Monday, December 31, 2007

New year, new you



One of the biggest changes I’ve witnessed in myself, over the years, has been a growing apathy about my appearance.

Back in the 80s, when I was a ‘tween and teen, I was obsessed with my own appearance. As were all my friends, my sisters and their friends, and every other girl we knew. It was perfectly normal to rise just before 6:00am, take a shower (or, in the old days, wash my hair in the sink—that was during the dark “pre-shower” ages in my childhood household), then eat breakfast with a towel on my head, go dry my hair, curl my hair with hot rollers, spray ridiculous amounts of ozone-unfriendly aerosol’d stickiness on my hair, and lastly paint a new face over my own—a face that seemed so much more glamorous than the plain one underneath. All this, mind you, to catch the bus at 7:30 for a typical day of school. No prom, no senior pictures—just a day. At school. Clothes? Had to be just right, with various high heels that came out every week, no bookbag because they looked so bookish and ugly…

College forced me to simplify my process a bit. Some days, hair went unwashed, in a ponytail (not very often, though). Makeup was stashed in a backpack that I’d finally given in and purchased, and hairspray morphed into the travel-size pump bottle, which was easier to hide and less likely to douse my books than that quick-on-the-trigger aerosol. During freshman year, I still went to the effort to put on some makeup before stepping out of my dorm room. That’s right—even to go sit in the TV lounge. Hey, you never knew whom you might see there. Best to be prepared. Always.

By sophomore year, I was a tad more relaxed. Still makeup and hairspray always, but by then I might occasionally wander into the dorm hallway without any eyeliner. Shocking. No one noticed. I also became a little less stringent about clothes; I’d begun to understand, you see, that the college town I inhabited lay directly within the snow belt, and that pretty little leather-soled loafers would not cut it through a lake effect snowstorm. I invested in some cute but clunky boots and actually wore a winter coat instead of layered jean jackets.

Then I moved off-campus. The beauty standards dropped further, as I was walking farther to classes and sometimes even riding my bike. Skirts all but disappeared from my life. There was no need, no place. I still wore makeup, but by now my hair was a tad more unkempt; I plastered it in the morning and then hoped for the best. Snowstorm? Oh well. Rain and no umbrella? The damp look was forced upon me. I survived. Again, no one else noticed. By senior year, I had to be reintroduced to skirts, because I was student teaching. To get to the school I'd been assigned, I had begged and borrowed a car from my parents (I eventually bought it from them). I still had to do some walking to campus, although not as much...but the relaxed standards stayed in place—mostly because I was just too exhausted to fuss much.

I tried to return to high standards of appearance with my first job teaching school, but I couldn’t doll myself too much—I was instructing a bunch of hormonal teenaged boys. Besides, I had to be there by 7:20am; an early schedule doesn’t allow for extreme beautification. I couldn’t get too lackadaisical, though, because the entire little town where I worked was bored, observant, and nosey. If you stepped out, they knew where, when, whom you were with, and how long you’d stayed. If you ate at a restaurant, they knew what you’d ordered. There was no part of life unobserved, short of moments spent hiding behind closed curtains. Boy, I don’t miss that crap.

Then I worked in a few offices. The standards began dropping again. I did what I needed to do to look “finished” for work, but the company where I spent five years was busy and demanding, and there simply was no time many days for extra efforts; lipstick and shadow applied hurriedly at my desk was usually as far as I got. Plus, the owners were firm believers in no privacy—desks sat next to desks, which sat next to more desks; any attempts to cosmetify were acutely observed and noted.

I had one other job after that, for a crazy woman. I had all the privacy I could want. But... I was married by then. Why bother? And finally, to seal my standards in their far lower positions, I got pregnant. Well, that was all she wrote. The standards have remained frighteningly low ever since. Now, there is a) insufficient time, b) insufficient concern, and c) less of a canvas to work with. I knew it was over when I first left the house in sweat pants. That was something I swore I’d never do. I did. Just last week, I ran to the grocery store wearing the offensive fleece fat huggers, AND sporting no eyeliner. That’s right, strode boldly into public that way. I’ve given up. Besides, makeup doesn’t do what it used to do. It can’t cover those lines around my eyes, and it certainly can’t detract from my firmly etched laugh lines; nor does it work on my new hairy chinny chin chin, and there’s no cosmetic in the world to hide the fact that I’m more jowly than ever before.

The ludicrous thing is that to this day, I don’t think anyone else has noticed my lagging beauty standards and decreased efforts. Todd and I have this silly joke about how we used to be stars of our own shows; he had the Todd show, and I had the Mel show. And we painstakingly prepared for every take, for each new episode. Now, years later, we realize that no one was ever watching our shows. They were getting ready for and performing in their own shows. They thought I was watching them. The punch line of all this? None of our shows ever even got picked up. They never made it past the pilot stage.

It’s kind of a relief to realize no one is watching my show. It takes some pressure off. Now I have a different kind of audience: my little boy. Sometimes it seems as if he’s watching only the out-takes and mistakes of my life. But it helps keep me on track. I don’t worry so much about hair and "stage" makeup, thank goodness. I have more time to practice my lines. I can focus on my facial expressions, my voice inflection and delivery.

Come to think of it, maybe these lower standards are not really lower at all. They’ve just been juggled, reprioritized. Nowadays, I’m trying to direct my efforts where they should have gone all along—not to my physical appearance, but to the betterment of my moral and character standards. I wonder where I’d be today if I’d invested more time in that development all along. Hmmmm.

Happy 2008. Best wishes at being your best you ever.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Them's learnin' words

I have much more to say about Christmas, but I think I’ll leave it alone for now and talk about something new: Language acquisition.

The entire concept is pretty amazing, really; it’s even more amazing to witness it happening in a real person. I never truly understood the power of imitation, what little parrots we all are as children. It’s no wonder that these are golden years for absorbing words, learning to speak multiple tongues, etc. because pretty much all a hearing child does is mimic the bigger people around him. Sometimes this is cute; sometimes it is obnoxious or even dangerous. Often, it reveals how a human brain moves from generalities to specifics to rule exceptions.

Marcus is beginning to figure out past tenses. He’s applying generalized rules already, and this part is cute:

“Hey Mama, camel comed to see giraffe and he had Christmas present.”

“Hey, that Silent Night—we singed that in big church.”

He doesn’t yet grasp that some verbs are irregular, and can’t be changed into past tense simply by adding a “d,” but hey, he’s 2 ½—I’m impressed that he is applying any rule at all. And he’ll figure it out, as time goes by. He’ll get to know the tenses a little better, will start to understand how to turn all verbs into past tense, even in our unpredictable, unlawful English language. He’s figured out that there’s a yesterday, a now, a tomorrow that is yet to come, and that you refer to them in different ways to signify time of action. It’s awesome.

Not so awesome is his eagerness to repeat what he hears spoken. Yesterday, we made the mistake of turning on the TV, and the movie Bruce Almighty was playing on one of the stations. We left it on, foolishly—and don’t get me wrong, I thought the movie was rather clever and much better than I’d expected it to be—but at one point, Jim Carrey screamed “You suck!” Shortly thereafter we turned the TV off.

Now, Marcus never said a word about this. Never commented, didn’t respond with a facial expression, nothing. And what does he say today to his father? Without prompting? You guessed it: “You suck.” Todd was flabbergasted. I was horrified—but remembered in a flash where the kid had learned such rudeness. Yes, our own fault completely—and a good reminder of how everything a child hears is funneled through his awareness and stashed away somewhere inside. EVERYthing. Especially the stuff you were hoping he didn’t hear.

So, I’ll continue to be rendered speechless by my child’s language development skills—both by the progress therein, and by the disgust I feel when I hear my own words spouting forth from his tiny, clueless mouth.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Grinchin' it

Sing along with me—to the tune of “We Need a Little Christmas”:


Tear down that garland
And roll it up so I don’t see it anymore
Pull off those orn’ments
And put those fir-tree scented candles far away now

[Chorus]
For I need to banish Christmas
From this very household
Need to have my home back
Want to see the floor again
I need a little break now
From these Christmas baubles
I need to get my home back now!

Take down the tree please
And roll the tinsel and the lights back up again
Pull down the cards and
Make sure they don’t leave tape marks on the wall again now

[Chorus]

Hide all the pinecones
And get all pine green and bright red back in a box
If I see Santa,
I just may let him have a big ol’ piece of mind now!

[Chorus and fade out]

**********

Okay, okay, perhaps I have a touch of OCD. So what? Just because I have it doesn’t mean the house isn’t cluttered and difficult to navigate with all this Christmas stuff.

And remember, just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.

: )

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Warm wishes

So, Christmas is fast approaching and I know that time will be short in days to come. Therefore, I take a few minutes now to touch base and say this: I hope that your Christmas is a joyful time. That's what it is meant to be. I hope that you don't waste time thinking too much about the food you're making, or the gifts you've bought, or whether your house is spotless. I hope that you do spend time well by pondering how God sent us a savior, the king of kings, and He didn't show up with hoopla or swarms of paparazzi. He showed in a completely unlikely place, in a completely unlikely form. He showed up to save us. He showed up to give us a glimpse of our father.

He showed up. We can know Him and be His friend.

Talk to you soon! I'll even be seeing some of you soon. Safe travels to you, beware of gift-wrapping incidents, and if you're a parent, leave at least twice as much time as you think you'll need to put those toys together. You know what I'm talking about.

Merrrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kitchen contemplations

Spending so much time in the kitchen this week has reminded me of a few beliefs I hold true and dear.

First, I am downright leery of gadgetry, especially in the kitchen. I am all about the elbow grease. I’m not sure why, since I’m a self-admitted lazy person. I just don’t really feel like I’m creating a work of culinary art unless I’m working at stirring or mixing or kneading or breaking up pieces. I even have a few gadgets; I just don’t use them. I either forget to get the thing out until it’s too late, or simply eschew it out of sheer stubbornness (although some would argue stupidity). It’s not just that the gadgets are often out of reach or in a cupboard somewhere—it’s that I simply don’t feel like retrieving them, using and dirtying them, and putting them away again. I’d rather just stiff it out and rinse off the same spoon, dish, cutting board, etc. for reuse in a few minutes.

This might be a bit of a phobia, because I’ve even come to distrust people who love and gushingly profess their affection for kitchen gadgets. I wonder why they’re condoning these items with such tenacity; what are they hiding? Is the person unable to hold his own in the kitchen? Does he rely on these time-savers to cover a cooking shortcoming? Honestly, the folks I know who collect such tools very rarely if ever use them. There the wonder sits, shiny and spotless, untouched but revered. Why bother? Is once a year or so really enough to defend what is frequently a counter- or storage-space hog?

Before I really start to rant about that, I’ll simply say that most people I know who love to cook do so with little pomp and product, and instead with much passion. Big, fancy kitchen? Betcha it doesn’t see much use. Lots of fancy whatchamacallits sitting around? Probably haven’t been exercised in quite some time.

Perhaps I just fear technology and progress, or love tradition. Perhaps.

The other thing that all these hours in the kitchen have brought to the forefront of my mind is that we are really quite spoiled with the appliances that most of us use without thought every day. The stove, the sink with running water, the microwave oven, the dishwasher that many folks enjoy—they’re all incredible time-savers that more than justify themselves. As I baked and cooked endlessly, I kept thinking that if I’d been a pioneer woman, I would have been an advocate of raw food.

A few years back, PBS sponsored a reality show of sorts called Pioneer House, posing the premise that modern families might not have what it took to survive in pioneer times. They sent out some couples, a few singles too I believe, and had them settle on property, build a home, fences, garden and gather and butcher for winter, etc. The gist, if I remember properly, was that at program’s end, it was clear that not one family would have survived the tough mountain winter that likely would have followed all their preparation. But what struck me, as the show was concluding, were the profoundly different ways men and women exited the claim. The men, by and large, left the scene tearfully, looking back longingly at the little homestead they’d constructed. You could see in their faces how much of themselves they identified with the back-breaking work, with that humble dwelling they’d made in the wilderness. The women? Not a glance. All of them commented (and I’m paraphrasing, of course) that they’d spent the vast majority of time cooking and doing laundry, not to mention helping with outside work. They were exhausted and unfulfilled. Those gals could not wait to get back to their old lives. Regrets? Looks back? Heck, NO. They practically scurried toward the end of the experience, dreaming no doubt of their easy kitchens, their labor-saving washers and dryers.

So, I will not fear all technology and progress; sometimes it’s a great thing. No wonder life spans back in those days were so much shorter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

'Tis better to give...

Still Christmas shopping? Don’t do that to yourself. Seriously.

If it’s an adult you’re gifting (or even an mature child), take a minute to consider giving a gift of charity—not to the recipient (who likely has all he/she needs and more), but to someone you don’t know. Someone who may not get much if anything in honor of Christ’s birth. Numerous great charities would welcome your donation in honor of a family member or friend.

There are plenty of wonderful local options:

Local Red Cross
Local Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc.
Church/hospital/library/etc. of your choice
Veterans organization of your choice
Light of Life Missions (North Side of Pittsburgh)
Animal charity of your choice

Or, you can choose to go global:

World Vision (www.worldvision.org)
Smile Train (www.smiletrain.org)
American Leprosy Missions (www.leprosy.org)
Save Darfur (www.savedarfur.org)

This is just a handful of options. Heck, there are hundreds—thousands, even. Not sure where to begin? Check out www.charitynavigator.org to get some ideas. My point is this: If that person you’re buying for had a genuine need, you’d likely have filled it already if you're able. Save your loved one the trouble of having to list another item on Craigslist in a couple of years, and give a gift that can change someone’s life. It’ll likely be a strange someone who benefits—but a stranger is still a brother or sister in our big ol’ human family. And that’s a great gift, for both the recipient and the person you honored by doing so.

Still hate the idea? Okay, then—buy the person a membership to something: a club of some kind, the zoo, a museum or historical society, AAA roadside assistance, etc. You get the gist. It all helps us avoid more stuff cluttering our world, and reminds us of how blessed we are materially.

Now, doesn’t giving feel good? It really is better than receiving. Most of the time. ; )

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The good stuff


Bread. So basic, so primitive, yet so rich and complex in every way.

It was one of the first foods. A main part, if not THE main part, of every meal in some countries. The manna form of it sustained people for years. It’s been passed around, shared among people for longer than we can imagine. It represents our savior, the “living bread,” his body, and his body broken. Generations have reserved and used a bit of the family yeast for daily baking. It’s not so hard to make a loaf, but it requires time, a certain touch, respect for the heritage of the task, and a firm but not necessarily heavy hand.

I’m still perfecting my “hand” at making bread, but I do enjoy the “larning” if you know what I mean. There’s something so deeply satisfying about creating the dough, about watching the flour you dumped in become absorbed. And there’s no other sensation like kneading, just rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands in that lump, working it, using your fingers and the heel of your palm and really breaking it down.

There are endless varieties, different grains to use, ways to make it unique and wonderful, whether it begins with plain old bread flour or wheat flour or blended oats or even with a biga. (No, I haven’t tried that yet—biga is the yeasty starter you create to make ciabatta. Maybe when I feel a bit more confident in my abilities…and have managed to get my hands on a baking stone.)

I’m only sorry I waited so long to try it. Living near the Bread Works factory for years didn’t exactly inspire me to bake my own bread, since they do such a fabulous job of it there. But even with that great, cheap bread down the street, I was still missing out on a simple joy: making dough, letting it rise, and popping it into my own oven so as to fill my home with that delicious aroma of life.

If you haven’t yet, or haven’t lately, get out in that kitchen and make a floury mess. It’s good for the soul.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And more Christmas thoughts…

In every culture, there are certain questions that, while sometimes petty, are effective in grouping people according to type. For example, Elvis Presley or Elvis Costello? Dogs or cats? Coffee or tea?

And, then there’s this defining query: giant blow-up themed figures on your property, or none?

We opt for none. We are slowly, it seems, becoming the minority. I’m surprised daily by the proliferation of these monstrosities in and around our neighborhood. And the subjects depicted are becoming more odd every year. First it was simply the occasional snowman, and then the phenomenon began creeping into other seasons; I saw colossal football players glaring out of air-filled faces, behemoth jack-o-lanterns, the occasional puffy witch’s backside emerging from trees or such, even Winnie the Pooh and Piglet riding in a sleigh pulled by hapless Eeyore…

Christmas remains the most decorated season, though, when it comes to big blow-ups that you can’t miss. The Santas are beginning to look a bit less scary as the designs are refined, and more friendly facial features are added. And yet, you can’t escape the obvious: these are enormous, silly creatures that eat up yard space, glow eerily, and are buffeted by every breeze that passes.

Perhaps the old city neighborhoods are the worst for carrying these displays overboard. There was one home in Bellevue that elicited chuckles and head-shaking from Todd and me each time we passed—the entire roof was covered with several blow-ups. A stupendous Hines Ward crouched atop the brick 3-story, and he was positioned next to some reindeer, which were standing by a huge turkey. And one home in Avalon, a place with a tiny front yard, chose to fill their entire 10 x 12 grassy area with these wintry eyesores; I dreamed many times of sneaking there at night, surreptitiously turning each character so that it was peering creepily into the first-floor windows of the home, and then staking out a spot next door in hopes of spotting the frightened dweller the next morning as he looked out and realized he was under surveillance by the giants. (No, I never actually did it.)

So, which are you? Is your yard sporting some of these guys, or not? Are you thinking about it? Eyeing them up and waiting until after-season clearance so you can join the ranks of folks who embrace the blow-up nation? Or have you already planted them in front of your home?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ho, ho, huh?



You knew I couldn’t leave this one alone…

Santa Claus: What in the world is this all about? I mean, I know Santa had kind, humble origins as St. Nicholas, but then he kept getting twisted and messed with until he had morphed into some crazy, boisterous, larger-than-life icon that bears little resemblance to the original… And that’s a shame unto itself.

But why, oh why, is every stranger intent upon making sure my kid milks this Santa concept for all it’s worth? Everywhere we go, everyone who lays eyes upon him is asking, “Are you going to get some presents from Santa? Did you tell Santa what you want for Christmas? Have you been a good boy so Santa will bring you lots of things?” These people aren’t familiar to us; I could be a Jehovah’s Witness or Jewish and they’d never know. Maybe I should buy the kid a little skullcap or something, but that would be wrong (because he’s not old enough, technically, to wear one—and because it would fly completely in the face of what I really do believe.)

Anyway. It’s weird. Step away from “tradition” for a minute and think about it: these strangers are asking my kid if he’s going to behave well so that a person he does not know will reward him with goods. These people, well-meaning though they may be, are inquiring of my son whether he plans to go sit on a big, fat, strange man’s lap and tell him his innermost desires. Isn’t that a tad odd, really? Take away the red and white uniform and beard, and there's a guy in a busy, crowded place, encouraging kids to sit on his lap and tell him what they want, asking them if they've been naughty or nice... You know what you’d likely have in the eyes of the world, don’t you? A pedophile. And what are we telling our kids all the time? Watch out for strangers, don’t talk to strangers, don’t let anyone touch you or do anything to you that makes you uncomfortable. It’s no wonder many little kids are frightened of the guy!

And seriously, did you look forward to that experience when you were a kid? I don’t clearly recall the moment, but I do have a faint memory of intense anxiety and skipping heart prior to the sitting, and then huge relief after the dirty deed was done. It was not enjoyable; it was a ritual you performed because you truly believed it was the only way to get what you wanted on Christmas morning. Hmmm. Is this a healthy message to send? It kind of bears a ghostly resemblance to prostitution… Okay, that’s a stretch. But still.

So, we’re not in a hurry to usher Marcus into a crowded store to sit on anyone’s lap. It takes the focus off of the real reason we celebrate the holiday—after all, nobody’s wishing me a merry Sant’mas yet, thank goodness—but frankly, it just seems like an ordeal that can be delayed for a while. I think he’d be terrified of the guy, after all, and I can’t justify terrorizing my own child. Besides, we’ve downplayed the whole Santa end of Christmas as much as we can; we should take full advantage of his ignorance. I know, I know; inevitably, he will run into kids who feed the frenzy and plant greed in my sweet little one like bad weeds. But until that happens, we’ll politely acknowledge Santa, answer any questions about him, and then change the subject.

Besides, I want to check online and find out if the big department stores run an Act 34 on their seasonal Santas. Look how many perverts still manage to sneak into the school systems, and those organizations run all sorts of background checks prior to employing someone. Makes you wonder, eh?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The old yellow cat, he ain't what he used to be

This cat of ours is getting kind of old. And crotchety. And demanding.

Sam used to be a low-maintenance pet. I found him at the pound in Erie, he ate whatever I fed him, whenever he felt like it (he always had dry food in a bowl), and he slept a lot and basically liked being left alone most of the time. He was, in fact, an ideal pet for a lazy, busy person who isn’t home a lot—which I was for many years. (I’m still lazy.)

Then he had that issue with his parts, and he couldn’t pee: he was a “plugged tom” (although his parts were altered long before I ever got him, and he’s no tomcat, I know). I rushed him to the vet and they unplugged him and assigned him to special, low-ash dry food that could only be purchased at the vet’s, for a small fortune. Of course, I paid for it. He was my baby. I didn’t want him to get re-plugged and die. It was a small price, really, for my best friend.

And then the plugged thing happened again, more recently (after Todd had entered my life), and we suffered through waiting at the vet’s for the doctors to do their work, wincing each time we heard Sam’s pained cries through the thin walls; it was awful. To make it worse, I was pregnant at the time, so I was a bit of a wreck to begin with. The vets managed to work their magic again, and this time we were scolded for feeding him dry food (huh?) and told that for the remainder of his life, he’d need to be on special vet-purchased wet food, which just happens to be—say it with me, now—even more expensive. To make it worse, we learned that the cat was overweight, so we'd need to start feeding him small amounts twice each day.

He never lets us forget his meal time. Groan.

I purchased that silly vet-approved food, for a short time. Then I found out that Frisky’s offers a competitive type of food, available at supermarkets, for much less money. So, I figured that would be a livable compromise: Sam still gets the wet food, and I can still afford to feed my husband and kid, too.

Then, the puking began happening a short time after the kiddo was born, which makes it awfully hard to determine whether the cat really has developed digestive issues, or is simply suffering from jealousy issues. He does seem to get sick more often when his hair is long… hence the stupid, pricey haircuts he gets 2 or 3 times each year. Which is what leads me to write this post: I was awakened shortly after 5:00am this morning by the lovely echoes of cat regurgitation. And he just had a haircut last week, as you all know from that silly picture I shared with you in a recent post.

So, maybe it’s just the under-layer of fluffy, loose hair that’s making him sick. Or perhaps, just perhaps, he enjoys watching one of us come hurtling out of our bedroom, half asleep, muttering oaths under our breath as we turn on lights and frantically search for the nasty spot on the rug, or furniture, or steps… I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s never forgiven us for bringing someone else into the little love triangle we had going on.

Worst of all, he wants attention now—all the time. He’ll still disappear for hours, but it’s only after he’s begged for a lap, meowed ceaselessly for more food at an unassigned time, rubbed incessantly against the nearest ankle, been chased by the boy only to return for more punishment, and has generally gotten underfoot several times, especially in the kitchen when I’m moving boiling hot items. Then I yell, or nudge him with a foot, or he tires of being tormented by the small person, and he retreats to hidden places.

And I feel sad that his world has been forever turned upside down. But mostly, I feel annoyed. And then guilty. And then disgusted at my own sappy nature—because honestly, if I hadn’t taken him from that shelter in the first place, he may not even be alive now. He gets healthy food, and a warm home, and haircuts that cost more than mine, and plenty of soft cozy places to sleep. And I remind myself that he is, after all, a beast. MY beast, yes, but a beast nonetheless. Sorry, animal lovers. Kids change everything.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Snowbound



I’ve included a lovely picture of our shorn cat for your amusement. It’s related, loosely, to the post. Feel free to chuckle, and then read on.

So, the morning began awfully early. 5:00am, to be exact. The kid awoke, complaining of “nose hurt.” Probably because it’s dry, because our heat has been cranking non-stop for days now. Todd tried soothing him, I tried soothing him, we refilled the vaporizer and prayed he’d return to slumber.

No go. He was whining on and off for the next hour, and by the time the garbage truck showed up shortly after 6, he was in full foghorn mode, hollering from his bedroom: “Mama, I hear beeping. Dada, I hear beeping.” (The truck backs down our street, much to the chagrin of the sleeping masses.)

I finally gave up and got out of bed, Todd followed and made a beeline for the shower, and the kid and I looked out the window. More snow was beginning to fall. And on this morning, I truly didn’t mind.

The past few mornings have been filled with nonsense: Getting the brakes checked on the car (they were fine, thanks for asking); taking the goofball cat to be shaved so he stops puking hairballs all over the house in wee hours; running errands to various locations which, in light of the encroaching holiday, are becoming more and more inhospitable and crowded… So, the boy and I have been joylessly heading out amidst the flakes, drifts, and slush each day.

But not today—today is blissfully unscheduled, open, available, dull. Today, we’ve sat contentedly indoors; I ventured out only to refill the bird feeders (so the fat, lazy squirrels can fill their already rotund bellies with bird food) and then immediately came back in, feeling thankful for a warm home, a hot cuppa, and various cars and blocks for the kids to play with. (You can see the foam stacking blocks on the floor in that picture of kitty. They’re pretty cool—I play with ‘em, too.)

So, we’ll just stay home and watch from inside our cozy haven as the inclemency grows. Don’t hate me, though; remember, the boy has been awake since 5am—not to mention I’ve been hauling him around in the snow for several days, entertaining him at the Saturn dealership, distracting him while Christmas cards got printed at Staples, pulling him out of the back seat while blocking the cat’s premature leaping exit from the car, dragging the child from car seat to shopping cart back to car seat… he is just as happy to stay home as I am. I asked him if he wanted to go anywhere and without hesitation, he said, “No, just stay home.”

Sounds good to me, kid. Sorry for all you harried travelers, really I am. It’s miserable out there. I’ll be slipping and sliding among you soon. But not today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Can’t beat the classics

I think I’m stealing a catch phrase here—isn’t it the ladies’ wear giant Talbots that uses this? I checked their site and I don’t see it word for word, but the ring of it feels so familiar… Well, they won’t care if I borrow it. It’s not like I’m selling clothing or anything. I can’t even lay claim to a Talbots item of clothing—except for that great grey sweater I found at the Vietnam Vets’ resale shop over on the Boulevard…

Anyway, I always spout this “classics” phrase to Todd when he’s shopping for clothes. I keep pointing him to L. L. Bean and Lands’ End and that sort of thing, the straight-laced polo and oxford shirts, flat-front trousers and the like that fill those catalogs. I love the classics. They shift subtly from year to year, but they never really go out of style, not in their truest essence. They’re a wise investment. And it’s not a brand name so much as it is a timelessness, the kind of presence that makes Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn fashionable even today.

The great thing is that the same is true of foods. I’m thinking about it at this time of year because the wonderful holiday baking season is upon us. And while a number of my gal pals will probably be stressed out, trying crazy, complicated recipes for various sweets, frantically shoving tray after tray in the oven for the next cookie exchange, I’ll be baking the same old shortbread, pumpkin breads, and variations on oatmeal cookies this year. I try some new stuff now and then, but it never measures up. It’s too hard to do, or you have to refrigerate dough before you roll it out, or I’m in the midst of preparation when suddenly I notice that the recipe calls for parchment paper and I have none. (Nor do I have any of those fancy schmancy silicone baking sheets, although I’ve been eyeing them up. I’m in love with all silicone bakeware items. Try ‘em if you haven’t.)

My point is, I don’t want to waste time baking something that might fail, requires ingredients I would never normally buy, and is made not for the love of baking or eating but to impress others. I don’t have time to squander on pastries that will likely pass out of favor in a year or two. I don’t want to bake fragile, risky goods. I spent too much time at design firms catering to the whims of delicate geniuses; frankly, anything delicate had better get out of my way in the kitchen. I want proven, sure thing, sturdy, wonderful classics: Breads, muffins, little cookies that transport easily and melt in your mouth. I want the basics because they’ve earned their place in my baking repertoire. I want the basics because they stand the test of time—and taste. I’m also lazy, and recipes with too many steps are a turn-off. And lastly, I'll confess: I’m not terribly detail oriented. I want a recipe that has some breathing room, some space to personalize—in short, recipes that won’t fall flat if I don’t measure off the top of the flour with a knife. (As IF.)

So, don’t look for anything too prissy from my kitchen this year, or next. Or the one after that. I’m all about the classics, man.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Burned on my brain

Before I had a child, I didn’t think of kids the same way, especially small ones. (I could spout poetic phrases here about “before I was a mom,” borrowed from several email forwards I’ve received, but I’ll refrain. I don’t want this to be about motherhood.)

So I was saying that before I had my own little person, I just didn’t think much about the human-ness of each and every small child. Especially babies—they’re so unformed much of the time, those new little people, sleeping and crying and pooping and doing it over and over again… Even older, more formed kids were, for many years, sort of a separate animal from me. I never had to consider in depth the fact that they’d grow up. You know that they do, of course they do, but unless you really see it happening every day, it just doesn’t impact you like having your own child in your own life will. I’m babbling. I’ll move on to my point.

I was driving back from church, where I’d dragged my croaking, nauseous self to “sing” (I use the word loosely) in choir. Boy, if I didn’t really enjoy choir, you couldn’t pay me to do it… So I was driving along seedy East Ohio Street on the North Side, and I was stopped at a streetlight in front of a bus kiosk. I’ve passed this kiosk so many times that I usually don’t even glance at it, except to make sure it’s not a current crime scene; but on this morning, it sat empty, and I was reminded of one memorable passing on an evening last winter, and the reminder made me sad.

On that particular evening, the weather was darned cold, it was snowing lightly, and I was sitting at the same darned light, looking around and making sure my doors were locked. I happened to look at the kiosk; there was one young black man standing there, clean cut, dressed for winter except for gloves, blowing on his hands a bit, obviously waiting for a bus. He looked to be 16 or 17, definitely not much older, and he checked his watch and looked up the street, probably hoping to catch sight of the warm bus approaching.

And then, I caught my breath in horror: sitting on the bench next to the boy was an infant carrier. And as I watched, the young man checked the baby inside, hopefully made sure he or she was covered snugly, and looked up the street again.

And then my light turned green, and I hit the accelerator, feeling slightly sick. My God, I was thinking, that boy is a child. How can he be in charge of a baby? Why does this happen? I know why it happens, children have sex and pregnancy occurs, but oh my Lord why why why? How can that kid be a decent parent when he’s still a kid himself? I worry about my own parenting now, and I’m an old woman compared to that youngster. What sort of parent would I have been at that age? Terrible, horrible. selfish and bitter, probably. And I would have had a car to borrow. I wouldn’t have had to catch a bus.

I’m haunted by that kid and his baby, if it even was his child. It’s highly likely it was. You’d be hard pressed to find a 17-year-old who’d catch a bus with someone else’s child on a freezing night. Where are they now? Why was he alone? Has he stumbled along and figured out how to care for a baby, as I did? Is he still involved in the baby’s life? Does he realize now that it can, indeed, happen to him, to anyone? Is he more responsible, or did he just become angry? And the scary thing is that he was only one of many children who are parents—more than I can count in that neighborhood alone. I pray that the baby is safe, well-cared for, loved—that he or she hasn’t become a headline, a tragic lead story on the news. I wouldn’t know if it has; I only saw them for a moment, and the baby was a mere bundle in a carrier. Besides, it’s those stories about harm to children that keep me from watching the news too often.

Each baby, a small person, forming, growing, learning, soaking up everything around him or her. Each child, precious and new and so, so vulnerable. Each one could be my own. Each one is someone’s miracle, or someone’s surprise, or someone’s burden and ticket to early adulthood. Each one will grow up, often in spite of the parenting received. Watching my own son mature means that I’ll never again be able to distance myself from those truths...and I’ll never be free of the unwelcome image of that boy with a baby at the bus stop.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Absentee blogger

Hello--Sorry I've been MIA. Sickness has once again lorded itself over our household. The dreaded stomach flu has joined forces with the incessant cough from hell, and the combination has kicked our butts a bit. Hence the title of this non-post.

So, use this opportunity to catch up on old posts. Or to start your Christmas cards and/or shopping.

And if you were able to walk to a computer and push some buttons with your fingers, you might want to say a little thanksgiving prayer for the basic health and mobility that we all sometimes take for granted.

Speaking of taking the basics for granted, here's a link to a site of a guy that will BLOW your MIND. I can't imagine making the best of this scenario—and yet he has. Check it out: www.lifewithoutlimbs.org

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Barrio Street

Was Sesame Street always so Latino? How did I not notice this as a kid? I remember Maria, one of the human characters. We all knew that Spanish was her first language. She was nice, and sang and hung out with the muppets and monsters and all was fine. I suppose that occasionally she spoke in Spanish, although I don’t believe it happened often. I clearly recall Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Snuffy, and Oscar—and those guys are all still around, and they’re all still red-blooded North American critters, as far as I can tell.

But when did the Spanish word of the day get started? How did Spanish merit such an honor? The only other language that’s given its own prime spot on the show these days is sign language, and it’s certainly not a daily event. Huh? Where’s the French word of the day? I use those in my writing more than anything. How about a Chinese character of the day, since we know it’s just a matter of time until they overpower us with sheer numbers? Might as well start learning it now. Norwegian word of the day? Hawaiian? Gaillic? Lovely languages, all of them. So how did Spanish win the coveted prize? I know it’s the second-most spoken language here and all, or used to be—who knows now with the way things are always changing. But still—Spanish word of the day? Is this necessary?

And where did Rosita come from? Is she a more recent addition to the show? No other character has a specific ethnicity, as far as I know...

All I know is that we turned on the tube yesterday, in spite of my daily misgivings about television in general (seeing as TV rots your brain cells and all, you know—it’s true). And the episode of Sesame Street that unfolded before me was decidedly Mexican in nature. Spanish words, Hispanic children featured on the videos, Rosita strumming a guitar and singing, in Spanish of course... The final straw was Big Bird, directing a real, true kids’ mariachi band—and the song was “Long Live Mexico, Long Live America.” In that order.

Perhaps I’m a tad oversensitive to this issue; I did, after all, just see a very disturbing video on YouTube showing an American veteran who stormed a flagpole and removed, out of respect, his own flag from BELOW the Mexican flag under which it was flying. In Reno, Nevada. That’s right, this happened in the UNITED STATES. (See for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nONjlZ8YMkA)

We'll be taking a viewing hiatus from Barrio Street, whilst I ponder whether it receives any more airtime in our household. I’ve got nothing against Mexico—when it is located in Mexico, where it belongs. When it’s located in my country, or worse yet in my family room? For the edification (read between the lines: brainwashing purposes) of my naive, sponge-like preschooler? That’s an issue, folks. I ain’t no seƱora, and I’m not interested in becoming. I love a lot of the programming on WQED, and I can understand the attempt to reach many of the under-privileged children of our nation, but this feels a bit forced; I can’t condone handing ourselves over so easily.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cleanliness is next to something

Today’s theme is clean.

First, let me tout a product that I’ve just discovered and love. (I know, I’m a Mel-come-lately, so you probably have one already, but just in case…) It’s the amazing and delightful Clorox Bleach Pen. Forget its wonderful bleaching capabilities on white clothing, and skip directly to Go—Go Clean Your Bathroom, of course!

(Let me say up front that, while this item worked great for me, I have white tile and a white tub in my bathroom—my using bleach was not a risk. I think it would work fine on any tile and/or porcelain glazed finish, but if you have brilliant colors in your crapper, check the fine print on the pen before you go crazy.)

Once colorfast safety has been confirmed, have at it, brothers and sisters!!! This is awesome stuff! It’s a slightly runny, gel-like substance, and because the pen has both fat and skinny tips, you can hit even tough little places like yucky grout lines. Or, rub the thick end on some tough stains in the area around the drain, or on foul brown places surrounding the faucet. It works best if you let it sit for a few minutes before washing the area. Suffice it to say that this wand is the best; lauding it further would only reveal the horrible state of my bathroom before said pen was discovered. (In fairness, I've also heard that those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are very cool, too—but I don't know how they stand up in the tub-and-tile realm.) I would give these bleach pens away to everyone I know as Christmas gifts, except I don’t want to insult anyone with the not-so-subtle implication that their home is less than clean already.

Now for the other clean-related topic: why does my child fear the washing machine? He doesn’t fear the appliance itself, only the freshness it wreaks on his fuzzy toys and blankets. I’ve tried a few times recently to wash his malodorous twin teddies, his favorite spitty blue thermal blanket, his little floppy elephant that has dried booger on its toe… but the moment I get any of those items near the laundry basket, the child objects. In the past few days, he’s really become paranoid; as soon as he sees me picking up one of his favorites, he calls me on it: “Mama, where blanket go? Where you take Ellie?”

I did manage to covertly sneak the most contaminated teddy into the laundry last week—after the boy had fallen asleep for his nap. All went well, and the sanitized bear was back in his bed when he awoke; he never had a clue. I couldn’t get hold of them both, sadly—he was clutching one tightly, and I knew I’d never pull it out of his grasp without waking him.

So, what’s with his love of sullied, tainted soft toys? Is it the familiar stench of them? The well-known, well-loved crusty places? The fact that his favorite toys are never quite dry? Bleaahhh.

Hope he grows out of this; I'd hate to have to involve Hazmat several times a year, but...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Grams for thought

There’s a movie called 21 Grams—perhaps you’ve heard of it—the title of which is based on some loose research that claims a body, passing into death, decreases in weight by an average of 21 grams. Is it the soul exiting the form? Or simply breath being exhaled one last time? Are the cells releasing oxygen, changing form, rearranging molecules, becoming less dense? I have no idea. I’m just sharing the theory with you in order to effectively contrast my next paragraph.

It’s odd, I think, for a body to supposedly become lighter in death, but heavier in slumber. I know, the sleeper doesn’t really become heavier—and yet, if you’ve held that sleeping child as he or she passes into true snooze mode, you know of what I speak.

It was not so easy to discern this transition when my little guy was a mere babe, because newborns always feel like dead weight to me, the floppy unpredictable little things. And then they start working on those neck muscles, trying sooooooo hard to hold up those giant weighty heads. And then, months later, it’s with much joy that you realize the child is actually attempting to cling to you, and that tendency in the little one grows stronger and stronger until he or she can actually “hold on” with arms and legs. That is when the passage into dreamland becomes more evident as you cradle the little one.

And what a precious moment that is, the transition. Subtle twitches in the drowsy one’s limbs become almost imperceptible, there’s perhaps a heavy sigh or two, the inevitable head flop if the child is resting over your shoulder, a barely detectable finger tapping… and then, weight. Heaviness. No movement. Only breathing.

It’s at those moments that I, too, participate by only breathing. Breathing in the sweet smell or freshly shampooed hair, or on alternate nights, the equally pleasing scent of earthy little head, mine to inhale. The sweet, small back and shoulders encased in fuzzy PJs, mine for the rubbing. Warm, soft hair, smooth delicate skin, eyes closed in blissful repose, the sandy lashes lying like fringed, still butterflies. All mine, to drink in as I choose, in the dim light of night. Mine for a limited time, to cherish.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A great-full day



Well, since the last post was such a controversial topic, I think I’ll go with something a little less touchy this time—maybe politics? Ha ha ha. Kidding. I told you this wasn’t that kind of site.

I’ll go with something safe: Thanksgiving memories. They’ve changed dramatically over the years. When I was a kid, we often went to my paternal grandma’s for the meal. Ma-Ma made her famous stuffing balls, I think we usually brought green bean casserole and corn pudding, the ladies fussed over the turkey as it roasted for hours, and I enjoyed what at that time was the highlight of my holiday: exposure to MTV. My grandmother had it, since she resided in a huge apartment in town, while we lived in the country and had far fewer channels. We tweens and teens would gather in the living room, eyes glued to the screen to catch the latest videos (yes, there actually used to be videos on MTV) and then we’d go stuff ourselves, help clean up, and retire to the living room for more viewing, this time in a semi-comatose state.

When I moved out to go to college, Thanksgiving became a time of sleep, eating real food, and doing laundry. The main meal still happened at my grandma’s, occasionally at my great aunt’s, and my sister brought the first great grandchild into the mix—my nephew Tim. Although, I can’t recall him being there every time, because they lived in Washington, D.C. and the trip (especially with a small child) was probably no picnic.

Years passed, more of my nieces and another nephew followed, and Thanksgiving morphed into a hair-raising trip from the great white north, where I was teaching school. Most years I waited until the big morning to drive home, partly because the traffic was light, and partly because then I could get together with friends the night before the big trip. I can remember a few sunrise journeys where I gripped the steering wheel, stealing frightened glances at my predecessors who’d gone a bit too fast and had slid into no-man’s land in the middle of opposing highway lanes. There the abandoned cars sat, station wagons, little foreign death traps, even some SUVs and trucks, all stranded and helpless on that strip of frosted green. One year was especially bad, and I recall counting 13 cars in a relatively short stretch of what must have been black ice the night before. I don’t miss those drives. Thanksgiving was especially sobering because you knew, with growing certainty at each passing mile, that it was just a warm-up for the real hell to follow: the Christmas commute.

Then I moved back to southwestern PA, and a short time later met Todd. Thanksgivings became a very busy time, gathering with multiple family branches in a 2- or 3-day span. I remember the first time I attended his YiaYia’s Thanksgiving meal, because it was the first time I’d tasted spanakopita and grape leaves. I believe I dropped a grape leaf on the floor, the kind of thing you are wont to do in a gathering of strangers whom you want very much to impress. Alas, they did not kick me out of the meal and here I am, years later, now a member of the family. We ate at Todd’s mom’s and at my parents’ home; nowadays, my sister and her husband usually host the meal for my side of the family.

One year was extra-special because Todd had proposed just a few weeks before. Another year stands out because we’d just purchased and moved into our first house. And a few short years ago, I remember being pregnant with my sweet little guy on Thanksgiving. It’s a good thing I really pigged out when I could; little did I know I’d be counting carbs and pricking my fingers for glucose tests in years to come…

And this year? I’m sitting in my own home, inhaling the delectable scent of turkey that roasts upstairs in my very own oven. We’ve watched some of the big Thanksgiving Day Parade, have built amazing things with Duplos, have basted, have played with cars, have basted again, etc. It’s been nice to just chill—especially since my son puked on me three times in one day earlier this week. Yep, stomach flu. It’s clearing up now, and he actually ate something other than saltines and kept it down today—hurray! So, it’s a real blessing that we opted to dine in this year. (Can anything affect your appetite more adversely than being on the receiving end of partially digested food offerings? I think not.)

Hope the turkey turns out great for every household reading this. I truly pray that we can all feel genuinely appreciative of the many blessings we enjoy every day. Life’s too short to live ungratefully.

And perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a few days, we’ll break out the Christmas music here in our home. Perhaps.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oh, Turn It Off (I mean, Oh, Tannenbaum)


Okay, I need to blow off a little steam. Please bear with me. (The pic? The Star Wars Christmas Album. Stoooo-pid.)

One of the Pittsburgh radio stations has begun to play Christmas music. Already! Thanksgiving has not yet arrived, and still I turned on the radio in the car (yes, people, I listen to the radio, not an iPod or XM Satellite radio or any other odd, mutated form of music-related entertainment) and, lo and behold, Christmas music blasted out at me.

And it was terrible music. Terrible. It was the worst Christmas carol ever, as voted by the hubby and me in past years: It was Gloria Estefan’s version of “Let It Snow.” If you haven’t had the displeasure of hearing it for yourself, say a quick prayer that you are spared such punishment forevermore. Another possibility is that you may have heard it and simply not recognized it as that particular little ditty, because it is so very awful and corrupted from the original that it could easily be mistaken for a new and horrible song instead of the horrible remake that it is.

I don’t mind that Christmas carol, nor do I mind most of them. Honestly, I really like quite a few of them. It’s the gut-wrenchingly bad renditions of them that hurt me. Whatever moved Gloria to participate in such an attempt? Blaring horns, escalating to loud, honking musical peaks, strangely discordant vocals instead of blissful harmonies… It’s just the worst. Although, in fairness, I was never a big Gloria E. fan…

I suppose it’s kind of mean to harangue Gloria for her Christmas song. Why would I pinpoint her? There are so, so many bad Christmas songs to choose from. And while they’re not all bad, gosh darn there are SO MANY of them. And how many of these recording artists have ever uttered the name Jesus except to snarl curse words at someone? I’d surely like to know.

I did a quick search on Amazon and found quite an eclectic mix of Christmas albums to choose from. You could be crooning along about the Savior with any of the following: Andy Williams (of course), Amy Grant (of course), Jethro Tull (huh? the flutist rocker?), Jessica Simpson (the cover of this one makes you wonder what Jess has on her mind for Christmas), Nana Mouskouri (remember her? the lady with the glasses?), Raffi (who is this guy? Should I know?), Burl Ives (a given), Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Knight (nothing bad to say about these ladies), Michael Bolton (cornball), Al Green (I’d like to hear this one), Billy Idol (yep, THAT Billy Idol), Beach Boys, Jackson 5, Air Supply, Tiny Tim, Twisted Sister, and so on, and so on. Moody Blues and Jethro Tull got creative and penned mostly new songs for their efforts, but I’m not even sure whether that’s a good idea… I mean, how many really good, fairly recent Christmas songs can you think of? One? Two? Five at most. It’s a tricky business, writing new carols.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself and see what absurdities await you in the land of Christmas listening. And be warned—I’ll be working on my own Christmas album for release soon. If I miss this year, I can always shoot for next Halloween, since that’s likely when they’ll begin spinning the Christmas tunes. I’ll call it “Mel Gives You the Christmas Blues.”

(Get it? A little double entendre there? I can sing the blues for you, and I can also give you the blues by my singing them…?) Okay, then. See you around.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another day, another year

Wow, do I feel old. I can’t believe I’ve been on this earth for so many years. How can it be? I’m still immature, I still feel young (well, in my mind—not in my knees or back or feet.) I definitely do not feel my age…which, quite recently, slipped quietly into its next year.

We’re all growing older every day; why does the subtle alteration of that number drive home the point so ruthlessly? It’s not as if the aging process speeds up on a birthday; we’re aging at the same rate all the time. And yet. And yet. I never even thought I could get past 30. I’m not sure what I envisioned—did I imagine I’d just stop and stay still in the midst of whirling time? Now that I’m approaching 40, I can’t deny it any longer. It’s happening. I’m no spring chicken, and I’ve long left behind the “spring” of my life.

There are, however, some advantages to aging. I care less and less what people think as I hobble into middle age. The shy, awkward, “what-will-people-think?” girl is gone from my life, banished by healthy apathy and increased self-confidence. I’d never go back to being that girl. She was miserable, apologetic, and altogether too easily influenced by the opinions of the world, poor timid pup.

And I’m more certain about my priorities now. When I was a silly kid, I was all mixed up about what was important. Finally, I’m starting to get a clue. People, not things. The kid and my husband, not just me and my own selfish desires. Healthy eating and respect for life instead of taking tomorrow for granted. Safety paired with a grateful joie de vivre, instead of foolhardy risks and much moaning and groaning about my folly in life. Faith in God, not false hope in false gods.

The best part of aging? It happens to everyone. No one escapes unless they opt for the alternative (which isn’t nearly as attractive a choice as getting a little bit older). It’s even happening to the people who are younger than me; I try not to snicker as folks who once ribbed me mercilessly about my maturity are now traveling into their 30s. HA HA—how’s it feel, girls? We’re all lugging around the same decade now, aren’t we? (Hey, I never said I was nice—just trying to be. Besides, they deserve it, the snipes.)

Well, that’s about enough philosophizing for one day. I owe it to my old self to get a sufficient amount of rest, so I’ll sign off for now. Eat right, get some exercise, stretch your muscles, and don’t worry about the numbers—at least not THAT number.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Everyone means EVERYONE

So, I recently posted my happy little Bob Ross essay (see My Dream--Adjusted) about loving everyone as yourself. (I probably made at least one person’s stomach turn.) And then, God read my post, chuckled, and sent me reminders that everyone means everyone.

First, there’s this woman I know. She’s kind of a mess. She used to be more of a mess, I gather, from the alarming little excerpts from her past that she occasionally drags out into the glaring light. So, all things considered, she’s doing much better now than she used to do. But she still struggles with a number of issues. And she calls me. Sometimes it’s not for days, even weeks. And then I am pulled (wriggling and squirming) back onto her radar, and suddenly there she is, at odd times, for no reason sometimes, and more often because she needs something.

Now, let me say that there are people in this world who consistently make us thankful for caller ID. You know exactly what I’m talking about; these are the few folks in our lives who drive us to pay that extra fee. I’ve revealed to you what a cheapskate I am…and yet I pay that stupid monthly charge just so I can see the caller’s name pop up on the handset. And I confess to you now that the last two times this woman has called me, I have not answered the phone.

I feel bad about it.** I do. I’m not sure what to do. I know I should take the call. But I also know that the call is likely to bring about a request of some kind. Nearly all the calls do. (I can't be certain, since she never leaves a message.) And for the past few days, with a snotty-nosed kid, a ceaseless cough of my own, errands to run, etc. I just haven’t felt like fielding the various needs that I know will be expressed if I click the Talk button and say “Hello?” very casually, as if I don’t know who is waiting on the other end.

So, there it is. I’ve told you. Now you know what a hypocrite I am. Because, surely, isn’t this person one of the “everyones” that I’m supposed to love? But wait—it gets worse.

I was in a store yesterday, glancing around me, and then my focus became riveted a few aisles over on a very tall, elegant man, dressed in a miniskirt and heels. And I tried not to look at him too pointedly, but I kept stealing surreptitious glances at him. I couldn’t stop. It was awful, the way I kept staring while trying not to stare. He’d gone to lengthy efforts to be a convincing female. The skirt, the giant heels, even pantyhose (a very tasteful nude shade—no tacky “suntan” for this fellow), some makeup. He was wearing a wig, too—not a bad one, but obviously a wig. Nice neutral eye shadows and lipstick, the skirt wasn’t too very short, above the knee but not utterly tasteless like some of the styles nowadays… And yet, he was a man. Inarguably, a male. And there he stood, looking through some ladies’ shirts on a rack, minding his own business. And I was kind of weirded out. I guess the old adage is true—you can take the girl out of the small town, but you’ll never get the small town out of the girl—and I can say with some certainty that I never saw a character like this in all my growing-up years.

I was mentally shaking my head at him, perplexed and a tad judgmental, and all of a sudden I felt an unmistakable nudge in my soul, and in my mind I heard the word “everyone.” That’s everyone, there, little Missy. Even a mammoth cross-dresser who’s searching for the perfect Christmas blouse. You don’t know him, his heart. You don’t know what he’s been through, whether there was abuse, whether his parents loved and accepted him… You don’t know.

And it’s true: For all I know, the respectable looking manly guy who was sidling closer from the other direction could run toward me, knock me down, grab my purse and flee, and perhaps this lovely, cosmetic’d fellow would trip after him in his huge high heels and knock him upside the head in order to retrieve my bag. It could happen.

I don’t know. All I know is I’m supposed to love them. No matter what. Boy, is that tough. For me, for them—for all of us. I’ve heard it’s possible—but we certainly need divine assistance to make it happen.

With love,
Mel

** BTW, this phrase—“I feel bad about it”—is correct. For any of you out there tsk-ing in my general direction and feeling annoyed at a former English teacher for misusing grammar, I say to you that the word “feel” is a sensory verb, and therefore must be followed by an adjective, just as any non-action verb would be. When you misbehave, you would never say, “I am badly.” Or, when describing an unflattering outfit, you’d never say, “I look badly.” That sounds as if you can’t see well! No action is occurring, so bad is correct. If I said I felt badly, I’d be accusing myself of fumbling, inaccurate touching skills.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My dream—adjusted


So my dream has always been to move out west. The real west, Big Sky country, with Rockies in the background of every vista, small cabins crouching at the feet of big mountains, huge sunsets, and—most important of all—sooooo much space. Vast expanses of emptiness. Just me, perhaps a handful of loved ones, and lots and lots of room. Even my localized versions of the dream share that spaciousness. I picture ten or twenty acres with my house squarely in the middle of the acreage. A tractor is a must, maybe a horse, plenty of access to free firewood for the fireplace or wood burner, a garden in the summer… but neighbors? Not a must. I think I could do all right without them.

And please don’t misunderstand; we have great neighbors. They’re kind people, they’re thoughtful, they watch out for each other, are generally fond of our son and the other kids in the area, most of them drive slowly, and by and large they’re considerate about noise or mess. I honestly think we’re blessed to have such neighbors. But neighbors aren’t a must. I could probably do okay without them. I guess I’m a bit of a loner; I’ve never had much trouble entertaining myself.

Here’s the problem: our church is very much in support of living in community with one another. For real. As in, doing helpful things for each other, taking meals to people who need help, offering to run errands, opening our homes to each other, etc. And it’s a biblical concept. Over and over, our pastor (whom we both really like and respect—Todd may even love him) has pointed out clear, inarguable Bible scripture that dictates we genuinely care about and help each other, especially other believers in Christ. The whole concept of the church is that it’s a familial community that shares everything. The second greatest commandment? Love your neighbor as yourself. I can’t find any loopholes there. I’ve looked. I’m really supposed to love my neighbor. Love him.

And who’s your neighbor? Everyone around you—not just on your street, but around you all during the day. The annoying negative braggart at work, the lunkhead down the street who starts his Harley at 6:00 AM, the needy sort-of friend who always requires a ride or favor or money, maybe a family member who’s making you a bit batty. All of them. We’re to love them.

And how does this all fit into my dream of moving west and living among wild animals, perhaps some livestock, and lots of aspen trees? I don’t think they’d count as neighbors. So, that’s a bit of a situation. I can’t see how I can love my neighbors if I’m living the glorious, quiet, uncomplicated life of a hermit. I can’t be a good community member if I refuse to join the community. I can’t perceive the needs of all my neighbors if I don’t know them, spend time with them, let them into my world.

The toughest part is that I’m genuinely beginning to see how I, too, benefit from my community. Overall, I’m better with them than I am without. I am reminded of this nearly every day, when I talk to a friend on the phone, email a gal pal from Bible study, look forward to choir practice so I can see how everyone’s doing, etc. These exchanges make my days more enjoyable, cause me to count my blessings instead of cursing my bad luck. Watching others who exhibit grace every day, even in hardships, causes me to try harder, to work toward a better version of me. And helping others? The fact that we are able to do so at all is a reminder in itself of how much I’ve been given—given to share, that is.

Slowly, surely, it’s beginning to feel good to share. I still fight it sometimes—I’m human—but I know that the more I do it, the easier it will become. And the more I do it, the more I’ll find goodwill in my heart instead of bitterness and isolation.

So, I’m working on an adjusted version of the dream. I’ll get back to you with details as they emerge.

P.S. No, I can't claim credit for the photo--someone named Punit Sinha took it. I am borrowing it, since we didn't have a digital camera when we were honeymooning out west.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A funny little exchange with the boy

“Mama, did you drip paint here?” I'm on the floor and he’s sitting in my lap, facing me; he's pointing to my neck. We’ve talked at length about drips of paint, because we’ve had some painting projects of late, and also because the painters who preceded us at this house were rather careless—we’ve found drips in the driveway, in the bathtub, on the bathroom floor, etc. Drips of paint are quite familiar.

“No, honey. What do you mean?”

“Right here?” He touches my neck, and I realize he’s talking about a small mole I have there. “You drip paint here?”

“No, babe. That’s a mole. They grow on your skin.”

“What you hit that on?” He looks concerned; now he thinks it’s a bruise.

“No, honey—it’s a mole. It grew on my skin there. It’s okay, it’s not a bruise.”

He reaches out with his little hand, grabs the thing, and starts twisting it as if to remove it by force. Ouch! “No, Marcus, it doesn’t come off. It’s okay—it can stay there. Look, I’ll show you more of them on me.” I do. Of course I can’t find any on him—his fair skin isn’t even freckled like his dad’s. It’s just creamy smooth flawlessness. And here I am, pocked and marked, sitting before him like a warty frog. The whole conversation makes me giggle, and I tell him, “You’re silly and you make me laugh.” He laughs too, and we hug and then he starts climbing all over me and the offensive mole is forgotten.

I know his skin won’t always look this way. He won’t always mistake a mole for paint, or a little bruise. He won’t always try to twist and rub away my many imperfections with his small hands, although I’m certain he’ll become much more familiar with all of them as he ages and gets to know “everything,” thus realizing his mother's idiocy.

He won’t always be my little boy, on my lap, giggling with me about a mole. And that makes me rather sad.

P.S. I needed to write this today because it’s been a bear of a day. Molars are coming and they’ve temporarily turned the kid into quite a crank-butt. So, it’s nice to recall this moment from a few days ago and remember who I’m really dealing with here.

P.P.S. To any veterans reading this: THANK YOU.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Worthwhile extravagance

You might think from reading my “parasite” post that I’m a complete cheapskate who spends her life at yard sales and dollar stores. I do spend an inordinate amount of time looking for bargains at various locations. However, I do endorse a few lovely little luxuries. Yes, they cost more than I like to spend; and yes, they are worth it.

I’ve been reminded of one of those worthwhile luxuries in the past days, because my down comforter came out of hiding for the cold winter months. I’d forgotten how delightful it is to curl up under a down comforter. Todd described it as a perfect nest. It’s lightweight, it accepts and then returns your body’s warmth, it even has a nice crisp sound to it when you shake it out. The same can be said of high thread counts in the world of sheets; as soon as you surpass 300 threads per square inch of fabric, the sheets just get smoother and silkier—and never in that cheap, polyester silky way. The high thread counts wear better, too.

Some other household luxuries? Well, we were blessed with an All Clad connection (cooking aficionados and/or Emeril fans will recognize the cookware name). One of our in-laws has a father who used to work there, and that employment history has brought us gifts of some nice, heavy pots and pans that I use every day. May I simply say that All Clad rocks. I fully expect to still be cooking up meals in these pieces when I’m an old lady, assuming I make it that far. Food just turns out better when it’s prepared in quality pieces, and this brand is made to last a lifetime.

I could go on and on about luxuries in the kitchen: real sea salt, Madagascar vanilla extract, a French coffee press instead of an automatic drip machine, rich dark chocolate (Lindt offers some reasonably priced indulgences)… You get the idea.

Other small luxuries? My real Irish fisherman’s sweater comes to mind (I found it at a second-hand shop years ago, of course). A bigger luxury that Todd and I both appreciate is the Mac we purchased instead of a PC (worth every penny). If he were by my side right now, Todd would probably offer up the luxury of high-quality outergear and/or sporting equipment; he’s likely searching for some excellent hunting clothes as I write this. Something I wish I’d splurged on? The cordless phone. The one I bought instead will serve the purpose, but just barely…

How about you? What everyday extravagance can improve your mood in an instant? Share with a comment—then we all can treat ourselves or our families in small but sure ways!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Another loss

I don't normally post more than once per day, but a tribute was in order and I didn't want to wait:

What is the worth of one devoted dog?
A dog that started life as princess pup,
Then dropped in status with each newborn child—
And ended up the 8th in line. But still,
Was faithful, patient, loving, never nipped,
Gave special care to kids who needed it,
And never asked for more than biscuits, or
A comfy guest bed on which she could rest.
A dog like that? A rare and wondrous friend.

Rest in peace, dear Kena. You’ve been a member of my sister’s family; thank you for your years of service and companionship.

Contemplating the big sleep

Well, we’re really, truly nearing winter now. I watched darkness fall just before 5:00 pm last evening, and I knew with a sinking heart that I could deny it no longer.

Why do I dread it so? It’s not that bad, really, hunkering down earlier for the evening, shutting the curtains before dinner instead of after, turning on more lights a little sooner in the afternoon. It’s not as if we’ve been playing outside in the afternoon lately—it’s been pretty chilly—so the early darkness hasn’t brought about any big change in our schedule. And yet, I’m suddenly filled with apathy and ennui. I know there are exciting times to come, lots of fun fall events, Christmas preparation. I just can’t put my finger on the real reason for the mood shift.

I don’t really think I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. In truth, I’m not sure I completely believe in it. There are some relatively recent, popular disorders that I just haven’t made up my mind about—SAD, and Epstein Barr, and the innumerable forms of ADD and ADHD… Anyway, I don’t recall this listless feeling when I was a child. Perhaps I was too distracted by the anticipation of things to come, but I don’t know; we’re turning back the clocks much later this year, and I can’t imagine that I got too worked up about Christmas way back in October, which is when we used to make the time adjustment.

So what gives? Is it the knowledge of winter approaching, the upcoming snows and ices and shoveling marathons? Is it my horror at the thought of dressing myself and a 2-year-old in winter gear each time we venture out the door? Perhaps it is the vision of little old me, traversing a messy, filthy, snow-covered parking lot with a loaded grocery cart and child in tow.

I don’t know for sure. I only know that I feel a tad heavier, a tiny bit less hopeful, slightly cranky. I think about naps more and walks less. I have inexplicable snacking urges, less stringent rules about the state of the house, fewer inclinations to do chores and more interest in pointless, stupid TV shows.

I think I have officially made the transition to pre-hibernation mode.

Monday, November 5, 2007

How parasites shop

I like to think I’m pretty economical, that I can stretch a dollar. Todd and I live intentionally sparkle-free lives; we drive old cars, eat at home most of the time, he packs his lunch for work, I’m a regular Pennysaver and Craigslist participant, the kid and I seek out free fun at the library, take walks in the parks, etc. You get the idea. We try to live simply and inexpensively. Part of this is because we must, but truth be told, part of it is because we genuinely enjoy finding a bargain.

My favorite places to seek those bargains happen to be second-hand shops and sales. I have a local Goodwill that I frequent, we hit the church rummage sales sometimes, and there’s nothing better than a neighborhood garage sale on a warm Saturday morning. Sometimes I drag Marcus on these little forays; he’s quite familiar with the regular shopping spots. (He actually asked me today if I got my teeth at Goodwill—no kidding. Could I fabricate such an odd quote? You know it must be true.) I wouldn’t say that I pride myself on finding some of my favorite things in the midst of other people’s discarded goods, but I also wouldn’t say I’m ashamed of it. (Sometimes I think that the real shame belongs to people who spend ridiculous amounts of money on this stuff in the first place.) I do enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the unlikely Ralph Lauren skirt that’s in mint condition and cost me $3, or the Banana Republic sweater I found for $2… It brings me great satisfaction to step out in a name-brand outfit that didn’t even cost me a tenspot.

But pondering my second-hand hobby recently, I realized with some chagrin that I’m a parasite. All this time I’ve been thinking that I’m bucking the system, that I don’t need to live at the mercy of this season’s fashion, spend hundreds to update my wardrobe, invest thousands in furniture. The reality? I’m just as dependent on the whole goofy materialistic way of life as the initial purchasers of all these goods. If the person who first bought that $2 Ralph Lauren skirt had suddenly decided to save her money, where would I be? I couldn’t pick this stuff up cheaply if someone else hadn’t splurged on it in the first place.

So, I’m not really bucking the system. I’m just operating in a different system…but it’s not so very different, really. I spend less money, but I’m a cog in the greedy, fickle, buy-more/buy-new wheel just the same. I need those spendthrifts to help me maintain my lifestyle. My way of life requires that a consumer must consume; whether or not that consumer is me doesn’t really matter.

I'll be biting my tongue next time I'm tempted to ridicule someone's extravagance, because now I'll picture myself, a little leech, clinging to a bloated underbelly.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Something to hang in my little boy's room



Hi, all. I just wanted to show you my latest painting because I was happy with the way it turned out—and that doesn't always happen, let me tell you.

[Warning: shameless plug to follow] You probably know that I'll do commissions for a very reasonable fee (no people portraits, though—never could do those). Heck, I've even bartered with people; I once painted a bouquet for a big bag of handmade soap, and right now my next scheduled animal subject will be horses...for a horsewoman/beading aficionado who made me a lovely turquoise necklace. Something to think about with Christmas coming quickly quickly quickly!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Confessions of an egocentric foodie



Here is a photo showing what my child does to grapes. He doesn’t eat them. He gnaws them. He mauls them. He ravages them, and then he leaves the sodden, damaged goods behind. Or, better yet, he offers them in their semi-destroyed state to me. As if. He does this to a number of foods, and honestly, it’s a step in the right direction—at least he’s interacting with the food. There are so many foods he won’t even touch. Slowly, ever so slowly, he’s expanding his edible repertoire, but M-A-N is it taking a long time.

And I try not to take this personally. But for some reason, I do. You see, I’m a foodie. I love food. I love to make food, to eat food, to read about food. I’m the annoying person at parties who’s always trying to get a recipe. I’m the one who then sends those recipes to disinterested people (at least I used to do this—I’ve kind of given up lately.) The person who constantly tries to tell you about different dishes, or foods that are healthy, easy to work with, low in carbs? Yep, that’s me. I’m even more obsessed now that I have to watch the glucose levels. And I struggle to understand it: How can this child, my offspring, not love food as I do?

I know, he’s just a toddler, they have no appreciation of fine cuisine. It’s typical. It’s a control issue. They hate change. Blah, blah, blah. I know. But he’s MY child!!! How can he not love food?

I guess this reveals a lot about not just my interests, but also my pushy personality. I’ve been accused in my life of being too forceful, of wanting everyone to like my way best. Perhaps that’s true; supposedly, this obnoxious trait runs in my family. I honestly don’t believe it for an instant. And besides, my way is best—people should be able to see that, right?! (I’m teasing, people. Come on.)

But seriously, when I think about it, we all get a little bit defensive if people don’t love what we love, be it lasagna, a band, the girl down the street, a character from a favorite movie... It’s silly, but I run into that sort of behavior from so many people that it must be a pretty common human shortcoming. You can go ahead and deny it if you want, but it’s a rare man or woman who can remain completely unemotional about the things he or she loves—especially when those things are openly held in low regard by someone else.

Still in denial? Think of something you really like. And think of someone who mocks that something, maybe to your face, maybe in a smugly subtle way. Can you say in truth that it doesn’t bother you at all? I can’t. Call me small; I’ll call me honest.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The tastes of battle

All three of us are now battling some form of the cold that invaded our lives last week. That’s right, an entire household, paralyzed by rampant, mutant germs that have infiltrated every corner and cranny, spreading their badness. And the ongoing illness has reminded me of something I recall each time I battle a malady: Sickness has a taste.

There’s the foul, sour taste of unwashed mouth, of tongue that’s welcomed only tea and chicken noodle soup for days on end with nary a sighting of a toothbrush. And there’s the dry, bile-tinged taste of a ravaged mouth that’s been trying very hard to keep stuff from coming up into it, stuff that has no right traveling upward instead of down and out. The taste I’m recalling now (because I’ve been cruelly reminded) is the taste of sore throat and chest ailment—a strangely metallic flavor. Where is that coming from? Metal? Huh? But it’s true. The minute something goes awry in my chest and lungs, that’s the taste in my mouth.

Makes you wonder what’s going on down there, in the depths of your amazing body, as it fights this fight against evil germs. Can you picture the white blood cells at a rally, pepping each other up before they take arms against the germ? It’s crazy, really, when you think about it—and especially crazy because our bodies are always doing some kind of battle, even when we’re healthy. While we’re totally clueless, feeling fine, going about our business and even neglecting ourselves as so many of us do, all the components of our intricate and awesome bodies are still working to keep a good balance: making sure there are just enough germs to keep the defenses in good shape, being certain that the bacteria we need are in good supply but aren’t getting too cocky… I’m no doctor or scientist, but I’m still rendered speechless when I ponder all the wonderful things going on inside me at any given time. Even looking at the monitor as I type this, thinking about the image going into my pupil, being reflected somewhere on the back of my eyeball, images being sent to my brain via millions of tiny nerves… It could really freak me out if I dwell on it for very long.

So, I’m hopeful that we’ll all beat the current bug. It can’t last forever; even at this moment, forces are being assembled to kick its bum out of my and my family’s bodies for good. And then they’ll regroup, those marvelous forces, and prepare to do battle again when the next enemy enters the scene via an eye or nostril.

Our pastor said something that stayed with me yesterday: he said that, after pondering the Earth and everything in it, that he “didn’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” He’s so right. If I think about even my own eyes, ears, hands, body in general, my origins inside a womb, for Heaven’s sake!—all I can see is an amazing designer behind every detail.

Looking forward to healthier days—hopefully soon.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

“Home-work," stuffitis and odd phobias




Here’s a photo showing the new color of the foundation of our house. Next to it is an old pic. The light blue was the pale, spiritless color we inherited; lively pea green is the new, warmer, more inviting shade. Next year’s plans include coffee brown shutters and repainted brown railings, etc. to match. AND finding a paint shade to match the brick, to cover up the sloppy, we-don’t-need-no-stinkin'-blue-tape paint job of the previous owner. (We’ll see if all this actually happens.)

Note: If you want to learn a lot about yourself—and the state of any relationships near and dear to you—start a home improvement project. ‘Nuf said. I’m proud to report that our marriage has now survived unemployment, freelance employment, 3 moves, 2 home purchases, a remodeled kitchen, and painting on the outside of the current dwelling.

Right now, Todd is trying to seize one of the last seasonable October days and clean out/reorganize the garage. It’s amazing the amount of stuff you accumulate. Things you forgot you had—now honestly, how pathetic is that? How can we have so much stuff that we forget what we have? It’s kind of an American sickness, stuffitis. And the regular cure for stuffitis can become a regular job: the job of minimizing possessions. Hence Todd’s activities this afternoon.

Any of you who know me are probably already quite aware that I love getting rid of stuff. Not throwing it away—I actually have a phobia about that, especially food—but just getting stuff out of my house and/or out of my life. It’s a heady feeling, lightening your personal load in this world. I’d suggest that all of you give it a try; the most reluctant of you should take the biggest load to the Goodwill. Or heck, in this convenient day and age, call Goodwill or its competitors; some of those charities will come to your house and take it from you for free! Can you beat that with a stick?

Anyway, I really do have some sort of mental issues about throwing things away. I can’t find an actual name for it, but I did learn while searching on Google that there is such a thing as “fear of throwing up.” Its name is emetophobia. Seriously. Are there any silent sufferers out there reading this, cowering in corners, clutching your antibacterial gel in hopes of evading the latest stomach flu germs? Come, step out of those dark places, drop the antibacterial crap and grab a sturdy bucket or plastic garbage can. Hold it high! Don’t be ashamed—it’s okay to hurl!

Okay. Enough silliness. Go clean out that garage or basement now. Go on, get to it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ma-Ma's necklace

On Monday evening, for the very first time, I wore Ma-Ma’s necklace.

Ma-Ma is my paternal grandmother. She died in February. In a year of staggering losses, I think I can honestly say this one has had the biggest impression on me. Next to my parents, Ma-Ma was an omnipresent person in my life; there have been many wonderful and influential relatives and friends, of all ages, but this lady impacted me in a big way.

So, donning her necklace was a big step. I felt a little funny about it; I’d seen it on her so many times. Anyone who knew her can probably picture it immediately: a long, slim strand of what appear to be small cream and gray freshwater pearls, with a tiny gold bead in between each pearl. It’s a pretty piece, simple, and its light weight tells me that it’s not very valuable in the eyes of the world—but it is to me. And having seen it around her wrinkled neck so many times, I just wasn’t sure if I was worthy. Was this the right moment? Did it look okay with my outfit? Should I leave it in my jewelry box for a few months longer? Perhaps it would be disrespectful to sport it so soon after her departure…

Then I pictured her, putting on the strand to come to a family outing, probably not even thinking about it once she’d worn it a few times. It was simply one of her favorites, not to be contemplated. A woman who’d been vain about her looks for her whole life, I believe she made a point in those last years of not really looking at herself, at the old woman she had become. (I know that I spend increasingly less time in front of a mirror, and that's probably good. I hope that not one of us who lives that many years—she was 2 weeks away from turning 100 when she died—will spend too much time gazing in the mirror, except to tell ourselves how well we've held up and to congratulate the reflected image on a life well lived.)

And then, I considered the occasion to which I would wear the necklace: a funeral visitation for my husband’s maternal grandma, who’d turned 90 in May, had fought the good fight for a few months, and who finally succumbed to absolute weariness. She was the Ma-Ma of Todd’s mom's family. She, too, held a family together through the loss of a husband, although she went on to help rebuild it with her second husband, while Ma-Ma never remarried. Todd’s gram, too, was the matriarch, an ever-present figure at family functions, a voice of experience and knowledge. Somehow, it seemed oddly appropriate that Ma-Ma’s necklace would make its second debut—on a different, younger neck—at such an occasion. It could be a nod, of sorts, from one great elder stateswoman to another.

Do we all, in time, achieve that special, precious patina of the aged? Is it a given, a right for everyone? Or is it reserved for a few unique, cherished, wonderfully worn people? I think you can guess my stance on this matter.

I only hope that I will wear the necklace well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random thoughts

I've managed to contract the kid's bug, in some weird mutated form, so I'm short on insightful thoughts about pretty much anything right now. Here's what I've been thinking about instead:

Why do we humans have so many different and frequently disgusting fluids, solids, and forms of mucus exiting our bodies at all times? I've been presented with some nasty, odd-colored nasal discharges from my son these past couple of days, and that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as unsavory discharges, from him or from anyone else. Makes you wonder how that seemed like a good idea when we were being formed on the sixth day and all that. This is definitely a question I'll have for the Maker someday...

Thinking about mucus reminds me of all these hip, happening new viruses on the market, like MRSA; is there another Biosphere experiment in the works anywhere? Maybe they'll hold a lottery for the next lucky dwellers—let me know if you hear anything...

Speaking of living in a bubble, what will our morally upstanding media (cough, cough) do if Hollywood suddenly produces a successful teen star who miraculously marches into adulthood still sober, clean of drugs, free of a police record, and without an eating disorder? Oh, wait—that person will have been kicked to the curb long before he/she reaches adulthood. Too boring.

And since we're talking about the media, how must a soldier or fresh veteran feel after watching a broadcast of the news and finding that the war is usually not the top story? That's a slap in the face, eh? Thanks for fighting--just get in line behind Britney and her kids and the parenting coach, okay? What's that, you're handicapped and you need a chair? Geesh--you people sure are demanding.

Well, I can see I'm on my way to a rather corrosive little diatribe, so I'll stop now. In case there's any doubt, I support our troops and what they are doing. And I definitely feel most days as if Americans in general are pretty spoiled and rather superficial—not excluding me. But that's a post for another day.

Send us healing thoughts, please! Thanks.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Just touching base

Well, we've lost another older member of our family...so, the next couple of days will be busy with family commitments. Please forgive my absence while I try to think of something intelligent and insightful to share with you next time.

On a completely different level, we finished painting the foundation of the house a lovely warm ivy green. It really looks nice with the tan brick. I'll post a couple of pics next time. It was a rather arduous process, but well worth the effort.

And, Marcus has managed to catch another cold. : (

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A musical feast—with a side dish of annoyance

Today the kid and I had a lovely opportunity to go hear a live musician who was performing an abbreviated set for little children, in support of his upcoming family album. A local radio station that we support was the sponsor and host, so I pre-registered, we waited with anticipation, and this morning we got ourselves together and drove there.

The performer, Ellis Paul (www.ellispaul.com), was a lively, gifted and patient entertainer who also happens to be a parent. That’s good, since performing for a group of 30-something preschoolers can be rather challenging. He did a fabulous job, sang some old Woody Guthrie tunes, some other popular kid tunes, and he did it all with just an acoustic guitar, a microphone, and an impressive ability to stay focused and tuneful in the face of madness.

And it did become a tad mad. The session was 45 minutes long. That was probably a bit too long for a number of the children gathered there. I must praise my own little guy; he was fully attentive for about 38 minutes, clapping, bobbing his head, really listening and looking at the guy and enjoying himself. Even when he started to fade during the last song or two, I was honestly right there with him—and our distraction was entirely due to the madness. We both have some anxiety issues when the noise and confusion levels are high, especially when there are numerous rowdy strangers around—which was the case.

Where is this going? Well, I just want to sing out loudly in favor of controlling your children. The radio station, God bless ‘em for trying this, asked in the registration confirmation that we bring only a blanket and our best listening skills. Okay—do good listening skills include jumping up and down on a nearby stage to hear the loud thump that the hollow floor makes? Is good listening illustrated by crawling around on the floor, standing, falling forward, nearly hitting a tiny girl in her mom’s lap, all the while growling loudly? Does good listening translate as running through the throngs of people who are seated on the floor, trying to see the singer and listen to his music? And let me make it clear that all this was happening while the poor fellow sang and strummed. I’m not talking about kids dancing; that happened too, and we were all delighted by it. Dancing to the music was not the issue.

I don’t want to be ridiculous in my expectations, because it WAS a roomful of kids under the age of 6. And yet, can’t we begin to set realistic expectations for behavior by controlling, and if necessary removing, the kids who are becoming bored and restless? When an audience member becomes louder than the performer, perhaps that’s a clue that the member in question is no longer interested and might prefer to be elsewhere. Perhaps he or she should be taken out of the situation, thus sending the message that such behavior is inappropriate in that setting and won’t be tolerated. Doesn’t the performer deserve that respect?

Then again, why would kids be any different from adults? I’ve attended countless public events, indoor and outdoor, at which I was appalled by the behavior of the audience regardless of its average age. And if the event is free of charge, as was today’s event…? Oh, my—those are, sadly, the worst examples of human behavior. Rudeness rules at free events. And that’s a shame—because for some attendees, free events are their only options.

Anyway. Am I being silly? Should I just relax and let kids be kids, as I’m so often told? And when does that adage become a hackneyed excuse for poorly behaved children? Let me know where you stand on this. Seriously.

And seriously, thank you thank you thank you to WYEP (www.wyep.org) for holding just such an event. Many more, please! Maybe you can rope off a holding pen for the more rambunctious fans next time…? Or not.