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.

So.

Um.

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".

We.

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, because...well...it 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.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Everything Looks Different in Your Own Backyard

Don't get me wrong; like everyone else in the United States, I've looked on in horror and shed tears and drawn my family closer after Columbine, after September 11, after the shootings at Virginia Tech, after every time that evil or insanity or something even harder to understand intruded itself into otherwise normal everyday life. And every time I've been painfully conscious of the much greater trauma for the people who were there, the people who had friends and family killed or injured, the parents whose children were just there and couldn't be reached for hours--or minutes that seemed like hours.

What I didn't think about was how much worse it could be simply because your safe zone had been invaded, even if you didn't know anyone involved and the people you loved were all safe and in sight. It's surprising, in retrospect, that I didn't think of that, because I attach deeply to places. Once, many years ago, I said that if I had to choose between staying where I was and knowing no one or being transplanted and taking all of my friends with me, I would choose the familiar place over the familiar people. Maybe that's not such a good thing--that's another issue for another day. But the place I was talking about that day, the place that has been my primary safe haven and comfort zone for almost a quarter of a century, was the campus of Northern Illinois University.

I lived for four years in a dorm complex directly across from Cole Hall; you probably saw it on the news last night. I cut through Cole Hall to save steps in the winter, and to look at the Indian artifacts displayed in glass cases in the walkway. I had math classes there and later took the GRE there.

My four years at NIU were pretty idyllic, as those four years can be for many of us. Away from home but still not on our own, free but largely free of responsibility. Certainly it's possible that those factors, along with the fact that all of my closest friends lived in the same building with me, that we spent long hours over meals that had been paid for in advance and never had to worry about things like cash on hand and keeping the utilities on made a difference.

But I have a tendency to set roots, and I set them at NIU. College memories of singing at the lagoon on warm spring nights over wine coolers in paper cups blended easily into late-night walks with a friend and from there into writing by the lagoon, and then to my daughter feeding ducks there and naming them all Sarah. My husband worked in DeKalb once upon a time, and my daughter and I would take sandwiches in and pick him up and eat lunch by that lagoon, or in one of the campus restaurants that was nearly as familiar to me as my own kitchen.

The little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that you used to enter through a screen door in the alley, where my three friends and I could get dinner platters and beers for a total of $11 has grown into a bar and restaurant with outdoor seating, a respectable entrance, and much higher prices, but the food hasn't changed and it still feels like tradition.

Mostly, though, there's an inexplicable way in which the ground is the same under my feet. I walked that ground as a student, as a visitor, as a teacher, as a mother showing her child her roots. I walked the same ground that would later be walked by a mass murderer. I held open a door for my child that I'd later see on the news, shattered by gunfire or by rescue teams, looking broken and deserted in the aftermath.

In a sense, I'm in the same place I was after 9/11, after Virginia Tech, after any of those other senseless acts of violence and destruction. I don't know anyone at NIU any more. I didn't have to wait without breathing for a phone call, of for names to be released. My daughter was in the next room and I didn't have a hint of the horror of not being able to reach your child in a moment like that.

But I did have a feeling I'd never had before, never really contemplated before--a feeling that evil had wandered (or crashed its way) into my house, that it wasn't something lurking "out there" but something right here, turning everything upside down, stripping away an invisible layer and leaving something below that LOOKED just like it always had, that LOOKED familiar and comforting, and yet was, somehow, something else entirely.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tell the Truth...Do I Look Like an 80s Metalhead?

If you've visited my writing blog, you've seen a couple of recent pictures of me, including a charming family portrait with a llama from Christmastime. And really, it's time for you to step up and be brutally honest.


The other night, I was sitting at the kitchen table working on my laptop when my daughter came in and started playing with my hair. "Your hair looks so pretty," she said, and I was happy about that, because a little over a year ago I cut my hair very short for medical reasons and it's bothered me ever since. I'm not one to get hung up on looks--I don't wear much make-up and I wear one pair of plain flat black shoes the vast majority of the time, and I've had a lot of my clothes for longer than I've had my middle-schooler--but with short hair I just didn't look like ME. It's finally starting to grow out. Slowly.


So I said, "Thanks," and she continued to examine my hair and pointed out that it was a lot of different lengths and she really liked it. And then she said, "It looks like this guy."


And she pointed to her t-shirt.


A t-shirt of my husband's, from the eighties.


A t-shirt with Metallica on it.


This isn't the exact picture on the shirt, but it's the same era. It was the guy in the front on the right she was pointing to.




So...you know...guys...it's time to take a deep breath and do the right thing. If I look like a guy from Metallica, someone needs to speak up.

OMGMMR! (And who really needs $353, anyway?)

Yesterday, I wrote about paying $353 for two tickets to the Jonas Brothers Concert at the Allstate Arena.

Tradition in our family is that we celebrate birthdays on the weekend; on the actual birthday, if it doesn't fall on the weekend, we just have a nice dinner and give one gift. Of course, in my daughter's case this usually means one gift from me and one from my parents and sometimes one from my sister.

Of course I wanted to give her the tickets as soon as possible, and of course I don't have them yet, so I printed out the seating chart for the Allstate Arena and marked her seats and gave that to her over dinner.

Her eyes got very wide and she said, "I can't scream in Chipotle, right?"

The remainder of our dinner conversation was a series of comments like, "It will be the real actual them."

At one point she actually said that her cheeks hurt, but she couldn't stop smiling.

She tried. She really couldn't.

We talked a little more about the fact that we'd be in the same room (albeit a very large one) with the Jonas Brothers.

We talked a little bit about how she'd tell everyone she knew, one at a time, at school today.

She folded up the seating chart, wrote "look at me all the time" on the outside of it, and said that she was going to carry it in her pocket today.

When we got back in the car, she got on the phone, and said, "OMG MMR!"

Apparently (you may already be aware) this means "Oh my God, My Mom Rules!"

When we got out of the car she asked if she could finally scream and I said yes and she did, and it didn't seem the least bit put on. She stood in the kitchen and stomped her feet and yelled, "I'm going to see the Jonas Brothers!" and then she did it again. And then she covered her mouth, but the foot-stomping took a little time to die down.

At bedtime, since she's still on the cusp, she showed the seating chart to her stuffed animals.

And I started understanding those thousand-dollar tickets.

Later, I talked to my mother. My mother's outlook on my spending money is very predictable. She gasps lightly and says, in a drawn-out and rather dramatic way, "Yo...u'....re craaaaazy!"

Not this time. She said, "I can still remember the look on Tori's face the first time she saw the carousel at Charlestowne Mall. And dancing in the aisles at Molly. No, it's worth it."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nick & Joe and My Visa Card

And some other kid--I'm probably going to get in trouble for this. Nick and Joe and...um...and...

I could look it up, but that would be cheating, right?

I just paid $353 for two tickets to the Jonas Brothers concert at the Allstate Arena on the 22nd. And as if that weren't enough, now I have to...

um...

go to the show.

I read a lot about the insanity of suburban parents who pay a thousand dollars for concert tickets for their middle-schoolers, and I usually agree with it. And while I'm inclined to point out that this ISN'T a thousand dollars, I know that's kind of a cheat, too. Just like looking up the third Jonas Brother's name. Because we all know that those parents with their matching SUVs and $750,000 houses who are buying those thousand dollar concert tickets have a heck of a lot more money than I do. Their thousand dollars is in a very real sense a lot less than my $353.

But here's the thing.

Today is my daughter's twelfth birthday. I suspect that her days of wonder are nearly over. I hope that I'm wrong, and I might be. She's a very different kind of person than I ever was, and she delights in things and people. But the world does tend to become more ordinary as we age, and it takes more and more to impress us.

I remember the first time my daughter saw a flag flapping on top of a building and recognized it from a picture. She stopped dead in the middle of the parking lot and said, "That's in my book." I remember the first time she saw a helicopter, and how long she was content to stand and watch a stick float down the creek, and her delight in suddenly finding a lone purple flower growing in the midst of a patch of hardscrabble grass. I remember the first time she tasted hot buttered toast, and the wonder in her voice as she said, "You took me to the BEACH?" when we got out of the car. I remember her first 3D movie (SpyKids 2) and how she unconsciously reached out to touch the bubbles in the movie theater.

My baby is twelve today. She likes to act casual now, and she favors ripped jeans and t-shirts. She's developing suspicious hints of alien curves ahead, and the Disney Princesses are gradually losing their place in her life. But she's not all grown up yet. She's not entirely jaded. I know exactly the look that will come over her face when she realizes that she's REALLY in the same room with Nick Jonas. And I'm willing to pay through the nose for it.

Update: Her reaction made it all worthwhile.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Day One

Okay, I know that Day One theoretically came nearly a month ago, when I left behind the 3+ hour daily commute, but in fact there were a lot of loose ends to wrap up. Yesterday, I finally sent off the last of the miscellaneous projects I had hanging over my head, and this morning I received my first paycheck from my new job. So as of today, finally, I have just one job and a regular income. And thank goodness, because there is a world of work to be done just to get started on that normal life you've been hearing so much about.

I started today dismantling my dining area and reformulating it into half dining area/half office space. I'm expecting this whole working from home thing to go much more smoothly with dedicated work space, and we really didn't need seating for six in the dining room when there are only two of us eating here.

Since I haven't exactly been the most dedicated housekeeper over the past two years, though, every little change requires a lot of extra steps. Taking the leaf out of my dining room table, for instance, means finding a new home for the stacks of paper that have long resided on the unused end of the table. Moving the table means a rude awakening about the previously unrecognized need to move it when I sweep and mop--it's got a big, solid oval base that I was under the mistaken impression sat flat on the floor. Apparently, it's raised JUST ENOUGH to suck in crumbs and dust and hide them from view until some poor unsuspecting woman rearranges the furniture.

So all in all, it's very slow going. But at least it's finally going. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I'm free to do something around my house on the weekend without thinking that there are other things I "really should be working on". And the "really should be" sensation has been a powerful negative force in my life for a long time, so I'm not at all sorry to see it go.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Kids These Days

So my daughter is having a friend over after school to kill fish.

In reality, I don't know where the problem originates--she says the experiment was the teacher's idea, but she and her friend hopped right on it. Her rationale is that we're going to buy fish (guess what she means by "we're going to buy"?) that would have been fed to larger fish, so they were going to die anyway.

So as I type this, my daughter and her friend are sitting at my kitchen table experimenting with what happens when you add salt to a fish's water. Or sugar. Or use tap water versus bottled water. And I'm surprised by it. You see, my daughter loves fish to an unreasonable degree. When she was a toddler, all she could talk about was getting a fish. We HAD a dog and a cat, but no...she wanted a "shish". And that never really changed. Her last fish died about a year and a half ago, and she's cried bitterly when every one died. She talks about getting more fish often, too.

All of which led me to...well...not expect her to cheerfully sit at my kitchen table and watch a bunch of fish die while she took notes. And I don't know how to feel about it. I certainly don't want her heartbroken over the fish, and I suppose it's better that she can conduct her assigned experiments without requiring counseling and all that. I really do. But I was pretty sure she was a person who would be bothered by watching fish die, and I'm not sure I wanted to be set straight on that.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Restraint You Never Knew You Needed

The night before last, I put some vegetables in the microwave for four minutes and then went about dishing out the rest of dinner and pouring the drinks and all that. When I was done, there were still 49 seconds to go on the vegetables. Immediately, I started weighing my options. Would the vegetables be hot enough if I took them out after just three minutes? Did they really NEED that additional 49 seconds? And if so, was there something else productive that I could do during those 49 seconds?

You're probably thinking that by the time I was done analyzing all that, the 49 seconds were over, but it's not true. I think fast and time moves slowly when you're just waiting, and there were still 42 seconds remaining when I realized that I could just wait. It was hard. Not doing anything for 42 seconds was a significant act of will and it seemed like an eternity.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Things I Learned Today

Rolling down a hill in the snow is even more fun that rolling down a hill in the grass.


Bare trees look great against a foggy sky and have a very calming affect if you lie in the snow and look up at them.


When you work from home, no one notices if you duck out an hour early to take your kid sledding before it gets dark.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

It Turns Out I Have Six Kinds of Tea

In my family, tea is not just a drink. It's a tradition, a medication, a tranquilizer, the focal point of family connection, the buffer between the workday and the evening and between a busy day and bedtime. My parents have tea every evening about the time normal people are eating dinner. If my sister or I has to drop over for something--to drop off a borrowed book or pick up some of the stray mail that still goes to our parents house or any of a hundred other possible meaningless little tasks, we time those visits for "tea time". When I was married, "Do you want some tea?" was a phrase that made my husband cringe; he knew it meant we'd be there for a while.

My family drinks regular tea, the kind that Salada and Lipton make in boxes of 100 tea bags, and I like that kind. But I also like Earl Grey, and Raspberry, and Lemon Spice, and Orange Spice, and...well, you get the idea.

The thing is, I don't really drink tea anymore, unless I'm at my mother's house. Or at least, I haven't in a long time. That doesn't make a lot of sense from a purely objective standpoint, but in my Pavlovian world tea isn't just a drink, it's a state of mind. There hasn't been much room for that state of mind in my life over the past couple of years. I can drink coffee while I'm getting ready for work. I can drink coke while I'm driving or water while I'm folding the laundry, but tea has a context. Tea is meant to be consumed slowly, over conversation or a novel. I can WRITE and drink tea, but I can't drink tea on a conference call or on the morning train. Or rather, I could, but it would be wasted.

As I've been wrapping up the last thing standing between me and having One Civilized Job over the past few days, I've been carving out pockets of time. Some of those pockets are for things like putting away the mountain of clean laundry that's been accumulating on my love seat, but others are for reading, writing, promoting my blogs, talking on the telephone, watching a movie...things I haven't done in a long time. So I had occasion to look to the left of the coffee in my kitchen cabinet this weekend, and here's what I found:


Orange Spice tea
Lemon Lift tea
Jasmine tea
Earl Grey tea (regular and decaf)
Raspberry Royale tea
Green tea


I even found a box of cherry vanilla tea, but I didn't count it because I haven't tasted it yet. I'm a little wary of it.

Apparently, I've had all these teas all along. I just haven't thought to drink them. How crazy is that? For two years, I've been too busy to HAVE A CUP OF TEA?

I'm making up for lost time, though. In the past 48 hours, I've had them all.

Well, except the cherry vanilla.

Friday, February 1, 2008

There's an Adolescent in My House

I knew it was coming. I mean, my daughter is going to be 12 in less than two weeks, and she's been in middle school since August. It isn't as if I woke up one morning and she was suddenly a pre-teen. Well, okay, it was kind of like that, but that morning wasn't this week.

This week, though, I got my first taste of that phase of pre-teen angst that all parents want to believe we're somehow magically going to avoid.

For the past two years, I've been working and commuting very long hours and my daughter hasn't been thrilled about it. On the weekends, since we've had to little time together, we've generally tried to do fun things and relax if I didn't have to work. Now that I'm working from home, though, things are changing a little bit. I'm asking awkward questions like "Is your homework done?" and "Why is there a string cheese wrapper on the living room floor?" And she's not taking it well.

The other night, I told her that I was disappointed by all the conflict, that I'd really been looking forward to being home with her more and we needed to figure out how to get past this right away.

She said, in all apparent sincerity, "Well...you could be less annoying."

The hardest thing about parenting is having the discipline not to laugh out loud when your kid says something that you REALLY CAN'T SANCTION, but that is...well...outrageously funny. I couldn't really continue the conversation right then, but a couple of hours later I asked her to explain in exactly what way I was annoying.

"Well," she said, "you say 'yada yada yada', and then...."

"Wait," I interrupted. "I DON'T say 'yada yada yada'. I need to know some actual things I'm saying that are annoying.

And she threw up her hands and said, "SEE? This is a perfect example!"