Sunday, January 29, 2023

Delightful Blather at the Library

Last week the circulation manager at the library where I work was shelving books and I was sitting at the help desk and the two of us were chatting how we do--I can't remember what we were talking about--but I said something about how we could blather all day, and just then a patron nearby piped up that he liked that word,

blather

and why don't people say it anymore? Well, I have no idea, I responded, but I say it all the time. Which got the three of us talking about other words like that, my favorite being the word delightful, something the circ manager often says, and every time she says it, I think: I like that word. 

Delightful. 

I want to say it more. 

How perky it sounds and how happy, especially on gray cold days, January sliding into February, and all of the crappy news of the world, the terrible ways we treat each other on display again and again, it's hard sometimes to remember how people, the world, can also be delightful.   

I just looked up the definition of delightful and it means "causing delight," and so I looked up delight, and that means "please someone greatly," which pretty much captures it. It was me the other day having a ten-minute discussion with a four-year-old and his grandfather about the library's broken elevator. (Long story about the broken elevator) but the delightful part of it was how curious and concerned the kid was and how patiently the grandfather explained how elevators work (or don't work, as the case may be),

or another day when a preschool class of kids tromped inside out of the cold weather and a little boy kept tromping right over to the desk and hugged me, no idea why, but I'll take it. That day, my husband and I had to get a new furnace, and when I got home, the dog was closed up in a bedroom, frantic about noisy strangers in the house, and I went up to keep her company, which only sorta alleviated her stress. 

Probably because I was borderline frantic myself, thinking about how much money a furnace replacement was going to cost us. Plus, it was cold in the house. Later, when the new furnace was at last installed, I could hear my husband and the furnace guys downstairs blathering, laughing like old friends. 

Right then the heat cranked on and wafted through the vents, and let me tell you, it was absolutely delightful. 

 




Sunday, January 22, 2023

This week it was very gray

and that has leaked into everything, de-coloring life from day to day, the dog walks and my work at the library, the meals with my visiting daughter and son-in-law, the afternoons where I sit and try try try to write. Have my moods always been so susceptible to the weather? I complain about it at dinner,

the impenetrable, seemingly never-ending grayness of winter in Columbus, Ohio, and my son-in-law, who has just cooked us another fantastic meal, mishears me and thinks I said "gray anus" and so that is what it is now in my head, Gray Anus Weather. Meanwhile,

at night we are watching The White Lotus, a show about wealthy people at a luxurious resort, which reminds me of old favorite shows from my childhood Love Boat and Fantasy Island, but taking it to such a wild dark place that all of us crammed up on the couch with the dogs can't stop gasping in horror and/or cracking up. Humans are so terrible and ridiculous. 

I have sworn off the news but it still creeps in. More gun deaths. Crazy politicians and stupid fights in DC. The price of eggs. I am reading a book about memory and how our default setting is to forget. Don't worry, the author says, if you forget where you left your car keys or if you can't remember why you entered a room, the important thing is you know what car keys are, and you can find your way out of the room. I am embarrassed to admit how greatly relieved I am to read this. 

The author also says that we are more likely to remember emotionally significant events. Most other things slip away forever. Unless we write them down. The trouble with me is I write everything down. 

My daughter and son-in-law head home, and our house is quiet again. Lonely. In the morning (I was going to say "when the sun comes up" but there is no sun) So, to revise: In the morning when the sky lightens, it looks like it is going to be another gray anus day. 

Instead, it begins to snow. Thick and swirling and quickly covering the bare tree branches, the lawn, the street. The whole world outside my window grows white and bright. I want to revise again. It’s going to be a good day. 



Sunday, January 15, 2023

Two Dog Week

Once upon a time I hated dogs. I was afraid of them. And for good reason. A dog I had growing up bit my face, his teeth tearing through the side of my mouth, a part of my lip left dangling. 

I was twelve. I loved that dog. His name was Sam and he was a rescue. He was sweet. And also, vicious, hurling his body against the front door when anybody dared to knock. But until the moment he bit my face, he had never been vicious to me. The thing was

I'd been stupid, leaning over to kiss his darling face while he was asleep. I'd scared him and who could blame him for lashing out. Not me, is what I'm trying to say. We all do things we may regret when we're afraid. 

But still, there was the matter of the bloody mouth, the dangling lip. I knew I needed help, but being something of a rescue myself, I wasn't sure where to go for it. My stepfather, for example, had threatened to kill the dog. My mother did not typically react well in a crisis. But twelve is old enough to know when there are situations too difficult to navigate on your own.

In the end my stepfather did not kill the dog. My mother did not react well to my bloody face reveal but pulled herself together and got me medical care. Life went on for all of us, me, with a scar no one can see, and for the next twenty-five years, a terror and hatred of dogs. 

Until, 

I got a dog. I won't bore you with the details of her intelligence, her adorable-ness, her loyalty. Over the next ten years what first began as a tolerance, quickly turned into friendship, into love, and beyond that, a love that could extend to other dogs too. Which brings me to the events of this week when my daughter and son-in-law asked my husband and me to watch their dog, and halfway through the week, my husband went out of town,

leaving me alone with the two dogs.

During the period of my life when I was afraid of dogs, I did not know how different dogs could be from each other and I did not really care. A dog is a dog, is what I thought, and please get it the hell away from me. But here I was this week juggling the two dogs, my sweet Zooey, and the bigger, and I don't want to say dumber, but maybe... not quite as intelligent, but still darling, lumbering, goofy Louie. 

I have gotten such a kick out of them, Zooey and Louie, clambering up beside me at night on the couch while I read, their forays into the backyard, bonding over their mutual outrage at the existence of squirrels, our ridiculous walks around the block, the two of them continually stopping to sniff or pee in opposite directions, a near constant crossing and crisscrossing of leashes, leaving all of us tired out and ready to snuggle again.

Once, I hated dogs. Once, I was afraid of them. And all of that fear and anger tangled up inside my childhood self, solidifying as I grew up, becoming an integral part of who I was.

But last night alone in the dark, a warm body pressed on either side of me, the snores and sleepy sighs, the thumps of their hearts, I felt more of that old self untangle. 

Dear Sam, I'm so sorry I scared you. Dear twelve-year-old Jody, it wasn't your fault. 


 



 


Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Case of the Mysterious Smell

It was burnt plastic. Actually, more like burnt metal, my husband insisted. Either way something smelled bad in the living room, and it was freaking me out. 

The logical culprit was the Christmas tree. It's a fake tree with strands of lights already strung in the branches, and this year (the fourth year we've put up this tree), we'd noticed that some of the lights had fizzled out. Was there faulty wiring in the tree, something wrong with the electrical cords? 

My husband and I sniffed carefully around the branches. We unplugged the light strand. The plastic-y (metallic?) burning smell did not abate. Or maybe it did? It was hard to tell. The smell basically had permeated the entire room at this point.  

We'd just been sitting down to watch the latest installment of a show we've been streaming, the mystery series CB Strike that my brother had gotten us hooked on when he was visiting over Christmas. The show is about a British down-on-his-luck detective who teams up with his plucky receptionist to solve gruesome murder mysteries. It's very well done, despite the gruesome-ness. 

At the same time, I've been reading a mystery-thriller set in Ireland written by my friend Edie Pattou. The book is a manuscript she asked our writing group to look at and I was immediately caught up in the story. A missing girl. Perhaps several missing girls. A plucky American author (struggling with some demons) teaming up with a grizzled Irish detective (struggling with his own demons). 

The point is I had mysteries on the brain. What was the source of this horrible odor in the living room? If it wasn't the Christmas tree, could it be... 

the TV? 

The TV is situated very close to the Christmas tree. It's also quite a bit older. Maybe eight years? What is the lifespan of these things? My husband and I sniffed around the back of the TV screen. The multiple cords. The firestick thing-y. The speakers. Any one of those could be the cause. We unplugged it all. And still, the burning smell. 


Oh my God. What if the house was on fire? 

My husband, (the grizzled detective) (as opposed to me, the plucky heroine battling anxiety demons), checked on the smoke detectors to make sure they were all in working order. And then he began googling replacement trees, replacement TVs. Only day 5, 6 or whatever into my New Year's Resolution to be more purposeful about spending, and darn it all to hell, were we going to have to buy something?!

I went to bed with the burn-y smell in my nostrils, the gruesome British murder mysteries and Edie's missing Irish girls, all twining up in my head. In the morning when my husband and I were getting ready to do our morning yoga stretches with Kassandra with K, I switched on the lamp next to the TV. It did not turn on. 

I checked the cord. My husband peered over the lampshade at the bulb. He gasped.  


The Case of the Mysterious Smell.

Solved. 


Sunday, January 1, 2023

Purposeful Purchasing

Is my New Year's Resolution this year, inspired by an essay in one of the books I read recently, Ann Patchett’s These Precious Days, in which she details how she quit buying anything for a year. 

Like Ann Patchett, who heard about this idea and immediately thought: HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? But then, another thought: WHY NOT? I too find myself buying things I don't really need, and worrying about the endless pursuit of stuff and what that does to me, to us, to the planet. 

But then, I circled back to the HOW part. Ann Patchett created some exceptions for herself. Buying food, for example, or really, anything you can purchase at a grocery store. Also, she allowed herself to buy books. (She's an author and a bookstore owner. Books, she decided, had to be an exception.)

But I work at a library. And as much as I enjoy buying books, it's pretty clear that I don't really need to. 

Maybe I can actually do this! I explain to my husband my new plan for the year, and he is intrigued, but more interested in the exceptions we'll have to carve out. What if something breaks? (See: refrigerator) or, we need, say, lightbulbs?

Okay, to buying a new appliance. But lightbulbs, we can buy at a grocery store, my one exception. Ditto: stuff like, shampoo. I tell him he can make any exceptions he wants. Tools, for example, and supplies for his woodworking projects. We spend the six-hour car ride to our annual New Year's Eve multi-family/multi-day gathering celebration going over more exceptions. 

Gifts? Sure! Dog toys? (the dog is panting anxiously in the backseat) Okay! 

By the time we arrive at our destination, we have a refined plan. Not No Buying Anything, but something more like a flow chart model of spending that we call "Purposeful Purchasing." 

Before buying anything, we will now ask ourselves:

Do we really want this thing? 

Can we do without it? 

Can we reuse or repair or borrow?

Can we buy this thing locally or at a thrift store?

Do we really really really want this thing? 

I write the Resolution in the New Year's Eve book and it is now official. But first, one pre-exception. 

At the annual Buy Food and Fun Stuff before the New Year's Eve party, I go a little crazy with whatever the opposite of Purposeful Purchasing is, buying copious amounts of junk food, a rice cooker (my son mentioned that he wished he had one) and an absurd candy bouquet located by the check out.

The candy bouquet makes me laugh, later, when I walk by the snack table, all of that junk food and plastic and the silly floppy bow. Don’t need it. Don’t even want it. But the ridiculousness of it gives me great joy. 

The real joy, though, is for this place, the people gathered here with me. My husband, our kids and their significant others, our longtime friends. This is all I want. This is all I need.

Here. Today. The perfect way to ring in the New Year.  



Sunday, December 25, 2022

It's cold

the kind of cold that pushes every other topic out of the way. 

I mean, what else is there to think about when the water faucet's incessantly dripping in the sink to keep the pipes from freezing, and the dog's whimpering at the door but refusing to go outside, and the power company's texting scary warnings about the overloaded power grid. 

My anxious mind has a field day with bad weather. The what ifs and the what will we dos. 

We gather up candles, just in case, and my husband readies the generator. We brave the cold to shovel the driveway and clear off the car in ten-minute shifts. We bundle up the dog in her cozy winter coat and coax her out the door with treats. At night we drive the icy roads to pick up my brother at the airport. Miraculously, his flight isn't cancelled, and only one weird snafu with the luggage, but it all works out. 

Remember this:

a neighbor snow blowing our sidewalks and 

another neighbor bringing over homemade fudge (he has a bushy white beard and when I see him trudging through the snow, I call him Santa, and he laughs and says he gets that a lot this time of year) and

a dear friend risking a drive across town to bring gifts and homemade treats (specially made for my brother who is vegan) and

the kids calling, and family calling, and friends calling, everyone safe and warm and happy.

At night my brother and I do a puzzle like old times, Bing Crosby crooning in the background about white Christmases, and I tell a story about one of my favorite volunteers at the library, eighty years old, but still coming in twice a week to help and always with a smile. Hello! I always say when she walks through the doors, How are you? 

She always answers the same way. I'm here, Jody, and that means it's a good day. 

Christmas morning and the water plinks in the sink. It's eight degrees outside, but so very warm inside. 

I'm here. 


Sunday, December 18, 2022

In which I watch all the Christmas Rom Coms so you don't have to

Okay, I didn't have to, either. And not to throw my husband under the Christmas sleigh, but this was his idea. It goes back to the Covid Christmas of 2020 when our daughter and then-boyfriend/now-husband were quarantining with us and did a non-stop, multi-week, rom-com fest of Hallmark channel holiday movies that my husband and I mocked and then grudgingly half-watched and then sorta settled into and now feel an aching, nostalgic fondness for. 

Cut to: Christmas this year, with no adult kids at home, and maybe we wanted to capture that same magical fondness. [I just read this to my husband and he is adamant that it was not HIS idea, but MY idea.]

Regardless, we started our own version of the Holiday Rom Com Fest tradition, which is half a movie each night from Thanksgiving to now. (The half a movie per night thing is due to the fact that I typically conked out every night roughly partway through the one hour and thirty-minute movie.)

First up was the popular Netflix movie Falling for Christmas, starring Lindsay Lohan and this guy who really looked familiar but we couldn't place him and it turns out he was a minor-ish character on Glee. This movie hit that sweet spot between Really Stupid and Entertaining Because It's So Stupid. It features Lindsay Lohan as a spoiled ski hotel heiress literally falling off a cliff, waking up with amnesia, and being taken home by the Glee Guy, who's the owner of a struggling cozy inn/widower with an adorable daughter who makes a Christmas wish that her dad finds love.

So dumb and yet weirdly sweet, and I'd give it four candy canes on a five candy cane scale, except I was too distracted by the Glee Guy's ridiculously floopy hair, so I give it three. 

Castle for Christmas with Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes. She's a romance author who buys a Scottish castle. He's the owner who doesn't want to sell (to her). The townspeople are quirky and fun. The Princess Bride actor rocks the Scottish accent. Brooke Shields is gorgeous. Both characters are on the far end of middle aged, but hey! Why can't we oldsters find true love? Five candy canes!

Let it Snow. Teens find love on a snow day. That's about all I remember because I kept falling asleep.

Christmas Inheritance. Wealthy heiress stuck in a small, charming town. She's pretending to be poor (long story). He's the manager of the inn. Andie MacDowell is the wise mentor figure/bakery shop owner that elevates the whole thing. But what IS it with these romantic guys and their weird hair? This one's looked like it was pasted onto his head. Three candy canes for Andie McDowell.

Christmas with You. She's a famous singer who's waning in popularity. He's Freddie Prinze Jr. There's a fifteen-year-old daughter and an over-the-top quinceaƱera party. I love Freddie Prinze Jr. Three and a half candy canes. 

Noel Diary. Famous mystery author goes home to clean out his dead mom's hoarder house and falls for a girl searching for her birth mom. Wasn't sure where this one was going at first. Oh my God! Are they brother and sister? 

Spoiler: no. Three candy canes because once I figured that out, I was bored. 

Single All the Way. Gay best friend roommates pretend to be engaged when they visit one guy's hometown. Both guys are adorable and there's a whole fun side plot with the crazy aunt (Jennifer Coolidge), a frustrated actress defiantly trying to put on the town's nativity play she calls "Jesus H. Christ." Four big tasty canes. 

Happiest Season. This is the opposite of Single All the Way because it features two lesbians who pretend to be straight roommates so as not to offend the hometown homophobic family. Not a rom com? Also, this was the only movie where I did not want the two characters to end up with each other. They both (and really everyone in the family) need serious therapy. On the other hand, it was the only movie that I watched in one night without falling asleep. So, two candy canes, I guess, for keeping my attention? 

California Christmas. Super rich playboy pretends to be a farmhand so he can convince a dairy farmer daughter to sign over her land. I don't even know where to start with how dumb this movie is. The dairy farm's in Wine Country but the rich guy wants to put an Amazon style warehouse there? The girl has an entire dormant grape field that she forgets about until the end? WHO IS MILKING THE COWS? Half a candy cane. 

Love Hard. A writer famous for her articles about her bad dates finds love on a dating site, flies to his hometown to surprise him for Christmas, but SHE's the one who's surprised because he lied about his identity and used his more attractive friend's photo. Now she's pretending to be his girlfriend while getting dating tips from him to woo the attractive friend.

I loved everything about this movie. The fun, smart dialogue--playful arguments about Die Hard being a Christmas movie and Thoreau being a whiney jerk and whether or not "Baby It's Cold Outside" is too non-consent-y to be a Christmas song. The slew of quirky side characters--the narcissistic older brother, the boss demanding another bad-date article, the wine-drinking best friend. And lots of cute subplots with uber drivers and climbing walls and a steakhouse date with a vegetarian. 

Five candy canes plus a bonus candy cane because I really am glad the two got together, and I would so live in that charming hometown, and for one hour and thirty minutes I forgot it was just going to be me and husband for Christmas, 

Which, you know what? That is actually not a bad thing at all, especially now, with our new favorite tradition.  

Yes, what DID happen to Ted, Lindsay Lohan? 



PS: Share your favorite Christmas Rom Com and win a free virtual candy cane!