Monday, November 30, 2009

The Annual Notes from a Narcissist

Okay. I've done my absolute favorite part of the entire Christmas Season.

Break bread with beloved family members? Provide holiday cheer for less fortunate brothers and sisters? Frost cookies with the youngins'? Sing Christmas carols? Drink eggnog? Add more rum to the eggnog?

All of the above are nice. But, as a raging narcissist, it should be no surprise that my favorite part of the year is...writing about myself.

It looks kinda bad when it's just...sitting there. But, in the spirit of total honesty, I must say it:

I love, love, love writing the annual holiday letter. 

I start thinking about my annual theme around August. I edit it religiously, and nitpick over little words and phrases ("Is it appropriate to say 'batshit' in a Christmas letter?").

I actually considered starting a business where I would interview other people and subsequently write their Christmas letters for them. For an additional fee, I would do the stamping, addressing, and mailing.

Then, as with many of my ventures, (see: Making my Own Organic Detergent, Composting, The South Beach Diet, Digital Scrapbooking, Showering),  I got distracted. Maybe next year. (And, level with me: is this a good idea?)


I know that people hate holiday letters. They're braggy or boring or too long or too self-indulgent. I argue that for many people, this is the one time a year that they choose to reflect on their experiences in writing. Those who write regularly know that written reflection can be a mental massage, working out the kinks and knots that impede our growth. So, I argue that even the most self-indulgent holiday letter is a gift to the writer.

 I've finished my first draft. Because Paul says that I am not allowed add one more name to our growing list, I am going to send a virtual card to those of you who know me via blogging.

And, as an added bonus, since you are all writers, I welcome any feedback or suggestions you wish to share before the print version hits the post office. (Be nice-ish, but honest).

If you know me in real life, DO NOT READ THIS LETTER EARLY UNLESS YOU WANT TO TOTALLY RUIN CHRISTMAS. Or something like that.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

You Always Remember Your First One

I was going to do a Sundays in My City post today, but I'm feeling compelled to write about my first negative blog comment.

I guess it wasn't really a negative blogging comment as much as a comment that cut a little too close to the truth.

I was reading another person's blog, and posted a bonehead comment about a former vice presidential candidate.

Somebody else read this comment and checked out my profile. 

The individual then posted a comment, stating:

I'm wondering why as a Christian, you would say such a thing. I might not agree with a politician, their stand on the issues, their viewpoints, their philosophy, how they would run the country, their personality, persona and so on. But I would never try to "mock" them or encourage someone else to do the same. Differing with a politician and not liking them is one thing. To go out of your way to ridicule and mock them is another.

Unless I'm missing something here, then I must say that I'm disappointed in your statement.

I replied that the individual was right, and I wasn't very kind. It certainly wasn't my proudest moment.

I understand that if I'm going to write something, then I might as well print it up and wear it on a T-shirt. I own those words, and I need to be prepared to deal with any potential fallout or hurt feelings. Including my own. I'm not going to defend the words, except to say...I was trying to be funny?

But yet, I feel compelled to say this: I am very much a Christian. I know this because I know how very broken and selfish and petty I can be. I know that I say hurtful things because it makes me feel better about myself, and I know that I am competitive, prideful, and at times, very ugly. Christians know that they are broken, and they know that they need fixing.

And so, I dust myself off, accept God's forgiveness, forgive myself, and try to do better. And, I mean, really try.  I hope that this individual reads more of my posts, to see that I sometimes say impulsive, boneheaded things, but that I also pray for my children, and think about my mark on the world. I seek justice. I love mercy. And I try, through prayer and meditation, to walk humbly with my God.

I am more than just a dumb comment dashed off while reading blogs.

It would be petty and easy to write something snarky to make myself feel better. Yet, I'm not going to do that. Why?

Because I'm really trying to do better.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shortest Friday Fragments Ever

Because I am typing this in my mother-in-law's house, on her computer, which is smack-dab in the middle of the family room, I am not going to write much. I'll write just enough to participate in Mrs. 4444's Friday Fragments without causing my extended family to assume I'm writing my secret, deadly manifesto (FYI: That's my other blog.)

Friday Fragments?

 I realize that my extensive time online comes across as a tad anti-social and freakish, when away from the familiar setting of my kitchen table cave. Why is typing on the computer considered "rude" yet watching A Night in the Museum as a family---sitting in total silence---considered social?

Speaking of TV, I don't know why Paul and I feel this overwhelming urge to make Owen watch all of the Charlie Brown specials. They are poorly animated, kinda creepy and way over his head. And yet, every year, we sit him down and say, "You need to watch this. This is important."

Maybe we're wanting to experience our own childhoods anew, harkening back to the nights when we would snuggle under a blanket with a bowl of popcorn, watching Linus and Snoopy.

Now, we notice things. Consider this Peanuts--A Second Glance:

*Franklin, the token African American kid, sat by himself on one side of the table when Charlie Brown had his popcorn and toast Thanksgiving. Even the dog got to sit with the other kids. Not cool, Charlie Brown. Not. Cool.

*Whenever I saw Peppermint Patty on screen, I kept hearing Melissa Ethridge, crooning, "Come to my wiiiindoow!" You connect the dots.

I bet Peppermint Patty and the strangely subservant Marcie have matching Ani DeFranco shirts today. (And before you hate, I LOVE lesbians.)
*The music on the Peanuts specials is just charming---I wish that modern kids shows had half as much musical sophistication. Most cartoon music, in my limited experience, causes seizures and intense feelings of despair.

*Those Peanuts Kids? Man, those were some mean, mean kids. Even Linus could be kind of a shit, and he's the one who's spouting Scripture and Colonial History at the drop of a hat. Nobody likes a hypocrite, Linus.

*What was the deal with Pig Pen? Some adult should have called social services and said, "Wah Wah Wah Wah Wah." Why does Charlie Brown, a kid suffering from premature hair loss, get mocking, but the kid with a virulent cloud of dust is totally cool in everybody's book?

*Yet, with all these inconsistencies, that final part of the Christmas Special, when they dress up the pathetic tree and sing "Hark the Hearld Angels Sing" gets me every time. Haven't we all had moments where we're that weak old tree, and yet we're made beautiful through the faith and gentle tending of our friends?

Well, this turned into a treatise on Charles Shutlz. Not my intention, but being that I'm on borrowed computer time, I'm going to be a blockhead and roll with it. Happy Friday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

BabyBoy Campbell

"Has your son ever been a patient at Hopkins before?" she asked. I could hear her fingers tip-tapping on the keyboard.

"Well, yes, actually," I replied, "He was in the NICU at Bayview when he was first born."

She asked for his birthday. I heard more tapping. "You're Nancy, right?"

"Yes," I said. "He might be under--"

She cut me off, "We don't have Joel, just BabyBoy Campbell."

I sighed, "That's him."

And just like that, I felt angry and powerless all over again.

A year and a half ago, when I walked into the NICU, two days postpartum, my face puffy and my stomach a saggy shell of pregnancy, I asked the nurses, "Do you know his name? He has a name. It's Joel." They quickly put his name on his isolette, but the medical records always listed him as "Baby Boy."

The nurses called him Baby Boy when talking to each other. I know this was for clarity's sake, to ensure that he got the right doses, the proper documentation. There could be no room for confusion. The little tag around his tiny ankle said, "BabyBoy Campbell."

When we left a week later, we took home Joel, and left the specter of BabyBoy Campbell behind, along with the ghostly lullaby of the heart-rate monitors and the tangled cords of the IVs.


Hearing BabyBoy Campbell come out from the shadows caused me to take a deep breath. I know that a hydrocele is a routine, piece-of-cake surgery, and I'm lucky-damned lucky- to have a world-class hospital like Hopkins in my backyard.

But, still. I thought we were done with BabyBoy Campbell.

I decided to do an exorcism. I asked for the number of medical records. I made the call. It took all of three minutes, but digital BabyBoy was gone with a keystroke.

And now, when we meet the pediatric urologist (who knew such a thing existed?), he will meet Joel. He will see a gorgeous little boy with a very easy, very fixable problem, and he will take care of it.

He will never meet BabyBoy, who spent the fourth day of his life on a respirator, his lung collapsed. He won't know the infant who fought for my milk, thrashing in the isolette, a scrapper from the start.

He will only know Joel, the kid with the big heart and big smile (almost as big as his impressively large left scrotum.)

And I, his mother, will not ever--ever---allow his name to be silenced again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cleaning Up Before the Holidays...

Some long-overdue thank-yous for blogging awards:

Jen, at Laughing at Chaos tagged me here. 

(Please check out her super-cool  blog! Anybody who loves waffles and seat heaters in cars is A-OK in my book.) 

1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Let's Go: 
1) Every time I am sitting at a bar, drinking a bottle of beer, I have an almost overwhelming urge to break it and brandish the bottle, bad-ass style.

2) I start thinking about my annual Christmas letter around August.

3) When I traveled to Wisconsin for Christmas a few years back, I woke up to find a six pack of Diet Pepsi had exploded all over that back windshield of our car. That, my friends, is cold.

4) Don't care about the vampires. Even the hot ones. Just. Don't. Care.

5) I am terrified of flushing the toilet in an airplane, because I'm afraid I'll whoosh out the plane into the great beyond.

6) I throw away TONS of Owen's artwork when he's not looking. Am I supposed to keep every scribble?

7) I saw Owen going potty, standing up. As he peed, he sang, "Oil and Water, they don't mix, they don't mix, they don't mix." I wonder if he thought he was peeing oil?

Awesome bloggers I just LURVE

1. Nikki at Confessions of a Minivan Lover
2. Michelle at just eat it
3. Monica at Noisy. Colorful. Lively.
4. Erika at The flight of our Humingbird
5. Sarah at The S-Spot
6. Trudy at The Woodland Antics
7. Carla and Lang at C Me As Hope

Please take the time and check out these talented and funny writers.

Also, Unknown Mami gave me this award. I love her. Her comments alone (never mind her delightful blog) leave me swooning. Be sure to check her out here.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Real Charm City

Every time Paul and I travel to BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport), we pass Ellicott City.

On one of our journeys, I said, "We should go there sometime--I hear it's cute."

"Where did you hear that?" he asked. "What makes it cuter, than say...Glen Burnie or Shady Grove or Greenbelt?"

"Well," I answered, "It has the word "City" in it, which makes it automatically quaint and inviting."

He laughed. "By that logic, Ocean City is a charming little beach town."

"It all depends on your idea of charming," I retorted. "Some people find tattoo parlors and wax museums extremely charming. You get plenty of both in Ocean City."

"Hmmmph," he responded.

Yesterday, as the boys began another rollicking morning of Ultimate Fighting: Home Edition, Paul turned to me and said, "We've gotta get out of here. Let's go to Ellicott City."

Sweet. Not only did I get to fulfill another lifelong dream, I now have fodder for this week's Sundays in My City. (Thanks, as always to the lovely and talented Unknown Mami for hosting!)

Unknown Mami
An hour and a half later, fueled by provisions from WaWa, we arrived at Ellicott City's historic downtown. And guess what? It's charming. If Ellicott City was your boyfriend, your mother would let him sleep over. His teachers would extend the due dates of all of his assignments. Managers would comp his meals. It's that charming.

Ellicott City is built into a valley, so the homes hang precipitously. It reminded me of the mining towns in Arizona. I like this picture because it seems as if the trees are going feral, returning the home to its verdant roots:

 The city is full of antique stores and eye-catching boutiques. Additionally, there are homemade signs selling local apples. How's that for charming? 

I am a firm believer that a state should have a cool flag. Both Arizona and Maryland have met this expectation.

Owen got to know some of the local residents, and then we walked down the big hill to the train museum. If you have sons, you will learn a lot about trains. Accept it. Live it. Love it. Trains are the counterpoint to Barbies.  They are exactly the same, except one runs on steam, and one has an eating disorder.

We came at just the right time because we were able to see the Christmas model train display, minus the CROWDS! NOISE! WEEPING! CHAOS! (And all the other things that go along with Good Family Holiday Fun.)

And yes, train purists, I know that Sir Topham Hat and the other inhabitants of Sodor are historically inaccurate.Tell that to the Thomas-obsessed toddlers, not to mention their parents and their pocketbooks.

A highlight was going into an actual caboose.  Because I am 12, the entire time I was there, I kept thinking, "Heh, heh. B.O. Heh." (It actually stands for Baltimore and Ohio, I'm guessing. One would think I would know this, having just been to a museum on this very topic. One would think.)

Owen was very, very happy. Joel isn't in very many pictures because he was obsessed with going up and down the ramps and stairs.
To round out the morning, we went to a chocolate shop, a first for Owen. A world that makes chocolate-covered marshmallows with RAINBOW SPRINKLES? Life just gets better and better...

...not only for Owen, but for all of us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fragments: Gringa in the Kitchen

As she pressed the wand against his genitals, she said, "Oh, yes. We do scrotums all the time here."

Alas, this isn't the first line of my yet-published romance horror novel. This is what Lisa, the kindly radiation tech, told me after finishing Joel's ultrasound.

Allow me to share the details and more with you via Mrs. 4444's weekly hosted segment, Friday Fragments. Thanks, as always, for hosting!

Friday Fragments?

What did we learn from Joel's ultrasound? His right testicle is shy (as I write this, I hear George Costanza shrieking, "I was in the pool! I was in the pool!") and has yet to descend. His lefty, though, has a hydrocele, with about 9 cc of fluid. We will get a referral to a urologist, and surgery is likely. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted with news of all things scrotum

I had some "me time" this morning. Meaning, I had a pap smear, followed by an eyebrow waxing. I texted a single friend about this, and she was, understandably, horrified. Simply appalled. "This is not me time," she wrote.

My gynecologist said, "I've never had a patient get pregnant with Mirena."

I swallowed a gallon of air, and said, as non-hysterically as possible, "Well, isn't that the whole point of an IUD?"

"Yes," he answered, "but you never know."

Of course you never know. I've got a 31 year-old brother that is walking, living (and beautiful) proof that determined sperm can kick the ass of any IUD.

Later that morning, as I laid on the table, waiting for Linda to clean up the unholy mess known as my eyebrows, I heard her muttering to herself in Vietnamese. She called to a co-worker. The co-worker came rushing into the waxing room and they had a spirited debate in their bubbly native tongue. It involved repeated gesturing towards my eyebrows, shaking of heads, and lots of pointing.

My only conclusion is that my eyebrows were so appalling that she felt compelled to call in a second opinion. A fracking consult. I must have looked alarmed, because she reassured me, "No. No. These Easy."

I don't believe it.

As the holidays approach, my mind turns to tamales. When I lived in Arizona, we ate tamales on Christmas Eve. Amazing, homemade, spicy-savory, ecstasy-inducing tamales. Many families in the area made mountains of tamales. It's a charming tradition, where there's lot of talking and playing while hands do repetitive work.

When I was teaching, I would inappropriately and nonsensically discuss tamales in blatant attempts to procure them: "Romeo and Juliet's love is both fiery and a perfectly made tamale, without olives." or "I can't decide if I'm going to assign homework this weekend or not. It's hard to grade homework when eating tamales. I wonder where I could get some?"

Even when my subtle attempts were not successful, there would often be a kindly gentleman selling them by the front door of the grocery store.

Just sublime.

Alas, though, the tamales here in Maryland are...lacking. They are too corny or, heaven forbid, made with Chesapeake Blue Crab. Unacceptable.

So, this gringa is going to attempt to make her own tamales. What happens when a white German attempts to make her own masa? I will share it all.

And, if you can't get enough Nancy Campbell, I guest-posted at Corrie's lovely blog: Just Because My Pickle Talks Doesn't Make Me An Idiot. Check out my entry, and her many entertaining posts as well.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Little Things

Yesterday, I bought myself a Snuggie. I was feeling down, and fourteen dollars seemed to be a reasonable amount for retail therapy. Paul laughed and told me never to wash it, because it would fall apart instantly. I didn't care. I was happy.

They are much bigger than they appear in the commercials. My friend Carla pointed out that I'm all set for my Pepto-Bismol Halloween costume next October.

I was also thinking Polyphonic Spree. Remember them?

Every Christmas, I make a digital scrapbook for my grandmother. She's in an assisted living home, and doesn't need trinkets. I hate, hate, hate scrapbooking, even though I know that it is a good thing. So, to make it less painful, I scheduled a scrapbooking get-together at my house on  Sunday. A couple people said they would come.

Tuesday night, I sent out this email: "Eff scrapbooking, let's have cocktails instead. We'll scrapbook when we're dead." Instantly, a acid-free paperweight lifted off my shoulders.

And more people are coming now. Not surprised. Not. One. Bit. 

We get Bon Appetit magazine because we ordered a lot of housewares off of last year. We never make any of the recipes, because they usually involve grinding your own corn or making your own savory blend of ketchup. Way out of our league.

I was flipping through the pages, and one of those renewal postcards fell out. The picture was of a two-layer chocolate fudge cake with white chocolate truffle filling and whipped chocolate frosting. It also featured three-dimensional chocolate stars. Chocolate Stars, people.

 Are you frackin' kidding me?

Owen was really taken with this cake. He slept with the postcard until it was a wrinkly mess, and on Monday morning, he asked me to call Paul at work.

Paul: Contracts.
Owen: Daddy! Hey!
Paul: Hi, Owen, what's up?
Owen: You need to get ingredients for star cake, please.
Paul: You want to make the star cake?
Owen: Yes! With sprinkles.
Paul: Sprinkles?
Owen: Yes, Daddy. Chocolate. Sprinkles. Don't Forget.

I asked Owen for the phone. I walked into the other room, and said, softly, "Just buy a Betty Crocker mix and some vanilla frosting."

Paul said, "No, honey, Owen said he wanted the star cake."

"OK," I replied. "It's your funeral."

Paul made the stars the first night. On day two, I made the actual cake, and Paul and Owen made the frosting. It took almost three days in total, but let me tell you two things:

1) It made Owen deliriously happy. Although he only ate about two bites, all we heard was, "Star cake! Star cake! Yummy, yummy Star Cake!"

2) Truly, it was the best cake I have ever had in my entire life. Orgasmic. Transcendent. No words can adequately describe the glories of this confection. Here's the recipe.

Take a gander...

It's true what they say: sometimes, it really is the little things that count.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


There are days when the fight just isn't in ya. Days like this morning, when I just didn't have one more syllable left to negotiate with my three-year-old.

It's been a rough patch. Owen has been testing his limits and forgetting his manners. I'm feeling a bit emotionally abused. I mean, seriously, who talks like this? "Mommy, you need to listen to me right now or I will throw your coffee into the trash can!" or "Mommy, stop talking to me. Not. Another. Word."

I can't imagine where he gets this. (Kettle, meet Pot. Screw you, Pot.)

And, the noise. Oh, Good Lord, the noise. We're working on getting dressed by ourselves, because it's time. On purpose, I swear on purpose, he puts both legs into one pant hole, then screams "HEEEEEEEEEEEEELP! HEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP! RIGHT NOW MOMMY!"

I feel bombarded. Add to the mix, Joel. Joel has opinions. Lots of them. Unfortunately, he has next to no expressive language skills, so EVERYTHING is a "Unh-UNH!" followed by his one word: "THIS! THIS! THIS!" He moves his hand in the squeezing sign for milk and points in the general direction of whatever he wants. Often, it's whatever I have. For example, he'll have a waffle in his left hand. He'll be frantically squeezing his right hand and panting, "THIS! THIS!" wanting the waffle in my own hand.

It's relentless. The phone rang this morning, and my friend wanted to talk about health care reform policies. As we attempted to talk, Owen was screaming "HELP ME!" with his underwear around his neck, Joel was standing on a kitchen chair, attempting to grab my yet-eaten toast, saying "UNH-UNH THIS! THIS!"

My friend, the mother of two boys herself, said, "Oh my God, I'm never having kids."

And, y'all, this isn't even the worst part of my day.

We went to the doctor for Joel's fifteen month check-up. I asked Dr. S to look at Joel's scrotum, because it looked weird, a bit swollen. Paul had told me that it was probably nothing. Since I don't have balls of my own, I defer to the original owners in regards to All Things Gonads.

Alas, my suspicions were correct. Joel has excess fluids in his scrotum, and will require surgery. This makes, in his short life:
1 stay in the NICU, including intubation
1 surgery to correct his funky Eustachian tubes.
1 set of beautiful blue glasses to correct his eye that likes to party.
1 super-size scrotum, thus ANOTHER surgery.

He will have three specialists AND will have been treated at least three different hospitals.

And believe me, I know how lucky I am. These are all treatable childhood ailments that are not connected to a larger umbrella disorder. I am blessed, believe me, I am blessed.


One of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, writes:

"When a hurricane damaged my father's house, my brother rushed over with a gas grill, three coolers of beer, and an enormous Fuck-It Bucket - a plastic pail filled with jawbreakers and bite-size candy bars. ("When shit brings you, just say 'fuck it,' and eat yourself some motherfucking candy.")" 

Today, I opened up my own proverbial Fuck-It Bucket and decided that I just wasn't gonna fight anything. I didn't have it in me. Owen wanted to go to Panera. We went. He wanted to go look at the animals at Petco. We went. He wanted to go the library. We went. Owen steered the ship; I just held on.

At the library, I ran into some friends. I told them about Joel, and started crying because I'm worried about my kid and it's troubling to hear that he has to go under the knife. So, I boo-hooed, and they were wonderful as only fellow mothers and friends can be.

Owen saw me crying and got very alarmed. He put his hand over my mouth and said, "Please stop crying, Mommy. Don't cry Mommy." He looked like he was about to cry himself, so by an act of will, I pulled myself together. Once again, I let him steer the ship.

We came home, and because I had out the Fuck-It Bucket, I ate cake for lunch. It was orgasmic. I'll write about it tomorrow.

As I put Joel down for his nap, I let Owen play with the vacuum cleaner. It was humming noisily, and I heard Owen screaming over it. Screaming. AGAIN. But yet, he was screaming pure poetry: "HEY! Hey! Hey Mommy! I LOOOVE YOU! I LOOOVE YOU!"

Once again, I forced myself not to cry as I replied, "I love you too, Buddy."

He turned off the vacuum and toddled upstairs. He touched Joel's head gently and showing me that he picks up more than I think, said, "Let's pray that Joel's penis gets better."

Since this was neither the time nor the place for an anatomy lesson, I simply swallowed yet another wellspring of tears and held Owen's hands as he said, "Dear Jesus, please help Joel get better. Amen."

With all the nonsense of the day, I've got this: proof that my son is developing empathy and a relationship with his God. My son knows, already, how to build up a fortress of love, protecting those he loves, providing shelter and security.

All things considered, not too bad. Even for a Fuck-It Bucket kinda day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Post-It Note Tuesday

Why not? I'm game. I'm cool. I can "hang" with the "kids." I'll try Supah Mommy's PostItNote Tuesday.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Morning Devotion

Owen sometimes crawls into bed with us at ungodly hours. Since we sleep in a full bed, the addition of a bony toddler with a propensity to sleep sideways makes for less than restful sleep. Yet, more often than not, we tolerate the discomfort because we get, for just a moment, to see the divine.

His eyes closed, his hair a brown mop, he breathes in and out. He dreams of Rube Goldberg machines, of water pipes and spinning wheels. He, a boy who yells with disturbing frequency, is silent, warm, and beautiful.

When we brought him home from the hospital, we wrapped him in a blanket and rocked him until his heavy lids fell back into a deep, womblike sleep. We watched him with the ridiculous fervor of first time parents. We subsequently watched him sit up, then crawl, then pull up, then walk, then run. Now, he climbs, and jumps, and is always, always scheming. He’s “just telling” us why we need to find the special car presently buried in the back yard, or “just telling” us why he cannot, under any circumstances, join us for dinner until he is finished building his tower out of plastic straws and ice cubes.

He is all boy---at times exasperating, and yes, sometimes pretty annoying. But, he came from a hope and a prayer, and when we perch on the sides of the bed, listening to his soft, beautiful breaths, we are reminded that God has given him to us for safekeeping. He is God’s child first, and the overwhelming grace of this duty is breathtaking.

 Between our resting child and the dawn of another day lies the thin veil of the divine. It isn’t an original thought, but I’ll claim it all the same: there is holiness in a sleeping child.

Owen, April 2006

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sundays in My City: Hamthrax

Unknown Mami

I live about an hour and a half from Washington DC. I rarely make it up there, but my cousin was in from Chicago for a conference, so Owen and I took the Metro in. I could write an entire post about our experiences there, but Unknown Mami asked us to write about our own city, and I must confess that DC is not really my city. We're tourists. See? Requisite picture of us posing awkwardly in front of the original Smithsonian:

Owen is holding a three dollar bouncy-ball from the Museum of Natural History. I believe it has a Wildebeast on it. This was a bribe to keep him pleasant, despite the noise and crowds and the terrifying amount of taxidermy.

Anyway, enough of that city, and on to my city: Prince Frederick, Maryland. We did what every red-blooded American chooses to do on a rainy Saturday morning: stand in line to get the vaccine for H1N1 or as I, (thanks to Amalah) like to think of it, Hamthrax.

Fearing the worst, I arrived at 7:30 AM. The clinic officially opened at 9:00 AM. The plan was that I would hold the line, and Paul would meet me with the boys closer to 9:00. Apparently, I'm not the only brilliant person, because the line was already two rows deep by the time I arrived. I thought I was prepared with my coffee, umbrella and newspaper, but the earlier arrivals were practically tailgating. There were camping chairs. Snacks. Computer games. I even saw one woman in a Snuggie. A leopard print one no less. I was both envious AND jealous.

Naturally, it was raining just enough to be annoying. I had no chair, so I could either read the paper, or be dry, but not both. I found myself huddling under my blue and yellow umbrella, thinking of cleaver puns. I thought that the line was...

1) Pan-damn!-ic.
2) Pandameriffic

I was very pleased with myself.

At one point, I smelled the familiar odor of cigarette smoke. Seriously. Seriously? We're in a line full of children, pregnant women, and seriously ill adults, and we're going to light up? I'm all for the right to do what you want to your own body, but come on.  I locked eyes with another woman, and she said, "Yeah, I smell it too."

I said, "What an asshole."

A third woman added, "Ummmm-hmmmmmmm!"

And, just like that, I was among friends. Nothing like mutual disdain to bring a group together.

Eventually, the CDC ladies gathered my information, and I called Paul and told him that it was time to load up the boys and meet up.

This is what he saw as he parked his car:

My cousin, who was with us, commented, "Very Soviet Block, yes?"

I replied with, "Yes! It's pandamnit-- fantastic." Damn! After all that internal rehearsal, I blew it! My chance at brilliance, thwarted!  Paul and my cousin both looked at me blankly and I was grateful that the line started moving forward.

We waited: 

And waited a bit more: 

It was a lot like Disneyland, except that you get a shot in the leg at the end of the line. We waited in one line, filled out forms, and went to another line to verify the information on the forms. We finally staggered into the third line/room, which looked like this:

I don't know what that strange man is doing, either. We got our shots, along with the pleasant information that we get to repeat the entire process in 21 days.

Owen got the mist, and he hung out reasonably well most of the time. Therefore, this was not super-traumatizing for him. Joel, on the other hand, got a shot in the leg and a very short leash. He was less than thrilled.

What did we learn from all this? A lot of people love their kids. That's the only reason one would put up with such nonsense, even efficient and well-organized nonsense. You love your kids, you want them healthy, so you'll sit in the rain with a loving tribe, and make the best of it. Even if making the best of it means bribes of Pumpkin Muffies at Panera for being good:

And just because this picture is too funny.... Behold! My neighbor's chicken!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Death of a Luddite.

There once was a girl (read: ME)  who prided herself on being a technological curmudgeon. No high-speed Internet, a cell phone from the Clinton administration, and a tape deck in the car. How delightful it was to point down her oh-so-superior nose at the masses, huddled over their electronic beeble-boppers like cavemen huddling around an errant spark!

"Oh, I don't text," she sneered. "I'm not, you know, like fifteen." She fancied herself too above-it-all, too busy actually living to spend time Facebooking or Twittering or blogging. I mean, really.

Then, her youngest son spent some time in the NICU, and she realized how very, very nice it was to use her ancient cell phone, and how therapeutic it was to write his story via email. She got a Facebook account to make this process more accessible, which eventually morphed into a blog.

Her son has been home and wrecking havoc for some time now, but the blog and the Facebook, and the Twitter, and yes, Lord Help Us, the text messaging have become important. In fact, this technological sixth sense has usurped prior activities, including basic human hygiene (more on that momentarily) and clean floors.

So, thus, a moment of silence for the passing of this girl's Technological Luddite-Hood. She has crossed the final threshold: She now own a PDA.

With her new PDA, she can read all of Mrs. 4444's Friday Fragment contributions, as well as bring her own to the oh-so-technologically advanced table. Join her, won't you?

Friday Fragments?

Enough with the third person! Yech. Is there anything more disturbing than people who routinely refer to themselves thusly? When I first moved to Maryland, I applied to teach English at a local high school. The principal referred to himself in third person throughout the interview: "John South runs a tight ship. John South is very impressed with your references. John South wonders if you would like to be a member of our Freshman Academy."

I replied, "Nancy Campbell has another interview tomorrow, but she will be sure to get back to you."

It took all of my effort not to run out of that school as if I was being chased by Zombie John South:
The Memoirs of John South

I learned yet another valuable lesson from my friend Janet. When I saw her a few weeks back, I noticed her rubbing her long, beautiful black hair with baby powder.

"Why are you doing that?" I queried.

"It sucks up the grease so I don't have to shower awhile longer."She gave her hair a good shaking, and sure enough, it appeared clean and smelled nice to boot.

There are times in your life when you hold brilliance in your hand. Suffice to say, my hair smells remarkably like a fresh diaper these days. (Note: if you choose to try this yourself, heed my warning and rub it in really well. Otherwise, you look dirty and a bit like a coke fiend.)

Owen was sitting next to Joel, giving him hugs and kisses. He patted him gently on the head and cooed, "I love you Joely." Then, without pausing, he turned to Paul and asked, "Are you going to take my picture now?"

As mentioned before, we purchased new cell phones. They do everything but make piping hot french fries. I downloaded a free ap for various ringtones. Out of all the possible selections, I chose Miley Cyrus's "Party in the U.S.A". Paul, of course, questioned my taste. I told him to ask his co-workers if this song was A) Awesome or B) Lame.

He got two responses: "I've never heard of that song." and "I like that song but I'm too embarrassed to tell anybody."

Well, Paul. I think somebody just got served. That's a ringing (sorry) endorsement if I ever heard one.

I've been running into the mother of a former student a lot recently. Her daughter is doing early-application to a prestigious school, and I said to her today, "Well, just trust that she'll end up exactly where she needs to be." The mother's eyes welled up a bit, and she said, "I know that's true. But letting go is the hardest thing I have ever done."

It made me think that with all of the chaos and noise in my life with the toddlers, they are still mine for awhile. When the day comes that I will drive away from their college campuses, and look at those empty seats in the car, it will hurt. A good hurt, perhaps, but it will ache nevertheless.

I'm yet to understand the daily bravery it takes to parent teenagers and young adults. I'm sure God does it that way on purpose.

Happy Friday to all. Stay dry!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fix It!

won asked me "What is the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up? (By the way, check out her blog because she's one of the bravest people I have ever Inter-met.)

On good mornings, I roll over and listen to Joel babble to himself on the monitor. As he sings his "Da Da" song to himself, I pray. I ask God to set my heart up right--to make me a patient, wise, loving mother. To be creative with my actions and slow to anger. To be purposeful in my parenting,  in the moment with my children. I pray for our safety and health, and thank God for the opportunities He will provide for me this day.

Then, I get up and brush my teeth, put in my contacts, and go upstairs to release my monkeys from their cages welcome my children to another day of fun and frolic.

On bad mornings, though, the first thing I do is think, "Are you kidding me?" This morning, for example, involved Owen banging into my room, yelping, "Hea-lup! Hea-lup! MOMMY!! MOMMY! Fix It! Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiix Itttttttttt!"

"What's going on, Buddy?" I mumbled into my pillow.

Owen turned on the light, like he was playing Bad Cop to my perp. Advanced Interrogation Tactics? Owen's all over 'em. "Mommy. Get up! The sun is out! Get up! Fix Ittttttttt."

Sighing deeply, I asked, "What, Owen. What? What! What do you need?"

"The school book is lost. I can't find it anywhere. Fiiiiiix Ittttttttttttttt!" Imagine a concert of preschool violinists. Now imagine that instead of bows, the children are playing their violins with feral cats. Now throw hysterical weeping into the mix. That's close to the tone and timbre of his voice.

Stalling was the only way to combat such evil. I mumbled, "I think I saw it by the coffee table. Go look for it."

I heard him stomp away, and mumbled the real prayer that I say most mornings, "Help me, help me, help me."

As I said my Cliff Notes prayer, I listened to Owen's monologue. "That's not the book. That's not the book either. I'm hungry. I'm going to make some peanut butter toast and then go wake up Joely." I sighed to myself, and rested in bed for a few minutes more.

That is, until I heard Owen say, "I'll just plug in the toaster oven and get out this knife."

With that, I was out of bed. I was prepared to do many things today, but taking Owen to the hospital to "fix" his electric shock was not one of them.

So, another day began, turbo-charged by minor hysteria and possible bloodletting. The coffee may have yet done its job, but a strong shot of adrenaline proved to be almost as robust.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Infinite Joy

Please forgive me for the numerous unnecessary references to Stephen Colbert today.  I don't watch his show with any frequency these days, because of those KIDS and their NEEDS, but I owe Mr. Colbert a lot. Because of him, I know about The Decemberists and Malcolm Gladwell.

Also, I cannot help but love a man who once put "Lutherans" on his "Dead to Me" List. (Although, since I am Lutheran, I suppose that I am technically dead to Stephen Colbert. Hmm. Must. Stop. This. Train. Of. Thought. Brain. Exploding.)

Moving on...

I'm continuing my "Better Know A Blogger" series aka "Ask Nancy Anything." Today, my question comes from Caution Flag (The Fightin' Flag!) Check out her blog and you'll leave happy and satisfied (That's what she said.)

OMG! Get out of my mind random pop culture references! FRACK!

As I was saying, Caution Flag asked me, "What do you do better than any other mother in your neighborhood?"

It's a tough question, because I spend most of my days in awe. I am surrounded by amazing mothers. My friend, Joanne, for example, is the most intuitive person I have ever met regarding kids and their boiling points. When our boys are playing, she'll catch the sweet spot, right before Happy Cooperative Play becomes Intense Torturous Misery, and redirect with food, new toys, or  a change of scenery. It's stunning to watch.

Another friend, Dottie, is a former elementary school teacher, and she makes fun out of nothing. On rainy days like today, when my first instinct is to hand Owen the remote, Dottie is making dinosaurs out of empty milk jugs or going on puddle hunts. When I'm feeling lazy, I look around my house and ask myself, "How would Dottie make this fun?" Then, I do it.

My friend Trudy, who I see in person very rarely, also brings so much joy to life. She recently took her toddlers bowling, and posted the video online. The ball inched down the aisle, slowly. As in glacially slow. It almost stopped at several points. Her two children watched, bouncing up and down with excitement, running back and forth. They were totally in the moment, and enjoyed seeing the ball do its ungainly dance to the pins. And Trudy helped them see the magic in it all, that day and every day.

So, with role models like this, what do I do better than any other mom in my neighborhood? I guess I notice things, and I make them live on the pages of this blog. I am a writer.

I may not have a large audience or make any money by blogging, but when I sit down to write, I craft a story for my boys. If they ever want it, it's there. Day by day. Moment by moment. The glories and the frustrations, the silly stories and jaw-dropping grace.

I am changed, not only because I write the stories, but because I am present enough to gather the information.

Today, I rocked Joel in my arms. As he rested his head on my shoulder, I thought, "This-this-is the closest I'll get to holy today." I felt his warm body shift as he glanced towards his crib. I sniffed his little head, and kissed his forehead gently. Then, I laid him down, and walked downstairs. I turned on my computer, wrote a lot of nonsense about Stephen Colbert, and eventually blogged about him.

I would have felt the feeling regardless. But, because I am a writer, I'm was able to record this moment--this afternoon gift. God allowed me to see the wonder of His works in a fifteen month old boy. Someday, this same little boy will read it for himself, and know  he was a deeply loved baby.

I don't know if I do this better than anybody else in my neighborhood---there are many mothers, many computers, and lots of holy moments to go around. I do know, though, that I do this and I do it well.

It sustains me and gives me infinite joy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another Life

As promised, I'm going to address some questions from your comments. I'll start with an easy one today.

My friend Wendi asked me what I would have named the boys if they had been girls. 
Owen, no question, was going to be Julia Marion Campbell. Julia struck me as a classic-beautiful name. You could be Senator Julia or Doctor Julia, but you could also be an artist or a chef, or anything you wanted to be. Marion was my Grandma Neuhaus's name. (It's odd---I just mentioned her the other day here.)

When Owen became Owen, we put the name Julia to rest. It didn't feel right to give that name to any other girl, even the imaginary girl we never had. We wanted to start fresh with our second pregnancy, and started anew with the name possibilities. 

We had decided on Joel some time ago as the possible boy name. The night before the ultrasound, I told Paul, "We need to talk about girl names." 

He said, "Why don't we just wait until tomorrow? That way, we'll know if we even need to bother." 

My heart clenched a bit and I replied, "No. We have to do this tonight. If this baby is a boy, then we'll never, ever, ever, get to talk about baby girl names EVER AGAIN." (You must forgive me. I knew this was most likely our last pregnancy and my hormone-laced emotions were running a bit high).

"Okay," he said. "What names do you have in mind?" 

I had come to this conversation prepared. Boy names were much easier to determine because we didn't want to saddle a boy with an unusual or complicated name. Consequently, there were just less of them out there. Owen came from John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Joel came from: 
A) The Bible 
B) Joel McHale, host of E!'s The Soup
C) Kate Goesslin, who named one of her "Plus Eight" Joel. 
You can decide which option is the truth.

Anyway, my point is that boy names are easy. Now, girls, on the other hand....there's so much fun and fluff and beauty. Looking at a list of girl names is like standing at the counter at Tiffany's. There's so much loveliness, but the decision is meant to last a lifetime. How does one choose? How can one argue that an emerald is more beautiful than black pearls or a perfectly cut solitaire? Likewise, how can one choose between a Rachael, Riley, Penelope, Amelia, Cara, Olivia, or Jane? 

Because I knew that the choices were almost overwhelming, I had pre-selected the names listed above as the choices. Paul was okay with this.
I started with, "What do you think about Rachael?"
Paul snorted and said, "You mean like from Friends? No." 
I actually wasn't thinking about Friends at all. "Hasn't that show been off the air for like, ten years? What about Penelope? Penny?"
"Next," he said. 
"Too fancy." 
"Too boring." 
"Isn't that a boy's name?" 
"What about Cara?" 
"You can't name her Cara. Cara Campbell has too many C sounds." 
"Well, I guess it's Olivia, then," I said. "It's from Shakespeare. And, she could be Liv. Or Livvy. But, never, ever Olive."
"Olivia Campbell. That would be okay," Paul said. "Are we done talking about this now?" 

I don't mean to paint Paul as uncaring or heartless. He just doesn't believe in wasting energy in hypotheticals. Any conversations about the future names of future children, or even pets, for that matter, are swiftly ended with, "We'll deal with that when we deal with it."

Since the ultrasound revealed our Joel and not an Olivia, we never picked up where this conversation left off. Nevertheless, I like the idea that in an another life, we would have had our Olivia Marion. 
Perhaps there's an alternate universe where Bizarro Paul and Nancy raise Julia and Olivia. Perhaps those people wonder about their ghost children---Owen and Joel, the boys they never met, yet, strangely enough, would recognize as their own. 

By the way, perhaps we dodged a bullet. Owen and Olivia Campbell? I would never, ever, ever, get their names right. As it is, I'm calling Owen "Paul" at least 60% of the time.

Have a burning question for me? Leave it in the comments, and it may be the future blog treatment. Serious or silly, have at it!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Virtual/Real Life

This Internet is such a strange thing. I read about and care about people I have never met. I know their intimate thoughts, the names of their children, their hopes, their dreams.

Yet, I wouldn't recognize half of them if I walked right past them.

Paul doesn't understand why I'm invested in the lives of "strangers." Well, they aren't strangers. Anymore.

I'm working through my feelings about how much I let myself care about other people's pain. I absorb it and it affects my relationships.

For example, I've been following MckMama's son and his struggle with SVT. It's too lengthy to go into detail, and if you read her blog, you certainly won't be the only one.

And today, when she posted that his surgery was successful, I cried tears of joy. I've been praying for this little boy, and continue to do so.

Yet, throughout the day, as I walked through the hours with my own, very real children, I was short-tempered, stressed. I was worried about a child I have never met, and was impatient with my own flesh and blood.

Is that messed up?

I know that I care about lots of people now, because I read their stories. I hope that people likewise care about my family and my own journey.

Yet, what is the boundry? When does the virtual life disrupt the real life?

I welcome your thoughts.


I will be 35 in March. This startles me. Last night, thanks to two large glasses of Diet Pepsi, I was thinking about my age and station in life and realized that....

By the time my mother was 35 she had...
*Buried both of her parents.
*Been married for fifteen years.
*Had a miscarriage.
*Had a ten year old and a nine year old.
*Taught public school, taught Lamaze classes, and volunteered for everything.
*Lived in a "real" house, not a starter home.
*Seen both of her children go under for surgeries.
*Had a cancer biopsy of her own--thankfully, benign.

She had not...had braces. She got braces when she was almost 50. Her smile was always beautiful, but she smiles more freely now. I love looking at my wedding pictures, because she's wearing her braces, telling the world that there's always time.

By the time my mother's mother, my Grandma Neuhaus, was 35 she had...
*Married and divorced a creep.
*Had three sons.
*Lived in the mining town of Jerome, Arizona.
*Moved to Colorado and worked in a broom factory.
*Lived through the Depression and World War II
*Survived things that young girls should never have to survive.

But she had not...had my mother yet. My mother, the surprise daughter of her second marriage. My mother, the most lively of them all. My mother, the hugger, the doer, the prayer warrior, the goofball. Grandma Neuhaus had a daughter, a second chance at parenthood, a second chance to see the world, at the age of 42.

By the time I will be 35 I will be...
*Married for ten years
*A mother of two
*Living on the East Coast, a whole world away from my childhood Arizona home.
*Open to dancing and singing in public
*Making a difference in the lives of teenagers

But I will not...know what the future holds. I can't control it by worry, dread, or grumbling.

My best hope is to trust the story of my family. History shows that the future will be beautiful.

In other news, remember, to ask me anything as fodder for future posts!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pretzel Time

Day Who-Cares-At-This-Point of the great Cough-a-thon 2009: The dreaded arts and crafts edition.

As loyal readers know, I hate anything crafty or creative. Glue guns and glitter send me under the table, rocking in the fetal position. The words "origami," "decopage," and especially "scrapbook" cause me to break into hives and mutter like a eighty-year old on his front stoop.

This is why God gave me boys that enjoy sleeping with lumber and eating their toe lint.

Yet, in a cruel twist of fate, we have been inside a lot. Yes, we frolic in the leaves until we can't a-frolic no more, but that still leaves us with about nine hours of time to fill. Drastic times call for drastic measures.

Thus...Soft  Pretzel-pa-looza.

This brilliant idea came to me as I was buying yet another gallon of milk (which, incidentally, is almost empty. I bought it yesterday.) We had flour! We had yeast! We had kosher salt! We should make soft pretzels!

*It's science!: Yeast rising and all that...
*It's art!: Owen could make shapes and letters out of the dough!
*It's pre-writing and fine motor skills!: see above
*It's math!: He has to count things and stuff...
*It's history: I could tell Owen the great history of soft pretzels and mall food courts...
*It's Spanish!: I could say "Mix-o the dough-o" to make this a bilingual experience. As I write these words, I can hear my aunt, a lifelong Spanish educator, weeping.
*It's family togetherness: Nothing brings a family together more than a mother screeching: "Do NOT toss flour onto the walls! Do NOT pour Mommy's tea into the batter! Owen, please stop licking the countertop!"

Good times. The above illustrates my personal no-homeschooling philosophy: Not. For. Me. In between my lack of knowledge, my lack of creativity, and my lack of patience, the whole experience can be summed up in one word: GAH! (With apologies to MamaEdge, who described her views on homeschooling much more humorously here.)


We made the dough and Owen helped knead it. So far so good.

Then, it got complicated. I attempted to make a pretzel shape, following the instructions in the cookbook.


Owen decided that the ol' blob of dough method worked for him:

Paul tried it once, and mastered it immediately. Bastard.

"It's really not that hard, Nance."

I decided to try snails instead.

Then, we cooked them at high temperature, and then boiled them. Fan-cy.

Note our fancy pot. My mother bought this pot for me at Savers when I was outfitting my first college kitchen.

We added egg wash and kosher salt and cooked them some more.

The verdict? Oh Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay! We wallowed in our pretzel goodness.

Paul just had to say it: "Aren't they supposed to be brown?"

I replied, "I probably could have cooked them five more minutes but I didn't want to wait."

Paul smiled, rolled his eyes, and said, "After the whole involved process, you didn't want to wait five more minutes?"

"No," I replied. I wanted them right away.

"No patience," he said, knowing me as he does.

(Just because I have been known to eat cold leftovers instead of taking the extra TWO MINUTES required to pop it in the microwave doesn't mean I lack patience. It simply means I'm a busy person, with no time to waste on nonsense. Or something like that.)

Besides, anybody who makes hot, soft pretzels with a coughing 3 1/2 year old is plenty patient. Just ask me. But please do it in the next two minutes. I can't wait all day.

Speaking of asking, I invite you to ask me any question, silly or serious for possible fodder for future blog entries. Ask away!