The Scamp Fights the Winter Blues

Thanksgiving has passed, but the post turkey day depression has not. It doesn’t help that the sun sets here at 4pm and I have to wear extra layers when I leave the house.

I  used to love Thanksgiving. I’m a sucker for mashed potatoes and gravy, go crazy for stuffing, and love the fact that it was one day where all my family gets together and hangs out. After my MSc, Thanksgiving was a weeklong getaway for me. First it was graduation, then it was Estonia, and since I have been back in Edinburgh full-time, it was a chance to see my mom and dad. Last year we were in Switzerland. 

This year I was at my desk by myself.

I made up for it by eating my weight in what Tesco calls ‘Asian inspired snacks’. I haven’t seen my parents in over a year. I haven’t seen my brother, sister, brother-in-law and the babies in 2 years. I miss my family.

Thanksgiving now sucks.

When I am by myself and not on an adventure it also reminds me that 3 years ago on Thanksgiving my dad found my brother dead from alcohol-related complications.  I had just thrown my first (and only) Thanksgiving dinner at my flat for the people that I worked with (and the lying cheating scumbag Dan). I started getting my parents to go on adventures on Thanksgiving so my dad wouldn’t have to be at home. 

He had to be at home this year because I am not graduating on time. I haven’t seen my family because I am not graduating on time. I’m sad because I am not finished with my PhD yet which means that I am an undesirable candidate for jobs that I am completely qualified for (including a job in the office where I currently work). I’m burned out from the 6 jobs and I feel like the only thing I am doing well right now is procrastinating. 

Well, that and eating chocolate. I’m really good at that right now. 

I am about three weeks away from submitting a new draft of my thesis to my supervisors and about a 6 weeks away from sending a draft to committee to put me in position to my viva. I am looking forward to that. I cannot wait until that little monster is someone else’s headache. There is nothing I love more than giving someone else a headache. 

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The Scamp at a Loss

Today I woke up in a world without my Odie. He has been one of the only constants in my life for the last 15 years.

I hate the idea of being in a world where he no longer exists.

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I remember when my brother brought him home. Matt was a pain in the ass 18 year old who is the reason that my mom has grey hair. He left a note on the kitchen counter that just said “Mom don’t be mad”. When she raced up the stairs to his room and threw open the door, she was greeted with a tiny hiss from a little puff of fir in the middle of the bed. Matt had rescued a tiny kitten. He had a lot of names. My brother named him Odin. My sister and I called him Pepe because he was found in a dumpster outside a Mexican restaurant. I called him smooshy because he liked to be smooshed up against you when slept next to you.

He had a head like granite. He had no concept of personal space. He would steal your seat on the couch if you got up for any reason. He had awful kitty breath. He liked to drink from the toilet. He was obsessed with boobs and would often sit with his paws resting on them. He drooled. If you wanted him to come in for the night so you could go to bed, he would escape and evade you like a pro. He would leave out the front door and then magically appear at the top of the stairs. He liked to sleep on his back with his feet in the air.

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He was a pain in the ass. He was a great source of comfort. He was the only man in my life to never disappoint me. He slept on a special blanket on my bed when I moved back to California for a little while. He slept with me every day I was back for a visit.

He used each of his nine lives in the last 15 years. He survived being poisoned. He survived a bee sting.  He survived trying to hump a coyote. He survived me bathing him. The last few years were tough. He slowed down. He had to have his eye removed. Eventually, he developed cancer. Yesterday the vet said that it was better to gently end his life rather than put him through any more treatment.

I wasn’t there. I didn’t get to tell him I loved him one more time. I didn’t get that one final cuddle.  I did not have a chance to prepare myself for this moment that I knew was coming. I’m going to miss the cuddles, the headbutts, the curling up on my work so I had to pay attention to him.

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This little face offered me unconditional love, occasional love bites and constant reminders of how to enjoy the little things in life. I will miss him a little more now, but I know he is headbutting angels and that he is happy.

 

The Scamp Remembers

 

The woman in these photos is Frances Ann. Today is her 80th birthday.

Or, it would be if she believed in wearing her seatbelt. When I was in the third grade she died when she overcorrected her car on the highway. The car flipped and she went through the windshield. Her best friend was in the car with her and survived. Before the funeral, her friend insisted on telling the story of what happened. I remember the crazy curved couch that everyone was sitting on. She was sitting with her husband, my mom, aunt and grandpa sat and listened.

Sometimes I think it would be better for my mom if she hadn’t heard the story.

I can’t remember what her voice sounds like. I can’t remember the way she felt when I hugged her.

I can remember the way she smelled. Sometimes I go to the cosmetic counter at the shopping centre near my house and spray the sample of Red Door into the air just to trigger a memory.

I can remember where we stood when we spread her ashes in Indian Canyon. I’ve only been there one other time since then, and it was to spread my grandpa there after he died.

I can remember the horrible photo she drew of me when I had to go to the emergency room for an ear infection. The picture was me in a hospital gown with my butt exposed and a doctor with a very very large needle ready to give me a shot. In the butt. I have a few scarves that belonged to her with me now.

They smell like my mom.

When my mom smiles, she looks like my grandma….or at least how I remember my grandma in my head.

It is a smile that involves teeth. I know this because it is the same smile that I have (most people tell me they know I am Amercian because of my smile…all those teeth).

This is a hard day for my mom. She can’t call her mom and wish her a happy birthday. She can’t call her when one of her children (cough the oldest one cough) drives her crazy. It is a hard time for me because I have to think about the day when I won’t have my mom.

and that terrifies me.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with my great uncle who was in town on holiday. We haven’t seen each other in 10 years or so, but he knew exactly who I was when I met him for brunch. He gave me the best compliment that anyone could ever give me: he told me I look and act exactly like my mother.

2015-06-30 18.52.19 Since my mom sometimes looks and acts like my grammy, and I look and act a lot like my mommy, it must mean that I am a little like my grammy too.

I’d like to think that she would enjoy what I am doing with her smile.

The Scamp in Macedonia

It is with a heavy heart that I write about the passing of my granddad Verle. He wasn’t really my granddad, but just the same, he is someone who deserves to be acknowledged.

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Verle was a spunky one. All of his WWII stories had a happy ending. He met a general….then slept with the general’s daughter. He was in Egypt meeting a prince….the princess slept with him. My mom always wanted him to come to her classroom to talk to her students, but knew she couldn’t because none of his stories were safe for work. He refused to go to the events at the senior centre because he said all the people there were too old. When my dad was having a hard time with the death of my step-brother, Verle told him to bring the ashes to his house so Eric would have a good view of the lake and could be at peace. He had a taste for Scottish vodka, and he was always humming and whistling. He was a great father, brother, granddad, and great granddad, veteran and friend. The world is going to be a little duller without him in it.

For the last five years or so, my dad has been the only person looking after him. My dad went to all the doc appointments, made sure that the cabin was always clean and in good working order, and all but killed himself as a caretaker. He was with my granddad when he died, and told him that it is was okay to go, and to stay out of trouble. I’m really sad that I was not there to see him one more time, but I am really hoping now that this means my dad can work on healing and taking care of himself for a bit.

It makes me wish I could go back to California.

It also makes me think about Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Verle would have liked it there. It was one of the places we were shortchanged on seeing, but I have a feeling I will be going back there to try and get some writing done before I hand in my thesis.

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Macedonia is a beautiful place. I realized how dumb I was when the trip started and I thought Macedonia was a part of Greece. It is a city in Greece, but it there is also a country (and a very contentious legal battle for the use of the name). I could have stayed by the lake for a week. Unfortunately we got half an evening there.

We then went to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. This is one of the most unique places I have ever been. It’s like Disneyland for adults (or at least, that is what Busabout says). There are more statures in the city than people.  Every time you turn around you see another statue.

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I feel really bad, but to be honest, I cannot really say a whole lot about Macedonia because I do not think I really got to spend enough time there. I would like to go back and really spend some time there, and I would tell people to go there, but this one was a bit of a blur in the trip for me.

The Scamp at 400

It has been exactly one year and four months since 300. I’m quite impressed with myself that I have made it this far in the process. I’m not very good at sticking to projects, but I have stuck to this one for the last 5 years. I do the weekly challenges to keep me writing, but truth be told, this blog has been a good form of therapy for me.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days because my 300th post was so full of hope and so upbeat. I wrote that post on my last day in the US. I was ready for my fresh start, ready for my life in Scotland to help me forget about the horrible two years I had in California. I was under the delusion that leaving my problems in California meant that I would be free of them.

Boy was I wrong. If I have learned anything in the last year and some change, it is that you can’t run from your problems if you really want them to be resolved. I avoided therapy for awhile, and my depression got the better of me. I’m working on getting better, but it is a slow road for sure.

So while I have been sitting here at a loss for what to write about for the big 400, I started thinking about loss. It seems like loss has been on my mind a lot lately. When I read my 300th post again, I was sad to realize that I had lost the exuberance and go-get-em attitude that I had about starting my life here. I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about how I feel, and giving into my depression. It has wrecked my productivity, my ability to socialize, and even kept me in a relationship that should have ended awhile ago.

I’ve lost that naivete that being in my favourite city means that all my problems would disappear. I realize know that while I may have worked through some of my issues, there is a lot I still need to work though, and just like the meds I take to keep me going, I can’t stop going to therapy when I feel better.

I feel like I have lost a lot of time.

That wasn’t the only loss I have been thinking about though. We are fast approaching the one year anniversary of my step-brother’s death. While his death was actually a release from his alcoholism, and something that the family had been expecting for a few years, it was still a shift in the family dynamics. My dad is the only person who was still in contact with him, I gave up on him five or six years ago, and it broke him. I think my mom still feels some guilt that she was in Edinburgh with me when it happened, but because my dad doesn’t talk about it much, it is hard to really say how he is doing. When I think about Eric, there is not one memory I have of him that did not involve him being drunk or strung out on drugs. I remember him ruining toasts at a wedding with his drunken shouting, being carried out of another wedding because he kept falling and knocking things over. I was always embarrassed by him. Always. I chose not to mourn his loss, even though it destroyed my dad.

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This is the last picture that we have all together, and we are still missing our oldest brother. Eric is behind me on the right. This photo was taken seven years ago. He was drunk. This year my mom and I will be taking my dad to Paris so that he doesn’t have to spend Thanksgiving alone thinking about the death of his middle born son.

I can only hope that it works.

When I think about not mourning the loss of my brother, I think about a loss that I mourn everyday. 20 years ago my grandma died in a car crash. I can’t remember the sound of her voice, but I can remember that I had gone out to get the mail and by the time I got back my mother had heard the message from my grandpa that she was gone.

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She was fashion plate. She loved everything in excess. She was a drug addict, compulsive gambler, and constantly obsessed over her weight, but to me she was just Grammy Fran. She was the one who took us to Hamburger Hamlet and had zebra print carpet in her TV room. She was the one who shared her love of Hummingbirds with us, and made sure that my mom could keep  roof over our heads when my biological father abused her and took everything but the $25 dollars she had in her wallet, and my brother, the wombmate and me. I have some of her purses and jewelry, and I cannot smell Red Door without thinking about her, but there is just so much I wish she had been around for. She would have loved coming to visit me here, would have had some very creative suggestions for how to handle the dude who cheated on me and broke my heart, and probably would have tried to set me up with the son of one of the women in her Mahjong club. Chances are he would have been a nice Jewish boy, most likely a doctor,and probably close to retirement age.

I still remember when she tried to set my mom up with a really creepy old guy that lived in the same conodo complex in Palm Springs….my poor mother. She was maybe 37 and this dude was 60 with a beer gut and hair in his ears. I’m sure she meant well though.

There is another loss that I feel quite hard all the time. That is the loss of my family. I am not around them all the time, I miss out on dinners, holidays, and moments with my little man.

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I mean, I was pretty dumb for moving 5,400 miles from this face. When I was in California for the wedding at the end of September, I did not even notice my depression. Granted, I had something planned everyday, did not get as much work done as I wanted, and was on major holiday mode, but it was nice to be around everyone again. I still have lingering feelings that I will become irrelevant in their lives, and end up here alone a crazy cat lady….minus the cats.

I think what I can learn from the last year and change is that I still have a lot of work to do, and I still have time to make some real changes before I turn 30. In just five short months I get to close the door on my 20s, and I cannot wait to be able to say that I survived a very trying ten years of my life. Who knows where I will be when I get to number 500.

Hopefully I’ll be on a tropical island with a fruity drink that has an umbrella with a hot cabana boy fanning me with a giant fan.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

The Scamp and a Mockingbird

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Today the world lost a literary great. One of the great American novelists, Harper Lee has died at the age of 89. Lee rose to literary fame in 1960 with the publication of one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book would win her the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and be adapted to the big screen with Gregory Peck as the great Atticus Finch. Lee was never comfortable with the fame that came with her literary masterpiece, and for more than 55 years, it remained her only published work. In 2015, Go Set the Watchman was published, much to the dismay of diehard Lee fans. The novel was meant to be a sequal to TKAM, and featured Scout as an adult, and what happens when the illusions of childhood are stripped away. (I’ve written about it here https://ascampabroad.com/2015/07/21/the-scamp-sets-a-watchman/)

Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1926, and spent most of her life guarding her privacy. It is clear that the novel served as the backdrop for her novel, and that she was deeply affected by her life there. Although she moved to New York in 1949, she always remained a small town Alabama girl. She had a deep and powerful friendship with another great American author, Truman Capote. He served as the model for her character Dill, and she served as an assistant of sorts while he researched and wrote In Cold Blood. She all but disappeared from the spotlight until President Bush honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. He called her novel a gift to the world.

He was not wrong.

Harper Lee has always been one of my favorite authors. To Kill A Mockingbird is a book I read over and over, and every time I do, I learn something new about myself, and about the characters I love so much. While I no longer have the naive hero worship of Atticus Finch that I did when I was younger, I am now better equipped to appreciate  what Lee did with her characters, and with the story that she was trying to get across. Her death is a huge loss for the literary world, but her novels will continue to make people think, make people talk to one another, and hopefully, make people have a greater appreciation for what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. She may not have really believed in her ability, and the good she did, but millions of people all over the world would tell her otherwise.

“People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.”
― Harper Lee

The Scamp at 20 Years

20 years is a long time to miss someone. I can’t remember what her voice sounds like, but when I smell Red Door I instantly see my grandma’s face. I was only 8 when she died, but I remember the night we got the phone call, I remember bits and pieces of the funeral, and I remember her best friend, who was in the car with her when it wrecked, told my mom the story of what happened.

Francis Ann. Grandma Fran. Auntie Fran. Franie. Mom. Sister. She was a lot of things to a lot of people, and because she refused to wear a seat belt, the world has had to be without her for the last 20 years.

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She battled drug addiction. She battled her weight. She battled a shopping and gambling addiction. She was a complicated woman, sometimes almost impossible to be around. I didn’t know any of that. I only knew her as my grammy. She had zebra print carpet, took us for hamburgers and milkshakes whenever we went to visit her and my grandpa in Palm Springs, and never let her hummingbird feeders run out of food. I can remember being in Louie the Lebaron with my brother, sister, and our two cousins Jodi and Sivan when we were really young. I don’t remember where we were going, but while we were in the car, she started a sentence and we all took turns adding to the story. I can’t remember what the story was about, but I remember laughing and the story getting more and more ridiculous the longer we went around.

This is always a hard time for my mom. She has had 20 years of health issues, awards, major projects, and amazing life moments that she did not get to share with her mom. I can’t go more than six hours without talking to my mom, so I have no idea how I would survive 20 years. I’ve struggled a lot in the last two years, and my mom has tried her best to shoulder the burden so I didn’t have to.

The one comfort that I had when I lived in California was a hummingbird that comes to hang out at my parent’s house. There is no real reason for the hummingbird to hang out, but it comes every day, sometimes right to the door. My last night in California, it hung out for over two hours and got close enough for me to touch. I like to think that that little bird has the soul of my grandma and hangs out with us to see what kind of shenanigans we get up to. There are no hummingbirds in Scotland, but if I ever see one, I will know why it is there.

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So, until I figure out what happens after you die, I like to think of her the way my aunt thinks of her:

I like to think of her winning at heavenly Mahj Jongg, Bridge, Canasta. She still is one of the smartest, funniest people I have ever known. Do they have Jeopardy in Heaven?

Those of you who see my mom, or know how to get a hold of her, be sure to send some love her way.

And go hug your mommys. Right now.