Saturday, January 28, 2006

Flowers For Violet

It was deceptively sunny. Louis peeked out the window in the foyer and saw the big spring sun brightening everything it touched. There were a few shadows cast by the pear tree in the front yard, but for Louis there were always shadows anyway.

Louis knew that despite the warm appearance of the sun, it was still early in the spring, and that meant it might still be cold. He went to the closet, pulling out a worn wool sweater and poking his thin arms into the sleeves. He buttoned it carefully and slowly, thankful that the buttons were big enough to manipulate without causing too much pain in his fingers. Over the sweater, he pulled on a windbreaker jacket, zipping it up to his neck.

From his jacket pocket, he withdrew the leash. He jangled it a bit until Tommy came bounding around the corner, eager for his walk this morning.

“Hey there, feller,” Louis said gently, bending down to fasten the leash to Tommy’s collar and give him a scratch behind the ears. Tommy leaned into Louis’ touch, eagerly lapping at his free hand.

“Let’s go get some flowers for Miss Violet, should we boy?” Louis smiled, scratching Tommy’s head once more. Louis couldn’t have asked for a better friend than old Tommy.

When they emerged from the house, Louis felt the breeze on his face and knew he had been right. The sun was deceptive. The warm, inviting appearance from inside the house belied the chilly air outside. He gripped Tommy’s leash firmly and thrust both hands into the pockets of his windbreaker.

Tommy walked slowly, seeming to enjoy the scenery. Tommy was old too, like Louis, and he never tugged on the leash or tried to make Louis walk too fast. Tommy had been with Louis and Violet since he was a pup, and that was seventeen years ago. Sometimes Louis wished there had been grandchildren to play with Tommy when he was a pup, but wishing for a thing doesn’t make it so. Louis knew that as well as anybody. Still, it was just too bad that Tommy hadn’t had any boisterous children around him to toss a ball or run in the fields with him. He’d grown old beside Louis and Violet, content enough in his life with them. He didn’t seem to miss what he’d never had.

Louis and Tommy strolled to the corner, where they stopped at Mr. Harlan’s stand. Mr. Harlan sold newspapers and magazines. He also sold a tiny selection of fruits laid out in wooden baskets, candy and gum, and every day, he had a few bouquets of fresh flowers to sell, bouquets hand picked from his own garden and arranged by his wife. Louis was pleased to see that today Mr. Harlan had some violets.

“They’re beautiful today, Louis,” Mr. Harlan smiled as Louis passed him a few crinkled bills to pay for a bouquet. “Anna was very happy to see the daffodils and the violets this year.”

“I imagine she was, Sam,” Louis answered pleasantly. “My Violet loves the spring flowers. She’ll be happy with these.”

Mr. Harlan bent down to scruff the back of Tommy’s neck while Tommy waited patiently for Louis. In a moment they were on their way again, Mr. Harlan waving genially and calling after them to have a nice day.

Louis and Tommy walked on through the neighborhood and past the park, where several young boys had gotten together a game of baseball. Louis heard their shouts echoing in his ears long after he had passed the park. It made him happy to think of children playing baseball in the early spring, eager to be outside after a long and snowy winter. Sixty-five years ago, Louis had been just like those young boys, tearing outside at the first sign of baseball weather, cracking the bat and sliding in the mud. He remembered long afternoons spent poring over baseball cards up in the treehouse they had built in the woods behind his house. He sighed. Louis’ carefree childhood days were just shadows now, like so many other shadows, pictures of a past that had ceased to exist.

When they finally reached their destination, Louis lifted the latch on the heavy iron gate and pushed it open. He dropped Tommy’s leash and let him in first, leaving the gate open and following Tommy. Tommy knew where to go. He reached her first, promptly lying down and resting his head on his front paws. When Louis caught up to him, he lightly patted the warm golden fur. Tommy’s brown eyes seemed to hold sympathy for Louis as he silently watched Louis’ movements.

Steadying himself on the stone, Louis carefully knelt. He placed the violets tenderly on the earth, smelling the freshness of the awakening grass and the damp soil. His gnarled fingers ran along the front of the stone, feeling the words etched there. He swallowed hard over the lump forming in his throat.

“I brought you some violets, my girl,” he said, his voice growing raspy. “Violets for my Violet. I thought you’d like them today. It’s just right for spring. It’s too cold today. I thought the violets would make it seem warm.”

Louis leaned over, resting his cheek on the stone. It was as cold as it ever was. Tommy stood up and walked over slowly, his leash jingling as it dragged behind him. He put his paws on Louis’ knees, and Louis sat, heedless of the mud. Tommy snuggled into Louis’ lap as far as he could go, seeming to want Louis to take warmth from him.

“Gone too soon, wasn’t she, boy?” Louis spoke wearily. “It’s been a long winter, Tommy. Violet would have liked to be tending her flowerbeds now. That old garden will be full of shadows when the brush gets overgrown.” He scrubbed the top of Tommy’s hair with fingers becoming knotted in pain from his arthritis. “I don’t know if I can take care of her things, boy. Won’t be much of a garden this year.” Tears stung the old man’s eyes. He pressed his cheek to Tommy’s head and let them fall.


The late afternoon shadows had grown very long by the time Mitch left the park and headed for home. He and the guys had spent the whole day playing baseball and warming up for the season to come. He was happily splattered with mud and his muscles were sore, but he was more concerned about his stomach rumbling. He didn’t want to be late to supper, so he picked up the pace to a jog as he approached the cemetery three blocks from his house. When he came upon it, he saw that the iron gate was open, waiting for someone to come along and close it. Mitch slowed his steps, peering curiously into the cemetery, wondering who would be there at this time of the day.

He stopped short when he saw an old man leaning against one of the stones, fast asleep with a dog in his lap.

“Mister!” he shouted. “Hey, mister! Are you okay?” Getting no answer, Mitch jogged across the lawn until he reached the man and his dog. Something didn’t seem right. Mitch gasped, his instinct telling him to run the rest of the way home and tell his father. He turned, his feet pounding into the softening earth as he ran.

Behind him, just as the last shadows fell before the dusk, violets bloomed.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Coffee Cake and June Cleaver

Coffee cake is a perfect food. Coffee cake is an unsung hero, never quite getting its due in the praise department.

Coffee cake can be anything: breakfast, coffee break snack, brunch, dessert, midnight craving buster, comforter of the distraught. Coffee cake is the most versatile cake in the world. All you need is one basic recipe, some imagination, and coffee cake can take you anywhere. Yesterday I baked chocolate swirl coffee cake, rich with chocolate, coconut, and walnuts. Tomorrow I may make orange coffee cake with orange caramel topping or cherry coffee cake, blueberry buckle, or banana pineapple. I could also make comforting coffee cake with a traditional cinnamon streusel or a homey apple-topped coffee cake for the after school hours.

Coffee cake is easy, too. Easy, easy, easy. So easy, I can do it with one apron tied behind my back...

Someday, I will write an Ode To Coffee Cake. Coffee cake deserves at least that much.

Incidentally, I took the TV Mom quiz this morning. I am June Cleaver. Is anyone really surprised by that? (Not the coffee cake lovers, I suppose.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I'm the "It" girl!

Okay. All right. Yes. I know it's not as glamorous as it sounds. I'm not exactly the "It girl"...just..."it."

Apparently I have been tagged to answer the following questions, AND tag somebody else. I don't even know who has already been tagged! I don't know that many people! I can serve atomic appetizers for 20 and have the laundry ironed before The Price Is Right is over, but tag games...? *vapors*

I'm not sure I'm up to it.

Nevertheless...Momma Star tagged me, so I'll play.

What were you doing 10 years ago? Lessee...I was 29 years old. I had given up my radio career to return home to Minnesota. I was a working single mother.
What were you doing 1 year ago? Why, exemplifying the Space Age Housewife, of course.

Five snacks I enjoy
1. Bagels
2. Popcorn
3. Pretzels with honey mustard
4. Chili cheese pie with bite size Tostitos (yes, you can have the recipe)
5. Shredded wheat with milk

Five songs to which I know all the lyrics
1. I need A Lover
2. Allison Road
3. Here Comes My Baby
4. Sneaky Snake
5. Ring Of Fire

Five things I would do if I were a millionaire
1. Move to Minnesota
2. Pay off my parents' mortgage
3. Write a book
4. Pay for all of my children to go to college
5. Maybe go to college myself

Five bad habits
1. I talk too much
2. Ummm...
3. Ummmmmm...
4. Ummmmmmmm....
5. Procrastination. Sometimes. Not every day. Maybe tomorrow.

Five things I like doing
1. Reading - books, magazines, newspapers, the 'net, cereal boxes, cookbooks, whatever
2. Cooking and baking
3. Collecting vintage kitchen items/radios/memorabilia/ephemera - post WWII to early 70s mostly
4. Playing darts
5. Exercising

Five things I would never wear, buy or get new again
1. High waisted, tapered leg, light wash jeans
2. Stirrup pants
3. High top sneakers
4. Orangey red lipstick
5. Elastic belts

By the way, if Momma Star doesn't want to wear aprons ever again, she can feel free to pass hers along to me.

Five favorite toys
1. My computer
2. Cutting tools for making scrapbooks
3. I'd say my KitchenAid mixer like others have done, but that's not really a toy, is it? It's a genuine heartpounding necessity.
4. Handheld Yahtzee's perfect for those times I have to wait for something or someone
5. Free weights

So here’s the deal: Remove the blog in the top spot from the following list and bump everyone up one place. Then add your blog to the bottom slot

So, it’s come down to this
All Hail Suburbia!
Swingin' on a Star
Space Age Housewife

Then select five people to tag:

Halushki's Done
Straight Talkin' Mom
Picture Maven
Shandy Land

Veil Of Hair

One of my friends liked this picture...

He called it the Veil Of Hair.

I call it "fooling around with the camera on New Year's Eve."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Eighty miles!

Today, I hit the 80-mile mark on the way to my goal. 80 exercise miles since the first of the year. 80. Wheeee!

Thank you, Leslie Sansone!

It's incredibly vain of me to say so - though I'm not ashamed of vanity at the moment - but my back end looks better than it did twenty years ago!

Friday, January 20, 2006

The House

I was sitting on the family room floor, going through the stacks of CDs, choosing which ones to bring along and which ones to let the movers pack.

“Pantera, no. Anthrax, no. Def Leppard, yes….” I mumbled to myself while I worked, putting the “no” CDs in a big pile to my left and the “yes” disks into a smaller pile at my right.

I stopped for a while, sitting back on my feet and looking around the room. It was my favorite room in the house, a warm and cozy basement room. There was a wood stove in the corner, an office room just behind where I sat, a bathroom, and a full bar. It was the perfect room for just the family and the perfect room for entertaining also. I loved that room. I lovingly ran my hands across the new carpet we’d picked out just five months before. I allowed myself to fall into a daydream, scenes of life in this house playing in my head like a slide show.

It was a bright September afternoon, two days after we moved into our house. I sat at the kitchen table with Dave, my eyes sore and tired from crying, feeling his hand rubbing the back of mine. My mother stood at the stove, scrambling eggs and frying summer sausage for a light supper for me. She had come over as soon as she had gotten the call: the ultrasound that afternoon showed that my 11-week pregnancy wasn’t viable. Nature was playing a cruel trick on me, and I was scheduled for D&C surgery in two days. It was my mother’s instinct to care for her wounded duckling, and for that I was grateful. The smell of the cooking was comforting, as was the solid wood of my table and the cozy atmosphere in my new kitchen. Mom set plates before Dave and me, then she sat down to keep us company for a while before she had to get home to Dad. Buying a house only four miles away from my parents was the best decision we ever made. The warm vibes here gave me a strength I’m not sure I would have felt otherwise.


I lay on the couch after the surgery, waiting once more for tears to subside. I was in the living room, wrapped in a quilt, listening to the sounds of my husband and my mother painting and arranging the bedroom for my eleven-year-old daughter. She was away for the weekend with her father, and we were going to surprise her with a room painted in an ocean theme. We’d picked out two shades of blue and found a dolphin-and-whale wallpaper border to separate them with. The carpet was the color of the ocean bottom. Once again, Mom had come to help us, bringing a homemade dolphin quilt for Katie and picking up a paintbrush alongside Dave. I was supposed to have complete rest for a day or two, but it felt nice hearing them work, knowing that their labors were helping to make my new house a home. We had been so thrilled at the thought of bringing a new baby home to this house, and while nothing could take away the anguish I’d felt at miscarrying, the house reached out to me and soothed me.


Dave carried me downstairs to the family room and set me up on the couch down there, bringing along the quilt I’d been using upstairs.

“Use this remote for the TV and this one for the receiver,” he explained, showing me how to operate the new satellite TV system he’d bought. He had hoped to find a way to fill my time while I recovered from the loss of my pregnancy and had bought the system as a gift for me. He tuned in the Game Show Network for me, lit a fire in the woodstove, and placed a kiss on my cheek before heading back upstairs to move the furniture into Katie’s room.

I watched reruns of The Price Is Right, The Match Game, and Password Plus. It was like entering a time warp for me, transporting me in an instant back to a more carefree time in my life, and I was grateful for the emotional escape.

I closed my eyes and rubbed them, shaking my head and suddenly feeling tired. I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the carpet powder I used, feeling again as warm as I had felt in those early days in the house. I was weary of the CD-sorting task, and gathered up the dozen or so that I had pulled out to take in our van with us. The rest could be packed. A dozen was enough. I shoved the others haphazardly back into the CD towers and put the good ones into a paper sack to take upstairs with me later. The prospect of leaving this house was taking its toll on my emotions. It was time for a break. I flopped into the cushiony couch and flipped on the television. Garry Moore’s smiling face and pleasant voice came out of the screen at me as he introduced the panel for “To Tell The Truth.”

“Too bad,” I said aloud, “It’s not cold enough to light a fire.” My mind wandered once more, remembering that first New Year’s Eve in the house. We’d had a roaring fire going then and a buffet of homemade appetizers and goodies set up on top of my 1964 Magnavox console stereo, a garage sale find I’d thought a charming complement to my 1964 house.

My brother stood laughing with my husband, taking a sip of beer and watching my sister throw her darts. My brother-in-law lounged against the bar, sipping his own beer and waiting his turn at the dartboard.

“Jackpot!” I cried as my sister hit the two bullseyes we needed to win the game against the men. My sister-in-law, sitting with my parents at the table around the corner from the stairway, looked up and smiled.

“Woohoo! Way to go girls,” she said, giving her husband a little smirk.

It was New Year’s Eve, our first in the new house and our first party. I’d enjoyed making the food and goodies, and my dad had brought over all the leftover champagne from the wedding. Earlier that afternoon, Dave and I had picked up an enormous – ENORMOUS! – bottle of Spumante, but Dad’s contribution of the champagne made it an extraneous purchase.

I felt complete here, hosting an open house for my loved ones and surrounded by my family. Dave’s parents came by too, sitting and chatting with everyone. The mood in my family room was festive and genial. I felt such a sense of rightness and comfort that I decided I wanted to make this party an annual event. We’d eat and laugh and play games ‘til long past midnight, ringing in the new year with those we loved.


Three months later, another party, a birthday celebration for my mother-in-law. I was tempted to open the still-unused bottle of Spumante, but Dave’s parents and grandparents had come bearing wine for us to share. I smiled at the big Spumante bottle at the back of the bar, reflected in the giant mirror there. It looked at home among our vintage barware, and I was a little glad we didn’t have to open it just yet. It had become a fixture where it was.

We had rum cake and wine, laughing and talking and listening to music in the basement. My mother-in-law and I got more than a little tipsy, happily engaging in birthday merriment. I tried on three 1950s dresses I’d bought on eBay, showing them off for my in-laws.

“A little tight for me on my bacon butt,” I said ruefully, twirling the skirt, “But just the right housewifely look for me anyway.”

“Oh, piffle,” Bonnie said, shaking her head at me. “They look just perfect on you. The vintage style suits you, just like this house.”

I smiled at this last memory, fondly recalling that birthday gathering and the fun we’d had that night, both during the party and after our guests had gone home. At that thought a new memory washed over me, bringing a smile to my face. I leaned back and closed my eyes.

I knew what would happen even before I picked up the stick, a quiver in my hand as I did so. I’d done this what? Two, three, four times a month since late October? I sensed – no, I knew – that this time would be different, that this April Saturday afternoon would bring me the news I’d been waiting for.

It did. There was a second pink line there, as clear and dark as the control line it paralleled. I was pregnant for certain. I slipped the test into a drawer in the bathroom vanity and briefly wondered about the morality of withholding this information from my husband for a little while longer. He didn’t know I suspected, didn’t know I’d taken the test. We’d had so much disappointment since the miscarriage that I’d stopped raising his hopes every month. I wanted to save the news and tell him in just the right way, clever and creative and memorable. Was it right to keep it from him just a bit more?

We went to Old Chicago to play darts. Dave drank a couple of beers, and I sipped on a bottomless glass of fresh lemonade. We whiled away the afternoon happily tossing darts and listening to the jukebox, but later, after we’d gotten home, he seemed out of sorts. I asked him what was wrong.

“I don’t know. I’m just crabby.”

The right moment had arrived.

“Would you feel better if I told you I’m pregnant?” I stood back and watched the dawning realization cross my husband’s face.

“Are you kidding? Please tell me you’re not kidding.”

“I would never kid about something like this.”

I was sure his whoop of delight could be heard on the next block, so great was his excitement, his previous crabbiness forgotten. He picked me up in the hallway and spun me around. Our prayers had been answered.

My eyes snapped open, and I sat up, sighing. I had a lot to do yet and didn’t need to be wasting time on memories and game shows. I shut off the television, picked up the bag of CDs and headed up the stairs. Halfway up, I turned and glanced back, trying to burn an impression of all the good times we’d had there into my brain and heart. It was going to be very hard to leave.

In the kitchen, I wadded up newspaper and packed a few of my vintage kitchenware pieces, things I didn’t feel like trusting to the movers. I set some things aside and glanced at the kitchen door, the casual side entrance we used almost exclusively when coming and going from the house. Again my wandering mind stole me from the task at hand and whisked me into the past, images of us loudly coming in the door late the previous December.

“We’re home,” Dave announced, setting down my bags and smiling at the infant in my arms. Katie followed from the car, shutting the kitchen door behind her.

“It’s cold,” she admonished us, stroking the baby’s cheek. “Do you want her to freeze?” Dave and I looked at each other and laughed, sending Katie into the hallway to turn up the thermostat. It was the day before New Year’s Eve 1999, and we had brought home a beautiful new daughter.


New Year’s Eve, so different than the previous year’s. With a brand new baby in the house, we’d decided against the open house we had wanted to make an annual event. The four of us sat upstairs on the couch, watching “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” and waiting for the med supply company to deliver a breast pump for me. Jenny was having trouble latching on correctly, and we thought we might have to use bottles to feed her. Dave and Katie sat on either side of me, and I held the baby on my lap, occasionally attempting to feed her. I thought of the bottle of Spumante in the bar downstairs and smiled a little.

I grabbed my box of kitchenware and the bag of CDs and stepped outside the kitchen door. The van was parked in the driveway. I opened the back and loaded in the box, then tossed the bag up front. Slamming the door shut, I looked up at the sky. It was overcast, the capricious October whether turning gray and chilly this late afternoon. My eyes moved over to the spacious backyard where the grill sat on the deck and the clothesline opposite the oak tree.

The breeze was warm against my bare arms as I reached up to hang the laundry from the line. I loved the fresh, sunshiny smell of line-dried clothes, and even more, I loved sunny early-summer mornings out here in the backyard, the baby happily sitting in her saucer watching me hang the clothes. The dewy-fresh morning air reminded me of my own childhood and June's promise of endless summer days stretching before me. Mornings out here with my baby were one of the simplest pleasures I enjoyed. I envisioned hot July afternoons splashing in a wading pool, and balmy summer evenings cooking steaks on the grill under the vast expanse of sky. I could feel my roots settling into this house and this place. The feeling was good.

Enough. I had to stop this daydreaming or I’d never get done. Fast snatches of memory snapped through my brain as I went back into the house to organize clothes for the trip. The day that Dave had come home telling me of the promotion and transfer offered to him. The agonizing decision over what to do. I wandered through the upstairs, peeking into Jenny’s nursery and feeling tears spring to my eyes as I looked at the cheerful Baby Looney Tunes wallpaper border we’d lovingly put up for her.

“Who will love this room the way I do?” I wondered aloud.

I opened the hall linen closet, so very much like the one in the house I’d been raised in, and drank in the smell of fresh towels and sheets. I peeked into Katie's room, my heart giving a little lurch at the thought of the labor of love that turned this room into an ocean fantasy. Would the new owner repaint it, obliterating our mark on the house? The organization of clothes forgotten, I roamed the house, looking out windows, touching the walls, and remembering. I saw the pine rail and balusters my husband and his stepfather had sanded and stained and installed by hand. I looked at the new carpet, the oak floor behind the bar, and the bar itself, that Dave so lovingly and carefully finished. The remodeled bathroom. The tiny corner office. The fireplace. The couch where I’d lain to recover from a broken heart. I didn’t want to leave this house, and, oddly, I felt as if it didn’t want us to go either. It was a fanciful thought, and while it might fascinate a psychiatrist, I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I had packing to do.


The movers had come and gone, taking with them most of our worldly possessions. A supply of clothes, food, and toys loaded down our van, ready for the long trek across the country to our new location. Both girls were already in the van, waiting for Dave and me. We were going to spend the night at my parents’ house and leave at dawn the next day. Dave walked around the back of the house, making sure nothing was forgotten. I stood just inside the kitchen, the door open behind me. I was to leave the keys on the counter and lock the door from the inside before slamming it shut to go. My feet felt frozen to the kitchen floor, reluctant to leave. Dave stepped inside and touched my arm.

“Donna,” he said gently. “We have to go.”

“I know. Just let me walk through one more time.”

“No. The kids are waiting. We really need to go.”

“Okay, okay. Okay,” I said, tears filling up my eyes. I snapped the key onto the counter and went out to the step first, Dave following and locking the door. As we walked to the van, he put his arm around my shoulder.

“Honey, you’ll be okay. It’s just a house.”

“Yeah,” I whispered, looking back once more and trying not to cry. “I know. It’s just a house.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Moving Finger

I wrote this in June of 2004, just before I turned 38....

The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.

I couldn’t remember where the quote came from, but it wound its way into my head this morning as I thought about the passage of time, the passage that grows fleeter with every finished moment.

The constant tick of time preys on me always at this time of year: the time of year when the anniversary of my birth swells forward to catch me up in its bittersweet song.

While I was ruminating on the profundity of the quote that sang a whisper in my ear, I went to the kitchen looking for the soul comfort found there. My kitchen is an oasis in the desert of time, a place where the moving finger seems to stop and somehow suspend its journey, where my purloined years are magically restored to me and the unjust passage reversed. In the aromatic steam arising from a newly baked gingerbread or the first taste of homemade gravy spooned over hand-mashed potatoes, the fresh innocence of childhood comes rushing to the fore, and I can easily feel myself surrounded by the sounds and sights of a hundred things past.

Today I had to satisfy those primal desires for comfort with an omelet and a glass of Ovaltine, but I was willing to take my comfort where it came. I poured the egg into the pan, topping it with bits of chive and peppers and chopped onion and thin slices of ham, listening with relish to the sibilant pop and sizzle, enjoying the wafting fragrance of the vegetables as they cooked. I stirred the Ovaltine into my milk, remembering a past thirty years gone when my mother had done the stirring for me. I smiled a little ruefully, because this was no longer my Ovaltine to love. It belonged now to the children of this house, the children whose memories thirty years hence would hark back to this room, these sounds, these scents, and the sight of their mother stirring chocolate into their milk.

I folded cheese into the omelet and sat with my meal, the source of the quote coming to me then as suddenly as the quote itself had earlier. The Rubaiyat, said a small voice from somewhere deep inside my brain. It’s from The Rubaiyat. The rest of the quote came back to me:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

The words reminded me there is no eraser for the flagrant cad that is Time. He follows his own path, leaving behind in his wake only the memories of what has gone before and some measures of regret, sorrow, joy, sweetness and wistfulness. And I thought perhaps I am a heretic to Time, at once embracing him, in commune with him, and fighting him. I recognized my own struggle and knew that I would continue to tipple from the cup of nostalgia, gaining small mental profit from my attempts to recreate what has already been written.

I ate, and in my mind’s eye, I saw myself change from child to mother and heard from somewhere the rolling march that will bring my own children on their journey to what is yet to be.

Ten centuries have passed since Omar Khayyam’s time, and still we watch his Moving Finger.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"I'm not a food!"

As often as I encounter it, you'd think I'd have no trouble remembering the strictly literal nature of children. The single funniest example, one I will never forget, occurred when my daughter had just turned five and was still attending preschool.

My older daughter and I were discussing kindergarten, and how different an experience that would be for Little Miss. Little Miss heard us talking, and became agitated over the idea of leaving preschool. Her sister tried to comfort her, pointing out the exciting advantages of kindergarten.

"Relax," I said. "It's still several months away. We don't have to sell her on the idea of kindergarten just yet."

Little Miss howled, hot tears flying off her cheeks and landing in a puddle on the floor.

Baffled, I reached for her. "What on earth is the matter?"

"I don't want you to SELL ME! I'll go to kindergarten! I promise! Just don't SELL ME!"

Upon hearing me say "sell her on the idea" she instantly had visions of becoming the subject of an eBay auction, having seen me sell her outgrown clothes that way.

Poor kid.

Mr. Literal knocked on our door again today. My son waddled in here moments ago, his jeans at his ankles.

"I just had to go to the bafroom," he said.

"Well, pull your pants up, then."

"I can't!" he wailed.

As I helped him, I said gently, "You're going to have to learn to do this yourself, Honey Bun."

He scowled.

"I'm not a Honey Bun."

"Yes, you are. You're my Honey Bun."

"Mom! I'm not a food!"

He turned and marched indignantly upstairs, leaving me alone to giggle and remind myself just how black and white a four-year-old's view really is.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"I would walk 500 miles..."

That's the goal. 500 miles.

I exercise six days a week. My primary form of exercise is via Leslie Sansone's Walk Away The Pounds workouts, combining cardio activity with muscle strengthening. The workouts are measured in miles.

I'm looking at my 40th birthday this year, and it seemed appropriate to set a goal for myself: something for me, something that would emphasize health, vitality, strengh, and vibrancy. So I looked to my workouts for inspiration. And I got little push from The Proclaimers too.

Walking 500 miles from January first to my birthday in June is an aggressive goal. I need aggressiveness and accountability to make it work, so I'll periodically share my progress here. I'm counting Walk Away The Pounds miles, walks/jogs/runs taken outside or on an indoor track, and miles accumulated via treadmill or elliptical. I'm not counting the miles walked throughout the course of a typical day just doing what I do (housework, shopping, that sort of thing).

Since the beginning of the year, I've got 30 miles under my belt...only 470 to goal...

The subject of 40 itself? That's a post for another day.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Christmas Party

The company held the Christmas party after the New Year in 2002. They were just starting up in our neck of the woods and hadn't officially opened for business. Having the party later was to help kick off the year on a high note.

It was Saturday, January 5th. My older daughter was visiting her father in another state and wouldn't be home until after midnight, so we engaged her schoolfriend to babysit the two-year-old.

My husband's new boss hosted the party - his house was enormous: a McMansion of cavernous proportions, decorated just so, the marks of an interior designer evident in every pillow, painting, and carefully arranged book. When we entered, there were about a dozen people mingling about, most of whom I had never met.

There would be no glass of wine or bottle of microbrew to help me over my nervousness. I was, you see, nine months' pregnant, a vision of pudginess in a red Liz Claiborne sweater and black velour maternity pants. Looking around at the sleek, chic, slender corporate wives I was expected to share my evening with, I was acutely aware of my bloated face and oversprayed hair. My walk was ungainly and painful - the baby had settled down in my hips, making each step as unbalanced as if I'd just stepped out of the saddle.

Thank God for artichoke dip and a straight backed chair to sit in.

Game time...there were actual games to play. The games followed the obligatory motivational speech and incentive DVD. Apparently, the idea was for all of the new employees to bond through inanity and humiliation. Each guest was partnered with someone not his or her own spouse. I was partnered with John from North Dakota. Good! Someone who knows that Fargo isn't actually in Minnesota and that not everyone in the upper Midwest punctuates each sentence with a hearty "you betcha!"

All eyes turned to us as we won the first prize of the evening: a Magic 8 Ball. The Magic 8 Ball - yes, that's the one. The one that revealed the mysteries of romance and math scores for you in junior high school back in the '70s. The dime-store psychic.

"Hey! Ask it if you're having that baby tonight!"

Sure. Why not? It's a party, right?

shake shake

"Will I go into labor tonight?"

Signs point to yes.

Hmmm. Interesting. Well, how hard could it be? I was two days away from my due date. Magic 8 Ball didn't have to stretch too far.

"Ask it if you're having a girl!"

shake shake

"Am I having a girl?"

Ask again later.

Later? How much later? Is twenty seconds good?

shake shake

"Am I having a girl?"

It is doubtful.


shake shake

"Am I having a boy?"

It is likely.


Could the mystical billiard ball really know the truth?

We left shortly thereafter, my stomach not feeling well from excessive consumption of artichoke dip and an overwhelming sense of being nine months' pregnant, for crying out loud!

I drove the babysitter home. I don't remember why. Temporary insanity, no doubt. I took the two-year-old along with me. Surely it must have been some form of insanity. After dropping the sitter off, I swung by the grocery store on the corner a mile from home. We'd left the party so early that Mr. Space Age hadn't had enough to eat. I carried my daughter, slung onto one achy, waddling hip, and tossed a couple of packages of frozen egg rolls and tiny tacos into the basket held in my other hand. I made my way to the checkout as quickly as I could, undoubtedly looking wild eyed and ready to drop a toddler and a newborn onto the tiled floor at any moment. The looks I received from customers and employees alike were testament to that fact, though I did make it out of the store and back home carrying everything with me that I'd brought into the store. Including the toddler and the not-yet-newborn.

Later that night, in the quiet after the mister and child had both fallen asleep, I remembered the parting words of Mr. Space Age's new boss: "Don't be afraid to call me at three in the morning when you're at the hospital!" Behind him, a shout of laughter. I had laughed too. "I don't think it will be three in the morning," I'd answered, figuring the watermelon in my belly would take its sweet time.

You're a clever one, aren't you? You've guessed where this is going?

I was, indeed, at the hospital downtown at three in the morning. I'd stayed up late - nearly until two - restless and unable to sleep. Feeling strange. It was my third pregnancy. "Feeling strange" should have been the tipoff, though once again, I didn't recognize signs. As I lay in bed, watching the flashing blue numbers on the clock change to two a.m., I felt small contractions. They came and went with frequency, though not enough to make me start in pain. At 2:15, I wondered how long I'd let it go on before waking my husband. A minute or so later the answer came: my water broke. Hmmm. Yes. NOW would be a good time to wake him!

We braved slick black ice on the way to the hospital some time later, after our daughter had been picked up by friends to spend the rest of the night at there house. I was deposited into a wheelchair and headed for the elevator to the L&D floor at just around 3:00.

The Magic 8 Ball was on to something, and clearly in collusion with the mister's boss.

At 8:18am on Sunday, January 6, 2002, my 10 lb, 9 ounce son was born, as beautiful a baby as I'd ever seen, with velvet brown eyes like his father's.

He's the baby of my babies, the last in line, my round-cheeked little guy. And tomorrow he will be four.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Girl Most Likely To...

Last night, I watched one of my favorite movies ever, the 1973 made-for-TV dark comedy, "The Girl Most Likely To..." starring Stockard Channing as Miriam Knight.

I love this movie. I hadn't seen it for years. I couldn't tell you how many years; it seems they stopped airing it on television when I was barely out of my teens. My mother shares my love for this movie. It's always been one of those connections we have - neither has to explain to the other what it is about ourselves that we see in Miriam. Having discovered weeks ago that the movie was finally released on DVD recently, I snapped up two copies, one for mom and one for me. After Christmas, Mom told me that all these years, she had been secretly searching for a copy for me. It was time again to visit with Miriam.

Miriam Knight is an overweight, frankly ugly girl, trying to find love and a social life in college. She is ridiculed and embarrassed time and again, culminating in particular humiliation the night of her debut in the school play. After a car accident, plastic surgery, and a liquid diet while in bandages, Miriam emerges a beautiful young woman with an enviable figure. Newly attractive - and, as ever, wickedly intelligent and clever, Miriam exacts revenge on those who hurt her the most and finally gets her man: one who loves her for her mind.

I've never been the overweight and ugly girl. I have, however, been the skinny and ugly girl. Hopelessly awkward, physically and socially, I was inept at everything except my studies. Like Miriam, I was the donkey end of the other kids' jokes. I was Miriam Knight without her pride and courage. There is a perverse and macabre delight to be taken in Miriam's exploits, the underdog's urge to cheer one of her own kind, our baser instincts darkly satisfied with the comeuppances meted out to the beautiful cruel.

For all of us who have been ugly, imperfect, humiliated and tormented, a toast to Miriam and her wicked cleverness, avenger for the wronged.