Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year of the Owl?

A few years back - 21, to be exact - my aunt Miriam passed away. She was a widow who had never had children. After the funeral, any of her belongings of value were distributed more or less fairly among her remaining siblings - there were 9 of them altogether. After that, a table was set up full of little tshotshkes and mementos for us nieces and nephews to sort through. We were each encouraged to take something by which to remember our aunt. I took a lovely pink depression glass bowl and her sewing kit, thanks for asking.

After we were all through, several items remained on the table. Most of them were tacky and cheap (and by using the term 'most' I'm being generous and respectful of the dead and stuff...) Even among the tacky and cheap, though, there was one item that stood out. A bright pink ceramic owl.

One of my cousins had a young daughter at the time, and she decided that this owl was the most beautiful thing she'd ever laid her little eyes on. She was two or three years old at the time. There's a reason you don't see many toddlers being consulted on interior design. Anyway, she thought it was beautiful and really wanted to have it. Her father told her no and gave her some silly reason which I do not remember. My sister overheard the exchange and asked the toddler, "Do you like this, sweetie?" "I love it" she replied with hearts and stars in her eyes. "Then it should be yours" my sister said, carefully wrapping it up for her and handing it to her like a prize. Then my sister caught my cousins eye and said (to the toddler, she said) "Something so beautiful should be displayed in your living room where everyone can see it, not tucked away in your bedroom." The toddler solemnly nodded her agreement and my cousin glared at my sister.

Later that year, when our extended family gathered together to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, my sister recieved a beautifully wrapped package from my cousin. I don't imagine I need to tell you what was inside. He instructed her to display it prominently. The next Christmas she presented the owl to someone else and so it has gone for the last 21 years.

This year, Tom received the owl. The rules are that the owl must be displayed prominently in your home for the entire year, at which point you must pass it on.

Several cousins have done little photo albums documenting their year with the owl. One wrote a poem - an ode, if you will - a few years ago. Us? We started a blog for it.

Upon arriving back home, we chose a prominent spot in which to display the owl then started planning posts and photo-ops.

I sat down at my computer to set up the new blog and glanced at my page-a-day calendar. I always have a yarn/knitting related calendar because I am just that super-cool. My pattern for the day? 'Birds of a Feather' - a PINK OWL done in novelty yarn intarsia on a black bag. I think I know how the owl will be presented to it's future caretakers next Christmas...

But wait, there's more!

Sitting in my inbox is a notification that I have a new follower on Twitter - a chick who posts (with alarming frequency - I tried to follow her back, as is, I'm told, polite, but it was overwhelming) as an OWL. Sometimes. And sometimes as a chick. Whatever her issues are are not what I'm here to discuss. Though I bet they're interesting.

So - all of these owls and owl references fell into our laps in a pretty condensed period of time. I spent hours researching the symbolism associated with owls (ok - busted - I did a quick google search and this is the first thing I found) and learned this:

Throughout many cultures, the symbolic meaning of owl deals with:

  • intelligence
  • brilliance
  • perspective
  • intuition
  • quick-wit
  • independence
  • wisdom
  • protection
  • mystery
  • power
Not bad, eh? So if all this owl business is indeed prophetic rather than simply coincidental, I think I'll take it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

His Heart Grew Three Sizes That Day

I had the nicest conversation with a friend last night.

He is a stubborn man who had, several months back, gotten himself embroiled in a feud with an equally stubborn man. I like both of them, but definitely thought my friend was in the right. Not that it matters what I (or anyone else) thought, because this feud was ON. I mentioned they were both stubborn, right?

Last night my friend told me he ended it.

He walked right up to the other guy and said I want this to be over. I don't want to start the new year angry at you and I sure don't want to start it with you angry at me. The other guy hugged him, thanked him, and accepted the olive branch that had been offered. Accepted it graciously and enthusiastically.

When I asked my (I mentioned he was stubborn, right?) friend what had prompted him to do this, he said something along the lines of having been moved by the holiday spirit. He said this had been such a wonderful holiday and he didn't want it to be marred by a feud.

I was so proud of him. What he did was hard.

This of course led me to ask him about his holiday - what made it so wonderful, that it prompted such a massive change of heart?

His answer, as it is with most things magical and wonderful, was that he couldn't quite explain it. Due to the failing economy, there were less presents under the tree, and the ones that were there weren't as extravagant as they'd been in years past. So it sure wasn't that. He didn't know - it was just - something.

When he left, I thought about that. Since returning from Christmas at my parents', many people have asked if I had a nice holiday (I did, thank you very much for asking) but not one single person has asked, "what did you get?" or "was Santa good to you?" or any variation on that. I haven't asked, either. Hmmmmmm. I think I have always asked/been asked that in Christmases past. What's going on? Could the failing economy actually have us finding pleasure in simpler things? That was one cloud I was pretty sure didn't have a silver lining, but maybe it indeed does.

We have been spending the week between Christmas and New Years sleeping in, napping, eating comfort food, and generally indulging our lazy decadent selves. And it is kind of wonderful.

So - how were your holidays?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Picture This

So my sister says to me (she says): "We've got to wear boob shirts."

We were getting ready to go to the holiday party hosted by the pizza shop where we regularly schlep the pizzas to earn the big bucks. Wendy had missed last years party and I told her it had been a boob-a-palooza - the battle of the boobs - I could go on... she knew exactly what I meant, but in case you don't, the young girls who work there, they like them some low cut clothes. They like those scary low cut clothes that put one in constant danger of slippage. They liked those for work - it was astounding what they liked for a party. She could imagine. And she thought we should get in on it.

So I put on a boob shirt. I was a little uncomfortable and was asking all of my family members - in a manner which was probably quite annoying - is this ok? Are you sure this is ok? This is too much, isn't it? I'm gonna change. No? I'm at least gonna put a camisole under it. No? Ya think? Really? Eventually I added a long thick lariat necklace and that made me feel a little less - vulnerable. (anyone who read that last phrase as Tim Curry's Frankfurter gets bonus points, because that is certainly the tone in which it was written) It's COLD outside so I added a long scarf/shawl to the ensemble and thank goodness I did! When I picked my sister up, she looked lovely. She did not, however, look boobalicious. She was the one who, hours earlier, had asked if my daughter had any body glitter... I felt betrayed. Now I was going to stand out, and not in a flattering way.

Lucky for me it was cold in the restaurant, so I kept the scarf/shawl on and managed a little coverage. Still one or two folks commented. "Whoa! You're showing boob!" I might have felt better if they'd said it with a tone that was more admiration than observation, but such was not the case.

All of this was really just a set-up, though, to talk about pictures. (I know - Wuh!?! Stick with me, all shall be revealed. Wait - following a story about boobage, perhaps that was misleading. Let's just say - read on, it will all hopefully come together...)

Although I felt vulnerable and a little out of my league, I also felt like the outfit was flattering. I walked out the door feeling like I looked good. Pictures were taken and, as is almost ALWAYS the case when I see myself in pictures, I was appalled. Surely I don't look like that! Who is that yooge old woman wearing my clothing? And why are her features so crooked? Surely that can't be what I look like... then someone will say: Wow! That's a great picture of you! And I want to weep. That? Right there? That is a GOOD depiction of my appearance? Really? Because that's not even close to what I see in the mirror and it's even farther from what I see with my minds eye. Hate the pictures. But I know between pictures, mirrors and minds eye, they are the least likely to lie.

So for a long time I stayed out of them. Avoided them at all costs. Developed a sixth sense which was keenly aware of any camera in my immediate vicinity and an uncanny ability to step out of its scope. If I didn't see it, I wouldn't know. And maybe if I didn't know, it wouldn't be true. Don't even bother trying to point out the inherent flaws in that argument. One doesn't have to be rational when arguing with oneself.

Tom hates being in pictures, too, but his reasoning is different. Tom is really not very photogenic. If you've ever seen the episode of 'Friends' where Monica and Chandler go to have their engagement portraits taken - that's Tom. He's a very handsome dude, but when the cameras come out his smile freezes in a way that is not his smile and his eyes do that deer-in-the-headlights thing. It gives me - hopefully gives both of us - comfort when he hates a picture of himself and I can say with honesty - that's not a good picture, you are way better looking than that.

So we've both sort of resolved to allow more pictures of ourselves to be taken. His motivation, I assume, is to become more comfortable with the camera so that he becomes less conscious of it and will eventually look more natural in photos. My motivation is to be able to view myself more honestly. That is painful right now. Hopefully it will get easier with time.

So for now - no pictures of the boob shirt. Delete, delete, delete. But in a couple months? If I do indeed succeed in recognizing and coming to terms with my new old self? Who knows.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Went to Sleep With Gum in my Mouth and Now There's Gum in My Hair, and I Could Tell: It Was Going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

So Lea says to me (she says), "Mom, I think there's gum in my hair."

Her panic begins to escalate as she realizes that this is indeed true.

"How did you get gum in your hair?"

"I don't know. There was no gum in my room. I didn't have any gum. There was no gum anywhere. But I went to bed with clean hair and I woke up with gum in my hair."

"You realize that's impossible and doesn't make any sense... "

"It just got there and now I need you to GET IT OUT!!!!!"

She approaches me with scissors in hand.

The last time I touched her hair with scissors resulted in the micro-bang incident. We shan't speak of it...

So we went to the hairdressers and this is what she came home with:

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons...

Not our first haircut related incident that's had a happy ending. (I told you not to mention the micro-bangs...)

When Olivia was getting ready to start pre-school she had long beautiful hair. She very much enjoyed tossing it around. She also wore dresses every. day. Anyone who knows Liv now knows - well - she still has pretty hair...

Several days short of that first day of preschool, Lea and Liv were playing beauty parlor and with one snip of the safety scissors, Liv had a nice chunk of hair cut to cheek length. I took her to the salon, all three of us may or may not have been crying, and said, "fix it". She left with an adorable bob that made her hair look even thicker. It was beautiful. And she hated it.

She was still at an age when a great deal of her gender identification dealt with hair and dress and she was pretty much convinced that now that her hair was short she would have to be a boy. And she liked being a girl and didn't want to be a boy and now no girls would want to play with her anymore because girls don't like to play with boys.

She cried intermittently until that first day of school.

When she came home that first afternoon, she was beaming. (Insert spiritual leader of your choice here) was smiling on me, because Liv's teacher that year was a very attractive young lady with a super-short pixie cut. Without saying a word, she restored my daughters sense of femininity and the short hair was never mentioned again, not even once.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

And So It Begins

Sometime in late December, 1961 or early January, 1962 two people I don’t know anything about hooked up somewhere in western Pennsylvania and made a baby. In September of 1962 that baby was born and she was me and that’s the end of the part these two people play in this story. I have, throughout the years, come up with many dramatic, romantic and tragic stories about how all of this came to be, but the truth is probably a much simpler matter: Roe v. Wade was still in the future and this woman had enough sense not to pursue a back alley abortion.

The next three months were spent with more people I don’t know anything about. Foster parents who saw to it that my basic needs were met.

Meanwhile, in another part of western Pennsylvania, the woman who would become my mother was making some difficult choices. She was only in her mid twenties and she had already suffered through more miscarriages than any woman should have to endure in a lifetime. Her doctor had warned her that another attempt at pregnancy would be more likely to result in her death than in a baby’s birth. Her heart and her body were at odds. She knew in her heart that she was destined to be a mother, but her body had had its final say. She would not be making a baby. She mourned the babies she would never carry, and then let her heart win. She and the man who would become my father made the decision to pursue adoption.

Just a few days before Christmas, the call came. The adoption agency had a little girl for them. Were they interested? Indeed they were. When they met me, before any papers were signed, the man who would be my father did a little inventory. Fingers and toes? Check. He was an informed consumer. He was not going to accept delivery of damaged goods. Apparently I passed the inspection, because they signed the paperwork and got the gears in motion.

Most parents get nine months to anticipate the arrival of a baby, but my parents only had a couple days. And they were a couple days right in the midst of the general Christmas hustle and bustle. In just a couple days they had to acquire all the things a baby would need - a crib, diapers, bottles, clothes, blankets – no baby showers thrown by friends or sisters or aunts or cousins – no time for it. (Fortunately, in 1962, babies needed far fewer items than they do now, so this task was less oppressive than the one which you might be imagining.)

They got everything together in time to accept delivery of their infant on December 18, 1962. One week before Christmas. I went home for the first time at the age of three and a half months. I knew love for the first time at the age of three and a half months.

Apparently when they met me for the first time – inspection day – I had been dressed and groomed very nicely. When they picked me up to take me home, I was wearing a dirty undershirt with a medal of a saint pinned to it. False advertising! They were not delivered the same degree of cuteness that they’d been promised. Lucky for me, grooming and clothing are issues easily rectified, or I might have been returned before my warranty expired.

As it was Christmas, of course they viewed me as the best gift ever. I was placed under the Christmas tree to illustrate that fact in a more tangible manner. Unfortunately, I was allergic to the tree (a pesky allergy that persists to this day). The symptoms that developed as a result of this threw my new mother into a panic. The final papers weren’t yet signed and she was pretty sure they were going to take me away, since the first thing she did upon bringing me home was to allow me to get sick. It doesn’t work that way, of course, but try telling that to a woman who’s been through what my mother had been through to find herself in the position of parent. She was rather understandably distraught.

My sniffles cleared up, the adoption was finalized, and we were a little family of three.

Each year I celebrate the anniversary of that adoption - a day which doesn't mean anything to anyone except me, my mom and my dad. It means the world to us.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Nutcracker - SWEET!

My family went to see The Nutcracker tonight. This was particularly exciting for us because our friends' daughter was dancing the part of young Clara. She did an excellent job, and we were proud to know her. Tom and I both commented on that pride during intermission and tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be her parents sitting in that audience on her opening night. I'm certain our wildest imaginings fell short.

I was a little concerned that our girls were perhaps a little old for The Nutcracker. You always picture little girls in fancy dresses going to the ballet as a part of their Christmas tradition. To be sure, there were a lot of them there. But I think perhaps our girls were the perfect age for this experience. Some of the younger kids acted bored - they had a hard time sitting still and remaining attentive for a 2 hour show. I felt particular sympathy for the parents who rushed crying young 'uns back the aisle and out of the theater, trying to be as minimally disruptive as possible. But my girls - they were enthralled. The magic began the moment we stepped into the Ohio Theater - a beautiful theater any time - all decorated for Christmas. It wasn't the first time we'd been there, but I'd be lying if I said we went often. I wish we did, but that's not the case. Anyway. Our seats were amazing. We were on the floor - far enough back to have a good view of the full stage, but close enough to actually see the expressions on the faces of the dancers. Awesome. It was so neat watching the girls straddle that line between childhood and the teens. They looked so grown up. Stunningly so, if I might be so bold. Lea gets dressed up sometimes, so she didn't shock me so much, but when Liv came downstairs in a dress, looking all grown-up girly - well, that was a little bittersweet. It swayed more strongly to the sweet side, though, when the show started. My little girl was captivated. Looking at the childlike wonder on her quickly maturing face was just - well, it was perfect. I leaned over and saw similar looks gracing Lea and Shelby's faces. Too good to be true.

We had also been concerned that they might be dancing to taped music, as there have been some (major) issues with the Columbus Symphony this year, but a live orchestra was indeed in the pit. Tom and the girls walked up and checked it out during intermission and were duly impressed.

As I watched some of those moms deal with children who were less than enthralled, I was reminded of the story of the first time my parents took my sister and I to the ballet. We were in Washington D.C., visiting my uncle and doing some sight-seeing. My dad wanted to see the Kennedy Center, so we stopped, just to see the lobby. A well-dressed gentleman approached my mother and asked if we were there to see the show. She explained, no, we were just there to see the facility on our way to the zoo. He asked if we'd LIKE to see the show, as he had tickets he would be unable to use. He told her she'd be doing him a favor by taking them. She reluctantly accepted and we, in our sight-seeing clothes, were led into the theater. We just kept going, and going - past many oppulently dressed and bejeweled folks - to incredible seats. Something like the 4th row. An amazing opportunity that fell right into our lap. Except that my sister and I were bored and we made sure our parents knew it (without causing a scene or being loud, of course). At intermission, we left. You see, my sister and I had been promised pandas. We were, as I mentioned, on our way to the zoo. All this dancing stuff was nice and all, but PANDAS, YA'LL!!! It is with no small amount of shame that I retell that story. We've both, I think, made it up to our parents (as well as we could - we've never managed to drop 4th row seats in the Kennedy Center in their lap again, but we've been otherwise gracious).

I'm so glad, as I mentioned earlier, that we waited until our kids were at an age where they could really appreciate the experience for what it is. The best part: All of them, Tom included, left the theater wanting to go to the ballet again.

What a nice Christmas present.

And on a more random closing note, why don't more men wear capes? Why don't more people wear capes? Capes are awesome. I think I want, perhaps need a cape. Maybe Lea's not the only drama queen in the family...

Friday, December 12, 2008


As an avid knitter and a less avid all-round crafter, I am a huge fan of embellishment.

Mistakes and flaws are going to exist in handmade work.

I was made aware, a few years ago, of an old Amish custom whereby the women would make elaborate quilts with very small pieces and would quite purposely place one patch with the wrong orientation. The reason for this was that “Only God can create perfection.” They referred to this as a humility block*.

I liked that concept, and adopted it immediately.

I know some knitters who will frog** rows and rows – sometimes entire pieces – because of one incorrect stitch. I am not one of those knitters. As long as the integrity of the piece will not be compromised, I leave the error. If it is small and difficult to notice, it becomes my version of the humility block. If I fear that it will be noticeable to the average observer? Then it gets fun. Let the wild rumpus begin! I will sometimes spend more time embellishing a piece than I actually spent making it. Embroidery, beading, I-cord trim, appliqué – all of these are methods by which errors both small and large can be camouflaged.

Sometimes when I really get on a roll with the embellishments I understand the appeal of those garish sweaters women of a certain age roll out around the holidays. (I understand the appeal as a crafter of garments, not as a wearer of garments. Because that stuff is really never ok. But it sure looks like fun to make!)

The best part of choosing to cover up my mistakes rather than correct them is that the embellishment is usually what garners the most attention. “Oh! Look at that delicate beadwork around the border. The detail in your work is amazing!” Or “The crocheted appliqués add such an unexpected touch of whimsy to your work!” I smile and say thank you. No one needs to know that that appliqué serves the purpose of covering up a missed stitch or an unsightly bump or some other form of imperfection. They just need to see the whimsy.

Another advantage is that I feel like the embellishments I choose make someone else’s pattern my own. I have volumes and volumes of patterns (as well as intermittent subscriptions to various magazines and other publications and, you know, internet access…) but I have a few very simple patterns that I return to time and again, because the simpler the pattern is, the more embellishment it can handle before it starts to look overwhelmed.

I was thinking, recently, about how we do the same thing with our memories. When we tell the stories of our glory days, often a few embellishments sneak in. Sometimes that's purposeful deception, but I think more often it's just that we remember things sweeter (or uglier, or more beautiful, or kinder, or meaner...) than they actually were. The story becomes the story of our memory, not a factual recounting of an incident. And I think that's ok.

* That this was actually a custom has never been proven, so it remains theoretical (and, some feel, unlikely).

** frogging is a term commonly used among knitters to signify the process of ripping out work. “Rip it – rip it”. Oh, we’re a wild, witty bunch.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

When I Was Your Age We Walked 5 Miles to School in the Snow, Uphill Both Ways. And We Liked It!

Remember when your parents said something similar to this to you? Maybe it was your grandparents. All of us like to let the generations which follow us know how much tougher it was for our generation and how we paved the way for their easy lives through the hardships we endured.

When I was an undergrad in the early 80's, I remember discussing this very thing with a friend of mine. We worried that we weren't going to have anything to tell our kids about. We had it pretty sweet, and we knew it.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of the things that we did NOT have when that conversation took place:

A dishwasher (although most of our parents did have that luxury at home)

A microwave (again, many of our parents did have these - they were huge and very expensive. I did get one shortly after graduation)

A computer (though we did have access to the 'computer room' at school. Our papers were researched by looking through books in the library, then typed up on our typewriters. One of my roommates had an electric typewriter, so we were pretty spoiled.)

A VCR (the technology existed, but, much like computers, hadn't really made it into the average home yet. DVD's and DVR's, of course, were still science fiction at the time. When one of us had to miss Guiding Light due to circumstances beyond our control, the others would draw a cartoon strip to illustrate what was missed. Yes, for real. )

CD's or a CD player (We did have cassettes, and yes, we did make mix tapes.)

Cell phones (several years later I dated a boy with a 'car phone'. It was enormous. My friends died of jealousy when I told them I was calling from a car. A few years after that I got my first 'mobile'. It was huge, heavy, and insanely expensive. I only used it for the most dire of emergencies.)

Answering machines (If no one picked up the phone when you called, it just rang and rang until you gave up. If you weren't home or didn't make it to the phone when the phone rang, you didn't know who called or what they wanted. Also, if you called someone and they were talking to someone else, you got a busy signal.)

Personal, handheld, or home gaming systems (yeah, there was Pong and stuff. We didn't have it, though. We did, however, go to the video arcade with what we thought was alarming frequency.)

MTV (it existed, we just didn't get it where we went to school. We got Friday night videos, though. When we visited someone who did have MTV, we were transfixed. The year after graduation, when I finally did get it - I don't think I watched anything else for several years...)

Digital cameras (I think at that point I was using an instamatic. You bought flashbulbs. I was pretty stingy with the flashes. They weren't free, you know. And then you had to pay to get them developed. And it took about a week. We also had a Polaroid. It was almost as big as the typewriter...)

Well, like I said, this list was not comprehensive, it's just an off the cuff list. I'm sure there are many more things that I could mention if I put some thought into it. But that's not the point I want to make. The point I'm going for is that we didn't have any of those things, so we didn't miss them. We truly believed ourselves to be the most privileged generation. We couldn't imagine talking about this time with our kids and comparing it negatively to what they had. And now? Wow. Could you live without your computer, your cell phone, your microwave or your dishwasher? Could you even imagine a life without those things? (actually, we lived without a dishwasher for years and a microwave for months. The responses we got when we told people this were funny. Suffice to say, "no, we're not Amish" was actually uttered once or twice.)

So what will our kids be telling their kids they had to live without? What amazing strides will take place in the next 20 years or so that will make today's technology and products look archaic?

What a fun ride it will be, finding out.

Year of the Tiger

This post might've been better saved for Chinese New Year's, but I'm thinking about it now. Delayed gratification? Not my thing.

I don't set a lot of store by zodiacs. I don't completely dismiss them either - how arrogant would I be if I presumed something so many believe in to be unworthy of consideration? Lately I've been thinking about the Chinese zodiac and how it relies on the year in which you were born rather than the month in which you were born to determine your characteristics.

For a long time, I thought this made even less sense than a monthly zodiac. But recently I've been thinking about how we label entire generations and assign characteristics to them. Depending on who you talk to, I'm a very young Boomer or a very old GenX-er. You probably got a little stereotypical mental picture when you read each of those terms. For the purposes of this post, stereotyping, something I am usually pretty adamant about my distaste for, will probably be more than a little bit necessary.

Recently I was talking with an old friend from high school. Remember, please, that my dad taught at my high school. That wasn't traumatic or anything. Whatever. (Whatever - the GenX-er in me showing its face...) She said that, upon looking at some pictures of folks from our class as opposed to pictures of folks from classes a few years behind us - a few years younger than us - she felt that our class as a whole was aging more gracefully. I told her my dad would probably have a theory about that. He taught at that school for several decades and he still maintains that our class was the biggest bunch of slackers to ever grace its halls. And while some of us did go on to achieve some level of success in our chosen fields, it really does seem true that we were - if not slackers, certainly late-bloomers. As a whole. Don't start telling me about all of the exceptions. I'm sure there are some. I already said - we're going to be talking in broader stereotypical terms today. But hey - apparently it's manifesting itself in less wrinkles and gray hair. So that's cool, I guess.

So could there be something to it? Could the day, or month, or year, or generation in which you are born have an effect on your lifelong personality and characteristics? Does telling you I'm a Virgo Tiger Boom X-er tell you anything about me? When I look at the characteristics associated with each of these things sometimes I am struck by how well some of them fit. But some of them do not fit at all. I suspect I might have similar results if I compared myself to other signs. Or would I? Does it have, perhaps, less to do with the alignment of the planets and more to do with the world into which we were born and into which we come of age?

And does any of this matter? Really? If it didn't, would we keep trying to find apt labels? Too many questions, not enough answers.

Virgos do tend to over-analyze situations, you know. So I can't help questioning. And Tigers hate to be ignored and like attention. So I can't help blogging about it. I don't really care one way or another if the questions ever actually get answered, though. Gen X attitude coming through. See? It's all starting to make sense...

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future

We put up our Christmas tree yesterday, but it was no big deal. I honestly believe it only made it up this year at all because Olivia was so insistent. My mom called the other day to tell me she'd finally finished her outdoor decorating. I said I had, too. She said, "Oh! What did you do this year?" I said, "I changed my wreath."

I'm finding myself feeling very blue this year and I'm having a really difficult time summoning up my Christmas spirit.

As we put up our little artificial tree yesterday, that spirit became more and more squelched rather than coming more and more alive. I think I know why.

When I was growing up, Christmas was rich with tradition. The tree, for example: We would go to a local tree farm with a saw and traipse through the woods - usually through the snow - to find the perfect tree. Dad would cut it down and we would drag it back to the big shelter where a price was determined. They always had a big fire going in the huge stone fireplace and the smell was divine. The smell was Christmas. We would have glazed donuts and Coke out of a bottle. That's a glass bottle, kids. Dad would have coffee. We would linger there till we were warmed up from our winters walk, then one of the guys who worked there would help dad secure the tree to the top of the car. When we got home, the tree was set up and lights were tested then strung around it. Multi-colored lights with great big bulbs. And so it stood (despite my sister and I jumping at the bit to decorate it) until my uncle and his family would come over that evening for dinner and a tree trimming party. Each ornament was lovingly unwrapped and reminisced over before being carefully placed on the tree. The finishing touch was strands and strands of silver tinsel.

Compare that to us putting up our tree this year: An artificial tree was lugged up from the basement. We had to give up real years ago because all of us suffer from such ridiculous allergies. We can visit homes with real trees, but we have a hard time sleeping in them and breathing at the same time. Breathing is kind of a good thing, so we opted to keep doing it, even if it meant going with a yucky artificial tree. So. So the artificial tree with attached lights was popped into place and plugged in. Sort of like an electric umbrella. It's small and in a corner, so there really was no way for us all to work on decorating it. Obviously Tom and I left that task to the girls, who were much more excited than we were. I kept knitting on the couch, sometimes offering words of encouragement or advice. Tom left the room completely and sat at the computer. They strung bead garland (Liv asked why we were putting Mardi-Gras beads on the tree. Heh!) and, at least this part remained familiar: unwrapped and reminisced about each ornament before placing it on the tree. They did not prioritize the way I would have, so some of my favorite "front and center" ornaments wound up on the back of the tree while precedence was lent to some that, well, let's just say I wouldn't have chosen them to receive such honored spots... but that was the chance I took when I opted to stay back and let the girls have at.

It's up.


When did this happen?

When I was in college, we always got a tree and celebrated together, even though our semester was over well before Christmas. My roomates, myself, and several significant others would get together and trim the tree and have a few cocktails. Or get a quarter keg or something - who can remember exactly? We decorated extensively - I remember there not being a single thing in our little apartment that was not lit up or decorated. It was quite festive, in a tacky overdone sort of way. We taped Santa hats to the photographs of people that decorated our home on less festive occasions. (less festive being relative, of course. We were a celebratory lot. We celebrated Friday pretty faithfully. And we held a big party with invitations, decorations, and champagne when Beth and Phillip got married for the first time on Guiding Light...) When our semester was over and we went to our separate homes for Christmas, we donated our still quite usable tree to a local women's charity to brighten up the lives of the kids there. It wasn't all parties and lights.

When I was single, there were a few years I had to force myself to decorate, but after I did, I was always glad. Sometimes I had to drag the spirit in kicking and screaming, but it always arrived.

This year, I'm not so sure. I'm trying.

Oh man, and as I type this? All this business about spirit and lacking spirit and trying to find spirit has caused a little ear worm to find its way in and now all I can hear in my head is Barry Manilow:

Up, down, tryin' to get the feelin' again
All around tryin' to get the feelin' again
The one that made me shiver,
Made my knees start to quiver...

Sorry about that, yo.

I suffer, you suffer. Could've been worse.

And now I'm sort of smiling, because Barry led me right into "Can't Smile Without You" (and now you're hearing THAT in your head! Hah!)

Maybe Barry will help my heart grow three sizes this year and effectively save Christmas.

As for Christmas future - I hope it's not too late to make some really special Christmas memories with my kids before they go off and start making them for themselves.

Maybe next year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why I *Heart* Facebook (and other confessions)

I didn't go to my last High School Reunion.

Why? Those of you who read my blog with any degree of frequency have probably guessed: It's because I got fat.

What's the first thing one does when one finds oneself in a reunion situation? One does the little inventory. Who got gray, who got bald, who's hotter than their spouse (and whose spouse is hotter than them), and, of course, who got fat. Part of that inventory involves the comparison game. "I look older than her, but younger than her." "I'm fatter than her, but not as fat as her." We've all played it.

That becomes a lot less fun when you become the negative basis for comparison.

So I've avoided it.

But now Facebook has afforded me the opportunity to get to know people from my past in a way that allows me to sidestep superficialities. Sure, there are pictures, but I can pick and choose (and crop, and soften, and...). It has allowed us to reconnect in a way that doesn't begin and end with, "damn, girlfriend got FAT!".

This has been such a thrill for me.

And next time there's a reunion, I'll know there's at least a little group of people who will be happy to see who I am, not just gleeful to have someone against whom to compare themselves positively.

Maybe next time I'll go.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Handmade Holidays

Y'know, there's always a big push this time of year to give handmade gifts for the holidays. Well, in my (perhaps somewhat biased, interest-wise) circle there is, anyway. I always try to do so for all the usual reasons. I make a lot of things myself, and I also try to buy handmade whenever possible.

So this morning, as I'm knitting away - more slowly than usual due to a particularly nasty and painful (and well-earned) callous on my left pointer finger - I sit down to watch last nights episode of my very favorite currently doomed TV show, 'Pushing Daisies'. Perhaps another day I'll lament why every time I fall unconditionally and irrevocably in love (why yes, I saw 'Twilight' with all its promises of unending love last weekend. Why do you ask?) with a TV show it meets an untimely death. But none of that is relevant to this story. What IS relevant, is that one of the characters on 'Pushing Daisies' is a knitter (How much do I love that, you ask? Only a lot, is all.) and, well, long story short (too late for that, perhaps...) a comment is made about (I'm paraphrasing) 90 year old grandmothers making gifts nobody wants.

Now this came on the heels of reading Kal Barteski's [i] Love Life blog this week, where she mentioned wanting to hand paint nesting dolls to resemble their family and give them to her very young daughter with the hope that she'd treasure them into adulthood, but the realization that she'd probably just try to flush them down the toilet.

These two reminders, in such close succession, made me almost want to put down my needles and head to the store. Because, while, to my knowledge no one has ever tried to flush one of my handmade gifts down the toilet, I have seen them show up at garage sales and in Goodwill bins. Ouch. I have come to the realization over the years, that there are people who appreciate items that are handcrafted and people who don't. Often it's a gamble. So I carefully choose my yarns and patterns, trying to find something that I think will not only suit, but please the recipient. I put more hours than folks could possibly imagine into it. I think about the recipient during all those hours of work, so, cliche as it is, there really is love knit in.

When I give that gift, it really is like giving a little bit of myself.

So when those gifts are rejected, I do tend to (rightly or wrongly) take that rejection very personally.

Sometimes I just want to quit. It's so much time, and I don't really save any money. You can almost always buy a decent sweater (scarf, hat, pair of mittens, etc.) for less than the yarn to make it would cost.

But every now and then, I get the reaction I'm seeking, and it's like crack. I know I'll never quit.

Last year I knit a cap for a casual acquaintance. He wore that cap all the time. It made me want to go home and knit him 10 more. I crocheted an afghan for an old high school friend when she got married over 20 years ago. When I ran into her at our 20th high school reunion, she said she still has that afghan over a chair in her family room. Awesome.

So, yeah.

I'm making a lot of gifts this year. Some will inevitably find themselves on the handmade equivalent of the Island of Misfit toys. Most of them, probably (to be realistic). But if even one gets to be a skin horse (come on, admit it, you've read 'The Velveteen Rabbit'. You know what I'm talking about), then it will all be worth it and I'll do it all over again next year.

Bottom line: The bad reputation handmade gifts get through popular culture is ridiculous. Not every handmade sweater is twice as long as it should be with three sleeves. Not every color combination a handcrafter chooses is garish and/or random. And the gamble is worth it for just one of those few and far between wins. Give handmade.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm Thankful for Cliches

I know, I know - a post about thankfulness at the end of November? - does it GET any more cliche?

But here's the thing: cliches become that way for a reason. So is thinking about the things for which I am thankful around Thanksgiving week ground-breaking stuff? No, of course not. But is it relevant? Does it make sense? I think the answer here becomes a resounding yes.

Even the things I'm thankful for are cliche - I'm thankful for my wonderful husband, my beautiful healthy children, my home, my deep friendships (and my shallow ones, too!), and at this point, I know, you're hearing blah, blah blah. This stuff has been said a million times before, by people both more and less eloquent than I.

But there's a reason these things are cited so often by so many people. Ask anyone who's lived without a couple of them.

The love of a significant other, our health, our relationships; all of these things are easy to take for granted. It's a good thing to really think about how important these things are, how much they mean to us, how truly, truly thankful we are for them. If it takes a holiday in November to make us slow down and do it, so be it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

We've Got the Biggest...

Balls of them all.

Because we took our 12 year old to see AC/DC.

Honestly, and I've been thinking about it, I don't recall ever having more fun at a concert. I don't know if it was just that awesome (I suspect it was) or if it's because it was such an amazing bonding experience for us to have with our daughter.

Some highlights:

They started out with a little cartoon video that was really quite good. Then it became kind of overtly sexual (I know! They're usually such masters of subtlety! There was no way I could have anticipated!) and I got a little uncomfortable. Lea was uncomfortable too (between her parents? really?), so that made me feel a little better.

They came out ON and stayed on all night. I mean they put on a SHOW! Watching the stage, I completely forgot how old these guys are (watching the screen, I was pretty much forced to remember). And by the way - does anyone know what Angus Young is on and where I could get some? I mean, the dude is 53 and he just didn't slow down once. It felt like watching someone 1/3 his age. No lie.

When he did his traditional strip tease, Lea turned to me and said, "he's so bony!" At one point she high-fived me. Maybe that was a little wrong... Later, when we could hear a little bit, I said, "I'm sorry your first strip tease was old and bony." Tom added, "It really has nothing to do with age. All guys look like that with their shirts off. It's really not worth pursuing." Tom is a good dad.

At one point early on, Lea did have to ask, "what smells weird?" I'm sure I don't have to tell any of you... Apparently Officer Batman (Our local D.A.R.E. instructor) neglected that particular lesson. Now she knows.

When a whacked out kid was acid-dancing and climbing on the railing, she really couldn't enjoy the concert until security took him out.

Mullet count stood at a mere 2. But they were quite spectacular! Quality over quantity! I expected more. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough.

The music was, as I believe I've already stated, nothing short of amazing. It just never slowed down. I think the memory of triple fist-pumping (Done!Dirt!Cheap!) in unison with my husband and daughter is one I'll cherish for a long time. Something I'll pull out and keep warm with next time Lea decides I'm too horrible for words.

I head banged. And I screamed. TOM danced, for Pete's sake. (Those of you who know him know that doesn't happen just every day.) He didn't head bang. But he should have, cause with his mane, it would've been glorious.

And here's a bit some of you may not understand (and some of you almost undoubtedly will): I did not, for one second, worry about the people behind me having to look at my fat ass. In the past, I have seriously worried about that. People paid good money for this show, I don't want to ruin it for them by making them look at my posterior. So I'd sit, or lean, or stand very very still. Not tonight. My fat ass paid as much for its ticket as any perky ass paid for its. It had just as much right to not only be there, but to dance. FTW.

I'm hoping Tom - or someone - posts a more musical review. I am ridiculously unqualified to do so, so I won't attempt. I can just tell you that I had more fun than ought to be legal. We had both balked at the ticket price, and we both agreed that we'd gotten every penny's worth and then some. During the guitar solo in 'Back in Black' I turned to Lea and said, "Your concert going experiences may never get better than this." She responded, "Yeah, we've just set the bar pretty high."


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maybe it's About Forgiveness

I have not been proud of myself the last couple days.

You won't be proud of me, either.

I haven't been very nice, and I'm sorry about that. I feel bad.

But I decided I need to forgive myself, like I would forgive anyone else I love if they screwed up.

Then I need to give myself a second (third, forty-three millionth) chance and try to do better. Try to learn from my mistakes.

Mistakes like these:

My sisters birthday was Saturday. Now, a little background info to give you some perspective: My sister has a lot of friends and goes out a lot. She has a very active social life. I do not. Her birthday fell on a rare day when I had plans. Lots of plans. Plus a surprise visit in between. So I didn't call her. I didn't think it was any big deal. Figured she wouldn't be home anyway. Figured I wasn't that important (I figure that a lot - maybe something else I need to work on). Figured it was no big deal and I'd catch up with her later in the week and we'd celebrate. I figured wrong. Turns out a lot of people who were important to her figured the same thing. She was so disappointed and sad and I felt horrible for having contributed to it. I didn't think my acknowledgment would've meant anything, but it would've.

Lesson learned from this one: I need to stop bringing my own self esteem issues into everything and pay attention to others feelings and needs. Even if I think my input won't matter. It just might.

My next faux pas was even worse.

Lea has been talking all school year about how they have assigned seating at lunch and she has to sit with "the nerds". Her father and I have talked to her from the beginning about not labeling these boys - about being nice to them - about being compassionate and treating these boys like individuals - about giving them a chance. Sometimes we guilt her into a mumbled "I know" and sometimes she screams back at us, "but they're NERDS!". Yesterday after school she and her friend were talking about these boys again and, again, I interrupted them and told them they weren't being nice or thoughtful. Then her friend said, "But Tammy! He locks his pencil bag!" It was so unexpected that I laughed. I knew it was wrong to laugh, which for some stupid reason made me laugh harder. It turned into that uncontrollable silly laughter usually associated with staying up way past your bedtime. Mid-giggle I started consciously trying to stop, but I just couldn't. I was hysterical. This, of course, reinforced for Lea and her friend everything they'd been feeling all along. That these boys were different, and, worse yet, that they were deserving of ridicule. When I finally calmed myself down (and was overwhelmed with guilt and shame) I talked to both of them about how inappropriate my reaction was and how it really was important for them to be nice to these boys. They both very solemnly agreed. I think they were mocking me.

Lesson learned (hopefully!) from this one: I need to stay on guard. If need to control those reactions and not let my kids see me behaving in such a hypocritical manner. I just - need to be better. I need to practice what I preach.

We all let people down from time to time (including ourselves).

That's the third lesson, I guess. That we screw up. We're human and fallible. We hurt people, even when we don't mean to. All we can do is try to make it better, try to minimize (if not eliminate) future incidents, and, when we make mistakes, learn to forgive ourselves and keep on trying.

I feel a little better.

But not a lot.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dear Mr. Michaels

Lorne, that is.

Anyone who has had any sort of in depth conversation with me has probably heard me quote something from SNL. I'm pretty sure I've inserted SOMEthing into every conversation I've ever had. With anyone. Ever. If that's an exxageration, well excuuuuuse me!

I've been proudly on board since day one and I've stuck it out through the downswings and reveled in the upswings. And I may be in a minority when I say, even the universally agreed upon low points had some redeeming qualities.

Last Saturday, Justin Timberlake did a surprise cameo. This was not a low point. Not at all.

Now here's the thing: I don't love Justin Timberlake. So anyone who is currently singing (out loud or just in your head) "Tammy and Justin, sitting in a tree..." can just stop it right now. 'Cause it's not funny. It's like - Horatio Sanz levels of unfunny. I don't like his music and I've never really seen his serious acting. But when he's on SNL? Oh my goodness. This week he had me laughing so hard I couldn't see straight. I had to re-watch his Weekend Update sketch because I was laughing so hard the first time I missed good stuff. He is just gold on this show. Gold I say! A match made in heaven.

So. If I were the queen of SNL - here's how I'd distribute hosting duties for a 4 week month:

Week 1: Justin Timberlake
Week 2: Alec Baldwin
Week 3: a former cast member
Week 4: some flavor of the month hawking their latest project

I'd ditch athletes altogether. Maybe I'd allow them to do cameos sometimes. I don't know. I'd have to think about that on a case by case basis. Peyton Manning was pretty funny... Politicians doing relevant cameos will always be welcome.

I think it would work! And I'd love to see former cast members. There sure are enough of them, enjoying various degrees of success.

Well, I'm not the queen of SNL, of course, so I don't reckon we'll be seeing my plan go into action any time soon. And it's just possible that Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Baldwin wouldn't be as enthusiastic about performing monthly hosting duties as I would be about sitting on my couch watching them perform them.

So I'll content myself with whatever the real king of SNL sees fit to offer me. And I'll continue to get warm and fuzzy every time I see the Mr. Bill Mastercard commercial.

Also: I mourned Gilda longer and harder than I mourned a few people I actually knew. Maybe I should've saved that for Post Secret...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Day the Music Most Assuredly Did Not Die

So today was the beginning of a week chock full of live music. 7 days, 6 concerts, 3 genres. This is usually summer stuff, so it's pretty swell to be enjoying this much good music in the midst of the nasty cold, wet, dreary weather.

First up: PBJ&Jazz. Let me take a moment to get you up to speed. Tom, he loves him some jazz. Like any of us who become passionate about something, he wants to turn everyone else on to it. I've always had a soft spot for jazz, so it was easy with me. It's been a harder road with the girls. Liv has remained pretty indifferent. But Liv doesn't like concerts. She wants to play, not watch others play. (I'm reminded of a fisherman I once knew who likened watching fishing shows to watching porn: he liked DOING both of the activities represented, but got NOTHING out of watching other people do them). Lea, on the other hand, has made no bones about the fact that she does NOT like jazz. Not a bit of it. No redeeming qualities, in her book.

So these are the girls and the attitudes we're dealing with.

Tom hears about this PBJ&Jazz program. His bass instructor is playing and he figures, what a great kid-friendly environment in which to introduce the girls to real jazz. We were promised sandwiches, cookies, juice, and an afternoon of kid-friendly jazz. Tom gets both girls to agree to attend (he must've caught them at a weak moment). When they tried to change their minds, I talked to them together and individually, explaining how important it was to their dad and convincing them to give it a chance. An hour or two out of their lives.

As we were pulling into the parking lot, I began to feel uneasy. There were a LOT of toddlers and pre-schoolers heading into the building, but I didn't see ANY older kids. Certainly no other pre-teens. Oh boy. What have we done?

When we got to the door, Tom asked the woman taking the cover charge if this was going to be an appropriate concert for older kids. She assured us that the music would not be watered down and that they would love it. She was unaware of their initial reservations and of how hard Tom and I had had to work to talk them into going in the first place.

To be fair, everything we were promised was delivered. There were sandwiches, cookies, juice, and jazz that had not been watered down. So we can't actually claim to have been mislead.

But it was SO geared towards little little ones.

About half way through the second song, Lea remarked to me, "I notice a lot of the adults have coffee..." Me: "Would you like coffee?" Lea: "Can I HAVE some?" Me: "Yep" We head over to the snack table and I pour about 1/4 cup coffee and add about an equal amount of cream and a couple packs of sugar. (I know, right?) She's pleased to have some "adult cred" and I figure no harm has been done. She comments several times on how good the coffee is here. But less than 5 minutes pass before her sister accidentally knocks the coffee out of her hands and onto the floor. And me. And her sister. And her sisters favorite jacket. Liv cries silently while Tom and Lea clean up the mess. (Thank goodness I'd had the foresight to only pour 1/2 cup total...)

Shortly after this Liv is still sobbing and I'm somehow holding 2 coats while both girls lean on me and Tom, bless his heart, says, "maybe we oughtta cut out early".

The upside of the whole thing was, though, that both girls "kinda liked" the music and Lea admitted that there might be something to it, even if it wasn't My Chemical Romance.

Win or fail? Hard to say. (Especially since I'm way too old to be using either of those terms in their current incarnation. They must be 5 minutes ago. Wait. That probably is, too. Shit.) I think we'll call that one a draw.

Next up? The grand opening of the Rock Factory. If you've seen School of Rock, you know a little bit about how the Rock Factory works. Kids not only take lessons individually, but are also taught the finer points of being in a band. They learn to play together and really put on a show. They also learn a little bit about writing and performing their own songs. It's a neat program. The program has existed for a couple years, but today was the grand opening of their own digs. They're also featuring artwork throughout the facility done by local high school students. So it's being billed as an art gallery, rehearsal hall, and performance venue. Pretty heady stuff for such young kids!

Our friends daughter has been involved with this project for quite some time and today she debuted a song she wrote. She is a talented guitarist and bassist, but has lately turned her attention to vocals, and I gotta tell you - she rips 'em up. Her voice has sounded great since day one, but her stage presence is really coming into its own. And she's starting to master the rock screams, which I've gotta admit, I don't hate. And the song she wrote? Only awesome.

Lea and Liv love going to these shows - and why not? It's kids they can relate to getting to be on stage as rock stars. Liv was particularly impressed tonight and talked about it ad infinitum in the car afterwards and at dinner. She especially liked the drummer, who she enthusiastically described as, "both loud AND fast!" If there are two things she likes in a drummer, it's volume and speed.

This one was made of win. No question.

With barely a break in between, Tom and I dropped the girls off at home and headed to BoMA to hear the Gene Bertoncini Trio, consisting of Gene Bertoncini, Doug Richeson and Dane Richeson. This was a really neat venue. BoMA is an old church which has been re-purposed into an upscale restaurant, various bars, and at least one dance floor. We've seen this trio many times before and have always been impressed. Doug is Tom's bass instructor and we really enjoy listening to him every chance we get. Dane is his brother and he is a rather amazing percussionist. We've seen Gene play a few times before and we always enjoy his mad guitar skillz as well as his utterly enchanting stage presence. Genes style is a little more romantic than I'm used to hearing. What I'm used to hearing is whatever Tom plays, and his tastes tend to run a little more towards hard be-bop. I've probably misused a couple terms. On accounta the fact that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

I don't know music, but I know what I like.

And this was another one for the win column.

Draw, win, win and the opportunity to hear 3 bands in one day. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One For The History Books

This isn't the first time I've lived through a moment of historical significance.

I was a baby when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As I was a baby, I don't have any true recollection of this, but my mother has recounted the story enough times for me to know I was at the pediatricians office wearing a yellow dress.

I clearly remember the day the Vietnam War ended. My mother hugged my sister and I and told us it was the first day in our lives that our nation was at peace and that we should be grateful. We didn't quite grasp the fullness of that statement at the time, but we were grateful. Obviously it had some impact, since the moment is such a salient memory for me so many years later.

I remember watching the first moon landing on TV. I was at my Aunt Jennie's house. I remember going outside to look at the moon to see if I couldn't see that flag I'd just watched the astronauts plant on it. (I couldn't, and was very disappointed.)

I remember the day of the 1977 Johnstown Flood. Although more localized history, it still had that feeling. I knew I was living through something important.

And who of us can forget where we were or what we were doing when that first plane hit the Twin Towers on 9/11?

And here we are - collectively living through a moment that will be highlighted in the history books of our children's children. It is almost surreal. President Elect Barack Obama. I am so hopeful - so pleased.

A couple years ago I was visiting a friend in Pennsylvania. When our bartender found out I was from Ohio, she said to me, "Ohio? Thanks for ruining my LIFE in the last election." I assured her that I had stood in the rain in the dark at 6 am with my kids in tow (to see democracy in action) just to try NOT to ruin her life, but that it hadn't gone very well. I want to find my way back to that bar today so I can proudly proclaim, "I'm from OHIO!" Maybe she'd buy me a shot.

I am so very excited to watch this play out over the next several years.

So take a moment and raise that virtual shot glass with me: To change!

Friday, October 31, 2008

No Mere Mortal Can Resist...

My sister is a former teacher (like me!) and sometimes still gets the itch to create a fun activity for kids. Both of us used to scratch that itch by staging elaborate themed birthday parties for our kids, but our kids have gotten to the age where they like to plan the party activities themselves. I've responded to that by feeling like I've outlived my usefulness. My sister responded by staging Halloween fun for her neighborhood kids during Trick or Treat.

A couple years ago she did some pretty traditional haunted garage stuff. She got a good response and decided to go further the next year. So last year she set up a "Roadkill Cafe" (soylent green is people, ya'll!). It was much more elaborate than the haunted garage and was a huge hit. Interestingly enough, THIS year I noticed the Halloween shops were selling backdrops and props specifically geared towards spooky restaurants/cafes. My sister - always one step ahead.

This year, she decided to stage a Haunted Hospital. Unfortunately, she thought Trick or Treat would be held on Thursday night and booked a flight out of town Friday. Trick or Treat is Friday. So she was left with the choice of abandoning the project in which she'd already invested no small amount of money and creative energy or doing it on Thursday - the night before Trick or Treat.

Lea at the exit

She opted for Thursday and the concept grew. Now it was no longer a quick walk through for Trick or Treaters, but a big ole Halloween open house/party complete with games, crafts, music, karaoke (now that's scary ANY night) and maybe a little dancing.

Liv and some friends getting ready to party

She distributed invitations throughout her neighborhood and her kids and mine invited their friends.

The stage was set. Games and crafts in the front yard, haunted hospital in the garage. They entered a waiting room complete with gory gruesome patients in need and a nasty Nurse Ratchett type keeping things under control and denying treatment (I was a sort of zombified shuffling crazy person; Lea was the nasty nurse). From there they were led to the operating room where an unsuspecting patient received a surprise amputation. Tom wielded the axe. It was all very creepy. And a lot of fun.


My handsome hubby. I got to go home with him. Jealous?

My sister getting ready to hack off a little sumpin' sumpin'.

Of course there isn't a picture of me. There's never a picture of the person with the camera. But believe me when I say, I looked awesome. And I got to do the Time Warp. Again.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's Okay, I'm With the Band

I always figured I'd marry a musician. Everyone has a "type". Often that "type" is based on physical attributes. Sometimes attitudes. Whatever. The heart wants what it wants. Resistance is futile.

I liked guys with musical talent. Physically there was no defining factor that turned me on. But a guy who could make music? Hell yes.

Now after a bad experience or two (what's that you say? musicians don't always make the best boyfriends? really?) I did try to resist. But, see above, resistance is futile. The heart wants what it wants.

When I met Tom, I knew he was a musician, but his "playing out" days were behind him and he just noodled around from time to time. Sometimes he'd play tapes of his glory days for me and I'd catch a little glimpse of - something - in his eye. Regret? Longing? But it would pass.

After we had the kids, he sold a lot of his instruments and equipment. We needed the space and the money and he wasn't really playing anymore, anyway. It didn't feel like regret - it felt like moving on.

A couple years ago the bug bit him again.

The girls were older and starting to become interested in playing instruments themselves. The time seemed right. He's documented this journey in blog form, so I'll stop my back story there.

Flash forward to the present.

Last night Tom played out for the first time in something like 20 years (not counting orchestra performances and jazz camp performances; orchestra because it's a full orchestra and jazz camp because it's a closed group).

He played with the band Billy Two Shoes. Again, I won't go far into the history here - that's his and theirs to tell. They define their style as "Americana" and I suppose that's as good a term as any. I've never been good at labeling genres. I will say this, though: these guys are the real deal. The songwriting is nothing short of amazing and the musicianship is excellent. And they all make it look casual, easy and fun. This, of course, makes it easy and fun to watch and listen to. And as a bonus, they're just really swell guys. Dig this: they don't keep a penny that they make for themselves. Everything they earn through gigs and CD sales goes directly to food pantries. How patently awesome is that?

Watching Tom play was almost surreal. I've gone to hear a lot of music with him over the years and a couple times I found myself looking right at him, yet having to stop myself from reaching over to tap his knee or shoulder when something really moved me. I'm used to having his knee and shoulder right next to me, not up on the stage. But up on the stage is exactly where his knees and shoulders belonged. All day I had been nervous for him - 20 years away is an awfully long time - but he looked so completely comfortable and happy. Warmed the cockles of my cold dark heart.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Live, From Johnstown PA, It's Saturday Night!

My parents - my mother in particular - had decided not to vote this year. Mom was having a hard time making her mind up and they were going to be visiting us on election day and she thought she'd let the deadline for an absentee ballot pass. She was relieved. I was a little distressed.

Then, this past weekend on SNL, my hometown of Johnstown, PA was featured in a not very flattering light.

This has apparently caused such outrage in my town that folks - like my mom - who were committed to being non-committal - have decided that it's too important to let it slide. Mom found out it wasn't too late to vote absentee after all, and she did. I don't know how she voted and I don't need to. I hope she agreed with me, but if she didn't, she needed to voice that, too.

Isn't it astounding that a late night comedy sketch show that I'm pretty sure my mom has never watched an episode of in its entirety provided the impetus for her (and who knows how many others) to go out and vote?

I'm not sure how I feel about this...

I love Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I think they're brilliant. It astounds me, though, that their influence would be that far-reaching. Like I said, my mom never saw the show. She just experienced the outrage.

Ah well, I suppose for whatever reason the result was good. Mom and Dad voted after they'd consciously decided not to.

Use whatever motivation you need to get out there and vote next week, too!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Feels Like the First Time

This mornings channel surfing found Lea and I landing on "Carrie". It had commercial interruptions and was edited for TV. Even given those two undesirable and annoying facts, it was really good.

Really, really good.

That's one of those movies that I just forget how darn good it is until I see it again. Just really, really well done. And it's stood the test of time - perhaps becoming even more relevant rather than less. The only "dated" aspect that took Lea out of it for a moment was the 70's gym shorts and tube socks. It wasn't enough of a distraction to keep her out of it for long. The music, the use of slow motion, the dreamy quality, the colors - my goodness, it all just adds up to a darn near perfect movie. I almost added "for its genre", but decided that qualification wasn't really necessary. Good is good.

I love when that happens.

You know it's good. You say it's good anytime anyone brings it up; then when you see/hear/read it again, it just knocks you on your ass the same way it did the first time.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" does that to me every. single. time.

The Philly skyline (driving in from the west). Takes my breath away.

"Big Fish".

What could you see/hear/read a thousand times and still have it feel fresh and wonderful every time? I'm not talking nostalgia here. There are any number of songs/movies that make me feel all warm and fuzzy because of the associations I've consciously and subconsciously made with them. I'm talking about the stuff that's really just. that. good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mixed Emotions

When I was a sophomore in high school, some 30ish years ago, I earned a letter jacket for marching band. I loved that jacket. I remember being a freshman and just longing for one. I wore it quite regularly sophomore, junior and senior year. It went to college with me, but what was a symbol of growing up and inclusion in high school became a symbol of high school past rather than college present.

The jacket retired to my parents basement. It remained there until we bought our first house, at which point it retired to our basement.

Until today.

My girls found the jacket and asked if they could try it on.

I thought it would be cute.

It was, but not in the way I expected.

Behold, my baby girl in my once beloved jacket:

She looks good, right?

She asked if she could keep it as her winter jacket. She hugged it and petted it and pretty much treated it the way I did the first day it came into my possession. And she needed a new winter jacket for Pete's sake. We'd planned to shop for one this weekend. Win/win, right? She gets a jacket she loves, my jacket gets to be worn again (with the appropriate amount of love and respect), and - bonus - I save a chunk of change by not needing to buy her a new one.

So why am I so sad?

Well, I remember this jacket as a rite of passage, almost. It indicated to the world (in my mind, at least) that I wasn't a kid anymore. It was a symbol of a new stage of maturity and I wore it proudly. Mostly to the mall.

I suppose seeing it on Olivia forces me to realize in a very tangible way that the torch is being passed.

Enjoy the ride, baby girl.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ooooooo Kids - This is a Scary One!

My daughters have been begging to go to Haunted Hoochie. Recently I let my firm "no" turn into an "I won't take you, but you can take it up with your father", which turned into their father allowing Lea to go with a friend last night.

Lea called me from her friends house, after the whole Hoochie experience. She sounded pretty shaken up. She said, "Mom, I don't think you should let Liv go. Can I go again?"

My aversion to haunted house/designed to scare stuff goes way back.

When I was 10 or 11, I was a big fan of Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn. When a family vacation found us spending the night in Hannibal Missouri, the home of Mark Twain and the setting for my beloved stories, my parents had no trouble indulging me with visits to Tom Sawyer's fence, Mark Twain's homestead, and the Becky Thatcher house. They did not, however, want to take me into the Haunted House on Hill Street. I was too young, I'd be scared. My sister was 2 years younger than me. Definitely too scary. But I begged and I pleaded and I pleaded and I begged and I showed the brochures to my sister who agreed it looked like just the coolest thing ever and she joined me in the pleading and begging and my mother eventually caved. Dad didn't. He didn't approve, and he wouldn't go. If she wanted to take two small children into a walk-through haunted house, she was on her own. She looked at our sincere pleading little faces and decided she could handle it. Foolish woman! As soon as that first puff of cold air hit our ankles, my sister and I were scared too stiff to move. My mother was able to talk them into letting us come out the way we went in, but there would be no refund. My sister and I cried and my father went into "I told you so" mode and we lost a nice chunk of change. That's what she got for being a nice guy.

A year or two later, I decided it would be a good idea to read "The Exorcist". My mother did not agree. She forbid it. You will not read that book and you will not bring that book into this house. The foot had spoken. Except my 12 year old self thought I was a little smarter than the owner of the foot and I knew what was good for me better than she did. Ahem. So a battered paperback copy was sneakily transported from a friends home to their bookbag to my bookbag. And I read it cover to cover. And I didn't sleep properly for 2 weeks. My mother, for the first time in my life, locked her bedroom door. No crying to her and interrupting her sleep because I thought I knew better. Worst punishment ever.

When I was 9 - 9, folks - making my sister, if you're following along - 7! - My parents, along with my aunt and uncle and 2 cousins all loaded into my uncle's Dodge Charger and headed to the drive-in. Ok, first off, do the math, that's 4 adults and 4 kids in a Charger similar to this one. The grown-ups wanted to see Play it Again Sam. And really, what 9 year old isn't a big Woody Alan fan, eh? So, ok, not necessarily an appropriate choice, but whatever. We unloaded the lawn chairs and the kids set them up in the parking space next to the car. Can you say white trash? I thought you could. Now anyone who remembers drive-ins also remembers, no doubt, that they were always double features. On this particular night, the second film was (the not yet cult classic) Let's Scare Jessica to Death. Also, please recall, that in those days you didn't listen to the movie through your car stereo - you listened to it through little speakers that you attached to your window. Well, at a particularly scary moment in the movie, I panicked. I wanted my mom. I screamed and ran for the car. Except I was disoriented and I ran for the wrong car, knocking their speaker out of their window at a particularly tense point in the movie and causing them to scream. At this point my mother is screaming, too, because she realizes it's me causing all this ruckus. So I'm screaming, man in the car is screaming and Mom is screaming. This disruption to the movie causes all the cars around us to start blowing their horns and - well - yelling more than screaming.

I just don't do well with scary.

One more story.

Fast forward to my late teens.

Where I grew up, everyone knew the legend of Becky's Grave. It was something everyone always talked about, but one night we decided it was time to pay old Becky a visit. There was a carload of us, and, yes, it's true: we'd been drinking a little. Maybe a lot. Probably a lot. We parked the car, and I'll never forget it - the radio was playing Alice Cooper: Dead Babies. We left it on while we went trekking through the woods. I was starting to get a little creeped out, as one will when one is pursuing a ghost in the woods on a cool Autumn night with a couple few beers in one. Then, just as one of my friends proclaimed: "there it is!" I tripped into a little ditch. I am so completely freaked out at this point, I don't know which way is up, and as I try to pull myself to an upright position, it seems that the roots on the ground have conspired to keep me down. Why yes, this was around the time Evil Dead came out. Why do you ask?

So, yeah. I'm older and wiser now and would really rather live without the thrills. But I understand why my girls want to pursue them. Lucky for them, they have a more-than-willing dad.

Happy Halloween, (just a little bit early), ya'll.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lucky Number Thirteen

Thirteen years ago today I married the love of my life.Celebrating our anniversary last Friday at The Wine Guy in Pickerington, Ohio

I often tell people I'm the most happily married person I know. In thirteen years we have rarely disagreed, much less fought. I think after thirteen years, the fact that we love each other is implied, but the fact that we really, really like each other is what keeps things alive.

Tom is witty, kind, gentle, smart, funny and talented. And, clearly, still very darn good looking. Is it any wonder I still look forward to the moment he walks in the door at the end of the work day every. single. day?

So, a big Pffft! to those who said it wouldn't last!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Opening my Mind

I consider myself to be an open-minded person. I pride myself on it, actually. But what does it mean to be open-minded?

Surely it means that I would never deem myself fit to judge or stereotype someone based on their race, religion (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, gender, gender orientation, national origin, age, size, etc. And, for the most part, I think I live up to that.

But I've realized, in this ugly election year (as if there's ever been one that wasn't), that my open-mindedness wasn't extending to people whose political beliefs differed from my own. It's so easy to get caught up in the "us versus them" mentality associated with politics.

I suppose, if I wanted to be easy on myself, I could say that I believe all of the aspects of self listed in the second paragraph are things over which we have little or no control, whereas our political affiliation is something that we choose for ourself. So I won't judge you on something you were born to, but I guess it's ok to judge you for the decisions you've made.

But is it?

A well known quote from Aristotle states that "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it". I've always liked that quote. It fed nicely into my open-minded ethic.

Recently, however, I found myself embroiled in a couple pretty hot political debates - a place I didn't want to be. And while my worthy opponents were spitting the word "liberal" like it was the most loathsome cuss one could ever possibly utilize, I was mentally spitting the word "republican" with equal venom. We were both being quite unfair. The gentlemen who had engaged me in this lively debate were asking me to speak for the whole liberal movement. I can only speak for myself. But it wasn't only them. I was throwing around some ill-advised "you republicans are all the same" speak myself. If only in my (maybe not so open after all) mind.

It got ugly fast, because neither side was willing to entertain a thought without accepting it.

So I'm making a vow to be truly open-minded. I'm going to listen rationally to the arguments of people with whom I fundamentally disagree. I'm not going to have the knee-jerk reaction that everyone who doesn't see things the way I do is a narrow-minded idiot. (this is going to be difficult for me - so wish me luck and have patience with me when I inevitably fail once or twice)

I had sort of built a little cocoon for myself. I've surrounded myself (for the most part) with like-minded people. I seek confirmation of my own opinion. I hang around with people who support my views, I watch news and entertainment that skews liberal (fair and balanced is a myth), I read books and articles that support my opinions and seek blogs that back me up.

I need to rectify that, if I am to truly be able to claim that I am open-minded. I'm not likely to change my mind about anything. My personal beliefs are pretty strong. But I'm going to be less dismissive of opposing viewpoints. I'm going to be brave enough to entertain thoughts without accepting them.

I'm Tammy Howard, and I approve of this message.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Eyes of Love

Liv's school had a dog show today and Liv asked me to enter Molly.

I was reluctant. Molly is relatively old. Sometimes she is hard to handle. She gets overwhelmed. She doesn't do any tricks and she doesn't really behave very well.

But Liv was adamant.

And I had nothing else to do.

When she saw me getting the leash down in the middle of the afternoon, she got very excited. She hopped into the car with the exuberance of a puppy.

We arrived at the school as other parents were beginning to arrive with their dogs. She hasn't spent a lot of time around other dogs, so this disoriented her quite a bit. We had to go into the school to sign her in. There was a lot of barking (not Molly), jumping (miraculously not Molly) and butt sniffing (not Molly. Ok, maybe a little bit Molly). Molly just whimpered and wrapped her leash around my calves. She clearly just didn't know what to do with herself.

After we signed in, we were directed out the back door to the playground to wait for our kids. As we walked out the door, other kids were still out at recess. They MOBBED the dogs - the kids just went nuts. Molly had hands all over her and she was happy as a daisy. She tried to greet each one of them.

We mingled with the other dogs and their owners while we waited for our kids to come out for the dog show.

Liv came out and made a beeline for Molly. She fell to the ground hugging her and kissing her. Molly, by this point, was shaking like a leaf and crying. Liv assured her that she was the cutest and best dog there. All around us, dogs were practicing their tricks. Molly was whining and getting her own paw caught in her leash.

The regular cast of characters were all there; the folks I expect to see anytime I go to a function at my kids' schools. The bevy of soccer moms with their bob cuts and their big sunglasses paying more attention to each other than to the kids (or the dogs, for that matter), the asshole with a bluetooth conducting business throughout the whole event (so very important, don'tcha know?), the indulgent grandparents who think the sun rises and sets by their grandbabies, you know the crew.

The show goes off without a major glitch.

The dogs are being judged in four categories: biggest, smallest, best trick, and cutest. Molly, a nine year old Golden Retriever with no discernible talents didn't stand a chance. But Liv didn't see it that way. She told Molly, "that Chihuahua is the smallest and Bear (a St. Bernard, maybe?) is the biggest. You didn't do a trick. But you are DEFINITELY the cutest." As they announce third cutest and second cutest, she whispered to Molly, "next is gonna be you!" I looked around at all the puppies and the well-groomed designer dogs. Then I looked at old Molly, finally relaxing in Liv's arms and thought, if there were a prize for most cherished, she just might have a shot.

Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs

I just had the most amazing lunch. All by myself.

I mention this, because as I was enjoying it - savoring it, even - I thought about how different that lunch would've been if I'd prepared it for my family.

First, the food: I sauteed about 1/4 of a thinly sliced vidalia and a thinly sliced cored apple. Then I used that mixture to make a sandwich with brie and whole wheat bread (we swear by Daily Bread - a local bakery. Our whole wheat bread is comprised of stone ground whole wheat flour, water, molasses, yeast and salt. Try to find an ingredient list THAT simple in the grocery store...) I lightly grilled that sandwich to melt the cheese and served it with a side of whole cranberry sauce.

Yum, right?

This is how I imagine the same meal going if I'd served it to my family:

Tom: Can I have one without onions?

Lea: Oh, GROSS! Onions and apples? GAWD, Mom! And what is up with the cranberries? When you said we'd be having cranberries I thought we'd have those good sliced ones like Memaw makes. (Note to you, gentle reader: You know, the jellied ones that slide out of the jar with a sickening "thawonk".) This looks gross. It looks like puke.

Tom: Don't talk to your mother that way!

Liv: I'll try it, but it doesn't look too good.

Lea: I'm not gonna try it. (Pushes it across the table. Begins to cry.)

Tom: No cranberries for me. Do we have chips?

Lea: Can't you ever just make a normal grilled cheese sandwich?

Me: You mean with processed cheese food?

Lea: (nodding enthusiastically) Yes! And would it kill you to buy white bread once in a while?

Tom: Don't talk to your mother like that.

Liv: I don't like this. Can I have cereal?

Lea: Don't hog all the milk! I want cereal, too.

Tom: (having dissected sandwich into neat little piles of stuff he won't eat. The chips will be gone.) Thanks, hon. That was great. (He'll have yogurt and maybe a little cereal himself as soon as a respectable amount of time has passed)

And this, my friends (that's me going all McCain on you. I'm Tammy Howard, and I approve of this post), is why I hate cooking, even though I think I'm pretty good at it. This is why on any given day, I'd rather go out to eat than cook for my family.

And this is why a disproportionate amount of my weekly food budget goes to cereal and milk.

I should give up and just give them what they want. But now that Liv has declared herself to be a vegetarian, there is only one meal the whole family agrees upon (Vegetarian taco salad. Our version features Frito's. So, yeah.) We have that about twice a month. Every single other day SOMEone is going to be unhappy with SOMEthing and I am going to be pissy about having gone to the trouble of preparing a meal (with love!) only to be rejected.

Fondue, tonight. Cross your fingers for me.