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Archive for March, 2010

Clearing out a drawer today, I came across a small, square box which contained a necklace that I had received for some Christmas or birthday and which I had completely forgotten about.  I’ve never really been one for necklaces — I don’t like the feeling of a weight of hanging off my neck, and this one looked particularly heavy.  I could see why it ended up in the bottom of that drawer.

But something possessed me to try it on, and I was surprised to find it was light and really quite comfortable.  And surprised even more by how nice it looked.  I was wearing a pair of old jeans and a plain v-neck t-shirt I’ve worn a million times, but this necklace seemed to suddenly liven things up.  I looked… well… dressy!   I left the necklace on all day.

Lying on the bed to feed E2 down to sleep tonight, she spotted the necklace for  (what was apparently) the first time with a look of surprise, which quickly changed to intrigue.

“Mummy, what is that?!?”

“It’s my necklace.”

“Can I touch it?  Can I touch the middle bit…  there?”  Her face was all scrunched up.

“Yes, go ahead.”

She lifted her hand toward the necklace, finger outstretched, hesitated a moment, and then pressed it gently against the middle of the pendant.

“OH!” her eyes wide, her face a picture of completely shock.

“What is it, sweetheart?” I asked, suppressing a chuckle.  What about a necklace could possibly be so surprising?

“I thought…” she looked up at me, still startled and a little confused, “I thought it was cheese!”

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M was home yesterday when I got some bad news, and he got the full force of my anger and frustration.  It wasn’t fair to take it out on him — he’s got enough on his mind at the moment — but he was there.

He was there because his company had sent him home with no hours.  Again.  It’s become a regular occurrence these past four months.  Every week like clockwork, when the pay-week comes to a close on Thursday, he gets up and gets ready, gets in his truck and heads out for work, and then they send him home with no hours.   Since the beginning of December, he’s had only three weeks of full-time hours, only three paycheques that really cover the bills.

My birthday is coming up in the next couple of weeks, and it’s a big one.  Apparently, Life Begins at this age.  M may be all manner of wonderful things, but he is not good at remembering me when it comes to  important occasions — I have not had a birthday or Christmas gift from him for three years running — so I have been reminding him of this impending event almost every other day since before the turn of the year, like a count down.  This is a Big Birthday, and I do not want to be forgotten this year.

I had emailed out my birthday wishlist to everyone who would likely find it useful but, knowing that M uses a computer about as often as a camel uses an umbrella, I have been coaching him separately for a long time.  More than anything, I want a Lendrum spinning wheel to replace the ancient, second-hand wheel that I have been using (and which has served me well) for the past 12 years.  But a shiny new Lendrum is nothing to be purchased lightly — it’s $622 — and so I’d hoped that maybe if everyone pitched in together, then what remained would be more within our grasp.

And just the day before, I’d made a furtive phone call to a local yarn shop to see if there were any places left on the knitting class they were offering this month with knitting guru Brandon Mably.  I had already taken this same class  six years ago — it was a treat to cheer myself up after I miscarried our first child — and I had enjoyed it so much out of it that when I saw that he was coming to the area, I immediately began to muse over taking the class again.   It was an expensive class, at least for me…  The amount left each month for spending money for me and the girls rarely tops $50 — and that includes everything: shoes, clothes, magazines, coffee — and this one class would blow that out of the water, but how often does one turn…  erm…  How often does Life Begin?  I felt guilty making the call to the yarn shop and I felt guilty at the thought of booking the class…  But there were spaces left!  And I wanted to take it — I really wanted to!  I decided  I’d wait a couple of days to be sure the idea settled right, and then — damn it! — I’d do it!

Yesterday morning I received a bill from the doctor’s office which treated my sprained ankle.  It wasn’t for much — almost exactly the co-pay amount — and so I assumed it was an error.  Somehow, the insurance company must not have realised I’d paid the co-pay on the day, so I picked up the phone to sort it out.  It was a beautiful day, sunny day and my husband was home — I’d get this out the way, it shouldn’t take long.

The lady on the phone sounded weary.  “That’s your deductible amount,” she explained, and then added, slowly and with a tinge of irritation, “You’re responsible for the deductible.”

“Oh, I know!” I said with deliberate cheerfulness, because the lady sounded like she needed it.  “I understand we pay the deductible but… I’m confused…  Before I went to the doctor’s, I spoke to a lady in your office who explained that my husband’s employer pays the first $1000 of the deductible.  Have we gone through a thousand dollars in two visits…?”

She tapped on her keyboard and then paused.  Then a deep breath.  “No, but I’m afraid whoever spoke to you got it wrong.  You’re responsible for the first thousand; your husband’s employer pays the second thousand.”

Oh.

My stomach dropped instantly, and then my mind began tallying, very quickly: doctor’s visit, three x-rays, the airboot, follow-up visit, three more x-rays, the lace-up brace…   How much had we run up?

The lady was tallying too.  “We’ve negotiated a nice discount for you on that bill…”  I could see that they had indeed — they’d reduced the bill by 75%.  “And I can see that you’ll also be receiving a bill from a rehabilitation equipment company…”  Yes, that’d be the airboot.  She told me the amount, and I winced.  “And… let me see…  another bill from the doctor’s office…”  The follow-up appointment.  “And another… oh, from the equipment company again.”  That’d be the brace.  “Let me add that up for you, ” she offered helpfully, her irritation subsided now that she realised I wasn’t going to put up a fight.  The amount came to around $400.

Four hundred dollars…  for one moment of stupidity.  Four hundred dollars, after months and months of short weeks and short pay.  Four hundred dollars!  If I had known that, I never would have taken off the tape that was holding my ankle still and let them replace it with a brand-spanking new lace-up brace.  If I had known that, I would have paused at the offer of the airboot, and grabbed my mobile to ask my mother if her old airboot would fit my foot.  If I had known how much it would cost us, I honestly think I might not have gone to the doctor at all — certainly not to that follow-up appointment.  M had said it was only a sprain and it would heal on its own, and he was right.  I could have gotten by without the doctor.

The day had seemed to have suddenly lost all its sunniness…  I felt sick to my stomach (again! again!) and deflated.  My hoped-for birthday gift now sounded extortionate, and the thought of booking that Brandon Mably class seemed frivolous, if not downright irresponsible.  Spend money on my birthday like that?  Spend money?!? What fool thinks she’d get to spend money on a milestone birthday?!?

And with that, deflation turned to anger — real, seething, boiling, red-hot rage — and  so I yelled.  I yelled and I yelled and I yelled at this country, at this joke of a “system”, at the waste and the complication and the confusion and the callousness of it all.  I yelled at the lack of transparency, at the miscommunications, at M’s lack of hours, at his too-short paycheques when he works so hard, at the recession, and at the ludicrous idea that somehow this is all ok, that this is the American Way.  I yelled because, apparently, going to the doctor when I sprained my ankle was my birthday gift this year.

M thought I was yelling at him.  And he came up and held my hands and, with tears in his eyes, he said, “Your birthday will be alright.  We’ll make it alright.”  And then I felt terrible for all the yelling, and tears came to my eyes too.  Sod my stinkin’ birthday — what I’m really scared of is losing the house.

The door woke me when M left this morning: 6.11am.  That’s early, I thought, and then drifted heavily back to sleep, hopeful that it meant he had a busy day scheduled.  He was back home again just after 1pm, having worked three hours, and then hung around for another three in the hopes that some more work would come in, before he finally gave up and drove back home to us.

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Something I Miss:

The chemist’s shop (pharmacy) in the little town where I lived in the UK was a step back in time, and delightful and frustrating for it in equal measure.  If it had disabled access, I was unaware — all I know is that it had a narrow doorway and an awkward step that was incredibly difficult to manoeuvre with a heavy pushchair.  The hours were posted on the door: Monday – Saturday, 9-5; closed for lunch from 1-2; half-day closing on Wednesdays.

Once inside, there was an old glass-and-wood counter on the right from which you could buy magazines, cigarettes, wine and whiskey, or sweets.  To the left was a rabbit’s warren of shelving units — packed so close that the pushchair only just fit through — offering a dizzying array of almost anything a person living in a small town might want.  The carpet was trodden to a manky brown-grey by a thousand muddy boots, and jarred with the sleek and brightly lit cosmetics displays.  The place smelled musty, always, as if what it really needed was for someone to throw open the windows and let the wind blow through.

At the far end of the shop stood the chemist’s counter, with the traditional set-up of the cashier’s till at the ground level where the customers were, but the chemist (pharmacist) work up high on a raised dais.  The chemist popped down regularly to answer questions and give advice any sort of ailment that was presented — in the traditional role of a sort-of doctor’s stand-in — but then went back up to the solitude and privacy of the mezzanine to work in peace.

The cashiers knew our names — it was a small town, after all.  They saved my favourite magazines for me.  And the prescriptions — every one and every time — cost £7.20.

Something I Love:

Here in the US, the girl’s doctor asks me which pharmacy we use, as she peers squinty-eyed at her computer screen.  I tell her and she taps in the prescription.  “Are you going straight there?  They’ll have it ready in about 20 minutes.”

When we pull up, the girls are asleep, exhausted from the adrenaline kick that a visit to the doctor’s always brings, so I go round the back to the drive-thru.  The cashier doesn’t know us, but she checks our insurance card and, as promised, the prescription is ready, all packaged up in its paper bag and waiting for us to collect it.  There are two more refills, and the pharmacy will hold those on file until I ring next month to say I am ready to drive-thru and pick those up as well.

And the girls sleep on — undisturbed and unaware — and I marvel at how easy this is.

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I have a little announcement to make…  No wait!  Close your mouth — I’m not pregnant.  In fact, I could make this announcement even more shocking than that if I followed the lead of a friend of mine who made my announcement in an email to her friends with the opening words, “Strawberry is dying!”

I’m not.  She’d misspelled it.

The thing is, you all know that ever since I left my job to become a stay-at-home mum, I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do when I eventually go back to work.  Knowing I didn’t want to go back to what I did previously, I’ve spent several years casting about for what might be the right career to go into.   Well, this is not it, but it is an itty-bitty baby step toward doing something I love.  A tiny step, and a huge step all at the same time.  And I am immensely excited about it.

I have been dyeing lately, quite a lot — that’s dyeing with an ‘e’  — and at some friends’ very enthusiastic encouragement, I have opened a shop on Etsy, called SpaceCadet Creations, where I sell my hand-dyed yarns and fiber.  Take a look:

I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited in a long time.  Mixing the colours myself (from the three primaries and black), seeing the results come out of the dyepot, putting the yarns and fiber up on Etsy, getting the email to say that someone has bought my stuff…  It feels fantastic.  When I grow up, I want to do a job that I love doing, and this — opening this shop, taking one bold baby-step towards that goal — has made me feel that that might actually be possible, for the first time in a long time.

Come, have a look at my shop and dance a little excited-dance with me!  And if you know anyone — anyone at all — who knits, spins, felts, or crochets, please, please send them my way.

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Now, I have waxed lyrical on here before about Trader Joe’s castille soap, and with good reason.  It is great stuff — in my opinion an absolutely perfect soap for a million uses, from washing my hair to body wash to adding to laundry to cleaning the kitchen floor.  And Trader Joe’s have got the balance of peppermint to the other ingredients just right, so it’s zingy fresh but still gentle.  I don’t ever want to be without this soap.

But the last time we went to TJ’s, there was none of their castille soap to be found.  I panicked and rushed to the customer service desk, where I was reassured that it was just out of stock, not discontinued, and they suggested I grab a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s instead.

Dr. Bronner’s was not quite the same.  Besides the initial shock of the label — so chock full of weird evangelism that it took a full 3 minutes to find the ingredient list — the smell took me by surprise.  It seems the ratio of peppermint is much higher and the result is much zingy-er, almost overpowering.  …Not something I’d want to be buying regularly.  Still, it would do in a pinch, so I paid for the bottle and went home happy.

The next morning, as I lathered up in the shower, I remembered that one of the commenters to my previous blog post about castille soap had warned me to take care when using it in the shower.  She had suggested it might be a bit strong for one’s tingly bits.  I remembered this just a moment too late, just as the aforementioned bits began to remind me.  My instant reaction was to rinse it off as quickly as possible but then…  I paused.  The sensation was initially a bit startling, to be sure, and the intensity increased rather alarmingly but then it had levelled off a bit and become perfectly tolerable and rather… um… intriguing.  Not necessarily in the way you might be thinking, but cool and fresh, a little like someone had turned a fan on.  I lingered a few moments before I washed it off.

When I came down into the kitchen after my shower, M gave me a good morning hug and kiss.  “Wow…” he said, his nose scrunched up a bit, “your hair  smells… minty!”

I put on a deliberately straight face  and then said, “Listen, there’s a soap dispenser on the edge of the bath.  I want you to use it and tell me what you think.”

“Uh, okay,” he said, and shrugged.

“No, I want you to use it on your… on your bits.”  Most of the time, my husband is not an adventurous man — he likes to have his day planned, he likes to do his job carefully from start to finish, and he likes to follow a well-worn routine.  But in some things — some things — he’s willing to try almost anything.

His face didn’t move at all, but his eyes darted to mine and then crinkled a bit into a smile,  “Ohhh-kay!”

Later that night,  after the chaos of the day had passed, we sat side-by-side on the couch, watching the telly and drinking an end-of-day cup of tea.  “So, did you try that soap?” I asked.

“Yep.”  His eyes on the telly.

I turned to face him.  “Front and back?”

“Yep.”  Still straight at the telly.

“Well… what did you think?”

He brought his mug up to his lips and took a slow sip, and then lowered it to his lap again.  Still in profile to me, his eyes never moved, but the corners of his mouth had lifted mischievously.  “You can buy that soap again sometime,” he said.  He paused, and then opened his mouth as if to say something more, but closed it again abruptly.  And then smiled a bit more, and took another slow swig of his tea.

Hmmm.  Maybe I will buy it again.

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The snow, which has held us captive for over a month now, is slowly beginning to loosen its grip at last, revealing random patches of bare ground where the grass appears so yellowed and flattened in submission that one wonders that it will ever come back to life.

“Weather’s turning,” M observed as we pulled into the driveway.  “We’d best get some of that trimmed back now before Spring hits in and it all goes crazy again.”  This garden had taken us by surprise last year: the shrubs grew alarmingly fast, the ornamental trees at the back had seemed to double in size in one summer, and the grape vine had threatened to push its way right through one window.  This year, we had decided, we’d be on top of it.

Almost immediately we got in the house, the girls wanted to go out again.  They also know the snow is disappearing and are desperate to spend every day it’s still here enjoying it.  But getting them out there is a chaotic process that I don’t enjoy: changing into jeans, jumpers, coats, scarves, finding hats and wayward gloves, digging out socks, fighting reluctant boots…  There is tripping, falling, stuck zippers, shoes on wrong feet…   I slunk down to the family room and left M with the madness, with the good excuse that my ankle was hurting — which it was — but also with the enormous relief that I did not have to be on duty today.  The noise and chaos was just more than my head could bear today.

Eventually the din died down , and then I heard the door shut and the house fell quiet.  I sat for a moment and soaked it in.  Quiet.  Nothing.  Silence.  Even better than the silence of a nap, because that might be rudely broken at any moment.  This was the sure silence of emptiness, something I hardly know any more, and I was going to enjoy it.

Tea first.  A silent house called for a cup of tea.  And then, perhaps I would write an email to an old friend.  I smiled to myself — this was going to be really nice.

I had been sitting at the computer for only a few minutes — my thoughts only just beginning to gather — when the house rumbled for a moment.   Startled and not quite knowing what to think, I just stopped still, fingers suspended over the keyboard.  It came again, the whole right side of the house rumbling and shaking and sounding like it was about to come down.  I grabbed my coat and hobbled out the back door.

The girls stood with the neighbour-kids in a semi-circle around M, who was crouched by the side wall at the base of the grape arbour and cutting through the main vine with the electric reciprocating saw from his truck.  The arbour was shaking violently, the vine was resisting as much as it could.  I cleared my throat.

M looked up and grinned, proud of himself.  “I’m nearly done!” he announced, and pointed to the vine on the other side of the arbour.  “I’ve got through that one already, and I’ve done all the smaller ones on this side.  Just this last one to go.”  And then he spotted the shock on my face, and his grin slid away.

“Ohhhh…” he began, and the shape of the word lingered on his lips for a moment.  “Oh, I thought we’d agreed on this.  We… we had discussed this, hadn’t we?”  He pressed his finger to the trigger of the saw, and it whirled a little, hesitantly.

We had, but my recollection was that we’d settled on perhaps digging up the vines and moving the arbour, and then we’d left the matter unsettled…  His recollection, my recollection…  Husband-wife miscommunications are the stuff that marriage is made of.

“I’ll… um…  I’ll leave this for now, shall I?” he said, a bit sheepishly.  And then pointed to the sagging limbs on the snow-battered lilac tree.  “Should I…  well, how about those?  Should they come down?”  I nodded, and he turned away from the vine — a stay of execution at the last moment — and headed for the lilac.

The children had wandered back to the snow, all but the neighbour boy who, at the age of nine, had spotted the undercurrents in our conversation and was now watching me intently to see where this would go.  I looked at him and smiled.  “Jay, when you get older and get married… and you think you know what your wife wants you to do…  just be sure to go back and double-check with her, ok?  And then… double-check again.”  I winked at him, and he laughed.

And I turned and went back into the house, where everything would be quiet.

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