Friday, January 22, 2010

Mouse House

A few nights before Christmas I was sitting in my kitchen late at night, quite exhausted from a long day of holiday baking. I had just finished cleaning everything up, and was writing my list for the coming day when I spyed out of the corner of my eye a small gray blur scoot along three feet from me under the dishwasher heading to the recycle bin. A mouse! EEEK! I flipped out, calling upstairs to my daughter, who thankfully did not hear me - she is more of a scaredy-cat than I ever was. The next morning I asked my "fish guy" (I have a salt-water aquarium, which he maintains for me) check near that recycle bin for the mouse. He did, chuckling, declaring that the little rascal was not around. Little did I know.

A night or two later, coming in from Christmas Even dinner at my mother's, we walked into the house, flipped on the kitchen light to witness the little bugger scurrying across the room. Of course, being Christmas Eve and still needing to make stuffing and a Turkey for the next day (and having a 101 fever, to boot) I conceded that I had a "Christmas Mouse" and would deal with it later. Well, that fever turned worse by Christmas night, and then we left for our northwoods home for a week, me forgetting the visitor completely. I suffered with bronchitis that week and a few weeks after. Cut to now mid January, where I finally went to get a few mousetraps at the local Ace Hardware store. (And I was astounded at the variety in these contraptions!)

Not that I put them immediately out. I waited until my husband was home last weekend and had him set the traps. Two of them were the kind that the mouse goes into and cannot get out of - no kill, no see. But boy-oh-boy do you HEAR them in there. It only took a few hours for the first one to get trapped in my pantry. (Yuk!) John promptly removed the first victim and set another trap before we went to sleep. Eight hours later I am in my kitchen signing some papers for a mortgage refinance with a notary and hear the scratch, scratch, scratch of another mousy. John opens the pantry door and dang if we didn't have another one, trapped in a traditional mousetrap, by his nose. Again, John picks the trap up and disposes of now victim no. 2. He then leaves on a trip. (Yikes, NOW what will I do?) He sets another no-kill trap for me before he leaves though, so I don't have to touch the mouse, exclaiming that he thought that we wouldn't have another - after all, we'd already trapped TWO.

Cut to just a few hours later. I was in my den on the computer and my daughter comes in telling me that she hears the scratch-scratch-scratch sounds coming AGAIN from the pantry. Damn, I think - ANOTHER one! Sure enough, we had trapped our third victim, but alas, no John to help this time. So I summoned all of my courage and scooted the trap into an empty soda pop box and disposed of it into the garage garbage can. And then I called the "Orkin Man". No more messing around.

The exterminator came the next morning, armed with traps and a flashlight. He looked around in the basement and declared that mouse-free. Then upstairs - same deal. It seemed (to him) that we had probably gotten all of them. Meanwhile my daughter and I began the tedious task of cleaning out the entire pantry, where certainly there was evidence that those three victims had had a veritable field day since Christmas. It was a gruesome task cleaning out that pantry (but it's clean as a whistle now, I'll tell ya!) The Orkin guy looks under my sink and bingo - more evidence of recent critterage.

I ended up cleaning out all my kitchen drawers and washing everything in them, seeing evidence of the trio's pathways. It was a long day of cleaning, vacuuming and disinfecting - a task that was so disgusting to me I can't even summon the right words. The Orkin guy meantime plugged up some under-sink holes and set out some glue-traps under that sink and again in my pantry. We had pulled the fridge out of it's alcove to discover the likely place the little buggers had been living. So that's now all clean as well, and the Orkin man declared I will not likely have any more problems, but if I did, it would be in the next day or so and that they'd be attracted to his traps, which smell of peanut butter. Apparently that's a mouse delicacy. I went to bed exhausted from my clean-up efforts, convinced we had gotten everthing and my house was again sterile and safe from pests.

This morning I was on the phone in my room when my daughter comes in the room with a panicked look on her face. I look up and she is holding up four fingers. We had our next victim. Problem was, this one was stuck to the glue trap, fully visible and still alive and trying to get free (which it cannot). I knew there was NO POSSIBLE WAY I could touch that thing myself. Thank heaven for nephews. So victim no. 4 has been disposed of in the refuse can of the park across the street because my weekly pickup had already been done that morning. I coudn't have that thing in my can stinking up the place for another week. Egads. At any rate, now my daughter and I are freaked out thinking we are going to have yet another one. Meanwhile, there are six traps in the garage and three in the basement set out as well. So far, no takers, thank heavens.

I am a strong person, but when it comes to bugs, rodents or reptiles, I am absolutly a sissy. I don't want to wake up tomorrow, open that pantry door to find no. 5. I hope my little vistors are gone for good. Certainly I will be VERY careful to make sure that door into the garage closes tight every time I go through it. I have seen where my daughter or others at home don't look back to check - and hence I believe, my little critters helped themselves to the heat of my home and my pantry. You can be sure I will be extremely careful how I store food in there going forward. I don't want to have to clean every surface of my kitchen, it's cabinets and drawers again and all their contents. What a huge amount of work, and what a nasty mess those little guys leave behind!

The only mice I want to see going forward live in a fairyland called "The Magic Kingdom". Let's hope one of Mickey's brethren is not still loose in my mouse house.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Food for Thought

My daughter has for the last week or two been on a new diet - Jenny Craig. I have not been doing it with her, though admittedly I probably could. All the talk about food around here the last two weeks has made me think more and more about my relationship with food in general. Because for sure it's a relationship.

When I think about being aware of food in my life I think about the smells of my grandmother (and mother) cooking and baking. I liked to help, particularly with baking. Even today, I am the only one in the family that still makes some of the traditional Slovak pastries that she was so wonderful at producing. I have a lot of pride surrounding the fact that I can duplicate some rather well now (others are still a work in progress.) I liked to eat as a kid, but wasn't overweight ever, that I remember. Maybe fifth grade - right before puberty took hold, but I was never what anyone would call "fat". That was then.

I put on maybe 15 pounds during college - enough to begin to think about diet programs. I joined a place called Gloria Marshall with my best friend for a summer. I dropped all my freshman weight gain and then some, starting sophomore year in the best shape I have ever been in to this day. THen I started dating my (now) husband. He has been overweight his whole life, except when we first began dating. We cooked together, ate together and began to gain weight together. For the most part, I kept my figure under 180 lbs until after my first child.

When my first child was 4 and second was 2, I weighed in at 265. I remember going to my doctor and crying. He sent in his nurse, who talked with me and took me to my first OA meeting. I went to meetings for a period of maybe 18 months, and lost about 75 lbs altogether. I kept that off until Hurricane Andrew, about two years later. Then began the slow climb up, again. 10 lbs up each year of the last 10 or so. Oh, I've lost 30 lbs here, or 15-20 lbs there, only to gain them back.

So I'm now nearly 51, and thinking that I have on my frame probably 130 lbs that shouldn't be there. THat's a whole person. It occurred to me that I can't lift 130 lbs - how can I continue to carry a whole other person around on my body? This has never occurred to me before, frankly. I have known, of course, that I'm overweight, and have suffered the shame of that too. I have been humiliated in restaurants or theaters where I cannot fit comfortably into a chair because I carry the weight in my hips, for the most part, being a pear shape. I try to shrink myself as well as I can in airline seats, needing to life the armrest for comfort. Most seatmates are understanding. I have bought first class tickets just to avoid the humiliation. I am VERY weary of facing this. I am afraid that my body won't be able to keep up with the load I have asked it to carry the last 15 or so years. Already I am showing signs of it beginning to break down. Joint pain, back pain, high blood pressure. I have to be realistic and face the crisis I am in.

I'm not sure why I have let myself get to this point. It'll probably take a whole lot of therapy to figure that out. I like to eat and love to cook - it's a creative outlet for me, really. I enjoy having others eat the food I have made and nod in satisfaction. But funny enough, it isn't when I am doing all that cooking that I have the urge to overeat. To the contrary, when I am doing all that preparation, I don't really feel like eating when it comes time to sit down at the table. For me, it's the alone times that drive me to my pantry. And for the last few years I have spent A LOT of time alone. ALONE is what gets me into trouble every time.

I think I am beginning to turn a corner in terms of my own health. I am starting to think about cooking in different ways. I cleaned out my pantry yesterday and am donating lots of food that I shouldn't eat that someone else may have. I am thinking about making better, healthier choices when I'm in a restaurant. Still have a hard time passing up a piece of bread, but I do think that this will be the year that I make some positive, lasting changes.

Surviving Disaster

My heart is breaking for the people in Haiti. I have lived through a large natural disaster - Hurricane Andrew, in 1992 - Miami. I can't fathom, however, a disaster that strikes with no warning and with such utter devastation. I can fathom the feelings of helplessness and disbelief. I experienced those emotions during "Andrew". For this earthquake, the news stories are as compelling as they are horrifying and I am finding myself glued to my television to watch the coverage.

I am hopeful that this disaster will bring about the best in people. It's encouraging watching the planes coming in with relief so quickly for these stricken people but what breaks my heart more than anything is thinking about the number of orphans that have been created as a result of this earthquake and watching footage of children with blank stares and tears in their eyes. Who will take care of the children? The grief and shock at what is to be found must be staggering for people living in the midst of this, and for the countless workers, doctors, engineers, military personnel and relief organizations all headed to Haiti to help. The images being shown of bodies in the streets are unimaginable. How can one watch and not be effected?

Let's hope that politics don't muck up the efforts to really help these people. Our president said today that Haitians will "not be forsaken". I pray to God that he is right on this one and that his promises are not empty. Relief for Haiti will not just be this week, or this month, but will need to stretch out to years. In the days that followed Hurricane Andrew, there was much criticism of how lagging aid was to south Florida. I remember feeling relief seeing the military planes landing at Tamiami Airport just north of where we lived. A sign of hope and help. Our neighborhood had been flattened. At least in Andrew, the death toll was less than 100 souls. In Haiti, it may be as much as 100,000. Staggering. Where is the Haitian government in the efforts to recover people? Are those that ran the government all gone? Can this mean a new leaf may be turned for this nation? Someone has to be in charge - will it end up being the US? How can donors be assured that their money and resources will be directed to the people who really need it and not line the pockets of the corrupt and greedy. The US has a checkered past with the leaders of Haiti. We have supported some pretty bad guys. Let's pray we won't do that now and that someone is literally minding the store.

I have been to the north coast of Haiti - Labadee, having been there from the decks of Royal Caribbean cruise ships. It's a lovely place with a colorful, exhuberant people. You would think that big companies would invest in the hundreds of miles of beaches and make Haiti a large tourist destination. This has not happened, other than places like Labadee. I wonder that maybe now, with all the money flowing into this country that opportunity for change will come to this nation after all. Can a nation that is amongst the very poorest in the world be turned around? Can the people be educated to the degree that they begin to help themselves?

After Andrew it was hard to imagine life before the disaster - for a time anyway. But hope does return when the aid planes and military forces step in to maintain order. We were lucky, in a way. We had a place to stay and water to drink. Friends stepped up to help us immediately. Neighbors banded together and shared what they had to make it easier for everyone. But what resources do these people have? It looks like little. Very little. Heartbreaking. But people are resilient and there are good folks and organizations that will make a difference in Haiti in short order. Until all the help arrives, and for some time, I will keep these people in my mind and prayers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Who's Fixing Who?

I get very tired of being the person to whom others come to fix a problem. Whether it's with my cash, advice, time or talent, it doesn't matter. I am feeling rather used up and frankly just getting fed up with being Mrs. Fixit. Today I was asked a favor by a family member. Because it was a family member I feld obligated to help, but damn it to hell, I really didn't want to help AT ALL. This person needs to help themself and my pitching in will only keep the situation status quo that much longer. In other words, I'm enabling this person to keep leaning on me and others. But it's really difficult to turn away a request for help, especially from family. I ended up helping, but not on the terms I was asked, and I qualified it and told the person it couldn't continue. My stomach was churning the whole time.

It's not the only time it's happened. In fact, it happens all the time. I get myself into situations where I take on work or a task that I really don't want to do at all, but end up saying yes to in order to help someone out. Well, that's what I say it is. Really it has to be something else, right? Because no one should overload themselves doing work or things they don't want to get involved in just to say they are helping others out. For me I think it's more that I worry what others will think if I say no. A friend of mine has told me I am overly concerned with how others view me. And he is right I think. All day today I have been thinking about this. So I get myself into these pickles where I am doing things I don't really want to be tied up with.

The result of this is that I end up forgetting to do things I really need to focus on because I was trapped doing those other "helper" tasks. Then I get overwhelmed and panicky that I have let something go that was important, or my husband gets crabby with me because I've not gotten to something I promised I would take care of at some point. (That's a bit of another story, frankly - that accountability factor to my husband is not sitting well with me. I'm not an employee.) At any rate, the getting behind in the real tasks I should be doing just leads to guilty or shameful feelings, making me feel even worse about myself than I already feel. (I am my own worst critic, for sure.)

It's not even just that I don't get other things done. It's that I get so overloaded I run myself into the ground physically. Before Christmas I ran like crazy so much and stressed myself out to the degree that I ended up sick from Christmas Eve until really the last day or two - three weeks VERY sick! And I run myself into the ground emotionally too. To borrow a phrase, "It's All Too Much". It has to stop. I am beginning to find my voice, and to start saying NO when others ask me (unreasonably) to help them. I have to guard my time more preciously. I'm in my 50s. How much time do I have? No one ever knows, but getting to mid age, it's something that definitely occurs to me much more often. I don't want to spend my time sick or feeling bad or mired up in stuff I don't want to be embroiled in.

This whole thing is a work in progress, for sure. My first instinct is always to say yes when asked for assistance. But it's getting to be about that Oprah saying now about leading my "best life". Is it my best life if I am just taking it up with tasks? And not that I want to be selfish and just cold turkey and stop helping others. That will never be the case. But I am going to try (going forward) to ask myself when asked for my help if that help (whether financial, emotional or physical) will benefit the other party in the long run and if it will serve me in some way too. And by that I mean whether or not I'd get satisfaction from helping or if it will just lead to guilt and stress and bad feelings in some way. But even as I write this I have to say I feel guilty in some way for being "selfish".

My time and resources must be guarded more fervently. I am committed to having a different life this year - different results. And I know the old proverb (or whatever) that says that the definition of folly is expecting different results but not doing anything differently. So I am going to gamble to some extent and change it up. Because I'm just not happy with how things are going for me. I'm tired of being taken advantage of - in all ways. I'm tired of being taken for granted. I am tired. Period. It's a new decade. A new year, and a new time in my life. Maybe for the first time I'm starting to really be alive and have a sense of myself and my place and role in the world. One thing is sure - I'm not going to be the fixit gal all the time any more. Because if I continue the way I have gone, someone is going to have to fix me. Might as well be me that does the fixing before someone else has to.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I have had a few phone calls today from family members whose telephone habits can best be described as 'rambling'. Now I have been known to sit on the phone as well as anyone and gab, but when the conversation rambles all over the place and the person on the other end of the phone clearly just wants to hear their own voice and not really have a conversation per se, I get very, very annoyed. It's akin to a phone call that amounts to the age-old phone question, "what are you doing?", meaning...."I don't care, I just want to tell you about ME." I have little to no patience any more with these types of call(er)s.

I can appreciate that sometimes a friend or family member just wants to call because they are lonely. This seems to happen more often with my mother-in-law, who is elderly. I can tolerate her calls most of the time, though I have been known to refer to her as a "time-sucker". (She has a way of eating up my day in a way that no other person can. ) At any rate, if the caller is OLD, then I can cut a reasonable amount of slack to him/her by virtue of age, infirmaty, or dementia. They can't help themselves, right? What I am talking about here are those callers who clearly have their own agenda and whether or not you actually say a word is immaterial. This is highly agitating. I got such a call today. Augh.

The caller to which I refer is a talker. This person literally never shuts up unless asleep or passed out. I can handle inane chatter only so long. When the other person clearly starts in on a subject for which they have absolutely no knowledge but talk as if they are an expert - and I know this for sure, I devolve conversationally into a verbal combattant. Can't flippin' help myself! Today this person went on and on about a group I am working with and how what they do can't possibly be effective. She hasn't seen their work. She hasn't talked to anyone in their organization. She just assumes she knows. I was offended and really put off. She knows literally NOTHING about them, yet she makes a judgement. Why do people do that? How can you judge and shoot your mouth off about something you know nothing about?

I have to set time limits when I am on the phone with "Caller A". Even if I have no where to go or not much to do, I can no longer handle idle chatter in which I am clearly just a listener and not a participant/collaborator. I have to literally lie to the caller to give myself an "out". Does everyone do this? Maybe we all know someone like this. When the caller ID lights up with their name and/or number, it's time to hesitate before picking up that receiver. Do I have time enough to invest in this "conversation" today? How is my patience level - can I handle several comments that are right off the wall? I have to screen the calls - that 's the answer. Some days I can hang in there with a meaningless phone call, but other days (like today) I just get discombobulated and can't take it. Yikes.

So if you are calling me, I'm just stating in advance that I screen my calls. No offense to anyone. It's a matter of time and sanity. And if you are entering a conversation and going to speak on a subject - KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT before bringing something up. Or have the grace to be corrected, because sometimes I can't hold back. And if I have misspoken, please correct me. It's a new year, and I am going to guard my time more carefully.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I have been going through some notes I made a year or more back while researching one of my grandmother's history before traveling to Slovakia a year and a half ago. In those notes were a lot of infomation I gathered on Dad's side of the family, too. I use, which I have found to be a useful, if not exactly user-friendly sight. At any rate, I discovered lots of data related to my Grandfather, but not so much on my Grandmother. I know she went to the "conservatory", but not sure at what age, or which conservatory she attended. (She was a music teacher - piano and organ.) I always thought she attended the music school instead of college, but I think perhaps she went for what would have been her high school years. I found a census record that says at age 18 her occupation was "music teacher." She didn't marry until she was 27, so there are a good many years to think about in between.

There are so many questions I wish I could ask her about her life and the times in which she lived. I've been wondering how she felt about marriage to a man who traveled nearly constantly for his work, as I find myself in that predicament a lot of the time. (Though our circumstances surrounding that a very different - Grandma made the money in the family, not Grandpa. I think he earned enough just to keep himself on the road.) She really was extraordinary. Strong willed, prideful and fiercely loyal. I never heard her raise her voice, though she must have I imagine. When she was miffed my experience was she would clam up with a grim expression on her face. I'll have to ask Dad about that. She ended up having a life I think much different than the one she imagined for herself when she was in school. I would love to ask her about that, but of course, she is gone now nearly 30 years. And as cool as the geneology sites are, they cannot tell you those things.

I am lucky. My parents are alive and healthy, and so are a good source of information, but they see their parent's lives though their own eyes, not through their parents'. Letters my grandparents may have written were burned after they were gone, so I haven't any of that to fall back on either. The reason I'm curious is that the subject for the book project I am beginning is loosly based on Grandma's early life, which I must imagine more than anything I guess. And again, the geneology research can give me only so much - where she lived during the major census', marriage dates, birth and death dates, etc. I have tried to find alumni info for the conservatory, but it's not online, so I'll have to either write to them or go there to see if I can find any records of her matriculation - if I have the right school, that is.

What I am wrestling with is how to do her story justice while imagining much of it. It cannot be a biography because there just isn't enough data to support a life story, other than what I remember when she was already quite old. So I will focus on the first half of her life, and figure out how she may have handled things based on the era, family values, characters involved and situations she found herself in, like the Great Depression. I feel the need to honor her, but at the same time, show the flaws and struggles too, which is difficult for a granddaughter to do. She was a big influence in my life and I admired her greatly. She played the piano with feeling and gave me an appreciation for classic music I wouldn't otherwise have had. (I play too, after taking 12 years of lessons with her, though I play only fairly these days.)

So I am about to embark on this geneological mission and really look forward to putting together the facts and stories of her life, or at least the one I imagine she must have led. I'm not sure how to research the era (10's, 20's and 30's) in the 20th century, but I hope to garner more information from my Dad, as much as he may remember being a boy himself in the 30s. So off to the ancestry sites I go, looking for more clues into their lives. Let's hope it leads to better understanding of the issues every generation faces. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Wish and a Prayer

Well today is 1-1-2010. It's that time again. Time to make promises to myself that I fully INTEND to keep, but rapidly fall away from and then feel guilty about for a few weeks. After a month or so, those "resolutions" are but a cobweb of memory. In my family we have a little saying..."for YOU, it's going to be different!" You know, this year, I hope that it WILL be different in so many ways, but history is not on my side so much.

Once or twice a year I fervently scour the PEOPLE magazine issue devoted to folks who have managed to (A) keep their resolutions by (B) dieting down to half their original size. I look at how they did it. Pour over the befores and afters. Scan the comparison charts of diet plans and say to myself, "gee, why couldn't that be ME, too?" This has me wondering why in fact, it hasn't BEEN me that has had this kind of success. There are a wealth of self-help books out there that supposedly can show me the way. I've read many of them, actually. And diet books too. THey all look doable, but not so much fun, you know? All those charts and the counting and introspection. Yikes. I think perhaps this is why those books just don't help. It's too much. And doesn't get to what motivates a person to get off their butt and make a change in their life.

It occurs to me that to have success you have to have a bit of fun with the process. With respect to diet and exercise, I have yet to see a program out there that makes doing exercise or dieting either "fun" in any kind of way. Both are hard work, and finding the motivation to "Just Do It" as the Nike ad proclaims, is difficult, even with compelling reasons to try. (Like health issues, or upcoming family or social events with photos involved). So in order to get the results (for ME, it's going to be different...) I have to think up a way to make the whole thing rather fun and/or interesting. That means that success is a highly personal endeavor and really can't be just taught in a book or diet journal, no matter what the cover art proclaims.

And while I am talking about a major goal of weight loss (don't we all, after the indulgent, cookie-stuffed holidays?), really I think the fun factor applies to any resolution made. I've heard a saying somewhere, the gist of which is "a goal without a plan is just a wish". So my plan is to get to the goal by having fun with it. OK. So the next question is, how in the heck can exercise be fun? Good question. Still working on that one, actually. Dance? Music? Doing it with a friend/commiserator? Maybe all of the above. Who knows? That's the planning part of this. I'm good at planning/organizing. Why not this too?

I have other goals, besides the usual January resolve to FINALLY lose the weight and be in the best shape of my life. Most of these revolve around getting further organized, but I think I'm doing mostly ok on that score. Maybe uncluttered a bit. My bigger ambitions this year are more aligned with lifelong (well, perhaps the last 15 years) goals of writing a book. I have two stories I'm wanting to work on, so I do have a "plan" in some respects. Working on a blog has been a good start to get the fingers moving, and hence, part of that "planning" stage.

So my January is shaping up to be rather full of resolve, some solid planning and thinking up ways to make getting to the goals both interesting (i.e., less "work") and entertaining/fun. Because this year I really don't want my goals to become cobwebs, forgotten in some little-traveled corner. For me, it WILL be different. I may not make the cover of PEOPLE next year after shedding half of myself, but I think I can get closer. And that's all good with me. Happy New Year!