Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I’ve noticed a trend in the last few days of people using the entire month of November to give thanks and count their blessings. Rather than just saying what they’re thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, they list one thing every day of the month for which they are grateful. It’s a nice change of pace, and something I think I should get on board with. Now, I know myself well enough to realize that I would probably forget to do this every day. Then I would get behind. Then I would try to play catch up and squeeze four days’ worth of thanks into one, and worry more about the quantity than the quality. Who needs that kind of stress? So I’m going to make it easier on myself and count my blessings all at once in this handy dandy blog. Maybe not exactly 30 things, but as much as I can think of. I have a lot to be grateful for, and for that I am grateful. Some things on my list might seem a little trivial. Some might seem a little obscure. Some might seem a little too obvious. But everything is something for which I’m incredibly thankful. So, here it goes!

I am thankful for:

1.) My pets. My dog, Sam, and my cat, Libby, are most definitely a part of my family. They both have their own distinct personalities and I don’t think I could possibly love them any more than I already do. Sam is the most stubborn, independent little dog I’ve ever known, but he’s also sweet and undeniably adorable. Libby is a mass of fur and love, the most patient cat in the world who humors me when I make her wear Halloween costumes or scoop her up in yet another hug. All she asks for in return is a warm lap to sit in and food. Lots of food. They’re both getting older, and I realize the day will come when they aren’t with me anymore. Hopefully it will be later rather than sooner, but in the meantime, I will be grateful for every day I have them in my life.

2.) My job. I love what I do. Being a paralegal is a great fit for me, mostly because a day seldom goes by when I don’t learn something new. Ask me about utility poles, subdural hematomas, breeze conveyors in a steel mill, colon cancer, tension pneumothoraxes, or mine subsidence – all stuff I’ve learned about through my work. It might sound boring, but most of it is pretty fascinating to me. Another big reason I’m grateful for my job is the people I work with. Many of them are like family to me and I’m glad and thankful that I get to see them five days a week.

3.) My “Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown” DVD. Yes, the name is ridiculous, but it’s also appropriate. By the end, I’m sweating so much I look like I’m melting. And possibly on the brink of death. But, it’s the first yoga workout I’ve found that doesn’t leave me annoyed at all the breathy talk about finding my center, imagining that my legs are growing out of my armpits, and positioning my sitting bones. It’s just straight-forward, agonizing aerobic yoga and I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something when I’m done. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate everything about it. But, it’s something that I can at least stick with because I’m seeing results and I’m getting better at it, slowly but surely. I still fall all over myself when I try to do the rolling side planks and I still wobble like a Weeble when I attempt holding the Warrior 3 pose, but it’s much less than the first time I took a stab at the workout, and any progress is good progress.

4.) Living in a country where I can vote for those who will lead it and then later on complain about what a terrible job they’re doing. There are places in this world where expressing your views about the government will get you thrown in jail or worse. I’m grateful to have the right to snarkily proclaim my disgust with every politician in the United States.

5.) My health. I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll just leave it at that.

6.) Amazon.com. Seriously, it’s the most amazing website/retailer ever created. Need some shoelaces and don’t want to make a trip to the store? Go on Amazon.com and you’ll find any and every type of shoelace known to man in every length and color imaginable. Need groceries? Books? CDs? Furniture? Jewelry? A new fishing pole? A couple spoons? Tires? A washing machine? “Muppet Family Christmas” on VHS? A ceiling fan? Toothpaste? Shoes? Overalls? Toys? Musical instruments? Froot Loops? Toilet paper? Really, Amazon has all of this stuff and will deliver it right to your door, usually for free. It’s the second most magical place on earth, after Disney World, of course. Speaking of which…

7.) Disney World. It’s my favorite place on the planet. Many people think I’m nuts and look at me like I’ve sprouted a third eye when I tell them I’m going back. Again. But, most of those people have never been and have no idea how wonderful it is. I’m not sure I can even explain why I love it so much, I just do. It’s the only place on earth that I don’t really worry about anything, where I can forget about all the crap and stress of the real world, at least for a few days. I feel like a kid again when I’m there, and no matter how many times I visit, the joy and giddiness I feel at Disney World never goes away. And those are two feelings I’ll never get enough of.

8.) My membership in the Disney Vacation Club. It’s the enabler to my addiction, the supplier of my fix. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to go to Disney World as often as I do – at least once, but usually twice a year. And if I do ever get the hankering to go somewhere else on vacation, the Disney Vacation Club offers access to accommodations all over the world, to cruises, and to guided tours in places like Egypt, China, and all over Europe. Becoming a member was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I only wish I had done it sooner.

9.) My car. Like I said in a previous blog, I love my little car. I’d be lost without it. Quite often I am lost with it, but that’s another story. I’m grateful for the independence it gives me to get wherever I need to go whenever I need to get there. I live in an area where mass transit isn’t widely available, and if I had to rely on the scary local buses with questionable sanitary conditions and frighteningly oblivious drivers, I’d be downright miserable.

10.) Hand sanitizer. Whoever came up with hand sanitizer AND put it in convenient little pocket packs should be nominated for sainthood. I carry it with me everywhere I go and use it obsessively, especially after pushing shopping carts, filling up my car with gas, or touching door handles and handrails. I suffer from a slight case of germaphobia and I absolutely hate being sick. Anytime I hear someone sneeze or cough within a 10-foot radius of where I’m standing, I whip out the hand sanitizer, squeeze a little in my palm, and rub my hands together like Mr. Burns of “The Simpsons,” thinking to myself “Eeeeexcellent. Dead germs.” If I could squirt hand sanitizer up my nose and in my eyes, or coat the inside of my mouth with it, I would if it meant it would zap any germ or bacteria that came near the orifices in my face. I'm aware there are recent reports that overusing hand sanitizer is not good for you and really doesn’t do much to keep you healthy, but I choose to live in my rubbing alcohol-coated bubble of protection, even if it is just a placebo.

11.) My new iPhone. Yes, I have officially taken the giant leap into the year 2007 and joined the rest of humanity in the technological wonder world that is the iPhone. I received one this year as an early birthday present, and it only took about 10 minutes before I was addicted. It’s absolutely amazing all the things this little electronic rectangle can do. I now gladly take my lumps with a side of humble pie when I hear “told you so” from all the people who advised me I should become an iPhone user despite my stubborn, indignant stance that I didn’t need it. Oh, how wrong I was.

12.) On a similar note, my iPod. I still have my first generation video iPod that I received as a gift long, long ago. It has served me well for many years and while it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of my iPhone, it does contain something very important to me – my music. It provides pleasant background noise that I need so very much in my office at work every day. It makes raking leaves and rotting black walnuts in my back yard not so much of a chore. It makes painting my living room much more enjoyable as I sing along to the songs it shuffles through. My iPod contains the soundtrack to my life, holding songs that I loved as a kid through songs that I just discovered I love yesterday. Music makes everything better, and nothing can affect my mood like an upbeat song or a sad, sappy tune.

13.) On another similar note, my favorite bands “Jack’s Mannequin” and “Something Corporate.” They share the same lead singer, musical genius Andrew McMahon, and unfortunately are both now defunct. But their songs live on, thankfully. Their music is magical – piano punk rock – and I’ve never found lyrics that I relate to more than those written by Andrew McMahon. His music has made me happy, made me sad, made me hopeful, inspired me, comforted me, energized me, and healed me. It doesn’t get much better than that.

14.) My KitchenAid stand mixer. I love to bake and this thing makes it so much easier. My cookies and those who eat them thank you for your marvelous invention, KitchenAid.

15.) Being able to read and write. This really is something that I take for granted every day, but the fact is that illiteracy is real and affects many people. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t read or especially if I couldn’t write. Between my sister and me, I got the bulk of the language brain power and she got ALL of the numerical brain power. Numbers and I do not get along. Numbers are bullies who try to push me around and make me feel stupid, especially the number 9. “Try to subtract me from something, I dare you!” 9 taunts me. “Whoa there, Nelly! Don’t you have to carry something? Where you gonna carry it to? Didn’t you forget to cross something out? What’s the answer? Wrong! Ha ha, Dummy!” Words, on the other hand, nurture me, comfort me, and take me into their warm embrace saying, “Come with us, we love you! And you don’t need a calculator to figure us out.”     

16.) Having access to fresh, nutritious food and clean water. Seriously, how many of us think about how lucky we are when we go to the grocery store? I know I don’t, but I should. Far too many people are starving, suffering from diseases that are a direct result of drinking contaminated water, and don’t have many options when it comes to feeding themselves. I live in a world where I have so many options that I often have a hard time choosing what I want to eat. Or I complain about the produce selection not being fresh enough. What a wonderful problem to have! I know that every day I take for granted the fact that I not only have running water in several places in my home, but it’s clean, safe water I can drink without worrying about getting dysentery (even if it does come from the Mississippi River). Being grateful for this is something I really need to work on.

17.) Facebook. This is yet another technological marvel I refused to participate in for years. I always said, “Anyone who I want to find me already knows where I am.” Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t entirely true. I finally broke down and joined Facebook this year, and it’s pretty awesome! Because of Facebook, I’ve reconnected with friends that I hadn’t talked to in years. It’s brought more great people into my life, which I needed after isolating myself for far too long. I feel inclined to hang my head in shame as I mark this down as another X in the “I was wrong” column on my “I should have listened” life chart. 

18.) “Jeopardy.” This one might seem dumb, but I absolutely LOVE this show. Where else can you learn about Shakespeare, world capitals, bodies of water, marsupials, and the American Revolution all in the span of 30 minutes? I love trivia. I have a storage bank in my brain that’s full of nothing but useless information that might only come in handy once in a lifetime. But I still like filling that bank. Most of it is short-term deposits – it’s in and out in a matter of seconds. But every once in a while something sticks and usually finds its way to my vocal cords during random conversation. “I went to the zoo the other day and saw the orangutans,” someone might say.  *cue up Jeopardy useless information database* “Oh, really? Did they make any noise? An adult male orangutan can make a call that can be heard a mile away and last for up to 5 minutes,” I might spew out. “Weirdo,” the other person mutters.   

19.) Skinnytaste.com. This website is fantastic. It’s actually a blog written by a woman in New York (I think) who posts different recipes several times a week. They’re all low fat and surprisingly healthy, but still taste delicious. I’ve tried about 10 recipes from Skinnytaste so far and have loved everything I’ve made, which is surprising because I always thought I was allergic to healthy food. The chicken enchiladas, grilled pesto shrimp, and chocolate strawberry-stuffed crepes – let me say that again: chocolate strawberry-stuffed crepes – are my favorites so far. And I don’t feel guilty eating any of it! Bonus!

20.) Health insurance. Yes, it’s a screwed up shambles in this country, but it’s a necessary evil and I’m very thankful I have it. I’ve seen first-hand what happens when you need health insurance and don’t have it, and it’s not pretty. I haven’t needed mine too often over the years (excuse me while I go find some wood to knock on…), but if and when I do, it’s comforting to know that it’s available to me, even if it does cost an arm and a leg.

21.) Autumn. It’s my favorite season and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the cooler weather, the changing leaves, the anticipation of the holidays to come, the warm comfort food, the sweaters, the blankets, and the overall coziness of this time of year. I’m grateful to live somewhere that experiences the change in seasons and that autumn is among them.

22.) Makeup. I admit this one is kind of silly. But the way I see it, wearing make-up is one of the perks of being a girl – a trade-off for some of the unpleasantness we’re saddled with in life. I don’t wear much makeup, actually, but I like being able to have the option to if I so choose. Let’s face it: it’s weird for men to wear makeup (except for Robert Smith of The Cure and Johnny Depp who can rock eyeliner like nobody’s business). That’s probably not fair, but it’s true. It would be weird for a man to show up at work one day covered in foundation, blush, mascara, and lipstick. In fact, that might make him a drag queen. But women can wear as much make up as they want and it’s not considered weird. Garish and tacky, yes, but not really weird. Trust me, on the days I wake up with a zit right in the middle of my chin that looks like a scale replica of Mount Kilauea, I’m grateful to be able to spackle a blob of concealer over that bad boy.  

23.) Walgreens. I love Walgreens. If Walgreens sold bananas, I probably wouldn’t shop anywhere else. (Well, except Amazon.) They have everything and they’re everywhere. In my area, you can’t throw a rock without hitting at least two Walgreens stores. What’s even better for me is that I have a Walgreens about five minutes from my house that’s not only close by, but right smack dab in the middle of my route between home and work. When I’m in need of Mickey Mouse bandaids, it just takes a five-minute stop at Walgreens on my way home and I’m good to go. Dog treats? Walgreens. Lip balm? Walgreens. Aspirin? Walgreens. Some bizarre “As Seen on TV” gadget I just have to have? Walgreens. It’s heaven on earth, I tell you.

24.) Friends. They just make life better, whether they’re someone I see every day at work or someone who lives too far away in Chicago or Oklahoma; someone who makes me laugh ‘til I cry, or lets me cry ‘til I laugh. I’m grateful for them all, no matter how small or big a part they have in my everyday life.

25.) Family. I saved the best, and most important, for last. I wouldn’t be able to make it through this life with my sanity intact without my family. They are my life force, my supporters, my cheerleaders, my teachers, my everything. I don’t have a picture-perfect family, but the one I do have is perfect for me. I’m forever thankful to have a group of people who I know without a shadow of a doubt I can count on at any time for anything. Of all the blessings in my life, this is the biggest and the one I am most grateful for.

I know I have even more things to be grateful for, and this list doesn’t cover every day in November, but I better stop here or else this blog entry will quickly turn into a pamphlet. "Giving Thanks and You: How to Stretch Your Turkey Day Bliss Over an Entire Month." Looking over this list, it’s easy to see I’m a pretty lucky gal and I have a lot to be thankful for, not just this month, but all the time. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

It was on a cold night last December when my world crumbled down around me in one big heaping mess. We were on our way home from celebrating Christmas with his family when my boyfriend of 13 years dropped a bombshell on me out of nowhere. He wasn’t happy anymore and wanted out. I was given no real explanation, no reason that made sense for his sudden change of heart except that he wanted “a fresh start in the new year.” In so many words, he told me I was no longer good enough for him and he was moving on to bigger and better things, greener pastures. To say that I was blindsided would be the biggest understatement I’ve ever uttered. He left me standing in my driveway, sobbing, as he drove off like a bat out of hell.  He couldn’t get away fast enough, and I haven’t heard a word from him since. Not a single phone call, e-mail, text message, letter, nothing. It was like as soon as his car turned the corner, he just fell off the face of the earth. In a matter of minutes, my life changed drastically. The person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, who told me countless times we would get married, have a family, and live happily ever after, was gone. The relationship I had committed more than a decade to, more than a third of my life to, that started when I was still a teenager, was over. Just like that. The future I thought for so long that I was going to have disappeared in an instant. I felt like my life was over, that I was over. I was completely and utterly shattered.

The next few days and weeks were some of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I turned into a zombie and barely moved from the couch I had planted myself on. It was almost as if I lost the ability and will to function. I felt like I had to remind myself to breathe because my brain was so busy processing what had just happened that it wasn’t able to perform even the most basic of its inherent tasks. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t focus on anything at work. I was a complete, disastrous mess. It seemed like the only thing I knew how to do anymore was cry. I cried myself to sleep at night. I cried while taking Christmas decorations down. I cried in the bathtub. I cried in my car. I cried in my office. I cried when someone simply looked at me. I sobbed when someone asked how I was doing. I cried for no reason at all, except that I was just so sad. I’ve never cried so much in my life. I was no longer me, wasn’t even a person anymore. I was just this blob of sadness with no sense of direction or purpose whatsoever. If ever there was something that could make a person feel absolutely worthless, it’s hearing from someone they truly love that they are just that – worthless. I bought into it. I believed him when he told me I had no value. I’ll admit there were a few times when I thought perhaps it would be better if I simply wasn’t here anymore. That it would be better if it was all just over, completely and with finality. Thankfully those moments were fleeting and I didn’t give them any real consideration, but they did cross my mind more than once. I was in a depression. It was dark and very deep, and I had no idea how to come out of it. This was a sadness like I had never experienced before and I was consumed by it. I was lost.

That’s when my family and a few wonderful friends stepped in. They saw that I was broken and rallied around me to start the process of putting me back together. It was as though my mom, sister, dad, and step-mom formed this protective circle around me, shielding me from the possibility of any more pain while gradually bringing me back to the world in tiny baby steps. My mom did anything she could think of to try and take the pain away, from bringing me funny greeting cards to censoring the TV shows we watched together to avoid anything that might make me well up with tears yet again. Before I gathered enough strength to go back to work, my dad took time out of his own hectic work schedule to pick me up at home and take me on walks around the neighborhood, just to get me out of the house and to get some fresh air into my lungs. After I returned to my job, he took me to lunch every single day for two weeks so I wouldn’t have to be at home alone during my lunch hour. My step-mom gave me an unconditional, completely non-judgmental ear to listen any time I needed to talk. My sister was my rock. She did for me anything I needed that I just wasn’t able to do for myself. She made me eat when I couldn’t even fathom putting food in my mouth again. She made me get out of the house when I couldn’t even consider getting off the couch. When I had no strength, no will to do anything, she gave me hers for as long as I needed it. My family did all of this for me while they themselves were hurting, too. My ex had become a part of our family. He was like a son to my parents, a brother to my sister. They loved him, too, and he was as much a part of their lives as he was of mine. They were dealt a striking loss just like I was, but they chose to put their own feelings aside while they tended to mine, helping me to get back on my feet.

One of my coworkers – I’ll call her “B” for anonymity’s sake – was my saving grace when I returned to my job after taking a few days off. B is also a very good friend and I’ve known her for many years. She’s like family to me and I’m not exaggerating when I say I wouldn’t have been able to get through those long hours in the work days without her, sitting alone in my office staring blankly at my computer monitor, unable to concentrate or focus, consumed in sadness. B checked on me several times every day, always starting and ending our conversations with much needed hugs. She gave me sage, unbiased advice that my family couldn’t give because she was more removed from the situation, wasn’t attached to my ex like my family was. She helped me make sense of things I couldn’t reason out on my own. She gently pushed and guided me toward accepting the situation for what it was and helped me get started in moving on, to grieve the loss while looking forward to new possibilities. I valued her advice and wisdom greatly, and still do, and I’m not sure I would have come through all of this without it. I will never, ever be able to tell my family and B how much they helped me, how much they healed me, and how grateful I am for them, because there are no words big enough in any language to properly express it. All I can say is that I absolutely would not have made it through without them.

Others helped to pull me through, as well. It was a group effort, for sure. A friend who lives too far away in Oklahoma checked on me frequently, listened when I needed to get something off my chest, and she sent me messages that never failed to pick my spirits up just when I needed it. I reconnected with old friends – friendships I had let go of largely because of my relationship with my ex and I thought were gone forever. I got back in touch with one of my best friends from high school, “L,” and my cohort and very good friend from my days working at my college newspaper, “E.” They welcomed me back with open arms and I can’t even describe how good it was for my soul to have them back in my life again.

Eventually, and thankfully, the sadness waned and morphed as I made my way through the grieving process. Anger replaced the tears and with anger came more clarity. I was angry that he had left without giving me a real explanation, a real reason. Although looking back on it now, I don’t know that any explanation he might have given would have made any sense. There usually isn't a good explanation for treating someone you supposedly loved like a piece of garbage. I was angry I had wasted so much of my life on him, on our relationship, and I wanted those years back. I was angry that he took his family, who I had come to love like my own, away from me, especially his mom and grandparents. I was furious that he treated my own family with such disregard, like they meant nothing at all to him, after everything they had done for him over the years. I was angry he had made me feel like I was nothing. I was even more angry at myself for letting him make me feel that way.

As I worked through the process of putting my life back together, the anger subsided, too, and I feel like I’ve become more introspective and more able to accept what happened, if not the why. I’ve realized the reasons don’t matter. It happened, and what matters now is where I go from here. I’ve done more soul searching in the last few months than I have in my entire life and I feel like it’s been good, for the most part. Part of it was recognizing and owning the mistakes I made and negative aspects I brought to the relationship that contributed to its ending. I’m not perfect – far from it, in fact – and I never will be. It’s not easy to recognize and examine your own shortcomings, but I think it’s an important part of the process. It’s too late to go back and change anything, so I just have to hope I’ve learned from the experience and I won’t make the same mistakes or bad choices in the future. Sometimes life just drops a big pile of shit in your lap. It’s not the shit that’s important. Yes, it’s hard to come to terms with a big, steaming pile of crap that’s just been dropped on you. But after you do, you have to decide if you’re going to just sit there and wallow in it, or stand up, clean yourself off, and keep going. I’m done wallowing.

That’s not to say I don’t still have difficult days now and then, because I do. Every once in a while, a day will sneak up on me when I just feel downright sad or angry. They have become much fewer and farther between, but they still come and knock the wind out of me for a while. It’s usually triggered by something – a song, a memory, a specific date, or simply a random occurrence that brings back waves, sometimes floods of thoughts and feelings. What’s curious to me, though, is those days are no longer about him. I’ve come to realize I don’t miss him anymore. I miss his family. I desperately miss the two cats we shared literally from the day they were born, but who live with him. I can’t let myself think about them or wonder if they are being taken care of because that’s one thing that will send me quickly on a downward spiral. But I don’t miss him. All that soul searching led me to the realization that I was not happy in our relationship. But I stayed, somewhat out of being comfortable and afraid of change, but mostly out of loyalty. I’m fiercely loyal, to a fault and often to my own detriment. When I make a commitment to something, to someone, I keep it. Period. I’m still deciding if that’s a good trait or a misguided way to wander through life. The sad days now are more about the life I thought I was going to have just disappearing into thin air. More related to the questions I have now about how my life will turn out. Will I ever be able to love anyone again? Will I find the person I’m supposed to marry and spend the rest of my life with? Does that person even exist? Maybe the whole married with children thing isn’t in the cards for me. I have no idea, but I’m becoming more resigned to just letting life happen and letting fate do its thing. As the very wise Kermit the Frog once said, “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” (Don’t judge – the Muppets are full of nuggets of wisdom.) I truly believe everything happens for a reason and what’s supposed to happen will happen. But that still doesn’t always quiet the questions rattling around in my brain.

I guess the bottom line is that I’m better. As hard as it was, I’ve come out of a really terrible situation and I feel like I’m better for it. I feel like I’m better off because of it. I’m doing things now I never would have done while still in that relationship – writing this blog, for instance. I’m getting better at accepting myself for who I am right now, in this moment, warts and all. I feel like I’ve come a long way in the past several months, and happiness has started to come back to me. I’ve started to come back to myself. Where life takes me now, I have no clue. As much as I would like to be able to plan out the rest of my life down to the very last second, I realize it might not be up to me as much as I thought it was. I was nervous about writing this blog, about putting these thoughts and feelings on paper and even more nervous about posting it for all the world to see, or even just the handful of people who actually read my ramblings. But I had to get it out. The door has been steadily closing on that chapter of my life and maybe getting this out will give it the final nudge it needs for the latch to click. Maybe someone in a similar situation will stumble across this blog at a time in their lives just when they need a little bit of hope. Maybe I’ll come back in a few months or a couple years, read this blog again, and realize just how far I’ve come from being a broken-hearted wreck. The good thing about broken hearts is that they heal. I know there’s always going to be a scar there. For better or worse, this experience has played a role, and still is playing a role, in the person I am now and the person I’ll become. But I’m at least hopeful now that when my heart is done healing, it will be stronger than ever and ready for whatever life decides to bring.    

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I’ve been having more and more “old moments” lately, and I’m not particularly thrilled about it. An old moment is when something happens suddenly and unexpectedly that immediately results in you thinking to yourself, “Man, I feel old.” I can clearly recall the very first old moment I ever had. It happened one day at work a few years ago. We had a college student who came to fill in as the receptionist at our office during the summer. She was a very sweet, intelligent girl, which made it difficult for me to despise her for giving me my first old moment, as I would have liked to have done. I was up at the front desk on that fateful day, chit-chatting with our temporary receptionist and another co-worker when my co-worker walked over to a machine sitting on a table in the corner of the front desk area. “What’s that?” the receptionist said in a dazed, confused voice. “It’s a typewriter,” my co-worker said. “Oh! That’s a typewriter? I’ve never seen an actual typewriter before!” the receptionist said. “What?” I asked her in disbelief. “You’ve never seen a typewriter before? Really?” When she swore that she hadn’t, I started having flashbacks to my days in middle school and first couple years in high school when I sat in my childhood home, plunking away on my mom’s old electric typewriter to complete whatever writing assignment I had for homework. It wasn’t until I was a high school sophomore or junior that we got our first computer – a dinosaur of an IBM that ran on DOS and connected to a dot matrix printer that used paper with the perforated, holey edges you had to tear off once your printing job was done. It didn’t seem all that long ago when I was using that typewriter. To hear the receptionist say in awe and wonder that she had never seen one, as if it was some ancient relic that had been dug up in one of the great pyramids in Egypt, was a little disconcerting. It was the first time I ever uttered the phrase, “Man, I feel old.” It wouldn’t be the last.

The last trip I made to the doctor for my yearly check-up left me with an old moment, too. My doctor informed me that it was time to start having my cholesterol checked. After I got over the initial panic attack at the thought of some lab technician jabbing a needle in my arm and sucking the blood out of my body, a realization sunk in. I looked at her in disbelief and said, “Isn’t that a test for old people? I’m not old, I’m only 31.” She chuckled a little and said, “I just like to start my patients out early so I can get a baseline to use later on.” I think she was really just trying to placate me, though. I’ll be 32 during this year’s check-up and I can’t help but wonder what tests she’ll make me undergo this time. Bone density? Mammogram? Colonoscopy? All words that paint a picture in my mind of an 80-year-old, hunched over, arthritic woman knocking on death’s door. I don’t want to have to start thinking about these things yet.

I’d prefer to live in ignorance and believe that my internal organs and musculoskeletal structure are still as fresh, youthful, and lively as they were 10 years ago. Unfortunately, my knees reminded me otherwise not too long ago, making me once again say, “Man, I feel old.” After begrudgingly walking on the treadmill one day, I noticed that my left knee was aching a little bit. The next day, it was aching some more and had also become quite stiff. For no reason at all. I had done my normal, routine walk the day before. Nothing different, no fancy moves or running at a level 12 incline, and yet here I was with a bum knee. “What the hell is this?” I thought to myself. After doing a little research and talking with some other people, I deduced that it was just a result of wear and tear on my 32-year-old knee joint and I needed to give it some rest, which, thankfully, worked. But, still, I was left with the realization that my body is no longer 20 years old and I might have to start dealing with aches and pains that crop up as you get older. I mentioned my achy knee to my dad, who gave this helpful, encouraging advice: “Wait until you’re 60 and everything hurts.” Thanks, Dad. I needed something to look forward to.

Old moments come in every shape and form, but something that always seems to trigger them without fail is hearing about other peoples’ kids. Not long ago, I found out that a little girl I had babysat a few times when I was a teenager was married and just had her first baby. “Wha…what?” I thought. I still pictured her as the toddler I watched when her parents needed a date night. Surely it wasn’t THAT long ago, was it? Another old moment came when one of my former co-workers at the local newspaper I worked for told me that her son just got his driver’s license. “Not possible,” I told myself. “He was just a little kid when you worked there, and that was only six years ago.” But, sure enough, she provided undeniable proof in the form of a photo of his newly minted license. “Man, I feel old,” I mumbled when I saw it.

I experienced my most recent old moment when I was driving home from work a few weeks ago. I was stopped at a red light behind a car with two adults sitting in the front and a little kid bouncing around the back seat. Literally, he was bouncing on the seat, jumping up and down and obviously not restrained in any way. “What’s wrong with those people?” I thought. “Don’t they know there are laws requiring little kids to be strapped into something when riding in a car?” That led me to think about the ridiculous laws that now mandate all kids to be buckled into a car seat and/or booster seat unless they’re over 17 years of age and at least 6’5” tall. (I can see it now: “Mom, can I take the car to football practice?” 16-year-old Timmy asks. “Sure, Timmy, but don’t forget your booster seat!” But I digress…and exaggerate.) This led me to think back to when I was a little girl and not only rode in the front seat of my mom’s car, but perched myself on the armrest in the center console so I could have a better view of everything going on through the windshield. I agree, not smart, but that’s beside the point. I started thinking to myself as I sat at that stoplight, “I didn’t have to sit in a booster seat when I was a kid. Hell, I never even wore a seatbelt when I was little. Kids these days have so many restrictions.” And there it was. That phrase: “Kids these days.” When did I start to think like a crotchety old woman talking about the way things were “back in my day?” I shuddered a little bit and made a silent vow that if the word “whippersnapper” ever escapes my lips, I will personally cut out my own tongue and render myself mute.

I don’t like to think about getting older and eventually officially becoming old, but I do realize that it’s inevitable. What I’m not sure about is where that line lies between being young and being old. Is it when you hit 40, which I hear now is the new 20? Is it when you’re 75 and you just don’t give a flip anymore about what you say and who hears it? Is it when you start getting letters from AARP? Please, someone tell me it’s not because I’ve already gotten mail from AARP inviting me to check out their life insurance plans for retired seniors. I found some consolation when I saw that I’m still 30+ years away from qualifying, but I nevertheless wanted to mark it as “Return to Sender” with a note saying, “I’m 32. You’re wasting your postage.” I also realize that getting older is better than the alternative. But that doesn’t make it any less jarring when an old moment grabs me by surprise every now and then and reminds me that, in fact, the clock is ticking away. My life hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would or the way that I had planned, and there’s still a lot I’d like to do with whatever years I have left on this earth. Hopefully I’ll get everything in before I really am an old fart, complaining about whippersnappers on my way to a battery of medical tests while moaning about all my aches and pains and browsing the brochure I got in the mail from AARP.   

Friday, August 3, 2012

I love my car. Nothing flashy or fancy, my 2007 silver Honda Civic coupe is small, fuel efficient, fun to drive, and has a surprisingly good factory sound system. Its only bells and whistles are a nifty moon roof and steering wheel-mounted stereo controls.  There’s no LED monitor imbedded in the dashboard, buttons that instantly connect me to an operator somewhere who can make dinner reservations for me, or heated seats that can toast my buns during my drive to work on cold winter mornings, and that suits me just fine. When it comes to technological advances of any kind, the simpler the better for me, especially when I’m driving and something as basic as lip balm is distraction enough for me to total a vehicle. Besides, with my luck, if I had a seat warmer it would probably do its job too well and suddenly cause my pants to burst into flame.

The thing I love most about my car, though, is the fact that it’s paid for. Whatever the smell of no car payment is, it’s 100 times better than new car smell. I readily admit that I have some kind of weird hang up about spending money on my little Civic. Tightwad is not a word I would generally use to describe myself, but when it comes to my car, I morph into Ebenezer Scrooge, tightly clutching my wallet and snarling at the thought of shelling out even a few cents for anything it might need. It doesn’t matter if it’s gas, insurance, a new transmission, or windshield wiper fluid – if it costs money and falls into the “automotive” category on my credit card statement, I don’t want any part of it. Call me crazy, but something that costs so much up front shouldn’t require the constant dumping of funds into it that a car does. The oil should never need changing, the gas should never need refilling, the exterior should never need washing, the brakes should never start screeching, and the battery should never run out of juice. Someone really needs to work on inventing the maintenance-free, perpetually operating car. It would be the everlasting gobstopper of the automotive world. 

A few weeks ago I was forced to complete one of the chores I detest most in this world – taking my Civic in for maintenance. It was time for an oil change, according to the friendly little maintenance minder built into my car, and my brakes had felt a little wonky for a few months. I knew I had to do it, but it pained me to call the Honda dealership and make the appointment. I don’t always take my car to the dealership when the maintenance minder is nagging me that something needs to be flushed, changed, rotated or replaced. If the flashing orange light on my dashboard indicates that my car just needs something minor like an oil change, I’m content to stay local at one of the little chain places that can do the job in less time and usually for less money than the dealership. The downside to those kinds of places, though, is the people who work there. Correction: the scummy, greasy dirtbags who always seem to be the ones greeting me at the counter and instantly see me as a moving target of female ignorance and vulnerability. The last time I took my car to one of these places, the slime ball taking my keys informed me that my car needed “special” oil because it’s “furin” (translation: foreign) and standard grade oil will burn up my engine. Oh, and SURPRISE! That “special” oil cost twice as much as regular and required “special” filters that also cost double. Unfortunately for this moron, I’ve actually read several sections of my car’s owner’s manual, specifically for occasions like this, and was fully aware that my car doesn’t need special oil because it’s furin. I didn’t waste my breath trying to explain to him that I know my car takes standard 5W-20 oil, doesn’t need synthetic, doesn’t need special filters, and was actually assembled at a factory in Ohio. Doesn’t get much more furin than Ohio. With as much politeness as I could muster, I declined his offer of the $59.99 oil change, told him I would just go with the basic package for $24.99, and presented my coupon for $5 off a standard oil change. He tried again to give me a dire warning about the dangers of not using the more expensive products, but I cut him off mid-sentence, indicating less politely this time that I wasn’t buying his line of bull and I just wanted the standard oil change. He seemed a little flustered as he snatched the key out of my hand that he wasn’t able to pull one over on this bespectacled, na├»ve-looking chick standing in front of him, but I didn’t care. I got my oil change, I got the maintenance minder off my back, and I saved $5, so I was good to go.

A trip to the dealership is a completely different experience. I don’t usually feel like they’re going to try and dupe me, but I still hate going there. For one thing, the closest Honda dealer to my home is about 45 minutes away. It requires an appointment, usually on a Saturday morning since I work during the week, and simply put is just a pain in the ass ordeal. Because I have to go on a weekend, along with 95% of the rest of their customers, it’s always packed to the gills with people in the waiting room. You can always tell who's there for basic, routine stuff and who's there for something big and isn't sure what the cost will be. The former sit lazily in their chairs, maybe sipping coffee while reading a magazine or watching the television and aren’t shocked when the dealership employee presents them with their paperwork and whisks them away to the cashier. The latter sit in their chairs anxiously twitching their legs, shooting nervous glances at the door every time it cracks open, sometimes biting their nails, and sometimes resting their heads in their hands as a sign of automotive defeat. They know the bill is going to be big, but they don’t know just how big. They sit silently, hoping that whatever part they need is cheap and in stock, but puff out an exasperated sigh when they’re told that the part is on back order, will take three days to install, and will cost an arm, a leg, and their first born child. To me, sitting in the dealership waiting room is like observing a very interesting social and psychological experiment.

The Honda dealership where I most recently took my car has found an interesting way to combat the stress boiling over in their waiting area: junk food. When I left my car in the hands of the Honda technicians, I was surprised to walk inside and see the spread that greeted me and the other customers waiting to hear bad news. Everything was free, there for the taking, no questions asked. There was the obligatory coffee percolating on a table in the corner. Next to it was a glass container that had obviously been ravenously picked over and contained only crumbs of the donuts, muffins, and pastries it held earlier that morning. Next to that was a basket full of different bags of chips that had not been scavenged yet, seeing as it was only 10:00 a.m. There was a cooler full of bottled water and soda, a beverage free-for-all that most everyone took advantage of. There was a bowl of fruit that looked mostly untouched and was filled to the brim with apples, oranges, and bananas. But most surprising to me was the waist-high freezer that sat off to the side by itself, like it was hoping no one noticed it was there. Fat chance, freezer. Inside its frosty sliding doors sat dozens and dozens of ice cream bars in just about every variety you could think of. The Good Humor man had nothin’ on this thing.

As I made my way to a cushy chair and sat down to read my book while I waited, I started to notice a trend. I was seated directly across from the freezer and had an unobstructed view of the continuous parade of people that walked past it, stopped dead in their tracks, and turned around, delighted at their ice cream discovery. Then there were those who knew the freezer was there and made a beeline to it as soon as they walked in the door, picking out their favorite frozen treat to enjoy as they waited (again, this is at 10:00 in the morning). I sat in the dealership waiting for my car to be done for about 3 ½ hours, so I had plenty of time to watch the astounding display of gluttony put on by just about every single person in that room. During that time span, I believe that I and one other woman were the only people who didn’t indulge and snarf down an ice cream bar. Or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5. It was as if the apocalypse had begun, and this freezer contained the last food source on earth. People raided it with the ferocity you normally only see from a starving animal that has discovered an open dumpster behind a restaurant. It was quite the sight to see, let me tell you.

I sat there, trying to mind my own business and pass the time reading, but I just couldn’t help looking up every time someone passed in front of me for their turn at the ice cream. I didn’t get much reading done that morning. At one point, a man who looked to be in his late 40s or early 50s entered the waiting room and sat down in the chair next to me. It didn’t take long before he spotted it – the holy grail of frozen goodness. He immediately jumped up and browsed through the cold offerings until he found what he wanted, came back to his seat, and proceeded to eat his ice cream of choice. When he was down to the stick, he made his way over to the trash can to throw the refuse away, and on his way back he paused just slightly in front of the freezer. He sat back down, but it only took a few minutes before his mind was made up and he was back standing in front of the freezer, rummaging through the novelties and finding something different to try. It didn’t take long before this became like a loop set on replay for the approximately 90 minutes the man sat next to me in the waiting area. I stopped counting after he ate his fourth ice cream bar, marveling at how one person could consume so many frozen dairy products in such a short amount of time with neither a single hint of brain freeze nor several trips to the bathroom. It was as if he had never tasted ice cream before, and once he did, he had to taste it all. There was no end to his madness until he was finally told his car was ready. I think his walking slowed down just a bit as he made his way out of the waiting area and approached the freezer. I could see the internal battle raging in his mind: “Do I take just one more for the road? What if I never see ice cream like this again? This could be my last chance. And it’s FREE! ALL FREE! Just one more. Maybe two. Ooooohhhhhh, they’re waiting for me! What do I do?!?” Apparently common sense finally took hold and he sulkily made his way out the door sans ice cream.

The longer I sat and watched the ice cream parade, the more amazed I became. At least half of the people I observed got an ice cream bar and then went back for seconds. There were some families who wisely limited their kids’ intake to one bar per person, but most adults couldn’t seem to help themselves. I got the most amusement from a trio of kids who ran giddily up to the freezer and looked wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the array of dairy delights in front of them. As they sorted through all the available options, carefully making their selections, one of the little girls who looked to be about 5 or 6 snatched up two bars – one in each hand – and squealed loudly, “I want these!” The little boy beside her, who looked to be around the same age, enthusiastically agreed with a loud, echoing “YEAH!” The voice of reason came from the third girl, around 10 years old or so, who matter-of-factly stated, “You can’t have more than one. That’s rude!” After that instruction, the younger girl put one of her bars back and the kids all sat down to enjoy their selections. I wish this kid would have stood by the freezer and given her words of wisdom to the all the adults who snatched up endless ice cream bars like they were piles of frozen cash.

There was one woman in particular who put on such an uninhibited, gutsy display of excess that I couldn’t help but watch, my mouth agape with horror, confusion, and amazement all at the same time. When the Honda technician greeted her in the waiting room and informed her that her car was ready to go, she stood up quickly, heaving her tote bag-sized purse onto her shoulder. It soon became quite obvious why she was hauling around a bag big enough to fit a small child inside. As she followed the technician to the door, she stopped at the freezer. “One last treat before she leaves,” I thought to myself. Wrong. More like a few dozen last treats before she leaves. The woman proceeded to fling open her giant bag and toss ice cream bars by the handful inside. It was hard to keep track, but I’m pretty sure she scored at least 20 bars before finally deciding that was enough and she was ready to go. The technician just stood off to the side, obviously not sure if he should intervene and stop her pilfering or stay quiet and just wait for it to be over. He chose silence until she was done filling her bag and merely said, “All set?” with a weak smile as she walked away from the freezer. I mean, what else could he do? There was no sign that said “Limit 1 ice cream per person” or “Please don’t take enough ice cream for yourself to feed a small African nation.” I’m sure it wasn’t worth it to him to potentially piss off a customer and risk getting himself in trouble over some ice cream.

Sitting in that waiting area that day and watching the ice cream madness was a somewhat unreal, but when I got the news I was dreading about the brakes on my car, I understood a little better why some of these people were gorging themselves on the sugary treats. Maybe it would have been slightly easier to hear that my wonky brakes were beyond repair and required a whopping $625 worth of new parts and labor if I had been riding a sugar high. “It’s going to cost how much?” I might ask in thick, ice cream-coated words. “No biggie! I’m so hopped up right now from all this ice cream that $625 sounds like a bargain! I think I’ll go get myself another one. What would I do-oo-oo for a Klondike bar? I think the question is what wouldn’t I do!”

I’ve seen first-hand the power of the ice cream. Maybe next time I’m forced to spend a small fortune on my car, I should give in. Soften the blow. Force the button on my pants to pop off like a champagne cork from eating the number of ice cream bars that’s the monetary equivalent of whatever amount I’m shelling out for vehicle repairs. I’m catching on to the lady with the giant purse. Watch out, Honda dealer! I’ll be back and next time I’ll be hungry and prepared, pulling an empty rolling cooler behind me as I walk into your waiting room. You’ve been warned.            

Friday, May 25, 2012

I have a lot of pet peeves. Probably more than I should and definitely more than  necessary. I can’t help it, though. While other people are able to avoid sweating the small stuff of life, I sometimes start perspiring at the tiniest of minutiae. It’s all part and parcel of my genetically inherited type-A personality. One of my biggest pet peeves is poor grammar, and there are a few phrases or incorrectly used words that drive me crazy. Now, I’m no saint myself when it comes to grammatical fluency. I’m not immune to using the incorrect form of a verb, occasional misspellings, or dangling participles, and I’m sure I’ve even committed some offenses in this very blog. I do try and make an effort not to regularly annihilate the English language, though. I learned more about grammar in my high school French class than I ever did in any of my English classes. In order to learn another language, you really have to understand your own first. So I owe a big debt of gratitude, or “Merci,” to my fantastic teacher Mrs. Hill for showing me the many errors of my ways. If everyone had had a teacher like her, no one would ever end a sentence with a preposition again.

While I try to keep myself in check grammatically, I also try not to be too anal retentive when it comes to other people. But there are a few particular things that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I hear them. One is misuse of the past tense of the verb “see,” as in, “I seen him at the movies last week.” Another is incorrectly using forms of the verb “go,” especially something like, “I should have went there when you seen him.” While I’m biting my tongue and gnashing my teeth together, sirens, alarms, flashing lights, and red flags are going off and popping up inside my mind as my brain tries to make my mouth say, “It’s SAW! You SAW him! And you should have GONE to the movies when she SAW him!” But 99% of the time I keep my mouth shut and prevent myself from being one of those rude biotches who corrects everything everyone else says. And most of the time I retain enough control to keep myself from shoving my fingers in my ears and blurting out “LA LA LA LA LA” so I don’t have to listen to the verbal massacre that’s occurring in front of me.

Something else that makes my list is the group of people I often refer to as “obliviots.” And yes, I’m fully aware that’s not really a word. But it should be. It’s my own mash-up of the words oblivious and idiots, and it can be used all too often. The definition of obliviots is: “n., plural form of obliviot. People who wander around public areas with no sense of direction and no regard to those around them, often stopping short in front of someone else or bumping into another person while gazing absent mindedly at something that has caught their attention.” I often see these people at the grocery store, the mall, or walking down the sidewalk, usually in groups and almost always strung out in a line long enough to completely block any oncoming traffic. There is no place on earth, however, that has a higher concentration of obliviots than Walt Disney World. They stop suddenly in the middle of Main Street, U.S.A., to open their park maps or put on their mouse ear hats, causing those people behind them to do a fancy sidestep to avoid a collision. They ram into the backs of your legs with the strollers they’re pushing in Epcot because they’re watching the cars at Test Track speeding by instead of watching where they’re going. They stare mindlessly at the wall in the line for Peter Pan, unmoving, as the gobs of people in front of them are boarding their ships to Neverland and those behind them roll their eyes and huff until said obliviot realizes he’s been standing still for 20 minutes. Now, I’m the first person to admit that there’s a ton of things to see and stare at in wonder in Disney World. Normal people step to the side and out of the way to do their ogling. Obliviots stop wherever they are, with no concept that anyone else is nearby, and cause traffic jams as they “ooooh” and “aaaah” at the magic that surrounds them. As annoyed as I get, I try to keep my lack of patience in check and give them a pass. It IS Disney World, after all. And trust me, I’d take a swarm of obliviots in the Magic Kingdom any day over no obliviots at all somewhere else.

Of all my pet peeves, though (and I do have more, but I’ll stop myself before I start sounding psychotic), the one that makes me absolutely, blindingly nuts is bad drivers. In my extremely short, approximately 10-minute commute to work every day, I come across more morons behind the wheel than I ever would in a five-hour trip on the interstate. Maybe there’s something in the water where I live and work, but I’ve come to the conclusion that 75% of the people in those areas should have their licenses revoked. The annoyances run the gamut from turning without using a blinker to driving ONE mile an hour in a 45 mph zone. What little patience I possess quickly vanishes when I get behind one of these geniuses who is texting, shaving, putting on makeup, or searching around their car for some mystery object they’ve seemingly lost, all while steering their cars with their knees. And they’re easy to spot. They aren’t weaving back and forth like a drunk, but they are ever so slightly vacillating from left to right while sporadically accelerating and then slowing down for no reason whatsoever.

I don’t really cuss too often or throw curse words around willy nilly, but when I come across these people on the road, who coincidentally are usually obliviots, I quickly turn into George Carlin, sputtering at least four of the seven dirtiest words you aren’t supposed to say. In turn, I probably end up looking like the complete maniac, shouting and sometimes flailing my arms, that someone surely goes home and talks about to their family. “You wouldn’t believe this chick I saw on State Street today yelling curse words and shaking her fist at some dude who pulled out in front of her and went NO miles an hour. She was nuts!” So yes, I suppose I have a tiny bit of road rage in me and I probably should keep it under wraps more. It just might be time to take that yoga class a family member has been bugging me to join for years. My list of pet peeves might disappear because I’ll be so relaxed that I’ll be the obliviot behind the wheel throwing all the traffic laws out the window, gazing at all the pretty things passing by, and saying to my passengers, “Guess what I just seen!” 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I was lying in bed the other night just about to drift off to sleep when something on the TV caught my attention. Jay Leno on the “Tonight Show” announced that his first guest of the evening would be Rick Santorum. “This should be interesting,” I thought, especially given the fact that Santorum had recently dropped out of the presidential race and more recently gave his endorsement to his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. “What could he possibly have to talk about now?” I wondered. “His campaign is over.” Silly me, I forgot that 99% of politicians just want to hear themselves talk, even when they have nothing to say. Maybe he was on the show to discuss his endorsement. Maybe he was on there to give a pitch about why he should be the Vice Presidential nominee. Nope. He was there to spew ignorance, intolerance, and discrimination, yet again.

I started off watching the segment with indifference, knowing that whatever he was selling, I wasn’t buying. But as the interview went on, I got a little bit angrier and more disgusted with the garbage coming out of his mouth. By the time it was over, I was incensed. Santorum spent a large portion of the interview talking about gay marriage and defending his position that it shouldn’t be allowed to happen in this great country of ours. I should preface all of this by saying that I’m not gay. I’m heterosexual, but I have my own views on gay marriage and they certainly don’t mesh with Santorum’s or the views of many other conservative Republicans. I should also say that I don’t subscribe to any political party. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Whigs, Socialists…if they’re politicians, they’re all the same to me. I’m independent all the way, and I decide who to vote for based on the person, not the party. And I would never vote for anyone who believes a large segment of America’s population should be ostracized, discriminated against, or treated differently than anyone else. Period.

Santorum argued that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman and the right to marriage shouldn’t be extended to the gay community. He doesn’t even want to give them the option of a civil union, which would provide same-sex couples with the legal benefits of marriage, if not the title. This was his reasoning: “Marriage is unique. It provides a unique benefit to society and that’s why it should be different.” Ooooookay. So a man and a woman legally binding themselves to one another and making a commitment to each other is completely different from a same-sex couple doing the same thing, just because they’re gay? If a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, are in a committed, monogamous relationship that provides stability not only to them, but to those around them, that has no benefit to society simply because of their sexual orientation? That makes no sense whatsoever. Just because a couple happens to be heterosexual does not mean they will have a successful marriage. The statistics are clear on that, with approximately 50% of all marriages ending in divorce. Obviously being heterosexual is not a determining factor in a lasting relationship. How about traits like being loyal, faithful, honest, and truthful with your spouse or partner? Aren’t those more important to the success of a relationship and in turn more beneficial to society than sexual orientation? I don’t have any firsthand knowledge, but I’m pretty certain that being homosexual doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of failed relationships. Being a philanderer or an asshole can though, and I know plenty of straight people who fall into those categories.

Interestingly enough, just yesterday, May 9, President Obama made a public announcement that he believes gay couples should be allowed to marry. Well, it’s about flippin’ time. Obama explained in the interview he gave that his decision to publicly support gay marriage was inspired by his two young daughters, who don’t think twice about their friends’ parents who happen to be same-sex couples and have no qualms whatsoever about them getting married. “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them,” he said. Really? It takes a 13 and 11 year old to impart this wisdom on the most powerful man in the world? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I think Obama’s announcement is great, but there’s just one problem: he’s not going to do anything about it. While he said he supports gay marriage, in the next breath he said it should be up to the states to decide whether they will support, ban, or otherwise ignore the issue. And just how many states have decided to allow gay marriage? Six. That’s it. Six out of 50 (51 if you include D.C.). How many have adopted constitutional bans restricting marriage to a man and a woman? Thirty!! Just this past week North Carolina voted to adopt a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. While disheartening, it’s not all that surprising. Societal progress has never really been a hallmark of Southern states, has it?    

Back to the “Tonight Show”…Santorum also espoused his belief that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children. He dropped this little nugget of wisdom when Leno questioned him about why he holds that belief: “I think children…we should provide for them the best opportunity, and the best opportunity is to provide them with a healthy mother/father relationship.” Um, well yeah, Rick, that would be great if all children had two parents who love and care for them in a stable, nurturing home. But does it really matter if that loving environment is provided by a man and a woman as opposed to a gay couple? And how many children actually get that perfect little nuclear family with the mommy and the daddy happily raising them together and then sending them on their way when they’re all grown up? Very few, I’m sure. It seems that Santorum would prefer children to grow up in a dysfunctional, unhealthy, perhaps even abusive home as long as the parents are a man and a woman rather than have kids grow up in a family with two dads or two moms who very well could be better parents than any heterosexual couple on earth. It’s the simple fact that they’re gay that he doesn’t like; there’s no regard to the people, the human beings who could provide an incredibly loving family to children who need a good and loving home. He doesn’t want gay couples to be able to adopt kids because he claims it would be damaging to our society. Oh, sure, it’s so much better for kids to grow up in orphanages or languish in foster care until they turn 18, just so long as they aren’t exposed to any of those gays out there! Santorum said he is worried about how things like gay marriage or gay adoptions would affect the country’s culture. “If we change who we are, then we lose what makes us special,” he said. Yep, Rick, you’re right on the money. America would be so much less special if we gave equal rights to everyone, if gay couples in every state were allowed to marry, and if they also could adopt children and raise them to be contributing members of our society. We definitely wouldn’t want that, now would we?

It seems that Santorum and conservatives like him are trying to take this country back to the 1940s or 1950s, when segregation still existed and women were expected to be housewives whose only skills included cleaning the house and cooking meals for their husbands. How is discriminating against gay Americans any different than the discrimination African Americans had to live with before (and well after) the civil rights movement? It’s not different. It’s just a different group and different issues, but discrimination is discrimination. Preventing someone from having access to a right, based on one single facet of who they are, that the majority of the country’s citizens enjoy freely is discrimination. Preventing gay Americans from marrying or adopting children because of their sexual orientation is no different than preventing African Americans from voting simply because of the color of their skin. Homosexuals have no more control over their sexual orientation than African Americans have over their skin color. I realize that some people still want to debate whether homosexuality is a choice or part of someone’s genetic makeup, but I firmly believe that it’s not a choice and gay people are pre-wired to be gay, just like I was pre-wired to have brown hair and hazel eyes.

It simply comes down to the fact that we’re all human beings. We all have the same basic, fundamental desires to be respected; to have the right to make the choices that are best for our own lives; to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else; and to be accepted for who we are. I realize that my opinions don’t jive with many other people’s opinions on this matter. But to those of you who are against gay marriage or gay adoptions, I ask these questions: Why does it matter to you? How does it affect your life if a gay couple gets married or adopts a child? What business is it of yours how anyone else lives his or her life? What right do you have to say what another human being, another American citizen can and can’t do, as long as they’re not breaking the law or causing harm to others? I’ve heard people who are against gay marriage say, “Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman.” When asked why, oftentimes their response is something like, “Because it just is.” Well, that holds about as much weight as “Because I said so.” You’re gonna have to do better than that. Other times, opponents will invoke the Bible as the basis for their belief that same-sex marriage is an abomination. “The Bible says that marriage should be between a man and a woman.” Maybe it does, I’m no biblical scholar. But doesn’t the Bible also say “Love thy neighbor” and “Judge not lest ye be judged?”

It just makes no sense that something like same-sex marriage is taking such a prominent place in the current election and politics today. Don’t we have more important things to worry about, say the economy that’s still in the crapper? Or how about that little war in Afghanistan that has cost us billions and billions of dollars and thousands of lives? Or maybe the unemployment rate, which is currently sitting at 8.1%? I think we all need to take a step back, look at the big picture, and focus on things that will actually affect all of our lives and wellbeing. And before you sanctimoniously condemn an entire segment of Americans for something that’s out of their control, take a look at your own life to see if there’s room for improvement or something you could be doing better. If we all did that, we’d be too busy to worry about how other people are living their own lives.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I have a long list of things I would like to do and/or purchase if I ever miraculously won a multi-million-dollar lottery payout. I realize that this would require me to actually buy a lottery ticket, which I’ve never done, even when the frenzied masses are lined up outside of gas stations waiting to take their chance at a $300 million or $400 million jackpot. I’m not a gambler and don’t have the greatest luck when it comes to that kind of thing, so I liken buying a ticket to flushing my $1 bill down the toilet. But still, a girl can dream, right? The first thing I would do if I suddenly became a multi-millionaire is pay off any and all debt that I and my family members might have. My mom’s house would be paid off in full and she would receive more than enough money so that she could retire and do whatever the hell she wanted for the rest of her life. Trust me, she’s more than earned it. I’d also buy her that red VW bug she’s wanted for the last 10 years or so. My sister, who undoubtedly would be the voice of reason in my ear telling me to invest the money and live off the interest, would get that Lamborghini she’s always wanted and the one-story house of her dreams so she wouldn’t have to climb stairs every day that wear out her achy knees. My dad and step-mom would get an ocean-front villa on the tropical island of their choosing, although I would have to work to get my dad to accept it. I wouldn’t spend too much buying myself things. I’d like a nice house, but nothing too big or fancy; I’d buy enough Disney Vacation Club points to live in Disney World all year if I wanted to; and I’d be perfectly happy with a new Honda CR-Z (red, please!). I’d listen to my sister and invest (some of) the money, but a big chunk of my change would be used to travel.

My bucket list is made up mostly of traveling to various places throughout the world. My mom introduced me to the adventurous road trip when I was just a toddler playing “I spy” in the backseat of her brown Chevy clunker. My dad introduced me to traveling by plane when I was about 5 years old and we went to Florida for the first time. He also unwittingly sparked my love of Disney World with that trip, although neither of us realized it at the time. My sister and I were more content using the faucet we found in the hotel pool filling up the Mickey head balloons that my dad bought for us in the Magic Kingdom and playing with the giant water bombs as we swam. (Why there was a faucet in that pool, I’ll never know, but we put it to good use.) One of the benefits of having divorced parents was that we often got TWO vacations in one summer, with my mom taking us one place and my dad taking us to another. Thanks to them, I’ve been to 23 states and four countries outside of the U.S.

Some of my best childhood memories have come from those trips, including the time my mom took my sister, me, and a friend to New Orleans and Biloxi, MS. We spent one day of that vacation on the shores of the Gulf of Mississippi in Biloxi collecting seashells and building not a sand castle, but a huge sand stegosaurus. We wanted to bring the shells home as a souvenir from the trip, but they were salty and dirty and stunk to high heaven. My mom had the idea to put them in the bathtub in our hotel room and soak them overnight to clean them up. Little did we know that those shells were actually homes to dozens of hermit crabs, which we found crawling all over the bathroom after we were all woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of their claws tapping and scratching on the tub and tile floor. Needless to say, we didn’t bring home any shell souvenirs from that trip. When I was in middle school, my dad and step-mom took my sister and me out west to see the Grand Canyon. Admittedly, as a pre-teen I wasn’t all that interested in nature and the amazing wonder that is the Grand Canyon, so I didn’t pay as much attention on that vacation as I now realize I should have. One of my best memories is from that trip, though, when we picked up our rental car at the start of our voyage in Las Vegas. I don’t remember how my dad found the rental agency or why we ended up there, but it was a dump, to put it nicely. When they brought our car around, it was a putrid yellowish/brownish rattletrap that looked like it was held together with scotch tape and twisty ties. I think it was an Oldsmobile, but that’s not what the guy behind the counter called it. “You got the Old Gold One,” he proudly exclaimed. We all stared in disbelief at this hunk of junk that was going to be our mode of transportation across two more states for the next 10 days. For whatever reason, my dad decided to give it a try but we didn’t keep it very long before my dad was returning Old Gold One to Avon Rent-A-Car. He proceeded to find another rental agency that hooked us up with a nice luxury car. To this day, we still talk about the Old Gold One and laugh until we’re in tears.

I was incredibly fortunate to travel to France, Spain, and Andorra (a tiny little speck of a country in the Pyrenees Mountains) when I was in high school with several of my fellow students and friends from my French class. There also were several adults who came along for the journey, including one man who brought his elementary school-aged son. On one of the first days of the trip in Spain we stopped to see a beach that just so happened to be topless. I’ll never forget how quickly that dad swooped his hands down to cover the eyes of his curious son before whisking him away to our tour bus. The trip was a breathtaking, eye-opening experience (obviously in different ways for different members of our group) that changed my view on the world and the people living in it. There were hairy armpits and legs galore, lots of B.O., and just a few rude French natives (much fewer than I expected), but there were also magical corner cafes, walled medieval villages that still looked like fortresses, and winding mountain roads that our bus barely maneuvered through. I tried to soak in as much of the culture, history, and architecture as I could in those two weeks, but I know I only came home with a miniscule amount of everything Europe has to offer.

My favorite part of the trip was visiting the ancient and elaborate churches in France and Spain. I would stand there in the middle of these vast stone buildings, marveling at the details and wondering how in the world people constructed them so long ago without modern tools. I had countless memorable experiences on that trip: wandering through the bizarreness that was the Salvador Dali museum near Barcelona; walking into a public restroom in France only to find it was nothing more than a concrete bunker with a hole in the floor and a handle on the wall (I gladly shelled out a few Francs to use the pay toilet that was nearby); listening to the Spaniards in Valencia say everything with a lisp (Welcome to Valenthia!); getting elbowed in the ribs by a Japanese tourist as I tried to take a photo of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre; ordering what I thought was a sandwich from a Spanish vendor who spoke no English, and receiving a large plate of peas dotted with small pieces of ham; the day we were on our own in Paris when I and one of my classmates went with a small group to see Versailles, and the two of us navigated our way through the Metro to make the 45-minute trip, only to find when we got there that the palace was closed that day because the workers had gone on strike; walking through the gardens at Giverny that inspired so many of Claude Monet’s paintings; and the night the students left the accompanying adults behind and went with our tour guide, Virginie, to a French discotheque, where coincidentally almost all of the music they played was American. The whole thing was fantastic. When it was all over, I was happy to be home, but ready to go back again and see even more.

It would probably be easier to list the places on this earth that I don’t want to visit than it would be to list the places I hope to travel to someday. I think I can cross Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea off the list, at least for now. I’m open to exploring just about everywhere else, though. Seeing more of the United States is at the top of my list, especially the eastern half of the country. I’m a history nut, especially if it deals with the U.S. Civil War or the American Revolution, so I’d love to see Gettysburg, PA; Richmond, VA, where I understand some dedicated rebels still fly the Confederate flag (Hey, Johnny Reb, I hate to break the bad news to you, but the war’s over…and you lost.); Boston, MA; and I want to go back to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to see everything I missed the first time. I’d also love to see as much of the rest of the world as I can. I want to see everything in Europe, so I’ll just put the entire continent on my travel itinerary. I’d love to go to Egypt and see the Great Pyramids and the Nile River; on a safari in South Africa, Tanzania, or Kenya; the rainforests of South America; the Galapagos Islands; Japan; China; Tahiti, Fiji, and other South Pacific islands; and Australia. Suffice it to say I want to go just about everywhere. My own personal corner of the world is pretty small, and there’s so much out there to see and experience. Unfortunately, my list of places to visit is much more plentiful than the money in my bank account, though, so for now I’ll have to stick to watching the Travel Channel. But maybe one day. I guess I better start buying some lottery tickets!        

Friday, April 20, 2012

I’ve been an animal lover for as long as I can remember. There hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t had a pet of some sort. Growing up, my family had fish, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats, and dogs at one point or another and I loved every single creature that made our house its home. Well, at least as much as you can love fish. My first cat, Spooky, was around even before I was alive and we quite literally grew up together. She was 21 when she died, and I was 18. It was a tough day at college when my mom called to tell me Spooky was gone. We were pals from the time I was big enough to yank on her ears and pull her tail (luckily for me she was very patient and docile), and my mom has plenty of embarrassing photos of Spooky and me as a toddler hanging out in the bathroom, playing in the toilet together.

My life is now graced with another cat, Libby, and a very spoiled rotten Shih Tzu, Sammy. They’re more than just pets to me, though, they’re part of my family and they both have their own personalities, especially my dog. He’s quite the character and gets away with just about anything he feels like doing because he’s so stinkin’ cute. This tiny little dog rules the roost. He only drinks the water in his bowl if there’s also ice in it. He only eats soft canned food, and only if it’s cut up into bite-sized pieces and fed to him by hand. He doesn’t like to get his poofy little face dirty, and I give in knowing that because he’s small, his blood sugar can drop quickly and he can have seizures if he doesn’t eat. It’s worth the extra time it takes to feed him if he never has a seizure again. Every day it’s a guessing game as to what kind of treats he will like at that moment, and he has a cabinet full. If you offer him a Greenie, a Dingo Goof Ball, a Buddy Biscuit, or a Petgetable (just some of the goodies he gets to pick from) he might take it and he might turn his nose up at it, but he won’t let you get away with giving him nothing. He has his own little wardrobe of sweaters and coats for the winter, not because he’s a little doggie fashionista, but because he’s small and old and gets cold very easily. If it’s raining when it’s time for him to go outside, his personal assistant (usually me or my sister) stands in the rain, holding an umbrella over him to ensure he stays dry while getting soaked ourselves. My cat’s not quite as demanding, thankfully, and usually all she wants is food and lots of attention. And what do I get in return for my service? Lots and lots of unconditional love.

That’s what’s so great about pets, specifically dogs and cats. They don’t care what you look like, how much money you make, or what kind of car you drive. They’re just happy you’re with them and they’re not afraid to show it. I’m certain that my dog and cat know or can sense when I’m upset or sad. Libby especially will glom onto me when she knows I’m down, following me around the house and climbing into my lap as soon as I sit down, laying down next to me on my bed, or coming over to put her face right up to mine and give me a few little licks on my forehead, as if she’s telling me that everything is okay. It’s amazing how being around animals can pick your spirits up just when you need it. There are lots of other benefits to having pets that have been scientifically proven. Studies show that petting a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure and calm stressed and frayed nerves. It’s even been shown that a cat’s purr has a unique, calming effect on humans when they hear it. And having a dog promotes overall health because dog owners are more likely to exercise by taking their pooch on walks. Having pets also has benefits for people who suffer from depression because it gives them a reason to get out of bed every day when they have to take care of another living being.

I love all kinds of animals, not just cats and dogs. Even bugs can sometimes pull at my heartstrings. Sometimes. I generally hate bugs. They’re creepy and gross and I’d prefer to stay as far away from them as possible. But, most of the time, I can’t bring myself to kill them. Take, for instance, the lady bugs that find their way into my house every single winter. For whatever reason, they almost always end up in the upstairs bathroom and usually in the bathtub when it’s cold outside. When I go to hop in the shower or bath, sure enough, there’s a lady bug waddling across the tub making its way to who knows where. I figure I have a few options: 1) Wash the lady bug down the drain, drowning it in the process, even though it’s kind of cute and just trying to stay warm and survive. Not a great option for the bug, and something I usually can’t bring myself to do. 2) Call my cat into the bathroom so she can take care of the insect intruder. Again, not a great option because my cat has never been a hunter. She’d just look at the bug and then look at me as if she’s saying, “Really? This is what you called me in here for? I’m no exterminator, you’re on your own. Is there any food in here?” 3) Scoop the lady bug up and out of the bathtub, and gently place it in a safe corner of the bathroom so we can both get on with our business. This is my go-to solution, even if it is a little out there. Even nasty, creepy spiders can sometimes get a pass from me, like the spider that took up residence in my bathroom, again, during the winter. (What is it with these bugs and my bathroom? Maybe I need to check the seal on the window in there…) He was tiny, smaller than a pea, and always hung out on the ceiling. I made a deal with him. “Ok, spider,” I said. “I promise not to squish you if you promise to stay up there and leave me alone. No crawling around on the floor. No sudden drops from the ceiling and dangling in front of my face. You don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you. Deal? Deal.” We both kept our ends of the bargain until it got warmer outside and he disappeared.

It breaks my heart to think of animals suffering in any way. I can’t walk into an animal shelter without supervision, or else I’d walk out with as many dogs and cats as I could fit into my car. The title of Crazy Cat Lady is a very real possibility for me when I reach my 80s if no one is going to be around to keep me under control. And don’t even talk about those horrible commercials on TV showing polar bear cubs floating away from their mothers on a tiny piece of ice, or abused and abandoned dogs and cats looking at the camera with their sad, sad eyes while Sarah McLachlan sings “Angel” in the background. Good lord. I have to change the channel every time those things come on before they get to the part where they tell you how to make a donation or else I’d bankrupt myself trying to save all those polar bears, puppies, and kittens.

Having pets is a lot of work, to be sure, but it’s well worth it. I know some people think I’m nuts for treating my dog and cat the way I do. They look at me like I have lobsters crawling out of my ears (thank you, “A Christmas Story”) when I tell them that my dog refuses to drink tap water (bottled only, please, and preferably Culligan) or that he gets a pile of gifts every year on his birthday, all wrapped of course, that he excitedly opens one by one. It’s one of the cutest things you’ve ever seen, I promise you. But I give the same look to anyone who says they have a dog or cat who lives outside and never comes in the house, or who has never been to the vet because it costs too much. Having a pet is a multi-year commitment, and if someone’s not willing to do what it takes to care for that animal then they shouldn’t be a pet owner. I can’t imagine not having a pet in my life, and it pains me to think that my dog and cat are getting up there in age, each 13 years old and Sam almost 14. But I’ll take whatever time I can get with them and use it wisely, spoiling them until they’re absolutely rotten to the core, just the way I like them!