Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Busybody Biker Bobsies

This weekend I took my dog Daisy hiking at a local state park. It was one hot mofo out, but since she loves going for long walks almost as much as she loves eating cookies and poop, I couldn’t leave her home. I brought plenty of water and we took umpteen breaks en route. We didn’t run into another soul on the trails … it was bliss. Until we finished our walk, just ten feet from the parking lot. Which was where we ran into Chatty Biker Couple. Decked out in full mountain biking regalia, they were probably in their late forties. And my, did they enjoy dishing out the unsolicited advice. It started with a simple, “Oh, look! A Toto dog! I love Cairns,” from Biker Betty. Then Biker Bob chimed in, “Oh, she’s so hot! Look at her. She needs a drink of water!”

And since my head was pounding and I was about to turn inside out from the heat, I didn’t say, “Oh, I believe in withholding water from her on hot days. Builds character.” Nor did I say a thing about her refusal to even sniff the water I offered her for the last fifteen minutes. Instead I smiled wanly and said, “Yep. She’s just about to get a drink.” I then proceeded to give her one. Which she drank like she’d been in Death Valley for a week with only dried jerky for sustenance.

Then Biker Betty said, “I haven’t seen a Cairn that wasn’t stripped!” Now, if you’re not familiar with the breed, let me clue you in to stripping. It has nothing to do with a pole, Lucite heels, or dollar bills crawling with bacteria. It’s actually the severe-sounding way Cairn Terriers are groomed so they look kind of poofy and spunky instead of bedraggled and shaggy, which is how Daisy looks lately. Their hair is actually pulled out, or stripped, in patterns until there is nothing left but the undercoat, and then the idea is that the overcoat grows back in.

Wow, talk about a convoluted explanation! Anyway, I don’t know a groomer that does this, and since Daisy screams at the vet before they even touch her, I don’t think she would much cotton to being stripped by a stranger. Would you? So we stick with a simpler but still effective brushing technique.

Anyway, I just kind of shrugged and said, “Yep, she’s still got her full coat.” Just then Daisy put on a miserable, hot expression better suited for Eeyore in a scratchy wool sweater in August after barely escaping a house fire.

Biker Bob butted in again. “Oh, and these woods are just CRAWLING with ticks. Better check her later! Do you use Frontline?”

I could only nod. I wanted to tell them to shut up so I could feed her a post-hike snack of chocolate, chicken bones, and antifreeze, but they barely let me get a word in edgewise. Finally, after blabbering on with some story about how he puts Frontline on his cat before she goes out on her leash, Biker Bob rode off after Biker Betty into the tick-filled wilderness. I was too tired to be really annoyed, but it made me wonder. What is it about people giving unsolicited advice to pet owners or parents of small children? Are they truly concerned about the welfare of the small being in question, or do they just want to reinforce their own smug self-image as a “concerned” and “informed” citizen?

Also? Daisy is one of the most spoiled dogs I know. She’s more spoiled than egg salad sitting in the sun for six hours at a picnic. She’s more spoiled than the kid who had a bat mitzvah headlined by Aerosmith and 50 Cent. Do the Biker Bobsies not watch Animal Cops Detroit? It’s not like she’s limping around with an eight pound tumor dangling from her face.

Anyway, enough of that. Other things happened this weekend that involved drinking and much laughter, but I decided to save the juiciest stuff for my next book. Because a girl’s gotta have some secrets. Especially where she helped her friends hide the body.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Memorial Weekend Launching Sequence ... Activated

This is going to be a fairly random post, because I'm busy fretting over three things: 1) we have bird families* nesting in our house / hanging baskets on the porch and major remodeling is imminent; 2) I have to finish my final grant for the season by next week and it's nowhere near ready for prime time; and, 3) I need to come up with a new beginning, a new ending, and some other brand new scenes for Riding with Larry and return the whole shebang to my editor by August first. I wish I could just say, "Creativity, Activate!" and start channeling brilliance, but unfortunately, lately I'm feeling as clever as a tomato plant. (See what I mean? That was the best analogy I could think of. I looked out the window, saw my tomato plants, and thought, Hey! They're not so clever. Use them! Stupid tomatoes. Hehe.)

So on with the randomness. First, the other night as I left work I caught myself saying to a coworker, "We'll see you tomorrow!" And it gave me pause. "We'll?" Am I now speaking for two people? Could I BE any more Wisconsin-ey? I've become a plural! Recently I saw a program on the Discovery Channel called Vanished Twins, about how one fetus absorbs its twin in utero, and the absorbed one becomes a parasite living off of the other. So, technically, I could be speaking for me and the parasitic twin I absorbed in my mother's womb when I say "We'll."

Oh my god that last sentence has effectively kicked my appetite into next week. My ovaries just slammed the door shut and flipped over the "Gone Out of Business" sign.

Moving on.

This week I had a few Googlers end up on my site via the following searches: "Little Debbie Look-Alike Contest," "Wal Mart Put the Wrong Oil in my Car," "Christian Bale Look Alike," "Larry Resnick Furniture," and "Funny Things that Have Happened in Chinese Restaurants." From these searches I can deduce that the first individual may be a stage mother; the second was likely furious, the third may have been horny, the fourth was looking for a good deal on a sofa, and the fifth person was bored and someone I might like to have lunch with at China King.

And guess what else? I finally joined the rest of you in the twenty-first century. I bought a cell phone! Let the paranoia about radiation near my head commence! Last night we saw The DaVinci Code and before the movie started a public-service announcement scrolled across the screen: "Please Turn Your Cell Phones Off!" And I got all warm and fuzzy, thinking, They're finally talking to me, too! I'm part of the club! But my fellow movie-goers had no reason to worry; I'm still working up the courage to turn my phone on and actually ... leave it on.

Finally, here are two more album covers to take you through the long holiday weekend.

And now lives in an assisted living facility in eastern Texas! Something tells me that if I listened to this album, I'd wish that my auditory ossicles and inner ear cochlea were paralyzed so they could not transmit the sound of Mr. Ingles's voice to my brain.

Thanks for the reminder, Redd! I think I should tape this picture to my computer screen to remind me during marathon blogging episodes that there is a magical invention on the second floor of my house. It is called a shower. And I should step into it at least every other day to wash. Just my ass, though. Any more than that would be excessive.

Have fun "frying out" this weekend. See, that's what they call "grilling out" in southeastern Wisconsin. But there's no vat of hot oil, no Fry Daddy in sight. Only a smoking grill piled with hamburgers and bratwurst. Makes no sense, does it? But if you drive anywhere around here on a weekend, you'll see signs along the highway advertising local "Brat Fry" fundraisers. If you're an out of state visitor passing through on a roadtrip with your kids and they won't stop kicking your seat, you can tell them that in Wisconsin, naughty children are burned at the stake and the whole town comes out to watch these Brats Fry. Try it! You won't hear a single "Are we there yet?" again until Wall Drug.

*Chickadee update: remember how on Sunday I plugged the hole in our house I thought the chickadees were building a nest in? And how I felt so awful at their distress that I unplugged it? Well it's a damned good thing I did! Because guess what. There were babies in that hole, and they fledged onto the lawn this morning. There are five healthy little black and white fluffballs. Mom and Dad chickadee are feeding the babies right outside my window as I write this. Unfortunately, J has his camera at work, so if they're still there this evening, I'll post a picture. Damn they're cute.

Update, Friday morning: I'm very sad to report that we had a heavy, cold rainfall last night, and none of the chickadees made it. I'm hopeful that mom and dad will still have time to hatch one more brood before summer's over.

Update again, Monday afternoon: The chickadee parents are building another nest in our wall. Fingers crossed for those cute little buggers.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Three ______s on a Desert Island Meme

Okay. I have been tagged. So here are my answers to the amazing Mrs. Fortune's inventive new meme:

If you were stranded on a desert island (without Ginger and the Professor and all those folks to keep you amused), which three _____s would you bring?


  1. The Left Behind series, so I could have one hell of a bonfire on the beach over which to roast the red snapper I have speared with a sharpened stick.
  2. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cooking Weird Shit You Find on a Desert Island with bonus How Not to Die insert.
  3. Stephen King’s The Stand, which is one of the few books I will read over and over. (This is a real answer. I don't want to write the meme that cried wolf.)

Movies (this is assuming that you have access to some sort of electrical power source, a DVD player or a VCR, and a screen on which to view the films. Hard to do on a desert island, I know, but let's suspend our disbelief for a moment, shall we?)

As tempting as it was for me to type Battlefield Earth, Howard the Duck, and It’s Pat: the Movie, I thought I’d actually give you a serious answer.

  1. Annie Hall. I remember the first time I watched this movie. As the final credits rolled I thought, how could I have never seen this before? It was like discovering a $50 bill in the couch.
  2. Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 6. All it takes to knock me out of a bad mood is one viewing of the Mr. B Natural short.
  3. It’s a Wonderful Life. Did it ever bother you when Not Born George Bailey is asking about what happened to Mary and Clarence the Angel says, “You’re not gonna like it, George. She never married. She's an old maid.” And George grabs him and screams in his face, “Where’s Mary?!?! Where’s my wife?!?!” And Clarence defensively shouts, “She’s about to close up the library!” Like that was the worst possible way Mary could have ended up! Single and working in a library. Oh, the horror. I mean, Violet turned out to be a tramp. Well, trampier. Maybe if Mary had developed an opium addiction or routinely locked the kids in the car with the windows rolled up in late August or said things to her mother like, “He’s making violent love to me!” when asked what was going on downstairs …THEN I could see some cause for alarm.

"I wish I had a million dollars .... HOT DOG!"

Albums (see electronic power source caveat above)

This is a tough one, but I think I’ve narrowed it down. How about:

  1. Colonel Sanders’ Tijuana Picnic

2. Songs for Gay Dogs by Paddy Roberts

3. The Addicts Sing

And finally, PEOPLE. Because you wouldn't wanna be stuck by yourself, you know? (And your spouse/partner and children are NOT eligible here, because that goes without saying. Or at least if it doesn't, that's your problem).

  1. My good friend Cindy, who is the best sport I know. And she has the biggest heart in all the land. And who, despite knowing me better than almost anyone else does, still actually likes me.
  2. My dog Daisy, who is also a person to me. A hairy, stinky, loud, but cute little person with a proclivity for cophrophagia and bed humping.
  3. Of course I’d want J, but he’s ineligible for this meme. I think Jon Stewart would be an acceptable substitute. But then Cindy and I might fight over him. So maybe David Sedaris, who would regale us nightly with fables and amusing anecdotes.

And there you have it. If you'd like to play along, please do. If not, you can always go listen to some Addicts Sing.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bird Brain

This weekend J’s parents & brother helped us tear down the unsightly lean-to shed someone thoughtfully attached to our 100 year-old house in the last century. (Thanks Mom, Dad, and Safety Joe!) Roughly 20 hours of manual labor later, we’re ready for phase 2: excavating, pouring a concrete driveway, building a garage, and siding the house. Sadly, I did little more than make several batches of iced tea and toss a few handfuls of rotten lumber into the dumpster. I felt a bit fraudulent in my safety glasses and hardhat, and I wanted to do more to help. So when I saw some black-capped chickadees building a nest in a tiny hole in the front of our house, I thought I’d expedite the upcoming siding process by plugging the hole with steel wool.

After I did so, I realized how deeply I’d upset the cute little chickadees intent on raising their young in the wall of our house. They kept flying up to the plugged hole with beakfuls of nesting material; then, confused at seeing it blocked, they’d fly into a nearby tree and squawk at me. This went on for about two hours, and of course it broke my heart. I had no idea how determined they would be.

So I did what any rational grown woman would do. I started crying, propped the ladder back up against the house, and pulled the steel wool out of their nesting hole. But first I raced to Petco, bought a birdhouse, hung it on the front of the house, realized it wasn’t acceptable to the chickadees, and hung it in the back yard. J was exasperated, and who can blame him. We’ll have to wait until July to side the house now, after the babies have fledged and left the nest.

But I must confess that I LIKE having those chickadees around. They nested in that same spot last summer, and I could hear the babies cheeping through my bedroom wall after they’d hatched. They eat insects and sing the Ha-Ha! song, for crying out loud. Simply put, they make me happy.

Anyway, I didn’t feel at peace until I saw them flying in and out of the hole again, rebuilding their nest for the last time. I further justify my actions by the fact that we also have purple finches building a nest in a hanging flower basket on our front porch. So, there are two good reasons to wait until July to finish the remodeling. (Well, they’re good reasons to me.)

Ultimately, the whole experience has not only mildly embarrassed me at my hopelessness in the face of wildlife dramas; it has also made me realize that I probably can’t give my mom any more crap for having trouble letting my younger brother and sister leave the nest.

Edit: put your pop music know-how to the test over at Manic Mom's place. She's even got a prize for the winner! I think the contest is still on. Steph, as Jem and her Holograms would say, you are truly, truly, truly outrageous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Oh What a Wonderful World of Art

I’m going to do something very brave. Join me, won’t you, on a journey through time. Back to 1991. The year the Soviet Union officially dissolved, Nirvana released Smells like Teen Spirit, Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture, Dr. Seuss died, and a million jokes about Paul Reubens were launched. I was sixteen years old, away from home for the fun-filled week of campfire singalong debauchery known as ... Artsworld.

Artsworld was a statewide summer arts program for high school students and as far as I know, it’s still hosted annually at a local college. You could be nominated to attend a variety of program strands, including music, dance, visual art, writing, scarification, and so on. I’d been nominated to attend the writing program by an English teacher, which came as something of a surprise since she’d done little beyond grunt in my general direction before that. Last night I came across some photos of the event, and I thought…why not share them with the world?

So here we have the entire writing group. Wow, what a bunch of creeps. Can you spot me? If you guessed, “The girl with the maxi pad stuck to her head, a horrid case of lockjaw, and ankles weeping for socks and a change of shoes,” you’re right! I’m thinking I chose the white headband because my forehead didn’t look enough like a satellite dish from 1983 without it. God, I wonder what’s happened to my fellow scribes. Who knows … maybe some of them blog! If I focus really hard, maybe they’ll get my message and do a Google search containing the terms “Artsworld … 1991 … Lakeland College … Bea Arthur … chicken in a bucket” and “hanging sneeze guards,” which was a recent Google search that led an unsuspecting restaurateur to my blog.

Let’s see…to my right was the resident science fiction writer. I’m pretty sure she was really 67 years old. Those tight-rolled, acid-washed jeans weren’t fooling me. To my left is Mary, the girl I shared a dorm room with for the week. Poor Mary had terrible allergies, so the thing I remember most about her was the constant nose-blowing and wads of Kleenex in her pockets. Behind me in the blue sweatshirt and white shorts is Megan from Whitefish Bay. Megan was tiny, cute, spunky, and athletic. Basically, she was all the adjectives I’d never see in print next to my name.

Her raised fist is concealing the cutest guy in the program. I don’t remember his name, but I remember a line from one of his short stories about a family member who was hung like a buffalo. The instructors hooted and raved about it, after they stopped arguing over the right way to write a novel (Male Instructor: "You must outline key plot points and character arcs! You must know your climactic event and denouement before you begin!" Female Instructor: "Just start writing and let the story unfold organically!" Me: "Shut up and let the cute guy talk about balls some more!")

I don’t remember much about the other people, but I do remember the name of the other guy in the class. Daniel. He's standing next to a girl from Cuba City (middle of the top row) who reminds me a little of Sara Vowell. Though her head is nearly microscopic, I think you can still tell she didn’t really have the "Geeks on 'Roids" spirit.

Large, unwieldy sunglasses? Check. Hair gelled and teased into misshapen helmets? Check. Shirts tucked in and then fluffed out for that flattering dumpy waist effect? Check. Long, ugly shorts held up with unnecessary belts? Check. Pasty white legs exposed at strange angles? Check. An idea as to the names of the blond girls on the end?


But the girl in the middle was one of my three Jodies. I befriended her because she was wearing a “Can’t Touch This!” t-shirt, which was something I looked for in a friend back then. Incidentally, if you can't tell which one I am, don't worry. Neither could my husband. But if he thinks I'm the kind of girl that would tuck a white t-shirt into black spandex bike shorts, he can sleep on the couch for awhile.

Here I am with Megan, Daniel, and a girl whose name escapes me. Oh, was Megan cool. Just look at her: she’s wearing a lanyard for God’s sake. I just learned what a lanyard is, like, two years ago. We are acting out a scene entitled, “Awkward teens that will never speak to one another after Artsworld.” Here’s how I imagine the scene unfolding.

Photographer: “Hey! Pretend you’ve spent the last decade of your life inhaling diesel fumes!”

Me: “What a great idea! I’ll get a stick. First, let me make sure my belt is holding my shorts up as high as possible. They’re almost up to my armpits, so we’re all set!”

Daniel: “And I’ll smear cryptic green symbols on my cheeks and chin, then hunch over and pantomime the time my Dad caught me reading a bad magazine!”

Megan: “I’ll squat and extend my hands like I’m a huge duck! Quack quack!”

Blond girl: “I’ll tuck my green sweater into my white shorts and punch you in the face, Megan!”

Artsworld. Where creativity is nurtured, geeks commune, and photos you'll want to incinerate but instead post on your blog are taken.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I Submit this Navel-Gazing Post for your Consideration

I hope everyone had the kind of relaxing weekend you would pay good money for. Mine was the kind of weekend you might find at a rummage sale hosted by two surly, gassy bachelors. Well okay, it wasn’t so bad. I only say that because of what happened on Friday, which started out on a high note. I met two of my best friends from high school at a local restaurant famous for giant, fruity drinks that come in two classes: “Sneak-ups!” and “Gotchas!” (Wow, I really had to fight the urge to type: “rhinestone shades and cheap sunglasses.”)

Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood for grape-flavored brain damage just then, so I stuck to beer. We shared a large basket of fried cheese products and some gossip about old classmates. It was one of those perfect nights where you start off jazzed-up about the sheer concept of going out with old friends, especially after your first drink because it’s been so LONG since you got a little crazy in public, but then after dinner you lean back in the booth, jiggle your tummy flab with both hands, think about your fluffy new duvet, and contentedly call it a night.

Things only got ugly later, when I barreled up the driveway too close to the house and sheared off the passenger side mirror of my car, which still has that new car smell on rainy days. I tried snapping the mirror back on, but no luck. It’s toast. Cost to replace? $90 plus an hour of my life lost watching Mad About You and Drew Carey Show reruns in the body shop waiting area.

Saturday I finished reading She Got Up Off the Couch and a cloud of self-loathing floated in and hung about my head for several hours. Self-loathing because I realized, upon finishing the book, that I was the kind of person actually capable of becoming a groupie. For a writer named Haven Kimmel. Later I listened to online archives of This American Life and opened my Riding with Larry Resnick file to make my first revisions.

Note to self: do not attempt to revise work after reading something that makes you feel devoid of talent and perhaps not even a speaker of the English language. Especially avoid doing so if you are buzzed on Red Zinfandel.

Sunday, a celebration of mothers. The giving of flowers and cards. The stuffing of my face with Papa Murphy’s pizza, brownies, cheese curds, and a delicious type of garlic cracker the likes of which I'd never tasted before. Later, after I’d sworn never to eat again, I found myself sitting on the couch watching Big Love with a spoon, a half-gallon tub of Reese’s Piece’s ice cream, and a jar of organic sauerkraut.

The cloud of self-loathing rolled right back in.

But back to one of my earlier points: if you’re not familiar with This American Life, I implore you to visit this site and check out a few episodes from the archives. I listened to "I Enjoy Being a Girl, Sort of," "Remember Me," and "Neighbors," which featured an interview with the irreplaceable Mister Rogers. Go. Listen. Enjoy.

PS: thanks to everyone who shared their concert histories. Not surprisingly, you all turned out to be pretty cool kids. Plus, some of your lists were gut-bustingly hilarious.

Friday, May 12, 2006

It's Got a Good Beat but You Can't Dance To It

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the kind of music they like. I’m not sure who “they” are, but it’s best not to argue semantics with these kinds of sweeping generalizations. Because it would ruin my whole point here. So I thought it might be fun to list every single concert I’ve ever attended. Some of these pained me deeply to admit, but in the spirit of complete disclosure, I thought you should know what kind of geek you’re dealing with.

Let’s begin with the bands I’ve seen at county fairs and the like.

In the beginning, there was Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. The year was 1986. I wore a blue and white striped sleeveless sweater and acid-washed jeans that I had strategically ripped until they fluttered in a slight breeze. I went with my neighbor Sara and her boyfriend. He blasted Appetite for Destruction in his Camaro the entire way to the fairgrounds. The whole experience made me yearn for adulthood so badly I felt lightheaded.

I soon moved on to .38 Special. I’d never seen so many mullets and missing front teeth in my life.

And then came, naturally, county fair staple REO Speedwagon. Twice! For two times the mediocrity!

I had my very first “big concert” experience in 1990: Kiss, Slaughter, & Winger. We arrived late, but not too late for me to purchase an unofficial Slaughter t-shirt from the leg of some lady’s pants. It seemed perfectly natural to me at the time to buy clothing that another woman had stuffed down her pants. I guess Budweiser does that to you.

Tom Cochrane & Red Rider. Remember the “Life is a Highway” guy? That was him. Red Rider also did “Lunatic Fringe.” And let me tell you. Two hours is a long time to wait on wooden bleachers at a county fair grandstand until the band plays the two songs you know.

Eddie Money. God it hurt me to type that.

The Gufs. Oh, so handsome, young, and earnest. Oh so heartbreaking to run into my latest ex-boyfriend in the crowd as they played “Smile.”

Stone Temple Pilots. I think I saw them at Summerfest when I was in college. I say “think,” because those years are kind of hazy.

Green Day. I wore an olive t-shirt and hideous jean shorts with built-in suspenders. This was when "Long View" was popular, years before American Idiot. Which I was at the time for wearing pseudo-lederhosen to a concert.

Horde Fest 1997. Lineup: Beck (during the “Two turntables and a microphone” era), Primus, and … grandfather of grunge, Neil Young. From the sixth row, people. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In the words of Ed Sullivan, they put on a very good shew.

Jimmy Buffett. As I’m not a Parrot Head, I went because someone gave us some free tickets. I spent the first half hour of the show angry at my boyfriend for being stoned, so my best friend and I wandered around flirting with boys the rest of the night.

Pearl Jam. Another excellent show. Key memory: some drunk guy stuck in a tree on the hill behind us.

Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl did this hilarious stompy-thing with his skinny right leg while he sang & played guitar. From our vantage point in the nosebleed section, the exaggerated stomping made him look like a puppet made of pipe-cleaners. As a result, my friend Wendy and I laughed through his entire performance.

Ozzfest 2003. Lineup: Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, Disturbed, and Godsmack (among others). When Godsmack took the stage a girl behind us said, “Ewww! This is music for thirty year old men!” Plus, there was a guy in front of us wearing frayed jean shorts, doing the stompy thing with his left foot during their entire set. So this ended up being another concert I laughed my way through.

Deftones. After their show I almost needed a Beltone.

Fear Factory. Reading this, you’d never guess that not only did I sit through The Notebook but I actually cried at the end. In all honesty, this one was for J. Because sometimes you have to take one for the team. The team being your, you know … marriage.

Uncle Tupelo. I’m getting older now. Can you tell?

Radiohead. Oh in the name of all that is sweet, holy, and delicious was this a fantastic show. I want them to come back to the land of beer, brats, and cheese so badly even my toes hurt. I feel like Rose floating on the door in the North Atlantic after the Titanic sank, crying out hoarsely to Radiohead: “Come back! Come back!”

Wilco. During their show Jeff Tweedy’s kids wandered around the audience with their nanny. They appeared to be between the ages of 3 and 6 and wore oversized earphones to protect their hearing. Adorable. Jeff Tweedy sang a beautiful song about his wife and afterwards he laughed a little and said, “Wow. I just totally blew a booger onto the microphone.”

I’ve probably forgotten a few, but this paints a graphic enough picture, I think. As I've gotten older my tastes in music have changed. Now, these bands on the upcoming Summerfest lineup have piqued my interest: My Morning Jacket, Keane, Andrew Bird, Panic! At the Disco, Guster, Aqualung, Yellowcard. And I am trying to organize a trip to Chicago this August for Lollapalooza.

So. Now it’s YOUR turn. Please, please, pretty please with Splenda on top tell me your concert list. That would make me the happiest girl in the world wide web.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sometimes Being Responsible Sucks

Well I certainly have taken my sweet time to update, haven't I? Here's what's been going on. First, I got the hare-brained idea into my head that we should move. To a house 45 minutes from our jobs. With the price of gas projected to keep rising, it only made sense to increase our daily commutes, right? Also, since we may want to have children in a few years (that's a MAYBE Mom and Dad!), it seemed appropriate to investigate new housing situated right on the banks of a fast-moving and potentially dangerous river popular with canoe enthusiasts.

Luckily, reason prevailed and I decided we should stay in our hovel a bit longer so we could save money. I know, it's like I slipped on a patch of wet pavement and hit my head! So we're looking at a few more years of old-timey fist-shaking when the neighbor kid screeches around our corner at 55 miles an hour blasting Lupe Fiasco.

Also, tonight I spent about eighty bajillion hours updating our investment portfolios. Because I recently learned that we've been on the Howdy Doody plan. Meaning, my head was filled with sawdust when I first set up our retirement accounts. There I was, tra-lah-lahing around in the baby pony fund when I should have been in the rabid badger fund for the last few years. Who knew?!?! Anyway, I now know more about mutual funds than I really care to. I've probably lost a dear childhood memory so my brain could clear up some space to stuff the new financial crap in. Great.

Here's another new development / bad habit I've instilled. My dog Daisy likes to wake me up in the middle of the night when the mood strikes her. Sometimes it’s to let her out to go potty, and sometimes, even though she has these meaty little hind legs that could help her clear tall buildings in a single bound, she wants me get up out of bed in order to reach down and lift Her Laziness up onto the bed. Which is a situation that would probably lead Cesar Millan to bludgeon me with a Garden Weasel.

Last night around 4 a.m. I heard her tiny harumpffh whine from the floor near the bed; sort of a whiny “Hey!” I’d been dreaming about meeting a client, only she looked nothing like herself and instead looked like the hideous computerized age-progression of a kid I’d seen hours earlier on an episode of Honey, We’re Killing the Kids! Confused in the wee hours of the morning, it took me a second to figure out what I was hearing.

And there it was again. The teeny, whiny “Hey!” I tried ignoring her, but the “Heys!” grew more insistent. Reluctantly, I slid out of bed. She dashed away. I thought I’d frightened her, so I followed her around the bed, where she crawled under the night stand. I retreated, but she dashed out to follow me. I bent over to pick her up, and she scampered away again, her blonde hair glowing in the dark.

I gave up, but there she was again; this time in full play-bow position, tail wagging.

She’d woken me up at 4 in the morning ... to play tag. When I turned around to climb back into bed, she was already curled up in my spot, grinning.

I slid in next to her and lay there uncomfortably for the next two hours composing blog entries in my head. When I got to the part where I would have written, “Miraculously, J slept through it all soundlessly” a snore exploded near my left ear.

But while I lay there staring at the ceiling I did get a chance to think of some products that could Make my Life Easier and Trigger the Premature Mailing of my AARP Card. Notably, the blanket lifter. For some reason, at five in the morning, this seemed like a fantastic idea. I was all, My feet have been crushed for too long under the tyranny of heavy blankets! The time has come to free the toes! The more I thought about it, the more my duvet felt like a softish pile of Stalins mercilessly oppressing my little piggies, and the better the idea of the blanket lifter became. I was mere seconds from rising from bed again to order what was by then the best invention EVER. Better even than the wheel, or the microchip, or salad bar sneeze guards, or jeans with just a hint of stretch in the waist.

Then luckily, I fell asleep.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Processing Loss

Over the past six months, three of our good friends lost a parent; two passed away in the last few weeks after long illnesses. And upon hearing the news of their premature deaths, my heart split in two: one half wept for my friends, and at the hole left in their lives. The other half grew fiercely protective of my own parents. The thought of losing them makes me short of breath.

How do you adjust to a world where a seemingly innocuous device like the telephone is a constant reminder that you won’t hear your mother’s voice again? Where a simple margarine commercial can send you into a tailspin because you remember that your dad won’t be eating toast and reading the paper the next morning? I guess you absorb the new reality somehow, and then you’re a different person. Like you’ve lost the ability to see certain shades of color, maybe.

But I see in my friends’ eyes that they’ve gained something intangible as well. They’ve been to the dark place we use Nanny 911 and Doritos and Tom Cruise jokes and a six-pack of Newcastle to avoid thinking about. (Or is that just me?) They’ve been there and returned to remind me not to whine when J requests a back scratch, to drive the extra few miles to visit my grandmother when I’m in her city for a meeting, to stop and chat with my widowed neighbor even when smiling feels like a chore, to plan and actually take vacations, and to just be kind and grateful, because I’ve got a fucking barge full of things to be grateful for.

Sometimes my Dad tells the story about the time my younger brother Jake, then age four, shuffled into the kitchen in his footie PJs late one night and surprised him while he was writing in his journal.

“What’s up, buddy?” Dad asked.

“I feel like I’m sad.”

“Why are you sad?”

Jake paused for a moment before replying, “Because someday you’re going to die.”

When Dad tells this story now he always ends with his response to Jake: “And I told him, ‘But not for a long, long time. Not until you’re all grown up, with children of your own.’” Which appeased my sensitive baby brother for the time being (probably because his mind had been blown by the image of himself as a mustachioed parent one day).

Because of my recently heightened awareness of mortality, “a long, long time” has come to seem incredibly fleeting to me lately.

So I’ve been listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and sighing wistfully while staring at my husband. I’m just centimeters away from weeping over old photos after slugging a bottle of shiraz, which is a sure sign that it’s time for me to listen to Bob and Tom instead of public radio for a few days while I do my morning routine. Anyway, I don’t want this blog entry to be all “death, nostalgia, and grief” (it helps if you imagine Steve Martin singing those three words to an upbeat banjo tune).

I guess I want to end this with a story about my mom. When I was in junior high, she’d drop me and my friend Pam off at the mall every Friday night to fart around and gawk at boys while my mother purchased the ingredients carefully listed in her little notebook for a whole week’s worth of dinners: taco fixings for Monday, spaghetti sauce for Tuesday, hamburgers on Wednesday, sweet & sour pork (my dad’s favorite) on Thursday, and pizza on Friday. Afterwards, she’d pick us up promptly at 8:30 in front of Forest Mall so we could race home in time to catch Miami Vice at 9.

I already mentioned that Pam and I were in junior high, so we were obligated to wave from the back seat of the mini-van at every carload of remotely cute boys we passed on the way home. Once my mom thought it would be funny to wave at the boys, too … and they ended up following us home. Every few miles we’d turn around and nervously ask, “Are they still there?” Then we’d shriek upon the confirmation that yes, they were. They followed us ten miles out of town, all the way to Pam’s house, where the three of us raced indoors and hid until they drove away.

It’s just a small story, but it reveals a bit about my mother’s playful side. Which is one of the many things I’m grateful for.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Candy Battle

I’ve finally spruced the joint up a little, thanks to the wonderful and talented man I force fruits and vegetables on every day. Yes, I admit it. I'm a vegetable pusher. Probably because growing up, my mother made sure we ate some kind of fruit or vegetable with every meal. In fact, before I was ten, you’d be more likely to see Sonny & Cher make an appearance at our house than sugared cereals and junk food. But when my brother and sister came along, you couldn’t walk through the kitchen without tripping over a Little Debbie Nutty Bar or a jumbo jar of nacho cheese dip.

I probably don’t need to tell you that we never had candy just hanging out in the cupboards; nor did we have a “family candy bowl.” (Not counting the junk food that my siblings campaigned for and won in the late 80s.) Which is why I’m still a little weirded out by a relatively new phenomenon in my life.

Candy at work. Ambrosial, plentiful, mouth-watering, serotonin-triggering, teeth-rotting, artery-clogging, wonderful candy.

Like many offices, mine has a candy bowl near the front door. In our case, it not only functions as an investment in a future with Type II diabetes. It also serves as a handy fecal bacteria distributor, since people pass the bowl on their way to or from the bathroom. The type of candy in the bowl varies from day to day, but usually, it features one of the triple-dipped chocolate-covered delicacies made by the candy shop across the street: cashews, raisins, almonds, malted milk balls, coffee beans.

Did you catch that? Right. I work across the street from a store that literally has the power to cripple you with deliciousness. If you don’t become an addict after eating any of their confections, you probably lack a soul and/or hate puppies.

Recently, one of my coworkers mixed things up by pouring a bag of Lifesavers Crème Savers and Werther’s Original hard candies into the office candy bowl.

After I got over the shock, the event triggered two unpleasant memories for me: 1) the time I swallowed a Werther’s Original candy whole in high school and it lodged in my esophagus for five choketastic hours; and, 2) a mild argument I once had with a flight attendant over my refusal to accept a Crème Saver candy during one of the in-flight snack distributions. I really don’t remember why I so adamantly refused that one tiny candy, but it probably started as a simple desire to avoid a weird aftertaste in my mouth for the duration of the flight but then escalated into a battle of wills.

It went something like this:

Flight attendant, extending a basket of Crème Savers in my direction: Crème Saver?

Me, trying to read a novel and breathe through only my right nostril because my neighbor to the left is a wall of halitosis in human form: No thank you.

Flight attendant: Aw, are you sure? They’re delicious!

Me, smiling distractedly: No, really. I’m pretty full.

Flight attendant, with traffic en route to the bathroom backing up behind her: Just one little Crème Saver? They’re SOO good!

Me, shaking head, still somehow smiling: No, I really don’t like them.

Flight Attendant: What? Nobody doesn’t like Crème Savers! Just try it; I promise you’ll like it.

Me, restraining hands in lap so I don't knock her candy basket across the plane: Sorry. I really don’t want one.

Flight attendant, pressing one individually-wrapped Creme Saver into my hand: Here. You can save it for later.

Me, wanting to tell her to stick the candy up her ass: *I-give-up chuckle* Okay, fine.

Flight Attendant: victoriously thrusts her basket before the next victim.

Me: reluctantly pops Crème Saver into mouth. Stubbornly enjoys it.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far through what has turned into a long, convoluted story, thanks. I am suddenly starving, so I’m going to go eat lunch. Then I’m running across the street to get my fix.

(Thank you for helping me redesign my blog, J! You are one step closer to getting that X-Box 360 for your birthday next week.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mayday, Mayday

Finally able to blog again after a whirlwind weekend where I shared a hotel room with two talented, big-hearted, hilarious people whose work I am confident will be coming to a bookstore near you very soon. (Steph, the hotel called: you forgot your prosthetic leg in the room. And Trish, I think I packed your Metamucil and Best of Yanni CD by accident. Whoops!) But seriously. I can’t say enough about how great these chicks are. Martinis were drunk, chocolate was inhaled, secrets were shared, and gas was released via the legendary Williams position. Steph will have to tell you about that one. Pics from the weekend may be posted at Manic Mom’s place shortly. I’ll be the one with the giant glow-in-the-dark head.

Other weekend / conference highlights: I watched Jenny Crusie knit what appeared to be a scarf during a presentation made by her collaborator Bob Mayer. I was hugged by the lovely and gracious Mary Alice Monroe and Alesia Holliday and tried to absorb some of their success through osmosis. I heard the word “niggling” more than I ever have in my life. I picked up 6 more novels to insert, brick-like, into the walls of my “to read” castle-o-books (In progress: Baby Proof by Emily Giffen. On the bridge: She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel. In the moat: too many to count) Today I sadly learned that I missed a wild Saturday night bacchanalia with intoxicated laxative salesmen and some guy named Eddie in the Deerfield Hyatt lounge 'til the wee hours of the morning. I miss ALL the drunken debauchery, dammit!

And finally, as a result of attending this conference, my attitude toward tackling my impending novel revisions has morphed from “Charlie Sheen forced to live in a world without hookers” to “Kelly Ripa after a case of Peeps and six cups of coffee.” Which is definitely a plus.

On Sunday J and I attended the 43rd annual Waupaca Art Festival, where we got all tingly upon discovering that he won second place in the nonprofessional 3-D artwork category with this entry:

The irony here is that J’s "mixed media" sculpture presents a poem (written by our musically talented friend Eric) entitled “Those Who Can’t,” which is basically a well-written rant against critics. And contest judges. (Although these particular judges were also artists themselves, so they’re probably okay.) But isn't it the loveliest little metal booklet of irony you've ever seen? (That red stuff is velvet, folks. It even FEELS pretty while it's slapping you in the face with words.)

During the critique, one of the judges said that J’s attention to detail showed an appreciation and respect for the viewer. Which is a fantastic way of approaching any art or piece of writing, really: it’s always about caring enough to craft something that gives the viewer or reader a rewarding and meaningful experience, first and foremost. Sort of a massage with words, or paint, or photography. Or a punch in the groin, if that’s the effect you’re going for.

Afterwards we celebrated by buying our very first down comforter and a snazzy red duvet cover. It’s like sleeping in a bed of marshmallows made by My Little Ponies. The next time you are looking for a creative way to celebrate, I highly recommend buying new bedding.