Monthly Archives: January 2018

Takes a lot for this to be OVER

Diet Diary 2018 3:

I weighed in this morning. I am bigger than ever. How DOES one who spent her whole life a size six get that big? I know. Booze.

I have a new rule: I am no longer allowed to go to the store. I am adding this rule to the no-cooking-wines-in-the-house rule. Slowly, I will weed out the demons.

I love the store. Going shopping at the grocery store is actually a pastime for me and my father and, once, for my uncle. Our grocery shopping trips, over the years, have become a conversation topic and a place to bond. Our phone calls always end with an assessment of the recipes that we intend to make, maybe some suggestions, and a “let me know how it turns out.” In my geographical region, however, I can’t grocery shop anymore.

My state allows beer and wine sales in any grocery or convenience or drug store or gas station, so—basically—I can’t buy my prescriptions or stop for gas or go grocery shopping without being confronted with aisles and end displays of wines and craft beers.

I love to cook, and I go to the store with pure intentions, but I always end up straying into the booze aisles and sliding my fingers along the bottles, studying the labels, noting alcohol content or vintage or state or country of origin. I spend more time lingering around there than I do in the produce aisle. Booze is so… interesting. Yup. So it is. And that’s why I am going to hand over my shopping lists to my husband. He doesn’t know this yet.

My husband only shops for school lunches, and he doesn’t cook at all. He’s the guy who will bring home flat leaf parsley instead of cilantro when I send him on a mission. Putting him in charge of grocery runs will save us money. He won’t linger. He’ll bring home what he thinks I want, and I’ll cook it, whatever it is. That’s the way it’s gotta be for awhile.

As the first week of January bleeds into the second, I am taking note of every trigger that will keep me here, at my heaviest weight EVER. I need to eliminate those triggers because without them I can eat right. If dieting didn’t mean kicking one of the hardest substances to kick, and if dieting weren’t linked to addiction, I’d have had this down years ago. I’ve read so many health magazines and experimented with so many fitness apps over the years that I can plan and prepare any type of diet without consulting resources or experts—you want high fat, low carb? Got it. Vegan? Sure, I can do that. Paleo? It’s a pain-in-the-ass, but I know what you need to survive. Vegetarian, Vegan, Keto, Paleo, and even poor old dead Atkins—I got it. I know how many Weight Watchers points are assigned to an orange and how many calories and carbs are in a lowfat cheese stick. And I like knowing that stuff.

But it doesn’t help me to spend the whole day monitoring my sugar and sodium consumption just to knock off the remnants of the cooking Marsala after glazing the pork. I can’t pay a fortune to go to some cognitive behavioral rehab resort. I have to make my own limits and establish my own reasoning. This is not over. I am not screwed. And I will not be a size twelve forever.

“Snow days” with the stepmom

I had hit my snooze button twice, downed my first cup of coffee, and woke up the teenager before I was informed by the kids’ mom that school is once again cancelled. Having been a former high school teacher, I’m conditioned—under any kind of weather threat—to wake up naturally at around 5 a.m. and check the district’s website for potential cancellations. I didn’t do this today because, when I last checked the weather, we were expecting warmer temperatures and rain. Not ideal, not ideal enough for ME to postpone my painting and repairing adventure until tomorrow (I really DON’T want to do it!), but ideal enough for buses to operate and for teachers to drive to school.

Well, turns out the temps in the forecast dropped a couple degrees, and that means that the rain which MIGHT fall around 1:00 this afternoon (40% chance), might freeze to the roads. Too many modals in this forecast to cancel school, in my opinion. Then again, I am over 40; I remember the seventies; I grew up in the cold Northeast. While I didn’t walk ten miles to school barefoot in a blizzard (and uphill, to boot), I remember when the snow had accumulated to at least six inches before the district sent us home. And then the school bus slid off the road and got stuck in a ditch…

Before I defeat the point I was about to make with that example, let me stress that sending kids home early because the snow won’t stop falling is a bit more practical than keeping them home all day long because the snow MIGHT fall around the end of the school day. Today, the teenager could have enjoyed some social time, attended his two favorite classes, and eaten lunch before the threat got real. These kids have been out of school since last Wednesday while life goes on for everyone else. There are too many stay-at-homes in this district who can ease the impact of the majority of its kids never going to school.

Ummmm, and I guess I need to admit that I’m one of them.

School cancellations during my college’s winter break mean almost nothing to me. I’m not inconvenienced. In fact, they give me an excuse to put off doing the stuff on my to-do list (like making repairs at the rental property) in exchange for never getting out of my sweatpants or taking a shower. My biggest problem is that I struggle with the compulsion to entertain the kids throughout these long shut-ins. On Friday, while I sat around in my sweatpants, one stay-at-home parent took our sixth-grader bowling with his friends while another took our teenager to the movies and then ice skating. That’s a lot of concentrated time with a bunch of boys with whom none of us, excluding the one stay-at-home dad, have a whole lot in common. I’m sure if the boys were over at their mom’s house, they’d be baking bread or reorganizing the house or inventing their own elaborate games. Their mom is the “Super Mom” (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Super+Mom).

I’m the stepmom. I just don’t have it in me to orchestrate that kind of frenzied activity.

However, today will be our third day home together, and that excludes this past weekend. I don’t know if I can handle another marathon of Seasons 5, 6, 7, or 8 of The Office. I don’t think I can continue fighting with the little guy to sit quietly for thirty minutes and read a book (always a fight). I’m gonna have to up my game today, or it’s gonna be a long one. Perhaps I will hide the controls to the new gaming system and all of the other electronics and bust out Monopoly. That’ll kill a few hours.

Sigh.

NOTE:  the little guy just woke up.  When I told him school was cancelled, he was pissed.  That’s how long he’s been out of school, long enough to be pissed off that he’s spending one more day at home… or maybe just one more day with his stepmom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GenXers and “Second Acts”

My husband and I made a joint decision to buy rental properties. We already had one, our former home, and we recently purchased another, strictly for renting out. We did a 180, going from hating being landlords (and doing it all wrong) to searching for more properties to buy and researching forms of alternative financing.

I, personally, have always been into real estate—acquiring, holding, flipping, what-have-you. My husband had always treated my obsession with following real estate trends in and around our home as, at best, a distraction that kept me from my real career, at worst, a waste of our time. However, as a former reader and big fan of the now defunct More Magazine, I believed in the “Second Act.” More’s monthly “Second Acts” featured women, all over the age of forty, who transitioned out of their lives-as-they-knew-them and became something new and different. Some women went from homemakers to corporate giants, others abruptly left the corporate world and started small businesses or nonprofits. One woman, whom I remember quite distinctly, left a high-stress, high-paying job and moved to some expansive property in a wild western state and created a rescue farm. 180s, “Second Acts”—they’re the comebacks of disgruntled GenXers. I’ve been dreaming of a 180 since I read my first copy of More Magazine.

All my husband needed to get on board with real estate investment was the right pitch from the right person. That person wasn’t me. It was, ironically, a Millennial. I will hold no grudges, though, since I got what I said I wanted.

After scraping and struggling and acquiring two Masters degrees, moving from venue to venue, I finally found a teaching environment that I truly enjoy, and recently, things started falling into place. I was offered a full-time position, albeit non-tenured. I passed it up. My big plans as the fall began last year to sample a variety of teaching positions while I held my part-time status at my current college until something big came up… well, it came up. And then it went. My choice. I finally got what I SAID I wanted, but all the while, what I really wanted was my second act.

I’m lucky. I’m lucky that my husband has a career that’s too serious to get taken over by today’s bottom line—new, young, and hungry.   You can’t bullshit your way into what my husband does, and freshly-minted graduates are not necessarily the most cost-efficient or valued prospects. My field, on the other hand, is oozing with cronyism and bullshit. It’s time for my 180.

Believe me, I don’t think that real estate investment is going to make us rich, or that it will be easy. At present, our monthly cash flow from rentals is about $100 a month—see, we rented out our former family home to my best friend and her husband with bad credit for a deep discount last year, just because we didn’t want to be landlords anymore, and we knew they’d take care of the property. Our second investment should yield us a $450 cash flow. That’s $550 a month of tax-sheltered income once we find a tenant. That’s what I make, after taxes, hustling part-time in the classroom. And with rental properties, someone else pays down the mortgage. Why not try this out?

I’ve already learned a lot from our mistakes—I know where the unplanned for expenses come from, I know the value of having a contractor’s license, I know that the city where we planned to invest is getting more expensive (taxes are rising, water bills are rising, lead abatement policies are getting much stricter). I know not to rent to friends or family. My best friend threatens to never leave our property. And why should she? She’s got the cheapest rent in town. More airtight leases, better pre-screening practices—I’m learning it all. On Monday, I am going to tackle my first handyman projects by repairing holes in the drywall and the plaster in my friend’s/tenant’s house so that it can pass a lead inspection and become a legal property again, a service that I will charge my tenants for in the future. It’s like getting another degree, but this time it’s hands-on. Lucky me.

Only time will tell if this new path is really a second act, or if it’s just another short-lived distraction. Well, I shouldn’t say “only time,” as if this venture is not an act of free will. It is. And I’m a little scared. Because life gets real when you take ownership of it, and I’ve been in the habit of NOT doing that.

The Bad Choices Flow Chart

My cousin is not handling the sudden death of her husband very well. I should have known. My initial feelings of pity for her, yet quiet relief that the man who controlled her, alienated her from her friends and family, and psychologically abused her, didn’t last too long.

I had always secretly hoped she could free herself from his clutches and go back to being the woman I used to know. That woman wasn’t perfect, and she had a few screws loose, but she could take care of herself. She was a good hustler, once upon a time, and I envied that. My little cousin was the stereotype of the girl who rose from ruin—kicked out of her house at age seventeen, she scraped by on waitressing wages until she taught herself a trade. Then she took it to the next level by doing what Sheryl Sandberg says more women should do in their fields—she applied for a job that was beyond her skill level, and she won it with her confidence, and she figured it out from there. And the rest could have been happy history, except for a glitch that I didn’t clearly recognize as one until it leveled her—alcohol.

Now, before jumping to the conclusion that I think alcohol is a problem in itself, and not a symptom of a deeper issue, I will add a caveat that alcohol was her way of managing whatever it was we couldn’t see. Maybe all of us on the outside couldn’t hear the voices in her head, but we could certainly see with our own eyes what her self-medicating did for her, the flowchart of bad choices. It’s easy to blame the alcohol for that, and for sake of brevity, I will do it.

But back to my original point: my initial reaction to her beloved’s death, a sense of relief that his absence might provide her with an opportunity, faded quickly into fear and helplessness. I haven’t hung out with her in nine years. I haven’t seen her in three or four. I have been absent in her life, at first involuntarily, then it just became the norm, and I made myself stop caring. Right now, I have no power over her reaction to losing the love of her life; and even if I did, I’d be walking on eggshells in my effort to help her regroup. She’s on her own once again, but can she hustle her way back from whence she strayed? I don’t know. All I can do is send weak texts, letting her know I’m around if she needs me. She won’t. I must simply have faith that her mom will help her out of this, go and visit her, keep her from using of those many, many firearms she’s got stashed around her apartment. Damn. Guns, grief, alcohol, and loneliness. Can there be a stronger concoction for disaster?

I want to get in the car and go to her. She’s only a couple of hours away. But my husband and my father fear for my own safety.

“Don’t get sucked into drinking,” said my dad.

“The two of you drinking in a house full of guns… that’s just what we need,” said my husband.

They both have legitimate worries, but I have legitimate worries, too. One of my aunts likes to say that when you love someone, you love them regardless of their behavior, or whether or not they love you. You just love. And that’s true. I know she wouldn’t listen to me—she never did—but maybe she’d just let me sit next to her on the couch. Maybe I wouldn’t be tempted into a few whiskey toasts or some other last hurrah that won’t end well.   But probably I would.

I’m gonna let my brain override my heart on this one and stay the fuck home.

 

2018 Poem #3

A friend of mine turned me on to a great poem, which prompted me to revisit the beauty and mystery of poetry.  I committed myself to writing a poem (no matter how terrible or raw) every day of 2018.  My goal?  I just want to remember how much I love poetry, even if I can’t write it, and I hope that I will–by the end of 2018–be able to capture a true image.  Here’s today’s poem.  I didn’t edit it.  I just want to share:

I’m on the other side of the lens.

Remember graduation? Remember all those people sitting around staring and asking awkward questions about future plans?

Remember I had none?

Remember I didn’t care?

Remember when life was so new, so raw, that beginnings like marriage and babies and buying houses seemed so irrelevant?

I look at that old footage from “my time”— first apartments, baggy overalls, Nirvana—I was so young, and restless, and vulnerable.

Weren’t we all? In the 1960s, the 1970s, my eighties and nineties, weren’t we all a bunch of fumbling fools?

You don’t know what you got til its gone.

I didn’t write that, but someone like me did.

Nostalgia. I have it now.

I have that, and I have wisdom, and I have joy, and I have grief…

lots of grief.

What do we trade for our foolishness? Our youthful, fragile bloom? This.

It only gets… worse?

My younger cousin’s husband died today, three days after she posted a picture on Facebook of the Bulldog puppy he’d bought for her, thanking him for his thoughtfulness, announcing to the Facebook community that he was her whole world. If that was really the case, then my cousin lost her whole world today.

No one was expecting it, especially her.

I’m not saying he was a picture of health—the dude was twenty years older, and he lived like he was forty years younger. He drank day and night, and he cooked rich food dripping with butter and fat. We knew her husband would go much sooner than my cousin did. We just didn’t expect that to happen TODAY.

Isn’t that how life and death seems to work over the age of forty? Nothing is guaranteed anymore.

When we’re young, and we experience unnatural tragedy, we have reasons to howl at the moon and cry “unfair!” Now, we can’t curl up into our grief and question the gods and cry “unfair.” Now, tragedy is as natural as some niece or nephew getting married and having a baby and starting this cycle of life all over again. We live in a world in which the younger generation thrives and our parents’ friends die, and we are in the middle. We’re in a place where our parents’ generation dies, and our friends struggle with crises and life-threatening illnesses and death. Sometimes, in this over 40 reality, our friends’ children commit suicide, or our peers’ lovers die quietly on the couch after refusing to see a doctor about their weird heart palpitations.

Shiiiiit… when I started this blog, this 40s are the new 40s thing, I didn’t know the half of it. I thought I was jaded, but this jaded thing just goes on and on. I guess that’s a lesson I’ll take into my fifties, if I’m lucky enough to get there.

Peace through poetry?

It’s a new year. I spent a quiet Christmas Eve with my dad, endured nightmares in the haunted guest room. On Christmas night, I visited my brother and his family—my sister-in-law, their three kids, my nephew’s wife, and my niece’s boyfriend. I woke up many hours later still drunk with a bruised knee on the futon in my niece’s room, my last memory of the evening before was looking up into the crying face of my nephew’s wife. I don’t know why I was looking up. I don’t know why she was crying. I don’t know what kind of advice I gave her and if she remembered it. Probably not. I hear I fought with one of my nephews. Asked him what about the next morning as I teetered on my own two feet in the kitchen, my shaky hands cupping my coffee mug.

“I don’t know,” was all he replied. No one knows, cept for maybe my sister-in-law, the one person in the room who looked really pissed that morning. My dad was pissed, too. He’s a weaker man this season—weak, sad, and confused. He didn’t even know how much I drank right in front of his nose the day Mom died, never noticed that my coffee mug was full of red wine. He never knew I replaced his Jim Beam twice, once getting a speeding ticket while rushing home to shove it in the cabinet before he returned from a doctor’s appointment. So when he noticed I wasn’t in the house on the morning of December 26, he called the cops.

“Sir, was she drinking?” asked the 911 respondent.

“She doesn’t drink,” he said, right before I sent him my text message that I been done-in by whiskey. It certainly wasn’t the first time, but this time it was public. He was so shocked.

“And a HAPPY New Year!” my mother and her friend used to sing over and over, especially after they’d been drinking, on every New Year’s Eve that I can remember while growing up. My parents have spent every New Year’s Eve for forty years with the same couple. I and their daughters enjoyed the freedom of doing whatever we wanted—playing with candle wax, sampling the sweet liquors, snatching food, and playing Atari games into the wee hours—while our parents got drunker and drunker. This friend died in May, Mom in October, so Dad and the remaining widower spent New Year’s Eve together last night, just the two of them going through the motions—shopping for snacks in the morning, eating out, retiring to one house or the other to watch a video. It was the saddest evening I could have imagined for my father, but he wanted to do it. And he even told me today that they had a good time, he and his friend of forty years, eating out and watching a movie by themselves and mumbling from time-to-time “and a HAPPY New Year.”

This is how 2017 ended for my father is his long-time friend. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

A friend sent me a poem today, and I realized, as I read it, that poetry is the thing I need to keep going. I haven’t sought refuge in poetry since I was in my twenties. There’s something about it, about how it explains the inexplicable. Although the theme didn’t capture my sadness entirely, this poem fed my soul today:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597/burning-the-old-year

I think tomorrow, or later, I will try to write one. It’s been decades since I wrote a poem, but during these days of loss and sadness, I think it’s the only way to find peace.