Living the dream

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Kansas City, Missouri, United States
I retired from teaching in 2011 because I wanted to live longer. Now, I get to hang out in libraries and bookstores whenever the mood strikes. I try to write something every day, even if it's just a snarky haiku or a rage-filled essay. When I feel like whipping up a pie, I tie on the apron. And know what's really great? I can drink coffee whenever I want, and use the bathroom when I need to. I don't have to wait for the bell to ring. Finally: liberation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Meatloaf You Can't Mess Up

Monday was my last day nannying for the Amor family. Sadness and a little bit of despair (now what?!), but also simple jubilation because the mom presented me with a ginormous basket stuffed with foodstuff goodies AND a six-pack of RedBridge gluten-free beer, which I plan on drinking tonight, 'cause I'm a bit miffed at the hubby, and what better to feel better than a front-porch icy-cold beer, right? Would smoke a smoky stick, too, only I gave that up a long time ago.
Mom Amor did, however, ask that I send her my meatloaf recipe, because it is her family's favorite, and even her picky little nine year old asks for second helpings.
I am going to give you, dear blog reader, my secret You-Can't-Believe-How-Good-This-Meatloaf-Is recipe, too. Super easy; super dependable - this meatloaf comes out perfectly each and every time, and is, truly, very hard to screw up.

Kathleen's Famous-Ass Meatloaf

What you need:
2-lbs ground beef (I use 93/7)
1-sleeve Saltine crackers, crushed
1-bottle Heinz Chili Sauce (or, generic brand) *Reserve a bit - 2 tablespoons - for your glaze ~

What you do:
Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Mold into a nice loaf shape and place into a baking dish (I have never used a meatloaf pan in my life and nothing tragic has happened.). Bake in a 350 oven for 45 minutes. Take out, cover with remainder of chili sauce, and return to oven for fifteen minutes.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Live Strong and Sew Hard

I need to learn how to sew.
I just spent thirty (frustrating) minutes drooling over an NYC designer's GORGEOUS Victorian-styled creations. Ever heard of Ivey Abitz?
No one I know has. My girlfriends (and I) all shop at Kohl's, Penney's, and sometimes Dillard's or Macy's. We're teachers and administrative assistants and cannot afford designer clothing.
My half hour drool-a-thon was frustrating not only because a "simple" Ivey Abitz frock costs $950, but because I would need a 27-inch waist to wear an X-Large.
Please. (I was so annoyed at her "commonsensical" pricing and sizing that I sent a strongly worded email.) Seriously: Who buys a thousand-dollar "everyday" skirt? And since when is a 27-inch waist considered an XL?
Like I said, I need to know how to sew. Then I could outfit myself in Ivey Abitz-styled clothing, with enough waist space for ease and comfort. Wouldn't even feel the least bit guilty copying Abitz-inspired jackets, vests, and dresses. Pretty sure she lifted her designs from old catalogs and 19th-century photographs and postcards.
For realz. Check out the designs: Let me know what you think.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Damn you, gluten

I need a ten-step program to help me stay away from gluten.
I know it hurts me: skin rashes, gastrointestinal distress, brain fog, fatigue.
When you know better, you do better. (Oprah, quoting Maya Angelou ~)
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. (Dr. Phil ~)
Stop being such a dumbass. (My friend Jennifer ~)

Look. I am (reasonably) intelligent. I understand that I am highly gluten intolerant: there's blood test confirmation. More significant, however, is this: 100 percent of the time, when I consume gluten (aka wheat) -- spaghetti, crackers, that Panera bagel, a soothing bowl of Cream of Wheat -- I end up in the bathroom, sick. Attic or basement, my body revolts. I also end up with a MOST-itchy skin rash that causes hives, welts, and sometimes bleeding sores. Gross, right?

So why do I still eat that plate of ravioli? Drink that Rolling Rock?

I might know better, but I'm certainly not doing better.
Wait. That statement is not entirely correct. Since my Stay-Away-From-Gluten diagnosis last summer, I have made sweeping changes in how I grocery shop, stock my fridge and pantry, and prepare meals.
It has helped that my most wonderful daughter (now age 28) has completely eliminated gluten from her diet. She lives with her dad and me, and so it is not unusual for her to (microscopically) police food products and (loudly) denounce their presence in our home. She is a flaming Gluten Nazi and, let's be honest, there have been some arguments: Don't throw away that bag of pita chips! That's a perfectly good can of Progresso tomato soup ... why are you pouring it out? Did you buy that? Oh, no, you didn't buy that, did you? So hands off! What, these? These malted milk balls? They're an early Easter treat ... .
I am her mother; I am twenty years older; I am college-degreed. Doesn't matter. When this daughter snatches the Cadbury bag away from me and starts bobbing her head in a disapproving way, she makes me feel childish and ashamed, like I've pooped my pants at a social function and other people have begun to notice.
It has helped that the family I nanny for has a sweet child who is gluten-intolerant. I prepare after-school snacks and dinners for her, one sibling, and their parents -- all nut-free-gluten-free, and so I'm used to wheat-less (and now nut-less) meal prep. This little girl, nine, has severe nut allergies and could die should peanuts or macadamias enter her body. We are hyper-vigilant. We have to be. We carry an EpiPen with us at all times.
So, yes, I know how to live gluten-free.
I just don't.
Like Jennifer says, I need to stop being a dumbass.
I just this second figured out a way to stay away from gluten: I need to tell myself that gluten is my macadamia, that if I ate a Fried Chicken Dinner at Cracker Barrel the breading would send me into anaphylactic shock. A Culver's Butterburger would incite hasty respiratory distress.
Past behavior has shown that I do not stay away from all that harms me.
I might, however, stay away from all that kills me.
Perhaps my future behavior is going to be different behavior after all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

And the Award for Worst Sick Person in the World Goes To ...

I win that horrible award.
I am the worst sick person in the world, not because what ails me is terminal, but because what
ails me makes everyone around me miserable. If I am coughing or sneezing or feverish or headache-y or toothache-y, you're going to hear about it.
My poor husband. He is out of town now, on business.
Or is he?
Maybe he just needed to get away.

Hoarse Haiku:

My poor sweet husband
Is sick of my complaining
Is divorce coming?

I must be dying
Didn't read patient info
Just swallowed the pills.

What fresh hell is this?
How much snot can one nose make?
Can a cold kill me?


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Not just a house

Last night, scrolling through Facebook -- casually -- while watching another sad episode of Hoarders (where do they get these people?), there it was, on my husband's cousin's page: pictures of our old house, the one on Church Road,  the Louisville house, high on the hill -- thirty-five pictures of exterior and interior shots. It's on the market: $305K.
My heart immediately sank. Felt sick to my stomach.
That five-bedroom, 3,800-square foot, two-story house, with its dramatic loft and amazing laundry room (yes, laundry rooms can be amazing) and two-bedrooms-down-three-bedrooms-up-three-bath house is for sale. It sits, gloriously, like it's proud of itself, on three acres of fertile Nebraska farmland. Even though it was the house my husband and I poured blood, sweat, and tears into back in 1997 -- we nearly divorced trying to get the behemoth finished -- it's the sister-in-law that's selling it. My husband's sister, the one who looks just like him, only way prettier.
Their great-great-great-great (?) grandfather, along with his two brothers, left Germany in the mid-1850s to take advantage of America's Homestead Act. The Stander boys lay claim to several hundred acres and set up their new lives. Not knowing any English, they knew hard work and how to get crops to grow and within thirty years they were well-established farmers outside the Village of Louisville, which, currently, boasts a population of about a thousand.
My husband left the farm in 1977, a newly graduated senior, to serve in the United States Air Force. One of his brothers was already in Western Nebraska, married with a few children; two other brothers stayed in town. Not one of the boys chose farming. One sister took to nursing in Lincoln; the other married, had two boys and got a job as an LPN in a nearby small-town clinic. Their mom, sadly widowed at age 50, remained in a house on the original homestead. She never remarried.
My husband, whom I married in 1985, told me early on, when I asked, that there weren't enough acres to farm successfully -- the land had been parceled too many times to great-uncles and uncles -- and each time there was fighting and gnashing of teeth. That's not how it's going to be with me and my siblings, my husband said. All that fighting stops with us. And, apparently, it has. No one has fought over or is currently fighting to keep what remains of the original homestead.
His sister, who never married, is living in the gargantuan house we put there in 1997 -- she and my mother-in-law, who's now 84 and getting frailer and less mobile. That's why the SIL is selling the house. Neither she nor her mother, obviously, are in good enough physical condition to maintain the large home and the three acres it's sitting on. If you've never been to Nebraska, let me tell you now that the winters there are harsh -- lots of blizzards -- and the wind never seems to stop blowing, pick a month, any month, and it's windy as hell most days.
We had lived in the house (that nearly destroyed our marriage) only a year and a half when my husband got a job transfer back to Kansas City. To be frank, I was okay with the move. You can take a girl out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of a girl, and let's just say that I was not destined for rural life. One day I will write multiple essays about my failed prairie life existence. You will laugh a little (there was a bull with a ring in his nose that lived next door ... he hated me and tried to kill me on multiple occasions); you will cry a little (I missed my family; I missed grocery stores; I missed neighbors). One of the essays will feature a totally true telling of the Red-Eyed Locusts Outbreak of 1997. Scary shit.
What I did feel bad about was selling the house that sat on homesteaded land. Before the Stander boys put down their stakes, only Native Americans roamed that part of the prairie. For me, it was a Pretty Big Fucking Deal that the house stay within the Stander family. After much advocacy and a dangled financial carrot (we lost $40,000 on the transaction), we "sold" the property to my husband's sister. She and my husband's mother moved in together. And they stayed there for the next fifteen years.
Only now Catherine is officially old, and Mary Kay is no spring chicken AND she has bad knees and is looking at retirement (she's 63?) and wants a way smaller house, one she can manage, and to get that way smaller house, she's going to move into town. Louisville.
Which explains why the beautiful home sitting at 34410 Church Road in Louisville, Nebraska, is for sale.
What is not fully explained to me is why I care so much. I'm not the Stander. Yeah, I married one, but my (Irish-immigrant) McDowell blood still runs through my veins. I am a city girl through and through. I have zero desire to return to that house to live in it (nice to visit; wouldn't want to live there). Would be nice, I think, to keep it in the family ... if I had $305K lying around I'd buy the house and turn it into a writers retreat. There are private bedrooms with built-in desks and sweeping, panoramic views of the prairie. Sunsets are particularly gorgeous. A person could get a lot done staying in that house for a month, two months. There's no Starbucks, no nearby shopping Plaza to distract. There are several bars in town to get a drink-on, but that's to be expected. Small-town life generally features equal amounts of churches and bars.
So I'll play the lottery hard -- the old college try -- but I know it won't be long before a non-Stander comes buy and snatches it up. The property is certainly priced to sell, fast.
It really is a beautiful, expansive, spacious, comfortable house. One with 150-plus years of German immigrant history.
I wish it, and the next family to enjoy it, all the best.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Was I Drunk When I Mentioned Iowa?

It's snowing. Again.
Which brings to my Kansas City neighborhood, approximately a foot of the white stuff that is far prettier to look at than to navigate a two-ton vehicle around in. Is that grammatical, that sentence? I don't care.
Twelve inches of snow means my anxiety is high. Hypochondriacal thinking peaks right along with new mounds of snow: What if ambulances cannot get to me in time, supposing I fall over in the kitchen (myocardial infarction) trying to scramble the morning eggs? What if emergency personnel do arrive in timely fashion but then get delayed on the Interstate because Audis and P.T. Cruisers are sideways in the middle of the road. What then?
Twelve inches of snow means I am stuck indoors, freezing my cahunas. Not sure if I spelled that right. Don't care. It's friggin' cold in here. I have on two pairs of socks and furry indoor booties. I cannot feel my toes. Because of cold temps, my arthritis (assuming I have arthritis) in my left shoulder, left elbow, and left wrist acts up. I think, because I know probably too much about heart disease signs and symptoms, that this pain is of cardiac origin and there exists a real possibility that falling over in the kitchen isn't just hyperbole.
Twelve inches of snow means I am still in my pajamas and ratty robe, the one I bought for the hospital when I had Elizabeth ... in 1991. It is too cold to shower; it is too cold and snowy to venture outdoors. Why bother getting dressed. Right? I am torn apart with this thinking, however. If I should collapse in the kitchen while scrambling eggs, shouldn't I be dressed when the paramedics do arrive? Should I try harder to be prepared?
About five years ago, in casual conversation during a neighborhood get-together, in the midst of August heat (think 102 degrees), we fifty-somethings started talking about retirement and where we were going to land once and if we ever got a satisfactory price out of the homes we've been living in for the last fifteen to twenty years. Someone said Texas; another, Florida.
"Iowa!" I blurted. "Where it's winter more than it's not and it never gets over a hundred."
My husband, who started out on the Nebraska prairie in 1959, agreed. We looked at each other and nodded our heads. Yes, Iowa. We could see ourselves retiring there, out on some small green acreage, unburdened with city crime and air pollution.
The next morning, when we awakened, all cotton-mouthed and head-achey from the prior night's revelry, we remembered what we'd said. Iowa still sounded good to us. Field of Dreams was a mutual favorite. What's the famous line from the movie? Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa ... . We'd visited the film site already, taken a dozen pictures, run the bases that, really are, to this day, set up in the middle of a cornfield right there in blue-skied Iowa.
But that was five years ago and two dozen snowfalls ago, and now I have changed my mind.
That should be my prerogative, being a woman and all. Also, I am five years older and more arthritic and hypochondriacal. Retiring in snowy, ass-cold Iowa is not where I need to be.
Not Iowa. Not Nebraska. Not Missouri, unless we head south.
Kentucky. On this miserably cold day, I'm thinking Kentucky. And I'm not drunk, so maybe I'm on to something. Unless great change happens in my/our lives. Maybe one of our kids will get married, settle down, procreate.
And if that happens, I'm retiring to wherever the grandchildren are.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Grown-Up Accounting

So I'm trying to get life insurance. I want to leave some sort of financial legacy if I should kick it sometime soon, or, as is the case with my (proposed) twenty-year term limit life insurance policy, within the next two decades.
Although I've long thought about dying -- I'm a neurotic sort -- it's occurred to me, as I near fifty, that people my age do, in fact, die, and when someone dies at fifty, people shake their heads and say, Oh, so young, but it's not the same kind of head shaking that happens when someone eight or eighteen passes. Now THAT's tragic. For people my age, the body starts deteriorating: There's cancer. A lot of cancer. And sudden heart attacks.
Like many people who think about their deaths, and hope they get to be ancient and die in their sleep, without a conscious last-breath clue, I can easily picture myself, being visual and all, my own Last Day. There I will lie, in the Death-Is-Approaching Bed, all veiny and wrinkly and smelling of lavender and stale urine, a metal pitcher bedside filled with icy water. I picture beautiful music present in the background, something flute-y or piano-y or harp-y. And candles. Maybe incense. Ideally, I will be surrounded by my three children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Probably my husband will already be gone -- he's seven years older and prone to high blood pressure -- and I will not remarry should my sweet man predecease me, so it's with great likelihood that the people surrounding me as I die will be biological offspring. Maybe a sister or two. A cousin. Possibly, although this is a long shot, some long-suffering friends. (I am not a very good friend. Ask people who are friends with me. I never call or invite my friends over. They make an outing date and I say, Yeah, that sounds like great fun, but then that date approaches and I would rather take a bath or read a new book or roll around on the floor with my dogs.)
In my ideal death scenario, as my respirations decline slowly, slowly, slowly, I will see Jesus waiting for me at the end of that bright light we've all heard about, and there will be Mother Mary, in her beautiful blue robe, with her slender arms outstretched, waiting to receive me. On the sidelines will be my grandmother Dorothy, holding an enormous jar of dill pickles (this makes great sense to me); and my mom and dad, who will greet me with hot cups of coffee and an open Scrabble board, maybe even a Winston Red; and my Aunt Jannie, who makes me think always of pink cotton candy, I don't know why; and possibly my favorite teacher, Miss Pagna, who was the reason I taught school to begin with; and my husband, of course. My guy who loved me through all my neuroses and shenanigans and fluffy-cloud-unicorn thinking. He's going to be there, all strong and tall and smell-good-y. Also welcoming me will be all the dogs I've known and loved: Midge, Blackie, Fluffy, Barney, Taffy, Sunny, Bella, Millie ... and each will be freshly bathed, healthy and bark-y, but the good bark-y, not the annoying bark-y. They will dance around my feet and I will magically have endless peanut butter spoons to lay at their feet.
Heaven is going to smell like cinnamon rolls and espresso and a baby's neck, right after its bath.
Now, at age 48, I must prepare for my eventual passing, even though I desperately hope it's another thirty, forty, dare I say, fifty years away. I love life, I mean, I get a huge fucking kick out of being alive, and I sure hope there's more in store for me. I want symphonies and concerts and crab legs and black-tie dinners and Christmas Eves and ocean holidays. I'm greedy.
I want there to be more in store for my husband, too, and our three children, all of whom are adults and poor (the children, not the husband) because they have liberal arts degrees and have to pull espresso shots at Starbucks just to get health insurance. They are suffocating under enormous student loan debt, and it brings me great joy, therefore, to think that when I die I can bequeath money, enough to clear their frigging academic debt and maybe allow for a European vacation.
When I worked full time, I think I had a $100K policy. Now that I am not working, I have a $0.00 policy. The hubby carries $10K on me, which is enough to bury my corpse and/or cremate me (I'll let him decide should I die first) and maybe have a small get-together, but not enough to be preserved in a fancy coffin and/or urn suitable for important placement and then have cold shrimp served at my wake. I think it would also be nice to hire an improv comedy troupe to perform at my service. I have no idea how much that would cost. Do you? For sure, I want a readers theatre group, small in size, from the local high school (if such schools still exist when I die at 92, which is the age I've aiming for). I want the group to read portions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, concentrating on the part where the woman who died in childbirth exclaims, Oh Earth, does anyone realize how wonderful you really are? and then goes on to discuss hot baths and hot cups of coffee and new-ironed dresses.
If my Scrabble-playing parents were still alive, they would tell me that I am being perfectly ridiculous spending any time at all planning my death scene, funeral, and subsequent monetary plans. Possibly my father would be interested to know if I planned on having any George Jones music played at my service, but I know for sure that Mom would tell me, as she lit another cigarette an inch away from her oxygen cannula, that I was a person with a paper head and should spend my time instead making her a big bowl of tapioca pudding.
In about a week, I'll know whether underwriting approves my life insurance plea. I'll know how much money the policy will be worth; I'll know how much my monthly premiums will be. This, this I can intellectualize. I get it: it's grown-up accounting. Responsible living.
Why am I so anxious? It's not like I don't have a plan.