Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gone to the dogs

I’m sure many of you have been wondering what happened to me as it has been several weeks since I posted anything. But have no fear, dear readers, I did not fall into a deep abyss (is it necessary, or even appropriate to qualify an abyss as deep? Isn’t an abyss deep simply by definition? You wouldn’t really pass a small hole or impression in the ground and think “whoa, check out that abyss. I mean, it’s not a deep one, but it’s an abyss all right!”). You see? I am still here, pondering the important things in life.

Well, maybe figuratively speaking I have fallen into the abyss of dog-fostering, but really, I’d say it’s more of a pool than any abyss. It’s like a pool that’s about 5’10” deep so only if I stand on my tippy toes can I keep my head above water and even then I might falter and go under, sucking in just enough water to cough and choke for a moment, or a wave could hit me and temporarily make it difficult to see what’s coming so that when I do regain my focus I realize that someone has thrown a large boulder into the water and if I don’t get out of the way I am definitely getting beaned so I had better get moving and fast! Yes, that’s sort of what the last two weeks have felt like to me.

For many months I have been following several dog rescue groups on Facebook and one in particular, Secondhand Hounds, has cleverly caught my attention and made me want to care for virtually every dog in the world who has ever been mistreated or abused or tied up to a tree and ignored. Maybe because I find humans so annoying (in general, of course, not any of you specifically) I am drawn to dogs and their seemingly innocent faces, their earnest expressions and furry eyebrows and the way they really look like they are listening to you when you talk. You really find me interesting, I think to myself, when their ears perk up at the sound of my voice. I saw one dog on their page, some sort of scruffy terrier mix named Shirley and there was just something about her mismatched tail and ears and fuzzy face that made me, somewhat impulsively, fill out the online application to foster a dog. Well, it wasn’t Shirley who ended up in my care, but instead, about a week after completing the application, I met Lacey, whose impossibly cute face is featured in the photo above. And that is why the blog has been so quiet for the past few weeks.

Secondhand Hounds appears to have some of the most amazing volunteers working for them because there are many people who care for several dogs at once. Several can equal anywhere from 2 to 8 and possibly even more. It’s quite a feat. I can barely care for myself with one dog and a high-maintenance child around so now with two dogs, I am treading water and damn, my legs are getting tired.

One of the difficulties I have encountered in my foster dog journey is my other dog, Carson. Carson and Lacey clearly live in two different planes of existence. We have always known that Carson was kind of a crotchety fellow. But Lacey’s good-natured affection and youthful exuberance has really served to underscore what a grouchy old man Carson is. Being the male, as well as the resident dog of the house, I expected him to enthusiastically accept the alpha dog role. However, he seems much less interested in dominating and leading and more interested in running away from things that bug him while casting a sheepish glance (if a dog’s glance can really be said to be sheepish) over his shoulder as if to say, “please, please don’t ask me to be assertive here. Just let me go pee on some stuff.” He is conflict avoidant. He does not wish to engage in playful tussling or butt-smelling but neither does he wish to speak up about it; he’d really rather just find a nice warm blanket to burrow into or a rodent to bark at. Lacey, on the other hand, might be willing to lead the pack if only Carson would follow. It’s hard to be the leader when your troops just shrug and walk the other direction. The task of alpha dog is left to me I guess. I worry about Lacey's self-esteem, however, when she'd really like to play with Carson and he rejects her. Oh Lacey, don't take it personally. If you were a potato chip he would pay more attention to you. Boys can be like that.

Lacey is mostly potty trained, averaging about one accident per day. I am starting to think that we could lower that figure considerably if only Carson would stop peeing all over the house. I’m not sure why Carson has “accidents.” I hesitate to call them accidents when they seem so very deliberate on his part. We know he’s old, we know he doesn’t like the cold. Sometimes he just refuses to go pee outside and eventually he’ll have to go so bad that the coffee table leg will begin to look more like a verdant oak and then we find a puddle on the carpet some time later. There are other times, though, when the cause is not so clear. For example, he may have just gone on a long walk and “marked” (i.e. peed on) about 500 different objects in the span of 30 minutes. Feeling confident that his needs have been attended to, we will decide to go on some family outing. Inexplicably, Carson will assume that he, too, is going on a family outing. When we pull out of the garage without him, Carson’s little wet dog nose is pressed to the glass of the back door, his expression somber. We return home a few hours later and there it is, the tell-tale puddle. Why Carson? Why did you do that? What exactly are you trying to say to us?

So although we try to be vigilant with our orange spray bottle of ‘Nature’s Miracle Orange-Oxy Stain and Odor Remover,’ there are no doubt an untold number of spots or splatters around the house that smell distinctly like a fire hydrant. I imagine that Lacey and Carson are working out a little dance around the house where one sniffs out a potty spot and thinks “hey! Get a whiff of that! That makes me feel like having a little tinkle… don’t mind if I do…” Humans rush in with orange spray bottle. Minutes, possibly hours pass. The other dog finds another similar spot and thinks “well, I saw the other one do it. I guess it’s okay if I have a little wizz myself.” Again, humans descend with spray bottle. Then dog #1 finds another spot, maybe the first one, figures he/she’s not the first, what’s the harm. And so it goes. Who started it is a moot point. The question is, who is going to end it? Doesn’t either one of them want to put their little paw down, once and for all, and cease this mindless peeing indoors? Huh guys? Don’tcha?

The weirdest part of all is that, almost on a daily basis, I think I want to adopt Lacey and keep her forever. Almost every day since she came to live with us, from the time I get out of bed each day until last thing before I go to bed, I feel as if I am clawing my way through an endless list of chores that are constantly preempted by trips outside with one dog or the other (or both) in anticipation of some form of evacuation. And there are always still more things that never get done. I feel hopelessly behind, inundated with the needs of others. Yet, Lacey has the sweetest face, the softest hair behind her ears, and the most contented-looking grin when she’s getting a good scratch and she looks so damn happy to see me whenever I appear in her line of sight. There is a young couple coming from Duluth to meet Lacey this weekend and I am hoping for a sign that these humans and this dog have a potential love connection. She deserves her forever home without a grumpy old man around who refuses to romp and play. But it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to her, hard for me to leave the swirling pool of chaos I’m drowning in. Sometimes we all need a little rescuing. I love you, Lacey!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

7 Habits of Highly Irritable People

  1. Drink too much coffee. Does anyone remember the old 70s Sanka commercials featuring an ill-tempered individual getting highly irritated by some trivial matter and claiming the caffeine makes him tense? Then Robert Young from Father Knows Best busts onto the scene with a pot of Sanka and saves the day with “real” coffee, but that’s not really my point. I love those commercials with the depictions of pissed off moms, dads and spouses, edgy and stressed out over life’s little annoyances. But seriously, I’m not sure I actually believe caffeine makes me any more irritable than I would be simply by nature. I mean, you would not believe how irritable I could be without caffeine.
  2. Never allow enough time to get anywhere. You know the scenario, you are rushing around the house trying to get out the door so that you can drive to some place for some reason and you will most likely be meeting with some people who expect you at the location at a certain time. You know exactly what time it is, you have calculated in your head roughly how long it will take to get there and you are mentally checking off what tasks are left to be done before you leave. You have got the situation under control. Do not take into account how much time it takes to go out to the garage. Do not consider the time it takes to put on shoes and a coat, particularly in the winter time, when mittens, a hat and a scarf are also highly recommended. If you are a dog owner, do not take into account the chance that your best friend will suddenly decide he/she needs to either A) pee or B) chase after a small rodent. If you have a child in tow, definitely do not allow time for the child to get shoes, socks, a coat, a snack, a drink of water or a trip to the bathroom. This will foul up your mental calculations beyond belief. 
  3. Procrastinate. I’ll explain that later.
  4. Set your standards very high. Don’t get lazy and just accept your slothful ways as “good enough.” Demand perfection from yourself. Are you a stay-at-home parent? Expect your home to be spotless, sanitized and highly organized. If it is not, feel irritated. Are you a professional of some sort? Expect that you should be making more money, have more responsibilities, or hold a higher position in whatever profession it is that you work. Better yet, expect that you should have been in a better profession. Are you a teacher? You should have been a doctor. Are you a doctor? You should have been a surgeon. Are you a writer? You should have published something by now. You are how old? And what do you have to show for it?
  5. Develop your “all or nothing” thinking. This kind of goes along with the last one. That’s so lame, I should have come up with something more clever, used a little more imagination. This whole blog is a failure.
  6. Be highly self-critical. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me “don’t be so hard on yourself!” Well… Let’s just say I would have a lot of nickels. All I know is, every time I feel like I haven’t done something quite as well as I would have liked it, I feel irritated. So it must work.
  7. Be rigid and controlling and expect that people will never disappoint you. When they do, perceive it as a pronouncement on your self-worth.
  8. Have children. Need I say more?
Yeah, that last one was a bonus. I’m so pleased with myself for coming up with an extra, I actually feel happy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Poetry by Martha... a light interlude

Sun
Fiery, flaming, bright
Makes me feel happy
Sun



Nature poem, by Martha, for 3rd grade class
November 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Self-expression

express yourself
I’ve been thinking about self-expression ever since I posted my last blog. Obviously, that’s really what a blog is all about: self-expression. I like writing here because it is an outlet for what is in my head, and, as it turns out, it’s a fairly satisfying one, as well as more socially acceptable than many of my other impulses. Basically all I hope to do when I start out each post is just express myself. Sometimes what I want to say feels really important and sometimes it feels just plain ridiculous, but I think each post is a reflection of my mood or what I’m thinking about at the time. Many times, what I’m thinking about feels really bad inside my head and reads even worse when I try to write it out so I trash it or I leave it unfinished and I begin to feel frustrated if I go too long without posting something. The fact that I feel frustrated by that seems like a positive thing. I’d like to write a book someday, an actual published work, but I can’t say much more about it than that. I don’t know if it will be fiction or creative non-fiction, but most likely it would fall into one of those two categories. And it turns out the blog is a good laboratory for that. If I ever get that book written, in a way, all it will be is a longer, potentially more serious work of self-expression. So it’s good that I’m practicing (and kind of you guinea pigs to read!).

But it’s a funny thing, having the ability to send all my words out on the internet where virtually anyone can read them. It is both wonderful and extremely unfortunate (in some cases) that it is so easy to do. It feels kind of scary but also kind of meaningless. It’s like asking, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make any sound? If a thought is expressed on the internet but no one reads it, is the thought really expressed? Does the possibility of millions of readers via the internet make self-expression on a blog more powerful than self-expression in a little journal I hide under my bed? I don’t know. I can’t come up with an answer to that question. Kate Hopper, talented writer and instructor at The Loft Literary Center, do you have an answer to that? (She taught a class that I took a year ago about blog writing that was a primary motivator behind this project. I am so grateful for her nudging me along this path.)

My last blog post, essentially on the topic of child abuse, was read by a whole lot of people and one or two people didn’t care much for what I had to say. Which, I should add, is fine by me. I mean, that’s just other people expressing themselves, right? But I can't help thinking, why do these people care what I think? One of the main reasons I wrote that post was because... well, because I can. I absolutely welcome anything anyone has to say, but I have spent more than a few minutes this week wondering why some people bother to comment. I guess it’s because they can. And I guess it’s safe to say I am genuinely interested in having as many people read my self-expression as possible, otherwise I wouldn’t send the words out for the whole world to read. But it still feels odd to me that I can provoke those few readers to take issue with what I have to say.

As a potentially meaningless experiment, I’ve decided to say a whole bunch of stuff merely for the satisfaction of expressing myself. Because I can. I’m also  thinking about writing some posts on potentially controversial topics and then sending the links to the people they will most offend. Just for kicks. It will really beef up my stats, that’s for sure. But that’s a project for the future. For now, let’s keep it simple and let me get busy expressing myself.

A few meaningless facts about me:
  • I am a Democrat. I almost always vote Democrat. Sometimes I even vote for Democrats without even knowing a single thing about them, I just color in the circle next to their name because they are NOT Republicans. I don’t care if this is good or bad, right or wrong. I just tend to agree with the ideas of the Democrats much, much, much more than those of the Republican Party. Also, I still like Obama. So there. Oh, you don’t like him or the Democratic Party? That’s okay. If I liked you before I knew that, I still like you. But let’s not talk politics how ‘bout.
  • I support a woman’s right to have an abortion and I absolutely do not think it is the equivalent of murder. This is easily a topic I could stretch out into a whole post, then send a link to some right-to-lifers. That could be fun. But let’s not talk about that either.
  • I believe in God. I don’t know why. Are we supposed to know why?
  • I do not like Julia Roberts. I don’t think she is a talented actress and I am totally bugged by her facial expressions which, I would argue, are the exact same faces she makes in every single movie she’s in.
  • My neighbor is a jerk. He’s an old guy, 60s or 70s, and he doesn’t like me because I blocked his view from his kitchen window when I thoughtlessly and vindictively added a garage to my then-garage-less house 6 years ago. He’s rude to me, he lies out in a lawn chair in his front yard during the summer with no shirt on (but with socks on), which I find most unattractive, and the only time he talks to me is when he wants to bitch about the “run-off” from my house washing his grass seed away in the springtime, which is so totally obviously my fault that I wonder if he actually saw me whispering to the rain “go that way, over the grass seed! And go swiftly!”

There, I think I’ve covered a few important topics: politics, religion, abortion, Julia Roberts, and my jerky neighbor. Anyone in the world could read any of these brilliant opinions, a brief effort at self-expression, and take issue with them. And I would welcome that. I am not telling anyone else how to think or what to believe and I am not trying to argue a point. I’m just saying what I think. Because I can. Because it’s my blog. And I am eternally grateful that you are reading this and that you care what I think. Buy my book (when the time comes). Thank you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When bad parenting comes back to bite you in the ass

PREFACE: This is a far cry from things that are spooktacular and cutesy-shaped lunch meat but this post, in general, is still just a reflection of what is bouncing around in my head.

The other day I saw the story about Hillary Adams, the 23-year old woman who recently posted a video on the internet, taken 7 years ago, showing her father, a county judge in Texas, brutally beating her with a belt. If you have not seen it, you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl9y3SIPt7o&feature=youtu.be, but be warned that it is graphic and disturbing, to say the least. In the way that random, personal information broadcast on the internet sometimes does, it went viral within a few days and garnered much more attention than this young woman ever dreamed it would. I stumbled upon the story on my facebook news feed after she appeared on the Today Show talking with Matt Lauer. I watched the original YouTube video, as well as the Today Show interview. Anything that I have to say about here is, of course, only an expression of my opinion and not any kind of profound judgment or pronouncement about Ms. Adams or her family or her actions. And, by the way, just so I don’t leave you hanging, I totally support what she did and my heart goes out to her and her family. I admire her strength and courage and I also sympathize with the excruciating pain that these events must have caused her and will, most likely, continue to cause her for some time to come.

But first I am reminded of another horror story about poor parental decision-making that I read about recently. This story is about an 11-year old boy who was abandoned by his father several months back. The father, Steven Cross, facing foreclosure on their Lakeville, MN home left the son one night last summer and drove his van to California, leaving a note with the boy instructing him to ride his bike over to a neighbor’s house and another note addressed to the neighbors giving them his permission to care for the child in his absence. The father was eventually tracked down, arrested and brought back to Minnesota to face child neglect charges. In the article I read most recently about this family the dad expresses genuine dismay over the public and legal reaction to his decision to ditch his son. He appears to maintain the belief that leaving his son in the care of the neighbor family was clearly a more responsible decision than sticking around and allowing his financial troubles to affect the child. Although virtually everything about this story disturbs me, this is the part that I find the most difficult to comprehend; how can this man, father to a child with whom he has spent the last 11 years, presumably loving and caring for, not understand the profound wrongness of abandoning his child and disappearing in the middle of the night, assuming that a neighbor will seamlessly take over his parenting responsibilities and all will be well? How can he fail to see the damage he is doing to his child? How does he miss that?

In the case of Hillary Adams, her father has made statements to the fact that the abuse on the video looks worse than it is. He appears to believe he has done nothing wrong. How can that be? Who can fail to recognize the obvious physical and emotional damage that he inflicts on his daughter in just a few seconds of the beating shown in the video?

The parent/child relationship is a unique dynamic. Initially within the relationship, the parent is in a position of absolute power; the child is completely dependent on his or her parent. As the child grows and becomes more independent, more developed, the relationship also evolves into one where the child assumes more power over his or her life, and, ideally, the parent begins to relinquish control over the child who can now share in the responsibility of living. Ultimately, when the child becomes an adult, the two adults, while still parent and child, have the potential to be equals. The power dynamic essentially evens out over time. But anyone who has had a relationship of any sort with their parents knows that this is not necessarily accurate. Even at age 43, my mother, unwittingly, I suppose, maintains an immense amount of power over me. She can swing my mood from cheerful to hateful faster than you can spell the word dysfunctional. Or she can make me feel invincible with just the smallest nod of approval. And although I struggle against it, am hyper-aware of it and take care to analyze the crap out of it at every turn, I know that it is also inevitable that she will always have the ability to influence my emotional state simply because that power dynamic existed in our relationship so pervasively from day one and it was imprinted on my brain and my emotional development throughout my childhood.

Although I haven’t had time or the motivation to do exhaustive research on the subject, I am fairly certain it’s not inaccurate to say that child abuse and neglect not only traumatizes a child, having very real physical and emotional affects, but also has the potential to alter a child’s brain development. When you are 16 and your father comes into your bedroom and beats you mercilessly with a belt despite your cries and your obvious pain, your brain is directly affected, changed and forced to grow and adapt in ways that would otherwise not occur were it not for the abuse. Or when you are 11 and you awake in the safety of your own home only to find that your one known parent who supposedly loves you more than any other individual in the world has deserted you, your brain suffers a type of injury which can leave scars that physically change the course of your neural development irrevocably. How can a parent not be aware of their profound influence over the growth of their child? How is that overlooked?

One of the reasons that these stories stick with me, and particularly stick out in my mind at this moment is because I spend a great deal of time and energy every day worrying about my parenting abilities and whether or not I am doing things “the right way” or even “a good enough way.” It consumes me some days, and I recognize that this is not necessarily a good thing. A very sweet friend of mine made a remark the other day that she sucked at being a stay-at-home parent, which said to me that she, too, experiences similar feelings of self-doubt and concern that her parenting is sub-par. Which makes me think that these feelings of incompetence, more pronounced in some, but still present in most parents, is actually normal, fairly universal and possibly even an indication that we are being diligent, thoughtful and careful in our daily task of raising our children. And that’s good. It’s really good. The abusive parent who firmly believes he has done nothing harmful to his child would do well to question his actions, really spend some time obsessing over whether or not he has done the best job possible for the welfare of his child. And should he eventually consider the possibility that no, in fact, he has not done a good job and has, instead, fucked up royally, he should feel no shame in admitting that and finding some way to ask for help. I won’t exclude the possibility of forgiveness or redemption. But a parent should have to work really hard for that.

Hillary Adams’ father claimed in an interview that he believes he has done nothing wrong other than discipline his child for stealing (the video-taped beating was punishment for illegally downloading material from the internet). His choice of language confuses me but I’m not sure it’s relevant to dissect his grammar – OK, humor me – if he has done nothing wrong other than discipline his child, doesn’t that statement allow for the possibility that disciplining his child falls under the heading of “doing something wrong?” Whatever, I’m pretty sure he believes he is blameless. I am no authority to say what the legal consequences should be for this man or for the father who abandoned his child. But I do feel pretty strongly that whatever consequences there are within the relationship between parent and child following abuse and neglect, they are most likely warranted. Although Ms. Adams’ father may not face criminal charges, he has left his job and left his hometown and is probably not really enjoying all the attention he is getting as an internet star/child abuser. Is that fair to him?

I guess this is my essential point here; in my opinion, who cares what is fair to him? He forfeits his daughter’s consideration when he takes a belt out and whips her repeatedly. He abuses his child, abuses his position of power, physically harms his daughter and alters the course of her development. When Ms. Adams made him aware of the video, does he take any responsibility for his actions? No. Steven Cross says he would still like to see his son (who he abandoned) and seems mystified by the court’s decision to deny him visitation. For now, it seems he has pretty much trashed his relationship with his child. Do I feel bad for him? No.

As good, conscientious parents, we know we have an obligation to do right by our children. Sometimes, life seems to conspire against our desire to be good to our kids. We get angry, we yell, we take away privileges. We make our kids cry. And we worry like hell that we are harming them, that we are doing such a horrible job of parenting that our kids will have psychological scars for life. But then stories of real child abuse remind us what psychological scars really are. One of the many professionals with whom I have crossed paths in my own parenting journey once said (of parents relative to their children) “we are bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.” In the end, this is what we owe our children, our best ability to treat them with kindness, which includes apologizing when we are wrong and taking responsibility for our actions. If we can’t even do that much, then I’m not sure our kids owe us anything either.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lunch from hell, part II

 Several months back I wrote a riveting little post about my daughter's relentless campaign to get me to buy Lunchables™ for her "sack" lunches. That was lunch from hell, part I, I guess. Here is a little update on my dear child's renewed adoration of the evil, highly-processed and environmentally toxic little package known as the Oscar Mayer Lunchable™. In her defense, this time around I don't think she was trying to coerce or beg me into purchasing the lunchable. It was more like she was simply expressing her undeniable attraction to it and trying hard to understand why something so cute, so compact, so neatly-packaged and so flawlessly marketed could be the epitome of evil that I make it out to be. In the end, we had an uncharacteristically unheated discussion and I was able to explain why our own, homemade rendering of the cheese, meat & cracker lunch would be healthier and produce far less garbage to end up, eons later, sitting in a landfill. A new and improved plan was formulated to create our own "lunchable."

Yes, you are seeing correctly. Those are star-shaped pieces of American cheese. As well as star-shaped pieces of ham. Since this pic was actually taken following the second day's preparation of the homemade "lunchable," an extensive collection of cheese scraps has accumulated, which is just visible on the left side of the photo. I ask you, who is going to eat all those cheese scraps? I don't even really like American cheese, unless of course it is sandwiched between two excessively-buttered pieces of grilled bread and it's all melty and oozey and then it's quite delicious. But that sandwich is best prepared in a greasy diner by someone who goes by "junior" so I still find myself with a considerable pile of cheese scraps and no good solution for what to do with them.

A much bigger problem, however, is the fact that the beautiful ham and cheese stars came home in her lunch box today largely untouched. While quite enthusiastic about this new lunch option yesterday, when they were novel, today... not so much. And although you might see this as totally unrelated, I would just like to point out that I have a Master's degree. And not in Home Economics, as you might suspect.

Educated mind, please accept my deepest apologies. And maybe while I'm at it, I should also apologize to the creator of the Lunchable™, Oscar Mayer (whoever he is), and the whole Kraft Food corporation, because I am clearly not as clever at packaging a lunch for my child as you all are. It's back to PB&J for Martha. But do me a favor, please, just one more time, check out this delightfully creative, as well as celestial display of luncheon morsels. Can you even get over how cute that is? Neither can I.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Spooktacular Halloween edition

One of my favorite things about Halloween is the frequent usage of the word “Spooktacular.” I don’t know why I have such a fondness for this word, I just do. And for that reason, I offer you this Halloween edition of the blog, dedicated to things that are Spooktacular. (Say it again, like you are a contestant on the $10,000 Pyramid game show: Things that are Spooktacular.)
  • Halloween savings: If you are a business, selling absolutely anything and also offering a sale at any time within 6 weeks of Halloween, you should definitely say that the savings are Spooktacular. Personally, I would be tempted to buy your product if I knew I was getting Spooktacular savings.
  • The hairballs in my bathroom: I wanted to take a photo of them for you but they’ve gotten so repulsively bad that I kept gagging and the movement blurred my photo. I’m not sure where vacuuming up hairballs falls in the division of labor at our house. I should think about that.
  • My lunch today: Chips and salsa and mini candy bars. Maybe that’s not technically Spooktacular, but just gross (also, possibly verging on jejune). But I think if it’s Halloween, it’s Spooktacular.
  • This decoration, one of my personal favorites, purchased at Walgreens in 1996 and well worth the $2.99 I probably paid for it:
Oh no! A ghost in danger of asphyxiation by
candy corn. But wait, he's a ghost, he's already
dead. Damn, that's a clever decoration.
  • This blog post: Technically, perhaps just stupid, but Spooktacularly stupid.
Enjoy your Halloween! Hope it’s Spooktacluar.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Doing the dirty work

This is not me
My daughter is not a milk-drinker. To ensure she gets at least the tiniest bit of calcium in her diet, she has a yogurt smoothie with dinner every night, and no, it is not a nutritious, organic, low-sugar smoothie, it’s a Dannon™ danimals smoothie and it’s probably chock full o’ sugar but we are not discussing my abilities to properly nourish my child right now. What are we discussing? I’m getting to that… My daughter is not careful, is somewhat jerky in her movements and not terribly aware of where her body is, so when the smoothie was knocked off the table the other day, it did not come as much of a surprise. Fortunately, Carson, our dog, also likes smoothie so he helped clean it up (No, Carson, don’t put your paws in the spilled smoothie, tip toe around the spill and lap it up from the edges inward. Nobody listens to me around here.) I willingly crawled around under the table with a wet, soapy rag, repeatedly wiping up the spill and the subsequent spill residue and the spill splatters that landed several feet away, all the while wondering if my husband would find it humorous if I asked him, “hey, does my butt look big when I crawl around on the floor wiping it with a rag like this?” (FYI, the answer is no, it would barely elicit even a chuckle.)

Not many moments later, Martha spilled a glass of water in virtually the same spot on the floor where the smoothie had just been, thereby reassuring me that all remaining stickiness from the sugar-laden, strawberry yogurt would be rinsed away from the floor. How handy. It was all I could do at that instant not to declare that it was my husband’s turn to wipe up the spill, that I had already expended my daily allowance of floor-wiping on hands and knees. I decided instead to just be an adult and wipe it up myself. Wait, did I say adult? I meant to say martyr. No – adult, I definitely meant adult.

Because not everything comes out even-steven when it comes to parenting, managing a household, caring for a dog, and earning a living, right? Right?? I mean, I’m not sure where exactly I fall in my feminist beliefs but I am pretty sure that you just can’t equate full-time, salaried, out-of-the-home employment with stay-at-home parenting. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, if you will pardon the tired phrasing. Or, it’s like comparing a filet mignon to a spam sandwich, if you will not. You can’t equate mowing the lawn with cooking dinner. You can’t equate cleaning the bathroom every week with cleaning your child’s tushie throughout several years of un-potty-trained evacuation. So how do couples achieve a division of labor in their household that feels fair and just and tolerable and not provocative of a midnight escape to an undisclosed location?

I don’t know. I’m still studying the map, myself. When my husband and I were just boyfriend and I and we had moved into our first apartment together we only established one rule of labor-sharing that remains in place. Actually, to say we established it is maybe a stretch because I can’t recall the concrete discussion. In my mind, it just happened. Regardless of who actually prepared the dinner, every other night is your turn to clean up the kitchen. We have never wavered from this schedule, except for a few weeks after our daughter was born when I was incapable of doing anything other than holding a baby, crying and producing excessive amounts of breast milk. It was a joy to finally get back to cleaning the kitchen. OK, that’s a total lie, I loathe washing dishes, but it did imply a small degree of normalcy when I was able to get back on the schedule.

Other than this, however, there are no rules at our house about who does what. A few weekends back I spent an hour moving piles of bricks from our old front walk while my husband cooked dinner and I like the fact that this is fairly standard that I do dirty yard work while he slaves away over the hot stove. I’m not a good cook. He is more proactive at keeping the bathtub clean while I am the constant picker-upper-of-crap that accumulates daily and without my work in this area I’m pretty sure our family would end up on an episode of Hoarders before too long. Laundry is done on a strictly first-come-first-served basis. As in, whoever wants clean underwear badly enough gets to start the Sunday laundry operation. Often my husband will start a chore just to quiet my complaining. I’m not sure if that amounts to consideration on his part or simply fear. Whatever, the kitchen floor gets cleaned.

But there are so many other tasks that just can’t be divided equally. His realm is the dog, my realm is the child. Equal? Not really. But I am still grateful it is not me getting up at 5:00am in January to walk the dog seven days/week. He earns the cash-mo, I pay the bills (and probably spend the majority of the cash, but more often on toilet paper and laundry detergent than a cute, new pair of shoes). Can a dollar value be attached to the attention I give our daughter? I doubt it. When it comes to duties like this in a marriage, it’s best not to try to draw a line and balance everything out. I sometimes think my husband is more fortunate than he realizes because he has a job to go to where he interacts constantly with intelligent, interesting people and I have a job where I talk to the dog or myself all day. I am not a scintillating conversationalist. He has a job where he has to get up at 5:00am Monday through Friday and I have a job where I can take a nap in the middle of the day if I want to (this has happened only once or twice). Who has the better job?

Is it all my quiet time that makes me contemplate this simply in response to spilled smoothie? Could be. There are many ways to organize a life and even more ways to obsess over the organization and fret about whether one has discovered the correct way. When my daughter was an infant and I was fairly depressed all the time, lots of people would tell me encouraging stories or offer bits of advice but my sister, Cindi, gave me a more honest perspective, which may have helped only marginally but has always stuck with me as a brilliant statement. She said to me, “if you ask me, all parents of small children are depressed. You’ll be happy again when they grow up.” Ha ha, I’m sure that strikes no one as hilarious but I like it anyway. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. Dog ownership is a lot of work, not quite as hard as parenting. Managing the household is hard, as well as a giant pain-in-the-ass, but undoubtedly much more pleasant than homelessness. I’m just keeping my chin up here and hoping yours is, too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When good hard drives go bad

A dog using a laptop is way funnier than me cursing at it
Monday morning my laptop died. I don't know why it died. I guess, yes, it had seemed a little under the weather lately, but I've never just had a computer go blank and say "fuck you, I'm not working anymore" quite like the laptop did. It has now been reborn and I really should be showing more gratitude about that fact, but instead I am just sitting here mourning the loss of the old laptop.

As I readied my child for another day at school, I heard something beep once, twice, maybe three times. I didn't think anything of it because, as anyone in touch with life in the 21st century can tell you, there are butt-loads of things in our lives that beep at random. Mysterious beeping? Don't sweat it, it's just some piece of electronic equipment doing some thing or telling you something or not doing something or something like that. I had a sip of coffee, I made a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, I went to check my email. The screen was black except for that short message that said something about "No hard drive disk detectable" and some other stuff about trying to reseat the hard drive or press F1 to reboot or press F5 to run diagnostics or press all the buttons at once and say "What the fuck" really loud and then explain to the laptop that you are very busy today and that you just arrived home from an 8-hour drive from Chicago at 7:45 last night and you need to get to the grocery store and do five loads of laundry and the electrician is due to arrive in 10 minutes and the dog pooped in the basement and that means you should clean the carpet and the child has violin lessons this afternoon and you really wanted to get in a workout this morning because you skipped it the last 4 days and you are feeling a bit antsy and therefore you do not have time to figure out what to do with a blank screen and mysterious beeping and diagnostic thingies and all that crap.

Another problem here is that, apparently, I have turned into a seemingly helpless and somewhat ditsy blonde. No, in fact, my hair is not naturally blonde. It is naturally very unfortunate, in many ways. It is artificially blonde now, however because. Just because. I am also not naturally helpless. I am naturally lazy. And I am not naturally ditsy either. But there are just too many things to keep track of and any woman who has raised a child from infancy can tell you that these tiny beings just don't allow for much "me time." So when I have "me time," I have no desire to spend it downloading updates or renewing subscriptions to McAffee or LoJack or backing up data or whatever window is popping up on me now. Instead, when the computer tells me something needs to happen I stand up, make a little disgusted guttural noise, wave my hand at the laptop and say "husband, the computer needs you." And voila, usually just like that, something happens and I can get back to my important blogging.

So I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled, I tell you, when I walked into Best Buy and up to the Geek Squad counter and started telling them the problem and they asked me a bunch of questions and I heard myself answering "I don't know, my husband takes care of that. I don't know, my husband downloaded that." Dammit, when did I turn into such a slug? These Geek boys are clearly not impressed with my handle on technology. I know they made fun of me after I left. They are so much cooler than I.

So, they called to tell me "Yep, your hard drive is bad." Then I said, "How much money should I pay you to make it go back to being good?" They named their price, I said ok fine. They instructed me to bring disks over to the store, which I did, whereupon they informed me that none of those disks were the right disks and I drove home and tore my house apart, swearing loudly, and I found some more disks and drove them over to the store and the Geeks said thanks, we'll call you. They called, said my computer was fixed, I made the husband go get it and now here we are and I am still not happy. I have a headache and my face feels like I got a bad sunburn because I spent the better part of the day under the influence of a massive cortisol and/or adrenaline-induced fugue state, which made my face extremely flushed. My core temperature has been elevated all day, I'm probably suffering from dehydration. Cool under pressure? I am anything but.

I have visited the Dell DataSafe website to retrieve my backed up files, which were backed up online because of the error messages we started getting when backing up the computer to a disk, an evil forewarning of things to come. Dell DataSafe tells me "Server error in '/' application."

To enable the details of this specific error message to be viewable on remote machines, please create a <customErrors> tag within a "web.config" configuration file located in the root directory of the current web application. This <customErrors> tag should then have its "mode" attribute set to "Off".
<!-- Web.Config Configuration File -->

<configuration>
    <system.web>
        <customErrors mode="Off"/>
    </system.web>
</configuration>


How do I enable the 'bite me' error message? Yes, this is what I have been reduced to. I don't even understand what the above message means, but I am going to take a wild guess that it means I am not downloading my backed up files just yet. I'm sure, in time, I will get this resolved, perhaps not quite to my satisfaction. It's going to be a busy day today. I have a lot of wallowing in self-pity to do.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Road trip

Hello dear friends and readers, I’m blogging to you today from the road. Can I say that? Can I say I am blogging to you? I hope so, because I just said it. My daughter and husband and I are taking a little road trip from our beloved Minneapolis suburb to Chicago for three days and there is not much else to do in the car. Plus, the car trip makes me think of a story about a long, long, very long car trip I went on as a kid and I’d like to share it. It’s not terribly profound, you probably won’t learn any lessons from it but maybe you will. And even if you do not, hopefully it will entertain you for about five seconds.

The year was 1978. My parents had been divorced for a few years and my father was remarried to a woman with three kids of her own, although I think only two were living at home by then. And lest you start thinking we were like the Brady Bunch incarnate (since I am one of three kids, also), I should dispel that little myth right away. My dad is no Mike Brady and my sisters and I, well, we are sisters, as in, girls and Mike Brady had boys, as you recall, so that kind of ruins that parallel. And my step-mom had two sons and a daughter so you see that is distinctly un-Brady-like, as well. Plus I lived with my mom, not my dad. And I’m the youngest and I definitely do not want to be compared to Cindy Brady because my hair could never in a million years be that bouncy and cute and I cannot tap dance and sing ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop.’ And, in case you haven’t noticed, I really should have abandoned this whole Brady Bunch compare and contrast exercise a couple sentences back but I can’t help myself. Maybe if I had grown up with an Alice in my life things would have been different for me. How many poor souls before me have made the same lament?

Ok, so anyway, my dad wanted to take his new, blended family on a big, happy family vacation that summer. It was going to be epic. We would traverse the country, see many sights, visit many relatives and friends, swim in many awesome motel swimming pools, and eat at all the best Ihops in the country. It would be grand. With my dad and step-mom, her two younger children, my two sisters and I and my grandmother, our ensemble would total eight people. Well, that’s a lot of plane fares, plus if you want to make several stops there is only one way to go, no? Yes, we were going to drive across the country, our cozy little crowd of eight packed into one car. You better have a big-ass car for that car trip and what better reason to drop a good bit of cash on a new Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon? Well, as it turned out, we only had seven passengers because my older sister refused to go; she was 15 and any self-respecting teenager knows you cannot afford to sacrifice two weeks of summer vacation to a family trip. And we also dropped my grandmother off in Chicago so for the Chicago to Pennsylvania/upstate New York to Michigan and back to Chicago portion of the epic family vacation by automobile, we actually only had six passengers. But we still needed a big-ass car, because if I had had to sit too close to my younger step-brother for long I would have poked his eyes out with a broken crayon and everyone could recognize the pure malice in me so I guess the “Olds” turned out to be a pretty good investment.

Our trip originated in Denver, since that’s where I grew up. The farthest eastern point of our journey was western Pennsylvania, which was where my dad grew up and a stop at his father’s home was included in our itinerary. We spent about two weeks getting there with several stops made along the way. My dad always referred to his childhood home as the farm, which was very curious to me since there were clearly no farm-like accoutrements there. But the farm was kind of fun because there was a pond there for “fishing” and skipping stones and there were trails through the wilderness and it felt very rustic to this city child. Plus my grandfather had this kickass organ we liked to play with and this unbelievably tacky rain lamp that had little drops of oil that dripped down nylon wires surrounding a tawdry, bizarre, 70s scene of funky-ness. And those right there are pretty much all of the highlights of visiting Pop-pop’s house in 1978. Sure, the liquor bottle hidden in the closet was worthy of a little wonder and the playboy magazine stash held our interest for an hour or so but the pond was really the coolest part.

By far the most interesting part of the epic car ride, though, was the “mix-up” over the actual timeline of the excursion. When my bitterly divorced parents met for the bitter parent conference to discuss the proposed vacation that would take my sister and I away from our mother for an extended period of time, the one where dad pitches all the benefits to my mom and she relinquishes control of us for the good of the father-daughter relationships, he presented the trip as a two-week long affair. Ok, two weeks, fourteen days, that seemed like a doable separation from the parent to whom I had always been extremely attached. It would be hard for me to say good-bye but I would have my sister with me and we would be doing fun stuff, so okay, yes, I could go away for two weeks with my dad. But, as you may have noticed, astute reader, two weeks into the trip we were located in western Pennsylvania on “the farm.” My 10-year old brain spent many, many hours calculating out distances we had covered in 8-hour driving shifts and again and again I just could not make our trip end in two days. Or three days. From Pennsylvania we were going to head up to Niagara Falls and then drop down into Michigan for a visit to my step-mother’s sister and then, of course, we had to get back to Chicago to pick up grandma before we turned our assembly westward and headed home to Denver. It began to dawn on me that, perhaps, I had been lied to.

But what father would lie to his child? More to the point, what father would lie to his ex-wife who just happened to be a woman with some serious rage issues? My mom could be scary. She was not a woman to be trifled with. Unless you were her youngest, adolescent daughter, then she definitely needed some trifling but that would come later. After much thought, I brought up the mysterious time discrepancy to my sister and we agreed that, yes, there seemed to be a bit of a problem. We spoke to my mom on the phone from Pop-pop’s kitchen and I revealed to her this small glitch that would seem to push our ETA in Denver back several days. She was none too happy. And although I recall sobbing and crying a great deal during that episode, I will also admit there was some tiny part of me that was pleased as punch to be ratting my dad out to my mom. He was so busted and since I was screwed any way you looked at it, stuck in the Custom Cruiser with my step-family for several more days than planned, I intended to find some remote sense of vindication in this deal. Ah, the joys of divorce…

Needless to say, I survived the epic-cross-country-car-ride-vacation-that-was-supposed-to-be-two-weeks-long-but-turned-out-to-be-three-weeks-long relatively unscathed. And I guess my dad survived the wrath of my mom. I suspect he didn’t really care how mad she was. In the end, we made it back to Denver and life continued although I did have a few moments in fifth grade when I was convinced my social standing had, indeed, suffered, as a result of my three-week absence during the preceding summer. Eventually I would claw my way back.

The only other thing I should mention is that I am taking a bit of a risk by writing about this for the whole world to read. In a recent phone conversation with my dad, I learned that he had read my “digging for treasures” post but was previously unaware of this blog. Whether or not he will return here to read more remains to be seen. He is not terribly tech-savvy. However, since I really have no idea who my potential audience could be at any given time, I do try to write for myself only. And I really don’t feel that I have told any untruths, this story is simply a fact of my life. If I have embellished at all and my dad should find his way to this page, he might feel a sense of pride for if humor and the art of story-telling are genetic, they most definitely came to me through the Thompson side of the family. My mom, while quite nice (although sometimes a little scary) is a fairly unfunny person. This story is just where my mind turns as my family and I make our way along the interstate from Minneapolis to Chicago. I’m not even exactly sure how long this trip is supposed to take. Initially I told Martha it was an eight-hour drive but when she balked at that prospect, I revised it to six. I hope she’ll forgive me when she figures out the truth.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rule of Life #343: A play date is a fine time to showcase one's skills

Martha's best friend
As I type this Martha is enjoying what will most likely end up being one of maybe three “play dates” she has for the year, because, as you well know, I am not a fan of the play date. OK, the play date itself is fine, I don’t have to be quite so bitchy about it; it’s the arranging of the play date that I find so cumbersome and, therefore, rarely do it unless pressured into it by my relentless child. Today, as soon as she leapt off the bus, she asked if a boy from school could come over to play. Uh… well, um... okay, sure, I stutter. (The anxiety is closing in on me already as I anticipate the demands that will be put upon my social abilities just making a simple phone call).

But actually Martha makes the call, which temporarily relieves me of my parental responsibility. I soon realize my intervention will be necessary as Martha has initiated the phone conversation with “so, do you want us to come pick you up or do you want to drive over?” without even so much as a hello. I speak with the friend’s mom, who is super nice and just as amused by the kids’ conversation as I am. A time is agreed upon, driving arrangements made. The play date is on.

Now the kids are in our basement doing what passes for “playing.” I love the idea of playing, how vague and undefined it can be, how it doesn’t have to mean anything specific and, in fact, it’s usually best if specific activities are not agreed upon beforehand so as to avoid any unnecessary restrictions. I remember when I reached high school and the “new” invitation had to be “do you want to do something?” instead of “do you want to play?” because obviously a 15-year old is way too old to “play.” (What I wouldn’t give to just play right now, screw my age.) Martha’s version of playing consists of a long series of questions that all seem to begin with “Do you want to watch me...?” as in, does the friend want to watch her play piano, play violin, play Beatles Rock Band, play Nintendogs, jump rope, feed her stuffed animals, etc. Someone stop me before I holler at her “ASK HIM WHAT HE WANTS TO DO, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!” (At present, Martha is singing ‘I want to hold your hand’ on Beatles Rock Band. I don’t know if the friend is playing an instrument, or simply acting the part of Martha’s groupie.)

He is very adept at asking questions I see. He is asking about her best friends and she is regaling him with stories about her best friend, Olivia, who is an imaginary friend and also a pig and also on a tv show that was adapted from the popular children’s books by Ian Falconer. He asks if he is her best friend. Yes! She answers enthusiastically. My heart is melting.

“Are you hungry?” he asks. “No,” she answers. “Neither am I.” Man, you can’t beat that subtlety.

I am actually really pleased that Martha is playing with a boy today. She has several very sweet little girl friends, but I have always wondered if boys would seem less complicated to her and therefore be easier to really connect with. Girls can be confusing, capricious and fickle. I should know. I was a horror show of ever-changing loyalties to my friends when I was young and maybe that is why I worry so much about Martha’s feelings getting hurt unexpectedly by a girl who has suddenly chosen to take offense at my child’s obscene burping or the appearance of unerring confidence she can display because she does not know that when friends shower her with compliments, as a female, she should act demure and downplay all positives so as to give the impression that she really thinks she has no self worth whatsoever. Or, at least, that’s what I was brought up to believe. I can’t imagine there’s a flaw in there anywhere.

Well, the play date is ending, and if I could possibly tear myself away from the computer and stop ignoring the kids, which is undeniably the best part of the play date, I will be driving our little friend home. I think he had fun. I hope he did. I’m sure Martha did because pretty much everything is fun in her mind. At least she didn’t have any angry outbursts at me like one other play date I remember when she told me I was so mean and then later, when Martha wasn’t paying attention, the friend came up to me, laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder and told me “I just wanted you to know, I don’t think you’re mean. You’re good people.” I’d say her social skills are coming along. Maybe mine are, too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Buried treasures or how far should I dig before I decide I need to seek help

As many of my facebook friends know (and let’s be honest, no one else reads this blog besides the occasional facebook friend because no one else has any idea this fabulous talent is on display out here in the blogosphere except for maybe that mysterious person from Germany that Blogger stats tells me is viewing my page from time to time, although that could be someone from facebook, too, I really don’t know), wait… Where was I? Oh yes, I had a little work done at my house last week. It involved a backhoe digging a deep trench in the middle of the front yard from the house to the curb and when you dig a big hole like that, turns out there’s a bunch of dirt to move. And since the dirt had to be deposited somewhere close by so that it could be put back into the hole later, the other half of my yard got a huge pile of dirt dumped on it. Long story short, the entire yard was trashed.

Now, I’m not tremendously fastidious about my landscaping, but I like a nice garden with some flowers, colorful and a little wild but I like a little order, too, just a touch of tidiness to the overall look. And neither a 9-foot deep trench, nor a 6-foot mountain of dirt qualifies as colorful or tidy. Mostly it just qualifies as big fucking mess in your front yard. Creating order from chaos is a favorite hobby of mine, so it’s always a tiny bit stressful for me to watch things go in the opposite direction.

However, once the digging got started, the project took a most unexpected turn. As I peered into the emerging pit in my yard, I spotted something in the grit: it was a bottle; an old, clear glass bottle. Admittedly, this doesn’t really sound all that exciting – to a normal person. But I’m not really normal, that should be clear by now. “Hey, it’s a bottle!” I exclaimed. Jerry, the helpful Gene’s Water and Sewer dude whose job it was (at that stage) to signal directions to the backhoe operator, held up a hand so that he could retrieve said bottle and hand it over to me. “This one’s worth something,” he told me, “it’s an old cork top.” Wow! Cool! An old bottle! I was thrilled.

Now, let’s ask ourselves, why is it so thrilling to find an old, glass bottle buried in my yard? It’s hard to say. There could be many reasons. It’s unexpected, it’s a piece of the past, it begs the question, what is an old bottle doing buried in my front yard? How did it get there? It’s a little mysterious and since the bottle must be at least 90 years old it’s a curious little relic from the past. While not under the impression that this bottle is my key to immeasurable wealth, it does seem remotely possible that it has some value to say, a collector of antique, glass bottles, although I have no intention of selling it or even taking it to Antiques Roadshow to see if one of the Keno brothers will knock my socks off with an eye-popping valuation. To me, the previously listed reasons to be thrilled are worth more than any attached dollar amount (within reason).

Well, this little piece of 1923 garbage that just appeared in the dirt put a whole new face on the sewer-line-replacement project. Shane, the backhoe operator and my soon-to-be-other-best-friend-in-addition-to-Jerry, kept scooping and Jerry kept obliging me whenever a little glass bottle would roll down the piles of dirt in and out of the big hole. A few times I was pretty sure I spotted something they missed but I felt too embarrassed (and pathetic) to keep shouting “wait! I see some junk!” I was waiting for the two men to roll their eyes and tell me “listen lady, we got a job to do and it doesn’t really involve fishing stuff out of your dirt for you just because your life is kind of boring and you don’t appear to have anything better to do than stand here like a vulture despite the fact that it is painfully obvious you have not showered or washed your hair yet today and you are looking a wee bit scary if we do say so ourselves.” (Truth is, I may have even forgotten to brush my teeth that day, but mercifully, my new pals did not mention it.) In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that maybe after they left I could sift through the pile of dirt and find those treasures that went undiscovered.

And maybe since I actually did attempt just such a task it may possibly mean that it wasn’t so much in the back of my mind as it was in the very forefront of my mind. As simple as it sounded, however, it actually turned out to be way more trouble than it was worth. Mostly I just ended up scooping loads of dirt into my tennis shoes which promptly adhered to my sockless, sweaty feet, adding to the air of filth and disgustingness that I was already sporting. I failed to uncover anything interesting after about 20 minutes so I made up my mind to just sit tight and wait for the part where they scooped the dirt back into the hole and then I could take up my post again, scrutinizing the dirt for any fascinating tidbits.

Which is exactly what I did. Before the refill started, though, I did (sheepishly) ask my new friend Shane if he pretty please wouldn’t mind just hopping into that ditch and digging something out for me that I had been staring at for the last 12 hours. It turned out to be not another bottle but an unbroken light bulb. When he noticed the metal rim of something sticking out from the side of the trench and dug that out, too, we discovered an old, dented, rusty bushel barrel; not necessarily that cool but the pieces of newspapers stuck to the bottom of it were pretty interesting. One was dated January 1922, which would be about right if you assume that Jacob Jarnig, the initial owner of my house, finished up construction in 1923. Maybe when he, too, was faced with a big hole in his yard that needed filling in, as well as a lot of garbage, old ashes and broken china and empty bottles (who the hell needs an empty bottle anyway?) and old newspapers he simply put the two together and killed the proverbial two birds with one stone. Very efficient, Mr. Jarnig!

When all was said and done and dug up and refilled, I acquired 15 bottles, 2 small jars, 2 large Horlick’s Malted Milk jars, 3 remnants of decomposing corks, one small drinking glass, one light bulb, one bushel barrel (dented and rusted), a few pieces of broken china and tons of shards of broken glass. I obsessively scrubbed the bottles and jars and poked tiny pieces of rag into them with an old coat hanger to scour off rust and dirt and the remains of some roots or something growing inside them. And now, obviously, I have quite a nice little collection.

The problem now is, if you are me (and I am), you are left with a large section of the yard as yet unexplored and possibly containing many more treasures like the ones you have recently found. It’s hard not to wonder what else might be buried down there. Again, I’m not under the illusion that there’s anything more valuable down there than what I already have. But I am drawn to it all, and drawn to spot in my yard where I know more garbage might be lying there waiting to be unearthed. I could find out. I could start digging. I mean, how hard is that? All I need is a shovel and a place to throw the dirt and since my front yard is already an eyesore, what’s the harm in digging some more holes? On the other hand, it would, realistically, take quite a long time to dig up the rest of the underground trash pit and is that what I really want to do with my time? An amateur archeological dig is a far cry from flowers and tidiness.

I ask myself, what do I hope to find? I don’t know. I could find history, little pieces of what life used to be like right here in this exact same spot where I live my life every day in 2011. Is it worth it to become the crazy lady who climbs into a hole in her front yard every day, furiously digging in the remnants of a 90-year old trash pile, clinging to the hope that another little glass bottle will appear? I don’t know. Should I just be content with the treasures I already have and the possibility that similar artifacts might be buried in my front yard, awaiting rediscovery? I mean, there is something to be said for order and tidiness and clean feet.

I don’t have the answer just yet. What I do have is a wasteland of a front yard with a smallish hole in the middle that I started digging on my own the other day. And I found an old toothbrush. Is that something?
'A clean tooth never decays'

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Spontaneous Ode to R.E.M.

Unless you live under a rock (or possibly if you’re over the age of 55), you've probably heard about the decision by R.E.M. band members to “call it a day” after 31 years. These guys weren’t just any old band, but a supremely good band. If I were someone different I would be able to describe them in really outrageous terms that included phrases such as “kick-ass” or “all-time best ever” or perhaps even something involving the word “rockin’,” but since I can’t really use language like that without also relying on an oddly affected tone of voice, and since there is no tone of voice involved in reading what I’m writing, I’m just going to go with simplicity here and say they were a really good band. And I just don’t see how anyone can argue with me on that.

I’m not a music snob. I’m not obsessed with music, I don’t keep up with what is new and cutting edge or popular. I can’t, under any circumstances, be considered any kind of music aficionado. But I was fairly dedicated to music from about age 14 until maybe 27 so there are many bands and musicians that I was pretty devoted to during those years and whom I will always hold very, very close to my heart.  Music is so amazing; it’s almost like a magic trick the way hearing certain songs can act like a time machine, instantly transporting you back to some moment in time that your psyche intensely associates with that song. And I love that. I love the feeling when you listen to a song that has such a powerful memory attached with it that you feel physically crushed by the sensation of remembering and you think you can smell some aroma that you smelled years ago and your skin actually feels prickly like you are surrounded by spirits of an earlier time and they are having a cosmic energetic affect on you as you sit there listening in your hum-drum, present-day life.

That’s exactly what R.E.M. does for me. I feel no shame in admitting that I am speaking almost exclusively of their “early stuff” from 1983 until 1989 or so. I did like a lot of their songs after Green came out but I was never manic about them again. And I was manic about them for a while. One of my most fabulous friends of all time, Kim, can attest to this fact because she was manic with me. We fed off of each other’s manias. It was a great time. I was a senior and she was a junior in college in Los Angeles and we’d buy cheap wine from Trader Joe’s and listen to every R.E.M. album and talk about how much we loved them and how much we hated college. In 1991, after she & I had both graduated, we were living out in Washington D.C. and I came up with what I thought was a brilliant plan to drive down to Athens, GA for a weekend. Kim wondered what we would do down there. I had no idea. We’d get drunk at a bar that R.E.M. may have also gotten drunk at. We would walk streets they had walked. We would see sights they had seen. What did I care, I just wanted to be there. I was also a big B-52’s fan so I thought I might double my chances for a brush with a brush with fame just by sitting on a street corner or buying a pack of gum at a 7-11 in Athens.  The road trip never happened, which may or may not have been a blessing. We saved ourselves a lot of gas money anyway.

I have so many other R.E.M.-related memories. My sister was actually the one who discovered them in 1983, which is not surprising since she (at 2 years older than me) was really the source of all cool music at that time. If it weren’t for her, I’d still be listening to my Styx record. Or Shawn Cassidy. Or Journey. Oh, I shudder to think… But I have this very contorted association from Spring break of my freshman year of high school that involves listening to Murmur, going for a drive with my best friend (at the time) to a local park where I sincerely hoped to run into the boy I had recently made out with and sporting my new birthday duds, a pink polo shirt and white shorts that highlighted the suntan/burn I had gotten from “laying out” in the sun on the balcony of our old house in Denver. C’mon… memories don’t get much sweeter than that, do they? Can you even believe all the random elements of that memory? Every single one of them can be instantly conjured by a quick listen to Radio Free Europe. How awesome is that?

There are many other R.E.M. songs woven into the fabric of my youth. Life’s Rich Pageant came out when I was a freshman in college and anyone at Occidental College in 1986-87 who lived anywhere near Haines Hall must remember the two guys who owned a prime piece of college dormitory real estate that year with a 2nd-floor room that opened onto a balcony where they were often spotted kicked back listening to Pageant over and over and over again on many-a sunny SoCal day. Then there were the numerous parties that spring (and by numerous, I mean more than one because obviously 1+ equals numerous) at the Women’s Water Polo coaches’ house where the song Superman was frequently featured in the musical repertoire. I know of at least two other people besides me who will never forget the night that this freshman guy sat there picking his nose all through that song and was henceforth known (only by us) as Boogerman. And how about that cute little jig Michael Stipe performed as he sang Get Up, which I first witnessed at a concert in Irvine the same day as the big earthquake in San Francisco in 1989? I still do that dance, even if I’m driving the car. Oh, R.E.M., so many good times. How can I ever thank you?

Even now, in the days of motherhood when it feels as if my youth is long gone, I still listen to R.E.M. on a regular basis. My daughter is a big fan of many of their songs, including, but not limited to, Nightswimming, (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville, and Imitation of Life. And she can tell you all the names of the band members and what instruments they play. In any given song she can identify which voice is that of Michael Stipe and which belongs to Mike Mills. Man, I love my kid.

Still own it... on vinyl
So here is a little farewell ode to R.E.M. I hadn’t planned on writing this at all but it came to me as I sat at the dinner table listening to them sing their signature barely-intelligible lyrics which I nevertheless still have memorized, if not as actual words, at least as approximations of sounds. It’s quite comforting to my brain to be able to predict each note before it is played. Mr. Stipe, Mr. Buck, Mr. Mills and the already-retired Mr. Berry, I do thank you, from the bottom of my soul for creating so much good music and so many memories, for contributing so many numbers to the soundtrack of my life. I don’t blame you for wanting to call it a day, for wanting a change. Change is what I believe in.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sammy

Yesterday morning I was headed to a dentist appointment, driving down a busy street near my house. I had only gone a few blocks when I noticed two dogs in a yard up ahead, little ones, running around in circles. Since we adopted our dog, Carson, five years ago, I have become somewhat obsessed with dogs and my attention was instantly drawn to the two furry figures. One dog seemed to be headed for the street so I slowed down a bit in case he ran into traffic. With a parked car blocking the view, the driver of the van ahead of me was not so prepared. The puppy dashed, the van rolled on. I never even saw break lights go on. Dashing puppy was hit and lay motionless in the middle of the road.

In my car my hands flew up to my face and I think I may have even yelled, no, at the moment the dog was hit. I pulled over to the curb with the thought that the other dog might also run out into the street and I absolutely could not bear to see this scene played out twice. Dog #2 did indeed cross the street but made it safely to the other side where he stood barking at me. I tried not run towards him even though the situation felt pretty urgent to me at that point. Even so, the dog ran back towards the house we were in front of while I proceeded to ask the dog pointless questions like why he was running loose outside and where did he live, informing him that he needed to be safe and stay out of the road.

The driver of the van had stopped and gotten out of his car and was standing next to the lifeless dog while he spoke to someone on his cell phone, maybe the police, but really I have no idea who he was calling. Since the second dog was now on the front step of the nearby house, I assumed this was where he lived and tried ringing the doorbell. There was no answer. The dog disappeared around the back of the house, which I figured was a safer place than out on the street so I didn’t pursue him. Instead I turned my attention to the poor dog in the street, wondering what in the world was the right thing to do. His collar had come off and lay next to him. When there was a break in traffic I ran out and picked it up. ‘Sammy Davis’ it read. There was also an address listed on the little bone-shaped tag, the same address as the house I had just rung. I showed the van driver the tag and tried to get him to call the phone number listed on it but he said he was calling animal control. I returned to the house to try banging on the front door. There was still no answer.

I considered getting a blanket out of my car, the one my family and I use for picnics on the rare occasion we remember to go on them. I thought it might be a good way to scoop up the bleeding dog and move him from the middle of the now-congested road but it seemed wrong moving the little guy without the owner there. The garage door of the owner’s home began rolling up just then and when I caught sight of a person I told them their dog had just been hit by a car.

A young girl came running out into the driveway and immediately screamed and started to cry. I told her to go back inside, to go find her mom. The mom was not dressed, the girl informed me. I confess, I was distraught and not feeling terribly patient so I said to her “tell her her dog just got hit by a car! She needs to come out here!” Like it’s not enough that this poor child has just lost her dog, now she’s got a total stranger who is clearly deranged hollering at her. The mom did finally appear and reacted pretty much the same way as the daughter. She wanted to run out to the dog but I told her to go get a towel, which she did. We scooped up the poor broken dog and she carried him to her front yard.

There was a lot of chaos, the van driver wanting to apologize and leave his contact information, me asking this woman if she wanted me to drive her to the nearby veterinarian clinic, the woman’s cleaning ladies arriving at the home and exclaiming “dios mio” over the body of the dog. Somehow it was decided that I would drive her up the vet and the daughter and mom and I all piled into my car, the two of them in tears. The mom, whose name I never did discover, cradled the towel-wrapped dog and asked how the dogs got out and told me how mad she was at her landlord who was supposed to have fixed a faulty entrance.

The attendants at the vet’s office took over when we got there and I sat in the waiting area with the daughter, asking her about her dogs and telling her how cute Sammy was. It didn’t take long for the mom to reappear, I’m sure because there was nothing to be done. The dog’s neck was broken, she said. It hadn’t looked good when I saw the dog collide with the tires of the van. Poor furry little guy, he didn’t stand a chance.

I drove the mom and daughter back to their house, leaving them with my name and phone number and telling them to please call if they needed anything. I have no idea what she might call me for, but it seemed the least I could do to comfort these people who clearly faced so much grief with the loss of their pet.

I have mentioned before my daughter’s obsession with death and dying and how we both have agonized over it, she trying to understand the injustice that life has to end and me trying to provide some explanation for a fact that really defies reason and fairness; that’s just the way life works. Things live and things die. Sometimes life ends naturally, sometimes life ends in a sad, violent manner. I kill bugs all the time. I see dead squirrels, dead birds, dead raccoons on the roads all the time. It would still make me a little sad to see a squirrel get hit by a car, just because that’s how my mind works (the squirrel might feel pain or feel sad, or a squirrel mommy will miss her baby or vice versa). But the loss of the dog seems so much more painful because of the love his owners feel for him. I don’t feel love for the squirrels, but I adore my dog. It is almost as if the emotions I feel for my dog would be wounded just as much as he would be by death.

That’s part of what was so upsetting, witnessing the dog transform from a lively fur ball into a dead animal in an instant. His doggie life ended right before my eyes. The love of a small girl for the soft little pet that slept on her bed at night was equally crushed. I know I am making a lot of this, that in some countries they actually eat their dogs and they would not comprehend such devastation over this death. But I still feel like something has to happen to the fabric of the universe when we lose something we love. Maybe it’s just the fabric of one’s heart that is affected and emotions can sometimes carry so much weight as to make us feel like it’s actually the whole universe that shifts. After all, death must be constantly happening in small and large ways all over the world, every minute of every day. Can the universe bear so much violence? But life is constantly being born or reborn, as well. That’s just how it works.

Carson
In the end, all I take from this incident is a reinforced and desperate need to protect what I love. My dog is precious they way he curls up with his nose tucked under one paw and it will be terrible when he dies. But I am also busy protecting my daughter, not from death but simply from the endless sadness that exists in the world. It keeps me busy, as well it should. Grief is just part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear. I hope that someone is protecting you from sadness because there is so much of it. And for all my dog-loving friends, I hope you are protecting your puppies tonight. Maybe you want to give them a little bit of extra love. Rest in peace, Sammy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th

I have been thinking about this post for quite some time but not with any sort of productive result. The image in my head is that of a chef endlessly stirring a swirling pot of unpleasant emotions that refuse to come together to form anything coherent. What I would prefer is if the chef could bring all these elements together to create a brilliant and deeply moving meal. But instead, I am serving up only a post made up of random ingredients that may or may not mean something to anyone, including me.

Today is September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of a really bad day. Everyone has a story to tell from that day, some more compelling than others. My own story is about my father-in-law who was on the 57th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. It is a story that has been told by others before me and I feel like it is pointless for me to tell it over again. My father-in-law has no interest in talking about that day and no intention of telling his story over and over again. And since it is his story and he’d like it laid to rest, I feel as though I, too, should let it rest and not drag it out once again. I guess it’s inaccurate for me to say that his story is my own from that day, as really my story was just one of waiting. My husband & I lived in Boston, MA at the time and we were both in graduate school so we witnessed it all from home in front of the TV, like so many others. For anyone who wants to read more details of Mr. Dall’s experience, there was an article published recently in Lower Manhattan’s weekly newspaper, Downtown Express that gives an adequate description.

One thing I keep thinking about is whether or not it means anything to me to write about this day. What can I say that has not already been said? How is my sadness distinct from all the other sadness that surrounds the memories of the day? I entered a push pin on the The New York Times' interactive website that shows where people were on that day and how they felt then, as well as how they feel now. Well, I wasn’t really able to elaborate much on my feelings; if I had to record my feelings from this day ten years ago, as well as my current feelings, I would need a lot more than 100 characters with which to work. All I really need to say is that now, ten years later, I feel angry but somehow not all that surprised that our world seems more messed up than ever. What would worldwide optimism look like?

For me, a dominant memory from September 2001 is that my husband and I were “trying” to get pregnant and a month after September 11th I actually would be. The only regret I would have about it was that the world was feeling like a particularly hostile environment to bring a baby into. Now my baby is one of the few things that brings me any peace when I think about the state of the world. And mostly I try not to think about it too much, figuring what good is that going to do me? None of us may know how the human spirit survives something like that; what makes the difference between someone who pushes on after a tragedy and someone who falls apart? It’s a bit of a crap shoot, like many things in life. My husband and I were fortunate ten years ago in that we only had to wait a mere 5 hours to hear good news of our loved one. We dodged a bullet that day, but we haven’t always been so lucky. Call it fortune or destiny or random chance or God or what have you. It is not always kind. But it is not always so evil.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Home organization and mental disorder... same or different?

My pulse quickens at the mere sight - is that wrong?
September is here, it’s back-to-school season; time to get organized! No more lazy days hanging around in your pajamas til noon. No more kids without schedules waiting to be taken by surprise with your creative and spontaneous ideas for summer fun. No more neglecting those bills until the insurance company calls to tell you that your coverage will end tomorrow if you do not pay your monthly premium. It’s time to tackle the mess, the clutter, the piles of paper you have been ignoring all summer. I need renewal, a clean slate. I need to see the surface of my desk. I need a trip to The Container Store.

Yes, that’s right, if I’m going to sort, categorize, file and recycle I am definitely going to need some colorful plastic bins, some designer file folders and maybe some of those dividers for my sock drawer so I can fold my socks into nubby little sock-packages and wedge them into tidy columns according to color. Oh how I’ve missed my argyle socks while I thwocked around in my flip-flops all summer. And now I’ll finally be able to find them!

True confession, people, I have a bit of a container fetish. And by fetish, I do not mean that I have any unnatural, uh… “romantic” fantasies about the containers. I do mean that I have an odd, but certainly not unnatural reverence for and devotion to containers, preferably small ones, but really any ones will do. I like boxes with hinged lids as well those with removable lids. I like the feel of the box as I open and close it, peering into its emptiness and imagining all of the wondrous items that could be categorized and compartmentalized into the tiny space. But I also like bags; bags with zippers or bags with no method of closure so that your fascinating items can peek out the top and entice passers-by with visions of your sophisticated lifestyle. I like jars, particularly those with lids that screw and unscrew smoothly. If it’s one of those sticky lids then you can just forget it. I like folders and envelopes. I like bins, but if there is no lid and, therefore, no way to stack them, they can make me a little testy. My favorite boxes are the colorful ones, stacked in a rainbow of translucent towers built from brilliant, box-like jewels. Jewels that can hold other jewels. Or bank statements. Or all those delicious, wholesome recipes you are always cutting out with the intention of cooking nourishing meals for your family. Well, actually, you might want to invest in a laminating machine so that those recipes can be properly preserved and then organized in a sturdy binder according to food groups. After you have prepared each recipe, you should probably create some kind of rating system that indicates ease of preparation, degree of deliciousness and total carb, fat and protein content. Then when you need to whip up something quickly and will settle for a merely ho-hum meal with major carbs, you will be able to easily locate just the right recipe by consulting the index of the nifty rating system.

But I digress. Before I get busy consuming environmentally questionable and potentially petroleum-based plastic boxes or just driving to The Container Store to wander the aisles and stand there idiotically opening and closing boxes and bags and jars and bins and stuffing my hand into the empty receptacles, I just want to leave you all with one of my favorite home organizing tips. You will want to file this one away for sure. You know how you run across certain items, like an article on teaching your kids the value of money or a friend’s brochure for her new business that you know with certainty you will never patronize but you cannot bear to throw it away because it came from your dear friend? And you know how such pesky items refuse to be neatly categorized for filing away under any of the other super good labels you’ve created? Well, I like to keep a box, a nice flat one, just the right size for storing your average 8.5” x 11”-sized piece of paper and, in my case, a colorful one (mine is yellow) where I collect all my difficult-to-categorize pieces of paper. There usually aren’t that many of them, as well there should not be if you are really thinking through your categories. Store the box in a cupboard or under a desk and forget what is inside. Look through it once per year, at most. When you next open the box and sift through the contents, you will be pleased to find that most of the stuff is totally outdated and completely meaningless and you are now free to recycle it. Now doesn’t that feel better? I simply adore the feeling of getting organized. Happy September.