As awesome as it might seem, expecting another baby, my fifth, at age 52, does not excite me. In so many ways it does not excite me. And, I know for a fact, it would not excite my husband, as we purchased and used that bag of frozen peas a number of years ago.
But in the haste of getting my last blog published (it was 2 years late), I mistakenly gave folks the impression we were anticipating another hellion. I, of course, did not realize this, until my ears exploded as people quietly discussed my state of mind behind my back, then called my parents to share their disbelief. Now, I blame them not. I, too, would question anyone’s sanity who thought getting pregnant in the throes of middle-age would be fun.
It’s not that I don’t care much for children. I like other people’s just fine – it’s mine I have an issue with. They’re a lot of work. Maybe I’m just tired – I’m going into my 33rd year of motherhood and have another six years before the last one heads out to college, the army, or prison. At that time I will have had children in my house for almost forty years.
But once again, I digress. Let’s see . . . tired, crazy, old . . . oh yeah, my parents. So, after my blog faux pas, I get an email from my mother that says, “Ha, ha ha!!!” Then she sends a shout out on social media that I am going to be the oldest woman alive to give birth, which is totally not true.
Then my dad called. “Honey,” he said nervously clearing his throat. “I just had dinner with Aunt Carol and,” he cleared his throat again, “well, this is a little delicate, but we think you’re just plain idiotic and a raving lunatic to have another baby. But we’ll support you, no matter what,” he added. “Just not financially,” he whispered.
I tried to explain to both of my parents that my blog about having a December baby is a subtle way to let people know that my new book (Merry Birthday plug) is now published and available on Amazon and at Barnes&Noble.com (Merry Birthday plug).
“Well, that’s just silly,” my mother snorted. “Why don’t you just come out and say it?”
“Social media doesn’t work that way – you need to establish relationships.” I told her. But trying to explain today’s marketing technology to the elderly (Ha ha ha) is never easy. “It’s like asking someone you just met to be your husband.”
“It worked for me,” my mother said, before covering the mouthpiece and screaming, “PETE! THE TOILET’S PLUGGED AGAIN!”
She has a point. And she has been known to think she’s always right, so here goes.
My new book, Merry Birthday (Windy City Publishers, 2013) is now for sale. It’s a children’s picture book about a young boy who has a late December birthday and is frustrated when his special day gets lost in the holiday shuffle. It has great pictures and is lots of fun to read. I think you should buy it, because, not only will you enjoy it, but it will make me feel good about myself and I have notoriously low self-esteem. It’s really a win – win for everyone.
The following is a true story. And the kind of incident that occurs frequently enough so as to prompt my sister, Becky, to say, “Why do those kinds of things always happen to you?” I’m not sure, but as a writer, I’ve been blessed with a fate that has been sprinkled with unusual and tempered with bizarre. I’m also lucky to be alive (as I’ve been told).
So I’m on my way to visit my mother and Pete in northern Michigan, my boys buckled in the minivan and deeply engrossed in a highly educational DVD. I was bored. We were in no-man’s land – my cell couldn’t get any reception, the boys weren’t fighting and even the satellite radio keep going in and out.
I became obsessed with mastering the cruise control. Keep in mind that in the ten years we have owned a Honda, I had never used this feature, located right in front of me on the steering wheel. But as you may have guessed, I am also blessed with the ability to multi-task. So, not only was I driving a 3000 lb vehicle at 70 mph with my young children and a dog in the back, I was also trying to figure out the mystery of the confusing cruise control.
It was NOT my fault, I repeat, NOT my fault
Here is my disclaimer: Even if I had seen the bale of straw sitting in the middle of the road at the crest of a small hill, it would have been too late to do anything. I hit the bale bomb with a resounding “thud”, and though it’s half the size of a bale of hay, it still packed quite a punch. The car shuddered, the boys threw off their head sets and began screaming, the dog started barking and thick smoke obscured all the windows except the windshield.
So you completely understand the decision I made, I will outline the facts.
1. I was in shock! This is important to keep in mind.
2. We were in the middle of nowhere.
3. My phone didn’t work.
I couldn’t figure out the smoke thing. My car was still running and I didn’t detect any funny sounds, but the heavy dark smoke had enveloped us. I could hear other cars honking (as if I were unaware!), but I was afraid if I pulled over, I would be stuck. I thought I should try to make the Big Rapids exit, two miles up the road.
Suddenly, as I neared the exit, the smoke instantly disappeared. I looked out my rear view mirror and saw a small fireball rolling back down the highway. It came to rest at the side of the road where it promptly burst into a large fireball.
This is where I had my ah hah moment. I had been dragging the bale of straw under my car and the friction had caused it to ignite (the smoke!) and when it burned down enough, I had shaken it loose. I was instantly relieved that we weren’t dead, but I was still visibly upset and I needed to see what kind of damage I had inflicted on my beloved minivan. I pulled off at the intended exit and headed for the only gas station, a mile down the road.
Rule of thumb – Know your Audience
I got out to inspect my beat-up car and immediately started recounting my situation to the large tattooed fellow on the Harley Davidson, getting gas next to me. Remember, I was still in shock. As I was explaining my story, I noticed a smell, a funny smell, one that I recognized from back in the day – the guy reeked of marijuana!
It was just my luck that the biker dude was stoned to the beejezus! The whole area was filled with the stench of pot but I had already engaged him and I didn’t want to appear rude or insult the dope-fiend, so I finished my story.
“Well, that explains it,” he drawled.
“What?” I asked.
“Why you smell like Cheech and Chong.” He nodded towards the van where my two boys’ faces were pressed against the window.
“Me? What do you mean?” I turned around and smoke was still pouring out from every crevice of my van. Smoldering pieces of straw stuck out from the door jams, the windows and even the gas cap. It then came to my attention that the smell of burning straw smells suspiciously like you-know-what. He wasn’t the pot-head - I was!
“I’m a responsible mother! I only did that once,” I gulped, “back in college.”
“I bet you didn’t inhale, either,” he chuckled.
Just then, a small group of fire trucks and police vehicles, their sirens blaring, passed the station, racing out towards the highway.
“Looks like you have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” The biker/comedian pulled his helmet on. “Good luck,” he said sincerely as he roared off.
The Walk of Shame
I slowly walked in to the gas station and announced to the two gals listening to the police radio that I thought I might be the one who started the brush fire out by the highway. They looked at each other as if they had never started a fire and handed me the phone.
Later, as the police were taking my report, the officer mentioned, more than once, just how lucky we were to be alive.
“You know,” he said as he took my registration, “those gas tanks are made outta plastic. If you’da pulled over with the bale still stuck, the car probably woulda exploded. You’re lucky you hit it straight on,” he added, “most folks would have jerked the steering wheel one way or another, coulda hit a car or veered off the road.”
So, it was a good thing that I didn’t do as common sense would have dictated. By not seeing the straw bale in time and not pulling over immediately, I may have inadvertently done something right. . . by following some crazy, shock induced logic; I may have saved my family from, well, something not good.
“I could have been planning three funerals right now,” my mother commented when we arrived safely in Frankfort. “Four, if you count the dog . . . and this is a busy weekend.”
I do hate to put people out.
‘Tis the season and either you do or you don’t. I, of course, do. My husband does not. To garage sale or not to garage sale, that is the question.
I come from a long line of sturdy salers (no pun intended) and we take our craft seriously. Any of you in this exclusive club know exactly what I mean. Timing, appearance, and even tone, play crucial roles in negotiations and can mean the difference between going home empty-handed or with a car full of treasures.
It dosen’t get any better than this
This past Saturday was a red-letter day for our household. First, my daughter had borrowed my minivan to move her school furniture and I was fortunate to have her car, a 1995 Toyota Corolla. Second, my husband was working and third, Max and Sam had saved a few bucks and were pumped and ready to roll. The stars had aligned and our antennas were up and searching for the universal neon signs that would guide us to our destiny.
My boys and I can spend hours searching for bargains and I have taught them well. Not to brag, but for children still under ten, they can spot a “good” sale from the slow drive-by. “Baby stuff, furniture, large dish table,” Max, my nine-year-old, might comment. “Keep it moving.”
Many of the life lessons that I have taught my children come from the experiences I have had with the “sellers” that I have met along my journey. Example, they know how to play the “I’m only a kid” hand in the way that gives the biggest bang for their buck. They understand the “long face” and how that can mess with an adult’s decision. Most important, they have seen the power of a “walk-away” and the critical timing involved with the “over-the-shoulder last chance glance”.
You have to know when to hold ‘em
As I mentioned, Saturday we hit the motherload. It started slow but picked up after we discovered the free (yes, FREE) toboggan from 1965. It took us a sale or two to get into the groove, but by noon we could do no wrong. A harried mom in a stained sweatshirt, a damaged beater for a car, kids wearing Crocs that are two sizes too small, blue frosting still on their mouths from the last garage/bake sale . . . we were working it.
“How much for the hockey stick?” Sam, my eight-year-old, asked his first mark that morning.
“It’s a lefty; I’ll give you a dollar.” Sam reached into his Spiderman wallet and pulled out one of the carefully folded bills and waved it slowly in front of the man’s face. The “hard-cold-cash” ploy worked and the seller took it.
“Will you take 25 cents for this?” Max held up the electric bug zapper shaped like a tennis racquet to the woman at our next stop.
“I paid ten bucks for it,” she said as if insulted.
Max shrugged his shoulders and slowly set the zapper down. The woman knew that she either had to take the hit or keep the zapper. “Fifty cents,” she countered.
“Sold,” Max replied cheerfully.
And know when to fold ‘em
This shrewd bargaining is all because of the practice and the training they have received. Our special time is not only good mommy/me time, but it’s also an opportunity to teach them the value of money and the psychology of the deal.
“Now boys, watch, listen and learn.” I whispered to my little students. I picked up a stack of used DVD’s, each marked six dollars. “This seems a bit high,” I mentioned to the woman running the show. “They sell new ones at Blockbuster for five.
“Well those are my neighbors and that’s what they’re priced at.”
Now this kind of logic is the perfect segue into a life lesson for the children. I waited until we returned to the car and squeezed in, carefully avoiding the pogo stick and the stilts.
“This sale is going to end soon and that poor inexperienced woman will still have her DVD’s. No one will buy them for six dollars. Not even five or four. See, we don’t even know they work and you can buy new ones for not much more.”
“What’s a fair price,” my little bargainers asked.
“Well, DVD’s can be rented for a dollar at the red box at Walgreens and how many times can you realistically watch the same one.” I thought about it. “I’d offer a dollar for one, five for the whole lot.”
“Hmm,” they replied, and I could tell they took my advice seriously. Not only was I proud, but I realized these are the times that warm a mother’s heart.
I can’t help myself but I need to share some of the items we purchased that day. I guess part of the joy that comes, alongside the value, is being able to let others know that you now own something they don’t. My best buy came at the end of the day as the sellers were closing up.
We were packed into the car, lifejackets and books piled on laps, and the joy from earlier had turned to ugliness. There had been an out-and-out fistfight over the pogo stick and the woman at the last house had been unwilling to bargain over the four-foot tall armored Knight. No one was happy.
I left the boys in the car and walked up the drive. I found a bunch of books for my dad (no big deal) but when I spied the new wheelchair in the corner, I just couldn’t help myself. I asked how much.
“I was asking fifty,” she told me, “but I’ll take twenty-five.”
I have no need for a wheelchair and I don’t know of anyone who is presently sick, but I hesitated. Twenty-five bucks was a pretty good deal.
The hesitation did it.
“Okay, ten. Give me ten dollars and I’ll throw in the walker. I just want to get rid of it.” I glanced over and sitting against the wall was a shiny new walker. It even had the split tennis balls already attached to the front legs. I couldn’t believe my luck! Ten bucks for a new wheelchair and a walker! I accepted and we shook hands to seal the deal.
Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. My parents would be so proud.
My mother exaggerates more than anyone else in the whole world. This is not just my opinion – ask anyone who knows her and they will attest to this. It is impossible for her to state just the plain facts and it is one trait, I’m happy to say, that I was fortunate enough not to inherit.
I don’t hold this against her. Years of shock therapy and a minor lobal proctonomy have taught me that this is her way of communicating. I just needed to learn how to divide down to the lowest common denominator. It sounds technical but it simply means that one needs to take what she says and divide by the first number out of her mouth then add one.
Let’s do the Math
Example: If she mentioned that she got over a million calls regarding the neutering of Bob, her cat, then you would take one million and divide it by the first number she mentioned (one million) and add one. Since I am an accountant, I will quickly do the math for you and come up with the correct number of. . . 2. My mother received approximately two calls concerning the removal of Bob’s testicles.
Now, being overly critical of her, I would venture to guess that this was a gross exaggeration and she really received only one. Probably the vet calling to make sure Bob had moved his bowels.
Pete, my step-father, already had a vast understanding of my mother’s affliction long before we did and is proficient in this language. He is also kind enough to translate her verbiage when numbers aren’t involved, but an accurate assessment of a situation is needed. Case in point: when she called me to tell me that their car blew up and Pete and the four dogs barely escaped with their lives, the call went something like this.
Claudia: This was the most horrific thing that has ever happened to us. He’s lucky to be alive – I could be planning five funerals right now. I don’t how Pete sensed that something bad was going to happen, but he did. It was like he had a sixth sense about it. The phone has been ringing off the hook, everyone has called… it almost made the local news. It’s been crazy around.
Me: Can you put Pete on the phone?
Claudia: Let me see if he’s up for taking calls. Pete! (screaming on the other end)
Me: What happened? How are you?
Pete: I’m fine. My toe hurts a bit.
Me: From the truck fire?
Pete: I accidently kicked the leg of the sofa.
Me: No, I mean how are you holding up after the fire, you know, barely escaping with your life and all.
Pete: Oh, that. I saw a bit of smoke coming from under the hood, so I stopped and pulled over. The engine had over-heated and the paper boy gave me and Buddy a lift home.
Me: You’re alright?
Pete: Except for the toe.
Mental illness does run in my family so you can certainly understand how we have learned not to call her out on these stories. I did this once when I was young and foolish, and the treatment and medication required to repair the damage was so extensive that it cost close to a million dollars. I kid you not.
It all started with a stone. A Petoskey stone, to be precise.
For all you non-Michiganders, the Petoskey stone is the official state rock of Michigan. Michigan is one of the few states that actually has a state rock, and for those of us who have resided there at one time or another, the Petoskey stone is a continual reminder of just how special this mitten-shaped state really is.
Petoskey stones are a valuable commodity, partly because so many have been snatched up by tourists and eager entrepreneurs, and also because they are very difficult to spot. When dry, they look like any other gray rock, but throw some water on them and the mottled net of veins that wrap round the stone magically appear—truly an amazing geological experience.
It’s not as easy as you think.
My stepfather, Pete, has an eagle eye for spotting these stones. He walks his four dogs daily on the beaches near Point Betsie, where you can find the gems, and he rarely returns home without a pocketful. My mother carefully washes the rocks and then runs them through the tumbler in their garage. The end product is a consistently shiny, lovely stone.
My parents have Petoskey stones piled in large pots on their deck, gathered in water-filled glass vases on the windowsill, artfully displayed on platters on their coffee table, and heaped in a clear cookie jar in the guest bathroom. They enjoy handing out their rocks as gifts to visiting out-of-towners who are awed by the stones but don’t want to fork over the big bucks it takes to buy one (no kidding—large stones can sell for as much as $100!).
Pete and my mother, Claudia, are opposed to selling their stones, but have no problem giving them away to their friend, Bob, an entrepreneur, who is not. Bob makes Petoskey stone lamps, picture frames, and bird houses, and is working on a Petoskey stone mouse pad (don’t ask).
This, my friends, is where my story really begins.
Last summer, as I always do, I visited my mother and Pete in the quaint little town of Frankfort on Michigan’s northwest coast. I was excited not only because I got to visit my parents and their four very large special dogs, but also because Frankfort was having its yearly Art Fair/Garage Sale. This year was extraordinary because, in addition to the usual booths of Petoskey stone pictures, Petoskey stone puzzles, and Petoskey stone animals, there was going to be a real, live local author who had self-published three books.
Now, I had just finished writing my first novel (available this spring!) and I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to rub shoulders with another writer—especially one who had been published. I left my mom and Pete in Bob’s booth and anxiously searched for the local celebrity.
I found him sitting high on a chair behind a table of neatly stacked books. I casually picked one up, pretended to leaf through it, looked up, and said, somewhat nervously, “I just finished my first one.”
“Congratulations. You read your first book.”
His sarcastic comment threw me off. Normally, I would have chuckled and made some smart-alecky reply, but his unkind tone and my nervousness did not encourage such playfulness.
“Uh, no, I meant writing it.”
“Oh.” He glanced away dispassionately.
I was flabbergasted. How could he not be overcome with curiosity? He was a writer, for Pete’s sake. Wasn’t he the least bit interested in this woman, who had, by the way, spent the last whole year writing? Writing before everyone got up. Writing on my laptop in the car while the boys took tennis or swimming lessons. Writing while the laundry sat in piles or my husband took the kids to Mickey D’s . . . again.
I wanted so badly just to converse with this man that I ignored his rudeness. Maybe we had simply gotten off to a bad start. I tightly clutched the piece of paper on which I had written out the questions I wanted to ask and started over. After the third monosyllabic reply, I finally gave up. My feelings were hurt, I was tremendously disappointed, and I had never felt so strongly that the club I wanted to join was not accepting my kind.
I set the man’s book down slowly and wished him luck. As I made my way back to Bob’s Petoskey stone booth, I contemplated arson, and bodily harm and childishly regretted that I hadn’t made some nasty comment to him, or come up with a devastating put-down, or even said something to the effect that his books looked incredibly boring and amateurish.
But the truth was, they had not. I would have bought all three if he had humored me, or even just said good luck. But he hadn’t. He had lost not only a sale, but also the respect of another human being, another writer, who just wanted to share war stories.
Drowning my sorrows . . .
It took me a couple of banana daiquiris and some old Barry Manilow songs to get over my funk, but the will to live did return. Soon I will continue this exciting saga, and next, tell of my tumultuous rise to mid-level accounting manager (it’ll have you on the edge of your seat!). Or I could just skip to the moral of this story . . . which is – don’t judge a rock by its cover.
I bet you thought I was going to say something like “have faith in yourself” or “never lose sight of your dreams” or “don’t give up”. But sometimes you just have to connect with a person, or catch a glimpse of a half-wet rock, or be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.