bad as Aunt Ia’s Booger Soup.

New Year’s is a lot different for me these days. I barely managed to stay up until midnight last night, but Rooster and I celebrated with sparkling cider in plastic champagne flutes, followed by a couple of thick, chewy peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches.

Don’t judge. Trust me, they were better than Booger Soup.

We live an hour away from Milham Park now, so we we won’t be heading out to feed the ducks any time soon. If I want to be pursued by noisy, aggressive creatures in search of food, I’ll just go back to work. I am a lunchlady, after all. Seriously, not even a flock of Milham Park birds can be as intimidating as a horde of hungry teenagers on Nacho Day.

And even though we no longer draw up our version of The List, I can’t help but compile a mental list of questions and answers.

Are we all still alive and healthy? So far, so good.

Are we all happy? Meh. Getting there. 

Did the dog ever stop pooping in the corner? I strongly doubt it. 

Did we finish the renovations on the house? Please, Lord. 

Did Amy get a boyfriend? Let’s not ask stupid questions, mkay? 

Apparently, some traditions die hard.

Happy New year’s to you all! Thanks for sticking with me and reading my bits of silliness; I hope I’ve given you a few smiles or even giggles, and I wish everyone the best of health and happiness in 2020!

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share: Rosie

If we were having coffee, I’d have to give it to you in a travel mug with a lid because my new puppy has developed a taste for coffee and all cups of java in my home must be served with a lid for the foreseeable future. She’s already shown a talent for knocking a full steaming mug out of my hands while trying to plunge her entire face into its depths. Obviously, the lid is to protect my puppy from burning her sweet little face.

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Also, it’s coffee. She’s already robbed me of roughly half of every meal I’ve tried to eat in the past six weeks. She’s destroyed my favorite Ryka sandals and three pair of my son’s  basketball shoes, not to mention the impressive amount of blood she’s taken from my hands, arms and ankles. I’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and I’m drawing that line right around my bright pink travel mug filled with strong coffee and a generous dollop of hazelnut creamer. 

My coffee is the one thing this little demon is not going to take from me.  

I may be exaggerating just a bit. Not by much, though. While Rosie is not a vicious animal, she is playful and energetic, and I am discovering that I was woefully unprepared to be a single parent to an eight week old Husky puppy. 

That’s right; I brought home a Husky, despite my experience with my late husband’s Husky, Razz, who sank his teeth into my arm the first time we met and decided that I was quite tasty. “Never get a Husky,” the Big Guy used to say, “They’re hard-headed, even more stubborn than you.”

I really need to start listening when people say things like that. 

My high school mascot was a Husky. Our rivals were the Mustangs, and we used to shout things like “Huskies eat horsemeat!” at them during football games. It’s been more than 30 years since I graduated, but I still think of myself as a Husky. Proud and strong, a Husky to my dying day. 

My college mascot was a beaver, but I really can’t envision any circumstance in which I’d declare myself to be a beaver, proud and strong, a beaver to my dying day. 

At any rate, I promised my kids we’d get a new puppy when our Heeler died last May at the ripe old age of twelve. We checked out shelters and searched for just the right animal: a puppy who would grow up to be a member of our family. A protector and a friend. A smart, loyal, loving animal who would respect  us and learn to get along well with our three cats. 

Instead, we got Rosie. 

One of the Amish families in our neighborhood had a hand-lettered sign by the road that said “SPITZ PUPPIES.” I turned in on impulse, and a young man led my son and me down a trail into the woods, where a tiny kennel was nearly overflowing with dogs of all sizes and ages. Too many dogs and puppies. My heart broke for them; I wanted to take all of them home with me, right then and there. 

He scooped up one tiny, shivering bundle of black and white fur and placed her in my arms. She immediately burrowed in under my chin, making all kinds of little quivery puppy noises. My heart melted on the spot. It was love at first cuddle.

But I had one concern. “She looks like a Husky,” I said.

“Her mother is half Husky,” our guide admitted. “Father is Eskimo Spitz, mother is Spitz and Husky. Mostly Spitz, though.”

“I’m not sure if we should get a Husky,” I told my son. The puppy licked the underside of my chin and promptly fell asleep.

Obviously, I had no choice. “She’s just so sweet,” I sighed. Surely her sweet, calm nature came from the Spitz part of her. Her Husky nature couldn’t be that strong, right?

Well, the little con artist waited three days before showing us her true nature. She’s clearly a Husky/Spitz/Tasmanian Devil mix. She’s a whirling, bouncing, hyperactive ball of demonic energy. She never stops moving or chewing. This morning, for example, she managed to destroy an entire package of wooden clothespins while I was in the shower. 

In the shower, folks. I didn’t even wash my hair or shave my legs! I wasn’t in there for more than a few minutes. I don’t even know where she found an entire package of clothespins. I looked for those things all freaking summer and couldn’t find them, but the demon found and destroyed them in the amount of time it took me to take a very quick shower. 

She chews everything. My days have become an endless cycle of chasing Rosie and hollering at her to give me whatever personal possession or nasty bit of garbage she happens to have in her mouth. The neighbors are starting to give me strange looks every time I dash outside after her, yelping things like, “Gimme the tampon, Rosie!”

She redeemed herself a tiny bit last night, however. While we were outside for her last potty break before bed, I heard the unmistakable sound of coyotes in the woods behind the house. I stepped back toward the door, tugging on Rosie’s leash to get her to hurry up. 

Rosie was no longer interested in going to the bathroom. She stood at high alert between me and the woods, baring her teeth and growling. Growling soon changed to angry barking. In that instant, my hyperactive little demon-dog transformed into a twelve pound ball of pure rage.

It was adorable. 

I doubt if she could have protected me from anything more ferocious than a rampaging chipmunk, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

My week was actually pretty eventful; I have a lot more going on in my life than just a battle of wills with a demonic puppy, but she’s sort of front and center in my attention at the moment.  But enough about Rosie and me: How was your week? Coffee’s nice and hot, so grab a travel mug and pull up a chair and tell me all about it.

Madoodle and Chevy Chase

 “Try this,” my dad said, holding out a spoon. “It’s called Madoodle.”

I was young and dumb and willing to try anything once. He had just moved back to Michigan after seven years in California, where he told us he had learned to cook authentic Mexican food. Madoodle didn’t sound particularly Latino, but it did sound like a fun and festive dish. Like a party in my mouth. 

My sisters were less trusting. “What’s in it?” one of them asked.

“Onion, pepper, hominy, tripe –”

“What’s tripe?” she persisted.

“Cow stomach.”

Oddly enough the sound I made as I hawked that substance out of my throat and halfway across the room sounded a bit like I was shouting “Madoodle!” 

That was the beginning of my education concerning my father’s cooking. Lesson one: the man was almost completely deaf, so he usually just took a stab at pronunciation of words. Madoodle was Menudo.

Lesson two: Don’t eat anything at Dad’s house.

He was a meat cutter. He had no problem eating parts of animals that there is just no reason to eat. Stomach, tongue, heart, liver, you name it, he served it to us. He even kept a jar of pickled pigs feet in his fridge for special occasions. 

And the problem wasn’t just the parts that he ate. It was also the animals from which he got those parts. At any given moment, he might have possums, squirrels or raccoons in his freezer. 

I am not a fussy eater. Obviously. If I were, this book would probably have to be called Thin, Fifty, and Menopausal.  But still, there are just some things that I am not going to eat. Wild rodent-type animals? No. No squirrels or possums. Organ meats? Hell no. Animal parts that haven’t been fully cooked? Yuck. If it’s still bleeding when it hits my plate, I’m not touching it. 

Pretty simple. However, as I get older, the list of foods I won’t eat seems to be growing. It’s not that I like food any less, or that I’m becoming more selective for some kind of moral or ethical reasons.

It’s that I now have a fifty year-old digestive system. Certain foods now have a tendency to party down in my lower intestine, and like most parties, the clean-up can be rather unpleasant.

Not too long ago, some friends and I got together for an evening of what we like to call “kitchen bitchin’.” Some of us bring wine, some of us bring snacks, and all of us bring attitude. And one of my friends brought something that completely changed my perception of food while making me uncomfortably aware of just exactly how old I really am.

She is a lovely Latina lady who likes to make authentic Mexican foods for these get togethers.  I thought at first that her dish that night was her delicious homemade salsa or pico de gallo because she served it with crispy tostadas and tortilla chips. She brought an enormous bowl of this amazing concoction that involved tomatoes, peppers, avocado, olives and shrimp, with just a touch of lime. 

It was beyond incredible. My tastebuds spent the entire evening having tiny orgasms.  

Oh, it was spicy, but it was the kind of spicy that doesn’t hit until you stop eating it. It was chilled to perfection, cool and tangy at the same time in my mouth. It tasted so good that I didn’t want to swallow each delicious mouthful and make the moment end. My friends and I gobbled that stuff as though our lives depended on it.

Then I took a little break.

Holy hell.

That’s when the peppers hit, and they hit hard. Each incoming breath hit the inside of my mouth like a blast from a flame thrower. I gulped my wine, but I might as well have been throwing the alcohol on an open flame. 

My friend helpfully handed me a Mexican beer, which not only increased the burning sensation but left a taste in my mouth that made me wonder if I had had just swallowed beer or licked a skunk’s butt.

She laughed and squeezed a lime into my beer.  “Try it now,” she suggested.

Oh, man. Like the food I had been eating, the lime-enhanced beer changed my perspective on flavor. It was just so undeniably good. Beyond good. Amazing. Indescribable.

But here’s the part that got me in trouble. The more I drank of the lime-enhanced Mexican beer, the more I had to eat of the shrimp-tomato-avocado delight. Every time I stopped consuming either one, my mouth burned. The only thing that could take away the burning sensation was the cool, refreshing application of copious amounts of beer and food. I was afraid to stop. I couldn’t stop.

“Wh-what is this — hic — called?” I stammered, scooping out more from the bottom of the bowl.

I swear to God she said, “Chevy Chase,” which struck me as being really, really funny.

There was nothing funny about what happened in my lower intestine a few hours later.

In my younger days, I could eat spicy food and not have any problems. I could drink beer. Hell, I could drink just about anything with the very notable exception of Schnapps, which is just hot snot in a bottle that comes up in one big, gooey ball if you happen to throw it up. Other than that, nothing really bothered my stomach back then. I could digest anything.

That was then, this is now. 

I spent the rest of the night in the bathroom. When I wasn’t expelling mass quantities of pure evil, I was curled up on the floor, moaning. I would have called for help, but I had lost all knowledge of the English language by then. Couldn’t have spoken anyway, because as the alcohol wore off I began to believe that I no longer had lips or tongue. They’d been burned off. 

By three a.m., I was crying for my mommy. 

On the positive side, I’m pretty sure I lost a pants size that night, along with a few internal organs.  It came out of my body with such force that I’m fairly certain I levitated over the toilet a few times. It’s entirely possible that my head spun all the way around. By four a.m., I was wondering whether or not my insurance would cover reconstruction of my sphincter, or at the very least a skin graft on what was left of my ass. 

There was not enough coffee in the world to deal with the hangover that hit me the following day. Believe me when I say I tried. I drank my body weight in strong, black coffee.

Which was really a mistake after the damage done by the spicy food. It just sort of greased the skids. It would have been kinder to my digestive system to pour the coffee straight from the pot into the toilet and just eliminate the middleman entirely. 

It turns out that the dish my friend made that night was Ceviche, and it really wasn’t all that spicy. It was actually pretty mild. Her children eat it all the time. My children have tasted it and declared it “wimpy”. 

And apparently “wimpy” is what I am now. My body is no longer capable of processing the kinds of things I could consume without a second thought when I was younger. 

I have officially reached the “bland foods” stage of life. Bland foods and sensible shoes. I have this sudden fear that I am going to look into the mirror someday soon and see one of my aunts looking back at me. With a “fiber bar” in one hand and a soothing cup of warm milk in the other. 

On the positive side, I now have an excellent excuse in case anyone ever offers me a nice hot bowl of Madoodle.

“No thanks,” I’ll tell them. “At my age, I just can’t handle spicy foods any more.”

 

Today’s post is an excerpt from my book Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal. If you’d like to read more ridiculousness like this, please check out my Goode For a Laugh series!