Justin

I have a cousin … step-cousin, really. Justin. He’s the son of my uncle’s second wife. I think he’s about thirty years old or so now.

I didn’t really know Justin when he was growing up. I can remember Justin at one family Christmas when the entire extended family would still gather together. After that, my parents started doing their own thing at Christmas time, since their kids were growing up, getting married and having kids of our own. I probably saw Justin a handful of times throughout the years after that. And then my uncle and Justin’s mom divorced.

The next time I saw Justin was four years ago when my uncle died. He was living with my uncle (who I also didn’t see often) and was estranged from his mom by that time. I was a little shocked to see how Justin had grown up. To put it mildly, he looked like he was no stranger to trouble. We were all gathered at my uncle’s home that day as the paramedics were taking him to the hospital. He was in the last stages of illness and we all knew he probably only had days to live. Justin was moving about the house. He looked like he was packing things. I guess he knew he couldn’t continue to live at the house after my uncle was gone. He was trying to look tough, but I could see he was struggling to face what was happening. He went outside and started up the lawn mower as my uncle was wheeled out of the house on a gurney.

I didn’t know Justin at all anymore, but I felt sorry for him. No one in the family knew him anymore and maybe everyone was a little scared of him. He couldn’t lean on his mom for support. And his step-dad was dying. After the ambulance left, Justin stood on the deck looking lost. I scribbled my phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it to him. I told him to call me if he needed anything. I was a little afraid that he might call; afraid I would be nowhere near able to give him anything he might need or want. He never called. I wasn’t surprised. Maybe I was a little relieved.

Then, maybe a year ago, I stumbled across Justin on Faceb00k. I friend requested him and he accepted. We messaged a bit and he shared a little bit about his life. He had hopes at that time of making a life with a girl he was dating. He liked her child and thought they could be a family. I gathered he didn’t have much and was left to wonder how he supported himself. Didn’t really want to know, really.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed Justin’s Faceb00k posts. Sometimes I can’t respond to what he’s said because he’s posted something too vulgar or violent. Times like those, I think maybe I should disconnect our FB friendship. He lives in a different world. Then another day, he’ll post something about getting sober, becoming a better person, being the kind of person who can be involved in his kids’ lives. (I guess he has kids!) Times like these, I leave him a supportive comment and feel bad about the times I’ve thought about disconnecting.

I’ve since learned that Justin’s relationship with his mom (if you can call it a relationship) is very volatile. I know and love his mom, though I haven’t had much contact with her since the divorce. I don’t know her the way Justin describes her, but there seems to be nothing left between them. One day on Faceb00k, Justin posted a status update asking for a “mom.” Someone to check in with him for a few months and help him be accountable. I thought about offering, then for some reason, I didn’t. His life is so different from the one I live. I don’t know if anyone volunteered. I told myself I did the right thing. I alternately told myself that I was a coward.

Recently, I commented on one of Justin’s more vulnerable, yet positive status updates. It was something about wanting to be in his kids’ lives but nobody wanting him to be there. He thanked me for my words.  He said something about feeling bad that his mom had written him off. As much as I know he thinks he hates her, he clearly mourns the loss of her. I felt compelled to send him a private message. I told him to hang in there and keep moving in a positive direction. I told him that it meant a lot to me that he was with my uncle during those last months and weeks when he was dying. I told him that I worried about him and wanted him to have the good life he was trying to achieve. I said I’d like to hear about his kids.

Justin replied and said that he wanted to tell me about his kids. He also said he thought he should tell me about himself. In person. And did I want to meet for coffee soon? I said I would, even though I’ve worried about what we’ll have to say to each other. We don’t really know each other and a part of me is afraid that I’ll give the impression I can offer him more than I’m capable of. I don’t think he drives. I don’t think he has a “real” job, and I’m not entirely sure he’s always got a place to sleep at night. Maybe more so, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make a difference and I’ll just be one more disappointment in his life. Then again, maybe there’s a real friendship in our future.

Blossoming

The world outside is coming to life again and so am I. As much as I try to fight it, the winter months quiet me. The long stretch of cold, sharp months make it hard to find my energy and motivation. Many of those days find me slogging through my daily routine. And I don’t even often realize what a rut I’m in until the air begins to warm, the sunshine visits more frequently and suddenly I feel as if I’m exiting a long, dark tunnel.

Spring makes me feel alive again and I know I’m not the only one. A coworker who was tanning during the last weeks of winter told me, “I know it’s bad for me. I just need the light and the warmth right now so much more than I care about the health hazards.”

Last weekend, as Kacey and I were running errands, she exuded joy when she exclaimed, “It’s so good to see the sun! It just makes me so happy!

I know what she means. Just a little sunshine and warmth is all it takes sometimes to make me realize what a cocoon I’ve been in the last several months.

It’s been warm this week. It’s been a no-jacket kind of week (and what a treat that is!) It’s been a week when I welcome the sound of the alarm clock, lace up my running shoes and head to the gym. (It’s still just a bit too dark and cold at that hour of the day to do my exercise outdoors.)  It’s been a hop in the car, roll down the windows, crank up the tunes and sing along like nobody’s watching kind of week.

The robins are back!

The robins are back!

It’s rainy and overcast this morning. And tomorrow will bring a dip in temperatures and I may have even heard there’s a slight chance of the S-word. But it’s not going to bring me down. The extended forecast calls for more spring-like temperatures. Winter’s in the rearview mirror now!

Fun Night at the Bowlerama

I’m not even sure how it happened, but we took first place this year!

Yes. We did. The Ball Busters!

We only do it for the fun of it. We’re there for the laughs and to enjoy a few drinks. We’re loud. We lack any serious skills. We come early and stay late. And we usually end up placing somewhere near the bottom of the ladder. But we’re on the top rung this year! First place, Baby!

The season is divided into two halves. On the last night of the season, while the other teams get to goof off and do silly things just for fun, the team who placed first in the first half of the season, rolls off against the team who placed first in the second half. That is, unless it’s the same team placing first in each half. Then there’s no roll-off and everyone gets to play along in the Fun Night festivities.

We won both halves and first place is ours, (in case you hadn’t caught on to that fact already!) In all seriousness, we pulled it together this year. Alishea and I both pushed our averages higher than ever before. And when the team bowled well, we knocked it out of the park. We had fun while still managing to improve our games.

So Fun Fight was all about having fun. A few weeks before, the team responsible for organizing the activities approached me and asked what our team did last year when it was the Ball Busters’ turn to coordinate the festivities. I couldn’t remember off the top of my head, but promised to print off the flyer I’d saved on my computer and bring it the following week. Apparently they  decided not to mess with a good thing. Fun Night 2014 was an exact copy of Fun Night 2013. And we had so much fun!

20140407b

We played 9-Pin No Tap with prizes for high and low scores. Then we played Alternate Ball, where instead of throwing two balls each, the first bowler threw a ball, and then the next would finish the frame and so on.

Then we played Opposite Hand Bowling, where right-handers were required to throw with their left hand, and left-handers were required to throw with their right. Sheila got so caught up in laughing at one of the other girl’s attempts to bowl with an unfamiliar hand, that she forgot to switch hands herself. The whole league booed her after she threw a perfect strike with her dominant hand. Jodi made sure Sheila didn’t forget again. She tied Sheila’s wrist to her belt loop while we all howled with laughter.

20140407c

Sheila’s wearing her CHICKS WITH BALLS tournament shirt!

Oddly enough, I bowled pretty well with my opposite hand. I scored over a hundred while many others struggled to keep their balls out of the gutter. Who knew? We laughed. We got silly beyond silly. And we remembered why we do this. It’s not for the prize money. It’s not for the competition. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit for the competition. We do it to get out of the house and put a little excitement in our weekly routines. It’s about being together, doing something fun with women from all walks of life, building new friendships and strengthening the old ones.

And we’ll be back next fall to do it all over again!

Streams of water trickling down the street

20140404

Birds singing…

Sun shining…

The front windows are cranked open just a little bit and I wore my flip-flops when I ran a quick errand to Target this afternoon with Kacey. She came home this weekend for a summer job interview.

Last Thursday and Friday brought what I hope was our last snowstorm.

The rush-hour drive into work Friday morning was a mess. Here at home, we probably got five or six inches of snowfall. But by the work day’s end, it was already beginning to melt. Warm temperatures have held steady throughout the weekend and the mounds of snow around our yard are disappearing right before our eyes.

The sunshine feels SO good. Just ask Lucy. She is so done with being inside!

20140406 c

It was a busy week. We finally got serious about buying a car. I narrowed down the list of vehicles I was considering to just two. We visited the Chevy dealership where Brad bought his truck last year and spent some time talking with the very same salesman. He was a nice guy and knew his stuff. We took a test drive in an Equinox and I liked what I saw. But we left without making a purchase. I’ve also been considering a GMC Terrain and I was pretty sure I liked it just a little bit more than the Equinox. I wanted to see it, drive it, and compare pricing.

20140406 aSo the next night we visited a GMC dealership. A very young salesman met us as we approached the showroom. I was a bit skeptical of working with him, considering his youth, but as we began to talk, I could see that he knew what he was doing. I took a Terrain for a test drive and young Sam the salesman pointed out when the quality of the road changed and what I should expect to feel as we drove over various stretches of road, as well as when we navigated curves and sharp turns. I really liked this car and I knew if Sam could give us a price that came close to what we’d be given at the Chevy dealership, the Terrain would be my choice.

When all was said and done, he gave us the right price. Unfortunately, the vehicle that fit our specific requirements did not exist in the dealership’s inventory. Sam said he could do a dealer trade with another GMC dealership and promised he would do his best to find one that fit the bill. Yesterday, we got the call. A dealership 150 miles north of here has a shipment of vehicles coming in straight from Detroit. The Terrain I want is in that shipment – which isn’t arriving until somewhere near April 18th. And once it arrives, someone has to go get it and bring it down here.

Well, it’s been more than a year since Mark and I started talking about a new car for me. I guess I can wait just a little bit longer. Anyway, it will give me time to spiff up my old car for Kacey before handing it off to her. And let me tell you, she is every bit as thrilled to be inheriting my old car as I am to be getting a new one! And we’re both glad for friendlier weather as we get to know our new cars!

Melting

It’s been happening in small doses lately and it brings me hope! Over the past few days, we’ve been hearing that the weekend could bring the warmest temperatures this year. Keep your fingers crossed! The snow cover is slowly diminishing, but there is still a long ways to go.

20140328Lucy and I haven’t had any regular morning walks in months. There has been too much snow and too much cold. I feared for the well-being of her paws. But with all the talk of a warm weekend, I was determined to get out there again. I didn’t dare say the word to Lucy before it was time. Last night as she was sitting with me in the recliner, I told her, “Tomorrow, we’ll go for a double you!

Her curiosity was piqued and she tipped her head to the side, looking at me with questions in her eyes. “I can’t tell you anymore right now,” I told her. “But I promise. You’ll be happy.”

When morning arrived, even though I knew better, I said the word before my teeth were brushed or my shoes were on. As my electric toothbrush hummed in my mouth, Lucy whined and pranced in the bathroom doorway, wanting me to hurry up and take her on her walk already! When we finally hit the pavement, she was bound and determined to race toward all of those fun smells and sights.

The weather app on my phone said nineteen degrees this morning. I knew the warmer weather wouldn’t show up until later today, but nineteen degrees was better than the single digit and below zero temps that hung around for too many weeks. Lucy and I had the path pretty much to ourselves, save for one ambitious runner who wore a black mask over his mouth and nose and passed us by pretty quickly. We had to weave our way off the path and back again here and there to avoid large patches of ice, but the fresh air and sunshine felt amazing.

See the ice up ahead?

See the ice up ahead?

Also, that annoying kink in my back that I haven’t been able to shake all month feels like it might be gone; Just one of the many perks of outside versus the treadmill. Lucy and I burned off a bunch of cabin fever! Looking forward to many more mornings like this in the coming months (minus the snow and ice!)

Dinner with Friends

We had dinner with Dave and Shelly tonight. They’re Andi’s parents – one of Kacey’s roommates and her friend since, what? Kindergarten?

Whenever we get together, I think about how we started out. Our girls were “just” classmates at first. Two little girls in a small sea of Catholic grade school kids. Those first years in school, the classmates all sort of tested each other out. There were lots of play dates. Eventually some real bonds took hold. I remember seeing Andi with her parents and brothers at school functions. As we all got to know each other, we’d see each other in church and choose to sit close, chatting and saying hello before mass began. Kacey and Andi were a couple of  tomboys. It’s no surprise that they played on many sports teams together as they grew up. There were some sleepovers, a few years in Girl Scouts and many days spent at one house or the other. In high school, they made other friends, but always hung on to each other. All these years later, they attend the same college and share an apartment.

And Mark and I gained some great friends because of it. Just goes to show that you’re never too old to make new friends. Now we’re old friends!

Dinner this time was planned like it usually is. A few rushed Facebook messages in the days before to figure out when we were all free. Shelly told me to pick the place and time. When I asked Mark, he said, “I don’t care.”

So I picked our usual spot, a favorite local place, at our usual time.

It rained today for hours. Then it began to snow, just in time for the rush-hour drive home. It was coming down in flakes so big they made me think of cotton candy. I left work late and the drive was slow. The weatherman had predicted this and I was thinking if I were smart, I would have suggested we meet just a half an hour later, but I know Shelly likes to get to bed early. She gets up even earlier than I do!

I made it home just in time to hop in the truck with Mark and go to the restaurant. It was packed! Bingo was going on in the bar. The diners were all squeezed into the restaurant and banquet room. We managed to get a booth with a view of the door so we could watch for our friends. Shelly arrived not long after we did, saying Dave was making his way out of downtown and would be there soon. And just a few minutes later, he was!

We ordered our food; pasta, a burger, a taco salad, and one order of chicken and ribs. We talked while we ate and kept talking long after we were done. I felt like Mark and I did too much talking. We told Dave and Shelly about our vacation in Florida. We chatted about Brad and Heather’s upcoming wedding. We talked about Jake’s job and how much he likes it and how in spite of his tendency for laziness at home, he apparently has a good work ethic on the job.

We heard about Dave and Shelly’s son, Brian and his wife, Katelyn. We heard about their move to a new house. We talked about their younger son, Eric, who is Brad’s age. He’s finishing grad school soon and graduating. He’s interviewing for jobs and seems like he’ll have his choice of opportunities. I always feel such pride for Eric when I hear how successful he is, how much he’s blossomed. Shelly and I used to share our concerns and struggles over our “A.D.D.” kids, Jake and Eric. I remember how much we worried about them making their way through school. Now here Eric is, graduating from grad school, interviewing for positions at several colleges, finding his calling and loving life! I wish I’d had such a clear vision at that age!

We talked about our dogs, family, work … you name it. We talked!

The time went by too quickly. The snow had stopped by the time we were done eating and talking. We paid our tab and walked through the parking lot together, making our way through rows and rows of cars back to the far reaches where we’d had to park.

I told Shelly that we always say we’ll plan one day a month to meet for dinner, but it never works out that way. It seems like the days and weeks slip by and before we know it, we’re on an every three-month schedule. We’ll keep trying to make it a monthly date, but if we don’t, that’s probably okay. At least we know we’ll never run out of things to talk about!

The Big Bowling Event of the Year

It’s state tournament time and I was invited to go along for the second year with nine other “girls.”

We had a good time and skill isn’t a requirement, just to give some perspective. Each player has to enter the tournament using last year’s average, unless this year’s average is ten or more points above last year’s. Mine wasn’t, (just barely wasn’t,) soI was registered with a 143 average.

This year’s tournament is based out of a local casino/hotel/bowling alley. (NICE bowling alley, I have to say!) Our ringleader got us registered and booked three hotel rooms to be shared among the ten of us. We weren’t scheduled to bowl until Saturday, but in order to make a girls weekend out of it, we stayed Friday night too. Some of the girls were looking forward to gambling. Others, including me, planned to see a country music band that was playing in the casino’s lounge on Friday night before bowling began the next day.

I don’t do casinos. I’ve only been to one a handful of times in my life. So I either didn’t know or failed to remember that smoking is allowed in them. As we checked out a few slot machines and later hung out listening to the band, I realized that the vast majority of casino guests were in fact smoking. Cigarettes, cigars, you name it. There was a lot of smoke. And I’m not judging anyone for the habit, it’s just that it’s really overwhelming to be exposed to that much smoke in an enclosed place for an extended period of time. To top it off, our room reservations weren’t submitted in time for us to get non-smoking rooms. Plenty of sneezing, and red, watery eyes ensued.

We hung out near the band until 1:30 in the morning. For a non-night owl like me, that was a really late night! But thanks, I thought, to all that smoke, I woke up Saturday morning feeling slightly sick.

We were scheduled to bowl the team event on Saturday afternoon. By the time we were starting, I had a full-blown headache. I popped as many Tylenol as I dared just before we began to play. As the three games went on, the headache grew worse. I couldn’t even think about how I was bowling or what I needed to do to bowl well. All I could do was think how much I wanted to be done so I could go back to our room and try to sleep off the headache. Ironically, I bowled out of my mind and even earned a pin for bowling a 200 game!

200 Pin

After the team event was finished, I was beyond miserable. While some of the other girls headed back to the casino, I crawled under the covers and buried my head between two pillows to drown out the noise being made by some of our team mates in the adjoining room. (Ours was a wild, slap-happy, LOUD group of ladies.) And I was having one of the worst headaches I could ever remember! I managed to fall asleep for a while and escape the throbbing in my temples.

A few hours later, around 10:30, a bunch of girls returned to the room, bringing along some friends of ours from our Monday bowling league that they’d run into in the casino. As I extracted myself from under pillows and blankets, I tried to breathe, but couldn’t. I tried to talk but could barely. The headache was a little better, but still hanging on. Michelle insisted I had a caffeine headache because I hadn’t had my usual one cup of coffee that morning. I told her I didn’t typically drink enough caffeine to be suffering a withdrawal headache, but she kept insisting I needed some. More to appease her than anything, because she was feeling pretty good and maybe couldn’t remember that she’d already insisted several times that I have some caffeine, I opened a Diet Coke and sipped on it while my team mates were sipping on stronger beverages and whooping it up. And dang if my headache didn’t improve significantly over the next hour! I could have kissed Michelle! (But I didn’t!)

Thanks to my headache, the nap, and the avoidance of alcoholic beverages practiced in fear of making the headache worse, I was one of the few who woke up on Sunday morning without at least a mild hangover. In fact, I felt like a million bucks! Feeling that good, I was sure I could pull off another impressive performance for the singles and doubles events that day.

But it wasn’t to be. Oh, I didn’t embarrass myself or anything. I just bowled about average. And besides, I had fun, which is the most important thing. Thankfully, some of the other girls pulled off some impressive games, so we should come out of this thing alright. As long as we earn enough to pay for our hotel rooms next year, we’ll be happy!