Winter Break In The Hot Zone

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School breaks are some of the most beautiful and magical times of life…if you are a teacher. If you’re the parent waiting at home maybe not so much. But as a teacher, just when every ounce of patience has been sucked from your soul and you cannot muster one more fake smile when someone asks the same question for the 7,899th time, break comes in and whisks you away.  

New England is sensible and thus spreads breaks out in a manner conducive to winter survival. Instead of being stuffed in your house for two hellish weeks at Christmas, they save a week and give it back as a little gift mid-February. It’s brilliant.

February break beckoned me like a siren for weeks. I’d pull myself out of bed with the promise of an impending week of freetime. My kids shared my motivation with that same promise. We didn’t need the promise of a beachy get-away, just staying in our jammies past 6:00 a.m. and vegging on the sofa. (We’re a simple people.)

With the dismissal bell on Friday I was dizzy with excitement. Nine glorious days lay in front of me, whatever would I do? Should I catch up on Oscar nominees? (Nah. I don’t care about the Oscars.) Should I face reality and do tax stuff? (Probably not. Taxes are a buzzkill) Would I finally drop of that bag of clothing donations that I’ve been driving around with for two months? (Spoiler alert- I didn’t and I’m likely to drive around with it for another 3 months.) It didn’t matter what I planned because I had time for everything.

Break got off to a nice start with a snowstorm. Number 1 and I sledded down our massive driveway until it morphed into an ice slide and my old ass required a dog sled to get back to the top. Nugget, who isn’t a fan of cold or snow,  made about two runs, both on my lap. As our saucer sled picked up speed that might rival an Indy car, trees rushed towards us and I sacrificed myself (and my ski pants) to save Nugget. When we’d completed our roll to safety Nugget shook himself back to sanity, “What da hell Mom?”

“Well Nugs, force equals mass times acceleration. We had a lot of mass on that run thus our acceleration was greatly increased.”  As often happens in our house, the 5 year-old understood physics well enough to nod in agreement. Science is our jam.

We filled our break with a sprinkling of playdates, television, sugary baked goods and lots of reading for Mom. This is where things took a bad turn. During an early morning news perusal, I learned the National Geographic channel is releasing a new docudrama and I have a freakish adoration of the NatGeo docudrama. This one is based on the 2001 classic book, The Hot Zone. Immediately, I decided that would be my winter break reading. I like to be prepared for my docudramas so if I run to the bathroom and miss a scene, I still know what’s going to happen because I read the book. (I’m not a fan of suspense.)

In case you are not an avid fan of the National Geographic Channel or if you missed The Hot Zone on it’s first run, it’s a stunning work of creative nonfiction chronicling the origins of the Ebola virus. Yep, my winter break leisure reading was a book about Ebola. (I nerd hard.) I was well past the chapters chronicling the initial infection in an African cave and into infection of the masses by the time Number 1’s tummy began to rumble.

“Mom, I don’t feel so good.”

And as is the requisite Mom retort in such situation I replied, “Did you poop today?”

“Mom, it’s not always about poop!”

Oh but it is kid, it is always about poop.

It didn’t occur to me that my son might have Ebola until he actually started throwing up and that is when the panic began to set in. As I rubbed my baby’s back and tried to play it cool, I couldn’t help but wish I’d hijacked a hazmat suit from my previous science lab. I could still offer love and console him from behind a plastic shield. The touch of a mother can transcend latex gloves.

My son unfortunately inherited my stomach and when he vomits he does it with such force that the neighbors know what’s going on. As he emerged from the bathroom with face and eyes mottled by broken blood vessels, my Ebola fears were confirmed. My first born was obviously in the beginnings of the red eyes and zombie-face mentioned as stage one of the disease in the book.

I covered the bed nearest the bathroom with sheets to prevent mass infection before allowing his body to touch only blankets from his bed that he’s already infected. Fortunately, it was my husband, the Turk’s, side of the bed.

“Mom, isn’t this a little excessive?” he asked as I snapped on my latex dishwashing gloves and began bleaching the entire bathroom.

“Nope.” I muttered from behind the respirator the Turk used for his last venture into the attic.

As the illness continued to ravage his young body, I tried to keep cool. I tried to convince myself it was only a stomach bug but the immense mass of crazy in my head wouldn’t let me. I reassured myself with the knowledge that the nurse in chapter 8 had survived Ebola infection so I might make it through too. While my actions appear be questionable, I am the better parent. At the first sign of illness, the Turk hightailed it out of the house to run copious “errands” and was not seen again until evening though he did phone in every hour to check status.(Most likely to see if it was safe to return.) A parent present, even in a hazmat suit, trumps the one who hides in fear at Home Depot.

By bedtime, I tucked my exhausted little boy in bed and it was over. We all braced ourselves for doom the following day but it never came. No one else got Ebola and we ended our break with more frivolity.  Perhaps it wasn’t Ebola or perhaps the knowledge garnered from my leisure reading saved us all. Either way, once again, the survival of our family can be credited to my intense love of really weird books. But I might have to shelve The Hot Zone until after cold and flu season.

 

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The Queen Gets A New Throne…And No One Died.

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As in any successful pairing, the Turk and I follow the yin and yang of one cheap-ass and one over-spender. In case you’re new here, I’m the cheap-ass. This method has gotten us through numerous times when we barely had two nickels (or Lyra) to rub together. But one thing has held steadfast, my Turk loves to spend. After the past year of relocating which required us to shell out money like sardines in a dolphin show, and a few months as a one-paycheck family, the Turk has been on spending lockdown and it’s taken a toll.

I’d catch him browsing weekly circulars with drool forming in the corners of his mouth. His Amazon shopping cart wish list looked like the cart of a mother of five in the food store and he’d begun to twitch. The Turk needed a shopping fix and it needed to be something big.

With my return to full-time employment, the Turk determined he could return to his preferred way of life and hit the circuit.

“Honey, I find a nice crouch.” He announced proudly. (Some words like crouch and couch are just never going to make it into his English repertoire. I accept that and love him for it.)

“First off, I assume you’re talking about furniture and not a squat. Secondly, we’re waiting on major purchases. Financial planning dear.”

“I know but I have coupon. One day only. Very good deal.”

The Turk loves a coupon. The problem is, if he has a coupon he buys things simply because he has a coupon. (Like the 7-11-style hotdog machine he bought his wife who doesn’t eat hotdogs this Christmas. –But he had coupon. – Readers, I only wish this were not true.) 

“Maybe we just go look?” He pleaded.

Unbeknownst to him, new furniture wasn’t really a hard sell. We purchased our current sofa and loveseat when we first moved back to America. We were broke-ass poor and in desperate need of furniture when we happened upon the classic, North Philadelphia parking lot sale. You know, those sales with the glowing signs claiming: “Emergency Liquidation!” and “Limited Time!” and, “1 Day ONLY!” Which are certainly signs of a legit, high quality retailer.

This was not my first North Philly parking lot sale and while the items are some version of new, they might have “fallen off a truck” hence the “Rock Bottom Prices!” But ask no questions and all goes well. After some negotiations we were the proud owners of a sofa and loveseat at the rock bottom price of $450 including delivery.

That was nearly 8 years ago and that furniture survived 4 inter-state moves and 6 houses. They endured 1 surly cat, 2 wild boys, countless sick days, a few naptime wet pants, Nugget’s kidney surgery, numerous football games, pizza nights and a little bit of spilled everything. It lived a full life and deserved retirement. But thanks to spending a large chunk of my childhood with a Depression Era grandma, I have a hard time parting with items that still serve their purpose and I’d hoped I could eek out another year or two. (Though according to the sag in the sofa, it stopped serving its purpose two moves ago.)

With coupon in hand we went to test-drive some furniture. As the boys bounced across what Nugget calls “love chairs” and sectionals, the Turk and I found something we agreed upon. After some calculations, even my cheap ass had to admit, it was a good deal and it hadn’t even fallen off a truck. When the salesman offered a delivery and haul-away option, I was sold.

“No delivery. I can do.” Informed the Turk.

“Honey, it’s cheap and they’ll move the old ones. Just do it.” I pleaded.

Even Don the sales guy tried to get in on the persuading – “You know, the amount you save with the coupon will more than cover the cost of the delivery…” But even Don the sofa salesman couldn’t convince the Turk.

“No. I can do. I rent truck, then I come here, pick up and drop at home.”

Don the salesman agreed this was a solid plan but the Turk didn’t take into account that his help on the other end consisted of a cranky 40-something wife, an abnormally short 10-year-old, and a hyperactive 5-year-old. While we are a dream team, maybe not so much regarding heavy lifting.

The next day I arrived home from Nugget’s basketball, (PS – if you’ve never watched a league of kindergarteners play basketball, do it. Every game tests the strength of my post-children bladder due to laugher.) to find a large sofa and love chair in the middle of the driveway causing Nugget to exclaim, “Mom, doethn’t Baba know dothse are thupposed to go inthide? Geez Baba.”

This is where it got ugly. Those large items had to move from the driveway into the living room, the old ones needed new homes and the Turk couldn’t do it alone. Bilingual profanity was thrown. I may or may not have left my husband stranded in a stairwell holding a sofa when his complaining pushed me over the edge. Children and the feline scattered and the traditional, husband-wife-furniture-moving-harsh-words were spoken. “If you think you know how to do this better, then do it by yourself!”

Ultimately the furniture got moved and as we sat down on our new thrones and cracked open well-deserved beers, even my stubborn husband admitted he’d made the wrong choice and that a delivery fee was a small price to pay to save a marriage.

A few hours after the sofas were in place; he was off again. He’d found “great deals” on a floor lamp and coffee table. Before he could leave, I had no choice but to seize his wallet. He’d had his fix and this bender needed to end. He’ll be on lock-down until the summer thaw as I rule our home from the clean lines of my mid-century inspired, scotch-guarded throne. (It doesn’t even have butt-dents yet!)

New Year…Wider Butt

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Well 2019 is off and running and it’s already looking better than that miserable 2018.  For starters, Mama’s back to work full-time. (Which is good because, though it was fun for a few months, I’m not a good stay-at-home mom and we’re not near a tax bracket that allows me to take on ‘lady of leisure’ as a career choice.) I’ve kicked the sugar monkey off my back for a couple weeks so far, reintroduced kale into our diet (much to the dismay of my family) took the stationary bike out of storage and I’ve managed to exercise twice. (I do not have to disclose how long each of those sessions lasted.) I’m not usually a diet resolution kind of gal as I’m not a fan of failure but after a year from hell filled with a cross-country move, a shift in old lady hormones and a banged up foot that left me gimpy and in a boot for months, my ass spread needed immediate attention. (I also have a 5 year old whose height hovers around butt-level and reminds me daily in his little lisp that “Mom, I wuv your big, fat butt.” Gee, thanks kid.)

So as the clock struck midnight on December 31, I decided to made some changes. No more watching My 600 Pound Life to feel better about myself. No more excuses using the bum foot (It’s not going away until I have surgery over the summer so suck it up woman.) No more eating like an adolescent boy and basically getting back to the way I lived life before all hell broke loose last year. While I have been busily shifting gears to return to my ongoing quest for a Tyra Banks bod, (I won’t let any 10” height difference dissuade me damn it.), I also realized it important to take a minute to pat myself on the back for having survived last year.

I dreaded the start of 2018. I knew that as soon as Ryan Seacress dropped the ball and the champagne was spilled, it was game on. (Full disclosure: I seldom see midnight on New Years’ Eve but you get the gist.) The start of 2018 meant boxes needed packed, houses needed bought and sold, jobs needed left and really crappy decisions needed to be made. The new year meant that the process of relocating once again was upon us and that totally sucked.

In case you missed it (or ICYM as the kids say. I just figured that out recently because after years in the bible belt I automatically assumed the CYM part stood for Christian Youth Ministry. This heathen’s scars linger.) let me recap our 2018:

January –

  • Made the official decision to accept my husband, the Turk’s, relocation from Indianapolis to Boston – making it relocation #8 for our 10 year old. (Yes, he has a therapy fund.)

February –

  • Began the horrific task of prepping a fixer-upper that wasn’t quite fixed-up, to sell. (ie-undoing, redoing and finishing The Turk’s “projects”)

March –

  • Fought off a relocation-mandated spousal job counselor who called daily to remind me to begin my job hunt in Massachusetts. (Yo girl, how ‘bout we find a home first?)
  • Broke the news to my students I was abandoning them.
  • Celebrated 2 family birthdays.
  • Began the horrors of packing up a family of 4.

April –

  • Headed to Boston to house hunt with the world’s worst realtor.
  • Considered buying a house until we noticed a prison in its backyard.
  • Upon returning home, fired the world’s worst realtor.
  • Got new a realtor.
  • Sent the Turk back out to “Just buy a damn house. I don’t care where, I don’t care what – just buy us a damn house!”
  • Bought a house in Massachusetts and sold a house in Indiana on the same day. (Booyah.)

May –

  • Did the 700 pages of papers necessary to sell a house.
  • Did the 800 pages of papers necessary to buy a house.
  • Taught the final month of school, including exams and wrote 60-plus grade reports.
  • Bought homeowners insurance on a house I’d never seen. (Thanks Zillow)
  • Began a half-assed job search after excessive pressure from the pushy relocation-mandated spousal job counselor.
  • Organized packers, movers, moving vans, car carriers, closing dates on both homes, travel accommodations and all those ridiculous things you have to do to buy and sell homes, pack up a life and schlep halfway across the country.
  • Said good-byes.
  • Quit my job.
  • Questioned my sanity. Repeatedly

June –

  • Closed on two different houses 3 days apart.
  • Drove from Indiana to Massachusetts with two kids, a Turk and a surly cat.
  • Waited on a moving van.
  • Spent hours on the phone trying to locate said moving van.
  • Finally unpacked new house.
  • Dealt with ridiculous power issues at new house and forged a wonderful bond with the linemen from the power company. (This will come in handy during the storm this weekend.)

July –

  • Finally sat down. On the beach. Which is 15 minutes from my house.

August –

  • Ate copious amounts of seafood in honor of my new homeland.
  • Took my little half-breeds to frolick on the beach on the reg.
  • Threw myself into the new culture through PeeWee football.

September –

  • Sent my children to school and shared the weirdest moment of silence ever.
  • Spent every other moment taking kids to football.

October-

  • Netflixed and chilled.
  • More football.
  • Tried to decide what to be when I grow up.
  • Became painfully aware that while I was distracted with relocation, my ass had grown substantially.
  • Decided to start running again in an attempt to rein in my ample backside.

November –

  • Jacked up my foot trying to reduce my substantial ass and was sentenced to a boot for the next two months.
  • Decided it was time to actually find a job.
  • Mourned because I couldn’t find a job.
  • Celebrated the end of the longest PeeWee football season known to mother-kind.
  • Lamented my grande gluteus maximus from my gimpy position.

December –

  • Bit the bullet and took up substitute teaching.
  • Realized I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m a teacher. That’s what I do.
  • Got a job teaching.

As you can see, it was a hell of a year. I needed a nap and a cocktail after just recalling it all. If gaining 15-20 pounds was what I needed to survive that crap show, then that’s a reasonable trade-off. I’ll give this whole new lifestyle a change for a few more weeks and if we don’t agree then no harm no foul. I’m just as feisty with a fat butt and I might need those extra pounds to get me through my first New England winter. One thing is for certain – I have no intention to relive a year like that ever again. (Hear that Turk? I’m not relocating again…unless…they show the big bucks…)

Burning Trains and Bedwetting- The Things That Keep You Laughing…

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The stress of a relocation lasts far beyond the initial move. Having done this a few times, I know it can easily take a year to get everyone adjusted and at least a solid nine months for stress to begin to dissipate. Unfortunately we’re not there yet. Relocation is not for the weak. Between falling trees, stanky wells and a job search moving at the pace of a molasses flow in Siberia, the last few weeks have been stressful here at casa de Turkish Delights. I try my best to remain Little Margie Sunshine but sometimes circumstances dull my shine. But as is usually the case, just when things get crappy, life hands out some of its best laughs.

I’d been dealing with some unrelenting stress for a little too long so I decided to reward myself with a day off last week. (Or at least a – post -mom duties, pre- bus stop “day” off.) I’d start with a pot of coffee, then break out the cookies I’d squirreled away into an undisclosed location and catch up on my beloved trashy spy drama, The Americans. I started watching this show 5 years ago but there are too many boobies and bullets in these tales of 80’s espionage so I’ve been limited to consuming my spy-tales on the rare occasion of no offspring present which is why I’m not even at the halfway point of the series.

Before I could even get the kids on the bus, my phone began blowing up with texts, photos and finally a call.

“Honey, can you come get me?” The Turk asked.

My husband left for work more than an hour prior so I had no idea what he was talking about. “What? Where are you?” I yelled into the phone over the roar of the school bus.

“My train is on fire. Look at pictures. I send pictures.”

I quickly scrolled over the photos I’d ignored, (not that I always ignore things he sends me but…) and I’ll be damned. There it was, my Turk standing in front of a flaming train. I didn’t know whether to be concerned or to crack up. He seemed unharmed so I went with my go-to and busted out laughing. “Where are you? You’re ok, right? How did this happen?” Though I was laughing, I could feel my day off slipping away. I reached out to pull the Russians back but…but…no.

“Everybody had to get off train and now we all stuck. There are no Ubers. There is another train behind that is stuck but it is not on fire. Only my train on fire. Can you pick me?”

I felt sorry for my Mediterranean husband, standing in the middle of nowhere, perhaps even in a cranberry bog, with nothing more than a winter coat and travel mug of coffee to keep him warm, but I also had to laugh at the situation. I mean, it’s not every day you are commuting and your train bursts into flames next to a Dunkin Donuts. “I’m on my way.”

I made it in just under twenty minutes and was soon a participant in a parade of spouses filing through a Dunkin Donuts parking lot, stopping just long enough to load a hostile commuter and their briefcases before departing. I took solace in the knowledge that all of these other spouses were also losing their beautifully planned days as well.

When the Turk got in the car he gave me the play by play and we proceeded to laugh all the way home because when life sets your train on fire, there’s not much you can do but laugh.

My restructured day involved five million errands, six million loads of laundry, the news that I needed a root canal and not a single Russian spy. By day’s end I was ready for a restful sleep but my children felt differently. Not long into the night, Nugget appeared by my bedside.

“Mom. Mom. Mom.”

“What?”

“I had a bad dream.” He finished his statement while hurdling himself across my body, “I need to sleep in here.”

Too tired to fight, I snuggled up with my 5 year-old and went back to sleep.

An hour later, I received another notification.

“Mom. Mom. Mom.”

This time it was Number 1 Son at my bedside. “What?”

“Something’s wrong. I think I peed in my bed.” He was traumatized. He hadn’t wet the bed in years.

“It’s ok. Sometimes when you’re really, really tired accidents happen.” I tried to reassure him.

“Not me. I don’t pee the bed.” Number 1 and I stripped the mattress and began the process of remaking his bed in the wee hours of the morning and after more reassurance, he finally gave up the fight and returned to bed.

The next morning Number 1 was still lamenting the previous night’s happenings. “I just don’t get it Mom. I never pee the bed. I’m old.” (Child, if 10 is old go get yourself a damn job.)

Before we could rehash everything in daylight, Nugget strutted down the stairs, curiously wearing different pajamas than I’d put him in the night before.

I knew that that meant. The kid has a history of shady behaviors in the night. “Did you just pee in my bed Nugget?”

Rubbing his eyes and stretching his arms over his bedhead, he casually replied, “Nah.”

“Well, why are you wearing different pajamas?” I asked.

“Because I peed in Teo’s bed last night. I couldn’t sleep in a wet bed so I changed my jammies and came to your bed.” Nugget was very nonchalant about his evil doings, as is usually the case. This is why we opted to turn his college fund into a bail fund a few years ago. It’s important to understand your investing.

It only took a second for Number 1 to make the connection. “Wait. So I didn’t pee my bed? You peed in my bed?  Oh my God, I slept in your pee! Disgusting! You suck!”

While the stress is still high, the universe continues to send me comedic interludes to keep me somewhat sane and out of the Betty Ford Clinic for a little longer. Laugh it up because sometimes, it’s the only think keeping you balanced!

 

Homesteaders Are Usually Dead By My Age

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After we returned to the US, years ago, the Turk accompanied me on a work trip to visit a group of homesteaders. These people lived without electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. It wasn’t for religious reasons or out of necessity. It was just a bunch of crazy hippies who’d decided homesteading would be cool. After a lunch of kale and canned meat eaten while bundled in winter coats, they proudly showed off composting toilets and guest huts made from mud and straw. Being a writer, I’m always enthralled with strange life choices but the Turk was visibly twisted at every turn. Eventually, the free-range rooster chased him to the car where he waited out my adventure. On the road back to civilization we were a little shell-shocked.

“What the hell that?!” He exclaimed.

“It’s odd right?”

“Odd? No. It crazy. Why people choose live like that? In my country people live like that in village because they have no money. Only in America would people choose to live like villagers.”

In the past week those crazy hippies kept crossing my mind as the Turk and I have battled our own turn to villager life at our little house in the woods. As weather moved from fall into winter this week, our wooded home began to take on the characteristics of a death trap. When encased by 40-foot pines, the chance of a tree or substantial segment of said tree, plummeting to earth like a pre-historic spear is real. This was exactly what I saw happening as the prediction for the first snow was revealed. Though the prediction was for a dusting, I have a solid skepticism of all weather personnel. Instead of a dusting, my mind saw a heavy snow pushing a 40-foot Christmas tree through my roof and into my cranium as I slumbered.

As the snow began to fall, the “dusting” mark was quickly surpassed. Reports on the local Facebook page warned of a wave of power outages creeping down our street. Block by block, transformers were blowing and, of course, our generator was in the garage, safely wrapped in it’s original packaging. (Because the Turk has yet to admit his fear of it and has thus far avoided installation.) Amid the sparkling flakes falling gently to the ground, one could hear the creaks and cracks of breaking limbs plummeting around us. The Turk and I contemplated pulling out his stock of company hard hats for protection but chose instead to turn up the television loud enough to mask the noise until the power failed.

By a twist of fate, we kept our power but as the sun came up the next morning there were two surprises, three to four inches of snow (Dusting my ass – hence my skepticism is justified) and a massive 20 foot branch sprawled across our front lawn mere feet from the front door. We thought we’d dodged a bullet but later realized we were not so lucky as three trees had crashed through our back fence.

“I have to fix fence. This not safe. Anything can come in here.” He lamented.

“Just what do you think is going to sneak into our backyard besides Sasquatch? There is nothing around here but woods and cranberry bogs.”

“What if coyote jump over fence?”

“If he does I’m sure he won’t stay long. We’ve got nothing to offer.”

“I will fix this weekend.” He claimed.

“You’re going to physically bend the chain-link fence back into place with your bare hands?”

“Why not? I am Turk.”

We spent the following weekend hacking and chopping the down trees into fire wood while simultaneously laying scars in my brain for the next tree-fall, I mean snowfall. After a brief attempt by SuperTurk to bend the steel pipes of the fence back into shape, he decided to table that project for a few weeks. The weekend of fence work and hauling wood made me feel rather Laura Ingles and though I loved Little House on the Prairie, I’m not really down with it in 2018.

Another added dimension to having a house in the woods of New England is that it comes with a well. The Turk and I have never had a well before but he assured me that as a water engineer he was more than capable of caring for the system and saving his family from death by toxic water. It was going well until Thanksgiving week when our water turned brown and took on an unbearable iron stench. Our shower smelled like a crime scene and every tub, sink and toilet in the house turned dark orange.

For days the Turk was in denial about the water but after pouring himself a nice glass of brown water, he stated “Maybe something wrong with the well.” He then disappeared into the well closet downstairs not to be seen for hours. Every few hours he would trudge upstairs, pour another cup of brown water, mutter Turkish profanity and return to the well closet.

Meanwhile, like Laura Ingles, I went out to fetch water, (So maybe it was Poland Spring in a jug rather than water from a babbling brook but it was totally the same.) This is not the first time I’ve had to go out and fetch water. Back in Turkey, tap water wasn’t safe to drink. In the city it was easy, you made a call and a sweaty Turk delivered bottled water but when we lived at the Turkish water treatment plant (yet another relocation for the Turk’s job) I had to trudge across the grounds with a toddler tied to my back and bring back drinking water from the purification building. Foolishly I thought we’d gotten past that stage of life.

By day two, the kids were refusing to shower and my hands had turned black from washing dishes, so the Turk decided to seek assistance. Hours later he returned with some new tricks from the local well company and by the next morning his attempts were starting to pay off as the toilets turn from brown to light orange. (We’re going to stick with drinking the Poland Spring for a bit longer though.)

Between hauling water, dodging falling pines, chopping downed trees into firewood, and shoring fences, the Turk and I are basically homesteading and we’re both too damn old for it. While I love our secluded little corner of New England, there is something to be said for suburbs with city water and free of 40-foot pine death traps. But as I tell the boys, “This builds character.” And if this week is any indication, by the end of winter I should have more character than Sally Fields in Sybil. Wish me luck; it’s going to be a long winter.

Hello Darkness, My Nemesis…

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Last year we sat in Indianapolis trying to decide if we would take my husband, The Turk’s, relocation and start over in New England, The Turk pro-New England and me not so sure. Our evening conversations looked something like this:

Me: “It snows there for like 8 months!”

The Turk: “You born in Iowa. That is like tundra. You will be fine.”

Me: “They have hurricanes.”

The Turk: “Here there are tornados.”

Me: “It’s so far north it’s like Canada. We’re going to freeze.”

The Turk: Slyly eyeing my extra 20-post-baby-five-years-ago pounds, “I think you be fine.”

Eventually I agreed to take the plunge into the frigid North Atlantic, but my climate worries were never truly eased. Since our arrival in June we’ve had winds that made me doubt the Turk’s choice to buy a house surrounded by 40-foot pine trees and rains that made me glad to be far above bog level. But these are small potatoes compared to what  awaits us.

Winter is coming. (Insert Game of Thrones music and other nerd references of your choosing here.)

But before the seasonal horrors I must face such as traversing an insanely steep, ice covered, driveway or dodging snow covered pines as they fall upon my roof, I must contend with last weekend’s horror, (aka the stupidest idea since literally, the dawn of time) the end of Daylight Savings Time. Instead of waking in the dark and enjoying sun well into cocktail hour, we swap the clocks, ultimately screwing up the body clocks of every human and animal in that time zone and beyond. For what? No one really knows. Daylight Savings Time is bad, but the end of Daylight Savings Time in New England is a horror unspeakable.

Last week the weathercasters began bantering about the time change. “It’s almost time to change those clocks New Englanders and you know what that means.” The helmet haired man teased.

To which I would scream, “No! What dose that mean Helmet Head? How ‘bout a recap for the newbies?”

The next day he was at it again. “Day Light Savings Time is almost over and New Englanders, we all know what happens.”

“No we don’t Helmet Head.” I’d scream at the television causing my children to question my sanity. “Some of us have no clue! Don’t be such a Masshole.”

Finally, the morning news explained everything, “It’s about time to turn back those clocks and get ready for 4:30 sunsets.” The beautiful Asian anchor lamented while sharing a forced chuckle with her co-anchor. I’m sure they shared other important tidbits of information but my brain was stuck. The sun would set at 4:30? How could this be?

As most do in a panic, I turned to Google for confirmation. Though she seemed like a credible new source, the beautiful Asian anchor was wrong. The sun didn’t set at 4:30 in my new homeland. No, depending on the day, it set some days as early as 4:12. God help me.

Indiana was the westernmost edge of the Eastern Time Zone. It didn’t belong in the Eastern Time Zone at all but had wiggled its way in against the wishes of many a few years before we moved there. This meant that sunset in Indiana was more than an hour later than most places on the East Coast. In the summer it sucked trying to get kids to bed when it was still light at 9:30 but in the winter, the sun would still be shining to usher you home from work and well into dinner prep, usually setting around 5:30.

Were we spoiled by sun time in Indiana? Most certainly but a 4:15 sunset seems excessive New England. It’s not that I’m a sun bunny or anything. (Especially when said sun is hot and makes my butt sweat.) But I really hate darkness. I hate driving in the dark because I’m old and blind and sometimes see things that aren’t there like a loose moose or a crazed yeti. I hate being outside in the dark because I’m pretty sure there is a murderous madman lurking behind every building, bush or tree. To top things off, I now have a house in the woods and you know what happens in the woods at dark? Sasquatch. Sasquatch goes frolicking through the woods in the dark and now that hairy bastard will be frolicking through my backyard from 4:30 on every damn night leaving his big-ass footprints where I’m trying to re-grow grass. Not cool Sassy.

On the first day of the time change I lamented my newly found horror to a few other parents at the football game. These were all native New Englanders and they had a few tips.

  1. “Get some good fuzzy jammies and get used to putting them on early. We tend to jammie up as soon as we get home and stay that way until morning.”

This seemed reasonable. If I love anything it’s loungewear and staying home. What’s better than an excuse to extend my loungewear time and remain homebound?

  1. “We drink more in winter.”

I think this goes without saying, but hells yes, sign me up. Perhaps I can convert Nugget’s closet into a wine cellar. He’s little and his pants don’t take up much room. It is for survival after all.

  1. “The time change here means you need to do two things, hook up the generator and refill your antidepressants. No shame in happy pills. Everyone else here is on them.”

I liked this acknowledgement of using the pharmaceutical assistance invented for getting through metaphorical darkness to get through the physical darkness of New England. And fortunately, we bought our generator a few months ago.

I’ve tried to keep my panic at bay about the impending period of darkness but I’ve been unsuccessful. The looming sunset is always on my mind.

“Boys, you know it’s going to get dark soon. You better get ready.”

“Mom, it’s 11:30 in the morning.”

“Exactly. You have 6 hours left of this day. You better use it.” (Insert horrific tween eye rolling here.)

It’s 3:30 now so I’d better go. Looks like its time to put my jammies on and pour the wine. After all, if I’m going to make it though my first New England winter I’d better adhere to the advice of the natives. Maybe in time I’ll adjust to the darkness and learn to embrace it by treating it like a sort of hibernation. But for now, I’m going to keep whining as I turn on the security lights in the hopes of keeping a Sasquatch from doing a soft-shoe on my back deck.

Bloggin’ and Boggin’, It’s Cranberry Time!

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As a kid in Iowa, New England might as well have been a different country. My school wasn’t down with geography but as I’ve learned, that’s a trait shared by many land-locked education systems. (I think it’s jealousy.) Everything I knew about New England could be boiled down to four things:

  1. Pilgrims landed there.
  2. Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party happened there.
  3. Everyone hated their football team.
  4. Cranberries came from there.

The latter was something I knew because even as a kid I loved cranberries. My mouth watered when Mom opened the can and jiggled out the gel every Thanksgiving. (Shut up, that was classy in the 70s!) When most of the family turned up their noses, I scarfed down the extra tart cranberry relish made by Grandma Pete every Christmas. And thanks to an unsubstantiated claim by a small-town doctor regarding my mild kidney issue, my mother poured bottles of cranberry juice down my gullet for the first ten years of life to my joy.

As a kid, I’d seen photos in magazines of people standing in the water, scooping up cranberries and found it fascinating. My dad and uncle harvested corn and soybeans every fall with huge combines, filling truck after truck but that wasn’t fascinating. It was boring old farming. Maybe if the corn was the perfect shade of red and Dad scooped the corn out of a pool my interest would’ve been piqued but otherwise – meh.

When my husband The Turk told me our new home in Massachusetts was in cranberry country, I was pretty psyched. I wasn’t sure what cranberry country would look like but I was ready for the adventure. As I’ve discussed earlier (here it is in case you missed it) the downside of cranberry country is the plethora of snakes (The little bastards love the bogs but sometimes take a wrong turn to my front steps.) and the sand – sand that is enough to drive a mother crazy. Otherwise cranberry country is beautiful, consisting of lots of low-lying bogs filled with little bushes about 8 inches high everywhere you turn.

From the moment we landed in cranberry country this summer, I’ve waited for harvest season. I wanted to see if the images on TV and in those magazines were legit and more importantly, I wanted to see cranberries harvested for real. I asked everyone I met if they knew a cranberry farmer but came up empty. I considered putting out a call on the local Facebook page but that seemed a bit psycho and as we’re new in this little town, I’m trying to keep my crazy on the down low.

September came and went and I didn’t see a single bog harvest. The bogs were turning that beautiful shade of red but not a single one was flooded and filled with people in waders. Every errand I’d run would turn into a bog-stalking mission and every trip came up empty, until yesterday.

I’d just dropped Number 1 Son off at school following a doctor’s appointment and was cruising home when I spied it, a flooded bog! I slowed just in time to see the tell-tale floating crimson circle. PAYDIRT! I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by even if it was on a major thoroughfare. I whipped a quick U-ie and headed back with the lone intention of snapping a few photos. My scientific nerdom has long filled me with fascination about these berries and this coupled with my dangerous level of curiosity led to what happened next.

I couldn’t get a good photo and besides, was a photo really enough? I saw an open driveway and skidded in. I tried to look sane but when the woman standing there shoved her small son protectively behind her I realized I’d failed. The day-long drizzle had my hair frizzing like a cartoon crazy and thanks to the damp cold, I had on so many layers my ensemble was only missing a shopping cart.

From the men knee deep in water to the woman loading the truck, their expressions were universal – What the hell is this nut job doing and is she packin’ heat? Immediately I tried to prove my harmlessness.

“I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve never seen a cranberry harvest before. We just moved from Indiana.” (I think I was better before I offered up the Indiana reference but I kept going.) “Can I just take some photos to show my kids?” When you throw in a reference to motherhood you’re always legit.

The farmers were more than amenable to my request causing me to think back to my own dad and what he might have done if some crazy New Englander stopped off in his cornfield and asked to take photos because she’d never seen corn harvested before. I knew what Dad would’ve done and that’s what led me to my next action – “So, how does this whole thing work?”

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Public interest is something that a farmer cannot resist. Farming is a thankless job so even if some lunatic woman shows interest, a good farmer will take the PR opportunity. He and his partner (a bad-ass female in chest-high waders) explained the entire process.

They use a machine to knock the berries off the bush to the ground.

-They then flood the blog with knee-deep water and the berries float on top for harvest.

-Berries are corralled with a black rubber barrier about 6” wide and dragged to shore.

-A huge pump pulls the berries out and dumps them into a truck.

-The truck takes the berries to the Ocean Spray plant on the other side of town and then returns over and over until the bog is empty.

It’s not all that different than harvesting corn but when you add the colors and the whole flooding process and even the word “bog” it just seems cooler. As the farmers in the bog pointed out, you don’t realize how cool it is until some crazy woman recently relocated from Indiana whips her car off the road to take photos and ask a gazillion questions.

I told them about growing up on a corn farm and we soon found that though the crops and processes are vastly different, the rest is basically the same right down to the cranberry farmer’s wife and young son bringing him lunch like my mom and we kids once did.

The Turk didn’t share my excitement, nor did my boys but that’s ok. If my dad were still alive he would’ve loved it and that was enough. My nerd bucket is filled and the farmers even told me Ocean Spray was hiring this week if I was interested in getting in on the packaging end of things. I’m giving it some thought. I do look fabulous in a hairnet.

So this Thanksgiving buy an extra bag or a couple more cans of cranberry goodness. I gotta keep my new found people in business. We have to support our farmers be they in a field or a bog because without farmers we’re all screwed.

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Thar She Blows!

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Now that we have moved to a hotbed of biodiversity, I’ve determined my children will become outdoorsmen. What’s the point of living in New England if you can’t legitimately rock some L.L. Bean?

Lots of men garner their sportsman skills during boyhood from fathers and grandfathers who lead them on this journey but in our house that is not the case. Sure, when we lived in Turkey I witnessed their father, The Turk, join army friends to hunt wild boars and wow me with sea fishing skills but none of that seemed to make it across the US boarder with his new American passport. This summer, as the Turk hid indoors from mosquitos while the boys and I enjoyed our new wooded homestead, I realized if my little men were to become outdoorsmen, it was up to me.

I decided to started with fishing and while it was a great idea to “teach my men to fish so they could eat for a lifetime,” I wasn’t certain I had the knowledge to be the master baiter. (Hehehehehe. See what I did there? A dirty fishing pun. I’m twelve.) The last time I’d fished was when we lived in Turkey. From a dock in the Aegean, The Turk taught me to angle like the native fishermen using a reel but no rod, bait that looks like bamboo and exercising caution over certain catches. “You catch that one, he electrocute you and you die. Do not catch that one.” My beloved warned. That was my lone lesson and we did pretty well but none of that was going to help me as a freshwater fisherwoman.

Prior to that Aegean outing, my experience consisted of pond fishing in Iowa when my dad would bait the hook, remove the catch and often help his lone daughter cast the line. (Because her coordination was a bit slow to develop.) I was not what one might call a skilled angler. I needed a refresher course if I was going to teach my offspring the ways of the sportsman. Fortunately a family friend is retired nearby and was more than willing to be a surrogate grandpa helping me to hone (Scratch that, I mean, develop) my fishing skills. After a morning at his pond I was ready for a solo run.

We headed to the sporting goods store where I normally spend copious amounts of money on items for peewee football, so it was refreshing to give them my money in a new department. (When I’m eating dog food during my retirement, I will constantly remind my offspring that my 401K was spent on football gear.) After gathering the requisite equipment it was time to make it official and get a license. The keeper of the fish department issued my license but must have been looking at Number 1 when he filled in the “physical description” segment. According to my fishing license I’m a blue-eyed blonde weighing 120 pounds and while that’s flattering, I’m a green-eyed burnette and haven’t weighed 120 pounds since the 5th grade, but I’ll take it.

Our first excursion was a success likely because I’d spent several hours at home preparing the rods while cursing the process. A fat dude at a skeezy bait shop recommended a nearby dock and though his shop likely doubled as a mob front, he knew his quality fishing spots. (Likely because he needed occasional drop spots for his mob business involving cement shoes.) The boys reeled them in one after another.

One thing I didn’t take into account about leading my boys to sportmanship was the gross-out factor. When you take two kids fishing alone, you are in a constant swirl of wormy hands, tangled lines and slimy fish thrust in your face. It’s parental purgatory. Who actually enjoys the touch of slimy fish while freeing them from capture or the feel of worm guts under mildly manicured nails? Not I, but just like you can never let dogs see your fear, you can never let your sons see your gross-out factor. That simply provides them with an upper hand. (P.S. – having brothers is a huge asset to a gal grooming boys to become men.) As the fish came flying at my face followed by “Mom! I got one! Take it off and help me put on a new worm.” I muttered my mantra, “I’ve touched worse…I’ve touched worse.”

Nugget is down with fishing but his interest only lasts about 10 minutes then I spend the remainder of the outing untangling his line, (that he’s attached to everything from nearby trees to my thigh) plying him with snacks and trying to keep him from falling in. Last week while he was in summer school I had the luxury of taking only 1 kid fishing. Foolishly, I believed it would be relaxing like fishing appears to be on beer commercials. With his first cast he caught a tree and needed his pole restrung, then there was a broken reel and the fish that swallowed the hook. After averting disaster for 5 full minutes and swearing non-stop under my breath, I was ready to test the repaired line. Immediately I  hooked something Number 1 and I were certain was the freshwater brother of Moby Dick.

“Hold on Mom! It’s a big one!”

I tried to be cool but it was impossible. This was it. I had a big one. “It won’t reel! I can’t get it to work!” (I’m still working on my repair skills.) I was frantically spinning the handle while watching my pole bend like a scene from a National Geographic show about Amazonian monster fish. The pressure was palpable. Here I was, showing my son girl-power in action. His mother was about to reel in a big-ass fish!

“Don’t lose it Mom!” His excitement was building and he was jumping up and down a little too close to the edge. I did not want to face the choice of saving my child or reeling in my big–ass fish because I can’t guarantee I’d drop my pole. (Don’t judge, the kid can swim.)

Fortunately I didn’t have a Sophie’s Choice moment because my line snapped. I watched as my bobber, bait and line all took off across the water. Moments later a penis-like head popped up near the bobber. Because I am missing the parental edit button that prevents me from the deletion of potty words in front of my offspring, I yelled – “Screw you dickhead! You might have broken my line but you head looks like a penis!” As the words came out of my mouth I wished I was with my one-eared kid who only hears half of my profanity.

“Mom!” My judgmental ten-year-old exclaimed. But within seconds he reconsidered, “I mean you are right. His head does kind of look like a penis.”

So it wasn’t a big-ass fish. It was just a big-ass turtle but it was a nice teachable moment for my son to understand the importance of accurate trash talk. My sportsman development has a ways to go but I’m finding more joy than anticipated in the ride. Especially when the Turk opens his beer fridge and screams, “What the hell? Why there are worm in my fridge?”