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Our trip north was fine, although a little gloomy and cool. We got off I71 a lot sooner than I thought we would and took smaller highways all the way north. Mrs. Garmin and I had many disagreements – I’m sure she was screwing with my head several time – but we made it with only a few twists and turns. There were several literal detours: The main thoroughfare through Bucyrus is completely torn up, and Route 4 at one point was completely closed down. This took us on a 28-mile detour; I thought I could have gotten us going quicker  by taking one of the county or township roads, but Mrs. Garmin disagreed.

It was pretty land all the way, green farms and interesting old huge barns and old brick houses. Water formed new ponds in quite a few of the fields, and I wondered how all the moisture was impacting the crops.

We drove on across Sandusky Bay to Marblehead. We needed lunch, and out of hunger and desperation for bathrooms for everyone, stopped at a place called Otay Pizza.  It was an interesting little place, with a bearded waiter/cook in a strange hat who kept commenting on the news stories on CNN. The pizza kept starvation at bay; at least it wasn’t as bad as the “road kill” pizza Mom and I had in Vandalia last September.

It was a bittersweet return to Mystery Hill and Prehistoric Forest, the dinosaur attraction J.Hooligan so loved the first time we visited about six years ago. Both Hooligans seemed to enjoy Mystery Hill, with its weird feats of gravity, although S.Hooligan commented we better “get out of there” before the people who really lived in the house came back and found us rolling tennis balls uphill and leaning off the edge of their table.

Our trek through Prehistoric Forest got off to an interesting start with the tunnel under the “volcano” with its little scenes of skeletal remains and dino heads threatening from pools. Diamondqueen got scared by a snake that leaped out at her when she peered through one of the holes in the tunnel wall. That was my favorite part, especially the way she screamed and jumped.

J. wasn’t as enchanted with the dinosaurs this time, partly because he was too distracted by the mosquitoes, which swarmed and whined all around us. S. was about as bad. Diamondqueen thought a mosquito probably flew into her mouth, and I got a gnat in the corner of my eye.

The Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky is like a compact cousin to the one near King’s Island, although it actually was built first. J. was a little taken aback by some of the features he found lacking, although he was as pleased as Diamondqueen to find out this lodge offers room service. We almost had disaster when we reached the water attractions and realized this Great Wolf doesn’t have a wave pool. I took J. off to pout in the heated whirpool; I said, “While you’re out of your mother’s sight, go ahead and have a good cry.” He did. Then he rebounded, enjoying the lazy river (which is the laziest version I’ve seen yet) and climbing the tower with all the water features and careening down one of the slides several times.

We got a late dinner from room service and lounged the rest of the evening. S.Hooligan went out on the balcony for awhile to sketch and look at things through the telescope she got at Mystery Hill; when I joined her, she talked endlessly and was disappointed when Josh joined us to lecture on dinosaurs for about 20 minutes.

This spring I started writing for Demand Studios and have had six articles accepted so far and published through eHow. I’m also copyediting for them, so that’s limiting how much time I can spare for writing. I’m astonished how fast a lot of writers turn out their articles. It takes me forever, which is why I have only six so far. I’ve created links for them on the right side of this page, and I’ll update the links as other articles are published. Have a look…

UPDATE: I’ve created a page with links to my online articles here (or click on “My Online Articles” under “Come In and Explore” at the top of the sidebar.

Nope, I haven’t been blogging, not since Christmas 2009. The first six months of 2010 brought massive changes. I left my full-time job at F+W Media; I gave up my apartment and moved in with Mom. I’m trying to build a freelance business, albeit slowly. I opened a showcase (i.e., my private set of shelves for selling antiques and collectibles) at Ohio Valley Antique Mall to sell off some of my massive accumulation of “stuff.” About all I haven’t touched on yet as I explore my new life is opening an ETSY shop or trying otherwise to make and sell crafts. That may come. I haven’t been idle. Not making much money, but I definitely have been staying busy.

Since I’m going on vacation tomorrow with Diamondqueen and the Hooligans, I thought I’d get the old blog up and running again. Diamondqueen is bringing along her little computer thingy (a pink notebook contraption she calls Pinky Tuscadero) and we’re supposed to have WiFi for at least part of the trip, so for the first time I’m going to attempt to post daily updates on our adventures. I’m also going to Twitter, so updates should appear along the right side of this page.

We’ll see how it goes…

I was about twelve when I learned to torture myself late on Christmas evening. I was always bummed to see the holiday season come to an end. At some point late on Christmas Day my father would say, “It’s all over but the shouting!” I despised that saying because I hated the thought of Christmas being over, especially since the “shouting” part had no basis in reality (unless my parents got into a fight, which just made my mood worse).

To pour vinegar into the cut, I started a ritual of staring out the window as midnight approached, gazing at all the outdoor lights I could take in from the given window. Usually it was one of our living room windows, from which I could look up Maple Drive in Oakley to see our neighbors’ decorations. I could see houses on a hilltop street across the valley of Marburg Avenue as well. In fact, sometimes I could even spot the illuminated plastic candles hung on the light poles of the Hyde Park Plaza parking lot if I peered carefully through the trees at exactly the right spot.

I had a notion that the lights had a special shimmer, a magic that vanished at midnight on Christmas Day. I stayed awake so I could witness this extinguishing, and pay tribute to it in a morbid way. It made me ache to do it, but once having established this ritual, it became a new, excruciating tradition that went on for decades.

In my twenties, I added another dimension: I’d have the radio on, tuned to a station that had been playing non-stop Christmas music for the past 24 hours, so I could hear and feel the seering loss when the holiday tunes evaporated into the ethers at midnight and the playlist returned to normal vapidity.

Yes, I do think a part of me appreciates pain and believes it adds depth to an experience. I became a lifelong artist in the practice of saying farewell to things, and really feeling sorrow, even mourning, whether it was the circus leaving town, a return from a wonderful vacation trip, the closing of the county fair, or the end of summer. Therefore, even though I was blessed not to lose anyone extremely close to me for the first 20+ years of my life, I lived in a constant funereal state of mind.

My “goodbye to Christmas” depression became almost debilitating by my 30s. By then I’d realized that I wasn’t mourning just the end of THAT Christmas, but of the entire preceding autumn going back to the beginning of October (my favorite time of year). And all the Christmas Pasts became entwined in Christmas Present, so I was waving goodbye to all of them at once, and everyone and everything associated with them. It was hell and not really a good way to live.

I don’t know if I’d have broken out of that well of season-ending despair without being diagnosed with severe clinical depression and being prescribed  Zoloft almost 15 years ago.  It’s not that I don’t still get sad on Christmas night; the difference is I’m able to let it go.

But I’m still enough of an emotional masochist that I have to look at the lights one last time while it’s still “Christmas.” Never mind that in many countries and cultures, the Christmas season continues on through January 6, or the actual celebration is on that date. I’ve scolded myself about that for years, but it’s never helped. Once I tried that trick of waiting until midnight while watching Christmas videos on VH1, but I was taken aback when the holiday-spirited videos continued – after all, it was still Christmas to the west of Ohio. That realization helped some, but finally not enough.

I thought I might feel even worse this year because of our troubled season, but I don’t. Yes, I’m sad that Christmas is over. I’ll continue to be sad right on into January, heart sinking as the light displays disappear one after another at the darkest time of the calendar. I do love New Year’s Eve, though, and I get a slight respite from the misery around December 28 as party fever builds again in anticipation.

My mother said something encouraging, though. Usually she’s ready to move on from Christmas once December 25 is wound up. This year, however, she says she doesn’t feel as “sick” of it all as she does most years, due to not getting to enjoy much of it (or, for that matter, wear herself out with it). She says she’s not ready to start hauling down the decorations, which she managed to put up just days before the kidney stone affliction. She’s going to let herself enjoy them more in the coming week, in addition to other things of a Christmas nature. That helps. Things don’t feel quite as final as we approach midnight this Christmas as they usually do.

We should have known a year like this would bring us a Christmas season as difficult as this one was.

Overnight December 2-3, my mother became sick with what we thought might be food poisoning or a bug. She seemed to be doing better, so I was stunned when I called her that Friday (the 4th) to say I’d be coming early for the weekend, and she told me she’d been so bad that day that my sister took her to the doctor. The prognosis: maybe diverticulitis, maybe a kidney stone.

Mom did okay that evening. We watched TV, including the Monk finale, and had a pleasant time. Within less than 30 minutes of her going to bed, though, she was up and pacing with terrible pain. It was so severe I became frightened. Mom, not a person who complains a lot or becomes overly dramatic, was shaking severely and pleading, “PLEASE, please, please.” I called Diamondqueen and asked her to come help me decide whether to phone for an ambulance.

The ambulance, with Mom and me aboard, arrived at the ER around 11:30 p.m. Diamondqueen, who had followed in her van, joined us once Mom’s initial exam was over. One of the longest nights of my entire life began, as we waited for painkillers, for exams, for the drink Mom had to consume for the CAT scan, for an hour to pass after Mom drank the stuff, and on and on. They finally confirmed that Mom did have a kidney stone, but it was only about 2-3mm, too small to remove surgically. The ER sent us home with prescriptions for painkillers and antibiotics. We made it to bed around 7 a.m.

It would have been disappointing enough, since Mom wasn’t well enough to celebrate St. Nick that Sunday. We did exchange our gifts to each other, but gifts to and from the Hooligans were postponed and there was no get-together.  However, the stone wasn’t passing. Mom kept the pain at bay with regular ibuprofen until the second week, when she started becoming more miserable. When she had her appointment with the urologist, it turned out her stone was MUCH larger than we’d been told. They got her scheduled for the stone removal procedure, miraculously, before her doctor left for the holidays. She came out of it very well, and we even watched some holiday shows that Friday evening.

We thought it would soon all be over, since she’d be able to remove the stent herself on Monday. However, she went into spasms (which apparently are common), so that meant more pain and more painkillers. The urologist’s office confirmed that the discomfort could go on for weeks.

I guess we’re all spoiled and I have nothing to complain about in being able to even say this: But this was the first Christmas season ever where Mom wasn’t able to do a single thing with me and the Hooligans. I watched in disbelief as days, then weeks passed, and one outing after another passed by.

Mom assured me (and still assures me) that she doesn’t feel cheated – that in feeling so bad, she wouldn’t have wanted to do anything anyhow. I know there are plenty of women at 77 who would have had interrupted Christmas seasons before this. Again, I guess we’re all spoiled.

It was hard, though. And to see my mother suffering as she did on top of watching my father die last summer was just a little too much. And I don’t like one second, let alone a whole holiday season, being wasted at this point in my mother’s life. But, as she pointed out to me last night, she believes she still has some good Christmas seasons ahead of her.

And it hasn’t been all bad news. I had some very nice times with Diamondqueen and the Hooligans throughout December, especially a unique overnight at Great Wolf Lodge (a separate story entirely). Best of all, Mom says she woke up this morning thinking, “It’s Christmas Eve! My favorite day of the year!” And she says she really did enjoy the day. She worked up the energy this afternoon to bake the Christmas cookies she’s mixed up yesterdays, which left me with only small tasks, like finishing the few gifts that still needed to be wrapped, running to the grocery for store-bought treats to replace the savories Mom usually makes, and sweeping up a little.

And the evening party of snacks and gifts with the Hooligans and their parents was delightful. Everyone was in a good mood, even the store-bought dips and bread tasted good, no one fought, everyone seemed pleased with their gifts. We waved goodbye to the Hooligan van around 9:45 this evening with a feeling of real satisfaction with the day. In fact, Mom even said as we were tidying up that she felt better then than she had on many Christmas Eves because she wasn’t nearly as tired as when she was knocking herself out with the food and preparations, especially going back to the days when she was employed full time.

Being able to make  the best of any situation is a gift we should solicit from the Great Giver (however we view him) every Christmas. It’s not an easy gift to use, and some of us are better at enjoying that gift than others. This year, I’ve struggled as that gift got a workout. My brother-in-law had his heart valve surgery the week following his wife’s, Diamondqueen’s, birthday. My father had his stroke four days before my birthday, and he was in declining condition over his birthday and Father’s Day. We buried him two days before S.Hooligan’s birthday. How we managed to pull out all of the autumn holidays without tragedy,  I don’t know. If Mom had had her kidney stone a week earlier, Thanksgiving would have been destroyed (something she was pointing out, with relief, from the start of her ordeal).

I guess the second part of that gift of making the most is being able to look back and concentrate on what’s good instead of what went wrong. Yes, I would have liked things to be different this season. But Mom still enjoyed her favorite day and we were able to pull off a fine Christmas Eve. That’s what I’m concentrating on, and being grateful for, as the quiet night gives way to Christmas morning.

That is, the final post of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). It wasn’t nearly as exhausting or challenging as NaNoWriMo, but it gives me a certain level of satisfaction to have blogged every day for a month. This is especially considering how little I’d blogged this year up to November 1.

Although I registered with the official site, I never went back and logged in, so there’s nothing official with this effort. No kudos or certificates of merit. That’s fine. Production was its own reward. Now that November is finished, I won’t be dating my blog posts any more, which was annoying.

No, I won’t be attempting to blog every day from now on. There’s too much of the written word in the world already, most of it not being read. I’m not motivated to simply generate words, but if I have something I want to write about, no matter how insignificant in the larger scheme of things, I definitely will blog about it.

I’ll just close with a realization: I am two years older than the Grinch. “For 53 years I’ve put up with it now…” Oh, that does make me feel old! Not being 55 and rounding third toward 56, but being older than the Grinch. If I looked younger than him, it wouldn’t be so bad.

The transfer-printed dish in the background is a saucer I bought at an antique mall that used to be open in a big industrial building in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. I bought the saucer because I thought it looked old, and it was priced at only a couple of dollars. On the bottom it’s marked “Royal Doulton – Grantham.” I’d never really checked the mark before; I just did a search on the Grantham pattern and see that it’s all over the Internet. I tried to find a date for the pattern and didn’t, but I did see that Doulton was permitted to add “Royal” to their name in 1901, so I assume this little dish dates back no farther than that.

I was very disappointed when I broke this saucer, I don’t remember how. I glued it back together, and since I never used it for anything but a colorful shelf backdrop, the broken saucer is sufficient. I still like this pattern, including the colors, although I don’t think I’d want an entire service of it.

Because of the BBC comedy “Keeping Up Appearances,” the name “Royal Doulton” always gives me a chuckle due to the way Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “bouquet”) says the name: Royal Dooooouton. I thought maybe I’d been mispronouncing the name all these years, but discovered that was just one of Hyacinth’s affectations. Apparently the “hand-painted periwinkles” on her china are extremely important to her. My little saucer has strictly a transfer design.