Squirrels Can’t Read Minds and Other Things My Crazy Neighbor Needs to Know

Midlife Sentence | Squirrels Can't Read Minds

Yesterday I had an appointment with Steven, whose calendar fills months in advance. If I ever have to reschedule, it’ll be a while before I can get back in.

I don’t have a lot of secrets, but if I did, Steven would know them. He’s got sophisticated ways of making people talk even when they don’t want to. I’m just guessing about that. I’m not one of those people who needs a lot of prodding to spill the beans.

In fact, I’d make a lousy secret agent, or spy or anything. This would be me in any kind of captured secret agent situation:

Evil Villain: Ve have vays of making you talk. *brandishes pliers*

Me: Eek. Whatever you do, do make me tell you the secret code, or the location of our secret agent headquarters.

EV: *puts down pliers* You have a code? Headquarters?

Me: Well it’s more of a clubhouse, really… Oh shoot! Dangit.

“So, what’s new,” Steven says as I come in, hang my coat and take my seat. He’s a good one to hash over stuff relating to family, parenting, work, or just the weather. If I don’t have anything to share, he’s ready with a story of his own, just to get the juices flowing.

But on this day, I’ve come prepped with the latest tale about my flailing about as a human.

“I’m still feeding the crazy lady’s squirrels.” I cut to the chase. We only have 45 minutes.

Steven frowns as he shakes out a gown and drapes it on me.

“Let’s hear it.”

Here’s the story: Once upon a time, a woman on Nextdoor needs help unloading a big bag of birdseed from her car because her back is out. I live with two strapping adolescents, and have a rare minute to spare, so I grab a kid and head down to see her.

She’s already found help with her bird seed but keeps us on her doorstep for about 30 minutes with what I suspect is only a partial account of her personal woes. She’s thankful we’ve come to help. The rest of her neighbors can’t seem be neighborly enough to do so anymore. We manage to extract ourselves from the conversation when she finally stops for breath, but it isn’t easy.

Days later she calls (because why not leave my cell number on some strange neighbor’s Nextdoor comment?) and leaves a message that’s essentially “thank you for your kindness,” but in long form. Like, my-voice-mail-cuts-her-off long.

I don’t call back then, or later when she calls to say how nice I seem and how she can tell these things about people and would my son be able to come around once in a while and empty her cat litter? Newsflash: I can tell things about people too, and this woman freaks me out. I take a pass on the cat litter thing on behalf of my kid.

In December she calls again and I pick up, not recognizing her number. She’s fallen on ice and was at the hospital until late when her neighbors could drive her home. She’s broken both arms and her knee and can’t really function and isn’t sure what she’s going to do to take care of herself or her cat but the most tragic thing is her bird and squirrel feeders are empty and it’s winter and they’re starving and all looking at her through the window and she swears she can hear them all dying and she’s dying too and all she’s asking is if I’ll pick up the birdseed she’s already paid for from the lawn and garden store?

I promise to pick up the birdseed the next day and assure her that the birds and the squirrels won’t hold the wait against her. I hang up and have a mini nervous breakdown in the middle of the grocery aisle.

I won’t bore you with a long list, but I’ve somehow found myself Head Caretaker of All the Things at this point in my life. Worrying about how some stranger is going to take care of a bunch of codependent fauna much less her own, damn self is the last thing I need on my plate.

Which is the genesis of my latest inner monologue that’s been on continuous replay every couple of days or so for the last two months I’ve been feeding this crazy lady’s squirrels and birds:

Me: Oh my God, I don’t have time for worrying about her damn squirrels.

Also Me: It’s literally 20 minutes every couple of days, and you’re just too busy?

Me: You know it’s twice that long if she happens to catch me while I’m there.

AM: Man, you are a piece of work. You’re all willing to help a person out but only so long as it meets your criteria?

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We’re so lucky to live in this modern era … oh, and dinner may take a while

Midlife Sentence | Dinners Not Ready

When I’m cooking dinner – any meal, really – I hate having people in the kitchen with me.

So, of course, that’s exactly where 60% of my family was last night as I was trying to concentrate on the complex set of instructions that came with my new gadget.

“I wonder how long before they start cooking food by splitting an atom,” Colin said.

“I can’t tell you for sure that’s not what this does,” I said, only slightly kidding.

“It looks dangerous, you should wear these,” Mike said, holding out a pair of safety glasses (I really have no idea why we keep a pair of those in the kitchen. I don’t think I’m the reason).

Honestly, the thing did look dangerous after I unpacked it. The box had been replete with pictures of roasts and steamed rice and sautéed vegetables and all kinds of promises of health and convenience and wellbeing. Inside, there were no fewer than a dozen warning labels about not touching this or that part of the thing, or putting your face or any exposed skin directly above the valve that lets steam escape, or immersing particular parts in water, or moving the thing while it was on.

Jeez, what had I gotten myself into?

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A couple of soon-to-be empty nesters at a baby shower

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a baby shower before.”

This was Mike’s confession to me as we were walking up to the door to our friends’ home, Saturday afternoon.

Had I realized this earlier, I would have though of some way to punk him. Maybe made up some fake baby shower etiquette to share with him in the car. But, right then, on the spot like that, I couldn’t think of the right thing to say that would freak him out just enough for us to laugh about it later, but not enough for him to bolt. These things take some finesse and the look on his face had me worried.

So I just shrugged.

“There’ll probably be mimosas.”

The mom-to-be greeted us with a huge smile, wearing a flattering, floral print dress. Back when I was that far along with either of my pregnancies, you’d likely find me in a baggy pair of overalls that gave me the profile of Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazard. On alternate days I’d switch between one of the two knit tops that still fit. On dressier days, I might wear shoes. I could go on like that for a couple weeks.

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How I came to be spending the night in the death house and WASN’T SCARED ONE BIT

Midlife Sentence | Haunted

I love scary stories. Love, love, love them. Until they get the better of me.

The only time I ever got in trouble for reading anything I wasn’t supposed to was in the fifth grade. It was a loaned copy of The Amityville Horror I kept hidden under my pillow until I could finish it. The night I did, I woke up my parents around 2 am to tell them I couldn’t sleep.

They were astonishingly unsympathetic. And I still get creeped out by flies on the window.

I’ve always thought I could write a satisfyingly scary story, except that if it was any good I’d probably lose my marbles a little. The process is the problem. I get this little nugget of an idea, and then I mull it over for a long time before any writing happens. I’ll think about it while driving, or washing the dishes, …. taking a shower … or waking up at 3 am and its pitch black and I’m sure I’ve heard something ….

I have a fairly decent imagination, you guys. I don’t trust it not to freak me out. I won’t stare too long down a dark hallway. Is that the vague outline of a misshapen midget axe-murderer, or a coat on a chair? I can’t listen too intently to silence without wondering if I’m hearing a faint scream for help.

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At least now I know how to talk about monkey brains in Spanish

Midlife Sentence | Language Learning, Spanish

Whenever somebody says something in Spanish and any member of my immediate family is with me in earshot, I’m usually quizzed about what was said.

I’ve been engaged in a very casual study of the language for years, and folks around here have way more confidence in my ability than they should. I think it would be generous to say I can comprehend about as much Spanish as can be taught a moderately intelligent Labrador retriever. You know: most basic commands and some stuff relating to food.

Twelve years ago I spent four weeks in Argentina as part of an exchange program. To prepare, I took months of Spanish classes with a native speaker and spent every waking moment trying to read short stories and magazines in Spanish, watching telenovelas and Spanish Sesame Street, and listening to tutorial CDs in my car. As anyone who has tried to upload an entire language into her grey matter in this amount of time can tell you, this was not enough to become anything close to fluent. But I tried.

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Perfection is rarely the objective around here

Midlife Sentence | Perfection

Before you get into this, I just need to let you know this post started out different than it ended up.

That actually happens more often than you might think.

This is how it should go: I come up with some theme and then write a catchy lead, which flows into a full story, and there’s maybe a twist in there – could be funny or touching or shocking, with or without foul language – and things tidily come around at the end, which points back to the lead, and everything’s all wrapped up tight, like a 30 minute episode of Friends that you’ll forget by next week.

Or tomorrow. I don’t know how exciting your life is. Maybe you forget by mid morning.

But that’s not what happened.

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Tips for surviving the END OF THE WORLD, or … erm … apoceclipse

Midlife Sentence | Solar Eclipse

What are you doing for the eclipse? That’s the question of the day around here.

I’ll tell you what we’re doing … I don’t know what we’re doing.

Which means we’re probably doing nothing, if we haven’t made plans by this point. Depending on the the time of day, that answer could bring on either intense FOMO or a sigh of relief.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know we have this thing coming up. August 21, right about midday, for about twenty-seven seconds (or thereabouts, I don’t really know and haven’t looked it up, but it’s not going to be long), the sun will be entirely blocked from the sky. Or almost entirely blocked, depending upon your vantage point.

And if you’re not already within the PATH of TOTALITY (which sounds like a perfect name for a disaster movie to me – I’ve used all caps to convey the proper gravitas), I’m sure you realize you’re going to get there only by navigating your way through a ton of traffic to a place where there’s no parking or toilets and probably the only things gracing the shelves of local grocery stores by the time you arrive will be single bladed razors and cans of Spam that expired in 2013.

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An American guide to European road signs

Midlife Sentence | Storebælt Bridge

Mike wasn’t super excited about renting a car for part of our trip to Denmark, and for a quick jaunt into Germany, but there were places we wanted to go where buying train tickets for the whole family was going to be super expensive, or our destination was out of the way enough, the train wouldn’t quite get us where we wanted to be.

By this point in our journey to visit the place our son had been living for a year and attend the wedding of a former exchange student, we’d experienced no real problems. None. No missed connections or lost luggage or screw ups with our Airbnb hosts.

Which made it the PERFECT time to put all marital and familial relationships to the test by having one us navigate while another drove (possibly illegally, we never really looked that up), and the rest rode in nervous silence in the back.

Or if not total silence, at least everyone tried to keep their startled screams and audible gasps to a minimum.

Saara gave Mike a quick and helpful tutorial about driving in her part of the world. It was basically pretty much the same as driving in the United States, she said, except with regard to stop signs.

“We actually stop at them,” she said. Which made us wonder what she thought we were actually doing at stop signs in our home country.

NOT stopping. Apparently.

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Of genetics, realistic expectations, and Father’s Day epiphanies

Midlife Sentence | Genetic Testing and Paranoia

We’re in the final stages of trip planning and last night Mike suggested renting a car and taking a road trip while we’re in Denmark. We could drive through a little town some of my ancestors are from. I can’t remember the name right now, but it starts with an H. And it probably has a lot of vowels in it.

… Which makes me wonder, not for the first time, whether poor Mike thinks it’s fun or exasperating to be married to someone with the memory of a goldfish. I suppose it could probably go either way, depending upon the conversation. I mean, he does repeat a lot of the same jokes. And I almost always laugh, which I think is the number one quality you should look for in a spouse.

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We’re gonna need a bigger tiara

Midlife Sentence | My Apparently Fragile Ego

One of my favorite quotes is that one about doing something every day that scares the beejeebus out of you.

I know that’s not the exact wording, and I’m sure there’s another quote that speaks to my being too lazy to look it up. In my defense, I did, once, and found something about it being falsely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. Ever since, I figure it’s fair to just express the sentiment in whatever way I want. And you can attribute it to Eleanor if you choose. Or me. Or Captain Kangaroo.

I don’t think either Eleanor or the Captain probably used the word beejeebus nearly enough for my taste, though.

Well, guess what? I’ve landed on something I get to do every day for the foreseeable future that accomplishes that, and I don’t have to think about spelunking or jumping out of a plane to keep the fear queue full.

I’ll get to the actual thing in a sec, but first I want to share my favorite mechanism to cope with the biggest fears I have that don’t incorporate staring out a Cessna door at 12,000 feet.

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