Smelly

My first friends on Sigma Lane in Rantoul, Illinois were from another country. (I’m not going to say which one, because the commentary to follow will not be complimentary, and I don’t want anyone thinking I’m anti-_____ or that I think all people from ______ have this problem.)

The moving truck hadn’t even pulled away from our new home when I began wandering the neighborhood looking for playmates. J and A were sitting on their driveway drinking coconut milk–from an actual coconut. I was bold then: “Hi. Do you want to be friends?” I asked. “Sure,” J responded, offering her coconut to me.

I have only flashes of memory in regard to J and A: the coconut; the time we built a go cart out of a milk crate and roller skates and, on a test run, I did a mid-air flip and landed on my face; and the way their home smelled.

It was awful. Awful. 

I mention that J and A were from another country because I’m guessing some of the awful had to do with unfamiliar oils and spices. We were a hamburger-noodle casserole family, and their home smelled nothing like that. In fact, it smelled like nothing I’d experienced before.

Except. Dog poop. That smell I recognized. I just wasn’t used to experiencing it inside the house. J and A had a Pekinese, you see, and their basement was his kingdom. The first time J took me downstairs to meet the dog, I was overcome with the sight and smell of several weeks’ worth of poo. Tip of the day: If your basement floor is covered in dog mess, your house will smell like a natural fertilizer factory. There’s just no way around it.

And it’s from this experience that I developed one of my many hospitality-related anxieties: I worry about having a smelly home.

Admittedly, I have a sensitive nose. I’m constantly chasing after “mystery smells” that no one else in my family seems to be picking up. Usually, such offensive aromas can be traced to a rotting potato in the pantry. Once, I discovered soggy newspapers in the recycling bin. Chicken packaging and cantaloupe scraps are the easy ones to pinpoint, but I’m haunted by the more elusive, vaguely organic, olfactory horrors. “OHMYGOSHWHATISTHATSMELL?” “What smell?” Jack often responds. (He’s ten years older than I am, and I’ve heard that smell is one of the first senses to go, so he cannot be trusted.)

One of the reasons I don’t open the door to unexpected guests has to do with the time it takes for the smell of a newly lit candle to penetrate a room. It’s not polite to ask people to wait on the front porch for 15 minutes to give the candle time to do its thing. So, I do the next rudest thing: I don’t answer the door. I’m doing you a favor, really.

Anyone get me? Am I the only one with this fear?

Picking Up Speed on the Downhill Slope

On November 27, 2014, I turned 44 years old. The life expectancy of an American female is 81.2 years old, which means I’m beginning to pick up speed on the downhill slope. It’s okay, though, because I have a strong strategic plan for remaining youthful-ish: Wear Converse tennis shoes whenever possible.

Yep, that’s pretty much the extent of my strategic plan.

Most of the time, I don’t feel old. I’m still keeping up with technology, I don’t fly south for the winter, and I don’t own a Craftmatic adjustable bed. (Confession: I really, really want a Craftmatic adjustable bed.)  Some days, however, I’m pretty sure I’m being scouted by the AARP. They’ve seen me look longingly toward my bedroom beginning as early as 7:30 pm. They’ve noted the increasing volume at which my knees creek/pop/grind on the way down the stairs. They’ve caught me listening to the oldies radio station; they’ve seen me crank it up for Depeche Mode’s “People Are People.”

The most disconcerting bits of my middle-aged-ness have to do with my appearance. (Big surprise, right?) With increasing regularity, I catch my wrinkled reflection in the mirror and think, “Crap. How many times did mom tell me to use sunscreen? Why in the world didn’t I listen to her?” (<—– This is another sign of advancing age: I’ve conceded my parents’ superior wisdom.) And then there’s my poor hair. The blond has apparently thrown up its hands in surrender to the silver. And who wouldn’t? They’re dangerous-looking—all wiry and crazily postured.

There are, of course, things that can be done about my aging hide. It’s just that said things are so stupid expensive, and spending $120/month on products to fix my wrinkles feels incredibly vain and fiscally irresponsible. Plus, it’s my fault I have wrinkles. Miracle, anti-aging lotions are the dermatological equivalent of those traffic law places that make speeding tickets go away. If you do the crime, you gotta pay the time, is what I’ve always said. (Actually, I’ve never said that before. But I can see why people do.)  I could also do something about the gray hair, but once you start down that road, it’s for life, people. I just can’t make that kind of commitment.

Oh! And what about those lovely, momentary lapses of mental acuity?

“Gah. I can’t find my stupid phone. Could you call it please?”

“Kelley, I did call it–two minutes ago. You answered it. You’re talking on it.”

“Oh. Hahahaha. Wow. I’m a genius. That’s funny.”

That’s actually the opposite of funny, but when I’m blinded by fear of quitter synapses, I laugh. Apparently.

Okay, just typing that out made me nervous. If you need me, I’ll be at the shoe store.

List One

The Biggest Spoon I've Ever Seen

1. BreadCo (or Panera, if you live outside the Lou) has a new menu item—the Lentil Quinoa Bowl. In addition to the lentils and quinoa, it has tomatoes, kale, spinach, and a sliced, hard-boiled egg on top. It might be the healthiest thing I’ve ever eaten. But I almost didn’t eat it, because it came with a spoon large enough to excavate a hole for the foundation of a new apartment complex.

I took a picture for you—hoping to illustrate how truly ginormous this spoon was—but the photo just doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know if they ran out of regular spoons so the manager raided her grandma’s serving utensil drawer or what, but this thing was ridiculous.

I managed, of course. I just wanted to warn you.

2. A couple of days ago, I made myself a deal: I can only watch Mad Men while I’m using the [h]elliptical. I know there’s a danger that I’ll just be less motivated to watch Netflix instead of more motivated to exercise, but it seems to be working. It’s worked twice, anyway.

3. When I was in high school, I decided I was going to join the FBI. My decision was solidified when my dad told me I’d never make it through the training. He also told me I’d never make it through college calculus, which compelled me to earn a math minor. “Oh, I’ll show him!” I pronounced to no one in particular. “I’ll go all the way through Calc III! That’ll teach him!” Here’s some free advice: Never ever take a math class just to prove a point. I cried every day that semester. Anyway, I was all set to get my Jodi-Foster-in-Silence-of-the-Lambs on—until I realized I’d have to carry, and likely use, a firearm. And the FBI dream died.

Or did it?

 

Thank You?

On Christmas Eve, I received a stack of cards from people in my church family. When I got home that night, I plugged in the tree, turned on the fire (yes, we’re cheaters), and collapsed on the couch to read the cards.

You know those days when you feel like nothing you do really matters and no one cares about your hard work and you might as well put in only half the effort you usually do because no one notices when you tweak something for the umpteenth time anyway? And then, just for fun, you get all swallowed up by self-doubt and you reach the only logical conclusion, which is that no one likes you? Yeah, I hate those days. But have you ever been having one of those days—or a whole string of them—and then someone does something so remarkably thoughtful that all that Yuck evaporates and the sun comes back out and suddenly you’re petting a unicorn who’s just delivered to you a bouquet of your favorite flowers and an ice cream cone?

That actually happened to me on Christmas Eve.

The cards I received were so beautiful. People wrote the sweetest, most affirming messages. Were many of the cards attached to plates of homemade goodies? Oh, yes they were. And did many of them contain gift cards? Oh yes, they did. I was floored.

I was still thinking semi-clearly—despite the long day and big emotions that come with unexpected generosity—so as I was opening the cards, I was jotting down whom I needed to thank and for what. Brilliant!

Except.

Except I only wrote people’s last names. And two families in our church have the same last name. Both gave cards. One contained incredibly affirming words and has found its way into my “look in here when you’ve decided no one likes you” file. The other contained a Starbucks gift card. And I had no earthly idea which was which.

I was taught that thank you notes should be specific and heart-felt, so I wasn’t going to just write:

Hi,
Thanks so much for your encouragement. Happy holidays.
Sincerely,
Winner of the 2014 Lame Thank You Card Award

I was also taught that it’s ridiculous to send a card to someone who’s sent you a card. (I’m still not sure I agree; gracious words are a gift, as far as I’m concerned, and the Bible agrees with me, so I’m obviously right.)

I considered this:

Dear Wonderful People,
Thank you for the Starbucks card. If you gave it to me, I mean. Otherwise, thank you for the message you wrote.
Love,
The Queen of Dorkland

But that didn’t seem quite right either.

Know what I did? I decided etiquette-schmetiquette and I emailed one of them and asked. Yep, I sure did—with the subject line “Awkward Question.” And she responded. With more kindness.

This may seem like a trivial situation, but here’s what it got me thinking: Authenticity breeds kindness. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, if you’re real with people, they’ll be real with you. Eventually, we’ll all realize—and accept—that we’re all just a little—or a lot—messed up. At that point, there will be nothing left to do but extend kindness to one another. Can you imagine?

The other thing I learned: “Thank You?” notes are now a thing.