Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Wish You All Nearsightedness

Sometimes, by living for those moments that rock our world, that trip to Hawaii, going to Disneyland, buying a new car, and playing the same numbers every week for twenty years with hopes of one day winning the lottery, I forget.  I forget that although those events are worth every memory, smile, photo taken, new car smell, and fantasy of fortune, that most of our lives aren’t spent living in those moments.  Most of our lives are spent in the mundane and predictable, day in, day out, paying bills, sorting laundry, going to work, checking off our list of to-do’s, watching the clock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, while counting down the moments until the monumental events.

But those monumental events are happening right here, right now.  The relationships we are nurturing, the unexpected smile from a stranger at a grocery store, the random hug, the one solitary gardenia in full bloom. 

My thoughts alone are sometimes what bring me the greatest joy; like when I think about my mother, who cuts coupons for baby diapers.  There are no babies in our family.  So why does my mother cut coupons for baby diapers?  To pass them out to people at the grocery store who are buying diapers; because she knows that diapers are expensive, and that young couples often struggle….and giving makes her happy.  I’m smiling right this second, thinking about it.

Just last night I was reminded after watching a rerun of Laugh-In, the way my brother used to go around the house constantly and ridiculously stating “Veerrry Interrresting…vat stuupith" in his best German accent.  Another memory that made me laugh, or shake my head, thinking I wasn't the weird one after all.

And then, when my almost two year old neighbor/family friend/child I would take bullets for calls me "Auntie" for the first time ever, after I prod him to tell me who I am; when I watch him show off his new dance moves, which are more of a two step-gallop, knowing he wants me to clap and smile. 

This is happiness.

Happiness isn’t six months from now on a flight to the Bahamas, it’s here, right now, this moment, today; we just don't always see it.  We live in a farsighted world and can't always see what's right in front of us.  For some reason, our vision seems to get worse as we get older.  Children live in moments, adults live for what might come "one day."

I just keep thinking it's too easy to lose site of the clarity right in front of us while that elusive distance is so obviously clear; that day we'll grab the pot of gold and run with it; the day we lose the extra ten pounds, "Then I'll be happy."  Aren't we wasting precious moments?

Today was different for me.  Because I'm part of this farsighted world, I put on my nearsighted glasses, and this is the happiness I found...

--Waking up and resetting my alarm for another half hour, feeling the soft squish of my pillow against my face.  If I were a cat, I would have purred.

-- The aroma of my reliable Folgers and the sound of “beep beep beep” that tells me that it’s ready.

-- That first sip.

-- Sticking my nose right up to the lone gardenia blooming with a vengeance, and taking in that hypnotic fragrant scent. 

--For once, having a full tank of gas.

--Realizing and accepting the genuine love and friendship that surrounds me, even when I’m at my worst.

--Richard, asking me if I’m hungry. “No thank you.” “How about a sandwich?” “No thanks. “Some walnuts? “Nope.” “Would you like a peach?” “Not really.” “How ‘bout a glass of milk?” “Babe I’m fine.” “I can make you some rice.”  “Thank you I’m not hungry.”  “Okay...sigh....I’ll have a sandwich and a glass of milk.”

--Eating the best sandwich ever just because Richard made it and washing it down with a cool glass of milk.  Food always tastes better at his house.

--Calling my daughter and hearing her voice.

--Calling my other daughter, and hearing her voice.

--Being told “Mommy, I made chicken noodle soup and it turned out so good and I have some for you!”

--Knowing that my 21 and 22 year old daughters still call me "Mommy."

--The baying of my Beagles when I walk through the front door while wagging their tails uncontrollably, because they are so happy to see me, even after I feed them.

--Remembering that there’s greatness in each day.

--Putting my head on the pillow and knowing, I don’t have to set the alarm, because after all, I do love to sleep.

--Knowing tomorrow will be a new adventure.

I wish nearsighted vision for everyone.  For those I love and care about, for neighbors and strangers, and people I will never even meet, to see the happiness that beckons, each and every day.  As God as my witness, it is there, screaming for you to notice.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Gardenia in October

It has been pouring all week; metaphorically anyway.  My spirit is shaken and quite honestly, I'm tired.  We all go through it at times, some more than others, only I'm the open book that talks about it.  Maybe it's therapeutic, maybe it's narcissistic, but it feels so good to tell you that I'm having a shitty week, oh and it's raining gloom and doom.

Those Cumulonimbus clouds are passing overhead; the only cloud I remember from a test I miserably failed in the sixth grade. A test I cried over because I had failed and was doomed to be a nobody, a disappointment to the family; the proof was on the paper, the "F" was on the test.  It's hard to imagine that children worry at such a young age and can be so vulnerable to defining themselves by their assumed failures rather than their many accomplishments.  I was that kid. It didn't matter that I walked 31 miles for the Walk For Hope in the 5th grade, or won the talent show with a puppet named Pepito, or that I was kind to animals.  Nope, I got an F.  I was the kid that FAILED.

I still cry when I think I have failed at something, and the rain comes out, and my love of the only cloud I know comes to mind.  Which I'm proud to know the name of.  "Cumulonimbus".  I have even delighted in pointing out Cumulonimbus clouds in the sky to my daughters, for the mere fact that it makes them think their mom is smart. C-u-m-u-l-o-n-i-m-b-u-s.  "Yup, it's going to rain, see that Cumulonimbus cloud in the sky?"  Little did they know I had flunked the cloud test....back in the sixth grade...which I have not forgotten. I wonder how many students that aced that test still remember any of the clouds?

I haven't been able to write lately; the words just aren't there...and as usual, I cry far too easily.  Did you know that scientific studies show that crying serves the important purpose of releasing toxic stress hormones from our system?  Women live longer because we cry.  Men should do that more often, it's good for the soul and the health.  If this is true, I should live to be about 200.

But I woke up today, and the sun was shining, at least overhead, and a lone Gardenia out of, one, two three, four, five....eleven Gardenia plants that I nurtured all summer, decided it was ready to bloom; and it's the end of October!!

Even when Cumulonimbus clouds are overhead, Gardenia's still bloom.  That's the good news.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This is not to express favor or disfavor over Obama Care nor to have this be construed as a political statement.  I understand that for every pro, there is a con, and for every opinion, there is at least one equally valid contrary opinion.  This is only my experience.

While sitting in a political science class last year desperately trying not to yawn, the instructor began to talk about “Obama Care.”  I felt the heat rise quickly in the room.  The class of at least 100 students was after all, divided straight down the middle politically.  I don’t need to tell you that I am a professed tree-hugger, a save the world one person at a time type of girl.  This is not because I understand all the layers of politics, I don’t.  I simply wear rose colored glasses where in my perfect world, the hungry would be fed, the cold would be warmed, and those of us with lousy medical coverage or none at all would have options.

The instructor asked, “If I turned the heat up to 80, how many of you would be uncomfortable?” A few raised their hands.  “If I turned the heat up to 90, how many of you would be uncomfortable?”  More raised their hands.  “If I turned the heat up to 150, how many of you would beg me to turn it down?”  Everyone in the room raised their hands.  “Politics is about how our own lives are affected at any given time.  If you have great health coverage, you are comfortable.  If you have cancer and no health coverage, you are uncomfortable.  We assess our own needs and make determinations primarily on how comfortable or uncomfortable we or the people we love are at any given time. This is how politics works.

Thinking about my own life, I had to agree, I was not comfortable. Having been self-employed most of my life, I always paid for my own health insurance.  I had the best plan/PPO available.  I was young, the premiums were low.

And then I got old…or in the world of health care, I became a liability instead of an asset.  After my hysterectomy, my health care rose from $250 to $460 per month.  I looked elsewhere, but because of my earlier health problems, I became uninsurable.  Even Kaiser wouldn't touch me. In the world of cherry picking, I was no longer a cherry.

I looked at the situation logically, but saw none. They took out my uterus and cervix, removing the possibility of ever having cancer in either, and then considered me a “high” risk. I have never even had cancer.  My amazing insurance plan still billed me $6,000 in co-pays for that surgery alone; before they deemed me "high risk."   Lucky for me, I got out of the hospital in record speed because I knew for each day I would have to pay an additional $500.  “My Goodness, I have never seen a patient recuperate so quickly after a hysterectomy.  I’m letting you out a day early” my OBGYN stated in awe of my superwoman recovery.  Did I mention that I am a good little actress? By my standards, I got paid $500 for that performance.

Shortly thereafter I realized I had to change my health plan.  I could no longer afford the hysterectomy payments and the $460 premiums each month.  I eliminated every perk and reduced my plan to a $225 bare bones plan (i.e. no doctor visits, no mammogram, no anything unless you have something as serious as cancer and are hospitalized); which meant, I wouldn’t lose my house if I was staring at serious illness or facing death.

Then came time for my yearly mammogram.  I cannot even begin to count the friends and family members that have gone through the hell of breast cancer; some of whom have died, and many who have suffered single or double mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation, and emotional and physical scars from this disease.

Under the circumstances, one would think that getting a mammogram would be as easy as a flu-shot; a no-brainer.  But no, it didn’t work that way; not for me anyway.  I found a lump.  I was scared. I called my OBGYN for a referral; the one that was paid a lot of money to take out my uterus.  She wouldn’t give me a referral without a doctor’s appointment, which would cost $125.00.  I didn’t have extra money laying around and thought the need for a referral was ridiculous.  Luckily, after hours of research and “sorry you’re too young for a free one, sorry you aren’t on welfare, sorry….” I found out that Alta Bates Medical Center gave free mammograms, so I made an appointment.  Once I got there, they said they were sorry, but they neglected to tell me I did in fact need a referral first.  I called my doctor's office from the waiting room.  “No" said the clerk, "You have to come in for a referral maaaam. ” There was no empathy in her voice. I called again, humiliated.  “I can’t afford to go in…Isn’t there any way…” she cut me off at the pass. “No. You have to come in!”  Wait a minute, this is my doctor.  The doctor who I have intimately trusted over the years with my vagina, and she was denying me something as basic as a mammogram referral? Maybe I was unreasonable, maybe I don’t understand the rules of medical ethics, but I was mad as hell. This is what people go through every single day for something so basic as preventative healthcare.  And so I pulled a Renae.  I yelled, I tried to intimidate, I pleaded, I threw out legal terminology with reckless abandon, that may or may not have been accurate, I even pulled out the big guns and threatened "If I die of breast cancer because I can't afford a mammogram, she will have to live with that!" I was shameless…to no avail.  "Sorry maam, I can't help you."

I sat in the lobby of the Alta Bates Medical Center with head in hands and sobbed like a two year old, snot and all. In my world of fairness, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, this was neither of the above.

I then did what I always do when I’m having a meltdown; I called my cousin Becky.  Becky can fix anything; she is like the miracle worker.  Once I got past the point of nonsensical babbling and could actually form comprehensible words, Becky responded with the usual…. “Oh! I can fix that!” And so she proceeded to call one of our very dear non-family but like family members who just happens to be a surgeon.  I won’t mention his name just in case there is some ethical “bad” thing about giving someone a referral for a mammogram without seeing them and taking their life savings, so I’ll just call him “John.”  Well this dear man “John” who we have adopted as part of our family couldn’t fax a referral fast enough.  Within ten minutes I was having my boobies smashed and flattened into the machine with a smile on my face.  I got my mammogram, wiped my tears, and was much relieved to receive positive results in the mail.

Another year has passed and it’s time for yet another mammogram.  There is one difference, however.  A few months back I called Anthem to change my plan.  “You can’t” they said, “You have the cheapest plan available to any living human or dog on the planet." And so I said “Well….what happened to the Obama Care plan?”  “Oh, you don’t want that plan” the salesman said adamantly.  “Well, my plan really isn’t doing me any good.” Not easily appeased I replied “Tell me the difference in plans.”

You know when commercials try to sell you something and then at the end the volume falls a few decibels lowers and they speak martian-like fast while disclosing the potential problems. ”Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, headaches, blindness, earaches, runny nose, jock itch, diarrhea, armpit body odor, toenail fungus, seizures, and even death.”  Well that’s basically what I got.

“The plan would cost you $25.00 less per month and offer fifty preventative care visits at no charge, including but not limited to colonoscopies, mammograms, and two doctor visits per year at a $40.00 co-pay…”  Did he just say “Mammograms? Doctor visits?  $25.00 less per month than the plan I have now? “Why wouldn’t I want that plan?  “Well maam, this is in the courts you know and could be technically repealed  Without further ado, I took the plan.  I bit the apple. I bought into Obama’s be damned health plan.

On Wednesday, I am going to Alta Bates for my yearly mammogram, no charge, no prescription needed.  And since I just turned 50, it is time for a colonoscopy; which is also covered.  All I needed was to have the heat turned down.

Now ladies, if you haven’t gotten your mammogram this year, for all of those who have died, lived, suffered, walked the miles, raised awareness and money for research…please let it not be in vain.  They paved the road for the rest of us, it's up to us to take the next step; that's the least we can do.  Make that appointment and get your mammogram.

If you can’t get a referral, just call my cousin Becky; she can work miracles.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Friday, October 7, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

Just when you least expect it, it happens.  Those little random acts of kindness that put the universe in balance.

I'm not a shopper.  Shopping without money to spend, which is also known in girl talk as "window shopping" is like being on a diet and staring at a chocolate bar, knowing you can't eat it anyway.  I just don't see the point.

But today, just after getting my glasses fixed since I had been wearing them crooked on my face, as Richard had been pointing out for some time, I did the unthinkable.  I went into Kohls, if only to get a glimpse of a life I used to have; when I could actually try something on and buy it, guilt free, because the money was in the bank and more was on its way.  But walking around a department store now is bittersweet, and not to say I didn't choose this single income, career change mid-stream life of mine, but sometimes it is bittersweet.

Like today for example, when every aisle I turned on had an over-sized J.Lo staring me in the face daring me to try on her new Fall Collection of fabulous.  "Yeah, what--ever J.Lo, you aren't so fab, this is just Kohl's after all.  Give it enough time and you'll be replacing Jacklyn Smith's cardboard cutouts at Kmart." But as everyone knows, J.Lo can buy anything she wants, and I can't.  Even though tomorrow's my birthday (did I mention that tomorrow is my birthday?), shouldn't I be able to buy myself something by the time I turn 50, guilt-free?

Lucky for me I'm easily satisfied, so I picked a wonderfully scented autumn candle for my living room.  Today was my lucky day.  An $18.00 candle marked down to $8.90 plus tax.  A birthday present to myself, which would bring me months of pleasure.

When I got to the counter I was happy to the point of manic with my simple pleasure; knowing I had snubbed J.Lo and I could still walk away satisfied.  I was the first to ask the clerk "So how are you today?"  That's all I said, I swear.  I did not mention my birthday.  He responded by taking the candle, studying it for a moment, and then saying "Hold on a minute, let me check something out.  I can do better than this," and as he rang up the candle he put a Godiva Chocolate bar in front of me, gently wrapped the candle in paper, put it in a bag and said "That'll be $1.20."  I started to ask...."Don't worry about it" he said "I had some extra coupons.  Have a nice day."

Only then did I tell him that tomorrow is my birthday, and I thanked him more than once.

Today was my lucky day.  You see, sometimes all it takes is a random act of a mere stranger, a clerk at Kohl's to reinforce that there is good in the world and balance to the universe.

I promise to pay it forward.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,


I write often about having been tortured at the hands of my big brother, my trusting innocence shattered by mini-bike wheelies, the politically incorrect and often administered "Chinese Torture Test" and words that stung like a wasp, from exclaiming cruelly in front of my cousins that the fender on my banana seat bicycle was "dorky" to calling me "craters" in the sixth grade; a reference to my long awaited puberty.   However, as I am turning 50 tomorrow, I've decided as a gift to my brother that I will accept some of the responsibility and confess my share of provocation in our sibling squabbles. I admit, I was an expert sharpshooter, a marksman of sorts, a sniper with bullets of annoyance waiting in the distance to strike . Yuk yuk yuk.  Yes, I was that little sister, but there was reason. 

Let me preface this by stating that almost every picture I have ever seen of my brother and me as children, is with me stretching as high as I can, to put my arm around his shoulder.  How does one admit that their big brother is their hero and their best friend? The first four years of my life, Alan was my only playmate.  When we would get sent to our separate rooms for causing too much trouble, which we often did, that didn't bother us.  What our parents didn't know was that we had a vent in the wall between our rooms.  Immediately upon getting sent to our bedrooms, we would close the door, crouch down in front of the vent and whisper to one another "Hey, can you see my eye?" "Yeah! I can see your eye! Can you see mine?" And we would whisper and giggle as we peeked through the slats of the metal vent until our time was served.

On the weekends, mom and dad would sleep in, and Alan and I would get up before the cartoons even began, sitting next to each other on the couch while eating our bowl of Cheerios while staring at the fuzzy screen in anticipation of the peacock with the colored feathers; which meant nothing more than, "Time for Rocky and Bullwinkle!"

Then there was Christmas Eve.  Every year before we went to bed, without a second thought, we would simultaneously remind one another, “If you wake up first, wake me up, and if I wake up first, I’ll wake you up” and in the morning, like little vultures, we would tear open our presents together from Santa Clause.  That lasted almost to Junior High.

And so as most of us know, we have those moments so bonding with our siblings, without any concept or consideration that one day, they too shall come to pass and that chapter will come to a close; the laughter, the endless summers, the traditions, even the fights.  Life is about change, after all. 

Alan and I were on equal ground as young children, but as we grew, no one told me that he would get to venture into territory where I was not allowed.  He got to cross the busy street of Arctic while I stayed home pouting and exclaiming “It’s not fair!”  He got to go to parties, where I was not invited.  He got to stay up later than I did.  As little sisters often do, and without malice or understanding, I retaliated.  The farther he got from me, the tighter I clung.

Just before I went into kindergarten I adamantly stated to all who would listen, that I wanted to be a boy.  That was quite a statement back in the early 60’s for one so young who played with dolls.  I didn’t know why I wanted to be a boy, I just knew that I did, and I meant it when I said it.  I remember my mother raising an eyebrow in concern and asking me "Why do you want to be a boy?"  "I don't know, I just do!"  In hindsight, I wanted to because my brother no longer wanted to play with me, and if I was a boy, maybe he would.   Alan was already going into the 2nd grade, and I would stay home alone, bored, watching Romper Room, and sticking crayons up my nose, while he would leave me behind with ice-skates hanging around his neck.  It simply wasn't fair.

So one day, in my desperate desire to be accepted by my brother and to convince him I was “just like him” I put on his clothes.  Well it didn't actually go down like that.  What really happened was that while he waited in line for the school bus with all the older neighbor kids, I snuck into his room and secretly put on his jeans, his belt, his shirt, his shoes, and his hat. Just as the school bus was pulling up and right before they all got on the bus I ran out onto the front sidewalk where everyone could see from the street corner and yelled “Nannneee nannee nannneeee, I have my brother's clotheeeeeess onnnnnn." I even remember throwing my arms up in the air and doing a little dance while shaking my hips. My mother quickly came out and marched me inside the house. I believe that was the day the torment began.

It didn’t get better after that, it only got worse.  Alan was in the fourth grade and had a slumber party for his birthday.  I wanted to be part of it, but I was not allowed; so I was informed.  All the boys with sleeping bags in tow, were spread out from one end of the living room to the other and so, in the middle of the night, I took my blanket and pillow, and snuck in between all of them and fell asleep.  It didn't take a sniper's shot to make my brother's life hell; in fact, it was quite easy to do.

As the years went by, I still wanted to play and he still didn't, but with each passing year, he detached more and more.  He was too grown up to be around me.  It didn't even change in high school, it only got worse.  One day he was jamming upstairs on his drums with the Linford brothers and a few other friends, working on putting some kind of band together.  I wanted to watch, so I snuck upstairs to spy on them, knowing he would never let me sit in on my own.  Alan, in the middle of a drum solo looked my way and somehow caught my eye through the cracks of the railing; he held his sticks mid-beat; my heart stopped mid-beat; he yelled as loud as he could muster “Renae! Get the #%^&**( out of here!!”  I ran at full speed, down the stairs to tell on him, thinking my mother would make him let me sit in on their practice, but instead I got the canned response that seemed to serve her well over the years; “I don’t want to hear about it!! 

Did Alan not get that all I wanted was my brother back? He was the guy that used to play cowboys and Indians with me; granted I always got tied up and tortured, but still; I didn’t care.  How does a little sister say that she is having abandonment issues?  And so, by high school I did what a lot of kids did, I drank at parties. Invariably and to my brother's mortification, I would often run into him, purely coincidental of course, at those very same parties.  Having been sufficiently inebriated I would throw my arms around him and introduce him to my friends.  “This is my brothhherrrr and I looooveeee him.”  Desperately, he would look at my cousin Patty, who I was usually with, and in one commanding sentence say “Patty.  Get her out of here!”  And Patty would save my brother from the little sister from hell by taking me to another party far, far away.

Lastly, I did stupid things beyond embarrassing Alan.  Did you know that recent studies by neuroscientists show that the brain of an adolescent takes at least 25 years to fully form? With that in mind, I will mention to you that I decided to throw a party.  Not just "a party" but a huge outdoor Kegger for all my friends in the middle of the downtown Anchorage Park Strip.  I invited everyone I knew.  If we had Facebook back then, I would have posted it on Facebook, but word got out fast in our small town.  I "borrowed” my brothers keg, which he proudly owned for his own parties, took it to a store, had some gullible adult get it filled for me and threw what was going to be a rager.  The half an hour rager with at least one hundred people was immediately broken up by the Anchorage PD who asked, "Who’s keg is this?”  And there I stood, hiding behind the crowds of people, pretending to be an innocent bystander. My brother, my dear, tormented, brother, had to call the police department and tell them that he was in fact the legal drinking age, that his punk little sister stole the keg, and in the end, they brought it back to him beer and all.

Somewhere in there, I grew up and moved away, and Alan and I having gone through similar situations in our adult lives, ended up on equal ground again and life came full circle.  But in the end, we are who we are, and when Alan doesn’t take my calls, I’ll call him twenty times until he picks up, and leave at least a dozen messages, "wake Up! WAAAAKKKKE UPPPP! Wake Up!" Or I'll sing off key into the phone, just to annoy him. 

The only difference between now and then is that I don’t need to be sloshed at a high school party to tell my brother that I love him. 

I love you brother, and I miss you, every single day.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Search Of My "Real" Family

When I was just old enough to form clear sentences, I was sitting on my dad’s lap at the dinner table and asked him, very seriously, where I came from.  “Well,” he said thoughtfully, “Your mother and I wanted a little girl and so….” he continued, “…we went into this building that was filled with children…”  Of course in my three or four year old brain I imagined all these children piled up on top of one another and squished together in some sort of warehouse; “And there you were sitting in a corner all by yourself smiling, and so we said ‘we’ll take her’.”

Now, giving this some very serious thought and suspecting all along that my family was a little odd, I started on a lifelong journey to find my “real” family.  I had the proof that I needed that I was not one of “them” and now I just had to figure out what to do with this information.  Every time my mom, dad, or brother did something strange, it reinforced to me that I was in fact, adopted. 

For example, at around the age of six, my dad came home one day and said to my mom “Honey, I’m opening a pest control company!”  Of course my mom scoffed and thought that was the most ridiculous idea she had ever heard, and dad went on to create General Pest Control.  But that wasn’t the weird part.  The weird part was the telephone situation.  As with any new business, someone has to answer the phones and take orders; that was my mother’s role.  But how was my mother to answer the phones if she was say, hanging clothes in the backyard from her clothesline, or looking for my brother and me who typically ran wild through the streets of our neighborhood?  Well according to my dad there was an easy solution for that. And so, he rigged the phone so it was connected to very powerful speakers.  When my mom needed to leave the house, all she had to do was flip a switch and wallah - you could hear our phone ring two blocks away.  She would hear it, as would all the neighbors, breathlessly run home to answer the business phone, and with a smile on her face and a song in her voice she would say “Good afternoon, General Pest Control” as if she had been sitting at the desk the whole time waiting for their call.  My friends would ask “Why does your phone ring like that?” and I would just shrug my shoulders as if I had no idea, secretly wanting to say, “You know they aren’t my real family.”

Then there was my brother who used to tease me relentlessly.  I think he resented having a little sister that was picked out of a crowd smiling.  I must have taken the only child air out of his sails because he tormented me as often as possible without getting caught.  Hearing the sounds of my screams brought him great pleasure and always a devious snicker.  To this day if someone even pretends they are going to tickle me, I break into anxiety-ridden hysteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Hey Renae” yuk yuk yuk, “Do you want a ride on the back of my mini-bike?”  And down the alley behind the house he would take me, while he premeditated the wheelie that would leave me flying off the back seat into the dirt covered alley.  With little rocks stuck in my arms and blood oozing, I ran into the house wailing and screaming as usual…. “Alan popped a wheelie!”  My mother was so fed up with the teasing, screaming, and crying that she would say “I don’t want to hear about it!” Again, more proof that I wasn't her "real" child.

Then there was my dad and the dog; the dog that we were never allowed to have because “dogs shed, dogs eat their poop, dogs are dirty…” but other families had dogs.  Then came Trooper, the dog that was to be and only be and outdoor dog.  The dog that not only instantly became an indoor dog but spent hours on my dad’s lap, who coddled, shared his dinner with him, and was held as if he were his first born grandchild by my “no dog in this family” dad.  Okay maybe that’s not so weird, but my parents had professional portraits taken of Trooper, and hung not one, but two 10x12 with gold frames on the main wall in the living room.  Stranger yet was that there were never pictures of my brother or me hanging from that wall.

The final straw came when I woke up one night to hear my dad and Trooper in a heated argument. Trooper was sick and my dad was trying to feed him Chicken Noodle Soup with a spoon.  Trooper would growl, dad would scold and try to push the spoon in his mouth, Trooper would growl, and dad would scold again. This went on for over an hour.  By this time I was almost 18 and couldn’t wait to move away from this family that I never belonged to in the first place.  I did, however, see a side of my dad that I had never known.  The only time I ever saw my dad cry was the day that Trooper died.

Eventually, fancying myself as The Little Match Girl, I grew up and moved, trying to find my place in the world; peeking into the lives of others and wondering if I too should have a spot at their dinner table.  No chair ever fit quite right, and so I finally created my own idea of the perfect family, through adopting my own daughters, Beagles, and other animals along the way. 

Last year I went home to visit my family; the one that raised me. My nephew was getting married and I hadn’t been home in ten years.  It was time to face the reality I had denied most of my life.  I barely stepped off the plane and the chaos began.  My mother had spent months looking for shoes for the wedding and the night before after hitting every store in Anchorage, we ended up at Sears only to find socks for my little nephews.  We had shopped until the stores were closing and at the far end of Sears the lights were dimmed and the registers were closed.  Suddenly, from that end of the store, I heard a crazy lady screaming “Is anybody here??  Is anybody here???” My mother was having a level four melt down in the middle of Sears, pacing quickly from aisle to aisle while yelling for a salesperson’s help.  “Mom! Mom! It’s okay! The registers are closed here.”  “Well for God’s sake!” she exclaimed. 

But the next day she was frantic again because my nephews’ suit pants hadn’t been hemmed. “Oh my God! We have to have the pants hemmed!” “I’ll hem them” I said.  “Oh what are we going to do?? Your brother wants to take them to a tailor and there’s no time!”  “I’ll hem them.”  I said. “Just duct tape the damned things!” yelled my dad from the other room.  “I’ll hem them.”  I said.  “You? Hem them? You know how to hem?”  Yes mom, “I’ll hem them, I can hem.” “Oh for God’s sake!” yelled my dad, “Back at the farm, we just used duct tape! Duct tape the damned things!”  Ultimately, I hemmed the pants, the wedding turned out beautifully, my brother still loves to tease me, and I cried my heart out at the airport when I had to leave.

I learned that weirdness not only runs in the family, but that I too inherited the gene.  It was on that trip that I discovered that I never needed to look for a spot at another person’s dinner table, I had my own spot at their table, because they had been my “real” family all along.  

And that’s the good news!

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,