Things About Planning Ahead

Everyone knows how put together I am: the 37.95-year-old picture of poise, perfection, and polish. I am the epitome of organization. I have mastered the art of efficiency and getting All Of the Things Done.

Case in point:

I did a really really good job packing my bag for an 8 day trip to Washington DC to visit my brothers and sister-in-law. I thought every angle through: weather, comfort, travel, occasional propriety... and I nailed it. I packed the quintessential combination of things that I need and nothing I don't. I even called my mom to brag about my packing skillz. They were THAT legit.

Some important packing tips that I have gleaned in my vast globe trotting experience:

1. Always pack vitals like prescriptions and toothbrushes in your purse or carryon, you know, just in case. Unless you're so organized that you know you can rely on your real bag to be with you at all times.
2. Don't pack anything you really won't wear, no matter how "practical" or "cute" it is. Be realistic - the heels are nice, but seriously? And don't forget the Fire Tactical Underwear Rule of four (FTUR4): front/back/inside/out.
3. Utilize the relatives that you are visiting whenever possible. For instance, don't pack unnecessary items like shampoo, toothpaste, razors, deodorant or sweatpants when you know you can just use theirs.
4. If you've been secretly looking for an excuse to buy something new, conveniently "forget" to pack the old version. This plan doesn't work well on the months that all of your paychecks seem to be taking an awfully long time to get into your empty bank account.
5. Always wear or keep socks on the plane. A) feet get cold B) ew, germs.
6. Never pack a book for long flights, because you might miss an amazing opportunity for networking and conversation with the stranger that you are sharing intimate space with. Like that one time I traveled with the unshowered Berkeley professor/closet distiller to Amsterdam and learned how to make vodka when I was 16.
7. It's ok if your bag is overfull. You will never be bringing extra stuff back with you. Ever.
8. Create an exciting iPod playlist by going to your iTunes library and putting ALL SONGS on shuffle. For me the result was an eclectic delight of Simon & Garfunkel,  Super Adventure Club, Lionel Richie and Steve Green.
9. Make sure your earbuds are as ill-fitting as possible to avoid the temptation to use them constantly to eliminate the joyful sounds of children in the back rows. This is just antisocial and says you're a terrible human being.
10. Bring the heaviest water bottle you can find. This is useful for dropping and rolling maneuvers that MIGHT result in your seat-mate/new BFF asking to be relocated. You can only take someone's face accidentally in your lap so many times before it just gets weird.
11. Remember anything (or everything) you forget can always be mailed to you by whichever sister/friend has not become completely burned out on crisis intervention in your life.
12. Always wear your favorite clothes/shoes (BRA!) while traveling in case you somehow become seperated from your luggage. Hey, it could happen. Don't be stuck with the chafe.

So these are just some of the most important tips I have found in my uber successful travel planning.

I decided to perform an unexpected experiment in ultra-light travel when I left for DC this morning. Ever efficient, I had budgeted my time wisely for maximum sleeping-in time in order to make the airport with just enough time to check in, which is great when you decide to go with out the bag that you carefully packed using the steps aforementioned. I am sure it's getting much more use sitting on my bedroom floor anyway. Due to my excellent timing, going back for the cumbersome (and clearly unnecessary) bag was out of the question, so without questioning my sister's burn-out status, I had her mail the important things, like, oh, you know, prescriptions and bras, and will figure the rest out when I arrive in D.C.

Because who doesn't love an ADVENTURE!!

Authors Note: FYI I do not share deodorant or razors with ANYONE. Toothbrushes are negotiable.

Things About Bad Calls

Last weekend we had a bad one. There was an ATV wreck way, way, way up in the mountains. It took us almost two hours to get to our two patients, who were banged up pretty bad. It was the worst case scenario kind of an emergency call. The one that you hope never happens but you kind of fashion your drills around. The one with every WHAT IF included in it. Lucky for us, this scene didn't involve anyone dying - then it would truly have bee the absolute worst.

It felt like one of those calls where nothing goes right. Everything we tried to do was harder than usual. Even accessing the patients was Way Too Hard. On some scenes, everything flows smoothly, we work together, it's fluid and graceful and efficient. This was not that scene. This was all miscommunication and frustration and Not Doing Enough.

I have spent some time going over in my head and with the other first responders that were there what it was that went wrong, and other than EVERYTHING, we couldn't quite pin down the worst parts. All of us feel like we underperformed, we were not at our best, and I think the biggest reason for that is that we were dealing with an injured friend.

Sometimes as EMTs, we're able to compartmentalize the emergency that we roll on because we can separate ourselves from the injury - it isn't our emergency, we are just here to help. But when it's a friend - or family - there's a built in need to FIX, and wondering what we could have done to prevent or avoid or help. I know that for me, there was nothing I could have done that night that would have  felt like enough. And it made me angry. My friend was hurting and I couldn't fix it. All I could really do is hurt her more to get her where she needed to go. It's a terrible feeling to add to someone's pain, even if it's necessary. That's one of the reasons I am not IV qualified anymore. I know how important that stuff is, but I don't like being the cause of any pain. That's not a valid excuse and I am considering getting my advanced certification, because if my friend had been any worse off I would have been hating myself for not being able to give her an IV.

As parents, most of us have had to pry a kid's hand (or head) out of the back of a chair, or a railing somewhere when they got it stuck. Invariably they cry and it hurts, but as parents, we know what has to be done and we do it. It's the same deal on a bigger scale. If only we could keep our friends and family from sticking their damn heads in the railings. But life is chaos. It's messy and crazy and shit happens. All the time. To everyone. We are massively blessed that this kind of an accident doesn't happen every single weekend up here because the craziness always does. And it's craziness that could just as easily been me, or my kids or any one of us. Those of us that insist on enjoying life and getting the most out of it are sitting ducks for disaster at one point or another.

It violates my sense of control-freakishness that I can't prevent every accident from happening, or know what terrible choices my children, or siblings, or friends might make, or what insane accident they might wander into at any given moment. I can't make bad things not happen to the people I care about, no matter how much I will it. All I can do is be there and try to help. But when it's my people that are hurting, it never, ever feels like enough. It's an almost paralyzing sense of inadequacy. Like my skills are totally worthless. Why am I even here? I want to click my heels and get back to Kansas and not be the one that is Not Fixing It.

The patients from our wreck made it out ok, finally, after way too many hours, being manhandled by 37 people, three ambulances,  and two helicopters. The sense of relief from handing a patient over to someone who has more training than me is immeasurable. That's probably why I stay a basic - so I can pass the buck. But in the moments (or hours) that there's no one to pass to, it kills me to not have more tools in my backpack. Maybe that's the motivation I need for that advanced class. Maybe my friends should just stop getting hurt.

Things About Commitment

We lost part of our family today. Somebody that came into our lives almost by mistake. Somebody that almost wasn't one of us. Somebody that we chose, in spite of all of the very good reasons not to.

We lost a friend that was unconditional. One that was always thankful, always loving, always kind. She was optimistic in spite of every obstacle in her way. She was dedicated and up for anything. She was the one that you knew you could count on to back you up in any crappy spot - as long as you could help her get there. 

We spent the better part of 4 years with Penny after we found her eating herself to death with no hope of escape. She came to live with us, and learned to love rabbits (or at least barking at them), to love long walks (or at least all the naps she took along the way) and to share her food. Penny lost a few pounds while she was with us, but in spite of the physical limitations of a belly that hung lower than her legs, she kept up with us and became part of our silly family. 

She made us laugh every day with her constant cheerfulness, her heroic attempts to climb stairs and her respectful begging for more food. She made us appreciate the heart that's inside an imperfect body, and even when she lost her eye sight she seemed to have a better idea of what was going on than a lot of humans. She knew when somebody needed a chin on their knee for comfort. Or an excited Cadillac dance for no reason. She knew the power of a good snuggle and the value of a squishy bed. 

She was Dagny's scolding grandmother, Emmy's comrade, Nattie's confidant and Truck's lower bunk. Penny took nothing for granted but loved every minute of her life. Her little stubbed tail was always working in thankful circles. We loved that silly obese dog. She's in her next home now. Probably chasing chickens and flopping down for a quick rest in the tall grass. Wearing angel wings like a flying pig, some of us think. And it would only make sense. 

There were times after we adopted her that we wondered if we'd made the right choice to commit to a dog with so many struggles and imperfections. Really, we were the ones that needed rescuing. We needed Penny's blind, unconditional love of all people, and her steadfast faith in her family. Her willingness to ask for help and offer affection. We needed to be reminded that beauty is what we give to each other, not how we look. We needed Penny, and thank goodness she chose us. 

Things About The Toilet

I have a semi-famous toilet. You know, the one responsible for The Great Flood of 2014 and the 2nd Great Flood of 2014? Yeah, that one.

"clean" water tank
Yesterday the Celebrity Toilet decided to start spewing water all over the floor every time some one flushed. The beauty of this latest incident is that instead of poop-contaminated water, it was dripping "clean" water straight from the tank. I say "clean" because one look inside the tank leaves reason to doubt the validity of that claim. How can a tank that circulates fresh water look like a cesspool that four zombies drowned in? Anyway, upon closer inspection, which revealed that A)someone had recently thrown up in/on the toilet and B) we're clearly not doing a good enough job when we have bathroom cleaning duty, it appeared that the water was coming from somewhere in the dark recesses between the tank and bowl.

Being the strong, knowledgeable, independent and self sufficient woman that I am, I immediately texted three experienced plumbers that I am also privileged call friends and relations. Within a short time I had learned that most likely the gasket that goes in between the tank and the bowl was shot, but it was an "easy" DIY fix, and I even got a swell brother-in-law to grab me a new part at the hardware store since he happened to be in town. It was Saturday evening, and since the options of a leaking toilet all weekend or even worse, going without a toilet until I could get the parts were both less than appealing, it seemed like a relief to pin down a solution. As if.

This is wrong. All of it. Especially that Noone has painted behind the toilet in at least four color changes. 

Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to set aside for toilet repairs. I mean if stuff goes really bad, you only have to wait until Monday morning for a hardware store less than an hour away to open up.  Plus it's easier to farm kids off to their dads house or wherever they can use a bathroom, because inevitably and invariably, as soon as you get the toilet into various and assorted pieces all over the bathroom, everybody needs to use it. I know this because it happened to me, who was the only one home post-toilet deconstruction. Lucky for me it's baseball season and the school set up an ├╝ber-convenient Blue Room right across the driveway by the dug-out. I have a lot of experience with Blue Rooms so I wasn't afraid.

So, all brave and fearless and pretty sure I could handle it ("THAT'S THE SPIRIT!" said the swell brother-in-law), I set out to take apart the vintage almond Kohler with a seashell seat. They don't make them like this anymore, and I was fairly concerned about being able to match pieces if the taupe porcelain were to break. I had watched four different YouTube videos that alternately gave me hope and panic attacks, including one guy with a great Brooklyn accent and another one who kept doing it wrong and starting over. YouTube is great for figuring out all of the things you should probably never try to do yourself.

I got half way into trying to remove the first corroded and rusted-on nut and was in tears. It was about 20 minutes of struggling to understand how Guys That Do This Crap make it look so easy, why toilets are crammed in tiny corners,  and whose idea it was to put the bolts underneath where you have to hang your head down and try to reach up with a bulky wrench thingy and get them loose. In addition to earning undying respect for professional plumbers, I learned that it's very important to have the right tools for a job like this. Turns out that none of these were them:

After an hour and a half of deciding I couldn't do it after all, crying, cussing a lot and trying again, I managed to get all three bolts off and remove the tank. It was one of my most triumphant personal moments to date, and I did actually yell "I am woman, hear me roar!" quite loudly upon completion. Unfortunately that was only the first step of the process, and depending on which experienced plumber you ask, also the easiest. Looking at the monster that I had just unleashed, I realized that I probably was dealing with more than just a gasket problem, since the plastic thingy in the middle of the gasket, but totally unrelated to it, was disintegrating to the touch. After a few texts to The People That Know, and a very in-depth but confusing conversation about ball-cocks, shaft-nuts and screwing flappers, I was given strict instructions to step away from the tank before things got any worse. Nothing in the world makes me as grateful to live here as the people that I know and love and that I can count on to jump in to the rescue, even when it means spending a super unfair amount of time in close personal contact with a semi-famous toilet. I am a lucky girl, and I only hope someday I can give something back to make up for all of the getting that I have got.

Finally got the right tool for the job. And once again, a working toilet.

Just kidding Jess, you're totally not a tool. Nice vintage ball-cock there, though. 

Things About Where I Live

It's true. I watched the neighbors sawing a 6 foot fence post down to about 2.5" the other day, with a Sawzall, for the perpetual bonfire in their yard that they like to drink around. All day. Every day. They have the cleanest yard in town. They have raked it down to mineral soil. To keep their fire going. Safe to say they are the shining expample of a defensible space in our town. A safe space? Not so much, consider the less-than-advisable undertaking of sawzalling your fenceposts drunk. But still, quite tidy.

There was really no way to top off that reality-not-tv experience other than going to Taco Tuesday at Kuks. There I had a lengthy conversation with Jesus about the redeemability of my ex husband, and sat audience to an expert lecture on facial hair in romantic relationships. I am just going to leave that one right there and walk away.

I love where I live. People (ok, person) were standing in line to tell me how awesome my newspaper stories are while I discussed the bitterweet dilemma of doing absolutely nothing for spring break with half of my neighborhood.

I have friends who will faithfully jog/walk just ahead of me like a carrot on a stick so that I can make time on my practice runs for the pack test. I have people who feed me beer. And burgers. And Bananas. And ones who buy me tickets to super fun music shows and take me out to dinner and make me laugh and are just the coolest.

Everything in my life isn't perfect right now, but it's just right. Just the right amount of ache from working out. And tension from barely making it. It will be ok and it will be fun on the way there.

Things About Being Who You Are

A long time ago, when I had the coolest job in the world that involved cutting trail for ATVs on Forest Service land, and also cleaning bathrooms for all the riders that used the trails, I wore Carhartt pants every. single. day. They were the best protective equipment from chain saw exhaust, outhouse backsplash and juniper branches at 45 MPH.

Then I married a guy who hated Carhartts. He called me bad names when I wore them and told me only a certain type of girl would dress that way. I acquiesced to his taste and gave them up. Consequently I tore through about 5 pairs of jeans in the last few months of that job, once I quit wearing double-knee cotton duck. But I packed all of my trusty Carhartts away sadly, never to be worn again. They sat collecting dust in a basket until today.

See, yesterday I decided to rearrange and clean my room. Turns out that I haven't done this since I have been living alone, and I have found all sorts of amazing things in the process. Like those important EMT papers that we were looking EVERYWHERE for. I guess under the bed is as good a place as any to lose an entire box of manila folders. Stands to reason. Got those safely handed off to more responsible persons, and I came home and launched a mountain of about 51 pairs of Nomex pants and a full basket of Carhartts.

I think I forgot how much these pants had become a part of me until I pulled them out. I really had every intention of getting rid of them, and then all of a sudden I couldn't remember why. I put on my favorite pair. They are all customized. I started from stiff-starched brand new ones and washed them into buttery softness, perfectly worn in. I cut the waistband out so I can fold them over and they don't go up to my armpits. They're like the indestructible version of fold-over yoga pants. I used to roll them up and wear them with flip flops like the baddest-assest pair of capris ever. I can't remember why I quit wearing them. Something about a boy.

Putting them on was a flashback to a girl that I used to be. Someone tougher, cooler. Before the last husband, before the Buckle and blingy jeans. Before I decided I needed to try so hard to be something else for somebody else. So much in my life then changed who I was. Living in constant pain and trying to figure out a doomed relationship and raise wild teenagers while I was working full time - there wasn't even room for me in my own life any more. Now I have ample time to fit myself in and I stare and the mirror of introspection and can't figure out what's out of whack. But in my mind I think that surely something must be, or I wouldn't be alone. Maybe it's that I forgot the Carhartts. I forgot who I was. Who I am. And now that the pain is gone, the world has stabilized a little bit, and all of this alone time is just a chance to remember how I got here, and to find that girl in the Carhartts again.

just because they're work pants doesn't mean I have to work in them...

Things About Jelly Beans

I have this thing for jelly beans. I really like them. I always have. The traditional spiced ones are my favorite, the minty, cinammony, licoricey ones. I like Jelly Bellies, but only to pick out the Strawbery Daiquiri and Buttered popcorn flavors. I don't mind the fruit ones, especially cherry - because cherry anything and everything is pretty much the best (more on this later).

Easter is obviously jelly bean season, since Jelly Bellies go on coupon at Costco, which is the determining factor of all seasonal designations. Several years ago, I bought a Costco  size vat of Jelly Bellies for my friend with a toddler. The toddler ate most of the jelly beans and attached forever an association between Jelly Beans and me. Last week I gave his mom a new vat of all cherry flavored jelly beans (more on this later) and the kid, a now 8 year old, proceeded to help her demolish those, telling all of his friends the story of Liv and the jelly beans. I am something of legend among 8 year olds in Northport.

Around Valentine's day this year, I fell in love. Wisely, this time, there was no man involved. Instead I gave my heart to a bag of various cherry flavored jelly beans. Cherry Lovers is a mix of nine different cherry flavored, heart shaped jelly beans. First of all, nine different variations of cherry is nothing but yum, and secondly, heart shaped? AWWWWWW. So much love. The mix includes wild cherry, cherry cola, chocolate cherry, cherry cheesecake, cherry vanilla, cherry daiquiri, bing cherry, black cherry, and a couple more that I can't remember because my mouth is watering. The best thing about these is that even though they're made by a gourmet candy company, you can get them at Safeway rebranded under their Select brand, for literally HALF the price. And in giant vats. Which, obviously, I needed. They live on the headboard of my bed, and together with a few Chicken 'n a Biscuit crackers and episodes of Criminal Minds, pretty much round out every night of my very single-womanish life. I caught one kid getting into my cherry jelly beans and I might have freaked a little. Feeling a little bit guilty, I went out and bought a few bags of traditional Jelly-Bird Eggs to fill up my candy jar. I still yell at the kids when I see or hear them getting in to it, but with as much as I am gone, they tend to disappear at a steady rate. It's the kid-in-the-candy-jar mischief that I "allow" to avoid other types of mischief. Such as kid-in-the-liquor-cabinet. I am sure it's working. Because who would sneak vodka when there are jelly beans to snitch?

Author's note: I would like to acknowledge in relationship to my last blog entry, that the consumption of Jelly Beans and Chicken n' Biscuit crackers might have some influence on the not-effect of "running" on my physique... but let's not go there. Denial is bliss.

Things About "Running"

I have been running.

That's pretty much a flat-out lie. Except that I did try. I ran. I ran like 100 steps. Granted, each of them was an individual stride, spaced in between with walking. But I still picked up both feet off the ground and tried to run. To make it sound cooler/more intentional, I told my brother/fitness coach that I was jogging. He said "don't jog. jogging is terrible. jogging does no good. you need to run." And I said back: "what you don't understand is that this IS my run." If I can clock a 13.5 minute mile, I am flying, baby.

None of it makes sense really. Last year I read the book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, and it was life changing for three reasons: 1) it was the first time I downloaded a full book that I paid for onto my iPad and read it, in it's entirety, digitally ; 2) I actually voluntarily spent time reading about something I hate, namely running; and 3) I got done reading it and was absolutely convinced that with the right pair of shoes, I would fly like a gazelle through the woods endlessly as soon as I gave it a whirl.

I have been whirling quite a bit these days, and so far the closest thing to a gazelle on my runs are the towny deer giggling at me as I flop by. Because that's what it is. A flop. I "ran" so much yesterday that when I tried to do it today, I discovered I had given myself shin splints and even my jog was more like a clumsy imitation of a walk. Actually my shins hurt way less when I tried to "run" faster, but I wore my baggy sweatpants, because it's that kind of a week, and they kept falling off - not just down, but actually, off. Like those poor deers probably got an unintentional moon in exchange for their mockery. Serves them right.

All Of The People say that if you just keep on doing it, it will get better. I am inclined to believe this is true for knitting and possibly marinading steaks, but as far as running goes, I am reticent. In fact, after three straight days of "running", I am actually fatter, slower and now in more pain than I was three days ago. I understand one can't expect instant gratification - but come on - three days is a lifetime when you're talking about running.

In the back of my head all of this leads to the one driving purpose of my life: to pass the arduous pack test one more time before I die. I have found peace with the fact that that is probably not going to be this year, with the bone-on-bone situation in my lower back and a shoulder that spontaneously dislocated when I cross my arms, but the standard is still there, dangling in front of my face. It is the standard by which all exercizish things are measured in my world. A mile must be accomplished in less than 16 minutes. Easy. Check. Two miles should be finished in 30 minutes carrying 25 pounds... oooh, that's a stretch, but if I had to do it once, I could probably. Three miles, forty five minutes and forty five pounds - there's the golden standard of arrival. I got the three miles in time the other day, but the 45 pounds extra I was carrying are the ones around my midsection. I understand the concept that running will help me achieve my goal in developing my cardiovascular stamina, and building the muscles I need to support the weight. I get why. It's just the how that I have ethical problems with. Mostly because I still adhere to the idea that working full time and making dinner and doing the laundry and yelling at the kids and, and and... should be more than enough to prepare me for any other arduous endeavors. There is something just rude about the idea that I have to take what little "spare" time I have and use it to punish myself for being soft and lazy, when really I don't feel soft and lazy on the inside whatsoever.

That's what reading the book helped with. It made running seem like something almost, dare I say, fun?!?! And I know some people who say that they enjoy it, although I believe they are masochistic liars that clearly have no idea what fun actually is.  There has been the ever so slight and gradual shift in my thinking that maybe, with enough trying, I too could enjoy this form of torture. We're a long way from decided on that front, but I am not ruling it out.

And it's not like I can't run if I absolutely have to. If the fire gods are worried about me getting my ass off of the fireline in a hurry, they should see me beat four teenage girls to the shower in the evening. I'm so quick you don't even see me. Of course that's usually on the nights that I decide it's not worth the fight and skip it all together, in which case you really don't see me. Or that one time that my sister was beating me to all of the best stuff in the thrift store. You know I moved like greased lightening then. I had no choice. It was life or death. Think of how my performance would improve on these fronts if I actually practiced running more? It's almost terrifying. We'll see who's laughing then, Bambi.

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