The Last Day

When you’re actively employed—waking up early to the nagging of the alarm clock and slogging to work day after day—one cannot help but imagine that the day will inevitably come that is their “Last Day of Work.” Whether it be to retire, begin a new job or explore a life/career change… we imagine it will be miraculous and glorious with the choirs of angels singing and the clouds parting and all that jazz.

Well, dear friends and readers… today is that day for me and so far there are no choirs of angels or parting of clouds. Now, bear in mind that I have never and I mean NEVER left a position without another similar or better position waiting in the wings. Or at the very least several promising interviews on the books and resumes scattering the earth like propaganda leaflets being dropped by plane.

I have always worked. Since I was 15 years old I have held down at least one and as many as four different jobs at a time. So I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d be leaving a job with a generous, comprehensive benefits package behind in pursuit of “whatever happens.” But this time… THIS time is unique.

This time I have a supportive and encouraging man in my life who sees my full potential and recognizes that “it will be OK” if I don’t find that dream replacement job tomorrow. Words cannot express the peace and joy with which his calm confidence fills me.

In the interim, my plan is to try my hand at domesticity. (Please pick up reading wherever you left off after the laughter has stopped.) Martha Stewart I am not, but that doesn’t mean I cannot learn the artful ways of the domestic goddess. Right? You’re still laughing aren’t you? Until the dream job comes calling I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to get back in shape and keep a home. I’m serious.

Ten of the 50 pounds I recently lost have moved back in and taken up residency on my ass and both of us abhor the wallpaper in the living and dining rooms. It’s officially time to tackle my fear of the oven and its cousin, the stove. My wardrobe needs a good looking over and some serious organization.

The jury is still out on whether or not I’ll miss the office gossip, dressing up for work each day and talking to other professionals… but I suspect there will likely be a bit of a honeymoon period for me, my sweats, my yoga mat and the cat. I promise to take as many of you who care (or dare) to join me along on this new expedition—and with the whole domestic goddess goal in the mix—I can also promise that it shan’t be boring.

The House That Re-Built Me

Standing squarely, both feet planted firmly on the ground and staring straight down the road toward a brand new life one cannot help but feel a range of emotions. There is excitement and anticipation for the adventure that is about to begin and yet it is accompanied by tinges of nostalgia and sadness for that which is being left behind.

This is what I’ve been experiencing on a nightly basis upon my return home from work. I have moved many times in my life. Twelve to be exact… and yes that makes this particular move of mine “Lucky Number 13.” But for anyone who has moved you know that some homes hold special places in your heart. This home has been just that for me.

I consider myself fortunate to have called so many unique, beautiful and interesting places “home” over the years — like a dude ranch high in the breathtaking Colorado Rockies and an ancient adobe-turned-studio-apartment in New Mexico (where I slept in a loft above my walk-in closet… accessible only by an equally-old, wooden ladder.)

Also in New Mexico, there was the four-bedroom, brick ranch that I helped to gut and remodel with my own two hands, blood, sweat and tears… And the gorgeous upstairs condo overlooking a bare, unblemished desert. From my windows there I could watch the mountains as they transformed from purple to a fiery salmon and eventually a deep blue in one 24-hour period.

And as fascinating and different and “exotic” as those destinations were from the place in Northeastern Ohio where I was born, raised and currently reside… my simple two-bedroom home has been a sanctuary. I walked in the door three years ago… 50 pounds overweight and pretty beaten down by life. Suffice it to say that it was through both circumstance and choice that I arrived in this state of being and unpacked my things within these walls a completely different person than the one who is typing these words.

The 100 year old charm is built right in, constantly making itself known in the creak of each floorboard — this home, all that surrounds it and the time that I have spent here has literally served in the re-building of me. It sits across the street from my parents, two blocks from my sister and seven nieces and nephews and is literally surrounded on ALL other sides by people who knew me as a child.

In the town that I came from and during the time in which I grew up there, the notion that it takes a village to raise a child was not only accepted it was EXPECTED. So when I returned to that very same neighborhood, 33 and broken, it seemed that my family, everyone around me, as well as the house and the neighborhood itself… all had a hand in putting me back together again.

With just the tiniest bit of sadness and a giant heap of gratitude I have begun re-packing my things into boxes and am thrilled at the thought of a new life ahead. The lump in my throat that forms each time I remove a picture from the wall tells me that the house’s work is done now. At least it is for me.

With hammers, nails, lumber, drywall and shingles it provided a quiet shelter during the storms, a safe place to pause and heal, reflect, refresh, reset and renew. It has finished its work in me. And when I leave my keys behind, I’ll know the time has come to move on.

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Cats and Cardboard Cities

Ahhh the joys of moving. Taking your house apart bit by dusty bit and placing all of your things into boxes only to load them onto a truck, drive somewhere else, unload them from said truck, unpack them and try to figure out where the hell you’re going to put everything in the new space.

Yes, it is just one of those things that we humans must do now and again and it is never fun. The results can be wonderful and rewarding—make no mistake—but the act itself is a little… shall we say… off-putting?

But I am an adult and I can handle this transition. Excited and anticipatory about the future, I am able to focus on all of the new adventures coming my way. The cat… on the other hand (Or should I say paw?) is not going to be quite as thrilled.

Currently, my dining room looks like a cardboard cityscape. Boxes of all shapes and sizes are stacked up lining the periphery waiting anxiously for me to fill them with my crap. I thought it would be a good idea to have the boxes close at hand so that Stanley, my cat, could get used to them for a bit before I begin the demolition of his world.

Now, cat owners know this already but for those of you non-cat people, I will fill you in on a little cat secret: They love boxes. Like a kid at Christmas—more interested in the box than its contents—a cat will hop into an open box and make it his own within a matter of seconds. It is a rather adorable sight to behold… if you like cats… and I obviously do… but I digress.

Stanley is of course, no exception. He started out at the bottom of the “city” just lying around inside one of the small ones that happens to be turned on its side.  He then bravely ventured to another larger one flipped upright and hung out in there for quite awhile.

Then last night I found him, all Lewis-and-Clark-like, boldly scaling the stack to mid-level. By tonight I expect to come home to discover that he’s reached the top and rigged up some sort of flag all MacGyver-like out of a fork and dishrag to stake his claim.

All this time I can’t help but think to myself: “Sure you love the boxes NOW Stanley… but just wait until I begin packing your entire universe into them and suddenly everything you know is gone — including your favorite blanket.” And I am riddled with guilt… praying that he takes to his new digs happily and quickly.

He’s going to hate me. At least for a little while… Probably until I start unpacking in the new place and the resurrection of his cardboard city begins again.

Tossing the Rulebook

I’ve always played by the rules. I’ve always done what I’m supposed to do in the order in which I am supposed to do it. College… Work… More work… And continued work. But in a couple of weeks I am going to embark on a journey I never thought I would.

With no job waiting in the wings, I gave notice yesterday at my current place of employment. YIKES! That’s right folks. In this crazy, unpredictable world, shaky political climate and moody economy… I am packing up my house and heading south (only about 140 miles south) to start a brand new life and adventure with the man I love. And I couldn’t be more thrilled!

I am not leaving just any old garden-variety job and home behind. Which is why, perhaps, this leap into unchartered waters feels so foreign to me. The current job is a good one that came complete with a decent title, five zany suite mates/co-workers, a nice office and interesting work.

The home—100 years old, cozy, loaded with character and decorated just the way I want it—sits right across the street from my childhood home, my beloved parents, my “little sister” (their golden retriever) and a mere two blocks away from my big sister and seven nieces and nephews.

But as with everything… there is a trade off.

What I am gaining in the deal is a partner and a friend with whom to share the rest of my life. And I could just stop right there as it is more than a fair trade to spend forever with my best friend. But there also is a new home, which I am told I can decorate any way that I choose. Though we’ll see about that… He didn’t seem super thrilled when I actually told him how I felt about the lamps in his living room. And a “job” that will allow me to play Little Betty Homemaker (at least until I find one with a real paycheck).

The new “career” in and of its self should be pretty interesting since I know I have mentioned before that I tend to be a bit domestically and culinarily-challenged. I figure now is as good a time as any to learn… Provided I don’t burn the house down by leaving a stray oven mitt on a burner or something random like that. (It’s been known to happen.)

Of course, if nothing else… the transition should provide some fairly good fodder for this platform here. I’m sure they’ll be some interesting stories about my Glamour mags taking over the stacks and stacks of Sports Illustrated currently perched on the back of the toilet. Or baskets, candles and picture frames replacing biographies of Howard Stern, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Ernest Hemingway. (OK, Hemingway can stay… but the other stuff just might be gettin’ bumped by Pottery Barn.)

There’s bound to be an adjustment period to the Lifetime channel being on by default when he flicks on the tube looking to watch Sports Center. Sometimes there’s nothing quite like a poorly-scripted, horribly-portrayed, exaggerated, cheesy, over-the-top tale of a woman scorned… even if it IS Bowl Week (which by the way, lasts for THREE weeks… NOT ONE as the name suggests).

In any event, I hope you’ll stay tuned while the adventure unfolds and I try something I’ve never tried before by taking a great big step right off my “map” … into the glorious unknown.

Anyone Else Hear That Buzzing Sound?

I’ve been a little swamped lately so I hope you’ll forgive me for posting something I wrote a few summers ago when I first moved into my “new-to-me-but-very-old” house and discovered I had roommates… of the buzzing, stinging variety. Yep… yellowjacket wasps. And I am DEATHLY afriad of bees or bugs for that matter… especially ones that fly. And buzz. And sting. So, although I feel too busy to breathe right now—or at least fearful of forgetting HOW to breathe—I’d rather post SOMETHING than nothing… so I reached into the archives for this one. My hope is that you will find it as entertaining as I did horrifying… Enjoy. Oh and maybe grab your fly swatter.

Just so you’re aware, and I hope you NEVER have to find out… here is what it’s like to share your home with yellow jacket wasps…

For almost 2 weeks now, every morning, I do the “Walk of Shame” in my pajamas. At day-break, bra-less and with pillow-marks and wild hair, I scurry over to MY house from my parents’ house. I do everything at my house, except SLEEP there. The thought of one of those “creatures-from-depths-of-hell” (as I have grown fond of calling them) crawling on my pillow in the middle of the night creeps the shit out of me! What if I roll over on it, and it stings my cheek, or worse… I accidentally swallow it!?! I shudder even as I type this. I can only imagine what the neighbors must think though… a 34-year-old woman who has her own home, STILL sleeps at mommy and daddy’s every night?!? Talk about having “issues”…

Once inside the enemy’s territory, I sneak around my OWN house, tip-toeing like a cat burglar, with my WMD’s (a fly-swatter and a can of Mega-Freeze hairspray) close at hand. I enter rooms as though arriving at my own previously-anticipated surprise party… You know, because I want to surprise the surprisers that are hiding and laying in wait.

I compulsively throw open doors, blinds and curtains as if this element of surprise gives ME the upper hand against AN INSECT THAT FLIES!! I thoroughly shake out my clothes before getting dressed, I closely examine shoes and slippers before placing my foot inside—lest I squash one of them and my foot swells and it looks like I have elephantitus or some such disfiguring disease. I gingerly lift towels, rags and laundry with my thumb and fore finger in case one of the demon-spawn is hiding there. I’ve learned to RELY on the mirrors to tell me if one is sneaking up on me from behind. I suspect NOWHERE is safe, and I trust nothing.

However, I AM beginning to wonder if I am going about this ALL wrong. Perhaps the yellowjackets and I should maybe consider a less harsh solution like… couples therapy? I mean, me and the hive, could just sit down in a neutral setting, where there is no judgement or preconceived notions about “good” and “bad” and everyone is equal and we can air our grievances in a calm and cool manner. My sister once talked a raccoon into leaving her garage after several weeks, by simply speaking rationally to him, maintaining eye contact, and then leaving the door up that night when she went to bed. Soooo… anything’s possible.

Maybe I should just open up the phone book and find a family therapist who specializes in “unique” problems. I mean, OK… so MAYBE poisoning them with Aqua Net isn’t the right way to go after all, maybe it is a tad harsh. I’m not perfect. Perhaps we just need to learn to live in harmony with one another. You know, respect each other’s space. Bee considerate… and by all means, COMMUNICATE.

OK, it’s settled, I have the yellow pages, and I’m looking for therapists… I think I’ll start with the B’s…

Laminating Sarah

Like a lioness waiting in the tall grass for her prey, I swear they could smell the fear. I walked through the door and 10 pairs of eyes stared up at me from their seats. How bad can this be? I thought to myself. They look harmless enough.

Sitting there quietly around a circular table playing with Play-Doh, the 10, two and three year olds seemed content and well behaved. I’m not sure what I expected… I think something resembling pure pandemonium, but much to my surprise, they were sitting still. I spoke with one of the other teachers. She gave me some instructions on what worked and what didn’t. She told me some ways in which to prevent all hell from breaking loose—which I really appreciated. And then, she closed the door behind her and headed toward the sanctuary.

OK. I’m alone with 10 kiddlets. TEN. That’s… A LOT. I take a deep breath. And I am alone with them for over an hour. An even deeper breath. Exhale. “Hi kids! My name is Joanna and we are going to have some fun! We’re gonna play, listen to some music, then hear a bible story, and play some more! Doesn’t that sound like fun!?!” They’re just blinking at me. WHY are they just BLINKING at me? Isn’t anyone excited?

Frantically, I rummage through the papers I’ve been given. I am supposed to tell these little ones the story of Abraham and Sarah. “Who wants to hear a bible story?” I say with as much excitement as I can muster while thrusting my hand up into the air, hoping desperately that they’ll catch my enthusiasm and do the same. More blinking. Not a single hand goes in the air. OK, now I’m positive they can sense my terror.

Let me just take a moment here to interject that I am not very good with kids. I don’t have kids. I don’t watch other people’s kids. I’m never around kids, save for nieces and nephews. And they don’t count because they have to love you no matter what… that or you can usually just buy their affection with candy & video games and stuff. So when I was asked to teach the 2s and 3s class during the church service every 3rd Sunday of the month and actually agreed to it… I really had no idea what I was in for. OK… back to the story…

“So NO ONE wants to hear a bible story!?” I try for a second time to get them excited about this. However, one by one I watch the children get up from the table and just… wander off. Where are they going? I ask myself. What are they doing? I am dumbfounded at the fact that they are TOTALLY IGNORING me. Initially I try gathering them back to the table but soon realize that this, like herding cats, is a totally useless endeavor.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! I hear one girl whine from a far corner of the room. She is pulling blocks off of the shelves. Another child starts putting plastic grapes on a toy plate and waddles over to a… MICROWAVE? Surely it isn’t plugged in. Surely it is there for preparing snacks or food during the regular school week. Surely he can’t reach… Oh @#$%! It IS real, it IS plugged in and he CAN reach it because he is now microwaving plastic grapes!

“OK, Jeffrey, we aren’t going to PLAY with the microwave. That isn’t safe.” I hear myself say as I take him by the shoulders, remove the plastic grapes from the appliance (thank God they aren’t on fire) and redirect his attention elsewhere.

Mercifully, my sister enters the room then. She is in charge of the church nursery, plus is raising 7 children of her own, so any advice I can get from her at this point would be welcome and appreciated.
“How’s it going?” she asks. “Ummm… good… ummm… (my eyes are darting around the room peeled for inevitable disaster) they… uh… don’t seem to want to listen to me…” My voice trails off as I take MORE things away from Jeffrey who seems to only be interested in contraband.

My sister recommends that I try counting down from 10 minutes to Bible Story Time. Let them know that in 10 minutes we are going to put the toys away, come back to the table and listen to a story, and then go to 5 minutes, 3 minutes, etc. until it is time. This, she says, prepares them for what is to come and therefore it doesn’t become a big “issue” when it’s time for the story. I don’t see how that is going to work any better, but I’ve got nothing to lose. Meanwhile, she offers to bring down some snacks for the kids to have later. And she leaves.

I do the countdown thing, announcing every few minutes how much time we have left just as she suggested. I have no idea if it is working, but we’ll find out. I also turn on some music hoping it will calm me down and lighten the mood.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! I hear the same girl cry out from a different corner of the room. What do these kids have rockets on their butts? How are they moving around so quickly without my noticing?

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! Another girl yells out. What a sweet little angel. 



“6 minutes! In 6 minutes we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” I announce again. By now, my teenage nephew has joined me… much to my relief. My sister, sensing my panic, has sent in reinforcements! God Bless her!! It is another set of eyes, ears and hands to help me corral these little ones for story time.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! She cries out again from the toy kitchen.

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My precious little angel answers back.


“4 minutes! In 4 minutes we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” I announce again. My nephew informs me that it has been much longer than 2 minutes since the last time I reminded them of the countdown. “What does it matter Cameron… they don’t know the difference! Just so long as the number keeps getting smaller!” I hissed at him through a plastic smile. And Cameron just shrugs while helping 2 little guys make baseballs out of Play-Doh.

“Nuh-uh!” A boy says to me… “I know it’s been longer than that!” And I think to myself: Since when does a 3 year old know how to SUBTRACT!?!

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! She cries out from inside of a bookshelf.

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My darling, adorable, peaceful angel answers back.

Since the one little boy is onto my “fudging the numbers” with the countdown thing, I point to my watch and say: “When the BIG hand is on the 12, we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” And he comes over and grabs my wrist, examining my watch to see just how long it is going to be.

I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY. She says a little quieter now while standing right beside me.

I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My giving-me-hope-and-keeping-me-sane angel answers back.

“OK! It’s time! Cleanup, cleanup everybody do your share…” I sing the song as I gather up Play-Doh and blocks and plastic food. Cameron makes quick work of the cleanup too and surprisingly the children are joining in! It’s working!!! “Time to come sit down at the table now everybody! We’re going to hear a story about Abraham and his wife Sarah!” I practically sing as the children are miraculously doing what I’ve asked! The countdown worked!! It actually worked! And even my little Bible-Story-Protestor is magically seated at the table. I turn off the music.

I’ve been given a packet of materials for story time which includes the story (of course), some worksheets and several large, paper cut-outs of the biblical characters and their props in order to “act out” the story for them with visual aids. I begin telling the story by showing Abraham first. I talk about Abraham and then give him to one of the children to hold. I figure this will keep them interested if they get to interact with the teaching tools rather than just sitting there empty-handed. 



They seem to like holding the paper characters and they even raise their hands to be the next child to receive one to hold. However, they won’t simply HOLD the paper cut-outs like I’ve shown them. Instead, as I work my way through the telling of the story, I see that Abraham is standing on his head, the shepherds and their sheep have gone missing and Sarah is crumpled into a ball. So much for that idea.

Something I want to mention here that I have observed over the years is that young children who have been exposed to church and Sunday school have 2 standard answers that they will give NO MATTER WHAT THE QUESTION IS. They are (in this order): “God” and “Jesus.” Every time. No matter the question. So if I ask them: “Kids, what does it mean to make a promise?” The answer will always be: God! And when I hesitate and say: “Noooo… try again…” Then the answer will be: “Jesus!” And they seem NOT to answer with anything else until they get a bit older.

Of course this case is no exception. Every question I asked them during the story, the answers they gave were always: God and Jesus. And that, folks, concludes the question and answer portion of our time together. After what has seemed like an hour (though I know by my watch it has only been 10 minutes) I reach the end of the story. I think we are all relieved. I pass out the worksheets and TRY to help them fill them out. I figure I have GOT to send these kids home with something to show for their time spent in here. We haul out the crayons and no sooner do I attempt to tackle the first illustrated question… I notice that they have ALL scribbled ALL OVER THEIR PAPERS.

It’s time for potty-breaks and snacks.

Potty-breaks and snack time go over rather smoothly save for the boy who is “helping” pass out the animal crackers by giving everyone else 3 a piece while stuffing 6 more into his mouth each time. That and there was the little girl who wanted so badly to be helpful by giving everyone a paper towel for their crackers… that she eventually pulled ALL of the paper towels out of the dispenser and onto the floor one at a time.

So with one crumpled Sarah… a paper-towel, crayon, worksheet and Play-Doh scrap strewn floor… A boy running around with a death-grip on the animal cracker box… A table covered in crayon marks and cookie crumbs… And three kids arguing over a plate of microwaved plastic grapes… The first parents arrive to retrieve their children. I have no idea what the expression on my face must have been, but it could not have been one of a confident, competent and comfortable child-care provider.

And as each parent left with their child in hand, one by one they asked me: “So how did it go? How was <insert name of child here> today?” their anxious faces desperately searching mine for the truth. And straightening my sweater, I answered each parent by replying: “Oh. It went just great. <said child> was such a good little helper and a good little listener. They played nicely with the others and they picked up their toys when I asked.” In other words… I totally lied. Yeah. I broke one of the commandments. BUT, the relieved parents then smiled and happily walked out the door with their children.

And it was then that I thought to myself: You know… actually… it went just great. The kids were pretty good little helpers and good little listeners (for a few minutes anyway). They played nicely with each other and they picked up their toys when I asked. And a month from now, when I do this again… I probably won’t change a single thing… except for maybe laminating Sarah.

Unrecognizable

I look in the mirror and do not know her.
This woman starring back at me. Who is she?
Where did all those lines come from?
Features completely foreign…
I search for explanation.

Answers swimming  in a sea of silver…
Revelations in the reflection…
Facts and figures float just beneath the surface…
of the glass.

Between the lines there is a story.
Some of the parts are good. Some of them are sad.
Some of them are silly. And a few of them are mad.
All of them are worthy
of being written down…
to be always recorded
before I’m all curled up and brown.

Where once there was a twinkle…
now emptiness prevails.
It wasn’t always like this…
but the colors now are pale.