I’ve started getting the phone calls and emails from friends wondering from which side of Mt. Muchmore I have tumbled. “Ralf” in North Carolina left a Facebook message weeks ago that I just found. “You must be really busy. I haven’t seen a post in a long time.” I haven’t fallen down the stairs, hill, or into the Ohio River. Instead, I have been held hostage at NIOSH. Silly girl! I thought once I’d gotten past the big Branch Open House and probation in October that life would settle into something sane. How wrong I was—but more on that later.
The sad thing is that I have a blog post that’s been sitting since early November telling of my interesting adventures in DC, Vermont, and tales of my first big event at NIOSH—and the great fun of Bonnie Neal’s birthday visit. That blog’s been sitting waiting for me to download photos. I need to let go and remember that my friends can actually read and that pictures are nice but not absolutely essential to the story (well, most of the time).
Timing is Everything
Somehow posting the fall follies right now just didn’t seem right. It is the season of light and I’m not only filled with holiday wonder but amazement that this is my second Christmas here at Muchmore. So the fall stories will come later. For now, I want to bask in the holiday that will end too soon.
A Rough Entry
Of course, I wax poetic now about the holidays now but the opening festivities of Thanksgiving nearly finished me. November began with preparations for the first Division retreat. More song and dance to create. Dear sister, Kathy Krusiec, had unexpected surgery the day of the retreat and that created some angst about not being around to help her during recovery. Luckily, she has a great support network in the Madison area…plus an attentive husband. Nevertheless, I wanted to be there.
I had not originally planned to go home for Thanksgiving but needed to see the boys, Kathy, Mom, and Grandma Pierick. So rush, rush and an 8-hour drive to north on Tuesday of turkey week. Helped prepare Thursday’s meal at Kathy’s on Wednesday.
Ate bird at Krusiec’s and then at Neals in the Thursday pm. Spent Friday in Darlington baking rolls with my Mom for a post-Thanksgiving dinner with the boys. Cooked an alternative dinner for the boys on Saturday and visited Great Grandma Pierick.
Stayed with Neals and got a little downtime in between activities playing cards and watching movies.
Early Sunday I headed out. The week was frenetic, intense, and a lot of driving. Didn’t realize the toll it had taken until Sunday. Pulled a back muscle in an odd move at the gas station. About an hour from Gary, Indiana I fell victim to the intestinal bug that moved around the Neal household at the end of the week. At the time, I saw it as no imminent sign of doom. At worst, what’s a holiday without someone getting sick. For years my brother, Ken, accused me of passing the flu around at some Thanksgiving past that resulted in a permanent aversion to bread stuffing. But back to the present —Bonnie had warned me to be prepared for an imposed stop on my way home, but my perpetual optimism and Belgian stubbornness kept me from seriously considering I’d have to deal with being struck down on the road.
A Penchant for Dark Hued Humor
Of course, it’s always easier to laugh about tragedy when it’s past. Still, there is something dark about the fact that I’m laughing now thinking about the ridiculousness of the situation. It is classic Donna. Can anyone spell “excess?” My stomach started churning about a half hour after Rockford and before Gary I knew I was in trouble. I stopped at a wayside where the first wave hit. I’ll spare the details for you faint of heart. As the initial nastiness passed, I realized I was going to have to find a place to hold up for the night. I made it to Gary and, ironically, stopped at the same hotel I stayed in 2001 when I was shooting a video nearby for BP.
I was hurting. Hobbled into the lobby where a nice Indian man looked at me with eyes that read “Oh, here’s a 911 call in the making.” You never realize how long a few minutes can be until you are calculating how long you can wait before a trip to the restroom is inconsequential. I made it back to the car and could not move out of it for an hour. I finally grabbed my computer bag, purse, and toiletry tote and apprehensively made my way back to the lobby. As I walked in, the only thing I was conscious of were the smells—strong coffee, pizza carryout, and the Christmas tree. Oh, no—another wave coming! I rushed through toward the door under the elevator sign and pushed through only to be slapped by overwhelming scent of pool chlorine. I knew full well I would never last the two minutes until the elevator doors opened. I did the precautionary scan for an accessible trash can. The elevator opened. “Please get to my floor. Please don’t make me walk halfway around the floor to get to my room.” I’ll save you any further drama. I did not repeat the elevator performance of my 20’s after a night of vodka in Lenningrad.
I have seldom experienced greater relief than collapsing fully dressed on the bed that night. I stayed there for twelve hours except for two excruciating trips to the loo. None of this was funny, of course, except for the calls I received in my totally isolated, vulnerable state. The first was my cousin, Larry, who was happily checking in from a few hours south as he was driving his eldest back to Purdue. Larry is easy going and I must have sounded better than I was for he proceeded to acknowledge my plight and then fill me in on what’s been happening with his family since our last visit. I did alright to a point and then needed to remind him that I was bait for rabid dogs who would probably charge my door at any moment. Mike Esch was more sympathetic to my plight. He called a while after Larry to see if I’d survived the holiday and, in complete alignment with his dark view of the world, he’d found me in peril in Gary. Unlike Larry, Mike knew that it was only a matter of time before the wild dogs had their way with me. “Does any one know where you are?” he asked. “You do” I said. He felt worse about it than I did. I was really grateful not to have been trapped in the car with no commode.
Somewhere about 8am on Monday, I began to feel human. After a successful trial keeping water down, I ventured to the breakfast bar downstairs for oatmeal and tea. 4 hours later and 1 hour before the end of my book on tape (Joyce Carol-Oates THE GRAVEDIGGER’S DAUGHTER), I was back to Muchmore where I stayed put another day. In the end, this Thanksgiving I was grateful that I was not the holiday dinner for the greyhounds of Gary.
The 2nd Annual Mt. Muchmore Branch Party
The first weekend of December, I buckled down and got my tree and really got into the decorating spirit. Though I felt like there was more time to prepare for the holidays than last year, in truth, there wasn’t. I’m glad I had a burst of energy because the following Thursday was the branch party at my house. The work week was insanely busy. I actually had focus groups to conduct until 2 hours before the party.
I did less cooking this year. The table was packed. 29 people were here and it was fun. Unlike last year, I actually got that feeling I have always loved before the carolling parties in McFarland.
The music was playing, candles lit, tree lights glowing and everything smelled of pine and cinnamon. The house was more complete this year. I bought a couple little Norfolk pines to light the other rooms and made huge bouquets of pine, roses, and eucalyptus. I broke down and bought an expensive bag of cinnamon scented Douglas Fir cones and filled all the little green glass votives that I bought at last year’s after Christmas sale. The tree was packed with a history of ornaments and I watched the bright crimson cardinals take it in from the bird feeder out the window.
I appointed a “fun and games” committee to help plan the merriment. We played holiday pictionary with all the spirit and competitiveness of a round of Van Bogaert Tripoly. There were ridiculous gifts given in our drawing (everyone got something) including a one day use of my parking space (Ha Ha –I don’t have one). Nevertheless, the leader of the web team drew it. As people encouraged him to “recycle” the gift in the division’s white elephant draw, he demonstrated the creativity I have come to appreciate from my teams. “I’m holding on to it for the next party at Muchmore,” he announced proudly. Yes, we ferry people from the Kroger parking lot down the hill. My staff has now figured that the Muchmore parking capacity is 8 vehicles.
People drank more this year but didn’t stay late. We went from 6-9:30pm. Two of my staff would not hear of leaving me with the dishes. By 10pm I was tucked in. I’d have 5 hours of sleep the night before and was nursing my back sprain which I reinjured earlier in the week.
Two days later, the snow elves came. 4″ the first snow. I spent last weekend just taking it in. OK, I also worked on sending Christmas packages–but that was about it. 26 hours of overtime in two weeks is too much.
The Final Touches
In Murphy’s style, this past week was fraught with crises. None of them of my making, but all my responsibility to figure out and solve. Monday was a snow day which gave me some breathing room, but I ran through the rest of the week staying late Thursday to complete mandatory online training and some year end tasks. Monday will be my last day at work until the new year.
Today I begin making all the boys’ favorite meals and holiday treats. Got up early to beat the Kroger grocery crowd. Oops! Already realize I have forgotten Chex mix. Aggravated my back again yesterday and hauling things in and out of the car didn’t help. So I will not do any more than I must and watch the birdies, finish this blog, and enjoy the relief of the heated rice bag that Judy Sauer gave me.
Miss you, Judy. And miss the rest of my people in Wisconsin and the far flung corners of the earth—Diana in Cairo, Ann in Pretoria, Yorgos in Greece. I wish you the time and intuition to find a quiet spot to soak in the good, the beautiful, and the present. Santa is coming. Good tidings from Cincinnati and much more.