Thursday, June 22, 2017

Things About Being 40

Everyone kept telling me that it wasn't a big deal and that I wouldn't feel any different once I turned 40. Everyone is a liar. My parents sent me an Amazon gift card for my birthday and do you know what I got? Dental floss and a LAP DESK. A lap desk like the ones that bedridden geriatrics have for their crossword puzzles. And DENTAL FLOSS. No different my left foot. This is what being 40 is. It's lap desks and dental floss and doctor's referrals for MRIs of old lady hips and taking fiber supplements. Being 40 is going to bed at a Reasonable Hour and getting up even earlier because all of a sudden, when you are 40, the consequences of Netflix binges until 2 AM become Very Real.

Being 40 is mopping my floors three times in one week and folding all of the laundry and even putting it away, something that never, ever happened in my 30s. Being 40 is sadly packing the micro-mini skirt into a box of donations and wondering why you thought it was acceptable way back when you were 39. Being 40 is one and a half beers because two is just a little too much. Being 40 is the sudden realization that you are halfway to 80 and your only retirement plan is a tortilla stand in Mexico but you don't even know how to make tortillas.

But being 40 isn't all bad. Especially if the people who love you help you know what your particular 40 looks like.  When I turned 40, one of my offspring gave me a clay launcher so I would have something to do with my shotgun other than chase zombies, and another one of my offspring gave me a superhero balloon, because somehow, even though I am her mom, and 40, and a lot of beautiful mess, she thinks I am a superhero. My Christy friend gave me leather pants, and we all know old people can't wear leather pants. And Someone I Love gave me Paul Bunyan socks - complete with Babe the Blue Ox. Nothing says Forever Young (other than Alphaville) like Babe the Blue Ox on your socks. I might be 40, but I am not dead yet. In fact, I know that there are so many things I haven't even started yet - other than just my retirement plan. (for your viewing pleasure and a break from my prattling - one of the weirdest music videos to come out of the 80s - which is saying A LOT. Also, if I could get an orange jumpsuit like this for my 41st, that would be great.)

Maybe 40 is just the beginning of the Next Era of Liv. The clay-shooting, practical-shoe-wearing, tortilla-making, bionic-hip Liv. Maybe 40 is discovering new loves like running on trails and writing about things other than kids and dogs and toilet floods. Maybe 40 is the new 20, since my 20 was kind of a train-wreck anyway. I don't feel a day over 18, to be honest, which is why it's hard for me to tell people I am 40. But the compelling urge to wash the dishes in the sink rather than leave them reminds me that I am not 18. Or 20. Or even 30. I am 40. I can still do All The Things, but I can do them with a clean house and a clear mind and wearing Paul Bunyan socks. Maybe this is what growing up feels like. But not growing ALL the way up, because in addition to the lap desk and dental floss I also got a Broncos snapback with my birthday giftcard. #notoldyet

Broncos Birthday Snapback! Thanks Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Things About Frank

This morning I decided to start a juice cleanse. The explanation for this is a long and boring story with outcomes that nobody wants to read about so I am just going to skip ahead, except I think it's important to note that THIS MORNING I decided I was going to live on nothing except purple juice that tastes exactly like what I imagine a cat's butt tastes like. But I can only imagine.

At 8:36 AM I decided to go on a run. This was probably ill advised for several reasons which vary from a torn labrum in my hip to the way my leggings fit. But the real problem was Frank. One of the big reasons I got Frank, another dog (which was questionable decision regardless of outlying circumstances) was to be my running partner. Out on remote country roads, so he could like, take on cougars and bears and stuff. And my lack of motivation, which is a more ferocious adversary than either of the aforementioned. Frank was a good running partner. He always wanted to go just a TEENSY bit faster than me and just a TINSY bit farther than me. He was good on his leash and didn't argue with me about running music or complain when I sang along to Beastie Boys.

I tried to take Frank on a run with me this morning, but he wouldn't even go around the block. He couldn't run. I knew he hadn't been feeling well lately since he hadn't been eating his food, let alone everyone else's food in a three mile radius. But I though maybe it was just a funk and he'd do better after a run to his favorite spot in the whole world, The River. But he couldn't run. He couldn't even walk. I called the vet.

The vet turned out to be super busy today. I think the entire chihuahua-mix population of northern Stevens County was on hand for their 6 month check ups, including one pug cross that actually had earrings. Blue sparkly ones. I think they were stick ons, but still. They did work Frank in, and after some waiting, and some temperature taking and some concerned looks and HMMMS and HUHHHS from the vet assistant and the vet, they took him back to get an X-Ray of his chest.

Frank's lungs, according to the X-ray, were completely filled with fluid. So full that the vet was unable to see his heart, which was not beating correctly, at all. "A pretty serious arrhythmia," the vet called it. The fluid in his lungs was putting so much pressure on his heart that it couldn't even beat right. He lay there, panting, struggling to breathe. Struggling to keep his heart beating. The vet said the prognosis with lungs like that wasn't good. It could be a tumor on his heart, it could be a genetic valve weakness that ruptured. It could be a trauma like he got tagged by a car on one of his walkabouts. Or it could be rat poison. The only way to tell would be a trip to Spokane and a massive vet bill to try to find out and the slim chance of a fix.

Frank is the young one. He's the big, tough, healthy hound. Truck was the one that was supposed to go to be with Jesus any minute. He's dying of cancer. Frank is fine. Now my house feels like a dog hospice center. The Doghouse. The place where All the Dogs come to have All The Fun. Not come to die. This is a hard one. I drove home, ugly crying, of course, and trying to sort through what I did wrong, what I was supposed to get out of this, how I could have prevented it, what I should do next, with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the panting back of a Very Large Bloodhound.

I don't know the end of this story yet. We will go back to the vet tomorrow to follow up. But Frank The Bloodhound could use your prayers. And me too, I guess. ❤️

Friday, June 9, 2017

Things About Time

"The trouble is, you think you have time..." 


Once, they were all baby monsters...

It's not just that I am T-minus four minutes from being forty. OK, maybe it is mostly that. But I can't shake this sense of time lately. How brief it is. How fast it goes. How quickly it's over. Even the hard times. Tomorrow I get to go watch one of 'my kids' graduate. He isn't really mine but I can claim him by the amount of cookies and English homework we have done together. He's all grown up and graduating now. I remember when he was born. I remember when he was shorter than me. I remember when he was a gangly, awkward 6th grader and not a 6'4" MVP All-Star everything. I remember shaking my head and wondering how "Spock" and his pragmatic look at life would ever survive the real world. But here he is, practicing his Valedictorian speech for me and eating my Jelly Beans, just like he was still 14. Tomorrow I will cry.

It's not as noticeable with my own kids, maybe, because there they are, Every Single Day, getting older and bigger and smarter and more beautiful so INMYFACE that I can't even see it. But with this one, the leaps and spurts and bounds over the very short 18 years of his life have sped by like his breakaway on the basketball court.

Time is funny that way. The time that is happening to us is so much less noticeable than the time that is happening around us. I don't see the gradual changes in my old Truck Hound, but when the girls come back to visit they are shocked by how crusty he's gotten. It's part of life. The gradual changes that sweep from the lows of pooping our pants and the slobbering incoherence of infancy to the highs of valedictorian, MVP and Taking Over The World, and then back down again to the slobbering incoherence of senility. It's the time that makes us ready for the next step. The discomfort of time makes us eager for the changes, but its comfortable rhythms create fear of the unknown beyond. These high school graduates, with every choice and every chance and every hope and every fear are all of us in every moment, it's just never so crystal clear as when they are standing nervously on a paper-covered stage with their mortarboards at an awkward tilt, wondering if they have the tassels and cords on the right way, balancing on the precipice of Real Life.

Some days, like All of The Ones before I turn forty, I want desperately to stop the passing of time with a big emergency brake, screeching my disapproval across the runway of life in big black rubber marks. Other days, I can't WAIT to get to the next moment, because surely it holds more promise than the last one (except maybe when I turn forty). Time is scary. But Scary is exciting, if you have things to believe in. And we all do. Especially all of you under-forties tottering on the brink of forever and hope. Go get it, while you still have time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Things That Imperfectionists Shouldn't Do

I am very, very good at doing things. Granted, those things are often done less than perfectly, which nine times out of ten is just fine for Real Life and Getting By and you know, Survival, which has pretty much been my mode of existence for the last 22 years. But as the years go on and the Survival gets less Survivally because I start to figure how to mostly just do the things that I am good at and shuffle the things I am not-so-good at off on to other people who do them better, it becomes more glaringly obvious when I am doing things wrong.

I have done a pretty good job at convincing one or two people for a very brief period of time that I have All The Skills and know Prettymuch Everything. This leads to the expectation that I can handle shit on my own and accomplish things. But just because I told you that I got signed off by the Forest Service to drive around with a 20 foot utility trailer does NOT automatically mean that I know anything about driving with trailers. I mean, these are the people that let my oldest daughter run a chain saw, for Heaven's Sake. Even so, I have had to make good on all of my bad-ass bluffing from time to time and drive with a trailer. Even a trailer that is loaded down with a loosely stacked, fly-way, wanton pile of trash and a seriously lack of good tie-downs. I feel like at this point I should give myself a pat on the back for having tie-downs at all, or thinking of them, even if I did have to borrow them from my daughter's boyfriend. But still. The thing is, how EXACTLY do you tie down loosely stacked, wanton trash that would just as soon float along the highway as be planted forever in a big smelly landfill? I mean can you blame it?

nailed it. 

Well if you're me, you half-ass cover it with a mostly shredded tarp that is more holes than solid, and then you drive fast enough that the cars coming along behind you won't know where the odds-and-ends of carelessly strewn remnants of a former life along the road came from. Because I do things IMperfectly. Certain husbands of friends and relations who occasionally shake their heads at me and repair my toilets and stuff would be happy to know that at least this time, I actually hooked the trailer up the RIGHT way, which is no small feat since the actual ball receiver on the hitch somehow got twisted. As in, perhaps SOME ONE at SOME POINT that I was once married to actually flipped the poor trailer and it still hasn't recovered completely. Anyway, it was hooked up right and completely, if not perfectly, this time. And I made it to the dump without anyone catching up to me to tell me that I lost a broken Rubbermaid tote at mile marker 277.

It was a stressful drive, since I have some trust issues with trailers anyway. But I made it to the dump and I unloaded all of the garbage, without even saving any of it in case somebody could use it for something (once again, a HUGE accomplishment for a Stecker). But the most important part of all of this, and the thing that was causing palpable anxiety for the forty minute drive (other than the gas light that came on right outside of Northport), was Backing The Trailer Up.

All I could hope for was a desolate landscape with no witnesses to the 117 point adjustment it would take me to get the 12 foot trailer backed into a space 20 yards wide. But alas, it was not to be. Some hairy redneck with a stakeside truck was right in the middle of the 20 yards target, throwing out his load of tobacco cans and carpet scraps with questionable stains. I took a deep breath and I did my best. My best invariable involves me chanting instructions to myself out loud, interspersed with curse words. Things like 'wheels go opposite' and 'left is right' and 'next time hire somebody' as I eyed my backwards approach.

But guess what, you guys? I did it. PERFECTLY. Without a single pull-forward-straighten-out. I backed that puppy right into almost exactly where I intended and it was even aligned straightly with the redneck stakeside. I would've taken a picture but I didn't want him to judge be for being superficial while I was throwing away my collection of wine bottles, rain-soaked self-help books, broken surround sound system and mate-less socks. Image is everything, my friends, even if it is imperfect.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Things About Control (or lack thereof)

Turns out, there are very few things over which I have any level of control.

Turns out, this is true most of all when it comes to the people I love.

My span of ACTUAL control goes about as far as what I am eating for breakfast... and even then I have to wonder what is really in the Fruity Pebbles that I am annihilating. Does anyone know?

I can make a week's worth of healthy dinners and leave them ready to heat and destroy for my kids and come home to find everything untouched and a case of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese missing from the pantry. (OK, I can't pretend they didn't learn something from me.) But the harder I try, the less control I have. Whether it's making rules and setting curfews and measuring skirt hemlines, or trying to track down 20 year old who's been missing for a week in the Himalayas (don't worry, she didn't die) - the more effort expended, the result just seems to be heightened anxiety on my part and teenage girls dressed like hookers.

I can't stop my adult children from making adult decisions any more than my parents could have stopped me at 23 years old from moving into a straw building with dirt floors and giving birth, unsupervised, to a baby in early January. I know it's the decisions like this that form us into the Real People we will become, ones who know better than dirt floors and arranged marriages and not telling your mother where you are in Nepal for a week. But getting through all of those life choices and the aftermath thereof is way more brutal from the outside looking in than it is as a 23 year old who is making her own damn poor choices.

Worst of all, I cannot fix the broken hearts that I would have fought so hard to avoid. But the fight is always against the windmills of my own experience that have NOTHING whatsover to do with the heartaches that my children will face. I can shape their growing up experience to make sure the results are absolutely different than my own and they will still wreck their own hearts in some magical way that I never thought of.

It leaves me standing on the sidelines with my arms cut off at the shoulders so I can't even cheer effectively. Helpless. Just watching. Unable to close my eyes or look away as they tackle life without the appropriate protective equipment. This, my friends, is why wine was invented. All those middle eastern mothers back-in-the-day finding a way to keep their grapes from molding as they watched their 11-year-old-daughters marry the rich uncles of their husbands. (See, it can always be worse.)

Even the most powerful men and women in the world haven't figured out a way to cure heartache or depression or to protect their loved ones from it - in fact if anything, they've probably propagated more of it than poor simpletons like me - at least I'd like to think so.

I don't like not having answers and not having control and not having solutions and fixes for the things that could hurt my people. I don't like feeling like an accessory to their heartache because of things I didn't warn them about or couldn't prevent from happening. But that's the cost of loving people, I guess. Feeling their pain right along with them and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

Except listen. Or hold a hand. Or just be, quietly, here. So that when they come back from the Himalayas and the dirt-floor-huts and the happily-never-after, they aren't alone. And we can all go tackle our windmills together.

Things About Plans

I used to be really good at laughing at All the Things that didn't go as planned in Life - which happened to consistently be All the Things. Somewhere along the way I seem to have lost this skill, even though All of the Things in Life still do not go as planned. And I guess it makes sense, since the things that are not going according to plan aren't nearly as easy to find the humor in as they used to be. I mean, the kids who used to be pooping in the bathtub and sending their scandalized sister climbing up the slippery tub surround wall are now wandering around developing countries alone and making decisions that will change their lives forever. Not that floaters hiding under bubble bath can't be permanently scarring, but they're also funnier than things like, oh, say, Marriages of Convenience or dying in a Himalayan crevasse. But NOT finding the humor in all of the unplanned things certainly doesn't make them any easier to live with, and the things certainly don't seem to have any intention of going any more according to plan than they always have.

Figure A - the Planning to Plan Planning P
Planning has been thrust into the forefront of my thought process a lot lately. This is due in part to no fewer than three training sessions this spring with the federal government that were super keen on applying the principles of the new Planning to Plan Planning P (see figure A) that someone at FEMA came up with in an apparent fit of brilliance (according to someone at FEMA). It's also due in part to the realization that has been dawning on me that while as Roald Amundsen so aptly states: "Adventure is just bad planning," one can only have so many adventures before exhaustion takes over and everything just spirals into chaos. Another reason planning has become a major theme in my life lately could possibly have to do with the late emergence of a Very Important Person who is not only a professional planner, but also a Reasonable Human Being who is probably only interested in tolerating so much chaos ADVENTURE.

So I have been working on a plan. A good plan. Because I've been very good at bad planning and lots of adventure, but now I would like to try some good planning and see how that goes. And because I have some specific goals that I intend to achieve, like not letting Life get the best of me - which is much more specific than it sounds - and things of that nature. Some French dude once said that "A goal without a plan is just a wish", and for what it's worth, I have dropped my share of pennies in the wishing well.
or just on track, ever. 

But in the midst of all the planning I have been forgetting to find the humor in All the Things that don't play out according to plan. And that's an important skill to have because if you can't laugh at Life then you'd better believe that Life is sure-the-hell gonna be laughing at you. I'd like to keep everything even on that playing field. And I think Life knows by now that I can take whatever she dishes out.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Things About Therapy

Because I am a spoiled white girl living in a developed country, I have been having a little bit of a rough time lately. Because I am a spoiled white girl living in a developed country I also have an entire library of self-help books, feel-good movies, meditation strategies and plenty of alcohol. Even so, I have been having a little bit of a rough time lately. I think it's because things are TOO good. Too many jobs, too many kids, too many friends and dogs and obligations and opportunities and decisions and options and responsibilities and priorities. There are too many things going right, these days, and it's wearing me thin. Also, as the Best People in my life like to point out: self pity.

I am usually pretty good about talking myself off of the emotional ledge that threatens to heave me into a sobbing heap at the foot of a Very Tall liquor cabinet. I am usually pretty good at rationalizing all the reasons why I have no excuse to feel sorry for myself at all and how to pull myself up by the bootstraps of my newest pair of Fryes. I am usually pretty good about developing a mantra to chant silently as I drive the 7,896th mile of the week without crying or getting really mad at the 1987 Lincoln Town Car going the speed limit in front of me. Granted, sometimes my mantra is something like: "It doesn't matter. Nobody cares." Which helps in that it keeps me from spewing my spoiled-white-girl-living-in-a-developed-country-self-pity everywhere.

But an emotional last night carried over into a torrential this morning that none of my self-talking or mantra-chanting seemed to be helping. So I moved into the next phase of auto-therapy (it's auto therapy both because I am in my car AND because I am practicing it on myself): music. This is the stage of therapy wherein I let the Universe speak to me by putting my entire music library on shuffle and see what messages it produces.

I should have known I was screwed when the first random offering was Nat King Cole singing Silent Night. Don't get me wrong. I love me some Nat - and we're all aware of my die-hard Christmas Music fandom - but seriously? I skipped it. Then I skipped a Matt Kearney song because I feel like Matt Kearney just isn't connected enough with the Universe to be speaking to me. And then the real therapy began. It was Sinead O'Conner. Because Nothing (ever) Compares To You and it was exactly the mournful fist shaking song that I needed to finish a cry that had started in the HellMart parking lot.

Once I had gotten All Of the Tears out and snotted all over the steering wheel, the Universe sent Garbage to cheer me up. Because what better than a reminder of how not-together your life is than When I Grow Up. Thank you, Universe. Thank you, Garbage. Luckily, this was immediately followed by James Taylor You've Got a Friend. I hate James Taylor. Also more crying - apparently not all of the tears were out. Nothing is worse than crying to music you hate. But I was brave and didn't skip it. I did reach out to one of my besties for a tell-me-everything-is-gonna-be-ok text. Just testing that unconditionality thing. It worked.

The last few minutes of my drive/autotherapy were a combination of Usher (go ahead and judge me) and The Killers. Because there is no better note on which to end a therapy session than Mr. Brightside. Now I am home. I am whole. I am well. I am a spoiled white girl in a developed country writing a blog on a brand new mac with a brand new job and a series of amazing things that have happened in my life in the last few weeks. I am rich in ways that nobody can count or quantify and I have even more amazing things to look forward to in the next few weeks. And best of all - I can handle ALL of it.

P.S. you're welcome for the Garbage. <3