We climbed into the car after leaving our Western-themed Christmas party, buckled up and skillfully executed a perfect U-turn before making a left onto Main Street and heading home.
Three blocks later, Jim abruptly pulled to the right and eased the car to a stop to allow the squad car behind us ample room to pass as it responded to the emergency it was surely called to… a car accident maybe, or a robbery. Could be a domestic abuse call or possibly a fire.
I said a quick prayer for all those involved, including the cop.
We expected the shriek of a siren followed by flashing lights from an ambulance or fire truck as it roared past while we sat on the side of the street beneath the ‘No Parking’ sign.
The cop, however, had other ideas. He neglected to pass, even though we’d left him space aplenty.
Seconds dragged onward.
The blue and red lights atop the squad car reflected from one side mirror of our little Prius to the other, then bounced menacingly off the rear view mirror and into our eyes as the city cop came to a halt directly behind us.
We sat in the front seat, wearing our coordinating cowboy outfits, as we nervously waited to be informed of our crime.
“What did you do?” I asked my beloved.
“Nothing!” Jim grumbled as he unbuckled his seatbelt.
“Leave that ON! You don’t want to get a ticket for not wearing your seatbelt TOO, do you?”
Even in the dim light cast by the streetlight, I could see that little muscle in the side of Jim’s jaw begin to twitch like it does when he’s angry.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling nervous or stressed, I seem to lose the ability to filter my speech. My words just seem to flow with abandon…
Jim sputtered, “I have to get my driver’s license out… HE’S going to want to see IT, for sure!”
“How fast were you going?” I asked, perhaps with a tinge of accusation in my voice.
“I. WASN’T. Speeding.”
“Did you run a red light?” I inquired in what I hoped was my best problem-solving tone.
I was beginning to entertain the notion of keeping my mouth shut when the man in blue appeared outside Jim’s door and shone his standard issue police flashlight inside our car.
First, he swept the beam across our laps, then with a flick of his wrist, he shifted the light behind us and quickly scanned the back seat.
The officer explained, quite politely, that he pulled us over because our passenger side taillight was out. “But your brake lights and blinker are working properly,” he said encouragingly. “And, would you happen to have your 2014 tabs with you?”
Jim cringed as I opened my mouth to speak…
“I think they’re due in March, and I’m sure we put them on…” I said confidently.
“Let me check again,” the officer replied. He returned shortly and confirmed that our plates were current, but that the current tab was partially obscured by the license plate bracket.
Then he asked to see the aforementioned driver’s license, explaining that he had to ‘run the license’ before he could cut us loose..
Once he was out of earshot we glanced at each other saying, “Wow! It’s a darn good thing we don’t drink!”
Jim’s license came back ‘clean’ and we were permitted to go on our merry way after promising to drive carefully and get the taillight fixed ASAP.
Jim was in Duluth working the spaghetti feed, so I was all alone when it hit…
That beast came out of nowhere and knocked me flat. I was dazed and felt like I was sprawled on the floor. I simply did not know what hit me! I hadn’t been wrestling with my demons, or even thinking about them. Perhaps that’s why I was easy pickings.
I gathered my wits and when I could once again string a couple of words together to form a complete thought, I recognized my foe. I stared it down… This was not our first battle.
It was a KILLER craving. The kind of craving that would have me contemplating a trip to Duluth (twenty-four miles) barefoot to satisfy. I hadn’t had a craving like that for a long time… possibly years.
This craving Would. Not. Be. Denied.
I began to rummage through the house in search of a fix… and was inexplicably drawn to the basement.
I could hear it calling my name… faintly, but distinctly.
Once downstairs, I opened a door. And there it was, sitting in its own little corner, back-lit by white light; it was radiant… and it was calling me, beckoning me closer. Inviting me… Tempting me…
I fixed my eyes upon it; I became transfixed. It pleaded, “It’s gooood… C’mon, try a little…”
My hand reached out of its own accord and touched it. A little electric tingle passed between us. I just knew we were meant for each other… and I was home alone. No one would ever know. My fist closed tightly around it and carefully extracted it from its berth.
I cradled it in my arms as I ascended to the kitchen.
It wasn’t exactly what I was craving, but it would make a good base. I could add an ingredient or two and it would suffice.
I laid claim to it, dug in the cupboard, chose a vessel, transferred it from its container to mine.
It. Was. Mine.
I went in search of the other ingredients… opening the bottom left door, slowly sliding my baking supply drawer open, reaching in and closing my fingers around the brown plastic rectangular cover of the Hershey’s cocoa can.
The cocoa sang to me, pitch perfect, of course.
I clapped my eyes on the dish of vanilla ice cream on the counter. My craving DEMANDED chocolate. It did not ask politely, or even suggest… it made its demand and I raised the white flag of defeat.
I would mix a little cocoa into the ice cream and make do.
Mesmerized by the cold confection, I removed the cocoa from the baking drawer by rote, lifting it straight up, then shifting to a horizontal motion to clear the cupboard, then up and over to set the can on the counter. It was kind of a complicated series of movements but I wasn’t worried… I’d done it hundreds of times before.
My thought process, however, was a nanosecond ahead of my arm movement… or maybe the cocoa can was taller than I remembered…
The bottom edge of the cocoa can clipped the upper lip of the drawer. I was left holding only the lid. My right leg was covered with a thick layer of cocoa powder, from mid-thigh clear down to the floor. My new white shoe was coated brown as well. Baking cocoa covered the cupboard shelves, both top and bottom, and spilled out on to the hardwood floor.
My three little dogs quickly gathered ‘round, eager to help with the clean-up.
“NO! SIT!” I commanded. “STAY!!!”
I slipped my foot out of my shoe and hustled over to the closet to retrieve the vacuum, sternly commanding the dogs to keep their distance from the mess. Amazingly, the canines obeyed.
I quickly connected the vacuum hose attachment and sucked up as much cocoa as I possibly could, then wiped down the shelves and floor with a damp rag. I thought I’d put the vacuum away before I indulged in my ice cream. As I coiled the hose, I saw that its inner surface was coated with cocoa; I giggled as I took it outside and sprayed it down with the water hose, then hung it in the shower to dry and made a mental note to put it away before Jim came home… I could imagine the questions he’d ask, but would have to work on a suitable response.
I changed clothes and returned to the scene of the accident.
By that time, I had a lovely cold chocolate soup… It was delicious!
Thankfully, I remembered to take the vacuum hose out of the shower. I felt like I’d dodged a bullet!
Jim came home; he was none the wiser.
The next day I vacuumed the living room carpet as he ate his lunch at the counter.
Since I’m frugal by nature, I only change vacuum bags when they’re full… and those HEPA filter vacuum bags for a Kirby are expensive! I turned the machine on and went to work. Soon the house was scented with cocoa! I worked furiously, keeping my back to my husband lest he notice me struggling not to laugh.
In the end, he kept his mouth shut and so did I.
For some reason, Lonnie behaved better than usual for the entire class this morning… go figure.
I found a dead body today.
I walked in the front door, arms laden with supplies for the Bible Study I’d volunteered to host. I carefully descended the stairs and unburdened myself at the serving counter. Then I went back to the car for the rest.
Still, I noticed nothing wrong.
Tables needed to be rearranged to accommodate an unknown number of guests.
I went about my task, dragging one long table back to where it belonged, then returned to the meeting room and gathered plates and napkins, cups and glasses, and began to set the table for eight, hoping that would be enough.
I thought I heard a noise and looked up, toward the stairs.
My right hand flew to my mouth, stifling an involuntary scream. The body was sprawled just to the left of the stairs, near the supply of folding chairs. Its eyes were open wide and its legs were stretched straight out behind, as if it lunged forward just as it took its last breath.
A tirade of terrible words assaulted my ears… apparently issued forth by me, for I was the only one there alive. Those words are not a part of my normal vocabulary. I don’t recollect taking anyone’s name in vain… except maybe the deceased.
I approached cautiously, armed with a broom should self defense or evasive measures become necessary.
I stretched out my arm, holding the broom handle with my fingertips, and poked its rump with the bristles. It didn’t move. Relief flooded through me.
I clapped the bristles firmly over the body and swept it into the dustpan, holding it securely in place while quickly walking to the back door, pivoting, and backing up against the push bar, opening the door without using my hands.
The door clicked shut as I strode down the sidewalk. I realized that I had not unlocked it… I would most likely have to hike up the hill, through scads of allergy-inducing dandelion seed heads and clouds of pine pollen, circle the building and enter once again through the front door.
Oh well. It couldn’t be helped. I’d taken my antihistamines, so it wouldn’t be too bad, I hoped.
I flung the body of the mouse beneath the pine trees at the edge of the church yard, breathed a sigh of relief, and hurried back inside with a twofold purpose; to minimize my exposure to the pollen, and to finish setting up for the Study before the others arrived.
I shudder to think of what might have happened had I stepped on the carcass with my arms loaded with muffins, cheese, crackers and a large bowl of fruit salad!
Jim was pretty excited… in a mere forty-eight hours, on Thursday morning, he would be leaving on a fishing trip with a few friends.
I, on the other hand, would stay home. It would be just me and our three little dogs. I could do whatever I wanted… or nothing at all. I was looking forward to Jim’s trip, too, but for reasons different from his.
Things got a little crazy…
On Tuesday evening, Jim called his friend Steve, who was organizing the trip, and asked if he could pick up anything while he was in town on Wednesday morning.
Jim’s eyes got big and his jaw fell slack… a pregnant pause ensued.
Finally, Jim found his voice; “Really? Tomorrow at nine? I thought we were leaving on Thursday…” A bewildered Jimbo inquired. “You’re sure?”
The call ended and Jim sat stock still in his recliner, looking very much like the proverbial ‘deer in the headlights.’
Some minutes later, he looked at me, “Steve said we’re leaving tomorrow morning.”
I gathered that.
Much of our conversation over the past several days centered around his upcoming trip. I’d ask if he was taking a specific item, say rain gear or a fillet knife, and he’d give me ‘the look,’ roll his eyes, and tell me it was already in the boat.
Now, I’ve been married to this man for over twenty-six years. I know how he thinks. I know what he tends to forget… things like rain gear and fillet knives; if he’s going hunting, it’s his hunting knife or the right bullets for his rifle. And, just because something is in the boat does not mean it’s in tip-top shape.
I maintain that it’s a good idea to check the condition of important equipment.
I recall a time when we took the boat out for a test-run before a Canadian fishing trip. Unbeknownst to us, mice had chewed the coiled nylon rope in the bow of the boat at about the halfway point, so when we launched the craft, the rope uncoiled until the gnawed end flipped over the side of the boat leaving the craft to float off untethered. Jim can’t swim, so I was the one who had to swim out, fully clothed, and lead it back to shore.
Another topic of conversation was our brand new water heater; specifically, how it was not heating water past lukewarm. Wayne, our neighbor was a trained electrician and he came to our aid on Tuesday evening. He determined that one of the fuses in the designated fuse box for the water heater was blown. We were relieved that it was a such a simple fix. Jim was going to pick up replacement fuses when he was in town on Wednesday morning.
Jim was going to be one busy man that day… he was also planning to mow at the church, the cemetery, and at home. He’d promised a friend that he’d check on his cattle and water his chicks, too.
I looked at the clock. It was 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday. “Maybe you should start packing…” I suggested.
“I don’t know what to pack for boat food… I can’t eat lunch meat. It makes me sick. I’m trying to eat right. I was going to ask you…”
I began rummaging through the fridge, taking out apples, oranges, and string cheese. Peanut butter was added to the stash. If nothing else, I thought, he could use it as a dip for the apples. I pulled a moose roast from the freezer. “The guys should like that,” I thought.
It had rained incessantly for nearly a week. Tuesday had been the first sunny day; it would take at least one more day before the grass would be dry enough to cut. I answered Jim’s unasked question; “Yeah, I’ll mow. I’ll pick up the fuses, too.”
“You want me to show you how to change them?” He asked.
“Nope. I’m not touching the box! I’ll call Wayne and see if he’ll put them in.”
Wednesday morning dawned bright, sunny, and warm. Jim left for points north and I drove to town for my pool class followed by errands. On the way home, I phoned Wayne, explained my predicament and asked him if he would replace the fuses. He walked over and replaced both fuses and powered up the water heater.
POP!!! Smoke billowed from behind the top access panel on the front of the heater.
Curses may have been uttered… So much for a simple fix.
Wayne consulted the manual, and we called the manufacturer. I explained my problem, then handed the phone to Wayne to relay the technical details. It appeared that both elements had a short.
The new parts would be shipped and the repair shop would call to schedule an appointment to install them.
Fed Ex would deliver the parts before noon on Thursday, and I was to be the repairman’s last stop of the day. In between, I’d run to town for an appointment.
I spent the remainder of Wednesday on one of two riding lawnmowers. I loaded up on allergy meds and mowed the churchyard first, then mowed at home. I popped another Benedryl and swallowed a Sudafed for good measure.
Thursday was as busy as promised… the elements for the water heater arrived, I ran to my appointment, waited for nearly an hour before I saw the doctor, raced back home and arrived shortly before the repairman.
It only took him twenty minutes to replace both elements. A short three hours later, I had piping hot water.
I was home alone so I celebrated by dancing with the dog. What can I say? She’s a good sport, doesn’t divulge my secret idiosyncrasies, and she loves me.
Friday was busy, but not quite as crazy… I taught my water aerobics class in the morning and visited a friend in the afternoon.
Jim called while I was out. I returned his call. He asked about the water heater and lawn-mowing. I answered honestly and in detail. He expressed his dismay at my plight.
I responded, “It’s nothing that a trip to the quilt shop can’t fix.”
As a kid, my grandmother instilled in me her love of cooking… creating new and exciting dishes and trying new recipes. She taught me to be a little adventurous from time to time…
One day (possibly a weekday), way back in the early 70’s when I was a senior in high school, inspiration struck as my best friend Jeannine and I sat in her boyfriend’s apartment watching soap operas and drinking coffee.
Fits of giggles overtook us both. This was indeed a spectacular idea!
Once our giggles subsided, we set about planning the supper that we would create for Alan and his roommate, including a very special dessert, one neither of us had tasted, much less made.
We found a cookbook, leafed through it until we found what we wanted, then dashed to the grocery store to buy the necessary supplies.
Once back in the apartment, we went to work, deciding to make the Baked Alaska first since the recipe was new to both of us. After preheating the oven, we found a baking sheet and placed the slab of Angel Food cake in the center, then heaped strawberry ice cream on top and covered the whole concoction with meringue.
One of us opened the oven door while the other slid the dessert inside. But something was amiss… the oven was cold! We double-checked; the control was set at the proper temperature… and the knob was turned to ‘bake.’
We realized that the oven was broken. How would we finish our fabulous dessert, we wondered?
We paced the smallish kitchen, wracking our brains for a suitable solution…
And there it was! Sitting proudly on a cupboard in the pantry. It was a newfangled thing. This uncommon gadget known as a microwave oven… that should work, we thought. After all, it was an oven.
One of us, probably Jeanine, remembered something about not using metal cookware in this fancy new oven. “No problem,” we thought, quickly grabbing a plate from the shelf and sliding our Baked Alaska from the baking sheet and onto the plate.
Jeannine, more apt to read directions that I, opened the cookbook, scanning the recipe for baking time, as I put the plate inside the microwave and closed the door.
“Four minutes at 500 degrees,” she called out.
The only options on the temperature knob were low, medium, and high. I opted for high, then set the timer for four minutes.
We went back to the living room to watch another show while we waited, fairly sure that we’d hear the ding of the bell when it was done.
We were correct. The timer went off. We hurried back to the kitchen, giggling again, anxious to see the browned tips of our beautiful meringue…
There were no browned tips on the meringue.
In fact, there was no meringue…
Instead, we were greeted by a river of pink seeping under the door of the microwave, marching across the counter, cascading down the front of the white cupboard, and flowing across the tile floor. Some of it found its way beneath the cupboard itself.
We were astonished and nearly broke our necks as our bare feet slipped and slid in the sticky pink mess. Somehow, we managed to stay upright, although I don’t know how.
This oven was not even remotely similar to the one across the room! Who knew? Certainly not us!
Clean-up took the remainder of the afternoon. We finished with mere minutes to spare before the guys came home from work.
They cheerfully greeted us as they walked through the door. “What have you two been doing all day?”
“Not much… we cleaned the kitchen for you.”
Many of us become a little nervous as we walk through the clinic doors. We hope the doctor won’t rock the boat and tell us things we don’t want to hear.
Sometimes though, alarming symptoms come on suddenly and increase our anxiety dramatically. I had just such an experience a few months back…
My heart was doing this jitterbug thing inside my chest. Every day, many times a day, for roughly two months… right up until the day I was scheduled for cardiac tests. Then it ceased the dance and behaved itself; for three whole days. Once the threat of committing cardiac misbehavior to my permanent record passed, my ticker resumed its jitterbug. In fact, it partied up a storm inside my chest.
It all began with a couple of falls. The first time, I awoke to the call of nature. I stood up quickly, only to find myself breaking a fall a second or two later. I hit my head on the corner of the closet doorway. I went back to bed, I wasn’t concerned enough to give up precious sleep. Later, my alarm jangled, and I arose to shut it off (it sits on my dresser across the room to ensure that I actually get out of bed)… then I fell a second time.
Later that morning Jim took me in to Urgent Care. We were a little concerned about the combination of cardiac symptoms, two falls (and the resultant bump on my head), and the tired feeling with lack of energy that I had been experiencing lately.
I was told that I might be a little dehydrated. Doctor’s orders were to drink more water and go to the emergency room if my heart re-started its jitterbug.
That didn’t take long…
A mere thirty-six hours later, in the emergency room, it was determined that I was having many PVC’s (premature ventricular contractions; extra beats). PVC’s are usually harmless, but need to be checked out to be sure. Especially if a person has fallen for no apparent reason. I needed to consult my primary physician who in turn ordered cardiac testing and referred me to a specialist. Both doctors wanted me to return to the emergency room if cardiac symptoms returned and they clearly ordered me to avoid stimulants of any kind; no chocolate, no sugar, and worst of all: no caffeine.
I paid them to tell me that…
I offered a compromise; they could have the chocolate and sugar, but I wanted my coffee. After all, I reasoned, I had given up alcohol, cigarettes, and sweets. They couldn’t expect me to give up everything!
Both doctors were kind about it, but caffeine stayed on the naughty list, nonetheless.
Since it was my heart we were talking about, I begrudgingly followed their advice. I avoided stimulants and visited the emergency room when symptoms were most persistent.
The majority of the doctors took me seriously. Once, when I was having near constant PVC’s, my primary doctor told me to go back to the ER to be checked out.. The doctor there was a bit arrogant… he blew off my cardiac concerns and told me I was suffering from anxiety. He surmised that I was just upset because my mother died at my age. He told me to go home and take Ativan… ‘take two if you want,” he said.
I might have bought that if I wasn’t chemically dependant (clean and sober for 27 years and counting)… And if I didn’t know that something just wasn’t right.
A week or so later, I saw the cardiologist, a woman who smiled pleasantly as she advised a diet of 80% -90% fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and legumes, and less red meat to improve my lipid profile. She said that eating dark green leafy vegetables every day would improve my numbers. She would have liked me to start a medication to lower my cholesterol, a statin, but I wanted to try diet and lifestyle changes first. She ordered me to avoid stimulants until we knew why my heart was doing the jitterbug. Then she ordered a 30 day event recorder, and referred me to the electrocardiologist for my rhythm issue.
After I finished the event recorder, I saw the next doctor, the ‘electrician,’ who walked in saying, ‘This is real. I believe you.’
I nearly fainted with relief!
He explained that my arrhythmia was related to hormonal changes in my body, to which I responded “Menopause.”
“NO! This is common in your age group, but it is not part of menopause. The good news is that it is not harmful in any way.”
I was encouraged. I dared ask, “Coffee?”
He replied, “You can drink coffee. It has no effect on this condition.”
I listened as he explained three treatment options. First, I could do nothing, my condition was not harmful but did zap my energy. Second, the doctor could perform an ablation and cauterize the node or nodes in my heart that were causing the extra beats, permanently putting them out of commission. Thirdly, I could take medication to control the symptoms.
He advised taking a prescription to control the PVC’s and I agreed to give it a try. As a result, my quality of life is much improved, and I have my energy back.
Reflecting back, I realize that things were happening over which I had no control and I didn’t like that feeling of being in a vortex, spinning erratically. For a moment, I even slapped the big red ‘V’ on my forehead and briefly saw myself as a victim.
I heard people telling me what to do. They gave me orders.
And worse yet, I paid them to do that…
Then, I had an epiphany…
It dawned on me that no doctor could order me to do anything. They could only make recommendations. Mere suggestions based on their knowledge and experience. I knew that they were most likely correct, but it still rankled.
I sought them out. I asked for their expertise. Still, I stubbornly clung to the thought that they couldn’t make me do a darn thing. I had to find a way to use that stubbornness to my advantage. The Finns call that sisu.
Only I can change my diet and lifestyle. Only I control what goes in my mouth. I am the boss.
As it happened, I gave the doctor’s recommendations a lot of thought. I talked to my husband and several close friends. We carefully weighed the options and in the end, I chose to follow the doctor’s advice. I chose to avoid stimulants. I chose to change my diet. Those were their recommendations and my choices; my life is better because I chose to take that path. My lipid profile is much improved, my energy is back and I feel good. I have lost weight, and my body mass index is now within the normal range. That last doctor actually told me I was not overweight.
And I can drink coffee.