At a Restaurant in Kansas City

This is a somewhat, but not very, exaggerated account of my family ordering food for our pre-Christmas dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise in Kansas City last Saturday:

Kate, age 30 something: “We’d like to order some appetizers.”

Waiter, age unknown: “Great! What would you like?”

K: “Two orders of the loaded chips.”

W: “Okay. Anything else?”

K: “Yes, but could you please put the bacon on the side and leave the tomatoes off one of them?”

W: “Of course.”

K: “And on the second? Please put the tomatoes on the side and leave off the bacon.”

W: “No bacon? Not even. . .”

K: “Not even.”

W: “Ho-Kay.”

James, age 13: “I’d like the All-American burger, but I do not want the mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, or pickle, please.”

W: “Just a plain cheeseburger, then, with nothing on it?”

J: “Well, I would like ketchup.”

W: “On the side?”

J: “No, on the burger.”

W: “Looks at Kate’s friend, Steve: “who knew?”

Steve: “I did, but you never asked.”

Miranda and her friend Alec, both 17, and Shania, age 11, all ordered off the menu as is.

W: “Thank you! We’re on a roll.”

He looks at me.

Pamela: “I would like to start with the onion strings with the Asian dipping sauce, please.”

W: Wrote it down, paused, and then said:”With or without the onions?”

He thought he was being clever.

P: “With, of course.” My turn to pause. “But could I have them on the side, please?” He shook his head, collected the menus, and walked away.

Steve: “He is not coming back, is he?”

Epilogue: Our erstwhile waiter did return with all orders prepared as requested, except for the onion rings.

W: “I assumed you were kidding.”

He got a very generous tip.

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Attempted Baptism in Lake Washington

So, I get some work done yesterday and then decide to head out to the shores of Lake Washington for some R&R–(w)Riting and Reflection. I find the perfect secluded spot off Lake Washington Boulevard, park, and plant myself on a bench, prepared to be soothed by the sweet sounds of gently moving water and birdsong. I get a few precious moments of Zen before a man praising God for the entire world to hear, appears out of nowhere. His reason for being grateful? In his words: “Sweet Jesus, I am not a child molester.”

Plop a Bible under my right hand and I will swear to it. You can’t make these things up, people!

Loud, grateful, Jesus-praising man is being chased to the water’s edge by an older, heavyset woman he calls “Mom.” She begs him to quiet down. He orders her to “back off.”

Two things occur to me at that point: One, I probably should head back to the safety of my car and, two, my adult children are saints. Seriously, they should be canonized.

I have my iPad with me and the thought does cross my mind to make like the paparazzi and record this unusual event. I choose not. This man is clearly troubled and if I was his mother, I would not want to see a video of his meltdown go viral.

That’s when he decides to transform from fully clothed, self-proclaimed, non-child molester to naked yada, yada, yada.

He marches into the water, tears off his shirt and pants, and pulls down his boxers while his mom stands at the water’s edge, begging him to stop.

We both watch him do what appear to be several failed attempts at self baptism in very shallow water. Ouch! Then, as suddenly as this episode began, it ends. He walks out of the water, pulls on his shorts, gathers his shirt and boxers, and allows his mother to lead him gently by the arm to a car I had not seen pull up. She drives them away.

Me? I resume enjoying the sounds of the gently lapping water and birdsong, as best I can.


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Two Months In and Still Together

The farewell party was a night to remember. About 75 people Kim worked with during the last 25 years showed up to give him a proper sendoff. I drank water all night anticipating I would need to drive us home. I anticipated correctly. The next day he sent work friends an email that included this line: “The first day of the rest of my life begins–with a hangover.”

And so it began. . . .

I intended to make this a weekly blog. A public journal to keep track of our progress in learning to live together in the same space 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I heard from others who already were well into this process that “picnic” does not describe what we had to look forward to. I was apprehensive. Two months in and all is well.

Our marriage has not always gone smoothly. (Those who know us well will probably laugh out loud at this understatement.) We had only just begun to figure it out after 25 years of marriage when Kim’s company offered him a retirement package he could not refuse. It was unexpected. It was exciting. It was worrisome.

The bulk of our married life together is best described as going from over-the-moon happy, passionate, loving to teetering on the edge of disaster. Like the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead, when it was good it was very, very good. When it was bad. . .

Our vastly different personalities, shared levels of intelligence, compatibility in things like books, music, and lack thereof in just about everything else were a large part of what attracted one to the other. But when it comes right down to it, you can blame it on the pheromones, people. There is no way to explain it.

At times, our frustrations with the other’s shortcomings (Turns out we both have them. Who knew?) came to a rolling boil and blew the lid off our pot of happiness. The funny thing is, as much as we thought getting together might not have been our most brilliant moment, we also found it nearly impossible to imagine being apart. Yes. We’ve been to counseling—together and separately. We know how this plays out in analysis. Save it. We’ve heard it all before.

Finally, we found something that does work and has endured for long enough that, while not taking it for granted, we possess a definite feeling of lasting marital confidence. Then he is offered the retirement package. One he, right—couldn’t refuse. I can’t disclose details but it was a generous offer and had he turned it down, there was no guarantee that he would not be offered mandatory retirement—without the pretty package.

The day he came home with this large amount of paperwork to be studied, we were both somewhat breathless. Wow! This is wonderful gave way to—now? He was not really ready to give up the job that turned his hair gray. (He says it was me that made that happen but I know it was work stress-related.) The possibilities were endless. I am self employed and can quit any time. Then again, I did not have to. There certainly were pros and cons. And, although this affected us both, the decision really had to be his. It was his life. It was his career—a career he was exceptionally good at. I could envision us finally having some time to play hard together after working hard for so many years. I had looked forward to a day when I would get so much more of his time and attention for what seemed like forever. I could also understand how he must feel leaving his “other” family. Some of whom drove him crazy like only your family members can and some of whom he genuinely loved. And would greatly miss. I remembered how I felt when I gave up a career I loved to move here with him when he was offered his current job. That helped me understand some of what he was going through. But only he could “get” it all.

Of course he chose the pretty package. He’s smart that way.

And then we both began to giggle and look forward, sweat and fear, wonder and worry. And boom! It was here.

It has been an adjustment for him. The feeling of “what do I do now?” is real and painful. And he has done a remarkable job of acclimating himself to life after work.

I have an office on the second floor of our home. His is on the first. He likes background noise in the form of a television that stays on in his space from morning till night. But it is usually not loud enough to hear and he does all sorts of things while the Sci-Fi channel provides the desired white noise.

He’s helpful. He runs errands I used to have to run. He does things I used to have to do. He takes over and just gets things done. He reads and does crossword puzzles, builds model cars with painstaking detail, and practices his dry sense of humor—a lot. I love that.

We each have become card-carrying members of the club of positivity. The more we practice, the better we get. We build each other up and petty complaining is just not part of the program. If there is a tense moment, we get over it. We let it go. We do not criticize. We ask if there is something we want from each other. There is no guessing. There are no mind games.

Two months in and I feel happy. And giddy. To quote an old song: It really is “nice to have a man around the house.”

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Two Eggs with a Side of Drama

Sometimes it is just nice to be alone to gather my thoughts and enjoy my own company. That was the case this morning. I decided to go out to breakfast with nothing but my notepad and some ideas I was hoping to work on.

I was seated in a double row of booths and ordered some coffee. The booth across the aisle from mine was unoccupied and, since the restaurant was not very busy, I was hoping it would stay that way.

After ordering my breakfast, I opened my notebook, took a sip of coffee, and began work on a first draft of a poem I started a few days earlier.

In minutes the booth across the aisle had guests. An attractive young couple who, it turned out was not a couple. A few seconds later, my peace was shattered by the female component of the non couple loudly recounting her side of what became clear was a messy divorce. The man sitting across from her was her ex-husband’s friend. And she thought he needed to know the truth.

I’m not sure that is what he thought, but the fool had, after all, agreed to meet his friend’s ex-wife on, of all days, my solitary breakfast day, which gained him no sympathy points from me.

As is usually the case when I eavesdrop, I was not trying to listen, but the woman was not using her polite restaurant voice and seemed to want me to hear her story. She seemed to want the entire restaurant to hear her story. Because the truth needed to be told. This was her mantra for the next thirty minutes or so. My waiter might as well have said: “You do want a side of drama with your bacon and eggs, right?”

Ex-Wife: “I mean, like, I tried? I did all I could but it just wasn’t enough, you know? Like, he was never on the same page. And he said he had a difficult time having a conversation at all with me?

Ex’s Friend: “I just have never known him to be. . . .”

EW: “Exactly! Right? You probably see the same things I do. I mean, you’ve spent enough time around him to see his true colors?”

Legal Eavesdropper: (I should tell you that there are conversational habits that make me want to shove my hand down my throat and rip out my tonsils, sans anesthetic. Ending a declaratory sentence with a question mark is one of them. Sentences peppered with the word “like” used as anything but the way it is defined is another. And the phrase “you know?” used over and over again instead of telling the listener exactly what you mean definitely ranks right up there with the other two. This person broke all of those rules over and over again.)

EF: “Well, my relationship with him is different, so. . . ”

EW: “Well, of course it is. But I’m sure you can’t help but see how self-centered, egotistical, and rude he can be?”

EF: “Not really.”

EW: “I mean I really like to go out dancing? But do you think he would, like, agree to even do that once in a while? ”

EF:” I can understand that. Dancing is not my idea. . . .”

EW: “Right! See? You get it! Why couldn’t he?”

EF: “Well, I do but I was going to say that dancing is not my idea of a good time, either. So I kind of see why he did not want to do that.”

EW: “Okay. But it’s not about the dancing? You know? It’s about doing what I want sometimes. I mean, you know, like I was willing to go along with what he wanted to do. Except I do not like sports.”

LE: (Finally! Proper use of the word “like.)

EW: “I wanted to watch football with him, but watching any kind of competitive action makes me nauseous? Was I supposed to sit there and try to choke back the bile that rose in my throat each time a player knocked another one to the ground?”

LE: (Really? Trying to eat the runny middle of my egg here!)

EF: “Maybe it made him sick to get out on the dance floor.”

EW: “Oh now you’re like, just being silly. Dancing never made anyone throw up.”

EF: “As a matter of fact, I tried to dance with a date one night after having too much to drink and hurled my steak, baked potato, and carrot dinner all over the dance floor.”

LE: (Forget the eggs. Maybe I’ll work on the bacon for a while.)

EW: “Well, that was unfortunate, but I’ll bet it is rare. Anyway, my point is he was a selfish pig who wanted everything his own way.”

EF: “Here’s the deal. So-called loser (not his real name) and I have been friends since first grade. We both have our faults, but we would do anything for each other. And we’re both good people. The two of you just did not work out. It happens. All of the time. There is no need for either one of you to trash the other. And there is no need for any of your friends to feel like they have to take sides.”

LE: (Silent cheer.)

EW: “Well, of course not. I just don’t want anyone, like, blaming me? I mean, I really, really, really, really tried?”

LE: (Really?)

EF: “So just move on. He has.”

Waiter stops by to drop off my check. He gives the non couple theirs, also. Neither of them reaches for it.

EW: “I guess I should pay for this, since I asked you out to breakfast?”

EF: “Well thanks. The food was very good.”

I got up to leave and was walking away when I heard:

EW: “Like, can you at least leave the tip? You two are so alike, you know?”

I left feeling a bit nauseated myself.

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Not on My Bucket List

I saw them a couple of times while I was shopping, but mostly I just heard them shopping. She appeared to be about fifty years old, with few teeth in her mouth and plenty of foul words coming out of it.

He was about the same age, walked with a limp, and whined. He couldn’t decide which frozen dinner he was hungry for, and he was too tired to be walking around a grocery store after working all day. If she had not lost her license, she would be doing the shopping and he would be sitting at home resting his weary bones. The way it should be, her being the woman and food shopping being her job. His words. Not mine.

She bitch slapped him with her tongue. He called her a name. A name I have never been called in my life. And I’ve been called some things.

Some shoppers stared. How could they not? I chose to go about my business of tossing things into a shopping cart and ignoring the couple in need of a relationship intervention. I did not hear any more outbursts while I finished my shopping. Then I left the store, quickly forgetting the unpleasant scene in the frozen food aisle.

Alas, the unruly couple was not done with me. On the way to pushing the cart to my car, I heard a ruckus. As luck would have it, “Punch and Judy” left the store right behind me.

I assume he said something she didn’t like–or maybe she was fed up with his whining. I turned around in time to see her swing the two bags of groceries she was carrying directly at his head. And–she scored. Which made him yelp and drop the bag he was carrying.

That really made her angry because, as quickly became apparent, he was carrying the bag containing the beer. When he dropped that bag, golden geysers shot up and out and every which way.

She screamed profanities and hopped around and around, barely able to contain her rage at this sudden turn of events. He ignored her and tried to consume as much of the spillage as possible. He opened his mouth and took on those geysers, causing her to stop her squealing and stare. But his actions did not shut her up for long.

“You pig! Don’t drink it all!” she screamed.

By this time my groceries were in the trunk of my car and I was ready to leave the scene of perfectly good, cheap beer destruction. (It was probably really cold, too.)

Drinking beer squirting from cans dropped in a grocery store parking lot is one of many things I have never done. I think we’ll keep it that way.

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Coming to a kitchen near you

Coming soon!

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Heading Toward the Dream

“I don’t know
But I’ve been told
If you keep on dancing
You’ll never grow old. . .”
Steve Miller, “Dance, Dance, Dance”

We’ve never done this before. I don’t know what to expect.

He is the one who always worked a full-time job. I was the stay-at-home mother/part-time news reporter and columnist, with an established beat. I loved my jobs–both of them. He loved his, and was very good at what he did.

Fast forward to a nest cleared of offspring, a 2,000-mile move from Wisconsin to Seattle for his work, an end to my coveted criminal court beat for a daily Wisconsin newspaper, and a woman with a whole lot of new time on her hands. At least the concept was cool.

I failed miserably at staying home. There were no young ones to care for and I was not disciplined enough to write that novel I had planned. (Since then I have started and made it halfway through two of them. I have not given up on either–yet.)

After our move I went to work as an unpaid intern for the company that employed my husband. After six months I signed on as a paid contractor, working for a science fiction magazine. About a year after that I was hired to work as a full-time employee for trade publications in another department at the same company.

It’s been a while since that job went away. Since then I have used my time to learn a whole lot about poetry, as a writer and reader; countless culinary techniques; the ins and outs of selling on an internet auction site; vintage jewelry lines and their designers; authors I had not previously read. I rarely have an idle day.

And now, the time I have looked forward to the most is just around the corner. My partner, who has spent his career editing other people’s work, is putting down his red ink pen, walking away from his galleys, and coming home to play. For good.

When I first learned of the retirement offer from his company, I was dancing on sunshine in cloudy Seattle. “Oh, the things we can do,” I said and repeated during the first two months after the big reveal. Then, with the final day a little more than a month away, I began to pluck some of the stars out of my eyes and, uh, panic. A little. Tell me that is normal, yes?

Troublesome questions began to appear without warning. As I wandered through the grocery store one assaulted me with: “So, you think you should go back to buying Ramen noodles, like in the meager days?”

I was walking through the living room when the television winked and I heard: “You know your rule about never having me turned on during the day time? Did you notice that is not the case on weekends, when he is around?” I swear the damn thing winked at me.

At the doctor’s office I heard an oh-so-faint whisper: “How long do you think you two have left together, you know, to do all this fun stuff you have planned?” I had two rapid-fire answers for this one: “How would I know?” and “That’s rude!”

But the questions keep coming, carrying in the doubt and setting it down at my feet.

Will we be able to maintain our modest but comfortable lifestyle? Will medical problems come between us and our travel plans and budget? Will we get on each others’ nerves even worse than we ever have during the nearly 26 years we have been married? Is that even possible?

And what if he does not want the same things I want? Scary, I know! Not to mention selfish. It barely occurs to me to worry if I will want the same things he wants.

Then there is that obnoxious talking, singing, gun-shooting, dragon-slaying, oversized television. What if my final years are marred by having to listen to it in the background day in, day out? This, I think, is my greatest fear of all. (Have I mentioned I make no claim of rational thinking or priorities at times like this?)

So here’s the deal: I invite you to ride along on the “We will rock this retirement tour!” This blog will be my “retirement” journal, without a lock or key. Wide open book.

It will address, out loud and without hesitation, this coming time in our lives when we literally (within financial reason) can choose to spend our time whatever way we choose.

Hop aboard! Wishing all of us a smooth or, at least, an interesting ride.

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