Monday, September 29, 2008

Do You Wanna Get Rocked?

Kelley over at Magneto Bold Too! issued a challenge to all of her readers to write a post explaining just how much they rock.

I know I do, because once or twice when students finished writing their course reviews, they left the following two words in the comments section: Tammy Rocks!

I also know because every time I say "yes" to my kids they say, "You rock, Mom!" (never mind what they say when I say no)

I asked my eldest this morning why I rocked ('cause I'm needy like that). She said I rock because I let her "listen to music with bad words in it". I'll accept any nominations for that Mother of the Year award now...

I asked my youngest if she rocked and she said "yep". I asked why and she said, "I don't know. I just do" I asked, "Do I rock?" ('cause I'm still needy like that) and she said, "yep". I asked why and she said, "'Cause you're my mom, silly". Then she kissed me and headed off for school.

So I was left alone with my thoughts. And I thought to myself (I thought): I rock, I know I rock, my rockitude has been confirmed, but I don't really know WHY I rock.

It felt selfish, self-involved and vaguely masturbatory to devote as much time to the question as I did, but doesn't that sort of describe blogging anyway? This is what I came up with:

I rock because I'm a good mom. Not a perfect mom, not a mom who doesn't make mistakes, but a good mom.

I rock because I'm open-minded.

I rock because I try my best to be fair. (and honest, and trustworthy, and brave and prepared...)

I rock because my kids and former students say I rock.

I rock because I know enough to be good to myself (*waves to Karen* - loving the coffees!) sometimes.

For these reasons and others I rock and I rock hard. Feel free to confirm!

Why do you rock?

Sunday, September 28, 2008


You know that moment when you go to a live show, that moment when the lights go down and you know the show you've been waiting for is gonna happen RIGHT NOW? At concerts that's the moment when you SCREAM REAL LOUD!!! At musicals and plays and ballets and the opera (yes, I've been to ballets and the opera. You don't know everything about me, smartypants) it's that moment when your throat gets tight and your eyes start to burn and you hope you don't whimper out loud. You know that moment. It's a wonderful, almost magical moment - so full of both anticipation and the release of anticipation.

I had that moment yesterday when we went to see "Choke" and the trailers were over (I do love me some trailers! Is that so wrong? "Milk" - welcome to my eagerly anticipated list!) and I'd been warned about not providing my own soundtrack (which is fine and all, but I miss the dancing snack foods and the hot dog jumping into the bun...) - then - opening credits. The movie I'd been eagerly (major understatement) anticipating since I learned of its existence was getting ready to start. Not a clip, not a trailer, I was gonna spend the next hour and a half with Victor Mancini.

My boundless love for Chuck Palahniuk has been well documented. I went into this movie prepared to love it, and I did. I might not have been completely unbiased.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. I knew the movie was opening this weekend and - since it was such a huge deal for me - I assumed it was a huge deal. Being the center of the universe that I am and all. Ahem. So I was surprised to learn that it wasn't playing at my local multi-plex and that I was going to have to go a little closer to the city to see it. Not a huge deal, but telling. I could have, however, seen "The House Bunny" at my local theater. So. Yeah. Whatever.

As we were driving to the theater I had mixed feelings about realizing that something I knew I was gonna dig so much was not gonna play well to the mainstream. On one hand, I was pissed at the world for not grokking Chuck's greatness and the inevitable greatness attached to anything based on his work. (Goodness, I'm veering into crazy stalker fan-lady territory. And I get on my daughter about her obsession with all things "Twilight"...) On the other hand, it made me cherish it even more. I think the easiest comparison would be this: You fall in love with an obscure little band. When they make it big (or even kind of make it a little) you get very proprietary - I knew them before it was cool to like them. You get a little snobbish and smug about it. Admit it - we all do it.

And that's how cult-classics are born. Songs, bands, movies. I wish I could say I was a "Rocky Horror" fan from the beginning, but it already had a full-fledged cult following when I jumped on board. I'd still feel justified wearing an "I was doing this before you were born" shirt to a show, though. There's something snobbish and smug about that, too, no?


That's what I realized this fucked-up-Chuck stuff is destined to be. His official fan site is even called "The Cult". That should've tipped me off...

Soooo we get to the theater. We have the kids with us, "Igor" was playing at the same time and had a similar running time, so we sent them off to that while we went to finally see "Choke". You should've seen the usher crack up when the 4 of us walked in, happy family that we are, and he looked at our tickets with our quite different destinations printed on them. We just may have made his day.

Anyway, I'm not a movie reviewer, so I won't attempt a serious review. It didn't follow the book faithfully, but it hit all the notes I needed it to hit. And one thing I consistently love about a smaller indie movie, as opposed to a big blockbuster (which I could've seen at my local theater) is how REAL the people look. The cast was attractive, but in the way people you see on the street are attractive, not the way we expect Hollywood movie stars to be attractive. I remember "Se7en" losing a little something for me because of the perfection of Brad and Gwyneth's teeth. I could picture a blue collar young couple being good looking, certainly, but there's no way in hell a blue collar young couple had teeth like that. But I digress. (what? me? no!)

I loved the movie and was sad when it was over. YM, however, MV. It's not for everyone. Sometimes I picture Chuck putting all of these various life experiences in a hat and then pulling them out randomly and saying, "I'm gonna write a book about this". If that were the case with "Choke" some of those slips of paper drawn from the hat may have read: sex addiction (depicted a little too graphically for some, perhaps), colonial reenactments (interestingly enough, something that came up last time Tom and a couple of our friends and I were trying to decide what Christopher Guest's next mockumentary should cover), dementia, cloning, grifters...

It's ugly and dirty and sad and funny and just a little teeny tiny bit sweet every now and then. I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.

Now let's bring some of those other Chuck novel to movie rumors to fruition. "Survivor"? (I don't think it's too soon anymore) "Invisible Monsters"? (tricky, that one, but that's what I thought about "Fight Club" and that didn't turn out too bad...) "Rant"? "Diary"? I've heard all the rumors. Come on, Hollywood, make it so. I'm jonesin' big time for my next fix already...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Don't Go Changin' to Try to Please Me

In my last post I talked about treasuring the various stages of childhood for what they are, and it got me to thinking about how it doesn't stop there. We need to treasure the various stages of adulthood for what they are, as well. Our little girls are trying to look like they're 20 and our older women are trying to look like they're 20 and I just sort of had to pause and think: what's so great about 20?

I suppose in your early 20's your skin is at its nicest. Acne is (for the most part) in the past and wrinkles are (for the most part) in the future. Your body tends to behave better - maintaining a reasonable weight is easier for most of us. It certainly was for me. But these are small things, in the grand scheme, and it seems so odd that we would value that era so much. Let me clarify. We certainly SHOULD value that era, as we value any other. I guess I just don't understand why we see it as an ideal we must try to reach when we're obviously much younger or much older. It's a stage, like any other.

We work so hard to maintain that illusion of youth.

A few months back, Tom and I took Olivia to a concert at The Columbus Music Hall (RIP) to hear Ralph Sharon (longtime pianist for Tony Bennett) play. As a pianist, we thought it would be a treat for her. The crowd skewed older, with Tom and I definitely being among the youngest. Olivia didn't like it at all. When I took her to the restroom, she confessed to me that she felt out of place. She said, "Look around. You have brown hair. Dad has brown hair. I have brown hair. Everyone else here has white hair except for that one lady with red hair and I don't know who she thinks she's kidding."

Setting my child's apparent ageism aside for a moment, I focused in on the end of her statement.

Who, indeed, does she think she's kidding?

A couple weeks ago at a festival we saw a guy with a thick gray ponytail. Kudos on the gray hair, but - he had said hair parted neatly about an inch above his right ear.

Who does he think he's kidding?

I started thinking about designers and fashion critics who describe certain pieces or styles as "slimming".

Who do they think they're kidding?

I bought into that for years. I know all the "rules". Here's the thing: so does everyone else. I recall one day about a decade and a half ago. I had the same figure type that I have now, it was just a little smaller. I've always referred to my figure type as pear shaped, but Igigi refers to it as a figure "8", and I think that's perhaps a little more accurate. Anyway. I remember distinctly having a coworker say to me, "Wide belt to emphasize a narrow waist. Well played." She knew the rules, too. I wasn't kidding anyone.

I am a big girl. No amount of careful wardrobe planning is going to make me look like I'm not. I can make choices that flatter me, and indeed I should, but I'm kidding myself if I think an outfit is going to make me look slimmer.

So I've made the decision to wear things I like. Some of them follow the rules, some break them blatantly. For instance, about 2 years ago I decided it was time to start wearing sleeveless tops again in the summer. They're comfortable and they're cute.

Let your freak flaps fly.

Let your bald flag shine.

Let your gray flag flow.

Because aging isn't such a bad thing.

About a decade ago I went to visit my Uncle Bill for the last time. He was quite old. We both knew it would be our last visit. And it was the only time in my life that I wished I could paint. My uncle was deeply wrinkled. He was covered in age spots. He was far too thin. He didn't have a lot of hair on top of his head, but there was a nice shock of hair growing out of his left ear. And he was one of the most beautiful creatures I'd ever seen. I wanted to paint him. I was actually a little angry that I couldn't. As far as creative talents go, I've always been happy enough with the ones I have, but on that day I would have traded them all for some skill with a paintbrush.

How different - and pathetic - it would've been if he'd attempted to hide those things.

Now I'm not against a little hair color - it's fun. I used to play with it a lot myself. I've already allowed Lea to start playing with it. I have no issue with that. It's when we're using it to desperately try to hide something - to be something that we're not - that I take issue.

The 20's are awesome. It's the beginning of adulthood. Beginnings are exciting. The world is your oyster.

But the 30's are awesome, too. You're a little more comfortable with the adult thing. I got married and had my babies in my 30's. The 30's rocked.

I'm a little more than halfway into the 40's. There's a lot of up-side here, too. I have experience behind me that I didn't have in my 20's. I believe this has lead to a depth of compassion I wouldn't have been capable of when I was younger.

I am STOKED about the 50's and beyond! I look forward to embracing each step rather than fighting it.

It's ALL good!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh Baby!

I was watching the Today Show this morning, as I am wont to do, and I was rendered completely speechless when presented with this concept: high heels for babies.

I was only rendered speechless for as long as it took me to run to my computer, because it turns out I actually have a lot to say about this.

Y'know, my kids were learning things in kindergarten that I learned in second grade. This is viewed as progress. Progress that has completely dismissed everything we know about child development. We are pushing kids to do things earlier and earlier. Potty training before they know how to walk? I understand how this might be convenient for a parent tired of changing diapers, but how in the world does this benefit the baby? I suppose one could make an argument for reduced diaper rash, but that argument is a weak one at best.

Don't get me started on the current trend of constantly bombarding our babies with educational toys, videos, games, flashcards, etc. While I am in favor of all of those things, moderation is key. Certainly utilize educational toys! Playing games with your baby is vital to their development! Play away! Flashcards I'm not such a fan of, but if the baby enjoys playing with them, rock on with your bad self! But babies also need some time to just chill. Some non-stimulating time to process all of the new things they've been exposed to.

I am always a little taken aback when I hear parents proudly proclaim that their 4 year old is reading. Sometimes, of course, this means that the child has memorized the book. I know my mother claims I read much earlier than I actually did because I had memorized a few favorite books. "I do not like green eggs and ham; I do not like them, Sam I am." I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about wee ones who have been drilled and drilled and "taught" to read. I always think that pride is a little misplaced. I will grant you, there are a small handful of children who are ready to read at a very early age. Those children should certainly be provided with opportunities to do so. But most children, from a purely developmental standpoint, aren't ready to learn to read until they're 5-7. As a matter of fact, countries where reading is introduced at later ages have much lower rates of illiteracy than do countries which introduce reading at younger ages.

We're just in such a damn hurry.

Which brings me back to baby high heels. Ugh. We shake our heads in bewilderment at increases in teen drug use, alcohol abuse, and sexual activity at younger and younger ages. How does this happen? Well, it starts with things like baby high heels. I was distressed a couple years ago when I found it difficult to find clothes for my at-the-time-not-yet-tweens that didn't make them look - well - let's just say like miniature teenagers. Because I don't feel like being as harsh as I probably could. Now we're going to dress our babies up like little - like - well, not like babies? I find this so appalling.

Treasure babies for being babies; toddlers for being toddlers and so on and so on scooby-dooby-dooby. We're in such a hurry to get to the next place that we forget to treasure the place where we are. And in the case of children growing, the place where we are right now is one which we can never revisit.

Anyone interested in my thoughts on Bratz dolls?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hanging (with) Chad

Ever since Liv's beloved rat Rita died last year she has been begging for another one. I have been successfully putting her off for quite a few months. There were always some travel plans in the future or some perfectly reasonable explanation I could give her to make her wait "just a little bit longer".

Until now.

School has started, there are no travel plans in our future, she took complete responsibility for Rita so I have no reason to believe she can't care for a pet, she rarely asks for anything...

Last night Tom took her to the pet store and she came home with Chad.

Chad enjoys bananas and running in his exercise wheel in the wee hours of the morning.

When they got home, Tom's first words were, "so if I get a snake, it's grounds for divorce, right?"

I really, really, really, really, really don't like snakes. Really.

Once, when I was walking at Blacklick, two little garden snakes crossed my path. Truly, they were barely bigger than worms. And I froze in my tracks. I literally couldn't move for a couple minutes. When I was able to move, I hauled out of there fast. Not as fast as when the bats were in pursuit, but that's another story for another day.

I reluctantly allow the rodent in my home. Liv keeps it in her room and takes care of it all by herself. I will see Chad rarely, and he will grow on me. Probably. Rita did.

But a snake? Not in this lifetime...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Babealu Explained

Most of you know I go by the moniker "babealu", but you probably don't know where that came from, as it seems like it came into being a whole lifetime ago.

I guess the first thing you'd need to know, if you don't already, is that my middle name is Lu. This lead to me being referred to as "Tamalu" in certain circles. A little side story here. The way the family tells it, my mother had wanted to name me Anna Marie - Anna after her mother, Marie after Dad's mother. Dad took one look at me and said, "She's Tammy Lu". Two years later, my mother wanted to name my sister Renee Michelle. Or was it Michelle Renee? Either way, Dad took one look at her and said, "She's Wendy Sue." Now I'm not quite sure what sort of future he envisioned for his little girls when he came up with those sweet, melodious (odious being the working part of the word) names for us, but there you go. I've always suspected he just needed to take some sort of action because his name was Sheldon. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe he thought if he gave us - unbeautiful - names we'd have to be stronger. Yeah. That's probably it.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled story, already in progress.

I used to make a lot of baby clothes for gifts and then, when my own kids came along, I made a lot of sweaters, dresses, etc. for them. I made a gift for a friends baby and her MIL loved it. It turned out that she was the organizer of a huge bi-annual juried arts and crafts show and she invited me to participate. My friend said we'd have to come up with a name to put on the taggers and she helped me turn "tamalu" into "babe-a-lu" and then "babealu". I loved it. I had a pretty successful run while I participated in those shows, but then my kids grew and I decided I didn't like making baby stuff anymore. Knitting and crocheting are so time intensive and part of what made them pleasurable for me was knowing that a gift lovingly made is usually a gift lovingly received. That whole "kiss in every stitch" thing has some merit. When I started making things to sell to strangers, it became less a labor of love and more just labor. So I walked away from it.

I held on to the "babealu" moniker, because when it stopped being about baby clothes, it still made me sound like a babe. To my own ears, anyway. Stop laughing, you are very mean.

Recently my mom was telling me about a friend of hers who was expecting a grandchild. She said the mom didn't want to dress the baby in anything that didn't come from Hot Topic. I said, "I can make that baby a sweater..." This was the result.

I had so much fun making it, it just tickled me. It reminded me why I loved knitting and crocheting baby stuff in the first place. They're small, so there's almost instant gratification. They're small, so I can work with more luxurious yarns than I could afford to work with for a full-sized sweater. They're small, so if I make a mistake, no huge loss. They're small, so I can play with interesting stitches and intricate cables/patterns that I might feel uncomfortable attempting on a full-sized sweater. And last, they're for BAbies, so a little whimsy, which might be too twee on an adult garment is not only acceptable, but generally embraced.

I had so much fun making this one and thinking - "oh! on the next one, I'm gonna..." - then I realized - I'm having all this fun making a sweater for a baby I'll never know. And it didn't matter. Didn't take any of the fun out of it at all.


So I opened an Etsy account/store. I don't have anything in there yet, but I'm going to work up some inventory over the next couple weeks. I'll keep ya'll posted. Till then, make a note of it:

It feels nice to be excited about something.

Once I told my sister I'd just gotten a new job. I told her it was my dream job. She said, "Really? Someone's going to pay you to crochet and watch soap operas?" That sounded a lot dreamier than the job I'd actually accepted, so she totally killed my buzz.

Thanks a lot, Wendy Sue.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Festival Season (Part 4)

Labor Day weekend has meant Folkfest in my hometown of Johnstown, PA since 1992, if memory serves me correctly. It was a pretty neat concept and it really breathed some life into the depressed but beautiful town I'll probably always refer to as home. It is currently being threatened by town/church politics, and that's an interesting story, too, but not the one I want to tell today.

First of all, my birthday usually falls over Labor Day weekend, so I always feel like this is a big ole party just for me. Every year we get the opportunity to listen to a LOT of free music from national and international acts that we wouldn't otherwise be exposed to. It's also a great way to introduce the kids to a variety of genres. Almost every year we hear something that just knocks us on our asses and we can't wait to turn everyone we know on to it.

This year, for me, that act was Jason Ricci and New Blood. This was a really cool eclectic show. Click on the link now and thank me later. Let me know if I haven't turned you on to something swell.

Unfortunately, Olivia did not share my exuberance for Mr. Ricci and his band. When we went to see them Saturday night, Miss Liv was with us. She kept turning around and saying things like, "This is loud." "Why does it have to be loud?" "I hate this." "I hate this so much." "I can't hear myself think." "It's very loud." "When can we leave?" In her defense, she never raised her voice. But she was relentless. She just kept poking me and poking me with a little more desperation in her voice every time. If I wasn't digging the band so much I would have removed her after a song or two and taken her to sit somewhere quieter. Again, in fairness to her, a precedent had been set. I do that a lot, actually, and let Tom watch the rest of the set. But I was really enjoying this band and I had no intention of leaving. So she kept poking. And poking. And I finally lost my temper. In fairness to myself, I never raised my voice (too much) myself - just did the patented mom-hissing thing. Don't worry - I didn't do it in the middle of their set or anything - I marched her - and everyone else with us - outside the immediate performance area.

Then we went back to my parents house. At 7:30. On a festival night. I was an unhappy camper indeed.

Liv and Lea enjoying a happier (quieter) moment by the river.

The next night went better. A lot better.

Mom offered to keep Olivia occupied and that meant I got to hear a lot more of Jason Ricci and New Blood. We also listened to an excellent set by Jason and the Scorchers. And Lea got to listen to her favorite band from this years festival, Red Collar. There was a lot of energy in their set and frankly, I don't know which I enjoyed more - listening to and watching the band, or watching Lea watch the band. She was just digging on it so much, and it was so fun to watch her just being so moved - just - getting it. Red Collar had a female bass player. (Lea has recently rejected her guitar in favor of a bass, so this was really inspirational for her.) Lea approached her after the set and she talked with her at length, a festival highpoint for Miss Lea.

My father loves this festival, if it's possible, even more than I do. Mom likes it too, but she doesn't feel the need to be there from open to close all three days. Dad does. I like to pace myself, check a few things out, then really spend a nice chunk of time listening to the bands I really like. Dad looks at at more like a game he must win. He wears a little schedule around his neck and carefully plots his course so that he is sure to see every band there at least for a little while. He will leave in the middle of a set he is enjoying because he's scheduled to be at another stage in 5 minutes. I love that we "do" the festival so differently, but still manage to run into him and Mom a lot. And we're always happy to see each other.

My guys - Dad and Tom

Concurrently there is an Arts Festival that takes within walking distance from my parents house. Traditionally we start each morning there, then head down to the festival via the Johnstown Inclined Plane. I had been a little disappointed with the Arts Festival last year, I think it had become a little stale for me, but this year there were a lot of new vendors and I enjoyed it a lot. Dropped a little cash there, for sure. I did some Christmas shopping - nothing like a unique handmade gift, in my book - but I didn't exactly neglect myself, either. If the Folkfest is my birthday party, the Arts Festival is my birthday present.

The weather for both festivals was perfection - clear, dry, sunny and warm.

Labor Day weekend is my favorite.