Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Choose An Identity

This is not an actual photo of me.
In the movie, You've Got Mail, Tom Hanks has this voice over scene in a designer coffee chain where he's talking about the modern obsession with fancy coffees. It's been a long time since I've seen the movie (I was so disheartened when I got my hair cut like Meg Ryan's in that movie and instead of looking like the adorable girl next door, I kind of looked like Elvis Presley. I digress.) but he comes to the conclusion that our exacting coffee orders are a way for us to be someone. I'm not just some poor schlub waiting for overpriced coffee, I'm triple! nonfat! venti! cappuccino! (Incidentally, I am so not that. I am Double Tall Latte, should you ever be buying.) That scene never fails to crack me up because as my husband likes to say in his "Dr. Phil guest" voice: "It's funny because it's true."

As society becomes more homogenized, we find ways to delineate ourselves, stand apart a bit. In high school, I had a lot of friends that went to British schools and wore uniforms. The point behind the uniforms being that it is less disruptive socially to just have everyone wear the same thing. Except that even so, you could still tell who was "cool" and who was not. Things like whether or not you pulled up your socks, or how close to askew your tie was became status indicators. We can't help it. We're hierarchical animals. We seek out others who resemble us and we use tiny, sometimes trivial clues to identify our comrades.

I resist being pigeon-holed because I like to believe I am a unique snowflake. Not really. I resist it because I am claustrophobic. I believe it is unfair to boil people down to a few outstanding characteristics and think of them only in that way. I put off blogging for nearly a year because I had no idea how to fill out the profile information. I can put a list of my favorite activities: cooking, knitting, sewing, playing with my monkeys, long walks in the rain, listening to music, reading books, writing nonsense, stalking people, taking naps, learning intensely personal information about relative strangers; and it leaves a very incomplete picture. It actually paints a picture of some sort of deranged old lady. (Or old man, as the email spammers seem to believe I am. So many solicitations for golf memberships, penis enlargement and AARP memberships.) I also resisted the label "mommy blogger" because while I love being a mom (or Mama, never Mommy) it doesn't entirely define me - a fact for which I have fought hard these last seven or so years - and while I will write about my monkeys from time to time, that's not all I write about. The profile is like the turned down socks on the private school uniform - one look and you just know whether that's someone you'll be friends with or not. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.

One of the many wonders of Facebook is that it is an opportunity to hear from people you would otherwise never have bothered to keep in touch with. You get to hear who had a crush on you twenty years ago, who used to be afraid of you, who thought you were fabulous way back when. It's kind of like bookends on all those old insecurities. But one of the most amazing things about some of these Facebook reconnections is that people I haven't heard from in decades will pop up and say "I always respected so-and-so about you" and they are things that are still pretty true today. It's that link to something other, something prior. I have friends that I keep around because they knew me before I donned the identities of wife, mother, contributor to society, adult, taxpayer, etc. And oddly, they still know me now.

After this month of blogging every day and connecting through BlogHer, I am once again amazed at the ready connections that people make. I have been stunned speechless (almost) that some of the things that have been rolling around my noodle have hit a nerve with other people. I have been surprised and delighted to find so many wonderful bloggers out there doing just what I do - just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I don't even know a lot of their real names, I don't know what they really look like or where some of them live, but I know what we have in common.

One of my very best friends from college came about because we both ended up in the same coffee shop one night completely fed up with ourselves and the people around us. We went someplace quiet to talk for a few hours and that few hours turned into all night. It wasn't really until we watched the sunrise from my car that we remembered that we were actually two distinct humans of different genders and the awkwardness that can arise from that. But until then, we were just two sets of ideas, eager to share, our words being our only identifying characteristics, and the comfort and sweet release of honest, uninhibited communication. I've thought about that several times over the last month of "meeting" new bloggers and reading new blogs. It's that same meeting of ideas and experience without the complications of "real life" but somehow, real life seeps in and you get a far fuller picture of people than if you simply met them on the street.

I laugh every time I leave a comment on Blogger because it always instructs me to "Choose an Identity". It cracks me up because I did that ages ago. I could be anyone I wanted to on this little blog of mine, but over the last month, I've discovered that I can't be anyone except who I am. I'll enter my log-in name and my blog address, because I know that Blogger isn't really asking me an existential question any more than Facebook is really asking "What's on your mind?" (although I must admit to a certain amount of mischievous desire to create alternate identities just for fun). My mom always says "You can't hide who you really are for very long." A notion that's both scary and liberating. Even when we try to hide behind intellectualizing or humor or whatever, who we are leaks out between the cracks. So this intense month of daily posting is over for most of us (I signed on for December because I need external motivation sometimes) but my hope is that the connection continues. Stay tuned. There will be a lot more crazy leaking out through the cracks and if you're very careful, you just might catch some magic out of the corner of your eye.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Surprising Superpowers

- Whenever I am out in public, I always put my hand in something sticky.

- I am a delusion magnet. If there is a stray schizophrenic within 25 feet of me, they will incorporate me into their delusions. Sometimes this results in yelling insults, sometimes a hug. [A few things about this... first, I worked in mental health before I chose to stay home with the monkeys, so I generally take this as a compliment. Second, I secretly believe that this happens to me because I am a semi-fictitious entity. I exist on a plane suspended between delusion and reality, so I assimilate well into both worlds. This is also why I can't do drugs.]

- I can fit my entire fist in my mouth.

- I can get a stranger to tell me their life story within ten minutes.

- I can give birth to giant babies the old fashioned way. I've since retired this superpower, though. Twice was enough.

- I can keep a completely straight face while joking. [This tends to be off-putting to people who don't know me that well, so I keep it under wraps.]

- I can get food in my hair even if I'm not eating or cooking.

- I can get away with almost anything because something about me just convinces people that I'm not capable of devious acts. [This was especially useful in high school.]

- The one exception to the above is that I cannot lie. I just don't know how to be anything but honest. Brutal honesty is its own superpower, but a bit double edged. Cuts right down on small talk.

- I can sing Tone Loc's Wild Thing in its entirety. Ditto Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

- I can blog while in a NyQuil haze.

What are your superpowers?

**Addendum: I just told a friend of mine what I was blogging about and he added these to the list: "drinking massive amounts of coffee, cleaning with purple Fabuloso, making pot bellies sound sexy, [something I won't repeat], crafting, making pillow Fortresses of Solitude (Superman reference), comforting friends across the country, stretching a dollar to feed four without fast food, being positive in the face of negativity, and creating  places in your readers' heads that they can enjoy." That was nice of him, wasn't it? Now I will return the nice and tell my readers that if ever they find themselves in Philly and in need of a tattoo, look him up at Body Graphics. He'll be the one drinking coffee and most likely messaging me on Facebook.**

Monday, November 28, 2011

Men In Tights

Every Thanksgiving weekend for the last 3 years, my jBird has taken it upon herself to run in the Seattle Kids' Marathon. Kids sign up in October and keep track of their miles that they run throughout October and November which should total 25, and then Thanksgiving weekend they all run a 1.2 mile loop around Seattle Center to finish up the whole "marathon". About 3000 kids from around the city do this every year and it's a pretty amazing thing to witness. The first year she ran, she wanted the Chief Lou to go with her because she was nervous and she likes him better anyway. So since then, it has become their thing that they do.

I will pause here to admit that while we live a pretty active life, we are not real exercisers, per se. We walk just about everywhere we need to go, we like to hike together in the summer, we ride bikes with the kids and we get out and run around the park every now and then, but the grownups in this family are not real fitness buffs. Especially here in Seattle where fitness is elevated to a whole new plane of existence. In most parts of the country, walking a couple miles every day to run your errands would be considered hard core. Here it's the bare minimum. It is no coincidence that companies like REI are headquartered here. When we first moved here I would see packs of cyclists clad entirely in space age fabrics rocketing through town and I thought they were in training for something. Nope, just some commuters on their way to work.

So anyway, the marathon. 3000 kids and their families line up in the shadow of the Space Needle and some encouraging things are shouted, some cheers are made, countless reminders of the non-competitive nature of the whole affair are bellowed, some kid sings the National Anthem, I bawl, and they're off. The jBird takes it all in the spirit it was intended. She has no interest in winning, she just wants to do it. The larger the crowd she can be a part of, the better. So we bundle her up in sweats and sweaters and gloves and hand knitted woolly things and the Chief Lou dusts off his all purpose athletic shoes, I bawl and take pictures, and they're off. Surrounded by whole families of people in $400 running shoes and tights, special fanny packs, wind resistant aerodynamic hoodies and those funny sporting sunglasses. I heard a mom this year talking to her son, who couldn't have been more than eight, saying: "Well, that wasn't your best run, but you have to remember there were all those slow people around us. How about we go for a run when we get home and see if you can do better?"

Huh? And yet another way I've misunderstood this whole parenting thing. When the promotional material said things like "non-competitive" and "for fun" I took it at its word. Was I supposed to be pushing my jBird to do "better" with each mile, starting at age 5? It wasn't enough for her to run 25 miles under her own steam on the honor system? It wasn't enough for her to get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday and go run a mile with thousands of other people? Was I supposed to be wearing tights and funny glasses?!

I guess the Chief Lou was feeling a little out of place this year, too. As I type this, he has gone out for a run. This is so disruptive to my world view that I had to blog about it. I'm proud as heck, but also a little bit afraid that if this keeps up, there will be outfits involved.

**Small note of apology. If this should be more incoherent or cranky than usual, it's because I'm suffering from massive sleep deprivation and my mouth feels like I've been eating loose change from all the zinc lozenges I've had in the last couple days. It has been Phlegmfest 2011 around here for at least 2 weeks and I  may have just today reached the end of my very long rope. I promised myself I would not blog about being sick.**

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Who Needs Self Esteem?

Do you have one of those friends? The one who is beautiful and fit. The one with nary a hair out of place, or plumbers butt to be seen. The one who somehow manages to have time to work out, keep a spotless house, read interesting books, mentally enrich her children and cook amazing, gourmet, organic meals all without smudging her lipstick? I have that friend. And on top of all that she is so genuinely nice that I can't even be jealous, I can only hang out with her and hope some of it rubs off on me.

So, we're out to dinner with this friend and her family. My jBird is fond of making conversation with the grownups. She sits and chats about the weather, asks after people's babies and other adorable little 7-year-old-acting-like-a-grownup kinds of things. She was explaining to my friend that the Greek restaurant where we were was one of her favorites because their "avgolemono soup is to die for and you must try it." Beautiful Friend, amused, asks:
"What are some of your other favorite restaurants?"
"Well, my very favorite is the Chinese Super Buffet out by Big Lots, do you know what I'm talking about? But we don't go there very often."
"Oh really? Why not?"
[This is where I start clearing my throat, ready to change the subject.]
My darling daughter, just as sincere and sweet as can be, says: "Oh, well don't you know, it gives Mama heartburn."
Beautiful Friend smiles and glances at me. I am both a little embarrassed and extremely relieved, thinking this is the end of it, but no.
"... and terrible diarrhea."
"Ha ha ha" [forced laugh] "OK, jBird, that's enough. Shall we get the hummus?"
She was afraid my garlic breath would
embarrass her in front of this guy!
"Oh no! Remember that time we came here before we met Rick Steves [the jBird's current heartthrob] and you ate all the hummus?" Turning confidentially to Beautiful Friend, "She ate all the hummus and had such terrible garlic breath that I didn't want her to ask Rick Steves for his autograph for me."

I have never been so glad that the Hooligan knocked his drink over for the third time during a meal.

As parents, we spend so much time trying to protect fragile little egos and build up these strong, independent little people. We monitor their TV, toys, stories, and friends so that they won't be bombarded with images and ideas that will make them feel bad about themselves. We are careful in our selection of words when we correct them so we can let them know they're not bad people, just made a bad choice. I get so much stink-eye on the playground when I holler "All right knuckleheads! Five minutes!" because both hollering and affectionate nicknames might be damaging to their little psyches. But you wanna know what I think? I think they're wise to our game. I think they know that real people don't talk like that. I think they learn about how to be strong, independent people by watching their parents be strong, independent people. The thing is, my jBird wasn't trying to be hurtful or embarrassing, she was just making conversation and that was her childlike estimation of what adult conversation is like.

So what can you do? You just hold your head high and pick up your spoon and have a taste of that "to die for" avgolemono soup and hope that your Beautiful Friend doesn't picture you cramming your face with hummus and bad Chinese food or sweating and groaning on the can every time she sees you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Verification and Validation

Every blogger loves comments, right? It's that tiny (or sometimes titanic) bit of validation that yes! someone is reading! and liking! and commenting! and taking the time to type in the verification word that ensures they are actually a human!

I have followed a lot of blogs from afar, but until the last month or so, I haven't done a whole lot of commenting them as a result of some sort of bizarre adolescent-like insecurity. They have no idea who I am. What do they care what I think? What if they think I'm an idiot? I just commented yesterday, what if they think I'm stalking them? and so on. But then as I started to get actual human readers, I realized that a little bit of strange is really exhilarating. I love it when a new name pops up on my comments! I absolutely adore people who read every day and comment!

So in this month of posting, I have made sure to click around and leave my markings everywhere I've been. In doing so, I've collected another one of my favorite things: nonsense words. Those little randomly generated verification words delight me so much that I almost can't wait to comment on a blog so that I can collect another one.

So, without further ado, an evening of poetry.

Ode to Verification and Validation

O' the glarfi sychrosm of revally tylit.
It's more than ingsne and gustoods
The weigarm ineless of it all.
Of tringete and terall, so very synct.
Even the busist sples among us
do bahem actist and clenc.
Neither pudfat nor nonizebo can stand
to the hishanke abledshe of
conbow sicar.
O' glarfi synchrosm.

Thank you, dear readers. You indulge me. You add sprinkles to life.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and My Fridge

Good ol' Sammy-T "Cleans the Fridge" Coleridge
So, I was cleaning out my fridge today and thinking about the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I know, it's such a cliché, but I can't help it. We were taking part in our annual day-after-Thanksgiving tradition: the Thanksgiving Purge. [I know what that sounds like, but lest you conjure images of a vomitorium, remember I am completely phobic about barf.]

Part of the Purge involves emptying the fridge of the bearded hummus of yesteryear, fetid cheese, and other varieties of organic matter in various stages of decomposition in recycled yogurt containers. Not only do we need the valuable real estate for our Thanksgiving leftovers, we also need the re-recycled yogurt containers to store them in. So, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Tom Waits [the iPod is essential for this activity for two reasons: 1. the grand hope that in engaging one of my other senses more fully, the sense of smell will take some time off and 2. the piped in music covers the squidgy noises] and I were tackling this task together. Tom Waits growled: Hoist that rag! Samuel Taylor would occasionally rouse from his laudanum stupor to intone: a thousand, thousand slimy things lived on, and so did I. And I would giggle through the gagging.

Now my fridge is nice and full again of delicious food that my monkeys and I cooked together for our big feast yesterday. It will be breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next few days until we all get sick of it and it takes its turn to dance with the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This is one of those processes that I both loathe and completely take for granted. It's one of those decidedly 21st century, middle-class, first world burdens.

Other things I had to endure today: I had to clear out the monkey hut of unwanted toys and random crap because we have all of these friends and family who send them more toys than they can ever play with; Facebook wouldn't load correctly for about an hour this morning; the website of a major retailer where I wanted to purchase my mom's birthday present and have it shipped to her door without my even having to change out of my pajamas or brush my teeth wouldn't accept the coupon code I had; some lady in a Lexus SUV missed the giant white arrow and line of cars pointing directly at her and tried to drive the wrong way down the one-way Goodwill parking lot causing me to have to sit and wait until that big hot mess righted itself; one of our Wii remotes has been MIA for about 3 weeks causing me to have to reach my hand down the back of the Easy Chair of Doom and feel around for it; the graphic for my blog stats wouldn't update this morning so I had no blue squiggly line of gratification to look at; I had gastric distress from overdoing it a little bit yesterday and then following it with fresh doughnuts for breakfast.

Can you even believe it?! It was the worst day ever.

My dear friend, Mr.Coleridge, slipped out of my consciousness for a wee tipple and left this Chinese proverb behind: A fish doesn't know he swims in water. The water we swim in is pretty singular. We swim in a churning rapids of immediate gratification, virtually unlimited goods and services at our fingertips, relative wealth and peace. Our water is full of these "burdens" of too much food, too much stuff, too much fat, too many choices. Of course we get used to it, we're the fish. Of course, when things don't go as swimmingly as we think they should, or when things are particularly vivid, or when they mess up at the DMV and issue drivers' licenses to people who are clearly blind, we get out of sorts. Sure, there are those "thousand, thousand slimy things" lurking about in the water, but every now and then, it's kind of nice to lift my head out of the primordial ooze and realize that my neck of the ooze is pretty good.

 "A thousand thousand slimy things lived on, and so did I."

So did I.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Here are a few things I am thankful for nearly every day. In no particular order...

1. My best friend and husband. He's the best thing that ever happened to me and he happens to me over and over again every day.

2. My intellectual fairy princess and my sweet & tender hooligan. They are two marvelous little people who tumbled into my life at their own special times and places and brought magic.

3. My family, both by blood and by marriage. We're a big, crazy, raggedy group of people that make a mosaic of fun and love and support that I wouldn't trade for anyone else's.

4. Health and youth and freakish good looks.

5. Clay. Also permanent markers, shiny surfaces, coffee mugs, writing tablets.

6. $1 Sausage McMuffins

7. Electricity and washing machines and KitchenAid mixers and reliable city transportation and all the modern conveniences that make my life a little bit easier.

8. Relationships and challenges and fears and insecurities and all the things that make my life a little bit harder and force me to grow.

9. Sea breezes and rainy days.

10. When the sun peeks through rain clouds like a smile through tears.

11. Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

12. My wood stove and good, seasoned fire wood.

13. The sounds of trains and foghorns in the night.

14. Good music.

15. Good food.

16. Dancing.

17. Laughter.

18. People who say remarkably nice things to total strangers. Case in point: this amazing blogging community I've discovered this month.

19. My dad and Mr. Roy and my Grandma Edna & Papa Bill, Mr. Bud - the people I've lost in the last few years who left so much with me, showed me how to live in this world with goodness and light and how to make an exit with dignity and grace.

20. My faith and the faith of so many who surround me. 

21. The people in my life who are shouldering extra heavy burdens right now with high spirits and aplomb. You are champions.

22. The fact that on a clear day I can stand on my street and see snow-capped mountains in the distance.

23. The tiny maple tree in my front yard that heralds the seasons with brilliance.

24. People who don't complain. The ones that quietly go about their business and make this place more pleasant.

25. The talent of my friends. I am awed by the number of extremely talented friends I have and in so many different ways. They all make the world more beautiful with their work, be it writing, drawing, painting, tattooing, teaching, cooking, surviving, acting, dancing, running, photographing, knitting, raising kidlets, singing, selling, story-telling, physics, on and on. So many talented friends...

26. Sparkle.

27. A high pain threshold - both physical and emotional.

28. People who love my children and think they're great.

29. People who think I'm great (or at least pretend to when I'm around).

30. This blog in which I spill my brain fumes every day and people actually read it. And like it.

31. Late night conversation, stifling giggles so as not to wake the kids.

32. Honesty. My own and that of others.

33. My lovely red silk hat. And my gray wool cloche. And my rainbow crochet beanie. Well, just hats. Fabulous hats.

34. People who buy fabulous clothes and shoes and then discard them in abundance at Goodwill. Especially if they are exactly my size.

35. Sidewalks.

36. Walks to school.

37. This amazing city where we were blessed enough to have finally landed 5 and half years ago.

38. People who disagree with me.

39. Little girls in loud clothing.

40. Rare quiet moments.

41. Really good socks.

42. Teachers 

43. Spontaneous and genuine displays of affection.

44. Hummingbirds in my front porch geraniums.

45. Online recipes and knitting patterns.

46. Excellent public library.

47. Good people who raise nice kids to be more good people.

48. The kindness of strangers.

49. My little crooked house in a great neighborhood.

50. The wisdom of other people that they are willing to share.

51. Finding just the right word to describe something.

52. Hand sanitizer.

53. Clean drinking water.

54. Little love notes written with misspelled words and backwards letters.

55. Delightful absurdities that make me laugh to myself.

56. The moment between breaths when you try to decide if you are done laughing.

57. Inside jokes that have run their course but are still funny.

58. Knitting. Definitely knitting. The quiet contemplation and the magic of tying knots in yarn with sticks to create beautiful things.

59. Dirty socks, trains and tracks, tiaras, books, crayons paper, footprints, hand prints and other evidence that my home is alive and active.

60. Living in a time and place where I am free to be who I want, believe what I want and do what I want.

61. Having the ability and means to help people who need it.

62. Books. Good books.

63. Trees of all descriptions. 


65. Recycling and compost bins.

66. Living within walking distance of an office supply store.

67. Little tiny snores and monkeys holding hands in their sleep.

68. The women in my life who show me strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive.

69. When the Chief Lou saves up something to tell me at the end of the day because he knows it will make me laugh.

70. People who appreciate gifts and accept compliments.

71. Good, fresh produce.

72. Imagination and a rich interior life.

73. Surprise notes and comments and emails that say just the thing I needed to hear today.

74. Exuberance.

75. Days set aside for cooking and sharing and eating with family and friends. We should have more thanksgivings. 

Vive la Revolution!

Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette
So I've been thinking about the French Revolution for the last couple of days. {What's that you say? You were too? Get out!}  The peasants in 18th century France had a legitimate beef with the powers that be. There was the atrocious excess of the aristocracy while their fellow countrymen were starving. There was the enormous national debt fueled by France's participation in several wars.  There was crop failure, there was major inflation on every day goods like bread. There was the whole unfair taxation thing to try and make up that war debt. Louis XVI was often indecisive and ineffectual, often bowing to the pressures of parliament when they opposed his ideas for financial reform. The peasants and the bourgeoisie became angry, resentful, unruly and took to the streets in favor of the Enlightenment ideals of equality and inalienable rights. And with good reason, in my opinion. So there was some discussion of eating cake, some beheadings, some slogans, a few fires and storming of large buildings and hey presto! revolution complete. {I may have simplified this a bit} The evil King and Queen and their wanton, cake-eating, unenlightened ways were overthrown and Robespierre and the extremely egalitarian sounding "Committee of Public Safety" took over and they all lived happily ever after. Right?

Well, not so much. Actually, the strangest thing happened. The idealists who objected so much to the lack of equality in French society became slaughtering imperialist dictators. Enter the Reign of Terror - one of the bloodiest stretches of French history. What in the name of triple cream Brie happened? The same thing that happens when my kids complain that there are too many rules and they can't wait to be grownups so they can boss everyone around and in an act of laziness self preservation self-sacrificing motherhood I give them the run of things for a few hours. They discover that it's hard to run a household. They have to make tough decisions that aren't always popular. They are unprepared for the sudden weight of responsibility and they are exhausted with thinking about it and eventually they just start beating each other up. There's also a bit of that whole "I'm in charge now, so I'm going to exact my revenge for my grievances by being a jerk and see how you like it." {OK, so that may be oversimplifying things, too.}

I'm all about revolution. I think sometimes it takes enough people getting fed-up enough that they stand up together and throw a fit. I applaud people who take action when most of us would rather complain than actually do anything to change the situation. I am right there behind the people who take risks, speak out, camp out, stand out so that others take notice. Without them, we'd all still be colonists or slaves. Revolution is an important part of evolution, and all societies need to evolve.

I believe we are living in a time of evolution and revolution on a lot of different levels right now. As scary as it is at times, I think it's necessary and vital for survival. Any sort of growth hurts a little bit. I think there are some legitimate beefs that must be addressed. Actually, I think there are a lot of legitimate beefs. It's not just a bunch of whiny entitled people with nothing better to do as some would have us believe. But as scary as revolution can be, the wake of revolution can be even scarier. Sometimes movements that are based on a righteous anger can become just angry. Sometimes in standing against injustice, people become unjust. Sometimes after feeling helpless and oppressed and discouraged for so long, it feels really good to shout and oppress and set things on fire. It's hard to run a country. There are a lot of decisions to make, not all of them popular. I'm not saying that things don't need to change, because definitely they do. I'm saying that when the opportunity for change comes, things should really change. Not just more of the same or worse. That's going to take a degree of rationality, intelligence, tolerance, forgiveness and mindfulness that I hope we all can muster. Vive la Revolution!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'd like to thank the Academy...

Wow... I can hardly believe it... I don't have a speech prepared... let me get out my glasses... [deep breath and shaky hands]... unbelievable... I don't want to leave anyone out... and so on.

Seriously, though. After a day of avoiding my blog like the lurking, oozing pile of nonsense that it is, I logged in to beat it down. (Once engaged in a steel cage grudge match, I'm not one to back off.) And what should find in my comment feed but some extra-special love. I am new to blogging, still getting used to the idea that other people even click this way. I still am amazed that people not only read, but take the time to comment. So imagine my gaping awe to discover that the lovely Nicole had tagged me with the Liebster Blog Award. "Thank you" doesn't even begin to cover it. Nicole said, "there's no money or trophy or free cookies, but at least you know I think you are great." I love money and cookies as much as the next guy, but having just ventured out on my wobbly Bambi legs to do this thing, knowing someone thinks I'm great is way better. It was the kick in the pants I have needed these last few days. Especially coming from Nicole, whose blog is magnificent.

Now it's my turn to honor some of my favorites. Here's how it works, it's the nice kind of chain letter:

'Liebster' is a German word meaning dearest, and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.

If you receive this award, here is how you continue spreading the love...

1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.

2. Reveal your top 5 blogs (with under 200 followers) and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

3. Post the Award on your blog.

4. Enjoy the love of some of the most supportive people on the Internet.

So here are my current top 5:

Wait, first I want to take a second and say that when I started this whole blog thing, I felt like such an outsider. I still do in some ways, but I have found that fellow bloggers are some of the most interesting, encouraging people I have ever not actually met. OK, now my top 5:

Oh. One more thing, I apologize in advance if I seem all weird and gushy and kind of stalker-y. I just love to read what other people write and I am completely enamored of the idea of people out there just hanging out, doing their thing and being fabulous. Now, really, Top 5:

Southern Fried Children - Sassy and foul-mouthed and oh-so-funny. Also brutally honest and boy, can that girl tell a story. She comes in just under the 200 readers thing, but I think she should have millions more.

Masked Mom - and not just because she leaves me comment love. She is suuuuuch a good writer, has her finger right on the pulse of something very real and funny and smart. She is always a day ahead of me with posts I was thinking about writing and does them so much better, I just make lists instead.

Frazzled and Frumpy - whatever her blog's moniker may be, her writing is fresh and funny. I am fascinated by her big family and her ability to keep it all in perspective and remain mostly sane.

Columbibueno - Two words: amazing poetry. Even the comments she leaves are like little poems. She's got a gift for breathtaking imagery, both literary and visual, that make me want to throw out my pens and paper.

The M Half of the M-n-J Show - She writes about the random ephemera of life and that makes me happy. She's got this whole balancing act of simple and sweet, funny, timely, and interesting. And she can write fiction which makes me extremely jealous.

I'm thankful for my gentle, long-suffering readers. But most of all, I'm thankful for the other writers. The ones that inspire me and cheer me up and make me laugh and make me want to crush my fingers with a mallet and never write again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Helpful Holiday Tips

Thanks a lot, Norman. No really, thanks.
It is upon us. That most magical time of year when we all take part in those time honored American traditions of overeating, overspending, and over-stressing. Where we all feel a little bit guilty because our family gets on our nerves, and a little bit sad because it didn't measure up to the idyllic expectations, and a little bit jealous because other people's probably did. Yes, it's that time of peace and joy where we wait in line to park so that we can wait in lines in stores. Where we watch with gleeful anticipation to see what toy will bring irate shoppers to blows this year. Oh yes. The holiday season is upon us.

Since I am "just a housewife", I have compiled the requisite list of helpful tips to get you through the holiday season without breaking a nail. I've even divided them out into helpful categories for you. Look out, Gwyneth!1 You're about to get a run for your money.

Cleaning and Organizing:
You're about to get an onslaught of friends, relatives, new toys, reindeer and leftovers. What to do?

  • Write important phone numbers, shoe sizes, and shopping lists on the backs of old receipts and shove them in the bottom of your purse. You will have them all there when you need them and for years to come. Only throw out receipts that might be useful for warranty information or returning unwanted items.
  • Store clean clothes in the dryer. This serves the dual purpose of keeping things tidy as well as helping small children learn to confront their fears of dark, dank places by forcing them to retrieve their own socks from the laundry room.
  • Place dirty dishes on the back porch overnight. The raccoons and possums will get a holiday meal, you'll have less scrubbing to do. It's win-win.
  • Speaking of small children, enlist them in helping clean up. Turn cleaning into a game! Here are a few suggestions:
    • Start the vacuum cleaner while they're watching cartoons. Holler: "What ever is not picked up by the time I count to 20 will be sucked up the vacuum cleaner!" Watch how fast they scramble to cram things places to get them off the floor.2
    • Institute "Colonial Day" at your house.3 It's a fun game for the whole family. Explain that in colonial times there was no electricity (so no TV, computer or video games), children were expected to do chores to earn their keep (diagrams and pictures may be helpful for this part), and children were to be seen and not heard and their toys were sticks and bits of lint and stuff.4 Ready... go! 
    • "Betty Draper Day". Send the kids off to watch TV and raise themselves, hire a maid for less than a living wage, spend the rest of your time lounging on a chaise in a beautiful dress, chain smoking, and feeling put upon.5

Decorating and Entertaining:
Now that your house is clean, here are some simple time and money saving tips for getting it gussied up for the holidays and the inevitable get-togethers.

  • Do an "Advent Tree" this year. On December 1st, set up a naked Christmas tree. Let the kids decorate it a little every day by flinging their dirty socks and underwear at it. It makes a charmingly personalized tree and it saves you having to pick those items up every day for at least 25 days.
  • Make a paper chain garland out of unpaid bills. Gets rid of unwanted clutter and makes a cheap decoration. Bonus tip: the longer you let the bills go, the more colorful the envelopes get.
  • By leaving pans to "soak" for a few days, you not only save the time and energy you would have spent scrubbing them, it also gives your home that cozy holiday fragrance of bacon. 
  • Light only with candles when company comes. Among the many advantages: poor lighting masks unwanted dust or toilet rings, scented candles mask unwanted smells, candlelight masks your lack of electricity from making paper chains with unwanted bills.
  • Instead of baking Christmas cookies, artfully display leftover Halloween candy on a platter in a festive design.
  • Why waste all day roasting a turkey when you can get turkey pre-sliced in the Deli? For an extra-festive touch, cut the lunch meat into seasonal shapes with cookie cutters. Add American cheese slices for a hint of color.
  • Make a political statement with your holiday party. Tell guests that you've decided the holidays represent corporate greed and imperialism, have them meet you at a local protest. Pros: you don't have to cook or clean, it would certainly be memorable. Cons: you may get tear-gassed, beaten or arrested.
  • Deal with that one annoying relative with a 1st Thanksgiving re-enactment. Have them dress up in a turkey suit and run around the yard while everyone else tries to hit them with tranquilizer darts. (This may be done with more than one 'turkey' if your family is especially dysfunctional.)6
Gift Ideas:
Money's tight all around, so here are some gift giving ideas for a girl on a budget:
  • Stop speaking to a random selection of people around mid-October. By the time Christmas rolls around, they won't be expecting anything.
  • Save on postage for your Christmas cards: Keep the envelopes that Christmas cards addressed to you come in. Simply insert your card into the envelope, reseal it and mark the envelope "Return to Sender, Addressee Unknown" and drop it in the mail. This also solves that pesky problem of the unrequited Christmas card - the only people who get cards from you are the ones who sent you one first.
  • Tell your close friends that you are hand-making their Christmas gifts and so they might be a bit late. This will not only get you off the hook until about mid-March, you get extra thoughtful points for handmade gifts.7
  • Tell everyone you're "going green" this Christmas. Wrap random crap you find around the house in colorful Black Friday ads and give as "upcycled" gifts.8
  • Make custom gourmet condiments for the food lovers on your list: Simply combine the tail ends of the old sauces and condiments you found in the back of your fridge in a jar. Bonus tip: pick the crust off the lip and scratch the label off of one of the old sauces you found and you have a jar for gifting!9
  • Tear pictures of things you wanted to give people out of catalogs and magazines and make a "collage of dreams" to give them instead.
  • Feign a serious illness or wreck your car. Then no one will expect anything from you.10
Or... we could all collectively take a deep breath and realize that while holidays are fun, they are just days like any other. The season for peace, joy, goodwill toward others should be every season. The day for giving thanks and counting blessings should be every day. The time for spending with family and friends should be whenever possible.

1. Gwyneth is the new Martha, don't you know?
2. I have never done this.
3. This was my daughter's idea. I am not kidding.
4. If you have uppity children, you may want to leave out the parts about not being able to vote and unfair taxation. That only leads to revolution.
5. This game requires a certain degree of income and blatant racism.
6. This may be illegal in some states.
7. I have never done this, either.
8. Nor this.
9. I really haven't ever done this. Ack!
10. I have done this. Make sure you have good insurance if you go this route.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

These People

I have a snippet of poetry that hangs on my fridge. It's near a picture of Chicken (the cat) while he was in his Marlon Brando phase, lounging about in my mom's bathroom sink. I leave it there to remind me of the pleasure of indolence, the necessity for it.
Chicken in Marlon Brando phase

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in
the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and
all the leaves were calling.
-Richard La Gallienn

These people
I was raised with a strong work ethic and I find it very hard to just do "nothing". I'm not a competitive person, but I am constantly setting goals for myself and then won't let them out of my teeth. It has only been in my mid-thirties that I'm learning to take "time off" and appreciate the value of indolence, of accomplishing nothing. And to do it without feeling guilty or like I have to make excuses for it.

It's all thanks to these people. These people that I love to distraction. These people who need so much from me, but what they need most is a mama who is rested and in her right mind. Thankful to these people today while I do a whole lot of nothing today and accomplish some of the most important things in life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


List: /list/ verb "Lean to one side; typically because of a leak or unbalanced cargo."

Things of which I was initially skeptical but are now permanent fixtures in my life:
- my iPod
- blogging
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- my son
- mystery shopping

Things without which I thought I would die but now hold little or no use for me:
- Wonderbras
- Mascara
- That kid in my 8th grade class whose name I can't remember
- Leather pants
- Baby monitors

Things with which I am currently in a steel cage grudge match but I will win:
- The first story in David Foster Wallace's Oblivion
- My cell phone battery
- This mascara I put on for family picture day
- A particular chocolate chip bread recipe for the bread machine
- NaBloPoMo

Things of which I am still quite skeptical:
- "smart" phones
- Twilight
- foundational garments
- Kombucha
- skinny jeans

Thursday, November 17, 2011


When my sister was in 6th grade she started a new school. Her first day she asked my brother to give her a ride in his 1971 MG so she could "look cool". When we dropped her off, I yelled out the window in my best PeeWee Herman voice: "Goodbye Rachael! Have fun! Don't forget your giant underpants!" She no longer has any interest in "looking cool". I think I taught her a valuable lesson.

Remember in college that girl that would go to all the parties and then sit in the corner and cry and want to talk about her problems and then get roaring drunk and go puke in someone's bedroom? I was never that girl.

Apparently it's not considered "normal" to have your entire family gather 'round the clearance rack at Target and help you pick out new underwear.

Darshan, my pal who works at 7-11, told me I looked tired. I was so relieved. I thought it was my imagination.

Remember that girl in college we talked about? I think I accidentally turned into that girl by mistake last week. My puke was verbal, though. And I wasn't roaring drunk.

My internet went out for several hours yesterday. I had no idea what was happening anywhere except right where I was. It was one of the best things that's happened to me all week.

Once when I was 4, I spent an entire dinner party trying to cross my legs like a lady. When I finally did it, I hollered "Look! I learned how to stack my knees!" I didn't really understand why the grown-ups were laughing. I still think of it that way.

Figure 1
I met the person who is now one of my best friends on this planet at a New Faculty Family Barbecue when we were 15. She later told me she was very intimidated by me that night. "I thought you were going to eat me." I sometimes have that effect on people. There is no explanation for this phenomenon. [See Fig. 1]

It is nigh unto impossible to explain my husband's and my inside jokes in any way that other people think are funny. The best I get are puzzled stares. I find this comforting.

Sometimes as a tiny act of rebellion, I don't bring my own bags to the grocery store. I immediately feel guilty afterward and go home and scrub my recyclables.

One of my recurring dreamscapes is a gigantic shopping mall. Invariably, there's a secret staircase to a secret floor where you can get amazingly discounted ball gowns. What varies is whether or not I'm allowed access.

I dated a guy once who said I shouldn't say things like "nigh unto impossible" because no one really talked like that. He didn't ask me to marry him. He didn't even acknowledge that we were dating. I was obsessed with him for months

My husband describes his Junior High self as "that kid with thick glasses and dandruff". He and his friends sat outside for lunch. They called themselves "The Popular Table".

Some people throw bird seed at their weddings, some blow bubbles or release butterflies. At my wedding, as we were leaving for our honeymoon, my entire family stood on the grand staircase of the country club and shouted in their best PeeWee Herman voices: "Goodbye Suzanne! Have fun! Don't forget your giant underpants!"