Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Way it Turned Out

So, somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain lives this alternate life I started living back in my 20s, where I spend languorous Sunday mornings, sleeping in a bit, reading the New York Times Entertainment section or a good book. There's coffee brewing, a light breakfast. In good weather, I'm sitting in jammies on a porch, enjoying the early-morning light with a certain European sensibility that usually involves croissants. In the winter months, these mornings are spent indoors, perhaps a fire in the fireplace, and always, a great cup of coffee. Back in the day when I worked at a video store, I had a customer a lot like me now--same age roughly, same build, brunette... she said she liked to rent movies to watch Sunday morning while having coffee and breakfast in bed. What a great idea!! I often think I'm actually going to achieve these mornings. Some day.

In reality though, it goes something like this...

At my baseline, with no outside influences, I can't sleep through the night, and I certainly couldn't ever sleep in. But nowadays I've got the animal menagerie... Here's Cinnamon, tapping me ever so gently with her paws on my face, "Can I have three bites of food?" So I give her the food dish, she eats three bites of food, and off she goes. I generally fall right back asleep until 15 minutes later when she'd like three more bites of food, and so on through the night.

And there's Decker who has lost his sense of smell and can't find the food dish unless I put it up in his face, so about twice in the night there are the insistent pawsandclaws on any exposed flesh (usually my face), and the "Why do you keep hiding the food dish???" panic until I point out to him that it's RIGHT THERE where it always is.

Tolliver at least is a self serving unit, but for some reason, even though there's a food dish on both night stands now, he always wants the one on the other side of the bed, so there go 12 pounds of feline trotting across the bed, navigating the hilly terrain that is my body.

And the reality is, I really don't mind all the interruptions. I mean, hell, I'm awake anyway... But regardless, these are not the Sunday mornings I once envisioned for myself.

And on this particular Sunday morning, I awoke to four inches of glorious snow and eventually roused myself to feed, medicate, and let outside my friends' dogs, who I was watching for the holiday. The snow meant I was walking, so I layered on two pairs of sox, boots, scarf, hat... the works for the four-block trudge.

And off I went, mine the first foot prints in the snow, crunchcrunchcrunch down the street. Silence. The snow still falling, and each tree a new photo opportunity, each path a classic Christmas card photo with the white glaze and tree branches iced. My camera, of course, sat comfortably useless on the dining room table...

I was almost at my destination when a car pulled up, his window unrolling as he stopped. And if I were living "It's a Wonderful Life," this would be one of those moments when the scene freezes and Clarence narrates about the main character's, well, character...

"You looking for a dog?"

Ah, the fateful words I've heard so often.



"Well, there's a shepherd up there, he seems really sweet..." I'm approaching the car now, my neon SUCKER FOR A LOST PET sign shining brightly. Dude says he wishes he could take the dog home, you know, given the snow, but he's got a dog of his own (so do I), blah blah blah. I firmly resolve to not look for the dog, but say instead, "Yeah, if I can get him to come to me, I'll grab him. It'll be ok." And dude drives off.

I literally take about two steps away from where the car had stopped, and there he is, all goofy smiles, all snow-trimmed fur, all happy, sweet, easygoing dawg. He walks right up to me with total tail-wagging sweetness. I grab his collar, he falls into step, and we trudge together all the way back to my place, where I drop him in the backyard, awake the MAN OF THE HOUSE, and we make a quick plan to introduce the dogs and keep everyone safe, warm and dry while I trudge off to take care of the pets I was sitting. More trudgetrudgetrudge in the snow.

So much for my resolve. I didn't want to look for him, which the Universe obviously knew, so he came to me. Walked right up. Like he was mine. Walked all the way home with me, like he knew the way.


So now I have this German shepherd, who, it turns out, is ancient and has difficulty walking, especially on the wood floors. His hind end drags unless he's moving in a straight line, and although he can jog and play with Eddie when they're out in the grass, he's really quite pitiful in the house, where his feet twist out from under him and he slides about. But he has a wonderful spirit and great energy, and is all smiley and adorable. His favorite thing to do is sit at Bill's feet and hang out. Of course, being a shepherd, once in position, no one else can get near Bill, so now Eddie is all shaky neurosis that his Daddyhuman has traded him in for a bigger, more chill model. No amount of reassurance and love seems to counteract that worry.

So, we're hoping to find the shepherd's humans. A search of craigslist determined that he'd been out there for several days before I picked him up, and posting our ad with our phone number prompted a call from a rescue lady, who offered to find him a home in case we can't find his owners. So we feel pretty good that he'll have family soon.

But in the meantime, I have the near-constant sound of clawed feet skittering across the floor, a more-neurotic-than-usual dawg, and three terrified cats. Not exactly the peaceful Sundays with coffee and a book. Not exactly...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Flavored Drink

It was probably three weeks ago when Bill announced he would be doing a presentation IN the prison. He and the gentlemen he had been speaking with would be doing a panel presentation to the men awaiting release--a chance to build a hopeful vision for their post-release experience, to warn them of pitfalls, to help them stay focused on success and avoid bouncing back.

Oh, and Jenny, I'm going to need you there with me...

Whoa, what? Run that by me again? IN the prison? You want me to go IN the prison? With you? WHAT?

Which brings us to 6:00 last night when I pull into the parking lot of the Orange County Corrections building in Hillsborough. The razor-wire-trimmed fence was eerily lit by the streetlights, but behind it is a simple courtyard, a few buildings, the smiling face of someone I know holding her sweater around her in the cool fall night.

We were half an hour early, but not at all alone as several people were getting out of cars as we were, and all celebrated a little minireunion in the parking lot. Volunteers, people we know from the Unitarian Church in Hillsborough, and friends Bill had known "inside" were all gathering in the parking lot, hugging, slapping backs, catching up.

We wandered eventually through the entry way where the guard asked for ID. He looked at my license, looked at me, "What's your last name?" Really? That's what you want to know at this point? Holding my license...? "Um, Edwards." He looked again at my license, clearly had trouble reading it, held it to the light, bent close, leaned over, jiggled it... "OK." And let me pass.

The other side of the fence led to many more greetings, hands shook, names going by, Ted, John, Stone, Blink, Chris, Tim, etc. Handshakes were accompanied by locked eyes as I tried to get a sense of who could be trusted and who not. A recent (work-related) training taught me that only 25% of people in prison are sociopaths. The rest can make solid, trusting relationships. I wonder how much information you need to tell the difference. (This, btw, is a minimum-security facility, so the 25% number will be much lower.)

We stand around as a few gentlemen inside the dining hall re-arrange the tables. People are chatting; Josh, the photographer who has been documenting Bill's experience of the American Dream, is there as well. We take a second to notice the menu, photocopied pages tacked to a bulletin board, encased in a glass-faced cabinet that has a HUGE padlock on it. We wouldn't want anyone to steal the menus...

I notice some highlights, the little details that make the daily experience real. "Flavored drink" is served at several lunches. The day they serve hamburgers (with buns), "mustard" and "ketchup" are listed as individual menu items. There are vegetarian alternatives, and one day it's "cheese sandwiches." Mmmm, tasty. And while I know lots of people like liver and onions, I assume I'd be eating the cheese sandwich on that day.

We head inside, and it's another flurry of handshakes, name after name sliding by, gentlemen in green pants and white t-shirts. Some hats, some beards, everyone smiling, everyone really nice. Some of the "wives" at the event try to sit, unnoticed, in the back with the volunteers, but we are called out and must sit on the back-facing seats at the front, part of the panel discussion to come.

Blue starts the presentation, letting everyone know we'll be talking about jobs, housing, money, transportation, and relationships. He offers the prompting question about jobs, gives the floor over to the speakers, and one by one, men who have served time at this facility and are now making their way on the outside, tell their stories. One started back as a landscaper, hated the work he was doing, but within a few months of being out is making more than I am. Another told of the struggles of rejection after rejection because of his record, but he persevered and eventually got hooked up--making it now, with the help of his wife.

I eventually got up to speak—after some of the women told their stories of how they met their now-husbands. I chose to talk about one small piece of our journey together—to focus on the people who support you, cut out the people who bring drama and strife. This was a theme that would come up again as the evening wore on. Don't let the toxic people get you down. It's better to go it alone than with people who hold you back. The crowd had been attentive throughout and listened politely to me as well, but the phrase, "sometimes the toxic people are in your own family," got the largest response as I spoke. This was something they knew all about.

The speakers shared their stories of resiliency, perseverance and success. They assured the listeners they would succeed with the right preparation and appropriate help. Look, we did it. If we can, you can.

I had noticed a friend in the audience--his presence blocked from my view till I stood up to speak—and I went to him afterwards. He has a few more months to go, and is preparing to get out. He said he looks forward to spending time with his now-grown kids (he's been in about six years) and hoping for grandkids when the time is right. He's smiling the whole time we talk. Every time I've seen this guy, he's been smiling.

I figure if you can smile in there, you can make it out here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Waking Rip Van Winkle

I simply can't imagine what it would be like to live outside of the popular culture for over 20 years, and then rejoin us. I think I would be very awkward weirdo you could definitely spot in a crowd.

However, Bill manages it every day. And yes, even though he's a weirdo who stands out in a crowd, that's a whole different matter.

But here are some of the new experiences we've had over the last few weeks.
First, don't forget, it was only a few years ago he took his very first escalator ride. He still says, "That just ain't right," every time we get on one, which, thankfully, isn't often. I'll be planning a trip out to the airport to ride the people-movers, just to see his face. I've already got a few people who have said they want to come along to watch.

More recently, if you read my previous entry, you know I was in the ER last weekend. Come Monday, it was Hawaii 5-0 night, and we needed dessert. I was feeling better, but not quite 100% yet, and I had worked all day, and by the time we were in the Food Lion, I was exhausted, a little green around the gills, and struggling to maintain. I leaned heavily on the cart, even going so far as to forego milk till later 'cuz I couldn't lift the jug.

Bill, meanwhile, had finally succombed to the seriousness of his leg injury and followed the inevitable path to crutches. (For the record, this led to a much speedier recovery, and he's doing great now!) We had gathered the necessities when I remembered the dessert, and I headed off to the frozen foods. SquiCHUNK squiCHUNK squiCHUNK I hear his crutches behind me. I pull up to the frozen pies. I immediately spot the berry cobbler and remember the vanilla ice cream in the freezer. He spots the Key Lime pie. And then he sees the Coconut Cream pie. And then he sees the Turtle pie. And then his eyes become like saucers, his face the picture of a perfect, angelic little boy on Christmas morning--frozen cheesecake! apple pie!! cobblers!!! chocolate cream pie!! vanilla layer cake! chocolate cake! cream pastries! pastry puffs!!! His eyes roam the shelves in front of him. He breathlessly inventories the options. In seconds, he has mumbled the names of dozens of creamy wonders. And then he looks at me. "HAS THIS AISLE ALWAYS BEEN HERE?!!??!!!? Why have I never seen this before?!??!!??"

We decided on the Turtle pie, which, even happily shared with friends, meant plenty of leftovers. It was quite the miraculous recovery the next day when we, both still not quite ourselves, hobbled through the house, racing-the-race-of-the-gimpy to see who would get there first when it occurred to each of us we could have turtle pie for lunch.

The week prior he had come to me about the kitchen. We've had a long-standing debate about whether to hand-wash dishes or use the dishwasher. To me, the dishwasher makes a great drying rack after you've washed the dishes by hand. To most people, I think, that is weird. So Bill does most of the dishes and he gets to decide, and lately, he has decided to use the dishwasher. "So I put the soap in, and then there were suds EVERYWHERE!!!"

OH NO!!!!

He described his efforts to mop it all back up, running the rinse cycle several times, and "Tell me how I'm supposed to do it."


So I take him to the kitchen, show him the automatic dishwasher stuff, and go to point out how they are different--how of course, you couldn't possibly know without looking but once you look... wait!!! The two bottles have nearly identical wording. "Dishwashing liquid" vs. "Dishwasher liquid." In TINY letters. NOWHERE does it mention hand-washing or automatic dishwashers.

How could anyone be expected to know the difference? OMG. This is definitely not a world for strangers.

But I explained the difference, and of course, that made perfect sense, and then... it dawned on him. Months ago, we had run out of dish soap, but he'd found some under the sink. He put it in the dishpan, but it didn't sud up. So he figured it was "old," and rather than risk upsetting me for throwing something away (LOL!!) he put it back under the sink and forgot about it. Voila.

So other firsts this time of year include the haunted house last weekend (he laughed while I screamed bloody murder), the pumpkin patch, the Renaissance Festival coming up this weekend, and soon, carving pumpkins. He has his phtographs hanging at a local coffee shop, and last night he had his first photography class (thanks Hank!!!)

I'm sure there will be more of these entries. And hopefully he'll survive the pumpkin carving unscathed!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cheap tequila and Sierra Mist

After three days of scraping, caulking and priming the outside of the house, when it dawned on me that I wasn't going to come anywhere close to finishing this monstrous painting job, I realized I was miserable and decided to take Sunday off. No more painting for me. It wasn't going to get done this weekend even if I worked all day...

Saturday evening, I came home from babysitting and had talked with friends about pork--the Parkwood BBQ had been that day, and David Sedaris had mentioned to my friend an affinity for pork. By moonlight.

But at midnight, when my abdomen was apparently exploding and whatever alien baby had been developing over the last few hours was ready to burgeon forth through my belly button, I was definitely not thinking romantic thoughts about Porky Pig. I worried it was a stomach virus and that I'd given it to the kids I'd just babysat, and felt sad for all the people whose fb updates had announced their own bouts with this GI hell.

Three hours later, though, I was vomiting, the pain was still intense, and now it was settling in right around my appendix.

Visions of Houdini danced through my brain, and Mr. EvertheOptimist next to me started talking kidney stones, and soon it was apparent that I was going to the ER.

But maybe it was just a virus. Knowing no trip to the ER would be cheap, even with insurance, I worried over what to do.

The advice nurse at UNC told me (over the phone) that since I get my primary care at a Duke affiliate, she couldn't help me. I told her I work there and that I was trying to decide whether to come to their ER, and she said, of course, that I could come to the ER, but that she couldn't offer me any advice.

I hung up on her and woke the very nice Dr. Sotolongo (go DUKE!) who reassured me--didn't sound like my appendix, but even if it were, I had plenty of time. Don't worry, give it a few hours, but if it's still hurting in the morning, I should come in to be evaluated.

I apologized for waking him, and he reassured me--this was the exact kind of call they were meant to take. Thank you Dr. Sotolongo. You rock. Even at 3 a.m.

A few hours later, now dawnish, it was still hurting. A LOT. Like nothing I'd ever felt before, and now it's been going on for six hours.

So I find sweat pants that fit and paw like an animal through my pile of winter clothes looking for a comfortable, loose-fitting sweatshirt, doubled over, afraid any wrong move will explode my appendix, and off we go to Durham Regional (go Duke!).

Bill (thank god for Bill!) dropped me at the front door to park the car, and the security guard grabbed me a wheel chair. I was checked in in seconds, signed the consent for treatment with a big purple magic marker (no kidding), and was ushered to a curtained room. "Put on the gown--it fastens in the back. I'll be right back." And then begins the bizarre puzzle that was assembleyourownhospitalgown, a square of fabric with snaps that didn't correspond with one another, and even though I knew what it was ultimately supposed to look like, I was mystified. Bill started to help, but seconds later the nurse came for my vitals, so I simply held it against myself, but then there was a doctor who also helped, and soon I was vitaled, gowned, and prodded by an MD. Seriously, in fewer than 15 minutes, I was checked in, in a room, in a gown, had vitals, an initial exam by the doc, and we were beginning the gynecological exam. Within 30 minutes, I had blood drawn, had been given anti-nausea medicine by IV, was offered (and declined) morphine, had the beginnings of a differential, and was drinking the contrast dye for the CT scan. Excellent service.

I was told to drink a cup of contrasty stuff every fifteen minutes for an hour, then it would take an hour to work through my body and I could go for the scan. By now, I was ravenously thirsty, having not drunk anything in over six hours. I sucked down the first cup--it's kind of like Sprite, I mused allowed. But the nurse hit it on the head--it's like cheap tequila and Sierra Mist. Once she said that, I couldn't taste anything else, and soon I was struggling to keep it down, even with the anti-nausea meds on board.

Janet, the very nice nurse, brought me blankets that had been kept in a blanket warmer. (Warm blankets!! OMG!) I shivered, I felt like vomiting, my stomach hurt, I hoped it wasn't a kidney stone, and I drank cheap tequila and Sierra Mist.

The 60-minute mark coincided with the shift change, and soon the incredibly nice doc and nurse were letting me know they were leaving, and the new doc and nurse were introducing themselves. Sanjaythenurse commented that I'd declined the morphine--"no one ever declines the morphine," he said, but by now, with the panic factor subsided, I was not feeling so bad. 140 minutes after my arrival I was being wheeled to the CT scan place and met with the incredibly nice CT guy. He asked a long list of questions about possibly allergies, told me the reason for the drip contrast in addition to the stuff I'd drunk, ran down the possible side effects, including the oh-so-rare kidney failure and death option.

Please god, don't let the test to tell me I just had bad gas kill me. Please. Don't let this, of all things, be the end of me.

He asked if I was pregnant, then noted the notes--oh no, your test came back--you're definitely not pregnant. (I knew that). "But you declined morphine. No one declines morphine..."

One of the side effects of the contrast drip, btw, is the sensation that you've wet yourself. Really? (Oh yes, really.)

And off I went into the zippy zippy machine, like out of a science fiction movie, with the big round hole and the flashing red lights. Above my head was a fake window that used an expensive translucent picture and lights to make it feel like you're looking out a window at trees even though you're in the basement of a hospital in downtown Durham, but I closed my eyes and tried not to think about arresting in the CT machine or the irony of dying in a hospital after riding a motorcycle, hanging with tigers, or any of the other crazy-ass shit I do.

The ohsoniceCTguy was very kind as it finished and reminded me to drink plenty of fluids to flush out the contrast, "you know, whenever they let you go home..."

And then it was time for the long wait. We were there another four hours or so, while I napped, texted, deferred phone calls to Bill, who had been SO helpful all through this, and was now tasked with answering all calls and coordinating everything we weren't going to be able to do that day. He even tried unsuccessfully to pass off the Bat phone (it didn't ring), and let my mom know I was ok, while I updated fb and responded to about 472 text messages. More than half the calls intimated that I might be pregnant, so let's be real clear--I am a social worker in a health setting. I know how birth control works. I also promise you, the symptoms I was experiencing--way worse than morning sickness. Trust me on this one. Unless the baby I might be carrying was Athena, to be born full grown, I definitely wasn't pregnant.

Sanjay checked on me a few times, and eventually the doc came in to tell me they had seen my appendix, and it was fine. My ovaries, however, not so much. "Follow up with your primary-care in the next couple days, and you can go home."

Less than ten minutes later--no lie--I was gone. I dressed, Sanjay took the IV out, reviewed my aftercare instructions and Rx--Vicadin. "I'm guessing you won't get that filled?" "I doubt it," I acknowledged. "I figured, " he said. "You turned down morphine. But, you have it if you need it."

Ismail had come a few hours earlier with coffee and breakfast. I wasn't allowed to have it, of course, but when I got to the lobby, there he was. By now the exploding sensation had shifted to my head from the caffeine withdrawal, and I sucked down the coffee and stuffed bagel in my mouth while we waited for Bill to get the car. "Nice outfit," he said, while we waited on the curb. "Yeah, I dressed special for the occasion."

We stopped by mom's house on the way home, and she said she'd aged ten years in the last few hours. Then I went home and slept. For hours.

The bat phone rang, but thank god it was one of the docs, and we talked through a case, and then mom came over and made beef stroganoff, and then it was back to sleep.

I made it. I survived my Sunday off.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


So, this was the weekend to try Eddie, the Neurotic Wonderdawg, on a leash. It was a decision made in moment of spontenaity, although we'd been talking about it for some time. So we were standing outside, headed somewhere, and we decided to go back in, get the dawg, take him for a walk.

Even though we'd only been gone a mere minute, he was at the door. OH MY GOD!!! I DIDN'T KNOW WHEN YOU WERE COMING BACK!! I'M SO GLAD YOU'RE HOME!!!! It was all tail wagging, full body presses, dancing on the back paws, love nuzzles, love love love love love.

And then Bill grabbed the harness and the high-energy greeting turned into armageddon-proportioned waves of energy and whole-body wags and canine CHAOS that undulated through the barking, snuffling, lipstick-sharing, OH. MY. GOD. YOU'VE GOT. THE. HHHHAAAARRRRRNNNNNEEEESSSSSSSSS!!!!

You know those money-collector game thingies at the science museums? They're roughly cone-shaped and you roll your quarter on its edge, and the quarter makes slow arching circles around the outer edge of the cone, lapping ever so slightly faster until it nears the bottom and for a few milliseconds, the quarter spins so fast you can't see its edges, and it hovers, suspended in air, spinning blindingly fast for a bizarre eternity... That was Eddie at the sight of the harness. No lie.

Now imagine, slipping a harness over that quarter. OMG. I got him in the neck part and then--oops, he's out--and back in, and he was shaking and nosing and lipsticking and yelping and shaking and I had to slip his foot through the loop--and he's out again, spinning circles, yelping, screeching, wagging--and Bill is "SIT! Eddie, SIT!" and Eddie is doing LOTS of things that are definitely NOT sitting.

We finally get the harness on--twisted of course--and get it untwisted. And then we open the door and ahhhhhhh--off we all go, tumbling down the street. Eddie pulling on the harness like he's pulling Santa's sled, and Bill stubbornly stopping him every few seconds to teach him how to walk sanely on a leash.

Eddie's inner dialog, I suspect, was something like this: I'mwalkingwithmyfamilyI'mwalkingwithmyfamilyI'mwalkingwithmyfamilyI'mwalkingwithmy

After several minutes we were able to exert some control, except, of course, when we came upon a bulletin on the Doggie News Network. We had to sniff every inch of the ground, stopping at the interesting news about Snoop Dog or Bow Wow (among others), and of course, add our commentary. Piddle piddle piddle. Who knew a dog could store that much piddle?

The one news source no one is interested in? The red hydrant on Timmons. So much for the stereotype of the dog and the hydrant. This one must surely be a Fox news outlet.

We sufficiently tuckered the dawg out and took him home. Then on Sunday, we actually took him to the coffee shop with us. It went surprisingly well. We expected five minute increments at first, but were happy to see he lasted over 30 minutes, and all was good until it just wasn't any more, and we took him home.

The dog days of summer, that took over so much of last month, have given way to the doggie days of fall, and it's good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Boviphobe? Who me?

So... we're driving down Barbee Chapel Road on the way to the fireworks last weekend when, Oops! There goes a cow, stumblewalking off the shoulder, which is pitched at an angle and contains a deep ditch (hence the stumbling), and into the road. She is immediately followed by her cow friend, slightly more graceful, who stays along the shoulder. A human blocks our path, his arms outstretched in a sign to slow us down while simultaneously warning the cows not wander too far up the road. He's one of three humans working to get Bessie and Bessie Mae back in their pen.

Now, depending on how much you know about cows, the following scene may come as no surprise to you. The humans earnestly herding the cows, who are soon joined by a bull, by the way, are clapping their hands, stretching themselves out to create a visual barrier, one with a large, large stick, working together to convince the cows to move back toward some spot in the fence that I can't see behind the bushes but I assume is the break where they got out. The cows, of course, are wise to their methods, and they, in all their cow brilliance, move slowly and cowly along the shoulder, slyly pretending to go toward the spot the humans want, but at the last second (oh no!), they shuffle along past.

One thing I tend to forget about my life is that the cowboy hat covers a real live cowboy, who promptly jumped out of the car to help. Good thing too, because the cows were genuinely avoiding the human intervention, and about this time decided that running pellmell down the shoulder toward Southpoint Mall and interesting points beyond was a GREAT cow idea!! Off the humans go, Bill among the first, chase chase chasing the cows (COWS, people, COWS!!!) down the road.

Now, at this point, I have a very important role. Being vaguely afraid of cows (no lie), I decided to stay in the car and use my very powerful, large, red vehicle to block the path of the cows, and, well, let's admit it, laugh at the absurdity of the drama unfolding before me.

At some point they get one of the cows into the pen, and the woman with the stick turns to face the next cow. With her back turned, cow number one pops back out onto the shoulder, and then they are able to herd cow number two back into the pen, who also pops back out just as they're bringing cow number one back again. One of them starts to get irritated and is running willy nilly about the road, snorting a bit, getting up quite a bit of speed. (This is where I get really scared, but the people wisely give this cow some room to express her frustration...)

And I continue to watch as they get one cow in, herd the second, first cow comes out, herd the third, second cow comes out, and they basically play musical cows for about ten minutes. I am reminded of times (yes, I admit it's happened more than once), when I pick up Tolliver, shut him in the bedroom, pick up Decker, open the bedroom door, lose Tolliver while I'm putting Decker in. Rinse, repeat, ad nauseum.

And finally, in the perfect, no-good-deed-goes-unpunished moment, Bill lost his phone (set on silent, OF COURSE) in the deep, snake-infested grass, and we admitted defeat after a few minutes of looking. The best part, though, was meeting the VERY NICE farmer who invited us for home-grown burgers any time. His gratitude at our assistance reminded me of how busy and into ourselves we get, and how so few people think to stop and help out. Ten minutes of our lives made a huge difference for him, and I got a fun story out of it too.

Oh, and we went back after the fireworks, in the pitch-dark night, called the phone, and its light-up screen led us right to it. Not bad for a day off...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


So I have an amazing friend named Kate who has a blog.

She wrote the blog entry I wish I had, about Bill. Please, take a minute and go here. It's worth it:


Thursday, May 27, 2010


A little over a week ago, I was "released" of my census position.


Fired.Asked to resign.

There are several things I love about this story. First of all, I was released because I couldn't work 20 hours a week, a fact I made clear throughout the hiring process, that was not an issue until they decided it was. Several of us were in the same boat. No biggie.

But I love that first of all, the guy I was working for (Ken--LOVE him), said, "They're asking you to resign. You don't have to, of course." I was happy to do it by then--the work had become quite burdensome, frankly, in addition to everything else going on. So I said, "Sure, no prob.," but he said he wouldn't. Hmmmm... I asked why. "Cuz if you don't, then it's on THEM." Yeah. To FIRE me. LOL!!

This was all discussed at our 8:45 p.m. meeting, and I said I would talk with the Crew Leader more in the morning to figure out the details--how much notice did they need, etc.

Oh, no worries about that--I was released promptly at 8 a.m. the next morning. Do you know they have a FORM? It's their usual "Info-Comm" form, where you check the box "Other," and attach another form where you check the box "Resigned," and it's that simple. REALLY????

But the BEST part of the story is when I got the text from my bestest ever gf--she has been with me through the worst of my experiences, and right there with me through the best. BEST FRIEND EVER. I told her I was no longer working for the census, that I'd been let go, and she, always with my back, called right away. What happened? I told her about the hours. She said, "Oh, I just assumed you got fired for talking too much."

Bahahahahahaha!!! Thanks for the vote of confidence best-ever-sister-friend!! LOL!! THANKS!!

But at the end of the day, I won't be coming to count you. And I won't mind.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Welcome to Nerf University

Day 1 of Census Enumerator Training:

The Census, as you know, brings us closer to Jesus. Apparently there's some question about whether Mary and Joseph were really headed to Bethlehem, from Nazareth where they'd been living, to be counted among the descendants of David. That's supposedly how they found themselves at the inn (no vacancy) and subsequent manger. But I'm told that might not be true. Shocking.

Fast forward about 2,014 years, and here I sit at the Wyndham Garden Hotel conference room among 14 other Parkwood-ites, training to come count you. No mangers necessary.

The operation--non-respondent follow-up--is known as NRFU or "Nerf U." Rock on.

Here are some things that surprised me on day one:

... Today is all paperwork and fingerprinting. We completed 23 forms between 9 and 11:15. The afternoon is dedicated to finger-printing us--each of us twice in hope of getting clear prints. This is the fourth-and-fifth time I've been fingerprinted. I wonder if that's weird.

... Census enumerators complete DAILY timesheets. An entire page--two copies--every day, every employee. They are paying for our mileage and our time to commute to and from this training. I made $13 just by showing up.

... I have been given a card that says, basically, "I am with the census--is there someone here who speaks English?" in 51 languages, including all the ones you'd expect, but also Navajo, Nepali, Somali, Swahili, Ilocano, Urdu, Tigrinya, Pajabi, Dari, Dinka, Hmoob, and others. Burmese looks like a language of entirely backwards Cs, Laotian looks like Barbie handwriting, and Malayam looks like lace.

... I have been given a very nice U.S. Census Bureau tote bag.

... The Census is conducted by the Department of Commerce. Why?

... The Durham office employs over 1000 census workers.

... My safety is of the utmost importance to William W. Hatcher. One safety tip: Be on the look-out for deer, moose, and other animals. (No mention of tigers, leopards, or other exotic animals that are perfectly legal pets in NC).

... There is no limit to how many times the Federal government will ask you to print your name on a single sheet of paper: to attest that you have received something, that you read the something, that you understand the something, and that you will act according to the something. Then, before you sign it, you have to print your name legibly, so they know it's you. Or something.

... My 7s look funny.

Inauguration blog - Pt 3 - Jan 21, 2009

The few blog posts under this one are re-run from emails sent before I started blogging. I apologize for the repetition, but I love these stories and hope you will too!

Hi everyone!! I am so sorry it has taken so long to let you all finally know about our
Inauguration Day adventure, but I have basically been recovering from it! LOL!

It was an amazing feeling to be down there, even though we got nowhere near the actual festivities. But we were on the Mall with the other 2,499,996 people, and the amazing technology of the "jumbotrons" and incredible sound system made it feel like we were RIGHT THERE. Of course, everyone watching at home also felt that way, but you didn't have the frostbite, so we were definitely the lucky ones!

Yes, the 2:25 tap on my leg in Sue Ellen's guest room as she gently reminded me that we had to, ummmm, GET UP in the middle of the night, was a shock, but the coffee got flowing, and the warm brown sugar oatmeal kicked in, and soon enough we were showered, dressed in the fifty million layers, depends in our pockets, and on our way! Oops. Casey forgot her phone. Back in she went, and then, YES! We were on our way!

Worried we would have to wait in line for the shuttle, we were sure to arrive early to the Loudon County commuter lot. We all burst into laughter to find ourselves one of only a handful of cars. Wide, stunned eyes stared out from heated interiors as we pulled by and joined the ranks of the I-can't-believe-I'm-awake-at-this-hour waiters. When the bus pulled up, we all walked like zombies in the yellowish light.

Sue Ellen and I, of course, broke the horrified silence on the bus by whooping it up a bit. We were greeted a few minutes later by amazingly cheerful transit employees who reminded us how to get back, passed out little papers with details and travel tips, and cheerfully sent us on our way.

That would definitely be a theme among the kabillion workers and volunteers. All were smiling and cheerful, and on the Mall were calling out directions, advice, and "Welcome!" Such a great culture of "come on down!"

We then bussed and Meto'd--and again, the train driver continually updating us as we lurched along, stopping frequently to wait for trains in front of us--and finally we arrived at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro.

Along with about 800,000 others. OMG! The first hint of what was to come as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder through the people-moving area and then up up up up up the non-functioning escalators. I always love to see uniformed officers under such circumstances, and they were everywhere. We started our habit of thanking them as we shuffled past, and I was surprised by their, "Oh no--thank YOU for coming down!" responses--a consistent answer the whole time we were out there.

We then joined the crush on the street, and from then on, we were basically shoulder-to-shoulder for the rest of the day, with only short reprieves when we simply couldn't take it and would duck into a corner for some breath.

The feeling on the street when we arrived (it was still dark) was festive and chant-filled. "Yes we did!" rang out periodically, as we watched buses unload scores of law-enforcement pesonnel, smelled the already-for-sale hotdogs and various food vendors, were wowed by the bling-covered t-shirts for sale and in the crowd (Obama looks great in bead-azzle), and joined the crowd in front of the local-news camera. We watched a group of police officers surveying the crowd from a walled perch, happily taking people's cameras and taking pictures of the crowd for them.

We finally made it to an open Mall area and poured in from 12th Street, then made our way back up to about 7th Street, where we found a spot not too crowded and with a good view of the Jumbotron. I have to say, I was BLOWN AWAY by the technology. The video was clear and the sound was AMAZING. No need for the radio except for curiousity's sake to get updates on Metro, etc. Sue Ellen's blackberry email alerts (thank you Verizon for being free and clear all day) told us the parade route was filled around 9, and by 10 they were discouraging people from coming to the Mall. (It didn't stop them apparently.)

I texted a friend who was watching from home to get crowd estimates, and he said probably about 2 million. Sounds about right, and I think every one of them TOUCHED ME. OMG! But the good thing was that the crush of people kept us relatively warm, if you don't mind the claustrophobia.

The Jumbotrons played Sunday's concert to keep us entertained during the four-hour wait--we got on to the Mall about 7 a.m. By about 10 I think we decided to just sacrifice the toes we could no longer feel and debated whether numbness or sharp pain (a la fingers) was scarier.

But once the actual ceremony started, none of the other distractions mattered and all our attention was focused on the screens. Chants broke out every time an Obama appeared, and the Na-na-na-na-na-hey-hey-hey, Good bye! song when Bush was on screen.

After the ceremony was a ridiculous crush of folks to get back on the Metro, and it took us two hours of tight tight tight crowds to finally shuffle our way onto the train, and then the bus (much less crowded) and then the car (easy) and to Mark's SMILING FACE as he served up a delicious dinner in front of American Idol. I was SO HAPPY to be back in jammies and under the covers, and while I had planned to head back to NC that night, I was happy to hear the roads were icey and friends recommended I stay one more night. Phew! Thank you Mother Nature for the unexpected snow day!

It was worth it, and it was an amazing experience, but not exactly fun! I am SO GLAD to be back in my bed!

And so ends Jen's Obamablog.


Inauguration blog - Pt 2 - Jan 19, 2009

I know you've been eagerly awaiting the news... so here it is, the second installment in my grand adventure.

Let's just cut to the chase. We actually bought Depends. No lie.

And the amazing thing is, you can't just go to the store and buy Depends. Oh no! That would be waaaaay too easy. There are a MILLION decisions to make. And don't be fooled by the small little pads that look like they would be an acceptable option. Oh no, those are just for "leaks." Rest assured, not a mistake you want to make. So after about 15 minutes in the FREAKING DIAPER AISLE, we made our choice. The entire time we were there, I was getting vaguely sick to my stomach.

And just to clarify, we're not wearing them tomorrow (thank the goddess)--we're just bringing them for an emergency, the idea being that we could find a place to hide, tuck it "in," and then use it. Brilliant really, except for the ENTIRE DISGUSTING PLAN. But thank you Casey, for testing it out for us this afternoon. Phew!

On a completely unrelated note, let me tell you how hard it is to find an old-school am/fm radio. Thank you Radio Shack! Thank you NOT, Best Buy, Target, WalMart, and Circuit City. Apparently, no one listens to radio any more. Did you know that? OMG!

So, just before I sat down to write this (which has taken forever because I am simultaneously looking up big players in Greek mythology as Casey studies for her exam on Wednesday), we had packed clear ziplock bags with bottled water (never going to drink it--see the above paragraph about the Depends), cereal bars, apples, PBJs, napkins, kleenex (doubles as TP), and baby wipes. Tomorrow it's a 2:30 wake-up call for coffee and shower, wake the kids at 3, leave at 3:40 to get in line for the 4:15 shuttle. Remembering, of course, how often I'm going TO BED at 2:30! OMG!

Think of me tomorrow morning as you're rolling over in your warm snuggy bed, and then drinking coffee in a heated store, and then enjoying the ceremonies on TV.

Big sigh.

Inauguration blog - Pt 1 - Jan 19, 2009

This is the first of three installments about the inauguration adventure. Again, sorry for those of you who have seen it, but it's one of my favorite adventures...

Hey everybody!!! Here's the first installment of Jen's grand adventure!! :o)

As with all brushes with history, we start with the mundane. If you think there's something exciting in this email, think again... And feel free to skip it entirely.

As I write this, Nick is getting ready to test his tomorrow outfit. He's bundled up a la "A Christmas Story," and we all need to know, is it enough? He's about to venture out on the deck, where he will be banished for 20 minutes, to see if the outfit will stand up to tomorrow's torturous temps. The prediction is a mere 29 degrees. Holy shit!!!

I made the drive yesterday without incident. Well, unless you count the fact that my stereo died as I crossed the VA line. That meant telephone entertainment. And for all the children watching, texting at 70 mph is never a good idea...

The traffic was minimal. I occasionally saw cars decorated with Obama stickers, a few painted with slogans on the windows, and many of them packed with people. One poor woman bearing the "Sportsmen for McCain/Palin" sticker looking quite irritable as she maneuvered among the damn liberals clogging up her highways.

It's been a year since I've seen the family, and in that time Casey has become some gargantuan GROWN-UP easily as tall as me, and, as she proudly announced, nearly my weight. (We joked that all she needs is my boobs and she'd be tipping the scales right along with me. And those she'll probably have by next week.) Oh my god!!! Nick has basically shaved his head a la the major sports star he's destined to be. (And to catch you up on the weather-testing process, he just stepped out side, full of drama, "Aunt Jenny? Start the timer!" and the the primal yell as he hit the cold.)

Last night was a cozy family affair as the Steelers made their way to the Superbowl--a phenomenon that created quite a frenzy in this football-crazed, Steeler-loving house. Breakfast was started with a passionate chant of "Steelers goin' to the SOO-perbowl!" in the deep tones of full-grown Mark and the enthusiastic squeals of 10-year-old Nick. Oh yeah, a year passed and it feels like yesterday that I had my cupboard under the stairs. But this time, without an ounce of heartache. Yay!!

You would think I might have received a grand welcome, but honestly, the kids were way more interested in my iTouch. LOL! Such is the fickle love of adolescents! :o) My basement nook was meanwhile usurped by a new air hockey table (HELLO! My FAVORITE!!) and a new Ping Pong table (Nick's fave, at which I suck. Aunt Jenny is SUCH a disappointment...).

In a few, we're off to Target for a phone charger (how did I come away with every cable known to an iPod, but no phone charger? Grrrrrr.), wool socks, and an old-school am/fm radio. If we see NOTHING, we will at least hear the speech live. (Thanks, btw, to the villager who had that idea. Was it Vinny? You are SO RIGHT.)
I will keep you posted as interesting, or totally dull, things happen!

Woo hooooo!!!!