Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

I visited my mother's resting place this morning on the way to work. I use the euphemism 'resting place' because her bones lay in mausoleum. Her choice, by the way. She didn't like the idea of cremation, but liked the idea of worms less. She called it a 'filing cabinet.' So, not really a grave in the traditional six-feet-under kind of way.

Anyway, it didn't seem right to celebrate this holiday season without being in her company. Some of you may think that I am always in her company, that her essence, her soul, her spirit, is forever tethered to me. But me? While I believe in a spiritual afterlife, I really hope that she's enjoying her eternal glory and not worrying about my mopey ass.

I pulled into Parkwood Cemetery a few minutes before nine. As I rolled past 'Heroes' Garden,' I saw one other person on the grounds. He was walking a dog. Which annoyed me. I mean, dude, who lets his dog whiz on a tombstone?  Maybe he didn't plan to "let" that happen, but I don't see how a dog could pass by that many obelisks without lifting a leg.


I drove down Gethsemane Lane to the mausoleums at the back of the property. Today is cold, like you'd expect in December, but not freezing.  Mom's spot, which will one day be my parents' spot, is in the bottom row. I squatted and brushed away the few leaves that had collected in front, wishing that I'd brought something that I could prop against the granite slab. Some marker of my presence. But, the problem with spontaneity is that it goes hand-in-hand with a lack of preparedness.

Instead, I pulled off my gloves and pressed my palm flat to her name, feeling the chiseled indentations.

"I miss you, Mom," I whispered. That's about all I ever say. What else is there to say?  That's what it boils down to:  I miss her.  Deeply.

After a few minutes, I saw a worm squinching past, unable to invade the building. It made me smile, because Mom's plan was kind of working out with respect to the filing cabinet.

"Merry Christmas, Mom."

I stood, dusted my hands together, and drove off.  At the final turn, the one that would lead me from the cemetery, I caught sight of the man and his dog. He stood in front of a small tombstone, with his head bowed. His dog stood guard next to him, still as a statue, and definitely not whizzing on the graves.


During my mid-morning coffee break on Friday, December 14, 2012, I was perusing a gossip site. Yes. Gossip. It’s my one, completely shallow pastime. While friends of mine read newspapers and academic journals, I try to keep up with Taylor Swift’s latest romance. I am sincerely worried that I am going to forget milestones in my children’s lives because the brain cells that would have been used to store those memories are busy retaining the names of Angelina Jolie’s kids.


I was reading a gossip site and stumbled on a comment that said, “This is completely off-topic, but there’s been a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.”

An elementary school? What?

I jumped over to The details at 10:30 a.m. were murky. The shooting was confirmed, as was the school’s state of lock down. There was a rumor that the principal had been killed, and possibly two others.

Immediately, I made wild assumptions nurtured by a healthy diet of true-crime television shows. Basically, I guessed that the principal had an angry husband or boyfriend who took that passion to her workplace, killed her, possibly a co-worker, and then himself. That’s how these things go, right?

I wish that I’d been right.

An hour later, after somewhat regular page refreshes, I saw that the victim count had risen significantly. And that some of the victims were likely children.

That thought hadn’t even entered my mind. I needed to know more, so I just kept searching, searching, searching for information among various news sources. And then, in the early afternoon, on the Hartford Courant’s main page, there it was:

26 Killed, 20 of Them Children

I nearly vomited. I haven't felt that kind physical response to emotion since mid-December, 2010, when it hit me like a freight train that my mother’s death would occur at any hour, any minute. This felt the same. After seeing that so many had died, so many of them children, I closed my office door and sat on the floor, hugging my knees to my chest.

Overly dramatic? I’m not that guy, I swear. I don’t make a meal out of minor inconveniences, railing at the heavens because of a parking ticket.  I feel things deeply, yes, but can usually rationalize my way out of those feelings. Displace them, because they aren’t mine to feel, and it’s indulgent to claim them as if it happened to me.  Why should I feel this devastated, this heartbroken?  I’ve never been to Newtown. I have no connection to it. I didn’t know those teachers, those children.

Except I do know them. I’m in that world now.  Two of my three kids are in elementary school. The Boy is eight and in third grade. The Girl is six and in Kindergarten. I collapsed because I could all too easily picture them, their beautiful, innocent, terrified faces, if they were in the same situation. I know the routine of school, how easy it is for people to get buzzed in (or, as we later found out, shoot his way in), and how little could be done to stop a broken-brained gunman from storming hallways papered with crayon drawings.

There’s a fresh wave of grief every time I read about it. I can’t not read about it, though. To avoid the news in an attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of sorrow is … well, it’s disrespectful. I have to know these things, painful and awful as they might be, because without knowing these things, I will be absent the tools I need to form opinions, make decisions, make plans, and vote when the time comes.

So, I'll expose myself to it, and mourn not only the lives lost, but the innocence as well. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch...Unless It's Online?

So, the world turned upside-down for a bazillion hipsters with Instagram's announcement that it is changing its terms of service and that it can sell your pictures without compensating you.

First: 99.9% of you? Relax. Nobody wants to buy a blurry picture of your homemade pork sandwich.

Second: Instagram is not the only photo-sharing game in town. Feel free to seek out others.

Third: Um, you know that you're not required to document your life online, right? So, if you find that all of the free photo-sharing services have unpalatable service agreements, you could -- this might sound crazy -- just not post your photos on the Interwebs. Or (and this one's even more shocking) you could pay for your photo-hosting, and not worry about service agreements that leverage your content.

Here's the thing: Facebook, Google, Pandora, Instagram do not do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts. The are in it to MAKE MONEY. They can do that by either charging for their services OR by giving the service away, but selling advertising space to third-party advertisers who want to get their products in front of a billion Internet eyes.

Most Internet companies go the free route. Some of them offer a subscription version so that you can trim the advertising noise out of the product, but not many do that.  I get that what Instagram's doing is different -- they are selling user content -- but YOU are getting something from THEM.  This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. You don't have to buy servers, develop the application, and pay techies to keep everything humming. 

The arm-waving that goes on with this stuff is fascinating to me. Most of us seem to think that 'online' should be synonymous with 'free.' It's not just about service providers, either. Content providers feel it too. There's a blog that I read that killed its RSS feed, and Holy Moses, the drama among some of the readers when the feed died.

But, killing it made perfect sense to me: readers could get the content from the feed, and never visit the blog. If readers don't visit the blog, the blog owner doesn't get the clicks. If the blog owner doesn't get the clicks, then they earn less revenue.

So, the point is: if you are using a service online, you either have to pay for it outright, or give the service provider permission to make money off of your usage in some way.  If you don't like the way they are making their money, DON'T USE IT.  If Blogger sent me a notice that they were going to take what I've written here in the past seven years and re-sell it without giving me credit, I'd probably shutter the blog. But I wouldn't think that it was some kind of Dark Overlord situation either.  Sheesh.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chez McDonald's

In the latest round of work vs. motherhood, work kicked motherhood's ass.  Both my kids have field trips this week, and I can't go on either of them. Boo.

Why? Why would I want to surround myself with dozens of children instead of just the three I've got?

Because I am trying to work through my own childhood issues, obviously. My parents chaperoned exactly zero of my childhood field trips. None. And I went on at least a two dozen of them.

I"m okay with it now. Perspective has been gained. See, when I was a kid, I thought they had a masochistic work ethic, and that's why they didn't go on field trips with me or my siblings. Now I realize its because, well, hey, you don't work, you don't get paid.  You don't get paid, one of your kids might go hungry.

In the face of that kind of consequence, I'd make the same choice.

But I am lucky to have a job that is usually flexible enough to let me go on these jaunts with the kids.  I've been to the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Baltimore Zoo, and Clark's Elioak Farm.  This week, though, I just couldn't do it.  Big meetings prevailed. Not only that, but I had an office Christmas party yesterday night, which meant I was effectively ditching the kids twice in one day.

My son was okay with this. The girl? Not so much. To make my guilty conscience shut up, I offered to take them out to breakfast as a pre-field trip treat. They were allowed to choose the restaurant. Gourmands that they are, they chose McDonald's.

While they dined on pancakes and I enjoyed some oatmeal, we got to chatting about other breakfast foods they love as much as pancakes. The verdict? Doughnuts. From there, we somehow arrived at them saying they would like to have doughnuts in France. I don't know why they picked France. They've never been to France. They've barely been west of the Mississippi.

"If you wanted to order a doughnut in France," I said, spooning up my breakfast, "You'd say, 'Puis-j'avais un beignet?'"

"Puis-j'avais un... boo-day," my daughter pseudo-repeated.

"No," I snickered. "Do not go to France to order a doughnut and say that. It sounds too much like 'bidet.' That is a very, very different thing. A bidet is a toilet that shoots water at your bottom to clean it off."

"What?" my son join the conversation. Heretofore, he'd mostly been interested in silently dipping his pancakes into a bucket of syrup. His eyebrows were raised so high I couldn't see them under his mop of bangs.

"A beignet," I over-enunciated, "is a doughnut. A bidet shoots water at your bottom."

My daughter collapsed into a fit of giggles.

"BIDET!" she yelled, like she'd learned a new curse word.

Then my son collapsed into a fit of giggles.

"Why would anyone want that?" he asked.

"Take that, tiny toilet!" My daughter was quoting 'Despicable Me.' Which, really, has nothing at all to do with bidets.  I think it was the only toilet-related pop culture quote in her mental filing cabinet, so she went for it.

After a minute they'd collected themselves enough to finish their breakfasts. I cleared our trays while they bundled back up into their winter coats. We tumbled out of the restaurant and into the brisk morning air, giggling about doughnuts and toilets. I dropped them off at school, full, happy, and loved.

And that's where this blog post would have ended, if I hadn't repeated the morning chatter to my husband after I got home from the office dinner.

"Suddenly," he said, "our dinner conversation makes a lot more sense."

"What did you talk about?" I asked, stretching out on the sofa.

"Out of nowhere, the kids said they wanted a bidet for Christmas."

"Well," I said, "at least we know that they own the word."

Score for learning new vocabulary, I guess!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Okay, Skinny Girls. Spill.

I am officially the thinnest I have ever been. Actually, I was the thinnest I have ever been about ten pounds ago, but that's neither here nor there. Since I stopped eating like a teenage linebacker, and started working out three to seven times a week, I have lost:
  • 43 pounds,
  • 8 dress/pants sizes,
  • 4 inches off my bra band size, and four cup sizes (yay! my bra cup size could now be found on an exceptionally dull student's report card!),
  • and a half a ring size.
I feel like the innermost version of a Mary matryoshka doll. This is a reality to which I am still becoming accustomed.  Not that I'm Twiggy. Never could  be. Seriously, I could lose another twenty pounds and not achieve that kind of big-eyed, attenuated figure. Which was never my goal, and that's kind of good, because it would be impossible.  See, I am descended from peasant stock. No matter what I weigh, this here's a body meant for manual labor (read: muscles) and babies (ever seen a fertility goddess statue? I could've posed for one back in May). Point is, I'm not fixated on looking pin-thin.

About a decade ago (are you still reading this?) I mentioned goals. GOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLLLLS! My goals never revolved around a specific loss of pounds or jeans size. Nope. When I committed to losing weight, my goals were to:
  • hit a healthy BMI, 
  • not wheeze like an asthmatic when I run three miles, 
  • and comfortably wear pajama pants, instead of having them bite me in the midsection like an angry Komodo dragon.
I have achieved these goals three. Which means that I've officially downshifted into a maintenance phase.  Maintenance means that I am eating a little more liberally, and working out about three times per week. Also? Part of the maintenance phase is attempting to tighten up my loose belly skin.  I should nickname my midsection to make it more palatable. Ooh, I know! Balloony! Why Balloony? Think "The Red Balloon" at the end, when Pascal and the red balloon are attacked by bullies.

If you've never seen 'The Red Balloon,' you should know that I'm not a crazy person. In the story, a boy and his best friend, an actual balloon, were attacked by mean bullies.Yes, this film is a Thing that Exists. Thank you, France.

Okay, anyway. Here's the thing.  I don't consider myself among the ranks of 'skinny girls.' Maybe I am a skinny girl? Is size 2 officially skinny? Because I always thought you had to shop in the Juniors section for that. Though, that's weird too, right? If you're a grown woman shopping in the Juniors section, there are way too many cartoon characters. They should probably make a Juniors section for adults, and call it 'Trying too Hard.'

Wow, that was judgy, wasn't it?

With this shifting body type, there are Things. Things I have noticed, and I don't know if I'm just a weirdo, or if this is a thin thing.  So, here goes:
  • Do you have to be careful of your tailbones?  A year ago, I never even THOUGHT about my tailbone. Now, I'm like, "Slow down, cowgirl. Shift to the side a bit when you sit up in the tub, or else your tailbone will uncomfortably mash into the fiberglass." I've considered that I have no ass. My mother had no ass, and since I inherited her body, this is likely an asslessness situation exacerbated by weight loss.
  • Do you get cold fairly easily? My husband and I went to the movies, and I seriously had to pack a shawl. A SHAWL! Like an old woman. I wasn't shy about it, though. I totally wrapped it around myself, and then sort of wished that I had a blanket as well.
  • Do you feel/see your heartbeat in your abdomen? I'll be honest. I've Googled this one. This is either a common thing among thin people, or I have an aortic aneurysm. Fingers crossed for the former!
I'm sure there are more things that will come. Like, do your knee-high boots kind of...gape? I don't know. These are weird things to be worried about. But, as I settle into this new shape of mine, there will be questions, because I can't discern if this is the new normal, or if I'm about to have some kind of major medical issue.

If you made it all the way through this, please know that I absolutely, one thousand-mathematically-impossible-percent know that this is a humblebraggy First World Problem. Ooh, middle-class white woman finally kicked an extra forty pounds (caused by a cocktail of affluence and laziness!) to the curb! Instead of a medical necessity, let's call it a journey!

That said, I would really enjoy opinions on this whole tailbone thing.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Big Boy Bed

My youngest child attempted the crib version of the Great Escape yesterday. Frankly, I'm surprised his nearly-three self didn't attempt this earlier.  But, as he is the Best Baby Ever, who has morphed into the Best Toddler Ever, he graciously stayed behind bars a little longer than my other two kids.

Once he knew he could vault over the side of his crib, we couldn't keep him locked up.  Other parents have differing opinions.  Such as the couple with whom we shared a waiting room when I was pregnant with my second child about six years ago.  The other mother noticed our then two-year-old son, who was playing with her two-year-old son.

"Has he tried to climb out of the crib yet?"

"No, thank goodness."

"Mine has. So I bought one of those tents that keep cats out. Except we don't have a cat. It's to keep him in."

And then she told me that my hair was really pretty and that we should be best friends.  Okay, fine, she didn't do that, but the creepy factor was there. And, I figured if a kid wants out of a crib, HE IS GETTING OUT OF THAT CRIB AND THE TENT WILL ONLY MAKE HIM ANGRY.

So, when Little Guy swung that leg over the rail, I knew it was time. I didn't want a jail break in the middle of the night.  There'd be sirens and dogs and floodlights and possibly a concussion, and really, who needs that?  So, off came the fourth wall (wink!) and his crib is now a toddler bed.  He happily snuggled into it, laid his head down on his dinosaur pillow, and tumbled into dreamland.

Of course, he did wake up about four times throughout the night.  But he stayed PUT, like a good lad.  No nocturnal wanderings, doorknob twisting, or any such shenanigans. We'll see what tonight brings.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I Killed It Dead

We spent Thanksgiving at my Dad's house. That's still weird, by the way. Calling it my Dad's house, and not my parents' house.

Anyway, a couple of the branches of the family agreed to meet up and cook dinner there. If we left it up to my Dad, he'd offer us saltines and grape jelly.

We all took on something. My sister jammed the turkey in the roaster in the wee hours of the morning, and kept a-bastin' all day long. My sister-in-law and I put together the many casserolly-type dishes and shoved those in the oven.  Last, she took on the sausage stuffing, and I jumped on the mashed potatoes. Ten pounds of mashed potatoes. Which turned out to be about eight pounds too many, but I have no sense of scale when it comes to these meals.

It should be noted that we weren't cooking our versions of these dishes. Our labors were not taxidermic, either. More of a tribute. My mother could cook, so her recipes, unaltered, would be tasty. I wasn't champing at the bit to mix some champignons in with the stuffing, or add a soupcon of pecans to the sweet potatoes.  That's not what Thanksgiving is about, right? Thanksgiving is all about eating the food that tastes like it did when you were eight years old and swinging your bare feet under the kitchen table, marvelling that everyone, big brothers, big sisters, parents who sometimes had to work late shifts, were all sitting there with you, at the same time, with no intention of running off the moment the cutlery clattered into the sink.

Anyway, there I am, standing in front of her stalwart Sunbeam mixer, shoving the last of the boiled potatoes into the bowl. I turned the dial to a slow, steady three-pace, and it whirred to life for the final batch.  It's an old mixer, a loved mixer. Which means that parts were a little stuck, a little warped.  The beaters, for instance, were more standoffish than usual.  Instead of kissing the bowl, there was about an half-inch gap 'twixt the them and the bowl. To ensure a thorough and even whipping of the starchy goodness, I had to use a spoon to poke potato chunks toward toward the maw of the beaters.

This was fine. Everything was fine, FINE I tell you, until...

My tornado of a daughter ran through the room, shooting toward the sink with a glass plate. She was about to hurl said plate into the depths of the sink, where it would likely shatter. Mmm.... glass-seasoned turkey, anyone?  To save the meal, I dropped the spoon to catch the plate, and it was quickly swept between the beaters.  The mixer grunted, trying to whip the unwhippable.  The motor sparked, then gave up the ghost.

I killed my dead mother's mixer. On Thanksgiving. It was as close as peeing on her grave as I can imagine.  My only consolation is that she would take great joy in knowing that I couldn't duplicate a meal she made about forty-seven times without destroying an appliance.

For those of you who have been following this blog for years, I'm sure you've wondered when my mother's passing will stop being so omnipresent in my posts.  The answer is...  I don't know.  I really don't.  I think about her every day, many times a day.  Which is weird, because I didn't think about her this frequently when she was alive. It would be wildly inauthentic if I stoppered the frequent loneliness I have for her, though, so express it I shall.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Spice Must Flow

Call me Sisyphus.

I am glacially de-cluttering my parents' kitchen. This involves evicting items from cabinets, scrubbing said cabinets, and re-organizing as I go.

I call it "my parents'" kitchen because, even though my mother died nearly two years ago, it is so very much her kitchen.  Dad just eats there.  Everything else is hers.  Her pots, her pans, her salt and pepper.  Well, there's also the clock.  The one that says "Snookie's Kitchen."

You can't argue with a clock.

(Sidenote:  You can, however, take issue with the fact that they have multiple clocks. There's the "Snookie's Kitchen," clock, a cuckoo clock (that cuckoos every fifteen minutes), the microwave clock, the stove top clock, and the under-the-counter radio clock. Did I mention that none of the clocks agree on a time?  These are very, very disagreeable clocks.)

Today, I focused my efforts on the spice cabinet.  Yes, cabinet. Not rack.  Most people have a spice rack, maybe even a Lazy Susan thingamajig, that contains about two doze frequently-used spices.  Since my mother cooked in great volume, frequency, and variety, she'd racked up a rather large collection -- conglomerate, really -- of spices.  I mean, she wasn't rolling her own sushi or anything, but she'd delve into Americanized versions of Irish (corned beef and cabbage), German (sour beef and dumplings), Italian (meat lasagna), French (chicken cordon bleu), and, of course, White Trash American (I can't even begin to christen the chef's salad sprinkled with Fritos and drizzled in hot Cheez Whiz).  Point is, there were about a hundred and fifty spice containers in this cabinet.  Can you even begin to appreciate that many  bottles of cloves, oregano, and mace?  Also: what is mace, for God's sakes?

I've been dreading the cleanup effort on this particular cabinet.  The way I figure it, in the twenty-one years she lived there, my mother cooked over seven thousand dinners in that house.  That cabinet represented the love she poured into each of those meals.

Ugh, I just dove into the deep end of my ow melodrama.  Blech. 

That's who I am now, for better or for worse. I'm reduced to the weepies, and possibly the vapors, by McCormick's finest.  Anyway, I went through all of these stupid spices, simultaneously getting teary-eyed over the Cream of Tartar that I knew went into the incomparably fluffy meringue atop her lemon pies. Cream of Tartar should NOT make cry, right?  

Lucky for me, before I could make myself throw up from my own weak sauce, I found the five boxes of baking soda.  Why does anyone need five boxes of Arm & Hammer's finest?   Mom, apparently, had some hoarder tendencies.  

Each bottle, each tin*, made me think of something she cooked for us. Since food was the real way that she'd tell you she love you, it was stupidly hard to toss an empty container of garlic salt. 

Confession:  I might -- might -- have found, and hugged, an empty bottle of Superose liquid sweetener. It caused an ape-strong memory of my mother mixing a squirt of it into her morning coffee, still bleary with sleep.

But toss it I did it, along with dozens of bottles of spice.  I pared the collection down to those that hadn't expired, and further reduced it to those spices that my sister and my father actually use.  I started with a hundred and fifty bottles.  I ended up with about thirty.  Now they can use that cabinet for a bunch of other things, including their coffee, tea, and baking ingredients.  Which is good.  But now there are two trash bags full of that which spiced up our family life for decades, which makes me feel incredibly awful.  

I know it's just stuff. Unusable stuff, to boot. But myriad tins of bottles... They are a powerful symbol of my Mom, and now they sit in an inglorious heap, waiting to go to a landfill.  And that's what feels awful.  If she were here, she would've called me a ninny for either being emotionally attached to a dusty bottle of cloves.  Well, either that or she would've been horrified that I threw out 'perfectly good' thirty-year-old bay leaves.

But she's not here, so I'm helping my Dad by clearing out the stuff they don't use or need.  In every way, what I'm doing is sane and right and good.  But it still sucks.

*thirty seconds of Google research shows that McCormick issued their spices in tin canisters during the '70's. So, this means that my mother bought these spices while living in my childhood home, and then moved them TWICE, and still didn't pitch them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


That's how I would describe my little family's experience with Hurricane Sandy.  There was much rain, howling wind, and the odd power flicker.  No leaks, no floods, no fried sump pump, no tree limbs crashing through our roof.

I'm not really broadcasting this, though, because others lost so much.  We were very lucky.  Yeah, we planned.  We had a gassed up generator, frozen blocks of Tupperware stuffed into the freezer should we lose power, meals we could slap together without delving into the fridge, and an extra gallon of milk.  I even rented a couple of movies on my iPad to keep the kids entertained.  This is the modern equivalent of being prepared for a disaster, right?  Mobile, battery-powered entertainment?

If we had done nothing to prepare, we still would've come out fine.  So, yeah.  Luck.

Mostly, Hurricane Sandy weekend was spent building forts in the living room, using the flameless candles as a 'campfire,' and otherwise hanging out and playing games.  I caught up on some picture uploading and paperwork.  Oh, and I baked three loaves of pumpkin bread because my husband carved gigantic pumpkins and I refuse to let edible goods go to waste.  Our greatest hardship during the past four days was a pouty lip from our eldest child when he realized that he would never see the six seconds of 'WWE RAW' that the DVR missed because of a brief cable outage.

These are not the events of which great tales are told, so I'll zip it up here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Big Brotherly Advice

My daughter, who is a pint-size hurricane of a kindergartner, had not purchased lunch at school prior to last week.  It has been a steady rotation of Uncrustables (whole wheat, reduced sugar versions, natch), yogurts, thermos experiments, and Very Interesting Pantry Goodies.

Finally, FINALLY, she consented to try buying lunch.  Since I had recently flooded their accounts (schools have figured out a way to avoid kids handling cash), I was primed and ready for a packing-lunch break.  The menu indicated some appealing options on D-Day:  chicken nuggets and pizza.  Also known as manna to the under-12 crowd.

The morning of the big buying-lunch day, I deposited my computer bag and lunch in my car, and came back to overhear this nugget of wisdom from my oldest:

"[Girl]," said the Boy, "when you are in line, be sure to tell the lunch lady what you want. Don't just look at her. She can't read your mind."

I almost collapsed, taffy-like, convulsing in laughter. How many times do you think my 8-year-old has waited in line, just STARING at the stalwart cafeteria workers until they prodded him to tell them what he wanted? And the fact that he offers this advice to my daughter, who is mostly a mouth with some blond hair attached, makes it all the richer.

She chose pizza and yogurt that day. She reportedly had no problem requesting these choices from the cafeteria workers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shouty Shout Shout

I was trading e-mails with a friend and referenced yelling at my kids, and he was relieved to hear that my husband and I do, in fact, yell at our kids.  Of course we do.  You can be the most grounded, laid back, hakuna matata person on the planet and absolutely LOSE it when:

You run down a hallway, clad only in a towel, dripping from hastily concluded shower, to find out why your five-year-old is screaming in her bedroom as though a troll has crawled through the window and is about to attack her.  And the answer is, "Because my legs are tired and I need you to carry me downstairs."

Huh? You...  Wha?

Actually, what I shouted was, "That is the MOST ridiculous thing I have ever heard!  You ONLY scream like that if you are hurt or you are in danger!"  And then I clenched my jaw so tight that all of my molars shattered.

So, yeah, I yell.  More often than I'd like, less often than my parents did.

The point is, my kids are young and haven't totally grasped the ins-and-outs of socially acceptable behavior.  I'm still learning that, though my learning curve is admittedly less Everest-y than theirs.  They're getting there, I see progress, but I also understand that they do not possess a thousand other experiences that allow them to deduct, "I am probably going to get into some trouble if I give my mother a heart attack by breaking the sound barrier with my banshee-like screaming over some fatigued limbs."

Instead, they just go for it, and learn the hard way.

At 8 and 5*, my kids can exhibit jagged, socially immature edges.  Especially when they are tired, or under the weather.  I know this, and grant them some quarter, trying my best to supply them with some calm instruction on a better way to get what they're after, or explain to them why they can't have what they want.

BUT, I can stand being poked by those jagged edges only so many times before I lose my mind and forcibly stuff my child into long pants in forty-degree weather.

*I'm not including my two-year-old in these observations.  I don't expect him to say to himself, "Bah, this tantrum is useless, USELESS!  Diplomacy is the tool of the day to get the rest of the goldfish crackers!"

Monday, October 15, 2012


When I was in college, about half of my friends smoked. I envied them this habit.

Don't get me wrong: I didn't want to smoke. Yuck. I never even flirted with puffing. And I flirted with the guys who came to theater parties despite having been graduated. Or oddly mustachioed.  So, hello bar?  You are low.

Thing is, my mother's hacking cough was anything but a siren song. Also? I spent my childhood swimming around in the blue haze of Mom's secondhand smoke. Last night's ash settling in your Lucky Charms when you flump into an easy chair for Saturday morning cartoons is a big, big turnoff

But! In college? The culture that surrounded smoking was utterly intoxicating to a suburban rube like me. Rewind your minds a little, here.  I'm not talking about the modern-day lone forty-something huddling twenty yards from an entrance, like the building has taken out a restraining order against her.

No, I'm talking about nascent, attractive pseudo-adults, leaning together in a darkened corner.  The gentlemanly provision of a light, an invitation to break from a tense situation.  It seemed especially romantic when the smoker whipped out a pack of Gauloises, or cloves.

God, the scent of a clove cigarette can actually transport me to 1993. So, eff you Marty McFly. I don't need a flux capacitor or 1.21 gigawatts.  Nope.  All I need is Djarum to jump back twenty years.

Anyway, I didn't have a parallel addiction that allowed me to pause from the hustle and bustle, or the opportunity to exhibit some Old School Manners. All I really had was my Dr. Pepper addiction.  And how was I going to cool-ify that?  Carry it around in a flask?  That's just gross. And purposeless.  It would totally go flat.  And that just seemed like a metaphor I didn't want to invite.  "Hey, handsome. Care to share my Dr. Pepper? It may have gotten a little stale in this here demijohn."

So, from the other side of the door, I envied the casual conversation, the flame-lit porch, the opportunity to break from busy-ness for two minutes.

But, in retrospect? I don't so much envy the black lung. Though I hope like hell it didn't cause any of my compatriots any sneaky, surreptitious, lasting effects.

Everyone should know that it PAINED me to link to a Wikipedia article on Marty McFly and, tangentially, "Back to the Future." But, investigation around the office revealed it was necessary.  Seriously, it's like being born after 1980 means that you are scrubbed of appreciation of Robert Zemeckis' ouevre.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Stretch Marks

The title is not some coy allusion to changing so quickly that stretchy parts of you can't keep up. Though, I am going to make a mental note that might be a cool metaphor to explore.  Anyway, this here post?  It's about actual stretch marks.

Days after I announced I was pregnant with my first child, my mother pressed a bottle of cocoa butter lotion into my hands.  Generic, natch.  (I don't have to look far to discover from whom I inherited my legendary frugality.)

"Use this," she said. "It saved me from stretch marks."

My mother bore seven children. Seven.  Escaping a total of five and half years of pregnancy sans stretch marks is pretty compelling testimony.  Also, I was raised to do what my mother told me.

Here's the thing:  with all of my pregnancies, I didn't really pop until about month six. Actually, pop isn't quite the right word.  Exploded?  Yes, I exploded.  Maybe-she-ate-a-big-meal belly turned into she-could-be-a-sumo-wrestler-in-training belly.

Yowza. My skin winces just thinking about it.

Throughout it all, I'd dutifully slather my skin in cocoa butter, look in the mirror and think, "Wow, Mom was right! I don't see any stretch marks!"

Then, my son was born, and my belly deflated. Turns out, I'd earned my stripes after all. Dozens of them, in fact. Angry, purple lightning bolts sizzled up from my pelvis and toward my naval. Here I was, convinced I'd skate through pregnancy with a perfectly unscathed mid-section.  Nope.  I was just blind to them since they were on the lower half of my belly. Sneaky, sneaky stretch marks.

Post-pregnancies (and let's be perfectly frank:  pre-pregnancies as well), I carried enough extra weight that my belly still puffed out, hiding most of the rumply welts from my view. Now though?  I'm rounding the corner on having lost forty pounds. The extra weight that padded my midsection is gone.  Left behind is puckered, loose skin, riddled with whispery white lines.

If I were a contemplative sort, I might try to make a philosophical connection between stretch marks and motherhood.  I might admire the changing landscape of my maturing shape. Instead?  Instead I'm mostly glad that I did not seek a career as a stripper or a belly dancer, 'cause boy, this would be a handicap.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First (Sort Of) Kiss

"Hey," Carmen whisper-yelled. "Billy's going to try to kiss you."

Carmen and I circled the ancient oak that erupted from the middle of our Catholic school's parking lot. Situated among the rectory, school, and convent, the lot served as our playground. We hopped from one of the tree's gigantic, gnarled roots to another, whirling our arms to keep our balance.

"Why?" I asked.  I leaned against the tree, the rough bark scraping my palm.

I glanced at the dodge ball game on the far side of the lot. Billy had just gotten whammed in the side with the red rubber ball of death. It made me wince.  Two days earlier, I'd gotten hit by a fourth grader, and fell to my knees. I scratched at my souvenir scab, which was the only part of my leg that could be seen between my navy socks and plaid jumper skirt.

"Dunno," Carmen shrugged.  Her curly, toffee-colored hair hung loose around her shoulders. "He told me in the cloak room before recess."

These did not seem like appropriate conversations to have in the dark of the second grade class' cloak room.

I rounded the tree, and there was Billy. He had abandoned the dodge ball game, and stood about ten feet away from the tree.  Ten feet away from me.  His hands were behind his back, and an elvish grin pushed his cheeks wide.  His clip-on tie was askew, its pointed tip veering toward his hip. He fixed his big brown eyes on me, and took another step in my direction.

"Run!" Carmen yelled.

So I ran. I mean, that's what you do when you are seven years old, right? You run from smooch-happy boys.  Oh, how I ran. Zig-zagging around kids playing hopscotch, jacks, red rover, hand-clapping games, and, of course, dodge ball.

Billy kept up. I looked over my shoulder, my blond hair slicing my view into stripes.  Billy was gaining.

I couldn't get away. I knew he was closing in, and that I would be his smooch-ee. I know there are worse things than being kissed by a cute boy on the playground. That's the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings, after all.  But for some reason, I decided that it would be just the worst.  Did Not Want.  Nope.  So, I chose the only path left to me:


I leaped onto the chain link fence that tenuously divided dozens of Catholic school kids from a busy street.  And I climbed, Miss Mary Mack-style, as high as I could go. That turned out to be about three feet.  That's when the eighth grade safety helper blew her whistle, which meant that we had to go line up.  I unhooked my fingers, one at a time, and dropped down to the cracked macadam below.

Billy's kiss slid from the apple of my cheek to the top of my ear.  I can feel it now, my first kiss, delivered as I descended a fence to answer the clarion call of a Farrah Fawcett-feathered-hairstyled eighth-grader.

We lined up.

Billy shyly smirked.

Carmen nudged me.

"Did he kiss you?" she asked.

"No," I asked, staring at the back of Sal G.'s head as we trudged back to class.


"Well," I yanked up one of my socks. It had shed itself of my calf during my during my frenzied run around the parking lot.  "Sort of."

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Sign of Peace

Each Sunday, my two oldest children eagerly anticipate the weekly sojourn to Dunkin' Donuts. (The Little Guy has not been given donuts, because his head would explode from a sugar high.)  This isn't a fait accompli, though.  This is a post-church donut run, and is contingent on their behavior during Mass. 

Yes, to get good behavior from them, I dangle carrots.  Or donuts.

They're good kids.  So, mine is a cavernously empty threat.  Even with good behavior, though, I still offer a re-cap of how things were good, and how they could've gone a little better.  I give you this week's example...

Me:  "Guys, today was pretty good. I really liked how you sat (mostly) still.  During the sign of peace, though, you really should shake each other's hands."

The Boy:  "But we don't want to shake each other's hands!"

Me:  "I know, I get it.  You really should, though.  It's a sign that, deep down, you love each other and want us all to be peaceful."

The Boy:  "I don't want to shake her hand because I know where her hand has been."

(The man walking in back of me with his four-year-old son chuckles.  As do I.)

Me:  "She washes her hands pretty often, honey."

The Boy:  "I've seen her pick her nose!"

(Really hoping the man in back of me didn't hear that... Nope.  More chuckling.)

The Girl:  "It's true!  Sometimes this finger," she jabs the air, "just finds its way up my nose!"

Me:  "Okay, well...  that's just a whole other thing we need to talk about."

And I gave them my permission not to shake hands during the sign of peace if they knew that the other one had gone digging for gold.  I also refused to give them a donut until they'd washed their hands.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Devil vs. the Egg

1982. Halloween. Dusk had just melted into full dark.  Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore, MD (picture dozens of Gladstone-style houses, with the odd Dutch Colonial mixed in).

When the streetlamps buzzed on, we were supposed to come home.  That was always the rule, regardless of season, regardless of holiday.  Even a holiday dedicated to the unabashed, though unfortunately nocturnal, collection of candy.

The streetlamps buzzed on.  We didn't go home.

Oh, there would be some degree of hell to pay.  But it would be worth it.  Completely and totally worth it.  Well, unless the last house gave us Mary Janes, or ten pennies wrapped in aluminum foil like Miss Barbara.

(Miss Barbara was the neighborhood harridan who, legend has it, grumped at my Grandpop that his hoopty left an oil stain on the street in front of her house.  The public street.  Which she then scrubbed to get rid of said oil stain. Actually, I'm kind of nostalgic for the days when people cared that much about the appearance of their homes and environs.)

Anyway, we figured we'd wheedle Mom's forgiveness by deluging her with our Mounds and Almond Joys.  She loved those candy bars.  We did not.  So, kind of a win-win for all parties.

"It'th time to go home, guyth," my Older Brother said.  He was twelve years old, and dressed as the devil.  His eyes were rimmed with black, and he had a Van Dyke painted on his chin.  He also sported a set of plastic vampire fangs, hence the lisp.  The costume itself, replete with red cape and horns, was a hand-me-down.  My father had worn it to a costume party six years earlier. My mother?  She wore an angel costume to that party. It should be noted that she was visibly pregnant at the time.

"Can we go to one more?" my five-year-old Younger Brother asked.  Still carrying the rounded tummy and cheeks of babyhood, he was dressed as a puppy.  His nose was painted black, with whiskers striping his face.

I said nothing, as was my custom. Still is, really.  I am a pondering sort.  Also known as an introvert. 

Hmm....  I can't remember my costume.  I was probably a ghoul, which was my go-to.  The recipe for ghoul was:  white face, black circles around the eyes, a slight drip of blood for the corner of the mouth, and swathed in a white sheet.  Voila! Scary, eight-year-old me.  Who was, I have to imagine, not at all scary.

"Okay," Older Brother said, audibly sucking spit from the vampire fangs.  "One more. Then home."

We took a few steps along the sidewalk, finding ourselves in a pocket of dark between the streetlamps' amber rays.

That's when Eggy rounded the corner.

Eggy was the neighborhood bully.  His last name was Eichorn, but he was Boo Radley-pale, platinum blonde, and pear-shaped.  Given his coloring, the Hamilton kids collectively decided he was, in fact, egg-shaped.  Between that and the phonetics of his last name, they christened him Eggy.

Eggy stomped over to Younger Brother and snatched the bag of candy from his grip.  Younger Brother wept, his hard-earned treats now funding the ever-widening expanse of Eggy's bottom.

Older Brother jumped forward, still clutching his pitchfork. He had the presence of mind to drop his own candy collection, though, and a few pieces spilled onto the cracked sidewalk.  They scuffled, and Eggy punched him, knocking him down.  I clutched my bag tighter, hoping to escape without giving up all of my chocolate.  But it wasn't necessary.  Once Older Brother was on the ground, Eggy sauntered away, his big, ovate self wobbling as he laughed and ate Younger Brother's candy. 

Younger Brother was still crying.  I gave him a hug.

Older Brother stood up, dusting himself off. After he made sure Younger Brother was okay, he said, "Let's go home." The fangs had fallen out in the midst of the action, so the lisp was gone. He reached down to pick up his pillowcase of candy.

We followed without arguing.

We made our way back to our house, the porch light a beacon in the distance. We told my parents what had happened, they calmed us down, and Older Brother and I split our candy with Younger Brother. 

There's a family photo of Younger Brother in the tub, dolorous, the puppy paint being scrubbed from his face.  Older Brother is also in that photo, mugging, arranging his features in the most devilish expression he could muster.

(Why my father thought that this was a night to commemorate in Kodachrome, I can't say.)

This memory lingers with me because it was the first time I encountered menace. But the thing that really sticks is that even in the face of that, my family protected me.  Not only that, but Older Brother stayed true to himself, and even after getting knocked down, he got us home, and he goofed around until bedtime.

Friday, September 14, 2012

On the Topic of Mom Jeans

Now that I am several sizes smaller than I was in May, I have gone shopping in my own closet and unearthed a couple of slimmer-days outfits.

What?  You get rid of stuff when you outgrow it?

Not me, boy-o.  I think I have more frugality running through my veins than blood.  I often battle my tendency to pinch pennies until they weep.  Poor coppery Abraham Lincoln. 

Anyway, I fight my frugality because I've been burned when I buy the cheapest version of whatever I need.  While it can be true that a product's expense is mainly in its packaging (or bloated marketing budget), sometimes you really only get what you pay for.  So, don't be surprised when that four-dollar sweater from Forever 21 unravels when you simply think about washing it.

Last weekend, I found a couple of pairs of jeans lurking under my cherished stack of mix tapes.*  These are jeans on which I dropped a fair amount of coin, which is why I still have them.  You don't just pitch Calvin Klein jeans, you know?  Nothing gets between me and my Calvins.  Well, nothing besides thirty-five pounds.

"Whoo-hoo!" I thought.  "I can wear jeans from when I was a teenager!"

I slipped on the jeans, buttoning them up with no trouble.  In FACT, they might actually be a little big, which is also kind of exciting. Ah, afterglow. Every skipped cookie is totally worth it. 

(Until a co-worker brings in a platter of cookies and puts them on the kitchen counter DIRECTLY across from your office. At that point, you question your dedication, and you start leaving notes like 'SABOTEUR!" on said co-worker's cubicle. And then you settle on half a cookie.)

At work, though, I noticed something.  There's a full-length mirror in the ladies room.  I glanced at myself.  Herm.  These jeans, which I wore as a teenager, are now not-so-stylish.  Kind of dowdy, actually. Wait. (I peer closer.) Oh God, they are MOM jeans!  The kind of jeans that ride way too high on your waist, have huge pockets, and really wide legs.

How can this be?  I've never knowingly purchased a pair of Mom-jeans.  And then, epiphany!  They didn't start out as Mom jeans.  Would Calvin Klein make Mom jeans?  NO!  Style has changed, evolved.  I wore these during the Grunge Era, where sexy meant hiding yourself in a plaid tent and wearing combat boots.  What was once youthful and chic is now de rigueur for mothers, which, makes it categorically un-hip.  Like using the word 'hip'.

So, yeah, I think it's time for me to give up the old clothes and procure some replacements manufactured in this century.

*I was going to write cassingles, but figured it would befuddle everyone born after 1988.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Added to the List of Things that Confound and/or Bother Me

While in the ladies' room:

...choosing the stall next to mine when there is another empty stall that is NOT next to mine.
...sighing. I just...  Why?  Why would someone sigh?
...observing, out loud, what you consumed that resulted in this visit to the bathroom.

There are loads of other public restroom etiquette rules that I maintain only in my head (which everyone is still obligated to observe, natch), but this hat trick was achieved by the same person.  So, I thought it deserved special documentation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's a Good Thing I Don't Believe in Signs

The last thing I do before heading downstairs and yelling at children to get dressed is to douse myself in a little perfume.  My go-to for about twelve years is 'Romance,' by Ralph Lauren.  My husband gave me my first bottle of it the night before we were married, along with a necklace.

(I gave him the 'Indiana Jones' box set, and the first three 'Harry Potter' novels. Our tastes are different, his and mine.)

I wore both the perfume and the necklace on my wedding day, and then throughout our honeymoon.  Well, and during the ensuing twelve (nearly thirteen!) years of bliss, of course.

My second bottle arrived as a Christmas gift this past year.  Yes, it took me twelve years to go through one bottle of scent.  I know that seems like a long time, but honestly, I do not bathe in perfume.  Two sprays and I'm done for the day And, after each of my three babes were born, I took a year-long break from perfume because I didn't want them to confuse Mama's natural scent with 'Romance,' and then have them try to hug the spray lady at Macy's.

Despite the breaks, I always come back to 'Romance.' It's lovely. Anyway, that second bottle?  As I've only had it for nine months, it was nearly full.

Was. WAS nearly full.
(1.2 fluid ounces doesn't seem like much, does it?)

I fumbled the bottle this morning. You know what doesn't go well together?  If you said plaid and paisley, YOU ARE CORRECT!  A very close second, though, is glass and marble.

See, for some reason, I decided that I really only needed one hand to yank the cap off of the bottle and spray the perfume.  I don't know why I thought I had the dexterity to perform this task, as I have never, ever done it before.  Also?  I don't know why I felt it was vital to keep clutching that pair of socks in my left claw, like, 'if I put these socks down the morning schedule is jacked.  Must maintain rigor mortis-like grasp on socks.' 

But, that is the choice I made, and oops, there goes the bottle and it crashed into the marble top of the sink and I hope that it OH MY GOD IT SPLIT IN TWAIN AND THERE IS PERFUME EVERYWHERE.

So there's me in my bathroom, looking like I'm doing a footwork drill, trying to figure out how to accomplish the twin goals of (a) cleaning up the cascade of perfume before it has a chance to flow onto the carpet below, and (b) save the drops of liquid cowering in the jaggedy bottom of the bottle.

Finally, I put the Dark Crystal-ish shard I was clenching in the bowl of the sink, snatched a rag and mopped up the 'Romance' bleeding from the other half of the bottle. During the clean-up, I managed to lean against a puddle of 'Romance,' and hey, did you know that perfume stains like greasy french fries?  No?  Well, consider knowledge officially DROPPED on you.

The result of all of this is that:

1) I have a smidgen of 'Romance' contained in a generic shampoo travel bottle;
2) I have a shirt that will now be worn only during painting chores;
3) My bathroom and bedroom now smell like a middle-class bordello.

 At least there's something I can put on my Christmas list this year...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Grief Punches You in the Gut in the Strangest Ways

I was at the gym today ('cause that's how I roll), and I was about halfway through my elliptical workout when she came in.

Fragile. Avian, almost.  Short. And topped by a baseball cap, that telltale, g*ddamned baseball cap preferred by women who don't like the fakeness of a wig, or the frippery of a patterned scarf.

Like my mother. My mother was one of those women.

We buried her with her cap.

This woman gingerly stepped on the treadmill, settled her bag next to the machine, and pulled her cardigan tight against her slim form.  After hesitatingly poking a few buttons, the treadmill started up, and she walked.  Not briskly, but not slowly either.  Somewhere in-between.

I had a clear view of her because the treadmills are in the first row of machines, and the ellipticals are the second row of machines.  She chose the one directly in front of me.  So there I am, Karmin's 'Brokenhearted' bouncing in the background, staring at the back of this woman's head. It looked so much like my mother's -- soft, gray fuzz peeking through the keyhole in the back of that hat -- that I almost cried.  I just wanted to go hug her, to tell her that I wanted her to win, that I was sorry for what she was going through.

But how do you do that?  I have no problem wishing a stranger well.  But I wasn't sure how to navigate the well-wishing without touching on my own loss.  And instead of offering support, I'd be a harbinger of doom.

'I offer you nothing but empathy and support, because you remind me of my mother, who died of cancer after a brief, but dignified, struggle.'

Not a lot of hope and support to be found in her story, not for someone who is trying to beat cancer.

So I stayed on my treadmill, and silently rooted for her, sending good thoughts and energy her way.  (Yes, I understand how hip-tastic that sounds, but there it is).  I understood why she was there.  Call it intuition (or superimposition, take your pick).  She was there because she couldn't control the population explosion of cannibalistic cells in her body, but THIS, she could do this for herself. She could walk on a treadmill and make her muscles strong.  She could get out of the house, or the hospital, or wherever, and do something healthful, instead of lying back and being pumped full of cancer-killing treatment.

She walked for about a half an hour, then packed up to go.  She didn't shuffle, but she tread very carefully, deliberately.

I hope I see her again soon.  I really do.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Public Defender Chic

So, you've heard of shabby chic, hobo chic, and meth chic, right?  (Okay, that last one I made up.  But I have five bucks that says you hear it for real in the next year.)

Apparently, I am public defender chic.

My nonprofit has been sharing the building with a new tenant -- the Public Defenders Office.  It is not staffed by eye  candy like Dylan McDermott, but the folks seem nice enough.  Anyway, they keep very strict hours.  They also keep their front doors locked outside of those strict hours, so clients are often found hovering next to the front doors waiting for the lawyers to open up.

I passed by one such gentleman on my way into work.  Glancing up from his phone for a nano-second, he intoned, "Closed!"

This was intended as an act of kindness, to save me the trouble of jiggling the door handle, I guess.  But I looked down at my rumpled khakis and slightly askew blouse and thought, "Herm.  Perhaps I should re-consider my look if he believes me to be a fellow defendant."

**Cue the landslide of offers to fund a new wardrobe.  What?  I get like eight hits A DAY!  Surely that's worth some paid advertising?**

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

I'm Not the Worst Parent in the Cry Room

My church has a cry room.  Correction.  My church has a cry loft.  I think it must have been where a choir performed once upon a time. So, yeah, amplification.  Which seems counterintuitive to the purpose of a cry room.  It used to have plexiglass to muffle the shenanigans going on among the kids and protect the delicate ears of the rest of the congregation.  Admittedly, I felt like I was in a bit of an infant terrarium, so I'm glad the plexi is gone.  Still, though, I feel compelled to keep my kids on the hush-hush.

Sequestering ourselves here is optional.  Even though it doesn't keep our noise contained, it is an option we gladly exercise because the Little Guy likes to wander around, occasionally roaring, and the older two enjoy being in the balcony-type setting.

This past week, I took the older two to Mass while the Little Guy stayed home with Super Ninja.  We parked ourselves in the last pew in the cry loft, and settled in to listen to the First Reading.  As the lector began to offer up Moses' words, a woman crept into the cry room with an adorable four-year-old girl in tow.  She also had a large shoulder bag slung over her shoulder, as do many of the parents in the cry room.

A few minutes later, another woman, also accompanied by an equally cute little girl, slunk into the room.  They sat next to the first mother-daughter duo, and I thought, "Oh, that's nice. Meeting up with friends at church.  I should do that some time."  The little girls were immediately chatty, and Big Bag Mom reached into said bag.  I thought she might withdraw, say, a coloring book, or a dollie, or possibly even a (silent) video game.


She pulled out a round object.  A ball? I thought.

Nope.  Well, yeah.

It was a hamster ball.  With a hamster in it.  For a second, I was convinced that it was a Zsu Zsu pet, but again, no. It was a real, live hamster, rockin' it out in a hamster ball.  In church.

It made me so happy, in an incredibly judgy way.  I have snuck in snacks, books, pens, games, and puzzles.  But who brings a hamster to church?  And lets it run around in a hamster ball?  In the loft?  I kept imagining it going on some cracked out power spin, ramming into the baluster, and popping open the top of the ball.  Result:  airborne rodent.  Double result:  children's tears and a furry splat in the aisle below.

Luckily, Hamtaro stayed locked in his spherical prison, and there were no pet tragedies.  But I seriously would've loved it if the hamster rolled itself up through the communion line.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

And Still, None of My Pants Fit

From May 14, 2012 to today, August 23, 2012, I have lost a total of thirty pounds.  Huzzah!  Many nights of exercise, many days of eschewing (HA!) junk food have resulted in a drop to the single digits, size-wise.  Double huzzah!

I began this whole thing because none of my pants were comfortable anymore. The buttons bit into my doughy paunch, the thighs hugged my...well, thighs.  But no more!  These pants o'mine, they would puddle at my feet were it not for my trusty belts.  Which kind of brings me full  circle, no?  Because the pants, they still do not fit. But now, it's in a good way.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Cause I'm Way Cool

I did it. I bought a box o' wine. It is the equivalent of four bottles of shiraz. And lo, it is good. You may not think it's a classy move, but when is long-lasting, discounted wine not classy? 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Great Car Failure Saga of 2012

I own a 2007 Ford Freestyle.  Right now, it is basically a two-ton paperweight.  That's being unfair, actually.  It starts.  It goes in reverse.  The electrical system is top drawer.  It just doesn't go forward.

Forward, as it turns out, is an incredibly useful feature in a car.

Before taking the car to any shop, I put my nerdy skills, which will not be at all useful in the zombie apocalypse, to work.  Oh, the Googling I did.  And in the Googling, found some interesting stuff.  Such as the hundreds of other people who had the same symptoms our car had:
  • Lunging/surging when the car was going less than 5 mph, on hot days, when the A/C is on;
  • 'Limping' after you've been stopped at a red light, stop sign, whatever;
  • Slowly responding to acceleration (i.e., you press the gas pedal, and the car ponders your request for awhile);
In some cases, the car owners had the transmission replaced, and it worked, and then the transmission died again.  Other folks performed much, much, much, much cheaper repairs, and those worked.  Things like cleaning the throttle body, replacing the throttle body, fixing a cracked motor mount, etc.

Anyway, when we took it to the second service repair shop, my husband explicitly asked them to diagnose the problem, but also to clean the throttle body.  They concurred with the first shop:  we should replace the transmission. The icing on the devastation cake was how they apologetically shrugged when telling us this information.  Like, $6,000, no big deal. Except it IS a big deal. A really gigantically big deal. That's daycare FOR A YEAR. That's groceries FOR A YEAR. That's comic books for TWENTY YEARS.

That last one is especially important.

I did not accept this diagnosis. Couldn't is probably more articulate.  I am not ready to face that reality.  So, more research.  It turns out that our Ford Freestyle's problems are so rampant among all Ford Freestyles that there's a class action lawsuit in California, and the NHTSA has an open investigation into the issue. But, there's no official recall yet.


I filed a complaint with the NHTSA because I have an uncanny understanding of bureaucracy, and a recall will never be issued unless the government has substantial numbers of people complaining about the same thing.  Shockingly, I got an incredibly cogent and thoughtful response from NHTSA employee, who supplied me with Ford's technical service bulletin TSB 11-10-21.

What's a technical service bulletin, you ask?

Oh, only the INSTRUCTIONS for how to perform the service required to correct the COMMONLY EXPERIENCED ISSUES.  Turns out, a dealer needs to download an update to the car's computer, and clean the throttle body.  Gee, where have I heard that before?  Oh, right, everywhere on the web.

Once I got my hands on the TSB, I called the service shop, and spoke to the shop supervisor.  I told him about the technical service bulletin, and asked him if he could detail what had been done when we originally took the car to them.  He pulled the file, and it turns out that they didn't really do much. The air filter box was not fastened properly, so they corrected that.  They looked at the throttle body, 'but it didn't really look like it needed to be cleaned.' Never mind that we explicitly asked for that.  I appreciate that maybe they wanted to save us money, and so elected not to perform the service that they didn't think we needed.  But, shouldn't we have gotten a call about that? I mean, if you take your car to get an oil change, they don't say, "Wow, you really don't need to spend this $40.00 with us today."  They do the work as requested, UNLESS it will cause other problems.


Lastly, they connected the car's computer to the diagnostic equipment they had, and it gave them a couple of error codes.  They 'didn't write them all down,' but they are 'pretty sure' it gave them  P0735, which is 'Gear 5 incorrect gear ratio.'  Further research indicates that there are all kinds of things that you can try to deal with this.  Checking fluids, replacing solenids, etc., ultimately leading up to replacing the transmission.

It seems like these computers are the auto version of WebMD.  All symptoms on WebMD lead to cancer, right? So I sort of figure that all of these error codes can lead to 'replace the transmission,' 'rebuild the suspension,' or 'just drive the car off of a cliff and claim the insurance.'

Now, I respect that these mechanics are experts, and they are suggesting the course of action that has the highest degree of success, in their experience, for this particular problem.  I am but a college grad who has a scary ability to ferret out information.  And I have a problem with the fact that they didn't:

(a) know about the service bulletin, or if they did, they didn't try the things it suggested;
(b) perform the service the customer actually asked them to do, and
(c) list out a menu of possible things they could try, with replacing the transmission being their strongest recommendation. 

I would've respected that.  Instead, I feel like they went straight for the overkill option, like a doctor telling you that if you really want to treat that pre-cancerous mole on your cheek, you should chop off your head.

So, I asked the shop supervisor to please perform the service listed in the TSB.  He gave me a flat price because we'd already paid for diagnostics, but stated that it probably wouldn't fix the car's problems.  Which was fine by me, actually, because the plan at that point was to do get the dealer to do the software download (those can generally only be done at the dealer), then take the car to my brother & sister-in-law's shop, Complete Auto Repair Service.

I know, I know.  If I have a brother who is a mechanic, why on earth would I go to the dealer, right?  Proximity, basically.  But for this?  For this I am willing to drive from southwestern Baltimore County to Harford County.  If my brother tell me the car needs a new tranny, I will believe him, and it will be a vindication of sorts for the dealers.  But I will be beyond certain that he and his crew actually did the due diligence required to come to that conclusion, rather than simply plugging it into a computer and offering up only the most extreme solution. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Today's Lesson: Don't Poke a Bear

By the time I opened the car door to ferry my kids to camp this morning, the Girl was wailing.  Now, this is not an unusual circumstance, but it still requires some gentle probing to discover the source of the problem. 

"What's wrong, honey?"

"The Boy called me fat!"  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh.

Wait, I thought we already had this conversation?  I know the Girl well enough to know that a giant dollop of drama was swirled into her mix of sugar and spice and everything nice.  So, I asked the Boy, "Did you call her fat, honey?"

The Boy, brows knit together, answered, "I said her cheeks were fat."

This is undeniably true.  It would have been improper to call the squishy sides of her face 'cheeks' when she was born.  Nay, they were jowels, jowels to rival Alfred Hitchcock's.  I am convinced that her cheeks have never actually grown, but that her head is finally in proportion to them.  This has made for some delectable smooching over the years.

Anyway, I sighed and said, "Buddy, no one likes to have any part of them called fat.  It makes the Girl sad, and we've talked about that before.  Please apologize. And sweetie," I turned to my daughter, "please try not to have such a thin skin."

Things were calm for the three minute ride to camp, and then the Boy started saying something to the Girl that I could tell would, once again, result in a bawling mess.  (I should mention that thunderstorms woke the Girl in the middle of the night, and she did not, hallelujah, seek comfort from us.  She just put herself back to bed.  Knowing that she had a rough night -- but didn't wake us up to deal with it -- resulted in me understanding why she was an exhausted emotional mess, and giving her a huge, mega pass on her histrionics.)

"Buddy," I slid the door open to let them out.  "Don't poke a bear."

"I don't know what that means."

"When you know that someone is going to get super, unreasonably mad at you for being a little annoying, don't be annoying.  If there was a bear near you, would you poke it with a sharp stick?"

He thought about this for a second, then answered, "It depends on the bear."

"What?" I frowned. "No!  It never depends on the bear!  Never poke a bear.  Even if it's Yogi Bear and he's happy and dancing and making jokes, DON'T POKE A BEAR."

He just shrugged, slipped on his backpack, and jumped out of the car to go meet his friends.  I really, really hope there are no bears in the woods at camp.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Here Comes!

My Little Guy was not fond of the beach last year.  He was but a babe of eighteen months, and was deeply unhappy about the sand that wormed its way into every crack and crevice on his pudgy self.

But this year?

Things were different, my friends.  This year, he thrust his paw at me, beckoning me to walk him closer to the water's edge.  Beckoning is too sedate a word, actually.  It was more grunty and commanding, kind of what you'd expect from Conan the Barbarian.  All he was missing was the toothy fur pelt.  Since I always respect the commands of a barbarian, I took his hand in mine, and we stepped up to the ocean. 

As the surf began to curl in the distance, he'd look up at me, beaming, and announce, "Here comes!"  The waves would break, usually knocking my whippet-thin 8-year-old son and sparkling blond 5-year-old girl helter-skelter.  By the time the water reached us, it just kissed our toes.  At most, it would slink around our ankles.  Either way, Little Guy would thrill and dance and giggle, then tug me closer to the deep.

Next year, I'm going to have to put a leash on him.

Monday, August 06, 2012

My Husband and I Had Very Different Weeks

Many moons ago, a lovely friend of mine invited us to the beach for a week.  She and her husband have a place nestled within the sands of Delaware, and she practically lives there during the summer.  My husband and I love going to the shore, as do our children, so accepting was kind of a no-brainer.  Honestly, this invitation was a godsend because otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to get to the beach for more than a day trip this year (I know, I know, First World problems).

The truth is, money is thin on the ground for us.  Not in a destitution kind of way, but in a we-are-trying-to-live-within-our-means kind of way.  In a we-are-socking-away-as-much-as-we-can-for-retirement way.  In a Jesus-Christ-organic-milk-is-expensive way.  In an oh-God-at-this-rate-the-kids-will-be-able-to-afford-college-textbooks-but-not-tuition way.  I could go on, but what it comes down to is that we've got a decent-sized mortgage, two car payments, and three children, two of whom are in full-time daycare.  Our liquid savings is kind of a trickle.

All this means that a rent-free beach trip is hard to pass up.  My husband, however, did not have much vacation leave banked, so we decided that we would all go to the shore, he'd leave Sunday night to be at home for the work week, and then he'd come back for the second weekend.

The Friday we were to leave, he called me to say that we'd be taking my car because his check engine light came on.  Herm.  He hates my car.  He loves his car.  It must be serious, I thought, if he is proclaiming that we take the Mazda 5 over the Freestyle and all of its luscious elbow room.

We got home, packed up my car, and zipped over to Bethany Beach.  Yay for the beach!  Boo for the cloud of car trouble.  The plan was that he would return on Monday, drop the car at the closest Ford dealer's service shop, then get a ride back to my house to take my car to work.  Easy-peasy.  But then the dealer called.

And started using unfortunate words.

Words like:
  • Transmission;
  • Not in production anymore;
  • New parts only;
  • Six thousand dollars.
Gulp.  Urp.

We can barely afford a six hundred dollar repair, much less a six thousand dollar one.  That's more than we owe on the car.  Not by much, but still.  So, my husband drove home, finagled a ride from my friend, then slowly drove the won't-go-more-than-50-mph beloved auto to another dealer for a second opinion.  The second opinion matched the first one.

More gulping and urping.

Now, the plan is to get the car to my brother, who is a mechanic, to see if he might be able to scoop up parts from the junkyard and possibly rebuild the transmission.  That would likely be a bunch cheaper because a brand new transmission is pricey.  My father has loaned us his spare car in the mean time, allowing us to both get to work.  Our choices right now are:

(1) have the dealer replace the transmission (and continue the next 11 car payments);
(2) see if my brother's shop can rebuild the transmission, and hope it's cheaper  (plus the remaining  car payments);
(3) trade in the car, get very little in the way of trade-in value, roll over what we currently owe to a new car payment, but buy a lesser car so that our monthly payment doesn't exceed what it does now.

The problem with the repairs is that there isn't a guarantee that we won't go through this again.  The problem with rolling the payment into a new car is that we were SO CLOSE to being done with car payments on this vehicle.  Seriously, we have less than a year to go.  I hate the idea of extending that another four or five years.  Also, did I mention how much my husband loves his car?  And that they don't make Ford Freestyles (or Taurus X, as they were briefly rechristened) anymore?

I hate problems that don't have a good solution.  Gar.

So, while he was dealing with all of that, I was mostly making sure that my toddler didn't gt swept out to sea, as he has fallen in love with the ocean.  I had the better week, to be sure.

Diet Math

To lose one pound, you have to burn 3,000 calories.  Did you know that?  I didn't know that.  So, if you learn nothing else from this blog, you've learned that. 

You're welcome.

That is the only fact you'll find here, though.  The rest of this post comprises formulas and interpretations of my own devising.  Don't like math?  Do you tell people that you're 'not a math person'?

Tangent time!

One of my former co-workers said that the only reason that math achievement lags behind literacy rates in the U.S. is because it's socially acceptable to declare oneself 'afraid of math.'  When's the last time you heard a person say, "I'm not really a words person. I don't read that well."

You might hear that in some inspirational flick that is meant to show us the error of willful ignorance. The character arc would be the epiphany that 'tis noble to seek a skill that helps you navigate, nay, enjoy the world.

Anyway, if it was clear that that the reading-challenged person was joking, you would probably erupt with pity, wouldn't you?  You wouldn't say, "Ah, that's okay. You don't really need to know how to read."

Tangent done.

Now, please enjoy my own personal eating/exercise math formulas:

1) Actual body weight = whatever the scale tells you - clothes/shoes weight (duh) - hair weight (substantial for some of us) - breast weight (unless you're a dude).  Breast weight should never count as a problem.  Or so most men will tell you.

2) 40 minutes on the elliptical at level 5 = I can have 2 glasses of Shiraz tonight AND bread.

3) Scissor Sisters' 'Magic Hour' = activates some kind of quantum physics (or magic, take your pick) that makes time go by faster when in the gym.

4) 64 ounces of water = 1 million trips to the ladies' room.

5) An hour of yoga = 4 more muscles I didn't know I had.  How is that possible every time?

Honestly, I use more algebra at the gym now than I did in 1989, when it COUNTED FOR A GRADE. Sorry, Mrs. Saunders, but it's true.  Though, if the sample problems in Algebra II referenced diet and exercise, I probably would've been equally disenchanted.

Thank you for tolerating this; I promise, Gentle Reader, my next post will not have anything to do with diet, exercise, or lists.  It will be something equally, ahem, fascinating, I'm sure.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Birthday Do-Over

I am hereby postponing my birthday.  Which was a few days ago.  I am retroactively post-poning my birthday.

So there, Dr. Who.

Anyway, my birthday mostly stunk on ice.  I am not an immature, 'it's all about me' kind of person on my birthday.  I do not expect that the world will stop turning, or that the birds sing only for my pleasure, just because it is the day of my birth.

Though, that'd be nice.

Mostly, I just want a nice day.  An easy day.  A day where I don't have to twist my brain, body, and schedule around like some Cirque de Soleil ham-and-egger.  I did not get this at the commencement of my 37th year.  Wanna know what I did get?

1) A phone call from my daycare provider.  She had a bad reaction to medication, and her doctors admitted her to the hospital, and planned to keep her for a few days. Ordinarily, I would just take the days off, but I was supposed to be training at a conference every day from 3 p.m. - 7 p.m., and my husband doesn't have any banked leave right now, so he couldn't take days off either.  This meant plotting out alternate work schedules with my husband so that we could tag-team caring for our 2-year-old.  My husband would go into work at dark o'clock in the morning, come home at lunch time, and then I'd be off to the conference.

(I am not an awful shallow person, worried about my job duties when someone's laid up in the hospital.  I was really worried about her.  It was only after she assured us that she was fine that we started figuring out alternate plans.)

2) A self-inflicted flat tire. I took a turn too quickly and surfed a curb with my Mazda 5. Yeah, Mazda 5s are not designed for off-roading shenanigans.  Also, my two-year-old did not enjoy the big bouncy bump and scrape, and started to cry.  Yay for me.  I broke the car AND made my kid cry.

3) I immediately took my car to the tire place, but they didn't have the tire that I needed in stock. They sent me on my way, rockin' a canary-yellow-rimmed donut where my lovely, full-sized tire used to be.

4) Since you're not supposed to drive on those donut tires for long distances or over 50 mph, I borrowed my husband's car for my drive into work.  His check engine light came on, and it was all lurchy when I was parallel parking it at the conference site.

5) The presentation was riddled with technical issues, for which I really only have myself to blame. 

6) About an hour before I left the conference to drive home, there was a punishment-from-God-sized water main break at a major intersection in downtown Baltimore.  Seriously, I think someone released the Kraken.  End result?  A commute that should've taken 15 minutes took an hour and 15 minutes.

7) To celebrate the occasion of my birth, my husband and I ordered sushi after the kids went to bed. I ordered a California roll and a sweet potato roll.  The sweet potato was undercooked.  I am probably the only person in the history of time who has complained that the grub she ordered from the sushi joint was undercooked.

I know, I know, WAH, right?  I've got all the blessings in the world, truly.  I should be able to accept a bad day without a bundle o' grumbling.  There's just something about it all piling up on your birthday, you know?

So, do-over.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finally, Less of Me

I've been accused of burying the lead before, so:  I've dropped nearly twenty pounds over the past six weeks.  Huzzah!  This doesn't mean that I have a normal BMI yet, but I'm inching closer to it.

My sources (a.k.a., the interwebs) tell me I'm trimming down at a good rate, because if you lose any faster than that, you (a) are probably going to gain it all back, and (b) may end up resembling a deflated balloon. Slack latex is not a trend this year according to Vogue, so I'm trying to avoid that particular look.

Anyway, I shifted my intake and exercise on May 14, 2012, the day after Mother's Day. I mean, why would I want responsible menu choices hanging over my head on a day that's all about me? Plus, it would have meant I had to cook, and that's just silly talk.

But the pants... The pants were so tight. Not just my regular pants either. My scary-size pants. My work out pants. My pajama pants. Do you know how ridiculous it is when your pajama pants are tight?  Anyway, I was dangerously close to officially hitting the 'Obese' BMI category, and a number popped up on my scale that I hadn't seen since I was heavily pregnant.


I know why I put on weight.  I've never been super-careful about my diet, so I've always carried a few extra pounds. Things ramped up, though, when the Little Guy was six months old, because that's when my mother was diagnosed with terminal brain and lung cancer. 

During the six months of her illness, I chose to stop breastfeeding (enormous stress + much time away from baby = weaning).  So, I wasn't getting rid of a couple of hundred calories a day, effort-free, anymore.  Add to that a whirlwind of hospital visits (where they serve ironically unhealthy food), dinner in the car (i.e., fast food), eating unending comfort food given by neighbors, and ordering in because I was too exhausted too cook. 

And then, she died.  Repeat the above, for another year.  These aren't excuses.  I think everyone asks themselves, "How did I get to this point?" You must do that in order to figure out how to deal with life, and the things about it that can suck, better.

This past spring, I knew things were not good, and that I had to change.  And thus, after a decadent Chinese swan song of kung pao chicken and cream cheese wontons (I know, I know), I decided to cowgirl up and deal with my sponginess.  I'm not doing a program; no Weight Watchers, no Jenny Craig, no South Beach, no Atkins.  None of that.  I mean, that's group work, to an extent, right?  And we all know how I feel about group work.

Basically, I'm doing what every phys. ed. teacher, article in 'Cosmo,' and episode of 'The Biggest Loser' tell you to do:  eat better, move more.

Rocket science, eh?  But it's working. Pants are loosening. Buttons have stopped popping. A hint of a waist is appearing. People at the office have even asked me if I'm losing weight (*pumps fist in air*).

Okay, so, in case you're interested, here are the specifics of what I've been up to:
  1. Downloaded the LiveStrong Daily Plate app to track every horrifying thing I was eating. I generally know what's bad and what isn't, and those are the easy things to cut out.  Like, of course I'm not going to get loaded nachos. But yikes, there's a lot of calories and fat in those little Mini Moos that I was liberally dumping into my coffee.  So I brought in my own.  Easy.
  2. Regarding the app, the nutrients pie chart the app offers has been especially helpful, because I'd never really paid attention to trying to keep to a balance of 60% carbs, 20% protein, and 20% (good) fat in my diet. Anyway, this has resulted in me swapping out junky for healthy, because, seriously, unless it's nirvanalicious, most pizza is just not worth it.
  3. Stopped dining out like I was the Sultan of Brunei.  I couldn't adequately account for what I was eating. Extra bonus is that this saved me some money as well.
  4. Cut out most booze.  Not all.  Just most.
  5. Hit the gym regularly.  Regularly = more often than the quarterly, "we miss you!" e--mails from the YMCA. Joking aside, I go to the gym or track every day, run for 30 minutes, and then do some weight-training.
  6. Committed to drinking water. Lots and lots and lots of water.  Liters.  Seriously, I hit the ladies room every 90 minutes.  Before, I drank lots and lots of coffee.  I made a deal with myself that I would only drink a cup of coffee if I preced it with 20 ounces of water.  This has dramatcially cut down on my coffee intake.
It hasn't been a really big struggle, believe it or not. The toughest parts for me have been balancing the workout regimen with family time, and not appearing rude if I eschew (ha!) the unhealthy items on the menu at a party.  With respect to the former, as wonderfully supportive as my husband is, I don't want to abandon him with the kids every night, so I'll try to go to the gym before he leaves for work at 7:00 a.m., or at night after I put the Little Guy to bed.

Ultimately, it's like anything:  you actually have to want to do this.  Like, if an addict is forced into rehab, most of the time, the clean living doesn't hold.  And I wanted to do this.  I wanted my pants to fit.  I wanted to avoid the kindhearted 'you need to lose weight' pearls of wisdom during my physical.  Forty years down the road, I don't want my children to worry about me because I'm suffering from some ailment that I caused by living like a dope.

But mostly, I wanted my pants to fit.