Monday, November 23, 2009

Mitchel Musso Gets My Vote for Teenage Celebrity of the Week

Okay, so far as I know, there's no such award (and I'm certainly not instituting one). And I don't really give all that much thought to teenage celebrities, and I have to admit that I didn't really see the draw when my daughter and her friends kept babbling about how "hot" Mitchel Musso was. I was thinking something more along the lines of "he seems like a nice kid". But I do believe in giving credit where it's due, and I think Mitchel Musso deserves some credit--especially in contrast to Ashley Greene, who we encountered earlier the same evening.

Yesterday, I took my daughter and two of her friends to see New Moon at the Hollywood Palms theater, where the stunningly beautiful Ashley Greene (aka Alice Cullen) was signing autographs.

For a price, that is. A fairly hefty price, actually. $20 per person to take a picture with her, even if it was the same photograph. $20 for an autograph even if you'd just bought a $20 photo. So I paid $80 for my daughter and her two friends to get a picture together with Ashley Greene and then have Ashley sign my daughter's t-shirt. All together, I think that the three of them spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 minutes with Ms. Greene for my $80.

To her credit, she did take the time to add my daughter's name and a few hearts and kisses to the back of her shirt. Maybe I expect too much. But as many of you know I've spent some time around celebrities interacting with fans, whether by design or because they got caught trying to eat dinner or grab a cup of coffee. Some of those celebrities set the bar pretty high. All of which is to say that I'm not easily impressed, and I'd had my fill of shelling out cash for a twenty second smile when Mitchel Musso unexpectedly appeared on the scene and my daughter's brain melted. And her friends' brains melted. And I'm pretty sure that I actually felt my wallet cringe.

Musso was only signing CDs. It was free if you already had his CD; if not, you had to buy the CD to get his autograph. But the powers that were made it clear that the artist made the rules, and the rules of this game were much more lax. For instance, I only had to buy one CD to get all three girls into the line to meet him, and he was fine with posing for a picture with all of them, CDs or not. But that was only the beginning.

Since my girls had just seen New Moon, they were still wearing matching "Team Mike Newton" t-shirts. He commented on their shirts and asked whether they'd just seen New Moon. When they said yes, he asked whether it was as good as the first one. When my camera acted glitchy and I was afraid the picture wasn't going to turn out, he smilingly held the pose and waited while I pulled out my phone and took another couple of shots for back-up. Sweetest of all, he noticed that there were three of them and only two CDs (long story) and while he chatted with them, he pulled the insert out of one of the CDs and signed that too, saying casually, "Here, I'll just sign this too, just in case. Then you'll have three."

One of them asked for a hug and he hugged all three, one at a time, in no apparent hurry. And the oldest (15) slipped in a "you're hot" before quickly walking away, he ducked his head, smiled up at her and said, "thank you".

The girls walked away flapping and twittering like they were going to take flight, and repeated their conversation with him and their commentary on how hot he was and how nice he was and how HIS CHEEK WAS RIGHT AGAINST MY FOREHEAD all the way home, where they used On Demand to rewatch what seemed like every episode of Hannah Montana. Treating your fans well is good business, too.

It was nice to see; having hoards of people waiting in line to see you, touch you, stand close to you, get your autograph can go to your head. I imagine that could happen much more easily if you were a teenage boy, and the screaming hoards were teenage girls. But thus far, Mitchel Musso comes across as a good kid who understands that his fans are individual people, and that how he responds to them matters. I hope it lasts.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Baby Envy

When I was a teenager, I couldn't wait to have a baby. I loved to babysit and kept it up well into college. I planned for the day I'd have my baby and thought about what toys and books I'd buy her and admired every picture of a baby that appeared in a catalog or magazine and every live baby who passed my way.

When my daughter was born, though, I more or less lost interest in other babies. They were still cute, but everything had changed. All of those other babies, after all, had just been reminders of the baby-to-come. Once she was in my life, everyone else paled in comparison. And so it went for several years.

But she's thirteen now. Don't get me wrong--I'm no less excited about her than I was in her infancy. In fact, I continue to be surprised by how much it doesn't change, by the way that each new age and stage has its own magic. But she's clearly not a baby anymore; she's a teenager and very nearly a woman. And that means that the whole "in comparison" thing doesn't come into play anymore. At 43 (and long past the point at which I could think about giving her a sibling), I find myself coveting babies again just as I did in my teens.

This afternoon, I went to my cousin's baby's christening. The place was awash in babies, and as I listened to new mothers complain about the lack of sleep and constant crying and older mothers talk about how glad they were that those days were gone, I was thinking about whether or not I could still adopt.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Not the Jodie Foster I Wanted to Be

I'll admit it--I wouldn't mind at all identifying with Jodie Foster in a lot of ways. She's done some interesting things in her many roles, and has generally looked great and often kicked ass while doing them. Her character in Flight Plan, for instance--wouldn't want her problems, but her fortitude? Her cunning? Her muscle tone? I'm in.

Today, unfortunately, I had a sudden flash of myself as a Jodie Foster character, and it was Dede Tate.

Today, my daughter performed at the Illinois Music Educator's Association festival--an event organized to bring together the most talented singers and musicians from the northern half of the state and give them the opportunity to work with professional directors. She was totally in her element, soaking up advice and basking in the sound and feeling of a hundred well-honed voices from all over the state joining in a single note and I...I am basically tone deaf.

Oh, I can hear enough to know that she's basically a good singer. I love to listen to her sing, both when she stands in front of me and performs and when I open my bedroom door in the morning so I can hear her in the next room as she gets ready for school. But when she hits that one difficult note that she needs to work over and over again, I can't tell that she went wrong...and I can't tell when she finally gets it right. When I watch her sing a solo, I don't know whether it was her best performance ever or she faltered a little.

In short, she's already moved far beyond the point at which I have anything useful to offer her in what is fast becoming the most important area of her life. I can applaud, I can drive, I can sign permission slips and pay entry fees and even hire teachers, but I can't simply say, "That was really good" and have it mean anything other than "Mommy loves you."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Someone to Look Down On

I've always subscribed to the theory that racism is largely a white-trash phenomenon, and that its roots lie in the fact that most people have some kind of strange need to feel like they're better than someone else...anyone. If a man can't feel superior because he's good looking or good at something or makes a lot of money or has a nice house or drives a hot car, well, by God, he can at least say he's WHITE (or whatever distinguishing characteristic he fills in here to give him "pride").

About a month ago, my daughter had a substitute teacher in social studies; as they discussed the growth of the United States beyond the initial 13 colonies, he repeatedly referred to the southern United States as "where all them hillbillies are from". This upset my daughter (who doesn't have a southern cell in her body) enough that she seriously considered whether or not she should raise the issue with the school administration. She opted not to because there's enough absurd behavior in the school to keep us all busy for a very long time, and we've learned that we have to save our complaints for the serious safety issues. So she didn't say anything, but she remained troubled.

This evening, because she was kind of down in the dumps because we had to cancel our tennis plans this afternoon due to her bruised ribs (another fiasco brought to you by our friendly neighborhood school district), we went out to a local pizza place that has a game room. Video games, while not quite so good for the health or the spirit as a good tennis match, also don't put much strain on an injury. So we ate dinner and went to hang out in the game room, and as we were loading up our keys with cyber tokens, she said, "remember the guy in the glasses".

Yep, you guessed it. Mr. Superior works behind the ticket counter in the game room at our local pizza place. I begin to believe that there are, in fact, only seven plots in the world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bad Day at the Coffee Shop

I had a tough day at Panera.

First, when I got there this morning, I discovered that none of the electrical outlets were working. None. I figured they'd gotten tired of us all hanging out there with our laptops and flipped a switch. Oh, well. My battery is good for nearly four hours.

The only problem was that they had cream of chicken with wild rice soup, which is my absolute favorite, especially now that the weather is turning cold. And I knew that my battery would be dying by the time lunchtime rolled around.

I weighed my options, worked a little more, drank some coffee and asked an employee why they'd turned off the electricity. It was news to her, so she went right off to ask the manager. Unbelievably (no pun intended), she came back almost immediately to tell me that he didn't believe her. Told her to go plug something in and see what happened.

So I plugged my laptop in and showed her that nothing happened, but when she returned to the kitchen...nothing happened once again.

It was getting close enough to lunchtime that I thought maybe I could just stick it out long enough to get my soup. But when I walked up to refill my coffee, I inquired of the manager. It was easy to get his attention, because the business was at about 50% of the normal weekday volume. He feigned surprise that the outlets weren't working, swore that they'd never do that intentionally "at least that he knew of", and said he'd look into it.

I got a Diet Pepsi and discovered that the syrup was off. I drank it anyway and went up for a refill, only to discover that the ice machine was empty.

An hour later, when I went up to order my soup, he asked whether they were working now, as if he thought they might have spontaneously regenerated. He seemed surprised when I said no, but I didn't care anymore. I was going to eat my soup and then go home and work there, with full access to electricity.

I ordered my soup.

I paid for my soup.

And then I learned that they were out of my soup.

With ten minutes to spare on my battery, uncertainty about my debit card having been credited and ten minutes left on my laptop battery, I left Panera--and spent the next fifteen minutes waiting to get out of the parking lot because apparently healthy young men had to sit with turn signals blinking for several minutes in an effort to get a parking space ten feet closer to the door.

All in all, it was the worst day I've had at Panera...and that said a lot to me. It said a lot about how nice things usually are at Panera when I go there to work during the day, but it also said a lot about how nice life usually is. Usually, apparently, the conveniences are plentiful and the soup is available and the soda is just right and the road is clear. Sometimes, a day filled with every little obstacle is nothing more than a reminder of just how little they are.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Had This Really Great Idea Today...

  • I didn't like dating even when I was young and it was supposed to be fun; and
  • I have a very full and busy life and no room to really add anything; and
  • I've been separated from my husband for 5.5 years and haven't gotten around to getting divorced; and
  • I'm thinking seriously about moving out of town in six months; and
  • I'm really not all that interested in starting a relationship; and
  • I think planned dating is artificial and doomed to fail; and
  • I think online dating is creepy,
I decided to join an online dating service.

Since know...don't want to date, I definitely didn't bring my marketing A-game to profile creation. In fact, I broke the cardinal rules of online dating by posting realistic pictures and telling the truth about my weight.

Have no fear, though. I got exactly what I deserved. On the first night, I received four messages. One of them had a strange emoticon in the subject line and nothing but "got curves??" in the body of the message. (How does one respond to that, even if one were so inclined?) Another said only "Sooooooooooo pretty!!" in the subject line and HAD no text in the body of the message. (How does one respond to that, even if one were so inclined?)

To top it off, it's apparently considered bad form not to respond when someone sends you a message, even if you're "not interested".

It's been approximately six hours, and I'm ready to bail, but I have learned some very interesting things:

  • Although the average American man is 5'9.4", nearly all men on dating sites are 6' or taller;
  • A surprising number of men have photographs of themselves with horses;
  • The world would be a better place if the phrase "and take it from there" were stricken from the English language;
  • Many, many innocent men have accidentally stumbled into the clutches of women who want to do unseemly things with them, and thus through no fault of their own had their messaging privileges restricted;
  • Most men consider having coffee or a meal with someone with whom they lack chemistry a "waste of time" for both parties;
  • Most men aren't even aware of what it says about them when they announce in a public forum that they think human interactions are only worthwhile if they're likely to lead to sex;
  • A large percentage of men say they're different from other men for the same reasons; and
  • Spelling is not a priority.
Any doubts I might have had about bypassing the whole dating scene and carrying on with my life as-is have been laid to rest, but I'm wondering whether I should hang around just for the sake of my art. There could be a whole new blog in this. Or, you know, a new career as a stand-up comedienne.

Friday, October 23, 2009

College Student or Middle-Aged Mom - What's the Difference?

College sophomore Charley Cooper put out an ad for a personal assistant and got national news coverage. There's even a popular poll running: Spoiled Rich Kid or More Power to Him? But it's the wrong question.

When I heard Cooper's explanation--he's in school full-time, working a part-time job in his field, and has a family member who is seriously ill--my first thought was that it reminded me a lot of my life a couple of years ago. When I was trying to work 90+ hours a week and parent and help out other family members and getting very little sleep, several people said the same thing to me: "get some help". And it was good advice.

See, most of us get into a blind cycle of believing that we have to do everything ourselves. Even when I had money enough to hire help, I felt like I had to do my own cleaning. I felt guilty when I didn't do my own cooking. I kept on trying to find time to pay my bills manually instead of just setting them up to be paid through my bank and moving on. And those were bad choices. Or, rather, they weren't choices at all...they were just ways of staying stuck in the rut I was in for no reason.

I say "no reason" because there was nothing about vacuuming my living room or making sure the bill payments went out on time or doing my laundry that required my personal attention. It was a poor use of my time to focus on those things when there were so many other things in play that DID require my attention. My daughter, for instance. And the major project I was buried in at work.

And finally, only because I hit the point of literally not being able to do it all, I realized what professionals have been telling us for decades: giving the important things in life the attention they deserve sometimes means delegating the things you don't really have to do yourself. Any good professional organizer will tell you this. Any executive who doesn't delegate will soon find himself completely ineffective. Focus on what matters--isn't that really a simple concept?

When I finally did decide to call in some help (and never, really, as much as I should have), that decision was greeted with universal relief among my friends and family. "Spoiled" never crossed anyone's lips. Why? Because I was a middle-aged woman? Because I hadn't grown up wealthy? Does that change what constitutes a sensible decision?

Because Charley Cooper made a sensible decision--and one that many of us don't learn to make until we're near the breaking point. At 19, he said, "school, career, family...the rest I'll dump if I can". I suspect that he'll go far in life, having gotten past that hurdle a couple of decades earlier than most of us.

Is he a spoiled rich kid? Maybe...but I don't think this decision proves it. More power to him? Maybe...but I don't know how he lives his life, so I can't really say. Neither is appropriate in response to this's just a life management choice that, were he older, he would almost certainly have been encouraged to make. The one thing I know for sure is that it wouldn't have been national news. MSNBC surely didn't show up when I contracted out my paperwork and started having food delivered.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Have a Confession to Make

I think I'm from Mars.

Of course, I've recognized this before in the abstract. Every time someone starts talking about the differences between men and women, the "men" descriptions sound a lot more like me. But this week it hit home in the concrete when my dear friend Barb's husband had an emergency appendectomy. And Barb, she was a little put out because her husband drove himself to the hospital with a ruptured appendix and notified her once he was on the gurney and headed into surgery.

And you know, I sympathized. I really did. I understood why she was upset, and how stressful it was not to be able to see him before he went into surgery and all that. I felt her pain.

But I had a secret.

See, in her husband's shoes, I would have done exactly the same thing. It just MAKES SENSE. I can totally see, since I was introduced to the situation from her perspective, that it was a little insensitive. But I also know beyond a doubt that in his circumstances, that would never have crossed my mind. After all, just getting in the car and going was the fastest, most efficient way to get the problem taken care of.

In fact, I'm not just speculating. Several years ago when my blood pressure skyrocketed, I drove myself to a clinic fifteen miles away and then called a friend from there and asked him to pick up my daughter at school. The second time my blood pressure got dangerously high, I discovered it at work, when I walked into the bathroom saw that all of the blood vessels in my eyes were broken. I returned to my office, Googled for the nearest walk-in clinic, casually told my boss that I was going to lunch and walked to the doctor's office. It was only after the doctor said I couldn't leave the office until my blood pressure was down that I called work to let them know I wasn't coming back, and only after they decided to ship me over to the hospital that I called my family.

I wasn't trying to play hero or exclude anyone, and I didn't think I was being reckless. I just couldn't see a reason to cause a fuss, and I took the most expedient route to do what needed to be done. In retrospect, of course, I can see that there were risks. At the time, I was very focused on the quickest, most hassle-free way to take action. If I told my boss what was going on, conversations would have ensued: Did I think I'd be back? Did I need someone to go with me? Would I call when I knew what was going on? My head felt like it was going to blow open and I knew I only had a few minutes before I vomited again and I didn't want to have a discussion. I wanted to get to the doctor.

Until I saw the situation from the other side this week, it never crossed my mind that other people might have feelings about my choices. Perhaps more importantly, it never crossed my mind that anyone else might have a right to have feelings about how I took care of myself. Managing crisis mode is a very narrow state of mind.

And now I get it. I really do. But I'm pretty sure that when the next emergency situation arises, I'll react exactly as I always have.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

She Will Do as I Do

I wrote this some time ago, and have been undecided about whether to share it, or where. Today, I learned that October is domestic violence awareness month, and decided that the time was ripe to get my piece of the word out, in hopes that it will help someone to break a cycle that is passed down from generation to generation. It's not what you're used to here, but I think it's important.

The most significant moment of my life occurred in the fall of 1994. It wasn’t my marriage, the birth of my precious daughter, the day I was sworn in to the practice of law or when I held my first book in my hands and ran my finger across my name on the cover. No, the most significant moment of my life took place in an apartment-building driveway in a run-down town, well after dark on a week night.

A man I loved lifted a rock—a very large rock—and said, “Shut up, get in your car and drive away and don’t look back or I’m going to bash your head in.” The original statement, of course, contained a few colorful adjectives. I believed him. I got in my car and drove away without looking back, and as I did, I sighed.

That was it, that sigh. A man I loved and trusted had threatened to kill me with a rock, and I’d believed him, and it made me SIGH. It didn’t shock me, appall me, or even really frighten me. If I’d put that sigh into words, I think they would have been “here we go again.”

I’d grown up with violence, of course. And like every child who grows up with violence I’d sworn I’d never tolerate it and meant it from the bottom of my heart. I’d grown up to fight violence, training and volunteering in domestic violence shelters and sexual assault programs for several years. And then, when violence came back into my life, I greeted it much in the same way I would have greeted a flat tire on my way to work.

In my mind, of course, I knew all the things I’d been telling victims for years. But in my gut, in my physiology, deep in my psyche, this kind of thing was just part of life. I knew how serious it was, but I couldn’t feel it. And because I didn’t experience it as anything life-altering, it didn’t alter my life a bit. I left when I was told, to avoid getting my head bashed in with a rock, and then I returned the next day.

I didn’t recognize the significance of that sigh then, of course. It was years before I looked back and realized that my reaction was the result of a kind of programming that can only be erased by long, hard work and extreme awareness. I’d thought that in mentally rejecting violence, in my training and volunteer work and the way I saw violence in the lives of other women, I’d moved past that programming, but I hadn’t. It was only lying in wait. In fact, that programming has never entirely been erased; I’m not sure whether it ever can be. The difference is that I know now that my emotional and instinctive reactions can’t be trusted in that arena, that I have to have a concrete bottom line and stick to it as if it were a law, because my gut won’t tell me to do what needs to be done.

The other difference is that I have a child now, and because of that one moment—because I sighed when I should have screamed, and briefly retreated when I should have run—I know that what she experiences in her day-to-day life as a child will be what she perceives as normal, no matter how much lip service I pay to it being wrong, no matter how clearly she recognizes that herself. And it’s not just about violence; our children become familiar with, and comfortable with, the type of relationships we model, our financial stability or lack thereof, and every other aspect of the lives we live from day to day and thereby present as normal.

A thousand studies have told us as much, have told us that girls who grow up with violence enter into abusive relationships and boys who grow up with violence become abusers, and we think, all of us, “Not my kid.” It’s not just denial: children object, they see the problem, sometimes they’re more clear-headed about it than their parents, and it seems impossible to imagine that they’d ever tolerate that same pattern in their lives.

I was that child: the one who threatened to call the police, who advocated bolting the doors, who had a hundred suggestions for when and where and how to get away. And when the chips were down, more than a decade later, I sighed. And I stayed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Guys...

In a two different recent discussion threads, men have insisted that all men talk about with their male friends is "beer, sports and chicks you wanna bang". I'm sure there's some of that, but I was emphatically assured that it was pretty much all there was--which doesn't seem to fit the men in my life. Do I know a better class of men, or is there a secret-society thing going on, where you all become different people when the doors are closed? Please, fill us in...without fear. The poll is anonymous!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Retail Therapy for People Who Aren't Into Stuff

I've never understood the term "retail therapy". Spending money unnecessarily makes me anxious. I don't enjoy shopping. And I'm not much into stuff--especially not stuff like clothing and shoes and handbags that my friends seem to consider the stuff of "retail therapy".

I am, however, having an unusually rough week. I usually work close to a flat 40-hour week, and I'm on my third week of running closer to 55. Not the end of the world, but I'm stretched a little thinner than usual, especially since my daughter has been home sick from school for a solid week and has been very needy and malcontent. I fell asleep accidentally in the middle of the afternoon today, and then went into the evening with hours of work still to do.

In the midst of all this, I ran to WalMart to pick up some NyQuil and Motrin, and while I was there I picked up a few other things:

A John Grisham novel that sounds like it's pretty much the same story as The Firm, which was my least favorite of his books. To top this one off, I'm 75% sure that my mother has this book sitting in her living room, part of the last stack of books my book-club-loving aunt dropped off.

A Whatchamacallit candy bar. It should be noted that I rarely eat candy and haven't eaten a Whatchamacallit since I was 12 years old (for those of you who haven't been following along, I'm 43 now). It's king size.

A Hootie & the Blowfish greatest hits CD (which I'm almost sure should have been a single...really. Didn't they just have one song?) But it was only $5, so I pushed Janeane Garofalo out of my head and tossed it in the cart.

All 26 episodes of Ally McBeal. I was surprised to learn that there were only 26 episodes. That sounds like a single season, and it's hard to believe that the series had jumped the shark to the point of the dancing baby within a single season. I don't really know for sure because I...well...couldn't be bothered to watch the show regularly when it was on television.

Kind of makes me wish I gave a crap about shoes or home decor, or something I'd still have some use for when I'm feeling better.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Now, Ma'am--We Both Know You Have Insurance...

A discussion thread about getting out of speeding tickets triggered this very old story. I didn't have a speeding ticket story to share because I don't really speed. Ask anyone who rides with me or follows/leads me anywhere--it's a constant source of annoyance. I did have a funny story (or at least, I think it's funny) about blowing a stop sign, but it was too long to throw into a forum here we are.

One evening, I had a crippling migraine. (Note that I say "crippling" not for dramatic effect, but because migraines come in varying degrees, and usually those of us who suffer them regularly go on about some semblance of our lives. Every once in a while, though, a migraine comes on that's the biggest thing in your world for as long as it lasts. This was one of those.)

I didn't have any medication, but my mother (who lived about a mile away) had the same prescription, so I decided to drive over to her house and get some.

Mistake # 1: Why didn't I ask her to bring it to me?

Once at her house, I decided that I'd better not take the medication until I got home, because it made me a little woozy and I was already more than a little woozy (see Mistake # 1). So I put a few pills in a ziploc baggie.

Mistake # 2: Why didn't I bring my own bottle, or something a little less drug-dealerish to carry it in?

Eager to get home and take the medication, I got back in the car, tossed the plastic baggie full of little blue pills on the passenger seat and took off.

Mistake # 3: This one speaks for itself, right?

In front of my house at the time, there was a stop sign. You'd stop, then turn left and pull over to park about 20 feet from the corner. In theory, anyway.

As I pulled to the curb to park, I noticed a police car with lights flashing behind me. A young blond cop--a rookie straight out of central casting--approached my window.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?" he asked (This, apparently, is mandatory in every state and local police agency in the United States and perhaps beyond.)

I shook my head, shrugged one shoulder and said, "Honestly, I didn't even know you were. I live here."

Mistake # 4: Did I really want to tell the nice officer that I was driving around SO OUT OF IT that I didn't even notice the flashing lights behind me? While I had a plastic baggie of unmarked drugs in arm's reach? Really?

He said, "You ran that stop sign back there."

I looked at the stop sign. I said, "Did I really? I'm sorry. I have a migraine."

(See Mistake # 4)

"Oh, that's okay," he said cheerfully.

Then I expressed surprise, pointing out that the stop sign was right in front of my house and it certainly wasn't like I didn't know it was there.

(See Mistake # 4)

"Yeah," he said, still good-naturedly. "You didn't even roll it. I probably wouldn't have stopped you for that. You just ran right through it."

I should note that, in addition to the baggie of drugs on my passenger seat, I had enough junk in my car to start my own second-hand store (or garbage dump). Just that afternoon, I'd returned from an interstate car trip with all three kids. So when the officer said, "I'm just going to run your license and check your insurance, and if that all checks out I'll let you go since you're home already," I was in a new bind.

I hadn't the SLIGHTEST idea where my insurance card was.

I know. I know. Odds are that the kids didn't get into the glove compartment and remove it from a neat plastic sleeve or anything like that. I have to admit to a bit of pre-existing disorganization.

"Oh, man," I said. "I have no idea where my insurance card is." I looked helplessly around the cyclone-struck car and said, "I just drove back from Indiana with three kids."

"But you do have it?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," I assured him. And I did. I really did. But WHERE was anybody's guess.

He was kind of negotiating against himself at that point. He said, "Well, let me just run your license. What's your driving record like?"

FINALLY, one I could answer! My driving record was PERFECT.

While he went off to run my license, I dug frantically through the backseat in search of my insurance card. Lucky he wasn't the suspicious type--isn't this how cops get shot on routine traffic stops?

When he came back, he told me my license checked out and I said, "Look! I found my insurance card!" He barely glanced at it. "See?" he said triumphantly, "I knew you had it!"

He went on his way after saying that he hoped I felt better soon. I, at least, had sense enough to wait until he had turned away to grab the bag of drugs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mockery Revisited

When I said I was almost done mocking the school district, I meant it. I really did. But that was before they set about teaching my child nouns.

"What," you may be asking, "is wrong with nouns?" You might even think that as a writer, I'd be happy to have my child learning grammar. And so I was, when she learned to identify nouns the first time, in the third grade. Now that she's in 8th grade, and in an enrichment class for the gifted and talented, not so much.

But no worries--that's not all they're doing. She's also learned what "glossary" meant and been quizzed on her ability to circle pronouns in pre-written sentences thus far this quarter. I can only assume that the regular class is working on the alphabet.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's the Internet Age - Do You Know How Your Child's been Tagged?

I've mentioned before that I'm cautious about what I say about my children online. Not cautious in the "there are predators everywhere" way (although there do sometimes seem to be), but cautious in the "is it really my place to be sharing this information with the world?" way. I've addressed this from a professional perspective on my writing blog; it's a common pitfall for parenting writers. And I've addressed it from the standpoint of a concerned citizen on my social commentary blog
, after I was appalled to stumble upon a blog devoted entirely to the trials and tribulations associated with the unwelcome arrival of a baby whose father was going to "do his best" to love it because that was his job.

But the Internet is ever-evolving, and even the most vigilant among us make missteps. For instance, I never expected my post about my daughter's first Jonas Brothers concert to end up on the front page of a Jonas Brothers fan site. Before that day, my readership among middle-schoolers was fairly limited, but a well-placed RSS feed can change everything.

This time, though, my oversight was a little more serious--and one I'm not quite sure how to protect against in the future. It's the result of strangers tagging content. It might be useful, and it might mean that a lot more content gets tagged, and it might mean that multiple users tagging the same content results in better tags, but it's looking mighty ugly to me at the moment. Back in July, I posted about how learning to swim had been a long and harrowing process for my daughter after an unfortunate incident on day one of swimming lessons. That post included a photograph of my daughter (13) and her friend (12) holding on to a bright yellow inner tube at the park district pool. You may have seen it; it's a cheerful snapshot (taken with my phone) of two CHILDREN laughing in a public swimming pool.

Unless you ask Bing. On Bing, it's currently the number one image result for "waterslide bikini".

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Monday Morning Greens

Okay, I know "greens" isn't technically the opposite of "blues", but I picked it for a reason. It's my favorite color; there's nothing negative about green. And it's also the color that--in the United States, at least--means "go".

Most Monday mornings, I post something in my Facebook status about how excited I am about it being Monday morning, and invariably I get a pile of responses questioning my sanity. Except this morning, the invariable responses...well...varied. This morning, no one suggested that I was crazy. Five people, however, wished to know my secret. So I've decided to share.

Like most secrets to happiness, love, positive outlooks on life and good parenting, this one is no secret. It's all a matter of perspective. Monday morning is traditionally viewed as the day we have to get up early again, the day the "daily grind" starts anew, the day we have to run to get the kids off to school and ourselves off to the office by some usually-outrageous hour of the morning. And it is all those things. But it's something else, too.

Monday morning is a blank page. A clean slate. Okay, I'll stop with the cliches, but since I'm a writer, those are powerful images for me. It's a new week I can do anything with. Monday morning I can take stock and prioritize without pressure. Sometimes by, for example, Thursday afternoon, I'm starting to feel the pressure, pushing hard or working late to get something done before the weekend. But on Monday morning I have forty hours laid out in front of me to chip away at my "to do" list, and that makes it easy to focus and easy to start knocking items off the list.

My daughter is in middle school, where drama runs high but memories are short. If conflicts arose during one week, odds are very good that they'll be forgotten by Monday morning. And while my memory may be longer, I find that I can make the same choice: I don't bring last week's stresses to the table. I'm not running behind, even if I was when I called it a day on Friday. The re-set button has been pressed, and it's a brand new week with a brand new list.

Top it off with the fact that I'm usually reasonably well-rested by Monday morning and my house is as clean as it gets, and my stars are perfectly aligned for a positive, high-energy day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Little Hope on a Dark Day

I’m not really the type to write a blog post about how much I like my friends. First, as you all know, I’m not exactly the warm and fuzzy type. I’m pretty logical. And logic tells me that you all KNOW that I like my friends, because if I 9/didn’t I…well…wouldn’t be friends with them.

But last night, I wrote a short post referring back to my pre-9/11 post last year. That post was all about how sad it was to me that the one positive thing we’d gained from 9/11 had been so quickly lost. In the immediate wake of 9/11, everyone was nice to everyone else and people donated whatever they had and those who were near to the scene reached out in any way they could. Perhaps my view was a little different because of my religion, but in that moment I saw the closest thing I’d ever seen to the world I believe God made—a world in which we were “one body”. And despite the terrible tragedy that inspired it, it was a beautiful, hopeful, affirming thing to watch and to be a part of.

And then we moved on.

Eight years later, we remember the tragedy. We remember the anger, and maybe the fear. We mourn for those lost and maybe even for the sense of security lost, but we don’t seem to remember that we discovered that we were all one people, in this thing together.

While I was lamenting the loss of that feeling and wonderingly vainly and naively (ever notice how close those two words are) why we couldn’t live that way every day, I suddenly thought about my friend Barb Cooper. Because Barb is that person every single day of her life.

You may know this already, because you may read her very popular blog, So, The Thing Is… Barb’s blog is, in a funny, non-preachy, self-deprecating kind of way, all about love: loving her family, her friends, her neighbors, her babysitter, the postman, and the stray cat peeking around the side of the house. Offering them her heart, willing their best good, and greeting every problem with an earnest, “Gosh, how can I help?” It’s an added bonus that she makes us laugh out loud in the process.

She’s a wonderful friend to me every day, but on this sad day, she’s more. As I contemplate the way most of us have drawn back into our shells and reverted to “me and mine” thinking, she’s an inspiration, and a point of hope. They may be few and far between, but there are people out there who live every day as we all should be…and maybe in a quiet, simple way, they’ll be the seeds of sustained change in a way that a national tragedy couldn’t.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Faded Memories

Earlier this evening, I re-read the post that I wrote on the eve of September 11 last year and realized that what I see as the most important message surrounding that day hasn't changed. I wish that weren't the case, because when I wrote that post last year it was with a deep sense of having--as a society--dropped the ball. September 11 was undoubtedly the most powerful message this country has ever received...and we couldn't hold on to it for even a handful of years. That may be sadder than all of the raw tragedy and loss that occurred on that day. It will certainly have further-reaching effects.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mental Snapshots

Tuesday afternoon, as we were packing to travel out of state for my daughter's great-grandmother's funeral, I picked up my camera.

"I don't think you're going to want to bring your camera to a funeral!" my daughter protested.

No, I agreed, but we were going to be spending a couple of days with her father's family. We'd be spending the night at my stepdaughter's house, and we might want to take pictures at some other point during the trip. Since that grandbaby came along, I'm pretty good about remembering the camera.

It turned out that I didn't take any pictures during the trip, but I definitely found myself wishing that it weren't inappropriate to take pictures at a wake or funeral. Maybe that sounds morbid, but I can tell you that I was snapping pictures in my mind, pictures of family at its very best.

If it were proper to record a funeral as we do weddings and birthday parties and every other occasion of our lives, I'd have snapped my sister-in-law quietly slipping into the chair next to her mother after she saw her start to cry from across the room. I'd have photographed my daughter and stepson from the back, her dark head under his blond one, buried in his shoulder as he held her close. My grandson stretched out sound asleep on a bench in the hallway. My future son-in-law whisking his baby out of the room at the first peep, before my stepdaughter was fully out of her chair. My ex-husband's cousin on her knees in the grass, lifting a flower from the casket to hand to her mother. One young man slipping a supportive arm around another. A glass of water or a tissue quietly extended. People I love at their best.

Yes, funerals are sad and solemn, and it would be inappropriate to be snapping pictures. But I'm holding them in my mind, those snapshots of people unselfconsciously loving one another, reaching out to share.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Almost Done Mocking the School District, I Promise

Well, I can't actually promise. I mean, who knows what the rest of the year holds?

Last week, I mentioned that I'd received an automated call from the school district letting me know that--news flash--my daughter should attend the first day of school. A few days later, I got the same call again, and told my daughter (in my best imitation of the mechanical voice on the line) that teachers would be covering information important to her success for the whole school year on that day.

"They're lying," she said.

I wasn't surprised by her view, given that on the first day of school last year, each of her seven teachers spent the first class session reading and discussing the same four rules. It was like Groundhog Day with a soap-opera-style cast change: the part of the boring teacher is now being played by....

I didn't really need to sell her, since until those calls started coming in we'd both thought it was sort of assumed that students would start school started. More to point out an upside, I said, "They're going to have ice cream."

"No, they're not." She shook her head; her tone was flat, but she looked mildly amused.

"That's what they said on the recording," I told her. "They made a big point of the fact that they're going to have ice cream on the first day."

She shrugged. "But they're not."

I told her I couldn't see why they'd call me up and lie about having ice cream, but I knew what she was thinking. They were lying about the important information, so why not the ice cream?

School started yesterday.

No ice cream.

Seriously. Not even a mention.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eighth Grade Apparently Has Its Own Language

My daughter came home from her first day of eighth grade today and told me that she'd met a new girl. She didn't know her name, though, only that she was in "LA2" with her.

"LA2?" I asked.


"Language Arts?"

"Yeah," she said. "That's not that hard."

"Okay," I agreed, "but what's the 2?"

"2," she said. "We have it twice."

"Okay, so she's in your LA2 class..."

"Yeah. Well, actually, she's in my LA1 class, too...but LA2 is first."

Fortunately, I didn't have to go any further with that, because it was time to read and sign the rules for science.

For instance, "do not remove animals from the classroom" and "do not taste any materials used in class".

I'm not at all sure the right lessons are being conveyed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School Prep - Take 9

Tomorrow, my daughter starts eighth grade. Yeah, let's not dwell on that...I mention it only because that means that this week, we've been preparing for the first day of school for the ninth time. Last night, I looked at her new clothes hanging neatly in the closet and her new school bag neatly packed with all the supplies she'll need (for the first 24 hours, until teachers start making their individual demands) and realized that we were Ready. No, really. She could have gotten up this morning and walked out the door to school with no fuss, no stress, no last minute search for anything...and school didn't even start today.

And it only took nine tries.

I should be feeling good, but instead I'm looking suspiciously at her bag and wondering what's going to escape from it and become hopelessly lost before tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Overcommitment Hangover

You know that nagging feeling you get in your stomach when something is hanging over your head that should have been done, when you know that the next time the phone rings it’s going to be the landlord looking for a past-due check or your boss wondering why some project hasn’t wrapped up?

Well, I’ve got it. Thing is, my rent is paid and my work is up to date. My nagging feeling isn’t caused by any dropped balls or time pressure or shortage of cash. It’s caused by the simple fact that I took most of the past two days off. An unexpected sick day followed by an afternoon off for the company softball game was more than I could cope with.

I took my daughter to the game and we had a great time. We ate out on the way home. We went to see Bandslam late, had the whole theater to ourselves, and sang out loud. The popcorn was unusually buttery.

And then when I finally lay down to sleep…nothing. Just that queasy, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop sense of anticipation about the fallout from all those balls I’d dropped.

I searched my mind. I searched the floor. Nope, couldn’t find a dropped ball anywhere.

There was a time, I’m sure, when I could take a nice, relaxing day in stride. In fact, when my daughter was young and I worked very part-time, most of my days were nice and relaxing. A lot of changes intervened and life got very busy, and for about ten months I went to bed at midnight worrying over what was undone and woke up at 5:00 a.m. (or sometimes 3:30), bleary-eyed and shaky and already feeling behind.

And I forgot how to relax. I forgot how to feel okay about enjoying a day. I forgot what it was like not to cringe when the phone rang, because I knew that there was going to be some wildly unrealistic new demand coming across the wire. But I escaped that job—a victory that feels a lot like having ended an abusive marriage—more than eight months ago. And I’m still in recovery.

I know what’s going on and can name it and try to push it aside. I’m blessed with employers who believe in work-life balance and not only accept but agree with the idea that my daughter is far more important than anything they might ever ask me to do. But I’m still lying down at night with that fear that I haven’t done enough, the feeling that something is wrong just because I’m not feeling any pressure and I’m getting a full night’s sleep.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Magical Cereal - Day 5

I'm a creature of habit,and one of those habits is that I eat Quaker Oat Bran every morning, with 2% milk and fresh berries. Every morning. You got the habit thing, right? Occasionally, if I'm feeling adventurous, I'll vary the mix of berries.

One day not long ago, I went to the grocery store and they didn't have oat bran. I didn't panic. Okay, I panicked a little, because it seems like the selection of foods in the grocery store gets smaller every week, while the shelf-space dedicated to a single variety of a single brand mushrooms. But I took a few deep breaths and decided to try Kellogg's All Bran. Just until I could find Quaker Oat Bran somewhere else, mind you. This was an interim measure, not a life change.

You're probably thinking that this little cereal crisis isn't really worth mentioning, and I would agree with you if I hadn't, just yesterday, read the back of the box.

Kellogg's All Bran is going to make me HAPPIER.

I kid you not; it's guaranteed. In just ten days.

Although ten days seemed ambitious, I didn't take issue with the assertion that their cereal was going to make me feel lighter and healthier. It has a boatload of fiber in it, and I'm a big fan of fiber. "Happier" gave me pause. The kind of pause that makes a person wonder whether the FDA or the Department of Agriculture is aware of these claims.

My daughter, of course, is the princess of positive spin. When I first pointed this out to her she said, "Maybe it works. Maybe it's like exercise."

This morning, on day 5, I said to her, "Well, my cereal hasn't made me any happier, but I lost two pounds overnight," and she said, "And that makes you happy, right?"

SHE makes me happy. I'm thinking that maybe I should label her with a 10-day promise, since there is apparently no regulation of that kind of thing.

But I'm still skeptical about the implication of the quote at the bottom of the box, which seems to suggest that Kellogg's All Bran is going to be good for my SOUL. I'll let you know how that works out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Life on My Own - Day 4

Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic. My daughter is only gone for two weeks. But it's THE LONGEST SHE'S EVER BEEN AWAY IN HER LIFE.

I'll be honest. As much as I dreaded her going, Sunday and Monday were a bit of a revelation. I'd entirely forgotten how easy life is when you have no one to think about but yourself. I'd forgotten what it was like to eat whatever I wanted, and to do it when I was hungry rather than at a pre-determined meal time. I'd forgotten what it was like to clean something and have it stay just as I'd left it. Most of all, I'd forgotten what it was like to be able to wander freely without thinking about how long I'd been gone or whether someone was looking for me/waiting for me/had been home alone too long/needed a ride somewhere/etc., etc., etc.

It was nice.

And then came Tuesday.

To be honest, I was still feeling pretty good on Tuesday. I worked all day at Panera--had a cinnamon roll for breakfast and some cream of chicken and wild rice soup for lunch, reading and writing on a comfy couch in front of the unseasonal but welcome fire...and then, suddenly, mid-afternoon, I had a thought.

The thought was: It's Only Tuesday.

But through the magic of technology, I'm doing okay.

I got to "watch" when she and her brother helped their dad around the Indiana Ghost Doctors office:
Well, they were AT the office, anyway.

And when she and her sister did each other's hair at Beth's apartment:

And nails:

It's not all bad. I'm off to eat a quiet dinner of foods I love and Tori won't touch and watch a movie I wouldn't want her to see...but I don't know how mothers managed before text messaging.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How Times Change

In less than an hour, we'll be leaving for our third Jonas Brothers concert, and Tori is upstairs watching Harry Potter.

This is exactly why, in February of 2008, I spent $353 on two Jonas Brothers tickets. They were a twelfth birthday present and, as I wrote then, I suspected that her days of wonder were nearly over. A year and a half later, I'm not so sure that those days ever end--at least, not for everyone. But each wonder-inspiring moment, I think, has a small window.

Once upon a time, my daughter said in wonder, "You took me to the BEACH?" Once, Don Lee's Wild West Town was an adventure for her. Once, she was delighted to spend her day throwing worn wooden balls in the skeeball room at Indiana beach with me, and I was exactly the person she wanted to have water balloon fights with and chase down the water slide. And once, she was so excited at the prospect of seeing the Jonas Brothers live that she screamed and stomped her feet and danced in circles. And, of course, called her friends to announce, "OMG MMR!"

Once I spent my lunch hour ironing "I love Nick Jonas" onto a red t-shirt because she'd realized that she had no appropriate attire for the concert, and she spent the days leading up to the show covering the living room floor entirely in Jonas Brothers pictures. Today, she's wearing pink shorts with a white t-shirt, black tights and hightops, and watching a Harry Potter movie for the dozenth time. Nonchalant, detached, strangely a teenager.

And I, of course, am not dying to see the Jonas Brothers for the third time. But it's all good, because thus far there's always some new object of wonder around the corner.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Paybacks" Are Actually Quite Lovely, Thank You

Part of this post is undoubtedly a rerun. It's one of those things that rises up to touch me again every summer, and whenever it does, I can't resist talking about it.

This afternoon, I went to meet my daughter and her friend at a local pool. The other girl's mother had taken them while I was still working, and at 5:00 I got changed and headed over to meet them. My late arrival afforded me the opportunity to watch from across the room as my daughter grabbed her friend's hand and the two of them took a running leap into the pool. A little later, returning to the pool, she simply stepped off the edge and dropped into the water.

Yeah, I know. You're probably wondering what the big deal is, especially if you know that my daughter is 13.

This is it: the summer my daughter was five, she was so eager to learn to swim that she was practically quivering with it. She, like me, loved the water passionately, and she couldn't wait to swim. I signed her up for lessons and on the first day they lined up along the edge of the pool and the teacher said, "Okay, let's get in the water..." and Tori popped off the edge and straight to the bottom. By the time I reached the edge of the pool, she was safely back on the side, but sobbing. When I asked her what had happened she said, "I drowned."

For the rest of that summer, her craving to get back in the water warred with her terror. She resolutely got ready to go to her lesson each week, but could never bring herself to get in the water. In between, we went to the pool every day, and though she stared out at the water with longing, it was a solid month before she moved off the stairs...and then only to allow me to carry her a few steps out into the water, while she clung to me with what seemed like more arms and legs than I'd known she possessed. It was the end of the summer before she'd allow me to hold her at arm's length in the water, and the weather was turning before she relaxed enough to ride on my back while I walked through the water. Even then, she clenched her little arms so tightly around my neck that sometimes I had to carry her back to the safety of the side just so that I could get a few good breaths.

But every day, she asked to go swimming.

The next summer she steeled herself to jump from the side of the pool into my waiting arms, most of her body never reaching the three-foot-deep water. Slowly, ever so slowly, we edged forward: she'd jump in holding my hands, then just one hand. She'd ride on my back while I swam across the pool in shallow water. She'd hold on to the side and kick if I stayed next to her, and then if I didn't. We edged our way all the way to today, when she splashed laughing into the pool at the bottom of the water slide, oblivious to my presence.

In the greater scheme of things, I suppose it doesn't matter much that my child is happy in the water, but I have a moment like this every season, when I see her laughing and confident in the water and am overwhelmed with the feeling that it was just SO WORTH IT to sit on the steps of that pool for an hour every afternoon and not push her to go any further.

So much of parenting seems to be about second-guessing ourselves. We want to be so much for and offer so much to our children that it's inevitable that we're going to fall short, and the small mistakes and missed opportunities often loom much larger than the successes. But every summer there is at least one moment when I sit by the edge of a pool or on the sand at a beach--once even at the edge of the ocean--and am reminded of the things I've gotten right.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

That Stuff We Used to Drink at Your Grandmother's House

I overheard that phrase when my daughter was on the telephone the other day. She tends to talk on speaker, in the room with me, so eavesdropping is almost mandatory. In fact, it's not unusual for her friends to ask whether they're on speaker and then address something to me. A couple of days ago, I just caught this reference to "that stuff we used to drink at your grandmother's house" from a girl who moved out of state two years ago. It turned out to be Ovaltine.

It made me smile. I could picture the girls, back in fourth and fifth grade, sitting in my mother's kitchen and drinking chocolate Ovaltine. It was funny that something so universal should be specifically associated in her mind with my mother's house. And I liked that this child, who's had a tough life since she moved away, had such clear memories of those days. But I was also reminded of a conversation with one of my childhood friends.

We were in our early thirties, at the grocery store together, when I spotted Necco wafers and reached back to grab them. She said she'd never had them. "Impossible," I scoffed. "There's no way that you were around my father all those years and never had a Necco wafer." I tried to describe them, to no avail. She'd never seen them, heard of them or tasted them.

Later that afternoon, I cracked open the roll and offered her one. A pink one. No sooner had she popped it into her mouth than her eyes widened. "We used to eat these in the convertible!" Indeed we had, a full three decades earlier, sitting up on the back of the backseat in the years before common sense and seatbelt laws. It wasn't the only conversation we had like that, either. One lazy summer Sunday morning as we contemplated brunch she asked, "Do you know how to make those eggs?"

And I said, "yes". With no elaboration, at least 25 years after we'd last eaten them together--and as far as I could recall, we'd never discussed them before--I knew that she was talking about the fluffy baked omelette with deviled ham inside that my father had made when we were children.

It made me think about the way we're forming memories in all of the little, seemingly meaningless things we do with our children, or that they do themselves. I'm sure that my friend never sat at my parents' table and thought "I'll remember these eggs for the rest of my life." My daughter and her friends just drifted through the days, carefree and taking each moment as it came, like children should. Did they know that the day they tangled themselves up in yarn in the front yard would stick in their minds for years to come? That my daughter would know years later what song they had on repeat the day they sat on lawn chairs on the back patio and read Girl's Life together?

I suspect not. Yet somehow, it's these ordinary pieces that form our lives, our memories, and our relationships. And in a way, that's a relief--because it's easy, as a parent, to get caught up in trying to make memories. It turns out, they take care of themselves while we're just living everyday lives.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Okay, Michael Jackson is a Freak and Everything...

but dead? Seriously? Come on.

It was bad enough when I heard this morning that Farrah Fawcett was dead. I was 10-12 during the Charlie's Angels years, so in my mind she'll always be frozen in time, racing after a bad guy in high heels and a bikini with a gun in her hand and sharing significant looks with other beautiful women.

But Michael Jackson--he wasn't just an icon of our youth: he was young with us. We watched him grow up. We watched him gradually turn white and his nose shrink and change shape. We listened to his music nearly as religiously as we voiced our denials.

33 million people bought Thriller in the initial rush, but no one I ever met in my teen years would admit to having purchased it. A few admitted to owning it, but always with a roll of the eyes--they'd gotten it for Christmas from an aunt or their sister had wanted it or they'd found a copy laying on the street and taken it home just because it seemed a shame.

But lie as we might, Thriller didn't rack up a record 7 top-ten songs because nobody was listening to it--and it isn't still making pop-culture appearances in current movies because everyone cringes when they remember it.

"Rock With You" was the skating song of the early 80s--the one where the lights dimmed and swashes of gold swept across the floor. There are certain teenage boys I can still clearly see gliding around the floor to that song. I sang "Billie Jean" in Pizza Hut the night my best friend got me drunk in high school (though it would be 18 years before I found out there had been vodka in the 7-Up and understood why I'd been singing). And, of course, even those of us who couldn't dance to save our lives could recreate the entire "Thriller" video--and did so at the drop of a hat.

I haven't followed Michael Jackson's career as we've both aged, and I wasn't planning to head out for the new tour. But somehow, he was part of the landscape. The "Thriller" scene in 13 Going on 30 made me smile, just like it did when I'd see a clip of "ABC" and a tiny Jackson with his improbable hair on television. And his death came as a shock--so much of a shock, in fact, that I initially thought it was the opening of one of the many Michael Jackson jokes I've heard over the years.

It's strange how you can feel the absence of someone you weren't paying any attention to.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Burning Question of the Day

Why is the Google Chrome logo red, yellow, blue and green?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Burning Questions

This evening, I took my teenage daughter to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I really enjoy being a mom, but one of the iffy aspects of parenting is that you get to see ALL the movies based on comic books and comic book characters. All.

So, of course, I've seen all of the previous X-Men movies, and I must admit that Hugh Jackman Wolverine has always been my favorite character. I was less reluctant to see this one than I was, say, Spiderman 3. I also like to Know Everything, so a line of films tagged "origins" seemed promising to me.

It turned out, though, that the movie raised as many questions as it answered.

For instance, why did the man who WASN'T anyone's father at the beginning of the film look so much like Wolverine?

And were those Hugh Jackman's arms, for real, or did they do that with some of that crazy putty they use to make people look bigger than they are?

My daughter also pointed out that they never really told us how Logan or Victor obtained their powers (or those nifty little retractable claws)--they explained how Wolverine became indestructible and lost his memory, but nothing about his actual ORIGINS, if you will.

And are those Hugh Jackman's real biceps? Because I've never really noticed them in any of his other movies.

We also wondered when Logan became Canadian, since most of the early catch-up scenes had him fighting in American wars (including, apparently, the Civil War, so it's not likely that the Canadians were just backing us up).

And why, if those are Hugh Jackman's actual shoulders, he looks so slight when he's dressed more professionally. Or, you know, at all.

The list could go on, but it feels futile. After all, this was the "origins" movie. It seems unlikely that we'll get another installment called X-Men Even Further Back: Wolverine. Or even The Origins of Hugh Jackman's Biceps.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Turns out I DIDN'T Know What Roses Smelled Like

If you know me well, you've probably heard me say, "I know what roses smell like...let's move on." I'm a multi-tasker, not much about sitting around and watching the sun set. Maybe, then, it's appropriate that I am at this moment at the Get a Life conference in Chicago (blogging...see, there's that multi-tasking thing).

It's actually a very interesting and entertaining program of legal marketing and practice-management speakers, created around the concept that lawyers needn't actually kill themselves or give up food, water and sleep in order to build successful law practices. And it's been highly informative thus far. But I learned something at lunch that might be even more important.

Different colored roses smell different.

No, really.

You might not think that's a particularly important piece of information, and maybe standing alone it's not. But here's the thing: I'm 42 years old and for years, I've been saying, "I know what roses smell like...let's move on" and it turns out that I DIDN'T. I assumed I knew what roses smelled like precisely because I hadn't ever taken the time to truly smell them before. Now, maybe it turns out that I don't care (that seems likely, at the end of the day), but who knows what else I've been missing?

Today, at a conference designed specifically to remind me of such things, a woman stepped forward and offered me roses to smell. That probably isn't going to happen in most areas of life. Maybe I'd better stop multi-tasking and listen up.

If you're reading this on May 27 or 28, you can too--free streaming video at

Monday, May 25, 2009

Laughter, Hilltops, and Utilitarian Signage

Last night, I had dinner with a very old friend. Well, she's not THAT old, but we've been friends for a very long time--25 years this August. We're both pretty strong-willed and we've hit some glitches over the years, but one thing that has never changed is the laughter. She's pretty funny--a former stand-up comedian, actually--so I have no idea whether this is a function of some chemistry between us or she makes everyone she comes in contact with laugh non-stop.

Well, that's not entirely true. I'm pretty sure we were only entertaining ourselves the day we returned to our college dorm and earnestly proclaimed our conversion to Hare Krishna ("I know it sounds crazy, but we really listened to these people, and what they're saying made a lot of sense...") or with the tea-time marble ritual. I suspect that it would have been the same last night, when we decided it was imperative that we use brightly colored post-it notes to improve the park district signage. I mean, what good is a map with no "You are here" icon?

But some things are universal. EVERYONE (yes, this means you) should go out at once, find a grassy hill, remove his or her shoes and roll down it as quickly as possible. I know you're skeptical, but I'm really sure on this. Seriously. Take your kids. Lie on your side, stretch your arms over your head, and just roll. Let the momentum build.

My friend was a little skeptical, too--especially about the part where she had to hang her purse in a tree and leave it unattended to climb the hill. But I think she's been converted now. Rolling down a hill barefoot in the cool grass has much more to offer than the Krishnas ever will (no offense to any followers who might happen to be reading this).

There was one somber moment, though...the moment when I noticed this sturdy and utilitarian sign marring the otherwise lovely landscape of the riverbank:

I feared I might be responsible.

In the summer of 1989, I walked that same path late at night with a young man. I don't want to name any names, since he's now a respectable professional with a wife and two kids, a member of my church and (most importantly) my friend on Facebook, where this blog feeds into my notes. But in those days he was best known as guitarist for the dive-bar band Big Daddy Pickle & the Sweet Midgets.

Long after dark, we encountered a yellow and orange sculpture that purely begged to be climbed. It was created in a sort of woven grid--it looked for all the world like a jungle gym. And at its foot was a quaint, hand-painted sign that said, "Please Keep Off the Sculptures". I remember the sign clearly (and not just because I still have it somewhere in my storage unit). It was wood, painted a lovely sea green with pale blue writing on it, and it scarcely disturbed the landscape. I was something of a legalist, though, and when Bruce..errr...the guy I was with...suggested that we climb the sculpture I pointed to the sign. "It says right there..."




He placed the sign neatly face down in the grass and gestured to the sculpture again. It was, indeed, meant for climbing. Since it was already broken, I took the sign home with me. My mother, never conventional, laughed and said, "That's almost worth getting some sculptures."

This new sign couldn't be removed by human hands. It's much smaller and much more modern, and I'm quite sure those signs would have been updated by now anyway...but I'm willing to give back the original, if they'd like to go back to those quant, hand-painted signs that sat so nicely among the flora.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The best thing in my life...

is this pear tree:

Okay, that's an obvious lie.

I have, for instance, a fabulously beautiful daughter. I have a job I love working for people I respect and admire--from the comfort and convenience of my own home. In short, I'm Spoiled Rotten.

But this pear tree, somehow, just changes my whole day every time I walk outside. For about half the year, it just looks like a regular tree and I don't pay it much attention. But then one day in spring--and I do mean one day--it blossoms. Suddenly, like an explosion. One day it's green, the next it has a few little spindly things opening up on it and then's a mass of white flowers and perfumes the whole yard.

This year, it bloomed at the end of a full day of rain, so that the blossoms seemed to come out with the sun. They don't last long, but later, of course, there will be pears.

I'll try to eat them when it's far too early, and they'll be hard to bite into and not at all sweet. Later, when the tree is hanging heavy with fruit, I'll be more discriminating, choosing the pears that are exactly right. And toward the end of the season, when fruit is rotting on the ground and bees are circling, I'll have to pull this out:

Pretty rudimentary, yes. You've probably noticed that it's basically a stick with a bent piece of wire hanger attached to it with electrical tape. But it does what I couldn't do for the first three seasons I lived here: pluck the fruit from the uppermost branches while it's still good to eat. Maybe just as importantly, it was a gift from my father, who dropped by on his Harley and witnessed my efforts to reach that fruit one afternoon and came back later that same day with this tool in hand.

Occasionally, I'll look out the front door and see strangers, often families, picking pears. I usually offer them a helpful hint or a bag or the use of my pear picker, not so much because I think they need my help as because it's the most subtle way I can think of to say, "Welcome. Help yourself."


I'm starting to think maybe it WASN'T such an obvious lie, after all

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I've Kissed 4-6 of My Facebook Friends

Earlier this evening, I announced that I was a little afraid of "Friend Facts" on Facebook. It was serving me up a lot of questions that I just didn't want to think about: "Do you think Angie Rogers (my sister-in-law!) has ever performed a strip tease?" "Do you think Branden May (my NEPHEW, for God's sake!) has ever had a one-night stand?" Straight yes/no questions--nowhere to click "Good Lord, I hope not!" or "Ugh, I don't even want to think about that!" or any such thing.

You can pay "pieces of silver" to discover who said what about you, and a friend suggested that they were just trying to arouse our curiosity and get money. "Ha," I responded. "They're barking up the wrong tree with me." I have, as you probably know, virtually no curiosity.

Later this evening, a Facebook application proved me wrong. It dropped me a little note telling me that one of my Facebook friends had answered "no" to the question "Do you think Tiffany Sanders is a good kisser?"

Now, if this is speculation, I don't care who said it. And, in fact, "no" might have been the quick response of someone who REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO THINK ABOUT IT. I can definitely identify with that.

Thing is, I've kissed a few of my Facebook friends.

I thought of three right off the bat and considered each in turn.
Two I was pretty sure wouldn't have said that. Pretty sure. Then I remembered that my husband is also my friend on that was four. And raised the stakes a little, since we were together for ten years.

I wasn't quite ready to pay 96 pieces of silver to find out who said it, though.

Okay, I didn't have 96 pieces of silver.

I went to my friends list and scrolled through it and, to my chagrin, found two other men I MIGHT have kissed in my youth.
Give me a break--I'm 42 years old. If it happened, it was more than a quarter of a century ago...can I be expected to remember every little detail? Hell, until I started scrolling through the list, I didn't even remember that my ex-fiance is also my friend on Facebook. (For those of you keeping score at home, that brings us to 5-7, depending on the two "possibles".)

I spent a little time answering questions and racking up pieces of silver, but it was late and I wasn't that committed to finding out--or at least, not to finding out immediately. So I gave it up for the night and turned my mind to other things, and that was when--BLAM!--out of the blue #6 (or 8) occurred to me.

I’m beginning to see what wisdom there would have been in buying 96 pieces of silver and getting the question answered quickly, before I had too much time to think.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What's Wrong with Caterpillars?

I hate to admit it, but this post is inspired in part by the Hannah Montana movie. See, there's this theme that runs through it (and ties in to Miley Cyrus's latest song) about caterpillars turning into butterflies. This issue was already on my mind because a few days ago I saw a quote that said, in essence, that in order to become a butterfly one had to want to fly badly enough to be willing to give up being a caterpillar...and I thought, "What's wrong with caterpillars?"

Of course, there's nothing wrong with butterflies, either, and I'm all for encouraging those who really want to fly and are willing to put in the work and make the sacrifices and hone their talents and give it their all. But I'm not quite sure everyone should be so willing to throw away the caterpillar life.

On the way home from the movie, I repeated the quote to my daughter. Predictably, she immediately pointed out that the analogy was flawed, because "all caterpillars are meant to be butterflies". But are all humans meant to "fly"? I'm not so sure. Or rather, if we are, I'm not sure that it means what we think it means. And I'm not sure that we have to give up being caterpillars to do it.

Caterpillars, after all, come in various shapes and sizes. Once, when my daughter was 8 or 9, she was looking out an upstairs window and spotted something that sent her running for the front door. It was a big, fuzzy, bright yellow caterpillar--so big and bright that it looked like a dandelion moving across the lawn. She dropped to her knees in the grass and asked softly, "What are you?" and we watched it all the way across the long front lawn. Butterflies had nothing on that guy. What a shame if he'd spent his whole life being dissatisfied with what he was because he couldn't fly, hm?

I've flown; I've been a butterfly. It has its advantages and maybe it's something everyone should experience. But should we aspire to live our lives in the air? I'm not so sure. I think I'm a caterpillar when I'm walking with my daughter in the evening, when I'm making her dinner and taking my mother to the doctor and sitting by the fire in a coffee shop with a friend. I think I'm a caterpillar reading novels on winter Sunday afternoons and sitting here in my not-so-orderly bedroom writing this blog post. I'm a caterpillar when I'm bowling with my kids, or feeding my grandson, or helping a neighbor child with her French homework. And I don't think I want to trade all that in to fly--I think I'm good with the ground under my feet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Wonderland?

This morning, we walked out to several inches of soft new snow, beautiful story-book pine trees laced in white, and lovely spring weather. I had to clean off the car to take my daughter to school, but I didn't have to put my coat on to do it. The snow was heavy and packed perfectly and you could hold it comfortably in your bare hands.

My daughter looked around and said, "So...we're in a Barbie movie?"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rules You Never Thought You'd Have to Make

Many years ago, when my stepchildren came to live with us, we hit some glitches. They'd been raised differently than we were raising our daughter, and it seemed like almost every day, something would arise that would stun me (who would ever have thought anyone would think that it was okay to....?) and stun them (who would ever have thought that anyone would object to...?)

The result was a video series--a series of brief "television spots" called "Rules You Never Thought You'd Have to Make, with Tiffany Sanders". All of the kids participated in filming, and I dressed professionally and spoke very seriously as host/narrator. We didn't have the technology back then to put red Xs through the bad scene and some kind of cheery encouragement around the good one, but we did it wrong first, then explained the hazards, then did it right. Very exaggerated. The kids sometimes dressed up for their parts, and everyone laughed a lot. Mission accomplished: the message came through loud and clear and was remembered without a lot of yelling and conflict, and everyone had a good laugh.

I was convinced, back then, that there was simply no way to anticipate everything that might arise, that no matter how many rules you made and how many scenarios you played out in your head, there would always be a surprise...a rule you'd never thought you'd have to make.

Until this week, that is. My daughter's middle-school science class made slime this week, out of glue and water and Borax and I'm not sure what else. And one of the boys in her class raised his hand and said, "Can we taste this?"

And without missing a beat, the teacher said, "You signed a contract at the beginning of the year agreeing not to eat anything we worked with during labs."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Cleaning My Life

Since I knocked off work at about 6:00 p.m. on Friday, I've cleaned up a few things. Some of them were the standard "spring cleaning" sort of thing--I took two Jeep loads of stuff to storage (not that any of it was Christmas stuff that's been boxed up in the corner of my living room for 2.5 months or anything), did a few loads of laundry, bagged up a bunch of stuff for charity, put shelving in my upstairs hallway so that we could keep all of our puzzles and games in one place instead of four different ones (though my daughter always insisted that she knew exactly which games were in which place and it wasn't a problem), filled a couple of garbage bags, bought some plastic file boxes so that I can get my old files out of my file cabinets and into storage, shredded a bunch of paper bills that have been sitting in a stack unopened for months because I pay my bills online, and finally cleared out the materials I was keeping on hand for a job I left over a year ago.

But it wasn't all work. I put out some calls for submissions for my webzine, Rational Outrage. Rational Outrage is a GREAT webzine (and that's not something I'd ordinarily say about something of my own creation), but it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. I pulled out a novel I started in 2003 and re-read the first 18,000 words in preparation for finally digging back in to it. I bought five CDs this afternoon. And, of course, this all comes on the heels of having cut off all my hair last week.

But perhaps the most significant thing I did today was to clean out my tub drain. The tub has been draining more and more slowly for weeks, but...well...who wants to go digging around in there? Who even wants to THINK about what's going on down there?

Today I equipped myself with some tools and some chemicals and dove in. Not literally, of course. I don't want to create the impression that this was an upleasant experience, but when the job was done and I was all pleased with myself and claiming victory, my daughter looked suspiciously at the tub and said, "Now you have to wash it." And so I did.

The last thirty hours or so have been very productive, and in the midst of them all I've managed to watch a movie and last week's episode of LOST with my daughter, spend a little time at my parents' house, do a favor for a friend, and talk to my stepdaughter on the telephone. And I'm not even tired (stand by for massive crash).

There's only one problem.

Since 10:00 this morning, while I've been storing things and throwing things away and hanging up clothes and reorganizing and creating all this great space in my life, I've been piling up things that I wanted to keep but wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with. I've been piling those my bed.

And now it's 12:30 a.m., and I've got lots of floor space, but nowhere to sleep.

I guess the next phase of my personal renovation should involve something about PLANNING.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

High Score...97

Unfortunately, that's not a test score. It's a bowling score. My stepdaughter's bowling score, to be exact--in our first game this evening, she unfortunately beat her boyfriend, me, my daughter and my stepson with that 97. Our "team" score was 351. That was just the first game, though. I swept the second one with a 132--just 32 pins below my once-upon-a-time average. But I don't think anyone was really in it for the bowling, anyway.

My daughter seemed primarily concerned with snapping pictures of her nephew with her cell phone. We haven't seen him for a few months, and he's changed a lot. Then, she showed him the pictures. I'm not sure he really got it, but it LOOKS like he's paying attention.

The boys had a good time.

But it seems that bowling was hard on the girls. They look more like they're stranded in an airport than out for the evening...

Mommy and baby cheer daddy on (while in the background, daddy falls on his butt as he releases his ball...)

Falling was a big theme of the evening, actually...Shawn tried to scoot over to pose with Andrew and his aunt, but something went wrong...something about only two legs of the chair being on the ground.... There was no alcohol involved in this evening, I swear!

Somebody's worn out at the end of the day.

In all honesty, the "somebody" is probably me--but this little cutie rubbing his eyes when he came in to say goodnight was too good to pass up.