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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Farm Country

I know that people think I am crazy, but I love the wide-open spaces of the Midwest. I am thankful for them. They soothe me.
I was born in western PA, spent time growing up in Texas, Michigan, Ohio and finally Illinois. Maybe it's because I have lived here the longest. Perhaps it's just part of my personality. Maybe I shouldn't try to explain it. I just love it here.
Every year, we make a trip back to PA to visit family. It is beautiful. There are trees, and hills, and curvy roads and I can't tell you which way is north, because not a single road goes straight to its destination. There is so much to look at, so much to see.
I find that after I have been there a while I start to feel claustrophobic. There is lots to see, but I can't see very far. I don't know what's over that hill or around that bend in the road.
As we head west to come back home, the hills gradually flatten (and my car is thankful for that.) The highways straighten out. And I can look out the windows and see for miles. And I can breathe again.
When I was got my license, and gas was $0.99 a gallon, I used to drive around in the country to see if I could get lost. I always found my way home. I loved knowing that roads either ran north-south or east-west. I loved driving by all of those farms and imagining the families inside, wondering how long that farm had been in their family, who had built that corn-crib.
So, each Thanksgiving, as we drive from our first meal with DH's family to our second meal with my family, I enjoy watching the November sunset over those empty fields and barns and farm houses and more recently, windmills. I feel a little melancholy. But it's beautiful.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Karma

Yes. I am sitting here with kleenex shoved up my nostrils. Don't judge. You know you've been there. If I don't, there will be a disgusting and steady "drip drip" sound as...well, you get the picture.

It started as a sneezing fit when I got to work this morning. I thought I was having an allergy attack. I am pretty sure I am allergic to my cats; I ignore this fact.

I kept sneezing and sneezing. And then I went to talk to the school secretary and she said, "Are you sure it's allergies?"

And I stopped.
And thought: J has been sick ever since he got back from Singpore three and a half weeks ago. KJ has had a cough for a month now. Keebles has had a sore throat and a cough for a month. Neither kid has been so sick that they needed to miss school. It's been more of a minor annoyance.
I work in an elementary school.
And the whole time, I've been thinking to myself, "Well, look at me, I'm healthy as a horse. For once it's me with the strong immune system.

"Crap."

And I immediately left school and went straight to the store and bought a box of Cold-Eze and three boxes of kleenex. I spent the rest of the day at work with my two new best friends: Kleenex and Hand Santizer. Both my nose and my hands are now peeling.

I just did a shot of Ny-Quil.

Cold-Eze, work your magic. Cut the duration of this cold in half, like the box promises.

Please?


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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bunhuggers and Big Hair

I looked at the calendar and realized that today, November 20, 2010, is the 20th anniversary of my high school volleyball team winning the State Championship.


20 Years.

Holy cats.

This is freaking me out a little bit. So, I might as well write about it, right?

First of all, let me say this: I still have the shoes I wore when we won state. I am sentimental and I keep weird things (and I call my dear friend Kate, who is a professional organizer, whenever I start to worry that I have hoarding tendencies. She assures me that I do not. But then again, she doesn't know about the shoes.)


On November 10, 1990, I was sixteen, going on seventeen (go ahead, sing it!) and had lived in Princeton for two years. When we moved there, four days before school started my freshman year, I went out for the volleyball team as a way to meet people. I sat the bench the entire year. Sophomore year, I started as a setter.

Junior year was terrifying and intimidating. By then I had realized that Rita Placek had built quite a winning tradition for Princeton Volleyball. I also realized that I was up against some serious talent and had slim hopes of even making the team. I was thrilled when I did make it and then honored to have earned a starting spot.

It was then that it dawned on me that I would be wearing bunhuggers. For those of you who don't know what bunhuggers are, they were the traditional volleyball uniform at the time. They were basically underwear; "granny panties" if you will. We marched into 39 matches that season and played in our underwear. On the plus side, we did draw a crowd.



That's me on the bottom left. My bunhugger barely-covered butt was in a lot of pictures that year because I was surrounded by so much talent that it wasn't even funny. My job was to serve the ball in bounds and play the best defense I could. Oh, and to get low in spike coverage because our outside hitter was going to hit the ball at 90 miles and hour, and if the opponent managed to get a block up, it was coming back just as fast. Or, I would get low in block coverage, because we had two amazing and aggressive middle blockers. I am pretty sure I took at least one off of the face, but 20 years is a long time to remember.

It's really too bad you can't see my hair. In the video, it is glorious. Big and blonde and really big and lots of hairspray. My bangs never moved, but that big old puffy ponytail streamed behind me. And you know what else you can't see? We all had matching hair ties. They were "the sparkly ones." We had 3 or 4 sets of matching hair ties, but in the end "the sparkly ones" were the clear favorites.

We had an amazing season. We went 36-2-1, with our two losses coming to AA teams. We won four tournaments, if memory serves. We acted like complete small-town tourists when we went to Chicago for the Latin Tournament, heads hanging out the bus windows, awed by the skyscrapers. We adored our bus-driver, Max. We made our parents crazy. We came out strong against strong teams and not-so-strong against weaker teams. We carb-loaded and practiced at 6 am the week before the the state tournament to get used to playing in the morning. (Now, that was a tragedy of epic proportions. There was NO WAY I could get my bangs fixed after a 6 am practice and then the newspaper showed up to take our pictures that morning. GASP. I had my picture taken with flat hair. I was 16. It was the end of the world.) We had tremendous community support. We had supportive and loud parents (I think my own father may have been the loudest.) We took 5 busloads of fans to RedBird Arena for the match on Friday. The kids at school who didn't go to the game still got to watch it on tv. We beat Huntley 15-12, 16-14 for the championship. (I think we came from behind in both games, but I'd have to watch the game and I am not going that far.) We had a firetruck parade when we got back to Princeton. We had boys in the stands with their chests painted. They called themselves "The Rowdies" and even sent us flowers.


I haven't though about this season this much in years. I am glad that I am doing it now before I forget even more.


In honor of the 1990 Princeton Tigresses, State Volleyball Champions, wearing bunhuggers and big hair (and by the way, it hurts like hell to kneel on a gym floor.)



Friday, November 5, 2010

Killing my social life

A couple of weeks ago, my son and I were sitting at my daughter's volleyball camp and he was bored with a capital B-O-R-E-D. In a moment of weakness (I usually don't give into such complaints) I pulled out the ipod touch, realized I had a wi-fi connection and looked for popular and cheap apps.
The first thing that came up was this "Angry Birds" app. It was $0.99 and had great reviews, so I dowloaded it.
My life has not been the same.
It's so simple. There are these goofy pigs that steal the birds' eggs (hence the angry birds.) Then the pigs build themselves houses out of various materials. Then you try to knock the houses down by launching the birds, using a slingshot. The houses get progressively more complicated and sturdy as time goes along. As you beat levels, you earn different types of birds. There are dive bombing birds, and egg-bomb dropping birds and just plain old bomb birds.
It's all physics. Trajectory and force. It's not hard, right? Right?
The killer is that when you fail to knock down the pigs' house, they grin and snort at you. They taunt you. How can you turn the other cheek? You get angry, along with the birds. And you play and play and play until your ipod battery dies in the middle of a game, and your eyes are incapable of focusing on anything further than 12" from your face..
See?
It's an addiction, rivaled by the great Sapp Family Tetris Addiction of 1990. But that's another story.
As I brush my teeth at night, I hear my husband giggling in bed, bombing pigs with birds.
I'm not the only one.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Mourning my cat.

Today I had the gut-wrenching task of taking my cat to be put to sleep. Truth be told, it was time. He had been sick for a couple of months. He had been losing weight, with no explanation, and was down to about 6 pounds. He was no longer able to support himself with his hind legs. It was sad, but I was grateful that it was clear what decision needed to be made.
He was part of our family for nearly 14 ½ years. I still remember clearly the day I got him. Jason and I had just gotten married and I wanted a pet. I went to a shelter to choose one. They highly encouraged me to hold the kittens, so I held 5 or 6, but just didn’t connect with any of them. I was about to leave, near tears because I had my heart set on a kitten, when the owner came in with three new kittens. He put them in a cage and walked away. I peeked in and saw two huddled in the back and one at the front just staring at me. I looked at that cat and told the worker, “That’s my cat.” I didn’t bother to hold him. I just knew from the way he looked at me.

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Jason and I put some serious thought into naming him. Jason is the one who came up with the name “Galileo.” I was a science teacher, so I liked the science name. And at Jason’s suggestion, he became “Leo,” like a lion.
Leo was rotten as a kitten. Perhaps rotten is an exaggeration, but certainly a trouble-maker. He had this need to attack, capture and then eat his dry food. He would use his paw to pull a piece of dry food out of the bowl. Then, he’d bat it around a bit, pounce on it, and then eat it. It was super cute, until he would knock over the whole damn bowl. CRASH! One afternoon, Jason beat me home from work and Leo had spilled all of his food. Cute, right? Jason cleaned it up, walked away and 3 seconds later heard the CRASH dry food being scattered all over the kitchen. Jason had a serious “talk” with the cat, and I think that may have been life #1 right there.
Our first Christmas was filled with joy, the joy of broken ornaments and destroyed Christmas Trees. We lived in a ground-floor apartment with giant sliding glass doors. The tree was right next to the doors, filled with beautiful, shiny, glass balls. Being dumb, or perhaps overly optimistic, we didn’t think a thing of hanging those shiny glass balls at the bottom of the tree. And then we’d be lying in bed at night, just drifting off to sleep and we’d hear the playful sounds of a kitten batting something around. And then we’d hear the sound of shattering glass as those pretty glass ornaments hit the sliding glass door.
As if breaking pretty glass ornaments wasn’t enough, Leo had to play jungle kitty in the Christmas tree. I would come home from work to find broken ornaments and the cat hiding in the tree, waiting to stalk whatever may come his way. He liked to get about half-way up and perch there, like a leopard, eyes all big. After a few times, he realized that he was in trouble, so as soon as I would get home, he’d launch himself from the tree to go hide. The worst day was when I came home to find him in the tree, minus the tree top (I have NO idea how he managed to knock that off.) I’ll admit, I may have lost my temper. I may have chased him through the apartment with a branch. I may have swatted him with the branch, hoping it would deter him from further tree escapades. It didn’t. Life #2.
During that Christmas season, we discovered that he wasn’t smart enough to avoid candles. We smelled a funky smell and then Leo came trotting over with decidedly shorter whiskers. Life #3.
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Leo always seemed to be at the root of terrifying people in their sleep. One night, Jason and I woke from that space between sleep and wakefulness because we heard this terrifying crashing bashing noise. We discovered Leo, tearing through the apartment, with the string of a mylar balloon clenched between his teeth. Another weekend ,when my sister was staying with us, we were awakened by screams of terror. As in, someone-is-about-to-kill-me-with-a-giant-butcher-knife terror. We ran out into the living room to find my sister crouched under the desk, blanket over her head, sobbing in terror. All she could say was, “Spider. Giant Spider.” We never did find any spider. We are pretty sure the culprit was Leo, sitting on the arm of the couch, looking innocently down at her in her sleep, with his whiskers mimicking spider’s legs.
As Leo matured, he calmed down a bit, but was never what I would consider a typical cat. For one thing, he ate the most bizarre things in the world. He was known to steal black olives off of the relish tray at holiday gatherings. He was insane for string cheese. He loved Jalapeno Cheddar Cheetos. I know humans who can’t handle the heat of Jalapeno Cheddar Cheetos. He would snatch a McDonald’s french fry from your hands in an instant, if you weren’t paying attention. He didn’t like other fast food chains. He was a cat with preferences.
I am not sure that Leo ever understood that he was a cat. For one thing, whenever we sat down at a meal, he joined us at the empty chair. DSC_2674
He’d sit there and watch us eat, unless we were eating something he thought he needed. Then he’d join us on our chairs.
He was also more than willing to be held like a teddy bear.
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I slept many a night with my arms wrapped around him. And if I wasn’t holding him, he’d squeeze in tight to me and sleep with his paw across my neck. Jason has a picture of him wrapped up around me one day when I was sick in bed with strep throat. Jason swears he is smiling.
Leo was an awesome cat. He begrudgingly accepted Newton and Einstein into his cat-family. He loved to be around the human family. He loved to bathe his human family. He could be annoyingly persistent in his need to be part of the family. He was under my feet every morning as I packed lunches. Every Christmas Eve, he stole seats so he could see what was going on at the table. Anytime we were heathens and had dinner in front of the TV, he was in someone’s lap. Anytime, I was sitting on the floor, he was next to me.
In fact, I am missing him terribly right now.
He should be wedged between me and my mouse.
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He never would lie down on the left side of me.
Always the right, always in the way of my mouse.
I am sad to have lost him.
I know it will get better with time.