A collection of stories about my life that I wished I had started collecting about 10 years ago.


Text

Nov 5, 2010
@ 11:45 pm
Permalink

A funny thing happened on the way home from the circus

I took The Boy and his best friend to the circus tonight with some other friends from church. We had a great time. I’m always amazed at what they can do, and that they are doing it really for no real reason than the enjoyment and entertainment of it. Does anyone really need to be able to twirl in the air by their ankles? No, but it’s pretty fun to watch.

It’s wasn’t the cheapest form of entertainment. Tickets were $18 for adults, $12 for kids under 12. Then there was the $7 popcorn, the $2 bottle of water, the $4 diet coke & pretzel combo pack, and the $12 souvenir light-up necklace that The Boy received for a reward for his “All A’s” report card (note the casual way in which I bragged on him right there).

My response to all of that is simple: It’s part of the experience. If you want to go and tell the kids, “Look, tickets were expensive, so we’re not going to get anything extra” I respect that. But for me, it’s like going to Disney. You spent enough to get in the door that you might as well enjoy it, and enjoying it means not complaining about $4 for fried dough.

Leaving the parking garage was the huge bottleneck you’d expect from an event where everyone is trying to leave at the same time. We were fortunate that they had someone directing traffic and helped us get out of our parking spot into the flow of exiting cars.

There were two exit lanes. I, of course, picked the wrong one. The one on the right was leading straight to the pay station. The one on the left was merging with traffic from the upper levels. That said, people were cooperating nicely: one from our row, one from the side, one from our row, one from the side. So when my turn came, I rolled down my window to gesture to the guy waiting to merge in that he could go in front of me. He rolled down his window and yelled “Thanks!” I smiled and said “You’re welcome” back.

He merged in and I started fumbling around with my wallet. Parking was a fairly cheap $3, cash only. I hoped I had exact change, but no such luck. I had a $5 and two $1s. I took out the $5 and put the rest back in my wallet. We inched ahead.

"I could make this go a little faster," I thought, "if I paid for me and the guy behind me. Just hand the cashier $6 and tell her it’s for both of us." I’ve occasionally done that at toll booths when the price is a set amount for everyone passing through.

Just as the thought occurred to me, the guy ahead of me paid and left, meaning it was my turn to pay. If I took the time to fish around for the extra $1, I’d probably not have saved anyone any time.

I pulled to the window and the cashier waved me through. “The guy ahead of you paid for you too. Have a nice night.”

I smiled, put the $5 back in my pocket, thanked her, and drove out.

Thanks, Random Other Guy. Someday I’ll pay it forward.


Photo

Aug 23, 2010
@ 7:00 pm
Permalink

Forgiveness & Fuck You

My parents divorced in 1980, due to my father’s alcoholism.

My mother remarried in 1983, due in no small part to the fact that my father — in an attempt to keep her from divorcing him years before — had done a very thorough job of convincing her that if she divorced him, she would lose the house. (That probably wasn’t the only reason she remarried, but it was a significant one.)

Her second marriage was far, far worse.

~ My Stepfather ~

If you’ve heard me mention my stepfather before, you know that I find him the most repugnant human on the face of the earth. He is self-centered. He is egotisical, and for no good reason, the only real skillset he possesses is manipulation. He was laid off in the mid-80s and has never held steady work since, nor did he try. He lived off my mother, who was living off a sizeable child-support and alimony settlement she had received in the divorce.

Of course kids and step-parents often don’t get along, so perhaps you’re thinking that I’m being hyperbolic, and that he’s really not that bad. Trust me when I say that I’m not exaggerating at all. He has 4 daughters, and none want anything to do with him. One joined the airforce in order to get away from him. Another married far too young. The other two stayed behind and just grew to resent him more and more The ones who live nearby come to visit my mother on Christmas (although she’s been divorced from their father for 5+ years) and talk about the latest ways in which he is making them miserable.

He has a retarded brother.  He once said to me, about his brother, “He has a pile of money in the bank, he doesn’t have to work [the truth is he can’t work, he doesn’t have the mental capacity], and he’s got people who feed him and take care of him. So you tell me, who’s the real dummy?" Nice, eh?

Their mother saved her entire life with one hope: that her retarded son would not have to leave the house he grew up in. When his mother became ill and had to be hospitalized, my stepfather pleaded with Medicare not to take the house because it was where his retarded brother lived. As soon as Medicare agreed not to take the house, my stepfather put his brother in a group home and put the house on the market. Nice, eh?

My stepfather used to take his brother to Las Vegas. He let the brother pay for everything, of course. In 1991, they were supposed to go for another  trip. When they arrived at the house, his brother had obviously not shined his shoes. This led to a pushing and shoving argument instigated by my stepfather with his retarded brother who was about to take him on an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas. Again. Nice, eh?

When they finally divorced 5 years ago, a woman from the group home where his brother lived testified at the divorce trial (oh yeah, it went to trial) that no one at the facility had ever seen my stepfather visit his brother. No one. My mother continues (to this day) to take him out for Christmas and his birthday, knowing that his brother never will.

They separated for the final time in 2001, but they had gone through it before in 1993 and 1991 (after the above incident). In 1991 he got back in the house by agreeing to go to therapy — but he told both my mother and I that we were the real problem. In 1993, they had gone so far as to start divorce proceedings, and he convinced my mother to give him another chance.  She called me while I was at college, and said: “I know you won’t be happy about this.”

"I would be a hypocrite if I said that I didn’t believe that forgiveness and reconciliation were possible," I told her. "Besides, I don’t have to live with him, you do."

He called me that night — the first and only time he ever called me while at college — in tears, to thank me for giving him another chance.

Needless to say, he never changed, and he eventually went on to have an affair with another woman, while living off my mother. (He also picked a fight with me during one of the most stressful weeks of my life, but that’s another whole story.)

To this day he’d tell you that he did nothing wrong, he’d tell you about what a hard time he had growing up with a retarded brother who took all of his parents’ time and attention. He’ll never apologize or try to reconcile, because he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. In his eyes, he’s the victim. He’s always been the victim.

Do I have any plans to forgive him? Fuck no. I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire, unless my urine was a combination of asparagus pee and kerosene. I plan to salt the earth over his grave and pay for the open bar after his funeral. Fuck him, I hope he spends eternity sitting on the hottest furnace in hell. My deepest hope is that he realizes the utter contempt that his children (and everyone else who knows him) has for him, and that he lives a long, long time with that realization.

Offering him forgiveness without a shred of repentance would be much like what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. It would be an affront to any meaningful understanding of the term “forgiveness.” This wasn’t casual or accidental harm that he caused, this was systematic and thorough abuse.  I had a Christian Ethics professor in college who said that there was “No commandment in Scripture to be a door-mat for Christ.” There was a time I was hopeful for a reconciliation (if for no other reason than it would have made my mother happy), but he ultimately spit in the face of every attempted reconciliation.

~ My Father ~

During my high school years, I had a very challenging relationship with my father. His alcoholism was an open secret. No one talked about it, but we all managed our lives around it.

This drove me to the edge of despair on more than one occasion. I couldn’t deal with the unpredicability. He’d make promises and then forget them. I lived on eggshells, never sure what it would be that would set him off. (It was only later that I learned the answer was “Any excuse.”)

When I was 16 I was ready to give up completely, and the X-ACTO knife pressed to my wrist was only stopped because my mother called me for dinner, and I realized that she would be the one to find me, and I couldn’t do that to her.  When I was 18, the only thing that stopped me from driving my car into oncoming traffic was a promise I made to a friend who was going off to the (first) Gulf War that I would see him when he returned.

College was my escape. I drew a 500 mile circle around my house and said “I’m going to college outside that circle.” Why? To get away from my father.

Sometime around the time I graduated from college, Dad decided he was ready to unfuckupify his life. He quit smoking and drinking. He started going to AA meetings. Daily. Eventually he went to counseling, and when talk-therapy wasn’t enough, he went on medication to fix what he had tried to fix with alcohol for all those years.

He was a completely different person. We had a completely different relationship. In 2000, I moved him down to live near us in Florida. When we moved to Ohio in 2003, we bought a house together, living under the same roof for the first time in over ten years since I had moved to get away from him. His death in 2006 is one of the great sadnesses of my life.

(Oh, and just in case you still don’t believe me about my stepfather and how people felt about him… at my Dad’s funeral, several people said to my mother, “God took the wrong ex-husband.”)

It was his alcoholism that was the cause for the divorce. It was his fear-mongering my mother that contributed to her getting into (and staying in) an even-worse second marriage.  If he hadn’t have been alcoholic, I never would have had a stepfather, and my life… I can’t even imagine how different and better my life might have been.

All of that was his fault.

Did I forgive him?

Of course I did. And any reasonable person knows why.

Now, you can tell me that I ought to forgive my stepfather. You can tell me that my anger and resentment towards him hurts me more than it hurts him. I’ll agree. And I’ve tried. I really have. But I can’t. At least, I haven’t been able to so far. About 360 days out of the year I don’t even think about him. Maybe after he’s dead and I know that he won’t find a way to hurt anyone I care about ever again. Maybe. Even then I don’t think it will be “forgiveness” as much as it will be “acceptance” that this is how it was, this is how he treated us, and no amount of wishing or hoping can change the past, so it’s time to finally wipe our hands, be done with it, and never speak his name again.

But I think about my Dad almost every day, and I’m thankful for the time that we had together in those last years. He was given a prognosis of “6-18 months” in January of 2000, but lived until February of 2006. I spent most of those 6 “bonus years” with him. I never think about having “forgiven” him for anything. It just doesn’t occur to me to think about it that way. We never had a grandiose reconciliation. There was never a Big Talk. One day we just were in a different place than we had been before. I think that’s how forgiveness works most of the time. You start out working really hard at it, and then one day you realize that you don’t have to work at it anymore.

I don’t know. I’m clearly no expert. These are just the two most prominent and messy examples from my life.

~ Coda ~

Are you wondering what the image at the top of this article has to do with all of this?

It’s a picture of my mother’s freezer, taken a few weeks ago. At the end of the divorce trial, when it was clear that they were going to reach a settlement, I said to my mom, “You ought to tell the judge you want to go back to your maiden name” (if for no other reason than that my stepfather’s first wife and my mother had the same name, and the other ex had kept his name after the divorce, which caused no small amount of confusion).

She did ask the judge, and it was, of course, granted.

One of the big “sticking points” in the divorce trial was that he wanted half of my mother’s house, and she wanted him to eat shit and die. Although he walked away with a large financial payout, she got to keep the house.

We came back from court and I took a pad of yellow sticky notes and wrote “Property of Maryalice McCormack” on several of them, and placed them around the house: on the phone, on the handrail on the stairs, on the television, on the wall in the hallway, inside the kitchen cabinets, on the mirror in the bathroom, and anywhere else I could think of… including inside the freezer door. She found them for weeks afterwards.

This one, inside her freezer, is still there 5 years later. I expected that it would have been the first one to fall off, but it still hangs there, greeting anyone who opens the freezer door.

And it makes me smile every time I see it.

Forgiveness & Fuck You

My parents divorced in 1980, due to my father’s alcoholism.

My mother remarried in 1983, due in no small part to the fact that my father — in an attempt to keep her from divorcing him years before — had done a very thorough job of convincing her that if she divorced him, she would lose the house. (That probably wasn’t the only reason she remarried, but it was a significant one.)

Her second marriage was far, far worse.

~ My Stepfather ~

If you’ve heard me mention my stepfather before, you know that I find him the most repugnant human on the face of the earth. He is self-centered. He is egotisical, and for no good reason, the only real skillset he possesses is manipulation. He was laid off in the mid-80s and has never held steady work since, nor did he try. He lived off my mother, who was living off a sizeable child-support and alimony settlement she had received in the divorce.

Of course kids and step-parents often don’t get along, so perhaps you’re thinking that I’m being hyperbolic, and that he’s really not that bad. Trust me when I say that I’m not exaggerating at all. He has 4 daughters, and none want anything to do with him. One joined the airforce in order to get away from him. Another married far too young. The other two stayed behind and just grew to resent him more and more The ones who live nearby come to visit my mother on Christmas (although she’s been divorced from their father for 5+ years) and talk about the latest ways in which he is making them miserable.

He has a retarded brother. He once said to me, about his brother, “He has a pile of money in the bank, he doesn’t have to work [the truth is he can’t work, he doesn’t have the mental capacity], and he’s got people who feed him and take care of him. So you tell me, who’s the real dummy?" Nice, eh?

Their mother saved her entire life with one hope: that her retarded son would not have to leave the house he grew up in. When his mother became ill and had to be hospitalized, my stepfather pleaded with Medicare not to take the house because it was where his retarded brother lived. As soon as Medicare agreed not to take the house, my stepfather put his brother in a group home and put the house on the market. Nice, eh?

My stepfather used to take his brother to Las Vegas. He let the brother pay for everything, of course. In 1991, they were supposed to go for another trip. When they arrived at the house, his brother had obviously not shined his shoes. This led to a pushing and shoving argument instigated by my stepfather with his retarded brother who was about to take him on an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas. Again. Nice, eh?

When they finally divorced 5 years ago, a woman from the group home where his brother lived testified at the divorce trial (oh yeah, it went to trial) that no one at the facility had ever seen my stepfather visit his brother. No one. My mother continues (to this day) to take him out for Christmas and his birthday, knowing that his brother never will.

They separated for the final time in 2001, but they had gone through it before in 1993 and 1991 (after the above incident). In 1991 he got back in the house by agreeing to go to therapy — but he told both my mother and I that we were the real problem. In 1993, they had gone so far as to start divorce proceedings, and he convinced my mother to give him another chance. She called me while I was at college, and said: “I know you won’t be happy about this.”

"I would be a hypocrite if I said that I didn’t believe that forgiveness and reconciliation were possible," I told her. "Besides, I don’t have to live with him, you do."

He called me that night — the first and only time he ever called me while at college — in tears, to thank me for giving him another chance.

Needless to say, he never changed, and he eventually went on to have an affair with another woman, while living off my mother. (He also picked a fight with me during one of the most stressful weeks of my life, but that’s another whole story.)

To this day he’d tell you that he did nothing wrong, he’d tell you about what a hard time he had growing up with a retarded brother who took all of his parents’ time and attention. He’ll never apologize or try to reconcile, because he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. In his eyes, he’s the victim. He’s always been the victim.

Do I have any plans to forgive him? Fuck no. I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire, unless my urine was a combination of asparagus pee and kerosene. I plan to salt the earth over his grave and pay for the open bar after his funeral. Fuck him, I hope he spends eternity sitting on the hottest furnace in hell. My deepest hope is that he realizes the utter contempt that his children (and everyone else who knows him) has for him, and that he lives a long, long time with that realization.

Offering him forgiveness without a shred of repentance would be much like what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. It would be an affront to any meaningful understanding of the term “forgiveness.” This wasn’t casual or accidental harm that he caused, this was systematic and thorough abuse. I had a Christian Ethics professor in college who said that there was “No commandment in Scripture to be a door-mat for Christ.” There was a time I was hopeful for a reconciliation (if for no other reason than it would have made my mother happy), but he ultimately spit in the face of every attempted reconciliation.

~ My Father ~

During my high school years, I had a very challenging relationship with my father. His alcoholism was an open secret. No one talked about it, but we all managed our lives around it.

This drove me to the edge of despair on more than one occasion. I couldn’t deal with the unpredicability. He’d make promises and then forget them. I lived on eggshells, never sure what it would be that would set him off. (It was only later that I learned the answer was “Any excuse.”)

When I was 16 I was ready to give up completely, and the X-ACTO knife pressed to my wrist was only stopped because my mother called me for dinner, and I realized that she would be the one to find me, and I couldn’t do that to her. When I was 18, the only thing that stopped me from driving my car into oncoming traffic was a promise I made to a friend who was going off to the (first) Gulf War that I would see him when he returned.

College was my escape. I drew a 500 mile circle around my house and said “I’m going to college outside that circle.” Why? To get away from my father.

Sometime around the time I graduated from college, Dad decided he was ready to unfuckupify his life. He quit smoking and drinking. He started going to AA meetings. Daily. Eventually he went to counseling, and when talk-therapy wasn’t enough, he went on medication to fix what he had tried to fix with alcohol for all those years.

He was a completely different person. We had a completely different relationship. In 2000, I moved him down to live near us in Florida. When we moved to Ohio in 2003, we bought a house together, living under the same roof for the first time in over ten years since I had moved to get away from him. His death in 2006 is one of the great sadnesses of my life.

(Oh, and just in case you still don’t believe me about my stepfather and how people felt about him… at my Dad’s funeral, several people said to my mother, “God took the wrong ex-husband.”)

It was his alcoholism that was the cause for the divorce. It was his fear-mongering my mother that contributed to her getting into (and staying in) an even-worse second marriage. If he hadn’t have been alcoholic, I never would have had a stepfather, and my life… I can’t even imagine how different and better my life might have been.

All of that was his fault.

Did I forgive him?

Of course I did. And any reasonable person knows why.

Now, you can tell me that I ought to forgive my stepfather. You can tell me that my anger and resentment towards him hurts me more than it hurts him. I’ll agree. And I’ve tried. I really have. But I can’t. At least, I haven’t been able to so far. About 360 days out of the year I don’t even think about him. Maybe after he’s dead and I know that he won’t find a way to hurt anyone I care about ever again. Maybe. Even then I don’t think it will be “forgiveness” as much as it will be “acceptance” that this is how it was, this is how he treated us, and no amount of wishing or hoping can change the past, so it’s time to finally wipe our hands, be done with it, and never speak his name again.

But I think about my Dad almost every day, and I’m thankful for the time that we had together in those last years. He was given a prognosis of “6-18 months” in January of 2000, but lived until February of 2006. I spent most of those 6 “bonus years” with him. I never think about having “forgiven” him for anything. It just doesn’t occur to me to think about it that way. We never had a grandiose reconciliation. There was never a Big Talk. One day we just were in a different place than we had been before. I think that’s how forgiveness works most of the time. You start out working really hard at it, and then one day you realize that you don’t have to work at it anymore.

I don’t know. I’m clearly no expert. These are just the two most prominent and messy examples from my life.

~ Coda ~

Are you wondering what the image at the top of this article has to do with all of this?

It’s a picture of my mother’s freezer, taken a few weeks ago. At the end of the divorce trial, when it was clear that they were going to reach a settlement, I said to my mom, “You ought to tell the judge you want to go back to your maiden name” (if for no other reason than that my stepfather’s first wife and my mother had the same name, and the other ex had kept his name after the divorce, which caused no small amount of confusion).

She did ask the judge, and it was, of course, granted.

One of the big “sticking points” in the divorce trial was that he wanted half of my mother’s house, and she wanted him to eat shit and die. Although he walked away with a large financial payout, she got to keep the house.

We came back from court and I took a pad of yellow sticky notes and wrote “Property of Maryalice McCormack” on several of them, and placed them around the house: on the phone, on the handrail on the stairs, on the television, on the wall in the hallway, inside the kitchen cabinets, on the mirror in the bathroom, and anywhere else I could think of… including inside the freezer door. She found them for weeks afterwards.

This one, inside her freezer, is still there 5 years later. I expected that it would have been the first one to fall off, but it still hangs there, greeting anyone who opens the freezer door.

And it makes me smile every time I see it.


Text

Aug 21, 2010
@ 4:16 pm
Permalink

With friends like these…

I haven’t watched an episode of Cheers in longer than I can remember, but the other night I happened upon the season five finale, “I Do and Adieu” from 7 May 1987.

Sam and Diane were about to get married, but Diane had a chance to finish her book, something which had been important to her but which she had neglected for several years while she worked at the bar.

She kept trying to ignore it, saying that she could do it another time, that she didn’t have to choose between them. Sam saw it differently. Although he really did seem to want to marry her, he saw this as her chance, and he knew that if she didn’t take it now, she never would. He knew this was what she was good at.

Of course, being Sam, he didn’t come right out and say that. Instead, well, it went like this:

Sam: You’re bad at ballet, you’re terrible at acting, you can’t draw worth a lick; you’re bad at poetry, photography, cinema… omelettes… I mean, they’re going to have to start inventing things for you to be bad at—

Diane: Make your point, Sam.

Sam: You’re good at writing. I think we finally found something you don’t stink at.

In the end, she goes off to write, saying that she’ll be back. Sam says goodbye, believing that she won’t be back. And indeed she wasn’t.

What’s the point? What’s the moral of the story? Maybe there is none. Maybe it was just a plot device for a character who wouldn’t return to a sitcom the following year.

Maybe it’s a reminder that we sometimes spend our lives doing the things that we don’t really want to do and thinking that there will be a time when we’ll get to do what we really want to do. Perhaps sometimes that’s unavoidable.

I’m not saying I believe that we only get “One Chance” at happiness and if we miss it, we’re boned. What I am saying is that there are days, or perhaps even moments when there are paths opened up to us that aren’t always going to be there.

And hopefully when the right moment comes along, there’s someone there who says “Look, there aren’t infinite possibilities every day for everyone to do everything, but this right here, this is it, and it’s scary and unexpected and the road ahead is anything but certain, but this is the opportunity that’s before you right now, and you should take it.

I don’t feel like I’ve had that experience myself. Part of me really believes that there’s something out there but I’m not entirely sure what it is yet. I hope that I’m doing the things that I need to do to be ready for it when it appears, and I hope I recognize what it is when it does. Part of me is afraid that I’m so busy with the routines of life that I might miss it. Yet another part of me is more afraid that there is nothing else around the corner, and wonders if I’ll spend the rest of my life waiting for something that will never happen… even if I’m not entirely sure what it will be.

Except that I don’t feel like my life is ‘on hold’ waiting for whatever it is. I feel pretty fortunate for the life I have. I don’t feel that there’s something ‘missing’ from my life. Just that there’s another significant something out there.

I just wish I had some idea what it was.


Photo

Jan 13, 2010
@ 12:00 pm
Permalink

I am here to tell you how to make a decent peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

What makes me an expert? Growing up, our school didn’t have a cafeteria. I brought PB&J to school every day for 12 years. Except one day in 4th grade my mother made me a tuna-fish sandwich. I flushed it down the toilet at school. It clogged. Principalities were called in. I think she learned her lesson.

Although this is a basic staple of growing-up life, many people don’t know how to make one properly. It’s a simple process, but like anything else, screwing up any one of the steps can screw up the whole process.

Ingredients to make a Proper Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

1) White bread. Do not serve PB&J on anything else. Does it have to be Wonder Bread? No, you go ahead and get some earthy, crunchy, free-range, whole grain bread.

2) JIF. Choosy moms choose JIF. What else do you need to know?

In answer to the “Creamy or Crunchy?” question, PB&J should be made with creamy peanut butter for the same reasons that you don’t put eggshells in an omelet.

3) Grape Jelly. Not Jam. Not Strawberry. Smucker’s will do in a pinch if you can’t find Welch’s.

4) Milk. I leave the kind up to you. I actually prefer skim-milk, with a few exceptions I’ve never found it to taste like white-colored water (although I did have some recently that was like that).

How to make a proper Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

I’m surprised how many people do this wrong.

I’m here to help.

1) Take out two pieces of bread. Feel free to reach past the first few slices which may be getting a little stale. You can always make toast with those. You need soft, fresh bread for this.

2) Open the pieces of bread like you would open a book. Not even Wonder Bread is perfectly symmetrical, so this will make sure that the bread lines up when you put it back together in sandwich form. It’s attention to details like these that are the difference between living life and enjoying life.

3) Put peanut butter on both pieces of bread. This is essential, especially if you are making a sandwich that won’t be eaten for several hours (i.e. packing lunch for a school-aged child). The peanut butter serves as a seal to keep the jelly from seeping through the bread. Do you really want your child to eat a sandwich that looks like yesterday’s band-aid? I would hope not.

4) Put the jelly on one-side. Otherwise it will slide off when you go to put the two pieces together. Obviously. However, don’t just take a spoonful and slop it onto the middle of the sandwich expecting to squish it down into place with the other piece of bread. Take some {expletive deleted} pride in your work. Spread the jelly evenly, allowing for some room for the peanut butter to make a seal. You do not want to have the jelly slide out and end up on your child’s crotch while s/he is at the lunch table at school.

Note: Squeezable jelly does work well; however, we can never find it in our stores.

5) Put both pieces of bread together, lining them up properly.

6) Do not cut off the crust. Why would you cut off the crust? When did this start? And why? Leave the bleepin’ crust alone.

7) Serve will cold milk. Repeat as necessary.

Goes well with Oreos.

I am here to tell you how to make a decent peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

What makes me an expert? Growing up, our school didn’t have a cafeteria. I brought PB&J to school every day for 12 years. Except one day in 4th grade my mother made me a tuna-fish sandwich. I flushed it down the toilet at school. It clogged. Principalities were called in. I think she learned her lesson.

Although this is a basic staple of growing-up life, many people don’t know how to make one properly. It’s a simple process, but like anything else, screwing up any one of the steps can screw up the whole process.

Ingredients to make a Proper Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

1) White bread. Do not serve PB&J on anything else. Does it have to be Wonder Bread? No, you go ahead and get some earthy, crunchy, free-range, whole grain bread.

2) JIF. Choosy moms choose JIF. What else do you need to know?

In answer to the “Creamy or Crunchy?” question, PB&J should be made with creamy peanut butter for the same reasons that you don’t put eggshells in an omelet.

3) Grape Jelly. Not Jam. Not Strawberry. Smucker’s will do in a pinch if you can’t find Welch’s.

4) Milk. I leave the kind up to you. I actually prefer skim-milk, with a few exceptions I’ve never found it to taste like white-colored water (although I did have some recently that was like that).

How to make a proper Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

I’m surprised how many people do this wrong.

I’m here to help.

1) Take out two pieces of bread. Feel free to reach past the first few slices which may be getting a little stale. You can always make toast with those. You need soft, fresh bread for this.

2) Open the pieces of bread like you would open a book. Not even Wonder Bread is perfectly symmetrical, so this will make sure that the bread lines up when you put it back together in sandwich form. It’s attention to details like these that are the difference between living life and enjoying life.

3) Put peanut butter on both pieces of bread. This is essential, especially if you are making a sandwich that won’t be eaten for several hours (i.e. packing lunch for a school-aged child). The peanut butter serves as a seal to keep the jelly from seeping through the bread. Do you really want your child to eat a sandwich that looks like yesterday’s band-aid? I would hope not.

4) Put the jelly on one-side. Otherwise it will slide off when you go to put the two pieces together. Obviously. However, don’t just take a spoonful and slop it onto the middle of the sandwich expecting to squish it down into place with the other piece of bread. Take some {expletive deleted} pride in your work. Spread the jelly evenly, allowing for some room for the peanut butter to make a seal. You do not want to have the jelly slide out and end up on your child’s crotch while s/he is at the lunch table at school.

Note: Squeezable jelly does work well; however, we can never find it in our stores.

5) Put both pieces of bread together, lining them up properly.

6) Do not cut off the crust. Why would you cut off the crust? When did this start? And why? Leave the bleepin’ crust alone.

7) Serve will cold milk. Repeat as necessary.

Goes well with Oreos.


Text

Jan 10, 2010
@ 12:58 am
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The Something I Wait For

I’ve spent a great amount of time thinking that something is out there, just around the corner, just a few steps away. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t looming right behind me, so close and yet completely invisible and unknown.

Part of me wonders if this is what everyone goes though before they hit whatever they define as mid-life, expecting/believing in some greater potential yet to be realized. When it doesn’t arrive, is that what throws people into a downward spiral?

Good God, am I going to be driving a sportscar and wearing a baseball hat to cover up male-pattern baldness?

I’ve never lived anyone else’s life, I’ve been through this before, but this seems unusual. This isn’t a set idea of what I want to do or what I want to be. This is an amorphous shape just beyond the corner of my eye. I fully expect that, like much of my life thus far, it will appear unexpected and unimagined. When I see it I will be both surprised because I didn’t see it coming, and at the same point realize that much of my life up up to this point has been in preparation for something I didn’t expect or understand.

It feels like it is getting closer. Looming larger. But no matter how hard I squint, I can’t make it out. Since I don’t know what it is, I can’t prepare for it.

So I wait.


Photo

Jan 9, 2010
@ 5:01 pm
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I was going to talk about where we live this week, but since we’re buried under snow at the moment, I decided to go back a little further.

This is the first picture I ever took of The Boy, just moments after he was born. They had cleaned him up and put him on the little warming table.

I don’t know that I have anything to say about his birth that isn’t an absolute cliché.

Whatever clarity I’d had in life before then had always been fleeting. But from the first day I have had a single consistent thought:

"Try not to fuck this up."

I don’t know what else I was put on earth to do, but I’ve never doubted that he (and his mother) are a main part of it.

We’ve lived a bunch of places, but my sense of “place” includes people as much as anything else.

I was going to talk about where we live this week, but since we’re buried under snow at the moment, I decided to go back a little further.

This is the first picture I ever took of The Boy, just moments after he was born. They had cleaned him up and put him on the little warming table.

I don’t know that I have anything to say about his birth that isn’t an absolute cliché.

Whatever clarity I’d had in life before then had always been fleeting. But from the first day I have had a single consistent thought:

"Try not to fuck this up."

I don’t know what else I was put on earth to do, but I’ve never doubted that he (and his mother) are a main part of it.

We’ve lived a bunch of places, but my sense of “place” includes people as much as anything else.


Text

Jan 8, 2010
@ 12:26 am
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Momentum

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to read. My father read a lot, my brother read a lot (still does), and my mom read to me every night for years. I don’t remember how old I was when my mother stopped reading to me, but remember thinking I was glad none of my friends knew she was still doing it.

I went through a phase in elementary school when I would come home from school and read a Hardy Boys book. Every day. Until I had read them all. When I was older, I filled my summers with as many Stephen King books as I could get through the magic of inter-library loan.

What eventually dampened my zeal for reading was… college.

As an English & Religious Studies double major, I was reading so many booksall the time. I’m not sure how many years it takes a professor to lose all sense of reality regarding how much a student can read while taking 3-4 other classes, but (almost) all of my professors either had no clue or didn’t care. They would assign far more reading than could ever been completed, and then tack on some “optional” or “suggested” reading as well.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that many professors want to help you “build your library” meaning that they want you to have certain books at your disposal on your bookshelf. I heard this numerous times by the professors themselves. As much as I can understand the logic behind it, I wish more professors assigned a reasonable amount of material and delved more deeply into it.

The second reason is a guess, but I think it is an educated one (if you’ll pardon the expression): many professors think that if they set the bar very high then you will try harder and accomplish more. So if they assign 100 pages a week, maybe you’ll read 80, but if they assign 80, they’re afraid you’ll only read 60. They want to help get people into the habit of reading, and reading a lot.

If that was their theory, it completely backfired on me.

When I realized that there was no way I could read everything they assigned, I stopped reading altogether. I was never very good at “skimming” a book. If I read it, I wanted to really “get into it” but if I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t bother at all.

(Aside: I accomplished this by picking one of the earliest readings of the semester and be sure to contribute a lot to the class discussions. That left a lasting impression on a professor. Then I sat in the front of the class, attended every class, learned how to pay attention to what was discussed, and took a lot of notes.)

Graduate school made it worse.

By the time I finally graduated at age 25, I had stopped reading almost entirely. I read a few novels that summer, but never really regained my real passion for reading.

Not long after that I made a conscious decision to stop reading a book I had decided to read for pleasure. I remember putting a bookmark into it and thinking, “Yeah, I get it.” The bookmark was a lie. I knew I wasn’t going to open the book again.

Unfortunately, once I started throwing in the towel, it became easier and easier to quit a book, harder and harder to finish one. It was only a few years ago that I discovered Audible and “read” more books in one year than I had read in the previous five. It reminded me what I had once loved about reading: getting pulled into a story, picturing the scenes, or simply learning about completely new things.

Sometimes A Book is More than Just a Book

In the past year or two I realized what happened with books is symptomatic of a larger issue in my life: not finishing what I start.

I find it remarkably easy to begin projects, and find it hellishly difficult to complete them. As I wrote almost a year ago:

The first 80% of a project takes 100% of my energy and interest.
The last 20% of a project gets thrown into a box and pushed in the corner.

When I start something, I throw myself into it entirely, focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else… but once I stop, I might never start it again.

There are two pieces of this puzzle to figure out:

  1. Figure out what I really want to do, and do them.
  2. Figure out what I don’t really want to do, and don’t allow it to take time or energy that I should be spending on things in the first category.

Someone (I think it was Michele) asked if we had a word or motto for the new year. Mine was “Purposeful.” To me it goes directly towards the two points above, as well as our theme this week of “momentum”: if I make a purposeful decision about what I want to do—and, equally importantly, what not to do—it will help gain and not lose momentum.

Hopefully 2010 will be the year I switch back from being someone who starts many things to someone who completes many things.

This entry is part of the 52 Weeks Thing. Not sure what that is? Read more here.


Photo

Jan 1, 2010
@ 2:15 pm
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This one is fairly easy since I’m at my mom’s house, which is the house where I grew up.

Actually it’s the address where I grew up, since the house has changed significantly. Growing up, that tree would have been fresh-cut instead of fake. The town has changed too. The restaurant where I had my first real job is now an insurance company. The grocery store where I worked is a different store and looks completely different inside.  The high school I (and my brother and sister) attended has closed. My old bedroom is now adorned with Winnie-the-Pooh for when The Boy comes to visit.

But there has always been change here. I suppose the first that I remember was when my parents divorced and my mother remarried. Then they changed the garage into a den. The dining room became my bedroom (I had been sharing a room with my brother, who is eight years older.) The porch became a dining room.

Despite the changes, my mom’s house is “home” and probably always will be. In 2006 when my Dad died I decided I didn’t want to be home in Ohio where his absence would be all around, so we started driving to Massachusetts overnight so The Boy would wake up at Grammy’s for Christmas.

That trip led to this Flickr picture which is my favorite picture ever:



So this is probably as obvious as can be, but it’s hard to think of anywhere I have more of a sense of place than Home, especially now that I get to share it with The Wife and The Boy.

This one is fairly easy since I’m at my mom’s house, which is the house where I grew up.

Actually it’s the address where I grew up, since the house has changed significantly. Growing up, that tree would have been fresh-cut instead of fake. The town has changed too. The restaurant where I had my first real job is now an insurance company. The grocery store where I worked is a different store and looks completely different inside. The high school I (and my brother and sister) attended has closed. My old bedroom is now adorned with Winnie-the-Pooh for when The Boy comes to visit.

But there has always been change here. I suppose the first that I remember was when my parents divorced and my mother remarried. Then they changed the garage into a den. The dining room became my bedroom (I had been sharing a room with my brother, who is eight years older.) The porch became a dining room.

Despite the changes, my mom’s house is “home” and probably always will be. In 2006 when my Dad died I decided I didn’t want to be home in Ohio where his absence would be all around, so we started driving to Massachusetts overnight so The Boy would wake up at Grammy’s for Christmas.

That trip led to this Flickr picture which is my favorite picture ever:

So this is probably as obvious as can be, but it’s hard to think of anywhere I have more of a sense of place than Home, especially now that I get to share it with The Wife and The Boy.


Text

Nov 10, 2009
@ 3:06 pm
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TJ Gets A Ticket…

I’m going to assume you listen to Live, from a Shoebox and more specifically that you’ve listened to Episode 14 where Alison talked about getting pulled over and Episode 20 where she talked about getting pulled over again. As in, a second time. By the same cop.

Her courage and determination to fight The Man has inspired me to share my story where I, too, fought against The Man.

The year was 1989, or maybe early 1990. I’m about 16 years old, driving with my Dad in his fully tricked out 1988 Chevy Cavalier, by which I mean it had power windows, seats, and a cassette deck with auto-reverse.

We were driving the 8+ hours to my sister’s house in Erie, PA, which mean about 7.5 hours on I-90, which is referred to as The Mass Turnpike in Massachusetts. We were driving along in “fairly busy but moving along” traffic, and I was keeping up with the flow of traffic. All of a sudden we came around a bend, and there is a State Trooper standing on the side of the road, and he pointed at me, then pointed at the side of the road. No radar gun, standing outside of his car in his big Trooper hat and sunglasses, standing at the side of the road.

So I pull over, my heart pounding like the wings of a hummingbird-on-crack, and my Dad is telling me to relax and be polite. I’ve been driving for less than a year, and I’ve never in my life talked with a police officer who hadn’t come to my school to give some sort of a safety demonstration.

He comes to the window and asks me if I know why he pulled me over, and I said no. I mean, I knew I wasn’t going 55MPH, but no one was going 55, so… why me? He says, “I clocked you doing 79 in a 55. License and registration please.”

79MPH.

My Dad opened the glove compartment and started looking for the paperwork. I tried to get my wallet out of my back pocket, but it was stuck and wouldn’t come out. All the time I’m thinking to myself, “What? 79? There’s no way…” I hear my Dad say something to him that I wasn’t going anywhere near that fast, and the cop says that he has my on radar, which is of course absurd because he was already standing outside of the car when we came around the corner. He was waiting for me.

He went back to his car to do whatever it is that they do, and I hoped that he would seem my clean record and tell me to just slow down. No such luck. He comes back with a ticket for $190. Now think back to when you were 16 years old, and what would $190 sound like? It sounded like $1,000. He asks me to sign the receipt, indicating that I’ve received the ticket, not indicating guilt, and shows me where to send it in.

We resumed our trip and I was beyond livid. I was driving exactly 55MPH for as long as my Dad could put up with it before he said “It’s going to take up 12 hours if you keep driving like this, you’re not going to get another ticket, just stay with the traffic.” I said something calm like “I WAS JUST STAYING WITH THE TRAFFIC WHEN HE GAVE ME THAT TICKET AND HE SAID I WAS GOING 79 THERE’S NO WAY IN HELL I WAS GOING THAT FAST AND I CAN’T BELIEVE HE GAVE ME A TICKET OH MY GOD MOM IS GOING TO KILL ME AND I’M NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE AGAIN EVER.”

Finally I did pick up my pace a little bit, but I drove the rest of the way (the final 90% of the trip) in a foul mood. At one point my Dad said, “I want you to try to get the car up to 79 MPH.” WHAT? “I want to see how it would feel to drive that fast.” After assuring me that he would pay the ticket if I got another one, I started accelerating. At 72 MPH we both started to get nervous. At 75 MPH, the car felt like it was going to careen out of control. I let my foot off the gas and slowed back down to about 62 MPH (which is the official speed of “the speed limit is 55 but you probably won’t get a ticket if you’re going this fast.”)

"And he thinks we were going faster than that and didn’t notice?" my Dad asked rhetorically. Then we remembered that another white car had sped past us just before we got pulled over. We theorized that there had been a hidden cop car with a radar gun which caught that car, and then radioed ahead to the guy who pulled us over, and he got the wrong car. My Dad told me to request a hearing for the ticket.

I was still afraid of telling my mom about it, but he said it would be fine and we went about the rest of our visit. I got home a few days later and quite honestly had forgotten about it. A lot of other stuff had happened and I had thought about it so much it was no longer shocking or even news… I was sure that they had just spotted the wrong car.

Only problem was that I completely forgot that I had put the ticket in the pocket of my jeans. Which my mom then washed. And dried.

The ticket looked like I had balled it up. You have never seen anything more crumpled and faded, torn, etc. I was sure I was going to go to jail for contempt of court or something — and I still had to mail it back and request a court date. My mother literally ironed it, trying to make it look less wrinkled. It didn’t help.

So we mailed it off.

And heard nothing.

For several years. (Not a typo.)

I was sure that it had just been thrown away, but something like three years later I got a court date. Except that I was now in college and couldn’t go. I asked for a rescheduled date over Christmas vacation, and they sent a date back for the following summer.

Now I had always heard that if the cop who wrote the ticket didn’t show up, they had to throw out the ticket. That is apparently not true. The guy who was at the court that day made no bones about the fact that he wasn’t the guy who had originally written the ticket. I explained about the other car and that I was sure that it was the wrong car. The judge asked me if I had been speeding.

Here’s the thing: in the meantime, the speed limit for that area had been increased from 55MPH to 65MPH. I had planned to argue that aspect of the case as well. But I didn’t know what to answer. So I went with the truth.

"I was probably going more than 55, but there’s no way that I was going 79—" and I was just about to mention about the speed limit change when he said.

"How about a reduction? $50?"

Wait, did he mean $50 off the $190 or a reduction to $50? Either one was better, but the way he said it, I wasn’t sure.

"What do you mean?" I asked, obviously confused.

"I mean you write a check to this court for $50, and that’s the end of it. Does that sound like a good deal to you?"

"YESABSOLUTELYIHAVEACHECKWRITEHEREWHODOIMAKEITOUTTO?"

My Dad had sent me with a literal blank check, with his name already signed, and told me to make sure that whatever I did, I didn’t lose the check.

That was the first time I got a ticket… with my Dad in the car. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about the other time…s…


Text

Sep 13, 2009
@ 1:55 pm
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Mixed Emotions

We were in a staff meeting for the so-called “professional” staff.

The secretary knocked on the door and told my boss and my co-worker that their wives were on the phone, asking to talk with them right away. This had never happened before. I had met their wives, and they were not ones to get overly excited about something without reason. For them to call and insist on talking to their husbands immediately was strange…

They took the messages seriously, excused themselves from the meeting, and left the rest of us there wondering what to do with ourselves. We talked for a moment about how odd it was. Then it dawned on us: both of their wives were teachers. While the echoes of Columbine and other school shootings may have faded, but they had not fully disappeared.

Across town, Tracey was waking up. Her part-time work schedule was flexible, and she didn’t have to be in the office for anything in particular that day, so she had slept in. When she awoke, she felt… strange. Was she coming down with something? No, she had felt this way before… She poured herself a bowl of cereal and milk, hoping it would calm her stomach. By the time she sat down, she was pretty sure it was morning sickness. Last time, the “morning sickness” (which, despite its name, lasted all day) had been intense, nearly violent. She had lost weight during her first trimester.

She sat down on the couch and turned on the television, hoping to distract herself with whatever morning show she could find.

Instead, she turned the TV on just in time to see the second plane hit the Twin Towers.

Back at my office, we were trying to get whatever news we could. Neither my boss nor coworker had come out of their offices. Our initial concerns about a school shooting were fading away, and we were hearing vague reports about a terrorist attack in New York, and a possible explosion in the White House. Airplanes were said to be involved. My boss’ daughter lived in Manhatten, and was scheduled to be on a plane that morning. I had met her several times. She was my age. His wife had called to ask if he had heard from her. He hadn’t. My co-worker’s brother worked at the White House. I didn’t even know he had a brother. His wife had called to ask if he had heard from him. He hadn’t.

There we were, 900 miles away from New York city, 700 miles from D.C., yet not feeling very far away at all. Wanting to do something, but there was nothing we could do. Nothing but watch.

The boss’ daughter called later that day, to say that she was O.K. It think it was a day or more before my coworker heard from his brother, but he too was OK. “Knowing” two people who were briefly “missing” is nothing like having a friend or loved one there. No one I know or even tangentially related to me was injured or killed on 9/11. My mother’s flight back from Scotland (where she had been visiting my sister) to Boston was delayed several days.

Tracey decided not to tell me that she was pregnant until Friday. I’m not entirely sure why; I suspect because of all the disruption and upheaval of that week. But I knew. When I say I knew, I don’t mean it in any of that Hallmark, soft-focus, “I saw her and she was just aglow” nonsense. I just knew. And I knew that she wasn’t telling me, either because she wasn’t ready to talk about it or she thought I wasn’t ready to talk about it.

It was a dramatically different experience than the first time, when she had come out of the bathroom with the home pregnancy test and literally jumped for absolute, 100% joy (I also feel I should note that she was also 100% naked). That had been about a year beforehand, but that story did not have a happy ending. Instead it ended, 20-something weeks later after 3 days in the hospital, with a death certificate which had no corresponding birth certificate. That’s another long story for perhaps another day, but suffice it to say that I live my life now with the belief (and hope) that the worst day and worst experience of my life are behind me.

I mention that only because it was another dimension to the story of finding out on September 11th, 2001 that she was pregnant. It was an odd day to find out such good news, making the day one of extremely mixed emotions, especially considering our own personal history and tragedy.

Perhaps—and this occurs to me only now, 8 years after the fact and after I have already written the above words—she did not want to tell me because the news of the day was filled with tragedy and sadness and fear and anxiety about the future. Her news would stir up memories and fears and anxiety too. So she waited. On Friday at lunchtime we attended a prayer service together. After the service ended we went to lunch. I remember her telling me, and I remember telling her “I know.” (I think I was fairly glib about it…you know, like when Han said it to Leia?)

We talked. The excitement of the first time was displaced by the awareness of all that could go wrong. Now it was just a matter of waiting.

I’m not big on stories with morals or the idea that God or the universe or whatever sends us “messages”. Nevertheless, I have, from the beginning until now, always believed that if there was such a message it was this:

There will always be reasons to fear, to give up, or to give in; but there will also be reasons to hope and to work for a better future.

Go live.


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