Independence

“Think of all the FREE TIME you’ll have,” my well-meaning friends assured me when I confessed that I was devastated by moving out of my home.

Free time, I mused (while probably pooping). What a novel concept. Those two words fit together in my brain about as well as “Tom Greene” and “thong bikini.” While I’d heard about this “free time,” in the same way I’d heard about “anal sex” and “fun,” neither made any sense. Sure, I couldn’t recall the last time I’d been able to take a pee without the company of at least two humans and several cats vying for my attention and/or lap. Bathroom time was Happy Hour in my house and while it was somewhat awkward when there were guests afoot (who really wants to have to listen to someone else pee while a small child yells, “MOMMY FARTED?”)(Answer: not most people)(I assume), I’d grown so accustomed to it that whenever I stayed in a hotel, I needed some drab talk radio on to actually take care of business.

(what, me neurotic?)

So the nebulous concept of this “free time” didn’t really sink in as something someone would actually strive for.

And for months following my departure from Casa de la Sausage and my arrival at the FBI Surveillance Van, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Certainly, I had scads of time with which I could watch Mad Men reruns and fantasize about wrestling Don Draper in a vat of lime Jello, but it didn’t feel particularly… freeing. Instead (cue violins) it felt quite lonesome.

Starting over after a divorce – much like using the microwave – it seemed, was not, no matter how simple it looked on television, an easy process. In fact, I’d happily have shoved a porcupine up my snatch rather than start over.

Slowly, though, things, as they always do, began to change. I found a job. Then another. Then another still. Work kept me occupied and reminded me that while I may have felt like a steaming pile of dog vom, I had skills and I had the ability to take care of myself – two things I’d forgotten I possessed.

I began to reform old friendships and sought new ones. The times in which I was neither working nor taking care of crotch parasites began to fill. The formerly nebulous concept of “free time” became time in which I was able to do as I pleased with whomever I pleased – no one needed to know where I was or what I was doing at any given time.

My apartment, which had, in months prior, felt so empty without the giggles of my children, began to fill with laughter and love. I found myself laughing and smiling without the aid of a stunt double. My heart, once defeated, filled slowly with light.

Life, I finally was able to say (without fingers crossed behind my back), was going to be okay – no, it was better than okay. My life was finally becoming something I’d be proud to live.

And I am.

One year after my world fell apart, I’m still standing. The life I’d been so terrified to leave behind pales in comparison to the vibrant days I now live. Getting from there to here was, at many points, something I’d never thought I’d be able to do. So many days in between I didn’t believe worth breathing – dark, dark days, followed by even darker nights.

But now, today, my days and nights, they’re filled with laughter and love.

And my heart, well, it soars.

My Scale Has Borderline Personality Disorder

I’ve been doing a lot of Deep Thinking, which is not easy for someone like me. Even if gnomes hadn’t absconded with my brain and eaten it slathered with ice cream and sprinkles, I think the three children and chronic migraines would have done a number on it. (I strongly feel that gnomes have a sweet tooth. That is neither here nor there.)

I think that I have part of A Plan worked out, and I’ll tell you a bit more about it tomorrow.

I haven’t managed to accomplish much this week beyond “drink my weight in coffee,” which, if you knew what I weighed, you’d be a step ahead of me, because I don’t like to weigh myself.

I know you’re supposed to watch “trends over time,” and “not get bogged down in the details,” but that’s a steaming pile of bullshit. I’ve gained (and lost) 60-90 pounds with each of my three babies and I’m telling you, Pranksters, I get bogged down in the details every. fucking. time.

I’ll start on a diet, right? And because I’ve got a Glandular Condition (read: hypothyroidism) and, like I’ve previously stated, I’ve gained and lost a metric fuckton of weight with each of my babies, I know how to do it properly. If you want to lose weight, it’s simple: eat less crap, move your ass.

So I get all EYE OF THE TIGER for Week One. I run to the grocery store and stock up on egg whites and skim milk and edamame and yogurt I feel all smugly superior as I DELIBERATELY don’t buy any Uncrustables or Captain Crunch. I may even sneer in their general direction.

Because I WIN.

Instead of lazily refreshing The Twitter and my email all day while popping Junior Mints into my mouth, I get up off my ass and I vacuum. Snappily. I pump my three pound weights and I’m all, LOOKIT ME GETTING INTO SHAPE. I’M A WINNER, BITCHES. I eat eggs and drink protein shakes and I scoff at junk food. I’m SO OVER EATING JUNK FOOD BECAUSE I WIN AT LIFE. Painstakingly I document every single calorie I put into my body.

I spend hours thinking about how many calories toothpaste has. I buy new running shoes and a new sports bra because, well, I’M A FITNESS GURU NOW, Y’ALL. In the few moments I spend online, I research the best vitamins and herbal supplements for weight loss.

I practically skip to my first weigh-in, flexing my muscles, convinced that I’ve lost twenty pounds. My clothes fit better. I look Dead Sexy. I’m going to be in a bikini in NO TIME.

I’M A WINNER.

Smugly, I look at my reflection in the mirror as I wait for the scale to calculate how awesome I am. I wonder if I can, perhaps, develop a scale to measure awesomeness. I bet my Pranksters can help with that. They’re awesome. Like me. WHO IS AWESOME.

Blink, blink, blink goes the number.

It stops blinking.

I’ve gained three pounds.

Um.

What?

Huh?

I’M A FITNESS GURU. I EVEN BOUGHT RUNNING SHOES AND EVERYTHING. HOW COULD I HAVE GAINED WEIGHT WHEN I AM A FITNESS MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE?

It’s clear that my scale is broken. That’s the only explanation.

I test that theory by recruiting one of my children, the nine-year old, who can vividly recall what the scale had said twenty minutes before, and twenty minutes before that. He’d been weighing himself all week. Ah-HA! My inner Sherlock Holmes cried. It was clear to me that he had broken it.

Blink, blink, blink, the scale flashed.

60.8 pounds.

Exactly the same, he said happily, scampering off, leaving my crushed ego in his wake.

Well, I reasoned, standing there in the bathroom, my self-esteem plummeting, I was probably getting my period. I hadn’t looked at a calendar or anything, but it was probably just period bloat. Not that I normally turned into the Stay Puft Marshmallow man when I was surfing the crimson wave, but still. THIS TIME IT HAD TO BE.

Except no. When I thought about it, I realized that it was the middle of my cycle.

Okay, so maybe I had to poo. That had to be it! But just as I was comforting myself, I remembered that I’d had Chipotle hot sauce the day before and the lining of my colon had been stripped bare.

Well, uh, HM, I stood in the bathroom thinking: I probably should try and pee. Maybe it was all that Diet Coke I’d had to drink the day before. I pushed on my bladder with both hands, willing my kidneys to work harder, faster. After a couple minutes, I felt like I’d gotten rid of every ounce of extra liquid in my body. Hell, I probably looked all shriveled up and shit, like a particularly large and pasty raisin.

I got back on the scale. That had to be at LEAST six pounds…right?

Blink, blink, blink.

[exactly the same number]

How the hell was that even possible?

Didn’t the scale KNOW that I was on a DIET?

I flounce off to the computer to order a diet book. Because NOTHING scares a scale into moving the proper direction (down) more than a diet book. Also: I’m a FITNESS GURU. I’m going to MAKE IT. I’m a WINNER. My resolve is strengthened!

Week Two:

I drink lemon water the WHOLE NIGHT BEFORE my weigh-in to make sure that I’m not retaining any water. I’m so dehydrated by the time I wake up that my tongue is actually stuck to the roof of my mouth. I’d normally guzzle some coffee to unstick it, but I’m ready to get on the scale. I’M A WINNER.

I’ve lost two pounds! YAY!

Wait. That’s still a pound heavier than when I’d started this stupid diet. Um. That’s not so Winning-y.

I start trolling for diet advice and have found a mysterious quote that pops up over and over: “Remember, muscle weighs more than fat!!!” I spend an inordinate time wondering how the hell that makes any sense. Realize they are talking about density not weight.

I wonder how much hair weighs. Because if it weighs a lot, I may go all GI Jane.

I can do this. Deep breath. I WIN AT LIFE. Sorta.

When I’m not feeling a little deflated.

Week Three:

Have lost another half a pound. Still half a pound up from starting weight. I’d left the diet book in the bathroom where the scale can see it. Figured I could try bullying the scale into submission. I was quite sad to note that the diet book was proven ineffective at scaring scale into telling me that I’ve lost sixty pounds in a week.

I have now thrown diet book away for being bullshit.

Also: have looked into removing the heaviest of my unuseful organs. Have decided that the heaviest of my unuseful organs is probably my brain. That kid from Jerry Maguire said it weighed like 8 pounds or something.

That’s a LOT of pounds.

Week Four:

Have gained four pounds. Status: actively homicidal.

Also: looking into profit margins of a tapeworm farm. Healthier (and probably includes less jail time) than a killing spree. Possible Killing Spree Targets include everyone with discernible waistlines and perky people on The Twitter who only tweet about “loving (insert trendy form of exercise) OMG!” and “how much weight they lost this week LOL OMG BBQ STFU ASSHOLES FU SHOOT ME.” Also: the producers of The Biggest Loser for making anyone on a diet feel like shit for not losing weight more quickly (AND MORE SAFELY, YOU FUCKING FOOLS).

Weeks Five Through Elevnty-Niner-Infinity Times Three:

Diets are bullshit. My scale is an asshole. Jillian Michaels can kiss my dimply white ass.

I go back to refreshing The Twitter and my email thirty-five-niner times a day but continue eating less crap and moving my ass more. I’m just not so fucking cheerful about it. I’m nobody’s ray of fucking diet sunshine. Instead, I concern myself with trying to decide which version of Hair of the Dog is better: Nazareth or Guns and Roses.

Then, because the scale has Borderline Personality Disorder, it’s all, Aunt Becky! COME BACK, I LOVE YOU, GO AWAY, and the numbers finally go down without the aid of a tapeworm.

Which is fortunate. Parasites are so 1880’s.

Scales are Bullshit

Also: This picture had nothing to do with anything except that I found it when I was “organizing my desktop” (read: deleting old cactus videos).

Mother Thinks The Birds Are After Her

Despite my almost encyclopedic knowledge of Britney Spears* it comes as a shock to tell you, Pranksters, that my brain banks hold no information about birds. I take that back. This is what I know about birds:

They make noise.

Sometimes other animals eat them.

Orange cupcakes are the world’s most perfect food.

It is there that my knowledge of birds begins and ends.

So it came as a shock to me that one of my neighbors at the FBI Surveillance Van came up to me as I was devising a proper scheme to break the lock on the canoes sitting by the garbage cans and ascertaining how, exactly one might rob a liquor store and/or pawn shop while on a canoe.

Her: “The birds are attacking.”

Me: “AAAAH! Plausible deniability! I’ve! I didn’t rob anything yet! I PLEAD THE FIFTH!”

Her: (goggles at the crazy lady and takes several steps back)

Me: “uh, Ha-ha-ha. I meant, WHAT about birds?”

Her: “They’re attacking. I got hit yesterday.”

Me: (goggles, mouth open and catching river bugs)

Me: “But… but… birds are so cute and fluffy and now I want an Orange Cuppy-Cake.”

Her: “Every year, the complex sends out a warning when the birds begin to attack.”

Me: (stunned into blessed silence for once in my life)

Her: “Yeah. Sometimes a hat works. I used an umbrella last year.”

Me: (still sitting there with my mouth open)

Me: “….wow.”

Her: “So be careful! And get a hat!”

Me: “Thanks for the warning!”

She walked away, eying the trees suspiciously.

I dismissed her as being “crazy,” (which, as someone who’d been plotting to rob a liquor store using a canoe, is not exactly appropriate) and went about my day.

The following afternoon, I stepped outside, my mind full of such things as “I wonder if Bill Gates knows my orthodontist” and “do bands really set out to become “light rock” or is that just one of those unfortunate labels that gets stuck on bands who happen to use a rocking sax?” when, from out of nowhere, there was a loud buzzing noise and suddenly, my hair, which had been happily attached to my head, was now being pulled. Hard.

Whipping around, I noticed that there was a bird there, his mouth shaped into a sadistic smile. I whipped him the middle finger before yelping like a little bitch, figuring that flipping a bird the bird would have some sort of effect.

It did not.

Before the week was out, I’d been dive-bombed more times than my fingers could count and I’d begun to develop a nice bald spot where my formerly hair had once been. I looked like the before picture in one of those baldness infomercials.

Even worse than female baldness was the fact that I’d turned into this raving lunatic every time I ventured outside. Scanning the sky for Attack Birds I tripped on my own feet so many times that my knees turned black and blue and my palms had crisscrossed scars. Furtively, I’d scan the sky, flipping off rogue birds intent upon attacking my new bald spot when I realized that my neighbors were probably craning their necks to examine me for the marks left by the straight jacket.

I had to develop a new strategy.

I considered umbrellas, but decided that walking around with an umbrella during a perfect summer day would only further my neighbors conviction that I belonged not in the FBI Surveillance Van, but in  yee old Funny Farm.

I was left with one option. One kicky option.

Hats.

Kicky motherfucking hats.

And you know what, Pranksters? It WORKED. So what if I look like a tool in cat-hair encrusted sweatpants, a ripped tank top and a fedora? So what if I wore a poker visor out in public?

AT LEAST I WASN’T GETTING BALDER.

Soon, Pranksters, I’ll be the AFTER picture in that infomercial.

It’s only a shame Billy Fucking Mays won’t be there to jubilantly hawk my new hair.

*my parents are SO proud.

Exxxxtreme…Couponing?

Somehow, when my middle son, Alex was a wee fetus tap-dancing on my bladder, I was signed up with all of the formula companies to receive formula checks. These puppies were worth upwards of twenty bucks!

Considering I’d planned – and subsequently did – nurse the kid for a year, I was totally baffled by the coupons. It’s not like I’m particularly pro or anti formula feeding – I wouldn’t pull a PETA and throw balloons full of breastmilk at women who were formula feeding or anything – I’m neither that passionate about it nor would I have wasted the precious pumped milk I kept carefully stored in the fridge, then the deep freezer, because the kid ate. A LOT.

Anyway, those coupons (like the  got me a little hot and bothered in the same way finding an awesome new shower curtain) (mental note: find shower curtain) marked down 75% off does – I was saving MONEY on something I NEVER BOUGHT and oh EM GEE, the glory of it all!

I decided then that I would learn how to correctly cut coupons (like these awesome Vistaprint Coupons).

I’d always assumed that coupons were sort of a scam – I mean, I’d find myself cutting them, using them, only to realize I’d bought 76 bars of that soap that removes all oil from your skin and leaves you looking like a tree. I learned back then that there were a whole host of folks out there who did this coupon thing so hardcore that it made me and my piddly formula coupons look like child’s play.

I was going to BE! A! SMART! SHOPPER! I COULD TOTALLY DO THIS, I thought, AND PUT THEM ALL TO SHAME. But first, I need some kicky supplies. Off to The Target I went, armed with the notion that the next time I was there, they’d be PAYING me for my company and awesome couponing! I’d be a PRO at this shit! I mean, so what if I hadn’t slept in 95 days? I COULD BE A SAVVY SHOPPER.

I began going to my parents house under the guise of “visiting” so I could raid their Sunday papers and snitch the coupons. I mean, SAVING money by NOT buying a paper! I was winning at this ALREADY.

Carefully, with my new fancy scissors and my rad coupon binder, I began to cut out coupons for things I figured I’d need… eventually. I mean, EVERYONE needs thirty five bins of cornstarch! THICKENING STUFFS FOR THE WIN! I didn’t, of course, take into account that I used one tablespoon of cornstarch once every three months. I HAD A COUPON FOR A DOLLAR OFF TWO THINGIES OF CORNSTARCH!

And how could I forget the dog food? I could get a whole dollar off if I bought a completely different brand of food! So WHAT if that meant he’d decide to evacuate his bowels on my white (white!) carpet? A DOLLAR OFF! That was totally worth the piles of dog poo!

Except that half of the time I’d go up to the register, my cart full of crap I didn’t actually need, the coupons were expired and shit, the baby was screaming (again) and I didn’t want to be THAT person who demanded to remove all the items that were supposedly couponed.

Coupons: 1

Aunt Becky: 0

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t cut out (har-dee-har-har) to be a couponer. Not only was I too tired to be organized, the time I spent scouring the Internets for coupons I didn’t have the capacity to print could’ve been better spent, well, watching paint dry or grass grow. It’s not that I needed more practice, it’s that I SUCKED at trying to keep it all organized. I’d blame that on the squalling baby, but really, it was my problem.

Any way I cut it, I was NOT destined to be an extreme couponer.

With all of the things going on in my life, I realized that it was probably time to start really learning how to use coupons again. Half the reason I put that widget on my blog was to remind myself to actually learn to properly use coupons to save money. Without a dog to poo on my new white (white!) carpets or a squalling baby to keep me all night, every night, I anticipate that I can (probably) do a little better this time around.

Which is why I’m asking for your help, Pranksters. YES YOU.

Any advice or suggestions for about extreme couponing? What do I need to know? Where are my pants? Do you have a coupon for my pants?

————–

I’m going to combine what I learn over here, on my Life on the Frugal Side blog, where I keep tips and deals for living more frugally (mostly for myself since I lose stuff all the time).

If’n you have a good idea and want to write a guest post for the Frugal Side, don’t hesitate to email me becky.harks@gmail.com.

P.S. Sorry my site is so janked up – I’m trying some different stuff to see what looks good and apparently, I am NOT someone who should be doing that. Kinda like couponing. EXCEPT I WILL LEARN YOU, COUPONS.

TICKle Me Alex

“We live in the park!” is the brightly canned response I give my kids whenever they’re stuck staring at a mountain of gleaming green goose poo or shrieking about spiders daring to breathe in their direction (side note: do spiders practice aerobic respiration? I DO NOT KNOW).

I’m not exactly lying to them, unless you add in the two parking lots because I’m pretty sure parks don’t have parking lots, despite the interchangeable names; I’m just sort of… bending things. I mean, yes, the reason I flipped out during FLOODGATE 2013 was partially due to my proximity to the river (8-9 feet) and the proximity to the park behind The FBI Surveillance Van… *ahem* the FLOODED park mere feet from Your Aunt Becky’s front door.

*in high-pitched, I-just-got-kicked-in-the-balls-voice* But who’s counting? (answer: me)

While my idea of “roughing it” involves having to walk more than three feet to an ice machine and staying at a hotel that does NOT have twenty-four hour room service in which I can order my waffles and coffee brewed from beans the magical unicorns fart out (see also: hotel coffee = expensive), I don’t actually mind living in a park. Beats the SHIT out of saying, “I live in a van down by the river” along with something about “government cheese*” which would be a great name for a rock band, if’n you think about it.

Completely pointless sidebar: do you, o! wise Pranksters, think that any band starts out with the objective of being dumped into the “light rock” category to be played by orthodontists everywhere? THESE are the things that keep me up all night long *guitar solo*.

Alas, I digress.

While you won’t find me within ten miles of a campground for fear that a motley band of rogue campers will attack me and take me hostage AT aforementioned campground until I finally crack and tattoo I HEART CAMPING on my ass, I do enjoy nature. So long as it isn’t in my living room.

When I first moved into the FBI Surveillance Van, my upstairs neighbor warned me about the spiders that dare to weave webs SOMEHOW BREATHING in our vestibule and how he’d occasionally pull down the webs in such a tone that I knew the appropriate response was to shriek and possibly throw something out of panic. I didn’t. He was visibly disappointed.

What I didn’t bother explaining that, as a former waitress who once worked summers at an outdoor fancy gazebo, slinging Honey Brown and wearing dryer sheets to protect my allergic ass from bees, we were daily assigned tasks to complete before our shift. Several hours we spent at a whopping two bucks an hour getting our gazebo ready for business. One of these tasks was a duty we called “cobwebbing.”

The server stuck cobwebbing would bemoan her fate to the rest of us who were MORE than happy to be brewing iced tea and wiping down tables in preparation for the inevitable onslaught of people who wanted to get drunk and feed the carp bread for amusement.

Cobwebbing became a thing the night that my former friend Mikey decided to tell a woman who’d noted that there was an unsightly stain on her cheeseburger that it was “spider poo.” Whether or not spiders shit, I don’t know. The spiders could’ve been spitting on us, crying spider tears for their slain kin, or, as Mikey so tactfully pointed out, flinging poo on us. We can’t be sure.  All I know is that from then on, one of us had to grab an ancient broom with a handle so frayed it would leave us blistered and splintered, and begin to sweep the cobwebs from the top of the gazebo.

Not a terrible job.

That is, if you don’t know what happens when you remove a spider’s home.

(for the uninformed: they get pissed and fall all over you and crawl up your shit)

I quickly got over any fear of bugs after slinging beers and burgers for several summers there (mostly)(okay, earwigs are still fucking minions of Satan). This also would be why I didn’t give my cobwebbing neighbor a medal or something.

The only bug that has remained both mysterious and full of the awful was The Tick.

Not only is that motherfucker creepy looking, it also carries Lyme Disease which is one of those things you do NOT want to have. While the name is fairly innocuous – cute, even – the effects are not. I’ve known people who’ve died from Lyme Disease and that does NOT even include my fake dead cat Mr. Sprinkles. Earwigs, sure they’re creepy, and spider bites can get kinda gnarly, but The Fucking Tick of Doom? You do not want to piss off The Fucking Tick of Doom.

Early Sunday morning, my kids were climbing all over me, trying to get me to wrap them in bubble wrap and let them roll around in it, and because I am both lame and boring, I explained that we simply did not have ENOUGH bubble wrap to attempt such tomfoolery.

“Mooooom,” Alex said, exasperated by my acute onset boriningness, “Can’t you go to the store and pick some up?” While this was a good idea and a sure-fire way to have some fun, it was a quarter past Let Mommy Sleep Until The Sun Rises and I was in no mood to track down an industrial amount of bubble wrap.

“I need my coffee, Al.”

Mimi poked her head up and calmly informed me, “I drank all your coffee, Mama.”

I groaned. “Was it good, at least?” She nodded her head vehemently reminding me, once again, that one cannot drink coffee through osmosis.

I turned to Alex, sitting to my right attempting to hack my i(can’t)Phone when I saw it.

No, not the ear boogers I’m normally on the hunt to remove.

It was a fucking tick.

In my kid’s ear.

There was a fucking tick in my kid’s ear.

The one child who will kick the ass of anyone who dares speak ill of his Mama is terrified of bugs. And no, it can’t be some weird childhood fear: we’re talking Phobia Country.

I used my superior memory of completely pointless acronyms to access the one that serves me best: IPDE (Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute)(TEN AND TWO, GODDAMMIT, REBECCA! AND WHERE ARE YOUR FUCKING PANTS?) and not the one that has never served me well, ever: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.

I had to get the fucker out of his ear before he saw what, in fact, had been crawling around his poor ear canal and before the fucker decided to make Tick Babies in his ear or some shit. I did the only thing I COULD do in such a situation: I pinned him down, teased him about an ear boogie and pulled the still-squirming The Fucking Tick out of his ear canal while I dry-heaved into his hair. I levitated to the bathroom to kill The Fucking Tick of Doom, trying to recall what one must use to kill The Fucking Tick of Doom without alerting children that there was an actual problem.

Bleach! I can use BLEACH! That shit is AWESOME! I patted myself on the back for thinking so quickly on such little coffee. But try as I might, no amount of bleach killed The Fucking Tick of Doom and I didn’t want The Fucking Tick of Doom to make Fucking Tick of Doom Babies in my drain, so I dusted off the neurons that held the information I so needed.

Oil.

I can use oil to kill The Fucking Tick of Doom.

I scampered into the kitchen, pleased to note that my children had not, in fact, noticed anything awry and were intently working on hacking into my electronics, and grabbed a Ziplock baggie. Back to the bathroom I dashed, bag in hand, ready to execute The Tick of Doom for DARING to crawl NEAR my child.

I picked up the still-squirming Tick of Fucking Doom, holding back the urge to heave, and dumped his bleach-covered ass into that baggie. Then, I grabbed some of that oil you’re supposed to put in your hair to make it shiny but usually makes it end up looking like you shellacked your head and squired that fucker down. Then, I closed the baggie, making sure The Fucking Tick of Doom was submerged in the oil.

It worked.

I had successfully slayed my first Fucking Tick of Doom.

*Not entirely sure if this is actual cheese or a pasteurized processed food-like product or something that Dick Cheney invented when he was hungry one day.

Dear Bleach: You Complete Me

This was sorta a sponsored thing, but I’d have done it for free because THAT is how deep my love for bleach is.

Despite now having three children, becoming an Infection Control nurse, and having the not-so-insane-(probably) desire to return to school to become a virologist, I’m not particularly germaphobic. I mean, I’m not exactly begging for germs to come into bed with me and make germ babies, but I am pretty laid back when it comes to Teh Germs.

See Pranksters, even knowing full well that I don’t usually WANT to know where that thing the kid is shoving into his mouth has been, I’ll admit it: I’ve allowed all of my children to crawl around on the floor without washing it first, I let dogs lick their faces, and I consider “washing a pacifier” to be throwing it into my own mouth for a couple of seconds. I own a thing of antibacterial hand sanitizer for those particularly disgusting stink-a-palloza (a term normally reserved for the scent of particularly badly cooked fish) diaper changes, but I often forget to use it unless it’s a true craptastrophe.

Despite all of that. Despite being raised by hippies whose idea of “cleaning” involved some patchouli-scented spray that ended up gumming up entire surfaces. Despite the “germs are our friends… sometimes” mantra I chant after I watch the dog eat his own excrement, I have a confession to make.

Ready?

Hold your breath, Pranksters. This is gonna be a shock.

I love, love, LOVE bleach. If I was allowed only one cleaning product for the rest of my life bleach would be it. Between the cats with worms and the kid who cannot seem to manage to pee sitting down, yet lacks the attention span to actually aim his urine at the gigantic gaping porcelain god, bleach and I are BFF. No, it’s DEEPER than that. I love bleach like I love oxygen. I’d marry bleach if I could be certain I wouldn’t inadvertently mix it with ammonia while cleaning the craptastrophe under my kid’s bed.

(Hey, I never said I was smart)

My love of bleach, though, it’s now bordering on obsession. Suddenly I want to dip the baby in bleach after his diaper explodes. I have to stop myself from following both Ben and Dave around with a spray bottle of bleach. I’ve considered bathing in bleach because I love it so very much. Instead of sprinking sage or whatever it is new-age people do around a house, I’d happily use bleach-scented air freshener if I didn’t think it would squick people out.

THAT is how I feel about bleach.

When Clorox asked me to come up with some words to describe occasions in which I’d use bleach, I was all, “WHERE DO I BEGIN?” and started writing a sonnet. But they got specific: they wanted SILLY words to add to their Clorox Icktionary not an ode to bleach.

I came up with two: stinkapalloza (overcooked fish) and craptastrophe (pile of crap under my kid’s bed). Because, well, obviously.

Anyway, it’s a good thing I’m in therapy or I’d (still) be standing on the side of the road with a big “I HEART BLEACH” sign. We all know how THAT turned out.

(answer: straightjacket time)

Blah, blah, blah disclosure time:

“This blog post is part of a paid SocialMoms and Clorox blogging program. The opinions and  ideas expressed here are my own. To read more posts on this topic, you can totes click here.”

Wordplay

Some fifteen(ish) years later, I can’t help but hear the voice of my father screaming at me every time I use my turn signal, “SIGNAL YOUR INTENT, REBECCA” followed generally by some nonsense about “AND PUT ON A FUCKING PAIR OF PANTS, DAMMIT” because that’s the way my brain works: it remembers odd turns of phrase and holds them captive in some random corner of my mind that could be better used, oh, I don’t know, LEARNING HOW TO MAKE COFFEE?

But no.

Alas no.

Shamefully, no.

(stands up holding cup of lukewarm coffee in Styrofoam container and announces:)

My name is Becky, I’m 32 years old, and I can’t make coffee.

(Hi Becky!)

However, I CAN remind you (loudly) to SIGNAL YOUR INTENT to other drivers, which has always made me giggle: what if my intent was to flash them or whip donuts at old people? Is there a special signal for THAT because my turn signal doesn’t seem to do much beyond blink stupidly.

Nevertheless, I DO signal my intent every fucking time I turn, which means that somewhere along those years in which my father remains convinced I didn’t listen to him, I actually DID listen to him.

Goes to show you never can tell.

A couple of weeks ago, when the rains came and the river engorged, I checked the forecast on my i(can’t)Phone as I was dressing for work, figuring we were probably due for a tsunami or something. I learned that while we were NOT experiencing an earthquake, fire, tornado, random flinging of fish or *waves hand* some OTHER horrible disaster, we WERE under a flash-flood warning.

Which, no shit, Sherlock. The river looks as pregnant as half my Facebook feed.

I continued reading what the National Weather Center had to say about this particular warning, wondering if this here part of the Fox River was to be submerged that day. Turns out, not that day, but it did give me a particular bit of wisdom I can’t get out of my head for the life of me.

This message informed me that in the event that I should encounter a standing body of water on the road, rather than say, “Wow, my car needed washing anyway!” and truck on through, I should instead “Turn around. Don’t drown.”

I can’t tell you why this stuck with me long enough to tell my coworkers about it a couple of hours later (and, I should add, not having encountered any bodies of water on the ground or elsewhere), but it did. It’s not a particularly funny statement – the idea of drowning in a car is fucking freaky as fuck – and it’s not even a particularly useful statement.

I mean, SIGNAL YOUR INTENT can be applied to just about everything you do, ever…

Wanna go on a date? SIGNAL YOUR INTENT.

Want to eat? SIGNAL YOUR INTENT.

Want to lounge around in your underwear? CLOSE THE BLINDS, THUS SIGNALLING YOUR INTENT.

…but “Turn Around. Don’t Drown?” I can’t come up with a single other instance in which those words, in that order, would tumble from my mouth.

My coworkers seemed similarly befuddled by the sentiment and I vowed to cross-stitch it on something, well, if I cross-stitched anything ever, which I am pleased to say that I do not. We also told one another as we passed in the halls, “Turn around. Don’t drown,” for no particular reason whatsoever.

This morning, one of my coworkers frantically ran into my office, and, not noticing that I was in the midst of a particularly important conference call, practically screamed, “THEY’VE EXTENDED THE THUNDERSTORM WARNING UNTIL 12:15!”

I craned my neck to look outside, thought, “yup, sure is dark out there,” before shrugging at her and returning to my call. It’s April in Illinois. Thunderstorms are as omnipresent as deep dish pizza and a deep abiding hatred of Wisconsin.

Once I hung up the phone, I decided that I probably SHOULD see what sort of weather I was going to have to deal with some 9.5 hours later when I decided to leave Not Chicago. The Weather Thingy told me that St. Charles DID have… not 4. Not 5. But SIX entire warnings and not a DAMN one of them about the fish.

 (won’t someone think of the fish?!?!)

I clicked on each of the six blinking advisories to see what would ACTUALLY apply to me and, upon scrolling down through the “you’re probably gonna wanna get the balls outta there,” I noted something. Something major.

“Hey Ames,” I said to my coworker who happens to have the misfortune of sharing an office with me.

She put down her paperwork and looked at me, “Yeah?”

“THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE THINGY DOESN’T TELL ME TO DO WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO DO.”

She blinked at me.

“What do I do if I encounter still-standing water on the road? DOES THAT MEAN IT’S TIME TO WASH MY CAR AND/OR SHOW OFF MY MAD OFF-ROADING ABILITIES?”

She blinked again.

“Duh,” she said. “TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN.”

And just like that, I lost my ability to retain any new phone numbers so that TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN can forever live in my subconscious*.

That’s bullshit.

*And yours too!

And Whispered To Her Neighbor, “Winter is Dead.”

It took me by surprise.

In part, I’m certain, because I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off for three months running (which, I should add, always gives me the delightful impression of a severed human torso running around with feathers stuck in it’s puckered pooper)(you’re welcome), and in part because I’m readjusting to my new life.

Lemmie back up, for those of you not playing along at home: the weather here in Chicago is one of two seasons:

1) Ass hot

2) Ass cold

3) Construction

(I wasn’t so good at mah maths)

Collectively, we refer to them as “ass” which, in a nutshell, is accurate but couldn’t be farther from the truth of what Chicago really is. We’re a great city, we love our cheeseburgers, passionately cheer for our favorite sports teams (North SIIIIIDDDDEEE) whether they’re winning or not, and we’re a loyal bunch. It may take time to win us over, but once you have, we’re yours for life.

Which is why we all still live here, despite the temperatures fluctuating from ass to, well, ass.

The winter had been mild, as far as Chicago winters go, until the endless snow began in January. And February. Then March, that wily whore, decided to get in on the snow action. In April, naturally, the rains came.

I should stop to mention that the only reason I noted the rain was because I have moved from higher ground to on the motherfucking river (not, I should clarify, to be confused with “Rolling on the River” because I’m pretty sure that the Fox River is not the river of which Ike and Tina sang), which, naturally, is in a valley, which means that when the river gets high, my pooper puckers alarmingly. In the six months I’ve lived here, I have to admit that I’ve grown quite fond of the FBI Surveillance Van and would, therefore, hate to see it underwater.

I should’ve been annoyed today. My i(can’t)Phone was broken, which meant that the fancy whoodilly on my dashboard that allows magical gnomes to play my digital music over my radio would not be working. Which left me with two radio stations: The Badger* and some SUPER Christian station that’s always damning someone or another to hell. While occasionally amusing, I was running late for therapy because while blogging is SORTA like therapy, therapy is pretty awesome and allows me to flex my narcissistic muscle for upwards of an hour.

It had been a long day in Not Chicago, and while it was a good one, I was annoyed that I’d let myself do “just ONE more thing” before realizing it was time to scoodledoo, and OMG if I’m late, I’ll probably FAIL or something *whines* and and and and

That’s when it hit me.

Instead of being annoyed by the mountains of “white” snow, which I call “Chicago white” because they’re grungy and gross by April flanking the country road I take home, I was smacked in the face.

The world, well, it had woken up.

I cracked my window, preparing for some sort of weather incident in the car (I was imagining tornado, but it’d have probably been an ice storm, just for kicks), just because, well, obviously, and there it was. The wind blew into my car, smelling of fresh earth and new beginnings, reminding me, once again, why I pink puffy heart springtime in Chicago: the possibilities that yawn before us truly are endless.

The farmland that follows my merry way home had somehow transformed – where there had, just yesterday, been miles of yawning Chicago White sludge, I could see vast acres of green miles into the distance, peppered occasionally by crisp red barns. The robins, fluffy and fat on the earthworms the rains had dredged up looked fatter, more healthy and more determined than I’d seen them in many years.

An endless parade of people seemed to exit their homes to busy themselves, helping their bit of earth to wake up and coax their flowers into blooming, all of us pasty white from this unbearable, endless winter. They stood as I drove by, hands in the air, waving hello. I waved back like a lunatic, probably preventing them from ever attempting to wave at any stranger, ever, but I could tell they felt it, too.

The world was waking up.

The endless winter had, at long last, passed.

And the possibilities, well, they are endless.

*I can’t make this shit up.

All That You Won’t Leave Behind

“Where’s Dad?” a teenage Aunt Becky asked, mouth half-full of toast. I don’t quite know why I’d asked, it was a day ending in “day” so the answer was always the same.

“Making copies,” my mom said, distracted by the huge puddle of piss my dumb-as-a-stone-but-sweet-as-fuck dog had left on the floor in outrage at very notion that a chair would be moved without her oversight. I’d neatly stepped around it, thereby pretending it didn’t exist and therefore not tasked with “pee removal services.”

I headed out of the room, and using my most annoying voice, mimicked that SNL skit with Rob Schneider that was funny for about four seconds (this particular usage neatly using up one of those seconds), which no one seemed to realize, “Makin’ copies.”

Quite literally, I ran into him as I made my way back to my room to “put on some goddamned pants, Rebecca,” which I knew would be the first thing out of his mouth when he returned from his errand. His remaining three hairs on his head were standing straight up, his hands full of several reams of paper and a bottle of super pricy clear nail polish, he rushed, “I just had to make some copies” as he skittered up the stairs as though there was a real emergency, not just a frantic need to file papers.

Those same three hairs flapping in the breeze, he flew up the stairs, gasping, “I gotta nail appointment in 20 minutes,” to no one in particular.

I just laughed – that’s my father for you.

Earlier in the year, inspired by the windsong or the pattern of the sun on the hardwood floors or because he wanted to be a hip, cool dad, not just some guy who looked like a pharmacist, he’d managed to take up a hobby. Sweet, right? Everyone should have a hobby.

But this is my dad we’re talking about. My dad takes everything to eleven.

In an effort to increase his coolness factor or reclaim his long gone days as a rock-n-roll guitarist*, he took up classical guitar as his hobby, as my mother had put an end to the “annoying her” hobby he was so very fond of.

What began as a relatively benign hobby soon turned into… I suppose if’n you wanted to wrap it up in a nice fancy bow, you could call it an obsession, but it was more than that. Much more.

Not long after he bought his first classical guitar, painstakingly procured after months of deliberation appeared a second classical guitar. When asked about this mysterious need for two classical guitars (two dueling banjos I’d have expected, you see) came about, I asked him, “why the fuck would someone with only two arms have two guitars?”

“Well Rebecca,” he explained, without taking his eyes off the sheets of notes that he’d been playing and replaying for approximately twenty-niner years (but in reality had only been fifteen or so minutes), “I needed one to take with me on vacation.”

As though THAT explained it all.

I backed warily out of the room, more than a little afraid of him.

Soon, he was deforesting entire rainforests with the copies he’d make of various and sundry sheet music, the only person I’ve met who enjoyed visiting Kinkos on a daily basis. He’d file his sheet music in such an order not even the most well-seasoned librarian could understand, always happily tearing down yet another rapidly shrinking rainforest somewhere.

My mother and I simply shook our heads, baffled and somewhat bemused by his “hobby.”

One day, he caught me after school, and fearing one of his dreaded sixteen hour long lectures about taking his three-hole punch from his office, I backed myself into a corner, hoping I was wearing comfortable enough shoes to stand there for as long as he needed to hammer whatever point he was about to make.

“Rebecca,” he asked frantically. “Where do you get your nails done? I broke one of these fucking nails and I need it repaired immediately.”

My mouth dropped open.

I looked down at my hands which had been painted a soothing shade of “fuck you in the eyeballs pink” and said, “um, Dad? I do them myself.”

“I’ve GOT to get the name of Jim’s nail guy,” he said as he hurried frantically off. Jim, I knew, was the eccentric man who gave my father classical guitar lessons many times each week.

But getting his NAILS done? This was going a bit far.

Hours he’d spend each day carefully tuning and retuning his guitars, making sure that he had not only the top of the line guitars, but the top of the line gear. I played concert cello for many years and never even dreamed of some of the equipment he’d happily purchased to feed his obsession. He’d play a fragment of a song over and fucking over, trying to get it JUST right.

Music, it turned out, was HIS passion, too.

Until one day, just as frantically as his hobby had begun, he simply… stopped.

No more Kinkos trips. No more meticulously filed nails. No more lessons. No more “same three chords” coming from his office at all hours of the day and night.

He was, as it turned out, done. I never did quite learn why he’d stopped; why his love affair with his guitar was over – if, as I’d always joked the guitar was my father’s mistress, they’d had a falling out or something. I can’t even tell you if he knows.

He was just done. Quietly and softly, he was done.

In February of this year, I found a job in the most unlikely of places, a place I call, “Not Chicago,” for reasons that should be obvious**. The job as EVERY LINT PICKER-OFFER should know, was a serious one, and I didn’t know that I’d be able to continue to use my words in a manner in which I felt comfortable. With all the “write about this, not about that” bullshit flying around, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to use my words any longer.

I was tired of inadvertently hurting those around me; weary of the games people play. I’d begun to use my words as a hobby – to connect with people I’d never normally meet, to use my words and tell my story in my way. I have.

But I’d begun to feel like a dinosaur – I’m a PR intern’s worst nightmare – I have a mouth that rivals any sailor, I’m purposefully inappropriate, I’m snarky, and I don’t give a fuck. I never wanted to be a “brand,” I just wanted a space to fill with words.

In July, the sky fell and the darkness took over. I continued to blog, although my heart wasn’t in it.

I began to wonder if I was, as everyone always claims, truly my father’s daughter. That I’d take a hobby once loved more than butter and simply… stop. I wasn’t certain.

The turning point came, I think, when a group of people attempted to find my new employer to attempt, one can only ascertain, to fuck with my job as a LINT PICKER-OFFER TEAM LEAD. I am a public person, but I do have a private life that I am allowed to have, and if it was a matter of keeping my job or keeping my blog, I knew which one had to go.

So, much like my father, I simply stopped, assuming I had, in fact, used up all my words.

I was, as it turns out, happily wrong. Turns out life? Not an either/or equation. It’s time to go back to basics – tell my stories in my way on my time in the hope that I can make friends and connections I wouldn’t otherwise have the pleasure of knowing.

I may have had to rebuild my life, but I’m not doing so without my words.

While I will always be my father’s daughter, I have something he never did: I have my words.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, I have a Band of Merry Pranksters, without whom, I can’t say for certain I’d have survived Skyfall.

And those? Those I won’t leave behind.

*As far as I can tell, my father never rocked, nor did he roll, unless it was completely by chance.

**It’s Not Chicago.

Music Is My Nature

Today, Pranksters, I share not my story, but the story my son, Ben, tells. To give you some background as to why this story matters, I suggest reading this and this first.

And now, Pranksters, I give you my firstborn son, Ben.

Music has always been important to me.  Somehow, I never got the chance to really shine with my violin, until 5th grade.

The day before the concert, I was practicing and giving my mom, dad, and brother a concert. During my last song, I finally did the last bit of the song right. I played it right, it sounded right and it felt right.

After I played the last note right, my mom, dad, and brother clapped loud – my dad even whistled with his fingers.

“Great Job! Ben!” My Mom exclaimed.

“Yah! Ben! Amazing Job!” My Brother agreed.

Then my Mom said something I will never forget. “Ben… you have amazing talent, I will say! But… it’s up to you what you do with it!”

I will never forget those words.

I finished my practice and went up to dinner, wondering what those words meant.

The next night was my big concert. I was getting ready – I put on my pale-yellow dress shirt, my pants, my socks and shoes. “I’m busy as a bee,” I thought to myself. I grabbed my violin and went downstairs.

“Break a leg!” my Mom said encouragingly.

“Good Luck!” my Brother exclaimed.

“I’ll do my best” I promised, then grinned. We went out to the car and I got in. I was really nervous. Nervous as a Scardy Cat. My hands were shaking. The whole way to the auditorium, I thought about what my Mom had said. When we got to the building, my mom and dad whispered, “Good luck!”

I whispered back “Thanks!”

They went and sat down in their seats as I went to warm up with my group. My Orchestra Teacher gave us a pep talk before wishing us good luck. We got on stage and I craned my neck to look for my parents. As usual, I don’t see them beyond the stage lights. Our music teacher talks for a bit; her last words were “These guys have worked really hard. I hope you enjoy their music and thank you for coming out here tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen the 5th grade Orchestra!” she exclaimed.

We started to play. I played better than ever; I played perfectly for the first song. The second song, I’d played better than the first. During the last song, I remembered my mom’s words “It’s up to you what you do with your talent, Ben.”

So I tried to show of my talent to the world. When I was done playing, I felt like a new person. I knew music was my real talent. The audience went wild, so wild you couldn’t even talk without somebody yelling “What?”

We bowed and I think I even saw my dad wink at me. If, of course, that was my dad.

We came back after the applauding, screaming and going wild. My family congratulated me. I knew my mom knew that I knew that music was my talent. We celebrated over McDonald’s that night.

The Ben that walked into the auditorium was different than the Ben that walked out. I had accomplished something I thought I couldn’t do. I thought so many doubtful things. I was so nervous that my hands shook. But now? Now I know that…

Music is me. Music is in my blood. Music is my nature.

And THIS is why we’re taking a trip to NashVegas this summer, just the two of us. It’s time to teach my son the history of music.