Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Wondering

Why is it that Pebbles and Bam Bam (as young adults on the Flintstones) look like Daphne and Fred from Scooby Doo?

Just another one of those incredibly introspective moments. And no, I'm not hyperlinking any of this.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

When to Say Enough Already

A conversation with my eldest child the other day. Not as good as hearing it, but still amusing. I have spent the last couple of years really trying to coach her development of logic and problem solving. I suppose this would require her to really listen, however.

Daughter: Can I ride to the bus stop?

Me: No, honey. That would require crossing the street and we need to work on bike safety first. No street! Today, you may ride your bike on the sidewalk around the block.

Daughter: But (insert friend’s name) is riding to the bus stop and back. Can I ride to the bus stop?

Me: No, you may not cross the street. You may not ride to the bus stop. You can, however ride around the block.

Daughter: Can I just ride here? (Child points to street.)

Me: No, honey. What did I just say?

Daughter: You said I could ride around the block.

Me: On the sidewalk. (I gesture, making a square shape to show that a block has four sides.)

Daughter: Yeah, on the sidewalk. Around the block. Ok, Mom! (Child scampers off with bike and returns fifteen minutes later.)

Daughter: Mom, can I ride to the laundromat?

Me: Well, what are the rules?

Daughter: The laundromat. I want to ride to the laundromat.

Me: I hear that, but what did I say earlier?

Daughter: Don’t cross the street.

Me: Good. I’m just trying to help you develop logic here, Chicken Little. So where is the laundromat?

Daughter: Around the corner.

Me: Good. Is it across the street?

Daughter: No.

Me: Good. Is it on this block?

Daughter: Yeah, but it’s around the corner. Is it okay to ride there?

Me: Child, what did I say? Did I say you can ride around the block, which would mean that you would be passing the laundromat? (Note, she would have ridden past the laundromat already on previous runs around the block.)

Daughter: Yeah, yes. Yes, you did. Can I go?

Me: Yes, you can ride AROUND the block. You may ride TO the laundromat. You may NOT go in there to play. It is not a play house.

Daughter: Ok! Can I ride across the street?

Conversations like these are exhausting. This is why most of the time, when asked for permission and why something is so, I lay down the rule followed with a blanket, “Because I said so.” It does not teach if-then logic, but it does save time. Maybe one day, my daughter will catch on a little faster. In the meantime, patience. Lots and lots of patience.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's Just the Stuff of Life

Sometimes, I have a hard time writing not for lack of a topic, but because I am inundated with ideas. Here are the past few weeks in review.

1. I had the misfortune of sitting next to Boy Wonder during recent travels. In his early twenties, Boy Wonder had succeeded greatly with business even during the end of his college years and was now engaged in fantastic dealings requiring multistate travel and heavy use of an iPhone. I had to listen to this kid all the way through the gate to our seats while he loudly engaged in “closing deals” and “running numbers” on said phone. When the flight attendant asked everyone to put phones away, Boy Wonder insisted on using his—texting and emailing last minute messages all while hiding the phone from attendants when they passed our seat. I thought I was in grade school with a cheater next to me again as he would slip the phone under his leg and feign sleep for ten seconds a pop. (And yes, he finally put it away.) I was trying to hide (note to self: hand over eyes technique does not work), but did not need to do this for long. When he tired of talking about himself, he went to sleep.

2. On a date with my husband this past weekend, we went dancing. Every specimen of human life was there complete with a man who stood in front of a fan that blew his overbearing body odor our way. I kept looking at my beloved, who was desperately trying to squelch laughter, and said, “Don’t talk, baby. Just don’t say a word.” We did in fact, have the most wonderful evening, and followed it with a cup of coffee at a local café. Unbeknownst to us, the café was hosting a monthly gay and lesbian open house. There were men in line beside the women’s restroom door when I turned to my husband and said, “I’m having a man with a fan moment.” I did happen to meet a very charismatic gay man who loved my hair and told me he was an expert in beautiful women. It was a conversation that I wish I had recorded, but enough about that.

3. Our even handed tone and patient conversation with the children pays us back ten-fold in jewel-like moments. My little son, not quite four, dropped his shark picture in the car yesterday. I have a rule about safety: If I am driving, and you drop it, it stays on the floor. I explained this to my little Tiny when I heard a cry of disappointment rise from the back seat. “No,” he said, “this is unacceptable.”

4. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, “No one sings till the fat lady sings,” and “Don’t count your chicken eggs when they are still up the chicken’s butt.” My better half and I have another one to add to that, “When a door opens, an angel closes a window.” Maybe you’d have to have been there for that one…

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bond, Rabbit, Bond

You will not believe this, but the rabbit has forged a bond with my husband. I watched the little critter dance right up to the cage door and nudge a certain human hand for affection.

“Rabbit,” I said to the little fellow later, “it appears as though you and the other feeder have a bit of friendly dialogue going these days.”

“Preposterous!” announced the rabbit.

“I was there, the food bowl was full, the water bottle was full, and you still had half a novel left to read. You needed nothing but creature comforts and conversation.”

The rabbit whuffled a bit, twitched his whiskers, and turned one big brown eye toward me.

“Maybe,” he winked.

What possibly could have brought on this change? My husband insists that nothing is afoot other than simple could fellowship. I did see him gift the rabbit a stalk of celery this weekend, in fact. Maybe gratitude is at play once and for all. Simple gestures go a long way even with the smallest creatures.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spice It Up!

My husband makes jalapeno popcorn. He slices a pepper, lets it brown in hot oil, and then adds the popcorn kernels. After a series of sizzles, hisses, and pops, he serves me his treat, all salted and spicy with certain pepper slices leaning toward hot sweetness. The first time he made me this treat, I was not so fond of it. I have grown, however, to crave it like some kind of crack addiction. It is a must-have for all movie nights at home.

For years, despite my New Orleans upbringing, I balked from spicy foods. Too much heat obscures the true melding and mingling of flavors. A little zing is another story—certain peppers have distinct flavors and a variety of sugar in their skins. There is something about living with my husband though, that has made me desire extra spice in certain foods. We now keep a variety of hot sauces in the pantry and there are always peppers in the vegetable drawer.

Huevos Rancheros needs jalapenos. Sour cream often benefits from Tabasco. Red pepper flakes add punch to certain salads. Horseradish sauce with a succulent, buttery roast beef? Essential. Who knew true love can lead to heat in the kitchen?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Skin a Cat

I once had a retired neighbor in the Midwest who liked to fish in his newfound spare time. He had found a good hole in some kind of state park bayou, would while away there for hours, and periodically come home with more than he and his wife could eat. One afternoon, I happened to be tooling around outside when he called me over, asked if I would take the extra fish off his hands, and then proceeded to pass me a plastic grocery bag. Who was I to say no?

At home, I opened the bag and peered in. Gaping and staring back at me were three live catfish. I did what any good southern girl does when she is out of her native habitat and needs advice. I called Daddy and took orders.

“Well,” he said, “you’ll need a good place to clean them. And you need a fence post or something.”

“They’re still breathing!” I exclaimed. I eat dead things without fail—all kinds of dead things, including but not limited to cows, chickens, rabbits, goat, lamb, and even turtle—but I don’t kill things. That’s a man’s job.

“Oh, well then, go get a hammer,” he said.

So I manned up, laid newspaper and one sorry fish on the counter, and clubbed it. One of its eyes shot out across the room. I was a little stunned, but refrained from the “Ew, gross!” dance I could have done. I offered up a silent prayer for forgiveness and ended the suffering of his friends next.

“Find the biggest nail you have and pound it pretty deep into a sturdy post in the yard. You’ll need a good knife to cut around the head and pliers to pull the skin off.” I cut off the fish’s sharp spines, lodged the head of the fish securely on the nail, and followed the rest of the directions. I returned to the kitchen proud and dancing about with three naked and ready-to-gut fish.

That night I was suddenly sorry to live so far away in this largely landlocked environment of woods and corn fields, but I least I could partake in the glory of home food, a plate of cornmeal-fried fish with a side of greens and fried green tomatoes. I never did find that eyeball, though.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Brain Damage

When my daughter was born, she was brilliant. Her tender fingers and alert eyes explored her world eagerly, sweetly. Everything she did was the amazing predictor of future success. Mothers compare notes—especially and competitively among first time mothers. I remember a group of mothers with whom I shared her first words, her first steps, her ability to recognize and remember. Oh, that was at so long ago, and how I would love to look up that little circle of formerly new mommies and compare notes on the children that are now in their elementary school years. What I want to know is this: when did the brain damage set in? It’s a phenomena documented by Bill Cosby in a comedy routine, but was never part of my graduate studies in child development. Ever. Here is a sample:

“Pick up your cup, honey.”

“What cup, Mommy? I don’t see a cup.”

“The cup on the floor.”

Picture a preschool age child looking past the green cup near her feet.

“That cup!” I said again, pointing.

“I don’t see a cup,” said my daughter, spinning in circles slowly, and casting her gaze about the room.

“By your feet!” I declared.

“There’s no cup by my feet!”

Exasperated, I reached forward and picked up the green plastic cup. I held it out to her. Silence.

“Oh--- that cup,” she sighed.

How could she not see that? Was the room suddenly littered with identical green plastic cups? Was the cup wearing an invisible cape? Did a fairy run out and hide it at the very moment little eyes would sweep that very spot of the floor?

Someone please tell me, is this universal? I hope it is at least a temporary state—but now that she is approaching middle school, I need to redefine temporary. After all, the human brain does not fully develop logic processing until the age of 25.

We still have brain damage moments, but they are different now due to new tactical maneuvers to evade direct questions and solicit approval. I recently asked her about the color of the sky and before she could even venture to say that it might be pink with a rising sun, she said, almost verbatim, “Well, I looked out the window. And I saw it. And then I thought to myself, I really should have Meg over to play, because, you know, it looked so nice. And then I was thinking—“

“No, honey, the color! What color!”

“Oh, well, that’s what I was saying. Because, well, what did you think it was?”

“No, sweetheart, I asked you to tell me what color it was. What was it?”

“Oh, it was pretty.”

We have these conversations more than I would like to admit. Brain damage is part of the charm of childhood. It certainly makes for funny stories. Maybe this is nature’s reminder to parents that children, despite learning to feed themselves and pee in a toilet, still need massive amounts of protection and guidance.

Either that, or these conversations are preparatory evasive tactics for budding politicians, but I digress.

I fear the same disability has begun to present itself in my son. His clots of disability seem to be extremely selective. My husband recently found him stacking multiple objects upon each other to reach a confiscated toy gun that we had placed at the top of a closet. Earlier this week, I heard grunting and crying from the bathroom. Tiny Man was trying to reach the toothbrush, which was sink level, and could have been accessed from the usual perch of the closed toilet seat or the plastic yellow stool under the sink.

“I tan’t weach it,” he said.

This is the child that once climbed the toilet seat to the sink, reached above the medicine cabinet where there is a ledge, and stole the blue toothpaste he so loves to eat. This child, that “tan’t weach” has also heaved himself onto the kitchen counter with use of upper body strength only and took items off the third and topmost shelf of a cabinet. And here he was, straining, whining, and dying—a toothbrush only 36 inches from the floor.

Sure. Brain damage, but a great excuse to pick up that not-so-baby-anymore and guide him to meet his needs. And when my friends connect to catch up on our lives and our children’s growth, I’ll still swear both the little people are brilliant.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's Sweet in the South

All right, all right… a little sweet tea blog. This is for Piper, who sent me to his sweet tea post from March of 2007. (Note, reader—his blog

I have lived in six states, this last one I fear, as much as I love it, will not be the last, but so long as I remain in the land of sweet tea, I will be okay. I once lived in the Midwest for a while. Midwesterners don’t have sweet tea there. They are, as are most people above the Mason Dixon line, sadly mistaken. I asked for sweet tea when I first moved there and was offered raspberry tea instead. Midwesterners think this is an acceptable cultural replacement. It’s not. It comes from a powder mix, for crying out loud.

I got used to living without my tea in restaurants, still made it at home on occasion, but mostly drank tea plain. Then one day, my little family relocated back to the South. On our drive here, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel and ordered lunch.

“I’ll have tea, please,” I asked without thinking.

“Yew wont thayat sweet er unsweet, darlin’?”

I stopped and was immediately thrown back in the vacuum that is the South, the land where, as someone once told me, we are afflicted with bucolic diaeresis (, endearments are tossed into speech like sprinkles on cupcakes, and tea, by the good Lord Jesus, comes sweet.

Years have passed since that moment, and ironically, I have grown to like my tea much less sweet-- not as syrupy. I cannot tolerate all that sugar anymore. Even my southern-born spouse says the same. He has his plain (but look in his coffee, because that is where he hides all the sugar). Still though, the very availability of our sweet tea is a comfort here. And true to our roots, we flavor our tea in the summer with homegrown mint, regardless of the sugar level that may or may not have been brewed.

If you Yankees out there don’t know how to brew your own sweet tea, here is one method, written just for you:

6-8 regular bags Lipton Black tea or 2-3 family bags
1 cup sugar (smack kids’ hands as they reach for the sugar while you do this, and say “Gee yonouttaheyah.”)
One of those big glass jars with a spigot on the bottom—the 2 gallon variety is nice if you can find it.

Put your sugar on the bottom of the jar. If you have mint, break a few sprigs off, rinse, and toss on top of the sugar. Fill the big jar up with water, knot the strings of the tea bags together and hold the strings to the side as you drop the bags in and screw the jar lid on. You don’t want to have to fish around in there for tea bags later. Then find a nice, sunny, ant-free spot outside and leave the jar there till the brew is a rich amber. The sunlight will pass through it like a jewel. You might pass the time watching this happen, or better yet, take a nap, play horseshoes or drink a mint julep, but when the time is right, bring that big jar back into the kitchen, and with a wooden spoon strain the tea bags against the jar lip, toss the bags into the trash, then put the jar in the fridge or serve over ice immediately.

Recommended with a side of barbeque, pulled pork, or maybe ribs.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Readership and Susceptibility

I have learned people read this. I somewhat expected this to happen, but each time I hear about it from an unlikely source, I am taken aback. It’s a dubious honor, being read. I must weigh each word with care for the double-edged sword published thoughts can bring.

The following lyrics come from a favorite song, Breathe (2AM) by Anna Nalick:

2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song

If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,

Threatening the life it belongs to

And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd

Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud

And I know that you'll use them, however you want to

Nalick’s sentiments are exact. We write because we must. Putting it out there for the gesture of expression or for reward, however, can be prickly. I often hold back on things I wish I could write—for example, I have a blog on mental illness that I keep reading, tweaking, and then putting away in case the person that triggered the whole thing eventually comes across it. Before you start giving yourself a Rorschach test, I will tell you this individual does not have access to the web. Still, I defer to greater sensibility just in case. I know too many people who struggle with emotional disorders. I want to be sure of my words. I’ll publish it another time. Maybe. Frankly, I found the Hooters post hard to publish for a variety of reasons, but the primary one? I was suddenly naked in front of a crowd. Sound familiar?

Recently, at a wonderful reading by poet Major Jackson, he said he had to stop worrying about what his grandfather would think and simply write. Jackson is an award winning poet with a successful professorship at a fine university. His words are truth, the kind we crave to hear, even when it hurts. Readers need this. We look for subject matter that helps us feel connected, understood, and informed. We often forget that telling it comes with risk. This triggered the memory of a book I read by Ellen Douglas, Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell. Douglas waited years to publish this work. Reading it at the age of 20 or so, I could not understand why the stories were held private. There seemed to be nothing that would embarrass or provoke storm, but only Douglas could know the trip wires of her family members, who no doubt were her first and consistent readers. I will have to reread Truth with adult eyes. Perhaps how she described events may have made her family feel naked. She may have revealed that she misses nothing in her shrewd observations.

A cousin once published an incredibly revealing article about his father’s alcoholism, the culture of my family that enabled aspects of it to continue, and his own emotional damage. He wrote this for a well-read  newspaper and it created a small scandal in my family. Private things, personal things, damaging things—definitely. But the greater good his work provided was for students in a heavily peer-pressured environment. Everything he wrote was a lesson for me that day as well. He made real the previously unspoken. I saw him as I never have before. And I saw us, our family, our culture in a new light. You should know that to this day my family still considers him not just an incredibly talented and esteemed writer, but a treasured, worthy, and upstanding individual as well. Risk worth having taken? Yes.

Good writing always comes with caution. Readers want to know if a character in a book was based on truth, if the book is autobiographical after all, if the point of view spoken is the author’s own, and authors can say no or be fairly evasive. But blogs are creative non-fiction, mostly. Blogs are our lives, our points of view, places of personal interest. Editorial columns on random snatches of life. Thinly veiled egos at work. We post on the world wide web and are absolutely exposed. Even the risk, though, is a journey worth writing.

Thank you to all my readers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Let me tell you what we ate...

New Orleans probably added a few pounds to my frame this past week and it was well worth the indulgence. I love food. I love it better in good company. Fortunately this past week, I was able to share my favorite dishes and some new ones with two of my favorite people, my parents, but with every bite I was dying to call my chief favorite foodie, my husband, and exclaim, “You should be eating this.” In fact, I think I did a time or two. My mother still laughs about the time my father called her at 2 AM from a business trip across the country. In those days, we had no cell phones. Unobtrusive texting was not an option.

“Are you all right?” she asked with sleep in her eyes.

“You would not believe what I ate for dinner,” he said. And so it goes.

In New Orleans, we revel not just in what we eat, but how we eat, when we eat, where we eat, and with whom we eat. When we are enjoying one meal, we are planning the next. Last year, at a snowball stand (shaved ice to you yanks out there), two young women were discussing their evening. They were half-way through generous cups of snowballs when I overheard this classic:

“What do you want to do after this?” asked one girl.

“Let’s go get dinner.” As we say down there, for true. Yes, normal people eat dessert after dinner. Then, there’s us. This conversation is not uncommon. Two visits ago, I dawdled over morning coffee with my dad and planned lunch. At lunch, we planned coffee. At coffee, we planned dinner. After dinner, we discussed all our meals and the quality of the coffee over more coffee. No wonder I come home so bloated.

Last night, Jay the Piper, who blogs over at The Extended Table, zapped me online demanding a list of what I ate. Are you ready for this? Oysters Bienville, fried oyster po boys, boiled crawfish, rabbit gumbo, smoked chicken gumbo, ahi tuna, assorted pates, roasted pork tenderloin, creamed spinach, petit fillet, fried green tomatoes, almond croissants, chocolate Florentines, quality goat cheese, brie, camembert, and one cinnamon roll. Oh, I forgot to add the bread, the butter, onion straws, and wine to that. And coffee, of course.

While each meal warrants its own blog, let’s just say that the most impressionable oyster came from Houston’s on St. Charles. Flash fried in a light breading and served over a creamy spinach base, I could still taste the gulf waters in its feathery folds. It was light and full bodied at the same time. The onion straws from Charley’s on Dryades were particularly noteworthy—as was the entire evening that went with it, another story for another blog. The crawfish were perfectly spiced and boiled over in River Ridge at a different eatery named Charlie’s, a restaurant purchased as a measure to preserve the neighborhood (God bless you, New Orleans). And I hit Still Perkin’ for a granita just in time to have another outstanding social experience.

The greatest thing about all of this is the sharing. A table full of New Orleanians, especially those of us with whom we claim favorite, is beautiful and gracious. We split entrees, dole out portions, exclaim over tastes, share nibbles, share opinions on those nibbles, admire exquisitely arranged food, and relax in the comfort of full tummies and gentle people. Talk is intimate. Surface chatter disappears really before the first glass of wine is poured. Coffee is an excuse to lounge about the table long after the waiter and his curious little table crumber have disappeared. But because it is New Orleans, maybe he does not disappear for long. The waiter comes back, with friends who you discover you knew through school or lived near or scarier yet, are related. Conversation renews in the perfume of marjoram, thyme, wine, and chocolate that seems to linger after the plates are gone. The table linens soften underhand and light begins to shift outside, or maybe the sky is already dark. After all, two hours have passed since the waiter first slid a cup of gumbo under your nose. We clatter onto the sidewalk, exchange goodbyes for the tenth time, and leave… craving coffee or tea or a nap… and missing already the lovely company with whom the meal was shared. Or, like me, picking up the phone to call whoever was supposed to be there and could not come.

“Baby, you would not believe what I just ate.”

Monday, April 12, 2010

Put Mrs. God on the Phone

I received the most awe-inspiring gift this past week in New Orleans, a spontaneous, live, private performance by acoustic/folk/blues genius Teresa Tudury whom you can visit here: She was visiting a cousin and we just happened to connect by timing of our visits. The morning following our dinner, my father and I bumped into her cousin and wound up together again. Teresa had brought her Gibson, which was objecting to New Orleans humidity, but she coaxed it into life anyway.

To say Teresa sings and plays guitar is an understatement. She bursts forth in controlled displays of power, her voice escalating and retreating, filling the room, and drawing you into the soul of one who sees life, notes the irony, and capitalizes on it with great intellectual prowess, outstanding comedy, and creative risk. One of the songs she played was Put Mrs. God on the Phone (click on the link for it at her website to hear it:, which reminded me of the many hysterical prayers I have put forth to God in my most awkward and frustrated moments. They aren’t a far stretch from Richard’s placating pleas to the Lord in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love. He asks God for help, but asks to please be gentle when delivering direction, because as we all know, forced change drops like a sledge hammer from His hand. Tudury herself sings that she has been calling God many times (don’t make her come to His home, she says) and tired of his masculine point of view (death, destruction), she would love to speak to Mrs. God, who might, in fact, have some very nice ideas, as opposed to say, nailing your best employee to a cross. Theresa is irreverent and forthright in all her songs on the CD she gave me.

Inspired by the comedy and honesty of Mrs. God, here is a list of things I have prayed over the years.

Dear God, I really hate the stomach flu. Please don’t let me throw up and die. Please spare me from retching. I’ll do anything. Please.

Followed by:

Dear God, please let me die. The retching is awful. Just let me die nice and quietly on this cool tile floor.

On other days:

Dear Lord, please show me what is wrong with my relationship.

Soon to be followed by:

Lord, was that really necessary?

Another favorite:

Dear Lord, I have been ruthlessly trying to find employment and am willing to clean houses. Please open a door or window and show me the way.

Also followed by:

Dear Lord, this is ridiculous. Were food stamps really a part of your plan? And the cat box in that woman’s office is really offensive, but I’ll deal.

And ultimately by:

Dear Lord, thank you for the new job, but it still does not pay the bills and my client is so mean I lost ten pounds from stress. I would appreciate clearer direction on what this is doing for me.

My favorite answer to one of my most earnest prayer was a very clear, bone-chilling statement: Child, wait. And another one, I swear, came in a bumper sticker. Both came with an incredible wave of reassurance.

I just told a girlfriend over lunch that I don’t mind at all doing what God says, but for crying out loud, can He just speak plainly? All this digging around, moaning, begging, pleading, trying so hard to look for signs and listen. Honestly, it flabbergasts me. When my prayers are answered clearly, He likes to respond with a kind of blast followed by my long suffering. I often ask God why if we speak so often, I still on occasion have to yell to be heard. And like Richard, I have started asking if He could make direction slightly less painful. Thanks to Teresa though, I think I am just going to start asking for Mrs. God.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Life Along the River: the Lure of the Land

I  have written before why New Orleanians are New Orleanians, why we live here, why when we don't we wish we did-- oh, maybe that was a post as a guest on my better half's blog. I tell  you what... here I sit yards from a levee that flanks a bend in the Mississippi, and I could just slap myself. Why, oh why, did I ever leave? Today I will write about just one part of this visit, just one reason why I'll have a hard time leaving at the end of the week. But there is more to come. So far being here has been an incredible bath in Louisiana culture. Much to say, much to consider, much to love.

Yesterday, my father and I spent part of the day walking the levee and exploring the batcher, which for you inlanders, is a strip of bog between river and higher land. The batture (pronounced batcher) fills and drains with river water according to season, weather, or time of day. It is a smidgeon of wildlife preserve, but somehow in that small space teems with multiple species of ducks and egrets who preen, pick, and bask in the dappled shade of vine, swamp willow, and cypress. There are traces of deer, rumors of boar, and hints of possum visits. My father and I wandered down a dry rise of land laced with shallow ponds of crawfish. We navigated rolls of dried mud which city workers piled to keep cars from the driving headlong into river. Poking our way with a long stick to fend off any wayward snakes, we made our way to the bottom where river lapped in a clearing of delicate willow. A dark-feathered duck slid gracefully from sky into water, then swam busily away as we stood to skip rocks and watch barge traffic. I saw a species of bird I have never once seen before here, a blue crane of sorts, and I could hear bustling in the wooded area behind me-- critters that scamper, peek out, and scurry away again.

When  we hiked our way back up to the paved trail on the levee, we visually explored the expansive view: a series of parked barge anchors left to rust on the higher bank of an industrial site, dredging equipment, the turn of the levee that protected clusters of modest  homes, backyards full of azaleas in every shade of red, pink, and white, an artist's studio with attached aviary, a red barn, and lush stands of spring-green cypress, massive oaks, magnolia, and fruit trees. The air is rich with flora and river. Even the water-churned soil adds a palpable tinge of breathable earth. This aroma, the slipping, patting sound of moving water, the humming dredge in the distance, the taste of  river-scent are like the beckoning sirens of Greek lore calling, luring, gently pulling me to stay here.

If I could I would. The city of New Orleans engages me enough, but add to that the romance of bayou country... sigh, deep sighs. Just wait till I tell you what I've been eating.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Motherhood and Image

One Saturday a couple of years ago at the park, I noticed a pair of twenty-something mothers. Did they consult each other before dressing that morning or were they in competition to out-hot-chick each other? Razored bobs and pairs of bedazzled sunglasses framed their faces. Taut black tank tops only barely housed generous portions of exposed breast (the artificial quality of which could be debated). Their jeans were torn and low-rise, and separated from peeks of flesh by sparkly black belts with studs. The only real differences between the two women were the graphics on their shirts, and only one of the women had visible tattoos. To have one such momma-candy on the playground would have been enough; two however were like a high-pitched ringing alarm. Several minutes passed before I could name the sensation rising inside me: I don’t want to be like the Hooters chicks on the playground. Interestingly enough, as the young women cavorted about, the other parents ignored them.

What is it about motherhood that makes some of us rebel in our image? Well, we’re moms, but we still look cool. There was a point in my life when a “hot mom” comment made me grin. Now? I’m in a different place. The last thing I want my daughter to hear is, “Your mom looks hot.” On a visit with a close friend months prior to the Hooters-at-the-park episode, she discussed her own appearance. She was no longer the string bean she had been in college. She’d become, well, a mom. The qualities I always had loved about her were present ten-fold: gentleness, wisdom, natural beauty that radiated from within.

“My kids don’t care how thin I am,” she said. “They just want me there to love them, want me soft when we hug. When you are loved like that, the other stuff doesn’t matter. Besides, the way my husband loves me, it doesn’t matter how much I weigh to him either.” For a moment I thought about the velveteen bunny and his desire to be loved, and therefore real. “When I take my shirt off,” continued my friend, “Joe still goes crazy.” Well, not so velveteen bunny all of a sudden, but I wanted this—the freedom to just be who I was, to be loved like that, and to not have my spouse measure his approval on the size of my waist, breasts, thighs, or even the length of my hair and nails. Later, when I was growling over the way my biceps jiggled, she glanced at me and said, “You need to live in a place where there’s less emphasis on appearance.” At that point, my whole life was changing. Little did I know how much it would change or how my vision of myself would change with it.

My girlfriend, by the way, was right about everything. I was living in semi-rural-suburbia meets matching-mail box-hell. Women in the neighborhood drove golf carts to visit each other. (Nota bene: no golf course in the neighborhood.) We had our tennis teams, our merchandise parties, pretty cars in the driveway. If one basement was being remodeled, everyone else’s basement was next. Workouts at the gym were light competition. We congratulated ourselves on being fit, firm, and looking younger than our mothers did at the same age. We said that we did this for ourselves. Knowing what I know now, that’s not true at all. It was a very shallow way of life and I was glad to leave it. And I left it all: the house, nicer cars, conspicuous consumption, gossipy neighbors, and sooty self –image. Gone. I have never looked back, and have found instead, an incredibly rejuvenating re-embracing of motherhood and everything that comes with it, internally and externally. What I used to worry about is baggage left behind in a three car garage and attached McMansion.

That day at the park, as I relaxed against the bench and watched my kids play, the two young women chasing their kids struck a chord inside me. When I returned home, I emptied my closet of every item of clothing I still had that was tight, too short, too clingy, too young, too unbecoming of a mid-thirties mother, and I gave it all to a twenty-one year old family friend. It was the last bit of any image associated with my previous life, anything that I tried to be and was not. I felt like a new person: respectable. Not a trace of Hooters waitress anywhere and no need to earn a mate’s approval by looking that way. Better yet, proud and thankful to look like a mother.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name... Could be a Syndrome

Light humor today after a funny discussion with my sister. We can’t help but associate the names of certain flowers with diseases. It’s just too easy.

Creeping Phlox- It itches, it spreads, it could be an STD. Enough said.

Genistra- Something only your gynecologist could know. I think it develops from acute untreated Creeping Phlox.

Gloxinia-Toxic levels of something in the blood stream. May cause black outs.

Scabiosa- Definitely a skin condition. Please don’t pick at it.

Ranunculus- One of those long lasting bronchial afflictions.

Tritoma- Definitely a terminal condition. Whatever it is.

I would not be stretching things to say that there are also flower names that sound like medications as well.

Viburnum- Related to valium. Makes you feel happy and see colors.

Cyclamen- Definitely an antibiotic. Used to treat Genistra.

Eglantine- Relieves coughing associated with Ranunculus when taken orally. Might even be a nice topical relief ointment for that phlox case you’ve got.

Guess it’s no accident that many medications are derived from plants…

Monday, April 5, 2010

True Love and Longevity: My Old Truck (Don't Tell Her She's Ugly!)

I drive a ten year old SUV that has seen better days, but just keeps on going. Lately, I joke that no one steals it because it looks so bad, a real bonus because I don’t have a garage where I live. We all park on the street.

The vehicle has one crooked, partially broken headlight that fills with water when it rains. The emblem on the front grill is missing, and the paint is chipped off the nose of the hood. The front bumper looks like it took a good chain whipping. It was an accident due to He Who Must Not Be Named, but it never got fixed. Part of the side rear bumper guard sags away from the body of the car and periodically I kick it back in place—damage caused again by He Who when he backed into the babysitter’s car years ago. Recently, driving through city streets, I hit a paint puddle from someone’s lost gallons of latex. I had hoped the paint was dry. It wasn’t. At least the paint was the same color as the body of my vehicle and only the bumper guards, tires, runners, and flashing bear the splatters. Did I mention the missing hub cap? And the finish stained with age, salt, and dirt that cannot be power-washed off?

The radio display has been broken for years, and the windshield wiper fluid container is cracked and won’t contain fluid anymore. The rear wiper only works when it feels like it. The carpet, which I vacuum routinely, is wearing to the mat and the console between the front seats is showing breaks and peels on the vinyl. There is a mysterious stain (lemonade?) on the interior ceiling, and if a kid nudges the rear radio controls at all, the system will change stations or switch to CD. My tank has kinks, but it sputters, hums, groans forward, and we arrive intact. I maintain it as best I can, but I feel a big repair coming, especially after this last trip. Sitting in the SUV yesterday, I cranked the engine and listened to its idle and felt for vibrations that should not be there.

“Baby, you can look ugly, but please don’t run ugly,” I pleaded. Right now I cannot afford to replace this vehicle. Even if I could though, I would be procrastinating. I have had it for so long and through so much, that I will be terribly sad to see it go.

The SUV survived the infancy and youth of one child, and now the birth and toddlerhood of another. We have driven across the country in it--as north as Wisconsin, as south as Louisiana, from Tennessee to South Carolina, through the Midwest, and the entire South. Together we have survived floods, snowstorms, multiple moves, a painful divorce, and incredibly abusive loads of goods from Home Depot. When I could not afford an outing, I could afford a ride through the country in air conditioned comfort with music controlled by pressing buttons on the steering wheel. I drove it to lull babies to sleep, to calm my nerves, to serve as a private dining hall, and often to sit prayerfully between errands or adventures. These days, my SUV regularly chauffeurs my children back and forth across two or three states. I watch the miles increase, I listen to the truck sputter, hum, then groan forward, again and again, and I cross my fingers for luck. It is still on occasion my temple or refuge, but now that I live in a true pedestrian city, I take advantage of walking. My old truck probably appreciates the rest.

At the bookstore today, I parked next to a sparkling black Yukon with great tire tread. My battered SUV heaved an audible sigh and did its best to stand squarely next to it. I looked back, frowned at the sight of my own tires and thought maybe it is time to put this old tank to rest. But I keep saying what I said last year and the year before.

“Ten thousand more miles, baby. Please. Just ten thousand more.”