I’ll Look for You Anywhere

My boyfriend Andrew plays this little trick on me. The prank is funny, because I fall for it every time. And it’s irritating, because I fall for it every time.

We were having pizza at Cane Rosso when Andrew pointed over my shoulder and said “Hey! Is that Robert?” I immediately spun around and tried to spot my oldest son among the people coming in and out of the dining room. I considered and rejected the elderly gentleman leaning on a cane, and the young mother wrestling her toddler into a high chair.

“What? That guy!” The only person who might resemble Robert also outweighed him by about eighty pounds. Mentally I scrolled through images of Robert. There’s Robert as he looked in college, the Christmas I drove out to Lubbock to pick him up. It was snowing, and he came out of the dorm wearing flip flops and a short sleeved t-shirt, a large drawstring bag of laundry slung over his back. He had a scraggly beard and as he walked through the snow to my car, I thought he resembled a homeless Santa Claus. There’s the Robert wearing a ball cap and a plumbing company uniform, his name handily embroidered on the front. Or maybe it’s the Robert with silvery hair from Facebook photos.

I turned back around to Andrew and frowned, but not because I missed the pizza that he robbed from my plate while my back was turned. I was disappointed that the words “Is that Robert?” failed to conjure up my son. After a moment Andrew confessed and returned the pizza. Because what good is a practical joke if no one notices?

Robert and my younger son, Andy live nearby and are busy, grown men with their own lives. I’ll see them on holidays and birthdays, but sometimes I feel I’m more likely to encounter them shopping at Half Price Books or IKEA than sitting across the dinner table. It’s not unreasonable to feel that little thrill of excitement at the prospect of encountering one of them somewhere unexpected. It’s like when someone stops by your cubicle at work and tells you there’s birthday cake in the breakroom.

All it takes is a suggestion from Andrew that Robert might be walking in the door of the restaurant, or strolling through the park, and I immediately scan the faces nearby. We can be close to home, or hundreds of miles away, it doesn’t matter. I’ll feel that small disappointment, a failure on my part because I can’t find my own son in a sea of strangers.

When Robert was an infant I dreamt that I lost him, and I was forced to search through dozens of identical babies, trying to figure out which one belonged to me. Ironically it was his younger brother Andy that wandered off once in a mall. I spent a hellish fifteen minutes imagining him gone forever before I found him. I have never misplaced Robert.

One time I drove past the park where Robert’s first grade class was enjoying a field trip, and I watched from my car as he tossed sand on another child. I hesitated, and wondered if I should intervene, but then remembered that this particular misbehavior was not under my authority, it belonged to his teacher. This was the first time I realized that I would not always have to answer for my offspring, eventually they would find their own way in the world, and others would hold them accountable.

They are my family, but no longer my responsibility. They are my sons, but no longer my children. It is this freedom that makes every chance meeting a joy. Back when they were teenagers and I spotted them somewhere unexpected, it resulted in a series of intense questioning, and not a happy reunion.

I told Andrew that it’s okay if he continues to play the joke on me, as long as he returns the pizza he takes from my plate. But next time, I suggest, maybe he can say “Look! There’s Elvis!” instead.

 

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No One Puts Squirrel Baby in the Corner (or in a box)

 

Andrew and I are having a little disagreement over our newest companion. Andrew insists this innocent little fellow is the creepiest thing he’s ever seen. That’s a pretty bold statement from someone who has seen every episode of Miami Vice, including the one where they turn Tubbs into a zombie.

When I first saw Squirrel Baby on the shelf at the thrift store, I admit I agreed with Andrew. “Wow! That is really ugly!” I said as Andrew urged me to purchase the stuffed toy as a gag gift. But then as I gazed into his little blue plastic eyes I felt guilty, as though I had told someone that their child certainly was no looker.

Squirrel Baby is an Ann Geddes creation, that artist who specializes in posing babies in weird outfits to make them look like sunflowers or cabbages. He has a plastic baby face with a neutral expression that can either seem like he’s pleased to see you or that he’s gravely disappointed in you.  One of his plastic hands is clenched, like he might be thinking about punching something. The rest of him is covered in synthetic polyester fur. He even has a tail.

Squirrel Baby

 

“Please”, Andrew begged as I set Squirrel Baby up on my bedside table, “Let’s put him away in a box.”

“Hush!” I said as I placed my hands over Squirrel Baby’s soft ears. “He’ll hear you.”

“You’re scaring me” Andrew replied.

What Andrew hadn’t taken into account, before we brought Squirrel Baby into our home, was my nearly supernatural ability to anthropomorphize almost any inanimate object. I’ve stopped short of naming my socks, but don’t ask me to part with the porcelain two headed swan vase, the spooky owl portrait from the 1970’s, the sloppily carved wooden lion, or the ceramic Christmas elf.

I even have a framed photograph of someone else’s cat. It really is a spectacular cat.

Someone else's cat

We will also not include the 32 IKEA “Gravling” stuffed toy badgers. I bought the first one and then Andrew, afraid that IKEA would discard them, bought the rest when they landed in the clearance bin.

Badgers

When I was younger (like last month) I cried over The Velveteen Rabbit. I can’t bear to watch Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer because of the scene with all the forgotten toys abandoned on the Island of Misfit Toys. I still haven’t seen Toy Story 3, because I heard that’s the one where the child goes off to school and forgets all about his loyal toy companions.

Squirrel Baby sits beside me at my desk when I write, and occasionally I bring him into the living room to keep company with the badgers, or out onto our balcony where he can get some fresh air with the owls. I’m not going to put Squirrel Baby in a box, but I’ll pledge to Andrew that we will stop short of hoarding when it comes to purchasing cast off toys. Just because there are some rooms where we cannot walk through side by side doesn’t mean we have “goat trails.”

I do believe that the discarded, forgotten, and imperfect are deserving and need our love, for haven’t we all, at one time or another, resided on the Island of Misfit Toys?

 

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Stand up Ladies!

I’ve always considered myself something of a feminist, but I have to admit there is one area where women are at a distinct disadvantage.  The great outdoors is not so great when you risk peeing on your leg because you can’t spread your legs far enough when you squat. I’ve never been envious of a penis except when Andrew and I go hiking. We’ve got a trip coming up where we will be spending five or six hours on trails at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and I’ll be carrying a little over three liters of water.  Luckily, I found a nifty little item on Amazon.

Klean Go

When I ordered them I told Andrew “Look! It’s like a detachable penis!” He was both skeptical and relieved when they arrived and he saw that they were little wax paper funnels. The cover of the Klean Go package has the phrase “A lady’s way to stand up for herself!”  I guess the phrase “Next best thing to actually having a penis” was either taken or too risqué.

The reviewers on Amazon recommend practicing at home before you attempt to use them out in public. I did, and I have to say I never realized the toilet was so far away when you’re standing up to pee. I’ll never criticize Andrew’s aim again.

 

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Come on Baby Light my Tick

I started following Guadalupe Mountains National Park on Facebook because Andrew and I are headed there on our vacation, and I hoped to see some photos of beautiful scenery and maybe some suggestions for hiking. However, they began posting photos of snakes. The other day they shared an article about ticks.

Right after I read about the dangers of tick borne illnesses I logged in to Amazon and began searching for tick removal devices.  After viewing about 2,000 different ways to remove ticks, and reading some 146 reviews, I ordered this item, the TickEase Tick Removal Tweezers.

Tick Ease

It comes with a little magnifier, so I can get a close look at any disgusting creatures feasting on my blood. The device description on the back of the package includes the words embedded, demons, engorgement, and pleasure. It almost sounds like I’ve bought some really kinky pornography.

I showed the tweezers to Andrew, and he expressed doubt that they would work.

“I’ve always just used matches, or kerosene” he explained. Upon hearing this I imagined him pouring flammable liquid on my extremities and lighting them on fire. Yes, the ticks would probably release, along with the outer layer of my skin. He explained that he doesn’t use a flaming match, he lights it and then blows it out so he can press the smoldering tip against the tick. I was not comforted by the difference between flaming and merely hot enough to produce blisters. After all, a branding iron isn’t actually on fire, but it’s not exactly comforting if someone tries to touch you with it. 

“The kerosene is only if you have a lot of ticks at once,” he continued. This description was not helpful either, as I was overtaken by a strong desire to search my body for ticks, even though the closest I’d gotten to the outdoors that day was parking under a tree.

“I’ll use the tweezers, you can set yourself on fire.” I told him.

I took the TickEase out of the package to show him the sharp points on the end, and promptly poked a hole in my thumb. While I wrapped a bandage around my finger to stop the bleeding, I read the customer comments on the back of the package. One of them mentioned that the TickEase worked great, but that they wished it would also set the ticks on fire. Absolutely I am not showing that comment to Andrew.

 

 

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Something to Look Forward To

 

Every time I go in for a checkup, my doctor warns me about my cholesterol levels as though they were the rising consumer price index.  And if there is some sort of connection, soon I won’t be able to afford bread. I’ve been in a cold war with my arteries for some time now. I don’t feel clogged, so my strategy has been to pretty much ignore the doctor’s warnings.

When I read an article that suggested that red wine would help lower your cholesterol levels, I thought “Now there is a solution I can get behind!” so I headed over to Total Wine, the Grand Canyon of liquor stores. I looked around and finally found an employee/tour guide/Wine Ranger, and I asked for a recommendation for a sweet red wine.

Wine Ranger: “Do you mind bubbles in your wine?”

Me: “Actually, I prefer wine with bubbles.”

When he suggested a bottle that cost less than $10, and came with a twist top instead of a cork, I considered that a win. These are my two most important qualifications for selecting a wine.  I’ve had that bottle about a month, and I don’t know if it’s lowering my cholesterol. I do know that it’s giving me a better attitude about the evening news.

I’m also trying to lose some weight. The diet I’m trying is called the 5:2 diet. Basically it’s a modified fast where you eat regularly five days a week and two days a week you drastically reduce the calories you consume. For me that means I can only have 500 calories a day on my fast days.  What can you eat and still come in under 500 calories for the entire day? Here’s a list:

  1. Cauliflower
  2. Broccoli
  3. Foam packing peanuts

 

Just kidding.  A diet of nothing but cauliflower and broccoli should only be undertaken if you work alone, and have no friends or family. Also, my boyfriend Andrew says the foam packing peanuts are actually called rice cakes.

I was attracted to the diet because there have been medical studies done on mice that show that intermittent fasting can decrease chances of getting Alzheimer’s, lower cholesterol, and reduce joint pain. If I’m ever reincarnated as a mouse this will certainly come in handy. The magazine article where I first read about the 5:2 diet used the phrase “Quality of life”, words that trigger me now in my 50’s the same way “All you can eat buffet” and “75% off shoes” triggered me when I was in my 20’s.

A typical fasting day for me consists of either a hard-boiled egg or one cup of oatmeal in the morning, a salad with tuna for lunch, and some wishful thinking for dinner. Or I can have 4 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken along with the aforementioned cauliflower and broccoli. I also drink lots of water, and get my exercise running back and forth to the restroom.

This diet obviously is not for everyone, if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic it just won’t work cutting out your calories this drastically.  On fast days I end up REALLY hungry by dinner time. Cartoon cat hungry, where I hallucinate images of roast chicken while I’m looking at Andrew sitting on the couch. And I find myself resorting to food porn, binge watching old episodes of The Great British Bake Off and tearing out impossible recipes from magazines. I look at those torn out pages the next day like I’ve had some sort of blackout. Why did I think I would ever be able to or want to make a Towering Seven Layer Salmon Mousse? I’m also disappointed that you can’t lick the pictures of food on magazine pages and get a taste of the dish. Why can’t they do this? They can create those annoying fragrance inserts that stink up my mailbox.

I’ll keep going, though. So far I’m losing about a pound a week, and I don’t gain it back when I eat regularly the rest of the week. Regularly being the recommended 2000 calorie a day diet, not Cheesecake Factory regular. I have to skip the wine on fast days, but I find that it gives me something to look forward to the rest of the week. Even if I’m watching the evening news.

 

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The Thick Grey Line

I stopped coloring my hair about six months ago, and let the grey slowly (very slowly) take over. It had grown out to a sort of “ombre” look with blonde ends, and people were asking me “Are you letting your grey grow out?”

I was always tempted to reply “No. Why do you ask?” and then look horrified. However, I managed to keep a straight face and tell them yes, I actually meant for my hair to have this weird grey stripe down the middle.

At first it was easy to give up the coloring, I just stopped. But as the grey advanced I worried what I would look like when it was finally completely grey.  On the plus side, I noticed that the teen age cashier at KFC automatically gave me the senior discount without asking my age.

I’d been on intimate terms with Miss Clairol for almost thirty years. You don’t walk out on that sort of relationship without a few regrets. Finally, like an alcoholic dumping out that last bottle of booze, I stopped at Supercuts and basically asked the hairdresser to cut off anything that wasn’t grey.

I thought the final hairdo came out okay, if much shorter than I have had in a long time. Actually, once people started complimenting me and saying that the hairstyle made me look younger, I realized that this was the same haircut that I had when I graduated from high school in the seventies.

Another coworker came up and said I reminded him of a celebrity, and I asked “Helen Mirren?” but sadly he said no, that wasn’t it.

I forgot about this conversation until I walked outside to my car later that day, and caught sight of my reflection in the glass windows on our office building. I had on pants and a tunic top, and with the grey hair I realized that I looked like, not Helen Mirren, but Bea Arthur in her Golden Girls days.

79e46b42268c10a24d29690052c4fc55

Oh well, Bea was a pretty classy lady so I’m okay with that. Now that the grey has taken over, I’m hoping that all the cashiers at retail establishments will be too embarrassed to ask me how old I am, and give me that free cup of coffee or taco at 10% off.

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The Queens of Summer Camp

Queens of Summer Camp

There were two groups of people in the small town I grew up in, those who went to church and those who didn’t. The church goers were overwhelmingly either Southern Baptist or Methodist. There were some Catholics over on the east side of town, but they mostly kept to themselves except for their annual Christmas tamale sale. I joined the Southern Baptist delegation at the Lake Lavon Baptist Encampment the summer after sixth grade. I remember gathering around a camp fire on one of the first evenings in camp, listening to a chorus of pre-teen girls singing hymns. I found myself walking forward when the counselor encouraged any who were lost to come and be found. After the twelfth or thirteenth verse of “Kumbya, My Lord”, I doubt if even Carl Sagan could have resisted the call of that sweet fellowship.

Every summer after that my best friend, Ann, and I traveled by church van the fifteen or twenty miles or so to the Lake Lavon camp, where, if we were lucky, we were assigned a dorm with air conditioning. By the end of the week the sleeping quarters would smell of a mixture of wet bathing suits, hair spray, and mildew, but we didn’t mind, as this was our week of freedom. We spent the days attending mission classes and crafts sessions, and each afternoon we were allowed one hour of swimming in the camp pool, where I was a weak swimmer but a champion dog paddler.

It was this lack of swimming skill, combined with an overwhelming fear of being singled out for attention that ultimately made me doubt my salvation. After my march down to the fireside that summer I thought my Christian duty was done, but one of the camp counselors informed me that, in order to seal the deal I would have to be baptized.

Oh, I thought regretfully, if only we were Methodists, those Christians who made their profession by merely becoming slightly dampened. But no, I had gone and hooked up with the Southern Baptists, those believers in full immersion. I might as well invest in a snorkel and wet suit, in order to establish my place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Do you think I could be saved without being baptized?” I asked Ann.

“I think so”, she replied, “but you should probably go ahead and do it just to be sure.”

“What if I choke on the water when the preacher dips me under?” I wasn’t so much afraid of drowning, but that I might start coughing and embarrass myself. I’d seen those awful white robes they made you wear, and I imagined water dripping down my face while the preacher called for others to come down and be saved. My luck no one else would be moved and we would have to float there through eight or nine choruses of “Just as I Am.”

Eventually I was able to forget about my lack of baptism, except once a quarter, when the Baptists would extend the Sunday morning worship to include communion. I would agonize on whether I should accept the tiny, flat cracker they passed around, but since it was so close to lunch time I would give in, washing down the inadequate snack with a swallow of unsweetened grape juice that represented the blood of Christ. Even though we were symbolically consuming his flesh, I felt that surely Jesus would have approved a larger portion.

To prove myself a loyal church member I devoted myself to bible study and Sunday School attendance. Our church hosted a twelve week session on the disciples, and each week they gave out a prize, a small charm with the image of each of the twelve apostles. I was home with strep throat the week they gave out James, and despite trying to convince my mother that a 102 degree fever was no big deal, I missed collecting the entire set.

Along with Ann, I joined Acteens, the young girls’ mission study group. We met once a week to learn about missions, and this program included an opportunity to advance to “Queen of Mission Studies”, or some such other title that I can’t remember. Besides earning a nifty scepter and tiara; any young lady who reached the title of “Queen” would be invited to a special missionary tea at summer camp, and, most importantly, the Queens would be allowed an extra hour of swimming at midnight on the last day of camp.

Ann and I threw ourselves into this competition that was not meant to be a competition. We cooked special recipes from foreign lands and walked the three miles to church carrying a large cooler filled with curried rice the week we were studying India. We organized and put on a splendid Christmas pageant, refusing to allow the boy’s mission study group – the Royal Ambassadors, to participate. They spent too much time playing basketball, in our opinion, to be of any help. We progressed through the steps, I can’t remember now what they were, but something like maid, handmaiden, duchess, princess, and finally – Queen. There was a ceremony that surely was more embarrassing than any baptism would have been, except there was no water and I got to wear a long dress and makeup, and put my hair up under the crown.

We made it to Queen status just in time, as that summer would be our final trip to the Lake Lavon Baptist encampment. When our special day arrived at last, Ann and I dressed in our long gowns and put on our tiaras, and walked across the campgrounds to the place where the missionary tea was to be held. Unfortunately for us it was unusually hot that summer, and the meeting room was not air conditioned. I sat there and drank lukewarm Kool Aid while the sweat dripped off my face and the long dress stuck to the back of my legs. I don’t remember much more of the event, except feeling a great disappointment that the missionaries did not share stories of life threatening danger. They were stationed in Canada as school teachers, and the greatest threat they faced was a shortage of chalk.

When the midnight swimming hour arrived Ann and I dressed in our damp swim suits, gathered up our towels, and made our way with the other lucky girls to the swimming pool. We carried flashlights that looked like fireflies twinkling across grass. When we got there my summer friends jumped into the dark blue water, and I stood there on the edge, watching their heads bob up and down, drops sparkling on their brows like jewels.

“Come on in, jump!” Ann encouraged, and I curled my toes under the rough cement ledge and pushed off, jumping off into the deep end of the pool. Down, down I went until my toes barely scraped the slick tile on the bottom, and then I kicked my legs and shot up toward the surface, bursting up and spreading my hands out above into the cool night air. I looked up and saw the face of the Man in the Moon, soft and bright as God’s love, shining down on us, the Queens of Summer Camp.

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