Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's Complicated

For many years now going out en masse as an extended family to a movie on Christmas evening has been traditional in our family. It's always interesting trying to find something that will appeal to everyone and compromises are always made. This year my youngest daughter and one of my more morally conservative cousins were the ones who found themselves compromising. We decided - and mostly agreed - on 'It's Complicated'. (and we didn't actually make it until the day after Christmas, but that's neither here nor there) It was a cute little flick and a big ole check in the win column for middle-aged women. Plus, Alec Baldwin is kind of like John Travolta for me - old, young, fat, trim, it's all good... (And for those of you who saw it - we're having Croque Monseur and mixed greens with a balsamic viniagrette for dinner tonight with warm chocolate croissants for dessert. I have high hopes.)

As the love lives of our heroes became more and more complex (as the title of the film implies) I thought about how all of us could probably take that title and apply it to our lives. In my case, my love life is blissfully uncomplicated - so my story would be different - but no less complicated.

My girls and I are babysitting this week. We're watching a thoroughly delightful toddler. My youngest has never spent much time around people smaller than herself. She asked, after our first day, "So - taking care of a toddler is really just about making them happy all the time, right?"

I told her that there were basically three priorities:

1. Keep them safe.
2. Make them happy.
3. Keep them happy.

Nothing complicated about that. I remembered when my own girls were that age and those were my priorities. So simple - but it didn't always feel simple. Uncomplicated doesn't always equal easy.

Keeping my girls safe and happy are still my priorities; things haven't changed that much I suppose. Just like when they were toddlers, the things I need to keep them safe from are often the things that hold the most appeal for them. Just like when they were toddlers, when I stop them from doing something potentially dangerous, I am bad and mean. Quite often - just like when they were toddlers - there are tears. (sometimes the tears are even theirs...) Sometimes - just like when they were toddlers - keeping them safe precludes making them happy in the short run.

Unlike when they were toddlers, though, I can't keep an eye on them all the time. They spend more time every year out in the big wide world where I can't keep them safe and where they're free to make their own happiness. I have to trust that I've taught them well enough to make good choices. Sometimes they show me that I have - and I am so proud in those moments. Sometimes, however, they make decisions that horrify me. Does this mean that I haven't taught them well enough? Or does there come a point where their decisions are a reflection on them alone and not on me and my parenting skills? I imagine if there is such a point, it's not yet. They are still so tangled up in me and my identity is still so tangled up in them.

Keep them safe and happy.

It's simple.

It's complicated.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Don't Be SAD!

There's nothing like holiday cheer to offset devastating seasonal affective disorder

I saw this on someecards (What a fun, fun site, by the way. If you're not already killing time and/or sending ecards to your friends from there you should be) and thought - "Well, yeah. That about sums it up." After Friday's whinefest and the overwhelming support I received I thought I'd go ahead and share publicly what I shared with a few of you privately. It's SAD (seasonal affective disorder) pure and simple. It starts every year right around this time and hangs out making things as miserable as it can until the sun sees fit to shine more brightly on a more regular basis. It affects me every year, yet every year it manages to catch me by surprise. Once the beast has been recognized and named, it is easier to deal with (a little) but that first bout with it always throws me for a loop.

So in the midst of wondering how I'm going to accentuate the positive while minimizing (if not eliminating) the negative, Allyson at Magnolias and Mimosas gave me this loverly award.

Now some of you may be saying (and quite justifiably so) "Hey! *I* gave you an award! Ooooo weee - what up with that? What up with that?" (if you really did say/sing that, I would seriously have been so impressed...) Truth is, I proudly accept most awards and post them to my awards page, but rarely comply. It's the passing on part. I hate the passing on part. But this one asked the recipient to list ten things that made them happy, and I thought, given my recent sad SAD indulgences that that would perhaps be a good exercise for me to attempt. Besides, it has cupcakes.

So, without further ado, ten things that make me happy right now (because if I were writing this list yesterday or tomorrow, it might be different) in alphabetical order. Because that makes sense to me.

* Blank journals
* Books that make me cry and movies that make me laugh
* Good tequila
* Laughing so hard you forget exactly what you were laughing about
* Muscle cars (That does NOT, by the way, make me a car chick, Tom)
* Someone else doing the dishes
* Spring flowers in the winter
* Sunrises
* Swedish fish
* Tight guitar solos (that go to eleven)

And while we're counting and smiling, here's a little ditty about censorship and counting that my daughter shared with me this morning. Not that censorship makes me smile. It does not. But this video did.

Did I skip out on the passing along part? Oops! It would appear I did! Here's the thing: as I said, I hate the passing along part. So if you would like to share ten things that make YOU happy right now, consider yourself tagged!

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm Not Like This

"I wasn't always like this." Thus spake Gilbert's mother in the great 90's classic What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The scene, should your memory need a refresher, was the one in which Gilbert Grape - a young broody Johnny Depp - introduces his new girlfriend - a young and gloriously weird Juliette Lewis - to his morbidly obese mother. In what is perhaps one of my favorite movie scenes ever, Miss Lewis' character - young, slender, offbeat and sweet - responds, "Well, I wasn't always like this, either."

I love that scene.

None of us 'was always' as we are now.

I had a clear flashback this morning to an incident - a moment, really - that took place some twenty-five years ago in a bar. On this particular night, the bar had exotic dancers early, then just became a regular dance club later. My friend and I arrived just as the 'entertainment' portion of the evening was wrapping up. I went to the ladies' room and one of the dancers was in there changing into her street clothes. She had changed into jeans and sneakers and was throwing a flannel shirt over breasts still adorned with pasties when I walked in. She turned to hide herself, ashamed of the nakedness we both knew she'd been flaunting moments earlier on the stage. As she pulled her hair into a ponytail she looked at me for the first time. Her look conveyed, more clearly than any words ever could have, "I'm not always like this."

I spend a lot of time trying to convince people I'm not what my appearance conveys.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself I'm not what my appearance conveys.

When I was in college, I had a serious boyfriend. We dated for four years. After the third year, we got engaged. His mother was against it - not because of our tender age, but because (and I quote - because you don't quickly forget being told something like this) "we might date people like that, but we don't marry them." At the time I thought she must be referring to religious differences because, superficially, that was all I could see. We had the same socio-economic status. Our education levels were identical. Yes, I told myself, it's the religion thing. That explanation worked for me until he married a girl a year or two later - with his mother's full blessing - who shared my religious background. Something else, then. But what?

Je ne sais quoi. Something. Some thing defines class, culture, breeding. It isn't money alone, although money helps. We all know (or know of) people with plenty of money and no class. Perhaps we also know people with no money and miles of class. So money isn't the single defining characteristic.

I look in the mirror and see a heavy middle-aged woman with a stringy non-hairdo and bad clothes. I see the sort of woman who could incite ridicule and judgment based entirely upon her appearance. I see a woman who doesn't go to Walmart - ostensibly for politically valid reasons, but also, just a little bit, because she's afraid if she goes to Walmart looking like she does, it will only be a matter of time before she is immortalized as a 'People of..."

I tell myself I'm not that woman. Clearly I don't think I am - I used the third person to describe 'her'. That's not me - that's someone else. Someone who, from time to time, shows up in pictures next to my husband and kids.

And sometimes I think I'd just be happier if I stopped fighting it. March - or waddle - into Walmart, buy myself an oversized Tweety T-shirt, some leggings, and a pack of Marlboro's and call a spade a spade.

Now. As I am not as stupid as I might look, I can almost hear you saying, "Get over yourself! Get yourself a nice haircut and some nice clothes and - while you're at it - get yourself some exercise! Hair, clothes and weight are issues we have some control over!" True words, to an extent. Money does make a difference with the clothes and - in my case - the hair. As for the weight - ugh - I don't feel like rehashing all of that. It all sounds like rationalizing - even to me - but it is a hard truth. Dieting and exercise have failed me miserably and completely. I have wasted enough of my life being obsessed with them.


Do I deny my reality, like the stripper, or try to explain it away, like Gilbert's mother? I've tried each of those tactics and have been wildly unsuccessful with both. Obviously acceptance is the key. But how can I accept something that feels so false?

Today is my adoption day. Maybe that's why I'm so obsessed - today - with figuring out who I am. What is nature and what is nurture and what just is?

Do you guys need me to continue my blogging hiatus until I'm in a better mood?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Time for the Good Stuff

So I asked my daughter to make the salad last night. Surprisingly, she happily complied. She likes feeling useful in the kitchen, I should use that to my advantage more often... Anyway. She's chopping the romaine, then calls to me in the next room, "I think I'm done."

"You THINK you're done? Are you done or not?"

"Well, I chopped all the good part and I'm down to the part they send to the school cafeteria to put in the kids' lunches."

Oh dear.

Time to stop chopping.

I wasn't cooking or (you may or may not have noticed - my poor self esteem forbids me from speculating) on the computer, because I've been making myself busy. This holiday funk I'd been experiencing needed to be broken through. I don't have much money, but I have two sticks and some string. For those who have never lived with me, that means I've been in a full on knitting frenzy for a couple days. That tends to happen this time of year. I'm missing you, my internet friends, of course, but I need to jump into the yarn stash with both feet for a couple more days. Give or take.

Time to knit.

Yesterday? While my daughter was making the salad, and I was knitting my husband walked through the door with a HUGE poinsettia for me. Now the last time this man brought me flowers was - I think it was when I told him I was pregnant with Liv. You may remember that Liv celebrated her twelfth birthday a week or two ago. So, yeah. Not a big flowers guy. And he not only brought me flowers, he brought me HUGE, BEAUTIFUL flowers! They fill the whole room, they feel festive, they - they made me want to get off the couch and make things nice to match them. Then he suggested we open a bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Time to be grateful.

My screen saver says, "Never let that which matters the most give way to that which matters the least."

Time to reflect on what matters.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mad Pimpin'

Today I have a couple things I want to pimp. I know you'll indulge me, too, because I do it so rarely rarely rarely. And because you know I'd never steer you wrong.

First: A week or so ago The Badass Geek asked if I would be willing to contribute to a new project he's got going on. I checked it out and decided that I did indeed want in. In addition to his wildly entertaining main blog (which, if you're not reading, you certainly should be!), he has started another project called Fiction 500. Fiction 500 is a place for anyone to post a short fictional piece. But there's a catch. Short means 500 words or less. In his own words:
Telling a story in just 500 words forces the writer to get to the point and decide what the most important things to say are, and what parts of the story can be left up to the reader to come up with on their own.
I think this project is so exciting and have contributed a few stories already. (I've got a couple more that I'm working on...) Staying within the 500 word parameter has been challenging, sometimes frustrating, and always fun. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. What have you got to lose? You don't even need to post under your real name!

So do me a personal favor and check it out. Commenting on my stories wouldn't break my heart, either. And if you are currently writing fiction or have ever toyed with the idea of writing fiction, this is a great place to test the waters.

Second thing I want to pimp is the giveaway Mama-face has going on over at Blog Ignoramus. (Another blog which, if you're not already reading, you really really should be! Mama-face is as real as it gets and I am a huge fan of the real...) She is giving away a set of handmade greeting cards that are simply gaw-geous! (And you know I love you, because passing this information along to you decreases my odds of winning just a little bit...)

What's that you say? Oh, you're most welcome, I'm sure.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Single-Tasking in a Multi-Tasking World

A couple months ago I went to Walgreen's. I picked up a few items and took them to the register. The woman who rang me up was on the phone. She acknowledged me with a nod while she rang up my order, talked on the phone, and straightened out a display on the counter. When she hung up, there was a big smile on her face. "Always multi-tasking, that's me!" She was clearly very proud of her ability to do so. I was not as impressed as she expected me to be. Why? Because I was one of those tasks, and she was only giving me one third of her attention - probably less, when you figure that she also probably had some stuff running all around in her brain that wasn't immediately visible to the casual observer. I was only getting a third of her attention that I knew of.

Now I can multi-task too, and certainly have when the situation dictates a need. Everyone can. It's not a particularly impressive skill, it's just a necessity of life sometimes. She may have been in just that situation and I don't judge her for that. I wasn't bothered so much by the multi-tasking as I was by the evident pride she took in it. I thought about how differently I would have handled the same situation. I would have hung up the phone and said (to the actual living customer in front of me) "I'm so sorry about that!" Then I would have been sure to give them my undivided attention for the remainder of the transaction. Which took, like thirty seconds. Are all of these other things so important that you can't give another human being thirty seconds?

Ok, this was a small, tiny incident and maybe I'm being too hard on the Walgreen's clerk for not giving my chapstick and band aids the attention they deserved. Or maybe I'm being self-important - expecting a clerk to drop everything and actually wait on me when I come to her counter. But wait - isn't that her job? She was so proud of all of the things she was accomplishing at once that she neglected the real live person in front of her.

She was a clerk at Walgreen's and I was a customer. It didn't put a real strain on our relationship. But think about how often we do this to our friends, our spouses, our children. If my feelings were hurt when the clerk at the drugstore couldn't offer me thirty seconds of her undivided, think about how it feels to our loved ones when we can't step away from our oh-so-important chores to give them our undivided for a moment or two.

This seems to become a lot more exaggerated during the holiday season. We're trying to accomplish a million things at once and not giving our full attention to any of them. Maybe it's time to slow down. Maybe it's time to pay a little less attention to the shopping, the baking and the decorating and a little more attention to the people who are right in front of us. Will they be more likely to remember the perfect tree, or the conversations you have when you're doing nothing but listening to them? Which would you be more likely to remember?


It occurs to me that I may be feeling the need to write this because I do not have the perfect tree or the perfect decorations. I have not and will not bake the perfect cookie. I will not be giving anyone the perfect gift this year. But I can listen. I can give a little time. I can find a way to make that time undivided. I can do that. Maybe this is my way of convincing myself that that's good enough.

Please don't tell me I'm wrong...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bon Jovi Mom

I've already regaled you with the Bo Bice incident, it may be time to share the tale of Bon Jovi Mom.

Picture it: Smalltown, Pennsylvania. 1986.

My hair was big and permed on top and shaved tight up the back, save one gloriously long rat tail. My jeans were acid washed with a paper bag waist. They were separated from my brassiere - I mean - my crop top - by about an inch and a half. My boots were white, leather, and fringed. They matched my jacket. And there was a life-sized poster of one Jon Bon Jovi on the back of my bedroom door. Oh yeah, and I was 24. Arrested Development wasn't only a canceled before its time sitcom on Fox.

Fast forward.

Picture it: Stupid Suburbs, Ohio. October 7, 2006

My eldest daughter is in fifth grade. She has decided that she is too old for a lunch box. She has also rejected the love notes that I like to stuff into said lunch box. So we compromise. She gets to brown bag, and I can write lyrics on the lunch bag. Awesome. Every morning I go to Today in Rock and Roll History and find a relevant band or song - then I quote her some lyrics (dude). On this particular day, Tico Torres' birthday in case you were wondering, I quoted her some old school Bon Jovi.

And the silly child forgot her lunch.

I realized this well before lunchtime and took it to the school. I left it for her at the office. The next time I visited the middle school office (and it wasn't much later - she forgot things a lot...) I was greeted by the whole office staff with variations of: "Hey! It's the Bon Jovi Mom!!! Hey Bon Jovi Mom!" It was the same thing every time I visited the office. Every freakin' time. "There's the one I told you about!" they'd say, one to the other. "She's the one that writes Bon Jovi lyrics on her daughters lunch bag every day!"

"I don't..."

"Hey Bon Jovi Mom!"

"I'm not..."

And they would stop me for conversation if there was Bon Jovi news. And between the two girls, I had almost four more years at that school. Luckily my youngest doesn't forget much...

Rewind just a little.

Picture it: Stupid Suburbs, Ohio. Approximately 2002.

A Bon Jovi video comes on the TV and I am busted paying attention to it. "That's your mom's boyfriend...Mommy loves him."

"But, if Mommy loves him, why did she marry you?"

"Because, sweetheart, Daddy was the first long-haired guitar player from New Jersey who looked back at her."


Fast forward.

Stupid Suburbs, Ohio. November 23, 2009. Dentist's office.

The whole family had dentist appointments. Lea is with the dentist, I am with Liv and Tom in the waiting room. Ellen is on the TV and, you guessed it, Bon Jovi is on Ellen. Tom and Liv both put down their books to look at me. The hygenist comes out to make sure I saw it. Because Lea spilled all my stories. Bon Jovi Mom rides again.

On a steel horse...


He is very good looking...

Friday, November 27, 2009

When Black Friday Comes...

Black Friday. Folks love it and hate it and love to hate it and hate to love it. Folks avoid it like the plague and folks look forward to it all year. Folks have strong feelings about Black Friday.

My mom is among them. You know, the folks. The strong feeling folks. She falls very firmly into the pro camp. Lurves it, she does.

For the last decade or so my parents have been bringing Thanksgiving to me. My sister and I live in the same town, and my parents just find it easier to travel to us than to have us travel to them. We have Thanksgiving dinner at my sister's house, and while the dishes are still being washed, the sale flyers are being perused. For years it was my mom, my sister and I. We'd wake up early and stand in the lines and shop till we dropped and have coffee and breakfast and a couple years we even lasted until lunch.

My mom has made no secret about how much she cherishes this tradition.

Me? I don't usually end up shopping that much that day, but I do enjoy the time with my girl tribe. This year my sister had to work. My mom asked if I'd still go with her. Of course I would. You see, I'm the black sheep of the family. I made all the wrong choices and took all the wrong paths. You might say (if you were my mother) that I'm a giant mass of unfulfilled God-given potential. Now this was a moniker I may have rightfully laid claim to from the late 70's through the late 80's, but since then I've been pretty much an upstanding citizen. It doesn't matter. My role in the family has been cemented. I'm the loser, the nogoodnik, the ne'er do well. As such, I'm a woman pushing fifty who is still desperate to receive her parents' approval. I don't know if that makes me a loser or not, but it certainly makes me pitiful.


So my mom and I look through all of our ads, plotting our course. As we queued up at Target at 3:15 am I knew I was gaining favor. I didn't mind the dark or the cold or the little threats of snow - my mom was enjoying being just with me. As the day progressed, she had great luck shopping while I pushed the buggy and pointed her towards the proper sections of the stores. At one point she said, "I like just shopping with you. You do everything I suggest and you never say no." (for the record, it was similar behavior that caused me to fall out of favor a couple decades ago...)

I puppied out before she did, begging off to go home around 9:30. She took me home then picked my dad up and had him take her to a couple more stops. I was just waking up from my nap when she called to tell me she was done and to ask if I'd mind taking her to Barnes & Noble after dinner. Sure I will. I am, after all, just a girl who can't say no.

It may have been Black Friday, but for just one day, I got to be Golden.

I'll take it.

Speaking of getting things for great prices (or, in this case, for FREE!), utilizing the random number generator, Sherri at Luv a Bargain was the winner of my Stick Mixer giveaway! Congratulations, Sherri! Send me your contact information and we'll get this going!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There are Dozens of Us! Dozens!

Lots of good things come in dozens. Donuts, cupcakes, never-nudes and candles on Liv's birthday cake. Yes, my youngest, my baby, my darlink girl turns 12 today.

As a preschooler, Liv loved playing dress up. Well, sure. Most kids love dress up. But Liv would stay in character for - well - I think she might have been Dorothy Gale for two full years. She had three blue gingham jumpers and went through countless pairs of ruby slippers. She would only wear blue socks. When the weather got cold and I told her she had to wear tights, she had a fit. "Dorothy doesn't wear tights! Dorothy wears blue socks!" I told her she could wear blue socks over her tights, but that didn't fly. I finally found some tights that closely matched her skin color and she reluctantly agreed to wear those. But it didn't make her any too happy. Dorothy gave way to Laura Ingalls. Laura didn't live with us as long, but she certainly lived with us vividly. Tom and I grew accustomed to being referred to as Ma and Pa. Liv wore her bonnet to go to the grocery store. Or, you know, "to go into town for dry goods."

As she got older, we found out that Liv's convictions weren't confined to character authenticity in her clothing choices. She became a vegetarian at the age of ten and has never looked back. She doesn't impose her beliefs on anyone else, but she holds firm to them for herself. Liv knows who she is and she likes herself. I know a lot of adults who haven't come to that sort of peace (raises hand shyly hoping no one will see me...). To be able to feel it at twelve - an age when many kids are feeling their most awkward, is nothing short of amazing to me.

While she may be all about the tree hugging and animal rights, that's not ALL she's all about. Liv is also a talented writer and musician. Her ideas for stories blow me away. They're sweet, and clever, and unique - just like their author. She's a natural born writer. She also plays drums, piano and baritone. She has a band with her sister and a couple other kids (Um, playing the drums. Not the baritone. Just to be clear.) and they're sounding better than Tom and I ever dreamed they'd sound so early in the game. Her genre? Metal. Speed metal, specifically. I told her she should name her band 'Paradox'. (she didn't)

How could I have talked about my Livvie Lu this long and not mentioned her wit? A day doesn't go by that she doesn't crack my stuff up at least once. And ya know what? When she's sure no one is looking? She still kisses me goodnight.

Happy Birthday, Punky Punk! You rock my world!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Party's Over (Or Has it Just Begun?)

So yesterday. Wow. Yesterday was a blast. But now everyone's gone home and it's time to move the furniture back where it belongs and throw away the empties. Time to wash the dirty glasses and run the vacuum. I think someone got chocolate on my carpet. Man, I hope that's chocolate. That's never coming out. No worries. Every good party racks up a little collateral damage. I think that happened when a couple of you thought it would be a good idea to play "you got chocolate in my tequila!" "You got tequila on my chocolate!" Two great tastes that, as it turns out, don't taste great together. At all.

Yesterday was a party, but today it's back to the real world. That's cool, though - because some of you may remember that I teased a couple weeks ago about a giveaway? Well, that's happening today. That's not a bad segue back to reality, huh? Free stuff. Nice.

The folks at CSN stores offered to send me a product to review for them. In exchange for an honest review, they sent a Kaloric stick mixer for me to try and - the best part - offered to send another one to one of my lucky readers. Cool, right?

Ok - a little back story: On Halloween, my daughter dropped my point and shoot and it hasn't worked since. I was trying to hold out on my review until I'd replaced it, but then I just got antsy to get one of these out to you and money for a new camera didn't seem to be appearing from the sky, so - so I decided to power through sans personal pics. (If any of you have a direct line to Santa, perhaps you could clue him in regarding my camera dilemma. Thanks.)

But I've digressed, haven't I? Sorry.

Yesterday was the perfect day for me to fire this puppy up. I was so busy answering all of your wonderful comments (thank you, thank you, thank you, by the way! - I'll visit you all before the week is out - promise!) that I didn't have time to make lunch. So I said to myself, I said, "Self? You ought to use that stick mixer and make yourself a smoothie. A vodka smoothie." And that's just what I did. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I've never owned another stick mixer, so I don't have a basis for comparison. (Fine. Also in the interest of full disclosure I didn't have a vodka smoothie at noon. Just a plain old strawberry banana one. Happy? Full disclosure is no fun. Let's not invite full disclosure next time.) What I can tell you is that my smoothie was done in seconds. (And that it was delicious!) Clean up couldn't have been easier. You KNOW I love that!!! So. Easy to use. Easy to clean. Easy to store. It is ALL good! I know I'll be going to this instead of the blender over and over again.

AND NOW YOU CAN TOO! (I screamed that like Billy Mays, God rest his soul, and pointed at you! Yes you!) Just leave a comment and you're in the running. Simple as that. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Everyone gets one entry only and - sorry - it can only be shipped to an address in the U.S. of A. (But everyone can still comment! Woo hoo! Just let me know that you're ineligible for the giveaway in your comment. Sucks, I know, but what're you gonna do?) Make sure you have it set up so that I can reach you via e-mail. I'm going to draw a winner on Friday, November 27, 2009, so be sure to comment before then!!!

Think of it as a slightly belated doorprize from the party.

(tomorrow is another party - a BIRTHDAY party! - and you're invited...)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stopping by From SITS to Say Hi? Well, Hi Right Back Atcha!

I saw a little plaque in one of the kagillion catalogs I receive regularly (and way more regularly during the holidays) that read: My house is a mess, but my homepage looks great. I should've perhaps been a little more concerned than I actually was when my whole family expressed the opinion that that plaque would look great over my desk. Ahem. So I'm glad you're visiting my virtual home rather than my actual one. I pay more attention to it.

So. Today I am the featured blogger at SITS. If you're not familiar with SITS, you should be! They are a great group of folks who offer tremendous comment support to blog addicts like m'self. You'll find people you'll like there, I promise.

If you're stopping by from SITS, hi, howdy, pull up a chair and grab a cup of coffee, glass of wine, shot of tequila or can of Diet Coke. Seriously, I'll join you in whatever sort of libation you prefer. Wanna just squirt chocolate syrup down our throats and eliminate the middle man? I'm in.

So. Comfy? Ok. A little about myself, then.

Keep in Touch With Mommakin is a play on the Aerosmith song, Mama Kin. It sounds like a mommy-blogger name, but I'm not really a mommy-blogger. I do talk about my kids from time to time, (I have two girls - Lea, 13, and Liv who will be 12 this week.) but it's not all about them by a long shot. It's more about me. The subtitle. Wife, Mother, Squealy Fangirl, Frustrated Bohemian Suburbanite.

Now SITS would have me list three links for you to visit to get to know me a little bit and decide if I'm someone you'd like to spend more time with or not. This is hard! What if I link you to a bunch of posts about my kids and you hate mommy-bloggers? What if I link you to squealy fangirl posts and you hate the bands I love? What if I link you to whiny posts and you only like sunshine and rainbows and lollipops? (Seriously, though. I don't write a lot about sunshine and rainbows and lollipops. The occasional unicorn, but that's about it...) After a great deal of stressing and re-reading old posts, I just decided to go with three I liked. It's a pretty random sampling. Without further ado:

So that's a wee peek into me. I'm glad you stopped by! I hope you'll see fit to stop by again.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo: I Laughed, I Cried, It Became a Part of Me

Ok, so here's the dealio. I just wrote the last word in my NaNoWriMo project. Final word count? 50,046. More than a week ahead of schedule. It just got to a point where it was writing itself. I couldn't stop it.

I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.

I laughed when I looked at some of the things I'd typed. One or two of them were even supposed to be funny. Many of them were not.

I cried when I looked at some of the things I'd typed. One or two of them were even supposed to be sad. Many of them were not.

It became a part of me. I learned lessons that will stay with me for a long time, if not forever. I learned:

Discipline. I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow morning when I sit down at my computer in the early morning hours when the house is still dark. (Yes I do. I'll catch up on all the blog reading I've been missing out on. See ya in the morning!) It will feel odd not to open that document and power through with the story. I have been very faithful to it. I have written the alotted amount of words every morning whether I wanted to or not. It wasn't a choice. A lot of crap was written utilizing this method, but I didn't stop or give up when I hit a glitch. That was cool. And very unlike me. I can weed out the crap in the editing process. If I'd quit, it would just be over.

Humility. What I've written - at this point - is not something that I would want to read. That is not false modesty. I was at the library the other day looking for a book. As I read back covers and rejected titles based on what was written there - scoffed at them even - I realized that I would reject a back cover description of my own book - I mean, project - just as quickly. I can't say I dug that feeling.

Respect. Another thing I realized was that every genre deserves respect - even the genres I'd never had much respect for before. Sex scenes are hard to write. Real live work goes into all of it. Even bodice rippers. Even romances. All of it. I may not want to read it - but I'll never scoff again. I'll never dismiss anything as silly fluffy or worthless again. Just because I don't want to read it doesn't make it crap. Writing is hard work and writers deserve respect.

I thought about starting the editing process tomorrow, but I ultimately decided against it. I'm going to let it sit until December 1 and begin editing then as planned. I'll probably be more objective with a little time between me and the story. Who knows? By January or February this hot buttered mess may actually evolve into something I'd like to read. (I'm not holding my breathe. But it could happen...)

All in all, I loved this experience. I put out over 50,000 words in a more or less linear story. I did it in 21 days. Not a lot of people can make that claim and - although I'm not (yet) proud of the product, I wouldn't have traded the process for anything. I'm already plotting for next November...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Truly Authentic

My new buddy Allison at Life of a Tater Tot Mom has tagged me as a Theta Mom - that is, THE True Authentic Mom. Ok, first of all, I'm always jealous of people named Allison, because they get that awesome Elvis Costello song and I just get that stupid 'Tammy's in Love' business. She gets "Alison, I know this world is killing you" and I get "The ole hootie owl hootie-hoo's to the dove - Tammy, Tammy, Tammy's in love".... and that is just patently unfair.

Part of being a True Authentic Mom is realizing that things aren't always fair all the time.

Sometimes you might want to go see Ace Frehley, but you go see a Jr. High orchestra concert instead, because you're a mom. Sometimes you want to see Aerosmith and KISS share a frackin' stage, but you send your kid to college instead, because you're a mom. (Because holy man! Have you SEEN how much tickets for a show like that cost?) Sometimes you want to drink martini's on a Friday night, but you take your kids to see New Moon instead, because you're a mom. (Ok, that one's totally not true. I'm totally going to drink martini's Friday night, because I'm the mom and I said so, dammit! But that just means I'll have to take them the next afternoon with a potential hangover. And I will. Because I'm a mom.)

See? Things aren't always fair.

Now, being tagged as a Theta Mom has some responsibilities and one of them is that I share five experiences that have shaped me as a true authentic mom. The other is that I tag five other folks who I think bring a certain sense of authenticity to the title of mom - and I will - I'll do that - just be patient. Sometimes you just have to be patient, whether it's fair or not.

I decided that, rather than write my own list, I'd turn it over to the folks who made me a mom in the first place. They didn't necessarily choose particular experiences, but rather generalizations. I figured that was close enough for rock and roll. Tom was the first person responsible for my motherhood, so he got the first shot (my comments are parenthetical and italicized.)

1. She gives up a lot for the family. She gave up her career. (and my youth and my beauty and travel and money and manicures, but never tequila...)

Lea was next to throw something into the pot:

2. She lets us go to concerts...even ones she doesn't like that much...and that are loud. (oh, bless your heart. I would NEVER take you a concert for a band I didn't like that much. And FYI? The TV can be too loud, but a concert really can't. Thanks, though, for thinking that's a sacrifice!)

Liv threw in the third one:

3. She lets me play my loud drums and not let it annoy her. (I admit it. I'm a saint.)

The girls came up with the next one together:

4. She always understands when we're on our periods. (due in large part to the fact that I never gave up tequila.)

Then they left, because they had more important things to do than stroke my ego (tell me more about my eyes...) and also because House was coming on and Dr. House always trumps me. So I was left to come up with the fifth one on my own.

5. I think being a true, authentic mom means giving up on perfection. Good thing I'd never really been much of a perfectionist in the first place. My heart hurts for those moms who are. Sometimes good enough just needs to be good enough. Before I had kids I did a lot of home visits in the course of my job and I always thought, smugly, that I could do it better. My kids would never ________, my house would always ________. Whatever you filled those blanks in with was probably right. But guess what? My kids aren't perfect and my house isn't perfect and I am far, far, far from perfect. But Lea said to me the other day (she said), "I love being in our family." Now Lea is thirteen and just about as ornery as the day is long. She has raised eye-rolling to an art form. I would not have been surprised if she'd said, "I hate this family!" (hurt, but not surprised). But she loves being a part of us, in all our imperfection. In all our true authenticity, if you will. So I guess I'm saying that I think being a true authentic mom has to do with accepting your true authentic family, warts and all.

Now for the tagging part. I find the following moms to be very true and authentic, so, tag! You're it!

Mamaface at Blog-Ignoramous
Unknown Mami at, um, Unknown Mami
Traci at 38 and Growing
Tiffany at ElastaMom's Excerpts
Mandy at Mandy's Life After 30

Aaaaaaand this is the reason I don't do many awards - I hate the passing on part - I always feel like I'm leaving someone important out and I hate, hate, hate that. Hate it. But this isn't an award, it's a tag. So I feel a little better about that. It's unfair that I had to choose only five out of all of my great mom friends. But, like we've already established, this mom thing isn't always fair.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

He's Still Preoccupied With Number Eighty-Five

So my mother hates Joe Paterno. No, wait, that's harsh. My mother hates Joe Paterno's glasses. I mean she has really strong feelings about those glasses. My dad will casually mention Joe Pa, and my mom will go off. "How can you even listen to him when he's wearing those stupid glasses? They're so stupid! I can't even pay attention to what he's saying because his glasses are so stupid." Sometimes she'll even punch her fist into her palm for emphasis. She becomes visibly agitated when he is interviewed. "He is so ridiculous! What is he trying to prove with those stupid glasses?"

The last time my dad was due for new specs, he casually announced, "I'm hoping they have some nice frames like Joe Paterno's."

"I'll divorce you."

They've been married for fifty-one years and have weathered many a storm, but this, apparently, would have been an unforgiveable offense.

"Why would you even SAY that? Oooooh! He looks so STUPID in those glasses. Why he would wear those stupid glasses I'll never know."

I guess there's no accounting for what we decide to get passionate about.

Lately my husband has been demonstrating a similar preoccupation with Chad Ochocinco, wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. It started out innocently (and logically) enough. "What kind of a douche legally changes his name to his jersey number?" I had no answer for that. It did seem like a sort of - well - douchey thing to do. I imagine many folks asked themselves and perhaps their significant others the same question, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

But that wasn't the end of it. Almost every time Ochocinco is mentioned, Tom will say some variation of, "What an idiot. Ochocinco. What kind of stupid name is that?" or, "So what happens if he goes to another team and number 85 has been retired? What're you gonna do then, OCHOCINCO? Stupid."

I have taken to answering his outbursts with, "His name is almost as stupid as Joe Paterno's glasses."

Comparing Tom to my mother usually buys me - and Ochocinco - a few moments of respite. But just a few. Because sooner or later, Tom will be shaking his head again and saying, "Ochocinco. Idiot." He tries to say it quietly, but I still hear him.

If I ever want him to divorce me, I'll just have to legally change my name to a number. If I want to be divorced and disowned, I can change my name to a number and get myself some big glasses.

Good to know.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Last week I told you about a little present I bought myself for completing my first week of NaNoWriMo. This week I deserve (but probably can't afford to indulge in) a much bigger present than an old CD. Several milestones were hit this week. I passed the halfway point, according to NaNoWriMo standards, and I passed it two days early. Oh, don't bother! I'll go ahead and pat myself on the back as soon as my hands are free from tooting my own horn. But that wasn't my biggest accomplishment. Oh no. My biggest accomplishment occurred yesterday. I wrote my very first ever completely fictional sex scene.

I've told a few of you in private notes that the coolest part of this whole project for me has been that after a couple days, the characters sort of started leading me rather than me leading them. They let me know what they needed to do and I wrote the words that made them do it. I'd certainly heard about this phenomenon before, but I never thought it would happen to me. (Should that last sentence have been prefaced by: Dear Penthouse? It sort of seems like it should have...) Well, this week two of my characters started leading me down a path that most definitely needed to result in a roll in the hay for them (roll, roll, roll in ze hay). I told Tom Wednesday, "I think my characters are going to do it tomorrow." I put it like that because I didn't want to waste all my valuable word-smithin' on a conversation with my husband, who would probably be just as happy if I didn't talk at all. As the day went by and I got closer to my writing time, I started trying to think of ways to get out of it (and for my gentlemen readers - isn't that just like a woman?) Maybe they could just start to make out and then one of them could get a very important phone call. Maybe they could just start to make out and then he would stop things to reveal a congenital disorder that made sex impossible but he sure would like to cuddle all night. Maybe they could just start to make out and that would trigger her hormones and make her period start. It could happen. But no. None of those things were what my characters wanted to do. What they wanted to do was 'it'. I'd made the bed and now I was going to have to lie in it - or - um - let them get laid in it.

So yesterday morning I did it. Well, I wrote it, they did it. And I'll tell you what, folks, if actually having sex took as long as writing about having sex did, we'd all feel like we were married to Sting, if you know what I mean, and I suspect that you do. I labored over it. It was torturous. I wanted it to be hot without crossing the line into pornographic. This is hard! (that's what she said) I didn't want it to be raunchy, but I didn't want it to be sappy. I wanted a potential reader to be a little warm after reading it - maybe even to have broken a little sweat - but I didn't want them to feel like they needed a shower. I have no idea if I accomplished this or not. As of this moment I'm pleased with what I came up with. I am also certain beyond the shadow of any doubt that some would find it too tame and some would find it too wild. You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself. So to speak.

You may or may not have noticed that I was missing from my usual blog rounds yesterday. Writing this short passage took all of my alotted computer time and a little more. Plus, my brain was zapped. My writing is usually very 'stream of consciousness'. That scene was work.

Am I going to let you read it? Not anytime soon! It's not ready for the light of day. Besides, what would a post about sex be without a little tease?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


There are people who fear change and people who embrace it. I have always tended to be more of a hugger - more of an embracer of change - but the older I get the more I find I want some things - not all things, mind you, but some things to stay the same. My last post was a testament to that.

My sister - there's a gal who fears change. No - fear is not the right word, and it would make her very angry to see me use it in reference to her and she can still kick my ass - she rejects change. Her hairstyle has changed twice since high school. She graduated in 1982. And neither of those changes were dramatic, either. She likes it this way and this is the way it is and if you don't like it you can suck it. She wears uniforms. Not official uniforms, just - she finds a style that she likes and that works for her and she wears it. All the time. The uniforms have gone through several changes. There were the shiny satin shirts and black pants. Then there was the ill-advised tuxedo shirts and gym shorts. Then there were T-shirts with over-sized animal prints. Currently she sports exercise tops and scrub bottoms. Cut off or not, depending upon the season. She marches to her own drummer, for sure, but said drummer can only play one cadence at a time.

I don't dig every fashion choice she makes, but I do dig her attitude. And I'm also a little jealous of the fact that she has a definite style. This is something that is not true of me. I try to be a chameleon and generally fail miserably.

I didn't set out to talk about clothes, though, believe it or not. I set out to talk about furniture. Last weekend we did some major moving and shaking around here. My craft room is gone. Gone, ya'll. In the next couple weeks, I expect to have a wall of shelves in what is currently Tom's unused woodshop. The kids have moved into my former craft room and made it a dedicated practice space for their band. This moved the drum kit and all of the amps and ugly wires and cords out of my front room and into the band room in the basement. This has been a good change! My front room is prettier, the kids practice more because they feel freer to make mistakes in the basement than they did in the front room - it's all good. Except the whole craft room thing, but that'll work out. Don't cry for me, fellow crafters.

So change - particularly change that brings almost instant notable improvement - leaves one wanting more, no? Improvements in one room draw attention to shortcomings in another. My perfectly servicable dining table became just a big ole' pile of flaws on four legs. Legs which have been chewed on by the puppy. And our puppy is 9 1/2. Years, not weeks. 9 1/2 weeks is something different entirely. So, yeah, a new dining set would definitely spruce things up.

The folks at CSN stores had contacted me a week or so ago to ask if I wanted to host a giveaway (And I said hell yes! So watch this space!) so I decided to check their dining room furniture first. Here's the dilemma. I liked two. A lot. This one is very similar to the one I currently have, but with a top that has not been the starting point for countless kids' art projects and legs which have not been used as canine teething toys. I know if I got this table or one like it it would look good in my kitchen. It's not a change so much as an upgrade.

Then I saw this. I love this set. But it is very different from what I currently have. It's more of a gamble. Will it look good in my space? Or will I get it and decide I need new curtains? And maybe a new baker's rack... You see where I'm going? It's a change, and it might (but might not...) dictate more changes that in turn might dictate even MORE changes... Change can have a snowball effect, no doubt.

Do I want to play it safe or take a risk?

When do you take risks and when do you play it safe?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sonnet #1: A Reluctant Crone's Dilemma

To color, or not to color: that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in mind to suffer the slings and arrows of an aging head with only a sparse few grays, or to take chemicals against a sea of potential grays, and by opposing end them?
To dye, to fake; to fake: perchance to deceive.
For who would purposefully bear the whips and scorns of time?

All of this is because I'm debating coloring my hair. Yeah. Nobody ever accused me of being not quite dramatic enough. You might even say I had quite a dramatic streak. Streak... that brings me back to hair color now, doesn't it?

Here's the thing: I colored my hair all the time when I was younger. A few of my friends were graying and I just didn't want to know about it. I figured if I kept color in it all the time, I'd just never know when I started to go gray. It seemed like a foolproof plan. When I had my kids and quit working, keeping up with color just wasn't a financial feasibility. I decided to see what was under there - under the color and the perms and all the other ridiculous affronts I had been imposing on my tresses. Turns out what was under there was not one single gray hair. I couldn't believe it. I was into my thirties and most of my friends were a little if not a lot gray. Not that anyone would've known that, of course. Fans of the color they were and are. I don't fault them for that a bit. But I didn't have a one. How 'bout that? Growing the perm out was a little more traumatic. My real hair was shiny. It was soft. It was not gray. But it was as fine as a toddler's. I considered using little velcro bows to try to manage my coiffure.

I haven't colored it or permed it or indulged in any other chemical processes since that day. (Ok, there was that one time, when I was asked to be a hair model - a before and after sort of thing. It was crazy fun and he did a great job with the color. I wouldn't mention it, but a couple of you know I did that and I know how you are. If you think I'm lying about that you'll figure I'm lying about everything. And I'm so not. I'm all about full disclosure. But that was years ago and it has long since grown out, so - sew buttons on ice cream.)

Now I'm no longer in my thirties and I only have a little bit of time left in the forties. My head is no longer completely devoid of grays. But I've gotta tell ya here, at the risk of seeming immodest, there are precious few of them. And I'll tell you something else - a secret, almost - I don't really hate them. They're not gray so much as they're silver - white even. They're not the bane of my existence. Sometimes I even think they're sort of pretty. Don't have a heart attack and die from the shock. I guess that's what happens when they don't start to show up until you're ready for them.

But lately - lately my crowning glory is not looking as shiny as it used to. Some days it's downright dull. It is still soft and it still behaves badly when I try to style it, but now it isn't lustrous. And I want it to be. Is that so wrong? The fast track to shine is color, right? And if it covers those couple few grays that insist on framing my face, well, that wouldn't be the end of the world I suppose.

All of this led to my Shakespearian inspired sonnet. Hamlet never had a dilemma like this. Plus, in the immortal words of The Boss, "I'm just tired and bored with myself".

Shakespeare and Springsteen in one post. Yeah.

Friday, November 6, 2009

You Never Forget Your First

I bought myself a present yesterday. I do that all the time on the rare occasion when I feel like I really deserve one. What did I do yesterday to merit a present, you ask? Well, I completed my fifth day of NaNoWriMo and that officially marked more words of fiction than I've ever put to paper before. (I know, right? Cheers! *clink*) It's weird - I'm not particularly proud of what I've written and I'm not even sure if any amount of post-November editing will make me so, but I AM very proud of the fact that I've been disciplined and dedicated enough to do it every day - even when the results weren't exactly (or even close to) what I wanted them to be.

I didn't want to talk about that, though.

I wanted to talk about my present.

I bought myself the CD 'Dreamboat Annie' by Heart. (no small thanks to Mary RC for getting that ball rolling with her post about doing their freaking hair and makeup and throwing me into possibly frightening squealy fangirl overload mode in her comments. Sorry Mary. Maybe sometime I'll tell you how I REALLY feel...) Now this was special, because this was the first album I bought with my own money. And I haven't had it in any other format until yesterday. Oh - for my younger readers - albums were these big flat round black things - bigger than a dinner plate - and we played them on record players, one side then the other. The artwork on them was sometimes amazing and often iconic. They were and are delicious. But that's not what I wanted to talk about, either.

I listened to the CD in the car yesterday and was amazed that I still knew every word to every song. The low notes she sings are still too high for me, but that didn't stop me from singing along to every note. I was alone in the car, no one's ears had to bear the offense. Oh! That was you next to me at that stop light? Well - whatever... Momma was just getting her groove on and you were probably just jealous. Love me like music, and I'll be your song...

Which brings me (quite smoothly, if I say so m'self) to the lyrics. How pretty is that one, by the way? I nearly wept this morning, listening to 'How Deep it Goes'.

Somebody turned on the dirty blues, well I know -
you don't like the blues 'cause the words are always the same
and they kind of remind you...

Somebody turned the blues on me,
well, I don't like the blues -
'cause I can't see through the tears that come,
and make it hard to find you...

Good gravy, kids. That moves me as much now as it did when I was fifteen. And that's exactly how old I felt, listening to it. I was instantly transported to my parents living room, playing albums on their hi-fi and singing every word as if it mattered. I could feel my parents carpeting under my belly as I read every lyric from the album cover and commited them to something deeper than memory. I almost expected my dad to say, "Time to call it quits, Tam, we've got to head to school"
"Just one more song..."

"I'll sing you a song - we have to go." (And for those of you who actually knew both my dad and I at that time - here's an extra little treat for you - he generally sang me Billy Joel's "Big Shot". Sometimes he danced. You're welcome for that visual)

I remember thinking the song 'Magic Man' might have been written about the boy I was seeing, because I truly HAD never seen eyes so blue... I thought about him this morning - listening to that CD - for the first time in over thirty years...

I remember hiking in the Canadian Rockies and drinking from a stream and hearing the lyric 'the time that you drank that water like wine, so sweet and so fine...' in my head and I was transported back to THAT moment this morning, too. I could almost taste that water - infinitely sweeter and more refreshing than any I'd ever tasted before or since.

My children were fighting in the car this morning and I turned up the volume on 'White Lightning and Wine' - mostly just to drown them out - and they not only stopped fighting but decided it would be a great song for their band to cover. Music hath charms...

I suppose I should get back to my NaNoWriMo project. How else am I gonna convince myself I deserve 'Seals and Croft's Greatest Hits' or Carole King's 'Tapestry' or Billy Joel's anything before 'The Nylon Curtain'?

Write on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'm Big Enough; I'm Small Enough

A pretty typical activity for teachers of young kids is a project called some variation on 'I'm Big Enough; I'm Small Enough'. This is a great activity for kids who are at an age where they're being sent conflicting messages to help them figure out exactly where they stand. Kids who are not yet old enough to make many decisions, but are constantly being told they're "old enough to know better". The idea is to come up with positive things on both sides, for example: "I'm big enough to tie my own shoes; I'm small enough to cuddle in Daddy's lap for a bedtime story". This of course evokes "awwwww's" from the grown-ups, but it also helps the wee ones figure out that there are positives to being bigger than some and smaller than some.

I wondered if a similar activity would help with my midlife crisis.

I'm big enough to worry about not fitting in an airline seat;
I'm small enough that I don't need to drive a special car.

Hmm. That certainly didn't make me feel much better.

Perhaps I need to change it up a bit given my circumstances. Let's try: I'm young enough; I'm old enough.

I'm young enough to want to get my party on;
I'm old enough to know when to turn over the car keys.

I'm young enough to travel;
I'm old enough to afford it (theoretically, anyway).

I'm young enough to be idealistic;
I'm old enough to be practical.

I'm young enough to listen to and respect dissenting opinions;
I'm old enough not to let that change my mind.

I'm young enough to want to dress fashionably;
I'm old enough to have been forgotten by the designers.

I'm young enough to want to go to rock concerts;
I'm old enough to want to have somewhere to park my ample ass available at same. I might also want earplugs. If Pete Townsend wasn't immune to hearing damage, what makes me think I'll be? I'm also old enough to like Pete Townsend.

I'm young enough to want a beer at that concert;
I'm old enough to realize I can practically buy a twelve-pack for what that beer will cost. It can wait.

I'm young enough to want to try to fit in;
I'm old enough to not put so much store in other people's opinions.

I'm young enough to love Andy Samberg;
I'm old enough to have loved John Belushi - first run.

I'm young enough to want to try new things;
I'm old enough to be a little set in my ways.

I'm young enough to feel cute in my new hat;
I'm (almost) old enough for that hat to be red.

That was a pretty decent start. Maybe I'm just young enough and just old enough. Maybe this is just the right young/old for me to be. How about you? What are you young enough; old enough for? Or big enough; small enough, if you really want to go to there. I'm dying to know - I know I've missed good ones!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Get a Job? What For? I'm Trying to Think.

I've been thinking about considering contemplating looking for a job. We would benefit from the extra money and I would benefit from doing something more productive with my days than being a formidable online presence. This appears to be the manifestation of my mid-life crisis. I don't know what I want to do with the second half. I mean - I REALLY don't know - I don't even have any ideas. I know I don't want to teach anymore. But beyond that? I don't know. Oh! And food service. I don't want to do anything that has anything to do with food service.

Of course that's where I started out. That's where most folks start out, no? When I was fifteen I started working at a sub shop. In retrospect, it wasn't such a bad gig. Sure, there was the time I had to work the afternoon of my junior prom and my relief didn't come on time and I only had half an hour to get ready and I couldn't get the smell of onions out of my hands for love or money. That day sucked. But overall, it was a pretty decent gig - especially considering how young I was.

Even when I taught, I had a part-time gig on the side more often than not. Teachers moonlight a lot. Go figure.

Once I had a part-time gig at a lingerie store. This was a hoot, and I could tell you stories for days based on that job alone. Stories like this one:

We catered to the lingerie needs of the general public, but we also did pretty regular business with the local strippers, both male and female. Most just came in, bought what they needed and left. We had the largest selection of tear-away underwear in the metropolitan area, so we were a pretty popular spot. This stuff was not built to last, so we had a lot of repeat customers. Novelty items like thongs resembling a tuxedo or Pinocchio were big sellers. It was a classy place.

One day when I was alone in the shop (it was a small shop, so this was almost always the case), a guy came in and spent a little while perusing our wide selection of stripper-wear for men. He picked up a few items and asked me if he could try them on. This was unusual, because male strippers tend to follow the same rule with their underpants as body builders do with their T-shirts: If it's too big they're flattered (and believe me - nothing we sold was too big...), and if it's too small they'll wear it anyway. But, ok, go ahead and try them on. But dude! (I reminded him) State law requires that you keep your underwear on while trying them on. He nodded to indicate that he'd heard me.

A few moments later, the door of the dressing room opened and he was standing there in a pair of burgundy briefs. You might have called it a banana sling, but that's just because you weren't regularly selling thongs that resembled actual bananas. With faces. Happy, happy faces. (I told you it was classy.) He said, "What do you think?"

"It's nice."

He turned around. I nodded. I see you.

He went into the dressing room again and emerged just moments later wearing a yellow - let's call it a bikini, shall we? Again, "What do you think?" He ran his hands over his stomach. It was like I was getting a little audition or something. Maybe he was a new stripper and he was practicing. I didn't know.

"Very nice." I said, barely looking up.

He turned around and gave his tush a little shake. I rolled my eyes.

He went back into the dressing room. He only had one more item to try on, and I somehow knew I was gonna get flashed this time. His little exhibitions had gone a little further each time and I just knew... I also knew that the only reason he would do that would be to shock me. To get a reaction. To see if a rise out of him would yield a rise out of me. I knew I couldn't give him that. I couldn't let him win.

Predictably, he emerged from the dressing room wearing a red tear-away thong. "What do you think of this one?" he asked, posing.

"It's good. Red is a good color for you."

"And what do you think of THIS?" he said, proudly pulling back the velcro and standing in the middle of my store in all his glory. (That pride, for inquiring minds who might want to know, was not entirely misplaced. But that's neither here nor there.)

"I THINK", I said, without missing a beat and without letting a single expression cross my face, "that you're going to have to buy those, because you have clearly tried them on without underwear underneath, which is a violation of state law. As is exposing yourself in a public place."

His face, among other things, fell, and he returned to the dressing room. This time he came out fully dressed. He put all three items on the counter and paid for them without another word.

Come to think of it, maybe I don't want a job after all. I'm too old to deal with that shit.

What's the wildest thing that ever happened to you at work?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Go Ask Alice

I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking, "Those Howards are such a clever lot. I wonder what manner of disguise they'll be donning for Halloween tomfoolery?" (Are you a little freaked out right now? That I read your thoughts so accurately? It's a gift. And a curse.)

Without further ado, a Very Howard Halloween:


As an homage to the upcoming Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter venture, Alice in Wonderland, Liv decided to dress as, uh, Alice in Wonderland.

Now let me tell you a little bit about this. Liv is not quite but almost 12. She wears a junior size 5 (or 7, or 9, depending on the brand and the cut and - well, never mind - you get the general picture). Do you know how hard it was to find an Alice in Wonderland costume for her that didn't involve a bustier, ruffled panties and a mini skirt? She didn't want to be Alice - with a twist. She didn't want to be Sexy Alice. She didn't want to be Malice in Wonderland. She just wanted to be plain old Alice in Wonderland. Sheesh, as a friend of mine recently asked, "When did it become Skankaween?"


We found one and she looked awfully cute, wouldn't you say?


My love for Tom has been pretty well documented. My love for Alice Cooper has been almost equally well documented. My love for Tom AS Alice Cooper? Well, that's previously uncharted territory.

I tell ya kids, not since Liv's pirate birthday party 4 years ago...

What can I say?

Baby if you want to, be my lover...


So you're sensing a theme here, huh?

We had to find something for me that would make good use of all of the many assets I bring to the table.

Practical? Check
Frumpy? Check
Veritable Fount of 70's Pop-Culture Trivia? Check

Have you figured it out?
Alice Nelson, of course. You can call me Alice Brady, though. I don't mind.

I didn't get to look sexy, but I did get to wear practical shoes and support hose for Trick or Treat. So that was cool. I think I may wear this to the grocery store next week. Maybe I can catch the eye of a certain bowling butcher...


Last, but never least, Miss Lea. Now Lea wanted to be Alice Cullen. Non-Twilighters are saying, "Who?" and Twilighters are saying, "Wait - how could you dress as Alice? She has no particular characteristics that stand out. She doesn't wear any particular garb. How in tarnation could one dress as Alice Cullen?" (I'm sorry. Reading your mind again. And FYI? No one really says tarnation anymore. You might want to put a check on that.) So we thought and we thought and we got it. The perfect punchline to our little family Alice joke:

Alice in Chains.

Alice (Cullen) in Chains, if that takes it to another level for ya.

So that's it - that's us.
As of Sunday, Alice doesn't live here anymore.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leave it Alone

When I visited my parents a couple weeks ago, I snapped a picture of a pile of leaves on the side of the street, waiting for leaf pick up. It's a very ordinary thing, and I wouldn't have bothered to photograph it at all except that I knew it was something my children had never seen. Here in the stupid suburbs we used to have to rake everything up and put it in bags by the curb awaiting pick up. Bags designed to look like pumpkins and ghosts were very popular. Who doesn't want to decorate their yard with festive trash bags? (And let's not even get started on taking a substance as biodegradable as leaves and tying them up tightly in a plastic bag. Ahem.) This year, we are not even given that option and have to find a way to dispose of "all yard waste" ourselves. It's time to start composting, but that's a digression I'm not gonna take today...

Because I'd rather talk about those piles of leaves.

As a kid I remember loving walking through them. I loved the way they smelled and I loved the way they resisted just a little bit as I kicked them up. I loved the way they fell back down - unpredictably predictable. The final destination was always the ground, but if they weren't wet, they would float and drift and sometimes even dance before returning to their place on the street. I loved the way it sounded when they started to dry and produced an audible whoosh as I walked through them, breaking the crisp stillness of an autumn day.

I was always cautioned, though, to not kick with abandon - because something could be hidden under the leaves. I was never told exactly WHAT to look out for - just that SOMETHING might be there. It was easy for a young girl's imagination to run wild. Someone might stash TREASURE under those leaves was a common theme on the way home from the bus stop in the bright afternoon in the company of friends. We would carefully kick at every pile, just to make sure. As the street lights came on, more grisly things were imagined lurking in those piles. Crazed injured animals. Murderous fiends who would grab your ankles. Zombies waiting for the last vestiges of daylight to disappear before beginning their nightly quest for brains.

When I learned to drive, I was cautioned once again not to drive through the piles of leaves. Idiots who thrive on schadenfreude could stash cinder blocks there, ruining your tires or worse. Kids could be playing in the leaves. Zombies - well, no. My parents didn't warn me about zombies. Still, though, better safe than sorry. What if you started to run over one but instead of killing it, just pissed it off? What if THAT happened, huh? Somewhere along the line, I took all of those warnings and imaginary scenarios and convinced myself that there were - or at least COULD be - babies in the leaf piles. That did the trick. I have NEVER driven through a pile of leaves because - sure - there's probably NOT a baby in it, but what if there WAS? How would I feel THEN?

Welcome to my world of fear and irrational paranoia. It's unnerving here sometimes, but the colors are pretty.

And for the love of all things holy, if you live in a community that still has leaf pick up, DON'T DRIVE THROUGH THE LEAVES!

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ya Feelin' Lucky, Punk?

Well, I'm not.

I'm feeling most unlucky indeed.

But it's never really about luck, is it? That's what the lucky ones say, anyway. They say it's all about choices.

My argument is that I didn't choose most of my circumstances. And that's true, for the most part. But I do choose how I'm going to respond to those circumstances. A pertinent and recent example:

Yesterday a friend posted pictures of us from the mid-80's on Facebook. I was reminded under no uncertain terms - there it was - that I had a rockin' bod in my mid-20's. It bummed me right the frick out. How does one go from that to this? Well, there was a little bit of bad luck. I have a slow metabolism. I have hypothyroidism. I have Hashimoto's. I didn't choose any of those things. Bad luck. BUT! When I saw those pics, my immediate reaction to the sense of failure they sparked was to find comfort in a bowl of hot fudge. With or without ice and or whipped cream. And THAT, my friends, is a choice. (No, I didn't do it. But only because there wasn't any in the house and I was too lazy to go out and get any. Sometimes laziness is an asset.) When I showed the pics to Tom, by the way, his only response was: "Your hair looked dumb." I love this man so. much.

So - to recap - current state of the body is a result of a combination of bad luck and bad choices. Eliminate ONE of those things and it would probably be not as bad as it is, but not as good as it was. It can't all be attributed to one or the other.

Remember in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" when Johnny Depp takes Juliette Lewis to meet his morbidly obese mom and his mom apologizes for her appearance, with tears brewing behind her eyes, "I wasn't always like this..." and Juliette Lewis answers, without missing a beat, "Well I wasn't always like this, either." We all change. I love that moment. I love Johnny Depp....

Dang. I appear to have once again digressed...

Luck. Choices.


I am dealing with some other stuff, too, which I'm not quite ready to talk about here. It FEELS like a lot of bad luck. I KNOW that to the outside observer it would LOOK like a lot of bad choices. I'm still trying to sort that out. Trying to determine how different choices might yet turn it around. No luck so far - I'll keep you posted.

I know that I'm lucky in many ways. I have a roof over my head. Said roof is in a rapidly deteriorating neighborhood. Said roof is over a house that was built fast 14 years ago and is falling apart before our eyes. Said house is always a mess and I can't keep up with it. Some bad luck. Some bad choices. But ultimately the great good luck of having a home.

I have a family. Said family doesn't have much time for me, they're all busy chasing their own lives and making their own bad choices (and an occasional good one) regarding their own personal circumstances. Said family's good choices are a reflection on them and their bad choices are a reflection on me. Said family is always a mess and I can't keep up with it. Some bad luck. Some bad choices. But ultimately the great good luck of having a family.

I have friends. Said friends are mostly kept up with via the computer - even the ones who actually live close by, of which there are not too darn many. Said friends are rarely available for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, but they're almost always available with a friendly ear (er, um, eye...) and a lot of support. A little bad luck. A couple bad choices. But ultimately the great good luck of having friends.

I could go on - but you get the general gist. You're pretty bright like that. Luck and choices. Our reality is a combination of the two.

Sorry I was a bummer today. But it should improve. The sun is shining and it's a beautiful day here. How lucky.

Make good choices!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Sarge

My dad has gone by a few nicknames in his day. His name is Sheldon. I reckon when your name is Sheldon and folks bless you with a nickname you sort of do your best to make it stick.

His first and most lasting nickname was Tut (with Tutta being a common variation). He earned this one as a young boy and at 80 I still think more people call him Tut than Shel. He is Uncle Tutta to all of my cousins. Tut, apparently, came about because, as the eighth of nine children and the youngest boy, some of his siblings believed he was treated like a young king. This always amused me, because his youth coincided with the Great Depression. He and his eight siblings lived in a small two bedroom house on a hill with their parents. His parents shared a room, his five sisters shared a room, and the four brothers shared one bed in the attic. Oranges for Christmas and glad of it, the whole nine yards. When he told me stories of his youth I failed to see anything kingly about it. His older siblings perceived it differently. It’s all about perspective. And Sheldon became Tut.

Now Tut may have been first. And it may have had the most staying power. But Dad had another nickname in my camping youth. He was known, among our camping friends and family, as The Sarge.

The Sarge was born in the woods on a hiking trail.

The exact location is unimportant.

The Sarge transcended geography.

The Sarge thought five year old little girls should be able to make five, six, even seven mile hikes with nothing but a canteen of water for sustenance (and they’d have to carry those themselves). Rest breaks were for the weak. If it was a destination hike – hiking to a waterfall or some other manner of scenic vista, a brief break was permitted for photographing and appreciating the scene. Photography, of course, was contingent upon us carrying our own cameras. We couldn’t linger long enough to make us soft, though.

My mother would remind him, upon embarking upon one of these hikes, that my sister and I were LITTLE. He would assure her very matter-of-factly: “They’ll be fine.”

And we were.

If we got tired and asked for a break, he’d assure us that we could take one when we got around the next bend. We never seemed to get around that bend.

And we never whined.

We were fine.

The Sarge said so.

Because of The Sarge’s refusal to treat us like delicate pink things we were able to witness so much beauty that many never see. As a matter of fact, a recent conversation with my parents as well as the recent PBS series on our National Parks revealed that many of the places we hiked and climbed to are now off-limits to tourists. (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t our fault.)

Years later, when my sister and I were in our teens, The Sarge decided he wanted to walk a few miles down the beach to check out another campground. I eagerly said I wanted to go. A walking tan is way more even than a lying tan and walking a couple miles in the sand was like a free pedicure. Chafing? Wasn’t in my personal lexicon at that time.

The friends we were with weren’t so sure. Their daughter was still so LITTLE. Surely she would get too tired to finish such a long walk. The Sarge teased that there would be Nutty Buddies at the other campground, and that it would be his treat. Their daughter was IN! Her parents still expressed concern.

“She’ll be fine.”

And she was.

She enjoyed that Nutty Buddy with a gusto usually reserved for an oasis in the middle of the desert. It gave her the energy she needed for the walk back.

And she never whined.

She was fine.

The Sarge said so.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Do you guys know Traci at '38 and Growing'? She is a relative newcomer in this bloggy little world of ours and she is a very fun read. Link on through, if you haven't met her already!


A couple days ago, Traci wrote a post about wanting to update her blog, but wanting to do it all herself. She's always up for a challenge - so this is sort of right up her alley. Me? I'd rather just do my writing and leave the technical stuff to technical folks. I mentioned this in her comments and also mentioned that I wanted to put all of YOUR buttons in a slide show, but just didn't know how.

It was only hours after leaving that comment that I found a note in my inbox from Unknown Mami with the subject: 'I made you a present!' That's right. The Unknown One saw my casual comment on someone else's blog and made me a slide show. Can you believe how sweet that was? I am still reeling from the generosity and thoughtfulness. And check it out (on the left sidebar under 'These Blogs Rock the Casbah')! Isn't it cute? I haven't collected a lot of buttons lately because they were stretching so far down the page that I knew no-one was going to see them. Once Mami did the hard part for me, I was able to go off gathering buttons and adding them to my slide show. SO - if you don't see yourself there, let me know and I'll rectify it quickly - because I CAN!

And I CAN because of the absolute knock your socks off kindness of this dang blogosphere we call home.

I feel an 'I love you, man!' coming on...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Benign Neglect

Tom and I are not so much good with the whole landscaping thing. We don't know what to do, and on the rare occasions when we do get a glimmer of an idea, we don't know how to do it. Our lawn is a mess. That's what you'd think if you drove by my house. That's what you'd think if you were trying to sell the house next door (sorry, neighbor). But guess what? I met our neighbors lawn service guy while I was out getting the mail today. He started with a spiel, then kicked at my (way too long by suburban standards) grass and said, "Your lawn is actually surprisingly healthy." I said something about that being because we let it get so dang long and to my immense surprise he said, "That's probably it. Most people cut theirs way too often and keep it way too short." Who knew? We've been practicing benign neglect on our lawn.

That's a term I hadn't thought about in a while.

When I was in grad school, I had to do some observations in various NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units). As a student observer, it was made very clear that I was authorized to observe and ask questions, but I was to have no actual contact with the babies and I was not to interfere or intervene in any way. Some NICU's had a separate observation room, but in most I was allowed to be on the floor.

On one particular night there was a baby that just wouldn't stop crying. It was a strong newborn cry, and it was relentless. Nobody made any effort to comfort him. There were several nurses on the floor doing paperwork or casually checking on other babies. Why was no-one comforting this child? After a few moments, my agitation must have become evident. A nurse approached me and nodded towards the crying infant. "It's bugging you, huh?" I nodded. "It's called benign neglect. We're very aware of him, I assure you, and we know exactly how long he's been crying." At this point, another nurse came over and finally comforted the little guy. He started to calm relatively quickly. "He was quite premature and his lungs are working hard to develop. Crying is great exercise for his little underdeveloped lungs. We don't let him cry TOO long, but we do let him cry. We're happy when he cries. Did you notice how strong that cry was?" I nodded again. She continued, pride evident in her voice, "It wasn't that strong a couple days ago. His parents are going to be really pleased. They can't stand to not comfort him when he fusses, so we're all glad when he chooses to wail like that when they're gone." By the time our conversation was over, he was quiet and seemed comfortable.

And I'd learned a valuable lesson.

Sometimes the best thing to do - and often the HARDEST thing to do - is nothing.

I've slowly, slowly learned (am slowly, slowly learning) this lesson with my own kids. Sometimes my intervention causes more harm than good. Sometimes I need to step back and let them make their own mistakes - even if it means they're going to end up crying. Sometimes a little neglect is the kindest thing.

Now if someone could find a way to assure me that neglecting exercise was in some way benign...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

(Last) Lunch With a Loved One

Liv's school had 'Lunch With a Loved One' yesterday. I like this program for a couple reasons. First, they have two a year and they divide the school up. So there is never one day for all the loved ones. On each of the designated days, fully half of the kids will be eating lunch with their buds as usual instead of with a guest. So there is never that one kid eating alone while everyone else eats with their loved ones. And that brings me to the second thing I like: It's not a parents luncheon or a grandparents luncheon; it's lunch with a loved one. Not all kids have parents or grandparents who can make it to the school. Heck, not all kids have parents or grandparents. Asking them to invite 'A Loved One' levels the playing field a little bit. I like that.

So I marked the calendar, but forgot to record what time Liv's lunch was. I told her it was no biggie, I'd just call the school in the morning. She left the following note on the table for me as a reminder. A reminder that I'm a moron...

My teacher is Mr. Geist.
Mr. Geist is not pronounced Geest.
You could probably just say The Green Team.
That would work.

You know. For a simpleton such as yourself who might not be able to get the complicated pronunciation of my teachers name right.

She went on to inform me that I could hug her at school and I could call her any fond nickname I wanted to but that I was not to kiss her under any circumstances because kissing is against school rules. I guess that's good...

So, armed with the accepted pronunciation of her teachers name and the official school policy on PDA's, I showed up at the school right on time with lunch for the two of us. She was happy to see me. I refrained from kissing her. I did not refrain from calling her Punky Punk.

We were joined for lunch by her buddy C. and his mom. Liv and C. were in pre-school together and have had the same teachers almost every year. In the friend department, she could do a lot worse. Liv and C. explained to his mom and I that the school was really showing off. That the lunch they served was much nicer than the usual lunch and that half the students were eating lunch in their classroom to make room for the loved ones, thus providing a much quieter and more civilized environment. The effort did not go unappreciated.

After that we took a quick walk through the hallways to her classroom, artwork was pointed out and admired, and we headed out to the playground. Where I was promptly ditched in favor of younger more agile playmates who were in no danger of forgetting the rules and accidentally kissing her.

I love and hate that part.

I hate being ditched.

But I love sort of getting a glimpse of my child in her natural habitat. I love seeing her interact, not only with her friends but with the whole school community. I love how carefree and happy she looks when she plays outside. I love that she loves her life.

This was my last 'Lunch With a Loved One'. The program doesn't continue into Jr. High and that's probably for the best. I don't think I love ANYONE enough to risk entering a crowded noisy hormone addled Jr. High cafeteria (well, I DO, but, you know, I'd rather not)... So it was a little bittersweet. But mostly sweet.

Go ahead and grow up, my little Punky Punk. But take your time. There's no rush.

And I can still kiss you when you get home, right?