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Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Little Advice from Miss

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

            This week, Merryland Girl chose, and she asked us to find a life hack and try it out and write about the results.

            So, here’s where I admit that I had no idea what a life hack is.  (I felt a little better when I asked my ten-years-younger friend Kym, and she didn’t know, either.)  I went online and looked around and decided I am too stuck in my ways to try any of the suggestions, even if they are meant to make my life easier.

            Which made me realize that whether I like it or not, I really am a creature of habit.

            For a long time, I never considered myself as such.  Routines sound boring.  We equate them with being stuck, and who wants to think of my life in those terms?  And then, of course, some major, disruptive life events popped up a few years ago and completely shook up the routines I did have, and boy, did I notice.  Suddenly, I longed for the comfort of the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.  What once seemed lame suddenly sounded almost luxurious.

            I’ve written before about how I don’t like to get stuck in my ways, how every few years, I get the itch to move or switch jobs or careers or at least paint colors.  And that’s true.  But at the same time, on a day-to-day basis, I tend to carve out a routine – and I do not do well when it’s messed with.

            These days, since school is in session, my routine is dictated by the kids’ schedule.  I’m up at 6:15, and then spend the next half hour prompting them to get ready (“Brush your hair,” “Is your snack ready?”, “Put on your shoes,” “Don’t forget your meds,” “Are you really arguing about that??” et cetera).  Then it’s off to the bus stop; if the weather is bad, I drive them (it’s about three-tenths of a mile away), but if it’s not, they prefer to walk without me (“None of our friends’ parents walk them to the bus, Mom!”).  I remain home where I actually wake up (so not a morning person).  I eat breakfast (usually one of a cycle of four things).  If I have legal work to do, I do it; if I don’t, I’ll get showered and head out to run errands.  I’m out for a few hours (buying certain things at certain stores), and then I head home for lunch.  That’s followed by my walk with Kym at 1:30 (when it is more consistently warm in the mornings, we will switch our walks back to 7:00am, after the bus leaves, and everything else will shift accordingly).  Unless I have a dearth of work, I tend to be fairly productive during the day.

            Our afterschool routine recently changed, and here is where the problems began.  The 12 was swimming three days a week and had a social group one day a week, which left only Friday afternoons free.  I came home from the bus stop, fed the girls a snack, and then we got into the van and drove across town to swim practice.  Practice, even when I just dropped her off, sucked up a couple of hours, meaning by the time we came home, we launched into the dinner and pre-bedtime routines.  There was not a lot of discretionary time.  The routine was exhausting, but in a controlled way, and I guess I came to rely upon it.  But after a spate of ear infections (and a few other things), the 12 quit swim, and suddenly I had a lot of free time.  The extra time actually threw me off – I did not know what to do with the additional hours.  I ended up scheduling an hour of occupational therapy on Tuesdays, which helped fill that day, but only for two hours (therapy plus drive time).  What else to do?  I cannot just have open time.  It never ends well.

            For me, open time often becomes unproductive time.  I let myself get sucked into a TV show or Facebook or a real book or a crossword puzzle instead of returning phone calls or scheduling an eye doctor appointment or writing my blog post (wondering why I missed the last two weeks?  Here’s your answer).  It’s like my brain goes on vacation.  And then, suddenly, it’s bedtime and I’m like, “Crap, I didn’t [fill in the blanks with one of the eleventy billion things I totally forgot to do].”  And I wonder why I can’t sleep.

            As I thought about life hacks and my inability to successfully manage unscheduled time, I remembered a convo I had with the 12’s social group leader, Miss Julie.  This woman is one of the most productive, organized women I know.  She runs her own business and spends hours and hours working with special kids and attending IEP meetings and counseling parents, yet she still manages to return phone calls and text messages and manage the rest of her life.  A couple of months ago, after group, we were discussing the 12’s disorganization (autism affects executive function, which frustrates my child, as she is inherently an organized person) and she said that she, too, struggles with getting things done, especially on “down” days.  She told me that if she has a day off, she absolutely has to make a checklist of things she needs to do that day – or else she won’t do anything at all. 

            Thinking about it now, I see the logic in Miss Julie’s advice.  If I stop seeing extra time as down time, I might, actually, get something done.  It never occurred to me to treat it like work time or even like my walking time, to schedule it, if not to the minute, then at least in general terms of a list of things I need to get done that day. 

            I did not try Miss Julie’s system this week, because it’s spring break and we are expecting guests and I knew there’d be little “extra” time, as I’d fill the hours cleaning and hiding junk (I’m nothing if not honest).  But I will give it a go next week, when I’m back to some semblance of a routine.  I’ll try to plan ahead and make sure I don’t have any blocks of unused time.  I may need to find my day planner (it’s somewhere) and utilize that, as I prefer paper organization to electronic phone alerts.  I’m hopeful that Miss Julie’s system will work for me, and perhaps jog my lately sketchy memory.

            And I’ll try to remember to block off a half hour to write a follow up as to whether the system worked.  If I don’t get distracted. 


Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma, With a Side of Cheese Fries, Please

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, I chose the topic, and I asked:  Do you consider yourself a conspiracy theorist?

            The first time I recall ever hearing the title “conspiracy theorist” was in my second year of law school, during a Juries class.  A 3L asked some bizarre question – I don’t remember what it was – prompting the professor to say, “I consider myself a bit of a conspiracy theorist, as well.”  We all laughed.  Well, maybe not the 3L, but the rest of us.

            I’ve thought about the subject over the years, but never really labeled myself one way or another.  Sure, I enjoyed the movie JFK and liked to think there was something more at work besides a single crazed assassin, but I didn’t think that made me a conspiracy theorist.

            And then I moved to Tennessee.

            Specifically, I moved to a large subdivision in the Blackman area of Rutherford County, into a new house surrounded by neighbors who, essentially, keep to themselves.  I always have the need to fill a void, and so I found myself idly wondering about their lives behind those always-closed doors and curtained windows.  I didn’t give it too much thought … until things started happening.

            First, the neighbors on one side disappeared.  Poof!  They were there one day and the next they were gone.  No cars in the driveway, no kids in the yard; even the play set disappeared.  A family of four and their nanny, just gone. 

            Of course I was curious.  We hadn’t seen a “for sale” or even a “for rent” sign in the yard.  We hadn’t seen a moving truck.  We hadn’t seen anything unusual at all.  But there were no signs of life, other than the interior garage light and some external lighting.  Blinds were down.  All was quiet.

            My mind went crazy.  Where had they gone?  Did the bank foreclose on their house?  Was there a family emergency?  Or – and I admit my brain went there – was there a murder-suicide??  (In my defense, I state the following:  (a) I watch ID Channel approximately 23 hours per day; and (b) when I told my Mom about my vanishing neighbors, her brain went to the exact same place.)

            I spent hours considering the possibilities.  I surreptitiously walked the perimeter of their house, looking for clues.  I may or may not have even Googled their address to see what I could find.  There, I discovered my first clue:  an expired Craigslist “house for rent” ad.  But if they rented the house, where were the new tenants?  And why didn’t they take their stuff?  Finally, when I could take no more, I texted their nanny; she had given me her number months earlier when I approached her about some weekend evening babysitting (I double-checked that she didn’t work for them on weekends – I’m not a babysitter poacher).  She told me where they went and why.  A few days later, the husband pulled up with a moving van and removed most of the furnishings.  He filled me in on the rest, how they moved because of his wife’s job in Nashville and the long drive blah blah blah.

            Mystery solved.  Not too exciting, but at least there won’t be a Dateline episode filmed on my block. 

            A few months passed, and my stupid gall bladder surgery kept me in the house, away from my neighbors.  The holidays followed, bringing with them yet another chance for neighborly surmising.  Several of my neighbors travel for work, including the husband of one of the families on my street.  His pattern seems to be gone for about 20 days, home for about 10, give or take.  I know this because I am home most days and I see his car in the driveway when he is home, and because my kids have befriended his kids.  Shortly before Christmas, his kids mentioned that they were having an early Christmas because he would be traveling for work – on Christmas.  I paused.  This seemed odd.  Whose job prevented them from being with family on Christmas?  Especially one so close to a weekend?  First responders and hospital and restaurant staff aside, everyone gets to be home (or near home) for Christmas – even the President!  I don’t know my neighbor’s exact job, but I do know he is a consultant, not something I would equate with needing to be absent on December 25.  I thought about it, theorized as to where he could be. 

            I’m almost ashamed to share my answer.  I blame the creators of all Lifetime movies ever, because I thought, “Maybe he has a second family.”

            I felt better when I told my Mom about his absence and she said, “Maybe the family you know is his second family.”  (I have no doubts as to why I think the way I think.)

            This mystery remains unsolved.  I am not done considering possible scenarios.

            But I must pause, as another mystery has entered the fray.

            Our neighbor on the other side is a single dad who has his boys roughly half the time.  When I met him, I also met his girlfriend and her daughter; they weren’t living in the house, but they did a lot of time there, at least from what I could tell by the cars in the driveway.  Two weekends ago, I headed up to the Nashville Flea, leaving my husband and the kids at home.  That evening, my husband asked if our neighbor had said anything about moving out (he literally just moved in six months ago), as he had seen a small moving truck in the driveway.

            He had my attention.

            My husband didn’t watch to see if the neighbor was moving stuff in or out, (what is wrong with him??), but I had been inside the house early on and it had seemed fully furnished.  My brain went to work.  What could he need with a moving truck?

            I didn’t give this one too much thought, as I assumed maybe he had gotten some new furniture or some such thing.  But then, last week, the light bulb went off.  I had not seen the girlfriend’s car in a long time.  Weeks; certainly more than a month.  I wondered, Did they break up?  Was the truck for her stuff?  Are we looking at another Dateline mystery?  (I know it wasn’t a murder-suicide because I’ve seen his truck coming and going, but it still leaves lots of other options . . . ).  Do I have any single friends who might like him?

            I’ve paid some attention to the comings and goings next door, and the girlfriend’s car has yet to reappear.  I’m assuming the most prosaic scenario, a break up, but I consider this mystery as “open.”  I sure hope the case doesn’t go cold.

            Now, I realize that you might be thinking that all of this makes me less of a conspiracy theorist and more of a nosy neighbor, but I would argue that it’s a distinction without a difference.  I believe the same intellectual curiosity lies at the heart of both labels.  I?  Am a seeker of the truth.  I need explanations.  And, truly, there is something fun (for me, anyway) in trying to solve a mystery of sorts.  What’s more interesting:  a lone shooter, or a vast government conspiracy involving LBJ?  It’s a no-brainer. 
            Last week, I was walking with my neighbor, Kym.  She lives in my subdivision, but not on my block.  I was telling her the latest mystery/conspiracy, looking for her theories. 

            I said, “This neighborhood sure is full of intrigue.” 

            She looked at me with just a touch of a smirk and said, “I think it’s just your block.”

            Now, what in the world could she mean by that??

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Who Said You Can't Go Home?

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

Froggie chose this week, and she said:  My childhood home.

            I’ve written some about the neighborhood where I grew up, a place I am proud to call home, a neighborhood nestled on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago, right at “The Junction,” the spot of road where the Kennedy and Edens expressways meet – or diverge, depending on which direction you’re heading.  I grew up in Jefferson Park, in Chicago’s “Bungalow Belt,” an area known for bungalow houses, some wood-frame, some brick.  A sprinkle of two-or three-flats rounded out our neighborhood, which also featured a shopping strip we referred to as The Avenue, but which my cousins (who also lived in Jefferson Park) called going “up Jeff.”  There is an actual Jefferson Park, but we spent more time at Wilson Park, even though both were in walking distance and even though the former housed a pool.  Wilson Park was closer and involved fewer busy streets.  We did, after all, live in the city.

            I grew up in a two-story, wood-frame, aluminum-sided home parked so close to the houses on either side, we could pass things out windows if they’d aligned.  Our house sat seven down from the railroad tracks, the ones that run up along Avondale (Street?  Avenue?  I’ve no idea), close enough that the wood house shook every time a Metra train rolled past.  We didn’t really notice.  In front of the house was a small expanse of grass, only a few feet, enough to build a snow fort but not much else.  The city parked a maple on the parkway of each property; ours sat under the tall green streetlight that shone directly into my bedroom window.  Three giant evergreens grew up against the house for years until my parents paid someone to cut them down.  I never knew why, though now that I’m a homeowner, I assume it involved roots and pipes and lack of sunlight.  Only the maple remains. 

            A concrete walkway ran through the gangway alongside our house to the west in the space between our house and the one owned by the Wenseritts.  Bushy green and white hostas grew on both sides, forcing us to dodge bees as we ran down the gangway to the water spigot attached to the side of the house.  Beyond that sat the chain-link fence that contained the small backyard, a yard that housed a blue and white metal three-foot above-ground pool that was the center of our childhood summers until my Dad took it down.  He never told us why – and he never kept his promise to replace it.  Grass grows there now, a postage stamp of sod surrounded by my Mom’s rose bushes and a line of marigolds.  A two-car garage, sided to match the house, sat at the back of the property, it’s large door facing the alley, the small door positioned between a bush and my Dad’s “Italian” garden, the one containing everything he needed for his salads, especially his well-tended tomatoes. 

            Our home had two stories, plus a creepy unfinished basement where my Mom did laundry and stored extra supplies:  paper towels, canned goods, a freezer full of meat.  My sister and I jokingly called it “The Larder,” though we knew it made our parents feel safe, growing up, as they did, in the aftermath of the Great Depression.  The basement terrified me when I was small, and I would venture down alone only when someone stood at the top of the steep wooden staircase while I dashed for a bottle of ketchup or a can of peas.  Later, I played in that basement, rollerskating around the uneven cement floor with my friend Patty while we played K-Tel albums on the ancient stereo, the one that gave off electric shocks when you touched any part containing metal.  Even then, a mild terror remained; when Patty had to go home, I turned off all the lights and quickly followed her up the stairs.

            Our home had one bathroom, a tiny tiled room with a toilet, a sink, a medicine cabinet, and bathtub.  It was so small, you could put out your arms and touch the wall and the mirror.  It wasn’t much larger going the other way.  The four of us shared the tiny space, which was a source of endless frustration, as my Dad seemed to possess a second sense about when you needed to use it.  We always deferred.  The bathroom was located on the first floor, nowhere near my bedroom, which was on the second floor, and nowhere near my sister’s room, which sat across the small hallway from mine.  We pleaded for them to turn the even-creepier-than-the-basement attic into a bathroom, but they declined.  Both of my parents grew up in homes full of people who shared a single bathroom – along with beds and clothes and everything else – so our protests fell on deaf ears.

              My bedroom had angled ceilings and a white asbestos tile floor held down by this weird sort of tar stuff that seeped up through the seams and got on my clothes when I forgot and sat directly upon it.  I didn’t have a dresser because my room had shelves and drawers built into the walls; if I slammed the drawers hard enough, my next-door neighbor, Todd, the youngest Wenseritt, could hear it in his bedroom.  In 8th or 9th grade, I painted my room a light purple, and if you look out my former window, you can still see an old metal speaker, placed there by Bob, Todd’s dad, who ran the P.A. system for our annual block parties.  The block party started at noon, every Fourth of July, and more than once Bob used his microphone to tell me to get out of bed already, as the fun was about to begin. 

            The main part of the house consisted of a combined living room/dining room, lined in dark faux wood paneling and covered in carpeting, off of which sat two small bedrooms.  The bedroom on the east side of house held the stairs leading to the second floor.  I was a pro at climbing over the piles of clean laundry my Mom placed on the landing for me to carry upstairs.  Artwork hung on the space above the couch, and family photos lined the walls of what was technically the dining room.  I say it that way because we never had a dining room table and chairs, only a breakfront/hutch placed along the far wall closest to the kitchen.  My Dad refused to use the dining room table in the actual dining room, claiming it became nothing more than a dumping ground for detritus.  Looking around my friends’ homes, I saw he was right, though I would have never admitted it, since most of the mislaid junk likely would have been mine.  My parents used the dining room table as the kitchen table, and for large gatherings we either carried the table into the dining room or else we simply left the table in the kitchen, putting in the extra leaf and adding a card table for the kids. 

            The house came with a tiny kitchen, which my parents smartly enlarged many years ago by knocking down the wall between that room and the enclosed back porch.  I still remember my Dad and my Uncle Richie taking down the wall, two men reveling in the joy of demolition.  The new kitchen was huge and seemed so modern, with its restaurant-grade carpeting (!) and its dark wood cabinets and faux wood countertop and in-wall oven.  A huge picture window faced the backyard; wood shingles covered the angled ceiling, which bumped up against the faux brick wall.  It’s dated now, so out-of-style that it might actually be considered modern one of these days.  It was always the most-used room of the house, the place we did our homework, where we all came together for dinner (mandatory if Dad was home), where my parents would sit in the evening, drinking wine and talking, where we’d join them before heading to bed.  Mom put in an under-the-counter radio, which always seemed switched on to WGN.  Eventually, a small TV made its way onto the butcher-block cart built for my parents by Bill, my Dad’s police friend who remodeled the kitchen in his spare time.  The TV shared space with an alarm system control box we used for maybe a year or two; the bottom shelf of the cart held old newspapers, neatly stacked by my ordered father.  I have vague memories of the cart being used as a bar during family parties.  Knowing my family, I’m sure I didn’t imagine this, a kitchen filled with my aunts and my uncles and cousins, drinks in hands, happy, laughing, making memories in my childhood home. 

                                                            * * * * * *

            Throughout this post, I’ve struggled with verb tense.  I’ve written about my childhood home as if it was my home only in the past, which I suppose is true.  But it’s weird to think of it that way because my parents still live in that two-story, wood-frame house, all these decades later (almost five decades, to be exact).  I don’t like to think of our family home in the past tense, as it continues to have a living, breathing presence in my life, like a relative or an old friend.  My children know the house well, particularly my eldest daughter, who has spent the most time there, not only because she’s the oldest, but also because my parents babysat her part-time when she was young.  For a long time, my Mom kept a hand-me-down crib in one of the bedrooms to accommodate the spate of grandchildren.  It’s gone now; has been for many years.  Yet the memories remain, for all of us. 

            Most of my aunts and uncles are gone now, too, the house outlasting so many of its visitors.  The exterior is no longer white; the new siding is a light brown or beige color.  My old bedroom is still purple, and a poster of Jon Bon Jovi still hangs next to my twin bed.  These things remain, but I left more than twenty years ago.  My “home” is a two-story new build in Middle Tennessee, more than 500 miles from my childhood home.  One of my regrets is that my kids will never have a “childhood home” in the way that I did; we have moved too many times for that.  I doubt this house will be my “forever house”; I like Murfreesboro well enough, but I cannot see retiring here.  And, anyway, the house will be too big once the kids are grown and gone.  I am not emotionally attached to this house, and don’t imagine I ever will be.  And that’s because a home is more than the house, more than the walls, the yard, the appliances, the garage.  It is the feeling of home, the memories, the stories.  I know we will make those here, but they will never hold a candle to those we made in that two-story, white-sided wood-frame house that sits on Leamington Avenue, in Jefferson Park on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago, the house that, to me, will always and forever be the place I call home.