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!

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 light-hearted comedy, although it contains so many 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 at him 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, of hope. 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

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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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