How a Pool Noodle Changed My Life

(This is a repost from a blog I had several years ago, but it was a good lesson.)

First of all let me preface this by saying I’ve never been a particularly religious person. My faith is  sort of an odd patchwork of ideas I’ve picked up in various churches, passages I’ve read in books, lessons I’ve learned from people I’ve met, and maybe there are a few ideas of my own thrown in there, too. It’s quite possible I’m going to hell in a hand basket, but I don’t know.  I just like to think of myself as a weird little soul just fumbling around through this life trying to learn and grow through experience. So there’s that, for whatever it’s worth.

That being said, I do like to acknowledge when God, the Universe, or whatever IT is reveals something to me, and I take these lessons very seriously.

This is a story about a pool noodle. A pool noodle very much like this one, but not this one.

I had taken the boys to the pool that day, and the oldest, having no further use for his noodle, left it to float away freely. No big deal, there weren’t many families there, and it was only a noodle after all. When we had finished swimming, I gathered up my boys and our belongings and headed for the playground to play in the sun and dry off a bit before getting into the car.  That’s when I saw another child playing with our free roaming noodle.

“No big deal,” I thought to myself. “He can play with it until we are ready to leave.”
Then I gave myself a mental pat on the back for being so decent and sharing my noodle.

All was right with the world until, out of the corner of my eye, I spied the boy taking my noodle and putting it in the chair next to his mother.

OH. NO. YOU. DIDN’T.

I felt my pulse quicken, my chest tighten. I had to investigate further. Surely this kid was not thinking of taking my noodle. I did a quick stroll around the pool just to be sure there were no other rogue noodles before I marched up to his mother to (very politely) demand my property back.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Is that your noodle?”

“Yeah, we just picked it up at the Dollar General on the way here.”

“Oh, OK, because we have one that looks just like it and it’s missing.”

“Sorry.”

That was the confrontation. I’m not one to start fights at swimming pools over toys that cost a dollar, but I was angry. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I became.  Not only did these people steal from me, they lied about it. So the whole time my kids were playing, I’m staring at this woman sunbathing next to my noodle, and my anger is growing into rage and taking on a life of its own. Inside my brain is a viciousness, a steady churn of hateful thoughts. “You’re a lying liar and a thief, and you’re teaching your kids to be dirty lying thieves, too!”

I had to explain to my kids that our noodle was gone. Of course there was some whining in response, and a chorus of “Why? Why?”
“Because we didn’t take care of our things. We need to write our name on our things next time, ” was my response. But in my mind was a litany of swear words, all directed at this lying, thieving woman and her lying thieving kids. They are what’s wrong with the world today! They are the reason good, decent people can’t go to the pool and have a good time without worrying about someone stealing their stuff.
We gathered our snacks and towels and began our noodle-less walk toward the exit.

That’s when I saw it.

A little girl popped out of the water, noodle in hand, and made her way to the lifeguard stand. She placed the noodle, MY noodle on the ground next to the lifeguard and jumped back into the water.

I glanced back over at the lying thieving woman and her kids and HER noodle and I immediately felt very small.

I was wrong. I sent my son to go retrieve our property and I stood there, alone in my shame. We left the pool with everything we had come with and went home.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Well, not really. Not for me, anyway. I just couldn’t get over how angry I had become, and how quick I was to blame this woman, whom I had never met, and how quick I was to hate her. I mean HATE. I hated her. I thought the most horrible things about her and I was so self-righteous and justified in my anger and hatred of this woman. All over a pool toy that costs a dollar.  So much ugliness, all over a cheap, piece of crap pool toy.  It was as if God, the Universe, or whatever IT is held up a mirror in front of me and showed me the mean, bitchy, hateful side of myself that I like to pretend doesn’t exist. Oh, it exists, all right!

I was humbled. I was humbled by a noodle.

So from now on I will not be so quick to rush to judgement, so quick to anger,  or so quick to hate.

And thank you for the lesson. I needed it.

Looking for the Silver Lining (or, is there such a thing as Viagra for my self-confidence)

Like many children of the 1980’s, my brother and I were latch-key kids. Every day after school we would let ourselves in the house, dutifully call our parents and let them know we made it home, then feed and entertain ourselves for a couple of hours until our parents made it home from work. We didn’t have cable, and back in those days we only had about four channels to choose from. And even though PBS had quality children’s programming, for some reason we watched a lot of divorce court.

I don’t know why this particular memory decided to surface today, but I remember so vividly this episode, this divorce. The wife had said the husband was impotent. I didn’t know what the word impotent meant, but I understood from the context that it was a bad thing. I remember so well Judge Keene’s scathing rebuke of the husband as he handed down his decision. “Not only are you physically impotent, but you are morally impotent…”

“Boy, I wouldn’t want to be that guy,” thought my nine year old self. I still didn’t know what that word meant, but from the emotion surrounding the entire episode I figured that being impotent must be about the worst thing a person could be. I held fast to this new knowledge and waited until the time was right…

We were visiting my grandmother’s house. My brother and I were arguing and fighting, as we always did when we were together, and I decided to use my new weapon. I can still feel the sneer on my face as I growled through clenched teeth. “You’re IMPOTENT!!”

I couldn’t wait to see how my insult had wounded him. Instead I heard a sharp intake of air from my grandmother, and then shrieking. “WHAT DID YOU SAY??? WHERE DID YOU LEARN THAT WORD??”

Wow. Judging from my grandmother’s reaction, this word must be more powerful than F. But it remained shrouded in mystery, no one would explain the meaning to me.

I eventually learned what it means to be impotent, and I think I understand why this memory came to me today. It’s because that’s the name of this feeling I’m experiencing.

I’m feeling impotent. Powerless.

I found some baby birds and I tried to save them but they died. Natural selection is a bitch.

My husband has been out of work for a couple of months and I can’t provide for my family on my salary. Music lessons? Sports camps? No, no, no. Why does everything have to cost so much money?

My sweet children are being corrupted by their peers and I can do nothing. There are some words I just don’t want to hear come out of my child’s mouth. I know these things happen, and I remember being this age and being fascinated by the world of adult language. I’m just not ready for this.

Every now and then we all feel overwhelmed by life, don’t we? My initial response is just to lie there flaccid and let the chaos consume me because who the hell thought it was a good idea to put me in charge of anything anyway. When I think of all the things I have to do, everything I am responsible for, and all the myriad ways I could screw it all up I get that sick feeling in my stomach like when you’re walking and you miss a step and for a half second or so you’re just free falling into the abyss.

Powerless. When it seems that everything is out of control it helps to remember that nothing is ever really under control anyway. Put the blinders on and focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN’T do. Your power lies in your response to what life throws at you.

I couldn’t save the baby birds, and while it was sad, it did introduce my children to the fact that death is a part of life. This is something they need to know, and I’m grateful they learned it from these birds first, before a beloved pet or close family member. Baby steps, you know.

My husband will find work again, and in the meantime we will just have to learn to live on less, another important lesson for our children. I’m grateful that even during this time of hardship, my children have never been hungry. All they know is that we can’t go to McDonald’s right now. Even at our lowest we have it so much better than so many. And the biggest blessing of this hardship is that it has made us more resourceful and forced us to lean on our friends and each other.  We truly are each other’s keepers and therefore we take care of each other.

As for my children being corrupted, well, it’s just time to step up and prepare my children for the path. And for all the punks and assholes they will likely meet on that path. This is perhaps my hardest task, because everything I want for them runs counter to what the world seems to expect from men. Having empathy and compassion for others, not wanting to take stupid risks, these things do not make you a pussy no matter what that kid down the street says. Don’t play with him. He is not your friend.

I suppose I’m fortunate in that my impotence is largely imagined. All I needed was some gentle coaxing and a few positive strokes, something we all need from time to time. We may be powerless to control life’s ups and downs, but we do have a choice as to how we handle the situations that we face, and how we handle each other in the face of those situations.

We are only impotent if we choose to be.

Dog Days

“Get a dog,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Actually no one ever said that to me.

We got a dog because my children were growing up and becoming more independent and for about 5 minutes one day nobody needed anything from me and it created a great void in my heart that I decided I had to fill with a dog. That, and I thought a dog would be great for the kids. You know, she would be their best good friend and they would learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy through the care and keeping of a pet. Looking back, I think that’s a pretty tall order for an animal. Also I sort of left myself out of the equation.

Molly came to live with us back in March of this year. We adopted her from a local pet rescue. She had been found wandering the streets, living off scraps and garbage. The lady from the pet rescue said we could keep her for two weeks on a “trial basis”, but we knew as soon as she was in our house she was ours. The kids wouldn’t let us give her back. So we welcomed Molly as a new family member, and thus began my journey to becoming a ‘dog person’.

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My first lesson was about dog food. I had researched and decided that I was going to feed my dog grain free dog food because it was supposed to be the best for them. In nature dogs don’t eat grains. However, I wasn’t prepared for how expensive grain free dog food actually was. The lady from the pet rescue said that Molly had been eating Fromm dog food, so I picked some up from the feed store. At the time I didn’t think $35 a bag was going to be a big deal. It was a big bag and it would last a while. But soon I noticed all the other things my dog would rather eat than her dog food. I couldn’t keep her out of the garbage or the cat’s litter box. She eats anything she can find, leaving her dog food untouched. We have pretty well solved the garbage problem, but the litter box is another story. I thought about a baby gate, but I don’t believe my fat, old cats would be able to make the leap every time they had to go. I also think it would be one more thing they would resent about the dog. They started crapping on the bathroom floor in protest as soon as she arrived. Ah, pet life. Never a dull moment.

My next lesson was what to do with her poop. We live in a zero lot neighborhood, so my tiny yard fills up with poop pretty quickly. I bought a scooper for the back yard, but the idea of scooping up biodegradable dog poop and putting it in a plastic bag in the dumpster just doesn’t sit well with me. If I leave the poop where it is, time and weather will work their magic and the poop will become part of the soil. If I put it in a plastic bag, it will sit in a landfill indefinitely. It makes no sense to me. I did some research and I learned that biodegradable poop bags are a thing, but that just irritated me. I understand at the dog park poop can become a problem. I mean, no one wants to step in it, and I sure don’t want my dog to roll in it, so I thought a nice compromise would be to bring a garden trowel and throw the poop over the fence. If I’m taking my dog for a walk and she poops on your nicely manicured lawn, I will pick up the poop, but understand that you and I can’t be friends, because our values are just too different.

The dog park has been another learning experience. I’m OK with dogs, it’s people I don’t like. When I take my dog to the park I like to let her run and sniff and play with other dogs while I read or catch up on school work, but occasionally I feel obligated to interact with the other people there. They do weird things like voice-over the dogs’ playing with one another. “Look! Barkley’s saying, ‘Let’s play!’, but Chopper’s like, ‘No! This human has treats!’ Ha ha ha!” I just stand there baffled, feeling like an outsider. My dog is better at communicating with people than I am. Dogs are so loving and accepting, which brings me to my last point. No one in the world loves me as much as my dog does.

From the moment Molly entered our lives, I felt that she wasn’t just looking at me, but through me. She can see into my soul. I had always heard about the friendship and loyalty of dogs, but the way this dog loves me is more than I deserve. I have a lot to learn about being a dog owner, and I may never be a full fledged ‘dog person’, but knowing that I have my dog’s unconditional love and acceptance makes the journey worthwhile. Now if I could only break her from eating cat turds…

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The Lesson of the Butterfly

I went walking

in the early hours of a day

of a dying summer,

and I happened across

a butterfly.

So beautiful and delicate,

the vivid black and yellow

of a tiger swallowtail,

fanning wings in the

early morning sun.

So struck was I

by its loveliness

that I almost didn’t notice

that it perched atop

a steaming pile

of dog shit.

And I thought to myself,

“I, too, have landed

in unfortunate circumstances,

either because of bad luck

or poor decision making,

but it was always up to me

how long I stayed there.”

The butterfly lingered

longer than I felt was appropriate,

only taking flight when

my dog went in for a sniff.

I walked away, disgusted,

acknowledging that

there is just no accounting

for taste.

Butterflies

Yellow butterflies

flutter on a summer breeze

Harbingers of Fall

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It’s the end of the summer and these yellow butterflies are everywhere. I did some reading and I learned that they are Yellow Sulfur or cloudless sulfur butterflies, and they are migrating. And they are damn hard to photograph.

Oooh, look! Here’s one!

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Ah! Here’s another!

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Look at this one!

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I finally managed to catch one in my dad’s azalea bush. So lovely…

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I think they overwinter in Florida. I’d like to go with them.

 

To the Fly in My Coffee

The cup, abandoned in haste

and left on the counter

for whatever reason

looked inviting to you.

I’m not sure when you decided

to take the plunge into the

abyss of my forgotten beverage,

but in the evening I found you,

floating face-down in a swirl of

sugar free vanilla creamer.

I can’t help but wonder

about your final moments.

Did you slip away quietly

as your breathing organs

(I’m unfamiliar with

house fly anatomy)

filled with cold, bitter liquid?

Or did your brain explode

inside your head and your extremities

begin flailing?

Because that’s what happens to me

when I drink my coffee

because I like it strong.

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Is that a curtain or a time machine?

My home decor style could be categorized as ‘shabby chic’ minus the ‘chic’ part. Nearly every piece of furniture I have is someone else’s cast off, an estate sale treasure, or Salvation Army find. My mother replaces her sofas every few years, so I’m on my third new-to-me sofa and love seat. I refuse to buy new furniture for a couple of reasons, not the least of which being that I live on a teacher’s salary and new furniture just isn’t in the budget. Mostly though I won’t buy anything new because I have two kids, a dog, and two cats. Maybe one day I’ll be able to have nice things, but I don’t know. I kind of like the eclectic look of my random jumbling of home furnishings.

Over the summer a family friend’s grandmother passed away. While this was indeed a very sad occasion, we are now the proud owners of a new-to-us dining room table, barstools, weed eater, and curtains. And oh, what curtains! I’ve never really paid much attention to window dressings, but these curtains are magical. I’m almost as excited about our new curtains as this lady was about hers:

Almost.

But I’m not kidding when I say these curtains are magical. I mean, just look at them:

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Just one look and I was instantly transported back to nineteen eighty-something. I’m 5 years old, in my grandmother’s living room, not a care in the world. Looking through the Sears Wish Book for Christmas presents… Playing Frogger on the Atari… Watching music videos on Mtv… I’m overcome by nostalgia.

I’m not kidding when I say these curtains make me absolutely giddy.

Here’s another angle. I love the juxtaposition of the 1980’s curtains with the 1990’s country blue wall paper:

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There are some who will say this look is tacky, but I don’t care. To me, my home is the most beautiful place in the world. And even if I had a million dollars, I would still furnish my home with second hand junk because it’s just who I am.

Now if anyone has a coffee table they’d like to get rid of, hit me up! I’d be happy to take it off your hands.

Project Summer 2016: The Garden

I’ve decided I need to cultivate hobbies and pursue activities of personal interest because the empty nest is looming on the horizon and it takes me forever to do anything. I don’t want to be caught off guard with no hobbies in the autumn of my life. Teaching gives me ample time in the summers to delve into projects and try new things, so for this summer’s project I decided to have a garden.

Before I get into the how of this project, let me explain a little bit of the why behind it.  Quite often I feel ashamed at my inability to do very  basic things. I thought perhaps tending a garden and growing food would boost my self confidence. Also, produce is expensive, and wouldn’t it be nice to fill the dinner table with delicious dishes made from vegetables I grew myself? I had visions of big family dinners, my children would be so robust and healthy… It was going to be beautiful. It was also going to be very easy. See, several months ago I read some articles that basically said that memories could be passed down through your DNA. There was more to it than that, but that was what I gleaned from my reading. You can read more about it herehere, and here. And because I came from a long line of people who had worked the land, I believed that gardening was in my DNA and that my body would remember. Looking at that statement now it seems laughable and crazy, but it made sense at the time. (People often think that I am quiet because I am shy and reserved, but honestly it’s because sometimes I have really dumb ideas.)

Now about my garden, I saw this really cute idea on Pinterest explaining how to have a container garden in an old swimming pool. This was appealing to me because I live in a zero lot house, so my yard is very small, and I just happened to have a swimming pool my kids had outgrown. I found the directions here.  I prepped the pool, drilled holes all around the outside, cut holes in the bottom, put in a layer of newspaper, and filled it with dirt. Apparently dirt for a container garden is not particularly cheap, and I’m not a very smart shopper so it probably cost me way more than most people. I spent $80 on plants. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to grow. I like to eat squash, broccoli, and cabbage, but for some reason those things just seemed impossible to grow in a swimming pool, so I planted tomatoes, bell peppers, and banana peppers, none of which I actually eat. But no matter. I planted my vegetables. My garden was ready to grow.

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From the beginning my plants were never healthy. June was an exceptionally rainy month, and the pool didn’t drain well. All of my plants took on a sickly, pale yellow hue. They were puny.  Eventually the weather did clear up and the garden dried out and the plants seemed to perk up a bit. By late June, early July they began to look healthy. My tomatoes were full of tiny blossoms, but only one or two tiny  little fruits. My peppers were doing nothing.

I tended my garden every day, which was actually pretty boring until I began to notice several spots where the leaves and stems had been chewed. Something was eating my plants. I looked and looked and eventually I found this monstrosity:IMG_3119

He was big enough to have a soul, so I couldn’t bring myself to kill him. I recruited my husband and children to pick him off and drop him into soapy water like the internet told me to. I was able to pick off the smaller ones. When you drop the worms into soapy water, they convulse and puke out their insides. I was oddly fascinated by this. I was told I needed to get some sevin dust, but I never got around to it.

By mid-July I finally had some tomatoes. My youngest son and I would go out each morning and check on them. He enjoyed watching them grow. That’s when we met this guy:IMG_3249The guardian of our tomatoes.

All told, I think I got about four tomatoes from my little garden, which I put salt and pepper on and ate like apples. When my bell peppers finally did put out, they were small and squishy. I only got two banana peppers, but I don’t like those anyway, so it wasn’t much of a loss. I think poor drainage was the biggest problem. I don’t think the plants had healthy roots. They may have also gotten too hot because there wasn’t enough dirt in the pool. So basically I spent about $180 on 4 tomatoes.

Once school started I was too busy and exhausted to bother with the garden, so it became a science experiment in decay. This was the garden in early August:

This is what the garden looks like today:IMG_3835

I’m waiting for it to return to the dust of the Earth.

I wouldn’t count the whole experience as a loss, though, because I did learn some valuable lessons. (Cue the After School Special music…) The most important being that I do not enjoy gardening. This is not the hobby for me. Nothing can survive in my house unless it a) feeds itself, or b) cries to be fed. I also learned that a swimming pool full of dirt is very heavy, and getting this garden out of my backyard is going to be a chore. For my husband, maybe.

Next summer’s project will be much smaller and less expensive. I have about 170 days to think about it.