Valentines and Self-Realization

The older I get, the more I realize that my mother was right after all. I am just like my Grandma Mooney.

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Grandma Mooney & the Case of the Vinegar Valentines

Valentine’s Day always reminds me of my Grandma Mooney (more specifically, she was my Great-Grandmother). That may seem odd to some people (to think of grandparents around a holiday meant for couples), but there’s a reason behind it.  She was actually quite a colorful character… and then some. And one of her favorite things to do centered round Valentine’s Day.

It’s not really observed much anymore, but back in the day people would give out what were called “vinegar valentines.” They were basically insult cards with a caricature drawing on the front and a small acidic poem on the back that tended to call people out as being either foolish, a spinster, a loser, etc. You get the idea. They were pretty unflattering for the recipient and not exactly the heartwarming valentines we give out now covered in hearts and roses. Grandma Mooney absolutely loved giving these out to so-called loved ones and friends.

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It was one of her favorite times of year because, while she may have been thinking these evil thoughts all year, now she was able to put those thoughts to paper. And let me tell you, she got serious pleasure out of poring over who would get what card. If memory serves they were sent out anonymously so the person receiving the snail mail insult couldn’t be sure who thought they were an idiot, but rest assured, someone out there in the world did. The ironic part is that Grandma Mooney would get super pissed if she ever got one. She sent them out by the bucketful but getting even one in return was blasphemous.

I wish I could’ve seen her face as she was picking out the cards and sending them out. It’s hard to picture without having seen it up close, but anytime Grandma Mooney was up to trouble, she’d laugh… not out loud… but sort of an internal laugh so that her massive bosom shook like jelly. Watching her go through her stash of valentines with an intensity more often seen in a tax auditor and the inevitable intervals of shaking as she came across just the perfect one for say… Georgie or Carlene… would’ve been a hoot. Although I’m just guessing that these two were among the lucky recipients.  Grandma Mooney always kept her list top-secret so no one could rat her out.

In truth, though, I almost wish more that I could’ve seen what she did when she opened up one that she had received. I’d be observing that from a very safe distance of course.  I mean, there’s just no sense in poking an already pissed off bear. Grandma Mooney would’ve made Sherlock Holmes proud though… because after receiving one of these heart to heart communiqués in the mail, she suddenly became a resolute and determined investigator, examining handwriting, postal stamps, and whatever else would give her a clue as to who sent it.  She’d wander around the house muttering names for a week as she narrowed down the list of suspects. And when she finally had that “eureka!” moment and was convinced she knew the perpetrator of this horrible crime, she immediately began planning the coming year’s list, editing it accordingly, and putting that person’s name in the top position. Ahh… it’s the simple joys that mean the most.

When I was young, my mother used to tell me that I was just like my Grandma Mooney. I’d take offense at that if I could only figure out how to argue the rationale. Admittedly, I can see the similarities — though not to the extremes of my enjoying sending anonymous insults. But I do share some of her ornery eccentricities. In some respects, it may seem like an awful comparison — but along with her cantankerous quirks, my grandmother had a heart of gold and took care of her family above all else. So I guess when all is said and done, I’m pretty happy to be compared to her.

 

Rise of the Javaholics

We all have our vices. For some of us, it’s cigarettes. Others nail-biting. Gambling. Speeding. Teen Mom. We’re all addicted to something that we maybe shouldn’t. Raise your hands if that thing is coffee. If I were to follow my own instructions I’d be typing with one hand right now, because the other would be emphatically waving up in the air.

Yes, coffee has a grip on my soul that nothing but sweet death will give me release from (and even then I’d probably be a pretty happy ghost if you put a Keurig in the casket with me).

big coffee cup

wish I had a cup this big

Along with these vices comes temptation. Otherwise, without the fun of being lured back into the darkness, what power would these vices hold over us? Coffee doesn’t make any sort of attempt to even give us addicts a fighting chance. The options and ease of getting that delicious caffeine into the bloodstream is getting ridiculous.

I mean, I already have a tough enough time passing up a Starbucks, but now some of their stores even have a drive-thru. I don’t even have to bother with parking and walking anymore, two of the things I hate most about going to get coffee. I often war with myself over whether it’s worth getting out of the car if 1) it’s simply too early in the morning or 2) it’s raining or 3) various other sub-optimal weather conditions or 4) I just don’t feel like it.

Every time I crave a coffee-shop coffee, I have the angel and devil on my shoulders. The angel, bright-eyed and secure in its control over stimulating substances would say, “Oh Wendy, it’s way too cold out. Do you really need to don a scarf and gloves just for 12 ounces of coffee?”

The devil, much more alert and awake than the angel will ever be, says, “Oh, you know what you want. You go get it. You’re an adult and you make the rules, not Mother Nature.”

With the drive-thru, the angel doesn’t even stand a chance. Hell, most of the time he doesn’t even show up to the game anymore.  Starbucks has found an even better way to get $4 out of me with as little resistance as possible.

starbucks drivethru

sign of my downfall

Oh, and for the record — I blame my friends and family for my continued crippling debilitation.  It’s not all me… being weak willed and such. They know I love Starbucks and so they shower me with gift cards for Christmas and on my birthday and every other holiday where gifts are expected.  Damn enablers. (Psst… hey… hey you… if you’re reading this, I didn’t mean it… I still want those cards for Christmas!)

Don’t worry, I’m not one of those uppity coffee drinkers. I don’t splurge for the grande skinny mocha soy latte extra hot extra shot extra pump add whip cream instead of foam. I mean, come on! It takes some people a full five minutes to just spit out their custom blend order to the 12-year-old barista behind the bar. Just order off the menu and be done with it already.

You may be saying to yourself, “Well Wendy, if you hate the dilemma Starbucks puts you in so much, why don’t you just make your own coffee?” Duh! You think I haven’t bought the special coffee before? I’ve even gone so far as to get the unique Starbucks syrup and the cute little rinky-dinky cups that make me feel like I’m sitting on a patio in Paris and turns my kitchen into a miniature barista paradise. But, it just never tastes the same.  It. Never. Tastes. The. Same.

My theory? Starbucks must be “enriching” their beans. They’re dropping something special in their brew making it extra addictive. Or maybe their cups are laced with a little something extra. I have to believe this. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually, possibly even years from now, that a headline will read “Starbucks coffee contains addictive substance,” or “Revealed: Starbucks additive found to be highly addictive.”  I have to believe that because why the hell would any sane person continue to return time and time again to pay for overpriced coffee and be happy doing so?

Maybe it’s the start of a New World Order; the gradual world domination by the mysterious Starbucks under dark mocha skies using their (not-so-secret) weapon… addictive, delicious, wonderful, fantastic, amazing coffee that no one can seem to resist.

starbucks beans

just what exactly is in those beans!?

Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum

I love Christmas. Ornaments for the tree? I have enough to fill my tree, my neighbor’s tree, your tree, and the National Tree in DC. Who cares if my tree is only 4 feet tall? Do I buy more every year? You bet. Christmas cards? Yup. I have enough to send out to people I don’t even know for the rest of my life. Do I buy more every year? You bet. Lights, snow globes, bells, wreaths, glitter … I’ve got it all. In spades. What’s even more fun is coming up with a gift list. Oh, not for myself, but everyone else. I truly enjoy gift-giving.

Well, ever since Halloween, I’ve been humming “The Little Drummer Boy” to myself and it made me wonder – is it ever too early to be thinking about Christmas? Some of you are rolling your eyes and harrumphing: “Of course, there is a too early for this crap Christmas time-frame!” I couldn’t agree with you more. We all know this. But humming to oneself like a nutcase and throwing up a tree and full-blown decorations are two entirely different things.

I’ve seen and heard so many people get straight up grumpy about Christmas making an early appearance – I’m one of those people, actually, as I gripe about Santa and decorations showing up in stores before Thanksgiving has even reared its fine-feathered head, and yet every year it keeps happening. Earlier and earlier we see the commercial side of this supposedly altruistic holiday.

Back in the day, it was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa who set the timing for the season. Then the stores got the idea to bolster their profits by having Black Friday which, in reality, starts way before Thanksgiving when you think about all of the advertising, early-bird deals, etc. Now, the stores are like: “Is it almost Halloween!? Dust off last year’s Christmas paraphernalia and throw that out there with the turkey napkin holders, pumpkins, ghosts, and skeletons … let’s get this Hallowthanksmas conglomeration started!”

Consider all the money that goes into Christmas. According to the American Research Group, the average American plans to spend roughly $929 on gifts this year. That doesn’t include holiday travel, decorations, or food, which I’m sure is some astronomical number of dollars. Given the huge investment that the Christmas season is for many people – not to mention, the profit margin for the businesses who have honed their capitalistic holiday campaign, it’s no surprise that they want to get their money’s worth. After all, if I was spending almost $1000, I’d want to have warm seasonal fuzzies for far longer than a month. “Hey, I bought that singing, blow-up snowman for my yard and I’ll be damned if I don’t get to annoy my neighbors with it for as long as possible!” Okay, fine, so annoying the neighbors is an “all year” treat that I do take advantage of, but that’s just me.

Decorating a house, depending on your commitment level, can take some serious time, with the tree alone taking a few hours. Lugging boxes from the garage and carefully putting hooks on every individual ornament isn’t something to take lightly. Getting that just-right Griswold effect on the house is also a feat that is nothing if not time-consuming. I mean, I can totally understand that if people go to all of that effort, they want it to start as early as possible and last until they’re good and ready to take it all down. Even if that means those decorations stay up until Spring.  A friend of mine used to leave her Christmas tree up long enough that it became a Mardi Gras tree around mid-March, just for the sheer fact that it was too pretty and too much work to take it down.

As much as I love Christmas, and I do love Christmas, my tree is up barely in time for the day itself and comes down the day after. Love the holiday, hate the clutter. I always dream of a decorated home worthy of a Home and Gardens cover, or at least, a photo spread on the inside pages … but alas, my anxiety won’t let me. Or rather, it does, but if you blink, you’ll miss it.

Now Christmas songs seem to be a different animal entirely. Songs don’t take much effort (for the listener, that is), but like any song, there can be too much of a good thing after a while. So, should we be listening to Christmas songs as early as we are decorating? Radio stations certainly think so. Literally the day after Halloween there are round the clock Christmas music broadcasts. Maybe that’s why I’ve had vintage pa rum pum pum pums rattling around in my head. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. Bonus, my not quite under my breath singing annoys my coworkers, so there’s that. In all fairness though, by the time Christmas is over I’m so sick of hearing “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” that I want to die. I think the secret to success with Christmas music is creating your own playlists. And earplugs when traipsing through the department stores with piped-in music. No-one wants those songs in their head all day.

When it comes right down to it, the Christmas season is whatever you want it to be. Do I hate retailers who put out their inventory before that Thanksgiving turkey even hatches? You better believe it. Am I going to be rifling through that very same inventory as excitedly as a child at um… Christmas? You better believe it.

Fountain of Youth

I came across an article not too long ago that claimed that owning pets relieves stress. This isn’t a new idea – lots of experts have said the same thing. Some studies show that pets can decrease blood pressure, help maintain good mental health, and even extend life expectancy in many cases.  According to South Boston Animal Hospital, among others, pets can actually increase your confidence and self-esteem, which seems like a tall order for a labradoodle, but okay.

Having had a pet in my home since, oh, I don’t know, forever, I feel like something of an authority on the subject or at least well-informed, we’ll say.  And I just have to ask … have any of these pet experts ever actually owned pets? I wonder.

As most of you know, I have four pets currently: two dogs and two cats, all rescues. We’ve had three of them since they were mere babies (6 to 8 weeks old) with the youngest being about 9 years old now. The “new” addition to our home, Petra, was adopted as an older dog and we’ve had her a little over 4 years. Time does fly, as they say. 

As an adult, I’ve never been without a dog and/or cat or two or three or five even, and as a kid growing up, there was always … but always … at least one dog in our family. My point is, I “get” the whole owning a pet thing. I wouldn’t give mine up for the world. They’re family.

It’s not that I don’t love the little assholes dears, it´s just that I wonder about this universally accepted claim that they relieve stress and extend one’s life. I mean, I’ve got one dog that has the bladder the size of a bean who requires a walk every freakin’ five minutes and another who, I swear, takes having a bowel movement as a competition and strives every day to hit the top score. Spoiler: he wins. Every day.

Life is not exactly restful in my house as I don’t actually get to rest for long in between all of these trips to the tree down the street. But hey, at least it’s at the tree down the street and not in the living room that I routinely traverse in the dark in my bare feet. I realize, things could be worse. I’m reminded of the story of the Roomba running over a pile of dog poop in the living room and carrying it all over the house. I’m sure you can imagine how low that pet owner’s blood pressure was when they walked in the door to that wonderful sight. I bet they set a record.

Did I mention that one of my dogs barks at random times at … nothing. Or at least, I think it’s nothing. I hope it’s nothing. These unexpected, sharp — and loud — staccato yaps ring out first thing in the morning, the afternoon, the middle of the night, she doesn’t care. If she gets the urge to bark, she barks. And boy, does she get the urge. A lot.  I can’t let it go, I mean, I have to look to see if it’s something actually worth worrying about. Is it an intruder? Is it a leaf blowing down the street two blocks over? Is it the cat on the shelf where she doesn’t belong (and someone is tattling)? Is it a ghost? By the time I’ve done a quick reconnaissance, Petra is back in her bed, under her blanket, content with herself and the world. It doesn’t relieve my stress at 2:00 a.m., I can tell you that much.

Rufus, to his credit, rarely barks unless there is something to bark at, like the mail carrier, the neighbor leaving his house or coming home to his house or looking out of his window, or the cat across the street. Or me, coming home from work. However, he does like to eat things he shouldn’t. He takes that 5-second rule seriously and sometimes he doesn’t even wait for things to hit the ground, he seeks them out and steals them taste-tests them for you.

Finding out that your dog has eaten the 2-pound bag of cat food you neglected to lock in the pantry to keep just this sort of thing from happening or your strawberry-flavored Chapstick that was buried in the depths of your purse because you forgot your dog loves strawberries and can smell them from a mile away AND he knows where your purse is kept and now needs to be rushed to the vet for almost $500 worth of stomach meds and emergency care is exactly like having a spa day. If the spa was on fire and you are also on fire. And then someone hands you your wallet which promptly bursts into flames.

Cats are no better. At least, mine aren’t. They’re just more inconspicuous about the whole “let’s relieve mom’s stress and make her live longer” scheme. In fact, they’re so cool and subtle about it, you’d almost think there was some complicated reverse psychology experiment going on.

Let’s be honest. Owning a cat is basically ensuring that no glass of water will ever be safe. In fact, knickknacks, coffee cups, bottles of all kinds, and even expensive foundation make-up — which creates such a lovely design on the floor when it shatters, by the way — will never be safe again.

Oh, the middle-of-the-night races are jarringly raucous and create quite the jump-scare when a small, fluffy, homicidal packet of cute jumps on your chest while you’re fast asleep, but you learn to adapt … it’s the yodeling contests at 3:00 a.m. that get to you.

Frankly, who can live stress-free when there is a continual plot against your life? Extending my life, indeed. Ha! The ne’er-do-well (aka Holly) has had it out for me ever since I put a baby lock on the cat treat cabinet, thereby successfully foiling her ongoing thievery … I can’t imagine her having any intention whatsoever of extending my life.

On the other hand, Shaylee, the older matriarch-cat of our four-legged family, is sweet as pie, when she isn’t tormenting Petra or biting the hand that feeds her or looking at Rufus which in turn apparently offends him to no end eliciting the need “to teach her a lesson” not remembering that she outweighs him and really doesn’t like him either (hence the look to begin with) and pure chaos ensues. Ah, yes. Fun and games.

Don’t be fooled, multiple pets, like siblings, will often torment each other just for kicks and giggles. A cat might tickle its tail in front of a dog’s nose just to irritate it. Or as is the case in my house, they will swat that dog right on the top of the head and then escape to a high shelf, far out of reach, tormenting the dog with its own failure. Cats, or at least my cats, don’t understand the concept of holding a grudge it would seem, and are quite surprised when, hours later, they descend from their haughty throne only to be met with a hostile canine hiding the shiv he made while he was awaiting their return to ground level. You can’t tell me being witness to these kinds of interactions are stress relieving in any way.

Oh, hey, I just remembered. I shut my finger in the door today. Hard. How on earth is that even relevant, Wendy, you may ask! Well, let me explain. You see, my dogs are nothing if not well fed. They eat three times a day with treats in between. Yet, Rufus acts as though he’s starved to death. He’s so put upon, really, just ask him. Poor thing. Still in the dark?  Stay with me, it will become clear.

Anyway, Rufus eats his food quickly because he has it in his cute little head that he will go and steal Petra’s food when he’s done. He is never allowed to do this, but it doesn’t stop him from trying, God bless him. Petra, because she is the slowest eater I have ever seen in my entire life, eats in the bedroom of solitude behind closed doors so she can have her meal in peace without threat of invaders.  As I was walking out of the bedroom – before doggy dinner time had concluded, Rufus tried to race through the minuscule opening I had created (I swear, it was impressive, it was like Road Runner took lessons from a cheetah to better outwit Wile E. Coyote).

Let me interject here, some of you may recall that Petra was abused before she came to live with us and noises, especially abrupt noises … like miniature Road Runner-Cheetah hybrids hurtling full speed across wood floors … still make her nervous.

So, as I was reassuring Petra that no, the apocalypse had not started and simultaneously doing my best to not step on Rufus who was now completely under my feet and somehow keep him out of the bedroom and not catch him in the door, I shut the door on my finger. Did I mention, hard?

Oh yeah. I’m going to live forever with these jerks sweet little fluffballs around. They certainly inspire a colorful vocabulary though, I’ll give them that.

 

Gaming Grandma

Once upon a time, kids played innocent video games that had, as their selling point, learning and teachable moments embedded in the fun.  LeapFrog was one of these; a creative, book-oriented electronic game whose only purpose was to teach our kids how to count, how to read, and how to sing very annoying songs. My kids were no exception.  We leaped with the best frogs.

Next came computer games, like Club Penguin, Toontown, and Jumpstart.  These were adorable games where the kids learned to chat in controlled phrases, and they began to experience their first taste of competition.  The next logical step was Pokémon and Naruto, where competition, chatting, and teamwork became part of everyday life.

From there, my kids jumped into League of Legends, where the sole purpose of the game was to annihilate other players.  Yay, progress.

When my son was living at home, I would hear the muffled thuds, the not-so-muffled thuds, the cursing, the banging, and occasionally the overturned chair coming from the sanctity of his room.  I wondered, but no way was I going into a teenage boy’s room alone; God only knows what science projects he had brewing under his bed or in his dirty laundry hamper.   It was hard to tell if he needed a new hobby, more practice, or better friends.  My daughter wasn’t much better, only her game frustrations were much quieter and spilled out to the dinner table in the form of dirty looks and grumbling.

I went through the usual parental worrying.  Do they spend too much time online?  Are they secretly chatting with some 60-year-old pervert in a pink tutu in this multi-player game?  Do they need to get out and socialize with the real world?  And most importantly, will they end up living in my basement into their forties?

Obviously, my kids got their video chops from their cool mom, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I don’t like video games, they make me anxious and I get stressed when I play.  I blame Milton Bradley’s Perfection. While not a video game, it was a battery-operated panic attack. Besides, life is like a video game, with adventures to be found at the grocery store, the freeway, and, occasionally, the kitchen when I try a new recipe.

So, if not me, where did they get this video game aptitude from?  Well, look one generation back, and there it is.  Thanks, mom.

Oh yes, you read that right.  My mom, sweetest lady, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the picture of innocence.  My mom was a pro gamer before gaming was cool.

First it was Atari. That was too easy for her. Asteroids, tennis, and pong?   It was like shooting fish in a barrel for my mother. Come to think of it, she had that game too.

The next level of her addiction came with new heroes, courtesy of Sega Genesis.  Round, prickly ones named Sonic.  Sonic ushered in some of his closest friends, including Zelda, who rode in on the wave that was Super Nintendo.  The original Zelda, thank you very much. Kids think they know Zelda, but you’ve never played Zelda until you’ve played it on the original gaming platform, in full glorious side-scrolling wonder with its tinny music and recycled backgrounds.

Then, hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen … along came Mario Brothers.  My mother immediately forgot everything else in the world as she threw herself into mastering this game.  My family frequently went without eating for days at a time, no clean clothes, up to our ankles in our own game, “Chase the Dust Bunnies.”

Of course, that’s not true, but she was completely obsessed with the game.  I still remember when she hit the high score or won the game, whichever the goal was.  She left the game on the entire day as proof and if I recall correctly, she took a picture of the tv screen for good measure because she was afraid no one would believe her. I like to think that the birth of my brother and me were the happiest days of her life, but I tell you, I’m not so sure.

Once she conquered the world of supersonic mammals, Italian plumbers, and valiant quests, she went for a more maternal distraction because, apparently, a real family wasn’t enough stress. She went full on geek and got herself a Tamagotchi critter, which I think was a dog.  She even took it camping and on vacation, so it wouldn’t die.  I have no idea how long it survived, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was years. Hell, she may still have it in a closet somewhere, secretly feeding it and dutifully cleaning up its little digital poops.

I often wonder, does my complete inability to play video games reflect poorly on her?  Or did her gaming ability soar straight through my DNA without passing GO and hit my kids squarely in the controllers, picking up power as it went?  If that’s the case, then my great-grandchildren will be amazingly gifted… prodigies even.

As for me, I’m still playing the fun video game, “set my car clock for daylight savings time.”  It’s been going on for days now. Fall back indeed. Just what the hell did I do with that owner’s manual?

A Good Man

A good man died yesterday. I may write more about this another time, when the wound isn’t still fresh, isn’t still deep. In fact, I’m sure I will. It’s important to acknowledge the passing of a good man. To raise one’s voice to the universe and give thanks for the time one had with him.

The best portion of a good man’s life; his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. 

– William Wordsworth

dad in his element

Be Kind

As we face another year and another sad anniversary of those tragic events in September 2001, we’re haunted by the past even as we contemplate the future. There is now an entire generation to whom 9/11 is just a historical blip in our country’s rich tapestry, a reverent story, tinged with anger, told and retold by parents and grandparents and teachers. Life moves forward and I suppose, that’s as it should be.

One thing we should all remember, in a world full of uncertainty, be kind… and always hold your loved ones close — whether it’s in your arms or in your heart.