A past problem that haunts me still

While I may not be vocal about this, I spend a bunch of time thinking about a problem that is not currently a problem of mine. That problem is food insecurity, and if you don’t know what that is, you can read about it here: Understanding Hunger and Food Insecurity.

While I say this thankfully is not currently a problem of mine, it certainly has been a problem of mine in the past. Long ago, way before I had a well-paying job in a lucrative industry and was married to a person in the same position, I lived in the basement apartment of my father’s house, and did not have much of a salary. At 27 years old and with a recently deceased mother, I was going through somewhat of an emotional and lifestyle crisis. My dad had threatened to kill himself after my mother’s death, and asked me, his only daughter, to move in with him. I had a respectable job in publishing in New York City, but telecommuting was not done back then, so I quit and moved three hours north to one of the poorest counties in the state.

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My dad and me, a couple of months after my mother’s death. The door seen on the left leads to my apartment.

The house and property were large but extremely run-down. The main house itself had a living room, dining room, kitchen, one bathroom, and three bedrooms. It also smelled horribly of smoke, as both my parents smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. At first, I slept in the bedroom I had stayed in when I visited, but the daily smell of smoke was getting to me, and I asked to move into the basement apartment.

That apartment was not unknown to me, as I had lived there a brief period when I was 18-20 and going to junior college. It had a large living room, a very small bedroom, and an even smaller kitchen and bathroom. And I use the term “kitchen” loosely. When I was younger, the kitchen had a sink and a refrigerator. Moving back there, both of these items were gone.

Trying to make money in a poor, rural community is difficult. As a student at the local massage school, I got a student job in the bursar’s office. I was allowed to work a maximum of 10 hours a week, and I made $9 an hour. After taxes, that was about $300 a month. I had to pay for my classes, of course, and also gas for my car. My father allowed me to live in the apartment rent-free, since it would otherwise just stand empty.

Sometimes I try to think back on what I would eat on a day-to-day basis. When I first moved in with him, my dad provided me with every meal. But as I moved to the apartment and started school, I saw him less. In those days, I would have a granola bar for breakfast, a cup of free coffee at the bursar’s office sometime during the day, and whatever he made for dinner. I was hungry from skipping lunch every weekday, but there was no real suffering.

Eventually, we grew further apart as our lives went on. My dad met a woman and spent a lot of time with her, so there were no more prepared dinners most nights. I had a microwave in my apartment, so I started having microwaved popcorn almost every night. Remember, I had no sink, so I didn’t want anything that required dishes or utensils. Also, I had nowhere to store food that needed to be cold. So, I largely lived on granola bars and microwaved popcorn for two years of my life, and it wasn’t the worst that could have happened.

I remember being hungry all the time. A bag of microwaved popcorn is about 300 calories and a granola bar is about 150, so with the coffee, I was having about 500 calories a day, most days. As a comparison, I now eat about 1,100 calories a day, most days, and the average adult woman eats about twice that (2,000 according to Google). Of course, some happy days I did get other food. Sometimes my dad brought home a bucket of KFC. Sometimes I went to a friend’s house for dinner. Sometimes, when it was payday, I treated myself to a sandwich from the gas station when I filled up my car.

Let me be clear in saying that I did not have it all that bad. But what I do want to emphasize is that it is now many years later, and I still look back on that time of my life often and with a feeling of existential dread. I wanted to write about some things I do that help the situation and also alleviate my anxiety, but this post has gotten pretty long, so I’ll save that for next time.

Small moments

Elegant_Sparklers

A few weeks ago, I was out at the playground with my two kids. They were playing together, while I sat on a bench and stared off into space (a favorite pastime of mine). A little boy, who may have been about two, came over to me and started babbling. He put his hands on my knees and acted very familiar with me. I started feeling really uncomfortable and also like the parent would not be happy seeing me so close to their kid.

My two sons saw my distress and came over, and I asked them to play with him. They tried, but he would not leave me. I asked him where his parents were, and started to look around. About ten minutes later, a man came over and stopped when he saw me.

“Is he yours?” I asked.

“Yes.” He tried to take the kid’s hand, but the boy slapped him away. “Sorry, you look like his mother, who died last month.”

I was too stunned to say anything, and the man walked away, leaving me with his son. He had given me no guidance as to how to act, and generally parents frown on a stranger even touching their kid. My kids eventually got him to play, but he kept coming over to talk to me (I couldn’t understand anything) and trying to pat my hair. I let my hand rest on his shoulder, but the dad wouldn’t meet my eye, so I don’t know if he approved or not. I also let my kids play in the park for roughly two hours, because I didn’t want this kid to see me leave. I also hope that seeing me did not scar the kid somehow further.

If you can stand it, here is another emotional incident! Last week I was at the grocery store getting some things for my son’s seventh birthday party (how did that happen?). I was in the aisle that has decorative plates and whatnot, and a woman in her 70s was also there. She held up a black plate with a picture of a purple birthday cake on it, and asked me if I thought it was “too girly” for her son, who was turning 31.

Now, I’m not the type to start talking with an older woman about gender norms, especially when she was just trying to be sensitive to her son and do a nice thing, so just I told her I thought it was fine. We started talking about candle choices, and I convinced her to get the same ones I got for my son, which were sparkler candles (Note: They weren’t as spectacular as the packaging would lead you to believe, but still pretty cool.)

We talked about our respective “kids” for a few minutes, and she gave another glance toward the paper products and asked, “Do you really think it’s okay?” I told her that if my mother had been alive to celebrate my 31st birthday with me, not to mention being thoughtful enough to contemplate whether the decorations would please me or not, I would have been so grateful. We hugged and then I went to sit in my car and cry for a good ten minutes. And then I pulled myself together and continued being a mom.

The End of 2016

I’m not the type of blogger to just open a window, type a post, and publish it. Usually I write in Word, save it, read it a few days later, edit it, and then finally publish it. That’s not what I’m doing now. I decided to see what would happen if I just wrote, without much in the way of self-editing. So here goes.

I’ve never much cared for the winter holidays. I hate the cold, I hate the snow, and most of all, I hate the mandatory giving and receiving of presents. In general, I try not to buy into it. There is only one adult family member I exchange presents with. My husband and I either go out to a concert or show and a nice dinner, and consider that our gift to each other. For my two children, ages six and two, I buy one present each. And not an expensive gift either. The elder got a limited edition Pokemon tin with cards ($24) and the younger got an erasable drawing board (also $24). I also got them stockings (from Santa) with dental hygiene products and some candy. They both played with their presents a good portion of the day (they also got a present each from my aunt).

While the younger was napping, the elder and I colored, and he said, “This is what I love best–when we’re together and it’s nice and quiet.” He also had drawn us each a really thoughtful card. It was pleasant, calm, and a far cry from the first year we celebrated the holidays in our house, and got him about five gifts, and also had more gifts from other relatives, and these resulted in him being overstimulated, not able to nap (he was two then) and crying himself to bed at night because he didn’t get exactly what he wanted.

Saying all that, it seems like it was the perfect Christmas for me. And yet I had a lingering thought of how I should have done more for them. Bought them more. Or somehow been more. Then of course I was also disappointed in myself for feeling that way, so that just added to it.

As the years pass, I am trying to start other holiday traditions that don’t center around the giving of presents. One thing I love is to make a gingerbread house (see above). We always go to have brunch with Santa. Usually I like to bake cookies, but this year we didn’t get to it. Maybe next year, when the younger is a bit older, we’ll start going to visit the tree. My family didn’t have that many holiday traditions (we were mostly a Chinese food and movie family), so I don’t have much to draw on.

And now, as we go into the darkest time of the year for me (both emotionally and actual light-wise), I have to concentrate on the fact that some day it will be warm again.

November Minimalism Game–Week 3

There’s a big, glaring thing wrong about this post, and that’s of course that it was supposed to be out the third week of November, and not the second week of December. Why is it late? Because it’s not only hard to purge this much stuff, but it’s also very time-consuming. Something I also discovered the last time I did this is that it’s almost impossible to go through this process with also doing one or more project-type cleanings. For example, two years ago I got rid of almost all our CDs and DVDs and all my old magazines. This year, even though I am only on the third week, I have completely cleaned out my freezer and also the toys in the living room. We got rid of a storage ottoman that was broken and replaced it with a non-storage ottoman, to encourage us to have fewer things. Then, I also went through the toys one-by-one. Some things had a lower age limit of 9 or 10 (my oldest is only 6), so I put them in the basement for later. Some toys seem interesting but maybe they could be rotated back, so I also put them in the basement. A lot of toys were too young for even the youngest, so these got donated. And a lot of toys were broken or redundant, so these were either recycled, thrown away, or donated.

Before I get to the list, I want to say that I do intend to finish this process, even though it’s late. I am going to try to finish by January 4th. I know that I’ll probably have to think of another big project to do, and that will probably be going through the basement, since it was the only thing I didn’t do two years ago. Okay, here’s my list:

15. (1) Crap masks, (2) Candy no one liked, (3) Small pieces of something, (4) Baby toy, (5) Graphic novel (sold on Amazon), (6) Sock with a hole in it, (7) Cheap plastic toy, (8) Plastic pieces I don’t know what they are, (9) Broken wooden car, (10) Package of wipes have gone dry, (11) Allen key, (12) Melted candle, (13) Too small tote bag, (14) Lots of small pieces to something or other, (15) Bag of dry cat food.

16. (1) Cat carrier, (2) Plastic lid of something, (3) Piece from an old baby game, (4) Oddly shaped plastic piece, (5) Ripped underwear, (6) Too many combs, (7) Annoying toy, (8) Weird color sock, (9) Odd mat thing, (10) Mommy Hook, (11) Second Mommy Hook (this is a real item, BTW), (12) Gross tub toy, (13) Really old and gross tub of diaper cream, (14) Even older tub of Vicks, (15) Large lid of something.

17. (1) Baby rash cream, (2) Wound barrier cream, (3) Crap check holder, (4) Annoying cup, (5) Annoying Sippy cup, (6) Stray lid, (7) Reusable straw, (8) Broken toy, (9) Cat or kid toy, (10) Weird balloon thing, (11) Craft sword, (12) Tupperware lid, (13) Dead plant, (14) Catnip spray, (15) Cup lid, (16) Crap glasses, (17) McDonald’s toy.

18. (1) Small plastic toy, (2) One horse, (3) Another horse, (4) Yet another horse, (5) Crap puzzle, (6) Play Doh, (7) Crap car, (8) Part of car, (9) McDonald’s toy, (10) Cookie cutter, (11) Wooden puzzle no pieces, (12) Another puzzle no pieces, (13) Socket protector, (14) Stale frozen sandwich, (15) Wooden sticks, (16) Puzzle game pieces missing, (17) Literally a bag of rocks, (18) Broken toy.

19. (1) McDonald’s toy, (2) Cow doesn’t go with anything, (3) Dino I don’t like, (4) Broken Lego pieces, (5) This truck is too big, (6) Expired food, (7) Instrument we don’t play, (8) McDonald’s toy, (9) Disposable tablecloths, (10) Diaper cream, (11) Burp cloth, (12) Diaper bag, (13) Broken car, (14) Stray plastic piece, (15) Plastic rope tie, (16) Broken tail of something, (17) Slap bracelet, (18) Kazoo, (19) Guy too big for Lego.

20. (1) Phone holder, (2) Stale sunscreen, (3) Granola bars of yesteryear, (4) Prized Lego that’s really broken, (5) Doodle book doodled in, (6) Broken toy, (7) Rice spoon, (8) Bad sunglasses, (9) Novelty glasses, (10) Broken eraser, (11) Old gift bags, (12) Painting device, (13) Wood glue, (14) Stale frozen sandwich, (15) Melted and reformed Popsicle, (16) Baby book, (17) Old karate belt, (18) Failed craft, (19) Ripped blanket, (20) Not a good bear.

21. (1) Boppy, (2) Boppy cover, (3) What did the kid make?, (4) Stale perfume, (5) Desk lamp, (6) Chipped cup, (7) Chipped saucer, (8) Very old bath product, (9) Components for game we don’t have, (10) Book for game we don’t have, (11) Medicine dropper, (12) Leather pouch thing, (13) Lots of expired freezer food, (14) Very old peanut butter, (15) Teether, (16) Small Tupperware, (17) Expired baby Tylenol, (18) Medicine syringe, (19) Q-tip holder, (20) Holiday ribbon, (21) Cough drops from many colds ago.

Pyewacket (aka the best kitten ever)

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My favorite photo of Pye, in the window of our last apartment, keeping watch for squirrels.

Some 14 years ago, my life was very different than it is now. My mother had just died and I had quit my job and moved to upstate New York to be with my possibly suicidal father. Right after my mom died, my old cat also died. We were still so numb from her death that we hardly even registered the fact that Gypsy, the cat we had since my thirteenth birthday, had passed. We needed a break, and took a week-long camping trip.

When we returned to our house, my basement apartment was filled with mouse droppings, and all the food I had left in my cabinets was chewed through. A few days later, I decided that adopting a new cat was necessary. My previous cat, Gypsy, had been a very small black and white girl. In the name of not getting another cat that reminded me of her, I decided to look for a larger, male cat. Inspired by the old movie, Bell, Book, and Candle, I also decided I wanted a very talkative cat, and to name him Pyewacket.

As soon as I walked into the cat room of the upstate New York Humane Society, one cat reached a paw out of his cage and tapped me on the arm. I read the card on his cage, and saw that he was a nine-month-old male domestic short hair. His name at the shelter was Bagera, after the panther in the Jungle Book. I took his out of his cage and immediately knew I would adopt him. He purred very loudly when I pet him, and complained very loudly when I stopped. While I liked his original name of Bagheera, I was aware of my propensity for shorting names, so I decided I would rather have a cat named Pye than one named Bag.

The day I brought Pyewacket home (not that day, as there was a waiting period for adoption), I happened to be having a party. Now, I knew how my old cat acted when I was having a party, which is to say she ran and hid from the minute the doorbell rang. Pye was the polar opposite of my previous cat, and came running to the door as soon as someone knocked. During the party, he ran from person to person, greeting everyone with loud yowls. But that night, and almost every night for the next 14 years, he came to my bedroom around midnight, and slept next to my head on the pillow.

pye-game
Gaming was a favorite hobby of Pye’s!

In 14 years, I have moved four times, gotten married, and had two children. Pye was with me through all of this. He interjected himself into conversations when guests came over, made himself a part of every family celebration, comforted me when I was sick or sad, and played with my children and was graciously accepting of their overzealous hugs and kisses. We found out eight years ago that Pye had a congenital heart condition (cardiomegaly, literally an enlarged heart) and probably wouldn’t live as long as most cats. He was on multiple medications from then on. He occasionally lost some hair as a side effect of the drugs, but his stellar personality never changed.

Although I’ve had many pets before, none have come close to Pyewacket. His heart was big, but his personality was even bigger. I will remember and miss him forever.
pye-and-samir
Pye loved Samir from the minute we brought him home.

MinGame — the October edition

It’s finally happened! For the first time, as I am posting this, I am exactly up to date. That is, I don’t have anything done yet for November. This means that, quite possibly, I won’t have anything done in November and December. But I have I ton of other projects this month, so I’m not sure I will get to it. Maybe what I’ll do is have a massive clean-out later in the month, and get rid of 30 items all at once? Hopefully, I will be able to continue this at least until the end of 2015, but we’ll see!

Here’s the list for October:

1) Graphic novel sold on Amazon
2) Watch sold on eBay
3) Graphic novel sold on Amazon
4) Expired food
5) Graphic novel sold on Amazon
6) Expired printer cartridge
7) Graphic novel sold on Amazon
8) Expired food
9) Old printer never used
10) Old tapes
11) Graphic novel sold on Amazon
12) Brita filter
13) Broken statue
14) Goody bag items
15) Horrible shoes
16) Expired food
17) Awful rug
18) Worse shoes
19) Teether
20) Ring toy
21) Weird horse
22) Baby toys
23) Crap iPad case
24) Lots of unneeded paperwork
25) Broken flashlight
26) Old lipsticks
27) Yo-yo
28) Tiny onesies
29) Bad water bottle
30) Infant car seat cover
31) Infant car seat

A very special Halloween post

Almost everyone who knows me knows that I hate being startled. Surprise parties? Forget it. A non-traditional doorbell? Absolute misery. Any game that utilizes a timer? Panic attack.

So why would I torture myself by paying to be startled by people in a haunted house? I’m not sure, but when I was younger I did let myself get talked into it a few times. Twice, in fact, I went to haunted houses in Salem, Massachusetts. Once, when I was about 17, my very stoic mother took me and my very excitable friend to a walk-through haunted house.

In my memory, it was huge and imposing, but it must have just been a couple of trailers stuck together or something, considering the damage I ended up causing to it. We entered first into a long hallway, which was fairly empty. At the end of it was a guy, who was sitting on a chair. I don’t even think he had any sort of costume on. I just remember saying to my friend, “That guy is going to stand up!”

Even though we were both teenagers who had presumably seen a lot of people standing up from chairs, the thought terrified us, and we had a hard time walking down the hallway. We probably wouldn’t have made in more than a few inches, were it not for my mother, who took us both by the hand and led us past the sitting man.

Of course, we were right in mistrusting him, since as soon as we walked by, he got up and yelled at us. Never being one to take anything lightly, I yelled right back. Then we started off down the hall again, trying to make it back into the safety of my mother’s reach. Well, the actor was probably angry at getting yelled at, and he not only chased us, but touched my shoulder. I grabbed my friend and proceeded to run way faster than I have ever run in my life, passing my mother and running into a wall, which promptly broke.

We had broken their trailer, but we were free! Free to go into the next haunted house and get our revenge, that is! What follows is a very scary look into how my mind works, and is probably not for the faint of heart. You have been warned!

In addition to the rather generic haunted house we had visited with my mother, there was also a pirate-themed haunted house on Pickering Wharf (for those who know the city of Salem). It was called Captain Scurvy’s Haunted Wharf. We made our plan and went there the next day, this time without my mother, who had had enough of our shenanigans, and implored us to “act like young ladies.”

That, of course, was not happening. Instead, we went to visit Captain Scurvy, armed with our weapon of choice. Our weapon of choice being an old-school flash camera. Scared but determined, we entered the Haunted Wharf. We picked our way through the darkened halls until we encountered our first pirate, who, somewhat predictably, yelled, “ARGH!” at us.

The time was right and we struck. Using all of our willpower, we did not run from him, but held our ground and screamed back, way louder than he had screamed at us. (My friend and I have always been exceptionally good at screaming.) Then we pulled out our secret weapon and took a picture. The fantastic result is below. We left, laughing hysterically, having taken our sweet revenge. The person, who would forever be known to us as Captain Scurvy, was blinded by our camera flash for approximately three to five seconds. Take that, haunted houses everywhere!

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