Could have been worse…

As far as family gatherings go, it wasn’t bad.  Certainly not the disaster that i hosted last year. 

My sister-in-law, K,  invited us for the Trailer Park Thanksgiving yesterday, and as always, she was a gracious and tolerant hostess.  My niece, DQ, brought Mom, along with her two daughters (DQ Junior, 14 and DQ III, 2).   My ridiculously self-absorbed oldest sister, S, was fairly quiet.  A small and laid back gathering.  Promise of a pleasant meal…

Invariably, we listened to DQ’s shopping adventures from Black Friday.  Blowing cash she doesn’t have on things she doesn’t need.  My brother shared tales of his three elder-boys (20, 16, 14) and the latest travails with his ex-wife*.  Mom didn’t have much to say, as she was concentrating on shoveling a couple plates of food down her gullet. 

And it was a fine meal…

Afterwards, DQ III started to squawk, having missed her afternoon nap.  DQ took her and DQ Junior home to spare us all the racket, and let the kid get some rest.  This left Mom, three of her children, and my brother’s wife for after dinner conversation.

The subject of Mom’s living arrangements came up.  She has been living on a bed in DQ’s living room since July, a waiting the renovation of her house, which is now planned for Spring.  Given the option of staying in the house alone, moving to an assisted living apartment, or living with DQ and her clan?  This was Mom’s choice.

We are all quite thankful that my niece is willing and able to care for Mom.  Granted, she’s cleaning out the bank accounts along the way, but she’s earning it, at least to some degree.  Mom shared her concerns that after she’s gone, she doesn’t want to see DQ and her family “thrown out on the streets” if we all contest the will…  DQ is apparently worried that we’re all going to “cause trouble” after Mom dies.

My brother laughed and said “We don’t want it, Mom.  Stop underestimating your children.”, followed by my “Seriously, we don’t give a shit…”.  But the best line of the day goes to my sister-in-law, K, for her innocent question “What has DQ done to make her feel so guilty?”

So we just sort of left it there…. me grinning madly at K, Mom scratching her head trying to figure out how to answer it, and my sister, S  (DQ’s mother) deciding that it was time to go…

i headed out shortly after.  Got in some ridiculous dance/drum therapy at a post-Thanksgiving houseparty.  This year?  Three hours of dancing, but it was the drumming that provided therapy…  Primal, and absolutely good for the soul.

The Holidays... They're BAAAAAAACK!

 From the fine folks at Awkward Family Photos

* His second wife, mother of the three boys, became an evangelical Christian when she re-married.  Shelling out two additional kids with her new husband, she decided that home-schooling would be good to raise the children properly.  Turns out?  Last month she was busted by her husband for having an extramarital affair.  And before he took her back?  Sent her to rehab for her alcohol problem… Makes for nice “Springer-esque” dinner talk!

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Happy Hippies…

In the early years, we never got much vacation to ourselves.  Family travel and events chewed up every available day of discretionary leave.  Understanding the clock hanging over the heads of our aging parents, we’d suck it up and dutifully hit the road – especially over the winter holidays.
 
Alternating the Christmas event between respective parental households, we’d either drive 1,000 miles to Florida to spend a week with his parents, or we’d enjoy a quiet morning rising from our own beds and then haul children, food and presents down to the Trailer Park for the annual flea market and freak show for the rest of the day.
 
It was the Trailer Park Lifestyle, however, that eventually gave us just one holiday for our own little clan.  With all of the divorces in my family, Thanksgiving was a nightmare. 

My sister and brother were often stuck with complex “prisoner exchange” situations, moving their children from one place to another – while attempting to satisfy the familial requirements of the “spouse du jour”.  If they didn’t show up for at least three meals during the day?  Someone was going to be cranky.
 
Chaotic, at best.  Explosive, on at least one occasion.  We’d generally return home feeling battered – and bitter.
 
The solution?  The Trailer Park adopted a “time-shift”, moving the group gathering to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We took turns hosting the meal, it was generally “pot luck” style, and it worked well for many years.
 
Miracle of miracles, this now allowed for my family of four to create our own tradition.  Given that my ex-husband and i are dirty hippies share “non-traditional” tendencies, we decided “pizza, beer and football – in pajamas” would be the order of the day.  Oh, and we were ridiculously fucking thankful for all of these things*.
 
The kids were still in elementary school, and i think they both took some sort of perverse pleasure in letting their friends and teachers know that we ate pizza instead of turkey and trimmings.  Not just any pizza, but home made – from hand-tossed crusts, to customized toppings.  One of the few culinary activities i could handle…
 
On occasion i’d pick up a stray from the office.  Typically single male engineers, away from family and not planning to brave the highways for a taste of Mom’s gravy**.  Rather than surprise them with the meal, i’d warn them first.  “Pizza, beer, football.  Pajamas optional.” 
 
This year, my adult children were at my place for Thanksgiving – and wanted to do it again.  The “gourmet pizza buffet” was on… The kids and i were joined by two of my close friends, and a slew of their own for perhaps our best Thanksgiving yet. 

i stumbled through a 5 mile “Turkey Trot” in the morning, then slept for a couple hours.  The Boy just slept til noon.  The Girl joined her boyfriend’s extended family for a more traditional meal in the early afternoon.  Somewhere around 8:00 pm? It just came together…
 
Laid back.  No formal “seating”, we grazed.  Shared nibbles of unique pizzas, lovingly crafted to our own tastes***.  Alcohol may have been involved.  Billiards and music happened.  Talking smack.  Messing with each other.  Tripping over a big brown dog, awash with canine joy for all the attention and floor scraps. 
 
It was damn near perfect…

Where have all the hippies gone?

 * Not just the opportunity to avoid dealing with The Trailer Park.
 
** Absolutely not, under any circumstances, a euphemism…
 
*** There was enough meat on The Boy’s pizza to feed a cannibal army.  Must have hit his stomach like a brick.

A little less conversation, a little more action.

Movement.

It’s the only thing that comforts the restless soul.  Never content staying put, never satisfied with ‘now’.  Only a brief celebratory moment upon completion of a task or goal, before mentally starting work on the next one…

i’ve been stuck.  No shortage of things to do, but none of them providing what i need at the moment.  Working out at least an hour a day, spending too much time on the internet, i am making no progress towards anything of substance.  i’ve lost my mojo, and don’t know where i put it.

Life as a spectator leaves me cold.  i have to be in the game.  Somehow, i’ve become comfortable watching.  Saying things such as “i’d like to improve my French”, versus starting the coursework.  “i really want to find a band”.  But not looking for one.   “Wishing” instead of “doing”.  Not the person i want to be…

It was the simple act of getting on a plane that cleared a few of the cobwebs.  Since moving to the new job in June, i haven’t traveled much.  Before that?  Only the sporadic day trip here or there. Like riding a bike, though, you don’t forget.

Intuitively knowing where to park at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon at the airport.  Whisking through the check in process, my frequent flier number committed to memory.  Despite carrying only a backpack for an overnight trip, efficiently breezing through the security line – with two laptops*. 

Knowing the equipment for both flights.  Seat 17A in a CRJ-700 is the last row.  The knowledge that i won’t be reclining before i get on the plane.  An Airbus 320?  Enough legroom, despite the appearance of being cramped.  i just know…. and it feels good to be moving.  With confidence.

Not going anywhere important.  Not doing anything that mattered much in the grand scheme of things.  Movement provided the illusion of progress… and i was smacked in the head with the realization that it feeds me

You’re either growing or you’re dying.  So tonight?  i’m back on the stage.  With a band.  Unprepared.  Unpracticed.  And completely unafraid.  Stepping into completely unknown territory.  An ‘open stage’ where you can either drop in with the house band, or play solo.  Packing up the Gibson.  Balls out, here we go…

Best girlgroup ever. The Ronettes. Before Phil Spector was shooting his dates, he could produce some music...

* Personal laptop and business one.  By volume?  Ratio of “electronics:clothing” was 15:1. By weight?  At least 40:1.  i am a geek.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Update:  Photos here.  Damn, damn, DAMN, but that was big fun!

Two for One

Angelo and Domenica.  They arrived in the United States from Sicily in the early 1920’s, passing through Ellis Island.  He had a fourth grade education, at best, and drove a cart for a living.  She had been the daughter of a vineyard manager, bootlegging an education with the vineyard owners daughter, until she was fourteen.  It was unheard of for a peasant girl to have so much schooling.

Settling into the milltown of Methuen, Massachusetts based on obtuse familial connections, they both worked in the sweatshops.  Their only child, Alfio, was born in 1923.  It was that extra bit of schooling that drove Domenica hard.  She would not settle for less for her son.  “Formazione!” (Education).  He was going to school.  He would not face a lifetime in the mills.

She lived to see him graduate with a degree in Engineering from Northeastern University.  But just barely. Packing his possessions into a trunk, he headed off to Detroit at 22 years old.  Certainly, she must have been proud as he entered the elite corps of ‘junior management trainees’ for Ford Motor Company.

It was cancer that got her.  Breast cancer, which wasn’t particularly treatable in the late 1940’s.  Alfio, an only child, left his promising start in Corporate America, and returned home to care for her.  As she was dying?  His father was overwhelmed at the prospect of losing his wife.  He took his own, breathing his last breath in Alfio’s arms. 

My father, Alfio, buried both of his parents before he was 25 years old.  Alone.  He regrouped, re-entered the workforce, and found purpose for his life.  He understood the meaning of the word “onward”.

Domenica and Angelo

Alfio, First Communion

Trailer Park “Lamebook”

Lamebook provides a concise “Worst Of” summary for Facebook commentary.  Delivering daily affirmations that there is truly no lower boundary for human stupidity.  As if we needed more than this
 
Scanning my Facebook status updates over the weekend, i stumbled upon examples from my niece, DQ, that made me cringe.  Not quite the “way too much information” variety, there were a couple posts in one day that succinctly captured two key trailer park traits. 
 
The first:  Spend what you ain’t got, then spend some more….  My niece, DQ, doesn’t work.  Still claiming ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ from events that transpired with her ex-husband almost 10 years ago, she breaks out in hives at the suggestion of external employment.  Her current husband, BJ, is hardworking and skilled, but has been unemployed for nine months.  Through his unemployment compensation, along with sporadic short-term jobs, he’s managed to keep the bills paid.  Just barely…
 
Needless to say, they have no discretionary income.  Mom is still encamped in their living room.  Facebook status.  Last week. 

DQ Christmas shopping online today and maybe off to the stores tonight. I can’t wait to put up our tree!!!

Friend1:  Everyone is feeling the spirit early this year! I love it!

daisyfae:  i thought you were just going to give Granny* a green blanket and throw some ornaments on her?

Cousin1**:  Be nice daisyfae. She’ll haunt you forever!

Cousin2**:  I guess the remodeling won’t be done by Christmas? You had said that you hoped so … I thought perhaps that was an ambitious schedule …

DQ:   I told her I was going to hang garland around the bottom of her bed.  It looks like she’ll be here for a while longer.  We are going to start in the spring.  BJ has been busy and her house still has so much stuff to go through!

The second:  Inappropriate parental encouragement.  Although i gotta admit, the kid is cute.  This is DQ, III, spawned of DQ and BJ a couple years ago.  Another generation of trailer park goddess in training…. she’s doomed. 

Hooker heels & cappuccino

 * My Mom.  She’s been living on a twin bed in DQ’s living room since pacemaker installation in July.  The plan was originally for DQ and BJ to build a house in the country.  Whoops!  Requirements creep meant they couldn’t qualify for a construction loan.  The next plan?  Build a “small” addition onto Mom’s house, and move the entire mess of them over there.  Except there was a bit of requirements creep there, too… it became a “double the square footage in the house” exercise, and the project stalled for reasons i don’t fully understand… hence my smart-assed comment about using my mother as a Christmas tree this year.  But, Mom is happier in some ways now that she has family around her… Perils of benefactors, blessings of parasites… again…

** Two cousins, who know Mom is a bit crotchety… but not as bad as their mother… not by a long shot!

Parent-adultery?

Returning from a weekend with my breast cancer grannies, i called Mom down in the Trailer Park.  The weekly call – a habit established almost 30 years ago when i left home.  We went through the usual laundry list of topics:

daisyfae:  How was your week?

Mom: Well, not much going on.  On Monday, I ate some leftovers from KFC.  DQ and BJ had ordered extra chicken livers… [litany of everything she’s eaten for the entire week follows]

daisyfae: Did you get the results back from the “sleep study” yet?

Mom:  They took me back for another sleep over Tuesday night, this time with that mask thing on me.  They say I slept for five hours.  I sure felt more rested.  DQ and BJ tell me that I was in a better mood on Wednesday, too…

And so on…  i ask after my siblings, have they called, what’s the latest and all that rot…  Eventually, she asked how the kids and i are doing.  She asked how work is going… if i’ve had any adventures.

Despite the fact that i’d just returned from a weekend at a lovely regional resort with my elder gal-pals, i just didn’t feel right telling her about it. 

Yes.  You got it folks.  i felt as though i’d been cheating on my mother with two other women.

That, my friends, is supremely fucked up, isn’t it?  Turns out, my weekend excursion was – wait for it – a guilt trip.

Mission: Accomplished

Three women.  Of single mind and purpose.  Once the date and location were agreed to – three months ago – it was a battle fought madly to keep life from impinging upon the calendar.

Driving.  Four hours.  The cities and interstate highways melting  away, into an unfamiliar landscape.  A two-lane paved road, weaving through wooded hills.  Signs advertising “Deer Processing”, “John Deere” and “Sunday Beer” punctuating the brown and gray autumn palette.

Housing is a mix of trailers, modern tri-levels and victorian homesteads.  Corn and soybean fields harvested and barren.  Barns with open, gaping wounds in the rooftops.  Homes with faded, peeling paint jauntily sporting brand new satellite dishes.  Laundry flying outside a shack that should have been abandoned.  SUVs and pick up trucks out numbering cars ten to one.  Pressing onward into the twilight on a Friday evening. 

The destination appearing around a bend in the road, like a mirage.  Out of time, and out of place.  A galaxy of lights and sunny yellow brick facades.  The Grand Resort, built at the turn of the century – the previous one. 

Just about the last thing you’d expect to discover in the economically starved hills of southern Indiana, the place is an oasis of glamour from a bygone era.   Past the town of Floyd’s Knobs, and about 30 miles after you cross Sinking Creek Road.  There is this…

oasis

We were celebrating.  The retirement of a lovely wig, and the return of hair.  My two “breast cancer grannies”, Leontine and Doris, invited me for a weekend at The Grand Resort.  Doris finally ditched the wig, so it was time for a party.  We packed in provisions…  mostly liquid. 

Leontine and i booked spa time, while Doris won big at the slots in the casino.   Shopping was also on the agenda, including some antiquing and a visit to the Discount Liquor Emporium.

On the surface, we don’t have all that much in common*.  Doris , 68, is a widow.  Remarkably, she worked though three surgeries, radiation and chemo as the administrator of a local pre-school.  Leontine, 66, is the wife of a retired dentist, and is active in the community – most recently volunteering at the H1N1 vaccination clinic for our county.

They schooled me this weekend.  On many fronts.  Doris, who emigrated from Germany during WWII at the age of four, kicked my ass into next week at Scrabble.  Sort of helpful, with just a hint of cutthroat, she seemed to enjoy the fact that she was the only one of us with just a high school education.  Never mind that English isn’t her native language.

Leontine taught me some travel tricks.  Namely, how to pack mule single malt scotch and other assorted booze in your checked luggage**, without spills or wasted space.  She also explained to me the benefits of using vodka, or apple brandy, when making a pie crust. 

They both explained to me the best ways to take calcium – which will be important for me when my estrogen takes a crap in a few years since i can’t do hormone replacement therapy.  Oh, and they both chastised me for bashing my extremities into hamburger while rolling my bike. 

For my part, i was prepared to give something back.  Packing in the proper gear, i taught them how to make – and eat – jello shots.  Maybe that’s why the Scrabble got a little rough after the third game.  i don’t cook, i distill.  It was all i had…

They were staying over another day, but i drove back tonight.  It occurred to me after i called to let them know i’d made the trip safely that my relationship with these two gals is evolving beyond “breast cancer buddies”. 

Surrogates.  They both have daughters my age.  They know my family situation.  My Mom has never taken care of herself, so she’d have no idea how to teach me about calcium supplements.  Mom was also not the greatest cook.  She did share her secret “Shake and Bake” pork chop recipe, and where to buy the best deep fried mushrooms in town.  That’s something.  But they’ve gently stepped into the gap.  And i like it…

When i called, Leontine said “Thanks for calling to let your two Moms know that you are home safe and sound”.  Maybe i’m just a little hormonal***, but it made my eyes just a little bit squishy.

 unreal

* We have at various times called ourselves the “Three B’s”, for “Boobs, Booze and Brie”, or more recently the “The Four and a Half Tits”, noting the remaining number of breastages amongst us.  A member of Leontine’s bridge group wanted to join, but Leontine told her “You’ve got too many tits”.

** It’s called a “Platypus“, and it’s a hydration system for endurance athletes.  There are endurance athletes, and there are ENDURANCE athletes… This is a clever use of gear…

*** As my son would have said “enjoy it while you can, Mom.  It ain’t gonna last much longer”.

Mojo recovered…

Engineer.

When you see the word, what pops into your head? Ok, bash out the stereotypical images of dorkbait in flood pants with a “kick me hard” sign taped to the middle of the back. Oh, and lose the buck teeth and “birth control” nerd glasses.  Most don’t have buck teeth.

For me, the word always held power. “Problem solver”, “Clever”, “Creative”, “Useful” are just a few of the descriptors that come to mind.

i used to be one. Trained, through about 10 years of university to engineer materials to solve problems for my corporate masters.  Along the way? i learned skills. Lab work is not for pussies. Plumbing was essential. Vacuum lines and leak detection was an early specialty of mine – working with ultra-high vacuum systems that resembled parts for the space station, i was a whiz at finding leaks with a squirt bottle of soapy water.

Creating and building my own experimental apparatus, i was also pretty damn good with the electrons.  Never afraid of voltage – it’s the current that kills you – i was confident that the test rig i’d slapped together would not result in a shower of sparks and screams when i plugged it into the wall.  Mojo.  Check.

The transition to management started fairly early.  By the time i was in my 30’s, i was spending more time on the phone than in the lab.  “Program Manager” never conjured the same series of words as “Engineer”, but i was good at it.  Skills required?  Communication.  Ability to translate between science and customer requirements.  Seeing the world past the tips of your shoes.  Definitely not sexy.  But i could wear high heels and miniskirts to work…

So i lost my Mojo.  Became intimidated by the trades.  This was mostly manifested in how i took care of things at home.  My husband and i both had the skills, but we started “contracting out” household repair work as our income grew and our time became more precious.  The thought of doing plumbing?  Blechhh… 

Plumbing is messy, but it won’t kill you.  Electrical work simply scared the shit out of me.  When it hit the cars?  i couldn’t even replace the battery on my jeep.  It was a low point. 

But not as low as i hit this summer.  My over-the-stove microwave oven took an electromagnetic shit in June while i was out of the country on holiday.  My solution?  Replace it with our old ‘counter-top version’ from the storage room.  i figured i’d eventually buy a new stove/microwave combination and have it installed.

Slow-forward to September.  Finding a nice sale, i was able to purchase a new set for a reasonable price.  i discussed installation of the microwave with the knowledgable salesman – who told me in no uncertain terms that i could easily do it myself.  It was a simple operation, only requiring a new frame, resetting the blower motors, and hanging the damn thing up…

When i took the old one down, however, i discovered something frightening.  It hadn’t been installed properly.  Rather than put an outlet in the wall above inside the cabinet, the installers had HARD-WIRED the damn thing in… To replace it?  i had two choices.  Install an outlet and do it right, or clip the cord and splice the new one in – violating local building code.

That was September.  i had a clutch of wires sticking out of my kitchen wall – one cleverly labeled “Hot”.  Trying to decide if i had the skills and balls to tackle it, or if i should just bite the bullet and contract it out.  It wasn’t an obvious solution, though.  Not as simple as just fishing the wires into the wall and putting in a box, some sort of re-route was required.  In my mind, i finally came up with a kluge of a plan that would work…  It was now late October.

But i still stared at it some more.  Until i got sick, and booted a planned hiking weekend, giving me tons of free time to take it on.  And took away the “i don’t have time” excuse.  My son looked at it with fresh eyes, and came up with a better “kluge”.  So, with the encouragement and on-site support of a close friend, and about five separate trips to the hardware store it was on…

Did the wiring project in about an hour.  Took a break.  Did the microwave install in 90 minutes.

Fuck.  Just like that.  Mojo: Found.

Now, to tackle some of those more difficult “Lost Mojo” projects… the ones that can’t be fixed with a schematic and a few trips to the hardware store. 

Sign language

Even before he pulled this stunt on me at ten years old, The Boy had a knack for embarrassing me…

Both kids were in after-school care at a local facility*, known for the spectacular staff.  Retrieving my sprogs after work one day, one of the teachers, Miss Sharla,  intercepted me as i entered, pulling me aside into an unused classroom. 

Needless to say, i was worried… He’d recently broken his arm falling from the book loft, and was in the midst of his artistic phase that involved putting “butt faces” on people.  There were many reasons Miss Sharla might have pulled me aside for a private conference…

Miss Sharla’s son, Ben, was a friend and playmate of The Boy.  She proceeded to tell me about an incident with her five year old son over the weekend. 

As they were driving, another driver cut them off in traffic, forcing Miss Sharla to hit the brakes.  Ben lifted his pudgy little boy arm from the back seat, and flipped off the rude bastard.  Miss Sharla, maintaining her composure said “Ben, that’s not a nice gesture.  Do you even know what it means?”

Ben:  Sure.  It means you’re a bad driver.  The Boy taught me that.  Says his mom does it all the time…

bad parenting

he was askin' for it...

* The Charles Manson Family Day Care Center had a waiting list…

Blog Detective: Jimmy’s Mystery REVEALED!

Since the tasty and easily digestible jimmy bastard is having a scuffle with none other than Bill Gates, he has thrown a lifeline across the Atlantic, and has asked for my assistance…

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Mr. Bastard, he is a raconteur of magnificent* proportions.  Writing in dialect, he tells stories of his past.  Of the people fortunate to have crossed his path, or unfortunate to have crossed him.  Of a nose flattened with pride as a fighter.  Of laughter and companionship over a few scoops.  Of grief… The worst kind. 

Tales of ‘getting out’.  Which is why i’ll keep reading…. i’m not sure either one of us fully comprehends how we did it.  But we are both refugees from our early environments. 

The challenge he published – which has since been eaten by a microsoft product – was for us to guess the identity of a mysterious woman from his past.  He wrote a heart-wrenching and elegant post – which is now a virtual ball of pulp in Bill Gates ether-colon – telling the tale of The Missing Star of Glasgow. 

They met as children, lives entwined for decades, until she moved to London.  He wove a tale of intimacy, unconsummated but magical and mystical.  Made us ladies swoon into our teacups, it did.  But poof.  Gone.  Right down into the ol’ exit port of Mr. Gates.  

Jimmy had left a few clues along the way, mostly via his comments section, so it was fairly easy to guess.  And i was simply the first… there were others to solve the mystery.  The answer?  Just a click away…

daisy fae blogger award

* Get yer minds out of the gutter!  i have not seen the goods…  Sheesh… Buncha stinkin’ perverts…