Possessed

We’ve been through pestilence this winter: flu, lice, Fifth disease (which I correctly diagnosed using pediatric medicine sites prior to a doctor’s visit). There were family visits that involved hosting a dozen different relatives in the space of a week between Christmas and New Years’. I served orange juice to my young niece and nephew in shot glasses while adults sipped champagne out of sleek stemware. My husband’s three-week business trip coincided with 1) Snowmaggedon 2015, 2) my Ides of March manuscript deadline, and 3) my son’s first ER trip for a broken collarbone. I even pulled a wiggly tooth that gushed blood everywhere a mere 54 hours before the designated blood-and-guts parent returned home. But the event that has finally led to a blog post after a long drought occurred this morning when I greeted a neighbor who was out walking her energetic dog at 8 am while I was elbow-deep in my own trash dumpster.

Shit gets real fast when you’re explaining that behavior.

Anyone for a  little Dumpster diving after breakfast?

Anyone for a little Dumpster diving after breakfast?

Aside: My neighbors probably didn’t bat an eye when they saw me curbside pulling dripping garbage bags from the plastic can. I’m that crazy neighbor who yells at her children to “get the hell inside NOW,” thereby scaring the sweet girl from across the street who immediately disappears into her house while my two hooligans gauge how serious I am. First, the retirees in my neighborhood live vicariously through my parenting fails. I remind them of simpler times when they had to work and parent school-aged children instead of vacationing in Mexico and Key West during February. Second, other parents of young children take solace in my presence because I make them look good. Third, childless couples conclude they’ve made wise life decisions.

In the spirit of over-sharing, I’ll confess that I was searching for a lost Kindle Fire (my son’s gateway drug). Like any saavy kid, he had the good sense to hang back in the garage to hide when he saw the neighbor lady walking her dog. I charged out there to eliminate one more possible hiding place before the trash guys arrived. I should have been inside packing lunches or listening to my daughter practice the piano. Instead, I attacked that week’s worth of garbage with the energy of someone who snorts cocaine.

Aside: Rest assured, dear readers, I do not snort cocaine. It is a metaphor. Your kids can still have play dates at my house. I have imbibed with the occasional cocktail, but always after lunchtime, except for that one time I put Bailey’s in my coffee when school was closed due to snow for the fourth consecutive morning or the time I had mimosas with a friend after putting the kids on the school bus to celebrate a special occasion that I can’t clearly remember right now.

Back to the over-sharing part: while standing outside on a humid, 30-degree morning the day before the official start of Spring, a day that weather forecasters predict may include some snow accumulation, I was mad. Mad at myself for giving a six-year-old boy a device that he really isn’t old enough to be responsible for. Mad at myself for engaging in a housecleaning blitzkrieg that amounts to stashing shit anywhere I can before the cleaning lady shows up to sterilize the place. Mad at myself for accidently wheeling the recycling bin in last week before the pick up, thereby resulting in 2 weeks’ worth of newspapers and plastics to sort through. Mad at myself because my kids are growing up with a ridiculous amount of toys when there are kids in our community who eat two of their three daily meals at school and wear clothes that I place in goodwill boxes.

Aside: Now, back to the shit part of this post.

My lovely, kind, wonderful, slightly twisted neighbor catches me dumpster diving and promptly tells me a story of someone losing a pair of eyeglasses among seven garbage bags containing freshly raked leaves. Unlike my son’s Kindle Fire, the glasses turned up in the second to last bag. I laugh and turn to resume my task, but not before she adds, “At least there isn’t poop in there.” Because it can always be worse than it is…

Aside: If you’re of the Catholic persuasion, consider praying to whichever saint finds lost shit for my son’s electronic device. The rest of you, just send good vibes and keep those misery-loves-company stories flowing.

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50 Shades of Listen to Your Mother!

The list for the new Listen To Your Mother DC 2015 cast is up here. Congratulations to all who are joining the family including my writing group member, Caron Martinez.

A year ago, when I joined my writing partner Melissa Scholes Young on the LYTM cast list, I thought I had a complete memoir manuscript about my childhood experiences growing up non-Mormon in Utah. Life kept happening though. As my story grew, I started adding, and taking away, and adding, and taking away. I gained a fabulous reader along the journey in Deb Werrlein, a fellow LTYM alum. Currently, I am revising my manuscript for a March 15 deadline.  I look forward to submitting my work to Kate Hopper and meeting her at River Teeth Nonfiction Conference in late May for a consultation. Between now and then, I will take time to build new relationships within the LTYM community and become an audience member once again for the May 3, 2015 show.

If you’re one of the new cast members who is trolling blogs to find out what you got yourself into, I can only offer you this: like motherhood, it will be different from what you imagine. If it helps, you can watch my video clip here and read my reflection on the day of the show here. Good luck.

Things I Carried Home

Tuesday we returned from our 10-day journey to the West mostly intact. “Mostly” is the key word here.

Aside: Mostly, I held my shit together during the trip. There was that one incident when we finally arrived in a hotel room one block from Ogden City LDS Temple, and I started yelling expletives at my children as soon as the door slammed shut. They were fighting. We’d been in the car together for six hours, the rolling suitcase weighed 49.5 lbs. (my husband is a Boy Scout), and we were at day 5.

Hahn Vagabonds

Hahn Vagabonds

Unpacking our suitcases in the safety of my own home reminded me of a grad school writing assignment. The esteemed Alan Cheuse asked our class to describe a room, a person, or an object without including commentary. I’m sure there was a profound lesson in writing that I failed to grasp because I had to redo the assignment.

Aside: I’m a non-fiction writer; I thrive on navel-gazing. Also, my MFA diploma is safely on the wall, so I am I’m going to break the rules again, Alan.

Mixed in with the dirty laundry, these objects emerged: 

  • The Fault In Our Stars sounded like a quick read for a vacay, but I ended up reading by the bathroom light in the hotel room late one night and sobbing myself to sleep. My mother has congestive heart failure and pulmonary fibrosis, so a novel about a lung cancer patient probably wasn’t the best choice for this particular excursion that involved pushing Mom around in a wheelchair and changing oxygen tanks every two hours.  
  • Disposable booties from touring the Ogden City LDS Temple (disclaimer: I did not actually save these, but I wish I had because they were far more interesting than the tract I picked up during the tour). Growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon, the temple had an invisible DO NOT TRESPASS sign posted on it. Only Mormons in good standing can enter. The exception to this is during open houses for new or remodeled temples when the public can tour a temple before the consecration ceremony. Throughout my childhood, Mom did her best to convince me that these spaces were sinister. Nonetheless, I could not resist the invitation that coincided with our vacation. While I sat with my children and husband waiting for the tour to commence, I reminded myself to take deep breaths because I was good enough to be in God’s presence.
  • Receipt from Rooster Restaurant on 25th Street in Ogden, Utah. Back in the day, this particular street was associated with hookers and drug dealers; however, the downtown area has since undergone a revitalization. While walking to dinner with my best friend from high school, I passed an “adult” shop to have dinner at this hip watering hole. Utah has long boasted microbreweries and coffee shops as a certain counter-cultural badge of honor. Spending two hours with my wonderful friend provided so many chances to laugh and reflect on my rich life is as a mother, wife, and writer. The two vodka tonics also helped, which brings me to the item that should have come home in my suitcase:
  • Bottles of @FiveWivesVodka I’ll admit that I only ordered that brand for bragging rights, but damn if it wasn’t tasty. I’ve been lighting up twitter with my praises for the distillery in Ogden, Utah in hopes they’ll send me a case (or at least a bottle). A bottle could help relax the back spasms that started the morning after we returned home when I reached into the suitcases to sort dirty laundry.

#TBT Puppy Love

Aside: It’s #TBT. My husband and I recently celebrated 19 years of wedded bliss, which made me reflect on our life together. According to Hallmark’s website, wood is the traditional gift for a 5th wedding anniversary. We took a slightly different road….

My husband and I felt prepared for puppy parenthood. Neither of us had previously owed a large-breed dog, nor did we know anyone with a Golden Retriever; nonetheless, we had fallen in love. Every anniversary up to that point, we had given each other cards with fuzzy, blond puppies – a short of promissory note for our future plans. By our fifth anniversary, we finally owned a house with a backyard – the time had come to take the next step. If we didn’t screw up a dog too badly, we reasoned, we’d be ready for kids in a couple of years.

Aside: No need for a cheeky aside here for those readers who have had dogs and/or kids. For those readers who haven’t, all I can say is it’s not the same at all.

Scouring the classifieds one morning, I reported, “They want $600 for a pure bred.”

“Wow, that much?” Pete remarked.

I located the “Golden Retriever mix” listings. Over the phone, the breeder touted her puppies as a marvel of genetic engineering: a black, male Labradoodle coupled with a female Golden Retriever.

“She has two male puppies that look just like Goldens,” I said, trying to sell Pete on driving out to see them.

“They sound like mutts,” he scoffed.

“They’re only $300,” I pleaded. “Besides, I told her we’d be there tonight.”

Aside: One secret to our happy marriage is that Pete humors me 95% of the time.

While Pete drove, I studied the labyrinth of country roads labeled with numbers on a Virginia map. At some point, I announced that we were lost.

Aside: GPS devises have saved our marriage on several occasions in more recent years.

Since we didn’t have a cell phone (it was 2000), Pete located a pay phone outside a decrepit roller skating rink and parked. Picking up the receiver, I dialed the number and placed it near my ear. Nothing.

Aside: I briefly considered returning to the car and making Pete go inside, but I am the one who takes care of these interactions. Besides, I needed to save face. The guilty need to correct errors may also be one of our secrets for marriage.

The painted cinder block walls and smell of sweaty socks wafting from the skate rental counter transported me back to fifth grade. A large, hairy, old man leaned on the lower half of a Dutch door. I informed him that the phone didn’t seem to work.

“Are you makin’ a long distance call or something?” the man eyed me.

“No, it’s a 703 number.”

“Lady, 703 is for Washington, D.C. This here’s 540 area code,” he announced as though we were in California rather than 50 miles outside of our nation’s capital.

I inhaled slowly thinking about how 703 actually belonged to Fairfax County, not D.C. Rather than pointing this out, I switched tactics, “Do you know where 255 Road is?”

“Sure. That’s way up past Dinosaurland and the Texaco station.”

I thanked him and returned to the car. Following a subsequent stop at a payphone that accepted 703 numbers, we found the breeder’s farm.

Aside: Marriage, like writing, requires frequent revisions. It’s pretty much trial and error.

When we arrived, an adult Golden Retriever herded puppies out of our path. One hyper, golden male crouched underneath Pete while his curly-haired, black sister gave me her belly to rub. Once we homed in on these two, the breeder instructed her husband to send the competition back to the kennel.

The female was obviously more submissive, but we had our hearts set on the golden fur. We chose the male despite the fact that we had witnessed him eating horse poop earlier.

Aside: We were smitten. We love a challenge. Enough said.

While Pete held the puppy, I wrote out the check, signed the sales agreement, and listened to all the vaccine information.

“He will probably have worms and fleas,” the breeder warned.

It was too late to be put off by this. He was ours, worms and all.

During the car ride home, I sat in the backseat stroking our puppy. Without my help navigating, Pete found the way home. Once we arrived, I remembered that we hadn’t read any of the chapters on puppy care.

Aside: It’s tempting to draw conclusions from this pattern of being lost, gaining clarity (or at least deluding ourselves into thinking we knew what we were doing), and becoming lost again. Marriage, like writing, isn’t that tidy though.

Henri (pronounced “ornery” when we wanted to be pretentious) kept us company for 11 of our 19 years as a couple. For the first two of those years, we patched drywall and wood trim around the house. Despite our failure to train Henri to heel during walks, we brought home a human baby girl to add to our brood. The dog was perfectly fine until we introduced a second child into the mix. At that point, he developed skin problems and began surfing the counters for bread products. He may have been allergic to our son.

Living up to his name

Living up to his name

Aside: Pete and I once agreed that there were about six good years during Henri’s life span, excluding the first two and the last three.

When it came time to say our goodbyes, we were sad. We loved our dog, but we loved each other and our kids more, which is why we don’t have any plans for a dog in the near future. Perhaps we’ll feel differently 19 years from now when we are empty-nesters, contemplating what to do with ourselves while our children make their way in the world.

Aside: Sometimes in a marriage, you have to know when to say “Mercy.”

Busy Signal

Aside: I’ve put 200 miles on my car this week chauffeuring kids to camps. In my spare time, I’ve been revising my memoir manuscript and shopping antiques with alexandradesignfinds.com. Yesterday my blog post deadline came and went. Trust me when I say that I’m collecting material for future posts, but for now, I’m exhausted. My blog stats and comments tell me that I’m trending with the retired women who know and love me, as well as with random people from Brazil, Ghana, and Italy who stumble upon this site using God-only-knows-what search terms. While it seems a little early in Off the Page’s life for this, I’m falling back on “Best of the Blog” in hopes that my readers will have some time to catch up on their job: namely reading, liking, and sharing my posts, so that I can become a famous writer whose inbox spills over with offers by literary agents for representation. Get to work, people!

Of Paint and Writing

Big Cheese

SUP?!?!

Under Our Canopy

If You Loan a Writer a Car…

phone

 

Party Like It’s 1999

My birthday, which fell on a Saturday this year, started off in the nicest possible way with funny cards from my kids and husband over breakfast. Once we finished eating, I became a taskmaster, handing out assignments to prepare for the birthday party we were hosting that afternoon with family friends.

THWUNK! was not the sound I expected to hear when I sent my husband outside to sweep off the front porch. From inside, I saw the ladder against the tree. Confused, I ran out the storm door, saying “what the….”

Aside: Pete insists that I used swear words. I have no such recollection, but must admit that it would be entirely out of character for me to curb my tongue at such a moment.

While we stared at the large tree limb in our front yard, Pete said, “That was a little bigger than I thought.”

Aside: We joke that I am spatially inept. Twice, I’ve convinced Pete to purchase items with the reassurance that they’d fit in the car. For the record, both the propane grill and the plastic lawn chairs did fit after we unpacked the box and disassembled them.

Because he knows me well, my husband was not happy to see me at that particular moment. “Blog Post?!?” he muttered.

Aside: Saturdays are ripe for material. If you don’t want to be “material” for my ramblings, you ought to avoid me. I post on Thursdays, obsessively check my blog stats for two days, and realize that I my next self-imposed deadlines is coming.

When I offered to help, Pete hesitated before accepting. The kids got in on the action. Forty-five minutes later, we had four lawn bags full of leaves and branches stacked neatly at the curb. It was not how I had imagined spending my morning.

Aside: Did I mention that it was my birthday? Some girls get manis and pedis on their birthdays; I chop firewood.

Moping about the turn of events, I attacked the weeds that surrounded our azalea bushes near the front walk and thought back to my birthday fifteen years earlier. Pete and I had moved to Virginia in July 1999 for his first job out of grad school; his start date fell on my birthday. To make matters worse, our furniture was scheduled to arrive that day. I spent my 27th birthday in a vacant apartment located 2,000 miles away from family and friends, jumping up to look out the front window every time I heard a large truck. When Pete came home, the furniture had not arrived. He took me to dinner, and then we slept on the floor for the fifth night in a row.

Aside: Congratulations on hanging in through that bummer of a story, dear reader. I promise not to end on a bad note because posts, like Disney movies, need happy endings.

Wallowing in self-pity, I moved onto the side of my house and pulled more weeds until a sharp pain shot through one finger. My expletive caught the attention of a man walking his dog down our street. By the time he circled back up our cul de sac (and crossed to the opposite side of the street), I was attempting to clean out two small cuts.

I spent the rest of the morning cleaning and cooking (and by cooking, I mean transferring baked potato salad from the Wegman’s container to my own Corning ware). Between chores, I read birthday wishes on Facebook and texts from family and friends. Many of my friends are people I didn’t know fifteen years ago. I’ve made them while teaching at Chantilly High for four years, raising a puppy who grew into a geriatric dog and died two years ago, completing an MFA program in writing at George Mason University, attending Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Reston, and sitting poolside at Lake Audubon during swim seasons. I have two kids who are old enough to do chores and mostly take care of their own hygiene. My husband loves me and doesn’t mind that I refer to him as my Sugar Daddy. The last fifteen years have been good to me. I’m forty-two!

Aside: What that means is that I can plan my own birthday celebration, get away with cursing while weeding my garden, and feed my guests whatever I want. I’ve earned my gray hairs, jowls, muffin top, and bingo wings (thanks, Kate Coveney Hood, for that terminology).

Our friends arrived with flowers, gifts, and birthday cake. We partied like it was 1999.

Aside: Except for the 27-year-old body.

If You Loan a Writer a Car….

It’s 90 degrees in Virginia with at least 80% humidity. I know this because the air conditioning in my car crapped out the week I volunteered to serve as a shuttle bus operator for my son and his friend. They’re heading to Camp Invention, and I am in charge of pick up (PU) during the hottest part of the day.

Aside: If you have kids, you should definitely check out Camp Invention. The kids take shit apart (and by shit, I mean the electronics lurking in your basement that no longer work) and design new machines out of junk in your recycle bins. If you’re lucky, your kid won’t be able to bring any of these creations home at the end of the week.

Hauling two sweaty 6 year-old boys around on Monday motivates me to schedule the oil change that’s 3,000 miles overdue and to ask the car dealership to add Freon. Because it’s 90 degrees with 80% humidity, the other million people who live in my county have the same idea. The soonest appointment is Friday. I can drop off my car Thursday and pick up a loaner car with A/C in time for afternoon PU at camp.

Except that they’re out of loaner cars an hour before PU.

Fast forward to me sitting in a hot car with my charges while phoning the dealership, which is only three miles from the PU site. They have one! I rush to the dealership without breaking any traffic laws, hustle the boys out of the hot car with their backpacks and booster seats, and herd them into the office. After four days of riding around without A/C, we are all eager for bone-chilling air. Paperwork, key exchange, gathering of belongings, and we walk to our new ride.

IMAG0855

“Blue” turns out to be neon blue. The 4” letters emblazoned on the rear window that spell out the dealership name don’t faze me. Nor does the compact size. We are about to have A/C. I shove (or rather gently secure) the boys in the backseat and open the driver’s door. “Ew yuck,” I hear before the heat and the smell overtake me. “Just wait, I’ll get the A/C on,” I say.

Aside: I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country and pride myself in trying to be moderate in my consumer habits. My SUV is nine years old. It has crumbs and stains galore, but this loaner car has just grossed out two sweaty 6 y.o. boys.

I can barely see out the back window because it is so small. What I can see is obscured by white letters. The side mirrors have some funky second smaller mirrors on them that disorient me every time I change lanes. Still, having a car, even a loaner car, is a privilege. There are homeless people sleeping behind my church, for God’s sake.

My resolve cracks Friday afternoon at PU when I receive the call from the dealership. It isn’t the estimate ($1,600 for a new air compressor); it’s the prospect of keeping the loaner car for an entire weekend. My SUV is the swim meet car, the one that can haul a 12’ canopy, 4 lawn chairs, a cooler of snacks, and towels. It still has greasy handprints where my son touched the exterior and interior after applying sunscreen.

We could make it work. The glitch is that I previously offered to drive into DC with a woman I barely know who is rungs higher on the career ladder than I. She has a book and a respectable journalism career. Hell, we’re not even on the same ladder.

Aside: This is not like the time I wound up driving Dave Eggers to an event at Fall for the Book because my friend, the festival organizer, walked into a parking garage arm that was descending, got a mild concussion, and asked me to fill in. This is a true, first-world crisis.

Luckily, I am able to weasel out of driving, but accept her offer for a ride. “I can just meet you at your house,” I say. Which sounds like a good idea until I’m about a mile from her house. The homes get bigger, and the lawns more expansive. Holy shit, I’m on her street searching for numbers in a clown car. Her house stands at the top of the cul de sac. I start looking for places to park/hide my car. Except there are no other cars on the street because these houses have three-freaking-car garages and sizable driveways.

I park in the shade and trek up the driveway. The garage magically opens. My writing acquaintance emerges to greet me. Inside the garage, a Tesla sits connected to the charging station.

Aside: Let me be clear, I’ve seen expensive cars when taking my children to play dates with school friends. Porsche, Escalade…but this is a Tesla. True, it’s not a Bentley or a Lamborghini, but hot damn.  

While this Tesla-owning writer runs back into the house to retrieve the keys to the Lexus SUV parked next to it, I text another writer friend. Only my phone’s autocorrect indicates that the car is a “Trespass.” Now she thinks I’m about to commit a crime. Covert texting ensues to clarify.

Aside: This car situation mirrors my own feelings of insecurity about attending an event with fellow writers, many younger with more publications than I.

The trip into the city, the exchanging of business cards, and the pleasant conversation with my new writing friend go well. I soak up her advice and remind myself that she is older and wiser….

When we near her house, my new friend spots my neon blue, clown car. “Oh, that’s you,” she says, parking her Lexus SUV beside it to let me out. I drive away thinking how glad I am that my sunscreen-streaked, crumb-infested vehicle is back at the dealership, far away from the Tesla. I can’t wait to get it back.

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