Thursday, November 20, 2014

About a squirrel. That was in my house...

As a working mom, there are lots of phone calls you dread. "Mom, I'm sick can you pick me up from school?" Or "Mom, I accidentally started a fire in the kitchen." Or even "Mom, the toilet overflowed and the basement is flooded."

The one call I never anticipated was this: "Mom, there's a squirrel in the house."

But um, yeah. That's what happened.

When I got home, my son was playing video games in his room - a safe place, he thought, since there had been no squirrel sightings there. And my daughter, well she was armed with a broom roaming from kitchen to living room trying to find it. On the family room rug, a metal trap borrowed from a neighbor sat at the ready with a peeled orange inside. Otherwise, all was still and quiet.

"I think it's scared and won't come out," my daughter said.

Yeah, poor him, I thought. I was more worried about my own fear, which came out in a blood-curdling scream when I saw it scurry across the kitchen floor. I grabbed another broomstick and stood guard in the hallway so I could see into the kitchen while also watching our open front door hoping it would run out - and knowing that I would never ever sleep until I saw that little bugger run out the door with my own two eyes.

My front door: The great escape.
So I waited. And waited. And waited.

And since my husband still hadn't gotten home from work, I called the local police.

"Upper St. Clair police. B(unintelligible name) speaking."

"Hi, ummm, are you guys, like, animal control, too?

"Yes. What's the problem."

"We have a squirrel in the house."

"A what?"

"A squirrel."

"Well, we probably won't be able to do much more than chase it around with you but I can send someone out."

Well, OK, I thought. Better to have someone else stand guard with me than do it alone. Before he could get there, my husband arrived and started moving all of our furniture away from the walls. In the living room, the small furry squirrel made a run for it - back to the kitchen, then bypassing my daughter on the stairs and heading up into what until now had been sacred, squirrel-less territory. My husband followed suit, and the little fuzz-ball ran back down the stairs at seemingly a zillion miles an hour - and straight out the front door.

My relief was quickly tempered by knowing a little piece of the outdoors had been scurrying around my house, leaving God knows what behind and getting into who knows where. I threw out some fruit sitting on the counter, wiped down some countertops and felt blessed that my biweekly cleaning lady was due to come the next day.

And then I stood around, still with the broom in hand and couldn't bring myself to sit anywhere or do anything else. So in true Scarlet O'Hara fashion, I decided to think about it later, scooped up my purse and called out to my daughter:

"Want to go to the mall?"

Day over.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

One man's junk

I love junk. And I love the hunt for junk.

Last weekend, I hopped in my car and headed out to the countryside.

And found lots of these little churches on my way...

And I found these three, seatless and crusty old chairs. They were $8 each. And hopefully soon they will be a bench in my kitchen providing some extra seating.

And I found three rusty bed springs. For now, I just stuck one in my fall table centerpiece. But have you seen the fun things people have been doing with bed springs? Candle holders, and snowmen and artwork - oh the possibilities...

And finally, I bought two wooden racks that used to be attached to church pews to hold bibles and song books. They fit perfectly at the bottom of two window screens I had bought years ago. I screwed them to my kitchen wall to organize the kid's school papers. I call my masterpiece organized chaos.

Ahhh, a successful weekend of junking. Nothing else feels so sweet.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Merry Almost Christmas

It's Halloween. So I ordered my Christmas cards this week. Makes perfect sense, right?

Well, to me it does. I know a lot of people out there get really upset when they start to see the holiday "creep" that happens every year. It seems that as soon as July 4th is over, the malls are filled with Halloween ghosts and goblins. And just when it really starts to feel like Fall outside, those decorations are cleared from the shelves to make way for Christmas trees and fake snowmen.

The makings of my son's
Halloween costume.
Here's why I'm not one of those people.

I like to shop for the holidays all year long. I try to pick up Christmas gifts here and there as I see them, no matter what time of year it is. I stash them away in a closet in my bedroom and then when December comes, I enjoy rediscovering them and realizing I'm actually farther ahead on the gift buying than I thought I was. It's like a little present for myself - peace of mind knowing that this busy stressful time is a little less busy and stressful because I planned ahead. At least a little.

And speaking of December, have you ever really thought about how long it is? One little ol' month. Thirty-one days. That's it. Out of the entire year, it's just 31 days stuffed to the top-of-the-fireplace with shopping, decorating, cooking, parties, more shopping and more cooking, entertaining, wrapping, etc., etc., etc. And it seems like we spend the entire month, maybe except for a day or two, feverishly working to get it all done. And as soon as we do, it's over. Done. The presents are put away. The tree comes down. The decorations are stashed away in the attic for an 11-month hibernation. It's kind of sad really. Isn't it?

I enjoy my house when it's decorated for the holidays. I enjoy spending time there and sitting by the glowing Christmas tree while a simmering pot on the stove fills my little brick house with the smell of cinnamon and cloves. And I love buying fresh greens to swag above my kitchen cabinets, down my staircase or outside on my porch railing and how it looks covered in the season's first snow. I love making gingerbread houses with my kids and, after getting frustrated with the sticky, sweet icing, pulling out my hot glue gun to finish the job. I enjoy it all. And I'm sad it only lasts one month. One very short, quick, exhausting month.

So that's why it makes sense that I ordered my Christmas cards this week. 

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

P.S....on friendship

A few days after my last post, I learned some more about friendship. My mom and three of her friends came to visit for the weekend and I played tour guide. But these weren't just any friends. These were friends she had known for more than 40 years. Friends that were neighbors in the two-block, suburban Washington, D.C., neighborhood we lived in. Friends who knew me before I was even born and saw me grow up, every step of the way. 

Their annual trips started years ago as an annual pre-Christmas shopping extravaganza. Their destination was usually a town heavy with shopping outlet malls, like Williamsburg, Va., or Reading, Pa. Some years they shopped so much that they drove home with packages on their laps, under their seats or stuffed wherever they could. Other years they would take a neighbor's RV, filling it up with all their treasures. They would eat out at nice restaurants ("No McDonald's for us!") and share hotel rooms (Connie snores, Angela never moves.) They would joke about their husbands at home figuring out what to cook for dinner ("I left mine a pot of chili," my mom would say...) and gossip about other neighbors (you know who). They would argue about directions, then laugh so hard they'd nearly cry. And each time, on the last night of their trip, they would exchange gifts with each other. 

As the years turned into decades, all their children grew older and moved away, having children of their own. Husbands and wives retired. One dear husband passed away. Their hair grayed. And they each moved away from the neighborhood. But still, the trips continued.

There was less shopping during this most recent trip. Who needs one more kitchen gadget or holiday decoration, they'd rhetorically ask? This year it was about stopping to smell the flowers - literally - as we made our way through the city's botanical gardens, took pictures overlooking the skyline and shared extra large and decadent ice cream sundaes. They joked about my driving (slow down!), we talked about cooking, laughed over game shows and later they helped choose a spot on my wall to hang a new piece of art. It was like spending the day with four moms!

And on the very last night, these four friends gathered in their hotel room to exchange gifts. But not before one of them pulled me aside and asked me to help. She had crafted lovely cards for the other three and wanted to write inside just the right thing for each of her dear friends. How they were thoughtful and caring, helpful and kind. How they had always been on her side for so many years. How despite the passing of time, they were her friends. And she was so grateful to have them in her life.

For me, that was the highlight of my weekend. It wasn't the sightseeing or the good food we ate. It was the realization of how important and special their friendship was, and I was honored they let me be a part of it.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On friendship

I've never been particularly good at friendships - yet I've always desperately sought them out as if I was was missing something in my life.

I recognized this pattern early, as far back as middle school actually, when an argument broke up the best friendship I had ever had. We even shared a first name. For about a year, we did everything together. And then we split. I would lose my best friend from high school in a similar way soon after graduation (We would reconnect 18 years later - and now are best of friends again). And in college, a falling out my sophomore year left me again searching for connections.

Me, in my 40s. And not caring.
In each case, the "why" was different. Maybe it was over a boy. Or a betrayal. Or just mistrust. But my reaction was always swift and stubborn: They would be gone, and I would cling harder to other pieces of my life. And I would start the search for friends again.

In my 20s, I discovered work friendships, a kind of camaraderie that grows from a common, shared experience. Like hating your boss. Or grousing over a menial task. Work friends were plenty, always around to commiserate about anything. The circle changed from job to job - widening here, narrowing there. Some would grow into real friendships. Lasting friendships. But always, there were work friends.  

At home, they were harder to come by. I'm talking about those neighborhood friends. The ones that just pop over to borrow a cup of sugar, a romantic notion likely fueled in my mind by Hollywood but nevertheless something I always longed for. And perhaps because I felt I could never find it. In one neighborhood I lived in, I was too young. In another, I felt like everyone around me had plenty of friends and no need to add one more. So I kept trying. I'd host Pampered Chef parties, chat people up at the playground. Even try the whole sugar routine myself. What the hell. It could work. Maybe?

In my 30s, there were the "parents of your kids' friends" friends. You know, the mom that you meet through a playdate or by volunteering at your daughter's 1st grade school Halloween party. The other dance moms. Your fellow Girl Scout leader. I had some success here, and count a few of my good friends from among this list. But still, it was a challenge to make real connections.

But now, in my 40s, I think I made the best discovery of them all. And it happened at a PTA fundraiser at my son's elementary school. That had been the annual place where a lot of my circles collided - work friends, neighborhood friends and parents of my children's friends would all be there. So I would care and I would try. It was a breeding ground for new friendships. Except this year, older and wiser, I walked in, look around at all the faces and realized: 

I didn't care.  

All these years of searching and looking, adding and subtracting friends, and I didn't care. I had friends. Old friends. New friends. Work friends. And tons of family friends - a category I didn't even mention above but that is probably the most dear to me. 

And so it just occurred to me, finally. Finally. Finally. That I don't need to chase anything. I don't need to always be on the hunt. That it's happened already - whether by my working at it or just organically. It's happened. And my days are full - actually, overflowing - with work and family. 

And friends. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

And just like that

It was fall. 
So I painted plastic pumpkins and used door knobs as stems. 
Isn't that how everyone welcomes Fall, or is it just me?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thump, Thump, Thump

"Do you think I'm having a heart attack?"

That's what I typed in a private screen message to a co-worker last week, after sitting at my desk while my heart seemed to be racing to escape my ever tightening chest. The pain hit after a week of having headaches and jaw pain so bad that I was nauseous. And I was searching the web - you know how accurate that can be - and plugging it all in and it occurred to me that maybe I was having a heart attack. 

Thankfully, when you work for a healthcare organization you have lots of support. So just a few short elevator rides later and I was sitting on a doctor's exam table, a blood pressure cuff pumping away on my arm, thermometer in my mouth and a nurse in my ear. 

"Do you take any medications?"

"When did these symptoms start?"

"You don't have to answer. Just nod."

My blood pressure was 170/80 and they calmly gave me a choice: I could have someone drive me to the hospital, or they could call an ambulance. Before that happened, the doctor listened to my  heart. And then we talked. About the stress I was under at work. About the demands at home. About the extra large Dunkin' Donuts' coffee I had just sucked down an hour ago. Then they checked my blood pressure again. It had come down. 

(So there's another interesting thing about working in healthcare. Not only do you have easy access to care and people willing to help you out, but you also learn a lot about how the body works. Or sometimes doesn't work. You see the best of the best, and the worst of the worst. And it all makes you very paranoid. Sometimes that's a good thing and truly makes you listen to your body in a way that you never did before. But it can be a bad thing, because you can self-diagnose everything from angina and aneurysms to tumors and transplants without really having any idea  what the hell your're talking about.)

A couple of days later I found myself back on a doctor's exam table, recounting my symptoms, having my blood pressure checked (it was high - again) and taking deep breaths as a stethoscope  was moved from place to place around my back and chest. This time, though, I was with my primary care doctor, a physician I had been regularly seeing for several years now. She knows me well, medically speaking. And after I word vomited all over her about what was going on in my life, she didn't take long to come to a diagnosis.

"Jennifer, you are depressed."

This wasn't the first time I had ever considered that possibility. However, hearing it from a physician's mouth makes things seem a little more plausible. I always just thought I got the sads. You know, from stressful life stuff like work and family and bills - and late notices. Just a little down from time to time. My doctor handed me a two-page questionnaire, and left me alone to answer the questions. 

Yep, that's me. Yep to that one, too. Check. Check. Oh, no. Not that one. But check to that. Yeppers. 

So there it was. I wasn't having a heart attack. Or in need of a transplant. Or thank God, not suffering an aneurysm. No need for any transplant, either. I was simply being depressed. And doing it very well, while highly caffeinated. It was like having a case of the sads but just having a really hard time lifting yourself out of it. 

I left the physician's office with a plan that includes seeing her regularly - and cutting out the caffeine. And a bunch of other stuff, of course. 

Oh, and I decided to lay off diagnosing myself on the web for a while, because that just seems like a smart thing to do.