Sunday, April 25, 2021

U is for Under the Knife

 The summer before my senior year of college, my friend Kara and I decided to stay in our college town. Cedar City, Utah hosts an incredible Shakespearean Festival during the summer, and they kick everyone out of our apartments to make room for the actors and actresses.

Luckily our apartment complex owned the house next door as well, and they let us stay there with 3 other girls. I remember that it seemed like our bedroom was slowly falling off of the rest of the house. There was a big crack that seemed to go around the entire front of the bedroom. 

Around the middle of the summer, I started dating a guy, let's call him Bill. I'm not going to say much about Bill, except to say that we had friends in common, which made dating him fun...and it also made the relationship seem more grown-up, if that makes sense. One day Bill noticed a lump deep in my right calf muscle. And that changed my life.

My parents came down, and we scheduled a biopsy on my leg. This was the first of...somewhere near a dozen surgeries I've had so far in my life, and it was the only one I was awake for. They injected me with a hefty dose of Valium, and then left me in a hallway somewhere for a while, and I remember just blissfully looking at the walls and convincing myself that what I really needed to do when they came to get me was to ask for more Valium, because it was the best I'd ever felt in my short life. 

They asked me if I minded Pink Floyd, and I was like, "Nope, that sounds amazing, dude." They played Pink Floyd really loud so I couldn't hear them talk while they operated. Toward the end of the surgery, Pink Floyd started to annoy me, and that's how I knew the Valium was going away. 

Then there is a blank space where I don't remember much, except the doctor telling me they were sending the biopsy somewhere, and they would let me know what it was, and then they put me in a hospital room with my parents.

I remember the nurse started to cry when the doctor came in to tell me it was cancer. She was still very professional, but it shook her up. I didn't cry. I was in shock. I think when you are 21, you just don't believe anything that awful could happen to you. 

And it wasn't THAT awful, but it was still plenty hard. The doctor explained that it was a rare form of cancer, and that he could have gone his whole surgical life without every seeing this kind. However, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It was a smooth muscle cancer that usually grows somewhere like your stomach and doesn't get found until it is out of control, but that it slow-growing, and the fact that we caught it so early was a miracle.

I had to drop out of school, but the apartment complex saved my spot for the next semester. I went home, and a lot of spiritual things happened that deserve their own blog post.

And what happened to Bill? He was leaving to attend a different college and was actually living only about half an hour from my home. I waited for him to come and see me, because he had a truck, so it wouldn't be long, right? This was pre-cell phones, so it wasn't like I was in touch with any of my other friends. I have a great family, but there is no denying that I was dreadfully lonely. 

Finally, Bill's grandma came by with flowers and a card from Bill. And then...absolutely nothing.

In the meantime, I had another surgery, where they cut out my calf muscle. I had to stretch out the tiny bit of muscle that was left and learn to walk again. My dad lost his job, and so I remember him walking around the block with me at a snail's pace, every single day. I started doing an internship at my mom's elementary school where I figured out that I wanted to be a special education teacher. The doctor cancelled the radiation and said that he thought the surgeries had gotten all the cancer. I went to the doctor and hung out with my sisters. These experiences absolutely changed the course of my life. By January I was back at SUU for my final semester.

There were a few more Bill stories, all of them dreadful, before he was completely out of my life. But mostly, I feel like he was dropped into my life to find the cancer before it got out of control. And I'm grateful that he did. But I'm even more grateful he's gone. Honestly, I think it was just unfortunate timing. He had just moved to a new city and was probably looking for an excuse to break up with me anyway. Doesn't excuse the execution. Having the grandma deliver flowers instead of telling me it was over was pretty cowardly.

And that is the real story about the scar on my leg. It isn't actually a shark bite.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

T is for Tournament

 Spring 2020... My son moves home from college because of the pandemic, so I've got 3 of my 4 children living at home again. We own so many board games, but no one ever wants to play them, so I devise a plan--the Game Tournament Bracket. I put most of our games into a competition bracket. The exceptions were games for only one or two people, like chess or cribbage. Here were the first competitions:

Clue Harry Potter vs. Parcheesi                        Scattergories vs. Uno

Yahtzee vs. Pandemic                                        Triominoes vs. Speak Out

Scrabble vs. Just One                                        Risk vs. Curses

Killer Bunnies vs. Tensies                                Bananagrams vs. the "Bee" game

Boggle vs. Catchphrase                                    Forbidden Island vs. Trivial Pursuit

Blokus vs. Slamwich                                        Exploding Kittens vs. Monopoly Deal

Telestrations vs. Things                                    Loot vs. Codename

Unusual Suspects vs. Decrypto                        Cribbage vs. Minigames

It worked! Almost everyone came to play (my youngest daughter didn't often join us, sadly). Strange things happened in this round. I had paired some of our favorite games together, and so some of the best games didn't advance, and I paired a couple of the games no one liked together, and so some unpopular games did advance. I bought Monopoly Deal because I knew we wouldn't make it through a whole game of Monopoly, and it quickly became a favorite. I never could convince anyone to sit through Things, and so it forfeited. Decrypto belongs to my older son's girlfriend, and it took the place of Spontuneous.

Round 2!:

Parcheesi vs. Uno                                                Yahtzee vs. Triominoes

Just One! vs. Risk                                                Tensies vs. the "Bee"  game

Catchphrase vs. Forbidden Island                        Blokus vs. Monopoly Deal

Telestrations vs. Codename                                Decrypto vs. minigames

Now really strange things began to happen. 

Everyone was annoyed that Risk had advanced, and they were sad that Loot hadn't made it, so we cut Risk and put Loot in its place (aren't you glad basketball brackets don't work like this!?). A similar thing happened with Catchphrase and Forbidden Island, because Blokus somehow won that one. It turns out that one of the key things my family likes in a game is that it is fast. Practically none of the longer lasting games made it through this cut:

Round 3: 

Parcheesi vs. Triominoes                                    Tensies vs. the "Bee"game

Blokus vs. Monopoly Deal                                Codename vs. Minigames

This was super surprising to me, because very few of my favorite games made it to this point. By this point, everyone was tired of games, and we took a very long break before finally making it to the next roung.

Round 4:

Triominoes vs. Tensies                                        Monopoly Deal vs. Codename

At this point, I couldn't get them back to play one more round 5 was made by voting without playing. 

Round 5: 

Triominoes vs. Codename

And the winner is:

Codename (we have the pictures version).

 It was a bit of a shallow victory though, since no one wanted to play it. Hahaha

On the other hand, my son got into Settlers of Catan, and we played that quite a bit for a while, before ultimately losing interest. We've played quite a bit of cribbage, and my youngest son is pretty obsessed with chess atm. My older son bought another game called Love Letters, and we play that every now and then. We borrowed Quirkle from my classroom, since we aren't allowed to play games during the pandemic, and that one is fun. And we always enjoy a good game of rummy. And darnit, if I was in charge of the world.

Bananagrams would have won, not been beat out in the first contest!

Bananagrams....winner in my heart. 


Thursday, April 22, 2021

S is for Snow College
When I graduated from high school, I decided to attend Snow College, in Ephraim, Utah. I cannot emphasize enough how small the town was, and how small the college was. My friend Kara and I lived in off-campus housing called Badger Hollow, and our other friends (Darn, I can't remember what the fake names I gave them were, so I am just going to call them M, J, and D) lived across the street.

It was a great place to practice adulthood. You had to go down some stairs  to get to our apartment, and when it rained, the whole walkway outside our apartment would flood, which was a lot of fun to play in but less fun when you had to wade through it to get to class. We often went over to M J, and D's apartment to hang out. It had a lot more space than ours, and Kara and I had a roommate who didn't like men much, and who was often at home, so we didn't bring many people back to our apartment that year. We all drove home on the weekends pretty frequently. We were unfortunately pretty insular right at first, and eventually started acting more like brothers and sisters than friends. Brothers and sisters who were annoyed that they always had to spend so much time together... but then kept doing it.

We took a really hard geography class together, and that is where I got to know a few of the people on the baseball team. D had a scholarship to play baseball, and a couple of his teammates were in the class. I didn't really know what the story was, or at least I don't remember anymore, but there was some sort of reticence between these two guys, who we will call Noah and Tyler, and D. 

One day, J's older brother and his friend came to visit them. I knew the friend from high school, but had never met the brother. We were all kind of in awe of them, I think. I didn't eat dinner with them, but Kara and I were there for the end of the evening, and that is when D & J decided that Kara and I ought to do the dishes. It was all a big, patriarchal joke, except it got kind of serious, and I remember being picked up and put near the sink. I hated that. I have a deep-seated hatred of people stronger than me winning arguments by virtue of their being stronger than me. But I also hate being angry in public, and I hate taking something seriously when other people think it is a joke, so I was almost shaking with rage and impotence. The evening ended with a bowlful of spaghetti being dumped on my head (just the pasta, not the sauce, thank goodness). 

These are good, good people, and I know I'm making them sound terrible. It was just stupid, and I think Kara even stayed to help clean up. But I left. I didn't go home. I just went walking. It was still light outside, and I walked around campus, which was an exceptionally safe place anyway, but I'd never done this before--gone off on my own, without telling them where I would be. This was before cell phones, so I was just gone.

Eventually, I ended up at the dorms, where a really loud party was going on. There had been never been a loud party at our apartments, so it felt like such a new experience. Noah and Tyler were there, and they were extremely interested to see me without everyone else. They thought it was great that I was so mad at M, J & D, wanted to know what my relationship with D was, flirted with me in a way that was obviously meant to get back to D (which is hilarious because D never had a thought about me in that way in his entire existence). I was there pretty late, and then I walked back home, where Kara was a wreck, worried about me. 

She wanted me to go right over to tell M,J & D I was home safe, but I was still too upset, so she went. The next day we had Geography, and when I got to class, I went and sat by Noah and Tyler, and they high-fived each other and trash talked D, and made me feel like a very valuable object for a few minutes. 

It wasn't until late that afternoon that J & D apologized, and here is the important part of the story...J was so impressed that I'd gone off and had this adventure without them that he nicknamed me Columbus, and 24 years later, I still feel a twinge of pride when I think about that nickname. This was the turning point, when we all realized we were getting in each other's way. We stayed friends, but I stopped using them as a reason not to get to know other people. And I took the nickname Columbus to heart. These were the days before we'd acknowledged the problematic parts of Columbus's history, so to me the name just meant Intrepid Explorer.

That, to the best of my recollection, is the way it happened. Time can be wibbly-wobbly stuff in this brain of mine though, so although all of that happened, it might not have been in that precise order. 

R is for Romantic

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Today's post is less like a story, and more like a snapshot. 

 I never would have guessed what an unromantic person I am. I love romcoms, and I even write books with romance in them. But irl I am just not that romantic. Especially compared to my husband, Roger (another R!). I think he would like me to be, but it just was not meant to be. 

One night, he set up one of our old cd players on the porch, got all dressed up, including a fedora hat, and then called me to our window so he could serenade me. Another time, he spent a winter day cleaning out the garage, and when evening came I realized he'd made us a dance floor. For our anniversary one year he made a treasure hunt with flowers near every clue. He often writes me notes just to make me smile. He takes me dancing a couple of times a month (except not lately, because of my dumb old knee). And he loves to bake...unfortunately, he mostly loves to bake things I'm allergic to, but he is always experimenting to find me foods I can eat.

This life we've made for ourselves is not a simple one. It would be so easy to go our separate ways and only see each other as we occasionally pass in the halls. Middle age is way different than I expected it to be. I'm grateful to be married to a romantic, and grateful that he accepts that I am not one. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Q is for Quarantine

 I got my 2nd covid shot yesterday, and I realized I don't feel very well right as I sat down to write this post. I don't have a great story to go along with a Q word, but there OUGHT to be a good story in this head of mine about being in quarantine. But since there isn't right now, let me tell you the story of my 2nd vaccine.

I was scheduled at Walmart at 7:20 a.m., but I got there 20 minutes early. It's a small operation, where they plan to vaccinate one person every 5 minutes, and there were 5 people ahead of me in line, so that seemed about right. The man giving the vaccines had just finished a person. Fast forward 45 minutes, and I was still in that line, and one more vaccine had been given. Finally I checked in, and stood waiting while the man giving the vaccines kept going back and forth from the little kiosk to inside the pharmacy. He seemed like he was writing a lot of things, and I was very confused about what was going on. 8:20, and none of the people who had been in line with me had gone yet, and everyone was calm about it. I was beginning to think the person giving the shots was actually the pharmacist and he was trying to do two jobs at the same time. I never found out for sure. 

Then a woman came out with a rolling cart and said, "If you haven't been vaccinated yet, follow me!" We followed her through Walmart and into a small room, and she said, "We can get this done a lot faster here." Then she called my name...although everyone in the room was supposed to be before me. I said something, but they were all like, "No, that's fine. You go." I think they just didn't want to slow down the sudden momentum. The woman didn't even have me wait to make sure I didn't have a reaction. She just said, "If you can shop or something for a few minutes before you go, that would be great. That way you can come back in here if you have a problem.

So I went back to the aisle where I'd stood while I was waiting in line. I'd found about 8 things I needed on that aisle alone. I didn't want to do much more shopping than that because I'm still on crutches from a hurt knee a few weeks ago. It's been about 30 hours now, and I'm only just starting to feel it. So I'm going to go take a nap.

Oh yeah, I need to tie this to quarantine--one step closer to this nightmare being over. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

P is for Paul and a long, complicated story

The summer after my freshman year of college, I worked at the gift shop in the lodge at Bryce Canyon National Park. It's about as remote a spot as you could get, and you get to work with a lot of interesting people. 

The story I'm about to tell requires some backstory that doesn't place teenage me in the best light, but it's still a story worth telling. Names and identifying characteristics of most of the people involved have been changed. 

The very day I moved to Bryce Canyon, I got myself mixed up with a manipulative man who we will call Scott. He was quite a bit older than me and was above me in the power structure. He was not only dating me, he was also dating another girl as well, and he managed to string us both along for most of the summer.  The memories are hazy, but he'd gone to some meetings for a couple of days, and I think he'd taken the other girl with him. One of his friends, Charlie, asked me out on a date, and I was both hurt and anxious to not seem hurt, so I said yes. There weren't a lot of places to go on a date at Bryce Canyon, so we were going to the Lodge's restaurant, where we would be seen by nearly everyone we knew. Kara and another guy were going to double with us. 

Then Scott came back, and explained in his silver-tongued way how he'd been railroaded to take that other girl with him, that he had used that opportunity to finally break up with her for once and for all. He understood why I'd said yes to a date with Charlie, but could we meet up afterwards to talk? He needed a chance to convince me that we could really be together.

All of that is simply backstory for the story I actually want to tell. The order of events is a little wonky in my head, and I know that Kara probably remembers it better than I do, so maybe someday I will ask her to clarify. Let's go back in time a few days--

Paul was a latecomer to the Bryce Canyon staff. He was in his 20s, and he wormed his way into the hearts of nearly everyone. And he liked me. There are a lot of retired people who spend their summers working in the national parks, and I worked with a lot of them at the gift shop. They adored him, and hated Scott. Paul was good with cars, and he helped them with their automotive needs. According to them, he wanted to ask me out, but he was afraid. Finally, my coworkers set us up on a date. He took me to Ruby's Inn, which was about 45 minutes away. He offered to help me buy a car, and talked about cars for a lot of the car ride. We wandered around the outdoor market for a while and then drove home. I wasn't interested in him, but he didn't seem to be overly interested in me either, no matter what my coworkers said. It felt very much like hanging out with a casual acquaintance, not like a date.  It was nice, but I didn't think anything else of it.

That had been a few days before my date with Charlie... He picked me up, we went to dinner. As we sat there in the restaurant, Scott walked in, came to the table, and sat down with us. At first he appeared very friendly, but slowly I realized that his good humor was a front for something more vicious. He started telling everyone at the table how popular I was, and he even asked our waiter (remember that this was a very small community, and I would definitely be seeing this person again soon) if he'd met me yet, and had he had the opportunity to date me yet, because there was a waiting list... Scott asked Charlie if he was aware that I had another date scheduled immediately after my date with him... and then he told his captive audience a story about how Scott and Charlie were at Charlie's apartment right before this date. There was a knock on the door, and when they opened it, Paul was standing there, asking if they had any Super Glue, because he had gone back to Ruby's Inn to buy some of the rocks I had liked there, and he was trying to turn them into a present for me. 

My face feels hot just thinking about that evening, and I have 22 years of separation from it. I had no coping skills for an event like that, so I just sat there, pretending I thought it was all funny and wishing the earth would swallow me up. 

Fast forward a few days...I arrived at the lodge, and Paul was sitting on the steps surrounded by a small bunch of people. He was coughing hard, and explained to me that he'd opened up a bottle of bleach, but it had been mixed with something else and when he opened it the fumes had burnt his lungs. An ambulance came and got him...

and that was the last time I ever saw Paul. He vanished, taking with him money from half a dozen retired people--money they'd lent him, money he'd taken so he could fix up their cars, money to buy them a car, money for our date... It seemed like everywhere I turned there was someone who had given him a significant wad of cash. I, with the rocks he bought me, was the only one who had gotten anything from him. After a while, it came out that he was MARRIED, and his wife had been living in the nearest town and that they were both wanted in several states.

This story really does make me laugh more often than it makes me unhappy, but it had some long lasting consequences for my psyche, as you might imagine.  But when I think about the fact that I drove through some of the loneliest places in the United States with that stranger, I count myself incredibly blessed that he was just a grifter. Be careful. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

O is for Organization

 I am a person who loves the idea of organization, and I try, I really, really do, but then there's an A-Z Challenge in April, or something equally important, and things get out of hand.

When we first got married, I checked a book out of the library called The Organization Map, and with its help I got SO organized. I could have made a How To video, our apartment was so organized. It never occurred to me that a one-room apartment with hardly any stuff would barely qualify as rung 1 on the Ladder of Difficult Spaces to Organize. A couple of years later we bought a house, and then we had two kids, and then we sold our house and moved across the country, and bought a bigger house...and suddenly I NEEDED that book back.

I'm old, so this was in the early days of the internet, and the book was out of print, so it wasn't that simple. I tried other books, but they just didn't speak to me the way The Organization Map did, so I tried to implement the things I remembered. One day, to my delight, amazon started a used book selling service. I IMMEDIATELY bought The Organization Map. 

I was outside playing with my kiddos when the mailman came by, and I ripped open the package and sat on my back porch steps reading it while my kids ran around. The copy was in fantastic shape. It could have been brand new, and it was just as good as I remembered. By this time I had a third child, and I might have been pregnant with my fourth. A neighbor came by with her two kids, and we talked, and eventually we all ended up back inside.

It rained that night, and the next morning, my husband brought my sopping wet copy of The Organization Map in from where he'd found it on my porch steps. I cooked it in my oven, flipping the pages every so often, and it dried pretty well, though it now looked like a thoroughly used book. It seems like there should be some sort of moral in that, yes? Every time I looked at the book, it reminded me of my organizational failure. And eventually, it also made me smile.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

N is for Nighttime

Last spring, my teenage daughter decided that what we really needed was sheep. She is a force to be reckoned with, so we got two lambs from a farm up north. 

We do not live on a farm...we live in a neighborhood, and I was certain we were going to have a lot of angry neighbors. To my surprise, we only had one angry neighbor, but one angry neighbor is enough, and we'd had the sheep in our backyard for less than 48 hours before an animal control guy came to our house in a police uniform telling us the sheep had to be gone by the end of the day...Roger asked for some extra time and we got the weekend.

There are several farms nearby, and Roger's plan was to go to each of them asking if we could lease some space to keep our sheep. He found a great place pretty quickly, and we moved them there before the deadline. It is a great farm. The people who own it actually live in New Jersey and luckily happened to be there when Roger came by. They use it for haying and on the weekends. Their property overlooks a stretch of river that boasts the most eagles east of the Mississippi while the alewives are running. Their overlook is comfortably furnished with patio furniture, and you can watch the sunset. It's really an amazing spot, and we really enjoyed their company.

The sheep were pretty fun, and we got all sorts of experiences that were new to me, like fence-building, and fence-moving, because the sheep ate so much more than we expected. One day Roger went over to spend some time with the sheep. The farmers were gone, which was expected, but the sheep were too, which was not. They had made a hole in the fence and escaped, and so our whole family, plus my son's girlfriend, gathered at the farm and started searching. It was night, and it had rained during the day, so we were soon soaked, but it was a beautiful night. I remember one word going through my head over and over: tics, tics, tics, tics TICS. I KNEW we were all going to get lyme disease, and I thought it was pretty uncool that such an otherwise gorgeous night could be ruined by something so small (and by the sheep being lost of course). 

As we got closer to the steep hillside that overlooked the stream, I had other things to worry about---like tumbling like Wesley and Buttercup down to the bottom of the hill in the pitch darkness. But none of that happened, and no sheep were found. It was a discouraging night in a beautiful place.

Roger got up early the next morning and continued his hunt, and the sheep were eventually found across the street not far away, happily grazing, not even realizing what huge trouble they were in. We had them slaughtered and ate them in punishment for their escape. (I am kidding, but the plan had always been to raise them for meat, so we did. It was the first time I had eaten an animal I knew. It was hard, but a very good learning experience).

It turns out I am not a fan of eating lamb. I am, however, a fan of the idea that someday we might own some lakefront property and keep some sheep grazing outside. There is something unimaginably peaceful about the sight.