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

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


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 (
Smile Train (
American Leprosy Missions (
Save Darfur (

This is just a handful of options. Heck, there are hundreds—thousands, even. Not sure where to begin? Check out 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


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: