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!

Damn it, Kenneth!

The woman who fixed me up with the Big Guy introduced him as Ken. I learned later that he was Kenny to his co-workers and childhood friends, but that nickname never felt right to me. He was always just Ken, in the same way that my sisters will always be Sue and Barbie to me despite the fact that they are Susan and Barbara to the rest of the world.

I’m not going to talk about my sisters’ name for me. Nope. Suffice it to say that calling them Sue and Barbie definitely makes me the nice sister when it comes to nicknames.

I admit, however, that I sometimes called my husband Kenneth, although that was only under very specific circumstances and usually as part of the phrase Damn it, Kenneth.

For the most part, Damn it, Kenneth was reserved for those moments when he was gleefully jumping on my last nerve or when he had just committed some random act of life-endangering idiocy that was guaranteed to take ten years off my life. To be fair, Damn it, Kenneth was usually preceded by a frustrated growl on my part, but usually ended with a chuckle because the man could so damn funny and aggravating and ridiculous all at the same time.

I came home one day and found him standing on the top rung of a ladder, using a plunger to change the bulb in the yard light. While I had to give him a few bonus points for creative use of a toilet plunger, I pretty much came unglued about his use of the ladder.

Well, not the ladder itself. I took issue with the way he chose to position the ladder.

It was balanced on top of a wet picnic table.

The picnic table was suspended a few feet in the air, one end perched on a rotted tree stump and the other resting on the open tailgate of his truck.

Which was parked on a hill.

An icy hill.

“Easy, Wheezie,” he said soothingly while I screeched at him. “I’ve survived this far, haven’t I?”

“Damn it, Kenneth! Get down!”

“In a minute.” He took his time finishing up and clambered down safely, grinning the whole time. “Jeez, anyone would think I’d never done that before. You worry too much.”

“….damn it, Kenneth.”

He learned to tell me about some of his riskier ideas after the fact, probably to keep me from killing him.  When he and his brother had to transport their bull, T-Bone, to a new home, they discovered that the latch on the door of their livestock trailer was broken.

“So you rode on the outside of the trailer?” I demanded.

“Well, somebody had to hold the door shut.”

“So you rode on the outside of the trailer.”

“Yep.”

“While it was moving.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You could have been killed!”

“But I wasn’t.” And there it was, the cheeky grin and shrug that said Hey, it was no big deal.

“…. damn it, Kenneth.”

At times, it seemed as thought the man had zero sense of self-preservation. He drove demolition derby and raced a souped-up 1973 Chevy Impala at the local racetrack for fun. Sure, he made sure his cars and gear met all safety requirements, but that didn’t make it easier for me to accept his risk-taking. I’d sit in the stands and cheer for him, but I nearly hyperventilated every time the announcer shouted something about the number twelve land yacht spinning out or breaking down or pulling out to pass another car.

His brother was his entire pit crew. Before every race, Little Brother would give him three pieces of advice.

“Keep it clean,” he’d say.

“Of course.”

“Stay outta the wall.”

“Will do.”

“Don’t do anything that might scare Amy into labor.”

“No promises.”

“Damn it, Kenneth!” I’d shout.

He always called me “Wheezie” when I yelled at him for doing stupid things. “Quit your wheezing,” he’d chuckle. “I’ve survived everything I’ve tried so far. Stop worrying.”

Knowing his penchant for taking stupid risks, my panic levels went through the roof when I learned his fire department was planning a day of ice rescue training. I knew that the training would involve putting one of their firefighters in a special protective suit and dropping him into the freezing water to be rescued by his co-workers. I also knew that my Big Guy was going to step up and volunteer to put on the suit.

I had two problems with this idea. First, he was a really big guy. He was over six feet tall and broad shouldered, bulky without quite being fat, and I knew he was perhaps the largest man on the department. I didn’t have a lot of faith that the others would be strong enough to drag him out of the water.

The second problem was, to put it simply, that the Big Guy couldn’t swim. He thought he could, but he couldn’t. He could stay afloat, but that’s not the same thing as swimming, really. He and his father had once survived capsizing their canoe in a frigid Canadian lake, and he was thoroughly convinced that his ability to avoid drowning meant his swimming skills rivaled those of Michael Phelps.

I believed him when he promised he wouldn’t put on the suit. I trusted him to stay out of the water. Even when he came home that night shivering and blue-lipped, I believed he was just cold from standing on the dock for hours, rescuing other firefighters.  I even felt sorry for him and poured a liberal shot of whiskey into his hot cocoa.

Then I saw the pictures posted on the department’s Facebook page. There he was, bobbing around in the water, being dragged out on his belly, being helped out of the dripping wet rescue suit.

“DAMN IT, KENNETH!”

“Heh,” he chuckled. “Saw the pictures, huh?”

Even after we separated, there were many Damn it, Kenneth moments, like when a tornado touched down a mile from the house and he sent me text messages assuring me that he was safely in the basement. He was not, in fact, anywhere near the basement. He was happily watching the funnel cloud from the living room window. I saw that as progress since he wasn’t actually outside watching it touch down.

I think we all began to see him as being somewhat invincible. Or at least very, very lucky. It seemed as though he could survive anything.

Until he didn’t.

Can you take me to Urgent Care? He texted me one afternoon.

The Big Guy didn’t do doctors. He just didn’t. He never really saw medical care as a necessity except in the most dire of circumstances. So if he was asking for help going to see a doctor, I knew something was seriously wrong.

He was embarrassed when the doctor said it was just a cold and prescribed an inhaler. “Go to a different doctor,” I said. “Get a second opinion.”

“Nah, I’m feeling better already,” the Big Guy said, giving me a ghost of his usual grin.

A few days later, he texted again to let me know that he was being admitted to the hospital. Influenza A, he told me. No biggie. Stupid doctors.

The official cause of death was “Complications of Influenza A.” He hung on for almost a week after his heart stopped the first time, and our hearts shattered when he didn’t wake up, leaving his loved ones to make the hardest decision anyone should have to face.

We never thought we’d lose him so young; we certainly never thought we’d lose him to something as ridiculous as the flu. He should have gone out doing something utterly idiotic and dangerous, grinning while I stood there shouting Damn it, Kenneth!

Yeah…

… damn it, Kenneth.

 

A Little Light Reading?

I love writers who can make me laugh. And not just the ones who make me do the whole snort-and-guffaw-until-I-pee kind of laughter, although those are certainly near the top of my list. If an author can make me laugh and cry with the same book, well, that just turns me into a happy little fangirl, gobbling up all of that author’s work as fast as I can.

Authors like David Sedaris. Jenny Lawson. Jean Shepherd. Celia Rivenbark. Erma Bombeck (obviously).

So, I want to talk about an author I discovered a few months ago. I don’t usually do book reviews in my blog, but I sort of feel obligated to do one this time around because the last book I read really hit me pretty hard.

A few months ago, a friend recommended Only In America by Dominic Holland. He is a British author and stand-up comedian, and my friend knows how much I adore British comedy. And my friend was absolutely right: this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I laughed out loud in the very first chapter and kept chuckling right up to the very end. For the record, Jonson Clarke is now one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, EVER. Right up there with Mary Lennox and Ford Prefect.

I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to look at a baptistry without snickering, thank you very much, Mr. Holland.

I read The Ripple Effect next, and it didn’t disappoint. Eclipsed was wonderful too, although it left me feeling rather embarrassed for not realizing that Holland’s son is the actor who plays Spider-Man. I mean, c’mon. Seriously, I’m a recovering comic book addict; I got my start writing for “Amazing Heroes” magazine, after all.  (I’ve also never lost a round of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, so I should have made the connection.)

Open Links was next. It’s charming, and has all the elements that make Dominic Holland’s work so enjoyable: quirky characters, fast pacing, funny dialogue, and a happy ending with all loose ends tied up in a tidy epilogue. But this one also made me cry. I’m talking about a majorly ugly cry here, folks.  The moment I realized the truth about the character Marshall, I fell apart.

It didn’t end the way I expected it to, but it ended the way it should have ended, if that makes sense. Maybe a bit too neatly, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Besides, all proceeds from sales of Open Links go to a very worthy cause.

I, Gabriel is Holland’s most recent release.  It’s not really a comedy, although it contains some funny bits. I loved the evolution of Gabriel over the course of the story, even if I really struggled through the first part of the book. It’s written in  first person, and Holland does such an excellent job of writing from the character’s point of view that I had to stop and remind myself that these were Gabriel Weber’s thoughts and attitudes, not Dominic Holland’s. I actually found myself getting angry a few times and very nearly marked it as a DNF.

I am so glad I finished it, though. The ending surprised me, and that doesn’t happen often. Again, it ends with all loose ends neatly tied up, even a few loose ends that I had forgotten about.

All of this is my way of leading up to the fact that I downloaded A Man’s Life just before I left for my trip to Texas. A little light reading, I thought. Something amusing and maybe a bit emotional. A nice little beach read, I told myself, without bothering to read the book’s description on Amazon.

As it turns out, that was a mistake on my part.

This book should have a giant warning label on the cover.

A warning label in bright red letters.

A warning label in bright red letters that specifically state: Amy, do not read this book at this point in your life. You’re not ready. Put it back. 

Good lord, I need a hug after reading this book. Either that or a very stiff drink. Or maybe some chocolate. Possibly anti-depressants.

Where do I begin with this one?

A Man’s Life is the story of Tom Harper, a man whose seemingly perfect life comes unraveled in the wake of a devastating loss. His grief is so visceral, so believable, so real that it almost hurts to read. I recognized so many emotions and actions from my own family’s recent grief that it pulled me out of the story a few times; I actually had to put the book down and stop reading once in a while because it just hit too close to home.

I had to go back to it, though, because the character does more than just wallow in his grief, and Holland allows him to grow and heal in a unique way. Bit by bit, those wonderfully quirky characters come together for that trademark Holland happy ending — or at least, an ending that isn’t blatantly unhappy.

I’m glad the book didn’t have that Amy-specific warning label, because I would hate to have missed out on reading what has easily become one of my all-time favorite books.  It’s an incredible journey through grief — from horror to numbness to denial to acceptance and finally, to facing the future once more and even finding reasons to laugh again.

A Man’s Life is not an easy book to read, but it’s worth it. It’s definitely one that I’ll re-read a few times. It’s painful, but also inspiring. I finished it with a sense of well-being, a feeling that hey, it is possible to move on after losing a loved one!

If you’re looking for a new favorite author, I highly recommend picking up any of Dominic Holland’s books.  It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a good laugh or a good cry or just a fantastic story from a master storyteller, you’ll find it in his work.

Of Serenity, Laughter, and Merry Widows

I know I haven’t been sharing much here on my blog over the past year and a half, and I want to apologize for that while I pass along a few quick updates.

First off, Love, Charlotte has been been delayed again, obviously. I know writers are supposed to draw from personal experience for our creations; I’ve always written as a way to work through traumas in my personal life. This time, however, there were a few passages in my book that hit a little too close to home while the pain was still too fresh. In short, I have to re-work some of it because real life bled into the pages and I’m not at a point yet where I can step back and look at it objectively.

It is coming. I promise, although I can’t say when.

Next, I have anther project in the works that I can’t really discuss just yet. I don’t want to jinx it. Hey, sue me for being superstitious! Trust me when I say this could be HUGE if it goes well. Cross your fingers for me, if you don’t mind.

I have also been working away on a little something I like to call The Wheels Fell off My Wagon. It’s part of my Goode For a Laugh collection, recounting some of the wild and crazy things that have taken place in my world since moving back out into the country and adjusting to life out here in the boonies.

In a way, it’s sort of a tribute to the Big Guy. It’s all about honoring his memory with laughter as big part of dealing with our grief.

Talk about bleeding on the pages, right? Maybe. Crying a bit, too, but not all tears are sad. He left us with so many good memories that it only seems right to remember him with laughter.

And speaking of Goode For a Laugh, I want to let everyone know that I’ve made the very difficult decision to pull the collection out of Kindle Unlimited so I can make the books available through more markets. I am truly sorry to do this for those of you who subscribe to KU, but there are a lot of behind-the-scenes problems with the program that have a huge impact on the amount being paid to authors. Until Amazon gets it straightened out, I need to explore all of my options.

For the time being, I will be leaving my Romances in KU. I promise to keep everyone updated if that changes in the future.

Last but not least, I want to share that my friend and I are about to embark on something she has dubbed The Merry Widows Tour. “Morrigan” and I are heading to Texas for nine days with no adult supervision because we are the adults. Frightening thought, that. The third adult, our friend who has always been there to keep us out of trouble, is not going with us.

I haven’t been on an airplane since the 1980s, and I’ve barely left my little town in several years. I’ve definitely never been away from my kids this long. It’s going to be hot and humid and far from home (and there will be wine tours–multiple wine tours), and I am going to be so far outside of my comfort zone that I’m not sure I’ll ever slide back into it.

That’s a good thing. My comfort zone has become way too small and restrictive lately.

Watch out, world.

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H.E. Double Hockey Sticks

My twenty year-old son stumbled out in to the living room shortly after noon, rubbing sleep out of his eyes and grumbling some sort of dire warnings about the leftover pizza that better still be in the fridge, Mother, but stopped suddenly to question me over what he obviously saw as a far more important situation.

“Okay, Mom,” he asked warily, glancing  around the room, “what did you kill this time?”

I must have looked baffled — understandably so — because he pointed at the broom that I had leaned against the wall.

“The broom. The broom is in the living room,” he explained. “Dad used hockey sticks, you use the broom.”

I’m not sure if he has that little faith in my housekeeping habits or that much faith in my hunting skills, but I tried to explain to him that the mice and chipmunks in the immediate area were all safe and sound for the time being. “I swear, I just finished cleaning the bathroom.”

“Sure, Mom. Sure.”

In the absence of any rodent corpses or tell-tale bloodstains, he let the matter drop and lumbered away in search of cold pizza.

I wish I could say that this conversation was unusual for us, but unfortunately it was not. I am constantly astonished to find out the way my adult children  remember different aspects of their childhood. Like the hockey stick/broom conundrum, apparently.

The Big Guy, their father, was a former hockey player, which explains the hockey sticks. Sort of. He had skates and shoulder pads and helmets stuffed into the back of the hall closet behind his ice fishing gear, which sort of made sense. But the sticks were everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean everywhere.

There was a hockey stick by the back door, and two in the barn. There was one in the kitchen, near the door to the basement. He had one tucked in behind the couch in his office, a well as another beside our bed. That’s right, he kept a hockey stick beside the bed.

Now, I’ll admit to my fair share of sexual fantasies that may or may not involve a large, muscular hockey player skating away with me for a quick hat trick, but the bedside hockey stick had nothing to do with any kind of role-playing.

Unfortunately.

The Big Guy’s hockey sticks were there for self-defense. Against bats, big hairy spiders, mice, and a very confused raccoon in the mudroom on one memorable occasion.  He wielded a hockey stick like Adrian Paul wielded a sword in late-night reruns of The Highlander. The only time he let me use the hockey stick as a weapon was the night someone tried to break into our home at 2:30 in the morning. Even then, he only handed it over because he was busy loading his hunting rifle.

I’d like to think I was at least a tiny bit intimidating, but it’s probably safe to say that the intruder was actually frightened away by rifle, not by me in all of my bathrobe-bedhair-hockey stick terror. Although I’ll be the first to admit that I gave myself a bit of a shock when I glanced at my reflection in the window.

I was pretty damn terrifying.

While my children remember a hockey stick as their father’s weapon of choice, they apparently remember a broom being mine.

You may have caught on by now to the fact that none of our cats have ever been very good at their job. Instead of killing mice in the house, our confused little felines prefer to capture rodents outside, only to bring them inside and then release them. Mice, chipmunks, moles, you name it and they’ve probably brought at least one into my living room. One cat even brought in what I assumed was a dead possum.

That, of course, was the night I learned where the saying “playing possum” comes from.

Let me digress for a moment here. I once got a bad review on Faster Than a Whippoorwill’s Ass because the reader was “disgusted by all the animals [I] beat and killed.”  I want to be very clear about the fact that I am not some kind of animal-abusing whackadoodle who enjoys beating rodents to death with hockey sticks and brooms–or anything else, for that matter. I’m more than happy shooing the little buggers outside with said weapons whenever possible. But I will not co-habitate with them.

The only smelly, dirty animal allowed to live with me in my house is my son, and I’m really trying to convince him that showers are, in fact, necessary on a regular basis, and that it is not normal for his dirty clothes to stand up on their own after he takes them off.

“Brushing your teeth is not optional, son,” I’ve had to remind him more times than I care to admit.

At any rate, cleaning out the house for our renovations has raised many questions. Why was there a Cool Whip container in the fridge with the words “Don’t Eat! Cocoons!” scrawled across the lid in black Sharpie? Why was there a mummified bat wedged in behind the lath and plaster in the living room? Why was there a fifty year-old pocket knife under the bathroom floor — and why was the neighbor’s name engraved on the handle of that knife?

So  many questions that can never be answered. But I had a very simple answer prepared when the contractor asked me, “What’s the deal with all the hockey sticks?”

“Self-defense,” I told him, and now I think he’s just a tiny bit afraid of me.

If he thinks I’m scary with a hockey stick, he should see me with a broom.

 

Just Keep Floating

buoy

Every summer of my childhood, there was one day when Aunt Marian allowed — no, encouraged — my sisters and me to break the rules of the public swimming area by swimming out to touch one of the buoys that marked our boundaries.

Never going out into water over our heads was her rule. Never touching the buoys was an official rule, enforced by eagle-eyed, whistle-blowing lifeguards. In our teen years, we sort of liked it when we managed to draw the lifeguards’ attention because, you know, lifeguards.

Marian wanted to teach us to respect the water without fearing it. Her own older brothers drowned in a freak boating accident when she was only 19 years old, so she would have been totally justified in banning us from all water activities, despite the fact that we lived right on the shore of Lake Michigan. Instead, she spent endless hours preparing us for our annual buoy-slapping challenge.

“If you get tired, just float,” she told us. “Don’t panic or struggle. Just float, rest until you get your second wind.”

At first, I tried floating face-down, which sort of defeated the purpose of the lesson. By the time I figured it out, I had perfected the art of the Dead Man’s Float. I could hold my breath for ridiculous amounts of time, happily coasting along on the water’s surface long enough to totally freak my aunts out.

Eventually, though, I caught on. When the water got too deep or too scary, I learned to stretch out, face-up, and allow the water to support me until I was ready to try again. It was all about trust. Trust in the water, trust in my surroundings, but most of all trust in myself.

I had to learn to believe, without a doubt, that I would never sink.

I think about Marian a lot these days, and about swimming out to slap that buoy. I’d get tired and accidently swallow some water and start to panic or turn back toward shore, but I’d hear her voice above my frantic splashing: “Don’t give up, Amy! Float, rest until you’re ready to try again.”

Seems like I’ve been trying to slap a lot of buoys lately, with varied levels of success.  I’ve been pushing so many boundaries in so many areas that I have days when I hardly know which way is up.

I’m floundering in deep water. Trying to renovate this house that I simultaneously love and hate, trying to be a single parent to three grieving kids, trying to face my breathtaking fear of winter driving. At this moment, I am snowed in with my youngest son, facing our third snow day this week, and I have been scaring myself silly with all of the what-ifs.

What if the furnace goes out? What if the pipes freeze? What if we run out of food? What if he gets hurt and I can’t drive him to the hospital? What if–God forbid–what if we run out of toilet paper?

What if I can’t do this?

I suppose it doesn’t help that I was awake most of the night, worrying and stressing about everything. But a while ago, as I poured my fourth cup of coffee with shaking hands, I swear I heard Marian’s voice.

Float, rest until you’re ready to try again.

It’s entirely possible that I’m losing my mind and am now dealing with auditory hallucinations, or perhaps it’s time to switch to decaf. It’s also possible that Aunt Marian’s ghost is flitting about the old house just to screw with me, because that is totally the sort of messed-up thing she would do.

Or maybe, just maybe, I need to remember the lesson I learned so long ago whenever I was in over my head and scared to death.

Relax.

Trust.

Believe.

Breathe.

Float, rest until you’re ready to try again.

For all of us who are floundering and splashing through our lives, it’s time to stop and rest. Give ourselves permission to take a break. Regroup. Get that second wind. Every day doesn’t have to be a fight, folks.

Just float, rest until you’re ready to try again.

And when you’re ready, slap the hell out of that buoy.

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Batshit Crazy

About a year ago, I published My Mirror Lies to Me, my third collection of funny stories and musings on life in my little corner of rural Michigan. In one chapter,  I talked about the time my husband, his brother,  and my father encountered some bats while working on our house.

I was reminded of that story this week, when workers discovered a mummified bat within the walls of that same house twenty-odd years later. Let that sink in for a minute.

They found a mummified bat within the walls of my house.

Seriously, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to other people, does it?

At any rate, Mr. Mummy Bat’s unexpected appearance made me want to share the other bat story. So here is a short peek inside a chapter of My Mirror Lies to Me. I hope you enjoy it!

Batshit Crazy

A few years ago, blueberries became the big trend worldwide. Everyone, it seems, has been singing the praises of those little buggers for their health benefits and anti-oxidant properties.

Yeah, I could have told them that. I live right in the middle of “Blueberry Country.” Between the sandy soil, the moist air along the lakeshore, and the short but intense summers, this part of the world was made for growing blueberries.

I grew up here. I’ve gone blueberry picking every summer, although I’d probably owe a small fortune to those farmers if they ever got smart enough to put my chunky ass on a scale before and after an hour in the field. I freely admit that I put twice as many in my belly as I put in the bucket, and so do my kids. If I take them picking later on in the afternoon, I can usually get away with not having to make dinner that day.

Here in Blueberry Country, we put blueberries in everything. Blueberry muffins. Blueberry waffles with blueberry syrup. Blueberry wine. Even blueberry bratwursts, for God’s sake. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing as tasty as a handful of fresh blueberries on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

They are delicious, but I really don’t understand how anyone absorbs any kind of health benefits from eating them. It’s not like we actually digest them. They come out in the same condition they go in. Better, in some cases. I’m afraid to even glance down at the toilet during blueberry season because I know I’m going to start worrying about the fact that I remember chewing those berries that are now floating whole in the bowl.

It’s like stomach acids have some sort of restorative properties when it comes to blueberries.

This doesn’t just happen to humans, either. The birds around here begin dropping bright purple grenades during blueberry season. Cars, laundry on clotheslines, slow-moving pets — nothing is safe.

Just to go off a tangent for a moment here, I’d like to share something that makes me unique.

I have been hit by seagull poop at least once every summer of my life.

Every.

Single.

Summer.

That’s fifty-one summers of seagull shit, people. Granted, I don’t remember the first few shitbombs, but family members tell me that the streak started early in my life.

And it’s not just a Michigan thing. One year, I went camping in Virginia with a friend and a seagull crapped on me at the campground. In Virginia. It’s like they have a secret seagull messaging system to make sure I get hit no matter where I go.

I even got nailed by one as I left work last night. At night. Birds don’t fly at night. That particular seagull must have been perched on the lightpost outside the hotel for hours, just waiting to complete its mission.

And yes, I know for a fact that most birds don’t fly at night. I learned that in the early days of my marriage, when the Big Guy and I sat in our backyard sharing a romantic moment under the stars. “Look at the pretty night birds over by the porch light,” I sighed, blissfully ignorant about my new life in the country.

“Birds don’t fly at night,” he told me. “Those are bats.”

Birds may not fly at night, but I sure did that night. I flew up the steps and through the door so fast that I’m pretty sure my feet never touched the ground.

I’ve learned since then that bats are truly wonderful creatures. They are complex animals with amazing talents, and they do so much to help control the insect population. Bats are not inherently a bad thing.

But they don’t belong in my house.

During our first few summers there, we were under constant bat attack. A bat can slip through the tiniest of openings, and our house was an old, old farmhouse that we were renovating, so there were many tiny openings. And big openings, for that matter. We seemed to have a bat or two flapping its way through the living room at least once a week every summer.

At one point, the Big Guy ventured up into the attic and discovered that it was Bat Central up there. I was one hundred percent in favor of abandoning the house and moving back into the city, but he swore he could take care of them. “We just need to figure out where they’re getting in, and then seal it up,” he told me.

True to his word, he gathered up a few friends and family members to stand in a loose circle around the house at dusk one night. As the sky grew darker, bats began to leave the cozy home they had made for themselves in our house. There was a narrow crack between the siding and the chimney, and that turned out to be a bit of a bat on-ramp.

He counted well over one hundred bats flying out through that crack.  When he thought they were all gone, he climbed a ladder and sprayed insulation foam into the entire crack to prevent them from coming back into our house in the morning. Later, he made a more lasting repair to the opening and solved the problem once and for all.

However, that left the problem of an attic full of bat poop. You can call it guano if you’d like, and rave about its wonderful properties as a fertilizer. But when it’s in my home, I’m going to call it what it is: shit. Bat shit. Nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

We had an attic full of it.

Unfortunately, not all of the bats left the house that night, so the problem sort of came to a head when the Big Guy rounded up his little brother and my father to help him while I was at work a few days later. It’s important to note here that the “little brother” is a ridiculously tall individual who makes the Big Guy seem more like a Medium Guy when they’re together. So I’m just going to refer to him as the Bigger Guy from here on out.

They didn’t tell anyone their plans for the day, probably because they knew I would have insisted on a few more safety precautions than they liked to use. I only figured it out because my mother-in-law was one of my clients that day, and she mentioned that she thought “the boys” were on their way to play tennis because they had stopped by her house that morning to borrow some tennis racquets.

Neither one of them plays tennis.

A tennis racquet is, however, the perfect defensive weapon when dealing with bats.

It wasn’t until years later that the Big Guy told me what actually transpired that day. Those three great big men went upstairs to begin ripping out the second floor ceilings to start the upstairs renovations. They took the tennis racquets to defend themselves against any remaining bats.

Apparently, none of them realized just how much batshit there really was in the attic. When they started ripping things apart, it began an ugly chain reaction that none of them would ever forget.

Along with the hundreds of pounds of batshit, the attic was also full of old bricks from some long-forgotten project started by the previous owner. Guano-covered bricks and boards began raining down, first on the Bigger Guy’s head and then on all three of them as the hole above them widened.

None of them had thought to wear any kind of hat or helmet, of course, or gloves. And I guess real men don’t wear masks, not even when dealing with hundreds of pounds of nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

They were covered with it. They breathed it in. It went into their eyes and ears and most likely other bodily orifices that I don’t want to think about. The two brothers leaned on each other, choking and gagging and gasping for air, tennis racquets forgotten in their hands as a few angry, homeless bats flapped around their heads.

My dad, however, stood a few feet away, staring at the guano on his arms with a calculating look in his eyes.

“You know,” he mused, “people would pay a lot of money for this stuff.”

“No,” the Big Guy told him. “We are not selling batshit from my attic. And we are never, ever telling anyone about this. No one. Not even Amy.”

“Especially not Amy,” the Bigger Guy agreed. “She’ll move out if she hears about this.”

“Just seems like sort of a gift from Mother Nature, you know?” my dad persisted. “Guano is worth a lot of money as fertilizer, and you’ve sure got a lot of it.”

“Batshit is not a gift, Dean,” the Big Guy said firmly.

He finally told me the whole story just before my father’s funeral a few years later. It was, he insisted, one of his favorite memories of Dad.

It made me feel good, too, in a way, because it made me realize that I’m luckier than my father  even though we both shared the same knack for being hit with bird poop. I may get nailed with wads of smelly, slimy, warm seagull shit every summer of my life, but I think I can say with all certainty that I will probably never share his experience of being buried under tons of guano.

Or, as I prefer to call it, nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

Six Months

Six months.

It’s been six months since I’ve posted here. Six months since I’ve written anything, to be totally honest. Six months since I’ve even been able to locate all the parts of the computer in order to set it up and even try to write.

Six months since the Big Guy died.

A lot has happened in those six months.

Like anyone who passes away so suddenly, so unexpectedly, he left behind a lot of unfinished business. It’s been an avalanche of cleaning up, signing off, sorting through and a whole lot of asking, “what the hell was he thinking here?”

A big part of that “unfinished business” was my fault as well. Ahem. Confession time.

The Big Guy and I never actually finalized our divorce. Oh, we filed. We split up and divided our belongings and set up a shared custody arrangement, complete with child support and all that stuff. But we never actually went before a judge and wrapped things up. We postponed the original hearing date and then the filing expired and we just never got around to re-filing.

It didn’t seem necessary. We both kept what seemed fair and we were better parents as a team that didn’t live under the same roof, so it seemed sort of silly to involve courts and judges and legalese when everything was going so smoothly without all of that.

And then he got sick.

Suddenly, there were decisions to be made and documents to be signed and a lot of hurt feelings all the way around as people in our lives realized that he and I were, in fact, still married. Only on paper, but definitely still married as far as hospitals and funeral homes and finances were concerned.

At the time of his death, my name was still on the deed to the house we once shared. When we split, we didn’t fight over the house; it was his, plain and simple. I didn’t want it because it was his dream home, not mine. He loved the country, the acreage, the trees, the ramshackle old farmhouse that he could repair and renovate and love.

And now it’s mine, as are the cats, the dog, and apparently a snake as well, although I’m still in serious denial about the snake.

I couldn’t bring the animals back to the apartment and I couldn’t abandon them, obviously. And I couldn’t afford to pay both the rent on the apartment and the mortgage on the house, so I cancelled my lease, put my belongings in storage, and moved back into the house I had left four years earlier.

Totally pissed off some folks by doing that.

Over the past six months, I’ve tried to clean out his house and prepare it for sale so I could move into something smaller, less expensive, and closer to civilization. It’s been overwhelming, to say the least. It’s as if the universe has lined up to throw obstacle after obstacle into my way.

I believe it’s what the Big Guy would have referred to as a Cluster Fuck, or at the very least, a Goat Rodeo.

The kids and I had a “family meeting” about a month ago and came to a decision: I’m staying. Rather than investing in a new house, I’m going to fix up this one. I’m going to keep their childhood home, and I’ve hired people to do the work that the Big Guy never got a chance to finish.

So.

Here I sit, at my husband’s old desk, wrapped in an afghan made for him by his great-aunt. Drinking coffee made in the coffeepot I gave him for Christmas a few years ago. There’s a huge eight-point buck’s head mounted on the wall above me, staring at me reproachfully, while three cats and a stressed-out Blue Heeler chase each other around my feet.

I really hope the snake isn’t down there with them, but I’m too afraid to look.

This is not the life the Big Guy and I imagined when we bought this house all those years ago. It’s definitely not what I imagined when I packed up my belongings and left the house behind four years ago. But it is what it is, and I am doing my best to make this home something he would have approved of.

Minus the snake, of course. If I ever find it.

I unpacked the computer and asked my son to set it up for me. I located my favorite coffee mug. I’ve opened up documents that have been gathering virtual dust for six months, and I’m on my way back to my little town of Serenity to get back to work.

I think I’m heading in the right direction, and I have a feeling the next part of my journey is going to be every bit as crazy, convoluted and downright strange as the last part was.

All I can do is fasten my seatbelt and hang on for dear life.

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I Don’t Know How To Do This

Four years ago, I wrote a post that began with the words “I don’t know how to do this.” My husband and I had just split up, and I was agonizing over my new reality of being a single mom. I was mourning the loss of a marriage that we had both hoped would last forever, and I was terrified.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. My ex, whom I’ve often referred to here as The Big Guy, never truly allowed me to struggle as a single mom.  He was always a great dad; I don’t think I ever realized that until weren’t together any more. As strange as it may seem, we became better co-parents when we stopped being spouses.

We also became better friends. Over the past four years, we’ve had more conversations and shared more “inside jokes” than we ever did during our eighteen years under the same roof.

Today, I have to repeat myself, because Heaven has gained an angel in Carhartts and faded flannel.

I don’t know how  to do this.

Last week, we lost The Big Guy to complications of the flu. The Flu! How can anything so ridiculous possibly be real? He used to drive a race car, for God’s sake. He was a volunteer firefighter for more than a decade. This was a man who used to take chances and risks that would make my blood run cold, but would just laugh at me when I told him to be careful.

I don’t know how to do this.

My children have had to grow up over the past two weeks in a way that no parent wants to witness. Because The Big Guy and I were no longer together, responsibilities and decisions fell upon the shoulders of his oldest child, our twenty year-old daughter. I’ve said for years that she is more of an adult than I am, and she has stepped up and proved me right by displaying a level of maturity that makes me ache for her.

The nineteen year-old has also grown in so many ways. He is mourning,  of course,  but he is doing so with his father’s trademark sense of humor. My quiet, sarcastic little boy has become a warm and nurturing man who looks out for all of us and always finds a way to make us smile with some funny memory of his dad.

And our baby. Rooster turned ten just a few days after losing his father. He has cried so much that I’ve worried he might get sick. But each time, he finishes crying and then moves on to laughter or a quick  game of basketball while sharing stories about his daddy. He’s hurting, but  he’s adapting.

They are grieving, but they are grieving as a unit. The three of them are so close that I know, deep down, that I have nothing to fear for them. They’re going to be okay because they have each other. Well, each other and their father’s strength,  humor, and courage.

But I don’t know how to do this

I’m not talking about being a single mom. I can figure that part out, especially since the older two are here to help me. If I’m going to be completely honest, I know my daughter will probably continue to run the show with more maturity than I will ever have. Things are going to be rocky for a while, and there will be a tremendous learning curve, but we’ll get through.

No, I don’t know how I’m going to move on without The Big Guy. He was my ex; we hadn’t been a couple for more than four years. But he was my friend. We still talked almost every day. We had inside jokes and a shared history that spanned more than twenty years. We created three people together– three amazing, beautiful, incredible people who made us both so much better than either one of  us ever were on our own.

He had a girlfriend who never left his side during those final days in the hospital. His family referred to her as “the love of his life,” and I believe they were right. He was so very happy with her, happy in a way he never was with me, that I couldn’t hold that against her. During the time they were together, she was good to our kids and always treated me with respect, so I truly, genuinely like her.

Crazy, huh?

My heart is breaking for her. So few people in life actually find real love, but I believe she and The Big Guy truly did. As much as I am hurting right now,  I know her pain is even deeper.

And I am hurting. I’ve lost my friend. I’ve lost the father of my children. I’ve lost a person who was a significant part of my life for more than half my time here on Earth.

I’ve lost my Big Guy.  My crooked-toothed, flannel-wearing, warm-hearted Big Guy. And somehow, incredibly, life is going to have to go on as though the world hasn’t just lost a truly good  human being.

I just don’t know how to do this.