Looking Over My Shoulder

This last year was a tough one. I went through a big change at work where our department was reorganized, jobs were eliminated and new jobs created. The stress was incredible. There were times when I felt I was walking through fire. I survived. I am trying to “grow” into my new position. I won’t lie – it is difficult still and there are lingering issues that will need to be addressed. But that is what happens after a fire, the old is burned away and the new growth pushes through the ashes and claims a space. We are in the reclamation phase.

Sparky switched to full-time from a part-time position. He is enjoying his 2nd career. It lets his OCD have a fun romp every day. He has discovered that he is a “people-person” which is a big swing from the shy and introverted guy I married 34 years ago. Although he is not raking in the big bucks that he did as a computer programmer/analyst, the stress is greatly decreased and he is enjoying himself. His hours are not horrible but he has to work more weekends than not. This puts a crimp in my schedule but it is manageable.

There were a couple medical scares. My mammogram was “abnormal” but on further testing it was a false alarm. My mother had to have the aortic valve in her heart replaced (again a lot of hand wringing and a few tears). When it came down to it, the surgery was a piece of cake and at 85 she came through with flying colors. At this rate she will make it to 100 and possibly beyond!

Son#1 was in a car crash (not his fault). Thankfully he was not injured but the car was totaled. The other bit of luck was that his father and grandfather were following him as the three of them were moving a dresser from our house to his. That made them witnesses. The accident resulted in lots of gnashing of teeth, insurance company run arounds, a police report snafu, and finally a new-to-him car. During that time we had to juggle schedules to get him to and from work and to cart him around for car shopping. Finally, he got a loaner (after 5 weeks being with out transportation) that he had for 2 weeks before the purchase of his new vehicle. *sigh*

Son#2 broke up with his serious girlfriend on New Years Day 2016. He took it hard. I think he was considering her “the one”. He managed to pull himself together. Then when he seemed to be just fine, she announced her engagement and then quickly got married this year. He says he is happy for her. He has not dated anyone since the breakup.

And then there are the tragedies and tribulations that have occurred in the lives of friends and extended family. Some have come as tiny ripples from a distant stone dropping into a pond and others have been huge waves breaking over my shore. I have seen tears and witnessed courage and strength. Life is not fair.

So as the end of 2017 draws near, I find myself looking over my shoulder as I sprint toward the new year. Retrospective and philosophical thoughts creep into my mind and try to obscure my hope for a better 2018. As fragile as hope appears, it, like so many of us, is tougher than we imagine.

Looking for Common Ground

Here is episode 9 in the nameless story. I am on the verge of giving up. Maybe that should be the title “The Verge of Giving Up”, what do you think?

My sister was 8 years older than I was. By the time I was in first grade she was a teenager and didn’t have much use for me. I idolized her but she probably never knew. When I was going through my teen years she had been out on her own for a long time. Looking back, I probably didn’t make a good impression on her boyfriend at the time. Nor on the man who became her fiancé but not her husband. I might have been a small part of what scared him off. She never told me what went wrong with that relationship. But to be fair I’ve never asked her either. My therapist used to try to connect the dots between my relationships with my siblings and my feelings of being apart. I think he gave up when he realized that here were no dots to connect. I suppose I should be thankful that she is married and happy. Then again I’ve never met her husband. That’s what happens when there is such distance, physically and emotionally. After my parents passed I didn’t go back. There really isn’t any common ground anymore.

Looking Merry

Merry Christmas! I just want to give you a sense of the merriment that permeates my life.

I was having a conversation with my husband Sparky. We were discussing how we don’t have a “go to” breakfast restaurant since Calamity Jane’s closed and Honker’s went out of business. He was trying to remember the name of a restaurant…
Sparky: It has a long name but I can’t remember it. You know the place…
Me: You have to give me a little more of a hint if I’m going to guess.
S: It has cheese in the name. You know…
M: Cheddar’s?
S: No, that’s not it. It’s an old restaurant. Like the “Rustic Bucket”.
M: The Rustic Cabin? (that was a well love restaurant in my hometown.)
S: No, no. But like that. Sort of. I think it had old in the name.
M: The Old Country Buffet?
S: (Shakes his head no)
M: The Old Oaken Bucket? (a restaurant/bar near campus)
S: Not that! You know, we ate there a couple times…
M: Fiddler’s Hearth?
S: No! It has cheese and a wooden bucket…
M: I’m drawing a blank. Denny’s? Shoney’s? Big Boy?
S: NO! We got a geocache there. They always have them next to hotels.
M: Bob Evans??
S: Bob Evans?! That doesn’t have anything to do with buckets of cheese!
M: Cheese, lard, its almost the same thing. You need to give me a little more to go on.
S: You KNOW the place! They have a bunch of stuff for sale.
M: Like more than breakfast?
S: Yes! No! I mean yes they serve lots of different food and they have a store.
M: I don’t know what to say. I have no idea what you are talking about.
S: The place with the rocking chairs…
M: Oh! You mean Cracker Barrel??
S: YES that’s the place!!
M: (at this point I started laughing) OK. I guess it makes sense – cheese goes with crackers and a bucket is kind of like a barrel…

His mind works in mysterious ways. Merry Christmas to all!

Looking Bleery-eyed

I’m quite ashamed of myself. I have absolutely no self control. I did it again, even after I promised I wouldn’t. I purchased a book at St. Vincent DePaul’s Thrift Shop. I am usually very picky about buying books but at a whopping 35 cents a piece and a 75% discount on that, well, I just couldn’t say no. But that’s not what I did that was so, not bad really, but displaying a gross lack of self control. I not only bought the book and read the back cover. I proceeded to read the first 2 chapters. Then I read the next chapter. And the next and next. And before I knew it I had read the whole thing and it was 1:46 AM. I crawled into bed and tried to sleep. Sleep was elusive as I was wondering how the end of the story should have played out.

The book was “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave. The front cover announces “#1 New York Times Bestseller”and various quotes from reviewers. And it was a very good read. I plowed through the story as it switched narrators back and forth between Little Bee and Sarah Summer-O’Rourke. The subject matter was, um, mature and dark and the fact that it could and probably has occurred makes it unsettling. Yet the ending affords a sense of hope.

So I read the book completely cover to cover, went to bead at nearly 2 AM and still managed to get up and make it to church on time. But I was dragging all day. By the end of the day I was really ready for bed and thankfully I slept like the dead, according to my FitBit I logged 24% deep sleep and 50% in light sleep, 22% in REM sleep and a scant 4% awake! That made getting up Monday a lot easier than it could have been. I tell myself every time that I’ll only read one or two chapters and then put the book down. It never happens that way.

Looking Into Another Dimension

Episode 8 has arrived. Does “Hopefully Hopeless” even make sense as a title?

I have lived alone for the majority of my life. Even when I lived in the same house with other people I felt as if I was living in a parallel dimension. I could see and hear them but we passed without touching each other’s lives. That sums up my first roommate experience. If I had known her in high school she would have been one of the pretty girls sitting with the cheerleaders. As it was we lived in the same room, breathed the same air, and other than a few perfunctory words we never spoke. It’s been so long I can’t even remember her name. I do however remember her comforter. It was mesmerizing with a colorful peacock emblazoned in the middle. She spilled finger nail polish on it and then tried to fix it with fingernail polish remover. It took the color completely out of that spot. I rescued it from the trash when she tossed it out. It took me the better part of a month but I carefully drew an intricate pattern to cover the blemish and around and over the peacock and colored it with Sharpie marker. When I was done it had only a passing resemblance to what it had been. It served as an art project, a bedspread, a sleeping bag, a tent and finally as a funeral shroud. I don’t think she ever connected the peacock on my project with the peacock on her discarded comforter. If she did she never said a word. She moved on after that first year. If I passed her on campus or had a class with her I don’t recall it.

Looking Natural

As you all know, I am an avid shopper at Goodwill and Salvation Army. Occasionally I also shop at St. Vincent DePaul or garage sales. I’m always looking for a bargain. Every now and then you find very odd items. They make you wonder how they ended up at the resale shop and then you wonder who would purchase them. On my latest visit Sparky was digging through a bin that was filled with VHS tapes and some CDs and DVDs. He can’t pass up the chance to find that one movie or the replacement CD for a vinyl record. As he was pulling out tapes and stacking them to the side he found a surprise.

I happened to be a couple feet away looking at purses. He pulled it out of the bin and after turning it over in his hands a couple times got my attention. “Is this what I think it is?” He asked. I glanced over and did a double take. There in his hand was a prosthetic breast. After I uncrossed my eyes and got my chin off the floor, I was able to gasp out a strangled “Yes!” He then proceeded to squeeze it and commented that it felt quite natural. In that moment I had closed the gap between us and nearly struck the poor boob (not Sparky) out of his hand. Against my better judgement Sparky placed it in the cart. Not more than a minute later I discovered another one tucked amid the wallets!

Now, they were not a set although they were (according to the label on the back) the same brand and size. They were marked $1.99 each. Where did they come from? How did they end up at Goodwill? Who did they belong to? We will never know. They were gently returned to the wallet bin and we left the store. As we were driving to the grocery, Sparky decided that he just had to buy them. “Why? Why?? Why!?!” I asked. “Because they would make the best Dirty Santa gift for the gift exchange this year!” He explained. Needless to say, he dropped me off at the grocery and went back to buy them. I wish I had been there to see the expression on the cashier’s face as he made that purchase! And because I have a camera and you might not believe me, I am posting photographic proof that this is a true story! (scroll down for the photo)
















Looking a Lot Like Christmas

As you might have heard, last week we got snow. Lots and lots of the white fluffy stuff. Although Facebook was on fire about the snow that fell in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and other spots to the south, it was a small amount compared to what was predicted in Northern Indiana and Southwestern Michigan. We got a few inches on Sunday, a few more on Monday, and lots more on Tuesday and into Wednesday. The plows and salt trucks were out and the main roads are fine. Outside was blanketed with beautiful white snow. It was excellent packing snow, the wet heavy kind, and the neighborhood kids made good use of it. Snowmen and assorted figures now dot many front yards. We had snow off and on all week. Not enough to cancel school but just enough to refresh the pristine look of front yards and erase the foot prints. For those who need snow to get into the Christmas spirit, there is lots of Christmas spirit to go around!

We put up the Christmas tree. Actually, Sparky put up the tree. He selected the lights. I let him put on whatever ornaments he wanted and once he was done I put on my favorites. The only point of contention was the topper. We have the silver star that we bought for our tree our first Christmas, the lighted tinsel and garland star, the starched lace angel, and the corn husk angel that son#1 made in first grade. All of them are acceptable choices but I’m partial to the corn husk angel and Sparky wanted the silver star. Because it is an artificial tree the silver star flopped over. We settled on the corn husk angel this year. A festive tree shouts Christmas louder than nearly any other decoration. The photos show the tree at the Christmas party for our Research Department and then my tree.

I had requested last Tuesday as a vacation day. Well, due to the weather, I was home bound. I was productive. I wrapped all the gifts and I mean ALL of them. So many that I ran out of wrapping paper! My wrapping paper was old. Sparky’s dad worked for a printing company and the paper salesmen would gift him with boxes of wrapping paper (with matching bows). He had a ton of them and he would distribute them to the rest of the family. I had boxes and boxes of wrapping paper. He retired in 1997 and I just finished off the free wrapping paper. The gifts were transported up the stairs and arranged under the tree. Gifts under the tree really make me think that Christmas is coming soon.

Looking to Escape

Episode 7 has arrived. I’m still grasping for the perfect title. I spent a couple hours laying in bed staring at the ceiling trying to come up with a title that didn’t sound pretentious. Maybe I’m over thinking this.

When I think about college the first image that comes to mind is seeing my English professor in a Speedo suit standing knee deep in a pond. The years had withered his flesh. It hung crepe like from his arms and thighs. His sparse and silvery chest hair gleamed in the sun light. I was enthralled and repulsed. Of course he was embarrassed when I started laughing. I suppose I was lucky that he was so hurt that he never spoke of the incident. He kept his distance and I passed the class. I’ve never told anyone about this before but it was a long time ago and I’m pretty sure he’s dead. I had never planned to go to college. My escape plan to join the Peace Corp or the AmeriCorps was thwarted because they wanted people with training and some sort of college education. In a scramble I had to rethink my decision to be done with formal education. My parents tried hard to steer me to the in-state schools. I wasn’t being stubborn out of spite or lack of sensitivity to the costs. What I wanted was to get as far away from the memory of my public education as possible. What that meant was a private school preferably half a continent away, although my not-so-secret desire was to study in Europe. The compromise was a small Catholic College not too far away and not too expensive. It was more of an education than my parents ever imagined.

Looking to Party

Last Friday was the first of 6 Christmas Parties I’m obligated to attend. It was our department party. We are went to a nice Italian restaurant. I was hoping there wouldn’t be jockeying for seating and that everyone would mingle instead of sitting in little cliques. Because it was a Friday we worked through our regular lunch time and then after the party we could leave for the day. It was another opportunity to practice our teamwork. I’m forever hopeful that the concept of “one for all and all for one” will finally be embraced by each and every member of the staff. Still waiting on that to happen.

And last night was the second one. This was the Biology Department’s big gala event. They pulled out all the stops and really had a fancy spread! The food was excellent. The cookie contest provided a huge assortment of delicious cookies. And what Christmas party would be complete without a visit from Santa?! Because families are invited there were lots and lots of children. Each one received a gift that was “just what they wanted!” because their parents were in collusion with Santa. We sat with some of my coworkers and enjoyed their company. The photo booth was there again but unfortunately my hope that we’d get a Christmas card photo for next year was dashed. The pictures were out of focus so that idea fell through. Sort of glad since Sparky wanted to take one of us sticking our tongues out….

Tomorrow is the Research party. And the office of research knows how to party! Sparky and I will attend since he doesn’t have to work late. They will no doubt have excellent food and killer desserts. I’m hoping they have the ice cream again. They had the folks who pour cream on super cooled stone and mix fruit into it and then scrape it off in rolls and stack them in a cup – so tasty! I’m hoping they have the ham and prime rib stations again…

Saturday is a CHRP (Christ Renews His Parish) Birthday celebration for one of the CHRP ladies who is turning (gasp) 40. I bought her some sushi making items (bamboo mats, special dishes for the sauce and a platter and chopsticks). It starts at 2:00 PM and lasts until ?? – according to the invitation. It is a surprise party so she is being taken out to lunch and her husband is getting everything coordinated. He is so sneaky!

Then on Sunday is the Choir Christmas party. We are going to meet at one of the choir member’s homes after the choir finishes their caroling. This year they will be going to the hospital, 3 nursing homes, and a senior center. It is always a festive and fun time. I have decided to make roll-ups. Some will be spinach tortillas with ham and cream cheese and red and green peppers, others will be salmon cream cheese with onion and red and green peppers. I will of course make some without peppers since I’ve developed an allergy to the peppers.

Finally the last party will be our annual Christmas Potluck and Gift Exchange. The party planning committee has decided that we are going back to the old method where each person (who wants to participate) purchases and wraps a gift in the price range of $15- $20. We will then do the Dirty Santa exchange where you can either take someone’s unwrapped gift or pick from the table of wrapped presents. A gift can be stolen 3 times and then it is ineligible and the person who took it the 3rd time is the permanent owner. I purchased a set of 2 ceramic coated skillets. If I’m lucky I will be able to steal them for myself. Ha! I would like a new one! Of course we will also have the food. I might make my oh so delicious cheese spread or maybe mint chocolate chip cookies then again I just might make a crockpot dip (has cheese, artichokes, spinach and cream cheese). We’ll see.

I’ll be so happy when the temptation of all the holiday food, parties, and Christmas candy is gone. Until then I’m working on my steps!!

Looking Apprehensive

Twilight and imagination runs
Wild moon auditory ghosts haunt
My breath catches with the sound
Rattlesnake warning shake
Wind skitter leaves scrape
Sidewalk motions
Mid-stride pause

With daylight savings time, I leave work and it is already getting dark. That generally doesn’t bother me. But lately I’m a little apprehensive about walking to the parking lot alone. Campus security has sent 2 emails in the last week concerning assaults. Both instances occurred as the women were walking to or from the far parking lot. This lot is accessed by a long curving lane. There are 12 foot chain link fences on each side supposedly to keep the wildlife away from the pedestrians. (Yes, the parking lot path cuts through a wooded area.)

In the first assault, the woman passed a man walking in the opposite direction. She then realized that he had passed her and turned around and was following her. She was within view of her car and decided to run to the car to evade him. She wasn’t fast enough. The parking lot surveillance cameras captured a really decent image of the man, including a good view of his face. He has not been caught. Yet.

The second instance, the woman was walking from the parking lot when a man came running toward her. He acted like he was being chased (looking over his shoulder as if being followed). He passed by her closely and pushed her as he ran. She fell down. He stopped and apologized and held out his hand to help her up. When she took his hand, he twisted her arm and forced her to the ground and attempted to rape her. She was stronger than he anticipated. She fought him off. This took place within 3 feet of an emergency call station. This suspect is still at large as well…

It makes me nervous. Most of the campus assaults happen in the dorms and both parties are drinking. They are college students and generally know one another. But this is different. These men are predators. They are stalking women and are carefully choosing the time and place. On the bright side, campus security police are out in force. The bicycle patrols are everywhere. The cars are making more frequent sweeps across campus. An it appears that the campus safety escort has been revived. Generally they are young men from the ROTC program who will walk you to your car or to your night class. It used to be free and I’m hoping it still is. I may have to email to get a body guard if I have to stay late too many more times!

Above is a Nonet, that is a reverse Etheree, consisting of 9 lines. The first line is 9 syllables and each successive line is diminished by one syllable. The poem does not require any meter or rhyme scheme. My imagination tends to run free when sparked with a touch of anxiety and a little fear…