Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Clean Up

My personal experience indicates that homeowners fall into three distinct camps at this time of year:
  1. Those who are anxious to go out and clean up their yards.  They love every aspect of it - the cleaning, the planting, the maintaining - it's all worth it for that beautiful yard.
  2. Those who dread it, but do it anyway.  They hate the chores, but love the beautiful yard and feel that it's worth the effort.
  3. Those who skip the whole ritual and let nature take it's course.
In my many years as an apartment dweller, I was pretty sure I'd fall into the first camp.  I bought potted seasonal flowers for my tiny stoop.  I changed the wreaths on my door regularly.  I envied the homeowners their beautiful gardens and landscapes.  I inwardly criticized those who squandered what I considered to be the wealth of a front yard.  I couldn't wait to get my hands in the dirt.  My yard was gonna rock.

Tom and I bought our first house in 1997.  I was 34 and running after a small toddler (as opposed to those giant toddlers I've heard tell about...) and by our first Spring there, I was pregnant with a second.  The thought of bringing a garden to life while I carried one child and watched another play outdoors was almost more romantic than I could bear.

Like most romantic notions, the fantasy far exceeded the reality.

First, and you probably already knew this, toddlers don't stay where you put them.  Set free in the front yard, with a nice slope to it, Lea took to running down the hill and into the street instead of playing quietly in the shade of a tree as I'd inexplicably imagined that she might.  Second, pregnant women in their mid-thirties are notoriously slow runners.  It also takes them more than a tick to go from kneeling in the garden to running to the street.  Third?  Even on a temperate day - even in the shade - a pregnant momma and a rambunctious toddler get hot and miserable very quickly.

In addition to all of that, I had no idea what I was doing.  I became overwhelmed at the nursery - I had no idea what looked good with what, what needed sun or what needed shade, what plants had symbiotic relationships with each other, what plants were considered delicious by the local wildlife - nothing.  I. Knew. Nothing.  So I bought things randomly.  The greenhouse equivalent of, "Oooh!  Shiny!"  If I thought it was pretty, I bought it, took it home, dug a hole, and hoped for the best.  

To you folks from camp 1 and 2 as listed above - I'm sure you're laughing at me.  You should be.  How arrogant it was of me to presume that what you were doing was easy!  I apologize.  I was wr - wr - wrong.

I kept trying, though.  Dammit, I'd waited a long time for a yard of my own, I was going to make it beautiful.

I developed a lovely habit of throwing good money after bad.  Not a particularly good plan for a one-income family with a toddler and a baby on the way, but we were suburbanites, now!  A nicely landscaped lawn was requisite!  So Tom kept fighting the abundance of moss that grew in our yard and I kept planting things in inappropriate places and combinations and watching them die.

When we moved, a couple years later, we convinced ourselves that all of our struggles had been geographically based.  Starting over in a new environment, we knew we could make it work.

And we tried.

We did.

Although, if we're being honest, we never approached it with the dumb enthusiasm we both had at the first house.  Our spirit had been broken a little bit and our bank had been broken a lot.

We eventually gave up.

Our yard is - awful.  There is no landscaping.  There are no plants. (Except the bulbs we planted - randomly - way too many years ago.  They are an embarrassing sign of Spring rather than a glorious one.)  I don't even buy potted plants for the porch, like I did in the apartments.  It just doesn't make enough of a difference to justify the money.

I'm not going to tell you I don't wish we had a beautiful yard - I do - but I know that to acquire one would involve more money and effort than either of us is willing to devote to it.   So we have an ugly yard.  But enough time to sit on the deck and enough money to enjoy an occasional cocktail while we do so.

And when the sun is shining hard?  That sort of feels like a win.

sidenote - when we moved into that first house, the former owners had left behind some statuary that I found to be tacky.  I have never felt as powerful - before or since - as I did swinging a sledgehammer at those fugly lawn ornaments. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

One of Those Mornings

It was one of those mornings.

You know what I'm talking about.  You've had them.  Every item on the to-do list is five minutes behind schedule (cumulatively) and takes twice as long to accomplish as it should.  Even as things are not being accomplished, the mind is racing forward to all of the things that have yet to (not) be accomplished in a quickly diminishing space of time.

It's not a fun place to be.

According to the Tao of Pooh, I've got a little Eeyore, a little Piglet, a little Kanga and a little Owl going on - all striving towards becoming more Pooh-like.  When I have a Rabbit day, it throws me off.  I am not a Rabbit, not one little bit.  Some people thrive on that, but not me.

Yet that's what yesterday was shaping up to be.  A Rabbit day.

I had dropped the last child off at school - nine minutes behind our schedule, but still on time, thank goodness.  I was plugging my next destination into the GPS when I remembered that there are always police cars in the school parking lot in the morning and maybe I should pull over until I was done typing.  (Always good advice, kids.  Texting - or typing of any sort - and driving is bad, m'kay?)

I pulled halfway into a parking spot and saw this:

If that doesn't make you want to slow down for a moment, I don't know what will.  I pulled all the way into the parking spot and put on the brakes.  I felt the stress and worry of too many chores and not enough time melt away as I watched it turn into this:

Then this:

It took less than two minutes.

It didn't significantly impact the timeliness of my chores.  It QUITE significantly impacted my mood for the rest of the day.

I don't want to be so cliche as to remind you to stop and smell the roses - but would it be okay if I reminded you to stop and watch the sky?

Or maybe, if you've got to have a Rabbit day, take some time for some Pooh chores.

You'd be surprised, there's so much to be done,
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky...
~The House at Pooh Corner, Kenny Loggins

Oh, and if you're wondering if my long list of chores got accomplished - it didn't.  Not entirely.  Priorities were placed.  Some things were started and left unfinished.  And do you know what happened as a result of this?  Nothing.  The world kept spinning.

The importance of my little errands and chores had been greatly exaggerated in my own mind.  

I'll leave you with this, 'cause I'm feelin' groovy.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

We've all played the 5 people you'd like to have a dinner party with game.  You've probably played a few variations - living and dead, just living, just local - it's a game, the rules can be whatever you want to make them.

Recently - when I was expressing not entirely guarded excitement over the next upcoming Johnny Depp/Tim Burton collaboration - I realized that four of the people involved in that little extravaganza would be in my top five people I'd like to have dinner with.  They are, of course, the aforementioned Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alice Cooper.  Can you frickin' imagine?  I said as much to Tom, then added, "Throw in Elvis Costello and that there is a dinner party."

Tom laughed.

"You don't think that's an awesome dinner party?"

"Oh, no doubt.  But what are WE doing there?"

"Being awesome?"

"How did we even get there?"

"Radio contest?"

"Seriously.  You're sitting at a table with Johnny Depp to your left, Elvis Costello to your right, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter across from you and Alice Cooper at the head of the table.  What exactly is your contribution?"

"Potato salad?"

"In the face of that much cool, we would be reduced to blithering idiots."


"This is my point."

"I'll hold off on the invitations."

"Good call."

It's still a good list, though.  And I DO make a pretty passable potato salad.

Now, the dinner party list invariably leads to the 'Free Pass' list.  I posted mine a couple years ago - but as I've changed in a few years, so has my list - most notably to include one Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch.

I know what you're thinking - I hear you - "Tammy, you're old enough to be his mother." - I know.  The thing is, you never know what the heart craves in it's private moments.  Maybe he had an encounter with big fat Fannie (she was such a naughty nanny) and he's played out an older, heavier woman script in his head - secretly - ever since.  You don't know.

Besides - how cool would it be to lean over the table at Cracker Barrel and whisper conspiratorially to your bestie, "Of late I have been engaged in a dalliance with one Benedict Cumberbatch."?  I'll venture to say that would be very cool indeed.  Don't you just like to imagine that if your last name was Cumberbatch, you'd have the good sense to name your son Benedict?  Maybe I should invite his parents to dinner.  Do British people like potato salad?  (For what it's worth - I realize that this may indeed be a stage name - but I prefer to think that it is not.  It's a game of fantasies, for Pete's sake.) eta:  Liv - currently obsessed with all things British - informs me that his actual name is Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch.  Mr. and Mrs. Cumberbatch?  I'm boiling potatoes as I type...

Thinking about the two lists, though, I find it interesting how little overlap there is.  People we'd want to have dinner with but not necessarily have an affair with - well - that makes sense.  But people we'd want to have an affair with but not necessarily have dinner with?  Aw, what does that make us, people?  My Venn Diagram looks like this:

If I were hipper, I would have done it on a post-it note.  
And for what it's worth - I'd have dinner with any of those men.  Even Joe Perry.  

What does your Venn Diagram look like?

picture source:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's Not You, It's Me (Okay, It's Mostly You)

Familiarity breeds contempt, and I fear that this squealy fangirl just may have become too familiar.  But breaking up is hard to do, no?  I'm a sensitive chickadee - I can't just send a quick text and say, "this isn't working out for me anymore - have a nice life".  It hasn't been working for some time, but I haven't been able to admit it - even to myself.  Loving you is too easy - too familiar - as natural as breathing - I've loved you forever - how could I just - not?

Lea asked me in the car last week, "Who's your favorite band in the world?"

"The easiest answer would be Aerosmith.  That's the reflex answer.  But I'm not sure it's the true answer."

"I know what you mean.  I don't think I love My Chemical Romance anymore.  I try to keep loving them.  I want to keep loving them.  But I don't think I do."

"I don't think I love Aerosmith anymore, either."

"Their last album - I tried so hard to like it - but I just - don't."

"Chin up, sweet child of mine.  There will be other bands.  Lots of them.  MCR will always be special - but it's ok to move on."

"I know.  But it's weird."

"I know.  But you'll be ok."

I'll be ok, too.

For me - it wasn't the release of a new album that I spent months trying to like and couldn't.  My squealy fangirl history goes back far enough that I know you can forgive one or two albums (or books, or movies...).  Artists have a right to stretch and grow.  Sometimes we grow with them, sometimes they grow away from us, sometimes we grow away from them - it's a gamble.  Sometimes (Billy Joel and Steven King come to mind...) I hang in there long past the point where I've lost interest.  They grew away from me and I didn't like it - I tried to pretend it wasn't happening - I clung to every hint of what had made me love them in the first place - I started 'waiting for the paperback'... then getting it from the library... then forgetting all about it... it was slow and gradual and almost painless. (With Billy Joel I knew it was over when a new album came out and I'd only listened to the last one once.)  With Howard Stern?  I grew away from him.  One day I thought he was hilarious and the next day I thought he was insufferable.  He hadn't changed, I had.  I broke that one off clean.  I've never looked back.  I'm pretty sure his feelings weren't hurt.  

I feel bad for performing artists, sometimes.  If they never stray from their original style, they're accused of being stagnant - but if they play with their style too much, they're accused of trying to be someone that they're not.  (Van Halen?  I am glancing in your general direction... Kudos for returning to the form so many of us love, by the way...  Good boys.  Good band.  Sit.  Stay.)  We fans expect our idols to walk a pretty fine line.

Did I say idol?

That would be as good a place as any to start, I guess.

I know American Idol helped a lot of people fall in love with Steven Tyler - people who may not have thought that they would or could.  I don't want to play the hipster card and say that once the masses start liking something it can't possibly be cool anymore.  I don't want to say it stinks of sellout.  I don't want to say those things...  But when this becomes the primary public identity, well, it's difficult not to allow the thoughts to cross ones mind.  A few months back, I posted something on Facebook about seeing a magazine headline that mentioned Idol's Steven Tyler.  Idol's Steven Tyler?  He does still have that other little gig, doesn't he?  The band thingy?

Hey - I don't begrudge boyfriend mainstream success.  He's got to put food on the table like everyone else. But it's just - not for me.  

I stepped back a little bit.

But Steven Tyler wasn't the only Toxic Twin, now, was he?

No, ladies and gentlemen, Steven may have the voice, but Joe Perry has the face... Oh, what a face... You could cut a steak with those cheek bones.  (And why the hell can't my gray hairs have the good sense, discipline, and general awesomeness to corral themselves into one dead sexy shock?  Stupid my gray hairs.  Awesome Joe Perry gray hairs.)

Pardon me.

I was thinking about the face and I became distracted from my point.

Let me put it to you as succinctly as possible:  That awkward moment when you realize that the man you had a crush on before you even met your husband is a certifiable wackadoo.

Let me backtrack.

I follow Joe Perry on Twitter.  I don't follow a lot of celebrities, even though I'm a self-proclaimed squealy fangirl, but I do follow a few.  Since he has always been my number one favorite celebrity, he was number one on my list.

Oh my God, you guys.

First of all, grammar is not his friend.  I can forgive that.  Grudgingly.  You know - for that face.  Plus, many people get creative with grammar on Twitter.  It doesn't mean anything. Until he announced recently that he was working on his biography and when someone corrected him, telling him that if he was writing it about himself it was an autobiography and he responded with 'whatever' - yeah, I had a little problem with that.  I bet it will have pictures though.  As the J. Geils Band once said, "Oh no, I can't deny it.  Oh yeah - I guess I gotta buy it."  (I'm not proud of that, but it's probably true.)

Grammar - and general knowledge - aside, though - he subscribes to conspiracy theories and - oh yeah - is a staunch supporter of Ron Paul.  Also - I like a good sexual innuendo as much as the next guy, but his are without nuance.  Ok - I'll admit it.  Now I'm picking nits.  But that's what we do when we're gearing up for a break-up, isn't it? 

Aerosmith has a new album coming out and a tour to promote it.  Will I buy the tunes?  Probably.  Will I see the show?  Maybe.  But it won't be the same.  It will be like meeting an ex-lover for coffee when you know there's no possibility of things ever starting up again.  You reminisce about the good times - and there were some good times - the best - and you enjoy your time with them - genuinely - but when it's over you return to your life and they become just a tiny little warm spot in your heart.

Where will Aerosmith be premiering the first single from their new album, you ask?

On American Idol.

Don't you love it when they do something that makes breaking up with them just a little bit easier?

Like many women after a break-up, though, I do plan to retain their name.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cheeseburger in Paradise

In the days immediately following Dad's death I got to hear a lot of musings about what his life must be like in heaven.  It is certainly one of the great comforts that religion offers - to be able to imagine our loved ones - and eventually ourselves - in a better place.

When people talked about Dad, they invariably pictured him on a golf course.  Sometimes he was driving a cart.  Usually he was walking - fast - in a body that didn't hurt anymore.  The foursome varied - to include his brothers and other buddies who had gone before him.  The sky was always blue, the grass was always green, and the pars and birdies were always plentiful.  I don't even golf and that sounds pretty good to me.  I could see how it might sound like paradise to an aficionado.

My favorite sentiment, though, was expressed by one of dad's golf buddies.  "I picture Tut", he said, looking off at a point far in the distance, "in the clubhouse after a perfect game.  He has just eaten a huge cheeseburger and a plate of fries as big as his head.  Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  Perfect fries. A perfect burger.  And a perfect game.  There is a huge mustard stain on the front of his shirt and - and this is the best part - no one is going to say a damn word to him about it."

Oh, how that made me smile.

Dad was indeed inclined towards wearing a little bit of a good meal on his shirt like a badge of honor.

Now I've said it here before, so there's no need to draw it out, but my dad was a really really good guy.   Honest to a fault, kind, gentle, patient and smart - and not one to suffer fools, gladly or otherwise.  There are many ways I would like to emulate my dad.  I come up short in most of them.  But wearing food?  Oh, hell.  I've been known to wear enough food home from dinner to make a nice frock for Lady Gaga.

I can't help it.  I have a little problem with shaky hands.  Oh - and there's also the issue of the auxiliary table  I sport beneath my chin.  If something's going to fall - it's going to hit me long before it hits the table or the floor.  Soup in public is practically out of the question.  Gravies and sauces of all sorts should be as well, but come on!  So many restaurants make such good gravies and sauces...

Maybe I need to start frequenting restaurants where those little lobster bibs are acceptable...

Before my mom lost so much weight, she had a similar problem.  If I recall correctly, she wore wildly patterned shirts in an attempt at camouflage.  I suppose it's a thought...

My family, by the way, thinks this is hilarious.  A typical dinner table conversation:

"Did you drop something on your shirt?"

"Am I eating?"

"Good point."

They particularly like it if I drop the first bite or - better yet - the last bite.

"Almost made it, Mom!"

"Nice try!  Valiant effort!"

Or, as I dip my napkin into my club soda and try to dab at my shirt surreptitiously,  "I just figured it out!  That's why you always order club soda .  It's not because you like it.  It's because it's better at stain removal than regular water."

"How did I raise such a smartass?  Don't answer that.  It was intended to be rhetorical."

Oh well.

Food stains on my shirt today.  Honest, kind, gentle, patient and smart?  Maybe tomorrow.  Working it out one trait at a time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

For Your Chance to Win, Be the Fourth Caller

Indulge me in a little nostalgia - just for a moment.

Remember when you'd call someone - maybe from your party line - and if they were talking to somebody else, you got a busy signal?  If it was important, you'd hang up and try again.  If it wasn't, you'd make a mental note to try a little later.  If it was urgent, you'd click the receiver with one finger and frantically begin to redial with another.  And when I say redial - I mean putting your finger in the little hole and drawing it 'round till it stopped, then letting go of it until it returned to it's original position, at which point you could repeat the process for the next number.  When one was feeling a sense of urgency, it was excruciating.

Little provoked that sense of urgency like a radio contest.  Usually the prize on the line was concert tickets - and we convinced ourselves that winning them would require a combination of luck and skill.  There have been more than a couple movies, made for TV movies, and episodes of TV shows built around the premise.  In a pre-cellphone era, there was a lot of humor to be found in scrambling for pay phones or waiting impatiently for gossiping mothers or sisters to free the line or - well - the list of possibilities is only limited by your imagination.

I remember being livid when technology began to move along - push button phones and automatic redial and speed dial gave the people able to afford such advanced technology a distinct advantage in the ticket-winning arena.  Man!  If they could afford such fancy gadgets, surely they could afford to buy their own damn tickets!  It was grossly unfair.  It didn't stop me from trying though.  

But I never won.

Today, while listening to our local NPR station streaming through my laptop while going about my daily goings on, they announced tickets to a play I remembered having heard about (though, to be honest, I couldn't entirely remember what I'd heard).  On a whim I dialed - and was a little surprised not to hear that old busy signal.  I believe the last time I called a radio station, it was to request something by Elton John from Rock of the Westies.


So it rang - a couple times - and then I heard a friendly man's voice saying, "You wanna see that play?"

"Yeah!  Really?  Yeah."

"Ok.  What's your name?"

I told him.  It, along with a daytime phone number, was all the information he needed.  Tickets would be waiting for me at the door.

I asked him what time the show was.

"Hmmm.  Not sure.  You could probably google it.  Oh - wait - it says here 8:00.  I don't know if that's when it starts or that's when the doors open.  You better google it."

I agreed that I would.

He wished me a good day and I returned the pleasantry.

Then I hung up.

An easy-peasy-nothing-to-it-casual-happens-every-day sort of conversation.

I always thought actually winning tickets to something would provoke a slightly more - well - squealy - response.

But apparently that's all there is to it.

Who knew?

Maybe you knew!  If you've ever won tickets to anything, tell me your story!