Discourse without distraction.

Naked lobster at the elephant table.

I have returned from Massachusetts after celebrating HMOKeefe’s birthday.  It was a wonderful time even if I did give him a cold for his birthday (or tried to).  The champagne was Veuve Cliquot, the lobster 2 lbs and the discourse was without distraction.

The Phenomena of New Year’s Resolutions

I find the whole phenomena of New Year’s resolutions interesting.

It’s striking that the custom occurs immediately following a holiday season where most of us are focused on other people – get-togethers, shopping, cooking, and the like. I suppose there are some people who resolve to make their spouse a better person or determined to manipulate their boss into bestowing a big raise, but most folk concentrate on self-improvement.  I suppose that is a fitting end to the holiday season with its penchant to provoke most of us to abandon good habits, indulge in our worst ones, and suffer through the torments of shopping malls.

After a few failed attempts in my youth, I pretty much gave up the New Year’s resolution thing. My resolve usually peaks in August/September – that time of year has always felt like the beginning of a new year more so than now.

However, in 2008, known as Great in ’08, I made a simple resolution. I was going to quit, cold turkey, watching Law & Order. I still had satellite television service at the time and I spent 2007 sprawled on the sofa watching episode after episode. I couldn’t explain the compulsion. I’ve never been a huge TV watcher and the situation bumfuzzled me to no end – nevertheless there I was. The truly appalling part of it was that Law & Order can be found at any time day or night on one channel or the other.

Law & Order made me cynical and provoked me to look for the worst in people. I did not like the person I was after a 6-hour jag. And 6-hour jags were moderate sessions.  My favorite franchise of the show, Special Victims Unit, mirrored much too closely my job.  To some extent, my jags didn’t do much but extend my working day.

So. I announced my intention and jumped in my car to leave Massachusetts on January 1st. That first day of 2008 should have been easy, no? No. I hit a surprise blizzard in the Cumberland Gap and was checked into a motel by 8 p.m. with no cell phone service, no internet, and no book. (It was storming far too hard to stand around digging through the trunk of the car to retrieve my book. I never travel without a book.  I now never travel without a book  on the back seat.)

So? Guess what the only channel the motel television could pick up in the storm was? The one showing the 24-hour New Year’s Law & Order marathon. Other than lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, I didn’t have much of a choice. I still had adrenalin rushing through my system after the terrifying drive in search of a motel.

I checked out the next day, re-affirmed my intention, and have not watched the show since. Cancelling the satellite no doubt was helpful. It is the only resolution I’ve kept faithfully in my life.

Last year, overly optimistic with the success of 2008, I pondered which one thing I most wanted to do to improve myself. I had already dubbed the year to come Fine in ’09 and was centered and focused on emotional equilibrium and quiet contentment. I plotted out a number of changes and activities to provoke such a sense of well-being not the least of which was Gardenpalooza.

Well. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that 2009 was anything but quiet or content though great strides were made in the garden. It’s been a flippin’ awful year. HMOKeefe waited until I’d left town to have a heart attack and he closed out my year with a stroke. (It wasn’t a good year for him either.) My financial situation went down the tubes. Interspersed throughout the year were unexpected family deaths, health problems, house problems, job problems, puppy problems,  Through most of it, I gardened or planned the garden or admired the garden.  The garden, as much as the people who love me, got me through this trying year.

And while 2009 was flippin’ awful, it was also right good. I had a ball in the garden; I had a magnificent birthday; and I found the wherewithal to ease the financial problems. Chef Boy ‘R Mine was the light of my life.

And so, with ‘10 dubbed Total Zen in 2010, I’m pondering what resolution(s) I can make to ensure the slogan becomes true.

A number of things come to mind:

1. Get my diet back on track. My eating habits have become awful. I’ve always had a relatively good diet, but this last year has found me eating almost nothing but junk food. The resolution has nothing to do with losing weight, that’s not particularly a need right now;  it has to do with feeling good and feeling healthy. Healthy food takes time and money.

2. Get back on the exercise bike. Get back to yoga. Get back to meditation. This is a time problem more than anything else. While I don’t yearn to ride the bike, it’s not that bad. After a bit, the white noise kicks in and I feel good. And I feel very virtuous after 30 or 40 minutes on it. Yoga is immediately soothing. Meditation is hard work, but I had been noticing microscopic inroads to a sense of No Mind when I gave it up.  I’m a mass of flab and wasted muscle not to mention a future cardiac patient.  It occurs to me now that I could combine the bike with the meditation.

3. Write more. Writing is deep play for me. Again, this is a time thing. I need, or think I do, a minimum of 2 hours to produce anything other than a down-and-dirty rough draft. I enjoy writing. I keep most of it to myself and that’s fine. Writing is exciting, contenting, and all-around good for me.  Of the stuff I share, mostly this blog, my time constraints have provoked blog postings riddled with typos and thoughts not well-fleshed out.  While I enjoy it, flaws and all, I think my readers deserve better.

4. Learn how to clean the house in dribs and drabbles so that it never again gets into the state it’s in now. Like I said, I enjoy a clean house. The more chaotic my life, the more I need orderly surroundings.  Today, I have thus far restored order in the dressing room and dusted and re-arranged my vanity.  I feel so virtuous with this little act of domesticity.  It seems a simple thing to do and not one that takes much time or money.

5. Figure out how to spend more time with friends and family. I’ve neglected both shamefully. That time thing again.  When I do make the time, I never fail to note the blessings of having good people in my life who love me warts and all.  That’s a gift beyond price that I’ve played much too casually with.  How many people in the world pine for one good friend?  And I have so many.  How many people pine for unconditional love?  I have so much.  How many of those people know I treasure them?  I’m not sure.  It’s time to be sure.

6. Be a better pet owner. My puppies have suffered far too much loneliness and neglect with my hectic life. I haven’t taken them for a walk in forever; in fact, I haven’t even sat on the sofa and cuddled with them in weeks.  I banished them from my bed when menopause provoked sleep problems.  I miss that time of cuddling and I really miss Trudy as a foot warmer on cold winter nights.  I think I have a handle on the sleep problems; tonight will tell.  I intend on settling down with three puppies in the, now, cobweb free bed.

So, it’s pretty clear to me the resolution needs to be More Time. That’s not a simple problem to solve. I’ve done a fair job of streamlining my life to squeeze out as much time as possible, but I have to find room for improvement.  Every aspect of my life, save the bank account, is suffering the effects.

I don’t need a failed New Year’s resolution to further batter my self-esteem, so I’m going to focus on eating better, being a better Puppy Mama and spending more time with family and friends.  I finally worked up that head of steam I’ve been hoping for and blathering on about for the past few days; the house is getting there (if you ignore the plumbing problem I discovered this morning).  Already, I feel more tranquil, more relaxed, more at-home in my skin.  Intermixed with the cleaning, I have talked to family and friends.  I have cuddled with and played with puppies.  I’ve foregone the junk food and treated my body to some real nutrition.  It’s not rocket science to figure out these actions make me a better person – the ultimate in self-improvement – and these actions are good for the people (and puppies) I care about.

I’m pretty sure most of us need Total Zen in 2010. So my wish for you this year is that you achieve such in whatever way is best for you to go about it.  And let the people you love know that you love them.  These actions shouldn’t be phenomena; they should be rooted deep in our lives.

Re-Entry

And the first period in months is not helping.

And the first period in months is not helping.

Re-entry into the land of paid labor is proving difficult. I just cannot get my transmission in gear. Given that I have a 70 hour work-week, this is proving to be problematic.

At Job #1 we have an employee perk that is not mentioned in the employee manual, but which is generally accepted as standard practice. Vacation Head is that state of being wherein one returns from vacation not worth a shit. This state is not questioned. In fact, said perk allows the employee either 3 or 7 days of merely showing up and only dealing with those matters that are on fire. The four day discrepancy is explained by the fact that in the Executive Director’s absence, we took a vote and agreed on 7 days. I believe we’re operating on a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. As long as we look like we’re doing something, 7 days is usual and customary.

Motivation is the key to success.

Motivation is the key to success.

At Job #1, I have shown up. I have showed off birthday presents and photos. I’ve told stories. I’ve gone through email, dealt with a couple server emergencies and orchestrated a solution to a web page boondoggle. Other than that, I’ve spent my time re-adjusting to being in the office 8 hours a day,

Job #2, on the surface, is neither physically nor mentally taxing. However, 30 hours tacked on top of 40 is both physically and mentally brutal. And it’s even more so in Vacation Head state.

I had a brilliant vacation. Vacation Head is especially bad this go around. I ate roughly every 12 minutes (and exceptionally good food). I slept whenever I wanted to for as long as I wanted to. I engaged in carnal relations. I read 3 novels. And I was the grateful recipient of several spa treatments (massage, sugar scrub, aromatherapy bath, and a wonderful thing called a swim spa). I drank champagne, ate decadent chocolate, and enjoyed spectacular views.

Even more pleasurable was the company of good friends and family members for the birthday house party.

It’s been a week since the carriage turned back into a pumpkin and real life asserted itself.

I am still not worth a shit to my employers.

I think I’m angry that vacation can’t go on and on and on.

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

Today, I have forced myself to deal with some housekeeping. In doing so, I found the tiara that (long story) my mother wore during my surprise birthday party. There it sits on my scarred and cluttered kitchen table. I fondled the glittery headpiece with a sense of deep envy.

If I were, in fact, a figure-head queen, I would never have Vacation Head because I would always be on vacation. It’s true that I am genetically predisposed to be one of the idle rich.  Something has gone very wrong.

I am girding my loins for the next 8-hour shift. My head hurts thinking about it. The scab from the trip-over-the-computer-cord-banging-head-on-sewing-machine-and-splattering-blood-and-hot-coffee-all-over-me-and-the-wall is not helping matters. My hair is embedded in the scab resulting in a pulling sensation occasionally punctuated by sharp pains. The headache behind my left eye has been around so long now that I’m tempted to name it. Right now, Horace is leading over Hector and Hermione.

All that glitters.

All that glitters.

I’m tempted to wear the tiara to work, but the scab makes that impossible. There’s a Great Truth buried in that, but the headache is too fierce for me to puzzle it out.

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work I work go. On the way, I’m buying aspirin and a lottery ticket.

[Apologies for the photo quality. I get madder and madder at that lowlife who stole my camera.]

Morning Glories, Birth Control, and Birthday Bachanals

Birthday Morning Glory

Birthday Morning Glory

Approaching my 25th birthday, I had a midlife crisis. Having always been precocious, the early advent of said crisis shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was.

At 25, so I thought, I had to grow up and be an adult. I needed to pay my bills on time, get my oil changed, quit wasting money, and become a responsible (unmarried) matron.

Appalled at such a future, I threw myself a birthday party – the last blow out of my misspent youth before donning sensible shoes and alphabetizing my spice jars.

At the time, I lived in Milwaukee with the ex who was not yet a husband. We had a house in the city on a tiny lot in a solid, staid working class neighborhood. Knowing the party had a potential to get out of hand, we invited the entire neighborhood thinking if folks were invited they were less likely to complain.

I woke up the morning of my birthday, stood in the bathroom gazing into the mirror and absently reached for my birth control pills. As I prepared to swallow the pill, the insight that it was ridiculous, wasteful and potentially damaging to my body to take a pill I didn’t need. The ex who wasn’t yet a husband had been certified sterile by a number of doctors. My first act as a 25-year-old was to throw my birth control pills in the bathroom trashcan.

Dressing for a party.

Dressing for a party.

Folks began arriving in the late afternoon. It was one of those open invitation parties – y’all come and bring your friends. They all came and they did bring their friends. It was very soon a full blown, rock the world party. Given the number of people, we could have been much louder. We were loud, mind you, but not as loud as you might expect with a 100 people in a backyard that was roughly 20×20 feet.

The cops arrived shortly after the ex who wasn’t yet a husband dumped my boss (rolex, expensive Italian shoes, and clothes) into the hot tub.

We quieted a bit.

I told folks that I did not want gifts and most complied. However, one guy I didn’t know (and still can’t figure out who invited him) gave me a gorgeously wrapped gift. Nonplussed, I opened it. Inside were 25 rolls of toilet paper because, he said, “You’re full of shit.”

Drawing for the Maiden Mother Crone Triptych

Another memorable gift.

I have no idea how he could have known ahead of time that I am like I am. But since I am full of shit, those rolls remain one of the most memorable birthday gifts I’ve ever received – from a complete stranger in the midst of absolute chaos on a small Milwaukee city lot in a staid working class neighborhood.

The party ended. The neighbors weren’t too mad. Well, they were mad, but they got over it.

About that time, not knowing anything about plants, I decided a little landscaping was in order. I planted morning glory seeds. It was August in Milwaukee and, of course, nothing happened. That was, I believe, my first failed attempt of many at morning glories.

By November I was impregnated by a sterile man and became a sober, responsible, married matron though I never got the hang of sensible shoes.

Other than small family affairs, I haven’t had a birthday party since.

As posted earlier, HMOKeefe and I had plans to spend a week in Berkeley Springs to celebrate my birthday. In retrospect, I remember being a tad puzzled that we were due to check out the morning of my birthday. But in the weeks leading up to my birthday, I was working between 64 and 75 hours a week. I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder things too much.

The birthstones left behind.

The birthstones left behind.

As it turns out, some lowlife wandered into the barn we were renting and stole my camera and one container of HMOKeefe’s medications. Said lowlife left the jewelry sitting on the kitchen table and HMOKeefe’s much (much much) more expensive camera. When we were sure that the two items were indeed gone and not just misplaced, I got that oogy feeling you get when someone has invaded your space. The barn which had previously been too wonderful for words became a little creepy. We decided to leave on Saturday.

I arrived home to find that my mother had cleaned my house. She’s done this before, so I didn’t think too much of it. My son arrived in the wee hours of the morning. I awoke Sunday morning to a refrigerator full of tinfoil wrapped racks of ribs. I knew he was coming and I knew he was cooking dinner for my birthday. I wasn’t surprised at the sheer amount of food – like his mama, Chef Boy ‘R Mine prepares far too much food.

Folks arriving in 2009

Folks arriving in 2009

HMOKeefe and I left to go look at cameras at the mall. Daunted at the cost of replacing my beloved camera, we returned home to find balloons and signs hanging up and down the road as well as a car with Michigan plates in the driveway.

I left a quiet, orderly house to go to the mall and came home to boxes of beer, champagne, and sub sandwiches, people, and camera flashes popping.

They came from Michigan, and Texas by way of Michigan. From San Francisco and Huntington and Kentucky. (The Columbus folks were thought to be lost and wandering the backroads of Balls Gap, but it turns out a medical emergency kept them at home. Anna – take care of yourself.)

They got me good. I never suspected. Many (certainly not all) of my favorite people spent my 50th birthday with me. Other than my family members, most of these people I met online. The others through work.  Paid labor and the intertubes have been very good to me.

Rib Boy eating lobster.

Rib Boy eating lobster.

My son cooked a monumental feast for my Monday birthday. On Tuesday, Fed Ex arrived with the live lobster. By the time everyone cleared out on Wednesday, the refrigerator was empty and the trashcans were full of wine, champagne and beer bottles.

On Sunday I was too flabbergasted to react. On Monday, I started becoming overwhelmed at the significance of what was happening. By Tuesday, I couldn’t talk about it for fear of sobbing.

HMOKeefe left a few hours ago and once again it is just me and the puppies. The full impact is just now hitting me.

I have never been so loved. I have never had such friends.

Mmmmmorning glory.

Mmmmmorning glory.

On the morning of my birthday, I discovered that my morning glories, seeded late, were blooming. For 25 years, I have planted morning glories and for 24 of them nothing happened. I wandered around the yard taking pictures of them with the camera HMOKeefe left me until I can get the wherewithal to purchase a new one.

I started making the connections.

The son that arose from trashing the birth control pills the morning of my 25th birthday party arrived and cooked for my 50th. The party of mere acquaintances I had for my 25th became a party of dear friends for my 50th. The raucous, police intervention party of my misspent youth turned into a not sober, but delightful fellowship of good friends. The morning glories I planted too late when I was 25 have become the morning glories I planted too late in my 50th year. The former did nothing; the latter are blooming. (I think there’s a metaphor there.)

Fabulous Fifties

Fabulous Fifties

And unlike 25, I am not having a crisis (okay, not any related to turning 50). I’ve been strangely excited about my half-century mark for awhile now. My 20s were good. My thirties were great. Forties were bumpy, but mostly terrific. I expect my 50s to be fabulous.

And thank you all.  Those that were here and those that weren’t.  I still can’t talk about this without tearing up.  Y’all will probably never know what it meant to me.