Times of tumult…

I don’t know why, but for a couple of months now my favorite word to say is “tumult“.

My 94 year old grandmother died just after midnight April 15th.  Which lead me to say that she was just living out the cliche of “nothing is certain except death and taxes…”  While she had been ill, I am going to blame the IRS for her death.  This year she had a hell of a time filing her taxes and even had to pay because of an early withdrawal from a CD that was going to mature not five days after she needed the cash.  And she had some capital gains from stocks which got a little confusing.  When I spoke to her during her tax filing crisis, she was out of her head with confusion and worry.   This isn’t the kind of stuff that would have bothered her at 64 or 74 or even 84, but at 94 it seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I went down to West Virginia the morning after she died to be with my mother and help her with the funeral arrangements.  One thing that we both learned during that trip to the funeral home is that I am a cheap bastard.

Me:  How about that coffin? (pointing at a wood box marked $1080)

Funeral Director:  That is for cremation only.

Me:  How about this one? (pointing at an ugly red coffin marked $2050)

Mother:  No.  That is ugly.

Me:  But it is the cheapest one…

Later when we were talking more about the arrangements:

Funeral Director:  This is the price for our package with two showings and the funeral service. (handing me a sheet with a price of $3995 on it) 

Me:  Um, how about one showing?  Or we could even skip that part.

Mother:  No.  Your grandmother has a lot of friends and family and they are going to want to see her.

Funeral Director:  And there is an extra fee for the cemetary for preparing for the burial and a little extra for opening the cemetary on a Saturday. ($600 to dig and $50 for the weekend)

Me:  Dude, I could dig a hole for three hundred bucks.

Mother: (nervous throat clearning sound)

Me:  And we could do the funeral on Friday instead…

Mother:  No.  We have people coming in from out of town.  It has to be Saturday.

Funeral Director:  You’ll need to choose a guest registry book and you can do service cards as well.

Me:  Seriously?

Mother: (acting as if money is no object) We’ll take this book and these cards. (another $100)

Funeral Director:  Now the obituary as you have stated it is going to be about $400 to run on two days with a death notice tomorrow and a funeral notice on Saturday.

Me: 400 dollars?!

Funeral Director:  The first five lines are free and then it is five dollars per line after.

Me:  Well, I thought five lines pretty much summed it up well…

Mother:  (this is where I am totally paraphrasing what she said) No.  I want every name of everyone she ever met listed as well as the names of all 90 of her organizations and clubs as well as the names of the neighbor’s pets.  And I want a picture.

Funeral Director:  A picture will be about another $90.

Me:  I could just go around town to every newspaper and draw in a picture for you.

Mother:  You really aren’t as helpful as I would have thought.

Me:  Yeah, well, I’m totally planning your funeral.

Last night while I was trying to sort out my grandmother’s important financial papers I kept finding magazines.  Over the past year she had signed up for dozens of magazines, mostly through Publisher’s Clearninghouse, which she was absolutely sure she was going to win one day.  She had both Time and Newsweek, Forbes, Fortune, Money, Entrprenuer’s Monthly, Money Inc., Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Organic Gardening, Southern Living and on and on.  My mother, who has lived with my grandmother for 30 years now had no idea that Grandmother was getting all of those magazines.

Me:  Why didn’t you stop her from odering these?

Mother:  I had no idea.

Me:  But you can’t see the living room carpet because it is covered with all sorts of magazines addressed to her.  You didn’t put two and two together?

My theory here being that a 94 year old person should not be paying large sums of money for year long subscriptions to magazines that only she is interested in.  Although, maybe she was just optimistic that she would live out the subscriptions or that my mother would become fascinated with Forbes.  Don’t know.

The night that my mother called me to tell me that my grandmother died, I curled up in the fetal position and cried like a baby.  I didn’t take it well.  Not because it was tragic, she had lived a very long and very happy life.  I was crying because my safety net was gone.  She was the one person I could always count on to have my back.  She took on my teachers and college tutition bursars and the City of Pittsburgh when they booted my car for $800 worth of parking tickets.  She fought for me like a lion.  There is nothing in the world she wouldn’t have done for me.  And having someone like that in your corner allows you to be reckless and to try things that you otherwise wouldn’t.  I knew she would always bail me out of a jam and she would always love me no matter what I did.  If I had ever gotten caught in a foreign country with a bunch of drugs, she is the one person who would get me out, even if she had to tunnel into the Midnight Express prison to get me. 

Now she is gone and I am at a loss…  I know that I have people who love me and people who will support me but I don’t know that any of them will ever be able to be as ferocious in her support of me.  It’s a little scary.

My mother has asked me to speak at the funeral.  At first I said no because I didn’t think I would be able to get through it without breaking down and I don’t do that in public.  But I have had a change of heart.  I know that my grandmother would want me to stand up for her as she always did for me.  And I think I might have gotten all of the crying out of my system, or at least I hope I have.  So, here is what I plan to say:

I’m counting on the other speakers to regale you with stories about my grandmother, and there are many.  But I wanted to talk about a thought I have been having about her for awhile now.  That thought has gained some clarity over the past few days.  It helped me figure out what I wanted to say about her and what I wanted to say on her behalf.


My grandmother loved this family.  She loved her parents and her brothers and sisters profoundly.  And when she and her brothers and sisters grew up and started to expand the family, her love for it grew exponentially.  My grandmother adored her nieces and nephews and that love spread on down to her great nieces and nephews.


I know that she loved being our grandmother and L and SK’s great grandmother, but she loved being your Aunt Meg just as much.  When someone in the family would achieve something special, be it getting into college, winning a basketball tournament, getting a great job, she was so proud of them.  And she would brag about their achievements to anyone and everyone.  When someone in the family was facing a time of tumult, she would pray for you and worry about you – she was a very good worrier– but she always had faith that any member of her family would pull through whatever faced them. 


Without a doubt, her best days were family gatherings up at the farm.  She loved being with you, spending time with you and hearing what everyone was up to, good and bad.  Anyone who sat down beside her for a chat was her favorite person at that moment in time.  She even loved the picnics that ended up with her storming off to the car after an argument with Uncle Dana, and I believe there were more than a few of those.  It was also close to impossible to drag her away from the Christmas parties at Dana and Kathy’s or any of the many Yarling gatherings.  She never wanted to be done visiting with you.


I tend to believe that the reason she lived so long is because she loved this family so much.  You kept doing interesting things and she didn’t want to miss out on any of it.  And you kept on giving her great-great nieces and nephews and she just had to be around to meet them.  She loved us all so very much and she was so very proud of this family.





S, as I have mentioned is a very smart girl.  But I was just sitting here thinking about some of the cute things she does that keep me from being totally intimidated by her intelligence.

When we go down into southern West Virginia, near where my brother DK lives, there are lots of road signs that stump her.  There is one the points to the direction for an interstate that will take you to Gallipolis, OH, where you can still see the wreckage of the Silver Bridge from the Mothman Prophecies.  That alone scares the crap out of her.  But the cute thing is that she pronounces Gallipolis as “Ga-lop-o-lis” as if it were from a Superman comic or a Darwin exploration.  It is actually pronounced “Gala-po-lis” and usually said really fast by the natives.

My brother lives in Kanawha County along the Kanawha River.  This one tickles me the most in that S repeatedly pronounces it “can-a-wah-ha” no matter how hard she tries.  It is actually pronounced “ka-nah-ah” which sounds silly enough, really.  Though, most of the die-hard, West-by-G_d-Virginians pronounce it “kuh-naw“. 

Yes, I actually giggle over these kinds of things.  And I am not, by nature, one who giggles. 

What’s next…

S had her interview for the Phd programyesterday.  I tend to be a little snotty about academics so it is difficult for me not to refer to a Phd program in Eductionas a Phd pogrom.  Then again, maybe I just like the play on words.  Or it could be that I have grown dyspeptic over the state of public education.  This, of course, does not apply to S because she is a brilliant teacher.  Anyway, the interview went pretty well, as it should have since we were up until 2 am practicing the interview questions.  By the time she walked into that interview, she was an interview machine.  Machine in a good way, of course.

Now we wait.  The school should send out acceptances by the end of April.  I firmly believe that should have admitted her after question number 3 in the interview.  Although I do have a wee bit of a bias when it comes to S.  She is a little nervous about her chances for acceptance which I find absurd.  Sure, I always have a case of over confidence when it comes to backing S, but she has given me thousands of reasons for that level of confidence.  Again, the woman is brilliant.  Anything she wants should be an automatic done deal.  I wish I could somehow transfer some of my confidence in her, to her.

We seem to be waiting on a lot of things as of late.  Waiting for the Phd acceptance letter (I refuse to allow the possibility of a rejection letter), waiting for one of S’s big teaching test scores, waiting for the snow to stop and spring to begin, waiting for spring break so that we can start the kitchen renovation, waiting for good fishing weather, waiting for the end of the school year so that we can go camping…  Lots and lots of waiting.

Another thing we are waiting for is kind of odd.  It seems like we are waiting to hang pictures and art on the walls.  We have now lived in the house for one year (as of March 17th) and we only recently hung four framed photos in the living room.  We’ve never waited more than a month to hang pictures and such in any of the apartments we lived in.  I think it is because hanging things on the walls made the apartments feel like homeand this house has felt like home since the first time we walked through it with our realtor.  We didn’t need to hang up anything to make it homey.  And yet, we haven’t personalized it much beyond painting the walls.

I was hesitant to hammer nails into the walls right after we moved in.  I found that after having been the one to skim coat the walls, getting coated in plaster sand and then painting the walls, I didn’t so much want to allow one single blemish.  Parents should require this of teenagersso as to reduce the amount of posters going up on bedroom walls, not to mention the horror of dart boards

But now I want our pictures on the walls.  I want to walk from room to room and see our past all around me.  We have a whole wall’s worth of old family black and white photos that now have matching frames.  They need to be on the walls in the dining room.  I have two beautiful water colors done by my 90 year old grandmother that deserve to be on walls.  I even want to put up our cheesy photo booth framed collection.  We used to make sure that every year we went to a mall and got our picture together making silly faces.  I loved that and I love looking at it still.  Not long ago I got a photo print of S and her dad fishing on Lake Erie.  It is a great photo and belongs on the wall in our upstairs hallway.  I don’t know what we are waiting for anymore.

For almost three years, since we purchased a digital camera, we have been loading up our computer with our photos.  We made a couple of photo montages with the photos to give as gifts, but we hadn’t saved anything else other than on the hard drive.  I suppose we were just waiting to save them.  But over the past few months I have been getting freaked out that our computer will crash one day and we will lose some priceless photos.  So I stopped waiting.  Last Friday, I spent most of the day saving all of the photos onto data disks.  I know they aren’t exactly fail-safe, but it is a start. 

And one last thing we are inexplicably waiting for…  Last fall we purchased a martial arts punching bag thing.  It’s not a bag so much as it is a padded stand that needs to be waited down by being filled with water.  We also purchased hand wraps and boxing gloves and at the time, we were eager to start beating the crap out of it.  When we brought it home I took it down to the basement and created a work-out area.  But I didn’t immediately fill it with water because there was no easy way to do so.  We both just figured we’d fill it up the following weekend.  Well, we didn’t.  It is still sitting down there, unfilled.  Sure, we talk about filling it up at least once every two weeks, but we never do it.  And sure, I could be filling it up right now instead of writing this post, but I am not.  We are just waiting.  I think there is a good chance that I am in a delusional waiting pattern, wherein I believe that if I wait long enough a water spigot will appear in the basement to allow me to fill the bag with ease.  I don’t know what S’s excuse is, except that she is far busier than I am and has zero time to do it.  She may be in a delusional waiting pattern if she believes that she is ever going to have the hours to spare to get to that project.

Books that make you dumb…

I found this tid-bit over at Joanne Jacob’seducation blog.  Someone went through Facebook and took note of the lists of the most popular books broken down by what college the user represented.  They then downloaded the SAT/ACT scores for the colleges and graphed the results into a Books That Make You Dumb chart.  Good fun!

Smart books: Lolita and 100 Years of Solitude

Dumb books: The Color Purple and The Purpose Driven Life

*And by “good fun” I mean that it is fun to look at but I know there are many other factors that make people dumb and some smart people enjoy reading crap. 

**Also, I refuse to link to Facebook because I’m pretty sure it’s just a portal to Hell.

When lacking better ideas, just raise taxes…

Sin taxes, as defined by Investopediaare typically added to liquor, cigarettes and other non-luxury items. State governments favor sin taxes because they generate an enormous amount of revenue and are usually easily accepted by the general public because they are indirect taxes that only affect those who use the products. When individual states run deficits, the sin tax is typically one of the first taxes recommended by lawmakers to help fill the budget gap.

Some lawmakers in New Mexico have decided to tackle childhood obesity.  By what means are they going to do this?  Nutrition education?  Encouraging better school lunch meals?  Longer recess with physical activities?  More physical education classes?  Nope.  They want to raise taxes.  Specifically, sin taxes.  They want to add a 1% tax to the sale of video games and video game equipments as well as televisions.  And they are calling it “No Child Left Inside” because they love the play on words.

Several years ago I won a fellowship that allowed me to spend a whole legislative session  interning with a state senator.  I got to see how the sausage was made, so to speak.  I met all of the legislators, sat in on their committee meetings and sat in with them when they were discussing bills.  I saw the whole legislative process.  What struck me most is that 98% of the legislators I met were incompetent.  They didn’t understand most of what they were voting for or against, even in the bills they were sponsoring.  And they lacked the ability to understand the long term ramifications of the bills they were pushing through.  The most striking thing was that they all, democrat and republican, never met a tax they didn’t love.


The garage door is frozen shut.  I suppose there are some things we could do to pry it open, but it is cold, really cold. 

We are required by our city to keep our garbage cans inside the garage until 7:00 pm the night before garbage collection.  Since we cannot get the door open, we cannot take out our garbage.  The kitchen can is starting to overflow.  And now I have some chicken bits to throw out.  I kicked around the idea of putting bags of garbage in the basement until the garage door thaws but it just doesn’t seem like a sound idea.  What if we forget it’s down there?  Bad.  What if it draws rodents into the basement?  Super bad.

I also kicked around the idea of just putting bags of garbage out by the garage but I know we would get fined.   Not only fined, but animals would tear the bags open and decorate the yard with debris.  Super duper bad.

I’m really having bad door karma this month.

By the way, I am totally repeating “garage” and “garbage” over and over and over as if they rhyme.

Words can kill…

I sometimes get obsessed with saying words over and over and over…  Sometimes I’ll hear a name and it’s so fun to say that I will say it over and over and over…  Sometimes I will take the fun to say name and word associate it to another fun to say name and then repeat them both over and over and over…  Sort of like that David Letterman fiasco at the Oscars when he went on too long with the “Uma/Oprah” bit.

One day back in 1995 I was got stuck saying the name Ida Lupino over and over and over…  Then I thought about how similar it sounded to Patti LuPone, so I mixed them together and spent an entire day saying them in a sing-song fashion.  Three days later Ida Lupino was dead.  It kind of freaked me out.

Back in December of 2005, toward the end of a particularly good Christmas break, S asked me a question about Sean Penn.  I answered her question but then I couldn’t resist showing off some of my inane trivia skills.  So I told her that Sean Penn had two brothers, Michael and Christopher.  She had no idea who Michael Penn was but kind of knew that Christopher Penn was the fat dude in Reservoir Dogs.  I then whipped out the knowledge that Michael Penn is married to Aimee Mann, trivia that actually impressed S because she loves Aimee Mann.  Anyway, the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but walk around muttering “Michael Penn/Christopher Penn” because it rolled off the tongue in such a nice way.  But then, a little less than a month later, Christopher Penn was dead.  Again, totally freaked out.

To be fair, Ida Lupino was 81, so her death was not a shocker.  But Chris Penn was only 41.  I’m not saying I had anything to do with their deaths…. but it is a really freaky coincidence.  I’ve been trying to keep my repeated word obsession confined to words and not names but it is soooo hard.