Tag Archives: family

Dad’s Christmas Miracle

9 Dec

Kenneth Norbert Ratcliff's senior picture: 1956

I just watched the latest Modern Family episode, “Express Christmas.”

Makes me think of my family: Full of idiosyncracies but lovable nonetheless.

Here’s an interesting family story, from our resident storyteller, Dad (who calls himself “The Lone Ranger”).

Forty-four years ago, shortly before Christmas (in late November, but close enough), Dad and his friend Cletus (yes, that is his name) were out on Buckeye Lake duck hunting. It was pretty cold.

Somehow, the boat overturned, and they both fell in. They were in the water for about half an hour, long enough to get hypothermia, and they were too far from shore to walk/swim back.

Luckily, there was a member of the Wolfe family (owners of the Columbus Dispatch) looking out the window of their house on Wolfe Island, in the middle of the lake, with a spotting scope. He saw them and reported to emergency officials, who went out onto the lake to fish them out.

What a happy lifesaving. About a month later, on Dec. 20, 1967, I was born.

Dad, I’m glad you made it! Even though we drive each other nuts, if I didn’t grow up with you I’d never have realized how much alike we are. Thanks for being in my life.

Apron Strings

17 Oct

When I turned 18, my mother gave me an apron. After I opened the gift, she took it from me, grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the apron strings. She said, “I am doing for you what my mother never did for me.”

With those words, she sent me on my independent way. I was halfway through my senior year of high school at the time. For Mom, the apron strings had great meaning. I understood and appreciated Mom’s gesture, and for good reason. My grandmother was overly protective and never able to let go of Mom. Up until the time she had her first bad stroke, Grandma was always there, hovering over Mom like she couldn’t take care of herself. She meddled in Mom’s adult relationships and always criticized her.

Mothering is not easy. It wasn’t easy for Grandma, whose husband left her to willingly fight in WWII despite flat feet and a bad asthma problem. He served her divorce papers at Christmastime midway through the war. My mom and uncle ate lots of ketchup sandwiches growing up, from the house my grandma ran in the South End for “unwed mothers.”

Grandma was smart and artsy. She also worked setting up the window display’s at the downtown department store, which in the 50s was “the place” to be. But she also smoked liked a chimney to manage anxiety issues and life in general. She was a hypochondriac. And she hated seeing men in uniforms. She did have issues, and goodness only knows what her married life was like. I’m sure there was fair blame on both sides.

I grew up being the one responsible for calling Grandma to come over to our house for dinners, because Mom just couldn’t deal with her. She treated Mom like she didn’t know anything. I think she was trying to protect her from getting hurt, too. But it didn’t work. When I was about 8, Mom started having severe agoraphobia. She was immobilized by fear when she left the house and had violent panic attacks. At her worst, she spent years confined to her bedroom. This from a person who loved being out and about. Occasionally she would try to go out, and I would accompany her as the one person she felt safe leaving the house with. Or, with her spatial memory, she would write out the grocery list for me to follow, aisle by aisle, and fixed me up with a blank check to the cashier at the corner store. Dad waited in the parking lot. He wasn’t much help.

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was go to Grandma’s and spend the night. At Grandma’s, we sketched or walked around the neighborhood and talked. We played card games, Trouble, Scrabble, pool, and a board game that her German dad carved and handpainted. Grandma was crafty in more ways than one. She made up rules for the game on the fly…rules that sometimes worked to my benefit and sometimes to hers. I always had favored status with her as the only granddaughter among five grandsons. She never dominated me the way she did with mom.

She did annoying but cute things like hide money in my pockets–despite being a case study for someone who would have been on the street without Social Security–and send me away from her house with grocery bags of government cheese and rice that she never ate, because she never ate anything. She called herself “Snake Hips.” We made each other laugh. We both wore goofy hats. She kept me apprised of the daily status of her “bowels” and once informed me that things had recently been “explosive.” Grandma was a fan of Metamucil.

When Grandma died, I was the saddest I’ve ever been. Mom was on vacation when it happened. I will never forget when the nursing home staffer told me, “Mrs. Foltz has expired.” Grandma would not have been happy to know that her life was given the same freshness metric of a Twinkie.

Mothering was not easy for Mom, either. I was an obedient kid but a rebellious teenager–typical but not a walk in the park. After she cut those apron strings, I had a total of five hotel parties with my friends during the rest of my senior year. I knew when it was going to happen the first time, because I could see her bright blue trench coat through the open curtains as I was waking up in the hotel room. She tried to let me go completely but had to set some limits on my behavior, being the parent and all. Mom kicked me out of the house twice during those six months, and I stayed at friends’ houses. Their moms were extraordinarily supportive without getting in the middle of Mom’s and my issues. It was a nice vacation, but by the end of the school year, I was living back at home, by my own choice.

Looking back, I think I wanted to be more mothered. Mom would be surprised by that after her own experiences with Grandma, and by my stretching the limits of what she could condone. But it’s true. I’ve developed friendships that give me that unconditional acceptance.

As I’ve grown up and seen for myself how difficult mothering can be, I have more appreciation for the challenges Mom went through. And Grandma. As a result of being mothered by both of them, I probably have by default landed on an in-between approach for my own kids. I am not always the best at being emotionally there, but I am very good at being in the moment with them when I’m “on.” I’m not perfect, but I’d like to think that I’ve taken the best of what both offered.

I guess the point of the apron string symbolism is this: You can cut the strings, but they’re still your kids. Yeah, they’re your kids, but you can’t control what they do, say or think. No cutting, or holding on too tight. May be best to put on the apron yourself and give them their own, and make the best of it in the middle ground.

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.

Why I Love Modern Family

12 Mar

I watch very little television and am predictable in the programs I watch.

Project Runway,” “Glee” and “Modern Family” normally get my attention. I rarely watch when they air and either DVR or catch them on Hulu.

Lately I’ve found myself being fascinated with the characters on “Modern Family” and have even watched a couple of episodes multiple times. The writing, acting and general family dynamics have captured me. I have a crush on “Modern Family” and readily admit it.

Why is this? I’ve been asking myself why I spend 20 or 40 minutes a week so engrossed in network programming. Why bother? There are probably things I could to that would better feed my brain, or make more efficient use of time.

Sure, it’s entertaining. It’s funny. And the convuluted circumstances cooked up by the writers and played out by the genius of Ed O’Neill as Jay Pritchett or Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy are pure perfection. But here’s the thing I’ve figured out:

The storylines, character nuances and complex interplay are all achingly familiar to me. I can see myself and my own family in several of the characters. This is why I love it so much. It’s poignant and true in a “you can’t make this sh*t up” way.

As they say, true life is always more interesting than fiction. The great thing about “Modern Family” is that in its fiction, it manages to strike a chord that’s true in me. And in so many of us.

Take for example the latest episode, “Two Monkeys and a Panda.” Jay and Gloria have an interesting disagreement about how to handle burial arrangements. She wants to be buried in the ground, “where God can find [her],” and Jay would rather be buried in a mausoleum “drawer,” where the bugs and worms can’t get to him. I won’t give away how they solve this dilemma. But the solution has more to do with the delicate balance of well-meaning manipulation that is present in the most healthy marriages.

Gloria and Jay are opposites in more ways than age. There’s a tension in their marriage that works. Like in most good marriages. It made me think a lot about the give and take in my own marriage. I can be the fluffy ditz in the same way that Gloria is sometimes, and Ben can be the sane one, the one who makes the steady and rational choices. Case in point: He is WAY better at dealing with money than I am, and we’ve figured out ways to compensate for all of that with our family finances.

But there are times when I reset him and “win” — similar to what Gloria did to Jay — lovingly — in the recent Valentine’s Day episode. Or the way that Jay worked through all of the what-if’s of Gloria’s future after his death, so that he didn’t end up being “The Putz” husband. His solution is something that I would have done.

Phil Dunphy’s cluelessness with his wife Claire is another thing that makes me both laugh and cry. All of us, including me, have a bit of Phil Dunphy in us. I’ve done things that I know have hurt my husband’s feelings — completely unintentionally. It’s a bad feeling to recognize these things in retrospect, like what happens to Phil in the “Two Monkeys and a Panda” episode when he gets some much-needed guidance from the ladies at the spa after they overhear his conversation with his wife Claire. At times when he just needs to listen and support, he tries to solve Claire’s problems. I do this ALL THE TIME with Ben.

Claire is tightly wound and at times righteous in ways similar to me. The episode when she stands outside the house with the bullhorn yelling at the unsafe driver…I have done this very thing (without the bullhorn) in front of my own house.

And I’ve seen bits of myself in Mitchell, trying to control the situation in “Two Monkeys and a Panda,” in the situation with Lily’s birth certificate. And withholding information from Cam under the pretext of protecting him, only to find in the end that it was not a good decision. We’ve all been there, in some respect. Thinking that we know best and discovering in the end that it’s bettter just to have tough discussions up-front rather than cleaning up the mess after the fact.

So there you have it. In the big scheme of things, TV doesn’t matter. But the little details in “Modern Family” have big meaning for me, and I assume or a lot of other people, especially since it’s become so popular. It gets us right at the heart of things. Where it really makes a difference.

When the GPS is Wrong…O, Canada

4 Jan

Over the holidays, my husband and I had an interesting bonding experience and marital trial re: the GPS. We were heading home from Maine, with my husband in charge of driving and navigation (never again on this one) since he brilliantly decided to leave at 12:30 am.

“What else am I gonna do? I’m awake, so I’ll drive. All you have to do is sleep!”

Right. Sleep. I vaguely remember that we left the resort by turning left (internal compass: “Why are we heading north?”) and then convincing myself that we’d eventually hang a hard left and end up going southwest.

My sleep lasted all of 40 minutes. When I was rudely awakened by bright lights and a red and white striped gate that read: ARRETEZ!

Capital letters and French, 2 am. Where’s my cafe au lait? Where the hell am I? In Canada?!?

Yes, it turns out we’d stumbled into Canada. Briefly. Just long enough to remind myself of my French and swiftly apologize to the border patrol. My husband, meanwhile, sat beside me stunned and pondering. “Huh. How’d we do that?”

There was no “We” in this faux pas. It was most assuredly not this map-lover’s fault. Mais non!

After about 10 minutes of proving our identities — which required waking up both children so that they could personally verify their birth dates and locations — we passed back safely onto American soil.

Lesson: The GPS was right. The fastest route from northern Maine to Columbus, Ohio is through Canada. But it didn’t factor in passing through a border that now requires passports, which we do not have.

We should never have relied on the GPS, with its myopic point A to point B incremental algorithms. There’s so much more to consider. Like much of life, it’s good to step back and take the big picture view with a large map in hand.

I’ve taken this lesson to heart as a good New Year’s reorientation. You can’t just putter along between points on the map and let the GPS do the driving. You’ve got to get situated, know where you are, where you’re headed and what’s the best route for any given moment in time. Rules change, and it’s good to be in the know.

Life has a way of lulling us into a false sense of security that we’ve found the quickest way, when in fact we’re always better off if we stay awake and aware of our surroundings, watching for signs to point us home.

No More “What’s Next?

3 Oct

For most of my life I’ve been aspiring to get to whatever was next. High school. College. Career. Marriage. Children. Always looking to that next point on the horizon. Not ever perfectly content with where I’ve been, always pushing forward with the thought in mind that whatever was next would be better than what came before.

Now, what’s next? The major milestones have been met. I’ve been restless the past few months and am just now realizing why.

I am at a midterm point. A crossroads. Middle age. I can now look backward and forward with some perspective on life. This is a point of dissatisfaction and “midlife crisis” for some. I’ll admit I went through that a few years ago and after an honest self-assessment determined that I am quite fortunate to be loved by a husband and family that are sometimes too patient with me. I am not perfect, and they love me anyway. This is a blessing that not everyone fully appreciates.

Now, the life decisions are more nuanced. Not about what I have, but about how I want to live in this world. More about form than function, such as:

  • Will I continue to do things the same way I’ve always done them, or will I change?
  • Will I truly know myself — my limitations and strengths — and accept both?
  • Will I make conscious choices to have the experiences that are most fulfilling, with the people in my life who can best share in that joy?

I think that adolescence is about determining the who am I and the why, young adulthood is determining the what and middle age is about the how and the with whom. I am feeling like the next decade or so will help me to learn more about people, care about the human interactions that energize life,  change the habits that are no longer helpful for me and accept the things about myself and others that are never going to change.

We’re Out, We’re In: An Update on the Houses

8 Jul

Well, it’s now been just over a month since we moved into the new house. There are still a variety of projects underway. But we have thankfully hit the milestone of getting the old house ready to sell. It went on the market today.

While I’m at it…anyone want a cape cod in Bexley? Cute house, great yard and awesome neighbors. (Yay to our listing agent, Alex Macke, for these words: FABULOUS VALUE and KOI FISH POND and PREMIER NORTH BEXLEY STREET. Hey Alex, we never had koi in there, but it is deep enough…so why not?)

Since our move, Ben has hit the breaking point many times from sheer exhaustion. He’s been getting the old house prepped to go on the market. Easier to do when you don’t live there, but it’s still VERY hard work. He has been a trooper through it all, working on the house before and after he goes to his real job. Today he had some fun and took the kids to the movie. He deserved it! Here’s his blog about work on the new house. He’s been too busy to post lately, but there are some handyman type stories about his work on fans, light fixtures, fences and other “effing” things. I am his proofer and have had to go back and edit things just to keep them “G-rated.”

At the new place we have all established our traffic patterns. Having a more open floor plan has been great for our family. We are enjoying the unique 20s and 70s features of the home. It’s soothing to sleep with the windows open and hear the night sounds from the ravine in back. I’m spending a lot of down time on the deck, enjoying the view and the shade from our beautiful trees.

The dog is happy because we’ve discovered a dog park and a group that assembles there every night after work. That makes me content, too, because I can socialize with people and decompress after work, get some much needed outdoor time and wear out my little barking ball of energy.

My teenage girl is now rarely seen as she is happy spending time in The Teenage Suite upstairs. My 9-year-old son has spent a lot of time exploring the creek in the ravine. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to have inherited my allergy to poison ivy.

In my next post, I am going to focus on some of the interesting aspects of the new house. First up will be ceilings and light fixtures. We have some cool ones.