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.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Have You Never Been Mellow?

I find myself in a very rare position these days. I am essentially unemployed and I have a dear friend who is in the same situation. We refer to ourselves as "Ladies Who Lunch" and from time to time extend it to "Ladies of Leisure Who Drink Coffee and Eat Lunch and Don't Need Concealer or Chiropractors Anymore". (full disclosure - sometimes I still need concealer and she still needs a chiropractor - but not like either of us used to)

Almost every Monday, and sometimes on other days on an as needed basis, we get together for coffee and talk (no big whoop) which more often than not turns into lunch and sometimes a little shopping. We have both noticed how our shoulders almost visibly relax about 3 sips into that first cup. Her family has commented on her increasingly mellow attitude.

Stress? Be gone!

We've been talking recently about how there's a little (not much, just a little) guilt associated with our leisurely afternoons. First, I suppose, there's the inherent stigma of being a stay-at-home-mom. Particularly when your kids are school-aged. We're not supposed to be happy, relaxed and content in this lifestyle. We're supposed to be apologetic. Lord knows, I spent enough years being apologetic about it. Answering the "so what do you do" question with non-answers like, "well, I'm a teacher by trade, but I put it on hold to raise my kids" or, later, when I started teaching part-time, I would claim that as my career. This year, for the first time, when filling out the kids back-to-school paperwork, I took a deep breath and filled in the blank which requested my occupation with: SAHM.

I worried about how I would be judged by her teachers and the office staff at her school. As if a.) they have the time and inclination to judge me and b.) it would really make any difference in my life if they did. But still, I worried.

Then there's the actual enjoying it part. Staying at home is supposed to be a sacrifice. And sometimes it is. Certainly I miss being a two-income family, but more than that I miss the daily interaction with other people.

So I seek that interaction and, instead of finding it in the break room, I find it at the local coffee shop. And instead of it lasting 30 minutes, it lasts till I'm done. Or till I have to meet the school bus, whichever comes first.

And I am mellow.

I mentioned concealer earlier. The other day I sat down to put on my make-up and I had the concealer on my pinkie when I looked in the mirror and saw, to my immense surprise, that I wouldn't be needing any that day. The bags under my eyes just weren't there.

So I decided to stop apologizing for enjoying my life. Obviously it's having a positive effect. Tom is probably laughing right now, because apologizing is what I do. I'm sure I won't stop altogether. But I'm going to reign it in a little bit.

I'm sure there will be a time when I will work again. I can't imagine that there won't. But until that time, I'm going to enjoy what there is to enjoy about the place where I am now, instead of wishing it away.