Honey, I’m Home

I was mesmerized by the massive gray clouds, and I realized I could see miles of them. It wasn’t just over our city like in Poland; it stretched well into the next county. And I thought it was beautiful. Seeing for miles and miles was a treat. I could see where I had been and where I was going; I felt like I had my compass reset.

Our adventure in Poland is over, and we are home in Texas. I’ve been giddy about it since we landed, and I kissed the ground at DFW.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted toes.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted feet.

Our first dinner in America? Sonic corn dogs and cheeseburgers. Or, as I like to call them, ‘Merica Meats. We’ve had my mother’s homemade tacos and chili con queso. We’ve had bagels and Lucky Charms. I’ve even already had my parents over for dinner in our new apartment. It’s a culinary wonder, and we are eating it all. I still need a nice steak, but I think I’ve hit most of my food cravings including 12 pounds of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

I’ve been running. The boys have played in numerous parks without jackets or gloves or frostbite. We’ve seen the sun pretty much every day as is needed by my soul.

Even the dentist is fun here.

Even the dentist is fun here.

And oh how I’ve been talking. My blog title has once again been proven true. I’ve talked to friends and strangers. If you speak English and are in earshot, I will speak to you. Excuse me kind Target worker, where are the Ziploc baggies? Did you know the plastic baggies in Poland are useless and come in weird sizes and aren’t always at the grocery store and that their idea of cling wrap would make my mother weep?

Of course I’ve been talking the most with my family and friends. We’ve had our first friend group gathering, and I tried my hardest to slow my motor down. Luckily, the boys needed my help dealing with a crowd of kids and grown-ups we hadn’t hung with in a while.

Friend gatherings involve food and fun.

Friend gatherings involve food and mess.

On Friday I met my friend Christine for a drink after work. (I’d worked two days. I deserved it.) Poor, poor Christine. She didn’t know it, but she was my first outlet for real gabbing and laughing without watching my kids or my foul mouth. We talked about approximately 439 topics, with most of the words coming back to how the topic affected me. I was loud and happy. I was hoarse by the time I left. She kindly said we should do it every week, but I’m sure she went home and prayed I’d be out of words next time.

My tutoring job started last week. I’m working with seventh grade students getting them ready for their state test in reading and writing. I go two days a week, doing writing one day and reading the other. I was so happy about it I actually planned my lessons before I got to school, a new personal achievement. I even packed my lunch and had my clothes ready. And boy did those girls in my first class get the best me ever. I’ve got many friends at the school, so I’m feeling right at home.

I’m also really feeling my teacher soul jump for joy. When we lived in Poland, the owner of the boys’ school and my friend Zosia both made comments about how obvious it was that I was a teacher. They felt my personality and the way I talked to my kids (in public) suggested educator. I took that as a huge compliment. Then, at our gab fest Friday, Chris and I talked about my looking for a full-time teaching job next school year. I told her I had also considered just working retail or something so I could be free of grading and school-bureaucracy nonsense. She said, “No, you love teaching. You’re good at it.” Pump my ego up a little more with props from a fellow educator.

So, my Twitter presence has diminished, and I’m behind in my computer time-wasting, but, we’re settled in our apartment and happy as pigs in Texas mud. Soon I hope to be back to writing regularly and keeping up with the people in my computer. It may be annoying because I’m so peppy, but you’ll get used to it.

And finally, I leave you with things I’m loving about America:

garbage disposal, washer and dryer with large capacity, not having to haul my toiletries all over the house for a shower nor find my clothes in the closet in the kitchen, English-written & spoken, variety at the grocery store, Target.

No,This is 40

Okay, everyone get out your shiny new day planners, calendars, and time management apps.

Got ’em?

Good. Now put a big star around October 11. That is my 40th birthday, and you are all invited to my dance party/dinner/fun fest. I want an excuse to buy a new dress and laugh until my sides ache. And I want to be happy. Because you know what? I’m pretty damn excited about where I am and where I’m going.

I know that turning 40 is supposed to make me cry and wonder where all the time has gone. I remember the black party decorations for my mom when she hit this milestone, and the ‘holding at 39’ jokes. I guess she was supposed to be sad about being that age and that her life was over. My brother Michael did not handle 40 like a champ. It was probably because we threw him a lame family party he told us not to do. When my brother Rob turned 40, he had a big party at his house and doubled down on sporting hobbies that proved his youth and vigor. And I haven’t been exactly kind to the myth of the death of youth and fun at 40 myself, having deemed our friend Old Man Curtis when he became the first of our group to hit that age.

And now 40 has come for me, well, in nine months anyway. And though I’ve been upset about it in the past, today, I’m not. I am not giving in to the stereotype recently reinforced by the movie This is 40, and neither are a lot of really smart women I know.

First, my marriage is in a good place. My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have figured out a lot about how to work together. I’m sure we have a lot more to learn, but for now, we compromise well and take good care of each other. I firmly believe my husband puts his family first and is intentional in the way he loves us. We’ve survived loss, new lives (Twins! What a fun marriage test!), and two years in Poland away from friends and family. Also? My husband is hot with grey hair at his temples and his toned legs from walking to work every day.

My twins are going to be in kindergarten when I turn 40. I’m not sure why, but it feels like I’ve reached some sort of achievement by keeping them alive until school age. It’s like I leveled up in the parenting game, and I am so ready. Though things are harder emotionally for big kids, and I already worry about how they will face bigger disappointments, I also get to watch them begin their life’s path. They have blossomed so much in this past year, and I know it will only get more interesting as they enter school. I love their perspectives on life and the way they look out for each other. I can’t wait to see the next steps.

But Stephanie, you say, turning 40 for a woman is all about lost beauty and lost opportunities. Well, to you I say:

Because I’m too busy being awesome. I’m not a super cougar hottie. I’m not Stacie’s mom. But, I’m not too hard to look at. This body has done a lot for me, and I can’t blame it for being a bit worn in places. My stomach? Dude’s been in battle. My legs? They have danced a thousand dances and continue to carry a five-year-old when needed. My face? Lined with laughter’s left-overs reminding me of how much happiness I’ve seen. (My neck? Crap. My mom told me for 25 years to take care of it, but I didn’t listen. Thank God for expensive neck cream. I will continue to buy it even if it means I can no longer afford new shoes. Yes ma’am. It’s that serious.)

I have a good vibe going on in my mental and spiritual world too.  I know me well. I’m not perfect, but I know where my imperfections lie. I’m somewhat able to work around them. For example, I know I procrastinate, and I try to fight that natural tendency with lists and self-imposed screen-time restrictions. I face all the parts of me, and I’ve even been known to make a joke or two about them. I know my passions. Writing is back in my life, and I am a happier woman for it. Not only that, but I think I’m a more driven person as well. I want to improve my writing and be read and appreciated by more people. I will write my Poland book and who knows what else. I am surprised because I guess I thought you couldn’t have new goals and dreams at this age.

My heart is also screaming out and yearning to get back to teaching. I remember going to my 10-year high school reunion. I had just decided that teaching sucked, but I had no real plan for another path. So, I worked an hourly job at Citibank and wallowed in existential questions. Could there be a better time to meet up with people who knew you when you were an over-achieving honors graduate? I cried a lot that weekend.

But now, I’m sure. I am a teacher. I love English. I would marry the rules of grammar if it were legal. I am here, ready to help you with your writing and work on my own. I want to talk about books and themes and the power of language.

I have so much to look forward to just in 2013. We are moving back to Texas. I get to see my friends and family. I get to go to writing conferences and continue to meet women who inspire me. When I went to my writing conference last October, it was like a new world opened up to me. I guess I didn’t think old ladies like me could make new friends. But I did. And they happen to be women with goals and dreams and positive attitudes. I want to start a new part of my blog that includes video lessons for families needing grammar and writing guidance, and these women helped me solidify this idea. They make me a better person, and I can’t wait to see how that manifests for me as I turn 40.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin' on.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin’ on.

So, Judd Apatow, this is really what 40 is and can be. It’s being at a place where you can use the lessons you’ve learned and try new things. It’s a time to enjoy some of the rewards of your hard work while you continue to seek new successes. It’s a time when anything is still possible though sometimes at a slower speed. So, if you come to my 40 and fabulous party, don’t bring any tired stereotypes or weak jokes about getting older. I will punch you in the throat and then blog about it.

So, what about you? What do you like about your age? What are you looking forward to as the next milestone approaches?

Lizards NOT Welcome

This was certainly not the swingin’ Saturday night I’d hoped for.

My roommate was out with her boyfriend and some of his friends. They didn’t even think to ask me along. I guess I would have been the nerd wheel. I didn’t quite fit in. I was in Austin but not enrolled in the university that semester.

As I surfed channels, I pondered adding some excitement by heading to the laundry room. Doing the laundry was the only thing I could think of to keep me from going to bed at eight. What might I find in that room on a Saturday night? Might there be some wet underthingys clinging to the drum of a washer? Maybe there would be some discarded jeans of unknown cleanliness on the counter. There was a guarantee that I’d be fighting the mother from next door for my turn with the dryer as she was prone to cooking her clean clothes well past done.

I headed to my room at the back of the apartment and gathered my supplies. Dirty clothes? Check. Quarters? Check. Detergent? Check. Softener? Check. Borax? Check.  Basically my basket was more supplies than clothes, and I hauled it downstairs without shame because I knew no other kids my age were home to see me.

Back in my quiet apartment, I headed to my room to return the laundry detergents to their rightful spot in my closet. As I got closer to my room, I saw a lizard on the wall. In the back of the apartment. Between me and my room.

Dear God, how long had it been here? Was it in the carpet as I passed back and forth getting laundry? How close were my feet to his teeny, creepy little toes? (Lizards have toes, right?) I got light headed. Lizards and I are not friends; we are in fact sworn enemies. We’ve battled in El Paso, and we’ve battled in Florida. I was in no mood for another round with them tonight. I tried to slow my breathing because the only thing worse than having a lizard a few feet from your bed, is passing out on the floor and having a lizard crawl on your face.

Hold on. I need to take a break. The memory is making me panicky.

Then, I pulled up my britches and did the bravest thing I could think of; I slowly backed my way into the living room and called my daddy. I’m not sure what I thought he could do because he was in El Paso which felt about a million miles away from Austin that night. He advised me to either try to use a broom to guide it out or to wait until my roommate and her boyfriend came home. Then he wished me good luck, and I was once again on my own.

I sure as hell was not going to let the lizard explore our apartment until my roommate happened home. So, I got out the broom from the kitchen and headed back into the hall. I stood there trying to gather my nerves. Every twitch of his little lizard body made my blood pressure shoot up so that I had to talk myself down from the ledge of hysteria again. During one of these moments of panic, I realized the front door was closed, and it would be tough to open it while also shooing him out and not peeing in my pants. Then again, what if more lizards came in through the open door? I decided to chance it by leaving the door open. It seemed like a sign of hope that this was going to work and work fast.

It did not.

The lizard was not impressed by my sweeping motions. They did not inspire him to head to the door though they did get him onto the carpet and closer to my feet which was super. My next brave step was to actually touch him with the broom to get him going in the right direction. This move was successful in only one way; it made things worse. The broom separated lizard from tail and me from the sliver of calm I had remaining. I burst into tears as the lizard hung out in my carpet completely undisturbed by this new development.

I was sobbing with fear and loneliness. Why didn’t I have anyone to call to come save me from this menace? Why couldn’t I do just one thing without making it worse? The lizard and his stupid flimsy tail had broken me.

But even in my distressed state, I could not handle sharing floor space with a lizard. A voice from deep inside told me that I absolutely had to get that damn thing and its tail out of my apartment before it touched any part of me. And so, my OCD helped me move forward and give it another try.

I grabbed a red Solo cup and a plastic bowl. The bowl went over the lizard, and the cup covered his tail. This bought me time to remember to breathe again. My next step, after another internal pep talk, was to slide a piece of paper under the cup and lift both cup and tail. I walk-ran to the door and threw the whole mess over the railing and into the night.

I knew the lizard would not be as easy and gave myself the biggest pep talk of the night. I’m pretty sure I promised myself a beer once it was over.

I used a nice sturdy piece of paper, the back of a notebook, and gave it a go. The first attempt just pissed him off. I had to recover and refocus. And breathe. The second try was a success. I carried my impromptu cage to the door and set him free.

In front of my neighbor’s door. I needed the dryer later.