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?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Average Joe

I think I'm pretty average. I imagine you think you're pretty average, too. Most of us do.

When Lea was a baby I remember describing her progress as "Right on track. Average." My mother hit the roof. She couldn't imagine why I would say such a horrible thing about my baby. It wasn't such a horrible thing. Average isn't bad, it's, well, average.

By its very definition, most of us are average.

This is so dissatisfying.

We all want to be special. We all want to be remarkable. I may have offended you when I implied that you were probably average. You're probably not, really. Not you! But me? Yeah. (Heck, sometimes I find myself WISHING for average...) Because we all want to beat this curve. We all want to be that 2% that is definitely superior. Or at LEAST the 14% that is probably superior. We all want to be special.

I think people who are constantly reminding us of how special they are are usually just trying to convince themselves. Those who are truly awesome don't need to tell us so. We know.

It's not such a bad thing to want to be in that 16%. We should always strive to be better, I suppose. If we settled for average - well, I guess that would be pretty dull. I'm not implying that we should ever become complacent. Just, maybe, that we shouldn't look on 'average' with such disdain.

We all have our gifts. The bell curve isn't as straightforward as it appears. We fall at different points along the spectrum in different aspects of our selves; positioning ourselves very low in some aspects of self and much higher in others. In the end, though, it all - um - averages out.

When I was teaching, I told my students that I didn't want their grades to align perfectly on the bell curve. I wanted a lot of A's and few if any F's. I felt like, if I was teaching the material well, the curve should look more like a slope than a bell. Usually it worked out that way, too. But there was one test that I wrote - and I administered this same test almost 20 different times to 20 different sets of students - and each time - each time - the results shook out into a perfect bell curve. When I recorded a lot of C's, a few B's and D's and only a couple A's and F's into my grade book, I hated that test. But when I plotted all of those scores on a graph and saw that curve appear - it made me feel really good about my test-writing abilities. But then I would wonder about my teaching abilities. If I was truly teaching the material well, shouldn't there be more A's? The answer is, of course, no. A C isn't a bad grade. It's an average grade.

And average is, well, most of us.

Average grades, average looks, average income, average level of talent or ability - average.

So here's to the average Joe. May we stop beating ourselves up while we continue to strive. And by we, I of course mean me. You're probably way above average. But if you're not? Well, welcome to the club. It's a big one. And here's to ya.

(apparently my ability to get the whole image to display is below average...)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Morphine and Chocolate

Well, maybe just chocolate.

I wanted to go to Starbucks for hot chocolate this morning after I dropped Liv off at band practice. It was dark and cold and just felt like a hot chocolate sort of morning. But then I thought about the price tag on a cup of Starbucks hot chocolate and thought - "that's something I should indulge in with someone, as a treat, not take home and drink alone."

So I came home and made hot chocolate from scratch. Because I wanted to. Because I wanted the whole process. Because, I found, I didn't just want hot chocolate. I wanted to make hot chocolate. I wanted to measure ingredients and stir them over low heat. I wanted to smell the chocolate as it heated up. It took a long time. And as I'm enjoying these first tentative sips, I'm appreciating it much more than I would be if I'd just picked it up at the drive-thru.

And here's the kicker: It's really not that good. I made it with skim milk. I used cheap cocoa. It's - mediocre at best. So why am I enjoying it so much?

I think it's one of those 'everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten' things. Sometimes the process is more important than the product.

A couple years back I visited the Crayola factory with my family. Lea was a pre-schooler and Liv was barely a toddler. At the end of the factory tour, they had different stations set up to play with Crayola products, old and new. At the time, ModelMagic was new. Lea made a few things, smashed them, started over - in a word, she played. I played, too. No, I didn't. I worked. I started making this elaborate little sculpture. I was meticulous. When Liv started to cry and Tom suggested we move on I became very irritated. I'm not DONE! It wasn't that I was having so much fun with the process, I became quite obsessed with the product. Which I wasn't going to keep anyway.

How many times have we seen a child work for a long time (in child years) coloring a picture, only to casually throw it away when they were done? Our adult response to this is that they're not taking pride in their work. We retrieve it and carefully smooth it out and tell them how pretty it is. We ask them to tell us about their picture. The truth (more often than not) is that they're just done coloring. The process is over. The product never really mattered. And we are annoying them.

That's a difficult concept for success-oriented adults to wrap their brains around.

But I can wrap my cold hands around a warm cup of mediocre hot chocolate.

That'll have to be enough for today.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Nice Pair of Pants

When I arrived at my parents' house, it was late(ish) and Mom said, "I have some ironing to do. Why don't you come up to my bedroom and keep me company?" So I left my dad and Thursday night football and headed upstairs with my mom. I don't care how old you are, is there anyplace more comforting than your mom's bed? I sprawled across it sideways and arranged the throw pillows for maximum comfort. We chatted as she ironed her outfit. She and Dad had a funeral to attend the next morning. They attend a lot of funerals. The funerals I attend are few and far between. The funerals they attend seem to be weekly occurrences. I do not look forward to that part of getting older.


She finished ironing her outfit and yelled down the stairs for my dad, "TUT! Get up here and show me what pants you're wearing tomorrow so I can iron them!"

My Dad - Tut - has done this drill before. To say "after this play" or "when there's a commercial" or, God forbid, "What?" would have been a grave error. He came upstairs immediately.

There is a bathroom at the top of the stairs and there was laundry hanging over the shower curtain rod to dry. I had noticed this on my way up the stairs. There were about six pairs of khaki pants neatly hanging there. They all looked the same to me. He grabbed one of them and brought them into the bedroom and handed them to my mom. "You can't wear those." She pronounced, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Tammy, he's wearing this jacket and this shirt and this tie, what pants should he wear?" Now don't ask me why she chose the jacket and shirt and tie but needed him to choose the pants. Pointing that out would've been a grave error. The jacket was navy, the shirt was white, and the tie was a very pretty navy, purple, silver and white paisley.

"Gray?" I answered tentatively.

"Get your gray pants, Tut."

"I don't have gray pants."

"Yes you do."

He emerged from the closet with another pair of khakis. "Not THOSE! Those are golf pants!"

I was out of my league here. They just looked like pants pants to me. "Help him, Tammy."

So I reluctantly left my comfy perch on the bed to look in my dad's closet. There must have been 25 pairs of pants, covering the entire array of hues from stone to tan. I picked a pair on the lighter side of the spectrum and presented them to her.

"Not those. Those have the tags on them." To inform her that tags were easily removed would've been a grave error. I put the pants back in the closet and shrugged at my dad, in an attempt to convey the message, 'you're on your own, dude'.

He handed her another pair. To my eyes, they looked exactly like the three pairs that had just been rejected. But she liked them. He was dismissed and sent back downstairs to his game. She started ironing his pants. Suddenly she stopped mid-press. "He can't wear these! TUT!" Back up the stairs he dutifully trotted. "You can't wear these, there's a HOLE in them!" She showed us both the offending hole. It was less than 1/2 inch right along a seam on the underside of the crotch. It did not spread when she pulled at it. I would've totally worn those pants. For Dad to say the same would've been a grave error.

He chose another pair.

He returned to the game, she returned to the ironing board. "Oh my God, Tammy, look at these. They're DIRTY! Why would he hang dirty pants in the closet? Oh, I swear, that man is such a crumb bum." It probably goes without saying that I saw no evidence of dirt. Sometimes I wonder if my mom and I live in the same world. "There's a HANKIE in the pocket! Now why would you hang up pants with a hankie in the pocket? TUT!"

Up the stairs he trudged. She handed him the offending pants. He folded them neatly over a hanger and returned them to the closet, but not before he threw a quick conspirital wink in my direction. He was making a grave error on PURPOSE! He was stirring the pot! Oh my GOD these two are a hoot!

The next pair he chose also passed muster. He went downstairs and she pressed them without incident.

The next morning when he dressed for the funeral I was sure to tell him how handsome he looked. It wasn't a lie. His white hair was really set off by that navy jacket and the pretty tie. I told her she looked pretty, too. Also not a lie. She was wearing a very smart eggplant pantsuit with a little ruffled peplum jacket. It suited her. What I failed to mention was that my dad's pants had those little hanger wrinkle marks around his knees. Tut can stir the s**t just fine. He doesn't need any assistance from me.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Road Trip With Mrs. Chicken

It was a dark and stormy night. (Ok, it was really more misty than stormy. I'm trying to set a mood here. It's called poetic license. Roll with it.) I was driving alone through the mountains of West Virginia en route from my home in Central Ohio to my Home in Western Pennsylvania. How did I come to be on this dark and stormy road alone in the middle of the night, you ask? (It was more like the beginning of the evening. But with the late time change this year, it felt quite a lot like the middle of the night. Would you be as intrigued if I'd said, 'just after rush hour? I thought not.)

It was simple, really. The kids had a four day weekend, and I had a hankering to go Home and visit with my family and a few friends. We'd leave Wednesday night and come home Saturday. That way Tom would get a little alone time after work for a couple days, which can be very relaxing, but wouldn't have the full weekend alone which can get awful lonesome. It was win win. Except I forgot we had an appointment Wednesday night. (An appointment with a bottle of wine and some fine tapas. Wednesday night was out anniversary, remember). So, ok, no problem, we'd leave Thursday morning. Except the reason the girls had Thursday off was that it was parent teacher conference day and I had an afternoon conference scheduled. Ok, we'd leave right after the conference. That would work. Except I forgot that Liv has drum lessons Thursday night. And she didn't want to miss her lesson. "Why do we have to go to Memaw and Pepaw's anyway?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. No zombies." I don't know why I said that. (Probably a reference to 'Zombieland'. The characters didn't refer to each other by name, just by cities. The main character went by 'Columbus Ohio' which is home. So we sort of dug that. Even though it was destroyed. I don't think that requires a spoiler alert. It IS a movie about a zombie apocalypse. When 'apocalypse' is part of the explanation, you sort of expect a little destruction. It's always neat when home gets a mention. Springsteen mentioned Home in 'The River'. It wasn't a flattering reference, but I held it near my heart anyway. It's like these famous important people know a little piece of you when they mention places and things you hold dear. I just read 'A Walk in the Woods' and every time Bill Bryson mentioned a State or National Park I'd been too, I felt like we were sharing the adventure. Which we totally weren't. Ohmigod - how am I ever gonna get you back to my story?)

"No zombies!" Tom exclaimed. "You practically drive right through Monroeville between here and there! You go through zombie mecca, zombie homeland, zombie ground zero." (I don't really drive through Monroeville. I do pass an exit for Pittsburgh, though. Oh, and for anyone not with me at this point, Monroeville, a suburb of Pittsburgh, is the setting for 'Dawn of the Dead', the seminal and arguably definitive zombie movie.)

"I don't want to go." replied one or both of the kids. This decision may or may not have had to do with zombies.

"They can stay with me." Tom threw out casually.

"Kthnkxbye!" I said, running up the stairs to pack before he had a chance to change his mind. Two nights and one full day to live in my parents house and play with my friends without worrying about stopping arguments or anything else involved in the care and keeping of a teen and a tween? Yes, please.

So I was set to leave Thursday afternoon. Mom calls Thursday morning and says, "We're really looking forward to seeing you, but I wanted you to know that they're calling for snow." Snow? Really? It's the middle of October! I'm not ready for snow - I am not ready to entertain even the possibility of snow. Nope. Lalala, I can't hear you, no snow. But she'd planted a wee tiny seed of worry.

Thursday afternoon, Tom and I attended the parent teacher conference. When we came out, my car gave us a little trouble about starting. Tom says to me (he says), "Your battery is shot".

"Does that mean I can't go?" (that seed of worry was sprouting fast)

"That means you need a new battery and you're lucky we figured it out now instead of halfway through your trip."

"Ok." But I didn't feel particularly lucky, because I was now off schedule by about an hour and a half which was supposed to be the amount of time I would be able to bargain shop on the way Home. I love bargain shopping. Bargain shopping sans kids? Well, at the risk of repeating myself: yes, please. So that was denied. Bummer. But I was on my way. Well, sort of. When the battery was replaced, my stereo went offline. To get it back involved finding a code and, oh, for Pete's sake, if I wasted any more time I was gonna have to give up dinner as well as shopping. "I'll be fine without a stereo - I need to go."

"You'll go nuts alone in the car with no stereo for almost 5 hours."

"No I won't. The voices keep me company."

So off I set, almost two hours later than planned, with nothing but the sounds of the road (and, of course, the aforementioned voices) to keep me company.

The first leg of the trip was gorgeous. Not a lot rivals the beauty of driving through the mountains during peak foliage season. I felt sort of - blessed. Like this amazing display was just for me. Don't burst my bubble on that one, it wouldn't be nice. As the sun began to set in the rear view mirror, though, things took a turn for the spooky. It's no accident that Halloween is celebrated in Autumn. Autumn days are beautiful. Autumn nights are eerie.

So I'm singing to myself - trying to keep my thoughts occupied by things other than the general gloominess of the night - when I smell cigarette smoke. I don't smoke. Tom doesn't smoke. No-one has ever smoked in my car. (Well, that may or may not be true. I'm not the original owner. But I've had it a couple years. You'd think any residual odors in the upholstery or carpeting would've manifested before now.) My senses are now on red alert. And I smell a fart. Now I'm alone in the car. And I haven't farted. I'd tell you if I had. I'm not shy. It's a very natural thing. Everyone farts. Except I hadn't. And I was the only one in the car.

I'm deep in the mountains now, it's dark, it's rainy, it's spooky. There isn't any snow, but the 'Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface' signs are being taken seriously because I'd encountered a little slush. The wind is blowing and the fog is creeping in more quickly than slowly, almost instantly obscuring my vision. Leaves are blowing in the wind and being illuminated by my headlights like unpredictable little specters. And there's an apparition smoking and farting in my back seat. I DO believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I DO believe in spooks...

Two small lights on the road ahead. Not headlights. Eyes. Then, before I had time to process this latest development, an eighteen wheeler, coming out of nowhere - coming out of a side street I didn't even know was there. So this is how it ends. All this spooky, eerie stuff going on, and I'm gonna be taken out 'Maximum Impact' style. And without the cool AC/DC soundtrack.

The truck went on it's way. The deer in the road was avoided. The fog dissipated as my altitude decreased. The odors cleared. Home was in sight. That's where I went to High School. That's the church where Daddy and I got married. That's where I went to kindergarten. It's an office building, now. All those landmarks I point out to my family every time we make this trip. Except this time I'm alone, so there's no one to say, "I know, Mom, gawd, you tell us every time!"

I remarked on all of the landmarks out loud, anyway. It was good to be Home.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ooooooo Kids - This is a Scary One!

Portions of this post were originally posted 10-17-08, but since it had NO comments, I felt pretty safe re-posting a revised edition.

You know what I don't like? I don't like Haunted Houses. Or Haunted Hayrides. Or Haunted much of anything. Tom says I'm ridiculous. Most of you will, too, probably. My line of reasoning is this: If I were a deranged killer, these are the sort of places where I would seek employment. This would be an easy place to get away with murder. The kids are very tempted by these attractions. I won't go. I have been convinced that I'm being irrational. But I still won't go. If he wants to take them, I won't stop them. But I won't join them, either. I. Don't. Like. Haunted stuff.

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. An outing is an outing. 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. It was - memorable.

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 (Or was it a cassette? Or perhaps an eight- track?) 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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's a Nice Day for a White Wedding

I told you the love story for Valentine's Day. This story picks up practically where that one left off.

"I'm pregnant."

"Are you sure?"

"Peed on a stick..."

"What do you want to do?"

"I want to get married."

(hugging me and kissing the top of my head) "We will be the happiest family ever."

That was our romantic proposal. Jealous?

We talked about just rockin' it City Hall style given the circumstances, but my mother wouldn't hear of it. She and my father had eloped and she'd always regretted the fact that they hadn't had a wedding. I was going to have a wedding, damn it.

So we threw one together in three months. It was not a dream wedding. I realize this may be surprising to those of you who had always aspired to be 33 and pregnant when you walked down the aisle, but it's true.

My mom hired a photographer - the only one she could get at the last minute. She chose the cake (I couldn't make it to my hometown, where all of the preparations were being made). We bought a dress. It was not a lovely, feel like a princess dress. It was - what's the word I want? - tasteful, you know, given the circumstances.

Tom's aunt, who had served as a mother figure after his mother passed away, enthusiastically offered to do the flowers. Silk flowers. Oh, kids, I love fresh flowers. I try to have some in my home all the time. I can assure you that I did not want silk flowers on my wedding day, no matter what the circumstances were. Did I tell her that? No. I thanked her profusely and accepted her generous offer. I really wanted his family to like and accept me. A refusal of such an enthusiastic offer didn't seem like a step in the right direction. I didn't feel like I had much leverage, given the circumstances.

We talked to the pastor in preparation for the wedding. We stressed that we were equal partners in the relationship and that we did not want anything in our vows or in the service about a woman giving it all up to become subservient to her man. He smiled and nodded and made some notes.

Mom found a DJ who listened to every word we had to say.

The big day arrived. I spent the morning like most brides do, getting my hair done, pampering myself a little bit. Making sure the reception hall looked nice. Tom used the opportunity to peruse some of the places of historical significance in my hometown. Namely, the Johnstown Flood Museum. Yep. He spent the hours leading up to our wedding immersed in learning about the single greatest disaster my little home town had ever known. Despair. Disaster. Devastation. Now get me to the church on time!

We didn't have miles of attendants in matching dresses in my favorite color - we just had my sister and his cousin stand up for us. More, I was told, would've been inappropriate given the circumstances. The pastor devoted his entire sermon to women becoming subservient to their men. If it hadn't been for - you know - the circumstances - I may have walked out right then. Tom later confessed that he would have, too. This was not what we had agreed to agree to. But agree we did.

As our guests headed to the reception, we stuck around for pictures. Apparently when you hire your photographer at the last minute, you get what you get. We got a lot of JC Penney catalog worthy pictures of me in my tasteful dress with my silk flowers attempting to hide my thickening waistline.

"Why yes, I DO have the time..."

The popular 'newlyweds in front of the heating vent' pose.
Notice how strategically the photographer has placed the lovely bouquet. There are a whole lot of things about this picture that aren't fooling anybody...
And no, I'm not wearing a bustle and you're mean for asking.

Then we headed for the reception ourselves. I'm sure you know without me telling you that it was raining. I swear to God, if one more person had told me "rain on the bride is good luck" I probably would've greeted them with a roundhouse kick. Circumstances or not. No bride wants to be rained on. Luck, schmuck. (Chuck Norris has nothing on a pissed off/rained on pregnant bride!)

Things took a turn for the better at the reception. The food was delicious. The DJ had indeed listened to us and respected every one of our wishes. And best of all - the guest list was small. We were able to not only spend some quality time with each of our guests, but we were also able to have a good time with each other. We danced - and not only the obligatory bride and groom dances - we danced when we liked a song. And - remember? - the DJ had listened to us. We liked a lot of songs. Oh - for my Western PA readers who may be wondering - there was no money dance. My mother informed me that it would be inappropriate, you know, under the circumstances. But we had a blast. We started our married life on a very happy note indeed.

That was all fourteen years ago today.

Since then I've been to beautiful, storybook, dream weddings. I've been to elegant weddings. I've been to intimate backyard garden weddings. I've heard of insanely romantic proposals. I've seen wedding pictures that are so beautiful they make me want to weep. A couple of those marriages even lasted...

So, yeah. The proposal was lame. The wedding will not be used in any wedding planner's portfolio. The honeymoon did not exist. But the marriage? Solid as a rock. Maybe we should put the emphasis back where it ought to be. A nice wedding is, well, nice. But the happily ever after? That's the endgame, ya'll.

I think the past fourteen years have gone pretty well.

And the circumstances turned out pretty well, too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seen Any Good Movies Lately?

I love to go to the movies. I mean, I love movies in general, but I really love to go to the movies.

My love affair did not start young. The first movie I saw in the theater was Snow White. No, not in 1937, smart-ass, it was a revival. Sheesh. Disney does that, you know. I don't know how old I was, but I must've been quite young, as I have no recollection of it. As the story goes, though, my mom had offered to take me and several of my cousins to a matinee. Because she is clinically insane. I was the youngest of the brood, and at the first sign of the Wicked Witch I was in her lap, sobbing, and begging to go home. She would've probably obliged if it was just us, but my cousins were all into it, so she tried to keep me as subdued as possible. My first movie theater experience was something less enjoyed and more survived. Go figure, my mom didn't take me to the movies much after that. (And Snow White remains my absolutely least favorite of all the Disney movies. After all those dwarves did for her, all she could do was wave 'good-bye! good bye!' as she left them in the woods for her palacial life with the much taller, much more handsome prince. Snow White? You give love - and women - a bad name.)

Fast forward to Jr. High. THIS is where the love affair really begins. I went to the movies with my girlfriends ALL the time, often taking up a full row and more than once being shushed for giggling too loud. We saw revivals then, too - Gone With the Wind and Dr. Zhivago come to mind. Perfect fits for Jr. High girls sense of angst and drama.

As life moved on, I went in and out of phases. Sometimes I'd see several movies a week; sometimes I wouldn't see a movie for a month or two.

When I first met Tom, we went to the movies about twice a week. He'd pay once, I'd pay once. It seemed nicer that way than dutch treat. We saw everything - twice if we liked it. We saw funny movies and dramatic movies and scary movies and action movies. We saw blockbusters and indies. We saw truly wonderful movies and truly awful movies. We were completely indiscriminate.

When the girls were babies, we would go to the movies when my parents came to visit. I would hit that dark theater, as a sleep-deprived mom, and fall asleep before the previews for coming attractions were over. Tom never woke me, either, just gave me a gentle nudge if I snored or drooled. So I loved the movies then, too, but for a very different reason. Two hours of guaranteed uninterrupted sleep. Nice.

Then, of course, the kids came along and all of that changed. Videos ruled. Going to the movies became an event. And when we DID go to the movies, there was usually animation and/or talking animals involved.

Now, though - now our kids like cool movies. Now they like the sort of movies we like to see. Now, of course, they just want dropped off at the theater. Now, of course, we are a wallet on wheels. That's as it should be. It's their turn to take up a whole row with their girlfriends and be shushed for giggling too loud. Still...

(I started this post as a means to tell you about the two movies we saw this weekend (Whip It and Zombieland), but never quite fit that in. Oh well. Perhaps another time.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Radar Love

Do you ever just get that feeling? Do you ever think of someone out of the blue that you haven't thought of for years, and just know - know with unshakable certainty - that something is going on with them? Do your dreams ever feel prophetic?

I raise my hand and wave like Arnold Horshak when asked all of the above. Ooooh! Oooh! Oooh!

I will never forget - when I was five years old, I woke up in the middle of the night (the middle of the night for a five year old being, probably, more like 10 or 11 o'clock) with horrible pains in my stomach. I went downstairs to find my mom and she and my dad were sitting very close together and talking. When they raised their heads to acknowledge my presence, it was clear that they'd both been crying. My grandmother had just passed away. In my five year old blissful ignorance, I hadn't even known that she was sick. I didn't know - cognitively, at least - what dying was. But I had a physical reaction to the loss. That's what I've always considered that pain to have been. Once I was told, my tummy felt better and I went back to sleep.

That was the first incident.

As an adult, I would often have really strong dreams about people I hadn't thought about in years. When I was pregnant with my first, I had several VERY strong dreams about someone I hadn't been friends with since elementary school. I became a little obsessed with this person I hadn't thought about in something akin to 25 years. A decade later, I've friended this person on Facebook and their profile and a few conversations revealed that they were going through some serious stuff around the winter of '95-'96. I never told them about the dreams. It would've appeared too weird and stalkerish.

I've taken to calling it radar love.

I know everyone has been on at least one side of the conversation wherein the person who is called or otherwise approached says, very sincerely:

"Oh my gosh, I was just thinking about you!"

We've got a line in the sky.

Recently I've been missing a friend who I ALWAYS miss, but for the last day or two it has been almost palpable. Turns out she's been needing me.

We've got a wave in the air.

I'm pretty sure this is something we all experience to some degree or another. And I think that's really cool.

I told you a couple of mine, I'd love to hear yours!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Let's Hear It For The Girls!

As October is breast cancer awareness month, I felt I would be remiss if I didn't write a little something about the girls. Don't worry - I'm, not going to get sappy on you. You know what to do. Do your self-exams monthly. Have your mammograms annually. Take care of the girls. That's as close as I'm going to get to a PSA, I promise.

I was thinking more about that wonderful invention of Otto Titzling (inventor and kraut as per the Divine Miss M.) - or was it Philippe de Brassiere? Snopes says neither, but it's a fun story, anyway. Stupid Snopes - ruining everything with logic and truth. At any rate. I bought a couple bras today.

Yep. 45 minutes in the dressing room and $70 later, I'm the proud owner of two new bras. Oh, you're welcome, I'm sure. I've sworn to keep you abreast of every little detail of my mundane little life. (See what I did there? Abreast? Oh man - it's gonna be one of those days...) Tom was quite surprised by the price tag. And he didn't even know they were buy one, get one half off. $70 would keep him in undergarments for about - oh, I don't know - a decade? I'll need a couple more in three or four months. I used to be able to go a year, but the older I get and the harder they have to work, the more expensive they become and the less long they last. If I were so inclined I could draw you a graph of the inverse relationship at work here. There might already be one at that graph site Tom likes to go to, but I'm too lazy to look.


Many of you know - and some of you don't - and if you're one of those that don't (yet - muahahahaha), then that phrase "ignorance is bliss" was coined just for you, and you go ahead and enjoy that - don't let me burst your bubble - all about shopping for the girls as you and, consequently, they, get older. It becomes much less fun. I see girls shopping for bras and saying, "Oooooh! That's cute!" I shop for bras and say, "Hmmmm. That appears to be sturdy." Then they buy the bras AND the cute matching undies and STILL spend less than I did. What a drag it is getting old, huh?

The bra shopping expedition came about because of the laundry. I still have a lifting restriction, so my eldest is supposed to do the laundry. The other day at dinner, she exclaimed (and none too quietly, I might add), "Mom! Are you wearing a SPORTS BRA?"


"Nice uni-boob."

"If you don't like it you could, oh, I don't know, maybe DO THE DAMN LAUNDRY?" (I didn't really say that) Yes I did. No I didn't...

So she did the laundry, and two days later I'm down to a drawer full of sports bras and one lace bra. So, yeah, in THIS case, the problem wasn't that she wasn't being prompt with her chores, it was that one by one my strappy little soldiers had lost their battle without being replaced. It was time for new recruits.

So I donned the lace bra under a T-shirt, so you know I looked very classy. Seriously - lace bras - who the HELL came up with that? I mean, sure. They're pretty. I get that. But they don't look good under T-shirts. Or blouses for that matter. Or most dresses. I generally wear them under bulky sweaters or sweatshirts. Which sort of goes against the whole 'wearing them 'cause they're sexy' thing, no? Lace is not exactly the most comfy fabric to wear next to your tender girly bits, either, and I know I'm not the only one who thinks so. Oh, but they sure are pretty! Now I wonder if it was a man or a woman who came up with THAT brilliant idea? Sheesh.

But I've digressed.


I donned the lace bra under the T-shirt - threw on a jacket to cover as much of the dimpling effect as it could - and headed to the dressing room, where this story began. Good thing, too, because the underwire in this lace number is starting to feel a little wonky (as opposed to the usual level of comfort and freedom an underwire provides). I don't think it's long for this world.

Hoist 'em high, ladies.

And, um, gentlemen? I'm truly sorry. I know boobies are, like, totally your favorite and I've made them all mundane and utilitarian. Actually, I didn't even discuss the utilitarian parts - just the mundane parts. Sheesh. Sorry. Would it help if I said "boobies" again? Ok. Boobies.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Painted Skies and Pie

I've been feeling a little despondent lately. You may (or may not - how self-centered am I, anyway?) have noticed my absence in the blogoshpere - I've just been sort of feeling like I have nothing to contribute. Not just in the blogosphere, in the whole general scheme of things. One thing a few weeks out of commission will teach you (you, in this case, being me - but I think the lesson transcends my personal experience) is that the world keeps spinning without you. It spins quite nicely, matter of fact. The sun remembers to rise and set. Dramas continue to unfold. You might be missed, but not much, and not for long. The place you held in people's days and thoughts is quickly filled in. It's the whole pulling your hand out of a bucket of water thing.


So that's where I've been.

But this morning, I had to take Liv to band practice. (Now don't say, "See? Someone needs you!" because if I hadn't been able to take her, arrangements could have easily been made. I'm way over myself.) I like taking her to practice at this time of year, because from the time I leave my house to the time I return, the sun rises (as it always remembers to do). Those of you who have been with me any length of time know that that is my absolutely favorite part of the day. Even if the sunrise is nothing more spectacular than the transition from dark to light, there's still just something hopeful and wonderful about it.

This morning's sunrise was more spectacular than a transition from dark to light.

We left the garage in almost complete blackness. In the fifteen minutes it took us to get to her school, we watched the sky take on cotton candy hues we laughingly described as scrumptious. Liv pointed out that she'd never thought about eating the clouds before, but today it looked like a swell idea. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? How about Cotton Candy with a Chance of Pie? We watched the colors shift before our eyes - it was quite a show. It continued after I dropped her off with our usual exchange:

"Have a great day, love you!"

"Love you too!"

"Always happy, happy!"

"Never crappy, crappy!"

I know, my life is just one big Hallmark card. I apologize to those I've made jealous by sharing this heart-melting daily exchange. Not everyone can be as eloquent and poetic as Liv and I.


So I dropped her off and continued to the McDonald's drive through because it's Monopoly season, ya'll home. By the time I pulled into my garage again, it was full-on day. No remnants of the cotton candy sky remained. All blue and white and bright. The transition was over.

I'd made it through.

Now what does this all have to do with pie? Well, not a damn thing, actually. Except that pie has been on my mind (and the minds of everyone I know, apparently) recently. Everywhere I turn, it seems, someone is talking about pie. And if you're reading this and thinking, "Oh! She's talking about me!" you're probably right - but I'm talking about somebody else, too. Pie talk has been everywhere I go. I do not hate this. I do not even mildly dislike this. Come on! Who doesn't like pie? Bye, bye Miss American Pie. (No! come back!) Pie, pie, me oh my. She's my cherry pie... (okay, maybe that one didn't fit quite as well...but come on...tastes so good makes a grown man cry - sweet cherry pie...) So, yeah, everyone's talking (and I'm singing) about pie.

My mom makes an excellent pie. (It's the law or something. Baseball. Hot Dogs. Mom. Apple Pie...) Her cream pies are good, but her fruit pies are to die for. I was well into high school before I realized that most people do not serve 1/4 of a pie and call it a slice. (And I have a weight problem! Go figure!) We had pie several times a week. Pie for breakfast was no big treat - we had that at least twice a month. MmmmmMmmmmmMmmmm - Mom's pie. The thing is, I don't make many pies myself because of this. I know mine would never be as good as hers, so I don't even try. I ask her to make me a pie when I go home to visit, and it's a treat, and that's that.

But one day, when I was living faaaaaaaaar from home. (With Shrek, in Far, Far Away...) I decided it was time to give it a shot. I called my mom and asked for the secret to her amazing pie crusts. She hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, then said, "Tammy, I haven't made a pie crust in years. I used to, but the roll out ones they make now are just as good with no guess work and no gambling." I was aghast. Mom's amazing crust came from the refrigerator section of my local grocery store? And I hadn't even noticed the transition - which must mean that it actually WAS just as good...

But you know what? Even with that little bit of knowledge under my belt, my pies still aren't as good as hers. Maybe I haven't been a mom long enough. Or maybe you have to know how to do it right before you start taking short cuts.

But homemade or bakery bought, one way or another, I'll be having a hunk of pie today.

Always (well, usually, anyway) happy, happy, ya'll.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Playing Against Type

You may remember that Tom got a motorcycle for Father's Day this year. It's not our first bike. A couple few years ago we got bitten by the Harley bug HARD. He first bought a Dyna-Glide for himself. It is not an exaggeration to say that that bike became our life. We formed our social life around it. We formed our lifestyle around it. God knows we formed our wardrobe around it. We were bikers, dammit. Shortly after, he bought a Sportster for me. It was beautiful and I loved having a bike. Unfortunately I never really learned to ride it. I dumped it once in a parking lot during a riding lesson. I didn't get badly hurt, just sort of 'stoved', but it made me swear off riding for good. I had two young kids, for Pete's sake. I took my rightful place on the back. A seat we will NOT, by the way, be referring to as the bitch seat.

We quickly and eagerly tried to fit into every stereotype. We dressed the part (and whatever you're imagining, you're probably right). Tom grew a beard. Not a little well-groomed hipster beard, a full-on Grizzly Adams beard. We went to Bike Nights and Rallies and on Poker Runs. We hung out at biker bars. We spent a small fortune on Harley paraphenelia. (We weren't just bikers, we were that elite subset of bikers, Harley owners.) We wanted people to know, even when we weren't physically on the bike, that we were bikers. We were suburban biker hard-core. Everyone at our local Harley dealership knew our kids by name.

Eventually playing that part wore old - first for me, then for Tom. It didn't suit me - it wasn't me. The day he shaved that beard was one of the happiest of my life.

Those months (Years? It must have been years.) were very eye-opening, though. As we tried to fit into the stereotype, it didn't take long at all to figure out how much of it was superficial. There are folks who are frightened and intimidated by the biker image. There are just as many folks who will tell you that when you look through the tough facade, bikers are the salt of the earth - best people around. I'm here to tell you that neither of those things are entirely true. As it is with every stereotyped group of people, there are folks of every sort living a life within that group. Did I meet a few bikers who scared me? HELL YES! Did I meet a few who were kind and generous and sweet? OF COURSE! Because BIKERS aren't one of those things or the other, PEOPLE are.

I guarantee you that the same is true of any other stereotype you may hold near and dear as a way to feel like you know someone without really knowing them. Every. Single. One.

This time around, by the way, we are people who have a bike. More accurately, Tom is a person who has a bike. He rides to work when the weather is pleasant. He takes the kids to lessons on it (allowing them to feel like rock stars). Every now and then we'll go for a ride. I remember when we were in the height of our obsession, Tom would say that he liked it because bikers didn't give a damn what other people thought. It was a discussion we had more than once. I told him they - we - sure as heck DID care, or the physical part of the stereotype wouldn't exist. I challenged him to wear a pink T-shirt instead of a black one. (This was before the days when the entire NFL was wearing pink.) Heck, wear a green one if pink is a threat to your masculinity. He laughed me off. We were all about projecting an image. This time around we really DON'T care what people think. We wear what we normally wear (then add protective gear, of course...). We go where we'd normally go. It's a form of transportation (and a fun one, to be sure!), not a way of life.

I will always appreciate my 'Biker Days' as a time when I learned one of many valuable lessons on the dangerous pitfalls of judging a book by it's cover.

Keep the shiny side up, ya'll.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mind Over Matter

It's been a couple weeks since I took you down Memory Lane. Memory Lane is lovely in the fall.

Some of my favorite camping trips took place not in the summer but in the fall. There is not a lot that rivals the sights and smells of a forest in autumn. There was also something kind of wonderful about leaving school on Friday and going on a mini-vacation. That drew a much firmer dividing line between the school/work week and the weekend than just not going to school/work did.

Hikes and bike rides in the fall were longer and more frequent than they were in the summer, when the temperature was sometimes even oppressive in the forest. While a campfire is always a good thing, it just seems even better when you need the fire and a sweatshirt and a blanket and perhaps someone to snuggle with to keep yourself warm.

Yep. I sure do love a crisp, cool evening around a warm crackling fire under a clear starry sky.

What I loved a little less, however, was leaving the fire to sleep in the camper. I had a warm heavy sleeping bag, but it still always felt awfully cold. Sometimes I was tired enough to not care, but more often than not I used it as an excuse for a night cap. One last whine before bed.

My parents’ camper had a heater, but my dad was loathe to light it. I’m not sure if it was difficult to get to it, or if the gas it burned was expensive, or if there was some other reason I just never came up with, but I AM sure that he didn’t like to do it.

Yet I asked almost every night.

One night he surprised me.

“Sure, I’ll light it for you.”



I felt warmer just having the reassurance in place that it was being dealt with.

Sometime in the night I got warm enough to kick my socks off.

The next morning it was revealed that he had indeed NOT lit the heater, and had instead just run his fingers over some grates and made some noises to placate me.

I’d slept that night cocooned in the warmth of a comfortable lie.