Farewell, 2012!

misc cloudy

Miles run today: 4.5

Pair of new boots I’m wearing today: 1

Number of sugared cranberries I ate last night: 22 (Yum! You can find the recipe over at Maisymak.)

Sayonara, 2012! Bienvenido, 2013!

My dad has always scoffed at New Year’s.

Dad: December 31. Such an artificial, arbitrary way to end a year.

Mom: Oh, man. Not this again.

Dad: The new year is supposed to start in the spring, when the new leaves come out and the birdies sing. It’s the middle of the winter, for Pete’s sake.

Mom: Oh! So if we put off our New Year’s celebration, we’ll do a big celebration in the spring, then? Mmm hmmm. A likely story.

Now my mom goes to her parents’ house for New Year’s. That’s one way to avoid the whole “rite of springtime” speech, I guess.

Things I learned in 2012:

1. Turning 40 does not mean that all of your body parts will fall off. Maybe only some of them will. Or you will get an ugly, black blister on your foot that scares young children… but you will live through it.

2. You can write a draft of a novel in six months. It may take you the next five years to finish it, but you have the bare bones in place, goshdarnit.

3. Writing a blog is one of the most cathartic processes out there. Sure, your entire inner workings are laid bare for the world, but a correspondent job at NPR might come out of it. You might become the next David Sedaris.

Waiting.

Still waiting.

4. Looking for a job is every bit as soul-crushing and time-consuming as it was when I was 21.

5. Appliances aren’t made like they used to be.

6.  I hate that I like air conditioning. But when it’s gone, life is hard. And sticky.

7. Sometimes, like manna from heaven, you get a life-affirming gift like boots for a penny. And you ride that wave of happiness for months.

8. Even though you aren’t a kid anymore, there are still moments when you are having a great time, and you know you will flash back to the memory for the rest of your life. Whenever I hear Carly Rae Jepsen and Owl City’s “Good Time,” I get a faint whiff of chlorine and remember my kids participating in our neighborhood’s triathlon. When they are 60 and 62, and I am in a senior living facility, I will still remember the happiness.

9. I still have a problem with inappropriate laughter when someone falls down.

10. I like it when my car does not resemble a serial killer vehicle. Functional door handles are one of those non-negotiables… call me pampered.

11. I still cry at It’s a Wonderful Life. I still laugh until I cry at Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

12. I still believe that good trumps evil.

What did you learn in 2012? Was it a banner year, or are you glad to say goodbye?

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You Can’t Escape Your Themes

How much have you changed? Or have you?

How much have you changed? Or have you?

Miles run today: 0

Cookies eaten today: 0 (big improvement)

Blog posts read over Christmas break: 0

My parents moved from my childhood home when I was in my 20s, so returning “home” for the holidays is to a different home: no ghosts of 10-year-old Annes greet me as I climb the stairs; no boy band posters cling to bedroom walls.

But many, many things from my childhood haunt the closets, the bedrooms, the bookcases… One night, cozy under my mom’s quilts, raindrops pattering on the windows,  I woke from a nightmare where someone was calling my old name, my maiden name. And when I made my way in that direction, no one was there.

Because my sister and I want my parents to move up to our area in the not-so-distant future, we cleansed some of the spaces of our junk over Christmas break.

My sister, Dancer Extraordinaire, went through boxes and boxes of old dance costumes: ruffly can-can skirts, sailor-girl get-ups, swirly ballet skirts and funky jazz shorts.

I finally packed up my middle and high school yearbooks and put them in the back of our minivan. I’m surprised that the covers closed: you would not believe the amount of Big Hair photos contained in those pages.

But as you can imagine, the things that stopped me cold were the written things… my tenth grade English journal, my AP English papers, the letters.

The letters, for someone sentimental like me, were heartbreaking.

People used to write letters! I can picture these younger versions of ourselves spending time sitting out on The Quad, balancing a notebook on their knees, writing four pages, back and front, about boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, school, work, the weather. And wow, did we write! How did we find the time?

Of course, I only had the letters from other people; I have no idea what I wrote that prompted the letters or what I wrote in response. In some cases, I prayed that I had responded: one acquaintance from high school wrote from her first semester at college saying that everyone else had opened their mailboxes to get letters or care packages from home. She got nothing. She begged me to write to her.

Did I? I don’t remember.

I was busy falling in love. I was juggling too many class hours and, unfortunately, Calculus (aka Bane of My Existence).

This past week, my family and I sat around my parents’ dining room table, and I read them snippets of their letters from when I was away at college: they often described the same mundane weekend events in very different ways.

My parents’ letters often opened with, “I’m worried about you. Are you feeling better?”

And my sister’s: “Mom and Dad are mad that you haven’t been to the doctor yet.”

I must have picked up every cold the freshman dorms offered that semester.

Most touching were the ways that we have not changed: my mom still searches for the perfect home phone, simple and indestructible. My dad still gets baffled by home improvement projects. My sister is still in pursuit of the perfect haircut.

But here is the letter from one of my best guy friends the summer after we graduated, the one that showed me exactly how little I have changed in 20 years:

Anne,

Ah yes, the glorious summer–that which we longingly wait for each spring. Too bad it kinda sucks, huh? You didn’t sound too excited in your letter. What’s wrong?

So you don’t have a job… big deal. Jobs are just time-consuming anyway, you know. I mean, I can see how you might get a little stressed not having one, what with jobs being the popular thing to be doing these days…

He went on to get a Ph.D. and is figuring out how to wipe cancer off the face of the world.

I waited tables for six months while I looked for a “real job.” And when I got one, I made less money than I had while I was waiting tables.

And here I am, 20 years later, looking for a “real job” after freelancing for years. And like before, wondering if it will ever happen.

Where are all of those pep talk letters and the young people who had so much time?

And why can’t we escape the themes that keep coming up in our lives, over and over, as evergreen as the three basic arguments we recycle with our spouses over a lifetime?

What are your personal themes? And do they show up in your writing?

Take It Easy: You Don’t Have to Plan for the End of the World

My wish for the world: peace and love in 2013.

My wish for the world: peace and love in 2013.

Miles run yesterday: 10

Days until the end of the world: 1

Days until Christmas: 5

Here’s the deal: if you are concerned about a nuclear holocaust or the old Y2K kind of massive computer glitch or World War III, I completely understand your need to hoard batteries, canned goods and Just Dance 4.

However, if the end of the world is upon us–say, tomorrow–and we are about to be smote or collected up into heaven or cease to exist, it’s a free ticket: stop planning.

I’m a planner.

You may recall that when I was 5 years old, I planned a Christmas party without telling my mom, I helped plan prom, I planned our wedding, I planned to have two kids, I planned to go back to work full-time…. oops. That hasn’t happened yet. Well, it will. It will, I tell you.

Back when I was working in my very first salaried job, I became friends with a girl who is now a very famous writer. At the time, she was temping at the place where I worked, and she told me she wanted to write books that people would read, and I didn’t really believe her. I think I nodded the way you do when a kid says that he is going to be a famous basketball player or video game designer when he grows up.

Anyway, I knew her then; I don’t know her now. I guess I didn’t plan that part very well.

One day, on a day I must have been feeling flush with cash, she and I went out to get pizza for lunch.

As we sat there, I told her about my irritating situation: my grandmother had bought a grand piano, and she was ready to send me her old, upright piano.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m very thankful to be getting a piano,” I said, between chews. “But it’s just out of order.”

She wiped her mouth neatly with a napkin. “Out of order?”

“I mean, out of life order, you know? Like, first you go to college, then you get a job, then you get married, then you get a house, then you get a piano.”

She gave me a weird look. “I have never, ever thought about life that way.”

Never? Ever? “You don’t plan out your life?”

She looked at me with pity. “Life happens, and you roll with it.”

This was a new life philosophy with which I had not yet been acquainted. I didn’t roll, and life didn’t happen. Life fit into neat boxes which I had prepared.

I ended up taking jobs that required event planning and writing planning and scheduling.

She became a successful author.

Much as I love to plan, tomorrow’s big end time scare actually makes me happy. If the world comes to a screeching halt, all the batteries in the world won’t help you.

I’m free!

So I can stop checking things off the various lists I keep around the house.

I don’t need to plan future newspaper columns for 2013. I don’t need to remember to pack large, warehouse club-sized packets of bread yeast to take to my mom at Christmastime. I shouldn’t worry too much about all the cookies I have planned to bake tomorrow.

I’m going to kick back and read Gone Girl. It’s a page-turner. And I plan to finish it before the world ends.

I Don’t Want to be a Grownup if You Have to Skip Dessert

Enjoy the holidays. Just be selective. Choose all the homemade, buttery things.

Enjoy the holidays. Just be selective. Choose all the homemade, buttery things. (Thank you to my husband for drawing pictures for me.)

Miles run today: 4.5

Presents left to wrap: 1

Cookies still needing to be baked: 89 (I made that up.)

First of all, let me say that I am devastated about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. I wish that I had power and clout so that I could change so many, many things about our laws and the way the world works. I wish I could abolish evil. But mostly, I wish I could take away the pain that those families will carry with them always.

My grandmother is synonymous with cake. Each time we visited, at least seven desserts greeted us when we opened her glass door and were enfolded in a soft hug. She smells of coffee and baked goods.

(The very reason my husband decided to start dating me was because my grandmother sent him two slices of pound cake with chocolate frosting wrapped in aluminum foil. If he had any thoughts of escaping my evil clutches, they were annihilated in a few bites of soft, yellow, cakey goodness.)

My sister and I used to spend a week each summer with my grandparents. My grandmother would take us out to Taco Bell or Chick Fil-A for lunch if we went shopping, but on special days, she would take us to a fancy-schmancy lunch at the City Club.

One time, her friend went with us, and we all ate our chicken salad sandwiches and made polite conversation. At the end, my grandmother, lover of all things sweet, asked my sister and me if we wanted dessert.

“Yes, yes!” we chanted. As if there were any question of skipping dessert.

My grandmother turned to her friend and said, “I think I’ll just have coffee.”

Screeeeeeech.

I’m sorry. What?

First of all, my grandmother loves dessert like she loves to give loud, musical toys to tiny children. Second of all, I decided then and there that I was not interested in growing up if dessert was off the table.

We ordered huge slabs of chocolate chocolate cake with fudgey chocolate frosting. And we loved it.

But now I am grown up. And my body is all far off the ground and unable to properly execute a cartwheel because of all the limbs and extraneous bones and stuff.

If I were out to lunch at the City Club today, I would order coffee. But not for the reasons I imagined back then.

I would order coffee because I wouldn’t be tempted, not even a little bit.

I know that if I want a real dessert, one that tastes rich and homemade and uses real, honest-to-goodness ingredients, I can make it myself. Or my baking neighbor down the street will send down some real, Italian tiramisu… and if you are able to turn that down, then I’m afraid I can’t be your friend. Why would I want to trouble my taste buds with Crisco icing or dry, crumbly cake?

I made chocolate chip cookies today, my signal each year that the real eating baking of the holidays has begun. Two sticks of butter, baby! We have almond butter blossoms to make and chocolate pretzel chip thingies and whatever else we can find to create for the holidays.

I’m not touting dessert as a main course lifestyle choice, but when I smell the real butter, real brown sugar and real (processed) chocolate chips all melting in together, it makes me glad to be a grownup… one who can whip up a little homemade dessert when the need strikes.

What about you? Do you have a favorite holiday treat? Do you let yourself enjoy desserts over the holidays, or are you one of those super-human machines who refuse extra calories 365 days a year?

In Sickness

When sick in my family, there was a mantra: drink plenty of fluids and rest. Pretty simple, really.

When sick in my family, there was a mantra: drink plenty of fluids and rest. Pretty simple, really.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Presents wrapped for Christmas (not counting the ones we shipped): 0

People home sick: 2

Are you good at being sick?

I mean, really think about it: do people rush out of the house to get away from you when you’re sick… and not because of the germs?

I have come to believe that there are two things that challenge a marriage because we are raised with our own set of expectations:

1. Food

2. Illness

You might say the rather predictable money, but if you die first, maybe money isn’t your biggest issue.

I can’t tell you how often food procurement and preparation or lack thereof haunts my friends and their families. Sometimes, I find myself siding with their spouses. If you grew up in a foodie-type family, then there is an expectation of regular grocery shopping, hot meals and recipe scouring.

If you were brought up in a scavenging sort of household, a bowl of cold cereal or tub of popcorn might suit you just fine… and you wonder why your spouse gets so bent out of shape about boring stuff like eating. I mean, survival-level nutrition shouldn’t be such a big deal, you think.

So, too, with illness.

My husband stinks at being sick.

I mean, he’s really bad at it.

In my family, when you were sick, you were told to drape yourself over the couch, watch TV, and request that things be brought to you. People stopped by to kiss you but generally let you get on with your mopey, bedridden self.

My husband does not subscribe to this manner of being sick. He is certain that other people delight in being ill, positively relish it. That when other people’s skin feels like it’s going to fall off and their joints ache and they have a fever and feel foggy, they are well-suited to it.

I try to disabuse him of this viewpoint, but he closes his ears and does a silent “Nananana… I’m not listening” in his head. At least, that’s what it looks like.

When I ask if he wants something from the grocery store, anything at all, he says, “Noooo.” Then he tries to think of reasons he needs to run out to the store to get something. Anything.

When I get home from the store, I say I’m going to make myself some fried eggs; would he like some, too?

Him: Ergh. That doesn’t sound remotely good. Okay. But let me flip mine.

Me: I can flip them.

Him: But they’ll only be good if the yolk is still runny.

Me: So I’ll leave the yolk runny.

Him: But you might not. And then I won’t eat it.

Me: You’re very bad at being sick.

If I were sick, I would be very happy, nay, gloriously blissful, if someone offered to make me an egg or two and bring it to me.

My husband says this is because other people (like me) are content to be still. He is wiggling on the couch while he says this.

I decide to take my stillness and walk it very quickly out of the room.

How about you? Are you a calm, good-natured and still person when you’re sick? Do you allow others to help you? Or are you grumpy and wish everyone would just leave you to your own fried eggs which will be flipped in precisely the most perfect manner? Not that I’m passing judgment.

It’s a Lock

Door knockers... only useful if you're on the outside.

Door knockers… only useful if you’re on the outside.

Miles run today: 4.5

Temperature this morning when we ran: 63

Gnats washed off of my face and hair in the shower afterwards: 3

So I locked a kid who is not mine inside our house this weekend.

I called seven sixth grade boys and one fourth grade girl to the car to leave for my son’s birthday party. They trooped past me, and I locked first the door handle lock and then the deadbolt.

That’s when I heard the tapping on the glass.

And when I looked up, a gangly sixth grader, eyes somewhat troubled, peered through the window at me.

Oops.

I unlocked the door and gave him a sheepish look. I’m sure he told his mom, and now she will never let him come over again. I will forever after be the mom who locked her baby in our house.

In my defense, I was going to count them when I got to the car. Really.

The funny part about locks is that people are always locking themselves out of things. But not me. No siree bob. It’s even scary when you get locked in; even when you (theoretically) can unlock the lock yourself.

When I was four years old, I played with a horrible boy named Patrick.

One of the things that made him horrible is that he came up with games like the one where he locked me in his room because he was some kind of weird jail dude.

I became hysterical, sobbing and screaming to be released. I sat on his bed and stared out the second-story window. I would never get out of there. Or at least not until my mom came to pick me up.

I heard the little terrorist tapping on the other side of the door.

“Anne! Anne! You’re going to have to unlock the door!”

“But [sob sob] you locked me in here!”

“Anne. Turn the lock on the door knob. I can’t get back in my room!”

Oh.

When the power shifted, I seriously thought about not letting him back in.

Roughly 25 years later, my son and I got into a similar situation.

It was a brutally hot July day, and my 18-month-old son and I had just been to the grocery store. No trip to the grocery store with an 18-month-old is a good one. Trust me on this one. He had a penchant for rolling around on the hard floor and rubbing his hands all over the places where people’s shoes had just been. Then he would suck on his fingers.

But I digress.

I was six months pregnant, and not much of anything is a lot of fun when you’re six months pregnant.

So we arrived home at lunchtime with bags and bags of groceries that needed to be unloaded. I unstrapped little Unclean Child from his car seat and walked him inside.

I set the keys on the stairs and walked back out to the car to get the groceries.

And when I returned carrying six bags, belly huge, sweat rolling down every single part of me, the front door was closed and locked.

Just that morning, he had learned that doors had locks. Just that day at lunchtime, when my stomach felt like it was eating itself, I forgot that he had learned that doors had locks.

It was not a good moment.

I calmly knocked on the door, the sweat leaving tracks on the thick wood.

“Hello! Please open the door!”

“Mama! Mama! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Trauma. Crying. Tantrums. Door pounding.

We do not keep a key outside the house. My husband was at work over 45 minutes away. My neighbors were all at work like normal human beings. And I didn’t own a cell phone.

My main fear was that my son would get hurt, and I wouldn’t be able to get in to help him. The lucky part was that he was stationed right at the door and hadn’t lost interest in his traumatic experience.

After several minutes of trying to talk to him, I ran two houses down where I thought I’d seen movement.

A random teenager let me in and allowed me to call my husband, who immediately called the police.

And then I made my way back to the house to talk sense to an 18-month-old hungry child.

The sobs had turned to sniffles, and I called in to him: “Hey! Can you turn the lock? Can you open the door for Mommy? Then we can get lunch.”

I heard tinkering at the door handle, but nothing happened. He got upset again.

“Hey! Why don’t you go get Bear?! He’ll help you open the door!” Bear was a huge, furry stuffed bear who I was pretty sure my son thought had super powers.

I heard baby footsteps retreat from the front door. I could only hope he wouldn’t lose focus.

Too many moments later, I heard the footsteps coming back.

Then I heard the lock turning, and when the door squeaked open, my son was standing there clutching Bear, smiling through his tears.

“You did it! You unlocked the door!” I pulled them both into a huge hug. “Now… never ever ever lock the door again. No lock. Okay?”

And that is why, to this day, I carry a key with me if I even step out onto the front porch. Or into the garage. Or if we’re eating on the deck. Key. Pocket. At. All. Times.

The police officer may have done a little eye roll when I showed up at the front door a few minutes later, clutching a tear-smeared toddler, a mangled bagel and a ring of keys.

Have you ever had Lock Trauma? Do tell.