Road Trip!

A few months ago, I had written about planning a road trip for the summer, taking all four foster children and my dad with my husband down south to see one of our sons graduate from Army basic training. I had high hopes as the trip to Rochester went so well, minus Mother Nature’s temper tantrum. As you well know plans are meant to be changed, whether we want them to or not.

Plan A was all seven of us to make the trip. Plan B lost two. Plan C lost 4 but possibly gained one. Plan D had two of us going. We stopped trying to make a plan and whoever was ready to go when it was time to leave was going. It ended up being just dad and me. We would have 17 wonderful hours of driving, bonding and planning our time together. Whose bright idea was that?

It actually wasn’t too bad. We talked about the differences of planning a trip now versus 30, 40, even 50 years ago. You see, Dad has traveled this country more times in his 90 years than anyone I know. We figured he has probably been to, lived in, worked in or driven through every contiguous state. The first time he drove across the country was in the late 50s. His brother had gone to California to start his life and dad joined him. For a little while, anyway. Dad lived in many different states, working many different jobs and enjoyed his life along the way. He literally and figuratively traveled his own road.

Travel was much different back in the day. First, the gas prices were rock bottom. Dad seems to recall it was about a quarter a gallon. Yep. 25 cents a gallon. The cars were bigger too. Lincolns and Cadillacs were dad’s vehicles of choice. They were not small cars to begin with but it still cost a quite a few dollars to fill the tank. There weren’t as many cars on the road then as there are now either. Nor did they seem to go as fast as they can today.

As I listened to Siri on my iPhone tell me which exit to take and what road to follow, Dad commented how reading maps along the way was how he managed to get across the county for all those years. Folding and unfolding a two foot square paper while driving, mind you, to figure out where you were and where you need to be was not an easy task. And taking the wrong turn just one time ensured the same path the next time around. Dad had trekked the country so many times, he didn’t need a map.

We eventually made it to our destination – Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, to see my middle son graduate and spend a day or two with him. I also managed to work in a visit to a high school friend, who I haven’t seen in 25 years with a stop at her family’s restaurant, Gooch Bros Grill, for some great food and company. Not a bad way to spend a few days of freedom after all.

Random observations from 17 hours of road time:

No offense to Iowa and Missouri, but I-70 through those states is long and boring.

Great book or column ideas come to me when I am driving and no opportunity to write down any of them. (I must have written this column in my head a hundred times and what you are reading isn’t even close to most of them).

Miles and miles and miles and miles and miles of construction.

The same goes for photo ops I see along the way – a lone red barn and working farm mere yards from a new development of town homes and condos with a bright blue sky dotted with white fluffy blurbs of cotton clouds in the sky. I couldn’t draw something as beautiful. And I can’t draw to save my life.

The social phenomenon of wanting to see the fallout of an accident can and will cause a five mile back up of vehicles on the opposite side of the highway from which the accident originally occurred.

Every village/town/city I pass looks as though it would be a nice place to live. But knowing that I would get bored with whichever one that I choose keeps me going back to CNY. Plus I love the food here.

Did I mention construction?

Long rides give one plenty of time to reflect on the past, present and future. It’s like a mid-life crisis with each mile marker.

Along those lines, many one-sided conversations with others can be had inside one’s mind. The outcomes are always in my favor that way.

Traveling seems like fun for the first few hours. Then it’s too much like work.

A Scare For Me Part II

Apparently, when you enter an emergency department with a droopy smile and similar symptoms, people move. I was ushered into a room and several people were there almost waiting for me to walk in. The doctor took one look at me, listened to me speak and her diagnosis was Bell’s Palsy. She performed the protocols for a diagnosing a stroke – following her finger, squeeze her hands, push back on her hands with my arms then my legs, and I passed those fairly easily. I was sent to get a CT scan to further rule out a stroke. A little while later, I was on my way with some anti-viral medication and a steroid to alleviate the symptoms while the virus worked itself out. Answers. Relief. Good to go.

While we were waiting at the ER, we looked up all we could on Bell’s Palsy, of course. The wonders of technology make us all doctors. Sometimes it’s difficult to weed through the sites as to what is reputable and what isn’t. My go-to site has always been the National Institute of Health (www.nih.gov). It’s has always steered me in the right direction and has yet to fail me. Here’s what the site had to say:

Bell’s palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis. It usually affects just one side of the face. Symptoms appear suddenly and are at their worst about 48 hours after they start. They can range from mild to severe and include twitching, weakness, paralysis, drooping eyelid or corner of mouth, drooling, dry eye or mouth, excessive tearing in the eye and/or impaired ability to taste.

Scientists think that a viral infection makes the facial nerve swell or become inflamed. You are most likely to get Bell’s palsy if you are pregnant, diabetic or sick with a cold or flu.

Three out of four patients improve without treatment. With or without treatment, most people begin to get better within two weeks and recover completely within three to six months.

Although my symptoms were unnerving at the time, I am relieved that it wasn’t a stroke. But the explanation of Bell’s Palsy, to me, was vague. Where does this viral infection come from? Is it in our bodies, like the MRSA bacteria that can be present in our noses and on the skin without causing an active infection? The ER doctor said studies show the virus that causes Bell’s Palsy is part of the herpes virus family, also known for causing chicken pox, cold sores, and shingles, as well as the more well-known sexually transmitted disease of the same name. Those are only some results of the vast amounts of studies and research being done. More are being conducted to learn about the causes of Bell’s Palsy and other brain and other nervous system disorders.

In the meantime, I will be taking two different medications to reduce inflammation and swelling and an anti-viral to fight the infection. I will also be exercising my facial muscles to prevent losing muscle tone. I will be back to 100%. I have to. I have tons of stuff to do, columns to write, children to raise, a house to clean. After today’s scare, I am very happy to be able to clean my house.

A Scare for Me…Part I

The weekend was a fantastic weekend. We took the children to the Boilermaker 3 Mile Walk in Utica. We participated in the walk, gathered beads, met new friends and enjoyed our time together. We finished, gathered our congratulatory pins and picnic lunch and headed for home. The day culminated in a going away party for a friend’s son who was joining the military. More good food, some pool time, laughter and good conversation rounded out an already fantastic day.

Sunday, we had plans too. We were going to take in some of the sights and sounds of the Madison County Fair. We watched a talent show of young ladies with budding dancing abilities and dreams of winning the current competition and going on to the state championships. We saw tractor pulls and a magician wowed the children before the skies opened up again with a cold, pelting rain. We hurried home and settled in for a quick afternoon nap. That was my sign of things to come, I think.

I woke up from the nap rather cranky. I felt miserable in every part of my body. I figured it was because the short nap really was short but sent the warnings out in case it was PMS. (Around here, forewarned is fore-armed. If the warning was sent, proceed at your own risk). I had a pretty good headache and pain in my jaw. Chalked up one relating to the other and moved ahead. Yet, I still didn’t feel right all the way around. You know how when something feels off but you can’t pinpoint exactly what it is? I was there. I called it an early night as I was having a gastroscopy early the next afternoon and I wanted to be prepared. I also couldn’t eat anything after midnight, making me much more unpleasant than I already was.

So Monday morning rolls around and the headache is still there along with the jaw pain. It wasn’t as bad as the night before so I went ahead with my day. Begrudgingly of course, since I still couldn’t eat anything. The procedure went well and I was out of there in a couple of hours. Nothing earth-shattering, the procedure and results were routine. Any aches and pains or not 100% myself feelings were attributed to those events. Another early night for me with no real worries.

I fully expected to be back to my normal, super pleasant self on Tuesday but there were some weird things happening. First, when I ate or drank or tried to lick my lips, the right side of my face felt numb. Not a full on drooling from my lips numb but like just from the dentist Novocain wearing off numb. I wasn’t afraid just bewildered. I also could not form my lips to kiss the baby or to make raspberry noises to him. Again, odd but not alarming. The right side of my body still felt off throughout the day, I mentioned to my husband. He suggested to rest, maybe it was some side effects from the day before. I agreed and made it an easy day.

One more morning of puzzlement became cause for concern. I tried to form a kissy-face for the baby and I felt the right side not make the pout. I looked in the mirror and I saw my mouth droop. I tried to smile. I reminded myself of Two-Face from the Batman comics. One side was a beautiful, normal smile and the other side was flat. I watched myself pout for a kiss. My lips looked like a flat tire on one side. One eyelid seemed to hang over my eye. I showed my husband. He said we are going to the ER now. I wasn’t worried before but his worry made me pause. It can’t be a stroke, I thought; that is the left side. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to find out.

I Work From Home…I Really Do Work

I Work From Home….I Really Do Work

I am a writer and a real estate agent. The majority of my work for both jobs is done from home. Many people tend to forget that just because I am the boss and can do what I want, I still have work to do in order to provide for my family. And no matter how much I tell them that, most seem to forget.

As a real estate agent, some of my work is on the computer. Listing properties in the local MLS, placing ads in online forums and working social media contacts are all naturally performed online. But at least half of my work involves being out of my office quite regularly. I take photos of foreclosed properties for investors and give them my opinion of what it might sell for. It’s about three minutes of taking the actual photos but I spend of ton of time driving to get to these properties in addition to the research necessary to complete these orders. I show properties to buyers with their lists of wants and needs. Sometimes they think they know what they want until they get to the property and then it’s back to square one. Buyers (sellers either) don’t usually want to work with someone just over the phone or the Internet. They want a face to the name when they are discussing selling (or buying) their biggest investment. I also have to take photos of listings so that I can put those on the Internet.Paperwork can be signed electronically nowadays but you can’t replace a smile and a handshake.

As a freelance writer, I work from home. I may come up with ideas on the fly – in the car, at the grocery store, or in the shower. But 95% of those times, I don’t have a way to write them down right at that moment (if it isn’t written down right then and there, it is lost forever). But when it’s time to put those ideas to work for me, I will be sitting at my desk at home in front of the computer. Sometimes it doesn’t take me very long to pop out a column or a story. The flow works well some days. Other days, it’s like having ADHD/ADD. I start writing the story and another idea will come to me. So I have to stop, write that new idea down and maybe add to it so I will remember later what my train of thought was. The conductor on that train often leaves without me.

Many folks leave their jobs after the put in their eight hours but for freelancers that isn’t the case. If we take the afternoon to sit outside and enjoy the sun, we pay for it after dinner and bedtime for the kids. The house is quiet while we sneak in a few more hours of work that we weren’t able to get done. And that happens on rainy days too. There aren’t enough hours in the day for us either. We burn the midnight oil to

No matter what hat I am wearing or where I am wearing it, I do still work. Just because it’s at home does not mean I am not chained to a desk or have impossible deadlines. In order to get paid, I have to submit my work. In order to submit my work, I have to actually do the work. I can’t get my work done if others expect me to drop everything for them because they think I have the freedom and ability to do so. They cannot drop everything at their jobs so why should I be expected to? It’s difficult for people to see that work at home employees are still working. I may have the freedom they crave but I still have work to do too. Sure, I can get up and stretch or take a break when needed but those usually consist of household chores – clean laundry demanding to be folded and put away or dirty dishes imploring me to be cleaned before the next meal that I can see because I work from home.

Planning a Trip

Last month, my husband and I decided we wanted to take the kids to the Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY. Ron grew up back there, I lived there for a number of years and the festival was one of our favorite places to be each spring. We wanted to share that with our group of four foster children, ages eight to five months. We had visions of walking around Highland Park, tasting some of Rochester’s finest regional foods, including a Tahou’s Garbage Plate and imagining our children loving it all as much as we do. You can imagine on your own how it really went.

Let’s start with the drive. It’s about an hour and a half to two hours of road time with four not so seasoned travelers. I purposely bought an SUV with a DVD player for such long trips (again, the visions in my head are just wonderful). We collected an entire array of movies to keep the children occupied – from The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella to Iron Man and Transformers. Getting settled in the car, the first request was Iron Man. No problem. Popped it in and good to go, right? Not so much. Nobody was really watching it, as they were talking and talking and talking (parents of preschoolers know just what I am referring to). When I asked if they wanted the movie off, I got a resounding no then peace and quiet for 47.8 seconds. It was a long ride.

We didn’t get to Rochester at the time we had hoped to. A couple of stops on the way hampered that. Not a big deal. We checked in to the hotel and prepared to get something good for dinner quick before we headed to the park. We were sadly mistaken that it would be quick. Or good either, for that matter. We made a mental note not to go to that restaurant again as we packed the kids back in the car to head to the park. By this time we were really late to see the band we had come to see in the first place, Rusted Root. They are some of our favorite musicians and we wanted the children to experience them live as we had many times before. Cue Mother Nature.

We really did listen to the weather reports warning of drenching rains but we were openly wishing it wasn’t going to happen (again, like planning the perfect road trip with four children under the age of eight). It was raining somewhat when we got into town so we were still hopeful. But by the time we got to the park, it was raining a little harder. I really didn’t want to take the children in the rain so we drove as close as we could to listen to what was left of the show from the car. We enjoyed the last 15 seconds of “Ecstasy.” The kids got to see the crowd of people and hear the cheers for the band. Not as planned but a memory nonetheless.

With those plans rained out, quite literally, we decided to drive around the area and show the kids places we had lived, laughed, shopped and loved. The oldest one was impressed and the other two were attentive. Success for a peaceful ride! Still disappointed about the concert, I asked my husband to make it better. He knew just what I meant. A Tahou’s Garbage Plate. You can’t go to Rochester without having one. It would go against everything Rochester not to. And just so you know, a Garbage Plate really does make everything better.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad trip. Not a lot went exactly as planned but we made the most of it and Tahou’s did the rest. This was all a test run for our summer vacation trip down south at the end of August for 10 days. My dad will be joining us as well. I have visions of planning better, and of really listening to Mother Nature this time. No, I really do. I have to. There won’t be any Garbage Plates to fix everything.

A Lot On My Plate

I am a wife, mother, foster mother, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, aunt, and friend. Under each of those hats are more titles – maid, cook, referee, seamstress, dishwasher, dog walker and groomer, beautician, and appointment organizer extraordinaire. I could add butcher, baker and candlestick maker and become my own nursery rhyme. None of those include what I do for a living – writer and real estate agent. When you look at it that way, it sure does sound like a lot, doesn’t it? It is.

Not too long ago, two women, at separate times, made me feel angry and question why I do all that I do. Their tones were condescending when they said I have a lot on my plate and insinuated I could not do what extra I had offered to do. I wrote a pretty angry column that thankfully, Iheld on to for a little while. I think that I was more hurt that a woman could not be understanding and supportive of another woman who does what she needs to so that she may care for her family as she sees fit. I was mad as hell and wanted the world to know it. I am glad that I bit my tongue as that would have come back to bite me.

A couple of months ago, actress and businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow gave an interview to E! Online about making movies and being a mom. She set off a firestorm that fanned the already hot flames of working moms vs stay at home moms vs work from home moms. (Add dads in those categories as well, for that matter). She said it was more difficult to be a mom working 14 hour days for two weeks away from her family on a set as an actress as opposed to a mom who works a regular 9 to 5 job. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media lit up like a Christmas tree with angry moms and dads. How dare she compare being a multi-millionaire movie star to a mom who works 40 hours a week making considerably less than she does? What does she know about stressing over work all day, rushing home to get dinner on the table, children bathed and in bed early enough so they aren’t bears to wake up in the morning, in addition to doing the laundry, cleaning the house, taking care of the pets and all of the other things ‘regular’ people have to do in minimal amounts of time? She has the ability to have nannies, assistants, chefs, personal trainers, housekeepers, anyone else she may need to run her household smoothly. I freely admit I was one of those people who had a lot to say about her comments. And I certainly was not shy about doing so.

Then it hit me. I was being one of those women who judged me. I was judging Gwyneth for the choices she has made that works for her family as I was judged for doing what I do. Crap. I didn’t like it when it was done to me; I shouldn’t be doing that to someone else.

Why do we do that? Shouldn’t we, as women, stick together instead of competing with each other? We should be building each other up instead of tearing each other down for the choices we make. I have a certain dynamic with my children and family that probably won’t work for many others. And there are many other families who create memories and routines that work for their relationships and might throw my family for a loop. People are quick to judge and get so upset when they are judged. Guess that do unto others thing stings a little when it is done unto you.

I will do my best to be better about judging and complaining about what other women do with their families that I don’t do with my own. After I load the dishwasher. And run a load of laundry. And take the dogs out. And write next month’s column.

It’s Been a Year Now

I remember what I was doing at the end of last October. It was a rather regular time, doing rather regular things, complaining about rather regular happenings. Nothing out of the ordinary became a devastating time of my life with the loss of my mother.

I have good days and I have bad days remembering my mom. The good days, we share stories of my mom with extended family members and I can see the love she shared with all of us. Then there are days I wish I could call her just to talk and she isn’t there. Those are the bad days. Although Alzheimer’s took that opportunity from me a while back, I still longed to talk to her on the phone. I could still call and ask her how she was; she’d answer. She might ask how I was doing but not much more than that. She could still listen to what I had to say and listen she did! There were times I thought I was talking her ear off. But she sat there and smiled, nodding appropriately. We could sit at the kitchen table at breakfast and laugh like we used to when I was younger.

Once in a while, she come out with a statement that sounded like the old mom. She was asking me for the umpteenth time who the little boy with me was and who he belonged to. I’d tell her he was my foster son and had been with us for a while. She stared ahead and said, “I could never do that.” Do what, I asked, be a foster parent? “Yeah. I’d get too attached and wouldn’t give him back.” And that was it. The extent of that conversation was short but I understood mom’s feelings on the matter. Short but sweet, just like my mom.

Her headstone was finally put up this week. After several delays, some Mother Nature related and some human error, the stone that bears her name and designates her final resting place is in. I have yet to see it there. I did see a photo of it when it was made but I cannot bring myself to go there yet. I know that I will cry and I don’t want to cry anymore. I visit her every week; some days I am in tears as I pull in to the cemetery. Other days, I have lunch and just chat. This time will be different. There will be proof staring me in the face that mom is gone. The writing is on the wall, is what she used to say. The writing on that two-and-a-half foot slab of stone will tell the world that she is gone. I know that she is gone; I am reminded every day. It just seems like that will be a sting that I am really not ready to face.