Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dolphin Day

For the second year in a row, Owen's school Christmas pageant was postponed because of snow.

Last year, I took it pretty hard. Unless, that is, you think tears and fist-shaking-at-the-sky are reasonable responses to missing a few songs and post-show cupcakes.

This year, I just rolled my eyes and laughed at the absurdity of it---December is a most inconvenient time of year to do musical productions, don't ya think?

Perhaps we should do more pageants for Waiting for the Barbarians Day (November 4th).  The costumes alone are a win.

However, because I am not in charge, it is unlikely that my suggestion will be taken seriously.

Instead, because we suddenly had a morning free, Owen and I went sledding. We drove to the elementary school that he will attend next year, a warm, boxy building with truly excellent hills. Our feet crunched in the slush as we walked to the steepest hill. He flashed me a grin, gave himself a running start, and rocketed down.

He spun in circles, like he was a pin in an icy pinball machine. He swerved left and right, leaving crests of icy slush in his wake. He crashed into a bank of snow, seemingly miles from me. For a moment, I heard nothing. Then, I heard his distant voice, "Woo-hooo! AGAIN, Mommy!"

And again we did. And again. And again. There was nothing on earth but his icy, still playground. Adventure awaited him with every ascent and descent.

It was perfection.

As Michelle reminds us, the Universe is Abundant.

Several years ago, my husband and I took a boat trip to the Channel Islands, around Ventura County, California. At least that was the plan. The waves were especially choppy that day. The boat heaved and shifted like a giant rolling over in his sleep. We were forced to turn around.

Although I was disappointed to not see these islands, which inspired the Island of the Blue Dolphin books I devoured as a young girl, we were okay with it. Why? Because on that rollicking boat ride, we saw dolphins. Pods and pods of liquid-dancing dolphins, silvery and magic. They jumped around our boat, each one a honest-to-God miracle. It was majesty in motion.

Who needed the destination with a journey like that?

I feel the same way about the school pageant. If it hadn't been canceled, I wouldn't have had that wintry small moment with my son. I wouldn't have shared a hot chocolate with him at Starbucks, and possibly wouldn't have heard him whisper, "You're the best friend to be around," before he drifted off to sleep that evening.

He will have his pageant, and it will be heart-swelling adorable, I'm sure.

But--- because I was lucky enough--this time---to recognize the opportunity, we had a dolphin day. Those you never, ever forget.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Dog Isn't Howling, So We're Doing Just Fine

In my classic four-years-behind-the-curve way of functioning, I have just discovered Pandora radio. 

It is perhaps the most brilliant thing ever. With a click, I can listen to pre-made radio stations, featuring artists I like and artists like them. Basically, it's like getting a mix tape from a music-savvy friend, instantly.

In addition to learning that Michael Buble is sexy and that the soundtrack to Rent still makes me misty, I've been prompted to ruminate on my life as a wannabe musician.

I was in choir in high school. I was neither mocked and slushied a la Glee, nor was I revered and worshiped like, um, Michael Buble. I was average.

I can carry a tune, meaning that I rarely make dogs howl when I sing. However, I cannot sight-read to save my life. When people note (heh-get it?)  that something is sharp or flat, I nod my head, clueless.

I am the Paula Abdul of my personal American Idol, waxing on about "energy" and the "intensity of your soulfire" to cover up the fact that I have no idea what's going on. 

I didn't make the select choir back in my high school days. I never had the lead in a school play. I wasn't even especially popular with the other choir kids.  But yet, I would do it all again.

Why? Because it taught me humility. It taught me that things that look easy rarely are. I didn't know what was involved in making a song until I actually tried. Which is why, when I look at performances like this, I am suitably awed.

Choir taught me strange little things, such as the knowledge of  Latin phrases like dona nobis pacem. I  know the alto AND tenor parts of the Hallelujah Chorus.

Yes, I can sing tenor. Isn't that hot?

Thanks to high school choir, I understand that there is beauty in the collective, that the support of others can create a cathedral of sound. I have felt goosebumps in that magic pause between the final note and the return to earth.

 Perhaps, for a type-A perfectionist like myself, the most important thing high school choir taught me that it really is okay to act like a jackass sometimes. It's okay to let go. It's okay to stop being right, and it's okay to sing. And dance. And celebrate the fact that I can.

If I'm singing Neil Diamond while doing it, all the better. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Upgrade

Paul has told me on more than one occasion that I can get an upgrade on my engagement/wedding band someday--all I have to do is ask.
Indeed, compared to the beautiful settings and platinum bands of my friends, my wedding ring is rather simple. First of all, it's gold. I apparently didn't get the memo that gold was out back in 1999, but I don't know anybody else my age who wears a gold wedding band. Not even my husband---and we're supposed to match.

The second supposed issue with the wedding band is that the karat is small. And by small, I mean it's somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 of a karat. An attempt has been made to conceal the size through the setting, but it's not fooling anybody.

Paul bought the ring at the local Kay's Jewelers. He had left the military two months earlier, and was taking classes at the local community college while making ends meet with two jobs. He spent his days working with traumatized veterans at an outpatient mental health clinic, and his evenings driving a truck, picking up donations for a thrift store.

The mental health clinic was right across the street from a methadone clinic, and people would wander in occasionally, quite agitated, and perhaps needing some counseling of their own. But the addicts' demons came from the needle, not the battlefield, and Paul would send them on their way.

At the time, the clinic treated veterans of the first Gulf War, and a handful of Vietnam veterans. The issues ranged from family counseling, to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder), to addictions counseling. I often wonder how that center is functioning today. Surely, they must have needed to hire more staff, and add more chairs to the waiting room. All those demons. All that pain.

Paul's evening job was note-worthy because Paul was the only employee that did not have a criminal record. Paul would load up the truck with members of the Aryan Brotherhood or various gang bangers. On especially magical evenings, both!

Paul is a quiet man to begin with, and he was quite happy to do his job, and keep his head low. While my husband is not a wimp, he just didn't see the point in arguing with a six-foot, two hundred and fifty pound ex-convict. Especially an ex-convict that told Paul, right off the bat, "I get really angry when people try to tell me what to do."

This was the context of Paul's life while he was shopping for my engagement ring. He found the ring, and set up a payment plan of $50 a month. He paid these payments for the entire year of our engagement, and occasionally had to work extra hours to make it work. I was a second year teacher, pulling in a salary around $23,000 a year. Times were tight.

How did I know that things would change? How did I know that Paul and I would be successful in life? When Paul talked to those veterans, he looked each patriot in the eye, listened to their stories, and treated them with honor. Despite the fact that he worked long, evening hours with former felons, Paul never complained, and never deemed himself "too good" for honest labor.

I'll always remember one evening with Paul. We were at a happy hour with some pretentious folk. One of them said, and I forget the context of the conversation, "It's like being a lumberjack. I mean, have you ever met a real lumberjack?" He spoke as if the concept was ludicrous. And I suppose, if you went to Dartmouth and never found a brie you didn't like, it was.

Paul took a sip of his beer and said, "Yes, my grandfather. And my uncle. And my aunt. Good people."

He didn't have to say anything else.

This man---who truly listens, who hates snobbery above almost anything else, who works hard, without complaint---inspires me to do the same.

I will never upgrade this ring.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nobody does it like Tracie, but I'll give it a shot.

In a blatant rip-off homage to the brilliant Tracie of Snuggie Wasteland, I bring to you the yays and boos of the last few days. 

Yay: I had a morning all to myself. Owen was in school. A dear friend was watching Joel. Whatever should I do with my time?

Boo: Oh yeah. Right. Annual trip to the OB/GYN.
Yay: My new gynecologist is hotter than my old one.

Boo: He told me that I may need a hysterectomy someday. Kinda killed the mood.
Yay: Owen is going to be Joseph in the school Christmas pageant.

Boo: He tells strangers that he is "Jesus's Baby Daddy."
Yay: Microwave-free living is not as painful as I thought.

Boo: My phone and washing machine have decided to gang up on me and break as well. Soon I shall be pounding my clothes on a rock. Perhaps topless.
Yay: In a pinch, you can clean a poopy bottom with a washcloth when you forget to buy more diaper wipes.

Boo: Remember the broken washing machine?
Yay: I still weigh less than my husband.

Boo: But according to the doctor's office scale, not for long.
Yay: My baby boy still loves to kiss me on the lips.

Boo: He has a massive runny nose.
Yay: There's a new yoga studio in town with invigorating hot yoga classes.

Boo: I practiced next to this guy.


Yay: People read my blog
Boo: But perhaps after that picture, never again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Gone Viral

Sunday afternoon. I'm hiding in the bathroom. I perch on the toilet, holding my head in my shaking hands.

I had meant no harm. Truly.

Glancing at the polished nickel wall sconces, the pewter bowl with the artfully scattered seashells and the white, claw-footed tub, I swallow back another wave of nausea. As I splash cold water on my face, I hear my husband pacing behind the locked door.

"Honey? What happened to our house?" my dearest asks. He has never liked change, and with each word, his voice grows more and more taut, like an over-tuned viola. 

I shudder. What happened? Just a few words, a stupid Twitter update. I wish I lived in a Pottery Barn Catalog. A mindless joke, meant to be mildly amusing, perhaps worthy of a re-tweet at most.

I didn't think it would go viral. I didn't think I would wake up to an artfully staged, yet completely soulless tomb of a home.

I breathe deeply, in an attempt to slow my racing heart. "Did you check the baskets by the Bedford Collection Craft Organizer?"

He sighs. "Yes, Claire. All that's in there are Architectural Digests and stacks of logs. Where are my beer steins? And why is our kitchen table...wicker?" He says the word as if it was pustule or malignancy.

I step out of the bathroom, glance at the oversize spoon and fork dominating our kitchen wall, and force a smile to creep across my face. "It's really a crazy story..." His face is granite. I place my hand on his forearm, and continue. "Don't you like it? I mean look, honey, Found Belgian Train Signs!"

He jerks my hand away. "I liked us. I liked mess." He glances at the hurricane glass full of pistachios, and grimaces." I need a drink."

I laugh, waving my hands, "Well, look!" I shriek, "There's lots of champagne on ice!" I read the hand-printed sign hanging on parchment paper: "Tonight's Cocktail! Champagne with your choice of wild hibiscus, framboise, or assis."  The hysteria explodes from within, spurting like a broken sprinkler. I crumple to the floor, weeping softly.

"I'm sorry. I never meant for this to happen. I'm so, so sorry."

My husband sits down next to me. I can smell the framboise and artisan cheeses on his breath. "We'll talk about this later. But remember, everything can be undone." He kisses me gently on the temple, and walks away.

I rest my head on the Solid Sisal Rug and say a silent "thank-you."

After all, my original Twitter Update? Husband for sale. First come, first serve.

This week's entry for the red writing hood link-up was to write a piece of flash fiction (200-2000 words) using the topic "Trapped." or "I truly enjoyed spending time with them. I just had to decide which of them I would kill."

As always, your comments and feedback are most appreciated!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just Ask and Just Offer

Awhile back, I did some writing for a friend of mine. More specifically, I took the notes from her birth story and prettied it up. I threw in a few five cent words and made vague illusions to dancing and sunshine. My usual.

Imagine my joy and surprise when I drove home to this a few days later:

She made this with her own talented hands and heart. She selected the ribbon with me in mind, knowing that I'm a sucker for all things mod and dotted. When I saw it hanging on my door, I clapped my hands. Who knew that delight was green?

We passed our gifts back and forth, as if tossing a football. I captured her story; she captured the season.

Both of us gave freely, doing the things that naturally bring us joy.

I wish this happened more often.

The First Step is Asking
 So often, my fears ensnare me like cobwebs. I am afraid to ask for help, because I'm afraid of putting other people out, or being a burden. I don't want to be the name that elicits an eye-roll. And so, I suck it up, and put it all on my own shoulders.

I head the "Pay it Forward" committee for a local service organization. The idea is that members request  teams to come over to help out with jobs--you know, "many hands make light work." So far, we've raked leaves, cleaned out a garage, removed a rusty play-set, and painted.

When I help my friends complete a task, it's a sacrament. When we remove the dank, brown umbrella of leaves and the green ocean of grass feels the sun once more---that's holiness. It helps me more than it helps the recipient, because I know that I am doing something important and good.

And yet---after December, we don't have anybody signed up. People don't want to appear needy, or they are afraid to let other people see their mess, or they don't know where to start.

And while some people truly don't need the services, there are others fighting their own cobwebs.

We all, myself included, need to get over ourselves, and just ask.

Just Offer

We all have gifts. Some are obvious, and some are not, but we have them. Like fireflies in a jar, we lose our light if our gifts are contained. Speak boldly and share them. If necessary, provide a trade. Sometimes, people need to give in order to receive.

Like this:

I will write one of your family stories....if you take me shopping and teach me how to find jeans that fit.

I will accompany you to a fitness class or go on a run with you....if you show me how to make Korean BBQ.

I will hold your colicky baby while you get your toes done...if you teach me how to place photographs artfully on my walls.

I will address your holiday cards....if you watch my son in the lobby while I get my eyebrows waxed.

I will ask for help....if you will allow me to help you.

How revolutionary could it be?

So tell me...what would you give? What would you ask for?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Happy Birthday World

My boys live in a Happy Birthday World. Their birthdays, technically, are not until February or July, but that's just a pesky detail to them.

They are in this world and they are awake. Thus, they celebrate.

This is why I am thankful. This is why I am blessed.

My two year old stood on the couch the other day. He grinned, and said, "Mommy JUMP!" He immediately rocketed off the couch and landed with a thud. I waited as he sat silently, contemplating the practical applications of gravity.

This could go two ways. I held my breath. I stepped forward, ready to pick him up, ready for the silent scream, followed by the eardrum-blasting wail.

He laughed. Uproarious waves, cool and playful. "AGAIN!" he cried. Another ride in his Happy Birthday World.

My four year old collects money. He pours it from one mason jar to the next, and hides it all over the house. It's as if he survived the Great Depression, and never regained trust in those rag-tag, good-for-nothing banks.

I bought him one of those Share-Save-Spend banks. The idea is that some money is for saving and spending, and a third of the money also needs to go towards charity--to help those in need.

He glowered and mumbled, "I don't wanna share my money with anybody. I want to keep ALL of it."

Despondent, I turned to Facebook. I formed an action plan. I was ready.

Over macaroni and cheese, I told Owen, "There's this girl that needs our help."

Owen nodded, and said, "What girl?"

"Just a girl, honey," I replied. The "girl" in question was a Toys for Tots box at my local gym. My Facebook advisers recommended that Owen needed something concrete--a person--to share his money with. He also needed something concrete to buy.

My friends also recommended that I make all this concreteness a girl so he wouldn't be jealous of the toy.

Baby steps.

"Why does the girl need our help?" my son asked, his eyes wide.

"Well," I said, "Her parents can't afford a lot of presents for Christmas this year."

Owen's took a gulp of milk. "Why not?"

"Well," I said, tuning my words like guitar strings, "They just had a rough year. What do you think we can do to help the girl?"

Owen stirred his macaroni, thinking hard. He said, "Maybe we can give her some money?" I waited, trying to let him find his own answers. "Or...maybe we can buy her something!"

I tried to refrain from clapping my hands. I said, "What do you think she would like?"

He thought again. "How about a doll?"

I smiled, "Yes. Where can we get money for a doll?"

Owen's eyebrows shot up. "My bank!"

He emptied all of his money---three years of accumulated pocket change and birthday money---into the "Share" section. Every cent

Another shiny wrapped present in his Happy Birthday World.

When there is joy to be found in a couch, and grace to be unveiled in pennies and dolls, the message is loud and clear---every day is a celebration, every day is a rebirth.

So, Happy Birthday, dear world. You've never looked better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Red Writing Hood: The Transfiguration

This week's Red Writing Hood is to write fiction or non-fiction based on a song. I'll reveal the song at the end of the page. As always,  I appreciate your feedback.

(By the way, this is fictional). 

The Transfiguration

She bent over, breathing in and out. The air was thin and insubstantial, burning her lungs with each inhalation. She slowly lifted up her head, stood up straight, and looked into eternity.

The summit was above the treeline, lunar and thirsty. Small shrubs and hearty mosses claimed the rocks, but the trees kept a respectful distance. She didn't come here for the trees, anyway.

She took a long sip of water from her canteen, and pulled her hair from its ponytail. She shook it out, feeling it fan over her shoulders, a blanket of amber and gold.

He used to love her hair. At least that's what he had said. Or maybe she had imagined that, too. 

He had called her, asked her to come over to his apartment to talk. As they walked into the nearby forest, she considered  the rounded muscles of his arms, the curve of his spine, and the heat of his mouth against her earlobe.

She knew what was coming. She listened to the crunch of the pine needles beneath her feet, and thought to herself, "You knew it would happen. You knew it would happen. You knew it would happen."  She had carried this fear around, a silken shroud, for six long months.

He sat down, and twisted his shoelace. He was always fidgeting. He coughed, and began: "I think you've been reading too much into this arrangement of ours. We agreed that we were, um, serving each other's needs, right?"

"Right," she said. Serving each other's needs. His need was for occasional booty calls. Her need was for him to fall in love with her. When he kissed her, when he held her hand, when he held  her through the night, she allowed those little buds of hope to embrace the earth. 

He cleared his throat. "So, um, when you came up to me at the, um, party, and kissed me like that...." he trailed off, asking her to finish the sentence.

She nodded. Last night. Intoxicated by the music, and too many plastic red cups of something, she told him the truth. "I love you," she had slurred. "and I know you love me, too." As she kissed him, he pulled away, wiped his mouth, and walked away.

She woke up the next day, and waited for the call. Waited for this moment, the moment she had dared into existence, and almost believed would never happen.

She looked him in the eye, summoned up her remaining courage, and said, "So, we're probably done, then, right?"

He smiled, his face a sunrise of relief. "I'm glad you think so, too. But we're still friends, right?"

"Of course, " she said. "Always."

She held onto the idea of him, nurtured it like a stray cat.  She feed it with his occasional calls, stroked it with each shared laugh or lingering gaze. Her friends starting exchanging glances when she worked his name into yet another conversation. 

He starting dating a girl from Colombia, with skin the color of polished walnut. An exotic beauty who also sculpted. A fucking Colombian sculptor.

She started to listen to Alanis Morrisette un-ironically. Her friends walked away when she mentioned his name.

She was always tired. It was exhausting to carry him around.

She returned to her mountains. She walked for hours, preparing for this day. Her moment at the mountaintop.

As she considered the view and drank her water, she listened to the voice inside her heart. I love you too much to let you stay this way, it whispered.

She removed a pair of scissors from her rucksack. She held them in her hand, trembling slightly. She swallowed, breathed deeply, and cut off a lock. Than another. And another.

She cut off the heaviness, the regret, the need to make him happy. Her hair pooled at her feet.

There, on the mountaintop, she considered the light and the release of her transfiguration.

This is inspired by Sufjan Stevens' song The Transfiguration. Although this song is based on a Biblical text, this artist runs the gamut. He's written about the fifty states, the Chinese Zodiac, and the Queens-Bronx-Expressway, amongst other things. He's a brilliant artist and performer. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Wave

It was somewhere in the Reagan era that my mother brought home our first microwave. Roughly the size of a tractor tire, it hummed ominously as it cooked our food. We were on the cusp of a culinary future!

My mother bought into the microwave craze with typical gusto. She owned several Sunset cookbooks which detailed how to make pot roast, brownies, and yes, even lobster, microwave-style. The fact that it was rubbery, gummy, and the color of a used band aid was besides the point.

True story...I was twenty five before I learned that most people did not make bacon in the microwave.

Eventually, the microwave settled into its true purpose of reheating leftovers and making carcinogenic bags of popcorn.  Like most Americans, it was a part of my kitchen landscape, along with Tupperware and Mr. Coffee.

I acquired my first microwave when I went to college. It heated up popcorn and pizza. My brother used  it next for his own college experience.

I strongly suggest that he attempted to use it as a bong. Allegedly.

I regained custody of the microwave when I moved into my first apartment, and kept it until two years ago. Sick of  its ugly white exterior and the missing popcorn sensor button, Paul and I took the leap and bought this wall-mounted wonder:

It also is a convection oven, although we have not used that feature once.

On Sunday morning, I was warming up leftover chicken burritos for breakfast, as one does. No matter how long they rotated around, they were bone cold.

Alas. The microwave was dead. It now serves as the largest kitchen timer ever.

To provide a bit of context, Paul and I are both of Lutheran Germanic/Nordic stock. This means that we are stoic, resourceful, and really, really cheap. After a quick review of the fiances, we determined that we would not repair or replace the microwave until the new year, so we would have more money for Christmas.

I am now on day one of Microwave Free Living. I did not know, until yesterday, that this is a movement. There are websites and support groups, all of which I am too lazy to link at the moment, who decry the evil of said machines. They have helpful tips and ideas, which basically boil down to....cook your food.

Yeah, it sucks as much as you can imagine.

For a minute, I played with the idea of living more purposefully, of not rushing for the sake of rushing, and for being more thoughtful about the foods I eat. This lasted until my kids wanted Easy Mac. IMMEDIATELY.

Luckily, though, I have my toaster oven to heat up leftovers.

You may notice that our toaster oven has no handle. That's okay. Paul and I figured that we could just pry it open with a spatula. After all, it's a waste of money to buy a new one when this one is perfectly functional---if you don't mind the occasional burned digit.

So, I ask you--How long do you think I am going to maintain this new lifestyle? Should I set up a PayPal account to get the microwave replaced? Or, should I just go full force and set up a fire pit in the backyard?

Perhaps I shall make fire-roasted bacon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Afternoon Meditation

When I was a first-time mother, I listened to my friends with infants. They talked about this strange device known as "the crib" and how they would lay their child in "the crib."

I often clutched their arms, pleading, "Explain this to me. How do you get them to sleep in the crib?"

My friends, bless their hearts, would say, "Well, I pick her up, place her in the crib, and then walk away." They spoke slowly, with their eyebrows raised, and their mouths over-exaggerated "Os." 

I nodded, as if this explanation made complete sense. Of course, for me, it did not. My oldest, bless his co-dependent little heart, slept on me for the first six months of his life.

I nursed Captain Boobies to sleep, always prepared with my arsenal of entertainment: the remote, a drink, a book, and my snugly brown blanket. As Owen snoozed after his meal, I watched The Barefoot Contessa, and dreamed of living in the Hamptons, knowing my fishmonger by name, and using the good vanilla.

A few times, I attempted to move Owen to a horizontal resting place. He bleated in protest, and I said to myself, "Well. What else have I got to do, anyway?"

(Clearly, I hadn't discovered blogging at this point in my life).

For months, he remained on my chest. Spoiled little first-born.

When Joel came along, Owen was a busy two and a half year old. I couldn't sit down for more than ten minutes at a stretch, let along two to three hours. So, as it is with second born children, Joel slept in the crib. He bleated. I said, in the kindest way I could, "Suck it up, kid." 

Sometimes, I wonder if this is why Joel is less snuggly in general. He didn't care for breastfeeding, and to this day, he prefers to be moving instead of in my arms. Sometimes, I wonder if my detachment made him feel less attached.

Then, things like this happen: On Tuesday, as his brother was happily playing upstairs, Joel walked to me and said, "Want to play with Mommy." He climbed up into my lap, wrapped his arms around my neck, and rested his head against my shoulder.

I kissed his blond head, stroking his feathery locks. He felt like a warm stone, an earthy blanket of dirt and dump trucks and strawberry yogurt.

I sat in silence, listening to his breath become my own. He drifted off to sleep, and in the stillness of that moment, he was mine once more. His rose-shaped mouth, the ridges of his shell-like knuckles---holiness in a moment, as pure as a still, cold lake.

I rested there, holding my baby, as my other baby played upstairs. I closed my eyes, lifted up a brief whisper of gratitude, and held him closer.

After all--What else did I possibly have to do?

Nothing. Nothing in this whole, wide world.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Here We Go An Oyster-ing

I love having awesome friends.

I really love having awesome friends that can take good pictures.

I really, really, love it when they  meet me at Oyster Festivals

 I have three wishes: To be as talented as my friends. To always have them in my life. And to always be as goofy/happy as I am in this picture.

Sundays in My City with Unknown Mami--check out other people's cities, all online-like.

Unknown Mami

Friday, November 5, 2010

Red Writing Hood: New World Order

My brother and I sat in the back seat of my mother's van. My mother looked ahead, clenching the steering wheel. Each knuckle was a perfect, bony snow-cap. She set her mouth into a determined frown.

Tommy and I sat side by side. He breathed heavily out of his mouth, stopping only to periodically snort a loose booger back into its rightful home, next to its other crusty friends.

Snort. Breathe. Snort. Breathe.

He was doing all this breathing for one reason and one reason alone: to toy with me. As he sat there, so rudely existing, my eyes focused on his flea collar. I narrowed my eyes, and remembered.

I was finishing my bowl of Rice Krispies, sitting on a yellow-backed kitchen stool. My brother bounded inside, wearing a flea collar. He had found it on the street. "I'm in the doggy club," he proclaimed, "But I don't want fleas!"

My mother, instead of doing the right and proper thing---throwing that nasty, used dog collar into the trash---kissed him and told him that she loved his imagination. "You can be a doggy if you like," she said, and returned to her morning cup of coffee.

I watched this exchange, wide eyed. Her betrayal sat right behind my eyes. Pushing. Pressing. "But, Mom!" I pleaded, "That's disgusting! Get it away from me! Gross!"

Mom sighed, drank another sip, and said, "If you don't like it, you don't have to be near it."

"But--"  I said, "You always take his side!"

She gave me the look. "Go away from him. Now."

I retreated to my room, and plotted.

About twenty minutes later, as I heard Mom turning on the shower, and Tommy playing with his Lincoln Logs, I launched my plan. I slapped myself on the arm. I slapped and slapped until my arm was red, tattooed with my angry hand prints.

It didn't feel good, but I knew it would soon. 

I stood by the door, willing up the proper face. Once prepared, I ran into Mom's bathroom, crying and screaming. "Moooooom, Tommy hit me FOR NO REASON!"

She replied, from behind the steamy glass, "Unless you are bleeding or on fire, you need to leave me alone."

I considered my options. After mulling over her choices, I selected my own: deceit. "I am bleeding!"

With an audible groan, Mom turned off the water, and stepped out, dripping. I thrust out my wounded arm, "See?"

She frowned. "You're not bleeding," she said, "But this is not acceptable." Still wearing her towel, she stomped towards Tommy's room.

Each step sounded like a perfect, clear bell.

She opened the door to his room, where he knelt over his Lincoln Logs. He was still wearing the accursed collar, but had added his Superman cape for extra flair. "Tommy," she said, "What happened to your sister?"

"HE HIT ME!" I cried, jumping in from behind her.  "HE NEEDS TO BE IN TROUBLE!"

Tom gasped, outraged. "I didn't hit her! She's lying!"

"Oh yeah?" I retorted, "Then who did this?" I flashed my now-fading-pink arm his way.

"I didn't!" he yelled. Then, he sat in silence, thinking over his next words. He nodded his head to himself, and squeaked, as only a five-year-old could, "Go. To. Hell, Nancy."

A silence loomed over the room. He swallowed the air, attempting to gulp the words back up. The words coated the room like dark, miserable oil--seeping, sinking. 

I laughed to myself. He was so dead.

My mother walked away, each step echoing in the hallway.  Soundlessly, we followed her.

She walked into the kitchen, shaking her head slowly. She picked up a wooden spoon. She considered it, feeling its fibrous weight. A slow, secret smile spread over her face.

She placed it in her purse. She turned to us, and said, "I will use this. I. Am. Done."

She never did.

Nor did she remove the spoon from her purse. Which is why, as I sat next to my snotty brother in that van, two weeks later, I knew to remain quiet. Even though he was totally breathing on purpose. 

I knew that even the most patient of people had a limit. If we pushed that limit one time too many, she would be prepared. She had the Wooden Spoon of Last Resort, her very own nuclear football.

It was a new world order.

I thought of this story as I cleaned out my purse the other day. Amongst the detritus, I found this:

I know that I was carrying a sharp, pointy kitchen knife around for good reason (it cut a cake at a party). Yet, it still makes me wonder: What else I am carrying around with me? How will I be remembered?

This is based on the red writing hood challenge for the week: to dump out a bag (either in a  fiction or non-fiction piece) to see what it reveals. Come check out the great writers---they are so inspiring and true!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Whole World in a Puzzle

If you want to be a good teacher or a good learner, come sit on my living room carpet for awhile.

Sit with my boys and I, and do a jigsaw puzzle. I guarantee it will teach you more about learning than any lecture, any textbook, and possibly any degree.

A jigsaw puzzle distills teaching and learning to its very essence.

As kids learn, they need the appropriate levels of assistance. If you help too much, you're taking the learning away from them. If you don't help enough, kids may grow bored or frustrated (the ol' "flight or fight" thing). It takes skill and a careful eye to determine the appropriate level of scaffolding.

Today, as Owen worked on the fifty-piece dinosaur puzzle, I could see his brow furrow. His jaw set in frustration. He threw a piece over his shoulder and yelled, "This puzzle doesn't work!"

I gave him a minute, and then subtly found the pieces that made the Tyrannosaurus Rex. "Hey, buddy, why don't you work on these pieces?" He pieced the T-Rex together, and smiled with pride.

We did this again and again until the puzzle was complete.

Two-year-old Joel worked on the puzzle at the same time as his big brother. While Owen was at a point that he could piece scenes together, Joel was not yet there. I differentiated my teaching to fit his learning needs.

I found a few pieces that linked together, and sat next to Joel, as he experimented with the shapes and dimensions. Because I held my tongue and my hands, he surprised me by linking all three pieces together without any help at all.

Encourage Meta-cognition
After the puzzle was complete, Owen and I talked about our thinking process. We unpacked our thinking, and determined a few strategies that helped us be successful:

1) We figured out that straight-edges go on the outside edges.
2) We looked for like colors and patterns.
3) We did little bits when the big bits seemed like too much.
4) We asked for help when we needed it.

As Owen and I talked, I stated, "See how you can do hard things?" and "I like how you worked to meet your goals." I was trying to develop his sense of self-efficacy. Things in life aren't always going to be easy; having strategies when things get tough can be the difference between confidence and defeat.

Know when to Fold 'Em
As the boys looked at the puzzle with pride, Owen said, "Let's do it again!"

We tore it down, and two pieces in, Owen turned to me and said, "I want to play dump trucks."

And we did just that.

Thanks for tolerating my know-it-all post today. Lest you be too impressed or annoyed with me, let me also share that I flipped out over rice cake dust on my coffee table. I am no Jaime Escalate.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm Guest Posting At Shades of Blue and Green!

I have met a lot of delightful people through blogging, but one of my favorite folks out there is Ash from Shades of Blue and Green. 

Why do I love her so? She's funny. She's an amazing mother. Her writing makes me swoon.

She is attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so I am pitching in with a guest post.

For those who know me from way back, this is my "House Hunters Drives me to Drink" post. You'll never watch HGTV the same way again. 

Please CLICK CLICK to read it, and be sure to stick around and get to know Ash.

Also, because it is my contractual obligation as a mother who happens to blog, here is my Curious George Halloween Pic. I'm not in it because I took the picture. Such is the life.

Enough of me--go check out Ash! 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Permanent Record

So, this week's Red Writing Hood fiction challenge was to craft a villain.The story went in a different direction than I had anticipated, but I enjoyed this voice nevertheless.

I need some feedback. Believable character? Suggestions for where to go next? I don't want her to be a stereotype, and I appreciate your thoughtful feedback, as always.

Permanent Record 

I slump in the padded, orange chair, folding and refolding the hall slip. The empty desk in front of me is spotless, with the exception of a box of Kleenex, presumably for "releasing my feelings." There's also a manila folder with my name neatly written along the label.

Is this my fabled permanent record? I consider taking a peek--although aside from a few tardies to sixth period Geometry, it couldn't tell much of a tale. I cover my bases.

Besides, it's all a bunch of crap anyway. The "permanent record" doesn't mean shit unless you're convicted---and even that can get sealed once you're eighteen.

I glance once again at the hall slip,which summoned me to the office of Frankie Paris, school counselor. It figures I would be pulled out of ceramics---the one hour a day where I don't want to crawl into my eardrum.

God, I hate school. Moving from one room to the next, like worms crawling out of a carcass, only to fester and decay in another classroom. Geometry. Slither. Decay.  American Literature. Ooze. Decompose.

And now, here I am, surrounded by rah-rah posters touting scholarships and camps for "exceptional students." Yeah. Not me. A solid "C" student, I sit quietly, do my work, and hate everybody.

I glance at the clock. I've been sitting here in Overachiever Hell for fifteen minutes. Where the fuck is she? Why can't I just gargle a chainsaw and get this over with?

The clock ticks. I imagine my body breaking down her chair, like these mushrooms I saw eating away at this old stump in my backyard. I wish that I could break it all down, grind this entire place to dust. 

The bell rings--ceramics is over, and my normal self would be slithering to gym. I've been sitting that class out, lounging on the bleachers with the Muslim girl presently fasting for Ramadan and kid who runs stick-pins through his fingertips the entire hour. Bunch of fucking losers---but stick-pin kid has some good ideas.

Finally, the door bursts open, and Ms. Paris bounds in. "Kayla! I'm so sorry I'm late!" She smiles, in what is supposed to be a "aren't-I-adorable?" expression. Maybe it worked about ten years ago.

She's wearing a KHS Knights polo shirt and pleated khaki pants. Her blond hair is in a messy bun, held together by two pencils. Black traces of eyeliner nest in her crows feet.

This is my authority figure.

"So," Mrs. Paris says, "How are you, Kayla? I realize that we're halfway through your junior year, and we've never had a chance to chat. I try to talk to all my students."

I say nothing, returning to my hall-pass origami  Silence is one of the most efficient ways to fuck with adults.I know how to play it just right, tuning it like a passive-aggressive violin. If you hold onto it too long, the adults start blabbing on about "Respect" and "Looking them in the eye." Then you get a note in the permanent record. But if you hold it just a bit too long, it's a lot of fun.And very effective.

She coughs, awkwardly, and says, "So, how do you like your classes?"

"They're okay," I reply.

"Anything you want to talk about?" she asks, "Have you thought about your plans for the future?"

"Not really," I say. "Maybe college, I don't know."

She starts babbling about the PSAT and the SAT, about financial aid and early acceptance, all of which is stupid and pointless, because I'm not going to do any of it.

I've got other ideas. Not Columbine-crazy ideas.

My ideas are delicate and deadly. My ideas will soon take root. My ideas will slowly, with white-topped fury, break this place down until it is nothing but dust.

The Hobo, Serial-Killer Drag Queen Life

Because I am totally lazy inspired by my friend Erin, I am going to dash out a quick list of reasons I MUST leave the house today.

1. On Monday, I was at the gym, pounding away on the treadmill. One of the trainers, who happens to be my neighbor, came up to me as I was running, and asked me if I wanted to watch his child three days a week.

This is the most he has ever spoken to me. Ever. He's my neighbor, yes, but his family has always been  standoffish.

Perhaps because I couldn't stop blinking in shock, he added, "I mean, you're a stay-at-home, mom, right?"

Ah. You see, that explains it. Stay-at-home-mom=perfect daycare.

Clearly, I've kept the windows closed so he couldn't hear the screaming.

I'm going to say no, because I can barely be responsible for my own spawn.

I also need to stay out of the house, before another neighbor asks me if I would be interested in trimming his hedges or cleaning out his septic tank. I mean, I'm home, after all.

2. I need to go the library and return our borrowed copy of The Polar Express. It is far more terrifying than any Halloween flick.

It has led to my son's fascination with all things hobo---he wants to know about hobo fires, hobo clothes, hobo sticks.

If I want him to meet a hobo, I can always introduce him to Starbucks Bill, our local homeless gentlemen. My friend recently bought him a crossiant, a latte, and a newspaper. He thanked her and asked her where she was going.

"Work," she replied.

"Work?" he scoffed. "I haven't worked for twenty years."

He then asked her to get her real sugar instead of artificial sweetener.

There just may be something to the hobo life.

3. I need to finish off the Halloween costumes. We're going with a Curious George theme. Joel will be George. Obvious choice.

Owen is going to be the doorman.
Paul is going to be the Man in the Yellow Hat, and I am going to be...Professor Wiseman.
Somebody FedEx me a lab coat, stat! (See--I'm already in character).

4. I must leave the house because in a fit of generosity, I let Owen paint my toes and fingernails. I looked like a serial killer drag queen when he was done. Naturally, I'm out of polish remover.

5. Finally, I must leave the house because well, I'm just too awesome to keep within four walls.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Like A Songbird

This week's red writing hood challenge was to describe your 80th birthday party.  I did it. Kinda. In my own fiction-y way.

I value your honest feedback.

Like A Songbird

The Reverend cleared his throat, and gazed towards his audience, "And now," he said, "we have a few words  from Angela's son, Walter Merchant."

Walter walked towards the pulpit, holding an envelope in his right hand. He turned to the audience, pushed his glasses towards the bridge of his nose, and wiped his forehead with a paper napkin. He cleared his throat, took a sip of water, and tapped the microphone gently.

"Hello," he croaked. "Thank you all for coming." He blinked repeatedly "It's kinda funny that Mom's birthday and her funeral are the same day." He licked his lips, and added,. "She always did like things to be just right."

His words hung in the air, then fell to the ground, like swatted flies

He reddened softly, and mumbled, "You know how she is, um, was. Everything always perfect."

Yes, the audience thought, always perfect. From her spotless white baseboards to her perfectly trimmed eyebrows, Angela Merchant was flawless. Even this funeral was perfectly tasteful. A simple oak coffin, closed casket. A single spray of white roses, and one portrait---the same picture the newspaper had used when she had stepped down from the bench. No tacky carnations, and certainly no wailing or caterwauling.

People knew better.

Walter cleared his throat again, and said, "Mother asked that I read this to you, in the event of her death." He smiled ruefully. "Of course she did."

The mourners laughed in recognition, for real, this time.

Walter began reading:

"Hello, friends and family. Thank you for coming. I trust everything is in order. As you know, this death isn't a surprise. When you're seventy-eight and the doctor says you have two years to live, trust him.'

'This is the first time my son Walter has read this letter. I made it clear to him that if the letter was opened in any way, my attorney, Michael Sullivan, had full authority to leave his inheritance to the National Rifle Association. I hope, for his sake, that he heeded my warning."

Walter paused, smiled to the audience and said, "Don't worry--I did." As the audience laughed, he turned back to the paper. He adjusted his glasses, and continued.

"Walter, did you just break from the script?" he read, his voice halting, then growing thick, like setting cement. He continued, "Don't do that Walter! Don't take this moment away from me, for God's sake. And don't look up to the ceiling and say 'Sorry, Mom,' either. Have some class."

Walter sighed deeply. He turned back to the page, and read, "I have a few things to say before I stop talking for good. I know that a lot of you didn't really like me. I made you uncomfortable. Now that I'm dead, I can say it. There were no chinks in my armor. My cocktails were better than yours, my dissenting opinion in Frankus vs. Oklahoma remains groundbreaking, and honestly, I looked a hell of a lot better than most of you."

Walter opened his mouth, then locked eyes with Michael Sullivan, Esquire. Her mother's attorney shook his head slowly, once. Walter nodded,  shut his mouth again, and continued reading.

"You know why there were no chinks? I didn't let it happen. I ran seven miles a day. I bought the good vodka. I studied harder, wrote harder, and worked harder than most of you did in a lifetime. I did what was necessary. And if you don't like it, I don't really give a fuck."

Walter giggled to himself, a nervous, girlish little sound, "Oh, Walter, I said, 'fuck,'" Angela's voice boomed from the page, "Get over it. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

Walter continued to giggle, then found his place. He read, "Walter. I said get over it.  If you giggle one more time, I'm giving all your money to The Audubon Society. That is if it hasn't already gone to the National Rife Association. Sometimes I'm amazed that we share the same genes."

Walter bit his lip, his face red. He rubbed his hands on the sides of his pants, leaving sweaty marks. He took a breath, looked at the audience, and giggled once more.

"God," he said, "She really was a bitch wasn't she?"

The mourners said nothing. Walter stared out at the sea of black. They looked like a flock of ravens, waiting and hungry.

Walter slammed his hands on the pulpit, "Come on, people!" he yelled. "Did any of you actually like her?"   He felt so light up there, like his bones were made of air. "You're all still scared of her, aren't you? Don't be!"

He lifted up the paper. It felt so light, so insubstantial. Slowly, deliberately, he ripped it into tiny pieces. Released from the burden of her words,  the papers floated toward the ground, gentle and free. 

Walter stepped behind the podium, and walked out the door, whistling a tune, carefree and soft, like a songbird.

The Majesty of Soup

Happy. Just happy.

We went hiking today. The woods burst with little fireworks of wonder.. We saw bald eagles. Grasshoppers. We collected leaves in a little bag,  We held our breath and listened to the wind and the trees as they whispered their wisdom back and forth.

The kids hardly complained. This, in itself, is a revelation.

Later, I dropped off soup for my friend. She  is having a baby tomorrow. How odd to write such momentous words so matter-of-factly.

She's holding a comet in her hand, watching it with open-mouthed wonder, as it illuminates the sky, leaving a silken trail of light. She has seen its light for months. Tomorrow we will see it with her.

A new life! Not yet in this world today, but he or she will be tomorrow.

I can't wait to meet this little one.

The only way to address this majesty is to make soup. Really, the only way, sometimes, to address the majesty of this world, period, is to make soup. To create warmth and richness out of water and vegetables. To simmer, soak, stir, and taste. To eat until you are full.

West African Peanut Soup

(This yields a gallon, but can easily be halved).  

4 cups onions, chopped
2 tbl oil (peanut or vegetable)
1 tsp cayenne (or other ground chilies) 
2 tsp ginger root, grated
2 cups carrots, chopped
4 cups, sweet potatoes, chopped (up to two cups white potatoes can be substituted)
8 cups vegetable stock or water
4 cups tomato juice
2 cups smooth peanut butter
2  cups scallions or chives, chopped
sugar (granulated (optional). 

1. Saute the onions in the oil until just translucent. 
2. Stir in the cayenne and fresh ginger
3. Add the carrots and saute a couple more minutes
4. Mix in the potatoes and stock or water. 
5. Bring the soup to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. 
6. In a blender or food processor, puree the vegetables with the cooking liquid and the tomato juice. 
7. Stir in the peanut butter until smooth. 
8. Taste the soup. Its sweetness will depend upon the sweetness of the carrots and the sweet potatoes. If it's not there naturally, add just a little sugar to enhance the other flavors. 
9. Reheat the soup gently, using a heat diffuser (if needed) to prevent scorching. 
10. Add more stock, water, or tomato juice for a thinner soup. 
12. Serve topped with plenty of chopped scallions or chives. 

Vegetarian, unique, and delicious. Enjoy! 

(Check out other vegetarian recipes this week at Share a Spoon with adrienzgirl.). 

Think Tank Momma

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cusp of a Miracle

My son, Owen, is right on the cusp of learning how to read. He knows all of his letter sounds, and is starting to blend together sounds and context clues. As I watch him, piecing together language like a weaver selects her fibers, it's hard for me to contain my excitement.

I know what it all means. I know that his world is about to become much grander. Soon, very soon, he will walk into the pages of a book. If he is lucky, and it is the right book, he will walk out changed.

It's a miracle.

I just finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. My friend had recommend the book, saying that when she read the final lines, she sat there, feeling such gratitude for this author, such incredible thankfulness that he brought this world to her fingertips.

I immediately put the book on hold at the library. And indeed, when I read it, the book changed me. It made me want to be a better person. It want to smell my sons' hair, and take walks with my husband.

After reading this book, I put the reusable bags by my front seat, so I would use them when I shopped---no more excuses! I bought a thermos so I would stop wasting so many paper cups at Starbucks. I ate carrots at lunch instead of leftover Mac and Cheese.

Dudes--this book made me consider birdwatching.

If that is not a miracle, I don't know what is.

I dream of reading books with my boys someday. They are different than the books I imagined reading with my fictional daughters. I don't expect my sons to get all that excited about Anne of Green Gables.

But I do expect that they will be moved by the gorgeous fatherhood of Atticus Finch. I know they will grow up with Harry Potter. I hope they also love The Westing Game, and laugh with the Wimpy Kid.

I'll even tolerate Tolkien if gets them to worship the holy alchemy of paper and thought.

I hope that someday, when they are mired in adolescence, and I am hopelessly uncool, that we can still talk about books. I hope that the words of authors can still bridge those gaps, and momentarily, at least, make us both human.

We aren't there yet, but we will be soon. Today, I sat with my son and turned the pages, encouraging him to sight-read a few words from one of those "my first" books.

As I watched Owen sound out "Ha-p-py" and then cry out, "HAPPY!" joyous in his discovery, I want to yell it right back.

"He is READING! And I. AM. HAPPY!"

After all, how often do you discover the entire world?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Red Writing Hood: My Own Worst Enemy

This week's Red Writing Hood challenge is to:  

"Think of a person you don't like, and describe what you might say if you had to share an elevator ride together. Then describe what happens when the elevator breaks down. For six hours."

My Own Worst Enemy

I wonder if there are security cameras in elevators. I hope not.

I mean, yes, I suppose they would be useful for the muggings and assaults. I can get behind that, to a degree.

But yet---there's something about the sealed momentary isolation, that pregnant pause between floors.

Especially when you're alone. Like that day. Especially when you're typically accompanied by two knucklehead boys, who view elevators as the perfect venue for cage fighting. Like most days.

I hummed to myself, enjoying the rare elevator ride without bloodshed. Then she skulked in. Her beaky little face and beady brown eyes sucked away my peace like a Dyson.

It seems like she's been with me my entire life, much like a mole or an unfortunate skin tag. I run into her everywhere---during my daily commute, in the morning, during lunch, even at my kid's birthday party.

I swear, she even finds her way into my dreams. 

I pushed the "close" button and busied myself with my cell phone, pretexting (my word for "pretend texting") to avoid eye contact. .

I continued to type to nobody, writing, "IhateherIhateherIhateher," when I felt a sudden thump, and a sickening grinding of gears. Stuck. 

I rolled my eyes to myself, continuing to pretext. She watched me, smirking.

"You think I don't know what you're doing?" she hissed, "What are you hiding from?"

I lifted my head up, and gazed at her thin upper lip, stained with cranberry lip gloss. It may have looked good twelve hours ago, but now it highlighted the geologic decline of her face. "I don't have anything to hide," I replied, "Like you said, you know exactly what I'm doing."

She grinned, "Yeah. You're hiding from me. You know I'll tell it like it is." She laughed softly to herself, "I know why you hide behind that phone."

"Um-hm," I said. I turned to my phone. No service. I sighed and waved my hand in the air.  "Well, enlighten me, Oh Wise One."

She sat down on the floor of the elevator, crossing her long legs, her right foot kicking idly. "You know that you don't really have anything to say. You know that it's a lot easier to comment about the weather on Facebook than actually call somebody with that fancy phone."

"Hey!" I said, "Maryland is now a hands-free state! I don't call anybody because I do not drive distracted! And when I'm at home, the kids are always demanding my attention. I really can't use the phone."

She shook her head slowly. "Really? That's a nice story. You know it's utter bullshit."

I stood up, pressed the UP button, once, twice, three times. I exhaled heavily, then griped, "What the fuck is going on with this elevator?"

"We'll be here for at least six hours," she replied. "Leave it to you to choose this one."

I laughed, "We'll you're here too, Einstein."

She stepped closer to me, "Yes. Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" Her brown eyes narrowed. "You need me here."

"No," I said. I swallowed hard. "I really don't. I've worked pretty damn hard to avoid you."

"Yes," she said, "That's it exactly! You avoid things. You don't call people. You don't make plans. You let your friends slip away. Why do you do that?"

I sat there, staring at the floor of the elevator, willing it to whisk me up, up, and away. I twisted my wedding ring, and noted that my pinky was trembling slightly. "I don't know," I mumbled.

"You do too," she answered. "You're avoiding again."

"Whatever," I said, turning my full attention to a hangnail.

"Dammit, Helen!" she said, "You wear your issues like a thrift-store poncho. If a friend doesn't call, it's because they hate you. If you don't get enough comments on your blog, it's because you are a terrible writer. If the world is not shitting glittery rainbows every time you open your mouth, it's because you suck. Is that about right?"

I said nothing. I turned to my hangnail, tugging gently, twisting the loose skin back and forth. With each tug, I felt a fresh jab, another reminder.

"Fine," she said, "Avoid some more. Don't engage, build up your little electronic walls, and watch your world grow smaller and smaller. Just don't take me with you."

I chuckled softly. "Don't take me with you? I am you. You're along for this ride, like it or not."

"That may be," she said, "But I'll fight you. I'll open your wounds. I won't make it easy for you to disappear."

She jutted out her chin, and held out her hand.

I really hope that they don't have cameras in elevators. I hope that there isn't some bored security man, wearing a pretend badge and a three-day-old beard in some room. I hope he isn't watching me, talking to myself, at the mirrored walls of a stalled elevator. I hope he doesn't see that hand, half outstretched, half contained. Stuck in-between. Nowhere.

I would hate for him to see my own worst enemy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


In my oh-so-illustrious blogging career, I've discovered a few truths about comments.

1. People will comment if you write about your vagina.

2. People will comment if you write about embarrassing crushes. (Especially if you admit your lust love for Benjamin Linus and Malcolm Gladwell.)

3. People love to share their opinions about painting and home repair in general.

In light of this, I thought I would tell of the time my vagina repainted my master bedroom under the watchful gaze of a post-coital Michael Cera:

I find this guy nerdy-hot, and even I find that mental image shudderific.

(Although I do wonder how a vagina would paint a bedroom. My guess is badly.)

This incredibly long buildup is to let the one reader who might care about such things know that I've finally completed the home repair project I blogged about on March 23, 2010. 

The room used to look like this:

I'm not sure what was most offensive about this room....the One Day at a Time inspired comforter, the 80s-fabulous lamp, or the lovely bullfighting picture. Let's not forget the CORAL paint sample on my wall. 

There may be additional reasons why we don't have a third child. This is not a room conducive to sexy time.

This paint sample and all the related ugly-ocity remained festering in my room until Tuesday. We bought a duvet cover, painted the room, and now retire to this: 

It is still a work in progress. The lamp is too big for the corner bookcase, and I'm not sure that the curtain will stay. But now, at least, I don't feel like I'm living in a set from Boogie Nights

Since I'm totally getting my Martha Stewart on, let me tell you about my other attempt at houseness. 

My kids and I go on lots of walks. During these walks, Owen collects rocks, leaves, and other organic materials and takes it home for his "treasure box." We now have three of them: 

These are the three vases from the three bouquets of flowers I have been given  in my entire life recently.

The far left holds bits of coral found along the banks of the Chesapeake. The far right holds various treasures, including rocks, Sweet Gum Balls, shells, rocks, and rocks. I plan on using it to maim any midnight intruders. The one in the middle contains the acorns found on my front steps. 

These three treasure boxes remind me that it doesn't take much to find wonder and beauty in this world. It doesn't take too much to make your kid happy. It isn't that hard to make things pretty. 

That is, unless, you're picking up the acorns with your vagina. That's a whole other story.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Three Meals in the Life of a Marriage

Monterrey, California

I sat at a table with my husband of two days, watching the fog billow out like a skirt. As I held a glass of California Chardonnay, by the stem, like I had studied, I watched him gaze towards the water. Seagulls cawed in the distance, as the waves, one stroke at a time, sculpted the rocks. He smiled to himself and inhaled deeply.

When we had discussed places to honeymoon, Monterrey seemed to be a logical choice. We could drive there, and Paul knew the place well---he had lived there for a year when he was studying Korean. He spoke of it with the foggy half-memory of a dream---the barking seal lions, the sourdough bread bowls, and the mornings kissed with the sea's salt. He wanted me to see it, and love it, as he did.

We ordered  what very well may be the world's most perfect food---mussels, cooked in white wine, butter, and garlic---with a crusty loaf of bread to sop up those glorious flavors. We ate, held hands, stole glances at each other's new wedding rings, and wove a future together. 

Tucson, Arizona

Although our days were dedicated to studying business at the University of Arizona (Paul), and teaching seventh graders to appreciate poetry (Me), our evenings were all about Frank. 
Frank Sinatra, to be specific. 

Each Wednesday evening, we would meet at Frog and Firkin, a British-style pub on University Avenue. We sat under the awning, amidst the tattooed, nose-pierced college students, drinking Guinness Stout, so perfectly poured that you could eat the foam with a spoon. We ordered pizza and garlic fries, and talked to our friends about politics and travel and books and, yes, jazz music. 

As the sun began to descend, turning the sky to the purple, dry holiness of a desert sunset, Frank began to sing. 

In real life, Frank was some guy with a day job, but on Wednesday evenings, it was Ol' Blue Eyes. 

All conversation halted as he crooned, "Fill my heart with song/Let me sing forevermore." 

I rested my head on Paul's shoulder and relaxed into his warmth. As I held his hand, I thought, "You are all I long for, all I worship, and adore." 

Calvert County, Maryland 

We kissed the boys goodbye, thanked my mother, and hightailed it to the least kid-friendly place we could imagine: Sakura. Surely, nobody under the age of ten would be at a sushi restaurant.
Paul had introduced me to sushi years ago, partly by coaching me past my instinctual gag reflux: "Swallow it! It's just a California Roll! You're not even eating fish!" 

It took awhile, but now I will eat the real-deal--urchin, eggs, even tentacles.

We ordered our platter of sushi, and talked about his work, our boys, running---the normal things we discuss when we're able to complete an entire thought without a youngster piping in about dump trucks. We laughed, we touched each other's hands, we teased.

I watched this man talk, still in love with his quiet sense of self, his intelligence, his compassion. His eyes are still as blue as the ocean, and as warm as the desert at dusk. 

It doesn't matter where we eat. I will never be hungry when I'm with him.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Corner of Fantastic

There are little corners of fantastic all over the place. Some  find it by the beach, others in the mountains, and yet others at Nordstroms.

(I'm not judging. Finding boots at 75% off can be a holy experience.)

I'm honored to have the opportunity to write about one of my favorite things--the iconic tobacco barns of the Chesapeake Bay Region. Please click on my guest post for The Taste and Travel Connoisseurs, and leave a comment if you like.

It would do my little heart good. While you're there, stick around and learn about places to eat, drink, travel, and unwind. It's a beautiful corner of fantastic, right here on the Internet.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sundays In My City: Ladies Love D.C.

Every time I go to a city, I imagine my urban life. I imagine my city-dwelling self, dressed in striped tights and hipster bowling shoes, heading to a concert in the park or my adult kickball league.

My urban self would know the best Asian-Tex-Mex-Fusion Taco Truck, and would eat her Wasabi Burrito on the steps of the art museum, just because I could.

My urban self would buy jewelry and sunflowers at the weekend Farmer's Market, after drinking espresso served with a sneer and a seven dollar prize tag.

My urban self, clearly, would be very wealthy, very young, and most likely childless. In other words, not me.

I am almost completely okay with this. Especially because my children are becoming old enough that I can take them into the city with some regularity, and soak in all the culture without all the hassle.

We always take the Metro into DC.
"MORE TRAIN!" cries Joel as we travel, missing it even while he is still riding it.
On Friday, we went to DC because Joel had an eye appointment at Children's National Hospital (no eye-patching--just bifocals). We used all public transportation, and thus had some time to kill. We decided on the National Portrait Gallery. 

My expectations were low. I just didn't think that Owen and Joel would be all that impressed with musty pictures of  Warren Harding. And yet, in the spirit of this eclectic city, the museum surpassed all expectations.

Three words: LL Cool J

Taking up an entire wall, this oil tribute to LL made me proud to be an American. Only in this country can LL Cool J, Willie Nelson, Lance Armstrong, and Martha Stewart be on the same walls as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Hancock.

Want to see more? Here's a link to the entire Americans Now exhibit.

It's this kinda stuff that makes me grateful that we live in the outskirts of our Nation's Capital. We are privileged to have these funky little wonders, just waiting for our footsteps, our widened eyes, our whispered, solemn "Wow."

You may laugh. But I tell you, in all sincerity, a city that celebrates all of our Americans--including those in Adidas tracksuits---makes me downright proud.

In the words of LL himself, "I'm the best takin' out all the rookies/So forget Oreos, eat Cool J cookies." 

I guess he's proud, too.

This is my first Sunday in My City for a long time---and I've missed it. Check in with Unknown Mami to discover images and words from other cities. 

Unknown Mami

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I was at a playgroup this morning. My friend watched my two-year-old repeatably attempt to scale  a couch, in efforts to climb upon a counter-top, and perhaps swing, Tarzan-style from the ceiling fan.

She shook her head, and observed, "You know, Nance---your husband is such a mellow guy. I'm really surprised that at least one of your boys isn't like him."

I rolled my eyes, pulled Joel away from the fireplace poker, and replied, "You and me both, sister."

My husband, whose legendary cool makes Barack Obama look like Macho Man Randy Savage, apparently kept all the Chillaxing Genes to himself. My two knuckleheads, as I now call them, believe that life is better as a Mountain Dew commercial minus pesky details like helmets or common sense.

I thought about her comment all day today. I thought about it during preschool pickup, as Joel rode a couch like the late Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.

I thought about it on the drive home, when I noticed he was missing his glasses. I asked, "Where are your glasses, Joely?" prepared for another rousing game of Find The Eyewear.

"I don't know," he replied. Then, after a few moments, he found them. There were on his forehead, hidden by his mop of frat-boy-after-a-great-night hair.

Don't even get me started on his older brother.  The shenanigans with the Little Tykes car alone causes me to reach for the whiskey.

After pickup, I had to take the knuckleheads to the special store to pick up the super-special pizza dough and olive oil. As we perused the wine aisle, I heard Smashmouth's "Rock Star," playing over the intercom.

"I LOVE this song!" I squeed, and started dancing in the aisle. Hands in the air, like I just don't care and all of that. Owen joined me, doing his patented bend-and-creep-with-devil horns dance move. Joel sat in the cart, shaking his head back and forth.

So where do these boys get it from?

Speaking of my younger knucklehead...there were four amazing entries in the Pontify My Son Contest:


The Blogging Goddess:


My Life in Purple:

All were beyond amazing. Truly. The mind, it is boggled. However, I consulted my team of experts and it was determined to be a two-way tie between...The Blogging Goddess (those shoes!!!) and Salt (the throne!!!).

Salt gets the Eddie Murray bobblehead and The Blogging Goddess and I will negotiate something cool for her prize.

Thank you, everybody for your indulgence. (Get it? Indulgence? Reformation humor! The best!)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Creating a World of Joyful Hearts

On Sunday night, a friend and I sat by the banks of the Patuxent River, drinking red wine and watching the sky bloom into rosy, amber perfection before settling into darkness.

We had one of those conversations that you wish you could put in your pocket--witty, thoughtful, and reflective.

She was discussing the world she wanted for her daughters, and it made me think about the world I want my sons to give her daughters, and in turn, her daughters to give my sons.

In other words, it made me think: How do I raise men who treasure, value, and respect women?

Redefine Strength
Masculine strength is traditionally viewed through the prism of power and physicality. Don't get me wrong---there is nothing wrong with being physically strong. Yet, I try to teach my boys to recognize and admire strength in all its forms.

There is strength in speaking the truth, in proclaiming that it is not okay to use "fag" or "retard" as a pejorative.

There is strength in listening. Instead of thinking of what you're going to say next, be fully present and engaged in conversation.

There is strength in humility. Don't be afraid to admit that you need help, or you do not understand, or if you are afraid. Nothing builds a connection more quickly than simply acknowledging that we are all souls, and we are all on this journey together.

Recognize Our Light
Because we are all souls, we must live lives worthy of that light.

This means love should never hurt. We do not hurt our loved ones with words, our hands, or our bodies. We must never allow contempt to enter a relationship. Yes, people disagree. Yes, there may be anger. But never, ever allow those dark moments to extinguish another light.

This means that we are not better than anybody else. Talk to the waitress, the custodian, and the substitute teacher like you would talk to your grandmother. Say "please" and "thank you." Hold the door open for people, and pick up litter on the side of the road. Give blood. Buy a stranger a cup of coffee.

After all, that's somebody's baby.

Put Your Feet in the Moment
You only get one life. Embrace the miracle of life, fatherhood, friendship, and love.

Embrace the grace which comes from life's stumbles.

Seek the joy in a full moon, a cherry blossom, or a perfect line drive.

And, please. in the midst of all your mother.

This post was written in support of a non-profit called The Joyful Heart Foundation, which was founded in 2004 by Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: SVU.”  Mariska started getting fan mail from rape survivors and was moved to create a foundation to help heal the victims of crimes dramatized on her show.  Joyful Heart’s initial and primary mission is to help victims of sexual assault mend their minds, bodies and spirits and reclaim their lives.

Today, the foundation is also at the forefront of an effort to end a disheartening backlog of tens of thousands of rape kits in labs across the country, a backlog that contributes to a rapist’s 80 percent chance of getting away with his crime.  The backlog and its detrimental effects will be the topic of an SVU episode on Wednesday, September 29th.

Please click here to read other writers' vision for their children's futures in support of this cause.