Things About Busting Out

Sometimes I can feel the four walls of the choices I have made closing in around me like the trash compactor in A New Hope (If you don't get that reference, I have nothing but sympathy and suggestions for recovering you childhood for you). I am fantastically busy - so much so that the idea of adding one more activity to the list borders on tear-jerking. The trouble is that I find myself drowning in everybody else's business. This is not the business of me. This is the business of the people that I owe money to, the friends in need, the children I am raising - the choices I have made - closing in, all around me.

I can find The Joy in the things every day that I Must Do, but secretly, in my heart, I long for The Joy to find me. To seek me out. To pursue me relentlessly like a puppy who needs my involvement Right This Second. I can make the best of things, see the cup half full, bloom where I am planted and all of that jazz - I am a pro - really, I am. But I ache to wake up, once again overcome by happiness, and the knowledge that I am known. I am doing my OWN business. It's about me. It hasn't been the season for that lately - there's just been too much outside of me that needed tending, so the weeds have taken over my internal garden in the same fashion that they would a real garden if I ever tried to have one.

But the sun is out, and my dormant soul is pushing back against the walls of obligation and duty. So much so that I just Googled airfare prices for next week to three different continents, then map-quested a semi-reasonable road trip that I could actually manage. I need to fly. I've been feeling it for a couple of weeks. Maybe longer, but it was quiet until recently and I could ignore it. Not any more. I am restless and frustrated, and I need the open road to remember me and all of our good times. I need to remind the springtime that I am more than the sum of my many children and jobs and commitments. More than a teacher, a waitress, a mother, a chauffeur - I am a Wildling trapped in an SUV and a rental agreement. I stare out the window of my classroom some moments and feel my breath come short and shallow, as if the air has been cut off completely by the finger-smudged glass.

Maybe I don't have somebody to ride shotgun for - maybe alone is better anyway. Maybe I am discontent - but if nobody was ever discontent, I feel like we'd still be grunting at each other over our gourdfuls of seeds and berries, and waxing philosophical about how the idea of a wheel isn't very practical really. All that traveling. A little bit of restless is what it takes to get over the mountains, and I am grateful that my restless isn't dead yet.

It's time to break this 100 mile radius that I have circled for months on end. It's time to cross state lines, bend the rules and make up my story as I go, choosing to tell only The Ones I please when I am done. It is time to expand my heart again, to take in more than this tiny little town and all of the hurts and aches and struggles that the winter has fed it. I know that out there The Joy is waiting. It's calling for me to come and play. The air smells different in Montana. In Oregon. In Idaho. Along the highway. Maybe I won't hit Mexico, but I can get started. Wait for me, Someplace, I am coming...

Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park

Things I Would Like to Ask

1. Why don't we drink wine out of pint glasses?

2. Is it a functional requirement to throw the empty dishwasher tablet wrappers back in the box?

3. When do dogs stop shedding?

4. Do they make a centralized vacuum that just continually sucks crap out of the air in one's house, and if so, is it expensive?

5. How do you train a wiener dog?

6. Are dirty dishes grounds for disownment of a child?

7. Is there a way to get a 12 year old to quit changing her clothes in the living room between school and practice?

Aspen's locker room. 

8. When does the amount of Top Ramen/Macaroni and Cheese consumed by teenagers cross the line into abuse and neglect?

9. How do people have full time jobs?

10. Did someone swap out the presidential race for a reality TV show this year?

11. Does anyone want a dog? Or a teenage girl? Or both?

12. How much does it cost to hire a cook?

13. Why hasn't SIRI solved all of my problems yet?

14. How many is too many consecutive days with people under the age of 20?

15. Is running away ALWAYS the wrong answer?

Things That Are Worth The Risk

Being in love is a lot like being drunk. And it's a good enough feeling that we go back over and over and over again (some of us do) for more, even though we know that heartbreak, like a hangover, is gonna sting like a mother-frakker and we're gonna swear that we'll never do it again. I've vowed off of love (and beer) repeatedly, but somehow, I always end up tottering on the brink of Going There one more time.

Some hangovers are just worth it, that's all. Even the worst ones that you think you'll never recover from. Because you're never gonna forget that one time that you NAILED What's Going On at karaoke, or sinking your ATV seat-deep in the sand out by the river at night, or the new dance you invented with your BFFs in a moment of Absolute Clarity after a shotski of fireball, if you remember those things in the first place. But seriously, can you hang a price tag on those good times with friends, any more than you can name the value of the butterflies you get when he leans in for the first kiss?.. Just brace yourself for the morning after, cause it's probably gonna hurt.

I've made all of the mistakes in my life - enough for me and all of my friends who 'courted' and missed out on the tragedy and triumph that is dating. I guess for better or worse, I traded 'for better or worse' for 'trial and error' and a lot of good intention and poor execution. It's not that I didn't want to stay married, really. I would happily be somebody's wife right now, if somebody could have just got his shit together. Clearly I am perfect, in case you hadn't noticed.

And being perfect, I have had a long line of perfect relationships, wherein I was never too clingy, too selfish, too moody or too demanding. Ever. Through no fault of my own, they ended, and the poor bastards that lost out in the end really had no idea what they were missing out on. But that's ok, because I just haven't met anybody as perfect as me yet, that's all. But I must still believe he is out there, deep down, because something makes me run back into the bloody fray that is hope and stand, battered heart in hand, wondering where he's hanging out. I've been checking the brew pubs and dive bars, since I didn't find him in the church groups and intentional communities. But I don't think that perfect guys hang out at perfect places. I think they're more like me and they're all over the place. It's just that my timing that has been terribly, horribly wrong for 38 years.

If I could list every time that I went a little out of my way, or took a little time I shouldn't have to stop into a random brewery, just to make sure I didn't miss out on the Best Beer In The World, well - I'd have to write a book, because I can't think of a time that I wished I hadn't. And I have had some of the Best Beers In The World, and met some of the coolest people, because I just did it, never a regret. Dating should be the same way. You never know when you'll run across the Best Beer/Man Ever, because you went a little out of your way or took a little time you shouldn't have. It's worth the gamble. I hope.

Maybe it's just that the ache of a broken heart has a familiar comfort to it. A reminder that I am actually alive. For a couple years now I have alternated between nursing old wounds and deciding that I would never, ever risk that damage again. But then I watch my young, pretty girls and I think that I would hug them, give 'em a kick in the ass and then send them back out to find love. And whether it's the springtime or beer, or the country music, or road trip season sneaking up on me with nobody to ride shotgun beside, I dunno - either way, it seems like it's time to take a gamble on some butterflies and risk the next morning, shaking my fist at god and Bad Decisions.

definitely worth the risk.

Things That Are Alright

It never ceases to amaze me how the springtime sunshine can push it's way through a plethora of suck and make even the worst days better. I spent the first half of this week on the verge of tears for so many reasons that I can't even keep track, and here I am on Thursday, St. Patrick's Day, no less, feeling like maybe it will all be ok after all. Not that things aren't still a little upside down, or there aren't plenty of excuses to cry, but I am working real hard to find the silver lining in All Of The Bad Things right now, and it's coming out alright. I have a beer sitting next to me on a Very Dirty Porch in the Very Warm Sunshine, and even though the beer isn't green and my butt is getting muddy, it feels good.

Frank the Bloodhound figured out how easy it was to step over the less-than-four-foot fence in the back yard and has taken to wandering around town. It was almost cute and endearing when he tracked us to Rivertown Grill the other night in the rain and had to sit in the car until we were done with dinner. It was even semi-adorable the first time he showed up at the school to find out what I could possibly be doing there that was more important than throwing his Breno horse for him. The second field trip to school was a little much, in addition to charging all 140lbs of hair-flinging dogflesh through a very unhappy English teacher's classroom, he made me late for class when I had to take him home, which is apparently a bad thing when you are the teacher.

he's definitely grounded

Because as it happens, I AM the teacher. At least for now. For the next three months, every single day. I am the teacher. Already I am getting a taste of the sacrifice that teaching is as I forgo St. Patty's Day shenanigans to ride with a bus full of drama students tonight to watch a play at Woodland Theater. I mean did it have to be tonight? I will miss the tinge of green food coloring in my beer as I watch The Addams Family Musical with a herd of reprobate high schoolers. And so my full-time teaching career begins, turning the usual financial nightmare of spring into something survivable, if I can make it to work every day, which we all know is a major challenge for me.

I get to sub for Mrs. Wilson as she ends her 37 year teaching career with a full knee replacement so that she  remain ambulatory during her retirement. This lady has earned it. Apparently the school advertised for a substitute that was highly qualified in the subjects of health, fitness and drama, and all of the certified people ran screaming the other way. I guess drama isn't everybody's cup of tea. Who knew? And I guess that I am passably qualified to teach it. I am not sure if this is based on the fact that I have raised four girls or my limited background in theater... But mostly it's probably my ability to pretend to know what I am talking about that really won me the work. #fakeittilyoumakeit

This is such a great opportunity because one of the classes I am teaching is "alternative fitness", which is geared towards students who really couldn't hack it in PE due to stressors like dressing down and exercise. Interestingly enough, my class is full of jocks and athletes who just needed an elective and figured it would be easy. And if you're into yoga and training for a pack test, it is, because that's what I am doing. It is sobering to realize that there are 18 year old guys who can't keep up with my old lady pace when we do our walks. And I am wearing a weight pack! I am looking forward to finding a way to compel these kids to leave me in the dust, which would take very little effort on their part, if effort can be found.

Anyway, suddenly I went from being bored out of my mind in early February, to so busy I can't see straight at the end of March. I just stare on my calendar and will some of the obligations to go away, but they don't. They just stare back at me and laugh in that sinister way that obligations do. So I drink a beer and decide to figure out how to Do It All tomorrow sometime.

I love that it's baseball season, and the fields are full of heckling kids and the clinking of balls on bats. I come home to find the random teenage boy rooting around for gatorade on my back porch and begin to wonder when the baseball-sized dents in my car appeared. The dogs can hardly get their unauthorized neighborhood patrols in as they are so busy supervising baseball practice and digging in the soft mud that was once a front yard. Dagny should be arriving in Australia any time now I think.

beer, booger, baseball season #gobendelks

Life is busy and inconvenient. It's filthy dirty and out of control, but it's good. It's going. It's life. Noone remembered to put corned beef and cabbage in the crock pot this morning so maybe I will help out the Grill with theirs. It just seems wrong to not observe the holiday somehow, and besides, I don't have any Jameson here.

Things About Being Real

The other day, my sister and I were having a conversation about "being real" as opposed to being pretentious or fake or trying to convince anybody on the outside that we are something we really are not. I feel like I have pretty well mastered the art of letting everybody who knows me, plus a few thousand who don't, how "real" I am. To a fault. I am pretty darn good at highlighting my failures, my trials and errors and mess-ups and mistakes and oopses, wannabes and nice-tries. In fact, I am so real, that I think certain people have wisely calculated a wide berth of avoidance to reduce the risk of my train-wreck life, with it's messy divorces, dog hair, toilet floods and worms, getting in their perfectly crafted martini. And that's ok, because I'll take dog hair over perfectly crafted martinis any day. I guess. That's not really true. But I will settle for a warm beer.

The funny thing about "being real" or living in "reality", is that a lot of times it's straight up unrealistic.

Like for instance, me raising four daughters to various stages of older childhood/adulthood and killing none of them. It's very really happening, but it's very nearly impossible.

I feel like 90% of my life - of all of our lives - is doing unreal things. Some times we do them really well, sometimes we do them really bad. I tend to err toward the side of awful, but I still get some pretty unreal things done.

Like passing the work capacity test for the forest service. Realistically, I could Just Say No. I Can't. The disc between my L5/S1 vertebrae has degenerated completely, similar to the moral standards of my late 20s. I am old. I have a torn shoulder, a sprained ankle and All Of The Things hurt. But I will do it, because it's worth it to me. And it's not pretty. I don't look like Mary Lou Retton dismounting the balance beam with rosy cheeks in a patriotic leotard. I look like a dying vagrant with COPD that someone just tried to beat to death after falling off of a train. But I will still do it. And that is both real and unrealistic.

In many ways, we're all pretending a little bit to be something we're not. I am pretending to be a young, athletically viable firefighter. My friend is pretending to be Just Fine as she sits in the hospital with a very sick husband and other family members in crisis. My other friend is pretending to be a softball coach. My cousin is pretending to know how to be the Best Stepmom Ever to some hurt kids... and she's killing it. One of my friends is pretending to enjoy police academy, surrounded by guys half his age, guys that don't have decimated hips and too many decades of abuse on their bodies like he does, and he is KICKING ASS. Because maybe it's unrealistic, but it's really happening. And they'll get it done. Those girls will get the crap coached out of them, and that husband will be Just Fined all the way home to his La-Z-Boy where he belongs. Those kids will be whole and happy. And that guy will be the best cop that ever copped. I pretend to be a teacher, and I am about to pretend to be a full time teacher for a full semester... it's ridiculously unrealistic, something that regular and accountable for me, but you watch, I'll really do it. For reals.

We go through life being Really Unrealistic. Doing things that we can't possibly. Like childbirth. Or homeschooling (NOT ME!). Or paying the bills. Pretenders are heroes, sometimes, and I think that all the time, heroes are pretenders. Pretending to be brave, pretending to know Exactly What To Do, pretending to like it. Sometimes, being who we really aren't is the thing that saves the day. Like coaching a softball team, or being the "strong one" in the family, or maybe even just being nice to someone when nice is certainly NOT what you really feel, but very certainly what somebody else needed you to be.

So the next time you get overwhelmed with the The Thing You Cannot Do, with all of the dog hair that won't stay vacuumed, or the kids that won't get potty trained, or the really, really REALLY hard mile and a half on that one day when a mile and a half is just too much - just know that I am here being unrealistic with you. We are doing this unrealistic life together - really doing it. Covered in dog hair and swilling our warm beer, but we're doing it. We're covering the miles and growing the kids and loving the people. Even when loving seems like the most unrealistic of all, we do it. We make the choices and take the steps to get life done, with all of the unreality included.

I am ok with being a messy. With being imperfect and slightly embarrassing to my people. It's ok, because I know that I have kicked reality right where it counts. I don't need to be real, and I don't need to be fake, I just need to be. Right Here, doing the Right Thing, Right Now that needs to be done, even if I can't.

My next plan for unreality is to get Eric Church to marry me, or something along those lines. For practice at accomplishing the impossible though, Ima salvage some freezer burned hamburger in homemade chili from scratch that I am trying unrealistically to remember from watching my best friend make it a few months ago. So far, so good. There I go, making miracles all over the place.

Things About Being Healthy

I went to the doctor yesterday. He said I get lightheaded and nearly pass out all the time because my blood pressure is too good. Apparently it's a thing. 

So my doctor asked me what I thought I could do to bring my blood pressure up:

"Gain more weight? I'm good at that."


"Eat more fat." 


"Add more stress to my life?" 

"Ahhh, no."

"Drink more alcohol? Also a skill I possess."

"Not quite."

We spent a moment of awkward, accountability filled silence when we were both thinking that in addition to being an EMT, I'm also a mildly-intelligent person capable of logical thought. But my blood pressure was really low so it was hard to think of the right answers. 

"How about more fluids." My doctor offered benevolently. 

"Like beer? It's mostly water."

At this point he cradled his head in his hands and either laughed or sobbed quietly. I'm not sure which. Then he suggested doing more cardio vascular exercises to increase my cardio muscle reaction time. He suggested running, biking, or whatever I liked to do. 

I said I liked to sit on the couch and eat. Preferably cheesy garlic bread. 

I think he gave up then, giving me a "you know better" look behind his tears of mirth. 

This particular doctor has taken care of my family since before my youngest sister was born, so it wouldn't shock me to find out that my mom got a concerned phone call - or perhaps one congratulating her on her wild success in rearing a world class comedienne. 

The doctor also wanted to know, out of all of my plethora of activities, which I was enjoying. I stared at him blankly for a moment as the realization that I could be having FUN doing some things dawned on me. Then I blurted out "snowboarding". Because in my 14 hour days, the two times I went snowboarding (to be more accurate we should call it snowfalling) this winter stand out as FUN. 

Nevermind the whiplash. Nevermind the mildly sprained ankle which may have been throbbing when the good doctor asked. Nevermind the mortally wounded pride from the disastrous yardsale that was every. Single. chairlift dismount in front of lift operators who were recruited straight from Australia's Hunks Of 2015 Calendar. Snowboarding was FUN. The best. My favorite. 

If he hadn't put me on the spot so suddenly, asking all those hard questions I would have probably answered that the thing I enjoy the most is drinking beer and eating cheesy bread with my friends while we solve all the world's problems. #expertlevel

Anyway it's nice to be passing out because I'm so healthy. I'm gonna go ahead and credit that to all of the healthy beer I am so famous for drinking. And the weight that clearly doesn't want to be lost. 

Things About Taking Responsibility

I made a mistake. First off, I posted something political on Facebook.

I know, do I even need to go on???? There’s enough mistake right there to last me for ages. It was a rambling piece that I largely agreed with, mostly (I thought) about taking personal responsibility to educate oneself before voting or airing opinions on weighty matters. But I realized, with the help of a few good friends, that just in copy-pasting the post, I was doing exactly what the author cautioned about.

I was jumping on someone else's bandwagon. I was not using my own mind, my own words, my own capable voice to say what I think. Because I DO think. And I don't need someone else to say it for me. I have opinions on nearly everything that matters, except maybe how overdue Leo was in getting that Oscar. #couldntcareless

So in recompense for posting the propaganda of One More Faceless Mouth With An Opinion, I am going to share mine. Feel free to share if you are lazy like me and would rather have someone else say MOSTLY the right things for you. (Although we all know that I am dead on.)

Regardless of who gets elected, this election race has moved beyond the simpler times of "voting for the lesser evil" or even the idealistic "vote your conscience". The first is an impossible choice. The second is a wasted vote, and nearly treasonous when you consider the consequences. I would like to say that if we all truly "voted our conscience" that the political machine couldn't possibly win, but I have seen the "consciences" of many people in action and I cannot vouch for that surety. So we are left with the gut wrenching choice of voting for the candidate we hate the least, any one of whom will be an embarrassment to this great country. Because the USA is great, and it never stopped being so, just because some windbag pronounced it thus.

In fact, our country continues to grow greater. 100 years ago, women weren't allowed to vote. It wasn't until 1920 that voting rights were granted to women. It was only 51 years ago that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into effect the Voting Rights Act after tear gas was used to stop African Americans on a march to protect their constitutional right to vote which was granted in 1870. The 15th amendment prevented states from prohibiting any male citizen to vote, regardless of "race, color or previous condition of servitude." We've come a long way in half a century. It doesn't mean that racism is dead in the United States, or equality is across the board and real. We still have work to do, and a lot of it. But I hope becoming "great again" doesn't mean I don't get to vote anymore.

With our flaws and our struggles and our trials to overcome, we remain one of the greatest nations in the world. We voice our ridiculous opinions freely, and whether our elections are all a giant rigged charade or not, I feel safe to say that we get what we deserve in our legislatures and our courtrooms. We have most likely begun the cool and casual decent into Idiocracy (if you have not seen this film, there has never been a better time), the proverbial frog in the pot, boiling slowly to death without our knowledge. It could be happening. But the ONLY way to reverse this trend is by every individual taking each possible step to make sure the people we want in office get there. Not by holding federal buildings hostage or killing law enforcement officers. Not by shooting up abortion clinics or destroying our own neighborhoods in riots. There is a way to make our voices heard. It's happening in November.

For me, I'd just be happy to find a candidate who believed in the same things that I did. Things like dogs not ever getting old and cops never dying in the line of duty. Things like taking care of our planet one person at a time by being responsible, not wasteful, and understanding the impact of every purchase, every throw-away, every package and every trip to town. I'd like a candidate who believes in my inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One who doesn't need to legislate who I marry, what I grow, how I care for my body, or what I own. I'd like a candidate who believes in the ability of each human being, however unrealistic it seems these days, to make the best choices for their community, family and self, without passing down laws to assure this. I would like a candidate who sees me work four jobs, raise four children, and doesn't penalize me for every penny I earn, or reward me for working less.

The problem with my Ideal Candidate (see what I did there? #propaganda) is that he requires an Ideal Citizen - and those, my friends, are few and far between, evidenced by the Americans who think that shooting a cop, or breaking out the windows of a local business, or laying siege to a wildlife refuge are any sort of solution to the very real problems we face. Generations of deeply rooted racism do not go away with a riot - violence by a race only perpetuates the need to control them. Overreaching governments are not thwarted by militant attacks on federal employees - they are merely justified. And killing the sheepdogs who patrol our streets and keep us sleeping safely in our beds at night only undoes the security we enjoy as a nation.

Our problem, in this Great Nation, isn't with the candidates we have running for office, it's with the people. People who have grown fat and lazy and are eating up the lies about How Things Should Be. Fairy tales about things coming free and easy without the blood sweat and tears that their grandparents shed to provide them the liberty which they squander on bloodletting and greed. We have fallen so far from the strength of The Greatest Generation, men who would give their lives for the security of an entire country and women who would give up their men, their stability and their accustomed roles to become the workforce that carried the nation. We are now a generation of men and women without a driving cause greater than free college and/or reality television. We have abandoned personal accountability as a shameful scourge of the past. We have blamed everyone else for the weaknesses in our communities. Our children are shooting each other in school cafeterias because life is cheap - everything is cheap. Of course our mental health as a nation is suffering. We don't understand the value of liberty any more.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too; 
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; 
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same; 
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, 
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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