One year later…

Hope is a spur to action. Hope is not a lottery ticket that we cling to. It’s a hammer that we use in an emergency to break the glass, sound the alarm, and spring into action. Hope is not a state of mind, it’s a state of action. -Ady Barkan

I’ve struggled with the idea of writing a post focusing fact that this week marks one year since the start of the first lockdown.

There’s the dreariness brought on by the soul-crushing realization we’ve now been in this bizarre version of normal for over a year that makes me reluctant to sit down and write, much less hit publish on a post like this.

There’s also the doubt that there’s much I can add to the conversation that hasn’t been said already… As I’ve said before, I realize how lucky I’ve been in the past year.

My first inclination was to post a meme I made once I’d been at parenting through a pandemic for a while… and hopefully write something funny about the strange journey of this past year:

However- the above quote from Ady Barkan has been in the back of my mind pretty consistently since I heard him speak in an interview with Jimmy marking the release of Not Going Quietlya documentary about Barkan’s experience with ALS.

Listening to a man who’s health is deteriorating at an alarming rate speak about hope captivated me.

This is a a man who, due to a cruel twist of fate, may not live to see forty and won’t live to see his children grow up. It would be impossible to blame him or judge him if he treated hope like a lottery ticket.

What else are you supposed to do when your world has been flipped on it’s end and there’s nothing to do but work with the tilted normal you’re left with?

In Barkan’s view- there is plenty to do, if you’re willing to change your view. This skewed normal is a time for action.

Since listening to that interview I’ve realized how much hope there has been in the last year, as hard and awful as it has been.

I see the kind hope Ady Barkan speaks of in the quick development of a vaccine for COVID-19. I see it in the lines of people waiting to receive their shot, going to pharmacies at closing time in case there are extra doses. I see hope as information is shared on the best way to book a vaccine for loved ones.

I see it in the effort so many have put into following restrictions that have been cumbersome and frustrating to protect others.

I see some hope for the future of education – there’s been some serious realizations about flaws in our system. This has been an opportunity to assess our values and what we want for our children and those who teach them. As there’s been a broader view into what our teachers do, there’s also greater reason for action to

I see hope in relationships. The past year has given the slightest glimpse into the reality Barkan and too many others live with. Our time is precious, and we never know how much time and freedom to move we will have. It is a reordering of priorities- we know now how much we’ve miss seeing friends and loved ones. When we’re finally able to be together again, I think it will be valued more highly than before.

Personally, I have hope my children will look back on this as a year where they realized they can be flexible, resilient and do incredibly hard things, even when they don’t want to.

I hope they remember it was a time where it was also okay or everyone to be sad and frustrated by a circumstance beyond their control, even as we all worked to make the best of it.

I hope I will remember the value I place on relationships as the calendar turns closer and closer to marking two years since I’ve seen many family and friends- a circumstance I never planned for.

I hope I will continue to work towards goals I have for myself. If I was able to find time to do some hard work in this past year, I know I can do it.

Finding hope as I reflect on this last year doesn’t discount the breathtaking scope of loss that has been experienced.

It’s more a realization this past year wasn’t wasted. It’s not a year to write off and say we never want to experience again. We can take what we’ve learned to improve the world as we go forward.

If we can do that, I’m sincerely hopeful for better days ahead.

Here is the link to Ady Barkan’s interview:

The Weak Bridge

Said weak bridge

In the past eighteen months, I’ve moved to England and turned forty. Oh, and we have a pandemic going on and we’re currently white- knuckling through election week and starting lockdown 2.0.

At this point, standard 2020.

I’ve had this in my drafts folder for a long time and it seems appropriate for right now.

We’re living in a more rural part of England, both Gingers go to school in a nearby town. Fortunately, school is still happening so I continue to drive the route for school drop off that I have for over a year (not counting the seven month pause) now.

After everyone was dropped off, the way I drove out of town leads me over a bridge – somewhat ominously called a weak bridge. This is not a name you usually want assigned to a piece of infrastructure you use daily, particularly one that was built before the American Revolution.

Last year, once I’d managed the challenge of being on the wrong (to me) side of both car and road, I started to gain a mastery of roundabouts. Fun fact- if you were awful at double Dutch jump rope as a child, roundabouts are probably not going to be your favorite traffic device. With all of that reasonably under control, I found myself with time to think on my daily drive out of town. As I got to thinking I realized the weak bridge was a perfect metaphor for certain seasons of life..

Vehicles over a certain weight aren’t allowed on the weak bridge and there are bollards to ensure that more than what the bridge can handle does not get through.

This seemed like the perfect metaphor for turning forty at the time and feels even more applicable now.

Even before factoring in the upheaval caused by current events it had been an interesting year or so. At times it felt like the universe was trying to hammer home the gravity of the impending milestone birthday by lobbing life events at a rate that was almost darkly comedic at times. In my close circle of friends, most of us were turning forty within the same nine months or so. As a group, we experienced so much change, loss, health issues, and major life events in six months that if we’d submitted it to the writers of This is Us it would have been kicked back for being a bit much.

It was a natural point in my life to take stock, do some evaluating, make necessary changes, and stop allowing anything that is not good for my infrastructure through.

Then the pandemic happened.

Its been a situation without precedent in most of our lifetimes. Quarantine, worry, illness, stress, financial insecurity, have all left us in an emotionally weakened state. Our values have been tested as well as our resilience and many of us have had to inspect our views to make sure we are creating a world that provides equality, safety, and fairness for all. Now, we are anxiously watching election results and hoping that decency and kindness will win over the unrelenting chaos and calculated cruelty of the last four years.

It has been a time of trying to juggle so many responsibilities that cannot be dropped and constantly trying to figure out what would bounce and what would shatter if dropped. Quarantine meant that we were isolated from so many of those we would turn to for support. Many have endured illness and loss without being able to say goodbye or to grieve with and hug those left behind.

Yet, we STILL have so much that still has to happen on a day-to-day basis. That will not change as things start to slowly reopen and hopefully inch towards yet another new normal. Everyone will come out of this with varying degrees of structural damage.

We are all weak bridges right now.

We all need to take more care to insure we can get let through what must get through and we put up our bollards to stop what is trivial and what we cannot bear right now. Our tolerances will vary in what we can handle as we go forward.

Everyone has been shaken, but some were closer to the epicenter than others. Those of us that are in better condition may have to take on some “traffic” for others so they can remain standing.

As for me, I’ll keep thinking of the signs I saw every day for a while -Temporary Road Works. The weak bridge was not weak forever. The crew worked on it to shore up the worn out arches and reinforce the foundation. One day the bollards came out (much to the relief of my poor car, which has more than one scratch due to my misjudging where they are) and the bridge returned to doing it’s job as normal.

The bollards- they look wider in this picture than they actually were.

We won’t have to have our bollards up forever either. Things will improve, we will learn how to navigate around the permanent changes in our landscape. It will become clearer what responsibilities can be set down until restrictions are lifted to the point we can share them with others again. In the meantime, bollards will stay up, we will all still be able to do our most important jobs. We will get where we need to be, it just might take a little longer than before.

Sometimes you have to turn centuries old masonry for a good metaphor about the current state of the world. Who knew?

The Grocery Shopping Cart…

Hello from social distancing day I don’t even know any more…

I was looking across the kitchen this morning, saw the toy shopping cart and started to laugh.

A result of cracking due to the lockdown? That would be an entirely reasonable assumption at this point. It has been a strange and challenging experience for all of us. In this case I was cracking because the grocery cart gave me the perfect metaphor for this scary and bizarre point in time if you throw an elderly Turkish street dog into the metaphor mix.

I really promise I haven’t lost it.

A bit of background…

When Big Ginger had just turned two and was really starting to fully come into his nickname, Ginger Fury, we moved from Germany back to Virginia. We were living temporarily with my parents while we waited for our household goods to arrive and to be able to get into our new house.

A wonderful friend with amazing foresight got Big Ginger the toy grocery cart for his birthday AND held onto it until we got to my parents house. It was wonderful to have a new toy to distract a two year old who was not thrilled about the drastic changes to his life. He loved his “grocery shoppin’ cart” with a fierce passion and would demonstrate that love by careening around the kitchen and family room madly. He looked like the worlds tiniest “Supermarket Sweep” contestant ever. This SNL clip of Melissa McCarthy is an eerily accurate representation of that time in our lives:

Now we get to the Turkish street dog. She had signed on with the organization when I was twenty and I affectionately referred to her as my fur sister. She had always been very sassy and rather set in her ways. In her opinion, her golden years should be spent being pampered, lounging on the dog bed, bossing all of us around, and the occasional constitutional in the yard when it suited her. The “grocery shoppin’ cart” (and the tiny human at the helm) in no way, shape, or form featured in her ideal (or even barely adequate) retirement plan. This created some real problems. She hated that grocery cart with the burning fury of a thousand suns and wasn’t shy about throwing shady looks to let us know it.

We did our best to keep the grocery shoppin’ cart loving camp clear of the hating it camp and were moderately successful. I was the regular recipient of doggy snorts, eyerolls, and dramatic flopping into bed but I thought it was manageable. Then I came down one morning and saw her final word on the situation.

She had pooped.

On the floor.

In a perfect circle around the grocery shoppin cart.

To this day, it remains the most impressive and weirdly eloquent expression of displeasure I have ever seen. There was something slightly awe-inspiring in the attention to detail and commitment to a project.

This lockdown is becoming my “grocery shoppin’ cart.” However, I won’t be choosing that expression of displeasure for several reasons:

  1. I’m very grateful to be safe with my family and we have what we need
  2. I know this is the best choice to keep everyone safe
  3. There are still toilet paper and paper towel shortages

All in all, better not to chance it.

Epilogue:

The grocery cart was moved to a safe location until we were able to move into our house, it continues to be driven at breakneck speeds to this day. My fur sister went on to enjoy her golden years in the manner she expected- free of any annoyance from wheeled toys. She lived to be about eighteen years old and provided unsolicited editorials to the end.

But Does It Spark Joy?

So, I was chatting with my aunt the other day (I have been very lucky to have a ton of support from my family as I’ve started this whole blogging thing) and she reminded me of an escapade that I had written on a list of topics to write about but then forgotten about (or possibly suppressed, you’ll understand in a second)…

This all took place back before Father of Gingers and I started the whole Parents of Gingers circus act collaboration that is our life today. At the time we were living in Germany and had been married almost two years. It had been a very eventful two years, with a trans- Atlantic move, lots of travel, new jobs, and a guest room fire- just to name a few highlights.

It was summer time and we were headed back to the States to see friends and family. Due to the fact the trip wasn’t very long, we had decided to each go visit our grandparents separately. I went to see my Gran in Texas and future Father of Gingers (FFoG?) was off to Michigan.

I should take a minute here to explain my Gran. Honestly, there’s enough material for several posts but I want to keep this short today. We will be coming back to her, especially as I seem to have reincarnated her in Little Ginger, whom we frequently call ReGran. I guess the fastest way to sum up Gran for this post is- she was a red-headed army nurse in the Pacific during the Second World War, and there were combat boots involved. She was eighty-eight when this happened, living on her own with an aide that came in daily to help her with errands since Gran was no longer driving.

Gran was the original Ginger and my gingers often remind me of her. Big Ginger is named for that set of grandparents, and as I said before sometimes Little Ginger is just my Gran in a toddler body. I never feel Gran’s presence more strongly than I do when I’m trying to unload/reload the dishwasher and Little Ginger feels compelled to supervise.

Gran liked to stay busy, to the point where I was usually totally exhausted by the end of the visit. There was always something we could be doing, dusting off the top of kitchen cabinets, unloading a dishwasher, going through a closet or drawers to clean out any clutter. On this visit, she decided she would really like to go though some filing cabinets that had not been sorted since my grandfather had passed away. I agreed that we could do that (we were going to do it either way, if I’m being honest) so her aide and I got to work.

We got through the first few drawers of the filing cabinet fairly quickly and purged what needed to be purged. Then we got to the top of the filing cabinet, and it was one of those cabinets where the top drawer opened up towards you then slid in, kind of like a garage door, giving shelf space to store things. The key that opened the bottom drawers did not open the top drawer, and it was the only one we had. Fortunately my grandfather had decided that basic lock picking was a skill I should learn when I was a teenager. He was absolutely right and it has definitely come in handy more times than many other things I learned as a teenager- looking at you Trigonometry.

I told Gran and her aide that I thought I could probably get the lock open and got the go-ahead. A few minutes later-success! I lifted the drawer to slide it back, promptly shrieked and let the door slam shut. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’re probably wondering what kind of woodland creature I ran afoul of this time?You be justified in wondering that. Totally justified and completely wrong. Not every traumatic event in my life has been the fault of a woodland creature; although it does seem to be a bit disproportionate compared to other people I’ve talked to. Even without getting into the time a mouse died in my office at the retirement home…

Anyway- back to the filing cabinet.

I opened it again, convinced I couldn’t possibly have seen what I thought I saw, but the fact that Gran’s aide looked equally horrified gave me the sinking feeling I was right. And, yup, there it was, sitting in a display case; a freaking shrunken head! As I sat there, stunned, wondering how this was possibly my life, Gran peered over my shoulder to see what the fuss was about and matter of factly said:

“Oh, I wondered where that had gotten to… It used to be part of a set.”

Other families have salt and pepper shakers that are part of sets and handed down. Or vases, or heirloom quilts. You never hear about anyone fighting over who gets the shrunken heads. Maybe it does happen and it just doesn’t come up in conversation? I just don’t know.

I don’t remember much about what happened after that, I guess a surprise shrunken head when you’re expecting to find decades-old tax returns will do that to a person. I do remember Mexican food and beer were part of the afternoon. It was medicinal at that point. I talked to FoG on the phone that night. He was telling me about his very busy (but surplus head-free) day he had with his grandparents and said he was exhausted. I announced I’d picked a filing cabinet lock and found a shrunken head. I won the conversation/ who’s the most tired contest.

The rest of the visit with my Gran passed unremarkably, and I made a mental note to let my mother and her siblings know about the plus 1/4ish of a person hanging out in the filing cabinet.

I can’t help but wonder what Marie Kondo would have said about the whole situation.

***I should note here that later on after further discussion, it was determined that the shrunken head was not a real one but a souvenir that had been picked up during my grandparents’ time living in South America. So, the good news was I had not disturbed someone’s head. Be grateful for the small things in life, I always say. Whether it’s sunshine or the fact you didn’t get surprised by authentic human remains, just imitation.

The whereabouts of the other half of the set remain unknown.

‘Tis the Season for Miscommunication…

So, it’s been another crazy week here.  Little Ginger is working on setting the world record for longest cold, and I’m chugging gallons of the previously mentioned bison tea. If this is the first post you’re reading, I should clarify this is tea that has a picture of a bison on the box, not bison-flavored tea (I hope).  I’m working on a post about jade rollers and Julia Child, because those two obviously lend themselves to end-of-year reflections (or that may be the bison tea talking).  However, with the cold, the baking, the wrapping, and general holiday craziness- if you want to know how many seconds until Christmas, Big Ginger can help you out- I haven’t had much time to write.  I did want to share a quick story that kind of relates to the season, though…

When I was in college my parents and siblings moved to Turkey.  It meant I got to spend school breaks traveling to new and exciting places, not too shabby.  There were a few catches, I usually had to talk to my professors about condensing my finals schedule as much as possible at the end of fall semester to maximize my travel time, and I occasionally had to supervise the travel of a Turkish street dog who joined the family.  Rest assured there will be more on her at a later date.  It was completely worth condensing my finals schedule, but it usually meant a grueling week and that I was completely wrecked by the time I got on the plane to travel to my family for Christmas.  The second Christmas I did this my final schedule had been insane and I was  exhausted by the time I got on the plane to be on my way. My flight from D.C. to New York was delayed so when I got to New York I had to haul to get to my next flight.  I made it and all I wanted to do was get on my way.

I boarded the plane; got to my row and saw that my seat neighbor was a very grandmotherly woman who immediately smiled at me.  I was thrilled because she looked like the ideal seatmate for the next nine or so hours.  I smiled back and got my bags stowed, grabbed my book (this was mumblemumble years ago, before digital devices made my carry-on considerably lighter).  My adorable seatmate turned to me and patted my arm and started talking to me.  In Turkish.  She was so nice that I smiled and nodded and said “Oh” at what I thought were appropriate intervals.  Turkish had eluded me, I could say a few phrases and count to ten. None of that vocabulary was going to help now. I couldn’t imagine telling my new friend to turn right (I had a decent grasp on taxi directions) so I continued to smile and nod.  She was getting more and more animated so I nodded more vigorously while trying to hazard a guess at was going on in our conversation- I was invested now and didn’t want to let her down.  In her defense, she had said hello to me in Turkish when I originally sat down and I had responded with a hello in my rudimentary Turkish, so I had misled her.  At this point she had said what I thought was “first” and had making a cradling motion with her arms.  The light went on in my head!  My new BFF was telling me about visiting her first grandchild and I knew how to say “how beautiful” in Turkish! Conversation saved! Maybe I should change my major to a focus on International Relations? She started to fish in her bag for what I was sure at this point was pictures of a new baby.  I was pumped, I was ready with my appropriate phrase, we were going to do this…

Then she pulled out her Green Card.  To this day I have absolutely no idea what our by that point twenty-minute conversation was about.  I put on a big smile, frantically did a mental inventory of my ten words of Turkish and unsurprisingly found zero vocabulary that was going to cover this change of events.  So I went back to the original phrase and told her the picture on the card was beautiful.  She looked about as surprised as I would if someone told me my drivers license picture was beautiful.  I smiled, she smiled and we settled in for a companionable flight probably both wondering what exactly had just transpired.  She gave me a big hug when we landed then I had to sprint off to catch the last flight of my journey.  I’ve always wondered what happened to her.

We’re coming up on a few days that are prime time for potentially hilarious miscommunication.  Just remember, it works to say “how beautiful” and smile then sit companionably.. It’ll give you something to smile about later on…

Now off to make more tea. Maybe Celestial Seasonings needs a spokesperson?

Even more perspective…

So, thirty-nine is a few days away, then this countdown to forty thing gets REALLY real. I’d planned to write a post about goals, hopes, fears, and lessons learned but there were a couple of issues:

  • It was turning into an epic-length post and it probably needs to be chopped into some shorter, more coherent posts.
  • It’s been a frustrating few weeks, nothing major; just enough that, when combined with a slight case of birthday dread grumpiness lead to a very salty post, so I’ll come back to it when I’ve had an attitude adjustment.

(Actual editing note from original post)

Instead, I decided to search for, you guessed it, more perspective. The golf cart wasn’t quite doing it, nor was the candle situation. Some thing with a bit more punch was needed. It was time for… the squirrel.

I guess I should probably add some context now.

This all happened when I was living in my first post-college apartment, working at my first adulty-adult job. It was a third floor walk-up one bedroom (the apartment, not the job) and I loved it (once again, the apartment, the job was more of a mixed bag). It had a little balcony on the front and back and because of the way the buildings were laid out I didn’t share my landing with anyone. Probably because third story walk-ups aren’t super desirable when it comes to moving in, carrying groceries, and so forth. I had nice neighbors, for the most part. The other part will probably be a post down the line. I felt like I was definitely doing, and even succeeding at, the whole grown-up thing.

One night, as I was settling in, I started to hear a skittering noise above me. As I didn’t have upstairs neighbors, this was mildly concerning. I kept hearing “skitter, skitter…THUD.” I checked, nothing was inside the apartment so I figured some sort of nature must be in the attic. I didn’t have access to the attic, which was fine with me. I’m more of a “you stay out of my house, I’ll stay out of yours” kind of girl when it comes to nature. I called the front office the next morning. They said a few buildings were having a squirrel issue and they’d add mine to the list to be looked at. I congratulated myself on yet another successful bout of adulting and that was that.

Nope. Not. Even. Close. Whatever the people who were contacted by the front office did, it was less a deterrent and more a sign to the local squirrel community that there was an all night squirrel rager going on every night. I got kind of used to hearing skittering and thudding. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting more and more concerned about the continued presence of what I could only assume were very persistent (and at least mildly concussed at this point) squirrels. I made a few more calls to the front office and was told there was absolutely nothing to be concerned about. I guess they thought I was concerned about the squirrel concussions rather than the actual presence of squirrels and they knew squirrels couldn’t get concussions?

This went on for a few weeks and in the meantime a friend had come to stay with me while she did an internship for school. Even though the space was tiny, we were on slightly different schedules and it was a lot of fun to have her as a roommate again. Then, one day I had to leave work early with a raging fever and sore throat. I dragged off to the doctor and was informed that I had strep. I headed to the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics and other necessities and was looking forward to just collapsing on the bed when I got home. As I was wrapping all of this up, I got a call from my friend saying she was back at the apartment, and was there anything in the linen closet in the hall that could possibly be making a banging noise? I kept towels, sheets, and my winter clothes in that closet, so it was pretty unlikely. I told her I’d be there in a few minutes and had the sinking feeling that the strep diagnosis might be the high point of the day…

Back at the apartment there was the now familiar skittering and thudding. Instead of being overhead, it was now in the closet, and it sounded just about as delighted as I was about this turn of events. I called the front office, yet again, and asked if maybe now was the time to be concerned about the squirrels? They agreed that maybe there was a cause for concern and they’d send someone up to look, but the closet had to be empty. I countered that this was problematic as angry squirrels had become a recent addition to that closet’s contents. They stated again that they couldn’t possibly assess or correct the problem unless the closet was empty. I inquired as to how exactly I was supposed to empty it. They suggested banging on the door to scare away any new residents of the closet and I might want to move fast before they built a nest. Awesome.

So, my friend and I armed ourselves with a frying pan and a broom and put on oven mitts. At that point, my downstairs neighbor came up to borrow or return something and unknowingly walked into Squirrel Watch. She was the adventurous sort (seriously she looked, and acted, like an adult version of Pippi Longstocking) so she signed on for operation closet clearing with the helpful suggestion I might want some garbage bags at the ready for the items we were about to remove from the closet. I looked at her questioningly and she replied with a terse, “Trust me on this.”

We banged on the closet door screaming suggestions that any occupants of the closet might want to vacate at this time. Once we were fairly sure it was clear, we grabbed our respective squirrel deterring devices and opened the door. Apparently the squirrels decided they needed a condo/bathroom to recover from their all night ragers. There was a hole about a foot across that had been gnawed out at the back of the closet and the situation inside wasn’t pretty. Let’s just say the garbage bags were absolutely needed and my winter wardrobe took a not-insignificant hit. We got the closet emptied in record time and slammed the door. The maintenance guys from the front office showed up and asked why we’d opened the closet door if there were squirrels in there? Sigh.

They agreed the current situation was on the problematic side and said they’d be back in the morning to repair the hole in the closet and deal with the squirrels. My wonderful neighbor stopped back by and said I was welcome to hang out at her house while they fixed the squirrel damage. I was too tired and feverish to do more. We double bagged the closet contents and decided to deal with it the next day and I went off to bed.

The next morning, my friend headed off to her internship, I let the repair crew in, and told them I’d be downstairs at my neighbors.  They said they’d stop by and let me know when they were finished.  I chilled with Pippi (not her real name, I just really want to make sure you have this mental image) and consumed copious fluids.  After a while, there was a knock on the door, they were finished with the repairs, my linen closet was now hole-less, clean, and most importantly- squirrel free.  I trudged back upstairs, Pippi decided to come with me to see how the repairs had gone.   I can not stress strongly that everything I’m about to write is completely true.

We walked into the apartment and over to the closet.  Pippi was behind me and we opened the door, so we could see the freaking ginormous hole freshly repaired (and thankfully clean) closet.  Then from behind me I hear,

“Oh, holy shit!”

Pippi had a vocabulary that could euphemistically be described as colorful, which was always a little wild given her resemblance to one of my childhood literary heros.  She came up with phrases I’m sure never crossed Astrid Lindgren’s mind.  I was pretty unfazed  by what she said, it was fairly tame, honestly. So I replied with,

“I know, right? It’s insane they made a hole that big!”

To which she replied:

“Oh, no sweetie, that asshole is on your bed.

I peeked around her, and it turned out the squirrel was indeed on my bed.  He looked pissed.  I guess we had interrupted his nap time.  Total pandemonium ensued.  Pippi snatched the broom and went roaring into battle screaming at me to open all the windows and doors.  The squirrel, sensing impending doom coming for him in the version of a twenty-something Pippi Longstocking spewing obscenities made the decision to run under the bed and take refuge in the box springs.  Did you know squirrels can bark?  I learned that that day.  The more you know, right?

I stood in the doorway now armed with a frying pan as I watched Pippi scream,

“Come out you motherf&*#$%!” (among other things… she was In. The. Zone. which was impressive, how often do you need a zone to cope with surprise squirrel?)

She was jumping on the bed and brandishing the broom.  The squirrel was holding his ground. I was seriously ready to throw in the towel, close the bedroom door and declare it the squirrel’s room and wish him great happiness. I went to grab the phone to call the front office, or Ranger Rick.  I wasn’t really sure at that point.  The squirrel took his opening, streaked out of the room and out the front door and did a majestic dive off the third floor deck.  It seemed to occur to him about halfway down he wasn’t a flying squirrel, but he still managed to tuck and roll and tore away as Pippi screamed threats after him.

Excitement over, we took my surviving clothes and linens off to a laundromat that would do your laundry and charge you by the pound.  Totally worth it. Every few weeks after that, an acorn would hit near me as I walked to my car.  I never saw who threw it, but I knew.

This episode  left me with a fairly intense distrust of wildlife, especially squirrels, and it presented my family and friends with a theme for every card and gag gift opportunity for the rest of my natural life.  You really can’t put a price on that, or so they tell me.   It did provide me with a bar to judge things by.  As long as these recent frustrations and this birthday remain free of squirrels, surprise or conventional, it’ll be okay.  That’s squirrel perspective for you.  There’s also probably something to be said about acorns, but I’m not sure what it is…

More perspective

So, it’s the time of year where I have a greater chance than usual of turning into (hmm, how to put this…) a giant, crazy, raving stressball. (Imagine me shriek singing Fa la la la here). I’m working on that and trying to keep it simpler, set reasonable expectations, and maintain perspective…

I have to preface this with, sometimes things just kind of happen to me. I don’t know why, but they just do. My first year teaching, my mentor rolled her eyes at me when I brought plastic baggies on my first field trip and reassured me in all her years teaching she’d never had a kid get sick on the bus. You know what, she was right, instead one of my students slipped in the men’s room and got soaked. It was not pleasant- the plastic bags were the unsung heroes that day. It should also be noted the same kid got violently bus sick on the next field trip. I had an economy-size box of huge Ziplocs at the ready. I strongly identified with this kiddo, I’m also not sure that he ever went on another field trip. All of this to say- sometimes I just seem to attract chaos and wind up holding a nude painting in a golf cart and sometimes I just need to pay more attention.

Back to the lesson in perspective. Years ago, BG (before gingers, not the seventies sining group… although I now have “Stayin’ Alive stuck in my head) we were living in Germany and had a year where we had guest coming to stay about every other month or so. Let me just add yet another preface saying that if you are reading this and were among the guests at this time, the incident I’m about to write about was NOT a reflection on your visits. It’s more the universe showing its work to prove the whole (spoiler alert), “I probably shouldn’t have candles” thing.

We were getting the guest room cleaned up between guest stays and I’d decided to light a candle to make that side of the apartment extra welcoming and homey. I thought it was far enough away from the curtains and all the windows were closed. Father of Gingers went out to do a few errands. I puttered around, did a few odds and ends, then decided that I should probably go blow the candle out. If only it had been that simple.

I rounded the corner into the guest room and was a bit taken aback to discover that one wall appeared to be on fire. I’d never been a fan of the curtains involved in the blaze but clearly this was something I needed to get under control, and quickly, especially because in that moment I could not for the life of me remember the number for German emergency services. I disregarded all of my Girl Scout training, (let’s be real, I’d started down the Girl Scout gone bad road the minute I lit the candle) ran to the kitchen and filled a mixing bowl with water. I promptly threw it on the fire. Do you know what happens when you throw water at flaming nylon curtains? I do. I don’t recommend it. Having successfully scattered smoldering globs of melted synthetic fabric everywhere, I decided it was time for another approach. I went into the bathroom, drenched a couple of towels, ran back into the guest room and beat the flames out. It kind of felt like something from Little House on The Prairie. Ma Ingalls would’ve been impressed.

At this point I was standing in a not-insignificant puddle of water, hacking up a lung and there was smoke and soot everywhere. I decided it was probably time to call Father of Gingers and kindly request he return home and hope he’d remember the many good qualities he married me for. He calmly agreed to come home and clearly thought it couldn’t be that bad. He was a bit surprised when he came home and I looked like an extra from the chimney sweep scene in Mary Poppins. We got it cleaned up, and our wonderful landlord was very kind and not terribly perturbed about the now Cajun-style guest room. He told us to contact our renters insurance and he’d organize the repairs.

(Mary Poppins scene for reference)

Then came the repairmen. There was a man who worked as sort of a general contractor. He’d been out to fix things before and do some general maintenance. He looked like a missing member of an ’80s hair band complete with the feathered hair and jumpsuit. I loved when he came to work on a project, he was very friendly and I always hoped he might break into a Van Halen song. It never happened. He spoke several languages, German, Russian, and Czech if I remember correctly. It made things interesting as I spoke minimal German and didn’t begin to have the vocabulary to explain flambéeing the guest room and French and English didn’t help either. So a lot of things were conducted through vigorous charades. We managed pretty well most of the time.

It took several visits to restore order to the guest room and when he came for one of his final projects, our next round of houseguests had arrived. My friend spoke German, so she went in to ask him if he’d like some of the coffee we were making and if so, what he’d like in it. I was happy about the fact that for once, he wasn’t going to have to play charades and there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings. Operating on this theory I waited while my friend offered him coffee. It took a while. She had tried to convey we were drinking decaf and for some reason it wasn’t being communicated. We decided to just bring in the coffee and call it good. When I brought the coffee in, he asked (I think) what my friend was trying to say. Time for charades…

“Hmmm, decaffeinated…you know Ohne (German for no/none)” I then proceeded to shake my whole body like I’d had at least ten cups of strong coffee.

His reply:

“Ohhhhhhhhh! DeKOFFFinated!”

We established the coffee was deKOFFinated and all was well. The guest room returned to its pre-candle fiasco state and I saw the incognito member of the ’80s hair band several more times for various things- the heat being a reoccurring issue. The heaters in that place merit their own post. I always had coffee ready

I guess the take away from this, much like the golf cart adventure, is if I can confirm that nothing is on fire and I’m not playing charades to communicate- I probably don’t need to be stressed out. Additionally, I’m still not allowed to have candles almost eight years later. We never had another fire, but I maintain correlation doesn’t equal causation.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

So, on the whole, I think Jenny Lawson (aka, The Bloggess), who is an amazing writer, has a pretty solid take on high school (sorry, that was a lot of commas):

“…pretty much everyone hates high school. It’s a measure of your humanity, I suspect. If you enjoyed high school, you were probably a psychopath or a cheerleader. Or possibly both. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, you know. I’ve tried to block out the memory of my high school years, but no matter how hard you try, it’s always with you, like an unwanted hitchhiker.”

Honestly, for a long time I just didn’t think a lot about high school. I do have a few lifelong friends who I keep in touch with, but it’s not a frequent topic for reminiscing for any of us. Did I suppress the memories? Maybe. I feel like suppressed memories are more a middle school thing for me. Seriously, we probably won’t be having a post on middle school unless I have an entire team of professionals and an unlimited amount of Starbucks to get me through the aftermath. Back to the topic at hand. To me high school was mainly a necessary stopover to get where I wanted to go. I didn’t loathe it, I have some fun memories, but it wasn’t my favorite. This is not solely due to unfortunate hair style choices.

I was never one to have stress dreams about high school, although I’ve been told is a fairly common thing. My stress dreams tend to involve trying to take my grandmother shopping for skinny jeans… in a market in Jerusalem, and I can’t remember where I parked the car. (Yet another post for another day) Also, my time working at the retirement home has given my subconscious MORE than enough material.

Then, a few years ago, the universe decided it’d be funny for me to live just down the street from where I went to high school. (Or that’s just how the real estate market works… I’m going universe on this one) This means I drive down the very same road I used to drive to school blaring Jagged Little Pill ( The cassette wound up getting stuck in the tape deck of the car. To this day, I know every word of that album. So does anyone who was a frequent passenger in that car at the time). Now when I drive that road, it’s almost always with a Ginger or two and the music is much quieter and way less angsty. I often wonder if 16/17 year old me is somewhere in time sensing a disturbance in the force…

Anyway all of this meant my subconscious decided it was SHOW TIME. I now frequently have effing nightmares stress dreams where I am back in high school and haven’t gone to class in so long I can’t remember my schedule and/or where my classes are located. This always makes sense in the dream, because I’m my present age- not a teenager again. (Well played subconscious on taking it right up to the line but not crossing it.) Another one on my brain’s “Greatest Hits From Hell” playlist is the dream where I find out I didn’t really graduate and haven to go back and take this one random test. That’s always a fun one, as I usually have the Gingers with me and have to try to figure out how to take the test with them along for the ride.

Side Note- I blame some of the second scenario on my high school guidance counselor. He was moonlighting as a realtor, so attention to detail wasn’t a strong point… This culminated in me getting called into his office the week of graduation to be informed I would not be graduating after all due to an insufficient number of credits. Several very hysterical hours later it was discovered the credits had just been logged in incorrectly. I just Googled said guidance counselor, he’s now a full time realtor. Probably for the best.

However, the mother of all stress dreams, the one my brain trots out for special occasions centers around a project that I had to do in junior year English. The Art Notebook. Our teacher would give us prints of ten different works of art each quarter and each print had an assignment that went with it. I’m sure I should include a very adult sentence or two here about how it taught time management, broadened our world view and strengthened our research skills. Nope. Not gonna do that. People who were in that class still grimace involuntarily if it comes up, more than 20 years later. Now it appears as a frequent guest star in my dreams. Only, the prints are all artwork by the Gingers and I can’t figure out how to cite any sources as I try to do the project. I don’t think this was the educational goal of the teacher who devised this project, but who knows.

This is probably the point where I should wrap up your involuntary tour of my subconscious with a Doogie Howser moment. I could talk about how approaching forty means taking stock of different times in your life and working to weave them into a meaningful narrative that will carry me forward with greater understanding. OR I could just feel smug that I have a better handle on irony than Alanis did. I’m going to go with the latter.