Sunday, August 31, 2008

Natural GPS vs TMI

When my beloved spouse and I first traveled together on our honeymoon, he quickly surmised that I was not a map reader. North, south, east west, I couldn’t give directions that way at that point. My directions were more like, “We turn left on Such and Such street.”

“When is such and such street?”

“It’s after this and that street and I think it’s on your left. You can’t miss it.”

“North or East?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where are we on the map?”

I’d be silent for a moment, trying to ensure accuracy, but this would rattle him as he felt my lack of instant response indicated I didn’t know where we were. He’d reach over and amazingly touch the exact spot where we were on the map without taking his eyes off the road.

“If you knew where we were, why did you ask?”

“I’m verifying. You’re the navigator.” At that point, I volunteered to drive.

Since then, I have gotten better, but he’s also stopped asking me to read the maps.

For the record, he’s never been lost. I cannot say the same thing, even within the friendly confines of this county where I have lived the past 13 years. I cannot even say it is true for the past four months, but I blame pregnancy, not my innate navigational compass which seems permanently wired to “guess wrong.”

My husband’s natural GPS has been passed down to our posterity. Some of our children can always tell when I’ve made a wrong turn and will ask suspiciously, “Mom? Where are we going?” I’ve tried dodging that question, ”Don’t worry, I know where we are…” but they don’t buy it anymore. They know, if I suddenly stop at a gas station for a “Diet Coke” and fuel, that really, I’m getting directions.

Sometimes, they’ve even checked the gas gage to see if we “really” needed gasoline. Whenever they’ve seen a discrepancy between perceived need and actual stopping, Dad gets a full report. “I think Mommy got lost over near Quince Orchard when we were coming back from the Orthodontist.”

Now I believe in plausible deniability. It’s good for marriage. It’s good for the ego. It’s good for the children to not be able to entirely embarrass their mother.

My husband will give a raised eyebrow and look, but he too has mellowed over the years. Knowing that knowing too much might mean I ask him to do the scheduled errands out to softball practice and the orthodontist, he doesn't ask even when they tell. And since he doesn’t know where the practice field is, or which dentist takes care of our daughter’s braces, he’d have to put up with my directions.

“It’s on such and such street just past this and that. You can’t miss it.”

Communication and non communication, it's what makes a marriage work.

Don't get lost on your way to the forum, funny things are available at!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mommy Feeling Energy

A friend of mine was stuck at a dinner where a woman espoused that she planned on purchasing a poodle so she could experience that “Mommy Feeling Energy.”

Now I know that pets are members of the family. They provide comfort, companionship and require good care. I don’t doubt the depth of feeling of owners of dogs, cats, ferrets, horses and all things furry; it’s just that the comparisons themselves are wrong; apples and oranges, kids and dogs, fish and bicycles. The emotional connection between the cared for and the caring is not something I wish to mock, it’s the intellectual argument of equal footing. Any pet owner can leave a dish of water and a dish of food and walk out the door to work, even if the dog is six months old. There is still some questioning of parental judgment if a sixteen year old with a fully stocked refrigerator is left unsupervised for more than two hours.

You can teach a dog to sit. “Stay. Come. Heel. Quiet. Fetch.” All can be taught within the first year. Kids, you have to latch into a car seat and hope they sit, stay, and keep the noise below public ordinance levels. After ten years, they still need daily reminders to put shoes in the closet, not leave milk glasses on top of the piano, and empty garbage cans before they cascade onto the floor. Dogs don’t have homework or relive fights they had with their litter mates that happened three days ago with full emotional vigor. As expensive a breed of dog, cat or whatever as you can find, as gourmet as pet food comes, and as many medical needs as they might have, pets still won’t require a new clothes each year for school, a college education, extra trips for soccer games or a cell phone. At some point, a dog is still a dog, even if it’s a Chihuahua.

Kids demand more from day one. They take over your body, your brain, your house, your life, your whole heart. The stretchmarks they leave on one’s soul are wider and more permanent than any one might find on the abdomen or one’s pocketbook. They connect us to our parents, and to the future and demand via their very own neediness that we become more the people we were always supposed to be.

Finally, no one has ever uttered the words, “I’m going to have a kid so I can experience what it’s like to own a pet. It will give me that Pet Owning Emotional connection.”

Feeling good today, only 30 or less days until Paul arrives so expect the postings to drop off sometime near the end of September. So when that happens, try!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Em Friday...or Tuesday, 10 O'Clock

I love and trust my doctor, but I hate specialists.

They love having extra appointments. They love making rules that no children can come, and they love setting hours that prevent leaving kids with my supportive spouse unless he takes the day off.

Yesterday, I finally got a hold of the specialist reception office. They take off from 12 to 2 for lunch and the machine doesn’t take messages and close at 4, except on Monday, when they close at 3. The phones also aren’t answered before 9 am.

When I complained about the inflexibility of times available, the receptionist explained, if I had called last week, I could have found better times. I called last week. No one answered the phone, even though it was during business hours.

“What day was that?”

“That was our staff meeting day. We turn off the phones so as to not be interrupted.”

“…Okay, well, now when can I come in?”

“2:45 Tuesday.”

“That’s when school is out and I pick up my kids…”

“What time is good then?
“I can come on Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 10 and 12:30.”

“We have an opening at four on Thursday.”
“The times I gave where when I would only have to find a sitter for my infant. If I come at 4 on a Thursday, I would have to bring all seven younger children.”

I think she thought I was kidding because she then offered 3 o’clock on Tuesday and then five on Monday. I kept bringing up the problem of child supervision and she finally sighed and offered up noon on Thursday.

I’d have to bring three kids. Hardly ideal, but I took it.

“What is this test for anyway?”

“I’m stressed.”

“Pardon me?”
“Your schedule for my appointment. It’s stressing me out.”

“This isn’t about your stress levels.” She explained.

“This is about the stress experienced by the baby.” She soothed.
“But if Mom is stressed, you can bet baby is stressed.” I argued.
“You can book the next four appointments.” She wasn't moving.

And lucky me got 10:15 Thursday, a 2:00 Wednesday and a lovely 3:30 on a Friday. I’d be schlepping three to seven for each of these examinations…I hoped the little guy had low blood pressure because this would be scads of fun.

Looking at a blocky ugly crowded three weeks, I dutifully penciled the schedule into my calendar.

“You’re in luck.” The receptionist said, “For the fourth appointment, I can manage an 11:30 on a Wednesday.”

My need to win got the better of me and I refused to book the final appointment—“He’s due that week so I don’t think I’ll need one.”

“You could always cancel.”
“No. I don’t want to even have it on the schedule.”

“I think you’re being rather childish.”
“No, it’s just that I’m having a company meeting that week and won’t be able to take calls.” I hung up and sighed contently at the aparently unscheduled week.

I probably just earned a few years on hold in purgatory but I haven’t yet decided to be penitent.

P.S. If you're stuck on hold or stuck with a customer like me on the line, you could use a laugh so try!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Disney and Me

When my family went to Disney World, my father didn't like it. He felt annoyed at Epcot Center and the various mock ups of cultures most of all. “It’s like the world without God, sex or vegetables,” he complained. We kids rolled our eyes and offered him some of the better fare found in the Italian section. “Relax Dad, it’s fun.”

Flash forward a few years and we took a family vacation to Vegas. “Well Dad, here they have the sex and the vegetables.” I joked. I thought he might actually say he’d prefer Disney. When I asked him to weigh the two, he never answered.

These days, I am inundated by my almost six year old’s commercials for Disney. She wants to be a princess for Halloween, selects Disney films for her afternoon TV time and sings along with the Disney CD’s in the car. I have begun to understand a bit of my father’s resistance to the magic kingdom. Ariel is anorexic, Pocahontas is a Native American Politically Correct Barbie doll, Belle is an intellectual snob who wants more than a provential life, meaning she wants to marry a rich guy. Meanwhile, Cinderella remains a helpless puppet of fate and Sleeping Beauty never gets to choose anything. Jasmine never gets to fly solo, and the only princess I ever really liked, Mulan, my kids don't watch.

I want my daughters to be strong independent and loving women when they mature, who choose spouses that encourage them to grow in creativity, intelligence and spiritual depth. I do not see these lessons in the many DVD’s that my daughter so loves. I read her stories of strong women and try to show other points of view, but the princesses in their sparkling dresses are siren like in their irresistibility to my six year olds’ bright blue eyes. She has begun asking in that sweet six year old voice, if we can go to Disneyland on vacation.

Now I am a soft touch, but even I can see the dollar signs floating away as she speaks dreamily of meeting Ariel and Mickey. We have a large family and the idea of managing my many offspring in that large amusement park causes instant migraines. I can summon any number of adult rational reasons to say “No.” but so far all I can muster is a weak-kneed “We’ll see.” I also know when I bring this up with her father, his response will be similar. The epic struggle between the very strong desire as a parent to somehow present all that is wondrous and fun and delightful to your children and at the same time not go bankrupt will erupt. Past experience would seem to indicate Disney has the edge.

Secretly I begin searching the internet for deals, maybe I will do a limited trip of a few, to squirrel away a few memories. Days are coming when I will have to worry about the CD’s and DVD’s far more than now, for the time when she becomes sixteen and sullen and wears clothes that will make me cringe far more than the dripping with pink sparkling confections she currently favors. I gulp hard at the idea of her maturing and suddenly feel far more benign about the Little Mermaid, Snow White and every other Disney Princess. Disney may not have God or vegetables, but it has a monopoly on my six year old’s imagination and heart and suddenly, that doesn’t seem so very bad.

I’ll supply the Church and carrots, and you know what I learned, “It’s a small world after all.”

P.S. My profound apologies if I’ve stuck that song in your head now as a result of reading this blog, just plug your ears and start singing the Star Spangled Banner until it goes away or you could try

Friday, August 22, 2008

Petit Fours, Petite Threes and Demi-Sass

The bumps of raising eight individuals all at different stages of development towards adulthood sometimes tickle and sometimes bruise. Fortunately, the odds are in my favor that there will always be at least one that isn't irritated with Mom.

When we moved the two toddlers into the same room, they were delighted. The Jedi master now had her apprentice to makeover in her own image. Within weeks, the younger had begun to contribute to the scribbled walls, discover the joys of dumping laundry and found an effective means of getting sweets, climbing into the lap of whoever was eating.

There were still limitations on the young Jedi which her master Yoda had to address. One evening after bed, they felt a bit peckish. The younger was unable to get out of her crib so her older sister lovingly provided room service. Sounds of unmistakable glee from upstairs awoke us, both girls sat in the crib scooping large quantities of mint chocolate chip goodness with soup spoons.
Home Regulations have been modified: Ice cream must now be put in the second freezer in the garage behind any frozen vegetables.


Watching the Olympics, my daughters were captivated by Women’s gymnastics. Naturally, each of the girls came to me separately asking if they could sign up at the gym where Dominique Dawes had trained for the 2004 games, only two miles from our home.

“If I start now, that could be me in 2012.” My oldest said dreamily. “The rules say you have to be 16 to compete, and that year, I’ll be 16.”

Treading delicately with my very talented daughter who makes great grades, was a fabulous guard in both soccer and basketball and plays the saxophone, but who cannot at this point, do a cartwheel, I tried to explain. “I’ll be happy to sign you up for classes.” I started, “But you should know those girls have been in most cases, taking gymnastics since they were about six.”

Shawn Johnson had just done a flip off the balance beam.

“Well thanks Mom for shooting down my dream with a sniper rifle!” She snapped and marched off. I sat there breathing deeply. Adolescence rots.

The other day, ever the optimist, I suggested to my not yet three year old that she use the potty. Being a talented negotiator, this wasn’t a skill she’d agree to simply because Mom wished it. “M&m’s!” she said brightly. I agreed. M&m’s for pottying and producing pee in the potty seemed reasonable. “Miss Chief”stripped entirely while her father tried to explain this degree of nudity was unnecessary to no avail. We decided modesty could be learned later.

She sat for fifteen minutes happily looking at a book. We went about the morning routine. The announcement that there was water in the potty seemed subdued to me. She then requested the promised M&m’s. The abandoned potty held oddly 100% clear water. Further investigation revealed the potty had been filled with water from the sink.

This may be the only child in the history of the world requiring urine testing to verify substance and not substance abuse.

Getting ready for school to start, it was time to clear the desks in the study from their summer displays of intricate lego wars. My oldest has a Smithsonian view of his lego displays. Once made, they must not be unmade. His five foot desk was covered.

“You have to have a spot to study.” I explained as I cleared off another child’s table.

“I do.” My son argued.
Looking at the desk, there was a 1x2 foot rectangle of clear space on the desk. He pointed to it proudly.

“That’s it?”

“Dad said I could keep a few models.”
Now 80% of the entire desk was a landscape of legos. I knew this was not what his father had meant. “You need a clear desk for school. Clear desk, decluttered space for studying. Clear mind.”

“It’s clear. I can put my papers and book here.” Technically, a sheet of paper and an open (small) text book could fit in his designated space. However, this minimalist interpretation did not satisfy the parent in me.

“No.” I stood my ground. “There’s a table…”

“August 18th! The day Mom crushed my childhood!” he yelled as he dumped every one of his models in a fit of temper into a large plastic bin, and marched out.
Taking deep deep breaths. Supressing urge to place a RIP childhood note on his door for the dramatics or a Wanted poster with my picture, I arranged a clear table adjacent to his desk for future Lego battles that don't involve me.

I'd be discouraged by all this except that having smaller people around helps maintain perspective.

Today, Miss Chief got up with a project in mind, two pony tail holders and a tinkerbell costume before breakfast. Mom indulged her morning whim and as soon as the costume was on and her hair up, she looked at me with great seriousness, her soft toddler hand holding my cheek. “Mom,” she said, making sure I was looking directly into her eyes, “I promise not to fly outside.”

"Not yet." I thought.

Thank goodness.

For humor that doesn't ruin a child's hopes or dreams or childhood, try

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Adventures in Pest Control

Every summer, I get to release my inner hunter instinct that must come from my pioneer ancestry. Normally, our family emphasizes a harmony with nature, but there are a few notable exceptions. Any nature that decides to make our home its habitat, foregoes all benevolence from the home owners.

We weren’t always this blood thirsty. It was a gradual corruption of our core values, an erosion of our gentle sensibilities that started with our first apartment in New York City. One day I came home from work to be warned by my husband not to enter. A heavy cloud of choking toxins hung in the air. “I’ve just taken five years off my life.” He explained, looking rather frightening with an aresol can in one hand and a fly swatter in the other. He took me for a walk in the village park to explain while the apartment gasses did their thing. “The roaches were having a family reunion on our stove.”

Bugs freak my husband out faster than anything, so I smiled benevolently and we went out for dinner before returning to a now faintly musky smelling but bug free one room apartment.

When we moved to Houston, it was my turn. I had never seen mice in a home before, even having lived in New York city. The first time I saw a mouse, it ran and I screamed a’la that faceless woman from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. I even reached for the broom. My husband went to the local hardware store and bought an environmentally friendly trap to catch the mouse. He baited it with peanut butter. That idea alone put me off of PB&J for years.

The next day, “Mickey” was trapped in a small green case and well fed. Now we had to release the darn thing somewhere which meant carrying the case with said mouse to somewhere. My husband patiently convinced me to get in the car with the green box, I put the green box in a shoe box and then held the shoe box. I was afraid we had caught the mensa of mice who would figure out how to get out of the humane trap and scurry around the inside of our car.

Releasing it into the park however, turned out to be much more difficult than originally planned. Opening the trap, we waited for Mickey to leave. Mickey didn’t move. Tapping the glass case only further convinced him to stay put. Shaking the trap didn’t work either. In the back of the car, we had a hammer (Don’t ask), and I thought we could maybe smash the side of the polyurethane case to make the opening bigger. My husband convinced me that it looked cruel and that this probably wouldn’t work, so we waited. Forty five minutes later, Mickey finally decided to poke his nose out of the trap. A dog barked. Back inside he went.

Just when I started to think we should start charging rent, my husband sprinkled some cookies he had in his lunch bag from yesterday outside the trap. Mickey was willing to go out to eat. The trap was now ready for additional use the instructions on releasing said, but it would have to be cleaned. Looking at the green plastic cage filled with mouse droppings, I threw the whole thing out. I wasn’t even tempted to recycle.

The next turn of the battle with beasties came at our first home, with our daughter, newly potty-trained. We had purchased a house next to a vacant lot, which gave the whole place an open feeling of being bigger than it was, but also meant we had flora and fauna for neighbors. When our daughter screamed in the bathroom, “Something is slithering at me.” We knew there was only one thing she meant.

My husband captured the snake in a brown paper bag and I praised his man-god hunting skills. Then we worried the whole incident would set potty training back for years. I knew I wasn't going to use that facility anymore.

I have however, finally come into my own, for I am the Samauri exterminator of all flying insects. Flies, wasps, bees and mosquitos, anything with wings that darkens our door doesn’t stand a chance against dead-eye Mom. The kids take my title seriously and have been keeping a running tally. Hunting my quarry, I am known for the quick and merciless strike. However, zealotry in this activity can have its downside. It seems I hit the sweet spot on the window the other day, and now, well, the winged creatures of the world have their own private exit and entrance.

Until it’s repaired, here’s hoping they are as slow to catch on to it as Mickey.

For Pest Free humor, try clicking , let them know you laughed. I'm number 83 at this point.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mom's Middle Name is Icarus

Motherhood is a lifelong lesson in humility. In the beginning, you surrender your body. When you first see the child face to face, any part of your heart still your own gets engulfed. But the ego takes a while to whittle down to nothingness, and that comes with the long haul of raising a human being.

I’ve lost two pounds of pride in the past week.

Monday, I was supposed to feel smart. After all, I had an article in the Washington Post. It was my second ever.

Then my nine year old son asked me to play Stratego.

He schooled me.

I didn’t get even close.
The first game, he found my flag in three easy moves using scouts.

The second game, I snapped at him for watching as I arranged my pieces, certain I was telegraphing the location of my flag with every flick of a hand. I tried doing a shell game as I shuffled pieces but then I got confused. He mowed down one row and just flooded the back side, destroying my carefully laid defenses. I believe my casualty rate was 80% and 20% for him. Maybe General Custard had it worse, but few can chalk up such appalling numbers on a field of battle in such consistent play and not be removed from command.

My son tried to console me. “Maybe next time, you’ll do better.” He smiled. “It’s the first two times I’ve won.” He grinned again. He had been playing his dad and older brother. I wondered if the Stratego skill was on the Y chromosome. My son eagerly set up the game again.

“How about chess?” I offered.
“Go Fish?”
He gave me a pittying look and shook his head.

The phone rang. Desperate for a reprieve from another beating, I pounced on the receiver. I would have consented to hear a sales pitch for timeshares at that point but as luck had it, it was my husband. “Hey Honey, I got you several papers. The article looks good.” I temporarily basked in glory again. “She was smart once.” I thought.

My son jumped on the phone. “Dad! Dad! I crushed Mom! It was beautiful! She never had a clue where my flag was and I Won!” Back to Earth.

My other son came into the room, looked at my reactive set up to the prior game’s obliteration and started giving me pointers. Proof that it really had been as bad as I thought; my victorious son did not protest my getting help. He even offered some strategic tips. Fifteen minutes of tutorial on feints and defenses, strategic losses and the effective use of the spy and I still lost splendidly. Again. And Again. And Again. Now I know there are games where you have to lose multiple times to grasp the concept, games like Chess and Go, Hearts and Spades, but after a perfect record of 0 and 6, my son must have felt bad, as he didn’t ask for another game.

Maybe I wasn’t enough of a challenge. He disappeared for a while. Just when I was starting to feel perky again about my piece in the Post, my son returned with a new game board under his arm. “You need to work on strategy Mom. So I thought maybe we should play checkers instead.”

I’m not telling who won, but the scale says I lost another pound.

For healthy servings of Humble Pie, try

Friday, August 15, 2008

To Dream Perchance of Them Sleeping

Some nights bedtime is like playing Whack A Mole at the carnival, except it’s the gophers that have the mallets and they’re playing Whack a Mom or Make a Mom Wacky, depending upon how late it gets. After bathing, brushing hair, brushing teeth and bedtime stories, prayers and kisses, I’m done…and if I want it all done by 8:30, the bath water has to start running at 7:15 …am.

Summer has not helped matters. With no place to have to be, the kids have far less incentive to sleep. We have tried explaining, parents have an evening expiration time, at which point, they no longer wish to keep functioning as Mom and Dad. We need downtime…when we could read, write, eat Moose Track Ice Cream without sharing. The children think such things would lead to parental idleness.

Getting them up early to face the consequences of late nights as grown-ups must sounded promising. But tired children fight. Tired children growl. These “See now you’ll understand and listen to me because you’ve experienced the consequences of your actions” lessons never work out the way we intend.

We’ve sought to be creative about this process, alternating nights between boys and girls for shower purposes, pairing readers with non readers to speed up the routine, even ignoring some of the choices for sleepwear that indicate no change of clothes had taken place. I'm not a crazy person; I just want all sentient and non sentient beings under the age of 18 in their rooms and officially out of our jurisdiction after 8:30 pm.

The strategies we've employed have all worked about equally well, which is to say, they function for the duration that they enjoy the added glow of novelty. Turning off every light and sitting in darkness has just meant we got to field requests for water, kisses; finding books/stuffed animals, extra stories, etc. while being unable to see. Threatening carnage on the first child to come down the stairs has always meant we had to deal with a preventable crisis, the direct result of offspring following our never before enforced draconian edicts.

Oftentimes, the kids employ craft to stay out of their rooms at night. They give Dad back rubs. They bring him milk in a tall glass, ask him about his day, and offer him cookies. With me, they figure sheer numbers will keep me from getting to them individually for at least 20 minutes, and they’re right. Lacking the energy to enforce my will, I decided to try being Dad.

“Can I have a glass of milk?” I asked my nine year old. He got me one.

“And a foot rub?” I asked hopefully. Two children immediately began massaging my feet. It occurred to me, I could have a spotless home if I allowed the kids to stay up as long as they kept working.

My feet being massaged, three more children showed up. “Oh good, you’re just in time, I need a few people to fold the clothes.” I beamed. “I’ve decided, you may all stay up if you fold all the laundry.” I point to Mt. Everest sitting in the red room awaiting a good hour of work. “And then the dishes.”

The sounds of swiftly shutting doors and lights being flicked off left me thinking, “Darn, should have just stayed with the foot rub.”

If this didn't make you nod off, you might let them know over at

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Political Theory According to ABBA

Before “Mama Mia,” admitting one jammed to ABBA was like announcing one was Republican at a party. You could do it, but had to accept the distinct possibility that doing so would render one friendless at least in public.

However, now even men can be seen singing along with “Waterloo” as they scurry about in their Prias or mini-vans. If the commercial success of the musical wherein the plot was grafted onto a greatest hits CD is any indicator, perhaps Obama should feel a bit worried. That, or he should have his theme song be “Take a Chance on Me.”

Recently, the O man has been taking it on the chin, but politics like basketball is a game of hot streaks followed by lulls in the action. We have just finished the first fifteen minutes. Only Edwards has fouled out. The score is virtually tied and the coaches have wisely called a time out for the purpose of letting their respective teams catch a breath. There has even been a bit of cheesy courtside entertainment in the form of Paris Hilton, who oddly enough, managed to grapple with the complex issue of energy needs and environmental impact with more nuance than anyone currently running.

It’s time for the Veep Candidates, the B-team if you will. For those still grieving the passing of George Carlin and Bernie Mac, hope for humor remains. We have the Republican and Democrat Conventions and those crazy Clintons. Reality Television hasn’t had it this good since Richard Hatch and the Susan "snake eats the rat" speech. Even the Olympics in all their actual and manufactured glory cannot compete with a true blood sport. Sure in training for the global games held every four years, you surrender your body and quite probably childhood, but in elections, you mortgage your soul and anyone else’s you find available.

So, whose up to being the Miss Congeniality in the beauty pageant? Ready to be Salutatorian, all of the long hours of work and dateless weekends with no one applauding your wisdom in a moving but unmemorable speech at the end? Being a Vice President has to be the most over rated job on the planet. “Hello, I’d like you to uproot your family, allow the world to scrutinize every email you ever wrote, vet your every action and inaction, association, quip, quote and thought uttered in your lifetime for the purposes of being essentially the silver medalist who only won the medal by losing the gold. You’ve got job security if we win for the next four years unless I die.”

“Sounds great, sign me up!”

Traditional wisdom in politics would argue that one should pick what one lacks –i.e Barrack needs a Democratic version of Dick Cheney “Gravitas” or a person from an electoral state that’s in play, Virginia or Ohio. For McCain, he needs someone who looks like he could whisper in the candidate’s ear, “You might want to say that hearing aid is really an IPod or a hands free cell phone, and pick a song more recent than “Dancing Queen” as one of your favorites even if it’s current because of the movie with Meryl Streep.”

Because, as everyone knows, “The Winner takes it All.”

For humor that's more accessible than disco music, try

Sunday, August 10, 2008

If The Cubbies Win it All, Will Baseball Still Matter to Me?

For years, ever since I went to school in Southbend, I have been a closet Cub fan. I never memorized stats or line ups although my husband shrewdly figured out I thought Mark Grace in his prime was cute, but I loved watching the team on TV.

I think the pleasure began when I opted to skip a class where the poet Denise Levetov was coming to speak in favor of an afternoon game Senior year. We had seen her the day before in a special lecture where she proceeded to insult virtually everyone including my favorite teacher. I decided I didn’t want a second helping from the lady who critiqued my poetry thusly, “I’m very surprised, I almost believed this.” So, I went to the game instead.

We left a note for Harry Carey as he had a soft spot for Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. “Our Dates came for the Sr. Formal, but we came for the Cubs.” It didn’t matter that the four of us who signed it were each other’s dates, I knew Harry would like the sentiment. He read it and our names on the air.

That Monday, my Creative Writing teacher and head of the department, a die-hard Chicago true Cubs fan called me into his office. “Sherry…we missed you on Friday. You weren’t by any chance at a Cubs game were you?”

Now I hadn’t missed or skipped an English class in four years, even when sick or having pulled an all nighter. This was my first time ever to blow off a class. “Yes.” I answered meekly.

“Good for you. I heard your name on the radio.” He smiled. I’d forgotten he tuned into every game, and this was before IPods and downloading and TiVo were possible.

While that may have been the genesis of my interest in the perennial bottom dwelling little bears from the windy place, I realized over the years, it was more of a devotion to Greek Tragedy. Being in love with a losing team that never gets to the top is similar to loving unconditionally and requires a special willingness to pour out one’s heart. It is a state close to grace in the sports world. Being the Charlie Brown who never kicks the football and tries anyway is Sisyphean, Homeric, epic in nature. I have to consider if it’s the Cubs or the relentless yearly story of constant struggle and disappointment that I enjoy.

And thus I wonder as the Cubs continue to rank first in the NL Central, if the Cubs win it all, if the happy ending for the longest suffering fans in all of America occurs, will we then become soccerphiles like the rest of the world? Will we then only seek to sate our sports desires with winning teams and no longer derive pleasure from loving organizations that do not love us back via success? Will watching a Cubs game post a World Series Winning matter to me or anyone else?

And then I remember, Notre Dame hasn’t won a championship since 1988! I get mad at them even when they’re winning if they aren’t winning beautifully. I want no penalties and no close calls and there are always tons of both to drive me nuts.

Thank God for the Irish!

Oh and, Go Cubbies!

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Writing Clinic

For those who don't know, in my spare time, I'm writing a book. (That's not joke). It's about Helen of Troy --something which so completely doesn't relate to my personal life that it creates a great escape from the daily grind of diaper changing.

The thing about writing a book is, I didn't know how because I'd never done it before. Imagine a quilt created by a four year old using tape, safety scissors and fabric she fished out of a barrel from Good Will. It may eventually one day look like a quilt should look, but not before a lot of maturation, better equipment and better skill gets imposed. Still, being a determined four year old with safety scissors, I carry on with my self appointed task.

Here are my tips if you are considering writing the next great American Novel so that others may not have this sort of mess on their hands. Please note, I said nothing about getting it published.

1) No prologue. In the beginning...Before there was Harry....starting the story with back-story automatically brands you as a rank amateur. Agents and other writers can spot it a mile away and will instinctively run the opposite direction. Anything important to the story is important to the story and must be TOLD within the story. There is no back story, only bits of the past that become relevant as the story unfolds.

2) Outline. I admit, my book is suffering a great deal because I didn't do this. The reason people don't do this, is they don't know how the book will go. Outlining does not solve this problem but it does give a scaffolding, a structure upon which to hang the pieces. Having to outline after the fact is very annoying, it's like ripping down drywall to put in insulation and support beams.

3) Read. No problem with this part, plenty of material for me. Read books. Read books that have nothing to do with what you are writing and everything to do with what you are writing. Then, if a piece moves you, look at it to see what the author did to make you feel or think what you are feeling or thinking --how did they set it up? It's like looking at someone else's blueprint for their house to get idea for your own.

4) BIC. Bottom in chair. Books don't write themselves. Online, you meet a lot of dreamers who talk about their books but never post a word count. Set a number for each week. Sure 80% of the word count will be rewritten but the words have to be written first before you can rewrite.

5) Tapestry Weaver or Jackson Pollack? Do you fly where inspiration leads or do you know what it should look like before you start. Rowling was a tapestry weaver --she knew ahead of time where she was going. I'm admittedly more of a Pollack style writer. I start writing inspired and fall into it. Now I'm having to graft it together. Pass the mental crazy glue.

6) Time Space Continuum issues. Jumping forward, back, it works in sci-fi because the rules are bended, but just as after a time, having James T. Kirk, Spock and McCoy jump into different time lines and experience fish out of water moments becomes a crutch, it can be a means of not writing, but merely inserting a character into a timeline. That can’t be the whole story or who cares.

7) Enjoy yourself. If the writing is starting to bore you, it will bore the audience. If you aren't having fun picturing the scene, no one else will. Don't talk about what you will write much. If you tell, you won't write. Tell about what you've written to those who can help.

8) Cheaters mode. Letters, dreams, prophesies, newspaper clippings and neighborhood gossips –allow main characters to know what they would not otherwise know, and allow the writer to get away with the improbable in the midst of the story. Some authors even tell you they’re cheating with the character saying things like “I can finally tell you…” or “It is time you knew…”

9) Head hopping and narration issues. If you’re in one person’s head, you’re stuck in their head. If you’re the third person all knowing narrator, you still don’t get to switch to first person reflections. This is tough. We don’t get to know what Mr. Knightly is thinking, only what Emma thinks until Mr. Knightly reveals his own thoughts.

10) Big finish. The exploding deathstar where all is made clear, all is resolved and everything is happy ever after. Heroes are laden with excessive amounts of gifts and prizes such that it seems they are set for life. Closure yes. Here is where a lot of people get into the “I can finally tell you” or epilogue –another error seen often in first time writers. Resolution is resolution. We close the curtain and hope people applaud for allowing us into the world for a time.

Happy writing.

I'll be back to funny later, but every once in a while, the final tip of writing has to be observed. If you are stuck, write something else. Been having a major dry spell lately on funny stuff, so I'll have to fill this with something useful.

Finally, for those curious, My book, The Book of Helen is 81.6K strong and 14 months old. First four chapters, love ‘em, next four have good stuff, then there’s this sticky undisciplined tangle mess and a strong final conclusion. Got to go rip out some drywall though, and put in some support beams. Pass the safety scissors.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ensuring Your Economic Security

The politicians would love to have you believe that they hold in their policies, the answers to all your economic woes. But I know the truth. Republican, Libertarian or Democrat, if you want to ensure your own future fiscal success, there is a simple way to guarantee success!

Find out what we do. Then do a direct 180!

Want proof? Reasonable, and what's more, demonstrably effective as versus any plans put forth by those seeking higher office.

When we were first married, we lived in New York. What better place to live on the income of one teacher than NYC?

Then we moved to Houston, where naturally, with housing prices being so profitably low, we rented an apartment. Eventually, we broke down and bought a second car, even though my job was across the street from where we rented. About the time we doubled our expenses, I stopped working to take care of our first born. Naturally, having shed my job, it was now time to move again.

So we moved to the third most expensive place in the United States, after NYC and California, Washington DC. Once again, we chose to rent. We opted not to enter into the 401K at the time and refused to buy stock for fear there would be a crash. After all, the Dow Jones had never crested over 1000 before.

Five years and four children later, we bought a house. The housing market promptly went insane, but we could not capitalize as we had only just purchased and would have to hold our asset. Five years more passed. We had our house bought by the state and purchased a new one. The housing market is now in a free fall.

So, in the interest of preserving friends and family's fiscal health, I issue this warning. I opened a savings account today.

I'm in the Washington Post today!

This is the second time I've made it! Yes I'm proud. Yes I'm bragging. Click the link anyway. Yes the photo is really from our backyard. I've been taking off pruning duty since I killed a squash.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Top Ten Signs You've Been Beached

We went to the beach yesterday. It's a required ritual of Summer. There are no bad days at the beach. However, there is a tipping point, where the sun and the sand and the surf work together in as symphonic siren like formula to induce temporary sanity or insanity depending upon your point of view.

Top Ten Signs You've Been Beached

10) Listening to anything other than Jimmy Buffet makes you cranky.

9) Haven't removed swim suit in three days.

8) Beer and pie make good breakfast.

7) Consider moving here year round, begin collecting phone numbers of local realtors.

6) Scruffy looking unshaven smiling man in a t-shirt, ripped cut offs and flip flops is your husband. He looks good.

5) Bouts of serious sleeping are followed by serious bouts of eating and swimming, followed by more sleeping.

4) Newspaper funnies seem like heavy reading material.

3) People at the local Jack's Pack-it where there seems to be an unlimited supply of ice cream and hot dogs for sale, now are on a first name basis.

2) No longer notice sand/grit in food or clothing.

1) Don't know what day it is. Don't care.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!