A Slice of Life, or Two

It’s my lunch break and I’m at a grocery store down the street from my workplace. I often walk here because they sell pizza by the slice. I’m sitting in the dining area, chowing down and reading a book I brought along, when I hear someone say my name. I look up and see an old friend I haven’t talked to in months.

She totes her bag of groceries over to my table and joins me for a brief visit. “I really like their pizza here, too,” she says, gesturing to the what’s left of mine. “And their slices are so big, I can make two meals from it. I eat half here and then take the other half home for dinner.”

I force a nervous chuckle, hoping it sounds like an “of course” kind of laugh. I’m suddenly glad she didn’t show up earlier, suddenly glad I already finished off every last crumb of evidence that there was another slice of pizza before this one. As far as my friend knows, the half-piece in front of me is from my first (only) slice.

We chit chat for a few minutes as I self-consciously nibble at my food. I leave a little of the crust. Maybe leaving three crust bites will mark me as a not-glutton.

I tend to be very enthusiastic about eating. I was raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression. While they had more money than their parents did, that wasn’t saying a whole lot. We still experienced tight times as a family, with six kids to feed. “Yay, food!” was the attitude in our household. Food was not something to be wasted, or worse — disdained.

Once I left home and lived in a college dorm, with people from different economic classes, I discovered the phenomenon of the woman who pretends she doesn’t like to eat. It boggled my mind that some folks, women especially, thought they had to maintain an image of being able to exist on air. It was also the first time I noticed myself being judged for liking my food too much. I learned to keep my enthusiasm for tasty calories under wraps a little.

My friend at the store is one of the least judgy people I know. She probably really does feel full after half a slice of pizza. Different metabolisms, etc. I’m 99% certain she’s speaking strictly about herself and not judging my eating habits. I don’t think she’d think less of me if I ate that last little bit of crust.

Still, I wonder about the possibility of discreetly wrapping it in a napkin and stashing it in my purse for later. Can I do it without her noticing? Probably not, and it’s a stupid idea anyway. With a wistful glance, I toss the remnants into the trash. I’m not even sure why I think I have to do so instead of eating every bit, like I want to. I only know I’m destined to overthink it for the next week or two, until I perplex myself with some other, different behavior and let that edge out my pizza crust ruminations.

Labors Around the House

When my children were small, we lived in a cute little house. With one tiny bathroom. Where the two kids shared one teensy bedroom. As the kids got to be bigger, the home seemed smaller and we decided to look for a domicile with more space.

Golly, did we ever find it! A 2,800 square foot home, originally built in 1901, with a huge yard in a wonderful neighborhood, within walking distance of a nice park and the public library. It was (barely) within our price range, due to the fact that it had been sitting vacant for a few years and needed some work. A lot of work. So much work.

But my husband and I fell right in love with it. We liked tackling projects on our previous house and figured we could restore this one to its former glory, or something resembling it. So, some window panes were missing, and there was a hole in the upstairs hall ceiling where a light fixture used to be, and someone had removed every single rod from every single closet, and the entire house needed to be rewired, and a former do-it-yourselfer had mixed up the plumbing in one of the bathrooms so that the sink didn’t have hot water but the toilet did. When you’re in love, none of those things matter. Besides, by the time we’d fixed it up and were ready to downsize, we would have increased the value so much, buying it was like investing in our retirement. Right?…Right?

We’ve lived here for fourteen years now. There have been good times and bad. The first few years we got a lot fixed and improved. Window glass was installed, crumbling plaster was replaced with sheet rock. Knob and tube wiring was removed and replaced with safer, modern methods.

Then I picked up more hours at work for the much-needed income. My husband was working long hours as well. We found ourselves with teenagers (which is more time-consuming and energy draining than anyone can prepare you for.) And we moved my mom to town, so I could be close by and take charge of her affairs. Those years will go down in our family history as the Whack-a-Mole Era. Nothing much got done to our house, not even in the way of cleaning, beyond the bare minimum to keep it livable.

Now the two kids, though still living with us, are both grown (22 and 19 respectively.) In a nice development, they have become helpful around here. I have seen my mom out to the end and more or less settled all of her affairs. I still have some of her possessions to deal with, but am pretty sure all bills are paid off and legal paperwork finished. This year, the hubs and I finally have a little time and energy to refocus on our relationship…with the house.

We had three large, dangerously near-death trees removed. We hired someone for that – an expert who told us the locust would have ended up on top of our house or the neighbors’ be year’s end if we hadn’t called him in to take it out.

The sexiest and most exciting project involved getting a shed, a carport and – drum roll – solar panels. We are on solar energy, as of about seven weeks ago. Remember how I said the grown kids have become helpful?

That’s my husband in the green and my 19-year-old son behind all the hair, installing the first solar panel.
All solar, baby!

My husband is trained in electrical systems, so he knew what he was doing. We did have a licensed electrician put in the new meter and hook it all up.  It’s fun to go outside and watch the meter run backward on a sunny day.






Our next project involves fencing. The west side of our house has been pretty much a mess. One of the trees we got removed had been shading an area over there more than I realized. After it was gone, a new jungle sprang up. I got about half of it cleared out this weekend, along with some other yard work, including an epic battle with a sticker bush. Once it’s all out, I’ll figure out what to do plant-wise in that spot, but we already know we’re putting in a fence panel to give us some privacy from the next Google Streetview car that comes along.

Yesterday morning, the top half of the photo looked like the bottom half.


Farther back along that side of the house we had an old, rotting, falling down wooden fence covered in various vines and weeds. We’re replacing that, too. In an amazing feat, the hubs cleared it all away in two days.

Half the fence and overgrowth gone.


Ready for new fence panels.

I’ll post photos when the new fence is in. Right now, the spouse and I are in the midst of a decision about buying vs. renting when it comes to posthole diggers.


My Plus One Method of Coping

I’m still struggling with depression and despair, as are so many others right now. But so far, I keep rising back up. I’ll share one weird trick I use to get myself through the minutes, but there’s a story behind it, so bear with me.

When my son was in grade school, enduring many rounds of evaluations and tests to figure out exactly what was up with him and the system failing to mesh, I found it necessary to insist in writing that every report and evaluation had to include positive statements about him. If you’re a parent who has ever sat through an IEP or 504 meeting, you know what I’m talking about. It can feel as if your baby is on trial for his life with the most vicious prosecutor ever.

It’s not because the educators involved are bad people or have bad intentions (well…most of them aren’t and don’t.) The intention is good. There are problems and they have to be identified to be solved. And there are legal requirements about showing enough evidence that a student is failing to thrive in the classroom before the school can “provide accommodations.” So the teachers and staff are looking for anything they can include to help bolster the case that we should do more for this student.

But often, how it plays out is that the parent sits down and hears what sounds like a litany of crimes and deficiencies attributed to the little person they adore. The Multitiude of Ways Your Kid is Broken is not the documented list you want to take home with you. It about killed me sometimes. And I think this approach has an effect on other adults who work with the child, too. When they are only looking for problems, it limits their view, and the relationship with the student can get pretty negative. Some things I saw as positive qualities ended up listed as evidence for the prosecution.

After crying in my car a couple of times, I came up with a plan. I put it in writing and I put my foot down that it had to be followed. I hope I was polite, but I was also dogged.

I made them count. Everyone who wrote a report or even said anything in a meeting about my son was required to count the number of negative observations or statements they made. Then they had to make at least the same number of positive statements about him, plus one. At least one more positive than negative. We all needed to remember this was a whole human being who was so much more than the sum of his flaws, and that he was someone worth making an effort for.

Worth the effort.

He’s graduated from high school now and I’m recalling my plus one system when it comes to dealing with today’s world. There are a lot of issues to be addressed currently, huge ones.

It’s easy to fall in to despair. One night I found myself sleepless at 3:00 thinking thoughts like “I hope the nukes fall directly on us while we’re all asleep so it’s over quickly and we don’t have to know.” Yeah. That level of despair.

What I insist on making myself do is to address whatever problems I feel I can in whatever way I feel I can. Then I make myself a list of good things about the world. At least as many good as bad, plus one. Reasons why it’s worth the effort. Things like the collected works of William Shakespeare and purple iris and a new clothes/shoe rack that has helped organize my bedroom and kittens and all of the beautiful instances where strangers help each other. Naturally, my amazing, wonderful children go into the positive column every time.

Random Thoughts on My Sandwich Generation Life

Does life ever get easier and simpler, or does it keep getting harder and more complicated? I’m so worn out I don’t feel I have the wherewithal to write a coherent post on one topic. But here are some random thoughts generated by my life recently.

If I had a dollar for every time my 15-year-old rolls his eyes, I could treat myself to a frou frou coffee at Starbucks every single day.

My kids are 15 and 18, but they still need me. Sometimes, they really need me.

On my July calendar, there are eight different medical/dental/eye appointments, none of them for me, but all of them requiring my presence.

Being elderly and poor is scarier than any horror movie.

Sometimes I can’t wait for my kids to move out. This usually lasts ten minutes until I start tearing up because they’ll probably both be moved out in a few short years.

Am I ever going to get my entire house cleaned?

My mom is wasting away, literally. They’re not sure why. Since February, she’s down from 111 pounds to 94 pounds. The doctor has ordered a calorie-dense nutrition drink to be added to her daily diet. It’s like she’s disappearing before my eyes.

If I had a crystal ball that would tell me exactly how much longer my mom will live, then many of my decisions would more clear-cut. But I don’t really want to know.

A couple of days ago a friend asked if the people at the Medicaid office could help me resolve a certain issue. I said, “You mean the people who don’t answer their phone, give me incorrect phone numbers, assign my mom a caseworker from a county 120 miles away, and supply contradictory information within the same letter? I suppose I could try them.”

The very things that make me want to drink are the same things that make me realize why I can’t. This seems unfair somehow.

My 18-year-old has the equivalent of a PhD in all things Tolkien/Lord of the Rings. My 15-year-old spends hours every day in the summer working on music – both composing and playing. His instruments are guitar and piano. It’s very cool seeing my kids grow beyond me in some areas. They broaden my horizons.

Ever since taking on responsibility for my mom’s finances, I think about my own retirement account every single day. I don’t have nearly enough saved, I’m afraid.

Since I was a midlife baby, my mom has been an “old” grandmother to my kids. They love her and she loves them, but I wish they could have known her when she was able to do a few more things.






Things Don’t Go As Planned

This happened on Saturday:

Yep, that’s my family’s van. Nobody was seriously injured, a fact for which I’m still uttering a little silent thanks every hour or so. My husband and kids were about three hours away from home, on the verge of a planned float trip, when they were hit by a bus.

The plan was for them to have a fabulous time on the river (I’m not much of a water person) while I had an entire glorious day to myself. I had my agenda in front of me – a morning of catching up on housework with my own selected music playing at my own selected volume, followed by a visit to my mom, some exercise, a block of writing time, and an evening outing with friends from work. I got some housework done before the phone call.

It was one of those Murphy’s Law days where you have to choose whether to laugh or cry as you wonder what else could possibly happen, and then something does. I choose to laugh, because the things that happened were really small compared to the fact that nobody was seriously injured.  My crew even decided to go ahead and do the river float while waiting for me to arrive.

Saturday afternoon I set out in our other vehicle – a 16-year-old Honda Civic with 178,000 miles – to find the middle-of-nowhere place where my family was stranded. The bank time and temperature signs I passed along the way displayed temps anywhere from 95 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit. To make the day extra special, my Civic decided to spring a freon leak, so I had to say goodbye to the air conditioning. The white mist pouring out from the vents made for an exciting special effect, however.

I got lost, but that’s not unusual for me. I build getting lost time into my travel plans, because it happens so often. I wasn’t overly lost, only a little bit. I probably added 15 minutes total onto the trip by missing a turn.

I arrived to discover my family had managed to lose the sunscreen, so sunburns all around.

Believe it or not, we managed to get the van back home. We decided to have my husband drive it, while I followed behind with the kids. Two windows in the van were shattered on impact, filling the interior with broken glass (which is the second time we’ve experienced this with a minivan; the first time was the result of an F1 tornado.)

By the time they were all done floating and we left the place, it was nearly 7:00. We stopped along the way for gas and food. Then we drove into…Severe Thunderstorms!  So severe, we had to stop and pull off the road twice because it was impossible to see. This was on narrow, two-lane, unlit, rural Missouri highways with no shoulders, only ditches to each side. The first time, we found a private driveway to wait it out. The second, we lucked onto a side road that led to a commuter parking lot. (Commute to where?) And did I mention, the van is missing two windows? It got pretty wet. My poor hubster. Plus, the lack of a working compressor in the other car meant it was nearly impossible to defog the Civic’s windshield without turning up the temp on the blower to hot. The kids and I were *very* warm for a while. Trapped in a hot, little car, with teens who have already been sweating all day is its own kind of special. I have to give them credit, however, for being remarkably unwhiney through the whole ordeal.

The rain finally abated enough we could drive again. And my daughter remembered she had her iPod with her, plus a device to let it play through the car radio. She and her brother decided they’d feel better with music, specifically songs she had from “My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic.” So there was that for 45 minutes.

But we all made it home safe and well. As long as a tree doesn’t fall on our house or something. HAHAHAHAHAHA!