Flavors of Fall, or, The Bread Wars

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Perfection

My mother, God rest her soul, was not a great cook. It wasn’t her fault. My grandmother, a good-sized German woman, wasn’t a great cook either. You gotta either live through the Depression and/or be a die-hard German to eat braunschweiger on a regular basis. (It’s so gross. Stop it. Just — BLERRRGH.)

Thus, it is less than surprising that I reached the age of 44 without learning how to cook. I can USE the oven, the stovetop, the microwave (and, back in the 80s, a toaster oven), but actually having an understanding about the art and science of cookery has always been beyond me. The first thing my mother taught me to make was scrambled eggs. God bless scrambled eggs. Any meathead can make those. You break the eggs and shove them about in the pan until done. If you feel fancy, you can sprinkle in some shredded cheese or cut vegetables. Then she taught me to make brownies from a box. For decades, I brought triple-chocolate brownies to family functions, because they were the one thing I didn’t fuck up.

One of the main reasons I married my husband was so I wouldn’t starve to death. He has a decent palate, as well as a good sense of what flavors work together. I once saw him pull out a dozen spice jars, indiscriminately sprinkle them over a piece of salmon as long as his arm, and throw it in the oven without timing it. It came out perfect. I was like, Shit, if I could do that, I’d open a restaurant.

The need for culinary prowess could no longer be ignored once I moved to Virginia to take a job, leaving my chef husband temporarily behind. Sure, my roommate usually cooks a mess of something on weekends, and we eat on it all week, but not for all three meals. You don’t want to be eating Mexican chicken for breakfast (at least, not if you have to get up at 5 a.m., with an hour-long commute on the train ahead of you). Wifey — or, my roommate, so named because we were Work Wives back in the Midwest for years, before I trotted to the East Coast to follow her around for the rest of my life, because it’s becoming apparent that it’s not a bad plan — is very good at proteins. Conversely, I am a pretty damn good baker. I like baking because it’s more of a science than an art (unless you are making some Cake Boss-style cakes). You measure things exactly, you bake them at this temperature exactly, for exactly this long, and you know when the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done. None of this “broil until evenly browned” nonsense. (I still don’t know how to use a broiler. I’m pretty sure I’d set the apartment on fire.)

I was horrified when I got here. She didn’t even have baking powder in her kitchen. Or bread pans. OR A HAND MIXER. I set about correcting this situation, especially exuberant when I got my Kitchen Aid hand mixer. We will not talk about the time I nearly broke it by inserting a small hand whisk (which looks EXACTLY like the flimsy little beaters) into it by mistake. I bought a zester (and have used it once in the last year).

I found a recipe for pan-sauteed chicken, and was all excited, because, having mastered fish, chicken was the next big protein to knock down in the quest for healthy eating. (I’m still not good with beef. I mean, I can brown it in a pan, like any idiot, but I can’t make a roast or steaks. Hell, I can barely fry hamburgers, unless I use Wifey’s George Foreman grill. That thing is excellent!!) The chicken recipe called for the chicken to be “pounded 1/2″ thin.” “Dang,” I thought, “what is the name of that thing that you pound the chicken with?” Somehow all I could come up with was “chicken pounder,” which I was fairly sure wasn’t right. Anyhow, I bought one (I believe “mallet” is its proper name). The first time I made it, I was quite impressed with the heft and unbridled power of the chicken pounder, which made Wifey request from the living room that I “kindly cut out that maniacal cackling; you’re starting to make me worry and you’re scaring the cat,” as the chicken pounder lived vividly up to its name. (It’s not my fault. My mom did the same thing. Y’all remember that Pampered Chef gizmo where you’d pour fruit into a cup with a lid and plunger, and you smacked the plunger repeatedly and blades on the bottom chopped up the fruit? My mom had one of those, and when she was done using it, her palm was as red as a lobster, but she loved whacking that fruit. I myself am content with a nice sharp Rachel Ray knife.)


When Wifey realized I was a good baker, sometimes she found stuff on Pinterest and turned her phone to me while we were watching tv, and said, “This needs to happen.” Whereupon I would note the recipe and promise it for the future. I made wildly successful strawberry cookies dipped in chocolate. (Did you KNOW you could make a strawberry cookie?? ME EITHER!!)


I made my mom’s Hershey’s cocoa chocolate cake.


But the most successful of all, by far, was the Food Network banana bread recipe.


I swear this recipe is a key to my ongoing weight-loss success. It’s filling, satisfies your sweet tooth (especially if you add milk chocolate chips to it, like I do — in the batter PLUS on top), and it’s only 150 calories and 160 mg of sodium per slice. It tastes like friggin CAKE. Sometimes I eat it for lunch! Since quarantine, then work-at-home, I have made it so often that I can knock it out without looking at the ingredients, and it comes out perfect every time. I have never made anything so consistently delicious in my life. I swelled with pride. I now have a “signature dish” … and not one that comes from a Betty Crocker box. I actually mash my own bananas for this (once again, the “chicken pounder” came in unbelievably handy, since I don’t have one of those potato masher things).

Wifey agreed that it was good, but with the onset of fall, she requested pumpkin bread. I found a low-sodium recipe and set about trying it.


It made two loaves, which was great, since we could freeze one for later. She pronounced it even better than the banana bread. “What??!!” I exclaimed, oddly insulted at her preference for uber-cliched fall pumpkin over my slightly-crispy-outside-yet-perfectly-fluffy-inside, Food Network-perfect chocolate chip banana bread. “Are you serious??”

“I’m a pumpkin whore,” she admitted. Well. That explained it. I’m probably the only white girl in America who isn’t enamored of pumpkin spice lattes, or pumpkin pie … or pumpkin bread, for that matter. Whatever. If it doesn’t have chocolate in it, why would you eat it. Really.

So … which camp are YOU in? Banana bread or pumpkin bread? Or, even weirder, zucchini bread? (I won’t even go there. Just no. Not even with chocolate chips.)

A British Woman’s Hilarious Quarantine Day

Credit: UK blog Sweary Me plus 3 and the big one.

*****This is very British (so some of the phrasing will be odd to Americans) and riddled with spelling errors but too funny not to share. Read to to the end as the very last line says it all. Also full of glorious cursing. *****

“So it’s day 9 of this social distancing thing, I think it’s day 9, I’m not entirely sure, it could be fucking Thursday the 30th of fucking never for all I know

What I do know is I didn’t put the clock in the lounge forward an hour so I’ve been living in the past all fucking day. On the flip side of that it was an hour less I had to endure with every fucking bastard in this house.

At the start of this semi lock down him indoors occupied himself with jobs around the house he’d been threatening to do since we moved in 15 months ago so I didn’t see much of him, now he’s ran out of masonry paint and enthusiasm he’s wondering around pissing me off.

He’s 46, 47 in July, we’re meant to be going to amsterdam. The way things are going we’ll be lucky to go out in the back garden.

He calls me this morning, I ignore him. I’ve been shut down with him for over a week and the sound of his fucking voice gives me a forest Whitaker eye.

I ignore him for as long as I can, which isn’t very long considering we’re confined to these four fucking walls


Him: I saw on Facebook how to make a face mask from things laying around the house. Look

Me: groans and turns around he’s fucking stood there with a pair of his green boxers turned into a balaclava like an obese raphael.


Him: I can wear this when I go out

Me: go out? You’ve not been further than the shed for 9 fucking days, I’m the one that risks my life going to get the bread. Bone idle fuck

Him: do you want it then?

I ignore the prick and walk back into the kitchen for something else to fucking eat. I need to try social distancing from the fucking cupboards, I swear to god I heard the cupboard say ” what the fuck do you want now you massive fat twat” when I stuck my head in looking for another time out wafer. Probably a good thing that I can’t go anywhere because fuck all fits me and I can’t bend over without nearly passing out. I’m going to have to walk sideways through my doors if this carries on

Him indoors suggested a weight bench and may be jogging, I suggested he best fuck off as I’m sent out for a fucking French stick to fill with sausages and bacon for him in the fucking dark and I swear I heard the purge alarm.

I come back with a French stick another 4 pints of fucking milk and 6 eggs, eggs are more expensive than gold and my local shop sold me 6 loose ones and didn’t give me a bag, I had to put them on the passenger seat and drive slowly as I could all the way home.

I get back and go and tell him indoors I need him to come and get the French stick.

He rolled his eyes

He rolled his fucking eyes at me

There was an exchange of foul language and me telling him exactly what he can do with this French fucking stick

The was another barrage of foul language and I smashed him over the head with the French stick

It snapped in half

He picked up the other end and hit me with it


We’re out in the dark like an overweight punch and Judy, jousting with bread

I still wasn’t speaking to him this morning

I’m just sat on the sofa minding my own business whilst he’s in the bath, he’s not in there long enough and I can hear him coming back down

I put back on my resting bitch face

He comes bursting onto the lounge


A piece of what looks like one of my towels tied around his head and starts river dancing on the rug like stavros flatley

I’m glaring at him whilst he’s doing the truffle shuffle

He steps on the cat!!

It’s fucking chaos

He’s still on the cat

I heard the air leave it like a deflating balloon

He’s stepped back onto a paw patrol pick up truck and a spider man a little

He’s falling

He’s 22 stone

It’s like a felled tree

The cats wrapped around his ankle

Hissing with what breath it has left

Fuck me

Fuck!! The cat

He’s hit the fucking deck

The fucking whole house shook

It would have measure 6.9 on the Richter scale

I’ve scooped the cat up and checked it over

He’s laid on the rug like a wounded goliath

Him: my arm!! My fucking elbow!! You’re gonna have to help me up!!

Me: help you up? Are you mad? I’ll have to keep you warm til the fire brigade get here. Just get up you wanker. Heave yourself up with your good arm.

Him: I think I’ve broken my arm

Me: wrap ya pants around your head and go to minor injuries then.

He didn’t bother going. Probably come out with something worse than a sprained elbow anyway.

Like a little beacon of hope Gillian messages me to say she’s made some cup cakes using a new recipe, chocolate sponge injected with caramel.

My fat chubby mouth is watering at the thought so I tell her I’ll be five minutes and to leave them in the porch

I pick up the tray and walk back. I actually take a bite out of one because I’m greedy as fuck

I walk up my drive

The wind blows and blows each on onto the fucking stones

They’re covered in stones, ash and debris

I’m on my knees trying to save them, save one at least

I’m devastated

The fucking crows are circling like they know a fat fuck has dropped cake

I think about shooing them but remember when my daughter told me about crows that remember when people have been mean to them.

Apparently an experiment was carried out once when a man was mean to a crow and when ever he went out the crowd would chase him to try and peck him and got their mates to join in, one day he wore a mask, they didn’t recognise him so left him alone. The day he took his mask off, there they were ready to pounce.

She clearly had too much time on her hands

Fuck it. I’m locked down for how ever long and the last thing I want are crows shitting all over my clean drying sheets or packing out my fucking eyes they can have the fucking cake.

I go back into the prison, I mean my house to be greeted by the strongest smell of shit and utter carnage

Me: what the fuck?!

Them: the toddler told us he needed to poop and because you weren’t here for 30 seconds he wouldn’t let us put him on the toilet

Me: so what’s happened?

Them: points at toddler

His jogging bottoms are like bloomers and every time he walks a turd falls out.

This is my first week of quarantine

I’m a fat fucking wreck

Never give birth to anything.”

Steel Magnolias

They’re not going to lick me!

“Scarlett O’Hara had a lot of flaws,” I pondered as I watched Gone With the Wind for the sixth time this weekend. She was greedy, envious, selfish, and loved money above all else. But one trait I can’t help but admire, that I wish I could cultivate for myself, is her core of steel. Even when coming home to Tara to find it ransacked and blighted, her mother dead and her father “turned idiot,” she grieved and despaired … but only for moments. She pushed the hopelessness aside and set about doing what she could to improve their fortunes … even if that meant planting cotton and harvesting it herself. She stiffened her spine with absolute resolve and refused — angrily, patently refused — to give up.

I had a bad week last week. Surviving a stroke has impacted every area of my present life, from what I eat to desperately trying to control my stress. Not easy when you have been switched jobs at work against your will, haven’t gotten a raise in nearly seven years, are suffering physical pain, and there’s almost nothing in the house to eat. I plodded through the week until Friday … and then, I just didn’t have any more resolve.

One of the most embarrassing things for a woman in a business setting is to burst into tears at her workplace. At least, I think most women feel this way. I sure do. It undermines your capability and reinforces the awful, stereotypical “emotional female.” Especially if your workplace is 98% strapping men who go about risking their lives, and you don’t feel up to scratch in their presence anyway. The least you can do is be the capable “girl at the desk,” ready to assist in whatever way they need.

The pressures of the week mounted up so much that I twice had to retreat to the bathroom to cry unobserved. The main flaw in this plan is that you emerge red-eyed and clearly Not Okay. I have cried many, many times in bathrooms over the years. I once held in tears for eight hours doing front desk duty. I always lie and tell people it’s allergies. Usually I get away with it. Not this time.

My supervisor asked if I had a minute and to come to his office. I don’t know about you, but no matter how old I get, going into the supervisor’s office always makes me feel like a bad kid going to the principal’s office. (Or what I imagine that’s like — I was a perfect kid and therefore never got sent to the principal’s office).

“I just want to know if you’re okay, and if you need anything.”

God bless him.

There are a lot of things I think I need. There are a lot of things I think I deserve. Life seems to be a tightrope between “reach for your dreams” and “bloom where you’re planted.” When do you stop striving and be content, if you still feel you can better yourself? But, that is complicated — at least in my life — as I get older, by wondering if I have the strength and focus to keep starting over, to adjust to new challenges, to confront my mortality as people die and pieces of my body break.

Nobody told me adulting would be so damn hard.

Friday night I went to bed and slept for about 14 hours. When I opened my eyes the next morning, my first thought was, “As God as my witness, they’re not going to lick me!” I tightened my lips, got out of bed, went to the gym, and did my personal best on the elliptical.

If fighting depression all my life has taught me one thing, it’s that there is a little core of steel inside me. It’s certainly not as pronounced as Scarlett’s, but it is unequivocally there. I know because I have not given up completely. Some days I give up for the day. But I have not given up on hope for the rest of my life. God did not save me from a gruesome death for me to live a miserable life. There are so many factors in life to wear you down and mess up your thinking and focus. Depression — literally — makes you not think straight sometimes. That is a very frightening thing, to not think straight.

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” That is now the first thing I say to myself every morning.

One good thing about getting older is that the more I go through and survive, the steel increases. I want to be someone everyone in my circles can count on. I don’t want to be dissolved. I wish I could be a tower of strength, but if that never happens, I am happy to have a filament of steel.

Continue reading “Steel Magnolias”

A Stroke of Luck – Part Three

Even Wonder Women need their teddy bears.

Now came recovery. I was wheeled out of OR, giggling like an ass because I could speak again, into the ICU. They take things very seriously in the ICU. They tether your butt to the bed and don’t let you move much, because it’s their Life Mission to Keep An Eye On You. See all the things stuck into me in the picture? There was an IV in each hand, and one in my right elbow. What in the world was getting intravenously pushed into me? I forget. Beneficial fluids, no doubt. Maybe some antibiotics since I had a hole in my groin. I also had monitoring leads stuck all over my chest. So I couldn’t sleep on my side as per usual, because when I turned over, the wires would crimp and set the monitors off. Guuuuuhhhh. I think I got 30 minutes of sleep the first night.

There was also no bathroom, so I became a quick expert at using a bedpan. I’m pleased to say I didn’t piss myself or the bed once. This got real old real fast, however. After one day of it, I was gagging to get onto a regular floor, where I could pee whenever I wanted, alone.

I spent two days in the ICU. My incredibly awesome nurses were Melanie, Ashley and Jenny. I wrote Mercy a letter telling them how fantastic they were, and that they should all get raises. I still got very little sleep, because someone was coming in every 15-30 minutes … taking temperature, taking blood, the automatic blood pressure cuff affixed to my right arm going off automatically (why do those things have to be SO TIGHT), giving information, asking questions. By the evening, my husband had been by my side for nearly 24 hours. I insisted he go home and get some sleep.

Alone in the ICU at 1:00 in the morning, you have a lot of time with just you and your thoughts. I was still stunned that this had happened. The movement in my right side had come back that day, so for all intents and purposes, I was already fine, one day later. I was hungry, I had no problems speaking or seeing, I could even stand up (yeah, I snuck out of bed; what the nurses didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them). It seemed like the trauma of the night before was only a blip on the otherwise straight and smooth path of lifelong good health.

But it couldn’t have been “just a blip.” It was a huge, huge thing. It was a stroke, for God’s sake. What would this mean for the rest of my life? Could I ever get up onstage again? Or would I flashback to that horrible, paralyzing moment of my last time onstage — where I suddenly couldn’t speak, and the essence of who I was had deserted me? Could I still get on a plane and go on vacations? What if this happened again?

At that moment, my nurse Jenny came in to do a check. After peeing with an audience yet again, I had a little breakdown. I started to cry. Ever since my mom had leukemia, I super hated hospitals, and I especially hated being in one while something so life-altering was happening to me. Jenny sat down and held my hand. I sobbed that I was scared.

“You don’t have anything to be scared about,” Jenny soothed. “You are doing SO GREAT. Seriously. Nobody here has ever seen anyone recover as fast as you, with no lasting deficiencies. You did everything right. You got here in time, and we got that clot out, and you’re young enough to bounce back.”

I choked and cried harder. I did not feel young. I felt very old and very tired. I had already been fighting depression my entire life … the fact that I had survived this far, and went on desperately fighting it every day, every minute of my life, was fight enough. Then I had to grieve my mother, which took years to return to some kind of normalcy, even if it was a subpar New Normal. I didn’t know if I had what it took to fight this, too.

“You can still do everything right,” Jenny continued. “You seem the type to me that’s going to take your medicines every day, right?”

“Yeah,” I sniffed. “I do everything by the book.”

She smiled and squeezed my hand. “Take your medicines, follow your new diet, get your exercise every week, and you will be just fine. I promise. And you really are doing amazing. We had a woman in her forties come in a few months ago with a stroke, and she didn’t recover as well as you. Then I had a guy in his eighties come in here, and he walked out of here on his own, with no cane and a smile. You can do it. I believe in you. You are a very amazing person. You are very, VERY strong.”

Being told I was strong and amazing by a 25-year-old kid who was already an ICU nurse gave me a wry smile, but I appreciated it. I wiped my eyes and sighed tiredly. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep?” Jenny said. I replied that I couldn’t sleep with all this crap hooked up to me, and basically hadn’t slept for two days. “How about I get you a melatonin?” she asked. Yeah, sure, whatever, that’s really gonna hel –

Zzzzzzzzzz. Well. That was a nice four hours of sleep!

In order to get sprung from the ICU, I had to pass speech, physical and occupational therapy. I had to pull my socks on, feed myself, write my name. After not being able to write on Stroke Night (see handwriting image, Part One), it was a gut-wrenching relief to print my name as I always had (followed by a “Yay!!!” and a smiley face). I don’t think I’d experienced that level of chirographic zeal since I’d learned to print my name in the first grade. There was also a fun test where I had to list as many words as I could think of in 60 seconds that started with the letter F. (Do you know how hard I had to restrain myself? Haha.) I think I got about 30.

They also took me on a walk around the halls. It was sobering glancing into the other ICU rooms. I saw people unconscious, their entire heads bandaged, with wires going into every orifice, loved ones sitting by their beds as they did not wake up. I had the weird feeling, again, that my situation couldn’t be as serious as these. I got better too fast. Had it really been so bad?

I got released from ICU and spent a final day on the Neurology floor. I slept for almost 10 hours and got discharged that afternoon. Only three days, and I was going home, where life was bizarrely normal.

I sat on the couch for days, trying to process things. This was too perfect. No one was going to believe I had a stroke, except the people who saw it. “Surrrrre, you just buggered off work for two weeks, didn’t ya?” Ummm, no, really, I have the discharge papers to prove it.

I thought back to Stroke Night and all the factors that went frighteningly right. I wasn’t alone, or driving a car, or sleeping. (Someone had told me about a friend or relative who had had a stroke while sleeping. By the time they woke up, it was too late to escape permanent, irrevocable damage. Holy shit.) I was surrounded by friends who cared about me. There was a nurse in the audience who realized we needed to call 911, because none of us were thinking of that. I was ten minutes away from one of the best hospitals in the city. I had health insurance. I had a next-of-kin to authorize surgery. I had Jesus holding me in the palm of His hand. Good God. How could everything go so stunningly right?

My best friend Lisa had come to visit me on the Neuro floor, and I had asked her to read me some Bible verses. Just anything nice. She was flowing through Isaiah 40 and suddenly I said, “Wait. Back up and read that again.” The chapter covers almost two pages; she said, which part? “The part about my way being hidden,” I answered.

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

My way was not hidden from Him. He not only knew it would happen; He was with me the whole time. And did He renew my strength. In fact … my way has never been hidden from Him, even though I felt mostly alone, always.

I don’t know about you, but even though I’ve been a believer since I was eight years old — most of my life, I felt like my prayers kind of bounced off the ceiling. I never had the close, interpersonal kind of prayers where I felt any direction, or really heard anything. Whenever I asked for something, it was kind of tinged with doubt, like I was asking Santa Claus. Even though the Bible says we can boldly approach the throne of grace, and that we do not have because we do not ask, and that the Father loves to give good things to His children … for some reason, I felt alone. Just one more speck in a sea of seven billion people. Fond of, but ultimately rather insignificant. Maybe that was the depression talking. It does that. That bitch sits on your shoulder and loves to lie to you.

There was one time, just one, that God definitely did speak to me. It was a year ago, at 3:30 in the morning. I had been frustrated because I’ve worked my whole life without accomplishing much by the world’s terms, I was 43 … and I KNEW something bad was going to happen, and soon. My grandmother got bone cancer in her early 80’s. My mom got leukemia in her early 60’s. I was in my early 40’s. I realize now that’s a rather irrational way of thinking, making a pattern of your ages … but it seemed to make a twisted sense to me at the time. It hung over my head like a sword of doom.

I was pissed, and scared, and I was telling God about it. And I heard, as clearly as I ever heard my mother say she loved me:

“You think that you are running out of time. Why do you think that? I never said that you don’t have time. I never said that you don’t have time. That is something you concocted when your mother died in your arms, because you were afraid. You are seeing patterns where there are none. Truly, I tell you, the third act of your life is just beginning. [God knows I think my life has four acts: childhood, young adult, middle age, old age.] You have so much left to do. And you will be strong. Besides your husband and sisters and best friends, your heart is softening for another generation — your nephews, your niece, your grandchild. You have a heart for love as big as the sky. Instead of the easy chair you want, strive for the strength and vigor that Joshua and Caleb had when they were 85. My beloved daughter, I delight in you, I rejoice over you with singing. You have so much left to do. The third act of your life is just beginning.”

I got out of bed and knelt, put my forehead to the floor, covered my head with my hands. It was one of the few times I have wept with pure joy.

My way is not unknown to Him. Nor is yours. It is so planned, so cherished, your days and your times destined for God’s dance with you. He catches all our tears and burns our names on His heart. If there was ever an experience that drove home that I am furiously wanted, that my life has high purpose, how many hundreds of people love me, what an absolute pillar of joy I am in God’s heart … this was it. And it was terrifying, shocking, filled with fear and pleading for my life. It was the worst moment of my life, but its aftermath has brought me joy and clarity … and an unbelievable, hardly-dared-to-pray-for-it release of the black clouds of despair that have hung over me my entire life. How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ!! (Ephesians 3:18) How new are His mercies every morning! How can He love us so much?? I am almost afraid to be loved that way. I almost want to push it away. It is so foreign to us. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

My way is not unknown to Him. Nor is yours.

Nor is yours.

May you have a life filled with joy.
I catch all your tears, burn your name on my heart.

A Stroke of Luck – Part Two

Three IV’s later, I’d been injected with some clot-busting drug and was wheeled out of the ER … but I didn’t know it hadn’t worked. I thought perhaps I was going somewhere for more tests, or perhaps even a room …

Hu hu hu. Noooooooope.

Lying prone on the gurney, I saw bright white operating room lights float into my field of vision. There were nurses, an anethesiologist, and a surgeon, all dressed in OR surgical gear. Still, I didn’t quite get what was going on until they started pulling off my clothes and wielding a razor to shave my nether regions. This was extra confusing because I was fairly damn sure the problem was in my head.

“Something is odd here. Eerrrrmmmm …”

My husband, as next of kin, had authorized a thrombectomy, since the clot-busting drug didn’t work. This would have been quite a helpful piece of information to know. In his defense, he said there wasn’t time to explain it to me and he wanted me in surgery as fast as possible. (The window for stroke treatment is a mere three to four hours after the occurrence.) Well … knowing probably would’ve freaked me out more. I just wanted someone to fix me at this point. If they HAD drilled a hole my head, I probably would’ve been ok with it.

As it was, they were shaving my nether regions because they were going in through a groin vein to snake up and remove the clot. Said clot was 3/4 of an inch long. Get out a measuring tape and see how big that is. That is a fucking big chunk of obstruction to be clogging your delicate bloody pathways. I still didn’t know this. All I knew was they were trying to fix me. The nurse stroked my hair. “Don’t you worry, honey. We’re going to take good care of you.”

My eyes slid around. To my left were a field of huge monitors. I saw images of my brain. I saw the dye lighting up my veins; I saw the clot that was trying to kill me.

I had not stopped crying since the stroke happened. I was no longer sobbing, but tears leaked out steadily. I cannot, absolutely cannot, adequately describe the level of fear I was feeling. Now that I knew they were doing something to my brain, I was lying there, ordered to be still, wondering if I was going to come out of this intact. I was absolutely petrified of being brain damaged. What if I had to stop working, go on disability, be a burden on my husband who’d have to take care of me?

I am a woman of great faith. Even when my mother died of leukemia at 62, and I was angry and confused, I never stopped knowing that God was a good God. That is a fact, no matter what you go through. But lying stiff and terrified on that table, I did not know what to pray. I fought against talons of horror that were sinking, piercing, deep into my heart, clutching viciously all my senses. I began to say the Lord’s Prayer over and over. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done …” Then I choked back a truly terrorizing, smothering choke of panic.

“Lord … if I am going to be brain damaged, you just bring me home right now. I cannot live like that. Save me. Save me completely or take me home to be with my momma right now. I’m not going to live here useless.”

I was awake for the entire procedure. They like to be able to evaluate you quickly when they’ve been messing about with your brain. They had given me a local in my groin, so I didn’t feel the probe go in. Then it hit my brain.

Holy shit, did I feel that.

It was like a wrenching ache; a knife stab. A probing, stinging pressure. I moaned in pain and fear, and was ordered again to keep still. God gave me the strength to not move, but I couldn’t keep quiet. Fresh tears poured down my face. But I kept still. It seemed to go on forever. I felt them attacking the clot at least three times. It was the closest I would probably come to being immobilized and tortured. I felt like I was in Hell.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Then, dimly, through the haze of this crushing experience, I heard the surgeon say something like, “Boo-ya, got that sucker!”

That was the first time I felt hope.

“What’s your name, young lady?” the surgeon asked.

“Laura Singleton,” I replied, my mouth not having to work quite so hard to say it. And smiled.

Then my gaze returned to those huge monitors, those images of my brain; the most awesome and intricate creation of a benevolent God who, He had just proved, fiercely loved and cared for me and never left my side. Always with me, never leaving or forsaking me, with me even in the depths, as He promised. I stared at the veins, the brain tissue, the pathways, the neurons that I couldn’t see. I thought about how God formed me in His image and made every organ in the human body and connection in the spirit that makes us what we are; all the wonderful, confusing, glorious things that make humanity. Then I saw a photo they had taken of the clot.

“That’s fucked up,” I said.

They all burst into laughter. “Get here out of here,” they chuckled. “She’s fine.”

Oh, dear God. I was so much more than fine.

Trying to get some sleep while tethered to IVs and monitors in the ICU.

What It’s Like Being Married to a Giant Geek

[A helpful primer for non-geek friends, as well as gleeful self-identification for all our friends, who are 90% geek. Please feel free to leave your own qualifiers in the comments.]

You know what the MCE is, how many movies are in it, and what their chronological order is. Ditto a “multiverse.”

Christmas and birthdays are a snap because they have a 15-page Amazon wishlist, even helpfully prioritized from highest to lowest, mostly made up of books/movies/collectible figurines. “Ahh, yes … the Doctor Who pocket watch will be the big gift, followed by three Batman books.” Click, click, click, DONE.

You have to maintain separate Hulu/Netflix/Amazon Prime queues because HIS NERD SHIT IS NOT GETTING MIXED UP WITH MY NERD SHIT.

You have separate bookshelves for the same reason.

You are dragged to every theatrical release of a comic book and/or action movie, but God forbid he’d take you to see a period piece or drama.

You have suffered countless hours of listening to the analysis of characters and/or the actors who play them. Examples include: Trying to rank the greatest Catwomans (Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Newmar, Lee Meriweather … Halle Berry is always dead last. She is referred to as Hollywood’s Hell.) Whether or not it’s a tragedy that the first movie in a series was re-done/had a reboot/was re-cast (see Ang Lee’s “Hulk” and my husband’s comment: “Oh, the Norton version will be much better; Ang’s had way too much of an inner life.”) OH GOD, KILL ME NOW. I have lost track of how many times Spider-Man has been restarted, or how many Spider-Mans there have actually been and who they are, or which ones I liked. My lack of an Excel-spreadsheet brain in such matters means I’m always pleasantly surprised when I’m channel-surfing and come across one. “Oh yeah, Tom Holland, I like him.”

Your gift for foreign languages is totally unappreciated, except when needed to translate a non-subtitled foreign bit in some piece of geek media. Example: “Why are you oblivious to me whispering in your ear in French that I want your strong arms around me right now, and that your face is my heart, but you poke my ribs like a cattle prod to translate what Black Widow just said??! PRIORITIES.”

You have at least one mannequin in your basement and it has a fandom costume on it, most likely homemade.

Grounds for divorce include: not even LIKING the original Star Wars, because they’re boring, and patently refusing to see any new ones, even after he has asked literally 7 times (yes, I counted); being less than thrilled that friends are coming over for a 14-hour marathon of extended-cut Lord of the Rings blu-rays (yes, this happened, but it was redeemed by the fact that we had first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, and I fell asleep on the floor for about two hours); bending the spines of his books too much, if he even lets you touch them at all (see British editions, first editions, or signed editions he keeps IN PAPER BAGS on the shelves so they don’t even see the light of day — call me crazy, but I like to SEE my books and show them off); not understanding what connection Vanilla Ice has to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

You constantly argue over surface space. The acquisition of a Batman cookie jar can send an otherwise well-adjusted woman (me) over the edge. “WE DON’T HAVE ROOM FOR THIS SHIT.”

On the other hand, you have a proper t-shirt for any occasion.

The cognitive dissonance of admiring all the kids’ stuff he has, because ALL of our era kids’ stuff was cool (except the Lego Millennium Falcon, because really, who gives a shit) … while simultaneously mocking his “classic” TV collections on blu-ray because neither he nor anyone else (certainly not me) will ever watch them again because they’re so esoteric (see: The Prisoner, HR Pufnstuf, the Six Million Dollar Man.) “BUT I’M A COLLECTOR.” Uh huh. Why don’t you sell that dust-collecting crap and collect us a Mexican beach vacation. Much more useful than some giant orange ball chasing a dude, in my humble opinion.

On the other hand … sometimes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes along, and he spends hundreds of dollars to take you, and you get to breathe the air of one of your heroes, and look right in his eyes … and it’s like a tiny piece of heaven — that grand, exciting, make-believe life that other people on this planet live — has landed in your lap for one minute. Your heart actually stops. The Tenth Doctor smiles into your eyes like you’re an old friend.

You know what, geek husband? We’re good.

Oh, yes. We’re good.

The Day Everything Died

I lost my mom four years ago today. She died in my arms at about 4 p.m., on this couch we’re sitting on.

Worn out from fighting leukemia, barely able to move, she said her head hurt. The hospice nurse asked if she wanted some morphine. I thank God for that nurse every time I think of her. I don’t even know her name, but she held us up through the worst moment of our lives. I wish her eternal blessings and all the crowns in Heaven. (And also a raise.)

Mom just went quiet and still. I wrapped my arms around her and her head was resting on my shoulder.

She was so quiet and still.

I squeezed her hand. It was the only time, ever, that I squeezed her and she didn’t squeeze back.

Lord, could that woman hug.

The nurse calmly and respectfully kept checking her pulse, and heartbeat. Finally, she told us quietly, “She’s gone.”

That was the moment everything died.

I was glad she was out of her miserable pain … but my momma was gone.

How do you live without your momma?

She was already flying to meet Jesus, and I was cradling her body on that couch. I rested my head on her poor little bald one, covered with a cap. My tears poured, one by one, on her head, but she didn’t feel them. I hugged her and hugged her. No one would ever love me like that again.

I wanted to summon some beautiful way to say goodbye. “It’s okay, Mumsy,” I whispered. “You go. We’ll be okay.” Then, because my voice was choked with grief, I played a wistful song I know she liked.


I can’t listen to it any more, because it takes me back to that couch.

I didn’t realize how noisy it would get. My poor stepfather called several family members to say Mom had left us. The (EMT? Coroner? Funeral home? I still don’t know) showed up to collect her. And this — THIS — I will always remember.

“You should all go into a back hallway,” some man said, as they prepared to load Mom’s shell onto a gurney to take away. “You don’t want to see this.”

We obeyed, like stunned sheep. We congregated, our heads together and silent, while we heard the slight rustlings and squeaking of the gurney trundling out the door. And she would never be in that house again.

Thinking about that phrase today, though, I get so mad. “You don’t want to see this”? You know what, buddy? I didn’t want to see ANY of it. I didn’t want to see ports in her neck and tubes invading her body. I didn’t want to see her so weak that my stepfather had to lift her body off the couch. I didn’t want to see her, heartbroken and weary, drop her head to the table while she and my sister tried to talk to insurance companies on the phone, even as she knew she was dying.

But I did. I saw it all, and I lived through it. And whichever of my friends loses their mom next, I will know exactly what they’re feeling, and they can scream their lungs out while I just sit there and cry with them, because that is the only good that comes from a tragedy. You can help someone else through it, if it doesn’t break you.

Four days later, at my mom’s visitation, the doors were open from 3-8 p.m. The sea of people weaving through did not stop once in five hours. Not ONCE. There was never a break in the line of people who loved her, or us. My lieutenant and his wife came. Friends who only slightly knew me, and didn’t even believe in God, came. My Work Wife brought me a huge cookie with “Cancer Sucks!” written in lurid pink icing.

That was the kind of send-off she deserved. I was pleased. Even though, during the private family hour, I looked at her in the coffin once, and recoiled so violently that I stayed away the rest of the time. She looked terrible, in my opinion. I won’t lie about that.

It is the same reason I’ve only been to her grave a handful of times in four years. The graveyard is too sad. My imagination is too vivid. I can’t sit by that incised marble and not envision the coffin, six feet down, with her skeleton inside, until Jesus raises her up on the last day.

Instead, I visit her in my everyday life. I go to the beach every year and sit right by the waves, and I swear to God she sits by my side. Sometimes I laugh just like her, and I hear her in myself. I love-squeeze my sister’s arm like my mom used to. I try to model her boundless heart and generosity. If I think it’s something Mom would do, I do it. I can’t wait to get to Heaven and see her again. I know that, upon meeting Jesus, she received that “Well done, good and faithful servant,” that I long for.

When I’m tempted toward anger that she was taken so soon, I remember to be thankful every day that I got her for my mother. She told me every day that she loved me. She was so generous and loving and sweet. She was THE Mom. If you didn’t know her, I feel kinda sorry for you.

I know she’s on a beach in Heaven, eating chocolate, probably with 12 dogs. She said she’d save a spot for all of us. So you keep my beach chair free, Mumsy.

I love you so much. Thank you for being my mother. God, you did a great job.

I’ll see you soon.

The Day The Doctors Gave Up

She couldn’t lift her hand to hug me anymore, but she still smiled …

Today was the day the doctors gave up. February 1, 2015. I didn’t know it, but she had another week to live.

As I walked into the hospital, having answered my sister’s tearful phone call, I still couldn’t believe my mother was going to die. Two rounds of chemo failed. The bone marrow transplant failed. It had only been six months. I stood there, numb, shocked. This really couldn’t be happening. She was only 62. She didn’t even get to retire. She was my MOM. She had been there, every day, morning till night. Your mom is eternal, like the sun rising every morning, or the seasons changing. You never think you will have to live without your mom.

I walked quietly into her room, where she sat, morbidly tired, with tubes puncturing her arms. I knelt by her chair. She gave me that weak little smile. She still wanted to smile for me.

“I know it’s ridiculous,” I murmured, “but part of me wants to throw myself on you and beg you not to go.”

Then, unexpectedly, I did just that.

My head fell to her arm, and I started weeping. “Oh, mom. Don’t go. Please don’t go. What will I do without you?”

“Oh, honey. I don’t want to go. But you’ll go on and be just fine. I want you to take nice vacations and eat crab legs and think of me. Don’t you cry too much, now. God wants us to enjoy our lives here.”

You don’t understand, I wanted to say. I get my strength from you. No one loves me like you do. Not my best girlfriends, not my husband, not my sisters. You’re my MOM!! You used to constantly tell me that the day I was born was the happiest day of your life. That you wanted a little girl so much, and since they didn’t have ultrasounds then, you were thrilled when I popped out, a baby girl. You loved me when no one else did. You were proud of me. You thought I was awesome. Every time my phone rang with your ringtone, I’d get excited because Mom was calling, and that usually meant something fun was about to happen. You were my go-to shopping buddy. You were the first person I wanted to tell when something awesome happened. We liked so many of the same things. How am I supposed to do this without you? I can’t do this without you. I CAN’T do life without you.

But somehow … I think she knew. Maybe since she did it with her own mom. She knew it would be indescribably hard; that my heart and brain would be ripped out for years; that you look for something to fill the void, and of course you never find it, because there’s no one like your mom. The first few years are awful. You want to die, too. The memories, the photos, even being around the family is just too painful. The grief washes over you like a rogue ocean wave, out of nowhere. It slaps you, it reduces you to a tiny heap. But every time I went to a beach, looking for her, she was there. She knew I could go on. She knew the aching emptiness never goes away … but the ragged, gaping hole of her loss gets soft around the edges, and other things, other people, move quietly to the forefront of life to make you miss her less.

All I could feel at that moment, on my knees by her chair in the hospital, knowing she was going to leave me, too soon … all I could feel was agony. But she was tired of fighting.

Oh, Laura. I love you. More than you know. It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. I’ll see you again.”

Our favorite place … by the water. Enjoy that heavenly beach, Mumsy. I’ll see you soon.

That Time There Was an Ice Storm and I Lost a Body Part

Exactly seven years ago today, I was feeling poorly. Actually, that’s a dramatic understatement. I had some intense lower-right-quadrant stomach pain going on, and I’d lived in my body long enough to know it wasn’t menstrual cramps. It felt even worse than an ovarian cyst (I’d had that before, too.)
However, I was determined NOT to be a hypochondriac. I’d had a life history of jumping to the worst possible conclusions over slight ailments. I got a lump in my earlobe as a pre-teen, and thought I had cancer. I had slightly weird-looking areolae as a teenager, and thought I had cancer. I had crushing chest pain as a young adult, that my mom actually took me to the ER for. (They thought it was cartilage inflammation. Turns out it was plain old heartburn. I spent nine hours waiting to be seen and got misdiagnosed for that. Excuse me but WTF. This was why I had vowed to stay out of hospitals for the rest of my life unless I was, in fact, about to die. Granted, it was a pretty shitty north county hospital. Perhaps I’d have gotten better service at another one. Come to think of it, I could hardly have gotten WORSE service …)
Also, my mother, God rest her soul, had been a NICU registered nurse, and my father was a pharmacist. I fancied myself more educated than the average citizen about health and physiology. My mom had told us several times about colleagues of hers that had gone to the ER, convinced they were having heart attacks, strokes or aneurysms, only to be told they were having attacks of gas or migraines. I had been known to have some gas on occasion.
Granted, this was pretty damn bad. I picked my husband up at work, then had him drive home because I was doubled over in the passenger seat, begging him to hurry. At home, I chomped down about eight Xtra Strength Gas-X, screamed in pain as I gingerly eased into bed, and proceeded to pass out for the next eight hours. In hindsight, the fact that I slept like the dead all night, not even waking up, is fairly mind-boggling. I suppose my body was shoring up for the adventure ahead.
In the morning, not a thing had changed. My husband wanted to take me to the Urgent Care, but I sent him to work with our only car and waited to feel better. I then did what any semi-educated, freaked-out, former hypochondriac would do: got on WebMD to diagnose myself and effect a cure.
Fun fact: if you put in “stomach pain” on WebMD, you will get a bewildering variety of ailments that you will immediately be convinced that you have contracted. It’s one of those symptoms that can be anything from the aforementioned simple gas to bubonic plague. I made a list of my possible ailments:

— diverticulitis
— intestinal blockage
— bleeding ulcer
— appendicitis
— dysentery
— irritable bowel syndrome
— kidney stone
— cholera
— ectopic pregnancy (unlikely — I had not missed a pill in a decade)
— cancer (ovarian, uterine, colon, stomach, or gall bladder)
— hernia
— pelvic inflammatory disease (which I recognized from watching ER as “the ol’ PID shuffle”)
— endometriosis/uterine fibroids

I added the highly unlikely possibilities of dengue fever, yellow fever, parasitic worm and alien infestation. I was fuddled because it seemed appendicitis was the most likely culprit, but I was missing most of the symptoms. I had no fever, nausea, vomiting, painful urination or coughing. Discouraged, I logged off and tried to rest on the couch.
By noon, I had been off my head with this pain for 24 hours. I called my husband and told him to come home and take me to the Urgent Care. I should’ve listened to him in the first place. They didn’t have the facilities to make a more definitive diagnosis, but going simply on the classic lower-right-quadrant pain, they advised I get my ass to the ER posthaste.
Ten minutes later (bless living close to a hospital!!), we were at the admitting desk, proving I was who I said I was and that I would not leach off the taxpayers for my medical treatment. I then writhed in extreme discomfort on a gurney-bed for about an hour while they ran tests, and my poor helpless husband sat by my side. One of the nurses came in to try to relieve some pain.
“I’m going to give you a shot of morphine to try to take the edge off,” she explained.
“Oh,” I murmured. “I thought that was only for amputees and gunshot victims.”
She smiled and said, “I’m only going to give you a low dose, because you’re such a tiny little thing.” (At this point in time, I had just finished a 7-month quest of going on Weight Watchers and, in fact, had lost 31 pounds and looked damn good. I remarked to my husband that “She called me tiny!”, causing a wry smile. I should have asked for a whopping great dose, because it did precisely NOTHING.)
While all this had been going on, there had been snow and ice outside for the previous two days. There was about a quarter-inch of ice on the roads at this point, and the people in my city, famously, cannot drive in any kind of weather. Despite the fact that we are Midwesterners and deal with this LITERALLY EVERY WINTER, they continue to drive maniacally and/or distractedly, convinced in their own superiority over the elements, simply because they have four-wheel drive or a big truck cab. Ugh. My mother lived about thirty minutes away down the highway, and I did NOT want her out in the elements. “Tell mom to STAY PUT,” I ordered my husband. “We’ll tell her something else when the test results come back.”
Sure enough, it was appendicitis. When the nurse told me this, I burst into tears. I was well aware that this was probably the most routine surgery in America, as she (no doubt alarmed by a 37-year-old, grown-ass woman bursting into tears over such a simple thing) tried to explain to me, but at that point I’d just had too much. Two full days of excruciating pain; a place I loathed being in (see moronic hospital mis-diagnosis, when I had trusted in the medical system, above); and my mom not being there, had just broken the camel’s back. I was done, at emotional max gross load, and tired of trying to find the answer and be strong. I just wanted someone to take care of me and get this over with. In addition, I was scared. I’d never even been in the hospital before. I had never had a baby, never broken a bone, never even needed stitches for anything. I led a fairly boring life, and liked it that way.
They put me in a room by myself. But no matter how exhausted you are, you cannot sleep when you’re off your head with pain, scared, worried, and people come in every hour to poke, turn or measure you. A nurse came and sat with me at 3:00 in the morning and talked with me for a while. She was very nice. I wrote the hospital a glowing review about her. I hope she got a raise. Or at least a closer parking space for a month.
At about 4:00 a.m., I got notice the surgeon was on his way in. I dimly wondered if he’d gotten enough sleep to be fresh by operating time, as I was well aware (again, from watching ER and various news stories of medical mishaps) that physician fatigue was definitely A Thing … but as they wheeled me down to pre-op, circles darkening my eyes from abject misery and lack of rest, I figured at that point that if Dr. Surgery-At-Dawn simply wanted to bathe my abdomen in whisky, cut me open with a steak knife, yank that infected little fucker out, and cauterize my insides with a fireplace poker, that actually would be really fucking fine with me. I’m sure at this point, I no longer even cared if I died.
They parked me in a small room … and suddenly my mom was there. The darn woman had driven miles over a quarter-inch of ice to be with me. As relieved as I was to see her, I was annoyed she’d exposed herself to danger on the roads. She hugged and kissed me, then sat down and opened her Bible.
“Would you like me to read you something?” she suggested.
“For God’s sake, mother, I am not dying,” I snapped. (I NEVER called her “mother.” She was mom or Mumsy. Another component of being off my head with agony.)
“Well … it’s not just for dying,” she said gently. I told her fine, to read me a Psalm. I blacked out as she was reading. A doctor must have come in and anesthetized me. Rather sneaky of him. Something very drug-dealer, first-hit’s-free about the whole thing.
I woke up midday as they were wheeling me back to my room. Having never been under anesthesia or the knife before, I learned some more fun facts.
First, it can take a while to come out of. I mean, they have literally drugged you into a near-death state … it takes some time to shake that shit off. I couldn’t move my arms or speak. But I realized my chest hurt terribly, both feeling squeezed and like something heavy was sitting on me. Why did my chest hurt?? Had a medical mishap occured?? Did I have paralysis??!! I tried with all my might to lift my arm and massage my aching collarbone. Finally I managed to choke out, “Chest. Hurts.”
“Oh, yes, that’s probably the result of the gas we blew into you,” someone said.
“We blow you up a little to have extra room to maneuver, to lessen the chances of nicking anything,” the someone repeated. “It will dissipate on its own as you move.”
Well. They certainly never covered that on ER.
Second, they usually don’t need to “cut you open” anymore. I had a laparoscopic thingamajig that left me with only the tiniest scar along my belly button ridge. Pfffff. As if I cared. Some surgery patients must be very vain. I was extremely lucky. Even after 48 hours of bone-grinding pain, my appendix had not burst and I had no peritonitis. In hindsight again, it’s amazing to me that thing didn’t burst. It certainly had enough time. I can only fall back on the amusing adage I once heard, that “God takes care of fools and babies … and I know I ain’t no baby.”
Third, all that messing about with your various organs is a shock to the system. It might take several days for things to be All Systems Go again. I had to pee right away. So I was relieved that was in working order. But it would be four days before I successfully pooped. By the third day, I was beginning to think I might never poop again, and envisioned horrific scenarios of going to dialysis, or simply exploding from the belly in some sort of impacted shit-shower. But thankfully, on the fourth evening, things moved along fine and I sent my mom a text with the little shit emoji, in all caps. A joyful “I POOPED!!!!!!!” Being a nurse, she shared my joy.
As annoyed as I was with her for braving an ice-covered interstate at four in the morning, I was nonetheless overjoyed that she was with me. Even lying in a hospital in agony is not so scary if your mom is there to take care of you … at any age. When I was back in my room, I asked her to sit on the bed with me and hold my hand. She glanced at my husband, busily texting our friends and family to keep them updating, and said, “I feel like I’m usurping your husband’s place.” But she came and sat on the bed and held my hand. (My husband was — and is — magnificent: he stayed with me for nearly 24 hours with no sleep and little food to make sure I was taken care of. But he was busy at the moment and I wanted mom comfort.)
I’m glad she “usurped” my husband’s place and sat for a few minutes at my hospital bed. She died three years later, and I’ll never have that chance again.
Of course, I am also planning to NEVER EVER go into the hospital again. Do you hear that, gall bladder? And any other unassuming, nonessential organs that may be fomenting revolt? Just cut that shit out right now. The one time I was NOT a hypochondriac, I NEARLY FRIGGIN’ DIED. So I’m gonna be super vigilant from now on. I’m on to you, body.
Ahhhhh. All Systems Go.

Diary of a Snow Day

[I wrote this essay several years back, but it still resonates today.]

1983. Age: 9.
Wake up languidly around 8:30 a.m. Instantly and simultaneously realize two things: Mom has not woken me up for school, and that means it’s a snow day. Mom watches news religiously and weatherman was predicting at least six inches of snow, so went to bed knowing this was entirely possible. Huge smile spreads over face. Stretch once, then hop joyfully out of bed and put on robe and Garfield slippers. Mom is already in kitchen making breakfast. Have scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice after running to window to check depth of snow. Marvel at how pretty everything looks with no cars going by on street and huge drifts of snow blanketing bushes, driveway, trees. Hope snowplows cannot get out.
After breakfast, defer playing outside and acquiesce to younger sister’s request to play Connect Four. Whup her ass because I have two years on her and thus strategic part of brain is more developed. Snow time further delayed due to mandatory viewing of “The Price Is Right,” which is special weekday treat viewed only on summers and vacation days. Rejoice when favorite game, Plinko, is on. Moan with contestant and audience that not once does Plinko chip slide into $10,000 slot. Vaguely wonder if Plinko game is rigged.
Finally suit up for snow play. Entails outrageously high knee socks, long pants, snow pants over those, shirt and sweatshirt, heavy winter coat, knit cap with bimple-bomple on top, scarf wound around face approximately five times, thick padded gloves clipped to coat sleeves, and moon boots with squishy insides like foam mattress. Dash outside with sister and proceed to defile virgin snow by breaking paths through knee-high drifts. Complete requisite construction of several snowballs and pelt each other with them (not near face to avoid wrath of mom). Snap icicle off tree and eat it. Follow mom’s dictate not to eat yellow snow. Brush snow off swings, slide and trapeze on swing set, as this is “being helpful” to mom. Lie down and make snow angels, giggling madly. Begin construction on traditional snowman. Younger sister makes head; we both make middle and bottom. Find rocks to use for eyes and mouth. Snap spindly branches off tree for cool-looking snowman arms. Knock on back door and request carrot for nose and extra scarf for snowman. Know better than to drag snowy boots through house to get them ourselves. Mom obliges. Snowman complete. Return inside and de-suit, leaving outerwear in heap by door, for lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Much to our delight, mom has made fresh chocolate chip cookies. Gorge.
Fortified and sugar-buzzing, re-suit for afternoon play. Foot had slipped out of moon boot during morning and boot interior became cold and soggy. Mom insists on boots for outside. Improvises by having me put on regular shoes and shoving two Wonderbread plastic bags over shoes, securing them on calves with giant rubber bands, rendering shoes waterproof. Hurrah! Snow has resumed falling. Spot neighbor children, good friends Adam and Susan Biggs, clattering out their back door. Invite them to hop chain-link fence and join us. They oblige. (Even padded with clothing like a tick about to burst, hopping chain-link fence is not difficult.) Decide snow fort would be industrious and productive use of time. Discover difficulty of constructing adequate walls with absence of tools other than hands. Stand in snow and think hard. Struck by heavenly inspiration, knock on back door and request Tupperware containers from mom. Receive rectangle-shaped containers and proceed to construct large, perfect snow bricks. Skip He-Man and Voltron cartoons in favor of seeing how much of snow fort can get done. Spend afternoon happily piling snow bricks into fort, leaving space for door. Thrilled with architectural prowess as can actually walk in and have room to sit down. Succeed in building snow fort almost head-high. Make snowballs to pile inside for arsenal. Sun has set and streetlights have come on, illuminating still-falling snow and bathing snow fort in Hollywood-esque light. Decide finishing touch is needed. Borrow extra yardstick from mom and tie yellow plastic Post-Dispatch wrapper to stick, crowning snow fort with homemade flag, which looks more like windsock. Cold but far from tired, retire inside, delighted to find favorite dinner of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries with ketchup. Compliment mom on her “cooking.” Puzzled when she responds by rolling eyes.
Still snowing. Probability of second snow day discussed. Sister and I snuggle on couch wrapped in sheep- and duck-printed wool blankets. Mom puts in “Sound of Music” videotape, taped off network television. Settle in for three hours of singing and dancing, with bowls of popcorn and a glass of Pepsi each. Wonder what Liesel ever saw in Rolf. Unanimous agreement of the von Trapps’ bravery for singing at the festival before fleeing the Nazis.
Finally retire for night. Snuggle with Heart-to-Heart Bear (teddy bear with heartbeat). Mom tucks in and kisses forehead. Say prayers. Fall asleep immediately with utter sense of contentment, safety, happiness and peace.

2009. Age: 33.
Bolt awake at 2 a.m. Panic. Quietly raise window blinds of bedroom. Fully aware of previous night’s forecast of six to eight inches of snow, peer outside to check road condition. Swear inwardly as view street blanketed with snow and drifts on lawn nearly burying flower garden. Sinking suspicion that eight inches has already been reached. Swear further at absence of snowplows. Pray that highways are being cleared. Attempt to stockpile more sleep.
Don’t so much “awaken” as swim blearily toward consciousness at 6:30 a.m. Sigh into electric blanket. Grab robe, nearly trip over inquisitive cat, check school closings online. Am employed by seminary which closes only in cases of massive ice storms or citywide power outage. Doubt that eight inches of snow will dissuade them from educating future pastors. Suspicions confirmed. Seminary opening only 30 minutes later than usual. Vividly and colorfully swearing inside head, put on work uniform and top with heavy overcoat, scarf wound around head five times, leather gloves and 14-year-old Timberland waterproof boots.
Retrieve snow shovel from garage. Begin laborious and highly distasteful task of shoveling eight inches off driveway. Sweat profusely and become short of breath. Upon reaching end of driveway, invent new curse words when realize city plowing has created hard-packed ridge of snow to be cleared. Remark to self on incredulity of snow being so heavy.
Husband sticks head out door and begins to criticize shoveling technique. Respond that if he knows what’s good for him he’ll see if there’s a second snow shovel in garage and lend assistance at once. Husband shuts door in pissy manner to suit up. Lean on snow shovel despondently at end of driveway, dreaming of hot breakfast and coffee. Realize driveway only one-quarter cleared. Dream of fast-forwarding 30 years to retirement. Think dismally how much 30 years resembles life sentence. Resume shoveling despite growing ache in lower back. Husband appears and searches for second snow shovel. Husband asks with amazement and contempt in voice why I am shoveling from edge instead of starting in middle of driveway. Not at best at 7:30 a.m. with no food or coffee, not to mention freezing and tired with dread of two-hour commute ahead, exchange heated words and insults with husband. Upon completion of my side of driveway, fling snow shovel to ground in dramatic display of temper and frustration.
Stalk inside. Realize have sweated so much in work uniform as to require shower. Strip and enjoy hot shower. Phone rings. With foresight, have brought both landline and cell phone into bathroom in case of boss phoning. Congratulate self on advance planning. Boss notifies me of office’s late opening. One leg in shower and one out, hold phone at distance from ear to adequately hear, yet avoid getting shampoo in phone. Ask boss, since work has been slow, of any possibility of taking day off. Boss thinks for several seconds and grants request. Elated, hang up and wipe water off phone. As finish shower, bless boss for her kindness and praise God for amassed hours of paid time off. Ask God’s forgiveness for swearing and childish behavior while shoveling. Instead of feeling better, feel worse for snapping at husband. Grumpily mutter to self about shoveling being man’s work anyway. Mean side of brain mutters back that husband has done laundry and cooking for past seven years. Snap at brain to shut up.
Change into sweats and thick winter socks. Make fried egg sandwich for breakfast. Read paper rescued from snowdrift. Cat jumps into lap and gets kiss on head. Husband’s earliest clients have cancelled because of snow, pushing his work start time to 2 p.m. Answer emails from friends. Call mother-in-law in boonies to assure she has power. Debate possibilities of reading novel, sewing, doing scrapbook page or cleaning bathroom. Worn out after start of day, chuck all options and lie on couch. Curl up with sheep-print wool blanket still in possession from childhood. Do not watch “The Price is Right” since Bob Barker retired. Watch “Little House on the Prairie” marathon. Marvel at how stupid Italian immigrant is who went to Deadwood with Ingalls to pan for gold, running down street of Deadwood hollering of good fortune. Correctly predict Italian immigrant will be shot and robbed within 20 minutes. Eat two pieces of cheese for lunch.
Husband leaves for work. Channel surf and watch show on beaches on Travel Channel. Wistfully remember honeymoon in Mexico. Try to remember what 80 degrees feels like. Would like to get mail, but on principle will not step foot outside again. Make huge mug of Ghirardelli hot chocolate and mourn absence of mini marshmallows. Make popcorn. Watch part of “Casino Royale” for twentieth time. Appreciate Daniel Craig’s beauty. Snuggle lower on couch. Cat jumps on couch, curls up on gut and goes to sleep. Self follows suit, dozing off for full hour.
Wake to setting sun. Make plain spaghetti for dinner. Am in possession of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries but am too tired for all that trouble. Wish was at mom’s house eating meatloaf and homemade mashed potatoes and playing with dog. Return to couch and watch classic Disney movie from 1960s. Experience happiest moment of day when one cat lies on lap and another lies on chest and both go to sleep.
Get ready for bed. Check street conditions outside. Slushy yet passable. Curl into electric blanket and read favorite author.
Fall asleep slowly and with great difficulty while worrying about friend’s marital problems, state of economy, personal finances, what’s on docket at work tomorrow. Think how long it’s been since felt happy, peaceful and safe all at once. Remember how nice it was when mom tucked us in and kissed foreheads. Realize that last vestiges of childhood fall away when one acquires mortgage and curses snow.
Contemplate moving to Gulf Coast in 30 years to enjoy white sand beaches and pretty blue-green surf.
Remember hurricanes.
Count blessings.

“You’ll miss the changing seasons if you lived at the beach all year,” my mom used to say. Yeahhhhhh, no.