Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Mom Song

This is not mine, but I never saw anything so Erma-worthy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Moments of Thanks



"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety


Fourteen years ago, just before dinnertime on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, my seven-year old son was hit by a car. Now twenty-one, he'll be arriving home from college on Wednesday. We have much for which to be thankful. But that night, for a few moments, I wasn't sure I'd ever breathe a thankful breath again. When the neighbor boy burst into my house, yelling, "Eric just got hit by a car!" my world froze. I wasn't sure I could face what awaited me just outside my front door. Somehow, I propelled myself outside, after tossing the phone to the neighbor and telling him to call 911. When I hit the porch steps I heard my son's cries and I thought, Okay, he's alive. When I knelt by his side, I saw his feet moving and told myself, Okay, he's not paralyzed. And I knew right then we were incredibly lucky. And I was thankful beyond measure.

Later, after the ambulance ride, after the X-rays, after the doctor shook his head and said, just before releasing him, "He's fine. He shouldn't be but he is," I remembered the above Stegner quote. The salt had been just ready to pour down on me, on us, on our life. And then it didn't. But I knew how easily it could have rained down over our world. A different driver. A bigger, faster car. A shift in the trajectory of my son's body as it flew through the air. But, even now, I have to turn my mind away from those awful possibilities.

Our lives are full of such moments, but many times we don't even know it. We don't know what we've narrowly escaped, what's just missed us. And so, for what we know and don't know, I am thankful. For the times the salt didn't pour down and for the strength to continue when it did, I give thanks.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, but even more, I wish you a spirit of thankfulness as you go about your lives everyday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seizing the Day

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Most of the time, my husband and I are pretty practical. We plan things. Save up for splurges. We organize.

Every Sunday we go over our respective calendars for the week. This allows me to plan menus and make my grocery list.

We're certainly no sticks-in-the-mud (hmm, should that be stick-in-the-muds? I don't think so) unless you ask one of our kids. But no one would accuse us of being madcap very often, either.

Except for when it comes to spur of the moment trips.

Like the time in Dec. 2003, we decided the day before to drive to Indianapolis for a Springsteen concert (two states and another time zone away). Did we have tickets? Um, no. But, we got them, we had an incredible time, and we both showed up for work the next day, more or less. (I believe my students did some free-reading or small group work. I don't really recall.)

Or the phone call we got early last month asking if we had any interest in Game Two of the playoffs at Wrigley Field (250 miles away). Why, yes, we did, thank you very much. We had to rearrange a few things (like work and such), but we went. And if the Cubs hadn't lost 10-3 we'd have had a blast.

So, it seemed par for the course that we decided, just last night, along with my sister and her husband, to use our frequent flier miles for a trip to Washington, D.C. in January for the Inauguration. Do we have tickets? Not yet, no. We're not even sure we'll be able to get them (but if you know of any, holler, okay?), but that doesn't matter. Along with experiencing history being made, we'll get to play with my sister and her husband and my brother and his wife (who have graciously offered up a place to stay). It'll probably be cold (but I hope not rainy) and most certainly will be very crowded and chaotic, but that's fine by me.

And I'm realizing that I'm in a position now to do the kinds of things I used to only dream about--pick up and go, make plans at the last minute, seize the day. All things I couldn't do when my kids were younger and my checkbook was thinner (well, at least the kids are older now). All the things I used to think were only available to the young.

Being middle-aged, empty/almost-empty nesters has perks I'd never dreamed of and which I'm happily latching onto. I might never have that pre-pregnancy firm body again, but I have some things so much better--perspective and confidence and the ability to say, what the heck, let's do it.

Middle-age. I highly recommend it!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Living History

By Margy McCarthy

I hope all the celebration hasn't gotten too old, because this is my first chance to talk about last Tuesday.

*sigh*

Four years ago during the last few weeks before the election, I remember saying to an apathetic friend, "It has never been this important." And I believed that with all my heart.

You all know how that worked out.

So this time, we were in four years deeper,we were in over our heads- and it was that much more important. And this time I knew we had the candidate, and I got up off my rear and made the phone calls and attended the rally and wrote the blogs and the letter to the editor and, and, and... This time I walked my talk.

And look how this worked out!

I think I'm still glowing. Am I still glowing?

But it was more this time than just me doing the right thing to help get a necessary job done. This time we all did it. And you could feel it in the air- even here in Arizona. And you still can. Change- she is a-comin'.

This was son Snooze's first election. He voted early by mail. He phoned me a couple of weeks ago with his ballot in hand to talk about several of the ballot propositions, and we had a good time decoding the legalese and he made his decisions wisely.

I called for a sub on Tuesday because I knew I wouldn't be able to stand being cooped up in my room at school all day. I got up at my usual time and went about my normal getting-ready routines; rather than pulling into the school parking lot bright and early, I would pull into City Hall. When I went in to wake Shriek for school, she said, "Can't I just come with you today?"

And I thought- "Why not?"

So she did. She waited while I voted, and then we drove to headquarters. She regaled me with her observations at the polls- "There were so many people! All kinds of people- there was a policeman and his wife, there was the pregnant lady with her baby, there was the old woman who could hardly walk..."

When we arrived at headquarters, the place was humming like a hive. We got phone lists and settled down at the phone banks. I made a call so Shriek could see how to handle the paperwork, and then we got to it.

I have never been so proud of that girl. She was a trooper. Ironically enough, she found her social studies teacher's name on her list. "Mom, do I really need to call Mr. F? We know he won't be home." I told her to go ahead and call when she came to him, and then she could just mark NH on her tally for not home. So we made calls. She went through her script, and did a nice job, and as she finished one call, I heard her say, "McCarthy." Then she laughed and hung up. "Honey, why are you telling your last name?" I asked. "That was Mr. F," she said. "That was his cell number, he was on prep, and he answered. When I finished talking he asked me 'Shriek who?' so I told him!"

When I finished my call list several hours later, I found my daughter across the hall, compiling literature for the canvassers. Her enthusiasm was palpable. She caught me up on the voting lines around the country she'd seen on CNN. She chattered nonstop as we drove home, anxious to start seeing the returns.

And when she got back to school the next day? Mr F said she didn't have to make up the quiz she had missed. She got full credit. "You were out there helping to make history yesterday," he told her, "that's worth a lot."

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Day of Firsts

I had a great job on election day.  I was a runner.  My first-ever election day job, from five-thirty to nine a.m., was to drive from one polling place to another dropping off Amendment and Proposition forms, "I Voted For Change" stickers (very important- not only for proudly wearing but also redeemable for Starbucks coffee, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and/or Krispy Kremes), yard signs, and t-shirts for poll workers.  I was thrilled with my assignment (though I did covet the lovely neon green t-shirts of the poll volunteers- mine was boring pale blue) because I got to see the lines.  The faces.  I got to feel the electricity; the excitement on the city sidewalks and church parking lots.  This vote didn't feel like any I'd ever experienced.  It felt like it was super-charged with a current of promise.

At one polling place, at five-thirty a.m., the line swept from the building to the sidewalk and down a block.  I walked up with my box of supplies to see cheering, smiles and high-fives between friends and complete strangers waiting in the dark to cast their historic vote.  Older women waited on folding chairs, those in line near them helping to move them as the line began to crawl forward.  I could have stayed all day, watching.  There were no complaints about the line- not a hint of annoyance from anyone.  It was as if the whole crowd knew that the long line was a wonderful sign of what the day might bring.

My daughter decided to vote at home.  She left college with a carload of kids and drove the three hours to get back.  Finally, at two-thirty in the afternoon, her little white Subaru pulled up to our polling place, the school at which she attended kindergarten.  She was wearing a shirt that said, "Throw Parties, Not Grenades."  That's our girl.  Anyway, we chatted with the poll workers and finally wandered in to cast our votes, our first child voting in her first-ever presidential election.  (Little did she know her vote would still not be counted toward the nation's total, three days later. Come on, Missouri!  Go blue!) She looked excited, grown-up; completely confident in her choice.  I had a hard time not crying.  

Monday and Tuesday were pretty teary in general.  I cried when my candidate's grandmother died.  What a life she led.  What a grandchild she raised!  I'm sure she saw the outcome.  I cried while last-minute canvassing when a tiny older woman with a heavy accent- a woman I could picture studying hard for her citizenship exam forty years before- pressed her hand to my arm and told me that she was too old to change our world, and asked me to do it for her.  But most of all, I cried as I watched the 44th President-elect of our amazing country standing on a stage in Chicago with his beautiful family, side by side with a wonderful statesman Vice-President-elect and his family, their colors blending like a perfect artist's rendering of what our country should always look like.

For the first time, we've gotten it right.

Hallelujah!



Thursday, November 6, 2008

Proud to be an American


by Jenny Gardiner

For years Lee Greenwood's song, Proud to be an American, has been dragged out, dusted off, and exploited by a divisive segment of the population, used in a jingoistic way to portray the entire country in a way that seemed intended to poke the rest of the world in the eye. It became to some a lovely song that left a somewhat bitter taste behind.

Today, I have never felt prouder to be an American, Lee Greenwood or not. Having seen our democracy alive and vibrant and working as intended on Election Day was something that many of us who'd felt enormously disenfranchised deeply appreciated. It was a restorative tonic that was long overdue.

What I found to be most heartening was to watch the voting process in action while working at a polling station. Sure there were the usual cadre of voters, the ones who vote year in and year out. But then there were the new ones: the Latino couple, newly-minted citizens, casting their first ballot in a free country. Twenty-something young black men who'd never stepped foot in a voting venue, bravely venturing forth with pride to exercise a right they'd never contemplated before yesterday. There was the older black woman who was so flustered she couldn't remember her address when asked for verification, and had to prompt her daughter to answer for her. And then the many, many 18- and 19- and 20-year olds who have grown up feeling voiceless, finally feeling empowered to speak out. Countless times I choked back tears while watching democracy in action, while realizing that sure, our principles have been challenged, and we've felt undermined. But we have hope: an entire nation--really the entire world--feels a sense of hope that feels cathartic. It's simply overwhelming. In an amazing, pride-inducing way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Transformation



We did it. All of us. We voted and changed the world.

Now the work begins.

But we move forward with hope and wonder.

And we move forward behind a smart, brave, kind man.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

IT'S HERE. DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!!

It's a privilege. A right. And a responsibility.





Friday, October 31, 2008

A Volunteer Speaks Once More

Canvassing.  I never really knew what it meant.

Okay, I knew what it meant, but I'd never really thought about what it entailed until this year's election.  I knew people did it, knocking on my door during my dinner-prep time just as the pasta was done or a baked good was finally to its golden-edged perfection and desperately needed to be removed from the oven.  So annoying.  This year, I am one of those annoyances.

This, I  hope, will be my last election-topic post.  I am frankly sick of the whole subject.  I can't wait for it all to be over, and I wish the vote had been last Tuesday.  I'm sick of writing about it- I'm sure you're sick of reading about it.  But, I thought election time would be incomplete without a little taste, for those of you readers who haven't taken the plunge, of how it feels to be a canvasser.  Canvasser?  Is that a word?  One who canvasses.

After showing up at HQ and attending a quick class which explained some of my thirty or so questions, I was assigned a canvassing buddy.  My term, not theirs.  Barry.  Barry the professional canvasser.  Chatty, friendly and super-quick on the issues.  Good ol' Barry.  

We were assigned a few neighborhoods in west St. Louis County; neighborhoods I knew would not be leaning, shall I say, the Obama way.  I've sold real estate there.  I know which way that wind is blowing, and it's not to the left.  

Barry, as I said, had done this before.  He knew the ropes, and zipped from house to house on the side of the street to which he was assigned.  I, on the other hand, could barely figure out the paperwork for the first half hour.  Once I did, I was cooking.  I bravely knocked at the doors (Barry did NOT) of even the houses with McCain/Palin signs out front.  At those houses, I explained that I had seen their campaign sign in the yard but was knocking anyway because of the large number of split voting homes we'd discovered in our canvassing efforts.  It was a line I'd stolen from the head of the canvassers back at HQ, and it was a good one.  It struck total panic in the eyes of those still willing to talk to me.  Yes, I knocked and I smiled, explaining that I was an Obama volunteer just trying to update our records: Is Mary at home?

This is the thing: at last Saturday's point in the campaign, the canvassing effort was trying to identify whether registered voters we had been unable to reach over the phone were leaning one way or another.  Eighty percent of the voters left on our lists, the ones they had been unable to reach, were between the ages of 18 and 26.  College-aged.  The kids who had just moved out on their own and hadn't yet changed their addresses.  The little bird flying from the nest and voting for just the first or second time in a Presidential election.  Still fresh birds!

I had a few doors slammed in my face.  I had a couple of shirtless male door answerers.  I  had a few who were downright rude, one birthday party (which they re-titled a "McCain Party" when I showed up), one twenty-something who said that voting wasn't really his "thing-" Barry and I were all over that one- and a few who actually wanted to talk about Obama's plans for the country.  The one I'll never forget, however, was a woman on King's Ridge.  Gorgeous house, well dressed, really didn't want to answer the door.  Looked seriously put out.  She made me wish I'd worn better than jeans and my grey hoodie.  She looked me up and down, I swear, and upon hearing I was a volunteer for Obama, closed the door halfway before even answering my question.  According to my clipboard, there were three kids at her address.  All college or young-adult aged.  

I asked politely before she could close the door all the way: "Are Mary, Amy or Bill at home?"  

"No."  

Okay, smile and go on.  "We're out today to gather information.  Would you have any idea if they are planning to support Barack Obama in the upcoming election?"

She sneered.  I haven't seen an actual sneer in a long time, probably because my daughter is off at college.  It's a very interested facial contortion- it looks as if it takes some effort, and it's not attractive.  It was strange to realize that, because of the name tag I was wearing, she REALLY DIDN'T LIKE ME.

"No," she said, sneer intact.  "We vote straight Republican."

In a flash, she'd made me realize: this lady didn't have a clue how her kids were going to vote. And she was SCARED. 

Her kids were off at college!  For all I knew, they could be off at Berkeley!  Brown!  Hotbeds of- horrors- Liberal Activism!  Kids have a way of deciding what they really are in college.  Isn't that one of the reasons we send them away, for better or for worse?  I was a registered Republican when I was eighteen, and look what happened to me- canvassing in a grey hoodie for a Democrat.  For all she knew, her kids could be out canvassing, too.  For Obama.  I have to admit, despite the sneer, I felt a little sorry for her.  

I smiled and marked "McCain" on my clipboard.  I thanked her, said goodbye and listened to the big thump of the door closing in my face.  Hey, at least she'd answered it, right?  

I can't help but think that it's the 18-26 year olds who own this election.  For one side or the other, we canvassers have talked to everyone else.  I have hope!  I think we can rock that vote, if we can just get them there!  If only 18-26 year olds took the time to read the blog of their middle-aged moms.    

So, I'm calling my daughter.  I'm telling her to vote, and to take her friends with her.  I'll tell her to do her part, to tell everyone she sees to vote, and she'll sigh heavily and think about the math test she has today or the mixer she has tonight.  She'll say "Okay, Mom," and she'll move on to another subject.  But, she will vote, and, come Wednesday morning, her world just might be more hopeful.

I'm sure the sneering lady is calling her kids, too.

I'm very nervous about election day.  And for some reason, I can't stop thinking about the mom on King's Ridge.  I wonder what she'll do if my candidate wins.  I'm sure her nervousness, despite appearances, at least matches mine.

I wonder how she'll feel on Wednesday morning?  



Thursday, October 30, 2008

Multi-tasking for the Multi-tasker



by Jenny Gardiner

Okay, class. Today’s lesson is on multi-tasking. For the uninitiated, multi-tasking is the process of doing as many things as humanly possible in the same space of time: fixing dinner, cleaning dishes, feeding the dogs, writing a book, scrubbing the floor, fighting for world peace. It’s one way to maximize the limited 24-hour day.

It is a skill that has been honed throughout millennia by women in particular. Often times they receive their inaugural multi-tasking trial by fire upon the birth of their first child, whence they are called upon to perform such challenges as soothing a screaming newborn over their shoulder while picking up the burp cloth that’s inconveniently fallen on the ground with their toes while simultaneously attempting to clean up the projectile vomit said screaming child has just emitted while letting the barking dog out because the barking dog is what caused the child to scream in the first place. Oh, and cook dinner, dust the bookshelves and make the bed. While carrying a basket of laundry up from the basement.

Of course, when the husband comes home at the end of the work day and finds the new mother looking as if she just gave birth (again) and asks, “What did you do all day, honey?” implying that it looks as if she’d parked her butt in front of Oprah and didn’t even get up to go to the bathroom, a woman has to learn to cast that sphinx-like smile and just glibly tell her man, “oh, a little of this, a little of that” (either that or club him). But we know better.

Women are excellent multi-taskers. I have female physician friends who I’m sure could readily perform a C-section, bake a pie and clean the dishes, if only the operating theater were within reach of the kitchen.

Another friend of mine wins the award for multi-tasking. I saw her one time, shortly after her baby was born, on a neighborhood stroll. The baby in a jog stroller, the dog on a leash, and a book in front of her face. If that’s not an ambitious undertaking, killing three birds with one stone, nothing is.

I have found over the years that I can multi-task with just about everything. I read while brushing my teeth. Sometimes I clean my sink while blow-drying my hair. Check my e-mails, talk on the phone, feed the dogs, and clear my desk. You get the drift. I like to think of it as hyper-efficiency. My husband calls it ADD.

But I’ve found there’s one task that absolutely thwarts a person’s ability to seriously multi-task, and that is driving. Now, to a certain extent, we all multi-task when we drive. It’s an inevitable side effect of the process: checking mirrors, scanning the horizon, glancing over your shoulder before going into the passing lane. Even to the point that you might be eating a burger, licking an ice cream cone, or drinking hot coffee with one hand while driving. Who hasn’t steered with their knees occasionally?

Of course the cell phone has enabled those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel to at least partially fulfill the need to multitask. As a mother of three, I've spent several hours a day over the past decade or so couriering my charges to their various and many activities. At least with a cell phone I can take care of returning phone calls that are only interruptive when conducted at home, or catching up with someone I’ve neglected to contact in ages.

But I yearn for the ability to do more behind the wheel and long for the day that technology will catch up with a mother’s need to achieve while driving: how about a plug-in blow dryer so I can dry and drive at once? Or a way to fix dinner while stuck in traffic at 6 p.m.? We’ve all see those ambitious ones who boldly do the idiotic while behind the wheel: applying make-up, curling eyelashes, shaving, for God’s sake. That’s about as crazy as trying to perform a pedicure while tooling along the road. Those undertakings are obviously foolish. But really, I think the blow-drying idea is imminently do-able, provided of course that styling brushes are not required.

Having now ushered two kids through driver’s ed, where they learn to drive the way we’re supposed to drive, however, I realize that my days of ambitious achievement above and beyond the task of getting to and fro have drawn to a close: I now have a driving-age backseat drivers who are ready and willing to correct every little transgression I might possibly make while in the course of my daily driving.

Because after all, while idly sitting at a traffic signal catching up on my reading is a useful way to spend the forty-five seconds during which I’m stuck at the light, it’s probably more incumbent upon me to pay attention to other drivers. That is, not looking at what they’re wearing or how funny they look belting out a song alone in the car, but rather whether there are last-minute light runners who might impede my forward momentum once the light does change to green. Alas, it looks as if my days of multi-tasking are now limited to off-road moments. And that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ghosts, Ghouls, and Goblins, OH MY!

by Judy Merrill Larsen

When I was a kid, I loved Halloween. What was not to love about it? I got to wear makeup and collect scads of candy. I got to try on other personas and then go home and crawl back into myself. My favorite get-up was a gypsy. I must have been this at least 3 or 4 times. My mom would paint up my face (eyeliner! rouge! a beauty mark crafted from the mascara wand!). I'd wear bangly bracelets and big earrings. I loved it.



Then, when my sons were little it was fun all over again. One year, they were pirates. Another year green and purple dinosaurs. Then there was the year my older one was a police officer and the younger one was a prisoner. They really were cute.

We carved pumpkins and decorated the front porch.



But now, I'm not the quite the really fun Halloween mom anymore.

For one thing, the boys are both grown up and out of the house. And while I'm quite charmed with the little ghosts and goblins who'll ring my doorbell Friday night and tell me a goofy Halloween joke (that's a St. Louis custom--kids have to have a joke to tell before they get their candy. I love the ones that make absolutely no sense except to the seven year-old who made it up.), I have no patience for the older kids who'll tromp up on my porch later in the evening. The teens who thrown on a mask, grab a hefty garbage bag and think just because they want free candy it's okay for them to trick or treat. It's not, grow up, and get outta my yard.

Carving pumpkins has also lost its charm. A few years ago, Target had these great fake pumpkins. They look carved (especially when they're on my upstairs porch railing) and they light up when I plug them in. Voila! Jack-o-lantern fun without all the sliminess.

And then, there's the candy. Why, oh why, does all candy taste better in October? I mean, I know NOT to buy mini-snickers and other candy that I like. Because whatever is left over I will snarf. So my plan this year was to buy the mega-sized bag from Target with candy I don't like. The thinking being that since I don't like it, I won't eat it. Yeah, well, I've suddenly taken to craving plain sweet tarts, chewy sweet tarts, and sweet tart smarties. Craving to the degree that I always have one of those damn mini-bags in my purse and another in my pocket and a few in my car.



I'm thinking this is how a meth addiction starts.

You never think you'll like the stuff until you find that you do.

That's scarier than any ghost or goblin or teenager dressed like a ghoul. So will stepping on the scale Nov. 1, I fear.

Monday, October 27, 2008

For the Birds

By Margy McCarthy

My parents were avid birdwatchers when I was growing up. They still are, but at forty-four I am no longer forced to be still and quiet in the back seat while they pull to the side of the road for fifteen minutes and pass their binoculars back and forth, all the while rifling through dog-eared copies of Roger Tory Peterson Field Guides. Yawn.

I hated birdwatching with the passionate boredom only a prepubescent girl can muster.

My son, on the other hand, outdoor boy that he is, loved birdwatching with Grandma and Grandpa. In his fifth grade year, while studying the states, the class was watching a film on the swamps of Florida and a classmate exclaimed, "Look! There's an alligator!" The class oohed and ahhed, and a few seconds later, Michael called out, "Look! A common moorhen!" Total silence. A few slack jaws.

On another occasion, several years earlier, he'd nearly swerved me into the ditch when a desperate scream of, "Stop the car, Mom! Pull over! There's a black-necked stilt!" erupted from the seat behind me. Once recovered, I had been the slack-jaw that time. A black-necked what? Who is this kid?

When I was in Flagstaff last summer, I did my writing outdoors. I prefer to write outside for several reasons; the main one being that if it's not brain-damage hot, there's nearly always something lovely to rest my eyes upon while thinking.

In Flagstaff it was birds. Eastern bluebirds, woodpeckers, nuthatches, orioles, robins, mountain jays, the noisiest hummingbirds I've ever heard, (bossy, territorial, and aggressive) and a tough-love mother crow and her three young. I wrote ten thousand words in that mountain aviary, proud that I could identify as many of my companions as I did, surprised to find myself proud of that, and pleased to have their company.

Upon my return to the desert I still found myself watching birds. On the mountain, it was hard to tell the mother crow from the babies. They were nearly as big as she. It wasn't until I'd observed them for several days that I saw her feeding them, and by the end of the week, she had stopped. They still perched next to her on the branch overhead- open-mouthed and begging. And she looked back at their pleading faces steadily, without a flinch. I could hear her crow-thoughts. "Find your own food now, baby. You have to learn to do this for yourself." And they did.

Here I have a mother ring-necked dove and her two babies. Their feathers are still fluffy but they can fly; this is their second day out of the nest, I think. They peck around a little, but mostly stare in a dazed way at the world. They don't seem very bright. She comes to feed them, and sit with them, and I think she's saying mommish things like, "There's a dish of cat food over by the house there, honeys, but the kibble is too big for your beaks. You'll have to wait until you're older for that." and "These dried out palm tree seeds are pretty good, but it takes a lot of them to fill you up."

Yesterday Lolita the cat spotted one of the little doves. I told her I would prefer not to see it murdered before my very eyes, but she ignored me. The little bird just sat there, all fluffy and googly-eyed and stupid as the cat inched closer. Just as I was ready to leap at her, in swooped the mother dove, landing awkwardly between the cat and her chick. She threw her wing out of joint and staggered across the yard. Lolita went after Mom, baby took off and perched safely on the back of a wrought-iron chair, Mom flew up, turned around, crash landed again, and drew the cat away.

I was duly impressed with her acting skills. That was an award-winning performance in my book. And I sat here shaking my head in wonder because we moms really are all the same.

"Find your own food now, baby. You have to learn to do this for yourself."

"You'll have to wait until you're older for that," and Over my dead body will you harm my child.


So now I'm wondering if she nearly flies into the ditch when they chirp, "Pull over, Mom! There's a human!"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thirteen Days and Counting

Thirteen Days Left.  Thirteen days until this whole fiasco is over, and we can stop wondering if our country has learned anything at all over the past eight years.  Thirteen days until, hopefully, we have a new President-Elect.  I say "hopefully" because of that little Florida incident.  You know, the weeks that made everyone named "Chad" want to change their names.  What are the chances there WON'T be any recounts in this one?  Say a little prayer, folks.

I spent the weekend, for the most part, in a political haze.  It started on Friday afternoon with a call from a friend who has friends in high political places.  Not the tippy-top, mind you, but high enough to get my family a meet-and-greet with Jill Biden on Friday night at tiny Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri.  We drove to the campus, not knowing what to expect, and were greeted by a crowd of about a hundred, lots of union signage, and one darn perky soon-to-be Second Lady.  Drizzly night, fun group, good speech, adorable speaker!  I knew I liked her when she greeted my fifteen-year-old son and his best friend with a, "What are you guys doing here on a Friday night?  Any plans for the weekend?"  They explained that they had an early cross country meet on Saturday morning and she then described the trail she'd run that morning.  So nice.  So normal.  So never-shot-a-mammal-from-a-helicopter.  So who you'd like to see in the White House.

My favorite sign at that event, by the way, was pinned to the back of a spectator's jean jacket. "Rednecks for Obama," it read.  "Working for the man who will do more for the working man."
Well, okay!

Saturday morning- up early to pack supplies for the long day ahead at the Obama rally under the Gateway Arch.  After several discussions about route and parking, my friend Cindy and I were surprised and happy to experience no huge traffic jams en route, and fairly easy access to the site all around... until we realized that we'd entered the Arch grounds on the wrong side, and the line to get through the gates, I swear, was over a mile long, at least four people wide. But did we give up?  No!  We had packed water bottles and bags of mixed nuts, for goodness' sake.  Like little Girl Scouts, we were prepared.  We walked and walked to find the end of the line, ending our hike with little hope of actually making it through the gates before Obama began to speak.  After nearly two hours in line, we found ourselves positioned directly under the arch with twenty minutes to spare.  The line, in fact, was one of the highlights of the day. What a jolly group!  It was electric; every age, every race, every background imaginable, with the same shared hope. Leadership.

My favorite moment of that day?  Looking out over the sea of 100,000 people (had I known how many people were there I might have gotten a little jittery) under the beautiful, shimmering arch and knowing we all had something in common.  So cool!

The weekend ended with a trip to my daughter's alma mater- Kirkwood High School.  It had been announced at the Obama rally that Bill Clinton would be speaking at the high school on Monday night.  Bill Clinton!  At our local high school!  We had to get in.  So, again we faced the line, this time snaking around a high school parking lot.  We knew we'd be in luck to get in at all; we'd taken our spots way late.  Again, Lady Luck stepped in; this time in the form of an old friend of my husband's with a VIP pass to get into the main venue, front row.  ONE pass.  So, although he didn't have the nerve to step to the very front, my son has now seen Bill Clinton speak in person.  Twenty feet back.  I, on the other hand, have now heard Bill Clinton speak while sitting on a wooden gym floor, next door to the building in which he spoke, along with a few hundred others.  It was still fun, still special, and still the best speech I've heard in a long time.  Then, to see the excitement on our son's face... what a night.  I have always been, and always will be, a Friend Of Bill.

Has it seemed easier this year to get involved?  It seems that way to me.  Maybe it's because I'm older, and it all makes more sense.  At any rate, there's still time to volunteer for your campaign.  My friend Bill asked me to ask all of you to make a commitment in these last weeks, or days, to help.  Get involved!  To talk to friends and make sure they vote, for which ever candidate they prefer.  Of course, I hope you'll support my candidate!  I'd be happy to discuss with any reader the reasons for my choices: feel free to comment, and I'll make sure I get back to you, but PLEASE, no matter what: VOTE.  

Hey, I just looked up and noticed that it's after midnight.

Twelve days and counting.  

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Straighten Up!

by Jenny Gardiner

I straighten my hair. Admittedly, that fact by itself is really quite unremarkable. After all, technology has gotten to the point that many, many women once cursed with unyielding kinks and obstinate tangles can now boast of that enviable straight hair usually featured on Pantene shampoo commercials.

No, what makes my admission somewhat bizarre is this: I already have straight hair. In fact, for the better part of my youth and well into my twenties, I went to great lengths to deny its natural state and instead curl the living daylights out of it.
Over those many years, I acquired an assortment of curling irons and brushes of varying curl-creating proportions; I even sported the occasional neck burns from dropping them on myself, and scalp-scalds from the steam function on the wand. My bathroom counters bore the telltale scorched plastic scars of a serial hair curler. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I even owned a purse-sized cordless curling implement, for those tricky occasions during which I couldn’t be caught dead with straight hair but had no access to electricity.

Along with my daily heat-induced hair fraying--more like frying--I periodically attempted to chemically induce a wave to my hair with one of those skunk-like permanents. Although in retrospect, I can’t recall when I’ve had more bad hair days than when my locks were under the influence of those pungent ammonia-laden toxins.

Despite my decades-long attempts to achieve that Andi MacDowell head of soft, cascading ringlets, I was never quite able to recreate the look, much to my chagrin.

It wasn’t until a rogue hairdresser decided to take flagrant liberties with my hair, creating what he dubbed the “firecracker” perm, that I decided I’d better accept my dreary straight hair as the lesser of two evils. The end result of that hairdo was more like a “safecracker” perm--as if my head had been locked in the safe when the explosives blew it open. Not a pretty sight.
So I settled for my more natural state. That same hair that a high school boyfriend once said reminded him of his pet Irish setter’s. Okay, so the fetching-a-stick-while-bounding-through-the-fields look is fine for a dog, but for me, not so much. But what could I do?

Not much, until one day not long ago, when my hairdresser--a veritable Rodin, with what he’s able to sculpt out of my mop of hair--started using a straightening iron on it. Now, for all I know, he was merely trying to fix a mistake he’d made when he dried it. I don’t know. But one thing is certain: my hair looked better after he’d used that thing on it.

And so I bought myself a straightening iron. Someone else at the salon urged me to try the straightening shampoo and condition, as well as some other product that renders my hair as Teflon smooth as a bobsled run. Gullible, bored, or desperate, I took her up on her suggestions.

So while for the past fifteen years, I have enjoyed a relatively maintenance-free, albeit boring, hair care regimen, I’m back to my old tricks. But this time, rather than trying to undo the plank-straight hair of my birthright, I’m spending far too much of my time, money and energy trying to merely improve upon it. Kind of straightening it better.

Now, you may think I’m crazy. And you might be right. And while this probably seems like a shining example of the emperor who has no clothing, I’ll persevere. Because I like to think I’m simply optimistic, and that eventually, I’ll get it right, and I’ll achieve the hair I’ve always wanted, whatever that may be.

So last week my older daughter--graced with gorgeous chestnut colored hair as long and straight as a stretch of Oklahoma highway--came home from the hairdresser with a strange request.

“Mom,” she said. “I really need you to get me a hair straightener…”

Now, this child has the sort of hair some women pay good money to replicate in hair salons. But I guess the grass is often greener--or straighter--on the other side of the fence.

I shrugged, opened the drawer and pulled out my own flat iron and handed it to her. If nothing else, it was good to know I’m not alone in my inane pursuit. Maybe I’m not so crazy after all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Swinging in the Heartland

by Judy Merrill Larsen

I've lived 35 of my 48 years (including the last 28) in the midwest--Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. Fly-over country to you on the coasts. The Heartland.

I love being a midwesterner . . . it's solid not flashy. Practical not trendy. (Although I do seem to remember that the Crocs craze started here. Sorta defines us, don't you think?).

By no one's definition would I be considered a swinger.

But, man, oh man, am I starting to understand all the excitement in being a swinger. And it's changed my life. My husband's, too. It's crazy. Hot. Exciting. Even, dare I say it, sexy.

For the first time ever I'm living in a swing state. Oh, yeah, baby. Missouri rocks!

For example, on Monday, John McCain, Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton were all within a stone's throw (or short drive) from my front yard. Hubba hubba.

This weekend, Obama drew 100,000 people to a rally in downtown St. Louis. That's 15 miles from my house. I mean, he was practically on my front porch. Plus, in the last week I received calls from Michelle Obama and a bunch of pollsters. After all these years of feeling like my vote didn't really matter and my opinions counted even less, everyone is vying for my vote and complete strangers want to know what I think. (Too bad my kids are less interested in my opinions.)

Seriously, it's pretty cool. Democracy in action. Neighbors--even ones with dueling yard signs--are out talking and walking and participating in this every four-year political experience. Never have I lived in a state getting this much interest during an election. Never has it mattered more.

And, oh baby, does it have me excited. Swing high, swing low, swing all over the place--Missouri is where it's at right now and I'm loving it.

(Also posted on my author blog.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Senior Day

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

Saturday was Senior Day during our high school football game (the last home game of the regular season)...all the seniors in football, cheerleading, dance squad and marching band were escorted by their parents out to the field before the game, one by one, and the moms were given carnations.

It was a very sweet ceremony, although of course Younger Son failed to tell us about it until the night before. (However, we were apparently much more informed than many fellow band parents; several mothers were there with wet hair, having been called while in the shower that morning by their forgetful children.)

Naturally, I got a lump in my throat as my husband and I escorted our youngest - so tall and slim in his snazzy band uniform - out on the football field. Taking our place in line, among parents and kids we've known the majority of my children's lives, I realized how much I'm going to miss all this.

Of course, when our oldest graduated and went to college, I understood immediately the loss of a major presence in the house. So I'm prepared for that - the empty room, one less plate at the dinner table, etc.

But with this one, the last one, there's something else I'm starting to realize we'll miss. He's been so active, so social in school and all the different activities, and our lives have been built around that. Not just the day-to-day scheduling (although that's major). But socially, too; our friends are mainly the parents of his friends, even if we primarily see each other at band activities and football games and homecoming dances. But still, that's a major part of our lives.

And next year, it'll be gone. So, possibly, will many of these parents. Because of course, even now we always end up talking about our kids, and the shared experiences we've all had with them. Without that, will we remain friends? I don't know. When will we even see them?

And the kids - those kids! I've known them since Kindergarten! My husband coached many of them in soccer, pre-Kindergarten right up to 8th grade. I bossed them around in Drama Club in grade school, chaperoned countless field trips, drove them to many early morning band practices. And of course, fed them. Snack after snack after snack after snack...

I'll miss them, too. Almost as much as my own son. My life will be much smaller without all of them - and my house will be much too big.

That's what I realized Saturday, for the first time. Between the football game at noon, and driving to the marching band contest at 7:30 PM, my husband and I had a quiet day. A very quiet day. Just the two of us. At home. Alone. What with the poignancy of Senior Day and all that it reminded me I'm going to miss, and then the eerie silence of two aimless adults puttering around the house - I truly understood how different our lives will be this time next year.

I'm prepared to miss my youngest. I'm not sure I'm prepared to miss all his friends and our friends, too. And what do two adults do with themselves on a crisp Saturday afternoon in the fall, without football games and marching band competitions to go to?

I guess I'll find out. My husband said it best (because he's a very sensitive man, and felt all the things I was feeling that day, too). He said that it's not only that our sons are embarking on a new, scary/exciting part of their lives, but we are, too. The difference is, of course - they want to. And we don't.

Kids. They change your lives in so many ways. Even - especially - when they leave.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Front-end Alignment 101

By Margy McCarthy

I snapped a damned underwire last week.

It hadn’t poked through to the point of stabbing me in the ribcage yet, but I was aware enough of it to have fleeting moments of paranoia regarding the symmetry of my boobs. One does not want to be distracted by fear of boobal asymmetry when one teaches eighth graders. Not even fleetingly.

This undergarment malfunction led me to examine the other contents of my lingerie drawer which- while not wire-snapped per se, were in equally dismal condition. It is fortunate indeed that I am a careful driver and not accident-prone. Any EMT’s called to my aid in the past few months would have gagged on the spot.

As my level of respect for those who risk their lives every day for their community is very high, I was naturally compelled to go out and do something about it.

I shopped.

And while I shopped, I became aware of certain incongruities.

Margy’s Laws of Foundation Garments:

LAW I: The variety of styles available and likelihood of sale prices are inversely proportionate to cup size. That is to say, if the bra itself is primarily for decorative purposes and a band-aid would suffice, there are abundant choices. Like this, for example:

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Or this:

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And, although I didn't see this particular model at Mervyn's today, fried egg girls can even get one of these:

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Never been a fried egg girl myself.

My size is always in the back of the rack, so as I dug into the darker recesses-- unable to see the actual bras, of course, groping blindly for size tags- I became more and more despondent. Real breasts seem to be no longer in fashion- but, oh! Wait! There's one! Pull it out and TA-DAH! Look what they have for me!

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Lovely.

Keep looking.

Which leads me to LAW II: The more particular the sizing of the garment = the more inconvenient the display = the messier the department.

Seriously. How many hangers can they squeeze onto one 12-inch steel hook? At roughly 1/4 inch each, that's potentially forty-eight bras per hook. They then pack those hooks together so as to render it impossible to reach between the rows to remove one from the back. No wonder the Flatsy-Patsies are all over the floor! (Maybe that's why they're always the ones on sale!)

LAW III: The necessity of hanging a piece of apparel in your closet is inversely proportionate to the odds of being sent home with a complimentary hanger.

AHEM-- DOES ANYBODY OUT THERE REALLY HANG UP THEIR UNDERWEAR?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sequins in Bulldog Purple

My daughter has a new sequined and organza ruffled purple dress.  I know it sounds garish, or Barney-ish, but it's not.  It's beautiful, and even prettier because she paid half.  She's planning to wear it to her first college formal, the first week in December, on the arm of her new college boyfriend. (Let's hope the boyfriend lasts as long as the dress.  We all know how that can go.) At Truman State University, purple is the color of their Bulldog mascot.  It's fitting, I think, that for her first college formal, she's wearing Bulldog purple sequins.

We got the dress today on an unexpected afternoon shopping trip.  She drove into town, with the boyfriend, to get her beloved retainer fitted.  She stepped on her retainer a few weeks ago and had a new one made; the fitting was the last step.  So, while she was in town and boyfriend was getting a haircut, we fit in some shopping time for a few "necessities."  Should sequins have been on that list?  I think not, but it was fun.  Better than fun.  It was wonderful.

I am getting used to the idea of my daughter being at college.  Truth be told, I have done pretty well with the whole transition, and you readers already know.  I'm getting to sleep before 2 am these nights, and I like it.  She's happy.  She's loving her life, and making plans.  I'm thrilled for her, and have had no problem filling the daily time that was taken up by child #1 with either child #2 or a host of other work or activity.  But, out of the many things I do miss about my daughter, there is one special activity that we shared, I realized this afternoon, that I have been longing to do with her.  No, it's not gardening, or arts and crafts, or volunteering, or exercising. I have to confess.  It's shopping. 

I want you to know, I'm not talking about over-the-top, eye-glazing spending frenzy.  I'm talking about Marshalls, and TJMaxx, and Target.  Okay, sometimes Express, because they have really good sales.  But the best shopping, by far, is the shopping for formals.  I love going shopping for dances, and I always have.  Maybe it's because some of my favorite memories of time spent with my mom were shopping trips for dances.  Maybe it's because there's such an air of possibility in these shopping trips; this could be the best dance ever.  The date could be perfect, the night could be perfect- the dress should be perfect, too.  Fit for a queen, or a princess at the very least.  There's a Cinderella quality to preparing for a formal, minus the singing birds and sewing chipmunks, that just can't be replicated when shopping for jeans and sweaters.  No, shopping for dances is my specialty; my area of expertise.  And, very often, the downfall of my checkbook.

We have a closet full of dresses.  We started our dress collection in seventh grade with Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, which were so much fun they made our United Methodist daughter want to convert, and we haven't stopped since.  Six years later, of course, those dresses are long gone.  They have been replaced.  We McKones may not live in the lap of luxury, but by God, we've got a lending library of dresses. Formal, semi-formal, sequined or just sleek, long, short, we've got 'em all. Not super-expensive, but super-fun and always available.  It is my goal that every dress be worn at least twice.  Four or five times- I'm a happy camper.  Let's use them up, ladies, that's what they're here for.  And when we're done with them, if they haven't been lost into someone else's closet, it's on to charity.  Plenty of use left! During Prom and Homecoming seasons during high school we often had sessions in which my daughter's friends would come and try on the dresses they'd most like to borrow- first come, first served.  It's a good idea, and my daughter has borrowed quite a few (thank God) through the years, too.  

I wondered what would happen when my daughter left for college.  I hoped she'd have formals to attend; she does.  I'd hoped she and her friends would trade and share dresses; they will. But, they have to have a few starter dresses, don't they?  Seeds for the formal garden, so to speak? We had a lovely afternoon of getting the necessities: sorority required black skirt, new cardigan, shampoo.  But, we also merged into the world of college dances with a sparkly, swingy Bulldog purple dress that I'm quite sure will make an appearance at every dance Truman State holds this year on one girl or another.  Like sands through the hour glass, so the tradition continues. 

We are doing are part to keep the economy strong, one sequin at a time.

Go Bulldogs!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Am Not A Gardener


by Jenny Gardiner

Contrary to my surname, I am not a gardener. I kill everything I try to grow; thank goodness that hasn't applied to my children or pets.

So perhaps because of that shortcoming, I have the utmost respect for those with a gift for cultivating the soil and reaping a bounty of fantastical fruits and vegetables from a pile of compost and soil. Particularly because the only manure I am good at cultivating is the verbal kind.

I guess this is why I so look forward to my weekly visits to the farmer's market, that Saturday morning Mecca for devotees of all things farm fresh. And why I am sad that this weekend marks the end of the season. Because it is there that one can revel in the finest and freshest of what nature has to offer each summer, without sullying a fingernail, wrenching a back, or being maimed by an onslaught of mosquitoes and other predatory insects, all of which prevent me from favoring gardening as a pastime.

For years it was a tradition for my son and me to rise before dawn to arrive at the farmer’s market for first pick of what’s available. Now that he’s in college, he's rarely home to join me, and so instead I go as his emissary. And without his voice of reason, I am doomed to fall prey to my produce-shopping downfall: excessive culinary ambition.

You see, something about the farmer’s market elicits overly grandiose plans in me. I don’t exactly intend to shop to excess. But overbuy is exactly what I do. Like a man who, in the heat of passion, prematurely blurts out false declarations of love, I, in my farmer’s market fervor, end up scooping up far more than any reasonable person could actually use before it goes bad. And like said man, I am sheepishly left to compensate for my foolish impulsivity.

By the time I leave the place each Saturday morning, I have flats of berries (after all, I can freeze them for future use!), sacks full of tomatoes (can you think of anything better than fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes on a hot summer’s day?), a dozen plus ears of corn (you never know what last-minute entertaining demands will arise), and lettuce for the masses.

I know that this binge-mentality is downright insane. All I need to do is return home after my shopping venture to realize that I have a crisper drawer full of the previous week’s spoils, spoiling. So before I can even put away what I’ve bought, I must weed through the detritus of my previous farmer’s market extravaganza, shifting and cramming to make room for what’s newer, better, of the moment.

There is that moment of relish that justifies it all, when I bite into a strawberry whose flood of sweet juices reminds me of why I go so overboard. Or with that first intoxicating morsel of local corn, so fresh the kernels are as tender as a baby’s skin. Or when I realize that my kids will eat vegetables, as long as they taste not chalky or overly processed, but as nature intended then to taste--with a hint of sweet and a burst of flavor, thus planting a seed of memory that will at some point leave them wanting more.

Sure, there are the many downsides to my excessive farmer’s market indulging--the swarm of fruit flies that invariably settle into that bowl of ripe peaches on the counter; the inevitable cucumber I find lost at the bottom of the vegetable bin, long past it’s days of use and rendered a puddle of its former self. And when I return home from my my market foray, my husband gets a little stressed out.

“We'll never be able to use all this!" He laments, wringing his hands in despair at my inability to choose more pragmatically.

And I know he’s right. I’m the first one to admit that my culinary ambition far exceeds my allotment of free time in which I can devote myself to cooking. And so, week in and week out, I over-shop and watch things rot, while I open my refrigerator door and think, “Damn, I really should do something with those fava beans before they turn black in there!”

But on those occasions in which I find my time and interest intersecting at just the right moment, and I do get around to peeling and quartering the thirty peaches for fresh summertime pie, I know, for a brief moment, the effort and expenditure has been worth it.

And if nothing else, at least my money is helping to support that dying breed of artisans, the hard-working local farmers who toil in their fields despite the heat, the rain, the bugs and the backache, to provide us with the finest local foods available.
And as long as they keep up their end of the bargain, which keeps me out of the garden, I’ll continue to support their efforts by successfully depleting their stocks, well into the autumn.

And when I pull out a my bag of frozen blueberries in January to bake a pie, the smell and taste evoking memories of summers past indulging in a succulent slice of pie on my grandmother’s back porch, I know my excesses were worth it, if only for a fleeting moment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Turn, turn, turn

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Sitting here on my sofa, looking out the windows into my backyard, the leaves that just a week ago were still the deep green of late summer are now shades of gold and orange with hints of the vibrant red that will come in another week or two.

When I went out to get the paper this morning, there was a definite chill in the air and fallen leaves fluttered at my feet.

Time is passing and while it's usually not this noticeable, the signs are everywhere right now.

My younger son will be home for a few days--and I'll make apple pie and chili and banana bread, all favorites of his. I'll also wrap a big box for his birthday. He'll be 21. I can't quite get my brain around that. Not only am I no longer the mother of toddlers; I'm not even the mom of teenagers. That can mean only one thing: Damn, I'm old.

Are you like me . . . no longer a reliable judge of people's ages? I still sorta think of myself as younger. Or at least as not as being seen as middle-aged. This summer my husband and I took a younger couple from work to a baseball game with us. The wife was pregnant with their first baby. She and I chatted about diapers and childcare. It wasn't until we were driving home that it occurred to me that they probably didn't see us as contemporaries but as their folks. Eek. At least I didn't mention my hot flashes to her.

I still think I'm fun. Hip in a midwestern kind of way. I work out. I haven't yet turned into that weird old woman on the corner who hoards cats and swills metamucil. But, I'm closer to her in years than I want to be.

I've always claimed that since my grandmother lived to be 103, I won't be middle-aged until I'm 51 1/2. That gives me 3 more years. But unless I start handing cards out to people I meet, they're not going to get that news flash. And the stiffness in my feet when I get up in the morning (what the heck is up with that?) is also a not-so-gentle reminder that these bones have been serving me well for nearly a half-century and they might be a little tired.

The seasons and years swim by and so much of the time I'm in too much of a hurry to stop and savor them. Here's my declaration: that rushing stops now. The leaves are gorgeous. There are apples to pick and birthdays to celebrate and even sore bones to attend to. My son will be home. And he still laughs at my jokes. We can sit out on the porch and have a beer and talk. And, because of the hot flashes, I might not even need a sweater.

Monday, October 13, 2008

CRS and Caprese Salad

By Margy McCarthy

There were a number of times in the last week when I remembered I needed to post today.

One might think that because I am on vacation for two weeks, there would be time aplenty to rein in a page and a half of concrete thought. If I were relaxing on a beach somewhere with a trashy novel and the surf lapping at my toes, or sitting on the deck of a mountain lodge snuggled in a soft sweater against the cool fall breeze with a glass of pinot noir in my hand as I watched a red-tailed hawk circle on an updraft- I would be filled with writerly inspiration. In either of these scenarios, (or for that matter, any number of others) my mind would be strong, focused, and calm.

That, unfortunately, is not my reality. But perhaps my reality is more Erma-like anyway.

In addition to bouts of “desert spring cleaning,” getting the plants ready for my winter garden, volunteering to make political phone calls, and scrubbing toilets, it appears that I also have CRS. Here it is, Monday morning, and I was innocently sitting with my coffee and flipping through a magazine on the patio when Ohmygosh, it’s Monday morning and nobody posted on Erma! flashed through my brain.

Trust the caffeine to break through that CRS haze that way- I do have infrequent moments of clarity. Sadly, they only occur when I am sipping coffee and flipping through magazines.

So. Here I am.

Snooze will be descending from the mountain this weekend for his first visit home since the big move. We visited him there a few weeks ago for a two-day respite from the searing heat of the desert, and were given a tour of his apartment which was nicely furnished with his bed from home, a TV, and the Everest of laundry piles. We spent part of our time that weekend combing the Flagstaff Goodwill for dishes and cookware, and part buying groceries so he can eat at home more often. There really was no point in buying a hamper.

But this will be the first time he’s been back in my kitchen. I have been instructed that he will be in dire need of lemon chicken with capers and rotini with pesto, along with a big bowl of Caprese salad the minute his feet hit our property. I’ve already purchased the fresh mozzarella.

It’s nice to know that I’ve been missed.

Too bad he no longer has a bed here.

Too bad he doesn’t own a suitcase large enough to contain his entire wrinkled wardrobe. (heh)

But he will bring his appetite. And I have missed watching him eat.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My New News by Barb McKone

I don't want to talk about the economic crisis, I really don't.  I don't want to talk about the real estate crisis, or the election- packed to the gills with stupid politicians and slurring comments about candidates hanging out with terrorists- or how the whole mess has somehow affected whether or not I can afford to get my hardwood floors refinished next week.  I don't want to be negative, or whiny. So, I will instead tell you how the past few months have affected my life, every single night at six and ten.

I can no longer watch the news.  It's been so long since I've viewed the network news, I couldn't even tell you how Katie Couric is doing these days.  And now that I think about it, I can't tell you who the other anchors are.  I'm pretty sure one of them is that cute Brian Williams, but I'm not sure. 

I have to turn over the paper when it is delivered every morning, after my husband roots around for the sports section and tosses the rest of it on the table.  It's so damned depressing, I just can't stand to see it.  But, I feel a true need to be informed.  So, I've changed my viewing habits.

My new anchors, my only anchors, are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

I've been watching them for years.  When Colbert left Stewart's show I was disappointed- I'd always loved their chemistry.  Now that I'm used to the new format, I've fully signed on.   

I know I shouldn't admit it!  But the news these days is so very bad; I need a news show that makes me feel GOOD.   I need an anchor with sarcasm so thick it's hard to see the doom within. Jon and Stephen are my men.  I still get the news!  It amazes me to find that I'm still fairly well informed, even though my news of choice is considered comedy.  I want to learn about the economic crisis through the eyes of Jon Stewart, who always nudges me into remembering  that I'm not the only one who is suffering.  I want to get the latest on the election from Stephen Colbert, who just suggested that George Bush seemed to be hitting his stride, and that "maybe we should just suspend the election."  Isn't his standard of "truthiness" exactly what the current administration has been using as their standard for for two terms now? 

So, when the rest of the world is getting depressed while making supper, I will continue to blithely either watch "Wheel of Fortune" (yes, it's still on) or turn off the TV.  I will wait until bedtime to get my news, then go to sleep with a smile on my face after watching some poor schlump who has agreed to be interviewed about his part in some crisis or another.   Where do they get these people?  Don't they know what they're in for?  As I watch them squirm, I assure myself that no matter how bad they look now, their kids will at least have a cool story to tell at high school.  "Did you see my dad get drilled by Samantha Bee last night on the Daily Show?  It was HARSH."  

With my guys, even though we might be going down, we're going down laughing.  









Thursday, October 9, 2008

Three Dog Night

By Jenny Gardiner

Every night, just before the stroke of midnight, I hear what sounds like a dog being brutally murdered just beyond the confines of my bedroom window. The first time I heard the noise, I bolted from my slumber, peered outside into the charcoal-darkness, only to see nothing. The sound appeared to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. I was afraid to go outdoors on my own to investigate. I have a vivid imagination by day, a macabre one by night. Could these noises have been perpetrated as a decoy of sorts by a murderer, intent on breaking into my house and bludgeoning my family to death?

The sound--a howling, yelping, please-don’t-beat-me pack-animal kind of sound reserved for great distress--persisted for about ten minutes. On that first night, even my own dogs awoke, howling relentlessly, joining a chorus of other dogs in the nocturnal bark that had ensued throughout my neighborhood. When the clamor finally subsided, I retreated to sleep, taking comfort that my own watchful canines were guarding us from intruders.

Since that night, I have grown to expect to be aroused from my comfortable sleep by the beaten-dog sound, and every night, without fail, I hear it. While it is a sound of pain, I now recognize it as simply the very vocal wail of a hound, left outside by his owners, either oblivious or unconcerned about their pet’s disturbing nightly cacophony.

I’ve thought about getting in the car and driving around to follow the noise until I can find the offender, except it’s impossible in the vast night air to determine from which direction the sound is issuing. Plus, it’s warm and cozy in my bed, despite the rude awakening. Why add a brusque slap of cold air to my already adrenaline-charged body.

Fact is, barking dogs can be a problem. I know: I own such an offender. We call her the bark-a-holic. And because of her, I’ve got a little more tolerance for such offenders.

Bridget, an Australian cattle dog/Alaskan Husky mix, was an impulse buy. She charmed her way into our lives a few months after the death of our 10-year old Labrador, whose allergy-addled body had cost us a fortune in veterinary bills. We had vowed a lengthy period of dog abstinence, both to recover finances and to heal the heavy hearts of our children who had been gravely saddened by her death. We weren’t ready for another dog when we encountered a rescue league volunteer showing off an adorable puppy from an abandoned litter. With sapphire eyes that sparkled and pigtail ears with which my kids became instantly enamored, the dog plied her charms. How could we have done anything other than impulsively bring home the docile pooch? Plus, we were saving her from dog pound death, we were certain.

A trip to the vet, a diagnosis of parasites and a treatment of medicine, and our passive pup became a dominant tyrant, intent on ruling our roost, listening to nothing but the voices in her head and the call of the wild, something with which she’d clearly become accustomed after wandering alone along the back country roads for however long she did on her own.

No amount of dog training would undo what nature had already established within her, much to our dismay. Thus we had to learn how to outwit the dog. Bridget loves the night air. I suspect in a past life she was a vampire or something, because she prefers nothing better than to prowl in the dark, and to warn off any invaders from her terrain with her lusty bark. I have a feeling sinking her teeth into something might provide a good deal of satisfaction to top off her evening foray.

At first, we’d let Bridget go outside in the evening. We learned soon enough that as easy as it was to let the dog out, it was equally impossible to lure her back in. No amount of kindness, reprimands, or Scooby Snacks would induce her to come inside. Instead, she remained on the periphery of our yard, barking with unyielding fury at the unseen deer, foxes, maybe even coyotes in the woods behind our house. We therefore learned after a few nights of such futile attempts simply not to let her out after dusk. But she was wise to our ways. Soon we realized that we couldn’t let her go outside within a couple hours of dusk, like some werewolf that became dangerous upon sunset. Our contented afternoon dog would realize as the sun was descending that she’d better make herself scarce or she’d be trapped indoors all night.

In the meantime, we had an out of control dog that barked. And barked and barked and barked. We live in the country. Well, sort of. In a neighborhood, but in the country. Close enough to engender the ire of neighbors if your dog keeps them awake at night. And so it was that our neighbors began to loathe us.

“And bark and bark and bark--” I overheard my neighbor relaying to another neighbor at a Christmas party that first year.
I looked over at her. “You’re talking about Bridget?” I asked, half hoping that by putting that possibility out there, it would not be the case.

“In fact, I am,” she said. I didn’t sense much warmth in the answer. Exasperation? Perhaps. Who could blame her?

Oh, God, I needed to do something. We were new in town. The last thing we could afford to do was tick off the neighbors because of a nuisance pet.

Each time we devised a plan to keep Bridget housebound, Bridget would devise a plan to the contrary. In fact, she grew bolder and began breeching the electric fence. So well before the sun went down, she’s steel herself up, get a running start, and yelp her way through the power zap (we’d already resorted to the “stubborn dog collar” to preclude such episodes, but no such luck). By now, Bridget had an interesting yet imposing look about her. Gone were the frisky puppy pigtail ears, and in their stead, tall, pointing, imposing dog ears. And rather than the sparkly ocean-deep blue eyes, they’d morphed into pie-eyes: a cold hit-man shade of ice-blue in one, and part ice-blue, part brown in the other. Her tail curled up in a statement of power, and overall her appearance was one of “I can kick your butt so get outta my way.”

Needless to say, the neighbors were unimpressed, yet duly intimidated. Bridget had gotten her way. The first time we’d attached the stubborn dog collar on Bridget’s neck, we felt terrible. To powerfully zap the dog seemed downright cruel. And when she broke through the perimeter and got zapped, emitting an ear-piercing shrill that was immediately replicated by our talking parrot, it seemed all the crueler.

But soon enough, I was called upon to do greater battle than just the nine-volt neck zapper. On a cold February night, I hosted a party. My husband was out of town. I had the kids upstairs with a babysitter, and had a hundred plus women for a ladies’ night out bash that went off seamlessly, but for the incessant barking of Bridget in the mudroom. Frustrated by her intrusive behavior, I closed her into the dog crate for the duration of the evening, covering it with a sheet to seal her fate that night.

When the party had ended, I guiltily freed Bridget from jail. She was happy to see me, glad for the attention, and boy, she must have had to pee. I had a lot of clean up to do, and as I was carrying a bag of trash outside, Bridget dashed out the back door.

Now, earlier that day, my next-door neighbor had mentioned she couldn’t come to the party because she had to get up at four in the morning to catch a flight out of Dulles. So the fact that my dog decided to start barking at invisible boogeymen in my back yard at 1:30 a.m. would not hold me in good stead with my sleep-deprived neighbor.

I begged, cajoled then cried for the dog to come in. I ran down our expansive and steep backyard hill to try to catch her, but she has the speed and gait of a cheetah, and I that of a lumbering elephant, especially half asleep and after a couple of glasses of wine. I was gasping and wheezing as I chased the dog up and down the hill, her always ten strides ahead of me.

My first brilliant idea came straight from the cartoons of my youth: to lure the dog with the cat. I found one of our cats asleep on the sofa and took her outside, dangling her in front of Bridget’s line of vision. Normally, the dog--who herself is designed like a cat poised to spring into action--would take the bait. But she was making me suffer retribution for having missed out on the party fun, and wouldn’t budgee.

My next idea wasn’t very effective either. Desperate for something that could be launched at her to stop her in her tracks, I called the all-night emergency vet.

“I was wondering, if I spray that high-powered wasp spray at a dog’s eyes just to temporarily stop her, could I do permanent damage?” I foolishly asked.

“Uh, ma’am,” said the suspicious voice on the other end. “Can I please have your name and address?”

Not wanting animal welfare services to come after me, I hung up and put on my thinking cap. Surely I could outwit a dog!

With tears of frustration and exhaustion streaming down my cheeks, I sat on my deck, overlooking my dauntingly steep and wide backyard, desperate to catch that beast but--without a lasso and several years worth of rope training--unable to do so. And then it dawned on me as I stared blankly at my gas grill…

I quickly turned on the grill to warm it up (though warming it up was irrelevant, really). I went to the freezer and pulled out a package of Nathan’s famous all-beef wieners. And I slapped one on the grill. At two in the morning, there I stood atop the deck, my gas grill emitting the tempting aroma of a summer barbeque in the dead of winter, me hoping desperately that my obstinate barking dog would be lured by the aroma. Wise and mistrusting, Bridget reluctantly approached the grill, but never close enough for me to latch onto her collar. She wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Each time I approached her, she backed off.

Finally, she bolted back down the hill. But I wasn’t done. I grabbed the hot dog from the grill, and slowly meandered down the pathway, approaching the dog. “Here Bridgey-widgey,” I cooed, really wanting to say, “Come here you wretched spawn of Satan.”

I waggled the hot dog in front of her, and finally she made the false move. I snatched her collar, tossed the hot dog into the woods (I was damned if I was going to reward her hour-long display of bad dogsmanship!) and marched her sorry butt back up the long hill and into the house. I’m pretty sure the victorious refrain from Peter and the Wolf was playing in my head.

The other day one of my neighbors asked if I’d heard the mournful wail of the midnight hound.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve learned to deal with it, though.”

After having experienced my own cold night with a hot dog or two, a little hound dog wasn’t going to stir me from my warm winter slumber.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Smack in the Middle

by Judy Merrill Larsen

My parents are arriving for a visit today. I'm really looking forward to having them here. I like them. They're fun and smart and easy to have around. (Well, as long as we don't try to discuss the upcoming election . . . .)

But, as I've been getting ready for their visit, I've realized how the tables are turning. And it all feels a little bittersweet.

My parents are still in excellent health (that sound you hear is me knocking on wood), but they're also getting older. We celebrated my dad's 80th birthday this past spring. My mom turned 78 in July. I know I'm lucky that they are still so mobile. I mean, heck, they're driving all the way to Missouri from California.

And there's the rub. When I was getting the guest room ready for them, I was careful to make sure there weren't things they could trip over. I worried that we don't have grab bars in the shower. I hope the stairs won't give them trouble. I bought new pillows and a comforter for the bed. Plus new reading lamps.

Years ago, my mom would come to help me out with my babies. Then, when the boys' school calendar was different than mine, she'd come to babysit them for their spring break (because I would still be teaching). I'd get home and all the laundry would be done and dinner would be cooking. Ironing that had piled up since her last visit would be hanging in my closet. She'd always slip me a crisp twenty dollar bill (or three) as she left.

A year ago, I went out to help them when my dad had to have surgery. And I cooked for them. And ran to the grocery store. Bought books I thought my dad would enjoy during his recovery.

I learned how to take care of them from them.

Just yesterday morning, when they called me from my uncle's, to firm up when they'd be arriving this afternoon, I told them to drive carefully. Gave them a few tips about the route they'd be taking.

And all day today, until they pull into my driveway, I'll be whispering little prayers and keeping my eye on the weather, just as they must have done more times than I can imagine when I was driving. And as I still do when my kids are behind the wheel, as I'll be doing (again) later this week, when my son will be driving 200 miles to come home from college to see his grandparents.

And I wonder, how did it all happen so fast? Where did the years go? When did I become the one worrying? The one looking out for and protecting?

I'm not quite ready, but I have to be.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Fun Mobile

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

My car is no longer my own. Any parent of driving-age kids knows this. Your radio stations are mysteriously re-set to music that makes your ears bleed. The driver's seat is always pushed so far back, you need stilts to reach the gas pedals.

I've been through all this before, with my older son.

But my younger son - ah. He's a different animal entirely.

The older one was neat and quiet. He drove the car - but that's all it was for him. A means of transportation from point A to point B.

But younger son is a riot. And my car is no longer just a vehicle. No, it has become the FUN MOBILE!! A party on wheels!!

I get in it, and I honestly have no idea what I'm going to find there - I'm ready for anything, really. I wouldn't be surprised if one day I opened the door and a wild goat greeted me. For in the last few weeks, here is but a small sampling of the items I have found inside my formerly staid middle-class vehicle:

A fake mustache, glued to the middle of my steering wheel.

A dirty Razor scooter (found abandoned at a local park); it was too good a find to pass up, even though it's far too small for a 17-year-old. But who knows what good use those wacky teens can put it to?

A stack of 2009 calendars featuring cute kittens and sad-eyed puppies (there was a special at the nearby Dollar store, and apparently, hopped up on Vitamin Water and Kit-Kat Bars, my son and his friends found them hi-lar-ious as potential gag gifts).

An empty roll of Saran Wrap. (At first, I wondered if some of the kids were practicing really, REALLY safe sex - but then I realized it was for wrapping up each other's cars, after I went out one morning and couldn't open my door because it was - Saran Wrapped.)

Various items of clothing. But fortunately, items of outer-layer clothing (like sweatshirts and jackets). Because if I ever find any inner-layers of clothing (like underwear), I will FREAK out.

One morning I noticed they had duct-taped over the H-O-N on the spare tire that hangs on the rear of my car, leaving only the DA. Which, apparently to a bunch of 17-year-olds, again - hi-lar-ious. But then I pointed out that if they'd taped over the N-D-A, they would have left the HO. Now they think I'm an evil genius.

An ancient (as in - the boys played with it when they were toddlers) sock puppet of a dog, one ear now gone. Apparently, driving around with this sock puppet hanging out of the window, barking at unsuspecting strangers while hip hop music blasts from the stereo, again - hi-lar-ious.

The usual empty bags from fast food places. Although, for a bunch of AP class-taking seniors, they have proven themselves to be pretty ignorant about the length of time a soft drink can remain in a wax paper cup before it completely soaks through and leaves a small orange-flavored flood in your cup holder.

The glove compartment, surprisingly enough, has remained unsullied. Again - for a bunch of AP class-taking seniors, they're not the sharpest tools in the shed.

Now, there are no dents or scratches. Or drugs. Or used condoms. So all in all, I know I can consider myself pretty lucky.

But I can't help but wonder -

When do I get my own version of a FUN MOBILE??

Monday, October 6, 2008

Facing My Ballot

By Margy McCarthy

Voting is meant to be a private matter. But as I face my ballot on November 4th, I suspect it will feel a little crowded in my booth.

To anyone else at city hall, I appear to be alone as I walk through the door, alone as I take my ballot in my hand, alone as I turn my back on the room and have my constitutional say.

But they are mistaken. I am not alone.

As I face my ballot on November 4th, I face it as a mother. Although I am not in their physical presence, my children accompany me to the booth. They stand beside me and I am overwhelmed with the necessity of doing what is right by them. I must bequeath them a planet that is healthy and clean. I must provide them with the educational and economic tools to face their futures. I must promise them the experience of living in a nation that is respected and looked up to by the world- a nation that leads through vision, peace, and integrity, rather than vengeance, fear, and greed. I must give my children a country they can look to as example of how they should live their lives.

As I face my ballot on November 4th, I face it as a wife. My husband of twenty-five years steps into the booth with us, crowding me and the kids. A former United States Marine, who then spent another decade and a half working for a military contract, he looks over my shoulder as I face my ballot, and I face it as the wife of a man who served his country with honor up to and including the day he knew he could no longer be in any way responsible for what was happening in the name of that nation. I face it as the wife of the that man whose conscience required him to accept a smaller paycheck so he could sleep at night.

As I face my ballot on November 4th, I face it as a daughter. My parents enter the booth, and we all squeeze closer in the already-crowded stall. Married for fifty years, these two people set a standard I still struggle to attain. They were people with a vision, they saw the broader picture; they planned ahead, both for themselves and for the world they called home. They recycled before recycling was cool. They gave of themselves at every turn when they were needed, and believe me, they were needed everywhere they turned. They lived their lives morally, prudently, and thriftily, and now when they should be reaping the rewards of a lifetime’s hard work- a mismanaged national economy teeters on the brink of collapse.

As I face my ballot on November 4th, I face it as a teacher. Dozens of my colleagues join me and my family in the booth. Together we examine the ballot for reform to NCLB; for the crucial funding that will allow the law to work. We look for the policies that recognize and reward us for the thankless work we do every day and that support schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.
It’s ridiculously crowded now, yet I sense that still others have joined me. Glancing over my shoulder, I see that my students are squeezing into the poll- all 2000+ I have already taught, and the thousands yet to come. They look at me expectantly, and I can read the question in their eyes: Isn’t there more to an education than knowing which bubbles to fill on a standardized test?

As I face my ballot on November 4th, I face it as a friend, as a sister, as an aunt, a writer, a cousin, a daughter-in-law, and a niece. I face my ballot as the granddaughter of Ellis Island immigrants who came to this country with their hearts full of hope for the future. Full of hope for me.

And I face my ballot as a woman.


I am far from alone as I face my ballot. I look around and see the smiles of so many people whose booths I will also crowd; people I love and who love me. Looking further, I see faces of people I’ve never met with whom I share a common purpose. We’re all in this together, they whisper. I wrap my arms around every one of them, and together we reach for the pen.

And as carefully as if this were the biggest standardized test of them all, we ink in the oval next to Barack Obama’s name.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Polident vs. Pollyanna... Thoughts on the Vice Presidential Debate by Barb McKone

Well, there's one thing I can say without question regarding both Vice Presidential candidates, post-debate. They sure can smile.  Blinding, beautiful smiles that span the generation, or two, between them.  Biden is the handsome, white-toothed Senior Smile that lights up an auditorium.  Palin is the sassy, sexy Supportive Mom Smile that lights up a sports complex.  Oh yes, there, folks.  It's Polident versus Pollyanna.

Okay, she's not really a Pollyanna.  I just liked the way it sounded.  No, I'm pretty sure she's genuinely concerned about the free-falling economy.  I don't know.  She didn't answer the question.

I'm pretty sure she's got great ideas for saving us from the sub-prime mortgage debacle.  I don't know.  She was too busy "you betcha"-ing to answer the question.

I'm pretty sure where she stands on benefits for gay and lesbian partnerships.  I don't know. She only kind of, sort of answered the question.   

I'm pretty sure she... well, you get the picture.   And when my new hero Joe Biden dared to broach the "Bush" subject, he was accused of living in the past.  Hey, Sarah- it's not considered "the past" if we're still living in it.  As Biden so beautifully put it, the past is but a prologue.  The scary thing is, he's absolutely right.  

I actually thought Ms. Palin did pretty well- much better than I expected.  I'm glad.  She seems like a nice person, despite that horrible killing-the-wolves commercial, which, in my opinion, is too violent for prime time and should not be on the air.  Y'know, she's Josie Six-Pack.  Fun at a football game tailgate, if you just stay away from talking politics.  Nice as she seems, I can't get over my frustrations about the questions not answered with anything more than a wink and a smile, a snappy comeback or a cheerleader's "yea America" one-or-two-liner.  I'm a cheerleader type.  I understand the mind-set.  If you've got that in you, you just can't help yourself.  But, see, I'm not running for office.  If I were, I'd answer the questions before leaning toward leading the crowd in the "U.S.A." chant.  Who knows?  Maybe that's what they want.  

I couldn't help standing and cheering when Biden finally silenced all that "maverick" talk by explaining why John McCain wasn't one.  And God help the poor person sitting next to me on the couch if I ever, ever hear the word "maverick" again. 

But for me, tonight's debate came down to one word.  Nuclear.  Not nucular, NUCLEAR.  I know it may sound trivial, but, it's just not.  Not anymore.  I don't consider myself to be a language snob at all; I make as many mistakes as the next person.  But, I'm not the President of the United States.  Or the Vice President.

I cannot be expected to sit idly by and listen to another administration mispronounce such an important word.  It's a big word.  A scary word.  A word that should be handled, and pronounced, with care.  I agree with my friend Judy.  I want my President to be smarter than me.  I want to see the photo of the White House and know that a very smart person is sitting at the big desk.  It's just reading.  Sound it out.  NU-Q-LAR?  No.  NU-CLEE-AR.  I believe that Sarah Palin is smart. Very smart.  Do you think she pronounced it that way because she doesn't want to embarrass George W., or because of the 8-year lapse in correct pronunciation is it now considered acceptable?  Seriously, I'm wondering.  Thanks, George.  Another little gift you've left us.

As an American, I've never been scared for my safety a single day of my life.  I take for granted being free.  I've rarely felt insecure about my country's decisions.  (Except for an eight year period in my twenties that shall remain nameless)  I've always been proud to be an American, shmaltzy song or not.  This has been a bad year for those feelings of pride; they're harder and harder to find.  I was proud of Joe Biden tonight.  Really proud, and it felt great.

So smile that big Polident smile, Joe, (Is it okay if I call you Joe?) and win one for those of us who need someone who answers the questions.  And correctly pronounces all of the words.