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Absence Makes the Heart Go Wander

I feel so bad that I haven’t been posting here on my blog lately. I’d been doing so well with my strict schedule of a new post every three to four days.  I miss everyone here as well, so I thought I’d drop you a post to let you know I’m still alive.

I’ve been so busy with life, work, kids, two blogs, the election, wondering about life and death, doubting that it is possible to ever find true love, rediscovering old friendships, feeling pains of doubt, paranoia, insecurity, fear, seeking solace in going shopping, seeking solace in going to the eye doctor, blah, blah, blah. As you can see, I’ve been busy. With life. I know that none of this is relevant to any of you, but the more excuses I list the better I feel about not having written an official post here in such a long time.

Today I finally got tough with me, and told myself that I have to write something here tonight! It has been a week since my last post, and as with many things in life….you can become out of habit with things. Even things you love. Life is work, and so is this blog. But nothing in life comes easy, I guess.

Now I’m sure I sound like I’ve been dipping into the chardonnay….but I assure you I haven’t. I’m just in the midst of my usual midlife crisis-mode. With a touch of sadness. And a whisper of exhaustion…actually a great big loud yell of exhaustion.

In summary, it’s been a long day, and this post is making even me depressed! I’ll have a better post soon, if I can fit it in after the eye doctors and before I take my mom out on errands. But whenever it happens, it will DEFINITELY be before the chardonnay. Or not.

The Results Are In!

Thank you all so much for answering my survey I posted a few days ago. I was looking for insight from my wonderful blog readers on what types of stories I write here on “Fortyteen Candles” that you all find the most interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. Without a doubt, according to the results from my survey, the most interesting stories to you all are 1. Stories about living in suburbia and my neighbors (heh heh heh….) and 2. Stories about my experiences as a nurse.

Honestly, when I started this blog I KNEW it would be a great place for me to vent my frustrations about living in a cookie cutter town full of uninteresting people who like to form cliques and one up each other materialistically or child achievementally. Thank you all for confirming my belief that this is a very entertaining subject that is best suited to scathing sarcasm with a twist of sheer joy. My neighbors continue to drive me insane, and I’ll have more stories soon as our Halloween Trick or Treating interactions have awakened my muse and gotten her to work on some urgent therapeutic writing.

Something my survey pointed out that really surprised me was your interest in my work and experiences as a nurse. Nursing is something I went into in response to a strong desire I have to help and take care of other people. This is something that is just programmed into me and I don’t see it objectively. I never think what I do is anything above and beyond what humans should do for each other every day, or would do if they were in a situation to do so, therefore I never think it would be interesting or entertaining in any way for others to read about.

The interactions I have with my patients, families and co-workers are on an emotional, philosophical, moral and spiritual level at times. I don’t know how these translate into print, but my general impression since they evoke “feelings” is that they would be dull and non action-packed. Translation = “dull” writing-wise. However, the comments I’ve received on my stories about nursing, as well as on this survey, have really opened my eyes to the value of sharing these experiences with others. It is important for others to know that in this world of increasing depersonalization there are still people out there who care, and will always care, for others in need. I have taken these comments very seriously and it has given me a lot to think about as I organize my next big writing project.

So, since it is hard for me to only focus on one project at a time, I’ve started sorting in my mind two separate writing projects….one for suburbia and the neighbors who drive me insane, and one for my experiences as a nurse. I really appreciate the time you all took to give me your feedback. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!


Freedom and Happiness and Other Notions of Youth

When you are a kid all you dream of each and every day is the time in your life when you are a “grown up.” You think once you’re older you’ll be able to drive, have a cool house, do what you want and stay up late. I have specific childhood memories, circa age nine, of what my house would be like when I grew up. I was going to live with my best friend in one of the many ranch houses that surrounded our elementary school. On a cul-de-sac, no less! I didn’t really know what my occupation would be, but I was going to own about ten dogs. My best friend wanted to own ten dogs, too, but she also wanted to be a truck driver. She thought we could also drive around town in her big rig which she would name “The Black Widow.” Yes, the times were good in the daydreams of youth.

Looking back now as a “grown up,” I know I have full freedom to own ten dogs if I wanted. I could also buy a ranch style home in the town where I grew up. I also have a full reign to go to truck driving school and find a truck I could drive around town in. And if I felt like it I could name it “The Black Widow.” But I do not choose to do any of these things. Especially the truck driving part. That was kind of the dream of my best friend.

Now being an adult, my ideas of what freedom and happiness truly mean are completely different. I see the world now as broken up into two parts: responsibility and obligation. There is no room to fit the imaginative ideas of freedom and happiness. At least not very much room. And certainly not from the innocent childhood perspective.

It is funny now that as an adult I dream of the time when I was young. That was a time of true freedom and happiness. No responsibilities, debts, obligations, and the knowledge that anything you really worked at could possibly happen someday. Didn’t want to go to class? Skip it! Want to stay out all night drinking and watch the sunrise? Sounds like a plan! Donuts for breakfast? Velveeta cheese for lunch? Beer for dinner? Yes, yes, and yes. And to think that I considered all three of these food categories sound, rational adult choices. Twenty-somethings.

Fast forward a million years. I know that I am not too old to have dreams or plans for the future, but it seems unlikely at my age I could, say, start a new sport and train really hard and end up in the Olympics. Which was always the measure of my youth. How much time I had left to do things….whether it was sports, modeling, learning a hobby, playing an instrument, becoming “famous.” Time was always a factor I considered in my countdown to adulthood. But, as the Rolling Stones continue their world tour well into their early hundreds, I think that maybe the concept of youth is becoming a more extended period of time.

Much like the ideas of “freedom” and “happiness,” “youth” is also relative. You’re as young as you feel, right? Actually that is something only old people say. Anyway, I realize now that in order to regain my youth, freedom and happiness, I will have to start training for the Olympics. I’m hoping that if I’m persistent I can win enough public sympathy that the Olympics Committee will suddenly recognize the importance of creating a special program for middle-aged first time athletes.  If this works out (fingers crossed!), count me in for skeet shooting. I have a feeling I’d be really good at it.

A Museing

I’ve recently been sidetracked by many things going on in my life. Actually, maybe my life went exactly where it was supposed to but I wasn’t expecting it? Regardless, the purpose of my blog has sort of blurred from a cry for help to suburbia, to a cry for help in suburbia. Lately I’ve wondered I can get things together again to keep this blog where it needs to be? Where is my muse?  I realized today all I needed to do was look out my front window.

I was sitting on my couch this morning, tackling my mountain of bills, when I heard the most horrible rumbling outside my front window. I looked outside to see what in God’s green earth was going on at an hour where the sun was barely awake yet. There was my neighbor, doing something that has been quietly irking me for the past few months.

On our street, like most places where people throw out garbage, every house has one huge garbage can called a “tote.”  These cans are so big you could easily squash down six big bags of garbage and have plenty of room for a crate of rotten onions and two bike tires (Note: we also recycle here). Each house puts their can out in front of their house early in the morning on garbage day, or late the night before, along with items for recycling, and anything else they want to get rid of labeled with a “free” sign. This is a good way to find ugly sofa art, racks  that are missing crucial bolts and odd toilet parts.

Anyway, my next door neighbors are new to the area – here less than a year. I like to think of them as the “newlyweds” in the grizzled marriage of suburban life. Perhaps they aren’t used to the idea of following societal norms, but for some reason they don’t put their extra-large tote in front of their house. Instead they park it at the end of the strip of property on my side of his driveway. Seems petty, sure. But it is very irritating. This is a problem because our front yard is so tiny that whenever you look out in a front facing window on garbage day all you can see is his extra-large green tote in front of our house. Perhaps I’ve gotten a little territorial, but what the heck? Maybe we should move our can down to the last square inch of our yard next to that strip? It just seems awkward and out-of-place. I feel crowded and suffocated by the mysterious rubbish within. Is it too hideous for him to have in front of his house? Is he embarrassed that he’s overfilled his can….again? Maybe I need to send him a note to address the issue. Or take it up with the Homeowners Association. It’s the little things like that make the subdivision walls close in even more.

There! I did it. And, I’m feeling better. Complaining like this about my street somehow seems to put a smile back on my heart! Wait….I feel more complaints surfacing. The flood gates are opening. But, they’ll have to wait for next time. For now I have to keep a watchful eye on any infringing totes from cul-de-sac greenhorns. Fortunately this is easily done at any time….either by daylight sun, or night time glow from the Walmart parking lot behind our house.

Killed by the Sandwich

I’m among a generation of other people caught up in the middle of caring for children and parents simultaneously. This generation has become known as “The Sandwich Generation.” Much like those pieces of turkey and cheese, I am being squashed by those two pieces of bread.

It seems like things were easier long ago, when families lived closer to each other in the same towns. Back in the day you would have the support of cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, which greatly helped relieve the stresses of people who were taking care of multiple loved ones. Long ago it seemed like neighbors cared more for each other, and communities and families supported each other and were willing to pitch in when times were rough.

My elderly mother’s recent stroke really highlighted the fact that I am all alone in her care. My siblings live in other cities and states. A phone call once a week from them to me or my mother doesn’t do much in the way of relieving the stresses my mother and I both encounter while trying to make sure she is safe, happy and living her golden years in the most fulfilling way possible. Living with the stress and fear that her health and well-being is all on my shoulders alone makes me terrified.

Finding the services and support to care for our elderly in a way that they can stay independent in their homes is an area that is severely lacking in our society. I recently learned that assisted living facilities begin at $2,500 a month. And they don’t take insurance, so this is needed in cash. Some places make you prove your finances ahead of time to show you can pay for two years worth of this cost before they will even consider admitting the elderly person. Medicare facilities, which would pay that cost for the elderly person, are few and far between. And I’m sure the waiting list is incredibly long.

It makes me outraged that the fate of every person will end this way….you work until you retire – if you can afford to do so. Then, you use up the rest of your money living as modestly as you can, and when there is nothing left then you go on Medicare – and hope you can get into a facility that is a decent enough place to live out the rest of your years. It is a sad state of affairs that our golden years ahead may not be so golden after all.

In addition to caring for my mom, I am also raising young kids. They are still at the age where they need me to be there for them for just about everything. And of course I give 150% of myself to them, because I love them and because I am their mother. They do not know how thinly stretched I am also trying to also take care of their grandmother, as well. My elderly mother knows I am her only family member in the area, and she knows I would do as much as I can for her also. But these two forces are pulling in opposite directions making me feel stretched to my limits in the middle.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle of trying to do it all for every family member.  It seems like there are a million silent Generation X’er’s in this same situation. So, where can the Sandwich Generation go for support? We are all quietly struggling to hold our families as close as possible for as long as possible. Considering how many of us there are out here, I’m really surprised this hasn’t received more coverage in the media.

It must be the nurse in me, but I really think there needs to be a way to unite the Sandwich Generation. If our communities and families can’t give us the support we need, perhaps we can give this support to each other. It is amazing how wonderful it can feel just knowing that someone else is out there to listen, support or offer advice or wisdom to you from their own experiences.

Previous Post

I had to take down my previous post for privacy reasons. After being contacted by a few concerned friends, I knew this was not the right time for this post. Thank you all for your thoughts, comments, wishes, support and so on.  And if you don’t know what I’m talking about…good.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the WordPress community offers support unlike any that I ever knew could exist in an online environment where most people are anonymous. You are all amazingly wonderful and encouraging.

Thank you.

Self-Checkout Lanes = Twenty Minutes of Your Life Back

Why do so many people hate the self-checkout lanes at Walmart? I’m just asking, here. I’m one of those people, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wearily pushed my overloaded shopping cart up to the front of the store, being completely exhausted to the core and willing to make a deal with the devil if I could just be teleported twenty minutes into the future where I was sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee and all this shopping drudgery was well behind me. But that is just a daydream. Instead, I stand in a position in front of all the cash registers where I have the perfect vantage point to assess several things: Which lines are too crowded? Which people have too many items in their carts? Which cashiers look like trainees? Which cashiers are on their cell phones? Which cashiers are about to go to lunch? Which cashiers don’t give a damn?

At this point I notice that every self-checkout lane is empty. Crickets are heard instead of squeaking conveyor belts. The aisles leading up to them are gleaming. Makes me wonder why. I am suspicious that the rest of the customers know something I don’t. Occasionally you might see an employee zip through with a candy bar. They are in and out in a flash. Makes me wonder if they’ve really paid for their items. How could it only take a few seconds to do a transaction at Walmart? I chalk it up to tomfoolery and shenanigans, and think no more of it.

My next step on my check out journey is to narrow down my lane options to the top three that are most likely to process my order quickly: The disgruntled cashier with two customers with overloaded carts? The cashier on the cellphone with one customer but her boyfriend is hanging around talking with her? The cashier who is a trainee that keeps trying to scan a pack of gum? I need a few minutes to assess the progress of each lane. I gaze again over at the self-checkout lanes. In and out a person went with a club pack of bacon and a club pack of Twinkies. Ahhh…the breakfast of champions. He must be single. Still, again, in and out like a flash. How can that be? Maybe he left the Twinkies and bacon there for re-shops and cancelled his order. Nope. Looks like he has a bag with him.

After noticing the lines I’m assessing aren’t moving, I feel like I’m in a public service announcement for the dangers of wasting your life waiting in line. No lanes are moving and I’m trying to find my quickest escape route before I die. The panic and pressure I was feeling to get the hell out of Walmart before I ended up crying in a fetal position next to my cart and screaming for St. Jude to take me to the angels was too much to bear.

Without thinking, I abruptly sent my cart and me on a one way trip to the self-checkout lanes. The other shoppers gazed at me as if I had gone mad. I heard them whisper and buzz “She’s lost it. Those scanners are the devil’s work!” Well that also could have been my internal critic or my rumbling stomach. A bacon and Twinkie sandwich sure sounded good right about now.

The self-checkout lane is sterile and cold. The computer monitor stares at me, unblinking. I unload my cart and carefully hit the “start” button.  “Please scan first item!” I’m told by a cheerful invisible voice. I scan the item. “Please put item in the bagging area!” The cheerful but authoritative voice tells me. I put my item in the bag and jerk my hands away, afraid to touch anything I shouldn’t. “Please scan next item!” The chipper but bossy voice tells me. “Please put item in the bagging area!” I try to put the item in the bag, but it won’t fit completely. Again, I’m scolded “Please put item in the bagging area!” I jostle the item angrily until it sits in the bag. “Please scan next item!” I’m told before I can figure out what to do with the two full bags. Can I take them off the bagging area? Will I get in trouble? The cheerfully nagging voice never yelled at me about what to do in this situation.

“Please scan next item!” The computer was getting impatient. I didn’t know what punishment for non-compliance was within its arsenal of touch screen buttons, and I didn’t want to find out. I just grabbed anything I could and hurriedly found the UPC code to scan to keep the voice quiet. I crammed it into the bag before the voice could belittle me about my bagging prowess. “Please…” the voice started, but I scanned my next item before it could finish its monotone sentence. “Please…” “Please…” it kept repeating before I put the items in the bagging area. No computer was going to tell me what to do. These commands were all what I was going to do anyway. I’m getting credit for the thought.

Finally my order was through. I had to pay. I felt weird feeding my money into the machine. How easily could it suck my money in and say I never put in any? I felt completely helpless until it credited my money on the screen. Finally it spit out my change. I looked out and saw the people in the other lanes still hadn’t moved. How easily I could have still been standing at my vantage point assessing the situation, instead of taking a chance to get ahead. I could have been there twenty minutes or more at the mercy of indifferent cashiers and shoppers who wouldn’t let someone with one item ahead of their shopping cart full of miscellaneous items. I felt empowered as I put my money in my wallet. It was good to try new things! It was…”Please remove your bags!” What? “Please remove your bags!” I was still being yelled at. Even while I was soaking in my glory and empowerment I was still at the mercy of the monotone voice. “Please…” I took them off before that sentence could reach its predictably annoying end.

With bags finally in cart, I left the store minutes later. The other people waiting in line could easily be there at least twenty minutes more or longer. I really savored the idea that I had gained twenty minutes of my life that belong to me – not Walmart, not the lines, not to disgruntled cashiers and selfish shoppers.  I kind of pitied the people still waiting, even though it was their decision to wait there in the shadow of an obviously quicker way to pay. I’m convinced that perhaps my new enlightenment must have been the work of St. Jude.

Good Morning!

Good morning, Monday! Good morning, cul-de-sac! Good morning, Walmart! Good morning, garbage truck! Good morning, cliquey neighbor who ignores me!

Celebrating the start of my 416th Monday being financially marooned in Pleasant Valley.

Suburban Inner Monologue

Morning: “Beautiful day today! I’m going to get right out in our front yard, tear into the gardening and really get our yard looking good this year! Maybe I’ll even put in a few trees.”

Noon: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, we’re ‘out of coffee?’  Now how am I supposed to put in those trees, much less dig the holes for them? Maybe I’ll just hang up a plant on a hook instead.”

Night: “Must pay off debts or I can never retire. Must pay off debts or I can never retire…”* (*repeat until the sun comes up and then start inner monologue back at “Morning.” Repeat entire Suburban Inner Monologue to fade.)

Pleasant Valley Thursday

When I was a kid I never remember dreaming of growing up and living on a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere. My dreams were much bigger…frequenting the night time talk show circuit, famous for no reason, rich, beauteous, and so forth. Fast forward twenty years and now I realize life is not about endless adoration. My life is about living on a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere.

Now I don’t want to get too deep, or philosophical here (although I can’t help that as it was my major in college, which might also be why I don’t live the life I’d imagined I would as a kid). However, in contrast to what the great Forrest Gump mused so many years ago, life is not like a box of chocolates. When you live on a cul-de-sac,  you’ll always know what you’re going to get. From the same cars that drive by at the same time every day, to the same kids that come to your door to sell the same candy for the same school whale watching trip to see the same whales, to the same guy who mows his lawn in a tiny Speedo swimsuit and over-sized ear protectors for noise reduction. The sun comes up and the sun goes down and a new Groundhog Day begins.

Now, I realize I’m very fortunate to live in a community that is a safe place for kids to grow up. Don’t get me wrong. However, I lived for many years in New York City and the transition from the Big Apple to the middle of a cow pasture (the Big Crapple?) has been rocky at times.

Most days I try to ignore the fact that my town might very well be sponsored by Walmart. The new Walmart Super Center is the largest structure to loom over our valley, and might well be the largest in the state (insert a little home town pride here!). And, it is where you’ll bump into your neighbors and see what they’re up to by what they’re putting into their cart. “Still have that problem with ear wax?” or “No luck yet with toilet training junior?” A town with no privacy. But we don’t have much else for entertainment.

The town itself is so quiet, that I swear every word I utter is hitting the aisles of Walmart within the hour. For a while there I tried to speak softer, but I soon realized I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life. It’s unnatural and might lead to high blood pressure, ulcers or facial tics. Eventually, I surrendered and now fully accept that my life is an open book to most of my street, the surrounding school district, and regional dairy farms. We finally found our place. Somewhere between the Groundhog Day predictability of the Ear Protector and Speedo-Wearing Lawnmower Man, and the Candy-Selling Whale-Watching Kids is our family…the Loudest Family on the Cul-de-Sac.

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