Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Night the World Didn't End

Just half an hour from the new year, I find myself thinking back to the moment we passed out of the twentieth century and into the new millennium. In fact, I've been thinking about that moment quite a lot today.

The world, you may recall, was projected to end that night...or if not to end, to be transformed into something we'd never anticipated and wouldn't know how to live within, a place without electricity and other services we'd come to think of as necessities (all because someone back in the sixties or seventies forgot that there would one day be a 21st century when he was programming the world's computers).

Despite the impending collapse of our infrastructure, my husband and I took our kids downtown to First Night. First Night apparently occurs all over the country, and is a bit different everywhere, but our version that year included ice sculptures and street musicians, puppet shows, bands, hot chocolate, story time, live animals...something for every age. Our kids were three, seven and nine, and so we bounced from children's stories at the library to live animals to art. Then my sister and her boyfriend joined us, and we threw some live music into the mix.

My sister had a boyfriend then that I loved; he and my husband were friends. Ten years after their breakup, my daughter still calls him "Uncle Matt"--she called him that at his wedding two summers ago. We were at the animal show when they walked in, some amazing specimen of big cat on the stage seeming far too powerful for the small room, and my sister took my breath away. Eyes wide and dark from across the room, in a brand-new gray wool coat over head-to-toe black, she was so beautiful that she momentarily eclipsed everyone and everything else in the room.

At midnight, the seven of us walked out onto the bridge over the river and watched fireworks in the snow. I remembered, while hundreds of people in the street counted down to the new year, that it was all supposed to implode at midnight, and I couldn't have cared less. If the world was going to end, I couldn't think of a better time or place for it, happy children warm in our arms, eyes toward the sky, my husband and my beautiful little sister at my side. If the world was going to end, I couldn't think of a better note to go out on.

Of course, life went on. The wide-eyed nine-year-old who had never seen an ice sculpture before is a mother this New Years, the boy who lay down on the chairs in the animal show is in high school, and my baby in her father's arms on the bridge will be thirteen in just a few weeks. Sometimes that makes me smile and sometimes it makes me sad--but never has a New Year's Eve passed since that I haven't remembered that moment on the bridge.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Best Thing that Happened to Me This Christmas...

was that I got my car stuck in a snowbank.

It's no secret that I'm no fan of Christmas, and even on the "I could really live without this holiday" spectrum, this one is falling pretty low. My mother was sick for the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas and ended up cramming all of her shopping into a couple of terrible weather days just before Christmas. I'm really stressed about something important at work, and the temperature was well below zero during the week leading up to Christmas, and my Christmas tree was in storage. All around, it just wasn't going well--nothing catastrophic, but thejoyo of the season was lacking. Even my daughter, a holiday junkie, said a few days ago, "It's just NOT Christmas."

Of course, not being Christmas would have been all good with me, except that none of the stress or expense or running in a thousand directions went away just because it didn't seem like Christmas. By Christmas Eve morning I was encouraging myself with the fact that it was all going to be over any day and we could go back to normal.

In fact,when I headed out yesterday morning, I wasn't feeling too bad. The weather was, finally, beautiful. The snow was deep and soft and I was off on my last errand--one that wouldn't take l long at all.


But here's the thing. Within minutes of my getting stuck, a neighbor I've never met came over to help, and he stuck it out to the bitter end. Then a complete stranger stopped and offered to help push--a stranger in a $60,000 car who I'd never have expected to get out and push a Neon out of a snowbank. Then my landlord arrived to shovel (a bit too late, I think) and started digging out UNDER my car. Then my dad came, and when he found that he couldn't pull the car out with his Jeep, he called a friend with a 4 x 4 truck...who showed up in minutes and yanked me out like he was plucking an apple off a tree.

In the end, though I felt bad about the time it had eaten up for all of these other people and all of their efforts, I was feeling like the time had been better spent than if I'd just hopped off to the store, because I was really overwhelmed by the sense of community and giving, and even by the teamwork among these people who didn't know one another and came together to solve my problem.

I was really starting to think that I DID dimly remember what Christmas was supposed to be about, after all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Heart My Job and Other Thanksgiving Thoughts

Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It didn't have any of the fuss and glitter and time pressure and commercialism of Christmas, or even Easter. You didn't have to dress up in costumes or shop or hide eggs--all you had to do was bask in the warm glow of your life, spending time with friends and family and acknowledging all that you'd been given.

But three years ago, something changed...or perhaps, many things changed at once. My husband moved out of state. My mother had heart surgery and my daughter and I went to stay with her temporarily and never went home; when eventually we moved into our own place again, it was miles from our true home and the lives we'd built there. Returning to the workforce full time put a terrible strain on my health and my daughter's security, and for three years, my life was about keeping us alive and very little else.

I traded in a great job where the commute was (literally) killing me for another job that was great in a different way and involved no commute, but often had me working 18 hour days.

And all along the way, there were things in my life to be grateful for. I KNEW that. I could see them. But I couldn't feel them. They all seemed to come with an "at least" or a trade-off. I was grateful that my mother survived her surgery (though she didn't seem to feel any better after it than she had before). I was grateful that I was able to support myself and my daughter far better than many single mothers can (but I'd been hospitalized over it twice, and the strain on my daughter was tremendous). I was grateful for the wonderful people in my life (but I didn't SEE them or spend time with them, because I was too busy with the bare elements of survival) and so on.

Most of the year, I gave these things little thought. I was simply too busy. And I knew that I was fortunate to have interesting work that used my background and paid the bills. But each year at Thanksgiving, I had a crisis when I realized that, however much I knew that objectively, I simply couldn't muster that feeling I'd once had of being truly blessed. My daughter would invite us, at Thanksgiving dinner, to say what we were thankful for, and my mind raced in search of something I could say honestly. I came to dread the event as one more fabricated ritual.

And then, just in time for Thanksgiving, my life changed again, in a way that shifts my perspective not only on today, but on all that has come in the past three years. It's often hard to see where you're going when you're in the process, but the pendulum seems to have settled now, and the purpose is clear.

So, for the first time since 2004, I am going into Thanksgiving able to sincerely say "I am so blessed", and know it with more than my mind.

I am thankful for the new/old job I just started, which will allow me to do something interesting and related to my background from home, without killing myself, and will leave me time to sleep, parent, socialize...maybe even write. And I'm thankful for the company I'm returning to (and the people who created it) even if/when I'm not working with them, because they restore my faith by being people first and building a family in the ever-growing office even as their revenues keep multiplying.

I am thankful for the friends who have insisted on staying in my life even though I was, for a very long time, too rushed and brittle to possibly be any fun or comfort to them. And to those who patiently waited a year or two or three to get together.

I am thankful for the fact that my beautiful daughter, at nearly 13, has transformed from the warm ball of hugs and love that most tiny children are to one that is entirely unique to her--but with no diminishment of warmth or affection.

I am thankful that my family is so close by, and involved in our lives on a daily basis. I wish that everyone had this, even though I suspect that many people would tell me they were quite glad that they did not.

But mostly, I think, I'm thankful that I seem to still be inside myself somewhere--that as the pressure and the frantic pace and the desperation fall away, I am (and not nearly so gradually as I might have expected) discovering a person I used to be.

Friday, November 21, 2008

See, I Have This Friend...

No, really. When you hear the story, you'll know for sure there really is a friend...because what I'm worried about could NEVER happen to me.

I think my friend is in danger of inadvertantly composting her home and family.

My concerns started small. The daily trips to Starbucks to pick up coffee grounds set off a little alarm bell, but it was still entertaining at that stage--especially when she got stopped at a DUI roadblock and was very surprised that the cop on duty didn't want to talk about composting.

Then she went off to meet a stranger she'd met online because he offered her some free manure. The only comforting thing about that was that I figured a serial killer would use something more universally appealing as bait, and so this guy probably really did just want to unload a truck full of horse shit. He did. She was delighted.

But, okay. I mean, to each his own, right? I don't garden, and so maybe I just didn't understand the importance of this stuff.

But I started to see strange shifts in the way she perceived the outside world. For instance, one day she was reading my friend Barb's blog, and she sent me a link to a picture of Barb's garbage can. (So, see, I have some nice, normal friends, too. I mean, comparatively speaking. Photographing your garbage and posting the pictures online is way more normal than seeking out horse manure, right? RIGHT?)

Anyway, my friend was very concerned about this photograph--so concerned that she thought sure I'd see the problem right away, too. The problem, apparently, was that the garbage can contained tomato peels that COULD HAVE BEEN COMPOSTED. I ventured that I'd wondered whether it was the failure to recycle the paper that had troubled her, but oh, no. I'm a step behind, it seems. Paper, too, can (and apparently should...nay, MUST) be composted.

And then, she got worm poop for her birthday (and it wasn't a gag). She liked it.

I was on the fence. I don't like to judge, but it seemed that maybe an intervention was in order. Still, I kept reminding myself that I wasn't a gardener and maybe there was something to all this that I wasn't getting. After all, not long ago a blind couple in New Jersey risked prison in order to compost.

But the scales tipped.

She told me she had something wonderful to tell me and something funny to tell me.

I got confused early in the story and thought the wonderful thing was the funny thing, because the wonderful thing had multiple parts and they were all about fertilizer.

The first part was that the city had agreed to deliver as many dead leaves as she could handle.

The second was that Starbuck's had agreed to save their coffee grounds for her, eliminating the need to race the other mad composter in the area for their discards each day.

The last one was about manure. Enough said.

And then (because, of course, I had a completely straight face at this point), on to the funny thing. The story started like this: "I saw some leaves I wanted sitting by a curb down the street..."

Since I'm outside my area of expertise, I could use some help from you gardeners out there. Is there a 12-step program for this? 'Cause I'm starting to have images of this giant mound of leaves and manure just enveloping the house and everyone in it, gradually decomposing the structure and the furniture and at least one really cute kid into high-grade fertilizer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So, I Bought a New Ironing Board...

Like most of the things I post on this blog, this shouldn't be big news. In the life of a normal person, it probably wouldn't even bear mentioning. But here's the thing: I haven't had an ironing board I could use since June. (Don't worry too much--remember that I work from home and that I certainly haven't had any time for socializing in the past several months. You don't really have to iron your clothes to drive your kid to school.)

Back in June, you may recall, the universe sent me some raw sewage for my birthday. My ironing board was in the closet where the sewage came up, and obviously needed to be disinfected before I used it again. But I've been busy and I haven't needed to iron and frankly, I really didn't want to handle it all that much (because even though it LOOKS perfectly clean, I know there are secret, invisible sewage germs crawling all over it), so it stood there for...well...okay...five months.

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that ironing boards come cheap and I could just toss this one and get a new one without sewage on it. This seemed like a good idea because, in addition to having had no time for things like scrubbing ironing boards, I'm a TINY bit OCD, and I knew that no matter how thoroughly I cleaned the ironing board, I'd always FEEL like it had secret, invisible sewage germs crawling on it--germs which would somehow manage to transfer to my clothing and even multiply there with no diminishment of the germs remaining on the board.

Yep, definitely seemed like it was worth twenty bucks to avoid all that.

So yesterday, I bought a new ironing board. The timing wasn't an accident--I have to dress nicely today, so it was either clean the old one or buy a new one. I cheerfully bought a new ironing board (which turned out to be only $12--what a bargain!) and brought it home. It's a "T-Leg Ironing Board", presumably so named because its legs form an "X".

And then I gleefully carted that old ironing board out the back door to the garbage...and hesitated. Because, you see, it's a perfectly good ironing board, and someone might come along and pick it up and take it home. And it looks all gleaming white and spotless--you'd never suspect that it was teeming with secret, invisible sewage suddenly occurred to me that they might transfer to someone else's clothing.

I tried to reason with myself. I mean, if someone is the type to pull an ironing board out of someone else's garbage and use it without sanitizing it, chances are my sewage germs are the least of his worries, right? And anyway, anyone who would pick up something like that WOULD clean it, right? Even if it looked clean? RIGHT?

But the thing is, we have people around here who pick up items and take them to the second-hand store. Granted, my ironing board probably isn't worth much (after all, you can get a brand new one for $12), but it's perfectly good (except for the sewage germs) and it could happen. And if someone picked up an ironing board at a resale shop, then she might NOT think she had to sanitize it. She might think the store had done that. But maybe they wouldn't have. The image of secret, invisible sewage germs transferring to some stranger's clothing--some stranger's CHILD's clothing--was just too much for me. After buying a new ironing board so that I could throw this one away instead of sanitizing it, I...

brought it back in and sanitized it so that I could throw it away.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Loveliest Thing

This morning, in the parking lot at Carson Pirie Scott, my daughter reached out and took my hand. That's enough of a blessing--she's going to be thirteen in February and I'm well aware of how fortunate I am to still be allowed to hug and kiss her in front of her friends and that sort of thing. But this moment was especially poignant for me because it brought back a clear memory of walking up those same steps with my daughter more than nine years ago, the summer she was three.

That day, I took her hand because she was three, and we were walking into a busy department store. Newly asserting various independences, she asked, "Why do you have to hold my hand?"

"Because I love to hold your hand," I told her, "so I'm going to do it as much as I can while you're little enough to let me." And she said, "Mommy, you can always hold my hand."

My mother, walking on her other side, laughed and said, "Remind her of that when she's twelve." I agreed, simultaneously smiling at the sweet innocence of a child young enough to think she'd never outgrow holding hands with her mommy and aching with the knowledge that she was wrong.

And she almost certainly was. But somehow, miraculously, that day hasn't come yet.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm Up...and I'm Pretty Unhappy About It

For months, I've been working more or less around the clock, sometimes staying up all night, other nights sleeping from roughly midnight to 3:30 and then getting up and starting work again. Naturally, I've been exhausted, and a couple of weeks ago when I gave notice at my 100-hour/week job and started planning for something more civilized, I started sleeping eight hours most nights.

At first, I wasn't all that surprised that eight hours didn't seem like enough, and that I still had to drag myself out of bed in the morning. After all, I had a lot of catching up to do. By day ten or so, I was getting suspicious, but hey...the weather is changing. It's allergy season, right? Could be any number of things.

Like mono, for instance.

Yep, that's right. At 42, I've got mono...AGAIN. Which means, of course, that I have to limit physical activity and sleep a lot. I don't mind sleeping a lot--I'm generally quite good at that and I love to sleep. But...hello? I've been waiting SIX MONTHS to have time to clean my house. And I just finished a project that left more than four thousand pages of work sorted on my living room floor and my couches. I can't, for instance, lie down and watch a movie--there's only one free cushion on my couch. And I can't do it in my bedroom, because the new television I got for my birthday (in JUNE) is still in the box. My house is just not conducive to resting and recovering at this point--and I apparently can't do anything about it.

Which would, you know, be manageable if I were SLEEPING. But I woke up at 7:30 this morning, and that was it. And it's been like that almost every day. I'm TIRED, sure, but I can't sleep for more than 6 or 7 hours. It's like my body has forgotten how. And I can't do anything else, either. This is not what I had in mind when I decided to cut back. This isn't even a sensible way to go about being sick. I'm thinking about hiring Merry Maids or some such operation to come in and clear these papers out of my living room so I can use my furniture while I recuperate.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Email Thinking

This morning, my email included four consecutive emails from a local friend, followed by four consecutive emails from a friend I've never meet. Continuations, all of them, of previous conversations--eight subjects, all addressed in the space of twenty or thirty minutes.

It got me thinking about the way that email changes our communications. I don't mean because it's in writing (though we do often express ourselves differently in writing) or because of the delay in response or any of the other things that are obvious to the format. No, the thing that caught my attention this morning was the changing of gears, the quicksilver slipping from a response about the stress I'm under at work or someone else's problem with a friend to a funny comment in a forum or a cute story about my daughter's friends.

In real life--or, I should say, in the flesh--that slippage would never take place. I'd never look at someone who had just expressed grave medical concerns to me and say, "I heard the best joke this morning." I'd be taken aback if I said to someone, "You know, I'm under so much pressure at work that I actually think I'm going to quit without another job" and she said, "What do you think of this color for my kitchen curtains?"

But we do that all the time in email, shifting from religious philosophy to political debate to dinner plans to pictures of our kids to anecdotes to financial problems and back again every time we click "send" and move on to the next. There's a big advantage to this format, and one I've always valued--it allows time for reflection, to digress and return to the core point, to expand a conversation in different directions without losing the original thread. That doesn't happen when we sit down to talk--if we branch off in a particular direction chances are that the original thread is lost, or that it has evolved significantly enough that we never return to follow any of the other possible offshoots and sideroads it could have invited. Not so with email; I can go back in a day or two or even two weeks later and answer again with a new thought or a different side-route. I can digress and easily refocus just by going back to the original email.

This morning, though, I started to wonder whether that very thing that allows us to dig deeper somehow keeps us shallower, if revisiting something in small bites over and over again just isn't the same as immersing in it. When a friend tells me that she's worried about her marriage and I respond with the best thoughts I have, but then immediately respond to another comment about her horseback riding lessons, am I really giving her issue my full attention, really feeling it instead of just thinking about it? When I intersperse theological analysis with plans to meet up for lunch and the frustrations of chaperoning a high school football game, am I really opening myself up to as much insight as I otherwise might?

I think not. And maybe it's not all about the format--maybe it's just as much about the way the world is moving so fast that everything happens on the fly these days. But whether it's a cause or an effect, it suddenly seems to me to have the same effect on conversation that hyperlinks had on our ability to read and digest longer, more in-depth writing, and it's a little alarming to me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An Interesting Thing about High School Football Games

I know what you're thinking. I know. But there is something interesting about high school football games, something of which you may not be aware if you haven't been to one in a while.

They've expanded.

When I was in high school, I went to a football game nearly every Friday night. Some nights I worked at the concession stand, and others I sat in the stands inhaling the fresh fall air and the smell of burning leaves in the distance and drinking syrupy Coke from a styrofoam cup. They said those games were about three hours long, but they weren't. Not really. There was just barely time for a candy bar, a whisper to a friend, a shy smile at a cute guy, a couple of laps around the bleachers with gravel crunching underfoot, and then we were in the car, my head on the shoulder of a man who wasn't yet a man, headed for Pizza Hut.

An hour and a half, tops. Sometimes less.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I went to a high school football game twenty-four years after graduation.

Again, they suggested that it would be about three hours long.

Evening came, and morning followed. The first day.

I didn't like to keep checking the time, but by my best estimate we came in just under 17 hours.

The poms were cute.

The marching band was earnest.

The pizza was okay.

The game was your usual mix of kids crashing into one another and time outs.




About the time I was hoping it was almost halftime, I realized that they were just scrimaging and the game hadn't actually started yet.

I overheard some interesting things at the game, though.

I heard that our team wasn't very good this year.

I heard that we had about twelve guys and "most of them go both ways". I choose to assume that has something to do with football, probably playing both offense and defense.

I heard that the gym teacher from my school days who married a student wasn't the only one from that era to do so--but that they're still married.

I learned that you can't run the ball out if it's kicked into the end zone (not sure how I missed that during those four years of Friday night football games).

And I learned that if the weather is nice when you leave your house at 6:30 p.m., it will probably be LESS nice hour later when you're sitting in the top row of the bleachers.

It seems to be important to my daughter and her friends, though. They're apparently big football fans. After the last game, I explained to her what a "down" was. This week, I think we're going to try to figure out what team we played this evening.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Okay, That's Not EXACTLY What I Meant...

There hasn't been a lot of productivity around my house for the past week or so. My daughter and I were both sick and then my illness morphed into some weird inner ear thing that has affected my balance to the point that I have to think about walking--and I can't even begin to think about driving. At the same time, I'm on a huge deadline at work, which caused me to decline the doctor's suggestion that she write me an excuse for the week and I not try to do too much until the medication started to take effect and I was able to...well...walk freely about.

So I've spent the past week on the couch with mounds of paper around me, and my daughter spent several days of that time on the loveseat with books and video games and markers and her iPod and such.

Today, she seemed much better, and I saw an opportunity to reclaim a scrap or two of floor space. "I'm not expecting you to jump up and start cleaning the house," I said, "but it would be nice if you could impose some order on all that stuff you have piling up around the couch."

I have GOT to learn that this child is nothing if she's not literal.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Apparently, I Owe AOL $20.11

I used AOL for many years, but nearly three years ago I realized that I wasn't using it much at all. I didn't use my AOL email anymore, and I certainly wasn't using AOL's browser or search. Eventually, my most frequent interaction with AOL was the monthly deduction from my checking account--which was always for the wrong amount.

In the early years, I'd had a feature that took messages when I was online, but I'd switched to DSL a couple of years earlier and never been able to get AOL to remove that feature from my billing. So when I moved and opened a new checking account, I simply didn't transfer my billing. I closed the checking account they'd been billing and figured that, while they might not be willing to close my account over the phone (anyone ever tried this?), they'd surely close it when they found out they had no one to bill.

They fooled me though. Not long afterward, I started hearing that AOL was now free. Months after I'd abandoned the account (and stopped paying for it), I logged in and, to my surprise, found my account still active.

That was about two and a half years ago. Every once in a while, for different reasons, I'll log in and find that my account is still active...and that a boatload of spam has accumulated in my absence. I always assumed that it was because AOL was now free, and the account would just sit there indefinitely--or that at some point I'd go too long between log-ins, and then it would disappear.

And then, this month, I got a bill. Apparently, I owe AOL $20.11. They really liked having me as a customer, and they hope that I'll clear up this past-due balance so they can reinstate my account.

And really, that would be quite a deal, if I wanted AOL...2.5 years for $20.11.

Except that I logged in a couple of weeks after I got the bill, and my account is alive and well...and filled with 770 pieces of junk mail.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

ROTFLMAO...Errr....Not Really

Is it just me? Whenever I see "rotfl" or "lmao" pop up in the middle of a serious discussion, intended to convey how stupid the opponent's point was, I have an almost visceral reaction. I immediately begin to view the author as either borderline retarded or afflicted with anti-social personality disorder, and lose all interest in anything he or she might have to say...ever again.

If you don't share my reaction, that probably sounds unduly harsh, but let's think about the context for a moment. A serious discussion is in progress, perhaps about the legalization of prostitution or Sarah Palin's qualifications for the Vice-Presidency. Both "sides" seem to have strongly held views and have thought the issue through. Then, one makes a point...and the other writes "lmao".



So there are two possibilities, right?

The first is that the person truly IS laughing, having lost all sight of the actual issue on the table because she saw an opportunity to mock someone and dropped the serious shit like a hot potato.

The other is that she's NOT laughing, but has voluntarily departed from intelligent debate because it's more important to her to try to make someone else feel stupid than it is to convey a valid point.

Neither of those things gives a writer a lot of credibility in my book. It's rather like a child yelling, "I know you are, but what am I?" at someone who has said, "Give that toy back to Kevin" or "It's time to do your homework": a spotlight on all that is weak, childish, defensive, and even incoherent about the speaker.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

So, Tomorrow is September 11...

...and I forgot.

6 years, 364 days and 10 hours ago, I was sitting at my computer in a small town in Illinois, looking in disbelief at video of the smoldering first tower and not really yet entertaining the possibility that someone I knew had ceased to exist. She wasn't a close friend, just someone I knew from a common activity, part of a small group I exchanged emails with. The emails were usually light, sometimes snarky, almost always funny. The last email I'd received from her, though, had been different. Although young, she was a very accomplished professional woman. In that last email, just a day or two before, she'd mentioned that she was considering leaving her job to have a child.

So, on the morning of September 11, when I dashed off an email that said nothing more than, "Are you okay? Please respond so we know you're safe", I really hadn't absorbed the possibility that she might not be.

That seems insane in retrospect, given the images we were seeing, but it was somehow too much to take in. Too much to process on the scale that it was happening, and too much to narrow to a single flesh and blood woman halfway across the country from me.

Of course, as the hours and then days wore on, reality dawned...but it dawned slowly.

My daughter was five, and in afternoon kindergarten. What I remember most clearly from that day is her speaking into her yellow plastic toy phone, saying to some imaginary person on the other end, "I'm not sure if I'm going to school. There seem to be bombs everywhere." I turned off the television, but apparently it didn't help: what my daughter thinks she remembers from that day is me sitting on the bathroom floor crying. But that didn't happen that day. It happened two days later when the quick "are you okay?" email I'd dashed off bounced back with "permanant fatal errors". It's all blended in her mind, as one event, and perhaps it should be. It was a strange time when the normal parameters of life seemed not to apply.

But tonight was Parent Night at my daughter's school, and her Social Studies teacher mentioned that they'd be talking about 9/11 tomorrow, and my blood ran colder than it has on any of the years when I've been conscious of the date...because I forgot.

That's what we do, as humans. We move on. It's healthy, in a way, but in another way we lose something when we do. We've lost the spirit of togetherness, of being human together, of things like money and power and having the right job or the right car or whose kid made the cheerleading squad just NOT MEANING ANYTHING. Now, in the shadow of the upcoming Presidential election, we're as divided as we've ever been. The phrase "how is that my problem?" appears in a lot of discussions about economic crises and medical coverage and a hundred other issues that impact the day-to-day lives of people around us. We've forgotten.

And that is, perhaps, the biggest tragedy of 9/11. Because in the wake of disaster, it was very clear to all of us how it was our problem, how we were all in it together and every lost or injured or widowed or orphaned person was one of us. If we've lost that, we've let go of the one good, human thing that came out of that day and chosen to remain in the ruins.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Big News...I Went Bowling

For most people, that probably wouldn't be big news, but here's the thing: once upon a time I was a league bowler. I was never in the running to beat any ABC records or anything like that, but I had a 164 average and I had occasional brushes with 200. Then, 2.5 years ago, on the morning I was scheduled to start a brand-new full time job, I broke my shoulder.

It was, perhaps, the dumbest injury in this history of western civilization. It was a clear morning and the pavement wasn't wet or icy, but I slipped (apparently on nothing) at the gas station and landed right on the ball of my shoulder.

That was inconvenient enough, what with me starting this WRITING job and not being able to use my dominant hand, but there was another glitch. Because my first official act in the job had been to take a day off to spend in the emergency room, and then my performance was limited by the fact that I couldn't use my right arm, and then my daughter had an emergency that required me to take a few days off, I never really got time to do rehab. Or to get my follow-up x-rays from the pneumonia I was recovering from when I broke my shoulder.

My lungs recovered on their own. My shoulder did not. 2.5 years later I'm still automatically reaching for things with my right arm and finding out that it no longer bends that way or that whatever I'm trying to grab is too heavy or that I have any one of a hundred other limitations that I can't seem to get my mind around.

To be honest, I was afraid to try bowling. If I couldn't pour a gallon jug of milk with my right hand--and I can't--then how could I possibly swing a ball heavier than that jug of milk, and do it twenty times a game? And if I wasn't going to be able to bowl again, I was in no hurry to find out. I know that sounds silly, since during all that time I wasn't bowling I...well...wasn't bowling. It probably didn't matter much whether or not I COULD if I never DID. But I wanted to keep the hope alive.

But this week I began a belated process of reclaiming my life. I say belated because I expected this to happen when I changed jobs in January and cut out my 3.5 hour round trip commute. I had visions of a clean house and civilized dinners and maybe even a social life. And for the first few weeks, those things started to come together. But as I couldn't reveal then and you now know, I was involved in the creation of a full-service bar review course. We started in January, and we'll have students in the classroom in November. That meant that, far from gaining free time by cutting out the commute, my work hours expanded into something I'd never before experienced--not even when I was practicing law. Several times I worked for 24-30 hour stretches without sleep. I worked seven days most weeks and 16-18 hours most days.

And then our product launched and, while there was still a lot of work to be done, I decided it was time for some balance. 8 hours of sleep. Food I cooked myself. Taking time to read novels in French. And tonight, bowling. I can't remember the last time I was so delighted to be mediocre. I had to use a lighter ball and I bowled I got through two games without pain and through four strikes. There's hope.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Just in Case You Were Wondering...

what I do for a living, here it is.

You may recall that back in January I posted quite a bit about taking on an exciting new job, but those posts were long on excitement and short on details. However, we are officially launching our new product this week, and it's been all over the financial news, so I guess I can come clean now: Fox Business News Story

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Stuff I Shouldn't Think is Funny

Last night, with storms raging and tornado warnings and tree branches crashing down all around us, my daughter and her friend settled into my living room. My townhouse is split-level, so my living room is halfway underground and seemed the safest place to settle them.

Of course, since they're adolescent girls, settling them in the living room was a little like packing up for a week's vacation. It involved not only blankets and pillows on the living room floor, but a laptop, a stack of video games, Dance, Dance Revolution, drinks, art supplies, get the picture.

The air calmed. This morning I surveyed the wreckage outside and the wreckage inside and couldn't decide which presented a greater challenge. Finally, after lunch, I said, "Tori, I really need you to get control of the living room."

And she surveyed the room, with not a square inch of floor space available, and said, "Mom, I HAVE control of this room."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Days Gone By

This evening my daughter went to a slumber party. As a single mother, I don't get many evenings to myself, and I had a few possibilities for this one. I opted out of all of them and went out to dinner by myself, to a tiny Mexican restaurant that my daughter doesn't like. I ordered too much food and sat for more than an hour, picking at bits of it and reading an old Robert Parker novel that I'd somehow missed the first time around.

If you have children, perhaps you understand why I didn't go out to dinner with friends or my family or even take the all-too-rare opportunity to hear some live music. An hour of silence with a good book and food someone else cooked was like a little slice of heaven.

When I left the restaurant the night air was soft and so I rolled down the window and drove through town with the wind in my hair and a friend on my CD player and didn't feel the least bit like a grandmother. Quite by accident, that drive took me through the neighborhood where we lived when my daughter was a baby, and suddenly its cracked sidewalks and run-down houses looked a little bit like heaven, too.

I gave up my job when my daughter was born; my husband paid child support for his two older children. I scarcely exaggerate when I say that we didn't have a nickel to spare. More than once I went digging through coat pockets and purses in hopes of finding a few dollars to buy dinner with, and I put together a little book of dinners you could cook for under $3.00. And however we all tend to romanticize it, there's nothing glamorous about being poor. It's hard and it's stressful.

But what I found myself thinking about tonight was the quiet night air around that neighborhood, about walking the dog in the evening, about the adolescent neighbor girl who loved our baby so much that she became like part of the family. There was something somehow richer and more real about that neighborhood, where my husband didn't want me to walk alone at night. There was a little dog whom I don't think I'll ever stop missing. But mostly, there was time.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the trade-off between time and money. For a parent, it's a Catch-22 of astronomical proportions. Your child wants and needs your presence at exactly the same time that she needs and wants your financial support. Then day she's supporting herself, busy with her own life, and you have time to slow down...but for what?

I know I have nothing to complain about. I've got a great job that allows me to earn a good living from home, family half a mile away, a fabulous kid whose friends have adopted me as a second mother...but some days I think that I'd give most of this money back and go back to digging for change in the seat cushions if I could have back those aimless days when my daughter sat sleep-mussed in the chair with a doll in her lap and said, "So...what do you want to do today?" and the answer was wide open.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thank God I Don't Love You Anymore

I chose the title because it's the name of a song by my friend Maggie Brandon, and because I'm still amused by the fact that back in the third grade, my daughter (who has a great voice) recorded the song for a boy in her class (but requested that he return her tape after he'd listened to it).

But it's something I've been thinking about seriously lately. It seems we put a kind of premium on the ability to "get over" people. In a sense, in our world of relatively short-lived relationships, that makes sense. But in another, it's a sad commentary and maybe even risky business when we congratulate ourselves and each other for learning not to love someone anymore. On a personal level, it might seem like a triumph to close off that piece of our hearts when a relationship ends--or changes--but in the greater scheme of things is a little less love really a positive development? I'm inclined to think not.

For a mish-mash of reasons, I've been thinking recently about loving and stopping loving and loving again...and how maybe every love is diminished by the ability to "get over" the last one and the possibility that one day we'll "get over" this one, too.

My own life has been a bit unusual in this regard. Though I've been in a few serious relationships that changed shape, I haven't ever been in one that really ENDED. I broke off my first engagement in 1993, but we still talk regularly. I've been separated from my husband for four years, but just this morning he checked out a little sound my car was making, and I'm doing some writing for his website. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me that someone can be an integral part of your life for years and years and then that just disappears when things change. I think I'm about to walk away clean from someone I once loved for the first time in my life, and maybe that's why this is on my mind...maybe. But I think it's more than that, too.

I'm thinking more about training ourselves how not to love, and what kind of effects that's going to have in the end.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aging Gracefully

I'm not actually sure what that phrase means. I always thought, when I was younger, that it meant accepting and working with nature's changes instead of trying to use clothing and make-up and surgical enhancements to defy nature. In other words, aging without objection. But then, when I was working on my book about Rick Springfield, I noted that a number of reporters made comments about Rick being the poster child for aging gracefully and such, and he didn't appear to be aging AT ALL.

I can't honestly claim to have given it much thought, but it did leave me uncertain as to what people might mean by that phrase. I must admit that I still don't know, but today I got a taste of something that might have been a hint.

As I've mentioned here recently, I became a sort-of-grandmother a couple of months ago.

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to sit on the edge of a pool and feed my grandson for the first time while his mother swam with her younger siblings. Back in the day, she got up at 6:00 every morning for swim-team practice, but today she couldn't remember the last time she'd been in the water. Her first dive was hesitant.

I'm a water disciple myself, but I couldn't have been more content than I was sitting on the deck with that child in my arms and watching my not-so-kids kids play together.

I remember seeing older people doing things like that when I was young, and kind of assuming that they were beyond swimming and splashing and all that. Not so, it turns out--I'd swim every day if time and space allowed. But then, I'd hold that baby while he slept every day, too, if he weren't 200 miles away. Maybe it's all about new dimensions. The great thing about aging, it begins to seem to me, is that the new joys we discover are more numerous and more significant than those that fall away.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Think Someone's Missing the Point

My sister sent me an email at work not long ago. Her language wasn't entirely clean. I don't know exactly what she said. I'm sure it wasn't meant to be offensive, but I missed the context because our filters at work screened out the email.

Now, I have no objection to that. Short of having a human being reviewing filtered mail, the only way to really make it work is to create lists and screen out forbidden words. And if a business wants to make a hard and fast rule against curse words in company email, there's nothing unreasonable about this.

Here's the thing: although I don't know what my sister's email said, I do know that the forbidden word she used was "bitch".

I know this because the filtering program clipped it and sent it to me. That's right--all of the clean, innocuous words were blocked. All of the context was eliminated. But I did receive a notification in which the word "bitch" was prominantly displayed in a graphics box.

So. Good thing they protected me from all those OTHER words, hm?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things I Didn't Do on Vacation

We're heading for home tomorrow, carrying a load of books I didn't read, and I've just written out directions for the return trip in a notebook in which I didn't write a word along the way. I thought when I headed out that this trip would be a good time to:

1. Finish reading the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers, which I decided to revisit after a discussion about the upcoming election back in February.

2. Sneak in a little work...I know...I know...but I DID bring along a little, just in case.

3. Do some writing for Rational Outrage, which has been badly neglected due to my recent deadlines at work.

4. Do some creative writing--hence the optimistic new notebook purchased along the road.

5. Watch a couple of recent movies in the hotel at night, since I never get that opportunity at home.

6. Tour many more historic locations in Savannah than we've seen.

Instead, I slept late, read a couple of throwaway novels, watched a couple of movies on Disney Channel with my kid, played in the ocean, dug shells out of the sand, drifted in the hotel swimming pool, ordered room service, spent time with a couple of friends that I never see in real life, ate breakfast on the balcony and played Uno, War and Slapjack. And I'm pretty good with all that.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Past, Present, Future

During the summer of 1990, I worked for Legal Aid in Augusta, Georgia. There was one other clerk in my office that summer, a girl named Kim. My sister, then a teenager, said that if Daisy Duke had become a lawyer, she would have been Kim. It was an odd compliment, but clearly intended that way--she was awash with admiration for Kim's denim-cutoff chic, the offhand way she pointed out Pete Buck on her way by the bar and hardly spared him a glance, the bottle-fed goat in her backyard.

For me, Kim was simply a friend, in the crazy way that we make friends when we're young. I knew her for 12 weeks, eighteen years ago. We didn't have email in 1990, so keeping in touch wasn't as easy as it's become, and we didn't. We lunched and dinnered and occasionally drank together and fought the good fight side by side. I was hundreds of miles from home, and she took me to both of hers: a summer afternoon by the pool on her mother's near-farm and a weekend in Athens, where she went to school. At the end of the summer, we drove to Chicago together, and then...

Eighteen years passed.

The modern world being what it is, I found her through Google, on a whim one day. Maybe it was chance that I'd planned a trip to Savannah for this summer, and it turned out that she'd moved there. Maybe it was simply luck that we arrived just a few days before she was going out of town herself.

Today, we had lunch in downtown Savannah to plan the dinner we were going to have tonight. We had dinner at a "shack" on Tybee Island, dining on the deck with the ocean breeze in our hair and palm trees surrounding us, and after dinner we got up to walk across a wooden bridge to the ocean--which Tori had never seen before.

Kim's daughter, Ava Grace, is two. Tori took her hand, and Kim took her other, and I smiled, and then Tori said, "Want to join our chain, mom?" and reached out her other hand for me. So we walked hand-in-hand to the ocean, my old friend and I and the children who weren't born the last time we were together. And, as we crossed the bridge, Kim pointed out a school of dolphins. I told Tori to roll up her jeans and we walked into the surf, laughing, and she picked up seashells for the first time in her life.

It's been, in many ways, a nostalgic trip for me. Sunday night, we stayed in an old inn down the block from the house I rented in Augusta that long-ago summer, and I passed by the park where I walked my dog every night and ate breakfast on the balcony with my daughter, looking out at the same view I'd enjoyed on the lower terrace with friends nearly two decades earlier.

Still, there hasn't been a mistier moment--and probably won't be--than the one in which I watched my baby run barefoot into the ocean for the first time while the friend I'd thought long lost but had never forgotten looked on.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

So I'm in London...

London, Kentucky, that is. I had no idea there was such a place. We should be in Knoxville, Tennessee by now, but we've been rained off the road twice in the past two days and it's put us a little behind schedule. As it turned out, that was just fine this evening. Nothing wrong with a civilized meal and a decent night's least, if memory serves correctly. Thus far this evening has afforded me the recently unprecedented opportunities to read a novel and to IM with a friend WITHOUT multi-tasking. And now it's 9:30 p.m. and there's nothing I absolutelyhavetofinishtonight. I hardly know how to handle it. I think I could get used to this vacation thing. Especially in a place like London, Kentucky, where the options are limited and relaxing is pretty much mandatory.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

You may have to click to enlarge (these words don't count, right?)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me...

Okay, it's not my birthday.

Still, I want to whine a little.

Wednesday was actually my birthday, and it began with the painful onset of a new round of ovarian cysts and a migraine. One of my daughter's friends had a (serious) crisis and ended up spending the whole day with us, which led my daughter to abandon her plan to go shopping with my mother for a gift for me, which further led my daughter to breaking down crying in the evening because she didn't have a gift for me.

Because things have been unbelievably busy at work and we're working mandatory full days on Saturday and I was just getting back up to speed from my first round of cysts and my mother had been having medical problems, I canceled the cookout I was supposed to be having today to celebrate my birthday.

There's a certain irony in this. You see, for the past few years I've been resolutely ignoring my birthday to the point that it's made things tough on my friends and family. I've flat-out refused to celebrate. This year, after a life-altering realization at Easter, I was quite eager to celebrate with everyone from my past and present, and invited more people to celebrate with me than I've ever hosted in one place in my life.

And's illness...unexpected mandatory trip to New can do.

But it turns out that it's a VERY GOOD THING that I canceled my cookout today.

You see, when my daughter got out of the shower around noon today, there was a suspicious gurgling noise in my laundry closet. Apparently, pipes gurgle when they DISCHARGE A BUNCH OF RAW SEWAGE ALL OVER YOUR KITCHEN FLOOR.

So we're supposed to be going out to dinner with my family tonight, but I'm currently sitting at my house waiting for various plumbers and other professionals to clean and rout and patch and whatever else it is they have to do to make my house a house again. At the moment, it smells like a swamp and I can't take a much for the whole "I'll wait until this afternoon since we're going out tonight" thing.

The only upside is that I'm laughing. It's a somewhat bitter and ironic laugh, I'll admit, but I'm just sure that it's better than crying.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thank God for Garbage!

I know, I know. Far too many posts here have been dedicated to my garbage and recycling. We've discussed that already. But today, I have a whole new attitude toward garbage. Today I am CELEBRATING GARBAGE!

You see, this morning when I went out to haul my garbage to the curb like I do every Monday morning, I saw something unusual.

My neighbor was waiting patiently to cross the four-lane road in front of my house.

He's three.

He was on his Big Wheel.

In his underwear.

He was very agreeable when I suggested that we needed to head back to his house, and obligingly scooted his Big Wheel alongside me. When I asked where he'd been headed, he said he was just going to work. While I knocked and rang bells and tried to wake up his parents, my daughter had a talk with him about how cars can hurt you.

Now, I know that about a thousand of you are shaking your heads in disgust at his parents right now, because that's what we have to do. The only way we can pretend that this terrifying stuff can't happen to us is by finding something to distinguish us from those parents.

This kid has fantastic parents. I don't know them well, but I see them in the yard with their kids all the time. They actively play with them, and they stick close to them. And they've obviously taught him well, because he was WAITING HIS TURN to cross the street. But, like all of us, they occasionally have to sleep. And early this morning while they were sleeping, we all learned that their three year old has figured out how to open the patio door.

We also learned something great about human nature, because inn the space of a minute or so, the time it took me to get from my porch to the corner, another woman stopped her van and got out to ask him where his mother was and yet another passerby called the Sheriff, who arrived within minutes.

All is well.

But I think it's going to be a long time before I complain about having to take my garbage out.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What I Wish People Understood

Most of my posts on this blog have a taste of tongue-in-cheek humor or insight or perspective or...something useful or entertaining. I don't think I have a positive spin for this one.

I'm going to be 42 years old this week. I look much younger; most people take me to be in my early thirties, and people are often shocked that I have a twelve-year-old daughter (and more shocked to discover that I was nearly thirty when she was born). That may or may not be relevant, but I think it is--I think the fact that I don't "look sick" works against me every day.

I have a malformed renal artery that may or may not be the cause of chronic high blood pressure. I am dependent on a medication that causes fatigue and depression. I have a minor heart valve problem, not serious or life threatening, but which means that when I get a jolt of adrenalin or I'm sick or I don't get enough sleep or any of a dozen other triggers, my heart rate shoots up and stays there...I feel my heart beating in my whole body, and I can't sleep because it gets worse when I lie down. When my blood pressure is unstable, I have migraines sometimes 10 or 12 days a month, so severe that I throw up and the blood vessels in my eyes break. I have dizzy spells and see little silver spots floating in front of my eyes.

Sounds like a long whine, I know, and I'm really not whining. I know that a lot of people have it a lot worse than I do, and I'm very grateful (especially since I'm a single mother) for the fact that I've been able to keep working. But here's my problem...because I AM able to keep working despite the cost, because I do make it a point to get out and do as much with my kid as I can, even though it more often means just sitting outside and watching her play these days than playing with her, people tend to dismiss my limitations. I don't think it's that they don't believe me, quite. Well, not most of them. I did have one boss, recently, who opted not to believe that I was sick and to solidify his position by refusing to look at medical documentation because he "didn't want to be that kind of boss." But it's rare. For the most part, I think it's more that it's just not concrete for people.

I get diagnoses, treatments are suggested, sometimes tried, and my friends are sincerely concerned. But life goes on. Nothing changes. And I don't LOOK sick. I don't sound sick. The person sitting across from me can't see the little lights floating in front of my eyes and when I say I can't walk any farther, the person walking next to me can't feel the way my heart is quivering.

Sometimes, I have long periods when I feel reasonably well and, if I'm not stretched too thin by necessities, I can go about my life like a normal person, socialize, walk, play with my daughter. There are other periods, sometimes equally long, when it is literally all I can do to show up to work every day, feed my kid, and get enough sleep to stay alive.

And that "stay alive" thing isn't drama. Before I was out of my thirties I was hospitalized for my blood pressure twice, and both times it was terrifying. The medication that is supposed to instantly drop your blood pressure didn't work on me. My blood pressure was so high that one doctor said that if it stayed that high it could cause brain damage even if I DIDN'T have a stroke. I know what it feels like when I'm in trouble, and I know what's going to happen if I don't take firm hold of it.

And yet my friends...people I know are sincerely concerned about me...simply can't accept it when that happens. They email and call in guilt trips about how long it's been since they've seen me and how I'm neglecting them and how they miss ME even if I have better things to do. They bombard me with invitations and counter-proposals and talk about me having "excuses" not to do this or that.

I have an excuse. It's that the number one goal in my life is to live to see my child into adulthood and to be able to work long enough to support her until she's self-supporting. That's it. That's what I'm living for. And anything that threatens that doesn't happen.

If that sounds like melodrama to you, then you're a very fortunate person, and I envy the fact that you've never had to choose between living your life and preserving it. Sometimes, that's my reality.

My daughter recognizes it to some degree and I hate that. I can't bear when she says, "Mommy, why don't you go take a nap?" even though it's a summer day and she's dying to get out somewhere, because she just watched me fall asleep with my head in a pile of laundry I was folding. I hate when she comes out at night when I'm working and asks if there isn't anything at all that she can help me with. It makes me ill that her childhood is limited by my health.

But it also makes me angry. It makes me angry that my 12-year-old is willing to set aside her own wants to make sure that I get the rest I need and don't push myself, and most of the adults in my life can't do anything but take it personally. Sometimes, in my worst moments, I envy the people who are just a little bit worse off than I am. If I were in the hospital, after all, no one would be mad that I couldn't go out to dinner or make a quick trip into the city or go swimming at someone's house or any of the hundred other things that seem as far off and unreal to me, in the bad phases, as flying to the moon.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Big Blessings Come in Small Packages

Here's our latest little blessing with his mommy (my stepdaughter) and my daughter. And he wasn't the only one we had around this weekend.

This is his second-cousin with her great-grandmother (my mother-in-law).

And this is my baby showing me that she's not such a baby anymore--she just suddenly looks so grown up when someone truly tiny comes into the picture.

But really, despite all those tiny fingers and big eyes and sweet-smelling scalps and such, it wasn't the babies that I set out to talk about. No, the sense of gratitude and good fortune really came over me while I was weeding my mother-in-law's garden with my sister-in-law.

My mother-in-law was sitting on the porch and my daughter and stepson were playing a little more roughly than I'm entirely comfortable with. My "niece" Katrina was standing on the sidewalk holding the beautiful and charming Brenna, and she said, "Show Aunt Tiff how you..."

And all was right with my world, for the moment anyway. You see, my mother-in-law's house has always existed as a kind of respite from the world. When I first started dating my husband, she had goats in her backyard. Summer Sundays a dozen family members would play football or badminton or whatever someone happened to suggest, usually barefoot in the grass alongside her house, while someone grilled. I've never really lived in a world where things moved slowly, no one kept an eye on the clock, and the grass was always thick and soft under your feet.

Her town is so small that the first time I sat alone on her front porch, each car that passed slowed and the driver squinted at me, clearly trying to work out who I might be and why I was there. I sat with my husband on the covered porch in the middle of the night and watched it storm.

But, as you probably know, my mother-in-law is my mother-in-law no more. The niece who told her daughter to "show aunt Tiff" was my niece by virtue of a marriage that is no more. I separated from my husband four years ago.

But my former in-laws are still the people they were all those years ago, when I was shocked by the ease with which they accepted me into their family and the comfort I felt barefoot in their grass. I'm not sure what their reasoning is. It could be that they're still Tori's family and I'm still hers. It could be that relationships grow independent of the one that kicked them off. It could be that they don't reason at all, and they're just generous and loving people who are more concerned with opening doors than closing them.

Whatever it is, it's a gift. It even felt like a gift when my stepson--whom I hadn't seen in two months--said, "Mom, will you buy me minutes for my TracPhone?" That's right, kid--you just stay that comfortable. Please.

Here are some more pictures of my new "grandson", just because I feel like it.

With my stepson Matt and daughter Tori.

With his daddy, Shawn.

In his mommy's arms.

Monday, May 19, 2008

So I'm Kind of Sort of Almost Going to Be a Grandmother Tomorrow

I suppose technically the child of my ex-stepdaughter is not my grandchild, but "ex" and "daughter" don't really work well together, even if there is that pesky prefix involved. When you've sewn a child's curtains and made her breakfast and taught her to write her name and later helped her fill out her first job application, when you've walked her to the door the first day at a new school (and been shocked that, at thirteen, she kissed you goodbye in the hallway) and cheered her on during swim meets, there's no end to that.

At seven, holding on to MY this space next week for pictures of her cradling her own.

Her ninth birthday, at Discovery Zone.

Creeping up on adolescence (with brother Matt, cousin Branden and my daughter)

And all grown up...I'm still not quite sure how this happened, how we got here from homemade Power Ranger pillows and Barbies and even N'Sync and summer jobs and teenage boys at the door.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It Can Only be a Divine Message

After much soul searching and some hard questions about refrigeration and shipping, my sister and I have decided to offer up the Miraculous Onion Ring on ebay.

We can only hope that it will go to someone who will truly appreciate and draw on its special properties, rather than just popping it in his mouth as my sister nearly did.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So--Just Curious--Have You Ever Gotten Locked in a Bathroom?

Several years ago, I took my daughter to a birthday party at McDonald's. She was always a little shy in new crowds and she didn't know many people at the party, so she asked me to stay. I wanted to give her a bit of security and also a bit of independence, so I got a coke and sat down in the restaurant, but outside the party room--she was on her own, but she could see me.

For a while.

And then I had to get up and go to the bathroom. All went as could be expected until I attempted to leave the stall and discovered that the door wouldn't open. I worked at it quite a bit before speaking to someone outside the door. I'd actually been about to use my cell phone to call the restaurant and tell them I was locked in the bathroom when someone mercifully entered.

She didn't answer the first couple of times--I guess you don't expect a stranger to be speaking to you from inside a bathroom stall. When I finally got her attention, she reluctantly attempted to open the door from the outside. She failed. Eventually, she fetched an employee, who was able to open the door. Amazingly, after she let me out she said, "That keeps happening."

I suggested that perhaps a sign on the door would be in order. She said, "Maybe" and left the room without posting one. I didn't see her go back. By the time I returned to the outer area, the party was ending, and my daughter had mercifully settled in and not noticed my absence.

But that's not the funny part. The funny part is that five or so years after this happened, I mentioned it to a friend of mine. She laughed uproariously and insisted that I was the only person in history ever to have been locked in a bathroom. I knew that couldn't be right, and pointed to the fact that the McDonald's employee had said, "that keeps happening." Obviously, it had happened to other people RIGHT THERE IN THAT VERY MCDONALD'S.

Still, my friend protested that she'd never heard of anyone getting locked in a bathroom before. She demanded to know whether I had, and I had to admit that I had not. We were in our late thirties at the time, so it seemed likely that, if this kind of thing was happening, we'd have heard about it a time or two. So we started asking around.

Guess what?

Exactly 50% of the people we asked had been locked in a bathroom at some point in their lives.


Apparently, they'd just done a very good job of keeping it under wraps.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The White Castle Straw

Okay, I KNOW it defeats the purpose of the whole Wordless Wednesday thing, but I just have to explain. It's been more than two weeks, and I was biting my tongue (or sitting on my hands, perhaps) to keep from explaining when I posted it, and the urge never passed. And then, when I posted ANOTHER Wordless Wednesday photo a week later and the VERY FIRST PERSON TO COMMENT saw my point exactly...well...I just can't help myself anymore.

Take a look at the ends of the wrapper. You may have to enlarge the photo.

And then tell this a really clever and subtle joke, or a really, really stupid design?

White Castle Straw

So It Turns Out I'm Too Pissy To Blog

I've got medical problems. Nothing life-threatening this time around, just temporarily debilitating enough to be really frustrating. I can't move around much and I'm too medicated to do much work, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up on blogging...but it didn't quite work out that way.

First, I headed over to RockStories, my writing blog. I planned to post about the fact that a publisher had asked to see the first three chapters of the romance novel I've had lying around my hard drive for a year and a half. Apparently, though, that ws too positive for me in my current state of mind, because instead I ended up starting a post about a spam comment I got on that blog.

Now, the irritation was legitimate. The comment linked back to a THESIS WRITING SERVICE. Right. Because writers always need those. And besides, anyone who read my writing blog would DEFINITELY think I'd be up for promoting plagiarism and academic fraud, right? (As you can see, I'm not really over it.)

Eventually, I wandered over here, where the subject matter is broader. Maybe I could write about how I'm celebrating my birthday next month (# 42) for the first time in as many years as I can remember. Maybe I would write about how my friend Barb's cat miraculously came home after being lost in a strange city for six weeks. Maybe I could even write about how much it sucked to spend half the night in the emergency room--not everything is going to be roses, right?

But no. I'm still writing about the $#!@**# spam post.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My first Wordless Wednesday

and I'm suppressing the urge to explain.

More Stuff You Never Expected to Hear Your 12-Year-Old Say

"I don't care if they're in a bag filled with DON'T send tadpoles through the mail!"

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Reluctant Tribute to Irish Dancers

My daughter loves theater, music and dance, and I love my daughter. As a result, I see a fair number of shows. In the past six months or so, we've seen High School Musical, Annie, The Spirit of Christmas and Wicked. And, of course, you know all about the wildly overpriced Jonas Brothers concert.

I'm not a reluctant participant, either. I'm very conscious of the fact that my daughter is in middle school now and on the cusp of that age where parents can do no right. I'll pretty much share anything she wants to share. I am the mom who gets up and dances when some teenage singer says he wants to see all the parents up dancing. In earlier years, I was the mom who went down the water slide holding EVERY child in my daughter's preschool class up over my head so that they could go on the water slide without going under water. I was the mom who unquestioning put on the plastic crown that was presented to me while I was making breakfast for the sleepover guests and who agreed to cover the back patio in bubble wrap after my daughter's friends were deemed too old to get into that "game" at the school fun fair. I'm the mom who, when my daughter's "boyfriend" chases the car down the block after school, plays along and whips around the block and cuts him off.

I enjoy those things, and I think they make it easier for my daughter to swallow the fact that I'm ALSO the mom--often the only one--who thinks 12 is too young to go to the community pool without a grownup, who has to talk to the other parent if we're going to have a guest or my daughter is visiting someone else, who says some movies aren't appropriate for her age and who doesn't let my child online unless I'm in the room.

But when my daughter mentioned excitedly that Riverdance was coming to town, I immediately started considering my options. I could claim it was sold out. I could pay someone else to take her. I could jump off the Brooklyn Bridge on my next business trip to New York.

It will probably come as no surprise to you that I finally chose "Go to the damned show." But I definitely haven't been looking forward to it. And I'll be honest: I fell asleep a couple of times. There's a good chance that I have no culture, but whatever the cause, watching people dance for two solid hours was about as exciting as I expected it to be.

That said, the lead dancers were astonishing. She, I believe, is a woodsprite / fairy mix. He reminded me of a lithe, prancing horse. I may have chosen the wrong animals / mythical creatures, but I'm utterly convinced that no mere human moves like that. I quite literally couldn't WATCH as fast as this man danced. It would have been comical if it weren't so riveting. If you're into that sort of thing, you should definitely see it.

Or if, you know, your KID is.

Monday, April 7, 2008

God is NOT in the Details

I started out here to write a post about my garbage. You see, after having reclaimed my garbage can (but not my recycling bins) and bought a new one, I walked out this afternoon to discover that the waste management folks hadn't TAKEN my garbage because my new garbage can is apparently too big. So it's sitting out by the curb and I couldn't drag it back DOWN the hill behind my house if I wanted to, and I'm pretty pissy about it.

But as I set out to write about this I remembered something a friend of mine said last week. I mentioned that my house was a wreck and she said, "I know you take your garbage and your recycling out".



The reason she knew that was that I have not one but two posts about taking out my garbage and my recycling on this blog. This is three, I guess--and it's only my 35th post on this blog.

Can it really be that nearly 10% of my life is about my garbage and recycling?

I want to laugh and say of course not and wonder why this particular non-topic keeps popping up on my blog, but I suspect quite the opposite. I suspect that it's just an apt representation of the way the details that should be insignificant in life rise up and join together to take up so much time that the really important things get overlooked.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's Officially Summer

I'm lying, of course.

After all, it snowed two days ago. It's the end of March and it SHOULDN'T be snowing anymore, but there it is. I'm a fan of snow, but four and a half months of snow is...enough.

But today I went to the grocery store, and I bought watermelon. I was a little concerned about fitting it into my refrigerator, but I needn't have been. I don't think it's going to come to that.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Oops...I Seem to Have Overlooked St. Patrick's Day

I realize that St. Patrick's Day isn't really a "holiday" in the sense that overlooking it seems like much of an issue to most people. It's kind of like overlooking Presidents' Day, except easier because you don't have that annoying experience of pulling up to the drive-up window at your bank and discovering that it's closed to tip you off. But I'm Irish. And I'm sorry right now that nationalities are capitalized, because I really want to put a capital "I" on that for emphasis. I'm Irish.

Usually at St. Patrick's Day, I have a bunch of friends over for dinner and cook corned beef and hang tinsely shamrocks around my house and write IRISH on my front window in gooey green gel letters and even make my one-and-only annual beer purchase.

Today, I realized that it was St. Patrick's Day when I was writing a check at the doctor's office. I just got home from a business trip to New York yesterday and my daughter had a sore throat. Turns out it's strep. So with a sick child, no sleep, work to catch up on, and my new webzine launching tonight, St. Patrick's Day never entered my mind (even though the shamrock on the home page of my OWN WEBSITE should have been a clue...)

Now I'm bummed. I mean, it only comes around once a year. Do you think I can do one of those "Christmas in July" kinds of things? Maybe a St. Patrick's Day cookout or something?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is Elmo a Con Artist?

Earlier this afternoon, I was walking down 6th Avenue in Manhattan when I encountered...Elmo. Yeah, the little red guy from Sesame Street. Except I'm pretty sure that it wasn't the real Elmo, because he was about my height, and I've frankly always thought of Elmo as a knee-high kind of guy.

Elmo was holding a Christmas stocking--red velvet with gold trim, and very out of season for the edge-of-spring weather. He shook the Christmas stocking as passersby and many of them gave their children money to drop into Elmo's Christmas stocking.

Elmo didn't speak, of course, but he kind of danced around and acted happy when children put money in his stocking, and he motioned people over and gestured to the stocking to encourage them to donate.

Here's the thing that was bugging me: Donate to WHAT?

Now, it's entirely possible that the fake Elmo was collecting for charity, but if that were the case, wouldn't it make sense for there to be a booth or a banner or a sign or a human volunteer or even a SASH to let you know what the charity was?

Nope. Not a sign of any such thing. Just a guy (or girl, maybe) in an Elmo costume shaking a Christmas stocking on the street, and a bunch of people filling it up with money.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Things You Never Expect to Hear Your 12-Year-Old Say...

FINALLY tonight I was feeling better and we started putting some of that huge pile-up of miscellany into storage. We got home a bit late and I ordered a pizza and while we waited for it I was IMing with a friend and my daughter was on the phone. It was pure chance that she was coming down the stairs and passed me just as she said, "His mom got DEPORTED?"

Of course, I had to stop her and question her. Yes, the mother of one of her classmates was deported. In my daughter's words, "She has to go back to Mexico for 3-10 years."

Lately I've been lamenting the lives of children quite a bit. We live in the Chicago suburbs, not the especially affluent suburbs, but still a place where we have green lawns and friendly neighbors and little dogs frolicking behind fences there's a long line of late-model SUVs in front of the school at 3:00.

My daughter has two friends who are in foster care.

She has another friend whose parents have been fighting over custody for more than a year, and during that time she has switched households EVERY SINGLE DAY. She leaves for school from one house and goes home to the other.

She isn't allowed to visit a fourth because we hear the father screaming curses at the children in the background when she's on the phone with her and he reportedly recently threw a chair through the window.

And now, the mother of another of her classmates has been deported.

It bears mentioning that at my daughter's school, each grade is divided into multiple "teams". Teams are constructed based on a variety of factors, and my daughter's team is the one with all of the "ET" kids--the kids who are accelerated in various subjects, who get good grades, who aren't disciplinary problems. In other words, this is as good as it gets.

If these are the circumstances our children are facing in everyday life at 11 and 12, what hope do they have of building the skills and values and confidence and clarity that they'll need in just a few short years? And what will they pass on to their own children? I'm not sure when (or how) I got old enough to think, "What is this world coming to?", but I'm thinking it now.

My Mom Sucks

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted because I've been sick. Really sick. Fortunately, I work from home, but even so I had to take a sick day and probably should have taken a couple more. For a solid two weeks I drifted in a cycle of work, sleep, soak in a hot tub, repeat. Occasionally the order was shuffled a bit, but no new activities were introduced.

My parents live close to me, and my father drove my daughter to and from school. My mother dropped off food, books, and rental videos. She called every day to ask whether I needed anything, remind me not to go out, and suggest things that I might not realize I needed. She picked up my prescriptions. And about every third day, she told me what a bad mother she felt like because she didn't dare come to my house and cook and clean for me.

My mother is in her sixties and had a triple bypass a couple of years ago. She still has problems with her heart, and she is, to our knowledge, allergic to every anti-biotic. She can't have (and so hasn't had) the flu shot. Still, she felt pretty bad about being afraid to expose herself to my germs.

Just now, I was sitting here eating lunch: egg salad on bread my mom gratuitously brought over midweek ("You haven't been to the store in so long--you must need bread and milk.") with pretzels my mom gratuitously brought over yesterday (along with some lunch meat, a couple of magazines, printer paper that I needed for work and a few other items) and coke from a 2-liter my mom gratuitously brought over at the beginning of the week ("They delivered it free with our pizza."), so I thought I'd take a moment to complain about her. Don't you think she should be over here doing my dishes?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out, Rick Springfield

That's a song, if you somehow managed to miss that hit by Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart. It's pretty funny, actually. If you were ever a Rick Springfield fan and you're not familiar with the song, you should check it out.

But I digress.

Damn. I digressed before I even STARTED on my topic. Good thing I'm not trying to make my living as a writer or anything.

Here's the thing: as a teenager, I loved Rick Springfield in the way that teenage girls from the 80s often did; as an adult I love Rick Springfield in the way one might love a favorite cousin who has come through for her in some significant circumstances and been really good to her child. I still remember my first Rick Springfield concert clearly. I know what I wore. I know that I sat in row T. I remember that the concrete steps were wide and flat, not the height of a full stair. In fact, although I hate to admit this in public, I still have the ticket.

Shut up. I keep everything. You probably know that since most of my previous posts on this blog are about trying to empty out my house and my various storage units.

And, of course, my book about Rick Springfield was a big turning point for me professionally; from that moment forward, I thought of myself as a writer and didn't entertain the possibility of returning to the practice of law.

I've probably been to somewhere between 30 and 40 Rick Springfield concerts--sometimes more in one day. I flew to some of them. But it all pales in comparison to this Jonas Brothers gig I have going on tonight.

I spent my lunch hour ironing "I love Nick Jonas" onto a t-shirt in silver sparkle letters. No, don't worry--I'm not going to wear it. In fact, I'm thinking about wearing a Rick Springfield t-shirt. But my daughter realized while she was getting ready for school this morning that she really didn't have any clothing that appropriately conveyed her devotion.



Now she does.

She can just barely continue to function like a normal person, and I can't imagine how school went today. She's a big fan of Lost, and if you watch the show you know that you can't really blink without missing something that could alter your understanding of several seasons. But last night during the show, she spread out all of her Jonas Brothers pictures and posters on the living room floor. The whole living room floor. Every inch of it. And decided that she didn't have enough, and that maybe we should subscribe to Bop, because it would be "a great source of more Jonas Brothers news and pictures".


So forget that the Jonas Brothers only have a couple of halfway-decent-for-a-teenage-band songs and were brought to us by Walt Disney. Forget that they were just recently the opening act for Hannah Montana, who doesn't even exist. My kid is quivering all over like a dog watching a rabbit and wanting with all its heart to race after it, and that makes this the most exciting concert of my life.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Single Best Piece of News in the World

Oreos no longer contain trans fats.

And they don't taste any different.

This may be old news to you or, though it's hard for me to imagine this, maybe this isn't a big deal in your life.

But listen: I was willing to risk all of our lives in order that Oreos not change. I was okay with the fact that KFC changed (and not for the better) in order to dump the trans fats. They're hideously bad for you. I was outraged that Burger King wouldn't play along, and we don't eat there anymore. But I wasn't really in support of trans fat banning legislation, might affect Oreos.

It didn't.

I'm very happy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

So, Someone Stole My Recycling Bins...

Okay, I know this isn't exactly breaking news...but come on. What the hell?

It was very cold on Monday, and when I went out in the afternoon to bring in the garbage can and recycling bins, they were gone.

All of them.

Two recycling bins.

One garbage can on wheels.

Gone, without a trace.

Now, this would be inconvenient enough. I mean, I'm going to have to replace them, and I drive a Neon, so lugging around outdoor trash cans is a little tricky, anyway, unless I make my kid run alongside the car. And I mentioned that it's been holding at 4 degrees for the past few days, with a wind chill of -13, right?

And who steals garbage cans and recycling bins?

But it couldn't have come at a worse time. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, you know that I moved into this townhouse almost two years ago, but because I was working full time and commuting 3.5 hours a day round trip and trying to raise a kid and bouncing in and out of the hospital and all that, I just recently started unpacking.

Monday, my daughter had a school holiday and I had the day off work. Yes, off work. It's a bit of a shock to the system, having President's Day off while still in recovery from a job where I had to work on Christmas Eve, but I had the day off. We were Highly Motivated.

My daughter packed things up to take to storage. I sorted through my filing cabinets and boxes of paper and created piles of recycling. We bagged up clothing to take to charity. Then, with piles of recycling in every room, one corner of the living room, the upstairs hall and my daughter's bedroom doorway stacked with things ready to go to storage, and a full lawn and leaf garbage bag at the top of the stairs, I went out to get the garbage cans...and you know the rest.

Undaunted (well, okay, we were daunted, but there was nothing we could do about the whole recycling bin thing), I called my parents to ask if we could borrow their Jeep to take all this stuff to storage and charity. (I mentioned that I drive a Neon, right?)

Before I had a chance to say a word, my mother said, "You're not going to believe this. Your father just went outside and someone threw a beer bottle through the back window of the Jeep."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Happy Birthday to Barb....Happy Birthday to You

Today is my friend Barb's birthday. You might know her, since you're obviously a blog reader. Her blog is So the Thing Is... and she has an outstanding collection of columns online at So the Thing Is...

If you're able to see the humor or would like to see the hope and life lessons in the little ins and outs of everyday life, you should definitely check them out. Or, you know, if you want to see all the latest in GI Joe fashion accessories.

I'm not a big fan of birthdays, at least not beyond childhood. I steadfastly refuse to celebrate my own. But there's a reason that we celebrate birthdays, a reason that often gets overlooked in the ingrained ritual of gift exchanges and blowing out candles. It's not just a day designated for people to sing to you--it's a day on which the people who love you stop for a moment and say, "This is the anniversary of the day something really good happened."

And THIS, my friends, is the anniversary of the day something really good happened. Something really good for me, since I've had the benefit of Barb's friendship and wit and support and many talents in my life for several years now, but something bigger than that as well because of the generosity with which she shares those things with the rest of the world.

Happy birthday, Barb. And congratulations to the rest of us for the gift WE got on this day.