Non-Toxic Tuesday, At Last

In “And What Do We Learn From This?”,  I explained that I originally named this blog “nontoxicwoman,” because I really did, and still really do, want to take the lessons that I learned from losing Mike and try to apply them in daily life.

Basically, these lessons boiled down to, “be kind.”

Be kind to everyone.

And right there’s where I get tripped up.

Why should it be difficult to be kind?

Well, for me, two reasons (with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson, whose books I have not read): fear and loathing.

The fear comes primarily from a concern for personal safety, health or hygiene. There are some people that make being kind feel risky.

Case in point: the online dating thing got so creepy so fast that I de-activated my accounts. I wish I could consider getting a large, loyal and protective dog, but that won’t work for us, so I’ll have to figure something else out.

The loathing just comes from my inner (well, not so inner, that has been the problem) patronizing, little-miss-smartypants attitude. And that’s the part I’m really trying to work on. Hence, the non-toxic Tuesday challenge.

I will challenge myself to find the person in my life who most drives me up a wall. The human embodiment of fingernails on a chalkboard.

And be nice to that person. Not just today, but from now on.

When I was working, it would have been easy to find that person at any of the many jobs I’ve had. I would have started slow, with just a nice, “Good Morning!” or a “how’re you doing?” They would have been suspicious, because with a person who rubs me the wrong way, I had probably been trying to minimize interaction. Or worse, I was muttering under my breath, rolling my eyes and using the indoor version of the briefcase maneuver to steam right by. Sweet, huh?

But I would have hoped that if I had been successful in being consistently kind, the person would have softened, would have become less annoying, less defensive and more humanized to me.

Or, they might have become clingy, or weirdly resentful, or they might have remained suspicious of my motives. Which wouldn’t have absolved me of the duty of trying to be kind. Because in the words of that Jewel song, “in the end, only kindness matters.”

I hope I have enough time left on my life’s clock to try to put kindness into effect in every corner of my life.

(This may require wallowing in the Snark Tank from time to time, just to get miss smartypants off of here and out of my system, if something sets her off).

It is going to be difficult for me to rise to this challenge right now. I’ve been keeping to myself too much lately. I’ve been skipping church and spending too much time on Facebook and on those online dating services, which have only succeeded in creeping me out. I’m going to stay deactivated for quite a while. I felt so much better so immediately after abandoning the online man-hunt that I now realize I was not ready for that at all. I intend to return to more traditional methods, where you actually interact with live human beings in reasonably safe public or social settings. Wow, brilliant. Shoulda thought of that first.

However, because I’m not working right now, which has fueled my isolation, I’m going to have to work a little to identify the actual live human I interact with regularly who most reliably drives me nuts, so I can consciously be kind to them. One day, I hope it won’t take conscious effort for me just to be kind.

There’s the lady in the neighborhood who knows, has known for decades, that our child is afraid of dogs, yet persists in letting her large, goofy, completely untrained pooch run around unleashed, which freedom the animal uses to stop traffic in the street and to come bounding around our yard.

But I don’t really see her often enough to interact, and the last time didn’t go so well, on my part. I may have pointed out, in not exactly a kind tone of voice, how the lady was the only person around for miles who doesn’t seem to understand how to leash her dog.  Yeah, so, that was a kindness fail, there.

There are drivers, of course. Too fast, too slow, never use their turn signal, weave in and out from lane to lane, text, etc. etc. Lots of material there. That’s a long swim in the Snark Tank that I’ll probably have to take someday soon, but for now, I think I’ll just try to stop swearing and using the word “moron” so much. Not kind.

There are the check-writers, I suppose. You know, the people in the grocery store who still write checks? They always take the extra time to carefully enter the check in their ledger and carefully replace the checkbook in the wallet and then carefully place the wallet in the purse, all the while blocking further progress for the next person in line, which would be – me. Is there a briefcase maneuver for grocery check-out lines? But, it is someone different, every time.

I need to get out there and meet someone more consistently annoying and regularly in my face. In the meantime, I’ll just try deep breathing and reminding myself that I’m supposed to be trying, really trying, to be kind. Maybe someday it will become second nature. I can dream, can’t I?

Sadly, I had another big fail today, when I received a message from someone saying that the message I sent to them was the meanest they ever received. The message to which they referred, the one I sent, that they thought was the meanest they ever got, was a message that contained an apology. Yeah, so, need to keep working on those communication skills, it seems.

Sigh. If at first you don’t succeed…

I’ll keep you posted.

The Bulgarian

I bought the wine for its name, which reminded me of the man. I didn’t care for the wine. The man, however…

My book is called “Detour in Cancerland: In Which A Ridiculous Woman Attempts to Defer Widowhood Through Remodeling (and Lust.)”

Which is the origin of the name of this blog, and a pretty good description of me. Ridiculous woman.

It is critically important to understand that the only ridiculous person in the book is me. Really, it’s no contest.

So back to the title:

The remodeling was for Mike.

The lust was for The Bulgarian.

Allow me to explain.

A few months after Mike was diagnosed, when the chemo seemed to be working and he felt better, I decided to just go ahead and do it. I couldn’t let Mike die never having had a decent kitchen in this house. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen and I wanted to give him a nice one that he could enjoy, for however much time he had left. Here, I’ll show you what I mean – this is “before”:

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Note the peeling paint, and the disgusting black gooey grime on the hideous 1970’s multi-color stripe indoor-outdoor carpeting. The “harvest gold” double sink, which Mike stood in front of for 17 years, washing, washing and washing endless dishes. The fake laminate “butcher block” countertops. The rusting door and drawer pulls. We had duct tape under those hanging cabinets, because if we turned the heat above 64 degrees in winter, water from some invisible ice dam on the roof would drip down behind them onto the counter. Oh, and get this:

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“Harvest Gold” fridge, standing on a piece of plywood. which, when the Bulgarian’s guys demoed the kitchen, I discovered was not completely, not really much at all, covering a hole in the floor that opened into the dirt floor crawlspace below, which must have been the mouse highway. More disgusting gooey black grime on the gross 1970’s indoor-outdoor carpet. You probably can’t see the mouse poo, mouse traps and mouse carcasses, but I assure you, they’re there. The cat did the best she could.

The stove was cheap and newer, because I accidentally set the old one on fire when I turned on the broiler to cook some salmon, not knowing that Mike had stowed a cardboard pizza box in the oven. The broiler was below, so I didn’t have to open the oven door and didn’t see the box Mike had put there. He had gone out for a walk and came home after the fire trucks had left.

OK, so, anyway, I decided to go ahead and do it. Remodel the kitchen.

Enter The Bulgarian, who built the new kitchen for me, for Mike.

And with whom I fell school-girlishly, madly, ridiculously, hilariously in love.

Right in front of my dying husband.

OK, I don’t blame you if you abandon me now. What a heinous, horrible, evil, selfish thing to do. I’ve read about other widows who were overcome by lust for a younger man – but at least they had the decency to wait until after their husbands had died. Me? Nope. When I wasn’t picking up prescriptions or reminding Mike about appointments or trying to help him find a comfortable position in which to rest, or something he could eat without feeling sick, or taking the laundry to the laundromat because the basement has also been demoed, I turned into Sally Brown following my Bulgarian Linus around, with little animated hearts visibly pulsing and floating around my head, every time The Bulgarian walked in the house. And in addition to Mike, all the guys the Bulgarian brought with him to work the job could see it, and they smirked and snickered.

And the Bulgarian, (technically, “Bulgarian-American,” but around here, the “American” is assumed – Mike described himself as Irish, Italian and Polish, not “Irish-Italian-Polish-American” etc.) just calmly carried on, finishing the basement and building the kitchen. And here, look, here’s the new kitchen:

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a man who could build a kitchen like that? Yes, I chose the cabinets, the light fixtures and the colors, and the quartz countertop, but he put it all together, and told me about the Edison bulbs which create that soft, lovely light,

and with one of his helpers, a silent, grumpy, smirking old Bulgarian guy, applied the very thin, natural shell backsplash tile I had chosen, which had to be pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle and nearly drove them both nuts. Some of the seams are visible, and there are a few uneven places, but I don’t care. I find it endearing. It reminds me of the Bulgarian’s amazing endurance, patience and imperturbability. Mike got to cook in this kitchen, several times, before he couldn’t stand up long enough to finish making the soup or the sauce.

The kitchen was meant to evoke my Grandmother’s kitchen in Maine – the beadboard, the color. No cookie-cutter, white, subway-tiled suburban McMansion kitchen for me, for my Mike. This kitchen has character. Mike even arranged what we now call “the cubbyhole,” placing Grandma’s kitchen drop-leaf table and Mom’s chairs in the nook where a “command center” desk and window seat should go, but which I couldn’t afford – I’ll take care of that part when I win the lottery:

If you’re still here, there are a few other things that must be clearly understood.

I loved my husband, and miss him every day. He knew all about my ridiculous crush on the Bulgarian. He watched it unfold, as did everyone else in the house, and he endured the embarrassment of it, along with the banging and the jackhammering and the sawing and sanding and painting, from his sickbed. It only just occurred to me a few weeks ago that it wasn’t really so awful to put him through all that, because the remodeling kept him out of the kitchen, so he didn’t consume all his strength trying to cook and wash dishes, which he would have done, until he fainted, again.

Mike knew me so well. He understood why it (the crush on the Bulgarian) happened, and he forgave me for it. We talked about it. Eventually we laughed about it. And we forgot about it, during those last few months, when the job was done and Mike made it through, to enjoy and cook in a decent kitchen, at last.

And he liked the Bulgarian, whom he described as a sweet, kind man. Which he was.

Exceptionally patient and kind, the both of them, Mike and the Bulgarian, when you consider the magnitude of the ridiculousness.

By which I mean, the Bulgarian, though a grown man, was a little over twenty years younger than I. And though he was a stocky guy, more than a foot taller than I, there is no doubt that at the time, I outweighed him. Substantially.

I’m not sure “ridiculous” really does it justice. I looked like a giant middle-aged human beach ball. And the Bulgarian was, if not young, a lot younger, and strong, and capable, and calm, through all the ridiculousness. And his voice, my God. Deep, rich, smooth, steady. Every time I heard The Bulgarian say my name, I tried something else, something more, to make myself into something resembling a woman. Eventually I got a job that kept me on my feet moving around all day, and I started to lose weight, fast. Which I hope in some small way pleased Mike, because I hadn’t had much motivation in that direction for very long time.

The book tells the whole sad, silly, ridiculous story from the time Mike was diagnosed through the year after he died. And I’m telling you this now because, if you read yesterday’s post, I seem to have embarked on my next round of ridiculousness. So I thought I should explain the ridiculous part, because that’s the theme here, along with laughter and love, and it seems that’s just who I am. Ridiculous.

What could possibly have possessed me?

I plead temporary insanity. I really do think that finding out my husband had eighteen months to live sent me over the edge, there. Which is what I told The Bulgarian when I apologized to him for it.

And you know what he said? He said I had nothing to apologize for, nothing to be embarrassed about.

“It happens on every job,” he said. He seemed to be referring generally to highly emotional behavior – all clients lose their minds as a remodeling job drags on and on, I suppose (but not all of them are trying to get a job done before their spouse dies). The Bulgarian made it very clear, though, that he didn’t want to talk about my specific type of emotion.

But because of his patience, his kindness, his listening and his magnificent voice, I could easily believe that “it happens on every job” meant that every fat, middle-aged woman The Bulgarian ever worked for fell madly in love with him. Besides which, he knew how to do everything.

I was comforted when I talked to a few friends, and confessed my absurd crush, and they told me that the exact same thing had happened to them. They fell in love with their electrician, or their carpenter or their painter on their remodeling project, for the same kinds of reasons. They were young, strong, capable and they would listen and talk to you. So, maybe it does happen on every job.

I explained it to Mike, when he asked how this could be, how could I possibly be making such a ridiculous fool of myself, drenching myself in perfume, suddenly using vats of skin products, fixing my hair every day, for this…this…Bulgarian? this way:

“It’s very simple. There are three reasons I am in love with him. First, even though he’s getting paid for it, he listens to and actually remembers everything I say to him. Second, he does what I ask him to do….., eventually; and third, HE NEVER YELLS AT ME.”

“Ha. In sharp contrast to me,” said Mike. (We talked like that. One thing we had going for us was honestly. Sometimes brutal honesty).

I didn’t say anything to that. Which was a way of acknowledging its truth. Mike could remember every move of every chess game and every shot of every tennis match he ever played. But he couldn’t remember a damn thing I said to him, for 26 years.

Widows aren’t supposed to admit this sort of thing, that their marriage was difficult, hanging by a thread. There was nothing remotely normal about our marriage (if there is any such thing as a normal marriage.) And though we had many happy times, shared lots of laughter, enjoyed reading to each other and listening to music and watching hockey and goofing around, there was also the fact that for years and years, Mike’s communication with me see-sawed between sullen silence and terrifying, frequently irrational, or to me at least inexplicable, screaming rage. I learned to manage it, to let him yell it out, and then days later, to go back and talk about whatever it was that set him off, if he could remember, or articulate it, and we’d move on.

While he was a difficult husband, he was an exceptional, fantastic father to our developmentally different child, and we stuck together for that, and we made it through, and we found the love again. And for that (in addition to the new, beautiful kitchen) I will always be grateful to The Bulgarian. Because having him around gave Mike a chance to remember what I looked like when I was in love, and I think to want to be the one on the receiving end of that look again. Once the Bulgarian was done with the job and out of our lives, that look was for Mike alone, and we talked and laughed and enjoyed that new kitchen together for several months before his strength faded.

When I stand in that kitchen now, at night after the dishwasher is loaded and our child has gone to bed, in the soft glow of the Edison bulbs and the rich gleam of that natural shell tile, I can see them both there. Mike cooking his last pot of spaghetti sauce, his last vat of chicken soup for our child, saying, by way of thanks, even if he didn’t mean it, he wanted me to know he appreciated it all, “Wow, look at this kitchen! And Mom did all the prep! Prep is everything!” because I had peeled the carrots and washed and chopped the celery and had everything organized into labeled plastic storage containers in our gorgeous new stainless steel fridge, so all he had to do was put everything in the pot and season it in his way, which is about as much as he could do by then.

And I see The Bulgarian there, puzzling over some newly uncovered, weird remnant of past do-it-yourselfing (we live on the “do it yourself” side of town) and I hear him saying my name in that rich voice, humoring me. No harm, no foul. He just did it to keep the job moving, to calm me down and to try to be as unobtrusive as possible as he toiled away for months, finishing the basement and building that kitchen for me, for Mike.

So there you have it. That explains the ridiculous.

My beautiful, heroic Mike endured it all, and said that he liked the result. In the end, he and the Bulgarian became friends in a way, because they spent a lot of time together in this house while I was at work, and when the house was finally quiet again, something about it all seemed worth it. Mike and I found our deepest love again.

And I like to believe that Mike, seeing me in the throes of this crazy crush, was comforted in some way, that I might try to love someone new after he was gone. I hope that’s true, anyway.

So, that brings us around to ridiculous, round two, online dating. That is turning out to have a great deal of potential, on the ridiculousness scale.

Oh, geez. Mike, hon, I know you’re there, listening somehow. Thanks for forgiving me for it all. Help me out here. Can you find me someone who’ll let me be my ridiculous self, and love me for it, like you did?

Based on results so far, that could take quite a while. So I’m sure I’ll have a lot more ridiculous experiences, and ridiculous behavior on my part, to tell you about, once the book on round one is truly done.

Until then I remain, your humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculous Woman

(the “humble, obedient etc.” stuff comes from my obsession with the Aubrey-Maturin books, which I’m reading again now, so I find myself lapsing into this eighteenth century parlance from time to time. I do beg pardon…)

Thankful Thursday: Good day, Sunshine

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
to the last syllable of recorded time….”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5

Today I’m just grateful the sun came out.

Because if it hadn’t I might have spent another day in bed.

God, I hate January. It drags on and on, first frigid, then gray and damp, mushy, slushy and then frigid again, grey, fog, rain, snow, slush, mush, on and on and on, seemingly until the last syllable of recorded time. I feel days lost and lost, time passing with no purpose, no joy (except the joy of our child, the best human on the planet, and the person for whom I must go on, keep the chin up, keep calm and carry on etc.)

Depression runs in the family on my Dad’s side, but I never thought I’d be the one. And I’m fighting it.

But I did quit a really good job because of it. I found myself crying spontaneously at unpredictable moments in a job that requires a lot of public contact. So nope, no more of that.

I suppose I could give myself a break and stop beating myself up for doing that – I really loved the job but I really did need the time. The reason I keep bursting into tears is that I missed my best work buddy, who died about 7 months after my husband Mike died. Mike was two years younger than I. (Yes, “I,” not “me.” You wouldn’ t say “he was younger than me was.”) My work buddy was eighteen years younger than I at the time he died. That sucked.

And I realized I was also letting other stupid things at work get to me in a really outsized way, and I knew I needed to do what Mike told me to do before he died. “Take some time, Anne,” he said.

He was right, as usual, and I didn’t listen to him, as usual. Until I quit.

Which was at the end of July.

I set goals, many of which I achieved. Start this blog, clean the house, write the book. Not quite done with the book yet, but getting close. The book explains ridiculousness, phase one and is the reason I named the blog ridiculouswoman.

But I was also supposed to try and have a new job by January.

Not even close. Haven’t even really tried at all. Not feeling it. But I have to, I have to, one foot in front of the other.

Why do employers make it so damn hard? Every online application is different.

Hey, if colleges can come up with a common application that a kid only has to fill out once with all the usually required stuff, why can’t employers?

There, app developers. I just made you a billion dollars. Come up with the common job app and sell it to employers to make applying less like driving knitting needles into your eyes. Let me know when you’ve got it ready. And hey, gimme a cut of the IPO. I gave you the idea so t’s only fair.

But Tuesday it just all sort of caved in on me. Cabin fever, loneliness, lack of purpose, feeling like each day is just the same as the last.

I had every intention of writing my “non-toxic Tuesday” blog post that day. I dropped our child off at the train and received the text that confirmed safe arrival at the destination. I ate a quick mess of eggs, drank my coffee and went to yoga class.

And I came home and sat down in Dad’s chair. (Dad’s drinking chair. Now mine. But never in the day, except the day I found out my work buddy had died. He was such a good guy, who had faced so many struggles, and he would not have approved.)

No, no day drinking. But consumption of mass quantities of chocolate. Not good.

And I got up an hour later only to go upstairs and go to back to bed.

And I got up only to go back and pick up our child at the train station, and to cook the tacos for taco Tuesday. (Chicken this time, really good. I think I’ll use chicken from now on with Rick Bayless’ pre-packaged sauce for chicken tacos. So there’s that, anyway. Some left over for lunch today, too.)

What brought this on? Just the endless drag of January? The grey, the slush, the fact that the chickens hate it too?

I don’t think that was it.

I think it is Ridiculousness, phase two. (I’ll tell you about phase one tomorrow, if I can get my courage up.)

I put myself on Match.com and OurTime. Which has turned out to be pretty ridiculous.

I don’t think I was ready. But not being ready to do something hasn’t stopped me lately from doing it anyway. (See chickens, above.)

And it has been SO, so depressing.

Misspellings and semi-literacy galore. Guys of a certain age who put shirtless pictures of themselves on their profiles. Guys who didn’t read my profile and seem oblivious to the geographic range I’ve specified.

No less than 6 scammers who wrote to me claiming to be representing a friend who either can’t figure out how to use Match.com for themselves or who is too shy or some such bullshit, giving me an email address to contact said friend, which would only then give the scammers my actual email address, which Match.com does not do. How stupid do I seem? Apparently identifying myself as a widow tags me as that stupid and makes me a scam-magnet.

Smokers, bikers and guys with haircuts from the ’70s.

I tried “Plenty of Fish,” but they required me to disclose income, which I found really offensive, and then they wouldn’t let me delete my profile for 24 hours.

And wouldn’t you know it, right before I deleted it I saw a wonderful profile of a wonderful guy, a guy who quoted Lewis Carroll, but it was too late. Please, Lewis Carroll guy, join Match.com so I can find you again.

But then this morning the sun came out, and I took my vitamins yesterday, including my vitamin D, and I’ll be able to go for a walk today and get some naturally-generated vitamin D.

And I decided that if a guy I like doesn’t quite have the balls to contact me, I’ll go ahead and contact him, and I did. Two guys. Both educated, liberal and funny. And I’m not going to let it get me down if they don’t reply. I’ll just try, try again until someone who likes the same kind of music as I do, who doesn’t mind my frequent use of multi-syllabic words, and who defines himself as liberal but likes to treat a lady like a lady, is willing to talk.

I’ve revised and shortened my profile on Match.com about eight times already. I put the “I’d like to ski again and I’d love to learn to sail” back in, because a guy who seemed kind of OK wants a woman who skis, and his pictures indicate he likes to sail. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Because I remain, your humble, obedient etc.,

Ridiculous woman.

Fiction Friday – Obsession and Possession: Confessions of a Book Hoarder

Some books … become part of me…

The best times of my life have been spent in imaginary places. Or real places that have been populated with imaginary people. I’ve learned more from great novels than from any history book or non-fiction treatise I’ve ever struggled through.

Humans thrive on narrative and storytelling – we make sense of the world by telling stories about it. The stories may be true, or myth or some combination of the two, but a narrative will always stick with me where a dry list of facts may not. Tell me a story, though, in words, or words and music, and I’ll remember.

Some of my best friends are fictional characters. They’re always there for me when I need them, getting into and out of the same scrapes and adventures, saying witty or silly or profound things, expressing their hearts in a way that touches mine. I’ve been a nerd a long time, and often a lonely one, and I’ve always found a friend in a book.

Maybe that’s why it is so hard for me to get rid of books. I used to be unable to get rid of books at all. I’ve gotten more ruthless about it, especially with new books (or books new to me.) If they don’t grab me right away, I ring the bell and shout, “Next!” (See the latest entry over there in the Snark Tank.)

But if the book grabs me, holds my attention, makes me stay up all night to finish it, well, it’s MINE, MINE I tell you! And will be for life. Nothing can induce me to get rid of books that have befriended me, helped me through hard times, and give me something new every time I reread them.

I love historical fiction and speculative fiction, and there are a few books in these categories that have changed my life, or, more accurately, become absorbed into my life – become a part of me.

There is only one series, however, that has very nearly spoiled me for all others. Reading anything else is really just a break from rereading these – the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series: the extended tale of a British Royal Navy captain and his particular friend during the Napoleonic wars.

These are not easy books. The first especially requires a leap of faith – just suspend disbelief and trust that you’ll get it eventually.

I first came upon these books for kind of a silly reason – I have a strict “read the book before you see the movie” rule. Back in 2002 or so, I heard that Russell Crowe (and back then I was still in the throes of a pretty serious Russell Crowe problem) was to star in a film called “Master and Commander.”

So I marched off to the library and that book. And something told me I’d better take the next two in the series as well.

I sat down to read it, and I didn’t budge for about 14 hours other than to address basic needs. I remember thinking it was complex, the language hard to follow, but something about it just captured me. The book had a helpful diagram of a ship in the front, and a helpful scene where one of the seamen explained to one of the characters what many of the ship’s parts and the sailor’s expressions meant.

And as I got into I came to care very much about the characters, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and struggled to savor the writing while fighting the impulse to read ahead quickly to discover what would happen next.

Here was a world recreated in great detail; here was honor, duty, adventure and a great deal of humor. Parts of these books made me laugh out loud, sometimes laugh so hard I cried.

I confess I haven’t read all of Jane Austen, but I know Patrick O’Brian was a fan of hers, and his books are like, you should pardon the expression, Jane Austen with balls.

I don’t know why I like books that contain famous battles or details of military history. I’m pretty much a pacifist – but I just love stories of brave people doing brave things in pursuit of what they perceived to be honorable goals.

I finished those first three books in less than two days and raced back to the library to grab the next four or five, because I couldn’t imaging the agony of having to wait for the next one.

The devotees of these novels who started with them when they first began to appear often had to wait two years between books. I think that might have broken me – I just had to know what would happen next. And while I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I never really understood the impulse to wait outside a bookstore at midnight for the next installment – but I would have camped out for a week for the next one of these Aubery-Maturin books.

I’m a member of a Facebook group devoted to these books, where no one thinks it is weird that you use eighteenth-century language (“Give me joy!” or “I have the honor to report…” or “grass-combing bugger!” or “would one of you learned coves explain, in terms amenable to the meanest understanding?”) I’ve read the complete Aubrey/Maturin novels, all twenty of them, five times. (They are now mostly available as a complete set in a 5 volume hardcover, but you might be able to find the 20 individual paperbacks used online somewhere, and there’s a 21st, but it is unfinished and sad). I just can’t get enough of Jack and Stephen’s world, and I find something new in these books each time I reread them.

So, Jack, Stephen, you have spoiled me for all others; you have stolen my heart and earned my loyalty for as long as my eyes can read.

When I finished the series from the library, I was able to locate an online bookstore devoted to all things Aubrey-Maturin, and at what was then far too great an expense, as I was grossly underemployed at the time, enduring a sad and difficult time in my life, I purchased the entire set. They now occupy the shelf formerly occupied by my Mike’s chess books. When Mike was unable to read them or concentrate on them anymore, he piled them all into the car and drove them off to give them to a young man who was supposedly trying to start some kind of chess club or school, but who was unhelpful and singularly unappreciative of the effort this dying man took to deliver those books to him.

I kept a few of Mike’s poetry books, the ones that contained poems he shared with me and that we could discuss together, but a great many of the rest went to the hospice chaplain, who shared Mike’s love of poetry and whose friendship, right at the end of Mike’s life, was a great gift to us both.

That made room for me to bring my books downstairs, into our little library room. The speculative fiction I enjoy now has its own separate bookcase filled mostly with William Gibson and Neal Stephenson (Neuromancer my brain to entirely new places, as did Snow Crash. Sharing the shelves with Patrick O’Brian are Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series (absolutely hilarious – someone Fraser has managed to place his hero at every major British and American military engagement of the nineteenth century). Those are good and a nice diversion from the next go-round of O’Brian. McCullough eventually starts writing more like a Roman historian than a novelist, so for me that series kind of wore out, but the first two, The First Man in Rome and The Grass Crown are especially good.

These worlds the authors have created or recreated refresh me, comfort me, keep me company and help me through hard times. When I have to come back to the world I actually live in, I feel refreshed, strengthened, but also supported, knowing that there are a few, a self-selected few thousand people on the planet, who love these books as much as I do, and the human connection that results from just knowing they are out there gives me hope and gets me through my days.

You’ll either get completely hooked on Patrick O’Brian, or you won’t get through the books at all. There really is no in-between that I’ve ever heard of with these.

So if you set sail, I give you joy and wish you fair winds and following seas. Let me know if you decide to embark, and if you sign on as crew for life with Captain Jack.

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 2

This week’s easy: I’m grateful for old friends, and a hometown that guarantees that I will run into them every decade or so, if not more often, and we can pick right up where we left off.

This town, my hometown, has its issues, just like anyplace, but I brought Mike and our child back here for a simple reason: I knew that there are some things in this town that will never change, and that for the rest of our child’s life, there will be people here that have known and cared about our child since elementary school.  Any visit to a regular destination like a local grocery or pharmacy is a pretty sure bet that we will run into someone we know, and every Fourth of July dozens of peer-aged people will return here, and our child will have a happy reunion or two, if only for a few minutes. It’s worth it for that.

This is the kind of place where people you have known since kindergarten, people you grew up with, who share history and memories, will be around, even if you don’t see them often. When you do see them, you’ll take right back up again, wherever you left off, and it just feels good knowing that can happen, at random, any given day.

I’m grateful for the reconnections I made in the summer at my high school reunion (the decade marked to remain unspoken here!) and that I’ve managed to sustain. As my classmates and I cross into new decades, aging into numbers I’m still in denial about, losing parents and spouses, watching kids grow up and leave, or adult children with disabilities take on new challenges, gnawing our nails with nerves but enduring, because we have to, because it is our job as parents, I’m grateful to know I’m not alone in this – that we remember what it used to be like, whose house that was, what the kids looked like when they were small, what the parents looked like when they were young, how they partied, how we did, and how we survived. How we keep going.

And how many of you are thriving. I’ve seen old girlfriends recently who never looked better – who have endured loss, grief and estrangement but who have rallied, reinvented, not just endured but gotten better and stronger. I’m so proud of you, and so grateful that you call me friend. I admire you and hope to be more like you if I can.

So here’s to you, old friends – see you ’round town, soon. Keep up the good work, the strong living, the moving forward. I’ll try to keep up!

We Interrupt This Program for a Brief Dive Into the Snark Tank

I have a few quibbles to get off my chest before my Thankful Thursday post. I’ve spent a lot of time reading during the last week and came across some of my pet peeves – misuses or misspelling of words. Which reminded me also of a few of my pet radio peeves, mispronunciations of common words, suffixes, etc.

So before I get rolling too much on that stuff I think I’d better dive on over into the Snark Tank to take care of it, OK? Back in a few.

Thin Ice

This week I realized that I don’t really have much of a back up plan should my superpowers become temporarily unavailable.

“The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley…”

-Robert Burns

I was going to catch up on a lot of blogging last week – I was going to do my second Thankful Thursday, my first Fiction Friday, and then swing back around today with Non-toxic Tuesday, plus a brief announcement about how I’d temper the annoying alliteration (oops) from now on, because I really only use that as a device to remind me of what I’m supposed to be writing about on which day of the week.

I barrelled home from my New Year’s Revolution Yoga Class (paid for the whole series in advance, non-refundable, therefore irrevocable – don’t make that wasted money, get your booty to class!) feeling energized and ready to write, and then, BAM, flattened with a vicious (and pretty viscous) cold.

No fever, but chills, and aches the magnitude of which I hadn’t felt since I came down with pneumonia about 8 years ago.

Mike panicked when that happened. (He loved to quote Burns, by the way –
“wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie! Oh what a panic’s in they breastie!”) I never get sick. But I’d been pushing myself too hard at work, a very stressful past job I loved and hated, burning the candle at both ends, etc. and ended up coughing myself blue (literally – Mike said I looked blue) for a week before I finally crawled out of bed and went to a doctor, who said he might as well go ahead and start treatment before he confirmed it was pneumonia, because he was pretty sure it was and it would help the symptoms. It was, and the antibiotics brought me back pretty fast.

But that’s the sickest I’ve ever been, and it scared Mike. He scared himself googling the different varieties of pneumonia and the odds of dying from it, and he realized he had no idea what to do if I died. How would he and our child live? Who would take care of them as I had done? (Mike was a stay-at-home Dad.)

“I’ll get through this,” I told him, after he had finished screaming at me for sneaking off to the doctor in the morning without waking him up.

“I left you a note, didn’t you see it?”

“No! Don’t ever do that again! What if you were too sick to drive back or what if they sent you to the hospital?”

“But they didn’t, I’m home now, and I will now commence getting better. Calm down.”

But here I was last week, every joint in my body aching on top of whatever soreness my first yoga class had caused me, remembering how I had pushed myself into pneumonia back then, and feeling a sudden and awful chill.

What if this is the flu? And if it is, what happens if it turns into pneumonia? Shit! Hadn’t thought about that – who would take care of our child if I had to be hospitalized? Mike’s not here! People are dying right and left from this damn flu! Even a few much younger and stronger than me! SHIT!

And that caused me some dark hours of worrying about how thin my support system really is. How thin the ice I’m skating on here really is, trying to be everything at once for our child, trying to hold our life together and move it forward.  There’s one helper, with a family of their own, available occasionally, but that’s it. There’s my brother and sister-in-law, but they have a dog, and our child is afraid of dogs, especially boisterous ones like that new pure bred puppy. Plus they are facing their own family health issues, with themselves and other family members to care for. And my other brother lives thousands of miles away.

So that leaves church family. The usual suspects who have already done so much for our child and me that I feel reluctant to ask.

But I realized I don’t have a choice.

Every six months or so, or more often if changes in our lives require, I send a list of how to keep our child’s life running smoothly in the event I am out of the picture to my brothers. Lists of important phone numbers, what happens on which day, doctors, dentists, helpers, agencies. etc.

I’m going to have to expand that distribution list, I guess.

As far as the vicious and viscous  cold, or whatever it was, our child got it too, and we lazed and slept and coughed and blew our noses, and drank lots of water, chicken soup and orange juice for a week, skipping all regularly scheduled programming, until it finally seemed to break and fade.

I didn’t have the energy to do much grocery shopping or cooking, much less blogging, obviously, until the very end of the week, when we both had events we wanted to attend and we did, equipped with loads of tissues and several small bottles of hand sanitizer. No hugs or high fives for anyone from us last week.

Back on schedule now, but it sure felt like a close call. And the coughs will linger for a few more weeks, I’m afraid.

I had thought of myself as having everything very well arranged, but last week made me realize that is actually only in the event of my actual demise – not in the case of my temporary incapacity.

So some good has come of this, to wit, a few new rules (more with the rules, already! I have rules for being a Middle Aged Woman, and Rules for Thanksgiving, and even rules for trying to meet someone online for if I ever muster the courage to try to create an online dating profile if I can ever decide which app or site to use). Also came opportunity for our child to develop, out of necessity, some new self-sufficiencies, like making sandwiches in addition to the usual fruit and cheese snacks and creating lists and plans for the upcoming week independently.

So, Thin Ice Rules:

Thin Ice Rule #1: Don’t Get Sick.

Thin Ice Rule #2: Expand Available Support Network in the Event of a Violation of Thin Ice Rule #1.

Thin Ice Rule #3: Continue to Coax Our Child to Learn to Do More Independently

Thin Ice Rule #4: Set a Target Date Goal for Our Child to Achieve Independent Living.

Thin Ice Rule #5: Live Forever, so Thin Ice Rule #4 Need Not Be Effectuated. Not Yet, Anyway. See Rule #1.

OK, I’m so not ready to think of myself aging to a point where it makes more sense for our child to live independently of me (with community supports, of course.) I’m SO not ready for that. But this week made me stare down the need to plan for it anyway.

I got through this, just as I got through the pneumonia, and I’ve lost a lot of weight and I’m much healthier now than I was back then, but this whatever it was (my Dad used to call it the “awful awfuls”) was a good smack upside the head reminder not to take something as important as my health for granted.

I won’t live forever, I know; I want to live well for as long as I can, and I want to do a good job of the one job a parent really has, which is to enable their child to survive without them.

Out of sheer necessity, in addition to preparing more food independently than ever before and writing out a weekly plan entirely independently, our child filled hot water bottles and brought refills of water and tea. Necessity is the mother of invention, but apparently also the mother of progress toward independence for a young adult on the autism spectrum.  I’ve been far more insistent than Mike ever was that our child do everything independently that can be done independently, and every day, learn some new small thing to add to that growing list of self-sufficiency skills.

I think Mike approves – this morning when I got up finally feeling nearly 100%, and our child was ready to return to our regularly scheduled programming, I turned on the radio, and the trumpet tune we used for the processional at our wedding was playing (you know the one, Jeremiah Clarke, The Prince of Denmark’s March), right from the start.

Thank you, dear. Keep those little messages coming, and we’ll keep getting through this.

See you on Annoyingly Alliterative Thankful Thursday!