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The Deeper Business of Being Beautiful Inside

4 Mar

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.11.10 PMIn a moving speech given prior to her Oscar win for supporting actress, Lupita Nyong’o encouraged women to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

It’s a simple but difficult proposition.

In the same Oscar ceremony where Nyong’o won her award, 81-year-old actress Kim Novak also appeared–noticeably and disturbingly altered by plastic surgery.

What a contrast. I was named after Kim Novak, so I’ve always paid attention to her over the years. It’s sad that she felt she had to go to such lengths.

Why can’t an 81-year-old woman look 81? Grandmas rock. I always thought my grandmothers and older aunties were cool, even if they wore funny teased-up hairdos and cat-eye glasses with rhinestones. They made excellent peanut butter cookies, smoked Salem cigarettes, and ate Chinese food. Their skin was soft and pale–protected from the sun because it was a sign of poverty to have so much color on your face. By night, they wore Pond’s cold cream, and by day they wore little to no makeup. Well, maybe a little bit of lipstick.

It was a shock to see Novak’s face, but why? There’s an expectation that women will look young for as long as we can. With many women my age, it starts off with Botox or collagen injections. Mouths go from normal-looking to Joker-esque. Courteney Cox, Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz, et al. And it just gets stranger-looking from there. Joan Rivers and Madonna–why? Looking one’s age is better than looking like someone else–or like a puffed-up doll.

I read today that Kim Novak was criticized from a young age and began altering her look long before preparing for last night’s Oscars. Even during the era of Bell, Book, and Candle and Vertigo? What a shame.

I remember when I was a teenager looking at myself in the mirror and not liking what I saw. At the time, I pretty much felt like an ugly duckling and looked nothing like Kim Novak in the movies. I don’t think I started liking what I saw until I was in my late 30s. I regret not appreciating even little things about myself, inside and out, much earlier.

Now, it’s fine. I am content with what I see and who I am. There are scars, lines, and wrinkles on my face. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. I have light skin, freckles, a noticeable nose, larger than I would like pores, and a stripe of silver hair in my center part. I procrastinate and indulge my children more than I should. So what?

If I saw something different, it would be a lesser version of me. Why go to all the trouble of changing what it took so long to earn? I don’t want to go back to my 20s or look like I could be 20. Why not go forward?

A natural face at any age is more beautiful than plastic. And Nyong’o is right: it’s inner beauty that makes for happiness. We need more Betty White than Kim Novak.

Herbert Hoover’s Tennis Game

9 Oct

Image courtesy of Dan / freedigitalphotos.net

Back in the early 1930s, my great-grandfather and his farmer friends had a date with President Herbert Hoover. At the time, the productive farms in Ohio’s Ross and Vinton Counties were struggling–like most other “real people” during the Great Depression. These farmers combined their limited resources for a trip to D.C. to talk with the president they helped to elect, to explain why they so desperately needed low-interest loans to help them get through those tough times.

A bit of background about these farmers:

Like my family, most had settled in the Scioto River Valley in the late 1700s, when Ohio was still the Northwest Territory. They built the towns like Richmondale, Eagle Mills, and Ratcliffburg. They planted and put down roots in the little dales surrounding the Salt Creek, where they could forge their own way for their families and generate enough of a profit to feed everyone and lead good enough lives. By no means wealthy, they were satisfied with the self-sufficient way of life that they had developed through their own hardscrabble and grit. Most among them were “traditional conservatives”–Republicans who had voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928.

Everything changed with the Depression. My grandmother, a teenager and young woman during most of the Depression, counted herself lucky to be just one step away from having to wear a flour sack for a dress. When my great-grandfathers George Washington Brown and Noah Ezekiel Ratcliff made the decision to travel to Washington with the dozen or so other farmers, it was a calculated risk.  They pooled their resources with the group, thinking that it was a worthwhile investment for the future of the land their families had worked for generations.

But the end of the story was not a happy one. When they arrived in D.C., they were told by the president’s scheduler that he was double-booked for their meeting. Instead of keeping the date with them, the president was playing tennis.

What a foreign concept to a group of farmers. How could someone have enough time to do something as frivolous as play tennis–let alone do that instead of keeping a scheduled appointment with constituents? Later in his administration, under pressure, Hoover did end up making a decision to create low-interest loans for farmers, and then FDR expanded the program.

But it was too late for my family. They like many others around them lost their farms. My Grandfather Ratcliff went to work at Meade Paper Plant before moving up to Columbus, where he got a job in construction and became one of the first presidents of his union affiliate, Local 44, representing asbestos workers. My dad went on to follow him in that role, both as a construction worker and union president. I grew up living in twin singles for much of my childhood–hardly the life that is often portrayed for a “union boss’s” family. But I never felt less than successful or well cared-for, so the move north was a positive one for the family overall.

As they say, things happen for a reason. If the family hadn’t moved out of Appalachia, I probably would not have had the same incentives to attend college. And there’s a larger lesson in this bit of family history.

Being insulted is not something easily forgotten in a “culture of honor.” Certainly my family, like other families who came to America from isolated areas such as Northern England or Sicily, continued to maintain a stubborn and independent streak in order to survive in the post-American Revolution “Wild West.” This way of life and attitude is what helped them to succeed as farmers, and what motivated them to make a change in party after the tennis game incident.

My father tells this story today, not to emphasize the reasons behind my family’s change in political party, but to explain the difference between wise and unknowing leadership. Timing and thoughtful decisions make a difference, for real people.

RIP Kurt Cobain

5 Apr

A little bit of reflection.

Eighteen years ago today, I had just finished a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. I’ve already written about how special this place is to me, because it is where I can go to be with “God Alone.”

It was a beautiful spring, and I took the winding back roads heading north back to Ohio. It was storming a little bit, but the bright green rolling hills and blooming bulbs were beautiful as I started my drive home.

After being on the road for a few minutes, I turned on the radio and had a rude awakening back to reality: Kurt Cobain had shot himself.

I remember cursing a little bit (probably not appropriate after so much time with God) and then crying for a while–in anger. What a loss. He could have created so much more.

It hit close for me because I was the same age as him at the time (27), and because I appreciated the music. Cobain was no musical genius, by his own admission, and he wasn’t the best singer or musician. But he put things together in the right way, for the time. He learned about catchy melodies from the Beatles, and combined that with drastic changes in volume that highlighted his band’s talents.

If he were still alive today, he’d be a great producer.

Addiction, mental illness, and the nasty results on mind and body. A lot has already been said about this.

Today’s a good marker for my generation. It is through luck and hard work that we can celebrate life and fulfill the potential we had when we were young. Not everyone has the personal capability to do this–by their own choosing or because of demons they cannot control. Many live but just get by, never being everything they could be.

Rest assured that I’ll play some Nirvana today to remember Kurt Cobain’s accomplishment. Even though he cut it short at the tender age of 27, his life was a blessing to many. “In Bloom” indeed…rock on wherever you are, K.C.

My Moriarty

13 Mar

Another in the category of: My blog, so I write what I want.

I particularly enjoy the Moriarty character in Sherlock Holmes stories (as well as the movies…Jared Harris plays it perfectly). This is a bit of reflection on Moriarty’s role, for each of us. It is also influenced by some recent reading, of Brené Brown‘s work on authenticity–I recommend it.

________________________

Everyone has their Moriarty, but not everyone knows who he is.

Dr. Moriarty is the archenemy of Sherlock Holmes, a mathematical genius who sets traps, builds bombs, and makes the world a more dangerous place for Holmes.

Moriarty would not exist without Holmes. Their struggle makes Moriarty stronger. Moriarty’s mathematical masterminding improves only because Holmes pushes him into a corner.

And in their final battle, they play a game of chess, which devolves into punching and shoving, followed by both Moriarty and Holmes falling hundreds of feet off a ledge into an enormous waterfall in the Alps–into the Reichenbach Falls. Pretty dramatic stuff.

A mind game, capped off with a sloppy boxing match and an incredible risk. What better metaphor for fighting off old (and often inaccurate) memories, shame, regrets, and remorse?

There’s a reason that villains such as Moriarty ring true: These people do exist–for all of us–in real life, as the actual cast in our own day-to-day existence, be they people, feelings, or thoughts. My Moriarty has been a distraction, a lessening of joy in my life. I am ready to get back the time I’ve wasted on this nasty character.

Sometimes I have been locked in mortal combat with something for so long, it becomes a habit–until I can find the strength in myself to no longer give it life. Trying to think my way out of it usually doesn’t work. In my case, the cerebral solution can (and has) resulted in years of making things more complex and angst-ridden than they really are. Obsession brings zero improvement. The process of letting go isn’t pretty, but it’s better than hanging on to an old arch-nemesis.

Pushing my Moriarty off the ledge requires that I go over with him–at least a part of me. Scary to let go of an old part of myself, even if I know that I no longer need or want it. It’s the ultimate renunciation of attachment. This is the rebirth process for Holmes, who survives the fall, a baptism of sorts for him.

When I make the decision to kill off my Moriarty, I am going to celebrate. As a matter of fact, there are two very specific Moriarty characters that I am pushing into the waterfall very soon. I will relish their drop into oblivion, because they have held me back from being as true to myself as I can be–from consistently being the person that I am supposed to be (insert God reference if you’d prefer).

Aliens at Work

7 Dec

A version of this post was also published on the Executive Elements blog earlier this year.

At work, we can sometimes sense that we’ve been dropped onto an alien planet. I’m very fortunate to be working for and with people who are from “my planet,” but I’ve been in places that felt alien.

Don’t think you’re alone if you find yourself pondering:

  • What is this strange language that’s being spoken, and why don’t I understand it? Will they understand me if I say, “Plergh?”
  • Why are decisions made without any seemingly rational train of thought?
  • Is this a bad dream, or am I really awake?
  • Where’d I park my mother ship? I need to get back to Earth!

If you’re having these feelings, don’t despair. We’ve all been there. Every workplace can be awkward or downright difficult at times. Even the most healthy workplaces have their moments.

But if there’s a pattern of dysfunctional behavior, recognize it and take stock. In some sense, it’s all relative. Each of us has a different tolerance to workplace problems like aggression, passive aggression, professional neglect, workplace bullying or general incompetence. One person’s abyss is another’s heaven.

Don’t accept unreasonable behavior that jeopardizes your career growth or negatively impacts your ability to perform. Work is hard — that’s why it’s called work. But it should not kill your soul.

I’ve realized over the years that I have a high tolerance for environments that are not conducive to human life. Out of loyalty or pride (“I won’t give up!”), I’ve let myself suffer for too long at times. Don’t make that mistake.

If you are caught in the alien planet dilemma, here are some survival skills:

  1. PERSPECTIVE – Talk with someone outside of work about your situation. They can help you to get some perspective.
  2. CAMARADERIE – Blow off steam over lunch or coffee with a coworker that you trust. Chances are if you are feeling off about something at work, you’re not the only one. Don’t wall yourself off from your colleagues and make yourself feel more isolated. By commiserating, you may also find some humor in the madness.
  3. STAY POSITIVE – I remind myself that having a positive attitude and healthy self-esteem can’t change other people’s problems. What it can do is to help keep my head clear and my heart clean while seeking out what’s next.

Remember that it’s possible — and preferable — to thrive in the workplace. While it says something about a person’s endurance and fortitude to be able to to survive in challenging conditions, sometimes enough is enough.

Over time, I’ve realized that it’s important to go with my gut instincts when I start feeling as if things just aren’t right. A decision to move on when the time is right is not a failure. It is simply a decision to make a change.

Listen Here, Whippersnappers!

29 Nov

In the spirit of being Old Enough To Know Better (the long version name of this blog), I have reached the point in my life (officially 44 on Dec. 20) where I freely offer advice, to just about anyone.

Being old comes with privileges like that. Doesn’t matter whether or not people listen. That’s not the point. How handy to have this blog to help in my endeavor!

Along those lines, this post is a random collection of items that make me happy in life. Of course you want to know about them because they are sure you make you happy as well. Consider my tips an improvement over what you might find in high-brow periodicals, such as Martha Stewart Living, Oprah’s O Magazine or Real Simple—only better. The great thing is that I am sharing these happiness-makers with you for FREE, via my low-brow blog!

Here are five FREE! happiness-makers:

1. Make the bed every morning. No matter what.

This is something that I can easily control, even when the rest of my day is insane. Bonus: When I collapse in bed at the end of a long day, the covers are not in a messy heap. This gives me the illusion that I’ve conquered all chaos in my life.

Extra credit for remembering to sprinkle some baby powder between the sheets while making it…keeps things extra fresh.

2. Sit on a ball, not a chair, while at work.

I am not kidding. Unless you work in a profession that gives you frequent freedom to move about, your body is getting weaker every second you spend in that chair. Scientists agree with me, as empirically proven by this one study, as well as plain common sense.

At least sitting on a physio-ball ($20 from your local Target) keeps you working core muscles while you are sitting, because if you don’t work your core you will fall off the ball. The entire process will make you feel better. Especially the part about not falling off the ball.

Anyone who thinks you’re a weirdo has too much free time on their hands to be worrying about you and your ball…suggest that they get back to work and let you continue being on the ball.  Who can argue with good posture?

Extra credit for one or two backbends during the day, supported by your trusty ball. If you are both self-conscious and stealthy this can be accomplished while co-workers are in the kitchen or on bathroom breaks.

3. Even if you don’t like habits, pick a few that give you comfort and practice them every day.

I like change and don’t enjoy a lot of repetition in my days, so this is not an easy discipline for me. What hooked me on habits is that they are both nurturing as well as efficient use of time.

Getting ready for work or school and arriving at the same time every day is a simple habit that most of us have to do anyway, so that’s easy. Fitting in some time for meditation and journal-writing prior to work is something that I have grown to enjoy. Practicing an instrument is another.

If you have too many habits, make it a habit to drop some of them. This would include frequent trips to the office stash of Reese’s Cups (one of my too frequent habits).

4. Walk more than you do now.

This is something that just about anyone can easily do. I have for many years owned dogs that will drive me crazy if I don’t get them out for a walk or hard playtime in a field. This is terrific motivation.

There are so many little things that I notice about the world around me by moving more slowly than I can by car, and my body is thankful for the chance to blow off some steam and soak up the outdoors. Even in bad weather, being both outside and simply walking gives me a mood boost.

5. Pick one day each week when you will not use social media or electronic devices.

This is very difficult for me. I really hate it at first because I am quite obsessive-compulsive with being “in touch,” but it’s very beneficial for my peace of mind to go off the grid and not be always connected to everyone and everything.

All of it is still be there when I plug back in the next day. Most things can wait and don’t need immediate response. The Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” is a good reminder that not so long ago we communicated with more delay between the send and response.  Immediacy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and being off the grid is a good reminder of how the world keeps spinning without my interventions.

There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on these tips. I will give you a full refund if you are not happier after putting all of these into practice for a month. Promise!

Flour Sacks, Ketchup and Thrift

12 Oct

Reflecting back on this post from a year ago….branding in a time of thrift, aka the “spend shift.”

________________________

I’ve heard stories about the Great Depression and WWII economy from my family. Losing the family farm just before President Hoover changed policies so that loans were more accessible, my grandmother later described feeling “very lucky” that she never had to dress her kids in flour sacks. It could always be worse, as they say.

Eating ketchup sandwiches sounds like a novel idea to my kids, but it was less than romantic for my mom in the early 1940s when nutritious food was rationed. Ketchup is not a vegetable, despite what Ronald Reagan and the USDA said in 1981.

But this post is not really about flour sacks or ketchup sandwiches. It is about a set of hard-core self-determinism and conservative (I am not talking politics here) values that got us through those tough years. And apparently the American consumer is returning to a model of saving rather than spending, focusing on time with family and friends rather than outward-oriented and ambitious ideas of success, and more consciousness for community benefit rather than self-aggrandizement.

What’s really important in life: continued acquisition or living more simply?  Is it better to encourage my son to save his money for the newest video game system or sock it away for something he may need in the future? Does it matter, in the end?

I heard an interesting talk by consumer expert John Gerzema at the Inc. 500 conference in D.C. over the weekend. Look at my twitter feed or search on #werthinc for my posts on his talk and others’. His discussion prompted me to buy two of his books, Spend Shift and The Brand Bubble. This is a man standing atop mountains of data gleaned from tens of thousands of consumers, all telling a story about buying behavior in the past and predictions for the future. It’s fascinating stuff.

This quote stood out for me: “As we stopped acquiring, we became more inquiring.” Apparently, 68 percent of Americans now have library cards — the highest number ever. I like this, although browsing in a library is different now. I like browsing books online and “buying” the free books from Amazon for Kindle. There are a lot of classics there gratis.

Here’s another: “The badge of awesomeness means being more nimble, adaptable and thrifty.” I’ve been on both sides of the coin here. I’ve had my moments of being shopaholic. Once I spent three hundred dollars in one trip at a Banana Republic for things I really didn’t need. My three hundred dollars didn’t take me far, but that was three years ago and I’m still wearing the stuff, except for one wool sweater that mistakenly was washed and put into the dryer. My daughter could wear it for a year, but soon it was too small for both of us. It’s been relegated to the doll-clothes container.

On the flip side, I decided that I wasn’t going to break the bank for the Inc. 500 conference formal. Not regularly attending such highbrow events, I needed to buy a gown and all the trappings. So here’s how I approached it:

  • From Clintonville consignment shop Rag-o-Rama, a black taffeta one-shoulder full-length clean line gown, not a designer label: $10
  • Dry cleaning the gown at Caskey Cleaners: $10
  • Patent leather shoes, beaded silk purse and black velvet/silk wrap from Grandview consignment shop One More Time: $30
  • Same earrings I wore for the rest of the conference
  • A seed beaded cuff I bought for $15 from the Columbus Museum of Art gift shop several months ago.

Grand total: $65. And I will totally wear that dress again. It fit great and made me happy because the price tag was my secret. Both my grandmothers would be proud.

So there you go, John Gerzema. I am looking forward to reading both books, but as you might guess I’ve started with Spend Shift. I’m hoping to unlock some new learnings to help communicate with this new brand of consumer. I can see applications here for work and home life.

Contemplate This

7 Oct

A nice picture of Thomas Merton with the Dalai Lama, both quite ecumenical.

When I was in my 20s and had the luxury of time on my hands, I hung out with a group of people who were into contemplation.

Not the thinking kind of contemplation; it’s a form of prayer in the Catholic tradition practiced by Benedictine (Trappist) monks and is related to Buddhist meditation.

At an area church connected to a nursing home, there lived an actual Benedictine monk with responsibilities outside his monastic community. I think he’s still around Columbus, Ohio but have lost touch with him. He hosted weekly gatherings at his house where a group of us, called “lay contemplatives,” would gather for this particular form of prayer. The idea is that you do this at least once a day, as a lay contemplative, to extend the dedication to prayer built into the discipline of Trappist monks at monasteries all over the world.

The best way I’ve seen it described is “prayer of the heart.” Instead of praying FOR something and thinking about the conversation with God, the purpose is to open your heart and quietly be open to God for a period of time every day. Trappist monks pray through contemplation and chanting at least seven times a day (at specific times called “offices”) in addition to daily practice with the rosary and a daily mass.

For we humans who try to overthink everything, the concept of contemplation is both very simple and extremely difficult:

Stop thinking and doing. Be alone with a quiet knowing.

Several times per year our group of lay contemplatives traveled to Kentucky, home to the closest “mother ship” of contemplation: The Abbey of Gethsemani. This is a place that’s mostly silent, so that retreatants can converse with “God Alone.” There’s a large retreat house, acres of trails and a chance to pray and sing with the monks, beginning as early as 3:15 am. Amazingly, a stay at Gethsemani, like all monasteries and in the Benedictine tradition of hospitality, is free–by donation only.

I’ve tried to practice this life of quiet and unassuming prayer as life has become more complicated, with husband, kids and career. In concept it doesn’t require a huge time commitment; only a few minutes per day. I haven’t always done it well, but I’ve tried. I’ve tried to be comfortable in the unknowing of this silent prayer.

This prayer by Fr. Thomas Merton, who lived at Gethsemani prior to his untimely death, is a good guide for those of us seeking but not feeling quite perfect along the way:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”
© Abbey of Gethsemani

Worth a view is this video of the recently deceased Fr. Matthew Kelty, poet and mentor of Merton’s, reading that prayer. I had the pleasure of hearing Kelty speak on dozens of occasions and was charmed by his Boston accent and cowboy boots worn below his robes. Kelty was also a gifted poet.

Steve Jobs: Making Technology Cool

6 Oct

Last school year, my 10-year-old son did a science fair project involving some research on Steve Jobs. Last night when I told him that Jobs had died, he cried.

How powerful that a man’s influence can be felt by so many generations. Even some of my older friends who just started using computers are really only doing so because of Jobs. Face it: He’s the guy that made computers useful and useable for regular people.

And he took us beyond the geekly image of a loser with big glasses tinkering with a mainframe to a culture that wants technology because it’s a mark of being cool. Being without technology is uncool. No young person today is without a mobile device.

The coolness comes from a combination of three things, all created or enabled in some way because of Jobs:

  1. It helps us to get things done, in particular things involving other people. Jobs saw the social power of technology, to connect us and help us to communicate in a multitude of ways. Paradoxically, Jobsian technology helps us to be more human.
  2. It feels good. I have not moved up to the 4-series iPhone yet, largely because I have so gotten used to the feel of the rounded edges and smooth casing of my 3-series. Technology has got to be something that we enjoy touching, and that gives us that tactile response that feels good. Case in point: The swoop sound when I send an email. Again, like the feeling of popping bubble paper or eating cherries or ghosts when playing Pac-Man, using Jobsian technology just plain feels good.
  3. I read something recently that a market study on Apple users described their visceral reaction to seeing the Apple icon as religious in nature. Same kind of response as seeing a cross or a spiritual icon. An interesting finding…that the Jobsian technology has created a devotion far deeper than brand dedication.

This clip is making the rounds, and you may have already seen it, but if not I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch. I’d read the speech a couple of years ago but didn’t see the video. And how ironic, that the man who created the technology most of us are using to view this, is the same man whose life that it helps us to celebrate.

“Stay hungry, and stay foolish.” Indeed.

Bite Me

15 Aug

Image courtesy of Bedbugger.com

My family has the adult equivalent of cooties: bedbugs.

No two ways about it. Confirmed by two different “bedbug experts.”

How did we get them? Who knows. Possibly through my travel or from a patient of my husband’s. We’re not dirty people, but there’s nothing like bedbugs to make you feel downright gross. It’s an instant source of shame. So pleasant to let your friends and family know about your newest guests, and how they can identify them under their own mattresses, behind pictures and electrical outlets, etc., etc.

Do many people get them? Yes, they do. We are not alone. I found a cheeky site called the Bed Bug Hub, hosted by the National Pest Management Association, reporting that:

Bed bugs are THE most difficult pest to treat, according to 76 percent of survey respondents, more so than cockroaches, ants and termites. As for where infestations occur, residences top the list with 89 percent of pest professionals treating bed bug infestations in apartments/condos and 88 percent treating bed bug infestations in single-family homes. Respondents also report other common areas, with 67 percent treating bed bug infestations in hotels/motels, 35 percent in college dormitories, 9 percent on various modes of transportation, 5 percent in laundry facilities, and 4 percent in movie theatres.

Did you read that? Why yes, it’s entirely possible that we got them from a movie theatre. But most likely, from my travel and overnights in hotels.

And, not surprisingly:

[T]he emotional and mental toll of experiencing a bed bug infestation can be severe and should not be taken lightly. Survey respondents report that 99% of clients who have had bed bugs were “upset and concerned” and 77% said such customers were “very upset and concerned.”

No doubt. Believe it. This is no fun. I think that I am better at imagining things are okay than my husband is. He hasn’t slept for nights. It’s not the bugs bugging him. We’ve only found a handful of them, truth be told. We are not in the “infestation” category by any means. But the worst thing about it is thinking about all of the potential consequences if left untreated. And the reason they’ve become more prevalent is because a lot of people cannot afford to treat them so just leave them be.

It’s the thought of the bugs, including where they are now and where they will be hiding tomorrow, underneath or behind something where we cannot see them.

And it’s the reactions of people once they find out that you have them. Many make the assumption that it has something to do with your hygiene…that it’s in some way YOUR fault. The truth is that bedbugs don’t discriminate: They like everyone’s blood, whether clean or dirty. They only come out at night, and what attracts them is warm-blooded people. The suckers are miniature, diabolical vampires.

Because of all this we are taking DRASTIC measures. Yes, I do mean DRASTIC. They must and will die. We are paying $3,200 for a combined heat and chemical treatment conducted by a professional exterminator. Here’s what they do:

  • Heat up each area of the house to a sustained temperature of 120 degrees. This will kill most of them.
  • Apply pesticides that kill the remaining bugs, including any eggs. (Did you know that they can lie dormant for 18 months? Just think of it…)
  • And then, we wait to see if they reappear. Because they are also killed by temperatures below 23 degrees, we are seriously considering a safety net treatment of our own in the winter, which will begin with us draining out our pipes, opening the windows, and leaving the house for a day.

Here’s what WE have to do before the exterminators begin their work:

  • Throw out and/or move out a bunch of stuff. Not because it has bedbugs, but because there’s a combined supply of an extra house’s worth of furniture and all-around stuff in the basement of our house, which we recently bought from my in-laws and where my nephew lived for a couple of years. As of this moment, my front yard is channeling the theme song from “Sanford and Son.” It’s full of items for the dumpster, which will arrive tomorrow. (More about my neighbors’ reaction to this in a minute.)
  • Wash everything–clothes, linens, furniture covers, anything fabric. Put it into sealed plastic bags. If it’s clothing that cannot be washed, dry it for 20 minutes at the highest possible heat. I even washed balls of yarn that I haven’t yet used for knitting.
  • Everything we wear out of the house at this point comes from a sealed plastic bag that ensures the clothing is bedbug-free. Everything. I cannot reinforce how much of a pain this is.
  • Vacuum everything, everywhere. Put bedbug covers on the beds. Do some spot treatments in the rooms where we’ve seen the bugs.
  • Repeat everything above as many times as necessary until it’s time for the exterminators.
  • Move all furniture away from the walls in every room and pray that our veneered furniture survives 120 degrees.

While the exterminators do their work, we get to go on a special bedbug vacation! Translation: We rent an affordable somewhat nice nearby hotel for two nights because we have to be away for that long. And we cancel our camping trip to Kelley’s Island, because instead we’ll be here doing post-exterminator cleanup.

So, this is going to be a $3,500 proposition all told.  Cha-ching.

The significant effed-upness of this was on my mind today when my husband told me that neighbors had called our area commission to complain about the furniture in our front yard. Bite me. We spent all day on Sunday getting it out there and the dumpster is coming tomorrow.

Our biggest mistake was our honesty in letting people know (and putting signs on the stuff) that NO ONE SHOULD TAKE IT because of the bedbugs. I’m convinced that this is the reason for the hulabaloo. How many people in our sort of upscale Columbus neighborhood have had bedbugs and not told their neighbors? I’m guessing more than a few.

And then we have the other side of the continuum. What percentage of the population will take furniture that possibly has bedbugs? From my personal estimation, a significant and disturbingly large number of not so discriminating fellows (all men, it’s true). In one situation, a man took a table that he was going to give to his daughter. Two hours later, I noticed that he’d brought the table back. Smart daughter!

There were probably 20 people who took furniture from the yard yesterday, even though it was clearly marked and we verbally warned them. And when I went out to the car this morning, at least a few people had gone through the piles and taken even more. I have to say that I was pretty shocked. Clearly, not enough people have been through this to know the real deal of bedbug removal. It ain’t pretty.

People don’t listen, and they don’t want to. They do not take this seriously. I’ve got spraypaint all over much of the furniture and on all of the trash bags with clothes and fabric stuff. And now we have some schmuck calling us to complain about our irresponsibility?

Bite me. Better yet, bedbug bite me.

We did talk with someone from the Columbus Health Department earlier today (after a very unhelpful call with them last week when they referred us to their website), and while at least this time they were available, they actually suggested that we have the furniture destroyed. My husband asked if a bonfire would work. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. Then on second thought, they said that what we’d done in terms of marking the furniture would do the trick. I’m glad we did the right thing, as embarrassing as it has been.

If I were not a nice person, I would wish the curse of these bedbugs on the person who called the commission. I guess it’s just one of those situations where you try to do the right thing and you just can’t please everyone all of the time.

I told a friend tonight that I’m going to install my 74-year-old father from SE Ohio on the front lawn. He will in no uncertain terms and with a highly unpleasant attitude tell nosy and judgmental neighbors to mind their own bedbugging business. In less polite words than that.

In closing, bedbugs suck: Blood, money and time.

Know the signs and do whatever you can to avoid getting them.