With Prejudice

I’ve been keeping secrets.

Because I had to.

Because it involved a court case.

That involved my son.

I wrote an anguished post with gut-wrenching pathos at the time it happened.

And I’ve waited until the final hearing to share it.

You may question whether it is appropriate to publish such personal information.

I certainly have.

But, I have decided that if it is at all possible to help another child by sharing what we endured…

…to reach out to other autism families.

…to other police officers.

…to other neighbors.

Then, maybe next time, nothing bad will happen.

Or something better will happen.

Or nothing will happen at all.

And wouldn’t that be beautiful!


Cops
Who did this protect and serve?

June 9, 2018

Dear Officer:

We met today under the worst circumstances. You were just doing your job; I understand that. But I feel I need to explain why I behaved the way I did and, perhaps, you can understand a little bit how the exchange seemed from my side of the handcuffs.

I came to the door, half-clothed and disoriented by lack of sleep, to learn my son had escaped. For fourteen years, I have been responsible for keeping my child safe and I have failed. Again.

But this was different from other times.

The neighbors whose home he entered were sleeping. All they heard was an intruder.

And my son no longer looks like the little boy he is.

When you first approached me, you said something about my son not responding to requests. My reply was not polite.

“Of course he can’t respond. He is a non-verbal autistic!”

You walked away as if you needed space to process that.

So, when you came back and asked me, “Do you realize what might have happened?” I answered you honestly.

“Yes. Yes, I do. It is my greatest fear.”

I was not trying to argue that the situation wasn’t serious. I was just grateful nothing worse had happened. I was focused on making my son feel better, to calm him down right now so he wouldn’t injure himself.

And you wouldn’t let me see him.

You have protocols for interactions. None of the officers would let me approach the car where my son was handcuffed. But I could hear him wailing from where I was standing in my bare feet on a damp sidewalk. You have your emergency response and I have mine.

I have a mother’s need to care for and defend her child. It doesn’t matter that my ‘child’ is five feet eight inches tall and weighs 170 pounds. He is still a child who was crying because you had his blanket, crayons, and papers. Materials now taken away in evidence.

It is probably not expected for officers to feel empathy for the wrong-doer, or his mother. To care about both sides of an equation. Perhaps you were running on adrenaline?

Did you train your firearm on my special need child? He couldn’t follow a simple command like, “Put your hands in the air and get on your knees.”

This thought haunts me.

I later learn, from the reports, that you had to tackle my child to get the cuffs on him. That he resisted and clung to a door frame as he was pulled from the house. This explained the bruises and abrasions.

Trust me, I can picture what might have happened in painful clarity.

In the past, when my son has escaped and entered homes or the nearby church, people have recognized his special needs and things have been okay. Maybe that made me blind to a growing problem.

The fact that my son was wearing a pair of Christmassy pajama bottoms and a Victory Day t-shirt from the school’s special needs programming wasn’t enough to tell you how very special he is.

The training that kicks in and locks an officer into a rigid response doesn’t allow you to recognize my shock and relief at a nightmare that wasn’t fully realized. Perhaps that looked like an insult to you? It wasn’t meant to be.

You couldn’t know that I had been sick with Salmonella. That Friday night was the first night I got any real sleep in almost a week. So, when my son woke at five a.m. Saturday, I was disoriented and put him back to bed. That when he woke me at 6:10 a.m., I was more so. That I fell back asleep is my fault. I promise you, I’m wide awake now.

I am haunted by what might have happened. I am haunted by it every time he is out of sight. I am haunted by a future I cannot see or control but can only dread. Fear never leaves me.

I am grateful that he wasn’t taken into a police station and booked. Thank you for releasing my son into my custody. Even if, like Cinderella, you sent him home with only one shoe.

I had hoped that the neighbors would drop the charges against my son for entering their home and scaring them so badly. But their fear was greater than their understanding of autism or the limits of a system that is not built for children like mine.

I do not blame them. Or I try not to. I understand how it must have looked from their side of the road; I just wish they could see the situation from mine.

Just as I hope you can understand. And that you never learn how it feels to watch your baby in handcuffs, crying and just wanting to go home.

*


Like many unpleasant life lessons, this has been a learning experience.

The wheels of justice move glacially slow. 

We waited weeks for the notice that my son was being charge with first degree home invasion. Then we had to be assigned an attorney by the court. Then there were appearances and reports to submit. The sheer drag time of getting a competency review dulled the initial sharp stabs of terror to a steady, gnawing anxiety.  I cried a lot this summer and into the fall.

During that time, Child Protective Services became involved. I was very grateful for the unexpected kindness of the Children’s Services Specialist who eventually cleared me of charges of neglect.

There were some positives.

The county health organization expedited Alexei’s process for getting ABA assistance as well as Community Living Supports. We are finally getting the help we’ve needed. 

Also, I was able to take advantage of a program through Vivint Gives Back to get a reduced rate for a security system that will wake me up if any one of the doors or windows are opened.

And my son’s window now has security bars, because he can get into trouble even faster than an alarm system can wake me.  (I stopped jerking awake at the slightest noise after these were installed.)

My son’s psychiatrist agreed to let my son take stronger meds to help keep him asleep.

And this week, my son was declared legally incompetent.

The case was dismissed with prejudice. Which is a good thing. It means he can’t be held responsible for his crimes and the verdict is final.

And I can only hope that the next time a family like mine is struggling, that it doesn’t take a crisis to get assistance. And that maybe the neighbors will offer to help make our lives easier instead of harder.

As for me, I spent these months channeling my fears and anxiety into my garden. Every time I had a panic attack or thought about losing my son, I planted flowers. I think I there are over five hundred bulbs and perennials out there now.

So, when spring arrives, perhaps it will bring a promise of better things.

Tulips

 

 

 

 

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Beheaded and Bedraggled: Dismembered Dolls of a Bygone Childhood

Amy was my first.

Her blond, twisted curls were fixed and her little pink-and-white gingham dress was stiff and yellowed with age.  By the time she finally became mine, she was twenty-seven years old. Pretty ancient for a doll.  And, by ten, I was old enough to know she wasn’t to be played with.

So, until I reached my first decade, I enacted my primal childhood dramas on my Barbie and baby dolls instead.*

There was one other doll who bore the brunt of little girl adventures in our extended family: Grandma Laura’s walking doll.

Grandma Doll
Because my grandmother only had sons, this doll missed an entire generation of torture. Either that, or she wisely hid in a closet until they were out of the home.

 

This doll was an antique, but, she was never treated like one. Built with a stiff cardboard body with wooden limbs, she was meant to be played with.

If she ever had a name, I never knew it. She was just called ‘the walking doll’ because she had creaky hinges at her knees which caused the leg to swing back and then forward as you walked behind her.

Doll Face 2

She sat in a chair in my grandparents’ living room, waiting for one of the grandchildren to come play with her. She was much loved and it showed.

The walking doll’s hands were worn to indistinct nubs and the plastic along her arms was cracked or missing. At one point, someone loved all the hair off of her.

 

My grandmother must have cut down a wig to cover her bald head.  The walking doll’s new style was choppy, black speckled with grey, and in no way resembled a typical baby doll. I never knew she had any other hair color.

Until I took her to the doll hospital that is.

 

PattiAnn 2
A seriously cute profession!

It was always my intention to take good care of my bequests, but time, family expansion and inattention takes a toll on the mechanics of people and toys.

Many years ago, Amy’s rubber band broke, leaving her looking much like an extra special victim from a crime drama.**

IMG_1606
“She was found, headless and half-naked, wearing one shoe and a worn pair of pantaloons!”  Law & Order: Doll Division

I found Patricia Buckert after a quick search online and contacted her to see if she could recover my long-time companions from the benign neglect of thirty-some years in storage.

A professional with certification through the Doll Artisan Guild, Patricia studied at Seeley’s in Canada and traveled to West Virginia to learn advanced secrets of doll restoration. Patti Ann’s Teddy Bears and Dollies provides a rare service—not just doll repair—it’s more like finding doll nirvana.

When she talks about the dolls she’s made—with kiln baked porcelain crafted and painted by hand—you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.

Her doll hospital is located in Oshtemo, MI along Stadium Drive in a small, green house.

Even with the big white sign out front, you might miss it. But once you’ve entered, you’d never forget it.

Doll Vignette
She sits more ladylike than I have ever been or will ever be.

The front room is overflowing with dolls, prams, strollers, a crib filled with wide-eyed babydolls, and shelves where lady-like figures pose, en deshabille, with porcelain-dipped lace to trace their décolletage. Nearby, a wire carousel houses miniature accessories: shoes, socks, and delicate unmentionables with froths of lace enough to choke a Clydesdale.

This dolly sanctum sanctorum is a veritable paradise for your inner child.

Doll Cupboard
I have Victorian curio cabinet envy. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

When I show her Amy, Patricia immediately recognizes her as one of the series of Little Women dolls created by Madame Alexander. But she’s entirely surprised by her second patient.

“I’ve never seen a doll quite like this before.” Patricia says, as I place the doll on her counter.

“She’s been in the family for a long time. She first belonged to my grandmother.” I explain.

As I remove the doll’s outer garments, her poor condition is revealed. A spring falls off her leg as I remove her bloomers.***

Doll Profile

We also learn that originally, she was a redhead, similar to my grandmother’s brunette shade…that she kept in a bottle under her bathroom vanity.

Doll full-length
I’d never seen her naked before. She looked very vulnerable. I felt a bit like a voyeur, to be honest.

“I’ll see if I can find anything in my records to help identify her.” Patricia promises.

She crowed in a later email with a link to a Doll Reference website:

 

 

“Look what I found!  As I was going over your doll I found the Babs marking.  This helped me identify it.” 

According to the site linked, the Babs Walking Doll was made between 1917 and 1921 by the Babs Manufacturing Corp. Since my grandmother was born in 1909, she was between eight and ten years of  age when she was given her.  Knowing my doll is over a hundred years old, makes me treasurer her even more. But, she was in pretty sad shape.

I asked Patricia to do what she could to recover her lost charms. This no doubt destroyed whatever value the doll might have possessed, but, I would never sell her and I felt that she deserved her own personal make-over.

It took a lot longer than I would have imagined. But I suspect you don’t undo a century of aging in a day.

Amy came home first.

Amy 1
If you look carefully, you might recognize where her ‘new’ apron came from!

You can’t see it in this photo, but she now has two satin shoes covering her feet.  The mar on her cheek is gone and, with restringing and repairs to the dress, she looks as good as new.

I asked my mom if each of her sisters had their own doll from the series.

She seemed surprised to learn there were other dolls.

 

at

“Oh, yes. She is one of the daughters from the March family, from the book Little Women?” I tell her. “Did you read it?”

“Oh, well, I’ve seen the movie.” Mom says. “But no, I was the only one who got a doll like this.”

“I thought, because you were one of four sisters and the book is about four sisters, maybe you each got one to represent your relationships.” I say. “But you were the oldest, and that would make you the ‘Meg’ doll instead of ‘Amy’ who is the youngest of the March sisters.”

“I really don’t remember that much about the story.” Mom admits. “But I had blond hair like this as a girl.”

It is always a shock to find someone doesn’t cherish the same books you do. I love Little Women. But if I were to pick a March sister, I would be Jo. Brave, adventurous Jo who writes and dramatizes her life. That, and the fact she has brown hair, just like me.

I finally got to pick up Grandma Laura’s walking doll this fall. I then learned that PattiAnn’s is closing; after so many years spent learning the art of doll craft, Patricia is retiring.

 

“Is this because people aren’t buying dolls as much?” I ask.

“Yes, partly. Children just don’t play with dolls the way they used to, not with the invention of iPads and electronic games.” Patricia sighs.

PattiAnn Favorite

I look around and have to ask, “What will happen to all of this?”

“I’ll be selling it off as I close-up. You can check my Facebook website for details of the upcoming sales.”

 

I have my camera with me and I ask her if I might take a picture of her with a doll, “Which is your favorite?”

“Oh, all my real favorites are back at home, packed up for the move.” She looks around for a bit and then picks up a laughing babydoll. “But, I made this one for my mother before she passed away. So, I’ll be keeping her.”

 

We keep what matters to us. I don’t know if I would have a doll collection if it had not been for the one’s given to me. I have quite a few. My first years of independence during my tour in the Army were incongruously spent collecting dolls while stationed overseas. But those tales will have to wait for another day.

For now, I will be grateful I got my dolls repaired by someone qualified in a craft that is dying out.

And for those of you who are interested in the results, here is my walking doll, in her new dress cut down from a dress my mother made me:

Elspeth 3
Hereafter, she shall be named: ELSPETH 

I think you will agree, you wouldn’t recognize her from her former self!

If you love dolls too, check out Patti Ann’s Teddy Bears & Dollies before it’s gone for good.

And if anyone wants to get me a complete set of Madame Alexander dolls, I found an autographed collection available at Theriault’s (self-described dollmasters) website:

Complete Little Women Set
A steal at $1,900.

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Based on my tendency to beat my dolls with a broomstick at the slightest imaginary infractions, I’m surprised I ever became a mother.

**You’d be astonished how many times creepy dolls come up in connection with serial killers on those cop dramas!

***Seeing as my own hip is held together with pins, I am now convinced my panties are all that is keeping my leg attached!

Pier Review

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Anemic sun halo captured at Holland State Beach, July 19, 2018

 

Walking the public pier along the Holland State Beach allows one to appreciate both an exercise in free speech and the quasi-felonious joys of graffiti expressionism.

I have never been so brave or confident in what I had to say that I was willing to risk a $250 fine and possible jail time to tag a public edifice in order to say it.*

Vandalism is, at the very least, a misdemeanor offense, but what I want to know is…is it art?

And if it is art, what is it saying?

Based on my hour spent cataloging this year’s liberal art tributes on the rusting canvas of the masses, the message depends on the viewer:

Positivity Abounds:

Travooo
Travooo captures the elusive qualities of LOVE  in swirling suggestions while boldly stating that it is all underscored by the balance to be found in the harmony of Yin and Yang.

 

If you look hard enough, you can find answers.

Although….you may also be left wondering what the question was.

Thoughts from Danny Duncan!

Danny thinks “It’s fine!”

But, he scrawled his sentiments in a tucked away place on an overhead pipe, so I suspect he’s playing it cool.

I Think It's Fine Danny Duncan
I bet Danny knows where the milk is!

 

Some people put themselves out there, courting ridicule…possibly unaware that a Tinder Date may be using a pseudonym.

Steve and Edelweiss Sipipill 4 Ever
If you know of anyone actually named Edelweiss, I will retract my skepticism.

Everyone has an opinion…whether that opinion is worth scrawling on a pier support is in the eye of the beholder.

Dude She s hot
Watch out, Amos Kiks.Palmbos, you have an admirer. 

Dreams are apparently dictated with impermanent ink scrawled on a blue-green background and will melt with time and the coming rains.

This is What Dreams are Made Of
Actually, this was one of my favorites…googly eyed smiley face not withstanding.

Lacking the words to express their deeper emotions, some fall back on a classic:

!!!HIGH 5!!! 

Friends slap high fives (or low ones) wherever they can.

Hands and Names
The Green Hand Gang numbers at least five!

 

Some HIGH FIVES bury the headline:

img_2921.jpg
Amos Kiks.Palmb Strikes again.  

OTHER HIGH FIVES come with best wishes from ON HIGH!

IMG_2931
Apparently the Green Hand Gang are followers of the BIG PINK HAND IN THE SKY.

 

Emotions run high…leaving some confused…knotting their hair with suspense.

Will Jeffrey or Won’t Jeffrey?

Will Jeffrey or Wont He
This strange smokestack-like object serves no discernible purpose. Does someone out there know what this does?

 

Perhaps the message echoes an earlier time—a plea for Peace, Love and Hope symbolized by a badly divided pie chart?

Hope
All you need is a Sharpie marker and an earnest sentiment and the sky is your oyster.

The VEGANS were a bit demanding and psychedelically so:

IMG_2912
Spred Luv…and dictionaries!
Go Vegan - Hallucination
Cock–the other white meat. Now comes in vegan flavor. (This is where we find out who really reads the subtitles.)

 

Some pier polluters promote poignant pleas:

Kiki Do U Luv Me
Ignore the scrawled ‘Anus’ overhead. Focus on the question, Kiki!

Perhaps what you take from the message boardwalk is only that which you brought with you?***

For example.

FORSOOTH, FIE, ALAS

One word scrawled among the masses stood out. I was astounded that classics such as Shakespearean language describing a two-week time frame have made it to modern vernacular (even if the spelling hadn’t):

Fortnite

Then, later, during a rare session of live tv watching, I was bombarded by a commercial which dispelled my illusions. (And possibly also my allusions.)

I almost despaired to have lost a belabored delusion of the persistence of language.

 

But then, after watching King Lear drop bodies at Grand Valley State University, I decided that Fortnite actually is a modern variant of Shakespearean storytelling—if only Shakespeare had lived in the age of the rocket launcher.


GOOGLE FAILED ME. WHEN I TRIED SEARCHING THE TERM ‘SHAKESPEARE’ AND ‘ROCKET LAUNCHER’ I GOT AN ARTICLE FOR THE ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY LAUNCHING A NEW VEGAN MENU:

I TOLD YOU THOSE VEGANS WERE PUSHY!

It seemed an obvious thing to me that there should be an image of Shakespeare with a rocket launcher…SO I MADE ONE:

Shakespeare with Rocket Launcher
I make judgments about people writing graffiti but, apparently, I have no problem stealing copyrighted images to abuse my own artistic license.
Z’WOUNDS…that was a long way to go for a laugh.
Now, back to the boardwalk…

IMG_2967
Lost in a Sunset

If art is a medium of expression, then I believe those who congregate at the water’s edge to exchange selfies and tag nearby crumbling infrastructure are at least trying to get a message out.

Or, maybe they are all just succumbing to…

Pier Pressure
I wanted this for my title, but that seemed like cheating.

Maybe this isn’t art.

But I say, “Let he who is without talent, shut the hell up.”

And let it be what it is.

Breathless

Endless

Speechless

Timeless

*-*-*

THE BEST
Artist Face
I too will be “Forever Faffi”

The need to express ourselves, our souls, may be the most human characteristic.

That we do it in a destructive, transitory medium is even more so.

Will words someday become anachronisms?

After digital communication leaps past verbal utterances to an all-emoticon communication system—how will we express nuanced emotions?

The phrase a “picture is worth a thousand words” takes on a scary new meaning when all you have is a demented smiley face to look at.

CREEPY SMILEY FACE
Be grateful it’s not an eggplant.

Until that day, cherish words, however they are conveyed.

Whatever cryptic message they share may be just for you!

Maybe the mystic words will heal what is broken. 

Release what is hidden.

Find what is lost!

OR MAYBE NOT…

Maybe a body just needs to scream into the void and hope that someone, somewhere, is listening:

IMG_2898
I’m sorry?

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*I vandalize the internet from the safety of my blog instead.

**The internet laws have not yet caught up with the violations of free speech rampant in the digital stratospheres. When I become dictator of the universe, trolls will be hunted for sport.

***I suspect I’m stealing this line from Yoda. Or Harry Potter. A writer somewhere is feeling a sharp pang of plagiarism.

 

Lost in Fremont

I travel for a purpose. Generally, that purpose is to get to a destination. Sometimes, however, for my son’s sake, I travel for distance. For pleasure. To lose myself in the rolling roads dividing the countryside into rows of waving cornstalks and fields of bucolic cows chewing endless mouthfuls of grass. Usually there is an Aaron Copland sound track playing in my imagination.*

 

Recently, however, I had this experience backfire…and go hilariously bad. The tale ends up with a life-saving intervention from the Michigan DNR and a ‘Hail Mary’ airport pick-up. Join us for the missed-flight entertainment, if you dare, on the adventure I am calling:

F*ck the Road Less Traveled

It all begins with meeting a friend from afar.

*

Like most heroic quests, ‘Jay’ comes a long way to meet me. (Okay…technically she is visiting family, but still, meeting me is the added cherry on the trip-from-Japan Sundae.) Unlike most of my ‘internet friends’ who are likely market-research algorithms with questionable profile pics, Jay is a real live person.

Jay is so terribly cool, she met up with me at the nearby Panera for an hour of lovely conversation–despite juggling jet lag, a toddler, and the joys of accommodating myriad family obligations to meet up with someone she only knows in the digital sense from Nanowrimo.**

Jessica and Me 3
Little Jay, Big Jay, and Bunny and Me, yukking it up at Panera!

I was geeked. Her dad joined the venture–mostly because he was her chauffeur–but he was an engaging story teller who kept the conversation rolling. When our time together ran out, he invited me to come up to the family reunion scheduled for Saturday next.

“Sure.” I say. “But I’ll have to leave in time to get my mother-in-law from the airport.”

“I live in the woods, so, when you get up there, just call me and I’ll meet you so you can follow me back to the house.” He assures me.

“Oh, I have GPS. I’ve been up in that area before. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

FAMOUS.

LAST.

WORDS.

Saturday rolls around and I cram my kid in the car and we’re off winding the back roads of beyond because I haven’t yet figured out that my car’s GPS has been avoiding highways on purpose. We arrive with only a few rural/off-map detours. (Okay…we got lost three times finding the house. But for me, that’s ONLY three times.) This makes me unbelievably cocky. If you don’t know me well, know this…if anyone can get lost going someplace, it’s me. But, I’ve come to rely on my son’s innate desire to travel to get us where we want to go.

Mistake.

BIG MISTAKE!

IMG_3006
Here is my personal GPS Giant playing next to Jay’s sweet little munchkin.

 

Jay is warm, her daughter is adorable, and her father is welcoming. A yard full of strangers don’t question me or my giant son’s right to be there. The picnic is a nice, if brief, interlude at someone else’s family reunion. Before long, it’s time for us to leave to meet a plane. I tender our regrets clutching the scrawled map Jay’s father painstakingly wrote out for me to follow back to civilization. Upon leaving, I immediately take a wrong turn and don’t figure it out until it is far, far too late. Much to my son’s delight.

If you have never been to Fremont, Michigan, I highly recommend you visit. Especially if you want to become part of the witness protection program. Because, I promise you, once you move there, no one will find you again. Ever.

We are in the car, driving in the wrong direction, down a dirt path and I’m alternately swerving to avoid trees that are apparently just growing in the middle of the track we are following and I’m questioning whether the map is wrong or I am.***

It’s when we finally hit tarmac that I make my worst mistake of the day. There is an option to turn left or right. A quick glance at my dashboard GPS is of no help. So, with my son as the designated navigator we turn left. The most mistaken 50-50 shot of all.

This is where the paved road ends…

Newaygo Road Sign2
Not the actual road, but this is basically what it looked like. I didn’t know at the time I should be making a visual record in case they ever found our bodies…

When asked whether we should turn around or keep going, my son’s intrepid response?

“Straight!” He barks from the back seat.

I eyeball my GPS doubtfully, tap the screen and gauge how far it is through the unmarked green area to the road it depicts on the other side.

“Well, it doesn’t look like it’s too far…about half an inch.” I think to myself. “How far could that be?”

Those of you who have ever taken a snowmobile trail are probably laughing your heads off at this point. I, however, haven’t a clue.

And into the woods we go…

IMG_3008
About fifteen minutes in, I decide I’d better start taking note of landmarks…not that they were much help, to be honest.

Need I mention it is a one-lane track?

IMG_3012
It took me wayyyy too long to figure out my GPS was just turning in circles because it either had lost a signal or was metaphorically throwing its hands up in defeat.

 

 

And that we need to hit Highway 31 pretty darned quick if we are going to have a chance to make the forty-some odd miles back to the airport in G.R.?

IMG_3015
There were all these helpful posts. What a shame I had no internet connection so I could look up what they meant.

Pretty soon, things get a bit desperate. We’ve been in the woods for at least half an hour. We are definitely going to miss the flight we were scheduled to meet!

Who do you call when, at fifty-one years of age, you are lost and need assistance?

*Gets cell phone*

BEEP.. BEEP.. BOOP.. BEEP.. BOOP…

“MOM? HELP!”

After a frantic conversation in which I fear signal loss almost as much as I fear the drones of mosquitoes following our car like we are to-go container they are trying to figure how to open, Mom comes to the rescue…

Insert appropriate theme song here

…of my mother-in-law anyway.

“I’ll go.” Mom promises. “But you owe me! I was already in my pajamas for the night!”

We keep driving. The huddling clouds overhead limit what visibility we do have beneath the canopy of the old growth forest we are traversing.

I’m not exactly panicking…yet.

But I’m thinking about it.

Last Seen Wearing...
Last seen wearing…turquoise sweater and eau du desperation!

 

 

When along comes the cavalry…

I have to unroll my window in order to ask for directions.

The mosquitoes, at least, were deliriously happy.

IMG_3009
Cavalry not picture–I promised not to include their sacred images if they would tell me how to get out of the labyrinth I wandered into by mistake.

The nice young men from the DNR—wait…doesn’t that mean Do Not Resuscitate?—correction, the Forest Service Department of Agriculture (it says it right on the door, Kiri) give me some directions on how to get out of the woods.

“You’re gonna come up on a fork in a bit, take it to the left…then you follow the road until you see the exit to Highway 31. It’s not that much farther.”

I thank them, and slap at mosquitoes trying for a second pint of blood, before I hastily close the window to depart.

Our vehicles squeeze past each other like fat ladies wearing hoop skirts moving through a narrow hall.

And then we are back on the trail, slightly more confident that we will make it home.

But first….

There’s the fork…

IMG_3013
I so would have taken a right here had I been given a choice.

And more trees than you can shake a stick at.

And then we come to what looks like another choice…

IMG_3017
All that sunshine gave me the deluded hope our trials were at an end.  But no!

This turns out to be a random opening in the forest.

“What the actual hell?” I am cursing young men who think they gave detailed directions but obviously skipped a few steps.

If I knew how to use Google Earth, I’d check to see if our little blue Prius was captured in the center somewhere.

IMG_3020
I dub this wasteland: Donutsville. Because that is the obvious pastime of most who come here.

While it is possible to go left, that way seems certain doom based on the quantity of wild flowers and stumps in the way.

We veer right and hold on to a waning hope.

The GPS is now openly mocking me.

It dances in circles around and around but never moves toward Highway 31 and freedom.

IMG_3018
This seriously sucks.

We pass the dusty roundabout, heading right.

Pretty soon, we see a verdant meadow, puffy clouds, and dream of escaping this wildness nightmare.

But those fantasies are dashed by what looks like the burial site for other lost travelers cleverly disguised as a “Coastal Plain Marsh.”

IMG_3022
So close…
IMG_3024
You can almost taste the asphalt…
Three Rocks
But NO! It’s back to the woods for you!

Leaving the erstwhile, granite grave markers in our rearview mirror, I can’t help but feel like the forest is trying to tell us something.

Keep Out!Keep Out 2Keep Out 3

But what could it be saying?

Eyes Right!
“Eyes on the Road, Mom!”

 

Apparently, it’s telling us it is time to go home.

There, in the distance, it beckons us.

The way out!

Going the Distance

Ahhhh….civilization…or as close as it comes in rural Michigan.

Civilization 1
It may be the middle of nowhere…but at least it’s a well-marked nowhere.

As we drove home…we admired the sights we thought we’d never see again…

Civilization 2
Highway construction–a sure sign of civilization if I ever saw one!

Even traffic cones were a welcome sight!

We passed the bakery with the oddest name ever for a location smack in the middle of an alluvial plain.

Civilization - Hill Top Bakery
HILLTOP BAKERY? HILL? WHAT HILL?

 

And then, like the plains of Africa in the song by Toto, the rains came.

Bedraggled and drained, we make it home in time for dinner.

And it’s going to take a lot to drag me back to Fremont unless I’m giving a guided tour, perhaps by a team of strapping forest preserve on-call rescuers? For emergency purposes only, of course.

Until then, I grow restless, longing for some solitary company…and a song to sing me home.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*I mistakenly Googled Erin Copeland and got a completely unsuitable track the first time. #NOT MY MUSIC.

**If you do not know what NANOWRIMO is, we are apparently not as close as my imaginary internet friends.

***Hint, it’s not the map.

Eighteen Years to Tumescence

Do you like a stinking good time?

Do you appreciate the rare? The exotic? The exceedingly slow burn to coition?

Do you savor the anticipation an eighteen-year wait brings?

Then you may be ready for the giant phallus. The amorphophallus titanum to be precise.

*

If you happened to wander into Meijer Gardens this week, you may have stumbled across the shy and retiring Titan Arum–a bloom colloquially referred to as a Corpse Flower.*

I’ve been a long-time fan of the gardens, but even I was caught by surprise about the arrival of the local beauty–nicknamed Putricia for her odiferous nature. On impulse, I dashed to the gardens on Tuesday to get this shot of her before she made her full-blown debut. The garden staff estimated that she wouldn’t fully bloom until Friday…but they were to be caught off guard.

Tuesday
Putricia on Tuesday, spathe still tightly furled like a virgin’s nightgown before deflowering.

Wednesday night, the spathe–or giant solitary petal that goes around the spadix (the stabby, sword-like center spike) was still tightly closed.**

For a better description, you can go to the Chicago Botanic Garden’s website for a great breakdown of the particulars. The site was extremely helpful in providing the follow image to steal:

Life Cycle of Titan Arum

Rumors abound around this hard-to-get coquette. According to this chart, it may bloom every four to five years. I’ve read elsewhere, it can take much longer because it relies on perfect conditions being met in order to propagate. The flower is in danger of becoming extinct in nature because of habitat loss and other causes.

At the Meijer Gardens, Putricia took eighteen years before she was ready to blossom. But she is finally strutting her stuff. And perhaps because she was so slow in arriving, she hurried up her appearance in time for me to dash over to meet her on Thursday. And, I have to say, she put on quite a stately show.

IMG_2806
At this point in the line, you aren’t even half-way there.

I couldn’t say how many people came, but the lines curled throughout the building when I was there. If you are brave, you might get to see her yourself–at least, for the next 24 hours anyway.

If you want to save your feet (and nose) the effort, a link to video of the flower’s expansion, you can find it in this article located in the Detroit News.

Here’s the picture I snapped with my cell phone:

Thursday
Thursday, a mad crush awaited anyone who dared to visit the Queen of Meijer Gardens!

Personally, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the stench by the time I got to her. She’d already lost some of her bloom. (Probably being visited by thousands of people takes a toll on a girl.)

Whether standing in line for over two hours for a minute in the limelight with this sultry Sumatran Stinker is your idea of fun, only you can decide.

As for me, I am happy that I went and hope we can look forward to a bright future ahead.

And now, I have camping to get packed for.  My son is totally puzzled as to why I would bother to stop and chat with you for this long anyway. For this reason, I’m attributing any typos to his impatience.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Strangely enough, no one requests a corpse flower for their bridal bouquet. Probably due to having to wait decades to ensure you’ll have one in time for the nuptials.

**Look, I’m not a botanist. There’s plenty of sites you can go to for actual plant terminology and description. But we both know you aren’t going there, are you?!

 

 

 

Good Grief

Sometimes I am caught unawares by the shock of death.

Even thirteen years later, I still grieve.

It catches me in odd moments.

Like today, watching the Monk series finale.

Where, eight years after the show ended, I have my own Monk moment.

 

*

Monk was a silly crime dramedy about a detective so torn by the death of his wife, he is unable to function without a massive number of coping skills that seem laughable to the world around him. These mechanisms for survival include: obsessive compulsive neatness, rigid need for control and cleanliness and order.* These tics are detrimental to his mental health and impede his ability to work in a normal job. They make for funny television, but a miserable reality.

I never saw the series when it was running. Back in 2002 I was living in Chicago, alternately trying to be a teacher and trying to get pregnant and failing at both. Then I succeeded in pregnancy, but completely tanked at teaching. But I had a husband and a son, so I kept going.

Until 2005, when my husband died.

And I stopped.

I stopped functioning, except at a nominal level where I met basic needs of my son and I cocooned myself from any changes that meant I had to face life.

I missed the entire span of the eight Monk seasons and only stumbled on it in its rerun afterlife where nothing ever truly dies.

And, today, I got to watch Adrian Monk resolve the death of his wife.

The scene that no one else probably thought two cents about was the fact that Monk couldn’t sleep in the center of his bed. He hugged the side, leaving room for Trudy, the memory of his wife forever impressed on her side of the bed.

When all the secrets are revealed in the last episode, the series is wrapped up in a tidy bow. Monk is sleeping, stretched out, in the center of the mattress and is seemingly unaware of the change in his rituals and patterns of behavior that have subsided with the peace of finally knowing. He is able to go on.

I still sleep on my side of the bed. I have never moved from it, no matter what bed I choose. It is probably just habit. A comfortable placement of nearness to the shelf where I put my glasses. The fact that I can only sleep facing one direction.

But it’s true, I can’t move to the center of the bed. Even if it is a small twin-sized mattress. I cling to the edge as if it were a thread from the past. Where I shared a space with someone else.

And that never goes away.

So, today, I cried. Because I remembered.

And never can forget.**

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*I am not like Monk. If anything, I am the anti-Monk. I do not clean, and obsessively hang on to everything, creating piles of junk that might possibly qualify me for a hoarders episode. I do however have an obsessive compulsive need to watch television that makes me cry, apparently.

**And the next day my period started with a raging bang. I suspect I was also a target of my hormones.

 

 

 

Tick-Tock, Time’s Up.

For thirty seconds today, I thought my dishes were all clean.

*Tick*

As my son’s bus pulled up to drop him off,

*Tick*

I was putting the last cup in the cupboard.

*Tick*

The sink was empty.

*Tick*

So was the dishwasher.

*Tick*

I sometimes wish I could hit a “Pause” button.

*Tick*

My son would freeze, mid-step, off the bus.

*Tick*

The grass would not grow, undoing my work mowing in 90 degree heat.

*Tick*

And I could breathe deep of the scents of life.

*Tick*

The smell of the thyme the mower blades edged along with the grass.

*Tick*

The newly-minted caulk from the resealed tub.

*Tick*

Signs of progress, and yet…

*Tick*

I can’t help but wish I could stop the hands from moving.

*Tick*

The To Do list never really stops growing.

*Tick*

That the unpaid bills could wait just a little bit longer…

*Tick*

Life is like an insistence bomb.

*Tick*

It goes on whether you want it to or not.

*Tick*…*Tick**Tick*

You just have to ignore the *ticks*

*Tick*

Or suffer a case of time disease.

 

Click Bait Title

You won’t believe your eyes!

Nine out of ten people won’t read past this sentence.

You can’t believe how this story turns out!

Who would have thought anything so strange, bright, bold, beautiful, and bouncy could happen here?

Only my real friends will read to the end, and copy and paste this, and dance naked in the rain while singing the theme to the Brady Bunch. 

“Here’s the story…of a lovely lady…”

Try not to hate me.

*

CLICK BAIT!

I guess I am as guilty as anyone else. I click the title that leaves me hanging, that asks for, nay, demands attention. A dangling question mark with a spurious answer. Unless it has a mysterious sea creature or a poisonous arachnid that I absolutely must know about before going to bed. (‘Cause that’s not gonna cause nightmares at all!)

What I’m saying is, I’m a sucker for flashy headlines that drag me onto an eye-blistering site with multiple pop-up ads, hidden read-more arrows disguised by embedded commercials. Oh, and let’s not forget the blinking GIFS causing neural disruptions. FUN!

I hate that I fall for these things because they drag me away from real life and important things…like laundry and grocery shopping.*

Sometimes I lie to myself–that following these idiotic stories is in pursuit of knowledge.

I’ve watched videos on the metamorphoses talents of cuttle fish and octopi which change outfits so often they are the aquatic equivalent of The Next Top Model, but underwater.**

Though my favorite videos are by the guy who voiced Dear Kitten Commercials. It’s awesome when he goes off the deep end:

If you’ve got a hook, I’ve probably swallowed it:

Pseudo science dumbed down to bite-sized consumer factoids?

Bring on the quasi science fiction babble about neutrinos emissions formed with pop rocks and microwaved coca-cola.

Something innocuous actually poised to kill or permanently maim mankind?

I swear, everyday someone is ruining a favorite treat with a gross video or unsubstantiated claim about the poisons in our everyday life. My mom sent me one about my favorite ‘Don’t Kill Anyone Today Beverage.”

Tea – A Killer Cup of Poison? One lump or two?

I read the whole thing, but didn’t see any links to data or studies. But then, I was reading it on a microscopic phone screen while simultaneously trying to keep track of my boy child. Still, who has time to follow up on the facts? Not when there’s all this junk to sift through!

Testability2
http://www.toondoo.com Who says it so much better than I could!

Why stop to fact check or at least think for a moment about how likely the fear really is?

There are actual sites for that you know:

Woofighters.Org for example.

 

Snopes.com for another

There are plenty of examples of how horribly effective and subversive clickbaiting is as a propoganda tool.

My first search on the topic brought up this article from 2017:

You won’t believe how these 9 shocking click bait titles work?

Life is more valuable than reading a regurgitated tale of misrepresented woe/gladness/shocking/sadness/turned-joyful-resolution.

Unless there is a tragic picture of homeless, frozen kittens who’ve had a fuzzy make-over.

Or squirrels. I will apparently watch anything having to do with squirrels.

Or the lost Atlantis.

Or “You won’t believe how they look now!”

(Google this yourself. I’d break the internet trying this on my old laptop.)

I’d like to say that, knowing the dangers and misrepresentations, I won’t fall for these time wasters any more. But I really don’t have any answers. All I know is that putting the iPhone down for a weekend won’t kill you. Will it?

Hang on…Googles topic…Okay…finds story on the Daily Beast (which is no doubt a reputable news source with a name like that):

The Dangers of Digital Detoxing

YIKES!

DISCLAIMER: if you plan to become a luddite and leave the internet behind, perhaps you should consult a doctor before taking any drastic measures…or take away a teenager’s XBox.

There should be an easy path back to a normal life. A life unplugged and free from anxiety-inducing ersatz drama. One where you don’t jump at every text DING like a Pavlovian pooch or fall for sleezy, but alluring, tabloid-esque, ALL CAP article headlines. There must be a way back to normal!

But that’s a story for another day. I’ve got the car packed to go camping and a teenager waiting for his car ride away from electronic distractions.

Hopefully we will both survive to meme another day.***

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Okay, I really hate doing laundry and grocery shopping so it doesn’t take much to distract me from a task…oh look, a SQUIRREL!

**You know that an Underwater reality show is in the works somewhere. Hosts will be Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid and Charlie the Tuna from the Star Kist commercials.

***I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while. And to do a much better job of it than this. Sorry.

________________

Feature Image stolen from LocalSurgeMedia.Com

 

Diarrhea Diaries: Volume II

Warning: Graphic and disgusting subject matter. Not for the faint of heart. Reminiscent of my prior post on the topic: The Diarrhea Diaries. Which, as it turns out, was volume one of an unfortunate series.

*

Dear Diarrhea:

The US Food and Drug administration recommends two to four servings of fruit per day.

I don’t think they had this in mind:

BEWARE KILLER MELONS!

 

Killer Watermelon
Borrowed without permissions from drawception.com.

If you visited the CNN article I referenced, you get why I fear produce. If you didn’t trip the above link, the 20-point, bold font title of the article pretty much says it all:

“Multistate salmonella outbreak linked to pre-cut melon”

Now the fact that pre-cut watermelon has been spreading salmonella throughout the midwest wouldn’t ordinarily concern me except for two things:

  1. I ate some pre-cut watermelon Sunday.
  2. Monday began a marathon that makes the prospect of running 26 some miles actually pleasant by comparison. This is not that kind of marathon.*

I did not buy my melon at any of the stores referenced in the CNN piece on salmonella contaminated fruits. This does not stop me from putting a very strong set of coincidences together and coming up with a likely culprit to my week spent regretting everything I’ve ever eaten that I did not personally sterilize in a 1400 degree Fahrenheit kiln.

I spent the last (gets calculator, does math) 168 hours visiting the powder room. HOURLY. Sometimes more frequently. A brief itinerary of my adventures can be summed up this way:

Day 1: 6:00 a.m. – stomach lets out initial howls of protest. By 4:00 p.m., I am so sick, I’m curled up on the floor of my son’s therapy office wishing I didn’t have to drive us back home. 

“Can’t we just live here?”

Day 2: After waking all night long to tango with the toilet, fever strikes and I shake my digital read-out thermometer convinced it has to be wrong.

Temperature Degree Thermometer

Day 3: Have decided that having a will to live kind of sucks. Scrounge through medicine cabinets to find decade’s old Tylenol and take it, hoping it will kill me.

Day 4: Fever finally breaks and I would celebrate, but I’m getting low on toilet paper and there seems to be no end in sight.

Day 5: Am now reconsidering my agnostic stance and will willingly convert to whatever religion will cure me.**

Day 6: There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but I suspect they are the tiny sparks as each of my brain cells implode from dehydration. I gird my loins and guzzle Kefir straight from the carton.***

I wipe curdled cream from my lips and scream:

“Take that, you plague-ridden, bacteria bastards!”

Today is Day 7. It has been a week and, slowly, I am feeling somewhat human. Though, of course, the diarrhea hasn’t given up trying to kill me.  I counter its vicious attacks with a chemical carpet bombing of Gatorade and Live-Culture acidophilus pills.

I’d really like this to be the worst thing that will ever happen to me, but I known I am just not that lucky.

As for whether this was a case of Salmonella or not, who knows? If it wasn’t, I sincerely pity the people who’ve had it worse.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be in the bathroom…freshening up.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Hint: it was not a Law & Order Marathon either.

**I’m looking at you, Vishnu, you beautiful blue man. Although, Shiva the Destroyer makes more sense in the circumstances.

***Kefir – the sound you involuntarily make after tasting fermented yogurt drink. Which tastes just as bad as it sounds.

 


Feature image stolen from UK Pinterest site. Please forgive me, I have no energy or desire to get my own watermelon and recreate your excellent work.  Although, Gallagher’s work on expressing rage by smashing fruit with a giant mallet is starting to make a great deal more sense to me now.

Watching Plants Grow and Avoiding Murder

Annual Heirloom Plant Sale

For anyone not neck-deep in the hat-phantasmic hoopla surrounding the royal wedding, allow me to present a less drama-soaked alternative: watching plants grow!

*

It occurs to me, that I have watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders–a British television show on air since 1997 that refuses to die no matter how many casting changes occur.*

If you know the genre, there typically is a picturesque village holding a Medieval Faire with costumed residents oozing quaintness and exhibiting occasional homicidal tendencies.

If you are unfamiliar, I recommend a movie by Simon Pegg called “Hot Fuzz” that crystallizes the best and worst bits about the deceptively serene English countryside:

The thing that captures my attention more than the body count, is the number of community fêtes thrown. There’s like, what, one every episode? It makes me wonder if it is a national British pastime to dress in Ye Olde itchy togs and con people into playing cheesy parlor games for the sake of the church roof fund!

This brings me to today’s topic: American Block Parties.

Most block parties are an organized potluck gathering on barricaded side streets with no other function than to bring a community together to eat. Saturday gives me the opportunity to attend one that is equal parts British Fête Fundraiser and old-fashioned American street festival.

The occasion calls for a gathering of myriad talents to raise awareness and funds for the aptly named Wellhouse. The day’s event is the 6th Annual Heirloom Plant Sale.

Wellhouse is a community program that buys local houses, renovates dilapidated neighborhoods, and provides housing and skills training for formerly homeless residents. They also promote a ‘growing’ community with an emphasis on sustainable practices and energy conservation along with farm gardening.**

Wellhouse hosts a plant sale each year. You go for the plants. You stay for that little something extra you won’t find at your local greenhouse: community!

At first, I beeline to pick up the greenery I want to fill out the barren landscape choked with crabgrass and despair that is my backyard.

Community Plants
Sadly no one was dressed in a jester’s motley with tinkling bells on their pointy hat. On the upside, no one was murdered either.

Per usual, my teenage son has a trajectory of his own.

I keep dragging the man-child away from one table in particular. (I need to ogle flowers with exotic names like ‘Clemson’ and ‘Hyssop’, don’tcha know.)

Coco Renee Specialty Baking
Even better than they look. Seriously dangerous baked goods by Coco Reneé.

I promise my child a specialty cupcake just so I can plant shop. (Twist my arm.)

I don’t know how good the chocolate cupcake with chocolate whipped frosting was, I just know it took my son less time to inhale said cupcake than it took to remove the wrapper.

I pick the one with the raspberry garnish.

I have no regrets.

If you want more rib-sticking eats, you might hit up the royalty-hued catering provided by Purple Blaze, a hybrid of Southern and Ethiopian cooking.

Purple Blaze

Sadly, I have no time to sample their fare, mostly because the boy-child is pushing me to go, however, even I as a non-meat eater have to say the wafting odor of barbecue is positively mouth watering.

Purple Blaze BBQ
Smelled good enough to make me question my vegetarian leanings.

You wouldn’t think there is be more in store at the festivities, but you’d be wrong. The gray, overcast sky can’t put a damper on the upbeat spirits.

There are white-tented tables with various arts for sale. My arms are mostly full of greenery, but I stop to admire the selections.

There were some truly amazing prints to peruse courtesy of Red Hydrant Press.

Calligraphy Art
Putting the ‘Press’ back into printing.

And fabulous arts of the crafted clay variety provided by WMCAT or the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology.

Here’s CC showing off her colorful floral-designed Pot:

CC - Clay Pot

Before long, my son is dragging me toward our Prius in a desperate bid for freedom, but I chat and take pictures as if this isn’t killing him slowly.

CC Alayna and Teacher
From left to right: Teacher Jo Nicholson with students, CC and Alayna, kindly posing for no reason or explanation at all. Really, they are lucky I’m not a serial killer.

Moving between lazy droplets of rain, it is possible to find your smile while listening to The Fabulous Vans.

The Fabulous Vans
From left to right: Ryan Gravelle (wearing the cat shirt his girlfriend gave him), Timmy Van on guitar, and daughter, Sierra Van, on ukelele and vocals.

As I am packing up my car to go, I chat with the guitarist who is setting up for a performance. We exchange brief biographies, the way strangers do.***

I point to my kid who is slumping, hang-dog, in the car since mommy isn’t hopping to like he hopes. Timmy points to his daughter, Sierra, still polishing off some ribs at a nearby picnic table. He brags about her musicality and involvement in local choirs.

You wouldn’t be biased about her talents at AlL?” I joke.

Her dad laughs and denies partiality, “Of course not.”

We talk about kids and music for a bit.

I bemoan my teenager’s rebellion against piano and ask whether he has to badger her to follow in her father’s footsteps? He assures me that she’s the one who wants sing.

He can’t say enough great things about her. Apparently, she’s even influenced the music they play.

“We usually play classic rock covers–like Led Zepplin’s “A Whole Lot of Love” but Sierra sings from some of her favorites: Twenty-One Pilots or One Republic.”

“I’m sorry,” I interrupt him. “Did you say Twenty-one Republics?”

He corrects me without laughing, much. By now, the rest of the band has loped over, and agrees to stage a picture for me. I hear them play as I drive away. Their enthusiasm isn’t in the least dampened by the drizzly venue.

*

I spent the rest of the day trying to plant things while simultaneously killing as many weeds as I can.

In the spirit that embodies fine British murder mystery programming, there’s been a summer fête, someone has to die!

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*Regarding Midsomer’s Suspicious Death Rate: I do wonder how a fictional hamlet apparently no bigger than Rhode Island can survive quadruple homicides on a weekly basis without running out of people?

**I totally stole the Wellhouse information from a flyer available at the front table.

***Even though we all know about serial killers, no one expects them. They are like the Spanish Inquisition this way.