Today’s gratitude goes out to my high school tennis coach

It’s funny where your mind will wander when you’re running by yourself.

Amy and I tend to be attached at the hip when it comes to running, so it’s not often that I’m out in the park solo on a Sunday.  But this morning found me zipping somewhat speedily through endless loops and circles near the local high school.  And the feeling I always get during a really great run is GRATITUDE.  I am so incredibly thankful to have this healthy body and mind that craves running and doesn’t give out on me (very often, anyway).  Grateful always turns quickly to thoughts on who got me here: to this park, early on an overcast Sunday morning, busting out 9ish minute miles while music blares in my ears.

The list is long, of course.

But today?  It was all about Carole Scanes.

Coach Scanes took a group of gangly, goofy high school girls in the late 1990’s and created Ferndale High School’s tennis team.  We were terrible.  For real.  The Bellingham Herald printed high school athletic scores in the newspaper each day; pages of my high school scrapbook are filled with them, simply because my name was in print.  Somebody should have told me to stop doing this, as you will find (if you’re ever craving a trip down memory lane via my scrapbook) page after page of cut-and-paste losing tennis scores.  Schools with better tennis programs could barely muster the enthusiasm to trounce us, BUT.  We had Coach Scanes, this little slip of a gal, who–at what couldn’t have been more than 4’11”–threw her heart and soul in to training us.  Many of us had never picked up a tennis racket, let alone understood the rules of the game, but this was no matter to her.

Girls Tennis was a Spring sport, so somewhere around the end of February, she would gather all of us on the windy, often rainy, tennis courts after school, and practice endless drills with us.  We ran lines.  We learned scoring and serving techniques and took endless shots from the ball machine.  One notable afternoon, immediately after taking a shot from the machine at the baseline, I was sprinting forward to (in my mind) effortlessly slam the next shot right at the net, when I ended up taking a tennis ball right smack between the eyes.

I regained consciousness just as my best friend Rikki was about to dump the contents of the Gatorade cooler over my face.

These were the girls she had to work with.

We were small in number and incredibly low on the sports totem pole at FHS, so when we traveled away to let other schools cream us on their own courts, we didn’t warrant a school bus.  We piled in to two awful, smelly, boat-like Chevy Suburbans.  They were pale blue, printed with ‘Property of Ferndale School District’ (in case you were thinking of stealing them?) and to say that they were old is a gross understatement.  We’d climb in and, once she knew everyone was situated, Coach crawled up in to the driver’s seat…how did she drive that beast without sitting on a phone book?  I’ll never know.  Being one of the older and (in my mind) cooler members of the team, I traveled in the van driven by Coach and containing all of my dear friends, each of us with our own particular scent of Bath and Body Works lotion tucked in our duffel bag.  We turned that adolescent-musty-boy smell lingering in the van in to what had to be the most sickeningly sweet version of fruit salad EVER, and yet, Coach was always smiling.  Like it was her privilege to drive us to Lynden or Burlington or Bellingham and watch us get killed on the tennis courts.

Yes, before going anywhere, she’d turn to grin at all of us.  We were like her kids.  We were loud, smart-mouthed, nervous, and, as mentioned above, we smelled cloyingly sweet.  We were anxious about playing singles or doubles or exactly how bad that score would look in the newspaper tomorrow, but there was Coach, grinning at us.  “Ready to roll?” she’d ask.  She believed we could do it.

Or, as I reflect on this now in adulthood, it’s more likely that she knew we couldn’t possibly win.  She just didn’t care.  She wanted us to have the experience of getting out there on the court, sprinting and scrambling for serves we would never return, lobs we would smash beyond the fence, and–every once in awhile–that stunning shot that actually came from OUR SIDE OF THE NET.  It was those moments, really, that Coach got us ready for.  Doing something amazing when we didn’t think we could.  No matter how many games she was monitoring from outside the chain link fence, she rarely missed our (admittedly few) moments of glory.  She had her sunglasses and her clipboard and her tennis skirt (none of us had heard of tennis skirts prior to meeting Coach, and we were all appropriately awed by them) and she would give us that smile that was full of pride.

We were her girls.

She let us stop at McDonalds on the way back from our matches because why not add the smell of french fries to the permanent stench coming from the back seat?  She talked about the highlights of our matches from behind what looked like a gigantic steering wheel, while we ate cheeseburgers and giggled and groaned about losing again.

She led us in strength training in the gym on days that were too rainy to practice outside.  It rained every single day in April of my junior year.  Coach, desperate for something to keep us busy, and no doubt sick of entertaining 16 squirrely high school girls in a muggy gym for the 12th day in a row, decided one day to teach us some hybrid sequence of yoga and Pilates stretches.  Bridge pose was ultimately her undoing.  Imagine, if you will, 16 hormonal and slightly bored high school girls raising their hips up and down in unison, led by a spunky and slightly clueless blessing of a Coach shouting out verbal cues such as ‘up and down ladies!’ and ‘squeeze those rear ends!’.  She completely lost us.  Just…wheels off the bus.  I don’t remember who called out the most inappropriate comment (my money is on Rikki) but we were no longer bridging, we were shaking with laughter.  Red faces, giggles turned to howls, and Coach.

“Girls.”  (Very stern.)

“Girls!  LADIES.”  (Losing the stern.)

“Oh for…”  (She couldn’t help it.  She was totally blushing and losing her cool.  She laughed right along with us.  Then we went to find something else to do.)

I don’t remember any yoga/Pilates exercises after that day.

I have nothing but fond memories of Coach Scanes.  She invited all of us tennis stars (looking back, I realize we were all just a big bunch of nerds) to her yearly summer BBQ at her house.  It was very hip to be invited to a teacher’s house.  I still have the awful, tacky, gold plate I won at some competition at her summer party.  She took pictures of us out on the courts and even hired me to help teach the Summer Enrichment tennis class for elementary schoolers.  (No doubt she was thinking it would be nice to start grooming some potential winners from a young age.)  She brought us snacks and made us sit out when the sun got to us and turned our faces in to glowing red tomatoes and monitored our grades to make sure our academics weren’t slipping.  She tried really hard to admonish us when the talk in the van got especially raunchy.  And one time?  Because she likely had a screw loose somewhere?  She took us to a tennis tournament on a Saturday at Whidbey Island High School.  Yes.  16 girls.  2 dilapidated vans.  A ferry ride and all that lotion smell.  One kid who got seasick.  (Me.)  An entire weekend day she would never get back.

It was epic and one of my very favorite, fun days from high school.  I still remember it like it was yesterday.  We ate too many cupcakes and pretzels in the back seat of the van and talked about sex.  It was the stuff of teenagerdom.

And it was all orchestrated by this tiny little force field we called Coach.  I’m quite certain she never got paid what she deserved and she devoted far more time to our ragged little team than she probably should have.  She was our mother hen and the person we wanted most to please while out on the tennis court.  She gave us something constructive to work towards in the days of adolescence when it would have been all to easy to fall off the map or find other, far more unhealthy ways to spend our time.

So thank you, Coach.  I want to find you and tell you that, in some ways, I am a runner today because you proved that if you want to do something, you CAN.  Doesn’t mean you’ll do it well, but you can still try.  It won’t be pretty and it sure as hell won’t be easy and some days it will feel worse than getting car sick in the back of a school district SUV, but in the end it will be WORTH IT.

Rikki and I are running a 250 mile relay this summer.  Because why not?  You taught us that piling in to a large van with most of your friends and setting off for adventure can be the very best way to spend your time.

Bless you.


Ode to Amy

Amy turns fortyish today and it’s high time I paid tribute to her, my BRF (Best Running Friend, for those of you not in the know).  We see each other almost every day…we work together, run together, even live near each other.  We keep each other sane at work and, more importantly, we hold each other accountable when it comes to gearing up for another race or just getting through that extra mile or two on a long Saturday run.

We talk about our running adventures at work so often that I’m pretty sure our co-workers (runners and non-runners alike) are over it.  This stops us exactly zero percent of the time.  Planning out a future race or hashing over the details of what went right or wrong on our last outing fills our days and occupies our minds when our jobs get a little boring.  Race details provide a pleasant (for us) and much needed distraction from yet another poor colon prep.

Side note, and a warning to sensitive readers: you may want to skip this next paragraph.  It is one of my very, VERY FAVORITE Amy stories and it is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.  My BRF is well known in our center for being one of the most badass GI nurses around.  This stems from a certain incident several years ago, during a particularly bad prep, in which we were playing our favorite game, Name That Food.  This game is every bit as disgusting and thrilling as it sounds.  The whole point of Name That Food is to identify a partially digested food particle appearing on the screen as something you think your co-worker might be about to consume in the very near future, in an attempt to gross them out of eating said food.  Some nurses are easier targets than others, and we prey on them mercilessly.  But my friend Amy?  Oh no.  Someone (might have been the doctor) identified (correctly we think, based on texture and smell) egg salad.  It was close to lunch time.  Amy promptly went out and purchased an egg salad sandwich at Starbucks and proceeded to eat it in the break room, to the joy and astonishment and gags of all around her.  She not only solidified her status as Ultimate Badass GI Nurse, but also set the bar for Name That Food just a little bit higher.  It was epic.

But I digress.  This story is about the importance of having a sucker by your side to make those long miles seem shorter and things like 200 mile relays seem not only like a good idea, but fun.

Most of you know that neither Amy nor I came to running early in life or in anything that could be described as a pretty manner.  The beauty of our friendship is based on the fact that we have real, normal bodies that nobody would ever pick out of a lineup as belonging to a runner.  And yet, here we are.  RUNNERS.  We’ve been through hot yoga and PopSugar Fitness videos and some misguided attempts at regimented training plans together, and it’s rarely pretty, but we keep showing up together.  She is my friend who has covered for me while I’ve peed just barely off the trail; the one who, mid-contorted-yoga-stretch, I can holler to from across the room ‘do you feel that one RIGHT HERE?!’ as I grab some nether region buried in my ass, and not only is she not disgusted (see above paragraph: nothing disgusts this girl) but I usually get a resounding ‘OH HELL YES’ in response.

Our closets are full of matching race shirts and we frequently show up for a quick little hill run on Wednesday morning wearing the exact same shirt, without having planned it.  Our chatter is near constant, despite the fact that we see each other nearly every day and you’d think we would have run out of things to say by now.  The one exception seems to be the hill climb on Wednesday…it’s our one nod to formal training, and we try to be religious about putting one day of hills in to our workout week.  It’s a relatively short route, only 3.something miles, but the climb begins right before you hit mile 1 and doesn’t stop until you’ve cleared mile 2.  During these miles, amidst all the wheezing (me), hand tingling (her), and slow plodding of feet (both of us), all you will hear is silence.  Any communication comes in the form of gasping curse words that would make my mother blush.  The swearing is how we check in with each other and make sure we’re still alive.  I love her but I’m sure as hell not turning around on that hill to go back and get her.  A well-timed f-bomb lets me know she’s right on my heels.

So, happy birthday to the girl who is Thing One to my Thing Two, the gal who knows important things like how many city blocks are in a mile and how much distance is left between this long run and my triple shot latte.  I wouldn’t be the runner I am today without you there to meet me on the corner of 128th and 86th.  I wish you yet another year of fun and craziness in the world of running!

A Valentine’s Day Tribute to My Running Shoes

Dear Running Shoes,

On the eve of the most overrated holiday on the planet, I’ve been giving some thought to romantic love, and it’s place (or lack thereof) in my life.  And I came to the conclusion that I have nothing to despair over, for I have you, my friends!  My relationship with you is far better than any boyfriend I could ever hope to find right now.

I found you shortly after everything in my life came apart in huge, gaping chunks.  Divorce.  Single parent status.  That dream of working part time and devoting my creative soul to writing?  Gone.  Co-parenting with a drug addict?  Total joke.  Father suddenly, although not unexpectedly, dead?  Check.  It took less than a year for everything to crumble, and while I didn’t know it at the time, you were waiting patiently for me to find you.

And to think I had scorned your presence in other people’s lives for so long!  It took me 32 years to get to you, but it was love at first painful, wheezy mile.

We started slowly, as all strong relationships do.  A two-mile out-and-back from my apartment, a couple times a week, with a lot of walking thrown in to the mix.  How I longed for those stoplights to linger on red, so I could catch my breath but still look as though I belonged with you.  Keep on driving, you!  Nothing to see here.  Just waiting for the light to change!  Out for a run!  I only appear to be dying of an asthma attack, and I’m sure I’ll be able to get upright again very shortly!  Long runs on the weekends were maybe 3-5 miles and you carried me, limping, back to my door step.  I ached from shin splints and just knew I would never master the whole synchronized breathing/running technique (who knew this was an art?), and yet…I kept coming back to you, again and again.

You were never pretty but I don’t want you to worry about that.  I’ve fallen in love with good looks before and it’s gotten me, frankly, nowhere.  Your wide base and sturdy arch support and ability to accommodate my left peg leg are all attributes laughed at by friends but secretly loved by me.  You are strong and steady and dependable, so dependable in fact, your colors rarely change.  Every six months, a new pair; every six months, the exact. same. blue.  Once, about a year ago, you tried out purple.  I swooned.  But, purple or blue, you are the same shoes every time.  You are exactly my type of boring monotony.

If Brooks ever goes bankrupt or stops producing its line of running shoes geared toward large flat feet, I will mourn as though I have lost a family member.  That’s how dear you are to me.

Like any long-term relationship, we’ve had good times and bad.  You’ve ushered me through races that came off so perfectly, it can only be described as elation.  Every Rainier to Ruston relay we’ve run has been perfection, even if immediately after last year’s event, I crashed in a glorious burning fury of neck injury.  And that 4th of July 5 miler last year in Sedro Woolley?  Remember how we paced ourselves just perfectly, lagging behind in the beginning, only to kick it in to high gear in the last mile as we picked off runner after runner before cruising across the finish line?  Those events where it’s just you and me and a paved path somewhere in rural Washington state have been our best bonding moments. It is those moments that remind me I have everything I need.

But, in the interest of full disclosure, I think it’s important to remember those super shitty times we’ve had together.  Remember that godforsaken race we ran with Rikki down in Oregon, the one that took us through wine country and ended with wine sampling, which was so sad, because by the time I finished climbing all those billy goat hills, I was so sick and tired I couldn’t even stomach the thought of wine?  That was my first official bonk and it was not pretty.  Not pretty at all.  But you were still there for me, never judging me in my moments of cursing and climbing and sweating and nearly barfing.  And then, of course, there was every single race we did in our first year together.  Oh, the wheezing and the peeing of pants!  I like to imagine that you could have quietly carried yourself out of my closet and out of my life in that first year if you wanted to, as it must have been embarrassing to be associated with such an un-pretty runner.  But you didn’t.  You stayed with me and, while I’m still rather uncoordinated, I like to think I’ve got my act together more than I did in that first year.

I apologize for all those wayward snot rockets and for kicking you off without untying my laces first.

Running Shoes, I have so much to thank you for.  Thank you for bearing witness to my dehydration, my uncertainty on the downhill, and the tears that always seem to surprise me when I hear a song that reminds me of my dad.  Thank you for showing me strength I never knew I had.  But mostly?  Thank you for giving me back a sense of peace and faith I thought I had lost forever.  Turns out, it was waiting for me all along, in a shoebox, in a running store, in a place in my life I never would have guessed I could find.

Let your anger fuel your run

So hey, work sucks lately!  But you know what’s great about that?  You run much faster when you’re good and pissed off.  Amy and I have tapped in to Kara Goucher reserves we never knew we had, just for this reason.

Oh sure, it’s not just work.  It’s taking your kid to the pediatrician only to find that a) they are not contracted with your new insurance (translation: hope you brought your checkbook!), and b) the lump behind your child’s ear lobe that she has been complaining of for weeks is actually cellulitis (translation: in the words of my charming sister, “ew, dirty people get cellulitis!”), AND THEN c) the 10 day course of antibiotics doesn’t work and….well, you get the point.  It’s been an expensive week in my house, complicated by the sheer volume of first grade homework and the bottomless depths of first grader attitude.  Work has just been the bullshit icing on the cake, really.

But I’m writing this to force myself to look on the bright side.  The lump on the child’s ear lobe isn’t cancer.  I am healthy enough to pour myself in to my running shoes and pound out my frustration on the pavement.  I have many things to be thankful for, and I’ve listed them out for you here:

1.  I wear Danskos to work.  Nurses aren’t allowed to wear shoelaces, the risk of suicide by hanging is too high.  Bonus:  sprayed bodily fluids wipe nicely from the Dansko surface.

2.  A good hot shower will likely scour all the sprayed poop off your body even if you feel like your soul will never be clean again.

3.  This is the best one!  Say you normally run a 10 minute mile by yourself, closer to an 11 minute mile with your BRF on a particularly chatty day.  (Side note:  all days are particularly chatty.  We never shut up.)  Lingering anger from a shitty day at work will allow you to shave 1-2 minutes off your time!  Last Thursday we did 3 miles at a 9:20 pace.  Ditto for today, except Paul came along because I’m pretty sure he was craving a nice leisurely jog through the park with his two slow friends.  Poor guy.

4.  Wait.  No, this one is way better.  Today is the only day I have ever out run Paul.  It will likely never happen again.  So I’m taking it.

Scene:  my dark, stormy neighborhood at 6:45 this morning, where there is currently no power.  Specifically, my garage, lit only by my weak flashlight and my daughter’s weaker (but blingier) Hannah Montana flashlight.

Problem:  how to disconnect a garage door opener, exactly?  So I can escape my house and go get a desperately needed cup of coffee at Starbucks?  I have already begun to solve this problem by rummaging through an entire kitchen drawer full of appliance manuals (an entire drawer!  how did this happen?!), locating the garage door opener manual, pretending I know what I’m doing by locating the page that says something about ‘disconnecting the blah-blehbetty-blah-blah, and resisting the urge to reorganize the drawer and throw out all the crap in there we don’t need or use anymore.  Priorities, Amy, FOCUS.  You will not get coffee until you free your car from the garage.

Me: Okay, Zoey.  According to this manual, there should be a cord we have to pull…towards the inside garage door.  I think?  Get your flashlight over here?  (I study the black box located directly over my car and begin–no, continue–to panic.  I need coffee.  Like, now.)

Zoey:  (scanning Hannah Montana in every direction but the one needed)  Mom!  What are you doing?

Me: (grunting)  Getting a chair to climb on.

Zoey:  (sternly)  Mom.  Should you call Uncle Paul?

Me:  OH FOR THE LOVE, ZOEY.  We can figure this out.  Don’t talk.  Look for a cord.

Zoey:  Mom!  Is it that red cord swinging right by the big garage door?

Me:  God bless you and your 20/20 vision.  Yes, that’s it.

What follows is a struggle to climb on a chair and pull (harder than what I feel should be necessary) until I hear a clunk that I figure means we’re either home free or doomed until the power comes back on.

Turns out, we’re golden!

I silently high-five my single parent self all the way to Starbucks and thru the drive-thru line.  I just solved an engineering problem at 6:45 in the morning!  With no coffee on board! 

I am greeted at the window by karma, that nasty old bitch, in the form of a good looking barista who normal works at the Starbucks across town and is now getting an eye full of my ratty hooded sweatshirt and my turquoise heart printed pajama pants.  I stop congratulating myself and start cringing instead.  He asks how my morning is going.

Great, Kevin.  It’s just…great.

Safety first!

Remember that I’m-fed-up-with-the-Y hissy fit I had a few months ago?  Part of suspending my membership (‘suspended’ as opposed to ‘dropped’ in case I missed it desperately and wanted to re-join without fees) (and I have yet to miss it) (at all) included a resolve to become a night time runner during the dark dark days (and evenings) of winter.  I bought a set of Knuckle Lights.  (Love.)  Arm warmers.  (Love love.)  And?  A reflective vest.  (Kind of love to hate.)

But running any time after 4 p.m. in December pretty much mandates the safety gear.  Because, as we all know, if I die a tragic early death, my motherless daughter will be SCREWED.  No way am I going to let that happen because of a little vanity…and let’s face it, “she died pretty!” was never going to go on my tombstone anyway.  So every Tuesday night found me wrestling thin bits of velcro around my midsection and (half the time) discovering I had put the thing on backwards.  Then I would trot off down the street, knuckles lit and torso reflective, on my way to meet Amy on the corner.


Seriously, do you know how many crossing guard jokes that girl can fit in to a quarter mile stretch of pavement?

I tried shaming her in to wearing one, too.  I answered her jokes with my long-imagined worst-case-scenarios: embarrassing ambulance rides where my granny panties would be discovered by attractive paramedics (admittedly, death couldn’t be swift enough in this scenario), motherless children, a potentially long stay in the ICU with my mother whispering from the bedside ‘you should have been wearing a reflective vest!’

Good old Catholic shame didn’t work, so I moved to Plan B.  I sent a text to her husband Scott.  Told him I was planning to get Amy an armband for Christmas, but she also needed a reflective vest for our evening runs, she’d actually been begging for one!  (A small lie, justifiable in the name of Safety.)  And would he pick one up for her?

And let me tell you, people.  Scott did not disappoint.  You ask him to pick up a reflective vest for his woman and he’s going to pick the best damn reflective vest on the market.

I’ll bet you he had visions of motherless children and granny panties and ambulance rides dancing in his head, too, because what showed up at my door this evening wasn’t so much a VEST as it was a STATEMENT PIECE.  It didn’t merely reflect, oh no.  It shouted to all drivers near and far KILL ME AND YOU WILL PAY.

My favorite part?  It blinks.

Yes sir.  If you can get past the large swaths of plastic neon yellow that put my shabby velcro strips to shame, you will find blinking red Christmas lights embedded both chest and back.  And?  The battery pack tucks neatly in to its own little pocket buried within The Vest of Shame, so it doesn’t migrate during your run or cause chafing.  Because that’s just the kind of thoughtful guy Scott happens to be.

I don’t know if he planted the Christmas lights himself or if Amazon graced him with this gem when he typed ‘reflective vest’ in to its search engine, but…wow.  Just wow.

So, yeah.  Okay.  I laughed a little.  (A lot.)  Might have peed my pants.  (A little.)  I would post a photo of the two of us that my aunt so graciously offered to take before we left the house, but I’m pretty sure Amy would kill me.

We set off down the street like a freak show Christmas light display, only mobile and more like a wandering circus act.

But let me tell you the best part!  All the hazards of nighttime running fell away in a blaze of blinking glory!  SUVs gave us a wide berth.  (We could see drivers laughing.)  Cars that might have once pulled too far in to an intersection before noticing a pair of mother runners at their side couldn’t exactly use the ‘oops, sorry, didn’t see you there!’ excuse.  I, for one, felt incredibly safe while running this evening.

Pretty sure Amy felt ridiculous.  But I’ll be damned if we’re checking out of this world while wearing granny panties on a Tuesday night three miler.

Why single moms don’t typically write Christmas cards

I went to the Costco website today with every intention of creating a Christmas card.

Because on Saturday, after picking up the mail at the UPS store and heading home, my daughter sat in the backseat opening a bounty of Christmas cards and letters addressed to both of us.  And she was confused.  Mom.  Why did Auntie send us a picture of my cousins?  Is it her picture, did we get it by accident?

I had to explain the concept of Christmas cards to her.

So, you know, FAIL.

Back in my previous life, the life where Everything Was Going to Go a Certain Way, I was the queen of the Christmas card.  Started plotting them in September, actually.  They were fantastically witty letters accompanied by cute pictures of the new house we had just bought or what I realize now were really awful newborn photos of my daughter.  I probably made half of you want to puke and I’m sorry.  But, to my credit, even after the proverbial shit hit the fan and I realized Probably Nothing Will Ever Go My Way Again, I sporadically sent out cute pictures of my child at the holidays, usually after my friend Kelly not only photographed the child but created the card for me and did everything but pick up the order at Costco and address them for me.

But let’s be honest.  Nobody wants to read an annual recap of my single parenthood adventures except my mother, my sisters, maybe three of my closest friends, and my other unmarried, single parent friends.  You know, all two of them.  Doesn’t really make the economy pack of 50 cards from seem worth it, does it?  Sending a falsely cheerful letter that highlights my year in terms of the races I ran or by telling saccharin sweet stories of my daughter’s development feels like bullshit.  Anyone could (and would) read straight between the lines.  Writing what I think would be an honest, hilarious, uncensored recap of 2013 would likely offend half the married people I know and be decidedly unfestive.

So there you have it.  I’m torn.  I used to love the Christmas letter but now I can’t seem to write anything that feels genuine and simultaneously in keeping with the season.  I imagine that most of my single mom counterparts feel the same.  Our lives revolve around things like praying our child doesn’t re-spike a fever at 4 a.m. because right now it’s 10 p.m. and we just gave that last dose of ibuprofen and the thought of bundling our sick kids in the car for a trip to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night makes us want to cry.  We are the be-all, end-all of creating Christmas in our homes and between borrowing a ladder to get the lights and the star on the tree and making cookies and don’t forget a gift for the teacher and what will you wear for your Christmas program and that goddamn f***ing elf who needs to be secretly moved to a new watchful spot every night, something has to give.  In my house, Christmas cards were the first tradition to go out the window.

Side note:  Seriously.  If I see one more post on the internet titled ‘look where the hubs hid the elf last night!’ I will begin punching people in the throat.  I hope you were fast asleep while hubby remembered to move the felt creature.  I hate you.  Merry Christmas.

You’re starting to see now that a holiday letter from me wouldn’t make it past your recycle bin, aren’t you?  I told you.

So there I was, on my couch this morning, palms all sweaty while navigating the Costco website.  Jesus.  Have I really not uploaded photos to this site since 2011?  (Likely the last year I sent a Christmas letter.)  I just couldn’t do it.  My daughter will have to chalk Christmas cards up to one of the many mysteries of Christmas, and work through her mother’s shortcomings later in life during therapy, just like everyone else.

Her Christmas letters will probably be fabulous.







Five Things in my Fridge and My Feelings Regarding Said Five Things

Found this writing prompt over on my friend Ginny’s blog and thought I would copy her!  A random post on fridge contents seemed fun to write, until I actually opened my fridge…

1.  Coffee creamer.  Duh.  This is self-explanatory to those who know me, but in case you’re wondering, YES it is imperative that I have five different varieties of creamer open at the same time.  Two are sugar-free and therefore not consumed by me because they are awful.  Those we save for Grandma, who comes each morning to shuttle my daughter to school, and if the only thing I can do to repay her is to keep sugar-free pumpkin spice and peppermint mocha flavors available, then so be it.  I keep the hard stuff, the REAL peppermint mocha, on hand for me, but only during the late fall and early winter months.  Yes, I know it’s available year round.  But drinking peppermint mocha creamer in July is wrong.  There are certain cues I look for to signal the seasons are changing and the holidays are approaching, and the arrival of peppermint mocha creamer is one of them.  The first time I saw it displayed in the dairy case in the early summer, I nearly panicked.  Also, my new favorite?  Vanilla caramel (my good old year round standby) mixed with just a little vanilla heat.  Vanilla heat on it’s own is a recipe for a gastric ulcer, but tamed by a tablespoon of vanilla caramel?  It’s perfection.

(Anyone else notice my passion for describing coffee creamer?  You have no idea how much editing I just had to do on that paragraph because apparently I could have gone on for quite some time.  Am adding ‘passion for coffee creamer’ to my ever-growing list titled ‘Why I Am Single’.)

2.  Containers of pre-cut vegetables and fruits.  There is little chance my child and I would ever consume veggies if I didn’t run my fridge this way.  I dread the buying and the prepping and the cutting and the goddammit-where-is-the-round-red-lid-to-fit-this-round-red-bowl that precedes the shelf full of veggies, but let me tell you, it makes packing lunches in the morning a dream.  HAHA!  Kidding.  I hate packing lunches and nothing will ever make it dream-like, short of a healthy lunch that packs itself.  But it does help.  If I had to contemplate peeling carrots at 5:45 in the morning just to make sure we both get a serving of veggies at lunch?  Yeah.  It would be Doritos all the way.

3.  Buttermilk.  I’m far too lazy to prepare real breakfast foods early in the morning, plus the ingredients are usually buried behind all that coffee creamer and let’s be honest, the creamer is all I’m interested in for most of the morning.  Lately I’m a fan of breakfast-for-dinner, which means yummy yummy pancakes made from scratch instead of Bisquick.  I compensate at dinner for the skills I lack at breakfast time.  Bonus: they re-heat nicely in the toaster the next morning.

4.  Three quarters of a bottle of Asian Ginger salad dressing that I will never finish because it leaked from my lunch bag all down the back of my scrubs as I was walking in to work one morning.  It took me 20 minutes of sniffing to realize my backside smelled of ginger, and then I had to go home and change.  The lingering stench in the bottom of my lunch bag made me gag and proved impossible to wash out.  I don’t think I want to smell this salad dressing ever again, let alone eat it, so if you’re over at my house any time soon feel free to take it off my hands.  Otherwise, it will probably sit in the fridge until it grows mold.

5.  Approximately 12 applesauce squeezy packets that my daughter just loooooved until I bought the Costco-sized box of them.

Thanks for the blog prompt, Ginny!  This has been fun to write, even if four out of five of my items are liquids.  Trust me, we eat real food in this house.  I guess we just have to dig around the fluids to find them.

I’m considering breaking up with my gym

I have been a loyal, devoted fan of the YMCA for nearly five years and I’m sad to report I think our relationship is headed for the toilet.

I remember when my daughter was young(er) and the weather seemed perpetually crappy and the Y offered us needed solace on Wednesday afternoons.  I threw her in any class I could find, regardless of her skill or enthusiasm.  Gymnastics?  Sure!  Ballet?  You have no talent whatsoever, but you look so cute in those wee little shoes!  And…a 30 minute guaranteed time suck?  SIGN US UP.  Swim lessons were a must.  We bumbled our way through Family Zumba and vowed never to return, no matter how many tambourines they let us dance with.  Several weeks later we wandered in to a late Friday evening Family Circuit class and both loved it.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken here often of my love/hate relationship with the indoor track.

My point?  I’ve always loved the Y.  Until this past Monday morning at approximately 10:42 a.m.

Oh, but trust me, it’s been brewing longer than that.  I think Pierce County’s population exploded somewhere back in 2011.  Suddenly everyone and their mother joined the Y and decided Tuesday evenings were a perfect time to work out on the equipment that, duh, is totally mine at that time.  At first, I blew them off with a judgmental little self talk, all ‘pfffft, look at these New Years Resolution people…I can’t wait for February when they’ll inevitably go back to their Doritos and get off my track’.  Except they didn’t go away.  In fact, they multiplied like irritating little rabbits, making it impossible to do a circuit in the weight room.  Or get my child in to the fast-filling swim lesson time slot I needed.  Hell, I couldn’t even find parking.  Sorry, child, you can kiss that coveted gymnastics class goodbye!

These minor irritations remained only that–minor–for quite some time.  I was cool skipping a swim session every now and then.  Whatever, we need a break.  But wait, what?  Swim lessons are now only 25 minutes?  Yes, I’m sure all these preschoolers can completely absorb all the skills they need to save themselves from drowning while they elbow the other four children in the class out of the way for their five minutes of actual pool time.  Not to mention, how does one squeeze in a workout in 25 minutes while their child is “swimming”?  It’s entirely possible to wait that amount of time trying to use one machine in the weight room.  These triceps aren’t going to exercise themselves, people!

And don’t even get me started on the locker room situation AFTER swim lessons are over.  Let’s just say you want me to have more than 25 minutes of exercise to put myself in the zen state needed to do battle with the prepubescent shower hogs who occupy more than their fair share of real estate in the shower line while 40 shivering toddlers wait for what will surely be a cold shower.

Again, I dealt well with all these nuisances.  I never killed a preteen and I only once or twice cut off a walker in the jogging lane of the track.  Price you pay for one family fitness center serving way too large a population, am I right?

And then.

They changed the Family Circuit class from 6 pm to 4:30 pm.  Hey, thanks there, you considerate staff members!  Way to support your worker bee families who pay your salaries!  Those of us with real jobs can totally make it to an exercise class that starts before 5 pm!

And then.

They changed the swim lesson registration process from a lottery system that I had only just now, after five years, begun to understand and navigate relatively well, to a first-come-first-served system.  This new system required you to set up online accounts and passwords and to log on to their website at a certain date and time to register for your classes.  10 am on a Monday morning.  Again, totally cool with this, you YMCA assholes!  Let me just simultaneously start this patient’s IV and get their colonoscopy off to a smooth start while I also log on to your website and find the Wednesday evening Minnow class.

Let’s just say the registration process didn’t go so smoothly this past Monday.  I was ready at 10 am.  The colonoscopy was, in fact, off to a smooth start.  The YMCA website, however, would not let me log on and by 10:45 all the classes were full and me and my little Minnow were shit out of luck.

I am now essentially paying this organization $72.50 per month for no parking spaces, cold showers, crowded weight rooms, class times that cater to people who clearly don’t work, and no swim lessons.

Oh.  Wait.  There is an opening!  I can get her in to a Monday-Wednesday class from 3:15-3:40!


Sorry, YMCA.  I just don’t see our relationship going anywhere.  Not when there’s a perfectly nice high school minutes from my house that offers evening swim lessons to children with parents who have jobs.  You served my little family so well for so long, it’s hard to say goodbye…I’ll always look back fondly to the Wednesday afternoons that didn’t require I sell my soul to the devil to get my preschooler in to a tumbling class.  Maybe someday when you aren’t spreading your love quite so thin, we’ll come back.  Until then, I’ll be braving the dark, cold streets to run outside year ’round and my daughter will be at the high school learning to swim.

I hope they have hot showers.

On parenting a feral cat

Pilgrim is not the cat I was hoping to bring home from the shelter eight years ago.

It was a time when I was married, pre-child, living in a new town with few (okay, zero) friends.  I projected my loneliness on to my overly friendly cat, Henry, and imagined he needed some feline company.  Being jobless and friendless afforded me ample time to surf the internet for local cat shelters.  And it was there, on the internet, that I found Pilgrim, her picture posted on the website of a no-kill animal shelter a little over an hour away.

Her little black and white face looked so sweet and vaguely sad.  She had been at the shelter longer than any other cat, and really, she became mine as soon as I read that.  For over a year, Pilgrim had hunkered down in her cage, shying away from families and other cat lovers, too scared to come out and greet those who could potentially be her forever family.  She chose instead to eat herself up to a robust 12 or 13 pounds, preferring food over human company I suppose.  I had decided she would be perfect for us.  Surely all she needed was a quiet house to live in, and Henry’s eager company, to come out of her shell.  Plenty of kibble too.  Girlfriend clearly liked her snacks.

My first inkling that all might not be well was the sheer, overwhelming gratitude from the staff at the no-kill shelter when we drove down to pick up our new cat.  There was profuse thanking and a strange sense that we were taking their problem child off their hands.  Surely, she can’t be THAT shy…?

Yes.  Yes she was.  All that shy and plenty, plenty more.

She did not come happily in to our cozy little home.  The details of those first weeks are fuzzy in my mind, but it seems I can’t remember seeing much of her for roughly the first, oh, year or so.  She darted clumsily from beneath various pieces of furniture, making a beeline for the litter box or her food dish, then back to a new spot under another couch or arm chair.  She never once came out to our coaxing and flinched each time one of us got close enough to pet her gently.  Loud noises terrified her.  I vaguely remember quite a bit of hissing and spitting in those early months.  I had not brought home a loving cat and Henry kept giving me WTF? looks when his friendly advances were swatted away.

Around the one year mark, Pilgrim had, at the very least, adjusted to our presence.  She would sit in the living room while we were lounging on the couch, always positioned near an exit and ready to dart if we were to do something frightening, like walk to the kitchen for a snack.  But somehow we had just gotten used to her and, mostly, let her be.  The fact that she was sitting on the floor in plain sight of humans was progress for her.  I gave up on the idea having a cuddly cat who would curl up with me in bed, and we came to love her low maintenance profile, always chuckling and saying “Oh, Pilgrim…” when we would scare her by walking in to the room.  She never seemed to adjust to living with humans, always wary and baffled by our loud ways.  ‘Wary’ seems to be the best way to describe our new, antisocial cat.

Having a baby in December 2006, a little more than a year after bringing her home, did NOTHING to help coax her out of her shell.

She hid anywhere she could conceal her substantial bulk until roughly 2010.

And then…it was very strange.  My then 3 1/2 year old daughter and I were living in an apartment, with both Henry and Pilgrim, following a traumatic split from my ex-husband.  The cats had come from a large, 2200 square foot house, to a 900 square foot apartment, and appeared to love it.  I’m not sure if it was the smaller, more controlled space, that made Pilgrim finally start to relax, or if she was simply getting older and maybe slipping in to senility, but we started to see her more.  She would sit disdainfully in the living room in the morning as I sipped my coffee, staring out the sliding glass window at the birds, just like a normal cat.  She would come out at night and yowl a bit, making her presence known.  We discovered this random, fuzzy, black and white stuffed toy she loved, and would chase maniacally around the apartment.  Like a real cat.  In a chaotic, sad time in our lives, Pilgrim and Henry brought us just a little bit of joy.  She still avoided my daughter like the plague (however, so did ultra-friendly Henry) but she can hardly be blamed for that.  She’s not stupid.

My daughter got older and marginally quieter, Henry came to realize she was an excellent source of dropped treats, and Pilgrim could even be seen watching her cautiously from her new favorite perch on the high pillow shams of my bed.  The fact that she was not darting beneath the bed the second she heard my clomping child coming down the hall was major progress.  At some point last year (7 years after adopting her, for those of you keeping score at home), my incredibly skittish rescue cat would even lie beside me in bed at night, not letting me pet her–no false moves there, lady, unless you want to be missing a fingertip–but still.  Gradually, after months of no false moves, she would let me gently pet her under the chin.  She became a surprising fan of being brushed, and even let me cut out a few clumps of matted fur that had developed due to her, ahem, weight issues.  (It’s hard to groom properly when you’re shaped like a barrel, am I right?)

We’ve been in our new house for over six months now and everyone, Pilgrim included, is settling in nicely.  She still skirts the perimeter of the room when people are visiting, and any time my daughter has friends over to play, you can find Pilgrim (hell, even Henry) hunkered down under the guest bed until safety and quiet are restored.  She regularly hops up on my bed at night, preferring the spot near my feet where I drape my sweatshirt and extra clothes.  I think she likes my smell.

I heard her purr for the first time a few months ago.  It was beautiful.

And then she got sick.  Last week, she started sneezing and I noticed she was hiding even more than normal.  Leaving kibble in her bowl in the morning (highly unusual) and even throwing up a few times.  I kept a watchful eye on her but didn’t think too much of it.  This is the trouble with feral cats…they can be even harder to detect illness in than cats with a social temperament.  If Henry had disappeared under the bed for two days, I’d know something was up.  Pilgrim?  Not so much.

Saturday, I went in to the guest room to grab something and happened to glance at Pilgrim, resting as usual on all the pillow shams.  Except she looked…not well.  Eyes dull and something…oh gross, something smelly…stained on the pillow cases beneath her.  Alarmed, I ran to get the cat carrier, even though I knew she wouldn’t go in without a fight.  Nothing turned Pilgrim in to a hissing, spitting maniac faster than being shoved in to a cage.

Except she let me pick her up and set her oh so gently in the crate.  I wanted to cry.  Something was had to be wrong.

I rushed her to the vet clinic (blessedly open until 4 p.m. on Saturdays) where, for the first time in 8 years, I held her gently in my arms and cuddled her while waiting to see the doctor.  She seemed too sick to fight her way out of my arms, the way she normally would; too lethargic to care that a human was this close to her.  When the vet walked in, I burst out with “I’ve had this cat for 8 years and I have never, EVER held her.  Never.  She has to be sick.”

And yes, she was.  On exam, the vet found a large, gaping, recently-exploded abscess down near her lady bits.  It looked ragged and oh so very, very painful.  They whisked her away in to the back of the clinic to put her under anesthesia, so they could clean and stitch her up.  I had to leave her there for several hours and, for the first time, I had to consider just how very attached I am to this cat.

I’ve always been open about my love for Henry.  He’s so social and outgoing, it’s hard not to love him.  And Pilgrim?  Well, she’s always been rather like a shadow, not the friendly and happy lap cat I was hoping to add to our family so many years ago.  But…now I can see the value in her low maintenance, hang-back-and-watch demeanor.  She saves her loving for just the right moment, and if you’re present and available, she’ll come right up to you and head-butt you until you scratch under her chin.  She’s stingy with her loving, but to hear her purr feels like you’ve won a battle.  She’s taught my daughter the value of patience (how many hours she spent peering under a bed, diaper-bottomed tush up in the air, trying in vain to coax Pilgrim out to play).  She has her place in our family.

And now, a week out from her illness, we’re beginning to get back to our normal rhythm.  Pilgrim spent a week under quarantine in the extra bedroom, with her own litter pan and food and, most difficult of all, a collar she was required to wear until the stitches came out.  She let me squeeze in between the bed and the wall several times a day to scratch under her chin.  By day four, she had figured out how to wriggle out of the collar each night.  I would open the door in the morning, find her standing there waiting for me, triumphant, having escaped the cone again.  I would sigh and swear and call her and asshole and feed her and then wrangle her back in to the collar.  We would repeat this scene at least twice a day.  Until I gave up.  She’s been out and about in the house for two days now, asserting her will and not letting Henry near her, unless she jumps up on my bed at night to snuggle in next to him.

And so, instead of bringing home a lap cat way back in 2005, I brought home a mystery animal.  A mystery who will, just occasionally, if you listen really close, purr if you scratch her under the chin.