Thursday, December 27, 2007

Revisiting the Christmas Catywompus

TBM (the blessid mother) doesn't read my blog too regularly; she is a busy woman. She works full time, manages the bulk of the household duties and family's finances, and is a caregiver to her beloved friend, a geriatric dog named Sampson. The other day she had an opportunity to read my blog, and it evoked some negative emotions within her.

Although she is savvy in many ways, for whatever reason, she had trouble posting her comment to my "Christmas Catywompus" blog, so I asked her about it.

After her short, but meaningful explanation, I felt very foolish about my very one-dimensional and somewhat cynical, minimization of our Christmas family gatherings. Let me explain:

One of the things I love best about coming home at Christmastime is the "Christmas-y-ness" of my parents' home. From the inside out, the house is adorned with decorations and lights. Lovingly wrapped packages in bright paper and beautiful tied ribbons wait beneath the boughs of our Christmas tree. TBM and TWO (the wise one) dedicate a lot of time to decorating the tree with lights (which must be woven around the tree branches and hundreds of ornaments placed "just so.") Wreaths TBM makes herself are on the walls, each decoration chosen with care - from the nativity candelabra to the bathroom towels. Literally every room in the lower level of the house is Christma-fied. And not in an "over the top" way, in a very classy, meticulous way. My mother isn't the type of woman who would fill her yard with as many lawn ornaments as possible; they are carefully chosen. She is kind of an artist when it comes to decorating the house.

Beyond the decorations and all of the shopping, and the wrapping, which must in an of themselves take hours, she bakes. TBM bakes and bakes and bakes. This year there were seven different kinds of cookies and candies she made. Is it any wonder the stove has kicked the bucket? It's exhausted. Yet TBM keeps on going. Why?

By Christmas Eve, when family shows up, the house is warm and welcoming, like something out of a Hallmark movie. The food is delicious and well-prepared. TBM has only a couple of wishes, that everyone enjoy the food that has been prepared, and the company - in the atmosphere she has painstakingly provided.

TBM, who has been married 27 years and has two children in their 20s, is wise in the ways of youthful ignorance so she understood how from my (single, never-married, childless) point of view I could misunderstand what the whole experience means. How TBM's gift to her family, in a way, is the Christmas experience.

Minimizing Christmas gatherings to mere buffet-style social events is deeply flawed and unfair, and even, arguably, very cynical. I may be cynical about a lot of things, but I love Christmas with my family, in my mother's beautiful house, enjoying her homemade cookies. I think I may have projected my own issues onto Christmas. I feel like during the Christmas holiday I behave like a lazy cow. But I am the only one to blame for that. Christmas, nor how the family spends the time we share together, has nothing to do with my inability to keep the cookie-fever at bay.

Actually, spending Christmas together, just chatting, enjoying the good food and drink (in moderation) and good company, is probably the way God would want it. After all, when he was making the the world and the universe, on the seventh day he didn't go bowling or skiing - he just "saw that it was good" and rested. Why wouldn't TBM want to have that same opportunity?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Alternatives to "Sit. Eat. Repeat."

1. Just eat a meal and call it a night - it doesn't have to take three or four hours.
2. Ski.
3. Bowl.
4. See a movie.
5. Go to church.
6. Take a drive and look at lights.
7. Work at a food shelf.
8. Play games.
9. Go to the casino - there is something for everyone there!
10. Karoke.

Christmas Catywompus

Making it home for Christmas all safe and sound = good. I could have used Rudolph to navigate some of the heavy, nuissance fog just west and east of the Madison area. Thank goodness for the steady stream of tail light illumination provided by the more confident, or maybe foolhardy, motorists who passed me by. Yes, I made it home.

I like to visit home, but returning for a holiday occassion is a lot of "hurry up and wait." For whatever reason, maybe because I no longer live at home, maybe because I am deemed incompetent in domestic areas, little is required of me in the way of holiday preparation. This may sound good, but in actuality, it leaves little for me to do but sit in anticipation of whatever party we are about to host or attend. And then all we do is eat and talk, talk and eat. I think Christmas would be a lot more fun if instead of sitting and eating we took a family trip somewhere for the day, or just part of the day. Maybe we could all go bowling. This might not work for those older family members, but at least they can get out and see something other than the house. That in and of itself might be fun.

Or skiing. Older family members can sit in the lodge and play cards while the little kids tire themselve out.

But holidays seem to involve three to five hours of a group of people stuffing their faces, staring at each other, and conveying information that can be shared in 30 minutes or less. I can tell people what is going on in my life in 15 minutes or less. There are no babies to play with, or kids to watch. Just a bunch of us dull grownups sitting around slowing getting fat.

This is not to say I don't love my family, because I do. I would be OK if we all just had a dinner together and went to church. That would be cool with me.

Instead, I can't relax for the next two hours because people will be coming over. And if I look too relaxed, mom will look at me and probably get mad. Just because I appear to be relaxing and she of course, cannot relax and probably needs help with things. But then, I am not qualified enough for the important jobs in the kitchen, and dad has already done everything else. So here I hide, out of everyone's way. Waiting for it to be safe to emerge.

Monday, December 17, 2007


te • gen • ate (transitive verb)
Pronounciation: \tag-en-āt\
Inflected form(s): te·gen·at·ed; te·gen·at·ing
Date: 2007
: to provide with an unequaled, super-human determination.
— te·gen·a·tive \-ˌvā-tiv\ adjective
— te·gen·a·tor \-ˌvā-tər\ noun

I Did It

I bought and mailed ALL of my Christmas cards...before CHRISTMAS!!!! I can't BELIEVE it. What a TRIUMPH. What an achievement. This could be one of the proudest days in my life. I even sent one to the lady at Hardees who knows my order without even asking. Cheers!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Deep Dark Secrets and Shames

I have a hobby I enjoy. It is called singing...s-i-n-g-i-n-g.

Talking about it is hard, actually doing it (in a public setting) is some how sacrilegious. Blogging about it, as I am now, is somehow easier.

I really love singing. It makes me happy. My favorite songs to sing are standards, the sorts of which were made popular by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, and so on. I also love to sing scores from musicals. "Annie Get Your Gun," "Phantom of the Opera," "West Side Story" (which celebrated its 25 anniversary this year), and "My Fair Lady" are some of my very favorites.

Sometimes, I like to try singing opera. Not REAL opera, per se, by the kind of watered down version brought to the mainstream public by Sarah Brightman and Charlotte Church. They are dear friends of mine (I have multiple CDS) and I mean them no disrespect, of course.

Once and a while I think I am a good singer, and maybe, if I had enough guts (and talent), I could learn how to play piano or some other instrument and sing a bunch of cover songs to an audience at Jackpot Junction or some place like that. You don't have to be gorgeous, or even all THAT good, to do that. I know. I've seen the bands that play there. I am not talking about when Tony Bennet comes to town. I am talking about the little itty bitty venue by the bar. I could do that. Couldn't I?

I don't want to be on American Idol, I don't even really want anyone to know who I am. I just want to be able to sing without feeling like I should be ashamed about it.

Now that I have my own house, I have a place I can sing -- and practice. I couldn't in the apartment. I was too self conscious that someone would hear.

I am probably not that good at it. But I feel like I have the right genetic make up for it and I could be, at the very least, a decent singer. Worthy of being in a choir at a church, or maybe even something more. I took voice lessons for a semester in college, and I was told I had the potential to be just as good as the best singer in my class - or better, I just needed to be more polished and have more control. That felt pretty good considering she had been classically trained for most of her life.

I am 26 years old now, which makes me too old to be a child prodigy, but not too old to try something I really want to do. Hopefully I can kick this shame thing and accept that singing is OK for me to do.

Top 10 Achievements for December

10. Remembering to update the budget almost as often as old information needs to be replaced -- and in a timely manner.
9. Riding my recumbent bike almost every day since The Cable arrived.
8. Buying Mom's Christmas gift. At least someone was easy.
7. Remembering *not to forget* to buy Christmas cards to send to everyone, which will happen this weekend.
6. Thinking about what to buy for people before Dec. 22
5. Making plans in advance - I already have something planning for January.
4. Reforming the Dog. Yeah, right.
3. Being social at the work Christmas party.
2. Bowling a 203.
1. Friends For Life

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Trouble 'At Home'

The Dog has been having some issues since we moved into our new place. She appears to have developed Jedi powers that enable her to move rugs, purses, and other items into her cage without actually leaving the cage herself. Needless to say, she is using her powers for evil and may very well be building a Death Star somewhere in the three-season porch. The vilest of her heinous acts took place Tuesday, Dec. 4. On that day, she destroyed my favorite winter coat. It looked like she killed a bunch of geese in her kennel, as the down feathers that kept me so nice and warm while I shoveled all weekend were scattered in her cage. I could have cried. She can truly be a hateful beast. Now though, she has four sheets of corrugated cardboard on three of the four sides of her kennel, preventing her from even so much as FANTASIZING about the damage she could do to any of the few items remaining in the “dog room.” I have hindered her mobility by wedging her kennel between two tables. The arrangement worked for one day. We will see how things look by the end of day two…

Time to Ventilate

I am feeling really tired and there is a funny feeling in my throat that corresponds to another funny feeling below the back of my jaw. Lymph nodes? I don't know. Now I will run over to Wal-Mart and get my oil changed. Then I shall go to the video store and rent the next disc in season 7 of CSI: Las Vegas. This will be the last night I rent a video for a long time because I am getting cable tomorrow. Yeay!

Sticking to my budget is really hard right now, because it is Christmas-time and suddenly all of my clothes seem to pale in comparison to the brightness of the season. At times like these, I try to remind myself I am beyond my ideal weight and therefore would not relish the trying-on-of-clothes-experience anyway. Besides, generally the clothes look nicer on the rack than they do on the people. I am trying to get more exercise into, and more calories out of, my life, but it will be a while before those small changes will show. In the meantime, I have to run on faith alone and glare at the middle-aged women who bring their UNENDING parade of Christmas cookies and candies to work. Yes, I may write about cows, but that doesn't mean I want to look like one.

Work, problems at home* and seasonal stress are also bringing out the best in me; an impromptu period, weight gain, and nail biting.

I have some good news regarding my budget. The Holidays will be dealing it a gentler blow than I originally thought. That is welcome news. Tomorrow I will get a self addressed stamped envelope and in an attempt to secure more financial stability instruct my landlord (former) to get my deposit back to me. However much remains. He is an asshole though (sorry Grandma, but that is the most appropriate word to describe him) so I am sure he will keep all $400.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I am thankful that I moved into my new place well before the first of the month, this past Saturday, a day that will be known in history as the day the "great snows came." OK, maybe not exactly. We DID receive 6.5 inches of snow though, so I was able to put my new shovel and coveralls to some serious use.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Notes on "Box"-ING

The great thing about being a kid is that even though there are innumerable toys - electronic, plastic, and otherwise - all you need to have a good time is a cardboard box. I believe that this remains true today, despite the number of high-tech gadgets available to even the tiniest of tots.

As a child, a cardboard box had unlimited potential. If a box were big enough - say, a refrigerator-sized box - it alone could be a fortress to play in and around. Many boxes of this size, tipped on their sides and lined in a row, could be a spooky tunnel. Smaller boxes could be stacked upon one another to create any number of structures. There were countless possibilities.

My most recent encounter with cardboard boxes had less to do with creative innovation than with necessity. I was moving and I needed cheap, temporary storage for my many possessions. Cardboard boxes fit the bill.

I collected Dole boxes from the grocery store and booze boxes from the saloon and filled them with crap until they were ready to burst. Each box was masting taped to secure its contents, then heaved into a mighty trailer for transport.

After serving their noble purpose, the boxes - some empty, some full - have come to occupy space in rooms throughout my new house. Last week, I built my first cardboard box tower, albeit inadvertently, as I stacked the boxes that were stapled in the bottoms and would require scissors to render flat. A few days before that, I created a cardboard box wall designed to prevent Ella from escaping the confines of the kitchen. After about 15 seconds behind the wall, Ella made a dramatic escape and the boxes fell to the ground.

I hope one day to put the cardboard boxes where they belong - packed away in the basement, keeping seasonal items safe from dust and damage.

But in the meantime, they will be whatever I need them to as I organize my new home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Road Reservations

A long-awaited lunch, purchased by my editor, is now sitting uneasily at the bottom of my belly. I continue on with my day, seemingly unawares that the grease-laden meal is slowly planning to wreak havoc on my arteries. Oh joy. But who can say no to a free lunch? Not me. In any case, I have been consuming more than my share of low-fat, low cholesterol Subway sandwiches (and chocolate chip cookies – uh, oh) lately so maybe the effects of this, my midday meal transgression, will be minimal. Things are winding down here and soon I will be on my way *home. I don’t much enjoy the trip *home. I am not accustomed to long drives and regard them as perilous, especially this time of year when weather can be spontaneous and creative in its crappy manifestations. Adding to my anxiety about this particular trip is daylight savings time, which thrusts my Grand Prix and me into the unwelcome darkness that much sooner.

But before I can even get on the road, I will have to unload some excess baggage from my trunk and my backseat: cleaning supplies and miscellaneous other items I brought home from the apartment last night and was too tired to unload at 9 p.m. Then I should really throw some personal items into a bag for the next few days. I won’t need much; I will only be home for two days. There are a few items that are imperative to the trip (glasses, contact lenses, my purse, gas money, maybe one nice outfit to wear on Thanksgiving), anything else (soap, underwear, socks, clothes that in general match) aren’t as important because the homestead continues to have many of these items in stock.

Then I will have to drop off the sunshine of my life, the consummate underwear inspector, Ella dog, at the Doggy Boarding House. Oh my sweet little Ella dog. I am feeling like a bad “mother” lately for having put her through such trauma as moving, then refining her to a cage in the nippy, three-season porch during the long workday. Next week things will be much more normal: I will be working eight-hour days and we can go for a nice walk over my lunch break AND after work. Unfortunately, try as I might to convey this to her, it is highly unlikely that she understands. If only it were as easy to breakdown as “Walk” or “Potty outside.” Despite her usual, unaffected, ever-optimistic demeanor, I have to believe the situation has been stressful on her, too.

The first day I left her in the new home, alone, unhindered. She chewed a hole in “our” bed comforter. Chewing anything other than a bone is not really part of her usual behaviour.

Again I feel guilt. Bad “mother.”

They like Ella at the Doggy Boardinghouse, and she is a brave little soldier when I drop her off. This experience, I believe, is more traumatizing for me, than for her. We will only be apart for a few days, but throwing yet another trauma right on top of the move - right on the heels of my “bad mothering” – I can’t help but feel guilty.

I know of course, she will be fine, and God-willing, so will I. Soon it will be time to hit the road. I better get ready.

*Home refers to the “Mother ship” or my “place of origins” in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Digs

As of this weekend, Nov. 17, I moved into a new place. It's a cozy little house on Birch Street. Could I sound anymore cliche? But its true - all of it - the "cozy little house" part and its location on Birch Street. I will have more to say about this when I have more time.

Thought Bulemia

OK. I am officially operating on pilot. I cannot think I cannot feel I can only move from one thing until the next until I get home for Thanksgiving tomorrow night/Thursday morning. My brain has reach maximum capacity. All new information will have to go on a waiting list. I will let the world know when I will be accepting new information again.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Bane Of My Existence

Top 10 Reasons Why I am Stressed Out
10. Work. We are putting together a 16-page "special section" in addition to our three section edition next week, and we have one less day to accomplish this because of the Thanksgiving holiday. This is not even the result of poor planning, it is just how the cards fell.

9. Money. I am still trying to master my new budget (week four) and am not doing a very good job. I am staying pretty close to what the budget allows, but I think I may need to find a new way to spread the money so I don't end each second and fourth week with barely nothing in the allowabl-funds-I-can-spend category and two or more days before I get paid again.

8. Christmas. This could also fall under the "Money" Category. I am concerned about about saving some money to spend on gifts for my loved ones and friends.

7. Friends for Life. I didn’t get to go to the Pet CPR class I wanted to go to this week and I haven’t had time to call all of the Humane Societies I need to call for our calendar of events. The first publication is coming out and I really want things to go over well so maybe someday THAT could be my full-time job.

6. Ill relations with my soon-to-be former landlord. He is a dink and he is causing me a bit of stress and he is taking up too much of my time.

5. Family. Several members of my family are dealing with health related issues and it stinks.

4. Unpacking.

3. Moving.

2. Packing

1. Ella. How will naughty dog behave once she is in our new place. I am terrified that she will ruin something. We have never been in a “nice” nice place before. Real wood floors, fancy bathroom tiles. I cringe just thinking about her and the kind of damage she is capable of. It’s true, it’s small; but the number of things she could potentially wreck is infinite. Please, dear Lord, let her be a civilized little lady and not ruin this great new opportunity for us!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Best of Times

Heifers don't know it, but this is the best time of their lives. Frolicking in the fields with their friends. Running and playing. Eating. Life is carefree. But not for long. Soon they will be bred and turned into milking machines. They will probably have calving complications the first go 'round, and every move they make will be monitored. If they don't say healthy, provide ample, quality milk and good offspring, it's off to the salesbarn; or worse yet, the meat processing plant.

But today, they are heifers.

And it is good to be a heifer.

The Word Economist

Nov. 15 - It is almost an hour before Minnesota's First Lady is going to call ME to chat briefly about her newest acquisition - a butterhead carved in her likeness. A man I interviewed just called to go over the story I wrote about him. We tweaked a couple of things and as usual, I was thankful for the clarification. There are many areas of his field that are not second nature to me, and that can be painfully obvious in my writing. His feedback enabled me to make the story better, which is fantastic, but even better, he paid me what I deem a high compliment. He told me he liked my "prose" and that I was a word economist. I am a firm believer that the newspaper is no place for wordiness and highfalutin terminology. I was once informed that the average reading level of newspaper consumers was eighth grade. While I don't know that this is still accurate today, it was a "fact" that made me take pause. Big, beautiful words and colorful language has its place in literature and in magazines, but in newspapers I believe it only serves to alienate. This is not to say I don't like to paint a picture for my readers. I do. But too much paint on a canvas can ruin a lovely picture.

Monday, November 12, 2007

She's done it again!

Trish the Amazing has refreshed my blog layout, which is good, because even I was growing tired of looking at the saccharine sweet pinkness everywhere - althought I still loved the graphic. Trish is the multi-talented, superhuman, pretzel person. Men adore her and women want to be her. All bow down to Trish.

Did I mention Trish is the most witty person I know?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Prostitutes in Smalltown

I don't like country songs, as a general rule, however I like Miranda Lambert. I also like her most recent song about how everyone dies famous in a small town. I tend to agree that once you hit a certain age, everyone in town follows your "extracurricular" activities (for better or worse) with a tabloid fascination.

Strangers (those who don't have at least five generations of family roots planted firmly in the ground) are also a subject of much interest and suspicion. I have been a stranger for the last two years leading a pretty boring life by onlookers' standards. Then some new people moved into my apartment.

If Smalltown were a theatre, my apartment might be a stage: It's right on the corner of mainstreet and from my living room window I have the best seat for watching the locals stagger home from the bar on any given night (if I so choose). There is one thing to be said about voyeurism...if you are in a prime position to be a voyeur, it is likely you are in a prime position to be "voyeured."

My neighbors, who probably struck the Smalltown multi-geners as even odder than I (a Cheesehead by birth) were either unaware or did not care that they were on the mainstage of the town arena. They would have been famous even if they hadn't inadvertently tried. The man downstairs is divorced from the woman who lives upstairs. Their children live with her. His girlfriend-apparent (perhaps live-in, perhaps frequent guest) adds to the already thick tension of the living arrangement. Throw in the fact this is a multi-racial couple in a white rural town, and it's inevitable that these folks will generate some interest amoung the yip-yappers and jaw-jabberers who patronize "downtown" businesses.

This being said, my neighbors took it upon themselves to have frequent, loud arguments, which my landlord too often dismissed at unruly hours of the morning. Girlfriend-apparent, launched personal belonging out the front door for all of the world to see, and was prone to dramatically storming off.

As if this wasn't enough, the couple cinched their celebrity status by being arrested in nearby Metropolis Wannabe (a city about 25 miles down the pike) for prostitution and other related charges. In the days following the arrest, Smalltown was "a-buzzin.'"

If this is what it means to be "center-stage" I have had more than enough and am looking to move to Bigger Smalltown. There, if all goes well, I can live in a house on a city street, in a neighborhood, so if people want to know what I am up to, then they will at LEAST have to go to the trouble to drive a couple of blocks off of the main drag. I find that much more palatable than being just a drunken-stagger away from any weirdos, yip-yappers and jaw-jabberers who can easily observe me anytime, although most likely, taking my dog outside to crap while I am wearing my pajamas.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

No One Reads This Blog

Trish, besides you my visitors are few and far between. Why do you blog? Why do I blog? Why do we blog? I think it is time to go home and go for a walk.

I Sleep with Dogs

Sleeping with the dog has been an acceptable practice because I don't like sleeping alone and the dog can be a source of free warmth. Normally we sleep on the couch, because it is near the TV, and the TV is always on, making us feel far less alone, and perhaps providing the added benefit of misleading our creepy neighbors to believe we always have company and should not be disturbed.

I recently decided that sleeping on the couch is silly and a waste of a perfectly nice and comfortable bed, although it is in a room I never deigned to enter, except to find clothes. Overnight it has been transformed into the epicenter of the "household" universe.

The first night was most unpleasant.

On a typical night spent on the couch, Ella curls into a furry ball in the crook of my knees. On the first night in "our" bed (in a very long time) Ella slept with her head always on my stomach. Very uncomfortable. In her defense, I couldn't sleep anyway, so it probably wouldn't have made a very big difference.

In addition, there was something else about the arrangement that didn't feel right.

Last night, I pointed the head of the bed opposite the TV and brought Ella's little "doggy bed" into the room, so if I kicked her out of the "people bed," she would have someplace to sleep. I was fully prepared to boot her out of said "people bed" if necessary, as much as I longed for the company. It turned out I didn't have to: Ella slept at my side and kept her appendages a safe and comfortable distance from mine.

What will tonight bring? Will I have a pleasant night's sleep or will the dog? Oh the great mysteries of life...we will just have to wait and see....

Big Problems in Smalltown

Recently I have had some contextually large problems arise in my life. I use the word “contextually” to clarify that these “large problems” are not “large” in their overall impact on the future of the human race or the world as “we now know it,” but they are mighty gargantuan in my teeny-tiny little personal universe. Among these problems, is an enigma known as “health insurance.”

Until I embarked on my current career path, a well-established and well-staffed company has always employed me. Whenever I had problems in a certain area, there was always a certain department, with an office and a person with a title to help me address it. Perhaps it was because of this organization I never had any “big” problems.

This is no longer the case.

I am having issues and I largely have to deal with them on my own. The Blessid Mother (TBM) helps me as best she can, given the limited information I am able to convey to her with any amount of competence.

It’s like trying to find your way through a maze on a foggy day.

Then I had some additional financial woes that were resolved only after going into a “special” savings account and TBM provided a little additional padding.

The proverbial “wolf” is always outside the door and usually I have just enough to satiate him.

But now, it is no longer just one wolf. It is more like there are a PACK of wolves on the other side of the door, and they are foaming at the mouth and snarling. The good news is, I think all of the wolves that were planning to show up, have, and no more are coming. The bad news is, I still have to deal with a bunch of hungry wolves.

Of course, my family -- being the good and decent people that they are -- wants to help me get rid of some of these wolves. I have done a lot on my own to try to limit the number outside; for the most part I live a no-frills life. I don’t have a phone line, a modem, or even get any cable. I won’t move out of Smalltown (as much as I want to) because I know then I will have to spend more money I don’t have on gasoline.

But every once in a while, a problem will arise that starts as a snowball and ends in an avalanche. Lots of times I have been able to handle these avalanches on my own, but my coping immunity is down lately.

It is hard for me to face my family at these times. When I feel like a very big failure. It’s bad enough that my parents have to give me “gifts” like eye exams and dental checkups because I cannot afford them unless I either a) stop eating or b) stop feeding the dog.

I guess part of the problem is sometimes I feel like I give up so much that every once in a while I deserve something nice. (The budget doesn’t always accommodate “something nice.”) That is a common misconception among people. I don’t deserve anything. I am lucky to have what I have, and that is it.

I am weak. I feel like I have failed my family at these times.

TBM always knows what to say or ask. I don’t. It’s not that I am not thinking, because I know I am, I guess I am just inexperienced at dealing with insurance companies or banks. But I can’t help but feel so stupid when she points out something I should have asked or done.

( <-----TBM)

I want to be someone who my family can feel proud of. I want to be self-supporting, at the very minimum. That means no help, ever. I want to be able to do things for them, and my grandparents. I don’t want for them to always have to bail me out. I just don’t know how to get there.

It is hard not to let these awful feelings of inadequacy spill their scarlet tinge onto any experiences I am having. As a result I am not always the best company. I try to think positive thoughts and I remember Dolly Parton’s song, “Working 9-5.” I feel a lot like the person Dolly describes in that song and I am “waitin' for the day (my) ship'll come in; 'N' the tide's gonna turn and it's all gonna roll (my) way.”

Life as I know it isn’t that bad. But it definitely leaves something to be desired.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I've Got Friends in Cheesy Places

Trish the Dish is my best friend.
(photo not of Trish the Dish, who likes to remain anonymous, but of Claudette Colbert who I think Trish bears a striking resemblance to)

About seven years ago we met.

Eager for a clean slate from an awkward Freshman year, I moved into what was then, arguably, the coolest dorm on the college campus. How many other dorms had a purportedly "haunted north wing?" Only one, by golly, and that was the one where I would live.

I once again tossed my name into the random roommate draw and ended up with (again) a rather incompatible roommate. Fortunately, about two doors down the hall from me was Trish the Dish.

When we met, she looked a lot different than she does now. She wore her hair in a pixie cut, with highlights. She was looking for someone in the mood to wander the dorm and check out the boys. I said I was game, and the rest is history.

I am not going to say our frienship was always smooth sailing; but over the years the good times and friendship have prevailed. I don't know anyone who is more brilliant, witty, beautiful and kind-hearted than Trish, or anyone's whose opinion I respect more than hers. She is the matron of honor kind of friend; the godmother to your child kind of friend; the Red Hat Society kind of friend; the retirement home kind of friend; the friend you want in your life forever.

When I feel crappy about life, I will try to read this blog and remind myself how lucky I am to have found THAT kind of friend.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Way To Go, “Village”

I am a college graduate with a four year degree.

I have four years of "real life" experience under my belt and I have not even begun to put a dent in the $14,100 consolidated loans that must be repaid. And for what?

What they don't tell you in college is that degrees in or relating to communication/english/language are a joke -- why? Because EVERY SINGLE FIELD and INDUSTRY EXPECTS and DEMANDS ALL of their potential employees have these skills. So why would you give a degree for such a *specialty? I have absolutely NOTHING to offer any potential employers, Thank You St. Cloud State. And Thank you to all of my professors and advisors who were nothing more than enablers - encouraging me to a pursue a career path that I suspect they KNEW could only eventually end with a crash and a burn.

Why didn't someone tell me, "Sheesh kid, you are interested in animals, maybe you could become a veterinarian? You'll get used to cutting animals open." OR "Math may be really hard for you, but if you put in three hours a day studying it, eventually you will get it and you can have any career you want!"

Thanks EVERYONE for serving only to perpetuate a false reality. That writers are wanted or even possibly NEEDED in this world workforce. It is a bold-faced lie. Thanks for helping me amount to nothing during the easiest years of my life and leaving me alone, to clean up the MESS of it NOW, when I have no money, no support system, no worthwhile education, and no direction. What I DO have is health insurance that SUCKS, and an insurmountable debt load.

If college is a joke, then I am the butt of it.

I am going to be dependent on my parents forever. SORRY MOM AND DAD.

Some "grownup."

Way to go “village” … You sure raised THIS kid right.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Smalltown Weddings vs. Big City Weddings

I left Smalltown this weekend to go to a wedding. It was one of the only weddings I have attended that was beyond a 25 mile-radius of Smalltown, and did not start with a mass at Smalltown Church and end with a reception at the Smalltown community center/reception hall/intramural sports facility.

This was a “sophisticated, city folks” wedding. I had to drive over an hour to get there and after I did, I noticed some distinct differences between weddings “out in the country” and those in the Big City:

10. The groom was smiling all day and the bride didn’t look like a deer caught in the headlights.

9. After the church service, the bridal party did not ride through town on a tractor-pulled hay wagon.

8, The bride and groom did not go to a bar before showing up late to the reception

7. At the reception near the card/gift table, there was no sign informing attendees that “in lieu of thank you notes” the money that would have been wasted on cards, envelopes and stamps will be donated to an unnamed “local charity.”

6. They didn't once play songs like “Find Me A Redneck Girl”

5. There was a toast; it involved real sentences with subjects, verbs and some adjectives and lasted more than a half a minute.

4. There wasn’t a fight in the parking lot after the reception was over.

3. None of the bridesmaids flashed anyone – even as the night wore on.

2. No men relieved themselves outside on the side of the building.

1. The bride and groom didn't have their OWN children play the parts of flower girl and ring bearer.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Know Your Role

I am back in Smalltown after spending about a week at “home” in Wisconsin that was less than fun, although it did have its positive points. I was able to see my cousins, who I rarely see except on Christmas Eve each year. West Coast Cousin is a special events coordinator for a 5-Star hotel in California while her brother, Midwest Cousin, owns two pizza franchises in Wisconsin.

West Coast Cousin is a bit of an adventurer; she moved to Arizona for college. There she knew only two people. From there she moved to San Diego and who knows where she will move next. I admire her determination to live her life where and how she wants. For me “the Family” (headquartered back in Wisconsin) has an ability to influence my decisions, whether intentionally or not.

Midwest Cousin, although he has remained within close proximity to family headquarters, is also an adventurer; or maybe even a “gambler.” Running a franchise involves a lot of money and offers no guarantees, but it was a risk he was willing to take and now, after a lot of hardwork and financial investment he is slowly beginning to see the fruits of his labor.

Both cousins are admirable for these qualities.

Little Sister is the youngest of the "kids", so she is still making her way, although she has already shown signs of the “moxy” that appears to run in the family.

Then there is me.

While I was home, The Wise One, The Blessid Mother, and I went to the state fair. Every year that I have gone to the fair, for as long as I can remember, I have done two things – ate something greasy and made out of cheese, and submitted my signature for a handwriting analysis.

The Wise One commented that the analysis appeared to be a pretty accurate read of my personality, although he suspected some aspects of my personality that exist I may not share with my family.

I realized he was correct.

Unlike Little Sister, who will often have the same demeanor whether she is with Grandma or a friend at the bar, I am, in many ways a different person for my family than I am in my own life. I enjoy dancing and singing, I am not afraid to try new things and I can be rather pleasant (I think!) most of the time. But in the company of my family sometimes it’s as though I have not evolved all that much from the 14 year old I once was.

Why, I am not exactly sure. I think I feel like I know the role I am intended to play, and that is what I will do, for the most part.

Maybe someday I will feel comfortable being the same person for everyone, but I doubt it; I think people like that are very few and far between.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

So This is How We Say Goodbye

Today Grandpa died.

Mom called me the blessed grandchild, because I was in the hospital room with Grandpa when he passed; Dad and I were the only two people in the room to share in his last moments, and his last breath.

He was not conscious: at least not that I could tell, although Dad believed he might still be able to hear us. His eyes were open and his chest rose beneath the bed sheets intermittently with each breath - something Dad noticed. I sat down beside his bed and decided to tell him about my garden.

I think Grandpa liked to hear about my garden. He was quite the gardener himself, although he frequently indicated that he felt more like a salad chef for the deer that sampled his vegetable patch than a green thumb.

I told him the latest developments. Pocket gophers had decided to make dirt piles in my garden. Pocket gophers, I explained (more for Dad's benefit) live underground and dig holes, collecting the dirt in their checks then spitting it out in a pile designed to hide their hole. A friend told me he thought the gophers (which look like big chipmunks) had targettted my garden because the soil there was moist (watered daily by me) while the rest of the ground was experiencing a subsoil moisture deficit(blame that on mother nature). He thought the moist soild was easier for them to dig through. He offered to put traps in the holes (provided we find them beneath the piles) but assured me the piles were an aesthetic inconvenience, and the gophers were little more than a nuissance.

"I don't think they even eat vegetables," he told me. Because there was no evidence to the contrary, I left the dirt piles, and (I presume) the entryway to the gopher lair as well, in tact.

I explained this to Grandpa; he would understand, he might even be sympathetic - he had battled with his share of garden pests.

I thought I saw a flicker of some kind of recognition in his eyes, even if for a moment. I suppose it could be wishful thinking. I knew he wouldn't be able to offer advice, as he had before. Still, somehow I felt like he knew we were there and maybe he was listening.

After trying to find a better radion station for Grandpa, (the nurse had turned on the radio for him earlier in the morning) Dad approached the bed and noticed that evidence of Grandpa's shallow breathing had vanished. I noticed the flicker I thought I had seen in his eyes was also gone.

The doctor confirmed what Dad already seemed to know, and I was trying to believe -- even though his body was in front of our eyes, Granpa was gone.

The time the doctor declared him was 1 p.m., although he passed before then. When exactly, I am not positive. I am pretty sure I had my hand on his shoulder though, when it happened.

Dad commented that death came as a surprise in the sense that it came unannounced, even if expected. We humans seem to think that because death is such a milestone in our lives...our final milestone, that it should involve some amount of fanfare: "drumroll please..." Instead in its final moment, at least in Grandpa's case, death came quietly, without giving any obvious, immediate cue that this was the end.

It almost seemed fitting for Grandpa. In the way that I knew him, he wasn't a person who liked to draw attention to himself or make a big fuss.

I am happy for him. I know he is in a better place now. But I am sad for the rest of us. We have the human job of dealing with the void in the family that has been created by his departure. It's a void with no chance of being filled. That is really the hardest part, and that is really all that is left to do.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Shout Out to the Dish

Thanks to the Dish for my AWESOME header! She designed it herself!! You are awesome, Dish. I will accept this instead of a birthday gift.

Indecision: The Source of All Headaches

If there is one thing I am not, it is a “sure” person. Making decisions with a feeling of certainty is as foreign to me as what life is like on other planets.

In college, this is acceptable.

Professors derive a great sense of pleasure out of pulling the rug out from under the sheltered and the unquestioning masses of undergrads. “Question everything,” they encourage. “Are those views yours or your parents?” Or worse yet…society’s?

In this sense, I have never graduated from college.

There is a thin line between believing in open-mindedness to all things and all possibilities, and the belief that if you don’t stand up for something, you might just fall for anything.

The choices I have made in life with an air of certainty are few and far between- if they exist at all. Every crossroads is another opportunity to slip life under the old magnifying glass; waver, waffle and either do something or nothing, and continue on in the comfortable holding pattern that already exists.

I keep expecting at some point in my life, something – anything – will become starkly clear. “The way” will reveal itself unto me, and I will fall into place as is ordained by fate.

Or not.

Since this has yet to happen, when confronted with a big decision, my mind instead enters into a thick, pea-soupy fog of uncertainty. Accepting one possible path eliminates another, which my mind fails to acknowledge as a positive thing. However, reality suggests I can’t possibly ever be everything to everyone, nor can I do everything and go everywhere, so I might as well make a decision and stick with it.

Hindsight and “the gut” are my two main tools when faced with big decisions. Hindsight helps me verify that I have made good decisions before, and perhaps, I could make them again. “The gut” tells me what action is probably *best* to take, even if that action feels uncomfortable or scary. Previously, emotion had this job, but the brain realized emotion is not to be trusted. At the same time, my brain acknowledged its own shortcoming as too logical of an instrument to be completely depended upon. “The gut” takes everything into account, along with some deep-seeded intuition that I can only attribute to the evolution and survival of the human species.

Still, I keep hoping that sometime, something will feel absolutely certain to me.

But then, maybe I am just the kind of person who is incapable of feeling certain; about anything. Yet at the same time I know I feel certain about some things: I am certain my family loves me, I am certain who my best friend is (Trish) and I am certain that I have some kind of human value. However, everything else is up for grabs.

In hindsight, I can say for the short time I was engaged, I was uncertain. I said yes, because I loved the guy, it seemed the next logical step and I thought it was what I wanted. Preferred alternatives to that scenario still haven’t revealed themselves to me, sometimes making me uncertain that ending the engagement was the “right” decision. During times of self-doubt like those, “the gut” reminds me that I called it off – I wasn’t institutionalized, therefore I must have made the “decision” in sound mind, even if time has made the reasons behind it less clear.

I guess somehow in life I became under the impression that decisions were easy. They were black and white or good and bad – not a rainbow of shades of gray.

My dad always says whatever decision you make is the right one. I don’t know if I buy that completely either. If I did, making them might be easier for me.

Still, sometimes too long of doing “nothing,” is motivation for me to do “something.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Kayaking on Smalltown Lake

We've recently been experiencing the many variations of heat in Smalltown, Minn. Today it's a dry heat that evaporates the saliva right off of your tongue. But this is a welcome change from the muggy, humid heat we've previously experienced. Any heat is a good excuse to play in the water and that is exactly what I did Wednesday night.

I should preface this post by saying Smalltown, Minn. is not all hillbillies and tractors. There are a lot of "progressive" (by urban people's standards) businesses and activities in some of the larger small towns. For example, one slightly more populated town has just welcomed a SPA to the Chamber of Commerce. Wal-Mart recently came to the town where I am employed, which is society's way of saying "you are on the map!" Well, also in this town, a weekly enterprise is Ladies Night kayaking on the Lake.

Last summer and this summer, my employer offered to sponsor an evening kayak outing for all of the women in my office. Last summer, and so far, this summer, I appeared to be the only one interested in taking him up on it. Unfortunately, that means it is no longer a "work" outing and is more of an individual outing at my own expense.

I could have taken that $10 and gotten a value meal at Hardees and two 20 oz. diet Pepsis from the gas station, but instead I went to the Lake at 6:45 and waited for the kayak crew to arrive.

Suse, the woman behind the Ladies Night kayaking adventure, arrived with a trailer full of kayaks, every style and color of the rainbow. I was pretty pumped, even though the one co-worker who had swore she would go with me had in fact, stood me up. Suse introduced herself to me, I filled out a form giving her permission to call a doctor in the *unlikely event of an accident, and she hooked me up with a kayak.

I had the option of a sit-on-top kayak or a sit inside kayak. I wanted to get as wet as possible, so I went with the sit-on-top. It was a Dimension Kayak, baby blue, although Suse told me I could have whatever colored kayak I wanted.

Most of the other kayak-ers who showed up that night were regulars, although there were two other rookies like myself. Suse gave us each a life jacket, an oar, and short instructional on the shore. The oars are pretty long, with spoon-like paddles on either end. Suse helped us each off the "dock" (a series of wood planks on the shore) and off we went. I should mention that kayaks are pretty heavy for one person to carry. Maybe more so for pencil-pushers like myself.

Kayaking was fantastically fun! Part of it was just being out on the water on an excruciatingly hot day. Part of it was doing something I had never done before, which can be, but isn't always, fun. For me it took a little concentration, because you are supposed to hold your oar in such a way that your elbows are "hinged." This ensures that you are putting your strength into the paddling and not into your booty and hips. It was hard to just use my arms. My legs felt so useless and I normally do activities that require leg usage - biking, roller blading, walking, etc.

I would really love to go kayaking again, and I might, next Wednesday when Suse and her trailer of many kayaks returns. It's only $10 for two hours (or until the sun goes down) of pleasure on the lake. I felt really relaxed after I was done and I would recommend it to anyone.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The "frot brot" fräulein

This weekend, Smalltown, Minn. had its annual Town Church Bazaar/Citywide festival. Even though I am not an official “parishioner” of the Town Church (club memberships such as these do not fit into my meager budget) I am a registered voter in Smalltown, so I volunteered to help out at a festival booth.

The booth where I was stationed for about three hours Saturday night was a German fry bread stand. Smalltown and its slightly more or less-populated neighboring cities are heavily of German descent, so I suspect this is why the stand was called Gebraten frot brot. I am not sure what that means, although I am told “frot brot” translates to “fry bread.” I don’t speak the language, so I cannot confirm or deny this. I also don’t know that concept of deep frying bread dough and sprinkling it with a cinnamon and sugar mixture is that uniquely German in origin.

Much to the relief of all who knew that I was volunteering at this booth, I did NOT have anything to do with the hot grease or the deep fryer. I was in the less perilous position of coating the “frot brots.” This required that I pick up the drip-dried “frot brots” with tongs and drop them into a sugar-filled canister. Then (after returning the lid to said canister) shake it to provide the “frot brots” with their sweet coating.

Given my track record, I mentally prepared myself for the likelihood that the canister lid would (at least) one time slip off and I would be covered in sugar and pelted with “frot brots.” Fortunately, I left the festival the same way I came - for the most part.

I didn’t actually try a “frot brot” – though I was told repeatedly I could sample the product. Inhaling their sugary fumes for three hours straight was enough to trick my stomach into thinking I had already eaten a quantity that could make me sick.

At the end of the night, some of the “frot brots” were getting cold, and the drunken city folk began to cluster around the beer garden for “last call.” It became clear we would have to give away our remaining inventory, although many of the “frot brot” booth folks thought taking them home or eating them ourselves would also be an acceptable alternative.

I kind of felt guilty giving a cardboard tray with three “frot brots” to young children for the low price of $1.25. I knew those children would eat all three “frot brots” themselves, and also that there was absolutely no nutritional value in them. They are like sweet lard-biscuits.

I just hoped that this poor, parent-approved dietary selection was reserved for fair time only.

The Town Church Festival seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. Some people become their best selves, giving of their time, their money, and their energy to help their community; others become their worst selves, drinking too much, eating too much, or just behaving badly and taking advantage of the kindness of others. In the end the two groups probably balance each other out, but it’s the prevalence of the latter that makes me happy that the festival is over.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Homecoming

Waving flags, yellow ribbons and “welcome back” signs decorated Main Street in Smalltown, Minn. today, in anticipation of the long-awaited return of the National Guard Charlie Company of the 134th Brigade Support Battalion. But Smalltown wasn’t the only rural city welcoming soldiers back today. About 85 miles south of Smalltown, they were also welcoming the return of troops. A story for my newspaper took me to THAT welcome home ceremony, instead of the one in my very own backyard.

I was actually an honored guest at the welcome ceremony, where only family was invited. The sound of a motorcade let all of us inside the crowded hall know the men and women we had come to (symbolically) embrace had arrived.

The days leading up to the ceremony in Smalltown (and I imagine in this other community) reminded me of the week before Christmas as experienced by a child. There was a sort of anticipation in the air. Mothers and wives couldn’t sleep at night. Businesses rearranged the letters on their display boards to spell out “Welcome Home” and “Thank You” instead of the usual “Help Wanted” or “Kit Kat Blizzard.” You could feel that something very monumental was about to happen.

No one I consider “close” has gone to Iraq, although the brothers and sons of those around me DID embark on the journey and one did not return. Still, I have thought about the soldiers in general terms and as an American citizen can appreciate the experience of welcoming them home. This was a much preferred story assignment to covering the tearful sendoffs, which I have also had the experience of attending.

Although the soldiers were often stoic, the emotions were high (and apparent) on the part of their families. Eyes everywhere were brimming – with pride - mostly, but also happiness and maybe a little relief.

For me, the ritual was a reminder that no matter who you are, what your faith or political alignment, we all need to be our best selves at home, work and in the community because that is the only way to REALLY say thank you for the gift that the soldiers have given us. Our continued experience as free Americans.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Smalltown Me

I didn’t start my life in a small town, so I have trouble accepting the terminology used to describe people like myself: hick, redneck, hillbilly, etc. Because I grew up in suburb of Milwaukee, Wis., I exclude myself from these labels, and others like them (but even less flattering).

A four-year relationship with a student of dairy management and arguably lack of direction on my part, led me to the town I currently call home.

There are more cows than people where I live, a circumstance not without its benefits. “Skyscrapers” are considered 60-foot silos, barn and church cupolas and smiley-faced water towers.

I have been living here for two years now, and despite earlier attempts to fight assimilation, I fear it could be imminent. My “city dwelling” best friend and fellow English language and grammar aficionado once caught me saying, “them there.” That was the point when I (as a journalist and creative writing minor in college) felt I truly hit rock bottom.

Since that point, I have been much more mindful of my language – however “when in Rome,” I DO “do as the Romans do.”

City dwellers and rural Americans, despite their different lifestyle preferences, have many similarities – positive and negative. Both have a tremendous capacity for caring, kindness and sense of community; and both have tendencies toward racism, narrow-mindedness, and an unfounded sense of superiority – city dwellers over “hicks,” and rural Americans over “city-idiots” or “Cidiots.” I imagine this kind of dynamic exists between groups and classes of people all over the world, based on a myriad of values/perceived values.

How or if it will ever be resolved is the unanswered question. Maybe I can bridge the gap. But at this point I doubt it.