Saturday, May 28, 2011

Patience. Perseverance... Because Uhaul Needs an Overhaul and So Do I

I like to make plans. I like things spelled out, booked in advance, arranged, reserved, and promised--at least with big things. This week I have planned quite a bit: a car repair, completing certain work, preparing for travel, moving a step-daughter into her new home. On Wednesday, things did not go as planned, however. This is a long post today, by the way. I am warning you. Break it up. Get coffee.

I brought my vehicle in for repairs--major repairs costing about $1400. I was told I would have my truck back in time to pick up the youngest from school. I brought my laptop and a book to a cafe near the repair shop and settled in to read, write, and conduct online chores. Things started to fall apart around early afternoon when I had problems making reservations with Uhaul. First of all, short notice reservations cannot be made online. So then I attempted to dial the 1-800 number for Uhaul, which is this: 1-800-UHAUL. I have a Blackberry which has a number pad limited to the following letters: W, E,R,S,D,F,Z,X,C. How was I supposed to dial this? I borrowed the cell phone of the guy next to me for a clue as to which numbers spelled out UHAUL and then dialed from my phone. Busy. Busy again. Still busy. In desperation, I tried online to load the pages for Penske and Ryder, both of which had server problems and would not allow reservations pages to be loaded. I resorted back to Uhaul and began calling offices directly. I had to call three offices. Each time, the process went like this:

Dial number.
Listen to phone tree.
Press number to reservations line.
Get put on hold.
Get warm body who cannot answer availability questions directly.
Give name.
Give phone number.
Give email.
Give reservation dates.
Give itinerary.
Request truck size.
Get denied due to no trucks at that location.

So let me repeat that I went through this for three different locations before someone finally gave me a 1-888 number to Uhaul. This number had actual numbers in it. That process went as follows:

Dial number.
Warm body that answers phone on second ring shocks me into silence.
Explain problem of trying to find truck.
In the middle of the clerk trying to find me a truck, husband dials three times to get my attention and says to change it to trailer.
I request trailer.
Clerk, without explaining what he's doing, transfers me to a shop near my home I have already spoken to.
Connection leaps into the new phone tree without my being able to say, "STOP. COME BACK!"
Put on hold.
Warm body answers.
Give name, phone number, email, reservation request.
She confirms my reservation and takes my credit card number, but cannot guarantee what office will have the damn trailer. Someone will call me back before 6 PM.

As I hung up, a new problem arose. My mechanic called with news that my truck would be in the shop till the next day and he needed to get me a rental car. This is not an option, I explained. I needed to be leaving to get my son from school at that very minute. I called a neighbor, but she couldn't promise anything right away. If I called a cab, the cab wouldn't come for a long time. My other neighbors would not be home. I had no one else in this city to call, which is freaking typical, because I have lived here only two years. My aunt and uncle live in the 'burbs too far to assist on short notice. My husband, swamped as he is, agreed to come rescue me and arrived like a knight in shining green Jeep. (By the time the neighbor was free to pick me up, my husband had already left the office.) We went immediately to pick up my son, where the teachers kept him after school for me. The emergency message  my daughter's school principal promised to deliver never arrived before she boarded the bus, but my daughter was smart enough to wait at a neighbor's till we got home. My husband carried my sleeping boy inside and tucked him into bed for a later afternoon nap, then returned to work.

As promised, someone did call me back and guaranteed me a trailer at a location in the suburbs. I asked if this could be delivered to the Uhaul closest to me, but she snapped, "No, I cannot close my shop to deliver this for you." Please hold on a moment while I shove my phone where the sun doesn't shine. Worse, as a person who cannot and should not skip meals, I did not get to eat lunch until 4 PM because I was so busy with phone chaos.

So one night this week we will  have spent loading the trailer while my kids watch a movie in my truck because I will have had no sitter for that night. The couch I have promised my lovely Mae turns out to be the hideous plaid one because the nice one, which my husband graciously lent to a former employee, was given away without his permission. I cancelled every appointment I had for the next two days because the being car-less screwed up my week entirely.

So while I sit writing, my kids are fighting over who gets to play the piano. My son is playing the spoons while he argues. The dog is at my feet with her head under the coffee table trying to stay out of the marching and chaos. And I am so tired I need coffee, but a third cup will make my heart beat a bit irregularly. The day is almost done--I wonder what tomorrow will bring. A cousin's Facebook post reminds me how I should face the new dawn: Patience. Perseverance. A positive attitude. (So, yeah, as my husband's ex-wife would say so sweetly but sardonically, how nice for you.)

Somehow, after grouching at my children for the frustrations of the day, at their lack of reason and wherewithall to cooperate and function like decent family members, my son leapt half-naked into my arms and exclaimed his great affection for me. I melted--for five minutes--and went back to cracking the whip.

Patience. Perseverance. But I still think I need an attitude adjustment.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Foodie's Review: Acacia mid-town

This week, my husband and I celebrated our second anniversary with a no-calorie-spared repast of extraordinary  taste at Acacia mid-town. This is the kind of restaurant that insists you check with the hostess before you order appetizers from your seat at the bar, not that I appreciate that, but the service and quality gourmet more than made up for what was only a mild inconvenience. The ultra-urban eatery, with its modern, clean-lined furniture, and low-lighting, and its gliding, chic, twenty-something wait staff, proffers food that magically captures a range of tastes in each dish. When I wasn't stunned into silence, I talked to my food or about my food proclaiming its glory.

We started with small plates of goat cheese and then rabbit pate on soft, lightly toasted white bread. The pate was mild, mellow, and rich, especially accompanied by our not-so-buttery chardonnay. I silently begged the family pet rabbit for forgiveness between bites. The goat cheese was pleasant as well, its flavors constrasting nicely with the lightly oiled sprouts served alongside. (Note the goat got the better deal here, simply having to relinquish her milk as opposed to having her neck rung.) Our waiter recommended following this with white anchovies served on a bed of marinated cabbage and pine nuts. We also enjoyed flash-fried oysters that tasted of the nearby Chesapeake waters. But the pinnacle of our dining experience was the entree of all entrees: crabcakes.

Oh, be still my heart. Crabcakes, I adore thee. The waiter disclosed the magic five ingredients of Acacia's crabcakes: mustard seed, breadcrumbs, egg, lump crabmeat, Old Bay seasoning. I suspect, however, that some other mystery ingredient to these lovely, baked crabcakes must exist. They were creamy, mouth-melting, lightly seasoned, and have moved up my list to rival the heavenly crabcakes of Hemingway's in Florida (I keep meeting people who sigh with bliss when describing the crabcake recipe I once savored there as well.)

I think I was already inebriated from food consumption, but we pursued dessert anyway. Being completely unable to choose one, we enjoyed both the salted caramel coffee ice cream cup and panna cotta (topped with honey ice cream and served in a rhubarb syrup). And I cannot emphasize enough the absolute pleasure of sharing this meal with my favorite person. I wonder what he'd have done if I kissed the chef. I deliberated this briefly.

This beautiful meal, this wonderful, delightful, awe-inspiring food journey inspires new prayers on my part: Oh, I can't die before I wake, there's a final meal I must take. God bless foodies, everywhere.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lolita Eats

No one forgets his or her first. I know what you're thinking. Leaning over the stove last night,  breathing the perfume of sauteed portabella mushrooms and onion, I reflected on my first portabella. This, as my friend at The Extended Table wrote recently, is food porn.

I was twelve years old when I had my first raw oyster. On a Sunday after mass at St. Louis Cathedral, my parents (yes, they endorsed this shameless and risky act of consumption) took my sister and I to the The Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel for brunch. The first oyster was a tentative step into a new experience: slick, salty flesh ladled on a saltine and heaped with tangy cocktail sauce. There I sat primly in my Sunday best with a plate full of glistening oysters, their half-shells bedded in a veritable snow drift of rock salt, my senses saturated with the sweet, silky, wet explosion that is the finest delicacy of the Gulf. I remember asking myself, should I be doing this.

As much as I reluctantly admit this, my first husband and I relished quite a few tasty firsts in those young, newlywed, and exploratory years. On a wild hair, he and I visited a Mediterranean grocery that had opened near our home in Memphis. It was there that I was introduced to a salty and strangely satisfying spread: taramosalata, Greek-style caviar. Taramosalata is pink and grainy, nearly a gelled version of sea-water made for pita bread or crackers. It is as tactile to the mouth as the fingers. I have a really hard time controlling myself when we have it--the rest of my family deems this as kinky taste and relegates the jar's contents to me exclusively.

My current husband adores comfort foods and Carolina stand-bys, such as the livermush he tantalized me with when we first went to North Carolina together. Livermush is cubed, grey, gritty, and some kind of composted-meat concoction. On first appearance, livermush seems ordinary, bland, routine--even off-putting, but it's an entirely multi-sensory palette-experience; its warm, livery, wet-sand quality contrasts nicely with the crust of the outside when heavily sauteed. Some slice it up for sandwiches cold. I prefer it lightly fried and served with eggs.

There have been other trists I recall well: scungilli, calamari, hog's head cheese, rabbit (now there's a story for another blog), beef tongue (just feed it to me, but don't ask me to look at it), sushi, and more. Much of this no longer excites people, but exotic is a relative concept. I grew up eating turtle soup, the mere mention of which shocked a good Yankee friend of mine into fitful questions about why I might eat a pet. Who knew turtle soup with sherry could be such... perversion?

I still lust for new firsts. I haven't yet savored squirrel. I still wish for a taste of Kobe beef or maybe even buffalo butter (buffalo bone marrow). I yearn for one of those truffles that some poor French pig has been forced to snuffle out of the ground. Fried bacon (you heard that right) and fried twinkies are also on my bucket list of foods to savor. There are endless opportunities for firsts in the world of a foodie, and thankfully, I have a dedicated companion to share these moments with, but I can tell you that nothing--nothing--will ever come close to that strangely controlled explosion of the first raw oyster, that thin-lipped wet flesh slipping into my adolescent mouth.

Lolita eats.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Apocalypse Not

Last night at 6 PM, my neighbors and I broke out wine, fired up the grill, and celebrated the un-apocalypse. Not that I ever for a second thought that Harold Camping was correct (and I am sure he will invent some kind of reason for his erroneous prediction), but at one point I did look over at my dog, who was enjoying the attention of the children in our company, and think that of all the goodness in the earth, should the Lord sweep down to this troubled place to save the good, the perfect, the gentle, and the pure, He would take my dog as one of those souls.

She's still here, so I suppose that the end of the world did not begin... unless of course, she chose to suffer with us. Syd lies behind me raising an eyebrow at me whenever I look away from my keyboard toward her. My Siberian princess with her snow toes, as I call them, and delightful canine smile, rests contentedly in this house full of love and children. Of all the indefinite choices that abound in a given day, the surety of existing in a place where the food bowl magically refills twice a day and where attentive hands tend her--maybe that is a nicer choicer for her.

Syd really doesn't deliberate the apocalypse, anyhow. The rabbit, however, does. I checked him in his house on the deck after supper, and he was still here and furious about it. He said he'd given all his novels away, forgave the dog for being allowed to live full time in the house, and donated his stash of Rabbit Party Snacks (there is such a thing) to the Malvern Rabbit Association--all  in advent of the massive supposed-to-happen event. He's back there right now, moaning and counting his losses. I suppose he'll need some kind of therapy, some kind of reassurance. He did say at least the dog didn't make it into heaven either. He could live with that.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Feelin' It? Fitness and Family

Occasionally, I feel the need to work out to a Jillian Michaels DVD... with my little four year old. Jillian kills me. As my thighs burn from repeated squats, she calls out, "Ya feel it?" Tiny, soup cans in his palms, squatting and flexing near me, releases a gasp and answers, "Ooohh, yeah. I feewin' it!" God bless my Tiny Man. He takes the edge off my return to a fitness routine.

For the last few weeks, I have been walking at dawn before the children rise. In my effort to regain tone and fitness, I have also replaced carby snacks with veggies, have been drinking more water, relegated alcohol consumption to once weekly (okay, maybe twice), and have foregone the fatty, sugary items. I work at a barn doing physical labor and riding one day a week, and in the afternoons, take a play break to throw the frisbee with my son. My reward is a gain of 3.3 pounds. You'd think I would have shed all the underarm dingle dangle just by saying goodbye to salty afternoon snacks and adjusting portion sizes. It's not fair, especially when considering how easily men shed pounds.

Last year, my husband gave up sugar in his coffee and lost five pounds. I found those five pounds and padded them neatly about my middle--just in case he missed them. I have held them there ever since. I am almost afraid to ask him to give up that plate of cholesterol he serves himself each morning. God knows where that would end up on me.

This year, thinking that I was at peace with my nearing middle age, I put on a bathing suit to play at the beach with my family, and looked down to discover that the cottage cheese police had missed ticketing my thighs for the excess of dimples present. Weeks later, I showed my youngest step-daughter that my upper arms were so flabby I could use them as wings. The tummy pooch, which began when my husband shed his coffee-sugar weight, has been stretching the waist band of my pants as well, I complained.

"No problem," said my lovely Jujubee. "Let me show you a little trick. Now watch carefully. Okay?" She flashed a smile at me, angled her body to the side, and raised her shirt a little. I waited for some kind of magical exercise. Instead, she raised her pants up to cover her belly button, and patted her stomach. "I call it the Tuck," she said. Somehow, I don't think that was the fix I was looking for, but thanks anyway, Juju.

Still, I recommend multiple reps of that move--after dinner, before going on a date, and of course, while putting on a bathing suit. Ya feelin' it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Love, Acceptance, and Joy: Cocoon, Catharsis, and Butterfly

Saturday on Facebook, I posted a sublime little message which read, "Love, acceptance, and joy: I need nothing because I have everything. This weekend marks my best birthday yet. Cocoon, catharsis, butterfly."

There is a lot to be said for recognizing satisfaction. I often complain that I don't have a real social life (Going out with friends? What's that?) and that my current job pays terribly and will not allow for greater professional growth. This weekend, I learned none of that matters as much as the ability to connect with family.

Celebrating my oldest step-daughter's college graduation, 18 of us flanked a set of tables at a seafood restaurant near the water in a town associated with happy memories for many of us. Included in our group were my husband and his two girls, my children, my in-laws, and my husband's former wife, her gentleman companion, and her parents. Watching all of this work together, I was moved to complete gratitude and joy. This is what other families strive to achieve: the occasional blissful merging of family post-divorce for the celebration of life that continues despite those familial break ups. And better yet, we were all genuinely pleased to see each other.

This moment was a mammoth blessing of grace for a second reason, which is that I realized my children really do have what I previously thought they were missing. I grew up surrounded by a clan of cousins on my father's side who were like brothers and sisters. We saw each other most Sundays and every holiday. Good news? We told family members first. Having a birthday? Share it with cousins, aunts, and uncles whose candles sport the same cake as yours. I have worried that my children would be permanently and negatively affected by the last several nomadic years and divorce. As it turns out, family has simply multiplied for them. 

While I like to think I am a happy person, I am often very conflicted about work and motherhood and the merging of those two things. Having been forced to confront painful things about myself and the people I love (or once loved), the last few years have been quite a challenge. But here I feel an emergence from the cocoon I built to process all these things, and as part of the renewal process, something else was being created this past weekend: a warm, loving link to the woman that was once married to my husband.

I cannot begin to express how accepted I felt among this clan of people who are still largely new to my life. I am eternally grateful to my step-daughter's mother for the gift of her children. This birthday, my 39th, I celebrate love.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yes, Crabcake, This is About You

Last week, my husband needed a colonoscopy. For those of you who don't know what this procedure entails, imagine drinking a gallon of laxative, spending an entire night running back and forth from the chair to the toilet, fasting for nearly a full day, and then having someone shove a camera up your bum while filling you with gas to expand your lower colon. It ain't quite comfy, and most people usually go home to rest post-procedure in order to fully recover from both the anesthesia and the pole up the pooper. Doctor's orders (once you get yelled at for all the things you have been eating that you shouldn't eat anymore) include refueling your body's system with gentle foods: pancakes, mashed potatoes, a sandwich maybe.

Of course, my husband does not consider himself to be most people. And why would he? As the nurse told me while he was in recovery, "The intelligent ones are the worst. They reason themselves into everything they shouldn't have." My beloved came out of anesthesia craving crabcakes.

"Where can we eat around here?" He first asked, as though we don't actually live within three miles of the hospital. And then he wanted to know, "Where can I get the best crabcakes?"

I thought I had him convinced that a pancake house would be a fair compromise considering the fact that we had been advised to go straight home where all the flatulence in the world could be released in relative privacy, and he would also, should he stick to a bland diet on the first day post-poop shoot exam, avoid abdominal pains. At the pancake house, he fidgeted and looked at me with sad eyes. For a moment, I thought he was about to spout some kind of deep and sincere reflection about how thankful he was that I was there, that he was glad the exam went well, that he loved me enough to cooperate with doctor's orders for life... something. Instead, he made it clear that he was in no way happy about the late breakfast idea, he promised he would be held accountable for any abdominal pain he might receive, and could I please map a route to the best crabcakes in town.

And so I drove us. Not only did he order his crabcake but fried calamari as well. At least I talked him out of the beer he wanted. I was agitated to say the least.

Sitting across from him as he thanked me for caving to his stubbornness, I told him I no longer wished to hear that his youngest daughter and I were bullheaded for our wish (and ability, I might add) to complete tasks completely independently of his help. I said that the next time he started feeding me that line, I would call him Crabcake to drive the point home.

I have gotten to call him that at least twice this weekend... heh.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tide Rising When Love Is

There is a wonderful website,, that I visited after seeing a notice about it in a local cafe. Intrigued by the idea of writing about love, the website's mission, I penned prose about my greatest romance (with a certain tall and handsome husband who washes dishes in the next room as I write) and was absolutely shocked when my work was accepted and posted. You can find my words by searching the site for the date on which it was posted April 29, 2011 or by searching for the title of my work "Tide Rising When Love Is" or by visiting the anthology submissions page here: I am still, at least for a while, on the top of the page. Some readers, thanks to Facebook, found me there already. I encourage you to visit this website and peruse its pages.

And of course, you can read it here:

He said, tell me about love. And love is what I said, smiling with the jut of chin and shoulder before tumbling with him into the sacred oblivion of white bedclothes and down pillows. The encircling draw of his arms and the rhythmic rise of his chest above mine, the pushing and pulling in a river of warm, blissfully I swam and I sank. Yes, I breathed as I listened to his body, love simply is.

Another day, my heart sandwiched between the pleadings of small children, the dancing of the hungry dog, and the peeling of paint from the walls, my love wasn’t is, but instead had a whole constrained definition. Confined between their needs and his work and my shortcomings, love was an obligation. And then the day passed, and a night, and another day. And that night, love just was again. Love was sighs, the creak of bedsprings, and the sudden pooling of too-warm covers between the bottoms of our feet and the end of the bed. The house slept, our secret adoration in a sweet tide of us rising and filling it. Love just was. And the morning came, with it enough sustenance to counter his woes, discussions of expenses, and diatribes about former lives.


pour me a drink

and let’s forget about all of this but love, please

the rolling, returning flight of love

In love we are the only ones despite the thousands upon millions of Helens, Juliettes, and Cleopatras, only we have much better endings. Our grandparents, hands clasped in old age or death, were once even us. Oh, but for that millisecond of time in which we are love, loving, and loved.

Shh, let me hush the bleating child. The paint still will flake. I see in your eyes, my sweet, the cotton of warm sheets, the beating of your heart, and the spin of your sea.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Readership: I See You

My husband connected my blog to a stats program so I can catch a glimpse of who reads the blog (or rather, where the blog is being read). I don't indulge in checking the updated numbers very regularly--maybe twice a month. In part, I don't want to become the kind of self-conscious writer that needs the numbers to provide positive reinforcement. But, lately I have become surprisingly tickled at the growing readership of this little blog. There have been posts that have been read 200 times and others that have been read 40. Some pages have had just a few visits. Frankly, I am honored that anyone reads at all, much less returns to read regularly.

Readers come from as close as my American city of residence to as far away as Iran. While many readers are those who already know me on a personal level, I have begun to attract readers of whom I have no real knowledge. And, as naive as this may sound, I just don't know why. What kind of appeal does my blog have to someone in Iran? Who is/was this reader?

Periodically, as someone urges me to update a topic (Chester's fans miss him awfully) or writes to comment about specific posts, I wonder if I should eventually join the bloggers that monetize (attach advertising) to the blog. After all, how pleasant would it be to earn a meager income doing something I enjoy? But intimacy is lost on those grander designed and ad-flanked blogs. Still, I don't know if I am missing some kind of opportunity or journey by not marketing this blog more than I do. And I hesitate not just in part of losing the perceived level of warmth that some readers claim to feel here, but something my mother would likely say: Monetizing and marketing this blog might just be, well, tacky.

Here, I must digress a bit. Readers in the United States are well familiar with the term tacky, but for those that live out of this amazing country, tacky means gauche or tasteless. For those of us who are born and bred in the South, tacky exceeds this definition; it is a sin. It's social death. Potentially, we could lose all sense of self. Tacky isn't just wearing white after Labor Day (some still adhere to this, yes). Our use of tacky indicates you may as well wear a floor-length white tulle gown to your daughter's wedding. (And only a southerner could use this as an example, I'm sure.)

Of course, over at one can see that writer Ree Drummond has become enormously successful. And she started much the way I did: she had something to say and wrote about personal experience in an intimate and direct way. I envy Drummond for her recent appearance in The New Yorker, and while she receives a certain degree of criticism for having gone from humble to high roller in income and tangible marks of success, I congratulate her for finding something she did well and making a place in the world doing so. Good for this mother of four who has found a way to pad her wallet in the process--pad being a relative term as she has earned about a million dollars in the last year!

I am, however, the kind of person who does not expect that kind of success to find me or for me to carve it. Unfortunately, I am the kind of person who labels that kind of success as "something for other people, something I was not meant for or could not become." Perhaps I am wrong. It might be nice to be wrong, in fact. But I did not start this blog with aspirations of million dollar readership and I won't deign to delude myself with such aspirations, either. If you remember from my first post,, I had this to say about my desire to write publicly: I was "a mother with small children, a writer and artist re-establishing herself after multiple life changes." I had even chosen a namesake from an unseen character in my favorite novel. So this is how I have seen myself, as somewhat invisible and in transition. 

But perhaps I digress again. Readership is to be celebrated. You read this likely because you either identify with my  words or find them to be a curious window into someone else's world. You are either enlightened, entertained, or informed. (And if you are repulsed, go away and oblige me by not returning.) And I write because I have something to say. This week, I was amazed to realize that I have finally created a niche for myself--I am a 21st century writer who blogs, a mommy blogger, if you will, even though I despise the term. Interestingly enough, this is how I have earned my place in history. Until the blogosphere implodes, a record of my existence is "out there". My voice is engraved in binary code. I am part of a movement, perhaps.

To my readers, who keep returning and reading this blog. Thank you. I wonder what you are thinking. I added an email link to the blog for the purpose of getting feedback from those who are not connected onto blogger, who have not listed themselves as followers, and who aren't linked with me on Facebook. Thank you again. I see you. I see you all.

Thirteen, Fourteen, Cheese-teen...

Family jokes are often completely lost on outsiders. Of the many jokes the kids and I have, such as our dog wearing pants, the least explainable one is the concept of cheese-teen. And while my son definitely knows the difference between counting at home and counting at school, he is not beyond incorporating our mystery word into play with friends.

Yesterday, Tiny went next door to ask his friend, Lu, to play hide and seek. Little Lu is a bit older--maybe by two years. He took the time to explain to me why Tiny isn't a good play partner for hide and seek, one reason being that Tiny doesn't stay hidden long enough, but the primary reason being that my son counts to cheese-teen and then stops.

Lu waved his hands with exasperation as he cried out, "I don't even know what cheese-teen is!"

"Well, it comes after fourteen and sometimes fifteen. It often comes before sixteen or seventeen," I said as if this explained everything.

Meanwhile,  my son stood in the yardwith his hands pressed to his face counting:

"Firteen, fowteen, CHEESE-TEEN!! Ready or not!!"

Chuckling to myself, I sent a quick message about the incident to my parents. Later in the evening, my father wrote back saying, "Anyone who is anyone knows what cheese-teen is. Lu, as your mom says, has no soul."

You can definitely see how I inherited this sense of humor.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

He Ain't Ugly; He's My Dog

I had a drink with neighbors this weekend as they barbecued for company. They were still laughing about my complaint to them Friday when I came home to find about six screaming girls trampling my lawn, the chaos confusing not just me but an awful looking little dog who had come with them. I had walked next door and asked this simple question:

"Why are there two hundred girls on my lawn and one ugly-ass dog tied to my porch?"

It didn't take long to sort matters out, the girls having come to retrieve my daughter early for a slumber party she was attending a block away. I still don't understand, however, the puggle with the underbite.

We're spoiled enough here to have a gloriously beautiful dog, the kind of dog, my husband says, was a supermodel in her former life. And she is, appearance aside, an excellent dog. Of course, I have always claimed to love an ugly dog because I used to have a sharpei who looked through his wrinkles in perpetual concern for me. But there is unconventional beauty, and then there is ugly.

The puggle is not my preferred breed of ugly-cute, but she is an affectionate dog, and someone loves her. I recently came across a wonderful article in Oprah about a woman who falls in love with an ugly dog; the picture of it was fairly off-putting. I have seen the ugliest of dogs at barns for some reason (guess you wouldn't want the beasts in your house either), but I think the ugly-beats-all award should go to this particular Chinese Crested named Sam:

Just looking at the dog makes me need therapy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

Last week, my son made me an adorable card for Mother's Day. The outside was decorated with his drawings and the inside was a questionnaire that his teacher had helped him complete. Apparently I am 16 years old, weigh 40 pounds, hate school, and smell like muffins. I told his teacher about my daughter's similarly-formed Father's Day card that she had made when she was four.

"What does your father like to do?"  the teacher had asked.
"He loves to clean the toilet!" she had announced proudly. Apparently, she had overheard his sarcastic remark about cleaning on a chore day at home and internalized it as literal truth. And the card went home reading that her dad was the best dad, that he was two inches tall, and that he loved to clean the toilet. I still have this card, by the way.

Tiny's teacher said she could hardly recover from laughter as she filled out the cards with the children last week. In fact, the best one came from a little boy who is often in worse trouble than my son. Yes, be careful what you say in front of children.

"What does your mother hate?"
"She hates my step-father," answered the child. (Oh, boy.)

"What does your mother need to do?" asked the teacher.
"My mother needs to get a job, my father says!" stated the child.

Fortunately, the teacher had the good sense to encourage the boy to invent new answers for the card. Oh, the things they say.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

This week my husband cringed when he realized he had booked skydiving instruction on Mother's Day. I told him not to worry, that I don't need a Hallmark holiday to celebrate my motherhood. If we lived near family, we would gather and indulge in one of those long, slow afternoons of barbecue and good conversation, but since we don't, and kids still need to be fed, bathed, monitored, and nurtured, this day is really like any other. And that's fine.

What my husband doesn't realize is that his gift to me today is really one of silent responsibility and maturity. His day at the drop zone--on a Sunday when we are usually free to be a family of four--is another installment payment on the much-needed vacation we just enjoyed, a vacation in which I was not asked to pay for one iota. It was not my responsibility to barter with travel agents, compare online deals, plan, map, chart, or cough up a dime. And he organized this trip knowing what we could afford and did not put us into debt beyond what a set of teaching weekends could reimburse.

Mother's Day is a relative concept for many of us. Some mothers prefer an afternoon break from the rigors of child rearing. Others rather the company of their children as a reminder of our chosen role. While I sometimes get irritable from being plagued with children's needs and their endless questions, I would rather my day be near my children with them behaving--a tall order in itself. This morning, I received that gift from them--an extra hour to lie in bed and read while they ate a little breakfast snack downstairs without fighting. And in lieu of the standard floral bouquet a mother might receive, I was given something with greater sustainability: a subscription to the New Yorker.

So today, after church, should weather allow, I will enjoy Frisbee with kids, a picnic, and playtime with the dog. My husband will join us for dinner at a restaurant that has been cited as having the best crab cake in town. I'll call my own mom, whose shoes I try to fill on a daily basis with my own little folk. (I just told her she was a perfect mom and she did not believe me, but it really takes a mom to know what her own mother did and why.) But most of all, I'll just be thankful. For everything.

Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Acknowledging the Killing of Bin Laden

While I seldom write about politics (it's not my gift), the latest news is too large to ignore even on a blog such as this one. The announcement of Osama bin Laden's death did not reach me until yesterday morning. Midday, I sat down to read various news reports about the killing; I had already found on Facebook an endless series of posts celebrating the event. I finally posted this note to a friend:

I so hesitate to celebrate, and believe that his death should be met with solemnity here. American arrogance is our Achilles heel, and I believe our assassination [sic]of Osama makes him a martyr for his cause and will trigger a severe reaction. "May you live in interesting times." We certainly do.

Of course, I acknowledge the importance of this event and the necessity of sending the message that we will not stop fighting Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden's death was long overdue. The seizing of computers, records, and other property from the bin Laden compound is surely a victory in itself.

I accept bin Laden's death as the necessary evil of any war, especially as I consider the continued terror attacks experienced by an unwitting, innocent public in countries across the globe since 9/11. Bin Laden's removal is only one more step against terrorism, and I cannot celebrate, not truly, until terrorism is banished from the face of this earth. That day will not come in my lifetime, and I bear the sorrow of this knowledge for the generations that will suffer in the interim.

My internal source of conflict is in how many of us are gloating, a sin of pride perhaps. Brian Turner, a United States Army veteran who served in Iraq, authored a book of poetry, Here, Bullet, about his own experiences at war. In it, he wrote this line: It should break your heart to kill. And today, dredged from the impulsive pages of Facebook, I retrieved this snippet of wisdom from someone quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.: Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Of course, I see the crux of fighting an enemy who embraces his own death so plainly, while we prize our own survival and the bettering of life for generations to come; there are no values that we share with which to find common ground. This is not that kind of war. I am caught in a terrible web of late, having laid my own hand on a replica of Fat Man, and found it repulsive and chilling, and then seeing for a moment that laying waste to an entire society sends the most efficient "quit your bullshit" message of all. This is contrary to my nature as a mother, who when first drafting this post, paused to inhale the sweet fragrance of my little son's soft skin as he kissed me this morning. Define casualty of war. Define it, again.

To America, I say dust off your hands from this task and pursue the next act of preventative maintenance with grave resolve and a sense of humility. To the soldiers whose bloody hands protect this hallowed ground upon which I have been able to grow, live, marry, study, and find employment—all acts of my own choosing, I say thank you. And I pray God has mercy on us all.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pages from my Book: Imitation by the Next Generation

This week, Tiny's complaint about glossy paper brought to mind my work at a digital press a couple of years ago. I would frown over paper samples at home and at work. I taught my daughter how to check for the correct run of a page's grain and for what stock best fit full-color illustration versus text. She would see me examining books wherever we were--noting the glue or sewing in the spine, checking the cut of paper, or running the weight of the paper against my fingertips. (I still hate cheap paper choices after all this time.) Watching my son grouse about the gloss of paper made me laugh. He even used the phrase "This isn't working for me."

Lately, I indulge not in sales of books, but editorial work. My days are happily spent weighing the value of a comma, removing errant apostrophes, or tidying up typos. Periodically, I will share a part of a paper with my daughter, discuss its flaws, or celebrate its success. As much as she seems to dwell on her own planet, she does absorb what she sees and hears. Evidence of this occured in church where I caught her doing the most incredible thing: circling all the typos and incorrect punctuation marks on her children's bulletin. God bless the little critic.

Perhaps, we could say the children have taken a page from their mother's book. Surely, if the kids have magically retained random and obscure lessons about paper, spine, cover, and text, then they have a chance of acting upon the lessons my husband and I teach daily here (manners, hygiene, cooking, how to love one another). While the children both seem to float rather blithely throughout the day, casually evading voices of instruction, reason, or caution, there are occasions where they demonstrate a bit of logic or a recognizeable semblance of the parent-on-duty. I hope our best qualities are reborn in these children--the hard-earned qualities of honesty, perseverence, and selflessness--but I am secretly thrilled that one of my children clucks with dismay when she sees a plural noun incorrectly flanked by an apostrophe.