The Face of Foreclosure

The lawyer sits across from us, trying his best to look concerned and caring, but clearly he is in a hurry. He has a waiting room full of people just like us and, he tells us, a month’s backlog.

We are there to file for bankruptcy and, while he respects the paperwork we’ve brought along, to facilitate things he’s prepared a packet that we should fill out at home and return along with his fee. He asks us about the two properties we have just lost in foreclosure: one we were supposed to sell to offset the cost of the other which, up until two days ago, we’d lived in.

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If Dogs Have a Heaven, There’s One Thing I Know

Any Dog Person will tell you there is That One Dog that got them started, usually one from childhood. In my case that dog was Shep.

In my family, we hear a celestial choir singing when you utter “Shep,” (click this link if you dare and have plenty of tissues). His name is sacred and conjures the image of obedience, loyalty and adoration that is everything a dog should be. Every dog we’ve had since then has had to endure the disgusted look of my brother and, “You’re no Shep,” usually delivered when the dog has failed to roll over without being taught.

I was 13 years old when we got Shep. We had had other dogs before this, but Shep was mine, acquired at the age when a teenager is looking for someone or something to love unconditionally.

He was half German Shepherd Dog, half who-knows-what; he looked sort of like a Briard – more like a German Shepherd Dog-sized Yorkshire Terrier. The women at the veterinarian’s office called him The Disney Dog.

Shep lopes through my memory as everyone’s ideal pet. He never once messed in the house and did his business in one four-by-four-foot square area in the backyard. His paws never ventured any further than the boundaries of our suburban yard unless I invited him to walk with me. You could parade other dogs, cats, and even bitches in heat in front of him and he would not leave my side (bitches in heat coming into our yard, however, were. . . ahem . . . fair game, this in the age before spaying and neutering became the norm).

When I think back, his obedience led me to take chances that I wouldn’t think to take with my dogs now. I would go into a grocery store to do the week’s shopping and leave him in the car with the windows rolled down completely. He never jumped out. We’d go on picnics and it never occurred to us to tie him up and it never occurred to him to leave our site.

Of course, my closeness with Shep was partially due to my age and circumstance. I was an insecure teenager in a family going through the turmoil of illnesses and financial stress. I was easily lost in the crowd of well-meaning or needy relatives that were a constant flow in and out of our house. My trivial teenage dilemmas, while monumental to me, were dismissed by everyone else. Shep became my confidant; he noticed me; he remembered when I should be somewhere and fretted when I wasn’t. If it wasn’t for Shep, I’d still be standing outside the Silverton School of the Performing Arts waiting for my mother to come pick me up.

Shep remains perfect in my memory and since he was my dog through my mother’s death has probably assured I’ll never remember anything negative about him. Death brings out the dysfunction in the best of families and there is no such thing as a “peaceful passing” in mine. After one particularly dizzying blow-up among my father, brother, my grandmother and The Aunts, I fled on foot, not even realizing I’d walked out with a dog and without a leash. It wasn’t until I was a good three miles away from home, along a busy New Jersey highway at 9 o’clock at night, that I realized, that Shep was next to me in as perfect a heel position as I could ask and have never again achieved with my show dogs.

Lots of dogs have bounded in and out of my life since Shep. I like to think of him as the leader in a long line of familiars: From Bridgett the rescue Labrador Retriever who had me actually screaming out the back door, “Put down that deer head and come in the house!” to Quigley, the rescue Bichon Frise who was only truly happy driving in a car; to Dundee, our first Australian Shepherd, also a rescue, who thought of himself as Heir 1’s little brother and Heir 2’s nanny; to my pack of six now that my brothers refer to as “Jeanne’s Posse.”

When people look at me incredulously and ask, “How can you live with so many dogs?” I can only look back, equally dumbfounded. But I don’t bother to ask how they can live without. They’d have to have known Shep.

Dr. Pepper Wishes, Tuna Fish Dreams

I don’t know if you’ve caught on yet, but it may have occurred to anyone who reads my posts on a regular basis that I’m not living the Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous here in the mountains of Virginia.
In fact, one might say I’m not even living the Lifestyle of the Moderately Wealthy and Vaguely Familiar; but I’m not poor and faceless either.
You might say I live the Lifestyle of the cheap Thrifty and Anonymous. And if there is one thing we T and A’s can sniff out in an instant, it’s pretension. And we love doing it too.
Oh, sure. We get our jollies reading about the Hollywood crowd, but that has long since transcended pretension into downright trashiness. But this is to be expected since the combined disparity between brain surface areas and annual incomes in Southern California is a number not yet assigned a name by physicists. Where else would a memo be issued limiting the length of one’s limo. . . to 38 feet? And, as I guessed, it’s Hollywood that started the trend of what I thought impossible: a Hummer limo is even tackier than the original street vehicle.
So we view Hollywood as a little glass bubble of concentrated self-importance and roll our eyes. But oh, the subtlety of eastern pomposity where, on a hot summer night from Boston to Miami, you can hear the pitter-patter of names being dropped.
But pretension isn’t just a regional phenomenon. The art world capitalizes on it, as I’ve already explored. And certainly just about every industry and pastime has its share of snobs (as a purebred dog owner I can assure you this is true).
And then there are those rare, but amusing, cases where regional superciliousness meets industry conceit, as in this New York Times piece. Writer Zarah Crawford, acting as a “critical shopper,” decided to slum it to find out why fashion designer Vera Wang would lower herself to create a line for a store like Kohl’s.
Let me tell you something about Kohl’s around here and, I imagine, in most communities. We go to Nordstrom and Lord and Taylor to browse the clearance rack, and we may even buy off the clearance rack for, say, a wedding. But when our sons need black pants that evening for a school concert he’s known about for four weeks but neglected to tell us until 3 o’clock the day of the event, we go to Kohl’s. Kohl’s is our high-end store because we are people who have kids to put through a $20,000+ a year college. So rather than spending almost $100 on a blouse that has to be dry cleaned and will be out of style by next year, we spend $25 on a classic that will be serviceable until Finster finally gets his degree.
I assume Crawford’s reference to “the occasional matron in a tracksuit” is a way to highlight just how incredulous is the pairing of an “A-list celebrity” (am I the only one who cringes at that phrase?) like Wang with a “value-oriented” store like Kohl’s; a store that has these very un-chic people “shuffling” around. Why, they might even be. . . God help us. . . unattractive.
But, showing true condescension democratization, Crawford bravely deigns to purchase some clothes if only, I guess, to be able to tell the story at her next cocktail party about how it is actually possible to shop for clothing in Brooklyn.
People are pretty down-to-earth around here in the Shenandoah Valley. But, as in probably any community, we have our share of people with more money than sense. Every now and then some celebrity or other, impressed with our lovely landscape and rural rusticity, decides to set up housekeeping in one of the slowly dwindling high-acre farms. They stay for a year or two, attend a few community functions acting all folksy and earthy, until it occurs to them that damn, this really is the country, and in the spring you don’t so much smell the honeysuckle as smell the biosolids the real farmers spray on the fields; and the only regular socializing is Tupperware parties and having a beer down at the Moose. They soon move on, back over the mountain, and buy one of the faux-farms that entertain D.C. Sunday drivers looking for country atmosphere, only with reliable plumbing and trash pickup service.
I humbly submit that even I am not immune to a certain amount of pretension, as my son reminded me recently when I placed a little dish with sea salt on the dinner table along with the usual salt shaker, which he immediately reached for.
“Why don’t you use the sea salt?” I asked.
“I don’t use bourgeois salt. I use the salt of the people,” he snarled, then added politely, “Can I have $50 for gas?”

Computer Illiterate

It’s no secret that I’m not exactly the most techno-savvy person on the planet. I was pretty good with all this stuff up until the time I became a mom. With each pregnancy I think a little of the computer-literate portion of my brain dribbled out of my ear.
Or maybe it’s a matter of having to pick and choose to what you give your attention. Hmmm. . . big, thick tech book or toddler flinging cat onto cook top? By the time the Heirs set the cat free, it was 1998 and I was left behind in the dust.
Not to worry, though. I have two teenage sons who are more than willing to condescendingly help me out whenever I have no choice but to add some new gizmo to a gizmo I already don’t know how to use.
I first realized this could be a problem when cell phones came into common use. I prayed this wouldn’t happen, since answering a telephone is right up there with an IRS audit in my list of Activities to Avoid. I held off getting one until Dirtman and I went into business for ourselves, at which point I was forced to be available at all times so he could call me up to answer that burning question: “Where you at?”
I started out with a pretty basic model that I held on to until you could no longer read the numbers. My new phone supposedly takes pictures and videos and has some other random activities I have no need for. But the only skill I’ve learned since getting it is text messaging. I figured it out while waiting for Heir 2 to finish his cheeseburger at McDonalds. He was across the table and his phone rang with my message: “Hi.”
“That was the first time you’ve ever done that, isn’t it?” he guessed, probably because I was giggling like an idiot at my Big Accomplishment.
“I figured that out by myself!” I proclaimed.
“Great, Mom,” he sneered. “Now you’re only one decade behind everyone else.”
A few minutes later my phone rang and the screen alerted me to an incoming text message. I stared at it.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?” Heir 2 said, his own cell phone in hand.
Still staring I had to admit, “I don’t know how to get an incoming message.”
He grabbed my phone out of my hand, pushed some buttons then held up the screen: “Heir 2 says: ‘UR lame, Mom’.”
I am equally inept when it comes to downloading and using attachments on my computer, so I’m usually dependent on one or both of my sons arranging icons to give me easier access. Usually this means they stand over me and have the kind of discussion I didn’t think I’d hear until I was carted off to the old age home with only a fifth of my brain functioning – say, at age 112.
“Put the Microsoft Word icon on the Start menu. That way she won’t miss it.”
“No! You know if she doesn’t see it on the desktop, she’ll think the whole program has disappeared.”
“All she has to do is click ‘Start.’ Any moron can see. . .”
“Ya know, I’m sitting right here,” I remind them.
I console myself with the fact that, as clueless as I am, I don’t come close to Dirtman in being a techno-dud. Dirtman has yet to figure out how to work the television satellite while it’s hooked up to the DVR. I thought he’d developed a sudden fascination with Redd Foxx, until I realized that, when frustrated with all the remotes, he starts pushing random buttons until something happens and he can’t watch anything, at which point he gives up and goes to bed. While doing this, he inadvertently programmed the DVR to record every episode of Sanford and Son.
Recently Heir 2 talked me into buying myself an iPod. That way, he said, I could listen to my music “without making the rest of us suffer.” Obviously this device was packaged for teenage boys because there wasn’t a single instruction in the box, on the box or on the device itself, which is how all iPods come, Heir 2 explained. Just a blank screen and a circle with some lines and arrows.
“It’s obvious what you need to do,” he laughed. “Just look at it. Any moron can see. . .”
He stopped, thought a bit, then took the iPod from me.
“Never mind. I’ll do it for you.”

Dysfunctional Food Storage

Known commonly throughout the family as “Poor, Poor Angelina” because she was divorced and had to work at something other than childbearing and housework, the married sisters were under obligation to send her food on a regular basis since being a working girl somehow rendered her unable to turn on a stove. My grandmother, who didn’t really live anywhere but just showed up at her daughters’ houses and stayed for a few months, called my mother a few weeks later to scold her for forgetting to feed Poor, Poor Angelina, to which my mother replied she would have been happy to feed Poor, Poor Angelina if she had a ricotta container to send the food in. But, since Angelina had not returned the container, my mother assumed, she said, Angelina had plenty of food around to store in it.

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Walk Like a Man

My oldest son, Heir 1, turned 18 recently, one of those milestone birthdays requiring significant attention. However we have conflicting views about what this particular event means in his – and my – life.
“I can buy porn,” he announces with a sideways glance to gauge my reaction, “and guns.”
“You can be sued,” I remind him, “and drafted.”
“I can vote.” We are both impressed with this.
He is fearless, this new grownup of mine. To him he went to bed a naïve teenager and awoke a worldly adult. He doesn’t need parents anymore, he insists.
And so he’s struck out on his own, eating a diet of Ramen noodles and pizza pockets and using an old mattress as a couch. He comes here to “visit” and refers to that other place as “home.”
It all stings, I must admit. What is the hurry to leave? What horrors had I subjected him to that sent him screaming for the door the moment he achieved majority?
I know intellectually that the call to freedom is irresistible, particularly if your parents were very involved with raising you. I had felt the pull at his age, only my parents had made me fearful and guilt-ridden about attempts to be on my own.
I wonder, with that knee-jerk smothering streak all mothers possess, if Heir 1 knows exactly how precarious is his new-found power? I wonder if he realizes that I could have squelched all that confidence with one withering statement, reminder of vulnerabilities or prediction of doom. With his adulthood still less than a week old, it is open to an attack that could freeze it forever in limbo.
As a mother I know all his weaknesses and it is the ultimate act of love that I never use this information to get what my ego craves the most – his needing me.
So I remind myself that Heir 1’s cocky over-confidence, his know-it-all attitude, and his downright condescending demeanor toward Dirtman and me are all signs of us having done our job correctly.
I know our job is not over and probably never will be. His cheekiness now will be humbled several times over and I’ve no doubt there will be frantic phone calls in times of need. But we can’t deny the relationship is significantly changed and that is not necessarily bad.
So, in spite of my desire to become Mother of the Year, this morning when Heir 1 walked through my door and handed me a garbage bag full of dirty laundry insisting, “I don’t have time to do this, I’m meeting So-n-So for lunch,” I handed it right back to him.
To his credit, he had the decency not to be surprised.

My Big Fat Life

I’m a little uncomfortable with the new darling of the media and literary world, the fat girl. I don’t like that she is being “exposed,” changing the cardinal rule of fatdom: maintain a low profile.
Now fat girls are everywhere are speaking out, bemoaning the culture that labels them ugly, dredging up childhoods of pain and embarrassment and proclaiming themselves free of dieting, depression or capitulation. What’s next? I’m waiting for fat girl bars to open or someone to organize a Obese Rights march on the capital.
Let me just say up front that I am and have always been a fat girl. I was fat before fat became interesting and profitable; back when our clothing was relegated to a tiny rack of hideous flowered tents in the back of the store under a big sign that said “Chubbies;” back when it made sense to a pediatrician to place an 8-year-old on a 400-calorie-a-day diet and send a 13-year-old to school on what was, basically, speed; back before “tolerance” was a buzzword we use to point out someone’s differences.
I suspect all this attention started when statistics showed up saying that more than half of the adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Naturally, the response was a lot of people making money offering diet and exercise programs and books, but very little actual weight loss going on.
No one wants to talk seriously about what is causing this “obesity epidemic.” They want to talk about what they can sell to its victims (oh, that word) and how they make can make money off the trend.
For any health care people reading this, let me, a long-time “sufferer,” make this very clear: It’s. Not. The. Food.

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Cancer is a bad thing, right?

I’m against cancer.
There. I said it.
I’m taking a stand against cancer. Call me a Godless radical, a left-wing bleeding heart, even — (shudder) — a Hollywood actor, but I think cancer is a bad thing. I think it should be stamped out.
I think – and here’s where I’m treading on dangerous ground – that if there were a vaccine that would prevent people from getting cancer and that vaccine can be produced without threat to any other life form, it should be used.
Honestly, I didn’t think it was necessary to take a stand against cancer, but apparently it is not the cut and dry issue I thought it was. And it’s only thanks to my good bud Jag, who I consider my personal health and science issue advisor, that I know there is an element in this country who apparently thinks that cancer is not so bad as Other Things.
I was naïve enough to think that everyone would be rejoicing when it was announced that a vaccine – Gardasil — has been found that prevents cervical and vaginal cancers. I figured this would be a uniting moment in medical history because it prevents something that people die from.
I know, I know. What was I thinking? Just at an uplifting positive moment, someone is bound to find a reason to be offended. In this case and, sadly, once again, it is the religious right.
What the issue boils down to is that the vaccine can only be given before there is any chance of infection by the HPV virus that causes cervical and vaginal cancers. That virus can only be contracted through intercourse, so the vaccine must be given before there is any chance of the patient being sexually active. If given after contracting the virus, the vaccine can be deadly.
FDA has approved the vaccine and it is currently in the hands of an advisory committee, specifically, a Centers for Disease Control advisory committee, wherein lies the rub. It seems the most effective way to distribute the vaccine is to make it one of the many mandatory vaccinations before a child in admitted to public school.
The typical conservative knee-jerk reaction is understandable in a sort of broad ideological way: requiring the vaccine is a violation of parental rights. However, no one is arguing over DTP or polio vaccines, also mandatory. You don’t want to vaccinate your child? Fine. Homeschool, send them to private school, but don’t prevent other children from being vaccinated.
And I know it couldn’t possibly be the threat of “mandatory” meaning having to fund the vaccinations for the needy. Right? Right?
What is it about the Gardasil vaccination that has the religious right working up to a hissy?
(Adopting a passive/aggressive Church Lady voice) Could it be. . . . . . . . SEX?

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So Now You Know

There is an old Italian saying that goes, “Only the spoon knows what’s going on at the bottom of the pot.”
Basically it means don’t judge and don’t give advice unless you know every aspect of a situation, which you probably don’t, so shut up. Only it sounds nicer in Italian. And it rhymes.
That being said, there are, though, some universal truths that actually exist. But because my family ascribed to the above, I was never informed of the written-in-stone adages.
And so, as a public service, I present to you Things I Wish I’d Known Ahead of Time (The Short List, sadly):
1. When you have babies and toddlers there will be people with grown children who will “advise” you on areas where you perceive you are having problems. Their suggestions will sound flawless and you will get the impression that, while their spawn were every bit as challenging as yours, their brilliance in parenting was the only thing that saved the little beasts from the psychiatrist’s couch or incarceration. You will feel like a dolt.
Just know that they are speaking from the safety of having completed the parenting task and knowing the outcome. And they are the editor’s of their story. They were just as unsure and made just as many mistakes as you, no matter what they want to lead you to believe.
Besides, have you actually met their children?
2. 22-year-olds: The age of 33 is not old. There is still time at age 33 to change careers, be attractive and have ideas that are not out-of date.
If you are 33: Same as above for the age of 44.
If you are 44: Learn the above like a mantra.
3. Ice cream, pie and donuts are not scarce. They will always be there. You don’t have to eat them all at one time.
4. The odds are the guy with the cool car and the great clothes before the age of 30 is self-absorbed, short-sighted and in debt up to his ears. Look for the scruffy guy with the Dodge Dart.
Just trying to save you some time.

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Boys R Us

I remember a time back when my sons were little when, up to my eyeballs in loud, hyperactive Cub Scouts, I mused to the mom helping me out that it might be nice if they were all calm, quiet little girls.
She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t have any girls, do you?”
No. I don’t. There were never girls. I grew up with all boys. I gave birth to all boys. All my life it’s been boys, boys, boys.
As a child this wasn’t so bad except for the fact that all the hand-me-downs had a definite masculine slant, causing my mother to overdo it in the other direction when “dressing me up.” So I either looked like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird or Little Bo Peep. And, while you would think this would be wonderful for a teenaged girl, all the guys surrounding me were relatives who hung out with each other rather than bring an eligible male around for their sister/cousin.
When it came time for me to have children, I thought surely I’d put in enough man-hours to deserve to give birth to at least one daughter. With confidence I made a deal with my husband that he could name the boys if I could name the girls.
But it was not to be. (I picked out the name Eliza, which I think is still a great name for a girl, if anyone wants to use it.)
Ironically, all our friends are in the opposite boat. Everyone we know has a plethora of girls. So, thankfully, just when I begin to feel sorry for myself, life reminds me that I probably wasn’t cut out to raise girls.
For instance: You know when you go into a Toys R Us and you see a pink glow in the distance? That is called “The Barbie Aisle.” I never have to go there and see what a cheap tart the once fashion-elegant icon has become.
And then there is the girl-noise, which is vastly different from boy-noise. Boys yell, stomp around and sweep through a room like a tornado. Not pleasant, but it’s better than, say, dental surgery. But I’ll open wide and say “ah” before subjecting myself to that screeching and screaming emitted by a group of little girls.

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