How Gourmetten led to the Resurrection of Seashell Jesus and Other Things: A Badass Christmas story

Merry Christmas ya filthy animal dear olde savings and loan blogge!

Oh my, it has been a fun coupla days around Chez Badass – thanks to birthing new traditions, my kids, sparkling cider and help from my badass cousins overseas!

Before I begin this tale, let me fill you in on the origin of the Seashell Jesus, whose picture shall grace this blog in mere moments.

Remember when I told you about cleaning up the hoard and shared a picture of the outdoor storage area? Well, one of the only items that survived the purge of that space was a very colourful, homemade-looking old-schooly picture of Jesus, adorned with seashells. I have no idea of the provenance of this picture – it could have even belonged to one of the many tenants that abandoned their junk belongings on the property – but I just couldn’t find it in me to fling it into the dumpster (#4 or 5, can’t remember which). So Seashell Jesus, as he came to be known, ended up hanging in my old kitchen for about a year.

When it came time to renovate the kitchen, Seashell Jesus survived yet another purge and ended up in a box of other wall “art”, in the boiler room of my building. Until Christmas Eve 2016, that is.

I had planned for weeks already to try a new tradition for my family. The Dutch meal of “gourmetten.” In researching how to pull this off, I came across the following article – Gourmetten” A “gezellige” evening of classic Dutch dining  Very funny and tongue-in-cheek. The author claims that Jesus and his disciples actually “gourmetted” the last supper and there is a picture in the article to prove it. When I told my daughter Mizz J about this, she said Seashell Jesus needed to be part of our Christmas Eve meal. So up from the basement he rose…

Seashell Jesus oversees the abundance of food to be grilled.

 

Like a good guest, Seashell Jesus also offered something to grill.

When I shared these photos on Facebook to my Dutch cousins, they were not to be outdone.

Jesus (and family!) does gourmetten in Amsterdam on Christmas Day.

 

Virtual Jesus shows up at my other cousins’ in Breezand.

Suffice it to say, much Facebook merry was made over Jesus being sent on to our various homes to partake of gourmetten.

Meanwhile, in real life, our meal was fantastic.

Let the grilling begin!

 

Even after all that food there was still room for dessert, obviously.

Before the food coma took a full hold, we cleaned up supper and then got artsy-crafty with it.

Using glitter glue and acrylic paint to make ornaments.

 

Continuing the creativity on Christmas morning. Glitter glue is mostly dry, so time to pour in the acrylic paint.

After a relaxing day spent on the couch (mostly), Christmas dinner was a clean-out-the-fridge stir fry – liberally doused with left-over satay sauce and served over rice. “Sooooo gooooood”, to borrow a phrase from my Amsterdam cousin.

Gourmetten leftovers make a delicious stir-fry.

And thus, new traditions are born!

Rock your merry little selves on,

The WB

 

 

 

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Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished

Ever have one of those days when you try to do something good and it just doesn’t work out like you thought?

This happened to me on Saturday.

I was crafting my post about my mom’s death and jumped onto Facebook to grab a photo from one of my albums. I happened to come across a post in my feed from one of the community groups I belong to. In it, a lady was asking for help for her husband – a custodian at a church that is a neighbour of mine. The church snowblower had died and she was asking if anyone knew how to fix it as last night’s snow was too much for hubby to shovel.

My first thought was one of total schadenfreude – I will not lie. During the fall/winter that my husband was sick and eventually died, the snow came fast and deep and early on. It was a record season for the number of days of uninterrupted snow on the ground. JD and I used to do the shoveling ourselves and now it was all left to me. I didn’t have time to try to find someone to help me during his sickness and dying and during the aftermath of his death. Many the night and morning I had to run over to the building to clear the steps, the wheelchair ramp, the sidewalks (it’s on a corner lot) and one of the parking lots (the tenant at that time got their lot plowed out so I was left with only one to clear, thankfully). Yep, just me and my trusty snow shovel. And when the plows went by and threw the stuff from the road onto the sidewalks and driveways, I had to go back and do it all over again. Mr. Custodian would watch me silently as he was snow-blowing out the walks on the church property.

(One day during that crazy winter after an especially fierce blizzard resulting in thigh-high drifts, one of my fellow downtown landlords came up the street with his tractor and plowed out my lot. I’ll admit to this: I stood on the sidewalk and sobbed hot tears of relief, unabashedly.)

Yep, I thought on Saturday morning, dead snowblower looks good on ya.

Then I gave myself a stern talking to. Told myself I was better than these thoughts; not to sink down to this level. Got my ass quickly dressed and out the door, shovel in hand, to help.

I approached Mr. Custodian and introduced myself as his neighbour from across the street, told him I read the Facebook post, and offered my services.

After a long pause, he said, “I told my wife I needed someone who knew how to fix a snowblower.”

Me, cheerfully pointing to shovel in other hand: “Well, I can’t do that but I certainly can shovel snow so show me where you’d like me to start.”

After another pause, I was directed to a patch further down the sidewalk, and began to shovel. Another fellow appeared who introduced himself as the church treasurer. We cleared the sidewalk together. Mr. Custodian tried to start a conversation.

Him: “So you rent upstairs over there?”

Me: “No, I own the building and yes, I live upstairs.”

Him, pointing to my tenants’ unit, the downstairs Museum: “What do you think of them?”

Me: “I think they are great; happy to have them in the building. Have you been to visit?”

Him: “They hosted our church for coffee a few weeks back. Not a place I’d ever go into. Do they get many visitors? I don’t see much traffic going in there.”

Me, brightly: “Well, actually many people are very interested in going there. They get visitors from all over the world and host large tour groups from time to time.”

Then Mr. Treasurer decides to chime in and change the subject: “Nice the building is finally getting fixed up. The fellow that ran it before didn’t do much.”

Me, smile becoming more and more fixed: “You mean my husband who died? He had a mental illness that prevented him from making those changes. And he had no money. But I own it now, and I have been spending the money to get it fixed up.”

Mr. Custodian: “Well, I guess we should shovel your place now.”

Me, still smiling: “Not necessary, thanks. I have people to do that now and they should be around any minute. What’s next? Let’s do the main entrance steps and then the parking lot. Between the 3 of us it should go quickly.”

Them, variations on a theme of: “Oh no, that’s OK. This is good enough. Main entrance doesn’t need to be done. There’s a guy coming to do the driveway. Thanks for your help.”

So off I trudged, back to my place – thoroughly pissed by the entire encounter. I just wanted to shovel some fucking snow to help my neighbour out and ended up feeling under scrutiny and like I had to defend both my tenants and my late husband to these guys.

Later I came back downstairs and saw they were indeed shoveling the main entrance stairs.

“Hey!” I called out, blood boiling: “I wanted to help with that!”

“Oh no, that’s OK” came the reply.

Fine – fuck this, I said to myself – my low-level thoughts making a spectacular and rapid-fire comeback.

Then I got mad at myself for letting them get to me; for going low instead of high.

I can’t understand why more people don’t take up church. It clearly brings out the best in people.

Rock on,

The WB

P.S. Today, a couple of hours after I posted this entry I saw a thank you to me posted on the Facebook community group by the custodian…or maybe it was his wife. Apparently I helped “a lot”. At this point I don’t give a fuck about the snow shoveling any more. I hope I helped open some minds and hearts. Including my own. Looking for a Christmas miracle.  🙂

 

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One Year Ago Today We Said Goodbye to Mom

The world lost my badass momma one year ago today.

She had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma about 15 years before. Most of the 15 ensuing years were high quality. Mom experienced several remissions and used that time to enjoy life to the fullest with her second husband, who she met at a grief class about a year after Dad died. They travelled and camped, and generally enjoyed retired life together.

But eventually the cancer came back with a vengeance and Mom got sicker and sicker.

In the summer of 2015 the doctor advised that we move up the date of my sister’s wedding and host it closer to home, to ensure Mom could attend.

My sister and her new wife flanking Mom and Stepdad on their wedding day. Mom had lost her hair again due to the latest (and last) round of chemotherapy.

 

So I volunteered to host the wedding at my building and what a joyous occasion it was!

Shortly after this Mom made the decision to not proceed with any more chemotherapy. She had had enough, and it was only making her sicker at this point anyway.

Soon she was too ill for her husband to manage so I offered for her to come to stay with me. My newlywed sister made arrangements to take compassionate leave, to be with Mom while I worked and did homework (yes, I was still plugging away at my MBA that fall). And my far flung sister was ready to board a plane and come as soon as she was called, which was a short while later.

All parties agreed to the new plan for Mom and thus we made it happen. A stair lift was installed so Mom could get into and out of my second-floor abode, and we transferred her medical care to my city. Bedding arrangements (and bedrooms) were created to accommodate everyone.

Mom worried about getting into hospice care in a new city. This was something she was considering when living with my stepdad. When I asked if she really wanted to go to hospice when the time came the truthful answer was no. I told her she didn’t ever have to go there – she could die at her new home, my place. She said she would like that, so that is how we proceeded.

The sisters and Mom – the care team

 

Granddaughter Mizz J and her Oma – also part of the care team

 

What a wonderful, awful fall that was – the fall of 2015. The fall of our mom’s dying. Mom had a typical Dutch practical attitude about her impending death. It didn’t bother her and she didn’t want to be a bother to anybody else. She hoped her death happened at a “convenient” time for everyone, so as not to interfere with any Christmas or vacation plans. We joked a lot with her about these wishes. It was freeing for Mom to be able to speak and joke about her dying with us. It was not something her husband could bear to hear, understandably so.

Mom’s sister, My Tante T asked to come over from the Netherlands for a last visit with her sister. This visit was welcomed by all, especially Mom of course.

Mom and her sister

We took the ladies out shopping. Mom had an ultralight collapsible wheelchair at this point which made it possible for her to get out more easily. They had a lot of fun looking for cute clothes at the local mall. This was tiring but also joyful for Mom. She loved getting out while still able, and picked up a couple of pretty tops to wear for hospital appointments and when receiving visitors.

I had bought tickets to take Mom to see a live performance of the Jersey Boys many months back, and we were able to get an extra ticket for her sister at the last moment. Seating had to be changed to accommodate the wheelchair. Tante T also had to change her flight so she could attend the show. A lot of changes but we were so glad it all came together. Mom had wanted to see this show for many, many years.

With a good friend, Mom and Tante at Jersey Boys – waiting for the show to begin

Tante T went backstage at intermission and somehow convinced the Jersey Boys cast to come out to say hi to Mom after the performance. What a woman!

Mom with Jersey Boys cast

During all this time, Stepdad faithfully visited his wife every day.

We treated Mom to pedicures and massages and accompanied her to her cancer clinic appointments. We tried to tempt her with all her favourite foods but her once hearty appetite was quite diminished. Palliative care nurses and personal workers visited many times and provided Mom with a hospital bed and special equipment to assist with bathing. Spiritual care was provided as well, at Mom’s request. We were trained to give Mom her medication intravenously, as the end drew near and her discomfort increased.

Mom loved having visitors and all were welcome to come whenever they wanted to see her.

Death and dying are not easy for anybody. By the 17th of December we were all exhausted as Mom was very restless, day and night. A night nurse was brought in to allow us some shuteye. Mom passed away in the wee hours of the 18th, partway through his shift. We were all at her bedside when it happened.

I was grateful for all of the resources and comforts provided to Mom, and for so many visits from friends and family. It was a blessing to be able to keep her at home as she wanted.

Last picture of Mom and me. Taken ~2.5 days before the end. Mom lost the ability to communicate soon after this photo was taken. Notice the pink polka dotted sheets. Mom wanted to die on pink sheets, she remarked with a smile. What a badass. Wish granted.

My favourite memory of this time is of being called into Mom’s bedroom one night by my sister. Mom was crying and wanted to talk to me. I asked her why she was crying and she said, “I am so happy and I can’t stop crying. It is wonderful to be here surrounded by my family. I feel so completely loved, like I have never felt in my whole life. I’m not crying because I am sad or afraid to be dying. I’m crying from happiness.”

I think of that night almost daily. If there is a way to “do” death and dying correctly, I think that as we came together as a family during that horrible, wonderful fall of 2015, we just might have nailed it.

Rock on,

The WB

 

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(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Fake it ’til you can make it – Chez Badass: Christmas 2016 Edition

Fireplace mantle

 

Minimalist Tree This Year

 

Very pleased with JD’s grandmother’s old couch since it was reupholstered.

 

Porcelain statues given by JD’s late dad many years ago. Painting by JD’s late Auntie Hazel in background (wedding gift).

 

Can’t seem to keep poinsettias alive so snapped this when plant was only in house a couple of days. It might last till Christmas?

 

Dining room. Mom and Dad’s nut bowl from childhood has pride of place on table. This only made an appearance at Christmas and I am keeping up the tradition. This room is full of the ghosts of Christmases Past.

 

And to all a good night…

 

Jingle Bell Rock on,

The WB

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How to Create a Badass Woman

When I get a puppy, I spend a lot of time and effort exposing the young dog to every possible alarming (to a dog) situation.

The pup accompanies me in the car on long and short drives. I walk the dog in all types of situations – nature trails, busy city roads, and everything in between. There is lots of time spent around people and other dogs, and other animals if at all possible. The more noise and confusion, the better. I wade into rivers and streams to get the puppy to follow me and lose fear of the water. We go to the groomer and the vet.

The puppy learns it can survive all of these scary situations and gains confidence.

The result of these early months of exposure to new things means this: Congratulations – you have a dog that is afraid of nothing. And…condolences – you have a dog that is afraid of nothing…hehehe. A total badass of a dog.

My favourite breed of dog is the miniature Schnauzer. This is a dog that is already possessed, pound for pound, of more courage than any other breed. Of that I am convinced. I am also 100% certain that when my Lucy looked in a mirror she saw a Rottweiler staring back at her. Miniature Schnauzers are the badasses of the dog world.

The late, great canine badass – Mizz Lucy, in her prime

 

Elderly and in poor health but still a total badass. Mizz Lucy ruling the street from her carriage.

Women, whether they know it or not, are the badass sex. They are the Miniature Schnauzers of humanity.

The patriarchy knows this too. Which is why women are portrayed as weak, illogical and in need of protection. It is why women are chronically underpaid and their work is undervalued. We are so strong that extreme societal measures have to be taken in order for the patriarchy to continue.

We are dressed in pink and frills from the day we are born. We are put in clothes and shoes that limit our movement and our play. We are punished for expressing traits males are praised for. We are praised when we are gentle and nice; when we are “pretty”.  We are ridiculed and put down for being smart and sassy, and for not conforming to society’s expectations of beauty. We are told men’s violence towards us is our fault.

And when we age, we lose our value in this society. But the truth is this: when women age we become even stronger, smarter and sassier.

And this is how we are raised.  This is the culture I was raised in.

I’d like to think things have changed, are changing. Recent, revealing events such as those surrounding the US election are making me doubt this.

Men are victims of this misogynistic culture as well, whether they realize it or not. They need to conform to society’s expectations of male behaviour or face ridicule and persecution. People who present as mixed or opposite or fluid gender…well, we all know how cruel this society can be to them. This is why feminism should be important to all people. It is not “just” about the rights of women. Feminism means ALL PEOPLE ARE EQUAL.

Like my puppy, I have been put through a lot of scary situations and I have survived.

On my journey to becoming a badass widow I have survived:

  • A long first marriage to a verbally abusive, controlling man who did his best to isolate me from my family and friends. Whose chronic bouts of long-term unemployment meant I had to pull the financial weight a lot of the time, in addition to the bulk of the parenting and household duties.
  • More than a year of stalking and harassment by the same man when I exited the marriage after 17 years. A restraining order and multiple visits to jail had to happen before this criminal activity finally stopped. I thought nothing could be worse than remaining married. I was wrong.
  • A second marriage to a man who initially presented as the answer to a prayer. Who wasn’t afraid of my intelligence and work ethic – who praised and complimented me and supported me. Who I thought was a soul mate but instead was a soul-less mate. Who turned out to be mentally ill. Who turned out to be a world-class liar and hypocrite. Who cheated on me. Who put me through OCD hell and severely strained my relationships with family and friends before the cancer finally took him out of our lives.

Somehow I survived these torturous situations and learned and grew.

And now I am fucking fearless. Congratulations Life, you have created a woman who is afraid of nothing. Also condolences, you have created a woman who will no longer be subdued.

And I know I am not alone. Where my dangerous, badass women (and men) at? The world needs us now.

Rock on,

The WB

 

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Fake It Until You Can Make It

Christmas Newsletter created, for the 3rd year running.
Christmas Newsletter created, for the 3rd year running.

I think I have mentioned on ye olde blogge already this year that I am having a hellacious time getting into the Christmas vibe, spirit, what-have-you.

Nothing has really changed. But today instead of wallowing in a sweaty funk while barking like a seal due to a chest cold, I did make up my annual (3 years and counting!) Badass Christmas letter and put my cards together for mailing out tomorrow. YAY ME! (OK, still was in sweaty funk and barking…but got my cards done too!!!!)

I have always loved giving and receiving cards at Christmas, and actually enjoy reading people’s Christmas letters.

Even when the letter is full of humble-bragging or outright bragging! So far I have received only one like that and it was many years ago, from someone I am no longer acquainted with. A lot of fun was had mocking it with my friends as it epitomized why Christmas letters have such a bad rap. I almost wanted to keep up the acquaintance just to keep getting those letters. I said almost.

Anywhoodle, I love the annual Christmas letter/card tradition. If that makes me old-fashioned or weird or both, so be it.

What I didn’t expect to happen was this: as I finished off the letter and addressed and filled envelopes, I could feel my mood lighten considerably. I’m not saying I’m ready to decorate the tree (still naked despite being up for weeks, by the way) or throw a massive open house party (although that was/is my dream, but now slated for 2017) but I think I will get through the season without having to white-knuckle it.

And that, my friends, is HUGE. Or YUGE. Or however you want to say it.

Rock on,

The WB

 

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Living With And Loving Someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

I had someone recently remark that they didn’t understand how JD’s mental illness manifested itself. That is a very fair statement. Having lived with OCD for so long, I have forgotten that most people would not have a clue as to what this means. If you watch Hoarders on TV, you will see what the outcome is (as hoarding can be one of outward manifestations of what is going on inside the person’s mind) but that show does not even begin to touch on what it is like to live this way.

Since I have of late begun to speak more openly of my late husband’s mental illness and behaviours on ye olde blogge, I think it is only fair that I flesh this out so that people reading can have a better understanding of what this was and how it impacted our lives together.

From what I have researched, OCD can manifest in many different ways. I don’t claim that what I experienced is the definitive experience of OCD in a loved one. It is just my story.

I knew JD was quirky already from when I knew him in high school. But that attracted me to him. That he was unafraid to be himself. That he was not a conformer. That he thought for himself instead of accepting and following the status quo.

So when we became reacquainted in (much) later life, I was not surprised that he was still quirky. Although I didn’t know it during those early stages of our courtship and romance and even eventual marriage, JD was a savant when it came to deception and manipulation. He possessed a genius-level IQ. Apparently I am no slouch in the IQ department either, but he could think circles around me. And I let him. Because I came to love (and with that, to trust) him so deeply, I believed what he told me about why he did the things he did. He always had a rational, somewhat believable excuse for his irrational behaviours. So I over-rode my inner voice – my gut, my intuition – and believed him, for many years.

And to be fair to JD (and me), his OCD was not as pronounced when we first became reacquainted. But it progressed over the years and became much, much worse. To the point that I did not believe I could continue to live with him if he did not seek treatment. But then the cancer struck and I never did take that step.

Towards the end of his life, JD’s OCD manifested itself in the following ways (“Reader’s Digest” very condensed version):

  • Contamination fears – there were times his hands were red and chapped from incessant hand-washing. He had long and involved showering rituals to cleanse himself before performing especially stressful (to him) tasks, such as opening the mail that came to his building. Mail was not opened for months or years at a time due to this, and only after a lengthy set of showers and only in the nude, his skin glowing white from the dried soap film. He was hinting that when we finally moved house to his building (my current residence) that we shower and change clothes before entering the apartment and that no one else be allowed to enter…ever. We were to have 2 sets of clothes – one for the outside world, and one for the apartment. He wanted us to set up a visiting lounge downstairs for friends and family and to keep the apartment “clean” from contamination.  Anything that touched the floor was contaminated and could no longer be used…but couldn’t be thrown out either – it had to be added to the hoard. Animals were contaminants and anyone that had animals was contaminated. If I visited someone who had animals, the clothes I wore had to be segregated so as not to contaminate any of our possessions further. He took over the laundry duties so as to make sure it was done well enough for his needs. However “un-contaminating” an item was impossible to do, according to him. Because of his OCD, our washing machine and pipes were often blocked due to his overuse of laundry detergents (and soap when showering). Our water bills were pretty impressive for only 2 people. His clothing had to be washed differently and separately from mine. Eventually I too was considered a contaminant in his mind as I was no longer allowed to enter some rooms he considered “clean” at his building. I was banned from cleaning – especially dusting and vacuuming as this could stir up contaminants and blow them around our house. So I had to resort to “stealth-cleaning” when he was not around…cleaning just enough to keep me sane but not enough to alert his hyper-vigilant awareness of everything around him.

 

  • Superstitious/Magical Thinking – JD saw omens and portents in everything. If he saw a certain transport company’s trucks pass us on the highway, that was a sign that something bad was going to happen. I learned to try to distract him if I saw those trucks before him, in the hopes he wouldn’t notice. If something fell (on the contaminated floor!!!!) or broke, that was a portent also. He thought he was communicating with dead relatives regularly (mine too!) and that they were sending him these omens and signals to warn him or help him.

 

  • Lateness – We were chronically late almost everywhere but specifically for social events involving his family. These were stressful for JD and he usually had some “very important tasks that had to be done” before we could go, and these would take forever for him to complete due to his need to check and recheck things. I would become very anxious about being late and by the time we got to the event we were both frazzled and exhausted as a result. It was  easier to find a reason not to be social, because of this and everything that went with the whole contamination issue. This, along with JD’s requirement for absolute secrecy about what was really going with him and us, on was very isolating for me.

And last but certainly not least:

  • Hoarding – most items of JD’s (and then by association, mine) had a memory attached to them and could not be thrown away. Even if he forgot the so-called importance of an item, it could STILL not be thrown away because he thought it might have been important at one time.  I had a bunch of old margarine containers full of food his mom has prepared for him, taking up valuable space in my freezer. She died in 2002 and I have no idea how long before she died that she made these meals. Eventually this meant I could not throw any OTHER containers of prepared food out of the same freezer because it might have come from his mom but he had just forgot about it. He was skeptical when I affirmed that I had prepared the food in question and I had to defend it by saying those containers did not even exist when his mother was alive. He sorted through the household garbage each week to ensure nothing of “value” was being thrown out so I often found items I had thrown out reappearing in another section of the house like the basement or sun porch (where he kept most of his stuff, and where I was allowed limited or no access so as not to contaminate their contents and stir up dust). Food waste was allowed to be disposed of, but little else. And especially not paper, unless it was shredded first. Even if it was blank paper, it had to be shredded first. And of course he had to view it first to decide if it COULD be shredded. Which he never had time for, so the papers just piled up and up.

Here are some visuals of the clean-up of the hoard at his building in the year following his death. They don’t really do justice to the reality, but it gives the reader an idea. There was a proportionate (to the time spent there) level of garbage at my house (mostly basement and garage) to clean up as well, in first 2 months of widowhood. It took 2 very full rental truckloads to the dump and putting out about a hundred bags of garbage to clean my house up enough to put it on the market.

Outside storage room, about 75% cleaned out when this picture was taken.
Outside storage room, about 75% cleaned out when this picture was taken.

 

Using the main floor of the building as a staging area to sort through boxes and bags from the basement. Nearing the end...
Using the main floor of the building as a staging area to sort through boxes and bags brought up from the basement. Nearing the end…

 

Paper and cardboard ready to go out for recycling. From one room in basement,
Garbage, paper and cardboard ready to go out for pickup. From one of the basement rooms.

 

One of 7 dumpster loads I paid to have hauled away. I only dumped stuff I could not recycle or give away.
One of 7 dumpster loads I paid to have hauled away. I only dumped stuff I could not in good faith recycle or give away. A lot of it showed signs of a previous bad rodent infestation. JD used to store food (from his mom) in the basement, and that attracted mice and rats. When the food was gone they left too, thankfully. But their droppings and some skeletons were left behind.

I could go on (and on and on and on) about the impact of JD’s OCD on our lives and the lives of those who knew us. I hope this is enough for now to gain a better understanding of what people with OCD and their loved ones might be going through.

Rock on,

The WB

 

 

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