On Proving that The Mayflower > The USPS

November First.

That’s where this story begins.

It was the day I received an order from England for one of my Roadkill Calendars*.

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I have shipped plenty of things overseas. I’ve shipped to China – with the endless label written in Chinese. I’ve shipped to Africa. I’ve shipped to England. I’ve shipped to many random places in the world, and I do not suck at it.

The USPS website allows you to buy international postage online, which is nice – because filling out a manual customs form is comparable to shoving a full-sized male Gorilla into a Ziploc snack bag – no international address actually fits into the tiny fields on that microscopic form.

The very day I received the order, I printed my label.

Except that I noticed no postage printed alongside the customs form.

I went through the process again to make sure there was not an additional form to print, and there wasn’t.

I shrugged, assumed the post office was doing things differently now, and dropped it off to ship.

A few days later, the package showed back up on my doorstep, with a handwritten note on it:

“No Postage!”

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I got back on the website and paid the $13.50 international postage again in the attempt of saving myself from a visit to the actual post office. It is a place of unspeakable horrors, as Portlandia so accurately portrayed:

But after I went through the process again, it printed off exactly as it had before: without postage.

So I gathered both receipts, the package, the new and faulty label, and as much bravery as I could muster and went to Local Post Office Number One in the late afternoon, riskily near closing time.

The parking lot was nearly empty, so I felt that the stars of postal fortune had perhaps shined upon me.

I walked in and was overcome by the smell of hopelessness.

There was one worker and one customer, and it was apparent she’d been there a while. The male postal worker helping her laughed maniacally when I walked in. He yelled over to me,

“Whatever you need, I cannot help you.”

I looked toward the counter. There was a pile behind him, a pile in front of him, and this pile had not yet been moved over to him:

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Every few seconds, he made a sarcastic comment to the customer.

“Oh is that ALL?”

“Just a few more then, huh?”

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…all while glaring at me in the attempt to intimidate me into slinking out in the SHAME of coming in while he was dealing with this tragedy of over-mailing.

I peeked at her stack of boxes: they were Christmas presents for overseas troops. This fact did not make Mister Postal Worker any less Grinchy.

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But the stars shone upon me and a shimmering unicorn walked out of the back room. Or rather, a smiling postal worker – same difference.

She asked me what she could help me with and I explained my issue and presented my receipts.

“You paid for this package twice? My goodness, honey. You shouldn’t have done that.”

She inspected the package’s markings and said while shaking her head, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, those idiots at the downtown Post Office sent this back. They are SO STUPID. They should know better!”

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She took out a black Sharpie and wrote on the package, “Postage Paid!!”

“That’ll do it, honey. It’ll ship now!!”

A few days later, like a stray cat that can’t take a hint, it showed up on my doorstep for the second time.

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This time it had a note, also written in Sharpie, that said “No postage – writing ‘postage paid’ is not postage.”

I stopped at Local Post Office Number Two.

It was late November by now, so the lines were beginning to swell with holiday anxiety. I waited patiently for ten minutes while my children waited not-so-patiently.

“Can I help you?”

“I am hoping that you are an expert. I just know you can help me solve this.”

I explained the saga. I displayed my receipts. I pleaded for mercy.

“I can’t help you with that. You need to take it back to Local Post Office Number One. They have a manager over there.”

I tried not to let my tears stain the post office floor.

Instead of taking his advice, I decided to take it to the Scene of the Crimes: I would go to the dreaded, the formidable, the horror movie of The Downtown Post Office.

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I left my kids with Chris and approached the office with a respectable dose of fear.

A man talking rapidly on the phone was coming out of the front door as I approached, and I slipped through the door.

He turned around, huffed loudly, and angrily barked toward me, “You’re welcome!!”

a. He didn’t even really hold the door for me.
b. He was on the freaking phone in mid-sentence. Was I supposed to interrupt him to thank him for his sub-par gentlemanliness?
c. He is absolutely the kind of man who believes that buying a woman dinner on a first date entitles him to immediate relational benefit. And this realization made me want to vomit on his fancy wingtip shoes.

This encounter set my Downtown Post Office visit in motion just the way I expected it to go.

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The line was the kind of line that you could file your taxes, read a Jane Austen novel, call and comprehensively catch up with your best friend from 4th grade, and knit an ugly Christmas sweater all before being granted the privilege of being Next In Line – and I’m pretty sure there were people in that line doing all of those things.

I approached the counter with a look of humble gratitude. I pulled out my growing Package Dossier. I explained my case.

She looked at it all quietly, then said, “I’ll have to talk to my manager.”

She left me. She left me for so long I almost had abandonment issues.

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She finally returned, looking a year older. “He said the online postage system has been messed up lately – he’s seen other international packages come through without the postage printed correctly also. He told me to just print you the postage and it’ll go through just fine.”

Thank goodness. I came to the right place. And also I’m not crazy – I did nothing wrong when buying postage.

She started entering in the address.

“This shows it should be $22.50, and you only paid $13.50.”

“That’s what the online system charged me…”

“Well, online gives a discount, but I can’t. Hold on let me go check with my manager.”

Depression gripped my heart as PTSD Abandonment Issues set in.

Days later, she came back.

“He said I have to charge you the difference. So you’ll need to pay nine dollars.”

“Fine.”

Type, type, type.

She printed postage for nine dollars. I paid her. She said, “This should do the trick. If it doesn’t, come back.”

That was not the hope I was looking for.

Two weeks passed. I felt sure my package had made its voyage across the sea. I mean, HOW HARD COULD THIS BE?! Angelica sailed back and forth between England and New York multiple times during one act of Hamilton. If Angelica could do it in the 1780s, surely a few pictures of roadkill can make the journey before 2018.

Then came the Friday before Christmas. I was in bed recovering from surgery.

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Chris got home from work, walked into the bedroom with his hand behind his back, and said “You’re never going to believe what was on the front porch.”

“Cat poop?”

“Worse.”

“A slaughtered raccoon from that stray cat who won’t take a hint?”

“So much worse. You’re going to be so mad.”

“I don’t want to be mad!!”

“Mad in a fun way.”

He pulled the envelope from behind his back.

I nearly popped my incisions from screaming.

THIS IS NOT A FUN KIND OF MAD!!!!!”

He set the envelope in my lap. That poor package was battered, abused, and humiliated.

Package to England

This time it had come back, according to the sticker, because the barcode had already been used.

There were so many scars and memories on on that package of all my prior visits…

…The scribbled out Sharpie messages…

…The $9 postage…

…All the stickers demanding I do this right even though the post office admitted it was their fault…

The envelope itself was a calendar of my November and December.

So, the week after Christmas, I decided to go back to where it all started.

Local Post Office Number One.

I took a fresh envelope, my stack of receipts from all former post offices, and resigned myself to filling out a fresh customs form – by hand.

As I waited in line, I began the process of rewriting everything. Which is when a man and his son who had been standing behind me decided that I was a prime target for line-cutting. They nonchalantly stepped around and in front of me.

But it was the wrong post office visit to mess with me. I had endured the sarcastic You’re Welcome guy. I had endured the cruel postal worker who didn’t want to process packages for the troops. I WAS NOT GOING TO JUST TAKE A LINE CUTTER.

I pushed around them and took back my place. “I was in line before you.”

“Oh, sorry.” They stepped back a step and looked at each other as if I had a crazed look in my eye (I’m sure I would never.)

I held my shoulders high with the ecstasy of not being taken advantage of (by anyone but the United States Postal Service.)

I hefted my sheaf of documentation up on the counter.

I walked the clerk through a Masters-Level education of what brought me here, to her counter, today.

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She sighed and shook her head.

“Okay. We need a new barcode. And new postage. And I think we can make this work.”

“Do you want me to use a new envelope since this one is so wrecked?”

“No. Let’s leave part of these stickers the same.”

Type type type…

She read my customs declaration. “This is a calendar, huh? What year is it for? Please say it’s for 2020 – because that’s probably when it’ll arrive.”

“Right? The Mayflower sailed from England to America quicker than this package is getting from America to England.”

“You are so right about that, honey.” She taped my freshly handwritten customs form onto the package.

RIGHT OVER MY ADDRESS.

“Um, I trust that it’s going to work this time, but you just covered up my return address. If perchance it doesn’t work, I really want to be able to know it.”

She sighed, ripped it up, salvaged my address, and re-taped it. I pondered whether this could be a DefCon Nine Postal Worker Solution to a problem package: if you make sure it ends up in the Eternally Lost Package Bin, the customer can’t complain again.

Then she looked at me sternly, with that look you give a stray cat after it craps on your porch for no good reason. “I do NOT want to see you back here again. I do NOT want to see this package again. Got it?”

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“Believe me, ma’am. I feel the same way.”

And this is where we now find ourselves.

My confidence level regarding this fifth attempt is at about 32%. I fully expect to see that mangy package cuddled up to my stray porch cat any day now.

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Thoughts and prayers, y’all. Thoughts. And. Prayers.


* Roadkill calendars are sold out, but if you find yourself in desperate need of one, I can still special order them. Unless you’re in England. Then forget it.

Surgery, Snow, Smoothies, and The Senate.

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All The Laws of Physics were contradicted this past week.

1. It snowed, in Alabama, in early December. Significantly (for Alabama) – 4-12 inches.
2. Said snow stuck, stayed around an extra day, and some snow is still on my yard as I type.
3. I had my uterus removed yet came home looking four months pregnant.

It was a surreal week in all the ways. Snow had been in the forecast for days beforehand, but for the first time in my adult life, instead of planning and scheming on how to best maximize our snow opportunities if it actually did snow, I literally paid no attention to the possibility. I didn’t even deem it worthy to mention to my children. Because it has never, in my lifetime, snowed in early December. Preposterous. Plus, I was having surgery. So how could it snow when I literally could not maximize it? Inconceivable.

So when I packed my children’s bags to go to my parent’s for a few days, I did not pack them snow-ready apparel. I packed them cold weather apparel, thankfully, but no extra clothes or waterproof anything. It wasn’t even something I thought about as I filled their suitcases and mine.

Chris and I showed up at the hospital early Thursday morning, received our pager, and waited for a table to come available – because when you get down to it, having a hysterectomy is no different than going to Ruby Tuesday for a steak and potato.

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As we waited, we had no choice but to direct our attention to the morning newscasts, which were losing their mind over the fact that it was so definitely going to snow the next day. We rolled our eyes and made fun of their 14 hour “window for snow” – glad they can be so precise.

I don’t remember much about Thursday post-surgery, as I slept off and on most of the day. I tried desperately to stay awake and visit with Chris, and insisted on eating and drinking far too quickly after surgery. After realizing that I was so high I could not swallow food, Chris set off on a quest to get me one last Magical Smoothie – a legendary treat only given to new mothers. He had to journey through multiple wards and wings and buildings, negotiate with nurses and plead for a token to take back to his princess, trek back through wards and wings and buildings without allowing his treasure to be stolen by other desperate husbands seeking The Magical Smoothie, and finally, he delivered The Smoothie of Healing to me.

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I’m not saying that smoothie is why I’m able to blog this quickly after major surgery, but I’m not saying it’s not.

As the smoothie slowly helped rouse me from my Sleep of Death that evening, we watched the continuing frantic news about impending snow. Which would’ve been super exciting if a) I weren’t currently catheterized and therefore had zero chance of enjoying it, and b) every single commercial hadn’t been regarding Alabama’s upcoming senate vote.

Being forced to repeatedly stare at these two men while in a state of extreme medical inebriation helped me see through the political issues and realize a couple things.

1. Doug Jones has a couple of spots on his face that need to be checked out. He might need to get in with a dermatologist right away. And there’s not a dermatologist in the state with more open slots in his appointment book than our dear ex-gov, Dr. Robert Bentley. Can someone arrange a rendezvous for these two gentlemen?

Alabama Senate

2. I finally realized who Roy Moore’s supervillain alter-ego is. Somebody light up the bat signal – we’ve got a serious problem down here in Alabama.

Roy Moore The Joker

After dreaming about those nightmares for half the night, I woke up at 3am to nurses frantically saying “We’ve got to move you!”

I groggily said “Are you kicking me out?”

“Don’t you smell that?? It smells very strongly of smoke in here!!”

Then Travis the Maintenance Man sauntered into my room and started sniffing around the fridge, the vents, my phone charger, and my IV bag – because I have literally never been in the hospital without having a maintenance man end up sharing my room with me.

At 5am, my nurse was frantic enough that she unhooked me from all the things and made me walk – for the first time – across the hall and three rooms down. Which, albeit annoying at the time, did give me a better view as the sun came up – because it was indeed snowing.

Chris arrived around 6:30 (I insisted he go home to sleep because no one should have to sleep in hospital chairs and endure frantic 3am nurses and visits from Travis the Maintenance Man), and we watched the snow fall together, somewhat stunned and a lot worried about our ability to make it home. Chris figured out how to open my window and gift me with snowballs, which is basically why I married him.

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It was around 11am when they said I could leave, and as it turned out, 11am was the exact worst time to use the roads. The snow had accumulated a good deal (and some had turned to ice), but not enough cars had used said roads to make them safe. And, although it was only a (in normal driving conditions) 15 minute drive from the hospital, there were a lot of ups and downs between the hospital and home.

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There was sliding and swearing and stops to breathe deeply and check ones heart rate. The last half mile was the scariest, as it is basically a curvy nonstop downhill cross-your-fingers-and-wish-for-a-sleigh ride.

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But we miraculously made it without incident.

Meanwhile, the children were having the time of their lives at Gramamma and Pop’s.

There were snowball fights,
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And snowmen,
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And sledding,
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And swinging,IMG_0399 s_1

And snow cream and gingerbread-castle-making while their decidedly non-snow-ready clothes were in the dryer.
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Oh – and there was peanut-feeding my mom’s semi-pet squirrel. Because that’s a normal thing that all kids do at their grandparent’s house.
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The snow did indeed last for nearly that entire window of 14 hours that the morning prior’s news had suggested. It was preposterous in all its beautiful white glory. While I rested on the couch, Chris brought me my own fresh snow for snow cream,
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But eventually the temptation was too great, and the roads had ironically become snow-free and therefore safe to walk on, and I insisted Chris take me on a very slow walk around the neighborhood.

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It was as if Satan had sat around and put some serious thought into it. “What could possibly make Rachel take a long walk just 24 hours after having major surgery? I’ve got it!!!”

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The next day, the snow was still a work of art, and we took another walk, then a drive, then one more walk around The Botanical Gardens. It was, admittedly, too much too soon, and I hurt a good deal after the second outing. But the world beckoned to me louder than my abdomen pain.

The oddness of seeing fall colors and snow at the same time was something we have never experienced before, and will probably never experience again.
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The sun had come out and had begun creating micro-snow showers from the trees.

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The scenes of overwhelming white were nearly too much to take in.

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After these absolutely unavoidably necessary outings, I have followed doctor’s orders and stayed in my Lounging Princess Position, and will continue doing so for another week, as I attempt to make amends to my de-uterized abdomen. And – maybe it was the snow, or maybe it was always the magical smoothie, but I feel surprisingly good.

On Being Absolutely Delicious.

Our family has two distinct branches.

There’s the Chris Branch.

Chris does not recall a time when he had a run-in with any poisonous-plant-caused rash, and does not have the pleasure of experiencing bug bites of any kind. Sometimes he feels a bug on him and is annoyed by the biting sensation, but does not swell or itch or react in any way to the bite thereafter. More often, though, bugs don’t even bother to perch upon him.

Then there’s the Rachel Branch.

I spent most of my childhood and parts of my adulthood afflicted by the rashes of multiple poisonous plants, and am the best insect repellent money can buy, because if I’m with you, every living thing within 25 miles will be feasting on me as if I’m the main entrée at a party thrown by pre-prison-days Martha Stewart.

It appears, after much analysis and hiking, that Ali is a descendent of the Chris Branch, and Noah is a true prodigy in the Rachel Branch.

The poor child can get bitten by anything anywhere regardless of whether he is lacquered in bug spray and/or the surface area in question is completely hemmed in by tight-fitting garments.

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He’s the Taco Tuesday of the mosquito world. The Avocado Toast of the ant world. And the Double Fudge Brownie Milkshake with Sprinkles and a Waffle Cone Straw of the spider world.

And furthermore, his reactions to said bites can be rather…intense.

Which explains how his penis swelling like an overextended water balloon last week was totally standard for him.

It wasn’t his first rodeo.

(And when I say rodeo I mean the kid was walking like he’d just dismounted from a large bull.)

But he was calm, he was knowledgeable, and he fell right back into Protuberated Penile Procedure.

Noah-Ice-Packs-Spider-Bite“Put one ice pack in the pants, get an extra ice pack to swap out, and oh by the way this whole operation is easier if I wear gloves.”

He took it all with the casualness of a sore throat, as if carrying around an oversized package is something that is common to everyone’s daily experience, not just the UPS and FedEx men.

…Or at least, he was nonchalant until he was half asleep that night, when he meandered to me about his feelings about the situation.

“I’m sad. That my firehose is swelling. But I’m glad that my bottom isn’t swelling because then it would be huge. <slaps his own butt> Because it’s already big.”

(Nobody wants to be a spider-inflicted Kim Kardashian.)

If that had been his only bite, he wouldn’t have even gotten a doctor’s visit out of it. I had already looked up my last blog post to ensure we were waddling through all the recommended treatment steps.

But it was the one on his neck that was troublesome. Because the next morning, it had turned into The Dreaded Target.

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THAT’S the sign we all have nightmares about. THAT’S the one that should send you to the doctor the minute you see it. Or at least those of us who live in a territory of Lyme Disease.

Noah, however, was becoming more preoccupied with his other still-growing issue.

“I’m tired of walking like this. But I can’t walk normal because my firehose feels gross. I HATE IT!!”
“I’m sorry. Hopefully the doctor can help that, too.”
“As long as it’s not a shot right HERE. Because that would really hurt.”

He’s not wrong.

As expected, our Pediatrician inspected the lower issue and said “Yup, looks like last time. It’ll be fine with ice and Benadryl.”

But the neck issue…whether or not it was what it looked like it was, it’s ALWAYS best to treat for Lyme if it could be a possibility. It was most likely a spider bite gone dramatic, but just in case…

As she looked up his dosage of antibiotics and steroids, Noah told her in no uncertain terms that he’s never even tasted a lime. Clearly she was mistaken.

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Mansplaining starts early these days.

Noah was concerned as to his level of boredom during his recovery. He could not walk. He could NOT run. And he even made sure to tell Chris specifically* that he ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT swim. I mean the kid had a freaking millstone hanging around his…well you know.

*Chris tends to be an authoritarian ruler when it comes to regularly decreeing family fun at the pool.

What could a boy do who could not use his body from the waist down??

While we wandered Walgreens waiting on his prescriptions, God shined down upon us and led us to a couple sets of Minecraft papercraft boxes that were on clearance ($4.49 a set, currently on Amazon for $15-20.)

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This blessed craft party ended up being the ideal weekend time passer while waiting for one to be able to walk without a waddle. With the added benefit of my house now being covered in a thin layer of a Minecraft empire.

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So at least the road to genital recovery has treasures along the way.

Epilogue: Noah is back to normal now, except for the extreme maniacal laughter and hippity hoppity effects of his steroid. I actually really like this kid on steroids. Can I get a long-term steroid prescription to treat chronic whininess? Because it’s totally working.