Category Archives: family

Woman Disappears During Road Trip with Cats. Cats Wanted for Questioning.

Hear ye, hear ye! It has come to pass! NICOLE SHALL ESCAPE THE DESERT AT LONG LAST!

Arizona house is sold, Virginia house procured, school year finished, movers scheduled, resignation submitted, and all finer details busily attended to. The girls will fly to my mom’s for Nanapalooza ‘16, Scottie will prep our new home for my arrival – i.e. remove his action figures from all the ridiculous places they currently reside (last FaceTime session I noted some lining the mantle of the fireplace, YAY), and with a heavy sigh I’ll lock up an empty house, effectively bidding farewell to the backdrop of my 30s. I’ll then hop in my new-ish vehicle and embark on a five day road trip across our great nation.
With CATS!

‘Cause nothin’ screams road trip like the unholy, guttural chorus of two seriously pissed off cats!

But first, let’s take a side trip down Cat Lady Lane and become better acquainted with Dr. Pickles and his little brother, Buddha, aged 5 and 2.

This is Dr. Pickles. He has trust issues.

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Took 2 years, but he finally trusts us. Mostly.

His first family dropped him off at a kitty orphanage when he was only five months old. He spent the next three months of kittenhood confined to a cage, until the day we arrived with a toddler who wanted “a REAL cat, one that I can pet, and name Pickles!” Our handsome black prince spent the first nine months of his life being called “Doc.” And so it was in this manner Dr. Pickles earned his PHD.

In time we learned he was also a colossal diva. I used to think he didn’t cover his poo because he’d been ripped from his mother too young. I’m now sure he doesn’t cover his poo because poo covering is for peasants! As for affection, such is meted out on very strict terms. The majority of petting is allowed between the hours of 5 and 8 AM. But not regular old petting. Oh no (‘Tis for peasants!). These sanctioned petting hours are more akin to a ritual worshiping a deity. During the hours of sunrise Pickles throws himself to the floor, directly in your path, stretching to his full, impressive length, and lays before you, prone. One gleaming yellow eye in your direction signals that, at this time, and this time only, peasants may approach, to vigorously rub his soft, wonderful belly –  in thanks, and humility, and prayers for a good harvest.

He’s fond of ritual. Like, OCD-fond. Like the precise and repetitive paw swiping (scent marking) of the floor surrounding  his food dish after we’ve filled it, but before he eats. We call it the Pickles Dance. And then, after feasting, he will fetch a toy mouse and plop it in his dish. As if to say, “It could have used more flavor. Peasants.”
He likes things just so.
And he pees on change.

Buddha, on the other hand…

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He Speshul

True to his namesake, Buddha is waaaaaay more chill! He shares none his brother’s stranger anxiety or “shittin’ particulars.” If Buddha had a Tinder profile, it would read: “Easygoing, HWP, likes parkour and kneading softy blankies, catnip friendly, open to dogs.” He also shares none of his brother’s intelligence. We adopted him at 8 weeks, and he seemed to cease growing soon thereafter. He’s a petite thing, with his dainty orange paws and the world’s tiniest orange head – that houses an even tinier knucklehead brain. He’s mentally a teenager right now, so he’s as much sweet and adorable as he is a shithead and an idiot.

And they’re both very, VERY good boys!

Truly they are. I love them with all my heart! So much so, I’m committed to making their impending transition the least traumatic experience possible. Especially considering how their trauma won’t begin on travel day one. It will start the day the movers come in and dismantle their entire indoor cativerse!

I considered flying them, of course. One terrifying day in the belly of a plane (no sedatives allowed) vs. five days of home deconstruction and five more days trapped within the terror vortex known as CAR (with a once trusted human who’s now clearly out to destroy them)! A few years back my friend Rose made the drive from this corner of the desert to Chicago, IL with her own finicky felines in tow. I consulted her immediately, and she just as immediately informed me that cargo-shipping pets when temps run above 85 is a no-go. Arizona in June = Fahrenheit 100. She recommended I call the vet and talk sedatives.

So I did.
Here’s how that five minute car ride went:

 

Good news is, they’re healthy. Aside from Pickles’ Periodontal Disease. He needs to have two teeth extracted, to the tune of 500 dollars, because his body white-blood-cell-ninja attacks his tartar buildup so hard it inadvertently destroys his teeth in the process. And that process is FAST; two years ago his teeth were exemplary! They told me I could wait until we’re settled with a vet in VA, that his situation isn’t urgent, but that it’s also likely causing him pain.

I scheduled his oral surgery for this Tuesday. I’d rather he be pain-free and convalesce in the home he knows (and pull $500 out of my asssss—-stounding magical money tree) before the Klan of Mover Demonoids commeth and tear his everything all to shit.

Their cat carriers have been out and open in the living room for weeks. I’m armed with sedatives, Feliway, and treats. I’ve got harnesses, comforts of home, a road-time game plan of 8-hours-a-day-tops, and pet-friendly hotels galore. All tips from the brave fur-parent souls who’ve come before me, and have graciously shared their wisdom.

But, since I’m currently competing with Dr. P on the anxiety front..…
FURTHER ADVICE WELCOME!

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Chin up, Buttercup, a New Day Dawns

Rang in 2016 with my mother, my mother-in-law, Maddy, Lily, and two of Maddy’s best friends. It made for a very joyous, very full household. We blew noisemakers, threw confetti, lit amateur hour fireworks, twirled sparklers; all in the street in front of my little ten year old house. Fun, simple, sweet – all words I cannot apply to 2015 itself. A sentiment Mads echoed with her NYE countdown, “Okay, guys! Only three minutes left of this TERRIBLE year!” It didn’t help that the last days of said terrible year were filled with tears, as we watched Scottie pack up a U-Haul and move to DC.

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By now, friends reading this know Scott accepted a job offer in VA. A job he was offered the day before Halloween. A job we had to keep mum about, for two months, in case the whole thing fell through. After a six month long struggle to find local employment befitting his talents (aside from a part-time, on-call, secret squirrel gig that required actual disguises and a Beastie Boys “Sabotage” style ride that ended in him hosing the interior of a rental car with projectile vomit), he cast his net wider and, what do ya know, he landed in his old stomping grounds.

MD/VA/DC is home for him, and the job – helping catch international bad guys, behind the virtual wheel of a motion sickness-free desk – excited him. Win, win – right? We certainly never intended to settle in Arizona. This decade long AZ run due only to an unlikely set of freak circumstances. But, by the time he retired from the Army, we’d got comfortable. Sierra Vista was familiar. Life here was easy. A known (sucky, but known) quantity. Oh, and then there was also the matter of the house. The luckless, piece of shit, housing-market-bubble-bought, albatross of a godforsaken house we purchased in 2006. The house we currently can’t sell back to Satan to save our souls.

Already I feel badly for bad-mouthy-blogging my house. It was perfect once. The perfect starter home for two adults in their early 30s and their four year old daughter. And all the beautiful memories made here; they’ll show up in my dreams for the rest of my life! Nonetheless, we were hopelessly stupid home buyers. Coming from a young adulthood of apartment/city-living, the two of us were all, “Gold fixtures? Well that’s perfectly acceptable. And the world’s tiniest backyard? You mean we have a BACK YARD??? Sold!” Five years, one additional daughter, and a heap of material stuff later, we’d outgrown our starter home. Sadly, like a great deal of the United States, we were also underwater on our mortgage, and in one of the worst housing markets in the country.

So, that’s all that’s keeping us here; holding me and the kids hostage. This house, and the difference between what it sold for in 2006 vs. the 50k less it will sell for now. That’s what’s splitting up our family. Funny how the military only did that once, but a bailed-out bank has the power to do so indefinitely. And imagine my complete shock at learning that, because we’ve never been late on a payment, or any payment of any kind – and because our debt was relatively nil and our credit outstanding –we might not be able to prove a “financial hardship.” Because we are responsible adults? Because being financially raped by a pre-recession banking hustle – that is today, without dispute, recognized as having been both inherently and abhorrently corrupt – is just what we get for being young and dumb. But if we’d blown ten credit-card-lender-grand here, and twenty frivolous thousand there, then we would qualify for relief?
Then we’d be primed for a…oh, what do they call it again…a…BAILOUT?!

(DEEP BREATH)

All to say, I’ve stayed behind to deal with the house.

Today my boss called to offer me a job in Alexandria, VA – a stone’s throw from my Scottie. Someone just resigned in our office there, and, “say…just how soon will you be moving out here, anyway?” Excellent question! Soon? Soon-ish? In a wee bit? In a while? A few months from now? Summertime? Next fall? Winter?  Maybe goddamned never?
I had to decline, and ask to be kept in mind.

But, as always, I’m keeping my chin up…like an exceptionally grumpy buttercup.

"dem skies, tho...."

“dem skies, tho….”

How to Throw a (Fairly Kick Ass) Army Retirement Party

When planning to celebrate the end of my husband’s 24 year career in the United States Army I had a tough time figuring out just how the hell to do that. Please understand, I was a terrible Army wife. It’s the first thing I tell anyone when they ask me about Scott’s former career. I never learned the acronyms, the protocols, the politics or the hierarchy. I didn’t go to church, vote Republican, or carry a Coach purse. I avoided Pampered Chef parties, mommy & me play groups, and failed to roll deep with the MWR crowd. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing any of those things, I’m just a weirdo. A misfit. And a terrible Army wife. Yet, I love my sweetheart (and my country, I swear) and, by God, I was going to throw him an awesome Army-ish party….somehow.

I didn’t extensively scour the internet looking for military retirement party ideas, but what little Google and Pinterest searches I performed didn’t turn up much in the way of inspiration. Lots of red, white and blue decor, several patriotic appetizers that would also do nicely at a 4th of July bash, and a few clever cakes, but nothing that showcased what the norm might be for “So Long, Army” festivities. Fortunately, with the help of my creative mother, we winged it.

Concepts/highlights below: may they prove helpful to some other terrible military spouse out there.

MENU: Chow Hall Reminiscence

We rented a local hall that provided a chef, servers and bar on site – the one-stop-shop convenience of that was, I felt, well worth the added expense! When planning the menu my husband decided to forgo delicatessens and asked if the chef could whip up a dish he remembered fondly from his basic training days: Yakisoba. The chef obliged and it was…..Americana grub, for certain; meaty, salty, carby, tough guy chow.
There were lots of leftovers.

In keeping with the dining style we’d planned to create a mess hall banner (see photo/link) we found on Pinterest, but sadly ran out of time.

DÉCOR: Red, White & Cheap

Directing the majority of our budget toward venue, food, servers and booze, I allotted only a comparative fraction for decor. The party was in April but, by a stroke of luck, a local dollar store had set out all their Independence Day merchandise early – and I bought it all! The venue manager had told us we could decorate as we pleased, “We had a wedding down here once and the couple hired some gay guy….made this place look like Narnia!”

We didn’t achieve Narnia status, but I tacked up red, white and blue plastic table cloths as wall panels and bedazzled enough items to be as patriotic as all get out. Borrowing from my mister’s skull collection (not real, and not weird…well, maybe a little weird…but purely in the fun, still creepy, but mostly harmless way) and topped them with various military hats. Center piece, meet conversation piece!
Centerpieces
My mother built cupcake trees out of Styrofoam discs and wooden candle holders (another Pinterest grab) and our daughters painted them. Pretty cute and blessedly cheap!
cupcake tree

PHOTO BOOTH: Because Everybody’s Doing It

Using cardstock to print mustaches, mouths, masks, etc, we hot glued these to dowels as photo booth props. We added military hats of all sorts and, as backdrop, hung an American flag that a family member had flown for Scott while he’d served in Iraq.


And photo fun was had by all (the non-stick-in-the-muds).

SLIDE SHOW: Blasts from a Plentiful Past

The only retirement party staple I was familiar with was that of the projector, the screen, and the photo slideshow down memory lane. But what content to display, and how much, was another expedition into uncharted affairs. Eventually I chose to keep the majority of images related to his career, but I wanted to present an overall snapshot of his life as well. A few adorable shots of his boyhood here, a couple awkward teenager candids there, and I tried to add pictures of him posed alongside the many faces that were a part of his journey; to include ex-girlfriends and ex-wives. That last bit can be a touchy subject for some, but I felt those women were relevant chapters of Scott’s story. Besides, my husband has so many female friends, no one knew which girl photographed was just a pal and which one had seen him naked.
And, thankfully, no one asked.

Non-Pro Tip: I recommend a ten second delay, or more, between slides. We went with five and it proved a touch too zippy.

VIDEO GREETINGS: Be There, in More than Just Spirit

When your job requires you to travel all over the world you tend to end up with friends in nearly every corner of it, and those friends often live so far off they can’t always readily attend your retirement party. Except that they CAN! Sort of.

The ultimate triumph of that congratulatory night was surprising my dearest darling with a video of his most beloved peeps wishing him well.

The idea didn’t come to me until the party was less than two weeks out, so I scrambled like mad to gather 15-30 second videos from friends, family and colleagues all across the globe. The morning of the event I was still receiving, and frantically splicing together, last-minute video clips, but Microsoft Movie Maker made quick-editing a breeze and, after dinner, film rolled flawlessly for husband and guests. Husband was awed, guests were entertained.
HOORAY!
Or….Hooah?

-Terrible Former Army Wife, Signing Off.

Letters to a Tall Girl: Part II – From Dad

Dear Maddy,

I can’t tell you what it’s like to not be tall.  I’ve always been tall.  It’s not always easy – clothes are too short, there’s not enough leg room, people always assume you play basketball, you have to be careful so you don’t bang your head or strain your back.  But you know what?  All sizes have their pros and cons.  And very often, human beings want to be what they are not.

My sister had super curly hair – so she wanted straight hair.  You will find that many short people wish they were taller.  Some things we can change to a degree – hair color & length, body weight, getting a tan – but height is not one of them. (Well, shorter people can wear heels or platform shoes.) If you’re tall, you are going to stay tall.  It’s part of who you are; your genetics.  Embrace it.  Be closer to the sun and the stars.  Raise your head and breathe deeply from the clearer air only tall people can reach.  Help shorter people when they need it – change a light bulb, get something from a shelf, look for their friend (or yours) in a crowd.  Hopefully, they will return the favor by crawling under the table to retrieve something you dropped or shoveling snow.

When you are old enough to sit there, you should always try to get an exit row on airplanes – they have much more leg room.  When you have a car, you will need a bigger one for the leg and head room.  Guess what?  Little sporty cars may look “cool”, but bigger vehicles hold more friends and family and stuff from your latest shopping trip.  They are more comfortable on road trips and generally safer.

You have to take fewer steps to get anywhere.  People will literally look up to you (and quite often figuratively too).  Your long arms will give more hugginess to your hugs.  Your high-fives will be higher.  When you are older and out with your friends in a crowded place, you will be able to see them easier, and they will be able to find you quicker.  You will almost always get to sit in the front seat of other peoples’ cars; that is a generally accepted social benefit of being tall.

Sometimes being tall will be awkward, or uncomfortable, but you will get past that.  You are tall.  It is part of who you are.  Accepting that and being comfortable with who you are leads to a happier outlook on life.  It’s not worth being worried about it; your height is here to stay!  Stand up straight, be proud, never let any bring you down for being what you are, and enjoy being a wonderful, lovely, sweet tall young woman.

Lots of love, always,

Dad

GraceInUpwardMotion

Letters to a Tall Girl: Part I

My daughter hit 5 ft. 8 inches tall  just a few months before her 13th birthday.
She openly loathes her new height and actively prays she will cease growing.
In an effort to lift her hormonal spirits, while employing the age-old trick of “as long somebody other than your parents say it, it must be true”  I enlisted help.

These words of love and support go out to all adolescents who currently hate their bodies.
We old-timers have been there. We recall the suck.
But there’s a way out!
Just listen…..

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Dear Maddy,

Being tall is like a super power. For real.
I was tall early on. I’m 5’ 8” now, which isn’t extraordinary, but I haven’t grown since I was 12-ish. I’ve been this height since 6th grade. So… in elementary class photos, I was always in the back-row, center; the pinnacle of the class pyramid. At that time, I liked the fact that when the photographer lined us up, I was always heading up the march to the risers. It made me feel strong, like a leader. But that wasn’t always the case, especially around some smaller, less “strong” friends and classmates.

I had this one friend, especially (my best friend): Kathy. She was quite petite. Delicate even. Somehow being around her made me feel like a lumbering amazon. I struggled with feeling like that around her the most, even though I loved her the most of all my friends. (Incidentally, she thought my blue eyes were unfair – we all have something, turns out).

What I eventually realized, and what I wished I’d realized sooner, is that while we all have our physical differences, strengths, preferences, blah, blah, blah- I really liked what my particular body gave me. I liked having the power to walk into a room and decide whether I wanted to command the space or float along the wall. I have a pretty kick-ass mind and personality and my height gave me the opportunity to meet the eyes of anyone I wanted to share it with. Male or female, young or old.

And yes, boys are suh-lowwwww growers, but not for long, and by the time they catch up, and surpass you, you’re way ahead in the confidence game, that is an asset. I learned that there is a special kind of style that can only be exhibited by the long-of-limb.

While we taller girls will never have the “Hi- I’m a tiny little elf” thing going for us, what we have is an opportunity to display our grace and femininity in a way that others just don’t. So stand up tall. Tilt your chin a little. Make some eye-contact. Be mindful of your movements. When you’re lying around with your friends, find a space that you can stretch out in and fill it. (Oh! And clothes/shoes- you have so many more options. Use them)
You’re beautiful. You are a super-hero.

-Amy Hunt

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Dear Maddy,

Sara said to tell you, “I feel your pain. I’m 5’6, 11 years old and in the 6th grade. I tower over all my friends and all boys my age.”

What I want to tell you is, I too went through what you are going through at your age. While I remember some uncomfortable moments, I’m mostly thankful for this blessing. When I accepted, and gratefully realized, my tallness it was the most liberating feeling! I owned it, embraced it and even gave modeling a shot when I was 16! (Three years away for you… Wink wink). There is no greater feeling than acceptance of yourself. You have you for the rest of your life! I guess what I’m trying to say is that you have sooooo much in your court to make this into a beautiful thing, rather than feeling down. That just clouds all the wonderful things you could achieve; not just because you are tall, but also because you are smart, loving, caring, loyal, artistic and absolutely gorgeous! That’s a recipe for pure success right there!

I love you, pretty girl! Always remember you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Ps. Tell your mom to call me before I shank her. That’s all.

Your auntie,

– Annixa Silfa

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Dear Maddy,

I was always in the back row of school pictures because I was tall. In high school I reached 5′ 8″, which was giant back then. Now, consider not only being too tall while all the petite girls (including my sisters) were 5’1″ and 5’4″, but adding that I had crooked teeth and some other defects that were devastating to my emotional growth; though I got through the rough stuff and turned out pretty ok.

Miss Maddy, be thankful that being tall is your only concern. You are a beauty inside and out. Trust me, the boys will catch up and in the meantime, you can kick their butts.

-Teri Fey Cowley

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Dear Maddy,

In fifth grade I was five foot two and the tallest in my class. I was extremely self-conscious and kept to myself a lot because I felt weird; taller than all the girls AND the boys too. By seventh grade people started catching up to me, and by high school everyone shot over my head. I was then put off, now being the short one of the bunch.

You may never be the shortest again, and feel awkward right now, but these things I can promise you:

  1. Many (many) people will shoot up very soon, and you’ll not be the ‘tall one’ forever.
  2. When you’re looking back on school as an adult, your height won’t matter any. You’ll think about the friends you had, the crazy things you have done, and what made you feel the best.
  3. You can’t change your genes, and everyone is different. Be proud of who you are.

Hope this helps,
Jessica

PS. You have awesome parents. Take their word for it when they say you’re beautiful. They know what they’re talking about!

-Jessica Thompson

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Dear Maddy,

Coming from your vertically challenged neighbor, being tall can be such a blessing. You will never have to: crawl up the shelves at the grocery store to reach the top item that is almost gone, spray spiders who hide at the top of the wall with hair spray so they fall to where you can crush them, use a ladder to reach the top of your SUV when washing it, you’ll be able to dunk a basketball, or at least reach the hoop, and in the far, far distant future, you won’t have to stand on your tiptoes to kiss a boy! Oh, and if you ever want to hang a shotgun over your door to protect yourself from intruders, you’ll be able to reach it!!! If you get lost in a crowd, you won’t have to stand on a bench to see where your family/friends are! There are many benefits I’ve only dreamed of.
You’ll get used to it one day. And even start to love it!
Once the boys pass you up in high school, it’s not too bad. So Alyssa would say!

-Kelly Douglass

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Dear Maddy,

I towered over most too. Finding jeans long enough and skinny enough was a challenge. But  you will find stores that carry long length. Rue 21 carries them. Embracing the height should be done, though. Wearing high heels will be a bonus to finding tall men. Heck, even short guys like tall women. I remember being 5’10” in Jr. High and dating guys that were barely 5′. Lol. Tall is different. Tall is special. I am between 6’2″ and 6’4″ with heels today and I loooooooove it!!!!!!!!!!!

-Christine Brock

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Dear Maddy

As a woman who has been 6 ft. tall since I was twelve, I can assure you your height is a great thing! You can look most everyone in the eye with confidence. You never have to wear heels if you don’t want to – and if you do, prepare to be the belle of the ball! People will automatically view you as more confident if you own your height. Play sports. Stand out in a crowd. There are so many women that would love to be as statuesque as you!

-Heather RobertsQ

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Dear Maddy…boys love tall girls with big butts…little known secrets…get tall…don’t worry about your butt!
Sincerely
6ft tall big assed Rhonda

-Rhonda Peterson

Only the Unlonely

It happened just the way I’d pictured it. We waved goodbye to our girls; one tall, one small, hand-in-hand, backpack-strapped, escorted by a flight attendant aboard a plane headed for Nana’s house. And, as anticipated, tears were spilled. We sat at the gate long after it had emptied, awaiting departure, and, an extremely somber 30 minutes later, they were gone.

A few blocks from the airport we dined at our favorite sushi place and gradually I felt the mood begin to lift. Clouds rolled backward, heavens opened up, and to our mutual amazement, something like a choir of joyous angels descended unto earth, banishing sorrow in a sweet falsetto, “Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found theeeeeeee,” and all at once it hit us: we were FREE!

Two seconds after arriving home the mister was naked. Simply to be naked. And, unless forced to be in public, he ceased wearing clothes altogether. At some point I found him standing in the backyard, basking in the setting sun, a warm breeze blowing through his…chest hair. We giggled like loons. We agreed to have naked breakfast on the patio that weekend, because….what neighbors? Neighbors who? We’re a childless couple now. We’re naked old people in our backyard now; top o’ the morning to ya!

Nudey-dudey breakfast time never came to pass, however, for we did something far greater with our mornings; we slept in. We stayed out late, we woke late, we lounged in bed, snuggled like it was an Olympic sport, made each other laugh, made each other smile, made out, napped, watched t.v., ventured outdoors only for food, came home and did it all over it again. We stocked the refrigerator with kale, fish, coconut Thai tomato soup and stinky cheese. We hatched a plan to scope out recipes; alternating nights in which one would surprise the other with an exciting new dish. We didn’t purchase a single frozen toaster pastry, shitty chemical-flavored cheese cracker, or any product with a character from Frozen on it. It was like living in a dream.

By Sunday I, too, had kicked the habit of wearing clothes. Had we ever gotten along so well? Ever been more in love? Was it as magical back when we were dating? I didn’t think so. And the house! We’d cleaned it just after our daughters left, and days later…it was still clean! I turned to my beloved, bald, giant, hairy nudist and cried, “It’s THEM! It’s always been THEM!”

But at the close of our refreshing weekend, around 10 PM, he learned his father had been hospitalized in Michigan. He spent Monday morning gathering info, Monday afternoon making travel arrangements, and by Tuesday morning I was once more at the airport waving farewell (though I’m relieved to report, his pops is presently on the mend and recovering well).

My 37th birthday followed, the very next day, and every member of my household was in a different state; one in Florida, one in Washington, one in Michigan. I was a little bummed out by this, until I reminded myself how I’d kicked them all out, on purpose, just three weeks prior – for Mother’s Day. That was my gift request: GET. OUT. I only wanted time to myself, without having to go anywhere to get it. I sent my little family out to dinner and just kicked back in silence, soaking in the stillness, and ignoring texts like, “If you change your mind, we’d love for you to join us” and “I wish you were with us mama.” Perhaps the opposite of leaving me in peace, but I didn’t mind. I also didn’t feel bad. I told my preteen, “Someday, you’ll be all grown up and out on your own. Someday you might live a zillion miles away and I will miss you like a crazy person. And someday I’ll thrill to get a phone call from you, I’ll ache to spend time with you, and I’ll count the minutes until I see you again. But NOT today.”

And thus, Life, being funny the way Life insists it’s very funny, said, “Happy Birthday, Niki! Here’s some of that mega-extended ‘me time’ you value so much. We left the cat. Cheers.”

But joke’s on Life, for once, since I’ve been enjoying myself. Between my husband making surprise birthday arrangements before he left town and my co-workers/friends rallying around me, I’ve been quite content. In the week and a half since the fam deserted, I’ve discovered this weird, yet incredible thing called “do whatever you want.” I make whatever I want for dinner, rent whichever movie I please, go to bed at any ungodly hour suitable to my fancy, and I leave the house without announcing where I’m going, or when I’ll be back. I answer to no one! Except the cat.

Dr. Pickles disapproves, but he’s not the boss of me.

Dr. Pickles

The entire scenario has caused me to reflect on the fact that I’ve never lived alone. I talk a lot about growing up alone in the woods – and minus a pack of wolves raising me, it’s mostly true. Between the ages of five and twelve I lived smack-dab in the middle of 17 acres of forest, and because my stepfather hated children (and being that I was a child, sucked to be me) I was forbidden to have friends over. I spent A LOT of time alone. With a cat.

As an adult woman, though, not so much. I’ve lived with my mother, a roommate, a significant other, or, later on, my first born – but never alone. Good thing I got so much practice at solitude when I was small, it made the last several days doable. Pleasant, even. Definitely an interesting and introspective journey, but I’m done now. All done. All caught up on the “me time.” If this is some “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of shit, go ahead and hook Clarence up with those wings, Universe, because I got the message. I’d like my family back now, please.
Posthaste, tout de suite, and hurry the lonesome hell up.
They are my life, and my God am I a lucky woman for it.

Moments and Mementos

Throwing the first of what will likely become an annual holiday party in our home, we invited our guests to bring wrapped, inexpensive mystery presents to be won in a dice game. A “Dirty Dice” holiday game (not that kind of dirty) that my family has played every Christmas for the last twenty years. We just call it “The Dice Game” but when I searched it for its official rules, “Dirty Dice” it was. So named for the last, frantic fifteen minutes of cut-throat present stealing. It really helps draw out the inner greedy, materialistic bastard in us all – otherwise known as “The Christmas Spirit.”

TreeThe game was a smash, hence plans for future events, but a couple of unexpectedly cool things happened besides good times, gift hoarding, and my husband dressing as Santa, passing out presents to the little ones. See, some of our friends identify themselves as introverts. And I can relate to the socially awkward. I grew up in a tree talking to a cat. I believe the movie “Nell” was loosely based on my childhood. But I watched the socially uncozy unite during our gathering. There was a fellow, a new friend’s husband, who was, to the watchful eye, clearly uncomfortable in the crowd of strangers. Another of our self-proclaimed wallflower friends took the goodwill initiative and led the newcomer on a tour of my husband’s action figure packed man cave; more commonly referred to as the “Joe Room”, but also known in some circles as “Geek Mecca.” When the newcomer and his wife bid us goodnight he said, “I just want to tell you, I normally hate parties. My wife had to drag me here. But I had such a good time! You guys are awesome!”

Best compliment of 2013. God it feels good making others feel good.

Highlight dos arrived when a few friends recognized some of my holiday décor for the vintage childhood memorabilia it really is. I had no idea the Christmas Countdown Mouse Calendar had once been so popular. And I don’t know how it went down in other 80s and 90s homes, but in mine, my mother told me the elves came each night to leave candy in the pocket of the newest December day. My most vivid memory of this calendar was the year she underwent back surgery. Being that I was 10 years old, and no longer bought the elf story…but still liked candy very much, my mom pre-packed all days she’d be away in the hospital – a little over a week. I remember looking at that calendar, and the numbered pockets full of chocolates, feeling sad that she would be gone so long, feeling worried and scared for her health, and feeling loved because she’d taken the time to fill my calendar. I felt a mixture of trepidation and reverence. And then I ate ALL the candy at once.

I may have left a few days worth, for sentimentality’s sake. I can’t recall. That was so last century.

IMG_0079But the conversation of youthful yuletide totems led to the pieces of personal history that hung from my tree. Moreover, the ingenious tradition my mother began in 1979, when she bought me my first ornament featuring Pooh Bear and Piglet. Every year afterward she took me to the Hallmark store and had me choose a keepsake. She told me they’d be the ornaments I moved away from home with, someday, and the very first tree of my own would sparkle with the memories my childhood. And that’s exactly what happened.

IMG_0089Every year, when I unbox the squirrels on the telephone, I’m reminded that when I was 13 years old I could not be pried from the phone. And when I hang the Heathcliff ornament on my tree, the one I picked out when I was 7 (my mom labeled all the boxes with the year I chose them, because she’s awesome like that), I wonder if anyone even remembers who Heathcliff was.IMG_0073 There are adorable years, like racoon-riding-a-skateboard year, because I was into raccoons and cute skateboarders. And there are solemn years, like the year my mentor lost her young life in a head-on collision with a semi-trailer, and I chose an angel to represent her.IMG_0075

IMG_0096As I pointed out these artifacts, sharing their stories, a few people said, “Wow. I’m stealing your mom’s idea.” And they should. And you should, too. It’s a beautiful thing to give your children; little memories of long ago Christmases to adorn their someday trees, all their later on lives.

IMG_0109Naturally, I carry on this tradition with my own daughters. Though we’re not bound to the sacredness of the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament. In fact, this year’s additions were hand painted and shipped to us by my talented auntie Holly (I share the link to her Etsy shop and Facebook page every chance I get, she’s amazing). My eldest received a Hunger Games inspired ornament, a Sally one was made for my “Nightmare Before Christmas” obsessed youngest, and a surprise “Breaking Bad” piece came for me. Yay! Because what says “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” better than a little Heisenberg?IMG_0106

Now, I’m not sure my girls appreciate the ornament ritual just yet. I mean, they love choosing their annual baubles, but they’re already critical of choices they made just a year or two previous. My eldest rolls her eyes at her 4 year old “Barbie Princess” pick, while my youngest is so over her 2 year old “Go, Diego, Go!” selection. And that’s fine. It still goes up on our tree, just as I hope they will one day be displayed as lovingly upon the girls “someday” ones.

And we’ll wonder if anyone remembers who the hell Diego was.
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