Thursday, February 26, 2009


You know the cliched joke? Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you?

My level of paranoia walks the line between 'healthy respect of my surroundings' and 'seek mental help.' Part of this is due to my childhood. I grew up in a valley, with no neighbors visible on any side. Deer in the back yard, squirrels with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, and lots and lots and lots of trees. The kind of place where, if one chose to skinny dip at three in the afternoon, that was perfectly okay because no one would ever, ever see you. (Not that anyone ever did. I'm just saying.)

But this woodsy isolation had a dark side. I don't remember the exact time we were first burgled, but I remember the second time. We came home from Gram's house (Dad was fishing) and started to unpack. We were half-done when Mom noticed that the front door jam was busted. And we panicked and, to quote Grover the Monster, "ran like furry bunny rabbits." This was before cell phones (like they would have worked in the country anyway) so we raced to the neighbor's house and called the police.

The general consensus was that the burglars were still in the house when we came home, because there were a whole lot of tools and jewels (hey, a rhyme!) left upstairs when the police did a security check. That's right. We were in the house with robbers, and didn't even know it (although you can bet they did).

After that, Mom started hiding the jewelery that had survived two robberies. I'm not going to tell you where, either, because that's where I hide some of mine. But she lost most of her family heirloom pieces. It still hurts if she thinks about it too much.

After that, we got more vigilant. By this time, I was old enough to hang out by myself after school. I kept a knife on my belt at all times when I was alone, because even though we lived in the middle of nowhere, clearly people still knew where we were.

My sophomore year, it got worse. Mom picked me up from play practice one day, three weeks before Christmas and a few days before Dad's birthday, in furious tears. We'd been robbed - again - but this time was the worst.

They took her grandfather clock. That her father had given her. It had survived two burglaries and a fire, only to be carted out by some idiots doing their Christmas shopping.

That's right. I said Christmas shopping. All our carefully wrapped presents - gone. All Dad's birthday presents, gone. The grandfather clock, gone.

But these weren't your average idiots, oh no. They took weird things, odd things. They took my sister's New Kids On The Block big button from the top of her dresser. A few toys were gone, and a lot of my cheap sterling silver rings and things walked off.

This was a family affair. These robbers brought their kids in and did their Christmas shopping in our house. Who the hell else would take a NKOTB button but leave the collectibles that were worth hundreds of dollars? The bastards even took groceries, leaving the fridge door open.

Well, as you can imagine, that was the final straw. Mom got a security system installed the next day. A local guy - the national companies didn't go out as far as we lived, but still. It was LOUD. You could hear that thing across the valley and back.

Ironically, it didn't help. The only people who set it off were us kids, having locked ourselves out of the house and being forced to engage in a little breaking and entering of our own. A few years later, when I was in college, all of Dad's fishing equipment (and let me tell you, that is saying something) walked off, and we aren't even sure when it happened, because it was all in the barn, and the barn isn't alarmed. At least they left the boat, I guess.

But it's been a good ten years since intruders have made off with Mom's peace of mind. Maybe it helped that they retired and are around the house more, or maybe the slime of the world moved on to bigger fish, or maybe they just figured we didn't have anything left to steal. In any case, things have been quiet.

Until two nights ago, when it went off at 3:30. Scared the holy bejeesus out of the both of them, but it turns out that it was just a mouse that nibbled through the wiring. Nothing - but still enough to make my mom jumpy for the next week. They've already upgraded to the more vigilant monitoring package, and I think Dad actually cleaned the gun, just in case he has to break that bad boy back out.

And me? I live in a nice town now, with neighbors on every side (except for the people who winter in Alaska - this is their retirement home. I've only seen them once.) This is the kind of town where people not only leave their doors unlocked all day and night, but sometimes leave them open, with nothing but a screen to keep out bad guys. The neighbors are nice people who look out for us, and we look out for them. My alley neighbor told me at a Christmas party that he's had to shut our garage door a few times because he saw it was open and he just knew it shouldn't be. I've called people with keys when I've noticed windows open in the middle of January. It's not a formal neighborhood watch, but still, that support system is there. We have a lot of contractors going in and out, and I've had neighbors call just to make sure they were supposed to be there.


I sit in my office and watch the sidewalks on the days I'm home. Anyone doing something out of the ordinary gets my adrenaline pumping. I bolt the doors when I'm home alone. And one errant 'thump' after I've turned out my light at night will have me up, doing a perimeter check. My husband thinks I'm paranoid. But I do it anyway. You know why?

The neighbor who shuts our garage door? Someone broke into his house at 4 in the morning last October and took off with his computers. There were a string of home invasions out in 'the suburbs' (as much as the suburbs are in a town of 50,000) last year that really rattled people. (They caught the kid - and it was a neighborhood kid. He's doing time.)

My doors stay bolted. My escape plans are formed. I know exactly what I would use to defend myself in any given room. I can't even watch movies like that Taken because it gets my overactive imagination ramped up. The commercials made me nervous! Did you ever see that movie with Bruce Willis - Unbreakable? Where the bad guy just walks into a house, kills the dad, locks up the daughters, and assaults the wife? Sweet Jesus, I had nightmares for weeks. WEEKS! And it wasn't even that great of a movie!

A cliche is really just a true statement repeated so often that it becomes, well, cliche. It doesn't really matter to me that some people think I'm on the almond side of nutty, as long as the joke's not on me.

I intend to have the last laugh.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Basement

We have an old house. 1892, possibly through 1895. Our house has what house people like to call "good bones." They don't make foundations like this any more, and they sure as heck don't do butternut wood trim on every possible surface like this any more.

I love my house.

But it is old, and has gone through a lot of owners. Every owner is going to do things their way, and things that seemed like a good idea in 1964 may not still be a good idea today.

Case in point: What I did for Valentine's Day this year. (No, I didn't ruin it this year!)The stairwell to our basement is dark and narrow - difficult to navigate on its own, but throw in the crap that tends to accumulate, and it's a health hazard. When we bought the house, there was a newish piece of white fiberboard forming the left wall, and small shelves on the right.

But the thing that I kept thinking about was that there seemed to be an unaccounted for foot of space between that fiberboard and the wall of the kitchen. Dead space.

I had grand fantasies about uncovering a hidden treasure. Or at least gaining some shelf space, but, you know, when you're chasing a toddler around, ripping off walls isn't something you can just knock out in an afternoon.

When we upgraded our kitchen, we knocked a hole through the kitchen side of the dead space and discovered - wait for it - dead space. No treasures, unless you count peeling wall paper from the late 1940s a real find (it was pretty!) This confirmed our suspicions that this had been a part of the kitchen at one time, but had been closed off at some point between 1950 and 1982 (which is when our cabinets were dated from).

Six months later, we ripped off the fiberboards, went, "Hmmm," and tore out a bunch of really old, really dusty plaster and lathe. (For those who don't speak 'old house,' plaster and lathe is what walls used to be made of before drywall. Solid, but a pain in the tuckus to remove. Wear a mask and goggles). The effort tired us out so much that we just threw stuff onto the floor of the reclaimed space and shut the door.

For a year and a half.

But January is OVER, and in my house, that suddenly means I've gotten a husband back again. And since the man has been sitting at a desk for essentially four solid months, he's itching to do something - anything - manly.

So this is what we did on Valentine's Day (after I gave him vodka, he gave me a two pound brick of Havarti cheese, the toddler gave us both chocolate, and we gave him Fraggle Rock DVDs. Valentine's Day, Sam's Club Style.)

This is progress! Sure, there's still no overhead light, but he's got the wiring in place to hook one up. Sure, there's still a huge hole in the floor where we decided to rip out the laundry chute that went from the second floor to the basement (since the laundry is no longer in the basement) that had been built to withstand nuclear war, but look! DRYWALL!! We have two sides of drywall up!!!

This is what we did our Valentine's weekend. Saturday he and I tag-teamed the last of the destruction. I am the Queen of Destruction - if you need something destroyed, I'm your woman. The kid takes after me here. It was fun - esp. the parts where I got to be right on almost everything - as in, "I really think we're going to need the recip saw for that," and twenty minutes later, he says, "well, I think I'm going to have to go get the recip saw." Sunday he wired and I (futilely) cleaned up the dust coating everything (got the kid to help with that - he's quite good at that anal stuff when he's in the right mood).

By Tuesday night, drywall! It is entirely possible that, after living in this house for 3 1/2 years, we are finally going to reclaim the dead space and have a pantry right off the kitchen at some point in the next two weeks.

I love this house!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How I Ruined Valentine's Day

Business note: The agent passed. Back to square one (again!) But now, on with the story!

So let me set the scene for you.

Jason and I had been dating for four months. After the third date, I was pretty darned sure he was the one. After just a month, I drove him south to meet his parents and drop him off for Thanksgiving, and I'd pick him back up when I left my folks. On the drive down, we discussed living together. We were going to try to tough it out until my lease expired in September, but by February, we knew we couldn't make it. So we were looking at apartments, making plans, and generally being dippy people in love.

And here came Valentine's Day. I had not, personally, celebrated this holiday in the seven preceding years. The closest I'd come was my senior year of college, where the guy I had been dating didn't call on The Big Day and broke up with me when I finally got a hold of him two days later.

So there was some residual bitterness towards the day.

But this was different! I had a man! I was in love! I was an independent woman with a paying job!

Oh, yeah. Weekend getaway!

Valentine's Day was on Wednesday that year, I think. Middle of the week. So the weekend before, we drove through a 'wintry mix' of snow, sleet, and freezing rain to Galena, Illinois. We rented a cottage at this bed and breakfast, and just had fun.

It was a good test of the relationship, too, because this little cottage had a bed downstairs with a fireplace and such. But it also had a second floor, open like a loft. That's where the bathroom was. No doors, no walls. The view of the toilet was blocked by the shower, but 'open' doesn't begin to describe this floor plan. When I told my sister Leah about this (after the fact) she started hyperventilating at the thought of no doors on the bathroom. But she has issues . . .

Anyway. The weekend was great, once we got done giggling about the bathroom. We drove home, made it one piece, and carried on.

Now, this next point is important. Now that I was an independent woman with a paying job, I had returned to one of my teen-age passions - horseback riding. I was taking lessons (from a girl not quite old enough to drive!) at a local barn. I rode on Tuesdays.

So, after our romantic weekend getaway, I went to my lesson on Tuesday. It had warmed up from the three weeks of sub-freezing temps, so the ground had softened a little in the arena.

My instructor (can you call a 15 yr. old an instructor?) had me going over trot poles. What that means to you non-riders is that there were four 2-inch PVC pipes laid out on the ground, and I had to get my crotchy old horse trotting at the proper pace to get him to step OVER the poles, not on them.

This horse was in no damn mood to trot over poles. Probably 20 years old, this old guy just wanted to be left alone so he could munch hay. So as I was trotting around the arena towards corners, this stubborn old horse tried to convince me that he thought we were going to trot right into a wall, and therefore he needed to STOP TROTTING to avert disaster.

The instructor was not amused, and neither was I. (It's um, painful to stop trotting suddenly, ya know?) So she's yelling at me to keep kicking through the corners, because I am the boss of this team, not the horse! So I kick and kick and kick, with moderate success.

But then the horse decided to get even for all this kicking. What happened next was entirely my fault. I gave him a window, and he just took it. I was so focused on kick, kick, kicking, I stopped steering.

Let me tell you how big of a mistake that was.

Before I knew what had happened, the horse decided that, damn it, if I wanted him to turn, he was going to freaking TURN. He PIVOTED sideways, throwing me completely off balance. So now, I'm still on the horse, but I have NO control. And we are now heading on a diagonal directly for the trot poles. Not straight on, but diagonal.

I saw in my mind's eye the horse hitting one on the angle, breaking his leg, and rolling on me. We were both going to die.

So, with everything I had, I yanked him hard to the right, which threw my weight to the left. Now, I was going to fall off this horse and land on the trot poles myself, with many broken bones.

As my sister Leah would say, "Hell, no."

So I overcompensated and threw my weight back to the right, which spooked the already confused horse. The combined shift in my weight and his direction launched me .... right into the newly thawed floor of the arena.

The horse immediately stopped trotting. Damn it all, he won.

And he really had, because any good horsewoman knows that if a horse throws you, you get your ass right back on that horse and teach him who's the boss. But I couldn't. I couldn't even breath.

Now, luckily, I had gotten a cell phone a few months earlier after a traumatic night of being stuck in traffic and being unable to get to Jason's apartment until we were both frantic with worry. And even luckier, my friend the Lovely Zen-Master Becca lived less than five minutes from the barn. She had to come get me because I couldn't even hope to drive my stick shift home. I was still having trouble breathing.

She picked me up (literally), drove me back to her place, packed me in frozen peas, and made the executive decision that I wasn't going to die.

The next morning, I went to Ambulatory Care, got x-rayed, and was pronounced broken. Two ribs on the right side, cracked clean through. When I'd hit the ground, my right elbow had driven right up there and snapped them good. The good news (yes, there was some) was that the ground had thawed just enough that I didn't break the arm I landed on, and more importantly, didn't break my pelvis, which I also landed on. I hit that so hard that it took a week for the bruise to surface, and another month for it to go away.

That's how I spent my Valentine's morning. They gave me Vicoden, but both my father and sister Hannah had violent vomiting when they'd taken it. And no one with broken ribs wants to throw up. So I toughed it out with ibuprofen.

So I called into work. And Iris, the receptionist (you know the kind - old, smokes 2 packs a day and has the voice to prove it) said, "You HAVE to come to work today!"

"Iris, I broke my ribs!"

"But you HAVE to come to work! You have flowers here! You're the only one who got flowers delivered at work!!!!" She was adamant to the point of hysterical.

Oh, that man. He'd never had anyone to celebrate Valentine's Day with, so he was all in. Even after a romantic weekend, he'd made reservations at the Pump Room for a candlelit dinner for two. He'd sent flowers to work so everyone would know I was loved.

And I broke two damned ribs.

So you know what I did? That's right. I sucked it up and drove into the city. I took only the back roads because I couldn't shift above second. Hell, I couldn't shift out of second, but I'm the kind of driver who can start from second too, so it worked. I couldn't buckle my belt, so for 35 minutes, the car binged at me. The Customer Service manager saw me first and brought the flowers out to me, Two dozen roses, plus Belgian chocolates.

Oh, that man. It was enough to make a girl cry out of sheer joy, but that made my ribs hurt, so I didn't. The manager then buckled me in for the rest of the trip down.

He was waiting for me, somewhere between panic and hysteria. He gamely said we didn't have to go to dinner, but screw that. This was Valentine's Day. I'd made it this far. He just had to work the stick while I worked the clutch.

And we got there. I've never been so glad to see valet parking in my life. The Pump Room is Old School dining. The likes of Frank Sinatra and such were old regulars back in the day. Cozy booths, exceptional service, a live band playing the best of the romantic songbook.

The matire de headed towards our table with a crisp click of his heels. I couldn't do much more than two steps a minute - did I mention the ribs? - and Jason was holding tight to me. So the matire de gets to our table - clear on the other side of the room, of course - and turns around, and we're all of six steps in the door. He rushed back and took my other arm and the two of them practically carried me the rest of the way.

After that, dinner went smoothly. Another round of ibuprofen kicked in, and a Chicago Bears lineman got down on one knee and proposed in the middle of the evening (we ran into them at coat check, and she showed me the ring. HOLY MOLY, that was a lot of diamonds!). By the time we (slowly) made our way out of the restaurant, I even insisted that we stop, right on the edge of the dance floor, and sway gently. I wanted to dance on Valentine's Day, dang it!

Needless to say, I spent the night with him, because I couldn't drive myself home. And, needless to say, it was a irritatingly chaste sleep over. It was more like being tucked in by my father, what with the concerned kiss on the forehead and all. But I was beat, and hurt like hell.

But I'd done it. I'd done my very best to ruin Valentine's Day, and then stubbornly refused to let it go. Thank God we'd gone to Galena the weekend before, not after. That would have been even worse!

Now, we laugh about it as we eat our take-out dinner and share chocolates with our little boy. No overnight vacations, but also no broken ribs.

I like it better this way.

The Rollercoaster

Man, what a couple of weeks.

Remember last week? Remember me being sick and getting rejected, all on the same day? Yeah, it got worse on Friday, when I managed to drag my butt back to work. My boss informed me that I was going to have to work on a day-by-day basis - as in, if there was work for me to do, I could do it. If not, I had to go home and not get paid for that day.

Oy. Damned economy!

Now, it's not like me and my family are one step away from the curb. My hubby is in no danger of losing his job anytime soon - not when he's working 12+ hour days, 6 to 7 days a week. He's the breadwinner of the family, and there's a lot of dough left to rise. (Tangent: does that metaphor even make sense? I've been hitting the metaphor/simile box pretty hard recently, and I'm not sure if I'm making sense. Let me know.)

But my paycheck pays for two things. Daycare for the toddler, and home improvements. Over 3/4 of my piddly little paycheck goes to daycare.

As I have previously stated, I love daycare. My son - an only child who's probably going to stay that way - gets to interact with other short people and work on important concepts like 'sharing' and 'establishing pecking orders' and the like. He couldn't get that kind of socialization at home with me. I'm the top hen in this house. Plus, I'm a mom who embraces Quality, not Quantity. I'm a better mom if I get the regular opportunity to listen to music that isn't Backyardigans or Thomas the Tank Engine and read things besides Corduroy and Dr. Seuss and talk about things that aren't related to potty misfires and who tattled on whom. I know some people don't agree with this concept, but it works for me.

But if I'm not bringing in a steady paycheck, it's hard to justify the expense of daycare. The prospect of being a stay-at-home mom again is looming large in this house.

But I have options. I called the employment agency who set me up with this job almost three years ago and left a message. Then I went by after work. These women are amazing. They'd already made one call for me for a tech writer position. (Although I have no idea if I am capable of being a tech writer. The writer part - no problem. The tech part? Iffy.)

Plus, they had called me several months ago about a position in their office, but we were busy at work, so I passed. When I went in to talk to them, I mentioned that maybe I should have taken that position.

"Well," the manager hemmed. "The woman we hired didn't work out, and we never filled the position again because things were slow. But . . ." Oh, that was a happy conjunction, right there. "We just got a major contract, and things will be picking up . . . We were thinking of filling it again."

So I threw my hat into that ring right away. I left feeling pretty decent. Something will turn up in the next few weeks.

So Monday, I was home. I decided to spend part of the morning sending off new queries for the Noseless Cowboy book. This put me in a bad mood, because I hate rejection.

But then the weirdest thing happened. Less than 24 hours after I sent the query, an agent requested the first 30 pages. This agent is in Colorado, so I'm hopeful that she'll be able to handle the concept of the Noseless Cowboy better. And I have actually gone to a talk this agent gave, and heard directly from the horse's mouth how her agency got 75,000 queries in 2007, requested fulls on 75, and only signed 7.

As the Oscar contenders say, it's an honor just to be nominated.

So things are swinging back up. My boss at work is tackling a new project, so I should be able to get two days a week (just enough to cover daycare) while I wait for the employment agency to get back to me.

And this agent thing - well, it could still end with another pass. But even if it does, I'm feeling tons more confident. Two rounds of queries, two requests. Not a fluke, but an upward trend.

This is going to happen. Eventually.

Programming note: Stay tuned for next week. Since you all enjoyed How I Met My Hubby so much, I've decided to tell you all about How I Ruined Valentine's Day. Seriously.